Caffeine, Cares, Clutter & Chattel (Season 2021, Episode 13)

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3 am whispered. A lamp in the corner normally illuminates a daylight LED bulb. But that’s only in the daytime. During the quietness of the night, the daylight bulb gives way to a red bulb. Like a photographer’s darkroom. Except I’m developing ideas, not film.

Headphones are on. My Apple iTunes library is launched. I scroll through “Recently Added.” Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers “Angel Dream” was released just days ago. I miss Tom. And the Heartbreakers. The ringtone on my phone is “You Wreck Me,” proving my fondness for Tom’s music. Hours are spent in the darkness of night with headphones on, listening to music.

Track 3 of “Angel Dreams” fires up, Change The Locks.

I can relate to this song. More now than ever.

I changed the lock on my front door
So you can’t see me anymore
And you can’t come inside my house
And you can’t lie down on my couch
I changed the lock on my front door

And I changed the number on my phone
So you can’t call me up at home
And you can’t say those things to me
That make me fall down on my knees
I changed the number on my phone

’Cause I changed the kind of car I drive
So you can’t see me when I go by
And you can’t chase me up the street
And you can’t knock me off of my feet
I changed the kind of car I drive

I changed the kind of clothes I wear
So you can’t find me anywhere
You can’t spot me in a crowd
And you can’t call my name out loud
I changed the kind of clothes I wear

It’s 3:22 am when I begin to wonder – for the umpteenth time – whether or not my caffeinated drink mixes are contributing to my insomnia. I’ve been down this rabbit hole before. Many times. I consume about 120 milligrams daily. According to the FDA website that’s not excessive.

For healthy adults, the FDA has cited 400 milligrams a day—that’s about four or five cups of coffee—as an amount not generally associated with dangerous, negative effects. However, there is wide variation in both how sensitive people are to the effects of caffeine and how fast they metabolize it (break it down).

Doing some basic math with the help of a calculator that sits right by my mouse, I figure it’s been many years since I consumed 400 milligrams or more. Dr. Pepper was once my drug of choice. Then Diet Dr. Pepper. Then Dr. Pepper Zero. I’ve got a handful of liter bottles in the pantry right now that have been there for months. Rarely do I venture away from a 38-ounce bottle of water with a single Crystal Light Strawberry drink mix inserted. I’m not sure caffeine is much of a player anymore, but here I am wide awake at 3:40 am wondering about it.

Should I give it up completely? I wonder. But of all the things that might be keeping me up, I rather doubt caffeine is much of a contributor. It’s more substantial than that I figure.

As the clock approaches 4 am I’m on track 10 listening to Tom sing, “Climb That Hill.”

You got to get up and climb that hill
Get up and climb that hill
You got to get up and climb that hill again

Cares. It’s an interesting term for life’s problems. Cares.

We ascribe caring to things positive.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”  ― Theodore Roosevelt

“He’s a loser. He just doesn’t care.”

“He could not care less.”

So the anti-sentiment is careless. Care. Less. We sure don’t want to be that.

Then modern culture admonishes us to stop caring what others think. Selfishness and self-centeredness are considered acts of courage. Disregard the voices in your life who attempt to help you. Don’t listen to anybody other than yourself. Sure, you can do that, but it’s a high-risk proposition.

I’m all for tuning out people who aren’t there to help us. People who simply want to throw rocks at our parade so they can feel better about themselves. People who are filled with only harsh, unjustified judgment. But these aren’t the people who love us and want our very best. We really need to give an ear to these people and carefully (there’s a derivative of that word) consider their feedback. They may save us from being foolish. Or from being more foolish.

Just the right amount of care – and caring. Good luck with that, I think. Does anybody have that figured out? I sure don’t.

I start thinking about doctors and bedside manners. Displays of caring. 

Do you judge a doctor’s competence based on how personable they are? Yep, me, too. You realize they could be a complete buffoon medically, but if they’re believable and they have a great bedside manner, then we love them. Logic doesn’t always dictate our actions.

Mark Cuban was on local radio talking about the new people leading the Dallas Mavericks basketball team, particularly the new GM who is some hotshot from Nike. Mark said about him, “Lots of people know basketball, but not many people know people. He knows people.”

That ability to relate and connect to others is powerful. Powerful enough to lure a high-end guy from Nike. Powerful enough to keep us going to the same dentists and doctors. Powerful enough for us to change insurance agents. To hire new real estate agents. Or anybody else we need to do things for us.

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SideBar, Your Honor!

Today on my social media feed this appeared, The Vacation You Should Take, Based on Your Introverted Myers-Briggs Type. Being an INFJ, I had a moderate interest so I clicked to see what the article suggested might be ideal for me. I already knew. This is close. But if you’ve been paying attention you already know I started a hyper-local podcast about a place I love, Hot Springs Village Inside Out.

INFJ: Have “creative space” at an Airbnb in a new town

INFJs love learning and being creative, but are often employed or find themselves in situations where they are giving advice, helping people in need, or managing relationships. Being the empathetic one in the room who understands both sides of an issue can really help bring harmony to workplaces and families. However, it can be exhausting as the one in the middle. During the pandemic, with families face-to-face more often, and with a lot of drama happening over social media, INFJs may have found themselves caught up in a lot of situations where they’re needed.

If you’re an INFJ, a good vacation idea may be to get away to an Airbnb rental in a quiet town where you can take some time for yourself. Unplug from social media, tell your friends and family you’re not available, and just spend time in your mind. Write down those stories that you keep wanting to create but can’t find the right time, let yourself daydream, or just get back in tune with your own feelings instead of worrying about everyone else’s. A creative space is important for many introverts. Let yourself be spontaneously creative just for the joy of it, without worrying what others will think, whether that means drawing, painting, or picking up that guitar you’ve neglected for far too long. Hopefully, your retreat will inspire you with new insights that will recharge you to go back to normal life afterward.

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We want to care, but not too much. We want others to view us favorably, but at the same time, we don’t want to care about what others think of us.

And in the context of cares, as in the cares of our life, these aren’t joys, but burdens. They’re cares because we care about them. We worry about them, fret over them, and wrestle with them.

It seems to me that one of our shared challenges is figuring out how to care enough about some things and how to care a bit less about other things. Getting just the right amount of caring seems like an impossible task.

“I don’t care what anybody thinks,” she says. But that’s a lie. I’ve seen folks jump on social media and strongly preach that message as if they’re trying to convince themselves they don’t care what others think. So I wonder why are they constantly talking about it? Makes no sense. They clearly do care a great deal about what people think. Culture presupposes that’s a bad thing, but we all grew up knowing how important it was to avoid having idiots for friends. People who might try to influence us to be morons and do stupid, foolish stuff. It never works out when you care what those people think, but it can matter a great deal what good people think – people who are devoted to helping us become better.

It translates to our cares, too. A person can describe one of their cares as being able to buy an $85,000 luxury car. I don’t share that care, but I’m not minimizing it for somebody else. We care about what we care about. I’ve had neighbors who invested tens of thousands of dollars in home renovation. Some hundreds of thousands. We once had a neighbor who spent the better part of 2 years redoing the inside and outside of their house, including landscaping, pool area, and the construction of a detached garage workshop. Only to put the house on the market within a year of completion. During the renovation, they cared about it. It was a major care! The husband would regularly remark how it was adding 5 years onto his working life to pay for all that work. A five-year delay in retirement in order to fund something that was so important they were willing to live with constant construction, and a spigot that constantly released cash. Then, when it was over they no longer cared at all. Not enough to hang onto the house they had so carefully built to be exactly as they wanted. Sometimes our cares are irrational. Foolish even!

But it is what it is.

It Is What It Is
A sign on a shelf inside The Yellow Studio

Tom Petty continues to sing and I continue to think. To ponder. About my cares.

Largely, my cares are unchanged. Faith is foremost. Family is next. Then providing for my family, my career. The specifics of my cares aren’t static. For example, there have been times where the faith focus on pretty solely on increasing and improving my Bible knowledge. That’s always important, but sometimes the focus has shifted a bit as I’ve worked to help somebody through some extremely challenging situation. My cares shift within the context of faith.

Family focus shifts, too. My wife is always top-of-mind, but there have been times where the kids were the focus. Now there may be times when the grandkids are the focus. Not to the exclusion of others in the family. It just changes as circumstances and situations change. Same goes for career and professional pursuits.

It’s now well past 4 am and I’m remembering our young family and buying our first new house. Talk about cares! I’m thinking of how life has changed. A lot! Perspective. Circumstances. Situations. Ups. Downs. Blindsided by some things. Watching other things unfold over time. It’s your life. My life. Everybody’s life.

I care about some things that weren’t quite on my radar a few years ago. I’m more focused on my spiritual and mental health – in some new ways – than ever before. I’m far more aware of how negatively I’m impacted by some things. It first came home a few years when after an hour-long phone call, holding my phone up to my ear, I enjoyed an indescribable pain in my right shoulder. Within 6 hours Rhonda had taken me to the emergency room where a battery of tests revealed no known reason for the pain my shoulder, but perhaps I had a cholesterol level that was too high. Turns out I had some severe shoulder arthritis thanks to a football injury when I separated my shoulder as a 20-something playing recreational tackle football in the dead of winter on a frozen field. The chickens had come home to roost many years later. But it also turns out my bad cholesterol was about 145, which was entirely too high to suit my doctor who promptly put me on a statin after telling me how statins should be in our water supply, like fluoride. As a heart patient himself, this thin, wiry internal medicine specialist had a very strong feeling in favor of statins. I’ve been on a statin ever since, maintaining a cholesterol level of about 70. But the years of higher cholesterol take a toll I learned.

Like stress. Or weight.

We don’t think it’ll catch up with us. Until it does. Things change. That thing we didn’t think about before suddenly becomes our number 1 care!

Sometimes a life event knocks us to our knees and changes everything.

Mat Kearney is a Nashville-based singer/songwriter originally from Oregon. In 2009 he released a song, Closer To Love. Here’s the first verse:

She got the call today, one out of the grey
And when the smoke cleared, it took her breath away
She said she didn’t believe it could happen to me
I guess we’re all one phone call from our knees
We’re gonna get there soon
If every building falls, and all the stars fade
We’ll still be singin’ this song, the one they can’t take away
Gonna get there soon, she’s gonna be there too
Cryin’ in her room, prayin’ “Lord come through”
We’re gonna get there soon
Oh it’s your light, oh it’s your way
Pull me out of the dark, just to shoulder the weight
Cryin’ out now, from so far away
You pull me closer to love, closer to love

It happens. To all of us. Out of the blue. Or grey. We’re blindsided with a gut punch when we weren’t protecting ourselves.

I first experienced having the wind knocked out of my lungs playing on a junior high football field during a kickoff. I never saw who hit me because it came from slightly behind on my left side. I wasn’t hurt, but I couldn’t breathe. For about 5 seconds. Not a great feeling, but I recovered quickly enough. Not all recoveries are that fast. Most aren’t.

The death of a family member or close friend takes much, much longer. Elongated illnesses and similar events that don’t have a definite conclusion (yet), those drag on for however long they drag on. Some cares are so significant you don’t recover. You just adapt so you can cope. Ideally, we adapt so we can cope better, but that’s rarely easy. Especially when the care is so significant it seems to define or identify us. Ask any cancer patient and they can likely explain that better.

God is a vital component for me. Jesus warned in Mark and Luke that the cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word and make it unfruitful. Not all cares are bad, but not all of them are important either. God asks us to cast our burdens on Him, but that doesn’t mean He has promised to remove them. They may go away. They may not. But our devotion to God enables us to have His help to shoulder them. Some cares, we must endure. Others we may be able to overcome.

As the wee hours of the morning keep on rolling I’m thinking about my cares and realize the biggest one is beyond my control. It involves somebody I love very much, but somebody with whom I’m powerless to influence. People are able to do as they please, even if it’s destructive. We can’t live somebody else’s life. Those of you who are troubled over the life of people you love understand what I’m feeling. There are lots of us out here…more than not, in fact.

My second biggest care is associated with the first one. In a similar fashion, I’m not able to influence it very much. Mostly, for me, acceptance has been the work. Coming to terms with the reality so I can figure out a way forward. Casting the cares on God and leaning on faith have been not just critical, but central. There’s no miraculous solutions though. It’s still arduous work, made worse because some of us have trouble pushing thoughts of these things out of our mind. It’s the destructive power of cares. They have the power to consume us if we allow it. We have to do everything possible to avoid that. Else, we make matters worse.

When I was a young leader an employee entered my office requesting some time. He sat down and I could tell this needed to be a closed-door meeting. After closing the door, we both took a seat, him across from me sitting at my desk. With eyes watering he told me he and his wife appeared headed for divorce. He wanted me to know.

I sat quietly fighting off the waterworks in my own eyes as this young husband, not unlike myself, told me of the weeks leading up to this. Along the way, he explained how this had impacted his work performance. He apologized. I listened.

When he finished I told him I was sorry for he and his wife. I asked if they were certain it was over. I was hopeful they might be able to recover, but it seemed apparent they were long past any hope of that. Couples counseling had proven unsuccessful. She wanted a very different life than the one they had built together. He wanted a home. She wanted a party.

As we talked I told him I’d do my best to serve him at work any way I could. Before we adjourned, I felt the urge to challenge him – in a positive way. I was thinking, “This man needs a positive challenge in his life.” I was hoping I was right, but I figured given the circumstance, I had very little to lose.

“Best I can tell, you doing great work may be the best you can do. I know this, letting your career follow suit with this area of your life would just make matters worse. Can we agree that much of this is beyond your control – and certainly my control? And can we agree to unite to help you find as much success here at work as possible? I know it won’t make things with her okay, but it seems to me you need some positive success and I know you’re capable of that.”

My intuition was that if his man allowed this to cripple his career, that would make matters worse. Much worse. Sometimes we do make matters worse because we just can’t find a way to separate what’s happening with us from other things that are important. Nobody should dare compare marriage to a career, but these aren’t mutually exclusive things. We figure ways to manage both. Simultaneously.

The point is, how are we going to make matters better? What can we do to avoid making matters worse? Else cares will consume us.

Part of my concerns or cares focus on clutter.

“Out of clutter, find simplicity.”     ― Albert Einstein

I often joke that I’m just one good house fire away from becoming the minimalist that I’d like to be.

“Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house catch fire.”   ― Wendell Berry, Farming: a hand book

No, I don’t want a house fire, but it does express the emotional drag that clutter can bring to bear on our lives. At least, for those of us who don’t want it.

Have you wondered what clutter is hiding? Or what uncluttering might reveal?

I suspect it’s quite a lot. In both directions.

I know this because there have been numerous times in my life when going through some box I’d remark, “Look at this. I wondered where this thing had gone!” In the midst of all the clutter, some things we once valued are lost. Maybe we’d like to reconnect with them. Maybe not. Maybe we have a quick trip down Memory Lane, then we junk it. Maybe we dust it off and find it a new home – one we can remember.

Clutter and chattel are two edges of the same knife. I’m using a knife instead of a coin because coins aren’t dangerous. Clutter and chattel can both be dangerous. We know through shows like Hoarders that clutter can be both physically and mentally dangerous. For me, both can be dangerous because of the distraction they deliver. And the negative impact on my mental health, something I’m more closely attuned to now than any other time in my life.

Chattel is a term you don’t hear much. Okay, ever!

Simply, chattel is personal property that can be moved. It would be all that stuff that a moving truck would take if you were to move. All clutter is chattel but not all chattel is clutter.

As the clock nears 5 am I climb back into bed knowing that within the hour I’ll be up for the day. Tonight, my mind doesn’t want to tackle any more thoughts of clutter and chattel. Besides, yawning has grown to epidemic proportions.

Six o’clock arrives and my wife gets up. I’m awake, but barely. I lay in bed for another 20 minutes drifting in and out of consciousness, but all the while remembering where my thoughts left off. Clutter and chattel. I’m laying there wondering what it might be like to have a very different Yellow Studio. A place where there might be 2 bookcases. Or one large one. A filing cabinet. My broadcasting table, which is a modified conference table. And all my technology of course. But what if everything was cleared out? How would that feel?

Great. That’s what I think. I know I’d miss looking at the spines of books I’ve owned for decades. They’re often a great muse. But what’s their real value? Hard to say because it’s even harder to determine that.

Rise and shine. Okay, forget the shine part. But I’m up. It’s 6:20 am and I’m no worse for the wear of the night.

By 7 am I’m jotting down notes and ideas. I’m thinking of strategy, full well knowing it’ll be some time before I take action. Mostly because I’m lazy and don’t want to. And it’s not because the payoff isn’t sufficient. It’s because it’s going to be a LOT of work and I hate starting something that takes forever to finish. I don’t mind beginnings. I don’t mind the end. It’s the in-between that can drive me crazy on projects like this. Experience has taught me that thinking of strategy doesn’t often help. Diving in, then figuring it out in progress works MUCH better.

Which makes sense to me because I tell coaching clients to take action. Don’t overthink it. Be thoughtful. Be aware of others and how your influence impacts them. But don’t aim, aim and aim. Our reluctance to fire spoils success. I’ve found that everybody has their own individual tolerance or barometer for how much aiming to do before firing. Some shoot from the hip constantly, never aiming at anything. I wouldn’t suggest it. Others, aim, aim, aim, aim then fire. That delay in taking action delays the necessary adjustments required to hit the target more accurately. Get the first shot off, then adjust. If we put in the work, we can all improve wherever we’re at on the speed/over-thinking spectrum. For some, it means being less impulsive and more conscious of consequences. For others, it means managing our thoughts that everything will go wrong.

I begin the morning jumping on a Zoom coaching call. At some point the conversation turns toward how we view possible outcomes. Will it work? Will it fail? Glass half full? Glass half empty?

Some days earlier in my journal I’d recorded some thoughts about the power of naivete. It seems to me that it’s a big part of curiosity. And bravery.

For instance, I’m having a conversation with a couple of clients and a phrase enters the conversation that I’ve never heard. It’s particular to their industry. Every industry has terms and a vocabulary all its own. Rather than act like I understand – which I don’t – I pause the conversation and ask, “What is that?” They explain it to me. Good to know. I’m not bashful to ask. I lean into my naivete because I’d rather understand and look stupid than not understand and appear smart. I have no interest in faking smartness (knowledge) and understanding.

Naivete is a contributing factor to optimism. There is something to knowing too much. Like knowing how hard it is to succeed at something. So much so, you don’t try. Or you don’t try as hard as you could. The coaching call ends with me challenging the client to figure out a strategy that can improve optimism and more positive thoughts. This client, like some, leans into a focus on what will likely go wrong rather than what will likely go right!

These four C’s represent the array of things in our life. From the trivial, like caffeine. To the really important, like cares. And all the stuff in the middle – our stuff. Consumerism is alive and well. Just look at all the Amazon deliveries to your house and your neighbors.

The self-storage industry is approaching $40 billion annually with almost 50,000 facilities that represent almost 2 billion square feet. The average monthly expense is about $90 for 14 months.

Over the past 42 years, the average new house built in America has increased by more than 1,000 square feet from the 1973 average of 1,660 feet. Today, the average new home being built is about 2,300 square feet, down from the peak size from 2015 when houses were almost 2,700 square feet.

In spite of the tiny home trend and interest in minimalism, people are still quite interested in more and more square footage. Never mind that almost everybody I know reports living in a percentage of their house. And now, as empty-nesters, we know that feeling. We live in about a third of our house. Guest bedroom suit, dining room, den, another extra bedroom – go largely unused week after week after week. It’s a lot of square footage. And the space we do fully occupy has way too much stuff. The Yellow Studio is a perfect illustration. Seven bookcases filled from top to bottom. An almost six feet tall CD fixture that holds about 3,000 CDs – with every space filled and stacks of CDs on top. A 2-drawer lateral file filled to the brim. A six cube cloth basket fixture sits on top of the file cabinet. One corner with hundreds of baseballs collected on morning walks.

TOO-MUCH-STUFF

Impacting life negatively. Elevating stress. And anxiety.

After I end this client Zoom session I have an hour to do some other work, but I don’t – well, not if you count Leaning Toward Wisdom as not working! I think about this episode and how I’m likely not being nearly as naive as I should be when it comes to all this stuff – these things I’m thinking of changing.

Like less caffeine.

Fewer cares. More precisely fewer less important cares.

Eliminating clutter. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

Less chattel. Just the things I use daily, weekly, monthly or annually. That’ll cover seasonal clothing. Why do I have it if I don’t use it at least annually?

I have no good answers for any of this. Only one thing remains. A mind made up!

How do you make up your mind? You just do. You commit by taking meaningful action.

I’m working on it. But mostly I feel like I’m stuck in aim mode. Time to find the trigger and pull it.

Stay tuned…

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