Choosing, not settling

Life is complicated. Few things, indeed, are perfect. Certainly no relationships meet that standard. So what does it mean to accept imperfections, or even differences, in another person? And does acceptance mean that you settle?

We’re initially drawn to others for the positives: the things we have in common, the personality traits or the physical characteristics that we admire in someone. Humor. Kindness. Creativity. Attractiveness. Love of adventure. Intelligence. Emotional maturity. Energy. Ambition. In the beginning, it’s all good. There is excitement in each connection, in every conversation. There’s so much to be explored, to be revealed.

In the beginning of a relationship, there’s big talk. Life, death, history. It seems like you could talk forever.

But eventually, the everyday crowds in, and the business of life takes over. After 29 years of marriage, we don’t tell each other our history. We don’t have to; we’ve lived it together. And we long ago shared our opinions and beliefs of many of the big life questions. We’ve had some evolution over time. But still, for the most part, we know who we are as individuals, and who the other person is.

We have some differences in our views. Differences in what we deem important. We have this conversation: have we just settled? Are we in a rut of relationship? We shouldn’t be clones. My life coach says, “If two are the same, one is unnecessary.” Meaning, unless you’re into having a spare of everything, you don’t need two people who are exactly the same. The differences add the spice, the variety, make the relationship unique among relationships.

I believe that in the end, we choose the significant others in our lives as much for their faults as for their good traits. Yes, at first, we’re drawn to someone by what we have in common and by their positive qualities. But after we see the negatives peek through, there’s a different process that occurs. Whether we recognize it or not, whether it is done subconsciously or not, there is a second process of selection, and this one is based on the negatives. We begin to determine what we can live with. As in, yes, there are things about Rob that annoy me, that irritate me. There are ways we are different. And I know, because over the years, he’s given me a hint or two about this, that there are things about me that frustrate him. I am not perfect for him. He is not perfect for me.

But I have chosen, not settled. Long ago, I saw the heart of this person that drew me. We were babies then, not even out of college. I don’t know how we beat the odds to survive this long. Somehow we did. It hasn’t been easy. We’re not perfect together. But we have created a dance between the two of us. It’s a unique dance, one that only we two know the steps to. I know when he’s having a bad day and needs quiet. I see him when he’s singing to oldies with the music cranked up so I worry the neighbors will complain. He knows when I am in sync, at peace. He sees me when I’m troubled and unhappy. He bears with me.

He’s turning 50 in a few weeks. We talk about a birthday plan. Should we go somewhere? Just the two of us? What does he want? I tell him I don’t care. It’s his special day. But I will choose to be with him, wherever he is. I chose long ago, and I’m still choosing.

It’s good now and then to revisit this in my mind. To know that I choose. To know I am not settling for what’s in front of me, just because the relationship exists.

As you think about your life, your commitments, I wish you the same peace, the same assurance. I wish for you the the certainty that comes from choosing for yourself, with full knowledge of the good, the bad, and the unique. And remember, if two are the same, one is unnecessary.

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Response vs reaction

A Garden hose.

Here’s a fun and intriguing game: think of two words that begin with the same letter, are similar in meaning, yet have subtle differences. There are many word pairs that work for this exercise. The words I’m using here, response and reaction, fit these requirements perfectly.

Imagine any scenario between two people, or groups of people. The scenario has some element of conflict. Maybe conflict is too strong a word…maybe in the scene there is just a difference of opinion. One person or group speaks or acts, and the other responds. What type of interaction do you see? I see a calm and measured exchange, a respectful and healthy exchange.

Change the word describing the scene to “react” and there is a shift in interpretation. Now the second person or group is not so calm. There is a hint of acting out of instinct, of acting from the gut. In fact, you frequently hear the phrase “gut reaction” to describe a swift and automatic volley of speech or action.

In life, there is a time for both response and reaction. If you are having a discussion, you most likely prefer a response to your statement. If you face an emergency, you react, hopefully swiftly, and probably instinctively.

So in conversations at home or at work, in encounters in line at the grocery or a parent-teacher conference, or more importantly, with a spouse or your child, choose carefully. Does the situation require a response? Or do you need to react? Have you mixed the two scenarios? Reacted when you should have responded? Or maybe, responded when you should have reacted? We can usually determine when we over-react. But it can be just as detrimental to under-react. If my house is on fire, I don’t need a garden hose, I need a fire-engine. So either responding or reacting can be appropriate. And either approach can be wrong.

My life coach and I were discussing this recently, and credit goes  to her for this  word pairing. Challenge yourself to think of other examples. The English language is full of these. Some pairings follow this pattern, and other words begin with the same letter but are opposite in meaning. The helpful part of the game is that when you pair words and consider the differences in meaning, you begin to consider how you display these meanings in your life. It’s an awareness check, and this is a tool.

Intention vs behavior

I was watching a TV show recently and someone used the phrase “a call to excellence.”  I can’t remember what the program was about. But the phrase made me think about how striving for excellence differs from being a perfectionist. There’s an important distinction in the two concepts.

If I allow myself to be in perfectionist mode, I am never satisfied with the results of my efforts. I feel like my best is never good enough. Not that anyone else makes that judgment; I make it for myself. I am my own worst critic. But when I have the mindset of reaching for excellence, there is a subtle shift in how I see my efforts. I am able to become my own cheerleader, as though I am standing back and watching an athlete race or attempt a demanding physical feat. I see the aim for the best outcome.

Perfectionism is about critiquing results, finding fault with what was done, or not done. Striving for excellence is about encouraging the reach, the desire to be the best I can. Even the words “strive,” “reach,” “aim,” convey an implicit realization that the goal may not be achieved, the reach may exceed the grasp. But there is also an acknowledgement in those words of trying, putting my best forward.

I know I’m not perfect. But I love the challenge of excelling. Striving for excellence keeps me engaged and encouraged. When I feel the burden of perfectionism creeping into my thoughts, I feel disheartened and defeated.

Now, the next step: I can only judge for myself when I am honestly striving for excellence. Whether I achieve my goal or not, I know if I have truly given my best. But I can’t know that about anyone else. Not another living soul. I can see results from others that may look far short of excellence. But how can I know what another person can achieve at any given time, or in any given situation? This realization brings me full circle. I can only control the results of my own efforts. I can encourage and cheer others on, from my sideline position. But I can’t achieve for anyone else, and I can’t know if anyone else has reached for their own excellence. I have to trust, and then accept.

My life coach says we judge others by their behavior and ourselves by our intentions. And this sums up the challenge for how we treat others. If I can forgive myself when I don’t achieve the excellence I strive for, why can’t I do that for everyone else in my life? Here it is again: grace. This is not being blind to shortcomings, whether in myself or others. Grace allows me to love and accept myself anyway. And to love and accept others anyway.

That is enormously freeing…not that I have been burdened with angst or carrying grudges. And I have been working to free myself of perfectionism for a long time (thank you, Flylady!) But it is helps me put this into words, think it through. The process allows me to be intentional in how I view myself and how I relate to others.

I am reaching for excellence, and living with grace.

Facing Future

I am 50. If I arbitrarily say that I was an adult at 25…finished with college, married, had a child…looked like a fully functioning adult…and if I optimistically hope that I live a healthy and productive life until I am 75 (achievable in this age of medical advances, and with my gene pool) I am exactly half way through my adult life. I have come a long way. I have a 29 year marriage, I have raised my kids,  lived in a lot of amazing places, experienced a lot of good.

This pivotal year, I am going to have a makeover. But this is not a physical makeover, other than what I do through normal means: diet, exercise, healthy habits. The makeover I am engaged in creating is one of a deeper nature. I am creating new behaviors for myself, in how I speak, in the way I express my desires, in the role I play in my own life.

Last weekend I had a powerful experience. I invited my sister in law, who is a professional life coach, to come and work with me, to evaluate and to help me define the areas of myself that I want to re-create. A disclaimer: this process is not “therapy;” coaching is not for someone who is battling a mental illness or disorder. Coaching is a one-on-one approach that allows the coach to give the client tools for improvement, then model the use of the tools, acting out the new behavior, and helping through accountability to put the new behaviors into sustainable practice.

I talk too much, too fast, I ramble. I have known this for a long time. It has come under a heading in my thinking of “that’s just the way I am.” But it isn’t who I have to be. I am not assertive, I am laid back. This has been a personality trait that I have even felt good about: “I’m low maintenance, easy to get along with.” But the reality is that this can be frustrating to people in my life, and although I have opinions and I express them, I should be more effective in communicating my desires. I need to be more engaged in determining the next steps in life.

I can find legitimate reasons for why I have been slow to act on these realizations. A lot of my adult life has been focused on the needs of the day, raising children, “keeping
milk in the house.” That time has passed, and now is the time to pause, to take stock, to think about who I want to be, who I choose to be, going forward.

For anyone thinking this is a sign of being self-absorbed, who is thinking, “just get over yourself,” I would say that is exactly what I want to do. I want to make changes that will
allow me to be more other-centered, will allow me to be more effective in my relationships, will remove barriers.

By definition, humans are fallible creatures. Everyone knows that. But though we can never be perfect, we can be better. We have the power to act, to change, to improve. I am facing future and I’m looking forward to the journey. What is your journey? I’ll be blogging about the things I am doing. Maybe you will see yourself reflected in some of my revelations. It is empowering to think that at the youthful age of 50, I can step up. It’s going to be a good year.