Take a Risk

“We are all living in cages with the door wide open” – George Lucas

I have always suffered from anxiety, ever since I was a little kid. I’m sure there’s tons of reasons for it; some hereditary, some conditioned. But it’s gotten worse as I’ve gotten older and with the additional responsibilities of work and family, life has little to no tolerance for it. I know I’m not alone in this condition, as I have this conversation several times a day with my co-workers and friends. But this year I finally took a step that I had been avoiding for years. I started therapy and it’s been the best decision of my life. I believe that burying our issues, like I had done for 40 years, truly leads to future implosion. The weight lifted from my shoulders has been tremendous. I will forever be an advocate for people getting the mental health assistance they need. I view my transition not as a stigma, but as an honor.

A life-changing moment happened for me a month or so ago, as I was wide awake at 3am, panicking. I was so sick of the insomnia I was experiencing and was combing thoroughly through my brain; sifting through the golden nuggets of therapy I had taken in over the last year. A recurrent and key theme was that I had spent my entire life trying to be perfect. There was no room for error, ever.  Either you did it right, or you didn’t do it. On top of that, I never EVER took a risk. Why would I actually take the chance of looking foolish or falling on my face? I began to think, maybe that belief was truly the root of my stress. I found a few inspirational quotes which drove that point home. The most notable quote was:

“Celebrate failure; it means you took a risk”- Unknown

It was as if the combination unlocked, the gates opened and I was finally able to break free. Only, those gates were never actually closed in the first place. It was only me placing my own restrictions upon myself. I don’t have to remind you, that’s no way to live.

As I opened my eyes to daily life, I saw others out there taking real risks with incomparable rewards. Most notably, my friend John just started a blog about how he retired from banking in the US, moved to Cambodia, and became a hotelier. His blog is here and it is truly an adventure to follow:

 [https://adventuresofjohnnyg.wordpress.com/] 

How inspiring it is to see others truly living their dreams. But they all had one thing in common: they got over the fear of failing and started thinking about what could go right instead of wrong.  Once I got over my analysis paralysis of over-thinking how/when/why/where and for whom I would write, I have delved in and started my blog. I stopped thinking of “for whom” and started writing “for me.” I am now confident in my thoughts and I want people to hear them. And if I can help just one person along the way, it’s all icing on the cake.

What would you do if you stopped being your own inner critic? Which dream would you begin?

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”- Anais Nin

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Do Something

“To me, freedom entitles you to do something, not to not do something.” -Shel Silverstein

This week, I encountered several major instances of social injustice, just within my small circle of influence.  The phrase “no good deed goes unpunished,” by Clare Boothe Luce,  echoed loudly and repeatedly in my head, as if by megaphone.

My friend was in a store with her son, who happens to be on the Autism spectrum.  Three teenage employees were hanging out in the corner, blatantly laughing at him.  My friend’s son is one of the happiest, nicest and most loving kids I have ever met.  He would do anything for his friends, family or for that matter, anyone he just met on the street.  My friend’s heart was broken when she witnessed the situation. She was put in an uncomfortable position because it was now up to her to address it. She handled it beautifully and held those teenagers accountable for their behavior.

A teenager in the Bronx was charged with manslaughter.  His mother’s ex-boyfriend, drunk and on PCP, attacked her in her home.  This teenager jumped to her defense.  In the scuffle, the ex-boyfriend was killed. Now the son is the one who faces prison.  I do not have any evidence in front of me. But I have to assume that if I were the son in that situation, I would have done anything possible to save my mother from this horrific attack.  I’m sure he did not intend to kill him, but I also assume that it is difficult to pinpoint and calculate the exact amount of force necessary that will keep you out of prison and save your mother from certain death.

I have another friend who was held responsible for someone’s suicide, even though she had never even met him.  I cannot give details of the situation, but rest assured, she had done nothing but build a support network from scratch, with the intention of helping individuals in need. She simply became a scapegoat and was blamed for years of mental issues blatantly ignored by all those around him.

The common point of these three situations is that there are so many people out there driving swiftly and aggressively towards disaster; teenagers publicly exhibiting egregious ignorance, extreme chemical addictions robbing people of their senses, severe domestic abuse perpetually cycling through generations, and individuals not getting the mental health help they so desperately need.  But by the time concerned people get involved, they are often blamed, when they had absolutely nothing to do with the root cause. The action-oriented people discussed in the above three scenarios had no choice other than to get involved. But they had to make up for the inaction of so many people who should have been heavily involved in the first place. Studies out there have proved that people often recognize bad behavior, but remain silent.  It takes effort to get involved and most simply just don’t want to bother.

The teenagers that laughed at the boy; their behavior had been witnessed before. But instead of someone standing up and saying that it was wrong, it was simply laughed off.  The ex-boyfriend on drugs and alcohol; many unscrupulous people were profiting from his addictions. Chances are, the neighborhood knew about the awful domestic abuse that son had witnessed repeatedly over many years but no one wanted to address what was going on behind closed doors. The person who was lost to suicide; he was not getting the mental health services he so seriously needed because it was easier to look the other way.  As a society, we all bear collective responsibility for holding people accountable and getting them help if they need it. They might refuse upfront, but we must continue to try. We cannot stand by and let problems grow into insurmountable issues with dire consequences.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard passing comments, “Don’t get involved, it’s not your problem.”  We also have to support people who do take a stand, as often times they will suffer largely negative consequences just for doing the right thing. As June Jordan ignited the oft-repeated words in her 1978 poem entitled Poem for South African Women, “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

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Words Matter

 

 “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The events in Charlottesville and the subsequent “free speech” protests and counter-protests have made me both very angry and very pensive.  I understand that our country was built upon free speech.  I am a huge supporter of that foundation and also know how crucial it is to society at large. But I can’t get past the fact that anyone would actually want to use that freedom for such hatred.  I also can’t believe that our president wouldn’t immediately condemn it.  Of course, it should not be surprising.  On the day he was elected President, I could not fathom how someone who had clearly voiced such ignorance and hatred could actually be elected to lead this country.  I have such a respect for that office and a tremendous respect for good, strong, thoughtful leadership as a whole.  Thinking incessantly about both of these tragic events has brought me back to one crucial tenet of great leadership:

WORDS MATTER

As someone who loves to write, “words matter” is quite obvious.  But the greatest leaders of our time have always been able to craft speeches that inspire the rest of us to act for the good of humanity.  Unfortunately, the most vicious leaders in history have also been able to use their words to instigate horrifying acts of violence.  The most horrid leaders in world history knew that when their audience was downtrodden and had lost complete hope in their futures that the time was right to strike.  On top of that opportunity, their messages resonated with people who had no educational background in the woeful mistakes of history or the importance of empathy in social interactions. The maelstrom that resulted gave those monsters unprecedented opportunity to take power and spawn evil.

We must ask ourselves as thoughtful, educated human beings, what beliefs are behind spoken words?  What intent is behind those phrases?  What will people bring about as people gather around them to listen.  If someone is charismatic and well presented, people will often ultimately want to hear what they have to say.  But someone’s ability to twist words and concepts into a web of future tragedy is exactly what we must fight. Group think is a powerful tool.  And group think is manipulated by crafty speech.  As someone with a background of driving revenue, I’m the first to admit that any concept can be spun in a way which only behooves the spinner.

All of us, as human beings, need to realize that we should choose our words wisely, whether we are in the simplest of conversations or the grandest of public dissertations.  We need to take the power of words very seriously, and use them for good, not evil. And when evil springs up amongst us, we must use our power of speech to denounce it.  Our future, our children, our society and our freedom are all dependent upon it.  I am forever grateful to all the keen ears of history who listened and were able to hear evil in the most beautiful of sonnets. Those heroes subsequently used their voices to carry eloquent speeches that drove good to ultimately prevail.  We must all use our voices now as silence is perhaps the worst word of all.

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