Friday, January 22, 2010

Celebrate Every Lamp Post

USA Network just finished their run of the amusing series Monk. For those uninitiated, Mr. Monk was an ex-detective with a dark past, an unusually high number of phobias, a little more than a touch of OCD, and an enormous heart. One of his quirky habits was that when walking he had to touch every parking meter just lightly with his finger as he walked by. This same habit continued for anything tall he came across while walking: car antennas, fence posts, and street lamps. Although it wasn't always consistent when he did it, as a fan, you became aware of when it was coming. You also saw how much it would drive Monk crazy if he didn't complete the habit.

As a joke, I began doing the same thing on occasion just to see how long my wife would tolerate the annoyance. To her credit, I'm sure I gave up on it before she expressed any concern. My youngest daughter at two, of course, picked up the habit. Now when we go walking she has to touch the top of every parking stanchion. I've raised her to be unafraid to explore her world, to look closely, and to touch and tread carefully, but this is just a habit, like marking off distance as we walk.

Every time she does this, I can't help but smile. It fills me with joy in so many ways, the fact that she's still at an age where I'm an influence on her, the fact she recognizes it's something we do just for fun, and the fact that she giggles as we do it as well. Each time we walk by a street sign or a lamp post it's become a little celebration, a happy little moment as we walk along.

Life is only a series of moments strung together. Pick one to celebrate. Dance for every blue car that goes by. Whistle for each pebble you find on your walk. Sing a note for each crack in the sidewalk. Now, some will refuse to do this if anyone else might see. That's fine. Let each little celebration be your own private happiness. One day you'll be comfortable enough to share it with others.
For now my daughter and I will share and celebrate every lamp post. I hope she shares them with her little ones. Pick something to make you happy and just let it be.

What's your lamp post?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Resolving to Make Mistakes

Whenever I teach a class, regardless of the technical level, I usually start out with the same set of rules I've used for years. The rules are simple and I've found that as I go on they seem to apply outside the classroom as well. They go like this:

  1. Make mistakes.
  2. Ask (stupid) questions.
  3. Talk back.
  4. Memorize nothing.
  5. If anything goes wrong in this room, you can blame me.

I like these rules so much I thought I'd use them as my resolutions.

1. I resolve to make more mistakes.

Life isn't about how often we succeed but rather how fast we fail. Failing means we're growing. If you try something once and succeed on the very first try, what have you learned? Not much, just how to do that thing correctly one way.

If you try something and fail 999 times only to succeed at last, what have you learned? Perhaps 999 ways NOT to do something and one way to do something greater.

One of my favorite terms in music is the accidental. It's name implies how it might have happened for the composer or musician. It began as a humble mistake and blossomed into a thing of beauty, an embellishment to make the music sound alive.

Failures are the greatest mark that we are alive. They mark that we are changing, that we are growing.

If you don't think you're succeeding enough in your life perhaps you should try failing faster and more often. It's only when we stop being afraid to fail that we can succeed.

2. I resolve to ask many, many (stupid) questions.

There's a reason I put stupid in parentheses. There's the old cliche that "There are no stupid questions," but I like the one that goes, "The only stupid question is the one you didn't ask." There's more to this than just asking ridiculous questions. We should be unafraid to ask. Period. Maybe this rule should be rephrased to say "Always ask more questions." If we don't ask, we'll never know. This holds true in work, in friendships, in love. When we're with our loved ones, if you don't ask, you don't have a relationship.

3. I resolve to talk back as often as I can.

This resolution and the second are related. We must never be afraid to speak our mind. Honestly, openly, and compassionately. I usually joke with my classes that this doesn't mean "with attitude." I use it to illustrate that I'm not psychic. I can't tell whether to move the class faster or slower, to speak up or down, to break, or to continue unless I get feedback from the class. Sometimes body language just isn't enough. It that student's head nodding because they understand or because they're falling asleep? Unfortunately, students will fib. Students often say they understand when they don't or that we can move on when we really shouldn't.

Friends and family fib as well. They tell you nothing's bothering them or act as if they don't need your love or help. I do the same when I shouldn't. How will your friends and family know what's on your mind and in your heart if you don't tell them?

Now it's true that actions can speak louder than words, but sometimes words are all you need.

4. I resolve to memorize nothing.

In software, things change. Just as you think you've got one version figured out the next geek comes along and makes sweeping changes to the program. Life works the same way. I guess you could phrase this better as "I'll take nothing for granted."

In math once you've established that a + b = c, then a + b should always equal c from then on. In life it doesn't always work that way. Just when you think you've got a friend, a loved one, or a lover figured out, you don't. That's the great adventure of it all. So enjoy it.

Don't fall into a rut and "memorize" your loved one. Don't take anything they do for granted. Let them surprise you with the wonder that they are everyday and appreciate every little moment you have.

5. I resolve to take the blame.

In my classroom I take responsibility for the entire experience. If a computer breaks, I'll do my best to fix it and keep going. If a student doesn't understand or gets lost, I've got to bring them back to our journey.

In life, if I'm unhappy, in other words, if I'm suffering, it's my fault. I am responsible for my own happiness. The same is true for any adult you meet.

You can't do anything about pain. I am sorry but your life unfortunately will have pain. You can, however, do something about suffering. Pain just is. Suffering doesn't have to be. You control that. You can accept the pain and move on or you can wallow in the suffering. The choice is always yours.

Measuring Success

Now any good self help guru will tell you that you have to have a goal or resolution that is measurable. I have a scale for my resolutions. It's the only metric that really matters. I'll count the number of smiles I give and receive. If they keep increasing then I'll know my resolutions are working.

I hope your New Year brings you the happiness you deserve and that you succeed with your resolutions. (Of course, maybe only after a brilliant, fortunate failure or two first!)

What are your plans for the new year and how will you make them happen? Let me hear from you in the comments.



Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A subtle whack

Sometimes Life decides to knock you out of your current existence. You still have the choice of where to go, what to do, and how to react, but a change must be made.

I had gotten to that point recently in Los Angeles. Between money, family, and obligations Life was telling me that Los Angeles just wasn't the place to bring the most happiness to my entire family. Life gave me a subtle whack to the head and said, "Adjustments must be made!"

So, here we are: Mercedes, Sammi, and an old, fat cat in tow heading out on the road in an overstuffed minivan. Yet even in the midst of all the chaos of packing, pitching, and planning Life still shows me why we do the things we do.

While moving boxes until my back felt like fire we discovered a little friend who needed a some help. Now before I get lectures about touching baby birds, I do have some experience in the matter. Regardless my little friend here was on the ground at the gas station next door to our building. He jumped, not flew, to the side of a small concrete building at the back of the station. Now he was trapped! I contemplated just leaving him letting "Nature take its course" but although Nature was in charge of this little buzzer I'd be damned if he was going without a fight!

I picked him up gently and brought him in the house to do a quick check. Normally small animals are nervous when a big scary hand descends on them but he just relaxed into my hand. Sammi was fascinated and asked 3.67 billion questions which I could only come up with 3.65 billion answers. Buzzer just relaxed as we tried to examine him. No broken bones. Feathers in good order. He dozed as we looked him over. It worried me he might be ill.

Of course the best place for any baby is with parents. After getting Sammi's stamp of approval we took Buzz back outside and searched for his home. A furious Mama hummingbird immediately made it obvious where Buzz should be. I held him in my outstretched palm and shook my hand gently. At first he didn't want to leave. He just wanted to relax in my hand. Finally with a few practice flaps he jumped from my palm and kicked into helicopter mode! He turned back to me. I like to imagine it was to say thank you and goodbye and then he flew up to a branch near his mother. She buzzed around him and flew off in mad dashes to bring him food. All was right again. He was safe and a parent was ecstatic.

In the noise and chaos that was our move, Life (God, the great creator, Nature, you pick) took a moment to let us experience the peace and happiness of another family. This is why we are moving. We are taking every step to increase the peace and happiness for every family within our circle of influence. Although there are little hurts for all, for my older children as we fight the distance, for Sammi missing her siblings, we will be just like Buzz and his Mama when we are together again.

Take the time to enjoy the little celebrations that Life hands to you. They're always present, no matter how rough life seems to be. If you need help finding them, ask a child. They'll show you.