Category Archives: How do you define success?

Small hill, big mountain: A matter of perspective

Small hill, big mountain

Small hill, big mountain

On one of my walks last week I came upon this small hill at the same moment as a girl—about 4 years old, I’d say—and her dad. They had stopped their bicycles, and they stood at the top of the slope looking down. I eavesdropped:

Dad: You can do it, honey.
Girl: It’s too high.
Dad: Give it a try. I’ll be right behind you.
Girl: I don’t want to. It’s too high.
Dad: Would you like me to go beside you, at the same time?
Girl: No.
Dad: Okay then. Just give it a try. If you do it once, it will be easier next time.
Girl: Ooooh . . . kay . . .

The hill measured about 25 feet in length and had a grade of maybe 20 degrees. To my eyes, to her father’s eyes, to the eyes of anyone who would have passed by at that moment, it seemed a small thing. When she looked at it, she saw Kilimanjaro. 

She stared her mountain down and mustered courage. She pushed off hesitantly, guided her bicycle to the grass beside the asphalt path—to cushion her fall if she fell, I assume—and slowly rode down the slope. She stopped at the bottom and looked up at her father.

Dad: You did it!
Girl: (in a disgusted tone) Yeah. On the grass.
Dad: That’s okay. It’s a good start.

This brief interlude seemed to me a microcosm of what people of all ages go through over and over again. New challenges come up in our lives. They scare us, so we try to avoid them. Sometimes we never overcome the fear, and we live our whole lives taking routes around small hills that we see as big mountains. If we’re lucky, we have someone beside us to encourage us to conquer the feat and to celebrate with us when we complete it.

Don’t we all make new challenges greater, larger, scarier than they really are? Don’t we all start slowly, on a safe route with cushioning in case we fall? And don’t we all diminish our successes?

I have this card posted on my fridge:

pass-fear

Like the father of that little girl, this card encourages me to give things a try, so I don’t spend my life taking routes around small hills that look like big mountains. All the good stuff lies on the other side of challenges that seem scary at first.

 

 

 

A bow tie, (ears?) and a hot pink feather

noteMany of our most successful writers recommend a daily walk as a source of inspiration. I am beginning to see why. Both of this week’s post arose out of incidents along the route of my daily walk.

Tuesday I wrote about camp counselors’ hats in “Do you love it or do you love it?”, and yesterday I found this note on the ground:

  • Bring:
  • bow tie
  • (ears?)
  • hot pink feather

I thought, “Whoa, I want to go to that party.” 

Bow ties are making comeback, so I wasn’t too surprised by that one. But what kind of bow tie did the writer have in mind? I ran through the list of possibilities. A classic black tuxedo tie, a dignified plaid one, or maybe a large, droopy hot pink number to match the feather?

I wondered why (ears?) needed parentheses and a question mark. Most of us come with ears firmly attached, so I assume the (ears?) referred to here would be detachable accessories. Perhaps the person needed to be Yoda, or a cat, or Spock. But not for certain, because of that question mark. Perhaps a friend could bring the (ears?) instead. Or perhaps the person felt that, with a bow tie and a hot pink feather already in play, (ears?) would be just too much—over the top.

Oh yes, the hot pink feather. That really made me smile. What day doesn’t get a little better with a hot pink feather? I pictured a luscious Ostrich-sized one. A puny one simply wouldn’t do.

As I walked on I realized I was close to the intermediate school in our area, and the note was likely a leftover from the school play at the end of the year. Then I pictured a child saying to a parent, “Oh yeah. I need a bow tie, (ears?) and a hot pink feather for tomorrow.” This would happen at 9:01 p.m., immediately after all the stores had closed for the day. (Similar scenarios played out in our house more than once.)

The writer of this note dropped it along the way. Did that mean that he or she arrived home and thought, “I know I was supposed to bring something. Now, what was it again?” Did a droopy, hot pink bow tie make it to the event? What about the poor, questionable (ears?)?

Stephen King is one of those writers who recommends a daily walk. Now I understand how he comes up with those out-of-this-world ideas of his.

 

 

Do you love it, or do you love it?

On my morning walk I passed the site of one of our city day camps just as two camp counselors arrived for work. I assume it is Silly Hat Day at camp, because both girls climbed out of their cars wearing large, colourful hats. One girl called to the other: “What do you think of my hat? Do you love it, or do you love it?”

I didn’t get a picture of her hat, but it was a large-brimmed, splotchy, hat-of-many-colours that would challenge anyone to love it. But the camp counselor did not allow non-love of the hat as an option.

Do you love it, or do you love it? 

With her big smile, she made it clear that everyone was going to have a lot more fun if they loved the hat in all its splotchy glory.

I walked on and pondered some hats I have been challenged to love. My husband has an impressive collection of hats, and some endear themselves to me more than others.

His pith helmet, for instance. 

pith-helmetHe hasn’t worn this in a while (and in no way should he take this as encouragement to pick it up again), but on really hot days in the past, he pulled this off the shelf and wore it happily. On the surface I would say I don’t love a pith helmet, but when I dig deeper, I do love that it means my husband is not a slave to fashion. I love the independence it represents. It’s practical. On the hot, humid July days we get here in Ottawa, it is the coolest head protection he could choose. In a backhanded way, I love that hat.

Then there’s this red and white polka-dot beauty.

?Late last spring we had a sunny day with warm temperatures and ski hills full of snow: Spring skiing Nirvana. My husband scrounged around at the back of his closet and produced this hat. “This was the height of fashion for spring skiing in 1978,” he told me. I reminded him that this was not 1978, but, unfazed, he wore it anyway.

If you asked me if I love this hat, I’d  say “No” at first, but I do love how it instantly teleports my husband back to 1978 and happy youthful memories. In a roundabout way, I love the hat.

This one is a Canada Day staple.

canada-day-ehYes, it is an inverted beer mug, and yes, it features the stereotypical “Eh?” expression that makes me cringe. I sigh when this one comes off the shelf, but I have to admit that everyone who sees it smiles and laughs. I love that it tells the world that Canadians can laugh at themselves, that we have the best beer anywhere, and that we live in a country fun enough and free enough that people to wear inverted beer mugs on their heads. In a surprising way, I love the hat.

This one I love without reservation. 

expos-batting-helmetEasy to flat out love a Montreal Expos batting helmet.

My walk was a long one this morning, so I moved on in my thoughts from hats to other situations when it is most helpful to ask: “Do you love it, or do you love it?” Some situations seem inconvenient or unpleasant at first, but love and laughter or some other positive experience lie within.

  • Sleep interrupted at 5:30 a.m., by a child who crawls in to snuggle.
  • Repainting a room, to welcome friends into a new guest room.
  • Getting fired from a job, right before your perfect job comes along.
  • Missing your exit on the freeway, and then hearing on the radio about a traffic jam on your planned route.
  • Following a misguided GPS that takes you on a long, convoluted route to your destination, along a beautiful country road with gorgeous scenery.

It’s best to not allow non-love as an option.

If we dig deeply enough or wait long enough, love surprises us where we least expect it.

 

Two tales of handicapped access

On Monday I drove to a local shopping mall to pick up my daughter from work. As I waited in my car for her, I watched people and cars come and go. One woman in an SUV drove aggressively into the parking lot and veered into the last available handicapped spot. The woman, wearing a cropped top and short shorts, jumped out, tossed her highlighted hair, checked her French manicure and trit-trotted (I might say “flounced”) into the mall in her platform shoes. (I swear none of that is an exaggeration.)

I seethed.

I thought of all the people I know who have, or have had, mobility issues. I thought of the people who really need that spot because chemo treatments depleted their strength, or they are recovering from knee surgery, or they must use a cane or walker.

I didn’t do anything though. It happened so fast I wouldn’t have had time to, and you never know. There wasn’t a lot of her that wasn’t exposed for all to see, but maybe—just maybe—she had a disability I couldn’t know about.

Flash forward to the next day. My friend, Jo-Ann, writes The Ostomy Factor blog. (Better WITH a bag than IN a bag.) She has an ostomy bag that she calls Percy, and she writes with humour and inspiration about her life as an ostomate. In her Tuesday post, entitled “Walk a Mile in Other Shoes,” she shared an encounter she had with a woman outside an handicapped washroom. Jo-Ann’s close personal relationship with Percy is not visible to others, so an indignant woman scolded her for using a facility intended for the handicapped.

Jo-Ann responded with her usual grace and dignity. Bravo to her.

When I read Jo-Ann’s post, I breathed a sigh of relief that I had not said anything to the woman the previous day, because you never know. I wouldn’t want to be the person who reprimands another person for taking an action they really needed to take.

But. The woman the previous day had no handicapped sticker in her window. She bounced into the mall with no difficulty. I waited fifteen minutes for my daughter, and the woman did not come back out during that time, so even the lame “I’m just popping in for a minute” excuse didn’t apply. My gut instinct told me that she is one of the hapless people who prances through life with a selfish disregard for others, somehow Teflon impervious to cosmic justice (at least in this life.)

What to do with that?

I guess, day to day, we have faith that most people respect the reason and the need for handicapped parking spots. Day to day, we have faith that the people we see using them are doing what they need to do to deal with a challenge, whether that challenge is visible to us or not.

And maybe every once in a while we can take a “reminder action,” like they did in Lisbon. The wheelchairs in this photo all had signs on them saying “Be right back,” or “Just picking up something.”

 

Doing hard stuff: Why kids need to fail

“Failure made me look forward to the next game. If I had a bad game, I couldn’t wait for the next day, when I could brush off the failure and try to do better.” —Gary Carter in Still a Kid at Heart: My Life in Baseball and Beyond

The book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck made me look at the people around in a whole new way. The results of her studies show people approach life in one of two ways (or a mix of both): with a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.

As Benjamin Barber says it, people are learners or non-learners.

People living in a fixed mindset believe their abilities, like intelligence or talent, are inherited and fixed. They evaluate their intelligence and believe it cannot be changed. They give up on music lessons because they don’t believe they inherited the “gift” of musical talent. They document their abilities, but they don’t spend any time developing them.

When people choose to live in a growth mindset, they work at developing their abilities through perseverance and hard work.

People who live in a fixed mindset believe that when they fail at something it means they are a failure. They don’t want to be seen to fail; they perform routine, repetitive tasks they know they can manage instead of risking more challenging tasks at which they might fail.

When growth mindset people fail, they use it as an impetus to work harder and to try new approaches. Their resilience leads to success.

When I read the quote at the top of this post, I know Gary Carter had a growth mindset; his failures led him to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Thomas Edison had a growth mindset; his failures led him to lightbulbs and other fantastic inventions. J.K. Rowling had a growth mindset; her many rejections led to my favourite Harry Potter books.

Sometimes we inadvertently encourage a fixed mindset in others when we measure success only in terms of winning or losing, or when we try to protect our children from the pain of failure. When soccer teams don’t keep score so no team “loses,” or when schools hold “leaving ceremonies” instead of graduations, the result is a washout of mediocrity.

We definitely encourage a fixed mindset when we see intelligence and talents as inherited and fixed. When math teachers believe students either “get” math or not, and sport coaches favour a certain physical build over a determined athletic spirit, they pass over gold mines of potential talent.

The good news is that the first step to progressive change is accepting that we have a problem. We can ask ourselves, “Do I want to stall myself, or my kids, or other people kids, in a fear-filled miasma of mediocrity? Or do I want to keep growing and getting better and taking on new challenges even if it sometimes hurts when I fail along the way?

We can teach our kids that to fail is to succeed because that means they are out there doing something. We can teach them to feel the pain and then extract lessons from their failures. We can teach them that a single failure doesn’t define them and that there’s always room for growth.

We can teach them to do the hard stuff with excitement and not a fear of failure.  

“If you only go through life doing stuff that’s easy, shame on you.” —Patricia Miranda

happy-ending

 

 

Through the fog—or rain: Waiting for the Karma Truck

“Just focus and feel the strength of getting through.  There’s something to be said for that.” —from Waiting for the Karma Truck

On Canada Day we made the 5-hour drive from our cottage to our home through a non-stop torrential downpour of rain. I mean torrential: windshield wipers on high, barely able to make out the road ahead, rivers of water running on the road, tires planing, and occasional washouts.

The weird thing was, all around us in other parts of our province, the sun shone. We texted back to my brother-in-law still at the cottage: “How’s the weather back there?”

“Beautiful,” came his response.

We texted ahead to our friend in Ottawa where we planned to have dinner that night. “How’s the weather there?”

“Beautiful,” she wrote.

We listened to the Toronto Blue Jays game on the radio. “The roof is open at the Rogers Centre, and it is an absolutely beautiful day for baseball,” the announcer said.

Joe-BtfsplkWe were like Joe Btfsplk from Li’l Abner with a cloud permanently over our head, and only our head.

As my husband did the white-knuckle drive we murmured, “Surely we’ll drive out of this soon,” and “Can you even believe it is raining this hard for this long?” But no, the rain was relentless. Only when we changed directions about 45 minutes outside of Ottawa did we escape the clouds.

The experience put me in mind of a recent post on the blog Waiting for the Karma Truck“Let’s Hear It for the Fog.” In the post, the writer describes how she celebrated a recent journey through the fog as a reminder to live in the moment. You can’t see too far ahead, so you just deal with what’s at hand. Looking in the rear-view mirror is a waste of time.

She writes: “It isn’t the clarity at the end of the journey that I celebrate though. It’s the process of moving in the mist.” Metaphorically, the mist, or snow, or torrential rainstorms we must navigate from time to time can mean anything that overwhelms us and obliterates our ability to see anything beyond survival of the moment. When those weather systems move in, you might hear yourself saying things like, “Surely we’ll drive out of this soon,” or “Can you even believe it is raining this hard for this long?” You might find yourself reaching out to others to ask what their weather is like. When you hear that it is sunny where they are, you will know there’s hope that someday a change in direction will take you there too. All you can do is hang on with white knuckles and celebrate the focus. As she says, “. . . it is in those moments of uncompromising concentration, priorities get distilled to the most fundamental.”

__________

I’m not sure of the name of the writer of the Waiting for the Karma Truck blog—I’d love to give her credit! Have a look. There are interesting insights there.

http://waitingforthekarmatruck.com/2014/06/22/lets-hear-it-for-the-fog/

 

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