If I'd Known I'd Live This Long, I'd Have Tried A Bit Harder

If I’d Known I’d Live This Long, I’d Have Tried A Bit Harder

 

So long 2022. I hated much of my time with you! 😉

“I can’t believe it’s been a year since I didn’t become a better person.” —Anonymous

My hatred for this year – okay, that’s an exaggeration, but only a minor one – is coupled with my love for the challenges that came with it. Challenges provide growth. I wish it weren’t so. I’d much rather learn from calm, tranquil success.

Today’s headline is pure snark because few years have received the effort put forth to make 2022 a decent year. I was never aiming for more. Maybe there’s a lesson for me. I should have aimed higher and expected more. But I didn’t. And the year didn’t measure up. It couldn’t even hit the decent mark…so it felt like a bit of success to have avoided aiming for anything higher.

2022 was a great year for some of you. An awful year for others of you. For me, it was just so-so. Another take-it-or leave-it year. Mostly, a leave it year. 😉

But that sounds too depressing and too negative. Besides, I’m leaning hard into sarcasm and snarkiness since this is the last episode of the year.

Randy Cantrell

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Are You Putting Off Choosing?

Are You Putting Off Choosing?

“A man who procrastinates in his choosing will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.” ― Hunter S. Thompson, The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman, 1955-1967

Reinvention.

It seems an odd word when applied to us, to our lives – to who we are or who we hope to become.

He tells me he’d like to reinvent himself. Oh, okay. I wonder what he means so I ask a few questions hoping to understand. “Into what?” I ask. We laugh, but it’s a serious question, even if the tone is lighthearted. He pauses and I continue the snarkiness with, “Something better I hope!” More chuckles.

“Really, tell me what you’re thinking,” I ask.

For the next few minutes, all I hear is about the past with a bit of the present sprinkled in. Mostly things I already know. But they’ve got a familiar ring to them. They sound like…excuses. They sound like a front, a cover story.

Being the Hunter S. Thompson fan that I am, I thought of that line Hunter wrote long ago. “A man who procrastinates in his choosing will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.”

When he comes up for air, through the reciting of excuses, I ask, “What’s stopping you?” Acting as though he didn’t hear me, he says, “Sorry?” So I repeat it, “What’s stopping you? What’s stopping you from this reinvention?”

Experience had taught me he’d likely go down one of two paths. One, he’d be bold and answer. Not many people do that. Two, he’d wind up with more excuses. That’s the course he took. I wasn’t shocked.

After a few more minutes even he seemed exhausted with making up excuses and crafting a cover story to hide why he wasn’t yet choosing to do something about this life he himself had built. The not-so-surprising thing is, like all the rest of us, he was vocalizing the many reasons why life had imposed on him circumstances and brought him to this point in life where he wasn’t satisfied, much less happy. It was all these influences on him that were prompting him to desire a change, a “reinvention” as he called it.

I’m not completely impatient when it comes to history or looking at our past because I realize the value in understanding it well enough to know why we may have learned what we’ve learned. I also know that deep down, most of us are the 11-year-old version of ourselves. Stuck in time, not because of hard wiring, but because of choice. I see it almost every day.

She grew up with hardly enough to eat. Now, as a mom, she’s fixated on making sure her kids eat even more than they’d like because she’s remembering her own childhood hunger. Well, her kids aren’t her and intellectually, she knows that but she’s unable to forget her own experiences and it provokes her to battle an enemy – hunger – that her kids don’t even face!

That was then. This is now.

I had a history professor inform us how history just keeps on being produced. We never get ahead of it. It’s a conveyor belt of events and people that just never stops. Our lives are the same way. Whatever your history is matters, but how much? I mean, this woman hasn’t been hungry for years. And it has no bearing on things today, except that it’s so imprinted into her she won’t let it go! Heavy emphasis on won’t, not can’t. Besides, if hunger does ever reoccur, stuffing oneself right now won’t eliminate that.

So Mr. I Want To Reinvent Myself is going on and on about things that have already happened. They matter, but again, the question I have is, “How much?” So I ask him. “How much does any of that matter?”

More “here’s my story and I’m sticking with it” ensues.

It’s now time to use his own language against him for his own good.

“Well, if you want to reinvent yourself then doesn’t that mean you invented yourself to begin with?” This ain’t my first rodeo in a conversation like this.

He leans his head back, putting his chin in the air. Takes a big inhale through his nostrils, then slowly exhales. By the time his chest goes in from the exhale he has realized the corner he’s put himself into. Now trapped in the story he himself told, including the cover story he crafted to make himself look better than he really is – something we all do, by the way – he’s realizing he’s go nowhere to hide. These are glorious moments for me because these are the corners where the magic happens. The corners where all our excuses are eliminated and we’re left alone in the corner staring into a mirror where at long last – for some, the first time ever – we learn that this is OUR life and we’ve made it what it is up to this point…and whatever improvements we want to now make…they’re completely up to US. Nobody else had a vote. We’re a one-person government with only a single vote. When we realize that we alone cast that vote, it’s a powerful realization.

So I look at him. I say nothing. I just let him process this moment as he grows more comfortable being in this corner. I suspect he’s not been here before because few have. Most enjoy what he’s been enjoying – telling the story of how they came to be in this spot. Telling the cover story of why things aren’t better. Telling the story that makes them look like a hero even deep down they know they’re a coward, unwilling to face whatever challenges have long stood in their way. Berating themselves while crowing about themselves in hopes others won’t find out. This is the stuff of all our lives. For some though, it’s a way of life. For others, it’s moments here and moments there.

“Have you been putting off this choice?” I inquire. “Have you been making excuses for why you haven’t created the life you now say you want?”

He stares at me. At first, I’m not quite sure if he’s getting angry with me or himself. Quickly, it’s obvious. He’s angry that he’s not seen this before. I can just tell.

“It’s okay. We see it when we see it. We learn it when we learn it. The good news is that now that you’ve learned it, you can move forward.”

“I’m an idiot,” he says. It’s a common refrain when we see something we’ve not seen before – especially when it’s something in ourselves.

“You’re hardly an idiot. You’re human. You’ve got baggage. You’ve got experience. It’s the Matrix that we’re all living in. Some of us have the courage to look at ourselves enough to see what you’re now seeing – we created this life for ourselves. All of it. We invented this reality so we can reinvent it. It’s great news!”

As we continue to talk I impress on him the man he is today versus the younger man he was when he first invented himself. He’s better educated. He’s got a family that he loves and who loves him. He’s got a career. His life isn’t bad even if it’s not the one he most wants. Yet. I remind him that the idiot he may feel he is is more likely the idiot who he once was and THAT idiot didn’t do such a bad job. “Imagine what this idiot can do,” I jokingly challenge him.

It’s always true. All those choices I made when I was a kid growing up formed my life. I’m not minimizing the influences – they matter greatly. But they don’t matter more than my own power of choice. That’s why you can find kids who grew up in awful circumstances emerge victorious in being great humans…while others who seemed to have every advantage may grow up as miserable people. We get to decide for ourselves. Influences and circumstances can help. Or not.

If I take a look at my life right now I know that the person who crafted this life didn’t know nearly as much as I know today. Didn’t have near as much experience and know-how as I do today. Didn’t have as much wisdom as I have today. Didn’t have many of the advantages that I have today. So am I to believe that today I’m less powerful to craft an improved life – to reinvent myself TODAY?

Rubbish.

I’m so much more qualified to make a decision today. I’d argue that I’ve never been better. I’ve never known this much, had this much experience, or insight or wisdom.

But that doesn’t mean I’ve got more courage. The courage required to make a different – a better – choice!

That’s the hard work required of going into the corner. To stop being foolish with our cover story and excuses. To figure out how we can now, at long last, face our dragons knowing that we can slay them…because we can.

The dragons are those inside our heads, the ones convincing us it’s not our fault or responsibility. The ones that convince us others have done this to us. Or that life and circumstances have. It’s all that self-talk that we listen to and believe. We have the power over those dragons.

The dragons are those circumstances Hunter mentioned. The ones that’ll decide for us if we refuse. Or put it off. Life will happen no matter what we do. But even those dragons have less power over us when we understand that they simply require of us another decision. Namely just one decision, “Okay, now what?”

It’s funny to me how all of us – me included – can fixate on who or what is to blame. Mostly, deflecting so it doesn’t appear that we’re to blame. Like those suspects in a police interrogation room who try desperately to distance themselves from the crime, we know we’re more culpable than we’d like to admit. So we don’t admit it. That’s why those cover stories matter. And we can become skillful at crafting what seem to us to be great cover stories. The problem is, the better they are the more believable they are to others – but more importantly, the more we genuinely believe them. Never mind that they’re total lies. And we know it. Or did we did when we first started telling them, but maybe now, over time and having repeated them enough, we believe them. That’s horrifically damaging. When we delude ourselves because we’re believing our own lies about ourselves.

We can learn optimism. We can also learn helplessness.

Urging people – including ourselves – to avoid fear is empty advice. We’re all afraid. Fear is real. Even if it’s only imagined.

Sometimes we need somebody to help us. To serve us the way Ceaser, the Dog Whisperer, serves those ill-behaved dogs. He gently, but firmly makes a movement with one hand on the dog’s throat. A biting action done with his hands. It’s the attention-getter that distracts the dog, even momentarily, from the bad behavior. It takes the dog mind off of what they doing. It’s like the joke we make with friends who hurt themselves mildly, like hitting your finger with a hammer. “Here, let me hit you in your foot, it’ll take your mind off it.” The joke may be on us. It’s true. Sometimes the remedy is to get our mind of it. But how?

By not thinking at all. By doing. By making a choice and getting on with it.

I want to drop another 20 pounds. I’m about that far from what I think may be my ideal weight. I’m not deluded. It’s based mostly on my own sense of self and what my doctor also suggests. I can strategize about it. I can think about it. Then think about some more. But none of that is going to help me lose the 20 pounds. You know what will work?

Making up my mind, then beginning. Right now. Doing it. That’s what’ll work.

It’s true of weight-loss or anything else. It’s not more knowledge. It’s not more time to ponder it. It’s not some new, creative strategy. It’s not reading a book about how to do it. Or taking some course. Or paying some subscription service that has some tricks or recipes. It’s me deciding to get on with it.

Because here’s what’s going to happen when I do that. I’m going to figure it out as I go and I’ll drop the weight. And if I keep my mind made up, I’ll keep it off. Nothing will stop me ’cause I won’t let it.

And in doing all that I’ll be reinventing – or rewriting part of my story. I’ll be accepting responsibility for my own weight-loss outcome. I’ll happily look in the mirror when I mess up and declare, “That’s on me. I choose to slip up.” Then I can make a new decision on “now what?”

Or…

I can spend the new months pining about how I  can’t believe life did this to me. I can fret and excuse every poor fitness I make while laying it at the feet of anybody and everything I can. I can surround myself with people who will listen to my excuses and believe them. People who will help make me feel better by telling me how I really don’t need to lose weight. “You look great just the way you are!”

And I can keep on being exactly who I am and what I am. Never changing. Never growing. Never improving. But miserable.

I get to decide.

So do you.

Happy Holidays! 😉

Randy Cantrell

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Subject To Change

Subject To Change

A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.
-Winston Churchill

I must not be a fanatic. 😉

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.
-George Bernard Shaw

I grew up mostly thinking that change meant the potential for improvement and growth. Sometimes I was disappointed, but not always. Turns out life sometimes disappoints, but not always. So change isn’t that unique.

Some people take a stand against change declaring how much they hate it. They prefer sameness and predictability. It’s comforting.

Then some love change because they’re quickly bored with sameness. They prefer spontaneity, and like things to be more unpredictable.

I don’t feel like I fit into either category because there must be shades of grey between these two extremes. For starters, I rather object to change for the sake of change – except when it comes to moving furniture around. I kinda prefer to have a reason behind the changes I want to make – I want the change at least to have a good shot at being an improvement. I’m more interested in things being better, not just different!

In that regard, everything is subject to change, even if it’s only my ability to understand it more clearly. It doesn’t mean things like absolute facts or truth change, but my view of them certainly can. And sometimes, it should…because sometimes I have things wrong. It’s not the facts or truth that need to change, but ME.

I started pondering how culture increasingly seems fixated on changing everything other than ourselves. When we don’t like something or agree with something, it’s less about us changing our viewpoint or increasing our understanding – but instead, it’s about doing whatever we can to impose altering the externals.

When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.
-Viktor E. Frankl

The problem is that sometimes the situation isn’t the problem. We are.

For a long time, I’ve been interested in the impact prescription opioids have on the human brain. Young. Old. Men. Women. It doesn’t seem to matter. I’ve talked with older people in their 80s who have a family member (also in their 80s) and they describe the behavior of their loved one exactly the same as those in their 30s describe a much younger man. “They’re behaving like a teenager with a rebellious streak. Selfish. Blaming everybody else.” It doesn’t seem to matter if they’re a young man or an old woman. The opioid user has little or no awareness. It’s just not how they see things. Or themselves.

Rarely have I encountered somebody suffering chronic pain, under the care of a pain management doctor, who found their way out of the opioid abyss, but once in a while, I run into them. Their story is also universal. “I can’t believe that was me,” they’ll say. They rehearse all the awful things they did, all the damage their addiction caused, and with guilt written all over their face, they’ll remark how unbelievable it is that they couldn’t see themselves as they truly were.

It was everybody else. It wasn’t them.

Culture and society make that same declaration every single day. I grew up hearing about “Johnny” and how everybody is out of step except “Johnny.” Truth is, Johnny is the problem, not everybody else. But like the emperor with no clothes, Johnny has no clue.

—————————————–

The Emperor’s New Clothes by Hans Christian Andersen

Many years ago there was an Emperor so exceedingly fond of new clothes that he spent all his money on being well dressed. He cared nothing about reviewing his soldiers, going to the theatre, or going for a ride in his carriage, except to show off his new clothes. He had a coat for every hour of the day, and instead of saying, as one might, about any other ruler, “The King’s in council,” here they always said. “The Emperor’s in his dressing room.”

In the great city where he lived, life was always gay. Every day many strangers came to town, and among them one day came two swindlers. They let it be known they were weavers, and they said they could weave the most magnificent fabrics imaginable. Not only were their colors and patterns uncommonly fine, but clothes made of this cloth had a wonderful way of becoming invisible to anyone who was unfit for his office, or who was unusually stupid.

“Those would be just the clothes for me,” thought the Emperor. “If I wore them I would be able to discover which men in my empire are unfit for their posts. And I could tell the wise men from the fools. Yes, I certainly must get some of the stuff woven for me right away.” He paid the two swindlers a large sum of money to start work at once.

They set up two looms and pretended to weave, though there was nothing on the looms. All the finest silk and the purest old thread which they demanded went into their traveling bags, while they worked the empty looms far into the night.

“I’d like to know how those weavers are getting on with the cloth,” the Emperor thought, but he felt slightly uncomfortable when he remembered that those who were unfit for their position would not be able to see the fabric. It couldn’t have been that he doubted himself, yet he thought he’d rather send someone else to see how things were going. The whole town knew about the cloth’s peculiar power, and all were impatient to find out how stupid their neighbors were.

“I’ll send my honest old minister to the weavers,” the Emperor decided. “He’ll be the best one to tell me how the material looks, for he’s a sensible man and no one does his duty better.”

So the honest old minister went to the room where the two swindlers sat working away at their empty looms.

“Heaven help me,” he thought as his eyes flew wide open, “I can’t see anything at all”. But he did not say so.

Both the swindlers begged him to be so kind as to come near to approve the excellent pattern, the beautiful colors. They pointed to the empty looms, and the poor old minister stared as hard as he dared. He couldn’t see anything, because there was nothing to see. “Heaven have mercy,” he thought. “Can it be that I’m a fool? I’d have never guessed it, and not a soul must know. Am I unfit to be the minister? It would never do to let on that I can’t see the cloth.”

“Don’t hesitate to tell us what you think of it,” said one of the weavers.

“Oh, it’s beautiful -it’s enchanting.” The old minister peered through his spectacles. “Such a pattern, what colors!” I’ll be sure to tell the Emperor how delighted I am with it.”

“We’re pleased to hear that,” the swindlers said. They proceeded to name all the colors and explain the intricate pattern. The old minister paid the closest attention so that he could tell it all to the Emperor. And so he did.

The swindlers at once asked for more money, more silk and gold thread, to get on with the weaving. But it all went into their pockets. Not a thread went into the looms, though they worked at their weaving as hard as ever.

The Emperor presently sent another trustworthy official to see how the work progressed and how soon it would be ready. The same thing happened to him that had happened to the minister. He looked and he looked, but as there was nothing to see in the looms he couldn’t see anything.

“Isn’t it a beautiful piece of goods?” the swindlers asked him, as they displayed and described their imaginary pattern.

“I know I’m not stupid,” the man thought, “so it must be that I’m unworthy of my good office. That’s strange. I mustn’t let anyone find it out, though.” So he praised the material he did not see. He declared he was delighted with the beautiful colors and the exquisite pattern. To the Emperor, he said, “It held me spellbound.”

All the town was talking of this splendid cloth, and the Emperor wanted to see it for himself while it was still in the looms. Attended by a band of chosen men, among whom were his two old trusted officials-the ones who had been to the weavers-he set out to see the two swindlers. He found them weaving with might and main, but without a thread in their looms.

“Magnificent,” said the two officials already duped. “Just look, Your Majesty, what colors! What a design!” They pointed to the empty looms, each supposing that the others could see the stuff.

“What’s this?” thought the Emperor. “I can’t see anything. This is terrible!

Am I a fool? Am I unfit to be the Emperor? What a thing to happen to me of all people! – Oh! It’s very pretty,” he said. “It has my highest approval.” And he nodded approbation at the empty loom. Nothing could make him say that he couldn’t see anything.

His whole retinue stared and stared. One saw no more than another, but they all joined the Emperor in exclaiming, “Oh! It’s very pretty,” and they advised him to wear clothes made of this wonderful cloth, especially for the great procession he was soon to lead. “Magnificent! Excellent! Unsurpassed!” were bandied from mouth to mouth, and everyone did his best to seem well pleased. The Emperor gave each of the swindlers a cross to wear in his buttonhole, and the title of “Sir Weaver.”

Before the procession the swindlers sat up all night and burned more than six candles, to show how busy they were finishing the Emperor’s new clothes. They pretended to take the cloth off the loom. They made cuts in the air with huge scissors. And at last, they said, “Now the Emperor’s new clothes are ready for him.”

Then the Emperor himself came with his noblest noblemen, and the swindlers each raised an arm as if they were holding something. They said, “These are the trousers, here’s the coat, and this is the mantle,” naming each garment. “All of them are as light as a spider web. One would almost think he had nothing on, but that’s what makes them so fine.”

“Exactly,” all the noblemen agreed, though they could see nothing, for there was nothing to see.

“If Your Imperial Majesty will condescend to take your clothes off,” said the swindlers, “we will help you on with your new ones here in front of the long mirror.”

The Emperor undressed, and the swindlers pretended to put his new clothes on him, one garment after another. They took him around the waist and seemed to be fastening something – that was his train-as the Emperor turned round and round before the looking glass.

“How well Your Majesty’s new clothes look. Aren’t they becoming!” He heard on all sides, “That pattern, so perfect! Those colors, so suitable! It is a magnificent outfit.”

Then the minister of public processions announced: “Your Majesty’s canopy is waiting outside.”

“Well, I’m supposed to be ready,” the Emperor said and turned again for one last look in the mirror. “It is a remarkable fit, isn’t it?” He seemed to regard his costume with the greatest interest.

The noblemen who were to carry his train stooped low and reached for the floor as if they were picking up his mantle. Then they pretended to lift and hold it high. They didn’t dare admit they had nothing to hold.

So off went the Emperor in procession under his splendid canopy. Everyone in the streets and the windows said, “Oh, how fine are the Emperor’s new clothes! Don’t they fit him to perfection? And see his long train!” Nobody would confess that he couldn’t see anything, for that would prove him either unfit for his position, or a fool. No costume the Emperor had worn before was ever such a complete success.

“But he hasn’t got anything on,” a little child said.

“Did you ever hear such innocent prattle?” said its father. And one person whispered to another what the child had said, “He hasn’t anything on. A child says he hasn’t anything on.”

“But he hasn’t got anything on!” the whole town cried out at last.

The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, “This procession has got to go on.” So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn’t there at all.

—————————————–

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.
-John F. Kennedy

Lack of self-awareness. Self-deception. Selfishness. These are our enemies that can require the help of others, but only if we’re willing to change ourselves! There’s the rub.

Willingness to change ourselves.

If you’re at the height of your personal growth you can click that STOP button right now. No need to listen any further. Instead, get yourself a microphone and start a podcast to share how you were able to get it done! 😉

Okay, for the rest of us who are still trying our best to figure things out – and aspiring to reach new heights of personal achievement – let’s see if we can wrestle some things to the ground and choke them out. I’m betting we can if we increase our willingness and resolve.

Growth and improvement don’t always mean dramatic alterations. In fact, quite often they’re very subtle, like the extension of an imaginary line altered by a mere few degrees. The further out we extend the line, the wider the gap in where it ends up versus where it was initially headed. So too with our lives when we alter a decision or action by just a little bit.

I’m currently on a trajectory toward this encore phase of life with some very specific outcomes in mind. I’m doing everything in my power to achieve those ideal outcomes. However, I realize things may not line up to allow me that ideal outcome. Does that mean I’m going to stubbornly refuse to change those outcomes? Well, I could, but that’s not how I’m going to roll. I decided long ago that my ideal outcomes are very subject to change. I’ve got an outcome that is supremely ideal – it’s what I would most love to have happen. It’s what I’m working to make happen. But what if time and new information arrive to cause me to question that? What if I change my mind and make a different decision?

This is the big reason why I fixate on the “what’s next?” question. Let’s figure out our next step – just one – then let’s look around and see what we learned in taking that first step. From there we can figure out our next step because it may look different from the second step we initially planned. Or it may not. But there’s little point in making that decision until we must.

Right now, I’m in the throes of the first step. Until I complete that step I’m going to make plans for what I think my second step will be, but this first one is so critical it may alter things. Things are subject to change and the change will translate into what I hope will be increasingly better decisions. That’s kinda the point, right? To keep getting better and to keep making better choices!

“I won’t change for anybody.”

Not even for yourself?

Not even when there’s evidence that as Sheryl Crow sings, “A change would do you good?”

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Don't cling to a mistake just because you spent a lot of time making it.

Early in my career, I discovered Herb Cohen, a master negotiator. Herb wrote a book, You Can Negotiate Anything. Part of what I learned by reading Herb was to avoid being fooled into a bad deal simply because you had invested so much time in trying to make a deal. It used to be a common ploy among car dealers. To get shoppers to invest so much time in the dealership trying to buy a car that they’d accept a deal mostly favorable for the dealership. “Man, we’ve been here two hours already, let’s just get this deal done!”

Sometimes we do that to ourselves. We sabotage our own lives by our refusal to change something because we’ve been so committed to it for so long. The more you stop and think about that, the stupider it gets. More time isn’t always the answer any more than hitting it harder is wise advice when armed with a hammer. Sometimes we’re just doing it wrong. Or going about it in a way that’s never going to work.

Subtle changes can include hitting it in a different spot. More substantial changes may be required where we lay down the hammer in lieu of a wrench.

Some behavior is purely wrong. Destructive. Damaging. Moderating abuse isn’t the remedy. Stop it is the better advice. 😀

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Vice. Immorality. Sin. Crime. Violence. Abuse.

These behaviors don’t work…even in moderation. Cutting back isn’t the change needed. Elimination is.

Some aspects of life require it IF we’re going to grow. Yes, we’re assuming growth and improvement are the desired outcomes, but that’s not how it is with everybody. Chronic bad behavior seeks no improvement, only approval. Only to be left alone to keep behaving badly. That’s not how we roll here though. We’re leaning toward wisdom, which necessarily means we’re all willing to look into the mirror, no matter how uncomfortable it may be, because we know that’s where our most important changes happen. Within ourselves!

So we’ve talked about changing ourselves. We’ve talked about how our ideal outcomes can change. Before we wrap up, perhaps we ought to give some consideration to things we feel are NOT subject to change. Got anything like that?

What’s in your life that you staunchly refuse to change? Be careful before you answer.

Let me start with God. And faith. God doesn’t change. Jesus doesn’t change. My understanding and obedience are constantly changing though. It’d be easy to convince myself that I need to change God to conform to how I’d like to live, but that’d be impossible in reality even though I could easily deceive myself. God isn’t going to change to my standards. He’s God. I’d better be busy changing to meet His standards.

My wife isn’t going to change. While it’s possible to change a spouse and many people do, that’s impossible for me. Firstly, because of God and my faith. Secondly, because I have no desire to change who I’m married to. It’s a choice. One I happily made decades ago.

My family isn’t going to change. The relationships do because we’re all growing older. The circumstances of our lives are changing. Kids grow up, get married and have kids of their own. The people who once made up my “immediate” family have their own now. They still matter. I still love them and trust they love me, but the relationships have changed into something different, arguably better.

My core values aren’t going to change. They could, but I made up my mind I won’t let them. I’ve no plans to abandon my faith. Or God. Or my wife. Or my family. I’m not able to make that decision for anybody else because maybe like you, I do have family and friends who made different decisions. Decisions to distance from me. Decisions to live deplorable lives. Decisions to seek my approval for things I simply can’t approve of – from them, from myself or from anybody else. This is where things subject to change can get vexing. Things that change for the worse, not because we make the change, but because somebody else does! Now, we’re faced with “what’s next?” Toxic or dangerous people don’t much like it when we make a choice that disapproves of their decision – their change.

So it is with the son who turns to drugs and alcohol but is constantly leaning on family members to get him out of trouble.

So it is with the daughter who turns to immorality and lude behavior but constantly leans on family members with venom about how they’ve wronged her.

So it is with the person who turns to selfish behavior, but is constantly leaning on acquaintances and family for favorable considerations, taking advantage of anybody.

Bad behavior knows no bounds. Good behavior has no limits.

Humans have a great capacity for greatness – either good or bad. We get to decide. We get to choose change. Or not.

Randy Cantrell

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Are Your Muses Too Unreliable?

Are Your Muses Too Unreliable?

“Inspiration is the windfall from hard work and focus. Muses are too unreliable to keep on the payroll.”
― Helen Hanson

A muse is a person or personified force who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist. I’d modify that definition slightly by saying a muse is any source of inspiration for creativity. Do you have a muse? Have you ever?

Through the years of Leaning Toward Wisdom, I’ve talked about two that have occupied The Yellow Studio from the beginning – for over 22 years.

Books.

A guitar.

Back in July, I started The Great Purge. Around 1,500 books exited The Yellow Studio, donated to the local library where I suspect the majority were sold in an annual sale to raise money for said library. The few I decided to keep – well under 100 titles – were boxed up and safely stored away for the next chapter of The Yellow Studio.

By mid-August, whatever muse the books served was gone. Or was it?

The books were gone, but any muse – source of inspiration – was far from gone. Sleep and the books were gone, but the inspiration was running wide open. I began to get on an unprecedented recording roll prompted by hours of writing. Feelings, phrases, words, quotes, lyrics, and photographs prompted the chasing of many ideas. I’m not saying any of them are good. You’re clicking PLAY so you can decide that. I only know that I had more episode ideas brewing than ever. Usually, I’m working on 4-6 show ideas, half of which never see daylight. About half of them languish and never get fully developed. Suddenly, in the span of about a month I looked and realized I had about twenty drafts going – show ideas that had a title and at least a couple of paragraphs of notes. I began to look at the totality of them to figure out the ones I most wanted to push across the finish line.

One idea begets another. It’s always worked that way for me. There was no attempt to keep that habit in play though since I already had so many episode ideas to pursue. But it happened anyway.

I’d sit here inside The Yellow Studio, headphones on listening to the BoDeans, or Dawes, or The Heavy Heavy, and start noodling on one idea – one draft. And a phrase or lyric would hit me, prompting me to open a new draft where I’d create a title. Just a title. Maybe one sentence to make note of what I was thinking of at the time. Then I’d go back to my original work.

“Great! Now instead of finishing one idea, I’ve created yet another one,” I’d think. Never mind. I’d trudge forward trying to finish at least one episode.

I leaned into the process.

Until I got COVID. My first foray with the virus. I’ll forever blame my contracting it on my poor sleep habits, provoked mainly by all the changes I was planning. Changes I desired and changes I was looking forward to – but changes that were putting my mind on a higher octane than it had experienced in some time. My mind wasn’t racing so much as it was doing cartwheels. I’m usually a bit more settled than that. But as we both know, we’ve never been HERE before. We’ve never been this age, in this place, in these circumstances, trying to do whatever it is we’re trying to do. We’re all in unchartered water as we enter a new day. Or night.

I thought about the muse and my references to my two most-mentioned muses. The biggest muse – the one that required the most space and was the most obvious – was gone. I was no longer surrounded by all the book spines that had surrounded me for years. And I was happy about it. I never experienced the sadness or difficulty that I predicted. Before The Great Purge, I had dreaded it, fearing I’d struggle to decide which books to keep and which would go. However, on the first day of sorting, I found myself fully engaged to see how few I could keep and how many I could part with. I piled the books in the hallway just outside The Yellow Studio. At one end of the hall were the keepers. At the other end were the goers. It quickly became a game to see how small I could make the keeper section and how large I could make the goer section. It was easy. Far easier than I had imagined. Mostly, it was liberating.

Once the books were gone from inside The Yellow Studio I sat here and wondered if my proverbial muse – the books – weren’t a muse at all, but a weight, an impediment. What if I had been wrong all these years about the books serving as a muse?

That’s when I began noodling today’s show, driven by my curiosity about these two perceived muses inside The Yellow Studio.

Do you have a muse? Have you ever had one? What made you think it was a muse?

For me, books were always inspirations for ideas. I’d read them and while I admit most weren’t worth the time invested to read them, many of them had at least one decent idea I could latch onto. The titles would remind me of when I had first read that book – and I’d have some thoughts about it. The titles alone often served to spark an idea.

Looking back, now that the books are gone, I wonder if they were less inspirational and more of a visual crutch. Did you catch what I said upfront about the things that inspire me?

Feelings, phrases, words, quotes, lyrics, and photographs prompted the chasing of many ideas.

Only one of those is specifically visual, photographs. It made me wonder why I ever thought the books were a muse. That led me to the quote by thriller writer Helen Hanson. Her statement hit me, “Muses are too unreliable to keep on the payroll.” That’s when I began to ask, “Are my muses even muses? And are they too unreliable to keep around?”

Turns out I had my answer – at least my short-term answer – on the books! Not only were they not the muse I thought they were, but they may also have been a hindrance. A reminder of the creativity of others, but not the provoker of my own that I had always thought. Back in July, I updated my personal website – RandyCantrell.com – to include my renewed focus on creation over consumption. I was already thinking these things long before I started The Great Purge. I had been growing tired of all the time invested in reading books only to be frequently disappointed in the content. Mostly, I had really grown tired of the marketing of books – the constant overpromising and underdelivering.

I know that may sound harshly judgmental – and I admit it is. But it’s based – no, it’s steeped – in my personal experience. With one small, but major caveat – these were mostly business or non-fiction books I was thinking of. Were these books based on creativity? Some. Some not. Then the reality of what the books had really served hit me. Provoking thoughts. Questions. Even the bad ones had done that.

There I was sorting books in the hallway. Dividing the keepers from the goers, mere feet apart from one another. Some destined to find their way into the hands of new owners. Others, destined to remain with me – likely for the duration of my life, however short or long that may be. And the money and time invested in them had been worthwhile, if only because they had forged me into a person looking for thoughts, insights, experience, and wisdom. I figured even the bad ones had taught me something.

But none of that meant they were a muse.

And it didn’t mean that my past passion to buy and read books had to remain as it had in the past. For starters, there are now many new mediums from which ideas can be collected and sparked. Like podcasts. 😉

Information is freer than ever before. I’m not saying books are outdated because I still love to read. I still love books, but today’s love looks and feels different. I’m less hungry for them today. I think it’s because they once served as a gateway – the primary avenue – for learning. Today, they’re less so and it’s made me more discriminating when I look at books. When you’ve read as many business, leadership, organizational behavior, and other such books as I have, I suppose it improves your discernment radar. It’s not 100% accurate but I’m able to figure out more easily books that are liable to be worthless.

The muse wasn’t gone, but my thinking books were a muse was. More specifically, my having read them – the hours spent pondering ideas – had been my muse all along. The books had helped. Been a vital part of the process, but there was no inspirational quality inherent in the books themselves as I had originally thought.

Creation versus consumption.

Seems to me this is the common plight of the digital age. Consumption is a habit because there’s so much being created. It’s a great paradox. Creation is easier than ever before. The avalanche of content begs for eyeballs and earbuds. Some of it finds an audience. Much of it doesn’t. So somebody is creating stuff, including books that are still being written and published. We’re driven to consume, which is why you hear about movie studios, TV networks, and stream services hungering for content.

About now I started thinking of this whole muse thing – this whole creation versus consumption thing – in a negative light. Well, potentially negative. It started with HGTV, a network devoted to hawking housewares, flooring, paint, and other items needed so you can make your house better, just like the ones you see on TV. Don’t get me wrong. I love HGTV and watch a number of the renovation shows.

Marketing is designed, in part, to lure us. To create, or at least identify, our need or desire. Sparked by watching young women posting updates and creative things they were doing in their homes, I began to think about this whole muse thing and how HGTV and other platforms were fueling dissatisfaction. Improving something. Growing. Those are important components in my life. I get it. But mostly, I was thinking of the investments made in money and time. Remember, I’d been in the throes of The Great Purge – something that required no money, but time! It’s also important to remember that I was leaning harder into a more modest way of life. It’s just where I’m at in life.

As I am wont to do, I started mulling over childhood creativity. Those lazy afternoons where we laid around under the pine trees staring at the sky trying to figure out what we’d do next. Bored.

People get bored with their homes. HGTV provides some terrific inspiration and ideas on how we might alter our living spaces to be better. Different, at least. A muse of sorts. Is marketing done on HGTV, whether through advertising or programming, a muse?

It’s certainly not how I always thought of a muse. But I guessed it could fit if you consider the ability of a muse to foster discontentment. It’s not how I saw muses. I still don’t. It smacked more of covetousness than inspiration for creativity.

Then enters the guitar. My guitar. One I saved up for, dollar by dollar for a few years until I could afford it. Still in the case, with the plastic protector on the pickguard. Even though I bought the guitar back in 2007.

Like the books I had two distinct memories of the guitar, both involving some people I love. One an old friend who passed on. The other a young lady who just months ago because a first-time mom. Two people who create music, something I’ve never done. Two people who can play the guitar, something I’ve never learned. They’re the only hands that have fretted this guitar since I bought it brand new.

Stanley, my lifelong boyhood friend, who died back in 2013 was the first to play it.

Sophie, a young lady who married a young man I’d grown close to, was the second.

Only those two.

Along with books, I’ve long declared that owning a guitar – even though I don’t play the guitar – has served as somewhat of a muse. It’s based on my love affair with the instrument. A love affair that never drove me to learn it, but drove me to listen to others play and appreciate their abilities.

Here I sat inside The Yellow Studio, having concluded the freedom of the books was now serving me better than hanging onto them. And I realized my love affair with the guitar had nothing to do with owning one. The reality was, that owning one had only served as a reminder that I could – if I wanted – learn. But I never have. And I’ve owned guitars almost all my adult life. Fact is, I’m never going to learn because long ago I realized I enjoy hearing great guitar players more than I’ve ever wanted to become one. And there’s nothing appealing to simply knowing how to play. I’d much rather listen or watch others do it well.

So what to do with this muse that is not a muse at all?

If as Helen Hanson claims, a muse is too unreliable to keep on the payroll, well something that isn’t a muse is surely too unreliable to keep around. Maybe.

Then I aimed my attention at the first sentence of Helen’s quote. “Inspiration is the windfall from hard work and focus.”

My hard work and focus have never been on learning to play the guitar, but on listening to and appreciating how well others could play. I hadn’t worked hard at all to learn. I had invested a lot of time into hearing others play though. But this guitar – this particular guitar – has been played by a friend who was closer to me than a brother. He was the brother I never had. I did some shows about him so I won’t belabor it here. You can search “Stanley” in the search feature and find them.

This guitar isn’t some classic high-end instrument. It’s middle of the road and I got it because I thought I might give learning one more try with a guitar that has lower action (the height of the strings off the fretboard). Obviously, my plan was more in my head than in my fingers!

Keeper or goer?

This was much tougher than the books because even though it was less of a muse than the books, there were specific people associated with the guitar. One of whom was extraordinarily special to me. And I’ve got audio recordings of him playing it, too.

I went so far as to take pictures of the guitar and case…anticipating that I might sell it. At some point, I grew sad that an instrument built to be played…wasn’t. And if I retained ownership, it would never be played. Was this guitar destined to live its entire life in a case? A pickguard destined to remain free of pick marks? A fretboard devoid of human fingertip oil?

I wondered how many songs the instrument had already sacrificed because it got an unlucky draw of being sold to a guy like me.

I felt sad for this guitar. That drove me to take those pictures, thinking it best to help it find a home where it could be put in the hands of a player rather than a dreamer.

But I just couldn’t think of it being a goer. Since 2007 it had been a keeper. A few songs. Two players. An old man – my age (Stanley James Elmore was only 56 when he passed — April 11, 1957 – May 12, 2013). A young lady, Sophie Smith Elliott. Still very much alive and now a wife and mom.

This guitar may not be a muse. And it may not be reliable in the least, not in my hands. But it has a priceless value for me. Value it wouldn’t have with anybody else. Are memories a muse? If so, then this instrument fits the bill.

Then I modified my earlier statements…

Feelings, phrases, words, quotes, lyrics, and photographs prompted the chasing of many ideas.

I added an important muse…one that had been staring at me the whole time. Memories. And I changed the sentence from past tense to present tense. And I made it more personal and specific.

Memories, feelings, phrases, words, quotes, lyrics, and photographs prompt me to chase new ideas. 

And with apologies to Helen, I modified her quote, too – to more ideally suit my current situation.

“Inspiration may be the windfall from hard work and focus, but muses are sometimes too valuable to part with.”

Randy Cantrell

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Looking Forward Toward The Present

Looking Forward Toward The Present

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Pearl Jam’s 1996 song, Present Tense (from their No Code album), is a fitting theme for today’s show. To live in the present tense. But first, as I am wont to do, let me give you the impetus for today’s show.

I’m watching some house hunting kind of show on HGTV, the kind I normally don’t watch – I much prefer the renovation shows. A couple is going through a few houses and in each house one or both exclaim how they could see themselves doing this or that in the space. Says the husband about a basement, “I could see myself enjoying watching games on a big TV down here.” Says the wife of the bathroom, “I could see myself relaxing in that soaker tub.”

Watch any episode of any such show and I guarantee you’ll hear people say similar things. People put themselves into these homes as though they already own them. It’s exactly what sellers and realtors want people to do. Imagine.

It’s a uniquely human capacity – to project ourselves into a future that hasn’t yet happened.

My longtime fascination with how our minds work – or sometimes fail to work – kicked in. Since my books are mostly gone now and the few physical books I kept are boxed up, I looked through my Kindle library – all 718 titles. One problem I’ve discovered through the years – a problem with neuroscience (the study of the structure or function of the nervous system and brain) – is there are plenty of charlatans in the arena. It’s why I’m so firmly opposed to notions about “the secret,” manifestation, and other “be supernatural” admonitions. For starters, they all elevate humans to god-like status urging us to take command of the universe around us, something no human can do. Disguised as accepting individual responsibility they go way beyond that to fool people into thinking humans have a capacity to do the impossible – to merely think something into existence. Only God, the Creator, has that ability.

Years ago I had to learn that the hard way by devoting hours of reading and study to flush out the garage. Sadly, some of the most successful writers are making bank on the desperate people looking for answers that I believe reside in godly faith.

I dive into the Kindle library to re-read some things and get the hamsters on the wheels in my brain running slightly faster. Mostly, I’m running with this thought expressed by a couple looking at houses. “I can see myself” doing this or that. Something they’ve not yet done, at least not in any of these spaces that sparked their imaginations.

Inserting ourselves into unknown circumstances, situations or places. We do it every time we plan a vacation to a place we’ve never been before. We do when we look at a new place to live. We do it when we fall in love. We do it when we go car shopping. We imagine. It’s more than imaging though – it’s envisioning ourselves as already being in that situation. The more we think about it the more clearly we see ourselves in that situation. The more real it feels and if we want it badly enough…the more we see ourselves there – in a future we want.

That doesn’t mean it will become reality, but there seems to be physical evidence that the way our body responds to our envisioning is very similar to the way our body responds when it does become real. It raises the question, “Does our body know the difference between something we imagine and something we actually experience?” It can feel or seem very real because, in our minds, it is. And our body responds accordingly – as though it has already happened.

The couple admiring the house has put themselves in that house mentally. I’d predict that the house that consumes their imagination the most is the house they’ll buy. It became the most real in their imaginations so they marshaled their resources to make it a reality. That feeling they had while first looking at will be replicated when they buy it and move in. It won’t likely last because these things give way to new aspirations, dreams, and desires.

Rather than thinking about the future, I started thinking about the present.

Going through a lot of old business notes, papers, and presentations – during my purging – I had come across a number of presentations about “being present.” Fanatism with customer service drove me to teach, train and impress on people the power of being present with prospects, customers, and clients. Being present is impossible if you’re not focused on the present moment. That person directly in front of you is invisible if you’re mind is elsewhere.

That’s when I wrote down the phrase that serves as the title of today’s episode, Looking Forward Toward The Present.

I started thinking about all the signs of my own distractions. I thought of all the folks I see distracted.

The power of personal computing in the form of our iPhones is the culprit for many of us. “I’m in the moment,” he says, as he scrolls, types, views, and posts. But I’m not sure that’s true. Isn’t he more in the past – looking to see how many affirmations he may have received in the form of likes, or comments? Isn’t he more in the future – posting something he hopes will gain more attention than what he posted half an hour ago? How present is he?

It was about this time that I created this graphic. I had seen that sentence somewhere, and it made its way into my notebook because it accurately depicts the behavior of too many people.

She died wishing she could have spent just one more day with her phone.

Being present is growing increasingly harder due to electronic distractions, dissatisfaction, and fixating on the past or the future. All the multi-tasking isn’t helping.

All the cultural observations aside, I was focused on my ability – our ability – to look forward to the present for the purpose of being more present. In the present!

Many years ago I read a book entitled Time Wars: The Primary Conflict in Human History by Jeremy Rifkin. Rifkin observes a distinction between analog watches and digital watches. The analog watch has an hour hand, a minute hand, and a second hand while the digital watch has a constant display flashing the current time only. The analog watch provides us with a visual image of the past – we can see what time it used to be – and the future – we can look ahead and see what time is coming. Digital watches don’t provide that perspective. I read this shortly after I bought the book in 1987, 35 years ago. It remains with me today because I thought it was such a terrific, simple illustration. The present matters, but so does the past. And the future…well, the future is very important. That’s where our dreams, ambitions, and plans are.

In 1987 we were about a decade away from the Internet being pervasive. Ditto for cell phones.

Now, in 2022 the world looks nothing like it did when Rifkin wrote and published that book. Our views of time continue to evolve. The irony is that in this digital age, the age of a constant display of the present time, being present seems harder than ever. We’re faced with all the digital displays constantly flashing PRESENT, PRESENT, PRESENT yet we’re struggling to be present.

Go anywhere there are lots of people. Sit down. Keep your phone put away. Keep your head up and just watch. Observe.

“Sure people are present. They’re just watching their phone or checking it for something.”

Being present means we’re focused and engaged in the here and now, not distracted or mentally absent. Are we present or are we mentally absent diving into a digital world where it’s growing increasingly difficult for some to distinguish between that world and their actual physical world?

“People are doing what they want. If they want to be on their phone doing something, it’s great that they’re able to do that.”

The reasoning that our ability to do what we want is always good for us…well, that’s not true. Never has been. Just look around at our bad behavior and habits. We often crave things that damage or destroy us.

Being in the moment is powerful for everybody involved. You hear it when people comment about the great quality somebody has to “make you feel like you’re the only person in the room.”

Redemption. We all need it, especially those of us who don’t think we need it.

Dawes is one of my favorite bands. This year they released a new record which includes this tune, Everything Is Permanent. I’m not sure what the song is about, but it popped into my mind as I was thinking about today’s show. Everything is permanent in the sense that we’re each fully responsible for how we live. It doesn’t mean we can’t repent and repair things, but it does mean we’re without any excuses to behave poorly. The ripples of our bad choices and bad behavior continue, just like the ripples of our good choices and good behavior. Permanency doesn’t restrict our ability to fix things. Sometimes looking forward to the present is doing our part to redeem ourselves.

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I know it’s a hodgepodge of ideas, but time is a complicated thing. Our place in time is even more complex. So let’s try to narrow things down a bit because we could chase a variety of thoughts and many of them would be worthwhile. As your guide today, I really want to achieve one thing for myself and for you – to help us anticipate being more present right now and to build on that every day moving forward. To find a way to be in the moment so we don’t procrastinate to do what matters most.

In a word, let’s focus on NOW.

One Day

Let’s get one idea out of the way. Practicality. It’s the elephant in the room against behaving with wisdom every single day. I’m not going to argue against it. It IS impractical. Maybe it’s even unreasonable to assume we could behave like this. To hug as though it were our last. To kiss as though it were our last. But since we’re exercising our imaginations as we look forward to the present – what if we embraced it even though it’s impractical and unreasonable? What if we decided that our present – our NOW – would be guided, not by what’s reasonable and practical, but by something more valuable? What if we suspended reasonableness and practicality? What would that look like? How would that feel?

vitamin and pill box

Some time ago Rhonda and I started thinking more soberly about the next chapter of our life together. I’m not sure exactly when it began, but we started looking forward to our present. It didn’t feel like our present though. It felt like our future. Then one night – maybe it was over a few nights, I can’t be sure – I started realizing that day after day I was not being nearly as intentional as I had hoped. A vitamin container was the reminder and I realized I had thought of this for years and years. Every single day when I take my morning vitamin. Especially when I take Saturday morning’s vitamin and have to reload the whole thing. I think, “Another week gone.” More specifically, I think, “another week gone and what have I done?”

It’s the ever-present reminder that I’m neglecting unreasonableness and impracticality. I think to myself, “You’re not being as weird as you should be.”

Robert (Bob) Sutton is a Stanford Professor, organizational researcher, and best-selling author. He’s one of my favorites. In 2002 he wrote a book, Weird Ideas That Work. It’s about having a creative workplace. Sutton was speaking somewhere and I went to hear him. Afterward, I ran into him in a walkway and told him how much I enjoyed his work, and I handed him a business card I was using at the time. It was simple, but a weird card with my name, one website address, and a picture of Curly from The Three Stooges on it. He chuckled, thanked me, and said, “Stay weird.” I replied, “I’m trying.”

Many days I’m not trying hard enough. And I’m not talking about weird as in strange or goofy. I mean weird as in not surrendering to practicality or reason when it comes to the things that really matter. Rhonda gets the space in my brain about such things.

People say couples should have a date night. Rhonda and I never have had. In my ideal present, our relationship doesn’t get just one date night. It gets more. Then the practical me kicks into gear convincing me that if every night were date night then no night would be special. That’s weird and not in a good way.

So I rewind and begin to think about how I might define “date night.” Most couples define it as going out to eat, then taking in some form of entertainment. That’s practical. And reasonable. What if I don’t want to define it like that? What if date night had nothing to do with spending money? Or leaving the house? At least, not every single time? How might variety be the rule instead of the exception? What would that look like?

I don’t know ’cause I’ve never done it. That’s the point of this episode. To think about such things – to look forward to the present we most want, or the present we know might be most helpful.

I rewound my motivations and thought back to when Rhonda and I were first dating. I concluded there’s one big – ENORMOUS – difference between then and now. Then, I imposed. It didn’t seem like an imposition though. It was leading and surprising. I was driven to dazzle her. More so than I’ve been in recent years. To my shame.

I have no excuse for surrendering to the notion that I’m bothering her. I used to never think about bothering her. In fact, that was kinda the point – to bother her with pleasant surprises. No amount of head trash stopped me. The fact is, there was no head trash about it. I just did it. Until I slowed down or stopped.

Looking forward to the present gave way to the digital phenomenon of Now, Now, Now! And Now, Now, Now just repeated itself over and over like the movie Groundhog Day. Except unlike Phil was eventually learned to invest in each day to get better, I wasn’t making that investment. I was mostly just doing time.

“You can’t live your whole life like you do when you’re dating,” is a common refrain of practicality. But I began to wonder, “Why not?”

It was 47 ago when I first dated Rhonda. What would dating look like 47 years later – with the same couple, now married for almost 45 of those years?

So I started to think about that and imagine what it could look like. Looking forward to the present. By being bold enough to ask and answer the hard questions.

When we first dated we lived hours and hours apart so we only saw each other sparingly. What would dating look like if you didn’t live miles apart?

We weren’t married when we began dating (obviously). What would married dating look like?

What would dating somebody you’d lived with for almost 45 years look and feel like?

I’m liable to disappoint you with my answers. Being the dreamer I often am, I concluded this answer, “Whatever you’d like it to look and feel like.”

Slowly, I started to recognize my feelings of impositions as the surrender they really were. I mean, who am I? This is a very strong woman, my wife. She’s certainly brave enough, pointed enough and plain enough of speech to express displeasure or whatever else she’d like. She’s compliant, but not a person to be easily put upon. I concluded I’d been selling her short probably due to my own fears of having my ideas or creativity rejected. “What if she doesn’t like it? What if she’d rather not?” On and on when the head trash of ideas, all appearing as though I’d be imposing some unwanted things on her.

I backed my ears after months of misery and mental wrangling and decided I was going to be strong enough to withstand rejection. After all, how else are we going to improve ideas? How else might weirdness become the creativity that changes everything for the better? Besides, if a man is unwilling to risk rejection from a woman he’s been married to for nearly half a century, then what kind of a man is he? 😉

My unwillingness to give it a go wasn’t going to do anything to move anything in any positive direction. Rather, it was only going to serve to waste time. The present.

It proves a few points. One, no matter our age or the length of a relationship, fear still persists. Two, bravery is always needed if we’re going to find a way forward. Three, without a risk of failure there can be no success. Four, if looking forward to the present involves a person you care about, then stop wasting time. Give it a go!

Part of using our imagination is to think about – to dream about – what it might be like versus what it currently is.

Maybe it’s dissatisfaction with the present. Maybe it’s wondering how it might be better. Maybe it’s a bit of both.

Looking forward speaks of the anticipated improvement. We look forward to something that excites us. Something we most want to happen. Something for which we’re happily anticipating. I was looking forward to the present in my marriage, a lifelong habit I’ve had driven by my introspection on how I might be able to step up my game as a husband. And as a father. Now, as a grandfather. But it always starts with who I am to Rhonda.

When things go sideways – as they too often do (and have) – is when I don’t start with that. Whenever I start with who she is, I lose my way. It’s one of those ying-yang things. It’s far more selfish when I start with her and think she ought to do this or that. Whenever my expectations begin with her, not me – it’s selfish. But whenever I assume the responsibility for the outcome – all of it – then my focus goes on judging myself, not her. I become less selfish when I focus on what I should do – or what I could do – to make things better!

What I’ve learned is that if I want my present to be better – if I truly want to look forward to the present – then I must behave more urgently. I need to consider the magnitude of the moment. This moment. This very second.

For me, the biggest component is bravery. Courage.

Taking action at this moment fails every single time I refuse to step into the face of risk. I convince myself not to do it – for a million different reasons, none worthwhile. They’re all just excuses.

Courage is hard. Cowardice is easy.

Do it now. That’s hard. Talking yourself out of it. That’s easy.

Success is in that area where fewer are willing to travel. Failure is super easy, which is why we mostly experience it. Failure isn’t the same as giving it a go, only to discover “well, that didn’t work out as I hoped.” That’s learning. Failure is refusing to give it a go for fear it won’t work out. It teaches us nothing. It just reinforces our cowardice. And our habit of failure.

A quote leaps to mind: “Better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.”

Better to give it a go and learn than to sit back convinced it’s not worth trying. Learning is always worthwhile.

What would life be like if I devoted myself to wooing my wife daily? What would life be like if I dedicated myself more fully to being a man after God’s own heart? What could life be like if I gave myself to looking forward to the present?

I don’t know, but it’s time I find out.

Randy Cantrell

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