Learning How to Look at Yourself

Most people struggle with self image. Our society tries to teach us that we have to maintain a certain type of image that we project to others and we spend a great deal of time trying to conform to that expectation. It isn’t necessarily any one specific configuration of person that everyone is trying to be, but a standard sense of feeling like we are accepted by others. You need only look at the various social media accounts of the people you’ve decided to let into your life to verify this.

The problem with this sort of social striving is that we make it much harder on ourselves to do any sort of true self analysis. Our attention is so caught up in trying to polish our public image that we tend to ignore taking a really hard look at who we really are on the inside. We are far more interested in taking the perfect “selfie” than looking in the mirror and trying to seriously understand the person staring back at us.

I can say with some honesty that this isn’t really something I’ve bought into with any significant level of commitment. Social norms have never really appealed to me, and being in groups of people has always made me uncomfortable, especially when they are people I’m not very familiar with. This has allowed me a great deal of solitude, which is an excellent environment for self reflection.

When you have large quantities of time in which to really take a hard look at yourself, it becomes much easier to be honest about who you are. With all the distractions gone, you stop listening to what other people are saying and really start looking at how you work at every level. The things you start to learn can be shocking at times, as you start to realize you aren’t even close to this ideal image everyone seems to want to wear like a costume.

For many, it is much easier to be honest about the flaws of other people because our egos make it very difficult to think that we aren’t good people. In my own case, I have a very brutal sense of honesty, to the extent that I admit terrible things about myself that I would never have the courage to point out in someone else. As we all know but never admit, we each have an incredibly strong dark side lurking somewhere beneath the civilized veneer we cloth ourselves in.

If this sounds scary to you, don’t be discouraged. Truth is rarely easy or safe. When you decide to start down a path of serious self analysis you’re going to find things about yourself that aren’t very nice to think about. The trick is to have that thought firmly in your head from the very beginning so that you aren’t surprised when you stumble on something that you would normally consider shocking. If you aren’t finding anything that makes you afraid of your own potential, you likely aren’t doing it right.

What do you get out of all of this? As you start to peel back the layers of your own person, you gain a deeper understanding of why you behave the way that you do. It also allows you to identify things in your life you never knew you’d be able to live with. Sometimes we have expectations that simply don’t need to continue, mostly because the way our true selves work is in opposition to these flighty desires. Learning to look at yourself with as clear a lens as possible is a great step toward moving to a better place in your life.

What do you think about self reflection? Have you learned to cast off the illusions we tend to create around ourselves? How can you apply these things to your life in a way that makes it better? Taking the time for self improvement requires a lot of time and effort; there are no shortcuts to anything that is truly worth doing, but the rewards for such a journey can be life changing.

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Personal Post: Living Life as a Goldfish

It’s been said that a goldfish only has an active memory span of about three seconds. Science has disproven this myth, but it has been an apt comparison to people who struggle with remembering things. I say all the time that I have the memory of a goldfish, mostly because I have a consistent pattern of forgetting things. Most of the time those things aren’t very important, but sometimes they can be quite a problem.

The problem for me is when this bad quality crops up when it involves making plans with other people or conveying important information to those who need it. I can’t count how many times I’ve been told some detail that needed to be passed on or discussed with someone only to forget the entire thing moments after the conversation is over. It isn’t very frustrating to me, but it usually sparks quite a bit of irritation or anger when I come in at the last minute with important information. It’s even worse when I completely forget altogether.

I’m not sure what causes this problem with my memory. There isn’t anything in my long term memory to suggest this was ever a problem in the past, so either my memory is so bad that my entire life isn’t as I recall or this is something that is getting worse with age. I don’t believe Alzheimer’s runs in my family, and I hate to think about possibly going down that road. I’ve seen what that can do to people.

Another possibility is simply that my attention seems to always be focused on the moment, which I discussed in another article. I get a new piece of information and then, if I don’t do something to make sure I remember it later, my attention shifts back to whatever it was I was doing or whatever the next thing on my list is. The detail I was supposed to retain is lost to the void, only to resurface later when something happens that forces it back into my head.

The problem is that it comes off to other people as if I just don’t care enough about them to remember. That’s an understandable way to look at it, even if it isn’t true. I do care, and I’m always there for the people who need me when it’s most important, setting aside anything I have going on to make sure they have what they need. The problem is those pesky details that just aren’t big enough to stay in my brain for very long. Those get left by the wayside.

It makes things very difficult for me in my daily life. I’m always blindsided with things that I should have taken care of long before it came up, but didn’t because I wasn’t able to retain the memory long enough to do something about it. It constantly frustrates my significant other, and there have been a non-zero number of arguments that have stemmed from me forgetting to tell her something she needed to know. No one chooses to live life that way. Why would I choose to make things more difficult?

If you are a consistent reader, you’ll not that I put the moniker of personal post on this article. All this means is that I wanted to share something about myself with you that isn’t necessarily about the topics this blog was created for, but more about who I am as a person. Sometimes it helps to share things with others, even if it probably won’t fix whatever problem you have. Maybe it can or maybe it can’t, but at least putting it out there in the world is doing something about it. Here’s hoping that I can figure out how to make this problem more manageable.

What do you think about forgetting things? Does it mean you don’t care, or is it a problem with your brain? Is there someone in your life who struggles with an inability to keep track of things? It can be hard to tell the difference between someone who doesn’t care and someone who just can’t keep it together, but it’s usually better to assume that they just can’t make it work until you have evidence to the contrary.

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Keeping Calm in Stressful Situations

Throughout our lives we are subjected to many situations that cause us frustration or fear or anxiety or any other number of negative emotions. We always wish we can avoid these kinds of encounters, but the reality is that most of our life is centered around conflict of some kind. In some ways this is a good thing because it is only when we are placed under strain and have to push our way through a situation that we are able to grow into something more than we already are.

I just went through something that was very stressful and could have ended in a catastrophically bad way, but that result was avoided because I was able to de-escalate the situation. High levels of emotion were involved and there was a lot of chaos in the fray, but in the end it all turned out to be nothing and we were able to resolve the situation with no lasting negative results. I won’t go into any real detail here, as it was a very personal situation that didn’t involve just me, but suffice it to say if it had been handled differently it could have been life altering.

If there is something we can learn from this kind of situation, it is that allowing our emotions to control our behavior almost never generates the kinds of results we would prefer to have. When we rush headlong into a fight or make snap decisions out of fear or make assumptions about a person based solely on very limited information, we have very little chance of thinking clearly and rationally approaching whatever the problem is to come up with a clear and logical solution. Emotion by its very nature is chaotic, the very opposite of what is needed in a crisis.

As I stated in the very first post for this blog, one of the things I hope to accomplish during the course of my writing is to not only discuss different topics that are important to me, but also to help people move toward a more logic based way of thinking. Our society today has shifted away from looking for efficient, effective solutions to our problems in favor of spinning our wheels trying to do things that make us feel good. There is little thought put into the decisions we make as a nation today, and the same is true for many of us in our own personal lives.

Perhaps the best skill we can hope to master is that of emotional self control. The ability to maintain our calm in any situation is something that is difficult to attain and even more difficult to do consistently. Depending on where you fall on that spectrum of control, getting to a place where you are able to always manage hectic situations in a good way could take many years to reach. I previously mentioned that behavioral issues usually take a very long time and require a lot of effort to change, and this definitely falls into that category.

It’s one thing to understand that we need to be calm in stressful situations, but something quite different to actually start doing it. Many people will be looking for some trick to make an easy transition from where they are now to where they want to be, but like nearly anything worth doing in life there just isn’t any easy way to make it happen. You just have to place your focus on making the change and maintain a constant readiness when the situations you have to deal with come up. To use a common parlance: practice makes perfect.

Obviously I’m not recommending you place yourself in stressful situations just to practice being calm. The chemicals your body generates during these times is not good for you and can be harmful over long periods of time. The idea is to spend time every day actively thinking about becoming better about how you handle conflict and get yourself mentally prepared every day for it. Go through scenarios in your mind and figure out the best way to handle them. Think about the different people you might interact with and how an argument might erupt and the best way to resolve it. Mental practice beforehand, however theoretical, at least gets your mind in the game before a potential situation. Waiting until you’re in it is far too late.

Too many times we are led down the easy path by people promising easy answers to hard questions. If it’s important for us to put a significant amount of time into searching for an answer, it probably doesn’t have an easy solution. Making things better for ourselves almost always requires hard work and dedication. That’s just the way things are. At least until they come up with a way to program bad behavior out of us. I’m not sure I’d want to live in that kind of world.

What do you think about emotional discipline? Do you struggle with keeping control during conflict? Have you ever had something terrible happen as a result of your inability to keep your cool? As we continue forward in this new society we live in today, we are seeing an increasing lack of emotional control. It is only when we can take a step back and try to look at things objectively that we can come up with the best solutions to our problems.

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The Joy and Bane of Video Games

Everything in life is best when taken in moderation. This is a common theme among many practices in our lives, especially when it comes to things that can be harmful when taken to extremes. The effects of addictive behavior are most obvious when our addictions create behaviors that are upsetting or dangerous to others, but some of our vices are only harmful to ourselves primarily and can have a secondary negative effect on the people around us that may not be as clear.

For myself, I struggle with an extremely addictive personality. For most of my life I have had a problem with moderating my behavior in certain activities, partly because they are so enjoyable and partly because of the hyper-focused way that my mind works. What this means in reality is that anything I engage in that I find fun and that requires any amount of dedicated focus is likely to turn into an addiction, even if only for a short period of time. Once it’s no longer fun, the addiction fades away.

The problem arises when you have an endless supply of new versions of whatever your addiction happens to be. For many people, video games fall into this category, and I am certainly included in that group. My entire life from childhood to now has included a significant amount of digital interactive entertainment, from the early console systems like the Nintendo Entertainment System (really showing my age here) all the way up to the modern online gaming era that included monster role playing games like World of Warcraft.

As I stated before, there are two components to a video game addiction that causes problems. The first is the part that gets us involved in the first place: fun. We start out playing a game because we find it enjoyable, and the more fun something is, the more time we want to spend doing it. We get snared into that great feeling we get when we’re doing something we like, and that creates an urge to keep playing even when we know we should stop.

The second part is the focus aspect. The reason this is important is that virtually all video games are designed to grab your attention and hold it for the entire time you are playing. It is rare to find a truly engaging game that doesn’t require you to put most or all of your attention on it constantly. As a result, your mind shuts out the world around you and you are immersed in the fantasy world that has been created for you.

As I said at the beginning of this article, neither of these two things are necessarily bad on their own. Escaping reality for a short period of time can be quite healthy, providing a relief from the stress and pressure of our daily lives. The problem arises when you find yourself wanting to spend more and more of your time in that world and can’t bring yourself back to the real one. When you pull yourself away and all you can think about is getting back to the game, you’re experiencing withdrawal symptoms. It is classic addiction.

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to resolve this kind of thing. Video game addiction ranges from a mild problem to full blown ruining of people’s lives. Unlike a drug addiction, there are no harmful chemicals that can cause us to “overdose”, so it is much like a functioning alcoholic in that the person is damaged and this causes problems for the people around them, but they can still go on being addicted and make things work. It isn’t optimal, just functioning.

This is the joy and bane of videos games, at least when it comes to someone like me with an addictive personality. For most things in my life, I have brief explosions of addictive behavior, which is fine because I also quickly become bored and move on. Video games, on the other hand, change so much and so fast that I never seem to get bored. Individual games fall away, but gaming itself has stood the test of time. I am a functioning video game addict, and I’m not alone. Odds are that if this came up in your search, you might be too.

What do you think about video game addiction? Do you or someone you know struggle with it? Where do you draw the line between simply enjoying a game and becoming addicted to it? This isn’t the deepest of topics covered on this blog, but sometimes the simple things affect us the most. Knowing you have a problem and finding a way to break free of it are two different things, and one is much harder than the other.

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Maintaining Relationships with Emotional Problems

I tend to have tunnel vision. It’s one of my major flaws that I’ve never seemed to be able to figure out how to effectively deal with. As my attention is grabbed by one thing or another, I tend to become hyper interested in whatever it is I am doing and everything else falls out of my consciousness. The result of this is that I tend to have difficulty maintaining any real amount of focus on anything else as my mind races in lockstep with whatever current activity I’m involved in.

One of the consequences of this flaw in my makeup is that I tend to have a great deal of difficulty in maintaining my relationships with other people. This isn’t because I don’t care about the people in my life. On the contrary, when a need arises I set everything aside to make sure whatever they need is taken care of. However, when it comes to the day to day process of interacting with the people who are important to me in my life, I tend to not do a very good job of maintaining contact at the level that they would prefer.

There is an over-tendency to jump to medical diagnoses when it comes to behavioral problems such as this, throwing around terms like Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), but I think most of the time this is just an excuse for people to not have to change their ways. If we can blame a medical problem for our behavior, then we don’t have to take responsibility for our actions and we don’t have to put any effort into changing.

The other end of the spectrum is just as bad. When people don’t understand why you have the behavior that you do, it is difficult for them to accept that you might want to change but can’t do it overnight. Some of the people in your life might tell you that you should just be able to stop doing what they don’t like as if it is like flipping a switch. Behavioral habits just don’t work like that.

By far the most difficult situation is when your significant other stands in opposition to whatever behavioral issue you might be dealing with, especially when their is no understanding on their part about what your behavior is and why. They become hurt when you don’t act in the way they wish that you would, taking it as a sign that you don’t care. As a result, the situation is not only created by the fact that you have a negative habit in your behavior, it is amplified exponentially by the emotional hurt caused by a lack of understanding on both sides.

The goal would seem to be that each party in any relationship should approach the situation with a default attitude of not making any assumptions until enough evidence has been acquired to make a conclusion. Are they ignoring me because they don’t care, or are they busy with something and it’s just the way they are that causes them to forget everything else? Do they take care of the important things I need them to do, or do they let me down when it really counts?

At the same time, both sides should also be putting effort into resolving whatever behavioral issues are causing strain in the relationship. Ample patience and understanding should be had on both sides in understanding that the process of changing a habit takes a very long time, and behavioral habits are perhaps the most difficult to adjust. When we remember that some things take a lifetime to change, we start to see that even small, tiny changes can be a huge sign that the person really cares about making us happy.

In the end, the attitude on both sides should be something to the effect of “I love you the way you are no matter what, but I have hope this thing I don’t like will change someday”. This way our love can be unconditional and we don’t place unnecessary stress on the other person, but we keep the focus on trying to reduce the strain in the relationship caused by things we don’t like. If both sides can adopt this philosophy, then the frustration of dealing with interpersonal problems becomes much easier to deal with.

What do you think about relational stress? Do you have a behavioral quality that is causing problems in your own relationships? What steps are you taking to not only change your own behaviors, but become understanding of other people’s issues and support their efforts to change them? Relationships are perhaps the most important part of our life, and learning to improve them can have a drastic effect on our happiness and contentment.

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Am I a Good Person?

One of my favorite songs right now is a parody music video by a YouTube content creator by the name of TheOdd1sOut entitled Good Person. In the video, the performer goes through several examples of a completely self absorbed person who does a number of “good” things in an effort to show what a virtuous person they are, but each example is nullified by an equally bad or selfish thing that shows his true colors. The message of the video is funny but clear: the point of doing good things is to be good, not to look good.

This is a perfect satirical statement about our society today. Too many people are far more interested in their own optics rather than actually getting anything done. In a nation where the average person craves fame more than value, it is difficult to find people who you can count on to do the right thing even most of the time. More often than not, what we see in public is vastly different than who the person really is in their private life.

Most of us struggle with this in our own lives from time to time, so it is difficult to become too angry with these people. One of the hardest things for a person to do is to break away from the crowd and stand up for something that isn’t very popular. It doesn’t matter if the thing we believe in is factually correct or morally righteous. Our fear of rejection or even physical harm can sometimes prevent us from doing the right thing. It’s easy to be noble when there aren’t any consequences for it. The task becomes infinitely more difficult when we have to face opposition.

Still, a lack of courageous people in our society is exactly why we see the societal rot that we live with today. Career politicians are the most obvious and corrupt example of this. If you look back on the average representative, you will likely find a multitude of positional changes as you move through their history. Sometimes it is a genuine change of heart on an issue, but most of the time it is either political expediency or a necessary evil to save their job. Rarely does a politician truly sacrifice himself on the alter of truth.

On a more basic level, this is a problem not only with the people charged with leading our nation, but also with the general public at large. Most of us want to look like we’ll always do the right thing, but when an opportunity comes along that’s just too tempting to ignore we’ll happily jump into a situation that is harmful to someone else to line our own pockets. The riots over the last year or so are evidence of this. Average people stealing and destroying the livelihoods of their own neighbors, ostensibly because they’re angry about some esoteric problem but the reality is that it’s because they have an excuse to be evil and can get away with it.

There are a lot of places to lay the blame for this kind of behavior. The feckless media we have today certainly doesn’t help. They always cover the things that make us hate each other while ignoring the things we’ve done that make our nation great. The movie and television industry is no better, showing us as much violence and sex and other mind rotting material as they can cram through their production lines. Social media platforms filter out the things we really should be seeing in favor of those that pit us against each other, a divide and conquer strategy as old as time.

The bottom line, however, is that it doesn’t matter if we have corrupt politicians or a hollowed out media industry or even social networking conglomerates actively working against us. No matter what you see in your daily life, the only person responsible for your actions is you. When you set aside the noise of all the excuses laid out in this article and look at yourself in the mirror, all you’re left with is the actions you chose to take. It becomes very difficult to sidestep the guilt when there’s no one to blame but yourself.

The point of this article is not to make anyone feel bad, but to point out that being a good person is an internal thing. Much like being in love, no one else can tell you if you’re virtuous. You just know because you do virtuous things with no thought of reward. This is probably the hardest thing to do, because human beings are naturally selfish and want to get paid for their efforts. But the truth is that the best rewards have nothing to do with anyone else. It is feeling good about ourselves that is the greatest payment we can ever receive.

What do you think about fake goodness? How do you feel when you find out someone you thought was good never really was? Are you able to tell the difference between a truly selfless person and someone who just wants to get something from you? There’s nothing you can really do about the people in life who just want to get what they can for themselves, but you can always do something to make yourself a better person. The better you make yourself, the more you’ll be able to see people for who they truly are.

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Why Is It So Hard to Eat Healthy?

This is a huge topic for me. One of the biggest struggles I have in my life is learning to deal with eating the right way, and based on the fact that so many people in our country struggle with obesity, I know I’m not the only one. The food culture in the United States is an amazing thing, but it has also created an environment where many people will spend the rest of their lives struggling with weight, diabetes and other terrible afflictions brought on by the things that we put in our bodies.

I’ve stated in the past that I was a Marine for more than a decade of my life, and one would think that so much time spent in such a disciplined environment would have conditioned me to avoid this problem. Unfortunately, I had the bad luck of having an extremely high metabolism in my younger days and I was able to get by with minimal effort. I could eat whatever I wanted and it never really affected me. A bit of mandatory exercise and I was able to keep up with the physical requirements.

Where this failed me is when that metabolism started slowing down. Not having established any discipline with my food and a pattern of lazy behavior due to the lack of being forced to exert myself much has created an older gentleman that struggles not only to get off the couch but also to fight off the cravings for the things I’m used to. I’ve recently given up sugar, but that is far from a cure all. There has to be a comprehensive change in the way I live my life.

Despite the many personal reasons for why I’ve ended up in this situation, we have to look higher and wider for the reason why so many people today struggle with this issue. Many blame it on how expensive healthy food products have become, and that is certainly part of the equation. However, the real reason is something a bit more insidious, mostly because there is no human force behind it. The problem is simply a side effect of the modern world we live in: convenience.

I can personally attest to the fact that many times I end up eating things that are terrible for me not because I can’t afford to eat better, but because I just don’t feel like taking the time to prepare something better for myself. Why would I spend thirty minutes or an hour preparing a meal manually when I can just grab something to throw in the microwave? I don’t want to spend a significant portion of my day cooking, and my guess is that most people today feel the same way.

There are many things in life that convenience has made better, but it seems clear to me that it has become a menace in the world of food. There’s a saying that states that “nothing worth doing is easy”, and this is probably true. Convenient food is rarely healthy, but who can resist taking the easy path when it’s so accessible to so many? It becomes very difficult to choose to buy real groceries when you can just swing by the drive thru on your way home; buy a bag of chips rather than a tasteless bag of vegetables.

In the end, eating is a choice like everything else. We each decide what is most important to us, and one of those choices is convenience over health. As long as we continue to defer to our laziness rather than getting off the couch and eating better, we will struggle with being overweight. There is no secret formula to get us out of the natural equation. Eat less calories than you burn…that’s it. You do that by either eating less, working out more or some combination of the two. That is, until they come out with a pill that makes even burning fat convenient.

What do you think about unhealthy eating? Do you struggle with this like so many others? What can you change today to start moving yourself toward a more healthy lifestyle? People are always looking for the easy solution, but when it comes to our weight there just isn’t one. You have to put in the work, and for most people it is very hard. Only you can decide if you’re willing to put in the effort.

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You Don’t Need a New…..

It is interesting to look at consumerism in America. Most of us don’t think twice about buying something new, even when the thing we are replacing is still perfectly serviceable. For most of human history, our decision making when it comes to buying things was almost totally based on need, unless you happened to be in the privileged position of being wealthy. Nowadays, the average person lives far better than kings used to just a hundred or so years ago.

This of course started only in the last century as we increased our ability to make more and more things at cheaper and cheaper prices. The industrial revolution and the technological advances that followed it created a world where it was about the same price or effort to just buy something new rather than fixing what you had. Throwing things away in favor of the shiny new bauble was far preferable when the cost was the same.

Unfortunately, this attitude ignores one of the most logical tenets that should be a part of our decision making process: just because you can do a thing doesn’t mean that you should. In a previous post, I described how making decisions from a place of emotion rarely results in the best result. While that post was centered more around having the courage to face our fears, the same logic applies when it comes to the way we use things in our daily lives.

One of the best examples of the negative consequences of emotional spending is the purchase of vehicles. The average car has a reasonable useful lifespan of at least ten years, while the average loan today is only six years. Typically, the person owns the car for a few years and then gets bored with it, attracted by the shiny new model they see in an advertisement. Rather than paying off the car and using the extra four years the car should last to save up for their next car, they trade in now at a net loss and place the negative equity on top of the new car. Each new loan adds more and more debt for less value.

It doesn’t have to be this way, if you can learn to control your desires. I have historically struggled with this myself, and am saddled with a fair amount of debt because of it. However, I have learned to suppress this desire in certain areas of my life and I am now finally making headway. For example, I was accustomed to getting a new phone every couple of years, but rather than add another phone payment to my plan, I simply paid off my current phone and I’m holding onto it until it fails. It still works fine, despite a cracked screen and body, and there is no reason other than aesthetics to replace it. Why spend more for something I don’t need?

This is counter to what the market wants us to believe. It is not in the best interest of the economy in general for consumers to start spending less and holding onto things longer. It relies on people spending what they make to increase productivity and grow the GDP. You will rarely be told that you shouldn’t buy a new car or a new phone or a new house or whatever else you’re considering. Businesses rely on your dollar to keep running, and will do anything they can to acquire your patronage.

The point of this post isn’t so much to criticize people who buy things before they need to, but to encourage you to stop and think about your purchase before you commit to it. If you have the disposable income to arbitrarily purchase things with cash without endangering your finances, then I absolutely support your decision to inject money into the economy via your spending. However, far too many of us can’t really afford that shiny new thing and end up going into debt for it. This is where we really need to take a hard look at what we’re doing.

Being smart with money is something the average person just isn’t taught. It isn’t in the best interest of those who manipulate the rest of us to have a public that is informed on how things really work, and especially not to have someone like me advocating for people to not spend money they don’t have to. At the end of the day, only you can decide how to budget your finances, and it is your priorities that set your spending. Just keep in mind that the new thing you buy usually ends up costing you more than you first think.

What do you think about upgrading to new things? Are you good with your decision making, or do you tend to be wasteful? How much of your existing debt is a result of buying something new that you didn’t really need? At some point, we all need to learn how to be better with our money. If we don’t, we will continue to make the same mistakes over and over again, wasting money that we could have applied to something more valuable.

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Learning How to Value Yourself

Most of us struggle with seeing the great things that we contribute to the people around us. We get stuck in our daily routines, grinding our way through life just trying to make ends meet and we don’t notice the things that we do all the time that make a difference. It can become hard sometimes to feel motivated to do anything at all because we feel trapped in the regimented schedules that we have created for ourselves.

The reality is that to function in a society at all, there must be some sort of value that makes us worth dealing with. It is only when we have something meaningful to contribute that we are able to interact in any sort of positive way with the people in our lives. Even if you don’t make a lot of money, you have some sort of value that makes you important to someone. Our ability to be valuable to others isn’t necessarily about producing anything. Social currency is a real thing.

Men tend to focus on career, but this can be a very bad way to judge our own value. There are only so many high value jobs in the working world, and very few will rise to the level that we tend to think of as being “successful”. We tend to have a very “pie in the sky” view of what our lives should be, and the disappointment we feel when that dream world doesn’t materialize can be incredibly demoralizing if we don’t have realistic expectations.

I used to struggle with this myself. Like most men, when I was young I had this idea that I was going to have so many great things by the time I turned thirty, not realizing at the time that the people who get those things that early are the extreme exception, not the rule. My life certainly isn’t where I hoped it would be when I was just getting into my life as an adult, and sometimes it is a struggle to be satisfied with what I have.

What most men don’t realize is that we contribute a lot more than just our work. We are sons and fathers and brothers and husbands as well, and those things are far more important than how much money we make or what kind of car we drive or the house we live in. As many have said before, on the last day of our lives when we are looking back at what we spent our lives doing, we won’t be saying that we wished we made just one more dollar. We will be looking at the loved ones around us and feel grateful that we had amazing relationships to share that life with.

Women struggle in much the same way, except that their focus tends to be on self image rather than what they produce. The same idea applies to them. Focusing on our personal relationships rather than popularity or other such nonsense is a much better metric for determining your own value. The flaky friends you had when you were young won’t be there in thirty years when you need someone to give you real emotional support. It is your family and close friends who will matter in the end, not your dress size or social media friend count.

It can be difficult to look at our situations today and feel satisfied with where we are. Human beings are by nature movers, always looking ahead to the next thing we need to get done. I am certainly not satisfied with where my career has taken me, and it has spurred me to jump feet first into this blog with the small hope that I can make something valuable out of it. But along the way I need to remember that I am important in ways other than the dead end career options I’ve been given. Jobs are temporary; value lasts a lifetime.

What do you think about your own value? Can you see the good things you contribute to the world around you? Take a few minutes and make a list of the things about you that other people might find valuable, even if they seem ridiculous. As you take a moment to reflect on that list, you might find that you have far more to offer people than what the “mainstream” has decided is “valuable”.

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Learning to Keep Your Mouth Shut

One of the hardest things for a man to do is to sit back and let things happen, especially when they are things that he disagrees with. I have mentioned in the past that we can learn to live with humiliating situations, but what about those times when things are happening that strike at the core of your life and are being caused by people you used to trust? What do you do when you feel the anger welling up inside you and all you want to do is scream at someone?

I’ve learned over the years that many times speaking out just makes things worse, not only for you, but for the people you care about. I’ve said a lot on this blog about standing up to what is wrong and finding the courage to do what needs to be done, and in many situations this is absolutely the right thing to do. Unfortunately, there are also situations where sometimes you just have to sit down and shut up and let things happen, even if you hate every minute of it.

Among the myriad situations to which this applies is child custody. I haven’t gotten too personal about this particular area of my life, mostly because I prefer to keep my children out of anything public like this. The sad thing is that they are no longer close by, and everyone hates it except for the person who decided it in the first place. It was a decision made by one person that affects nearly everyone who matters, but none of us got a say in any of it.

What can you do in a situation like this? I could have fought the decision, but would that really have helped? There is a tenuous congeniality involved in this particular situation, a delicate balance which can be upset with a single wrong word. A step in the wrong direction could bring misery down not only on myself, but also on my kids. Even though my principles tell me to fight for what I think is best for them, the reality is that all I can really do is make things worse.

The movies give us situations like this all the time. A man might be walking down the street with his wife and they are accosted by a man with a knife wanting her purse. Our natural instinct is to defend the one we love, but in reality the odds are that resisting someone with more power than us is only going to result in someone getting hurt. Is it worth it to protect a few dollars or trinkets?

Where we get a difference is in the same situation when the man wants to rape his wife. Then it crosses a threshold where there is no longer any choice but to fight as hard as he can to stop a person with evil intent from causing irreparable harm to the person he loves most. This is a clear line that most of us naturally understand. There is very little ambiguity when it comes to a black and white situation like this.

The problem is that many of our problems don’t have black and white solutions. When things come up that cause us pain, the first thought that enters our mind is usually the nuclear option. Just blow everything up and let the chips fall where they may. This is almost never the correct response, and as we get older it becomes much easier to understand why. We start out making decisions impulsively with little wisdom. Experience teaches us the folly of acting that way.

In the end, sometimes we have to learn to just shut our mouths and accept what we can’t change. Only you can decide where this applies in your life. I can write on this blog and encourage you to stand up for your rights and fight the system, or do any number of other things, but at the same time we all have to realize that there are certain costs that we aren’t willing to pay. And sometimes we have to be aware of the costs we don’t even know about yet. Is it worth blowing everything up to get our way?

What do you think about using discretion? Have you learned to filter out what is important and what you need to just let slip by? How do you handle it when you have to just accept what is? Part of growing up is learning to differentiate between what you should fight against and what you should learn to live with. There are things that are non-negotiable, but sometimes it’s more important to sacrifice your pride for the benefit of others.

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