Tag Archives: psychology

The Courage to be Radical

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A modest sized cabin in the woods, surrounded by nature- trees, and wildlife. These cabins, often surrounded by a lake, rolling hills, or some other form of natural beauty, represent a lifestyle, a fantasy. Many people dream of this kind of life, but few act on it. Most of the time, like the Staunton Family, who owned this ranch before they willed it to the State of Colorado, these places are used as second homes, for summer and weekends.

Last weekend, the sequel to MAMMA MIA, presented the story of a person who actually acted upon a kind of fantasy life.

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Together, this movie and its predecessor present the story of a young woman who, on a whim, decides to travel to a remote island in Greece. She decides to stay there rather do what is expected of her, meaning returning to the city, to what one would assume to mean a more “normal” life. The plot of these films indicates that making a radical decision like this has the potential to be quite fantastic, fulfilling, and impactful. But, it requires both courage, as well as some form of hard work and sacrifice. The main character’s life is not presented as easy.

Nor are the lives of the people in real life who make similar radical choices. Those that actually move to a small cabin in the mountains, a tropical island or a bustling beach, as well as those who start their own businesses, pursue careers in acting, or do whatever their version of being radical is, all toil away for some period of time.

There tends to be a similar general story. First, they have to have the courage to actually pursue their preferred path. This means ignoring the fear inside, as well as advice, and even pressure from others. This advice could even come from people who are genuinely caring and well-meaning, which makes it harder to ignore.

They also had to endure, at least a period of time, where life is harder than it would have been at that standard 40-hour a week job, receiving a steady paycheck. Businesses take time to become successful, artists take time to get noticed, and many ideas are rejected dozens to hundreds of times before they are finally embraced.

This blog should have actually been titled The Courage and Determination to be Radical

Those with the courage (and determination) get to be surrounded, every day, by what inspires them.

The landscape that inspired a successful family of doctors to build a summer home 50 miles outside of Denver can now be visited by the general public, as part of Staunton State Park.

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Hiking around the park is relatively easy. Most of the trails are not too steep. They are, however, fairly long. They are also astonishingly well marked.

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Not only does every trail have a two letter identifier, but each trail has regular markers, including one marking the halfway point on each trail.

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Hiking from one end of the park to the other is a good amount of anticipation. From the trailhead, rock features, some of which are actually climbed on, appear in the distance, periodically peaking out from behind the trees. This can actually go on for miles, so hiking at Staunton State Park teaches hikers to learn to enjoy the journey.

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In addition to the Staunton Ranch, which resembles the cabin in the woods so many dream of, Elk Falls Pond is one of the top destinations at Staunton State Park. The journey there is about 4.2 miles.

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Monday’s hike turned out to be a chance encounter with a thunderstorm, one that required taking refuge in a relatively safe and relatively dry spot for about 25 minutes.

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Hiking in the rain actually turned out to be refreshing. This summer in Colorado has been HOT. Of the first 22 days of July, Denver’s official high temperature has reached or exceeded 95°F (35°C) 13 times. Much of the state has been in a drought all summer, and, with the exception of the Northeast, there are fire restrictions in place through much of the State.

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So, the rain turned out to be a welcome change of pace.

Hiking through the storm, in a small way, felt radical, as it is generally not advised to pursue outdoor activities on days, particularly afternoons, with thunderstorm chances. Storms find everyone in life, regardless of how courageous, resilient, and true a person is being. As the movie indicates, those that have chose to courageously live a radical life may encounter a few more storms. These storm will eventually dissipate. The clouds will gradually disperse, and the sun will emerge, revealing, once again, something beautiful and inspiring, whether that mean a spectacular landscape or a spectacular human being!

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Pure Instinct

Day-to-day life over the past month or so had left me kind of burnt out.  I was inexplicably feeling exhausted.  I was not at my best- which I truly hate.  I’d realized weeks ago I would eventually need a day to disconnect.  We all need that every once in a while.  I figured out that I would not want to hear everybody’s recap of the election (regardless of the result), and Wednesday’s weather was forecasted to be unseasonably warm.

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So, I took Wednesday off, got in my car and just started to drive.  I had no plan, no idea as to where I would be headed when I left.  I purposely refrained from making a plan.  I didn’t look into options, or pre-meditate in any sort of way.  I wanted to try something different than what we all typically do when we travel.  I wanted to lean simply on my instinct, and just let it determine where I should go as I go.  Everywhere I went, every decision I made regarding when and where to turn, I made on the fly, just based on what felt right.

I went west out of Denver, following highway 6 through Golden, than 93 north, and 72 west towards Nederland.  I continuously resisted the urge to pull out my map book, or my phone, or turn to any other source of information to achieve a welcome break from one of the things that may be exhausting all of us in the mid-2010s.  This is the process of gathering information.  In this era, often gather way too much of it, agonizing over it, to the point where we delay actually making the decision, sometimes far too long!

Along the way, I experienced this strange hyper-emotional calm.  I began to tear up.  I was breathing heavy.  But, it felt really good.  It felt as if for the past couple of months, emotions were one by one filling up inside my head, bouncing around like molecules until they gradually started to reach a critical mass, where there was no longer room for them to move around.  They had just become jammed .  And, now, with whatever barrier that was keeping them inside removed, I was suddenly free to just let them out, and let them all out at once.

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As I continued along this windy path, this strange hyper-emotional calm became accompanied by a feeling of optimism.  I felt like I knew I was in the right place, doing the right things, and making progress toward where I wanted to be.  I’d freed myself from all the data, all the second guessing that gradually erodes away at our confidence.  I knew that, both that day, and in life, I was moving in the right direction even when I didn’t see the destination.

For a while, I had no idea as to why I was experiencing burnout.  The term typically conjures up images of someone working long hours into the night, neglecting their friends, their families, and other areas of their lives.  Burnout is people working 70+ hour  weeks, which I most certainly had not been for the duration of 2016.  So, why was I burned out?  Why did I feel drained so often?

Having searched for answers regarding this, through reading, conversation, and observing people, I came to a series of important realizations about burnout, which run contrary to the image of long nights with pots of coffee.

It’s not the amount of work that burns us out.

Workload can contribute, but more important is how we feel while we are doing our work.

The primary source of burnout is feeling as if we are being phony, or fake.

Pretending to be someone else, for whatever reason we do it, is exhausting.  It is not sustainable.  The only way to be is our true selves.  That is what our instincts tell us to do.

Negative energy in all forms leads to burnout.

One of the nastiest forms is fear, trying to prevent some sort of bad outcome such as loss of job or status.  When we act out of fear, or anger, hate, etc., everything we do is significantly more draining.

One of the most exhausting things we do is try to prove ourselves.

I’ve seen plenty of instances where someone is working long hours, but is not burned out because they are doing what they love and they feel confident while doing it.

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My instinct even took me down a random dirt road, something I otherwise never would have done if it were not my previously specified destination.

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I ended up at a place called Rainbow Lakes, part of the Indian Peak Wilderness.

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I hiked roughly 2.5 miles, getting to the treeline, which was surprisingly nearly snow free!  This is definitely not encouraging for fans of winter sports.

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As, well, as can often be the case in our lives as a whole, the change of season that winter sports fans are waiting for is simply not happening yet.  This hike, on Wednesday Nov. 9th, felt shockingly similar to the way it would have felt in the middle of the summer.

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Just over the ridge, I got myself to a place that was extremely inspiring.  Unfortunately, I did not get a photo, as, well, my phone died.  It was a sign that what I needed to do was disconnect, and, once again, connect to my own thoughts.  Just for good measure, though, here’s a pic I found of the exact place where I sat.

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I actually stared at that one little gap in the rock straight ahead.

Our subconscious thoughts do take into account recent information, even as our conscious minds look for more info and don’t know what to make of it.  My subconscious mind, my instinct, though, processed all of this; the election, interactions with people, my own feelings, and summed it up neatly in one sentence, a sentence that simply popped into my head…

The age of deference is over

Make what you want of that.

I also came to another revelation regarding a matter that is more specific to my life.  I had been thinking a lot about the concept of acceptance.  It is why we are always trying to prove ourselves, and often exhausting ourselves.  Afternoon exhaustion, dissatisfaction, lack of inspiration, all of these concepts are inter-related.

We want to be accepted, and can only be accepted as who we are.

But, for each person individually, myself included…

If we want to be accepted as who we genuinely are, we must do so for others as well.

We’re all looking for acceptance, but if we make it easier on each other, as well as ourselves, we might all have a bit more energy leftover for other things.

The previous night’s election, regardless of how any of us feel about it, is yet another example where sometimes more information, more data, is not better.  The best models, based on every piece of data available, made predictions that were quite flawed.  My instinct, many months back, came to a more accurate conclusion about what was to occur.

In an era where we have access to unlimited information, and are often bombarded by it, sometimes we need to realize that less is more.  I, for sure, will, going forth, make a better effort to rely less on data and more on instinct.  After all, it brought me to Rainbow Lakes, without even so much as looking at my atlas, or my Google Maps App.

 

Ideas I Am Not Giving Up On

Ideas are powerful!  They can outlive the people, and even the places and things originally associated with them.  Rome was all but destroyed in the 4th, 5th, and 6th centuries.  The people that created Rome, and the representative republic which governed Rome for the first five centuries were long gone.  Yet, these ideas made a resurgence in the 18th Century, when the founders of a new country called the United States of America created a representative republic in a new land far away.  The writings of ancient Roman authors, from those that formed the Republic after overthrowing a King of their own, to those that later tried to defend the Republican form of government from power hungry politicians, are said to have provided inspiration for the country’s founders.

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For all intensive purposes, Rome was a place that no longer existed.  Yet, ideas that originated from this place had found their way to a land that Romans had no idea even existed, at a time over two thousand years later!  Over the next Century, these ideas would proliferate, inspiring additional revolutions all over the world, and even counter-revolutions.  Roughly a century later, that idea would actually find its way back to the very place it originated, when Rome, now part of a nation called Italy, would adapt a roughly similar form of Government.

It is for this reason people are often more threatened by ideas than they are by specific people.  Today, when those of us look at someone like Osama Bin Laden, or any specific leader of ISIS, what we are looking at, and what we are threatened by goes way beyond a specific individual.  Even Bin Laden, long the subject of ire for many, needed the aid or cooperation of many other individuals to successfully carry out the attacks he carried out.  Simply put, for many of us in the United States, he became the face of an idea, and one that we largely found repulsive.

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We all have ideas.  Even those of us that do not consider ourselves creative, or inventive people, have ideas.  It doesn’t have to be world changing like the invention of the computer.  Maybe it is something as simple as the idea that it would be nice to have a train line or an additional road built to alleviate traffic.  Or maybe it is the idea that animals should not be mistreated by their owners.  Either way, as long as one understands the idea, why they feel the way they do about it, and has enthusiasm for it, the idea is worth pursuing and standing up for.

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I have a ton of ideas, and many do relate to how I feel the world should work.  Lately I have been hearing all the time that some people see the world as it, while others see the world as it could be.  I would consider myself firmly in the later group.  I commonly see some aspects of our society, and how it works, and think to myself (and sometimes say it to people around me) “we can do better”.  After discussion, I will often hear from others what has come to be my least favorite sentence of all time: “It is what it is”.  This is because, in many cases, I really see no reason it has to be that way.  Some people see this as the mark of someone who refuses to mature beyond a state of artificially prolonged adolescence.  However, I see it as refusing to give up on me, and what makes me unique.

I see an entire generation of people pursuing college education, and, more and more, post-graduate degrees, in interesting intellectually stimulating subjects just to join the workforce and be asked to perform menial, repetitive job duties and have their ideas rejected due to their low standing on the corporate totem poll.  We can do better to nurture and develop these promising young minds.

I see people not being true to themselves, in their actions, their behaviors, and attitudes.  We encourage one another to conform, to act like everyone else, and to live life according to a script written by and for a culture that no longer exists because many fear change and the potential loss of status associated with it.  But each person’s individual and unique way of doing things is part of what makes this world an interesting place.  We can be better about encouraging people to be true to themselves, and not being threatened by their unique way of life.

I see countless missed opportunities in the lives of countless people based on adherence to rigid rules and policies that do not make sense.  This is where fear takes it’s greatest toll on society.  Many take comfort in rules and structure.  However, why should someone who has completed their work, and has no other obligations (meetings and such) be sitting in their cubicle at 2:30 on a warm, sunny afternoon?  And, why should one person making a mistake with something lead to a law or ordinance preventing everyone from taking part in this activity?  We can stop taking comfort in rules, and start taking advantage of all the beautiful opportunities this world provides us.

And, I see people who have failed to make deep and meaningful connections with other human beings.  Many go through their lives feeling like they do not have the support system needed to get through the rough patches of their lives.  This is because we live in a society that does not place a high value on building social capital.  Many of us spend our days in work and social settings where we do not feel comfortable expressing our emotions and showing one another who we really are.  You cannot develop a meaningful friendship with someone that does not even know who you really are.  As is the case with the other ideas listed, we can do better on this one as well.

Periodically, I am pressured to give up on these ideas.  I admit nobody has ever specifically told me something like “don’t be who you are”.  But, I definitely feel it.  “You need to act more professionally”.  “Fireball: What are you?  Still 22.”  “Grow up, be a man.”  “You can’t just….”  These types of statements, and many more, come based on the idea that there are certain expectations of me that I do not believe need to exist.

There are even some that have given me sincere advice that I need to stop worrying about these overly philosophical issues.  After all, there are actual reasons for all of the things that frustrate me, and those that defend the current way we do things in this world probably have some valid points.  But, while sometimes I do experience frustration and rejection by acting the way I do, the alternative sounds way more depressing to me in the long run.  The alternative, to me, is giving up on who I am.

I would rather encourage people to pursue their intellectual ideas, even if occasionally their bosses come down on me.

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I would rather continue to show people who I really am, and continue to enjoy the activities that bring me happiness, even if I am periodically given negative feedback by judgmental people.

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I would rather take advantage of all of the great things this world has to offer, all of the wonderful places to visit, interesting ideas to pursue, and experiences to enjoy, even if that periodically earns me “reprimand”.

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And, I would rather occasionally get burned by someone who uses information about me for their own selfish ambitions than cease showing people who I truly am.

Essentially, I would rather get rejected as myself than be accepted by pretending to be somebody else.

We are all people of value, in our own unique way.  And, for any one of us, if we go out there in this world, and find a way to be the best version of ourselves, but still ourselves, we will naturally find people who like it, and people who see us as valuable individuals.  We all long for acceptance, but in order to be accepted in a true meaningful way, we need to overcome the fear of rejection, and stand up for our ideas.

The Last Chance Of The Year

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There is a saying that “old habits die hard”.  This is possibly an overstatement, and it might not apply to everybody.  But it is a powerful statement of inertia that applies to a large segment of the population.  A major stress factor, such as the discovery of a new food allergy or the loss of a job, can change people’s habits rapidly and decisively.  However, in the absence of some kind of major push, most people’s habits will change slowly or even not at all.  It is for this reason that bad habits like watching too much TV, engaging in frequent unprotected sex with strangers, and even smoking can persist for decades.

I would not consider the habit I am referring to as a bad one.  It is mostly just annoying to some people around me.  It all started in the 8th grade when I became somewhat obsessed with football.  A typically Sunday for me that fall I would not only watch a couple of NFL games, but I would also watch the pre-game show at 11 A.M., as well as NFL Primetime at 6 P.M.  On any given Sunday, I’d watch as much as 8 hours of football!

This also caused me to put off too much of my schoolwork.  Then one November weekend, I suddenly realized that I had a major Science project due and I was running out of time to complete it.  That Friday evening, I came home from school knowing that I would have to scramble to finish this project on-time, and calculated that I would have almost no time for anything else that weekend.  My parents were disappointed in me, and actually feared that my grades would suffer because of it.

That weekend’s weather was especially nice, with high temperatures reaching 70 on Sunday.  Sometime on Sunday my father reminded me that this would probably be the last 70-degree day until April.  As a weather tracker from a young age, this was a fact that I was already well aware of.  But, it was something I had not been thinking about through all of this.  At this time, my father was just trying to be a good parent, and inform me that procrastination had consequences.  But the sudden reminder, that it would be at least three, and up to five months before weather like this would return prompted me to go outside that minute, even though I knew all I could afford was a 10-15 minute break from my work.

The previous winter was my first in Illinois, and it was quite harsh!  Not only had I just moved from Long Island, New York, a place with milder winters, but that winter was harsh for Chicago area standards too!  Temperatures were significantly colder than their long-term averages, particularly in January and February.  I recalled seeing a snowpack persist for over five weeks, something I had never seen before, and school was closed a couple of days due to extreme temperatures (below -20).  It was quite a shock for me, and something I did not enjoy.  Feeling that fresh air, and knowing that these ten minutes would be all I get for such a long time made me regret my obsessive watching of football in a way I had never regretted anything before.  It was that day that I realized that I cared significantly more about activities that I personally participate in than watching professional sports (or anything on TV).  I did not completely give up on watching professional sports that day.  But, since that day I’ve have had a clear understanding of where my priorities lie.

The winter that followed would be modestly mild for Chicago standards.  But, it was still colder than the ones I remembered in New York, and there were still very few days warm enough to be enjoyable for outdoor activities.  It was enough to cement in me the lessons I learned that November day.  I would spend seventeen more years in the Midwest, in either Illinois, Indiana, or Wisconsin.  Only one winter season would be more oppressively cold than that first one (and I was in Wisconsin- a colder place overall).  Many of the winters would be milder, some significantly milder.  Still, I would rehearse the same pattern every fall.  Starting around Halloween weekend, any day where temperatures were projected to reach the 60s or 70s would basically sound an alarm off inside of me.  I would start planning ahead of time how to take advantage of these particular days, and bill it “the last nice day of the year.”  Sometimes, I would even have some “false starts” in this process, where I would be prompted to enjoy “the last nice day of the year” only to have another stretch (or even two or three) of warm weather occur before winter set in.

Now that I live in Denver, this practice is not necessary.  Not only do sunny and mild days occur quite frequently in the middle of the winter, but winter is one of the most exciting times to be in Colorado- due to skiing.  But, we are also not in an ordinary weather pattern.  Today’s highs will top out somewhere between 60 and 65.  But, after this, an abnormally prolonged period of cold weather is expected in Colorado.  It might even be too cold to ski, as highs between 10 and 20, and lows below 0 are anticipated for Denver.  It will be even colder in the mountains!  So, that alarm in my head triggered me to take advantage of this day as if it were the last chance I would have this year to go on a bike ride, which I did.

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Of course, one of the challenge in taking advantage of the last nice day of the year is that in November and December, the days are quite short.  Today I also had an added time constraint, as I knew the winds around Denver would pick up around noon, making bicycling much more unpleasant.  So, I stuck to a much simpler ride, down the Cherry Creek Trail to  Cherry Creek State Park, a 25 mile round trip.  Most of the ride is flat, or slightly uphill on the way out and slightly downhill on the way back.  The first major terrain feature is a large hill near Kennedy Golf Course, which is followed by the climb up to the reservoir.

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The Cherry Creek Trail is one of the best trails I have ever ridden!  It follows the river, through all of the underpasses, and avoids nearly all traffic lights.  This makes it a perfect way to get somewhere quickly on a bicycle.  There is some terrain climbing up to Cherry Creek State Park, but overall, the ride here only involves three “climbs”, and each one is only a couple of hundred feet in elevation.  Therefore, this would be a great ride for people who are only in moderately good shape, or not looking for a major challenge.

It will be too cold for bicycling in Denver to be enjoyable for at least another week and a half.  But, in all likelihood, this was not my “last chance of the year” to ride.  Therefore, I probably did not need to be too concerned about taking advantage of today’s weather.  However, I am also not seeing any negative consequences in taking advantage of a day like this.  I did not miss out on anything important, and everything I need to work on I can complete in the later part of this week when the weather turns awful.  So, this old habit is going to “die hard”, and probably won’t change much until it leads to a poor result.