The givers

Gifts
I used to think of gift giving as something ordinary, as in the kind of gifting many of us do on certain occasions — the holiday, the birthday, Father’s or Mother’s Day. Even if you don’t give out of a sense of obligation, the gift is often prescribed by tradition.

Then I came to see gift giving as something done without expectation, sometimes without the giver knowing whether the gift has been received or appreciated. It might even be done without the recipient knowing who gave it. It’s a ripple you send out into the world, with no strings or expectation of a return. You give the gift because you’re able to, and you believe someone else may benefit.

It might seem presumptuous. It might be presumptuous, but after years spent fearing that my gifts would be received the wrong way, I’ve realized something: a thoughtful gift, offered without ulterior motives, is rarely a mistake.

What the dogs know

Dog eat dog?
For starters, they know eating other dogs is not cool.

No matter how many times the phrase “Dog eat dog” gets repeated, cannibalism has never been typical dog behavior. How the phrase came to be so popular is an excellent example of whispering down the lane. It started as a maxim meaning the exact opposite, but got twisted over time.

Another thing dogs understand is that the most successful achievers are rarely, maybe never, self-made.

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Who are your biggest fans?

Benefactor
I am what you might call a late bloomer. It’s taken me a long time to break out of my shell. In some ways I’m still in the process.

The first cracks in my shell came from the outside, but that never would have been enough to free me. My chances of escape always depended on me breaking out from the inside.

I don’t know if I can trace the first crack to any specific person or time, but I am aware of many who put their share of cracks in the surface. At first these people seemed like threats, but over time I came to see them as my biggest fans. They believed in me before I believed in myself. More importantly, they inspired me to believe in myself.

Had the process ended with me just feeling like other people believed in me, without me ever believing in myself, it would have been a sad, unfulfilled effort. Which is where the question at the top comes in.

Who are your biggest fans?

Are you one of them?

Serendipitous failures

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It’s amazing to me how much we pour into reinventing ourselves.

What really amazes me is how much time and energy I’ve spent trying to reinvent myself — how much effort I put into making myself less unique. What I finally learned is I’m better off improving and harnessing the qualities I already possess than trying to trade them in for completely different ones.

Tomorrow is another birthday for me. One thing I’ve noticed the past few birthdays is that every year I’m a little happier I never succeeded in becoming anyone else.

Better late than never.

Crisis management

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This haiku was written a few years ago, at a time when I was struggling with something that seemed really big to me. Since then it’s become a mantra for me when I face difficult situations or decisions, at least when I have the presence of mind to think of it.

People handle almost every crisis in one of two ways: we avoid it or we rise to the challenge. We shrink or we expand.

I’m not saying one is always right and one is always wrong. Just usually.

You’re not old, you’re in your prime

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Every day brings little reminders of how long I’ve been on this earth. They’re the things that I didn’t used to notice, things that didn’t faze me when I was twenty or thirty, but now — now they catch my attention, sometimes my ire.

Sometimes when an ache or pain catches me off guard, I’ll tell my wife I’m old. She usually replies, in a playful tone, “You’re not old, Honey. You’re in your prime.”

Many of us feel frustration or resignation when confronted with signs of getting older. But what if we saw them not only as taunts on our human frailty, but also as gentle reminders to appreciate what we still have?

Everything in our physical world is changing. It’s easy to wallow in the downside and miss the upside. I’m not as fast or strong as I used to be, but time and experience have made me wiser and more comfortable in my own skin. Those non-physical improvements account for more fulfillment in my life than I ever knew existed when I was young and unfamiliar with my limitations.

So here’s to noticing the differences and letting them feed a sense of what we have, rather than a sense of what’s we’ve lost. Here’s to being aware of those youthful gifts we still possess, instead of squandering them.

Maybe, in the big picture, my wife’s playful response is actually true, and the key is a little awareness and appreciation.

All I need to know I learned in Karaoke

Every songI love to sing. I always have. I sing in the car, at home and even in public.

My wife, bless her heart, hears more of my singing than anyone else. I say “bless her heart” for two reasons: she appreciates my voice, and she endures a lot of impromptu serenades. I try to find as many harmless ways to express myself as I can, for my own personal fulfillment, as well as our collective sanity.

Over the past couple years, one outlet has been karaoke. The experience of getting up and performing in front of strangers has helped drive home an important life lesson: Continue reading

Some reassembly required

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I was seven years old the first time it occurred to me I might be different from my peers. On the verge of entering the second grade at a new school, I was tested and found to have a mild learning disability, one that surfaced as dyslexia. 

Upon learning of this, my parents sat me down and explained it would be harder for me to learn the things I’d have to learn in the second grade. They told me I could either go back to the first grade or try to keep up with my classmates on a new level. My father reassured me he’d get up early to work with me and help however he could, whatever I chose. My father happened to have a serendipitous skill set. Though he spent most of his livelihood as a machinist, he had been academically trained and professionally qualified as an educator. 

I chose the second option, and so began an arduous trek through a land of fragmented words and thoughts.

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