Why I Could Never Be a Life Coach

You’d think that being a life coach would be the perfect job for me. If you’ve read this blog with any frequency at all, you can see that I’m chock full of advice. I can figure out how to solve every problem on earth except my own.

What I seem to lack is the ability to persuade people to take my advice. Nobody listens. This is where my life coaching skills fall flat.

Because of this, I’m getting much better at only proffering ideas when asked. If someone comes to me with a problem, I am thrilled to put my thoughts out there, but more and more I’m learning that most things are best left to the ring master of the circus in question.

When someone does share a dilemma with me, and I give my advice, it comes as a profound shock to me that they think there’s any pressure applied from my end. Take it or leave it. I’m too used to being ignored to be overly upset when I am, in fact, ignored. It’s expected, actually.

So while the whole Life Coach idea has its appeal, I think I better just stick to my day job, and keep my suggestions within the confines of this blog.

Life Coach

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I Disagree

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the anatomy of disagreements. Naturally this has been inspired by the extreme divisions in this country, but it also has to do with the fact that I’ve had several fundamental disagreements lately with people I love and respect. I really loathe these situations, and find myself evermore diminished by them.

So let’s examine what’s going on internally when someone disagrees with me. First and foremost, I get defensive. I look for ways to justify my point of view. I feel rigid and unyielding. I don’t listen to what the other person is saying. I’m too busy working on a rebuttal.

And my adrenaline starts pumping. You’d think I was being chased by a lion. And that makes me feel sick to my stomach and a lot less calm and rational.

Next, I start second guessing myself. What’s wrong with my viewpoint? Am I being stupid? Did I overlook something? Am I crazy? Should I really hold this opinion? Will the other person think less of me for disagreeing? Do I care?

Then this internal battle goes on with my adult self and my wounded self. The adult self says, “Listen to what is being said. You might learn something.” Wounded self replies, “No! I refuse! This person is a stupid old poopy head.”

Sadly, my adult self only seems to prevail when I’m well-rested, not hungry, and feeling relatively self-confident. I’m a work in progress. Some days I’m better at listening than others.

Disagreeing is stressful. Listening is difficult. And I think we, as a nation, are becoming increasingly exhausted, which makes it harder to be our best selves.

But we need to try. Don’t you agree?

Disagree

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Adult-y Chores

I was feeling petulant, so I did what petulant people do these days. I left a snarky post on Facebook:

Screenshot-2017-10-20 Barbara Abelhauser

“There’s nothing worse than adult-y chores,” I was thinking. I had to go to the dentist and get a filling. I had to have the rear struts on my car replaced. I had to go to a home improvement store and buy 3 huge bundles of fiberglass insulation to put on the under-floor of my house. I had to grocery shop and get gas. I was tired and grumpy just thinking about it. And to make things even more special, it was raining. I would have greatly preferred staying in bed and cuddling with my dog Quagmire.

Then a friend responded to my post, “Just remember what it was like being a powerless child. Those chores are ok by me.”

Whoa! Perspective!

That’s a very good point. I still go into a bit of a panic when I’m feeling powerless. And that was my status quo as a kid. Sometimes I felt like the only logical person in my world, and yet I wasn’t taken seriously. I could see disasters on the horizon, and I’d speak up, and not be heard. And then sure enough… catastrophe. It was frustrating.

I absolutely hate not being heard. I’ll take a visit to the dentist every day of the week, rather than go back to that powerless place of childhood. As an adult, I get to make choices. They may not always be fun choices, but at least they are mine. There’s an awful lot to be said for that.

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Reach Out

I used to love to sit on my porch swing when I owned a house in Jacksonville, Florida. I could look out on the park across the street and take in a game of softball or lacrosse, or watch people come and go from the public library. I especially enjoyed seeing the various neighborhood dogs as they walked their humans. For such a big city, my neighborhood had a rather bucolic vibe.

One day I was drinking lemonade and lazily swinging back and forth, trying to kick up enough of a breeze to beat the stifling humidity, when this woman came down the sidewalk looking so shell-shocked that I had to ask her if she was okay. She looked at me for a second, and then pointed over her shoulder and said, “A guy… he just hung himself from a tree.” And then she walked away.

Wait. What??? I immediately jumped up. I remember hearing the porch swing chains clank. (It’s funny what you remember at times like those.)

And sure enough, when I looked down the street, about a dozen police cars were descending on a house about a block away. They had to cut his body down. I was never able to pass that tree again without thinking about it.

I didn’t know the guy. That house was a rental, and no one ever seemed to stay very long. But I kind of felt as though we had let each other down.

Clearly, someone within hollering distance of me had been in deep despair. Obviously, he wanted help or he wouldn’t have chosen to hang himself in his front yard across the street from a public library. I wish I had known.

If you need help, you have to ask for it. That was his responsibility. Mine was to keep my eyes open and my heart open to being a force for good. You speak. I listen. It takes two.

I wish he had spoken up. I don’t know what I could have done. I don’t pretend to be anyone’s savior. But maybe he could have sat with me on my porch swing. We could have talked about inconsequential things. Maybe that tiny bit of routine could have made just enough of a difference. Maybe I could have told him about the sliding-scale mental health clinic within walking distance. We’ll never know, now.

I’m not saying what happened was my fault. But it still makes me sad to think I was relaxing on my swing and sipping lemonade while he was throwing a noose over a tree branch less than a hundred yards from me. What a tragedy. What a waste.

Porch Swing

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On Being Let Down

I’ve been cranky lately. Grumpy. Impatient. Out of sorts.

It all started when it finally dawned on me, at the age of 51, that my sexually abusive stepfather had started grooming me for his pedophilia at the age of 7. The hard core abuse didn’t start until I was 11. Not that that’s an excuse. And I had been dealing with that for most of my life. But I had been operating under the illusion that I had had a few years there before the dark shadow truly descended.

On the contrary. Looking back on certain incidents from an adult perspective, there was a whole host of inappropriate behaviors from almost the day he married my mother.

As a child, I didn’t know any better. I just knew that the man made me uncomfortable, and I tried to avoid him. But looking back now, I can see that several things would have been nearly impossible for an adult to miss. And yet my mother chose to look the other way.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my mother very much. But I know that if I had been in her shoes, I would have made different choices. For starters, I’d have never married the pig in the first place. I’d have put my child’s safety ahead of my desire to get out of the projects and be supported by the first available scumbag that happened to come my way. And the first hinky thing that happened would have been the last thing he ever did. I know this as sure as I know the earth revolves around the sun. But that’s just me, I guess.

Over the years, a lot of people have let me down. Teachers. Counselors. Adult relatives. No one heard me. No one wanted to see. I was 21 before I independently arrived at the concept that none of this had been my fault. I should have been told that by every person who crossed my path.

From that, I suppose I could have learned to distrust the world and lash out like a wounded animal at anyone who came close. But I have always been someone who zigged when the rest of the world was zagging, so instead, I put a lot of pressure on myself to not be like those people.

As a result, I am probably the most dependable person on the face of the earth. I listen. I act. I speak out, even when it might be uncomfortable. If I say I am going to do something for you or with you, only hospitalization or death will keep me from doing so. I can be counted on. I keep my promises. I don’t look the other way. I stick my neck out, even though I often risk getting it chopped.

You’d think I’d have acquired a healthy dose of cynicism after a lifetime of being let down by people. But because I’m capable of doing all of the above, I expect it from others, and I’m always rather stunned when they fall short. And good God, do they ever fall short.

The fact is, people are going to disappoint you. It’s part of life. Perhaps part of my anger should be directed at myself, for having set such high expectations for the people I care about. They aren’t me.

Maybe when people don’t return phone calls, ignore messages, don’t follow through, or stand me up, I shouldn’t take it as the abuse that it feels like. Maybe I need to develop a thicker skin. Because the fact of the matter is, I can’t control when other people screw me over.

There’s really no point in wasting energy on an existential tantrum because I can’t force everyone to live up to my standards. I can only learn to set up healthier boundaries and try to make better choices moving forward. Emotional distance. That’s what’s called for here.

disappointment

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The Zen of the Pottery Wheel

I took a pottery class this semester at the local community college, and I loved it. It went by way too fast. I did pick up some pottery skills, but I’m using the word “skill” in its very broadest sense here. At best, I can be considered part of the primitive school. But the most important thing is that I had a wonderful time.

I also learned a great deal about things way beyond pottery. I wasn’t expecting that. I am now convinced that pottery should be classified not only as art, but also as therapy, philosophy, physical education, and management. All these things come into play in the studio.

Here are a few things I learned that I can apply to life in general:

  • If everyone wedged clay every day, there would be peace on earth. In order to get the air bubbles out of clay so you work won’t explode in the kiln, you have to pound it, throw it, basically beat it within an inch of its life. There’s no greater stress reducer. You can’t possibly feel frustrated once you’ve wedged some clay.
  • Everything comes out better when you remember to breathe. When nothing is going right with my pottery, if I do a quick body check, I usually discover that I’m tense and holding my breath. Breathing lets the energy flow through your body. Breathing is good.
  • Listen to your inner voice. This one I’ll probably always struggle with, but I’ve found that when my little voice goes, “time to stop messing with that pot,” it is, in fact, time to stop messing with that pot. Any more attempts at perfection will most likely lead to disaster, like accidentally caving in a wall or getting the clay so wet it turns into a glob.
  • Be patient with yourself. Try as you might, you’re not always going to have a good day. Some days are for ash trays, other days are for vases. And that’s okay.
  • Effort isn’t always obvious. One thing the movie Ghost did not make clear is that throwing pots on a pottery wheel actually takes a lot more muscle than you’d think! So next time you buy something from a potter, don’t grouse at the price. Pottery is hard work.
  • One man’s crap is another man’s masterpiece. It always amazed me that some of the most talented potters in the class were the most critical of their own work. I would kill to be able to produce some of the things they were throwing away. And conversely, some of the stuff I created could only be loved by me, and I’m fine with that.
  • It’s important to be creative. Pottery class fed my soul. It allowed me to exercise my imagination. It gave me something to be proud of. It gave me a sense of satisfaction that I can’t experience anywhere else.
  • Take a break. I would often get so deep in the zone that hours would pass by without my realizing it. And those were hours when my 50 year old body remained in basically the exact same position. I’d sometimes get so stiff I could barely make it to my car. Not good. It’s important to stand up and walk around every now and then.
  • Know when you’ve been beaten. Like I said above, you’re not going to always have a good day. Sometimes you’re going to have a really horrible day. Times like that, it’s probably better to walk away and try again tomorrow, rather than continuing to make mud pies while you gnash your teeth. That’s not quitting. That’s knowing yourself and being realistic.
  • It’s okay for things to turn out differently than expected. I’ve yet to have a pot turn out exactly the way I planned. At first that really disappointed me. But once I learned to let go of the steering wheel a little bit, I let in the ability to be delightfully surprised now and then, and that’s a great feeling.
  • It’s easier to talk to people when you can find some common ground. I actually took this class in the hopes of making friends that I could hang out with outside of class. That didn’t happen, unfortunately, although I met a lot of people I would have loved that to happen with. But I made some in class friends with whom I had some really amazing conversations. Art is a great ice breaker. It allows people to be different yet have a launch point from which to communicate. It also reminded me that I’m likable, and that kept the loneliness at bay. That has value, too.
  • Sometimes you don’t know best. Silly me. I would start out with an idea of how I wanted a pot to look, but clay often has a mind of its own. The harder I tried to force it to my will, the more it would resist, and that was an exercise in futility. I’m still working on this, but I’ve discovered that if you listen to the clay, it will often guide you toward something amazing.
  • Differences are beautiful. Every single student in that class had different ideas, different styles, different quirks. I was constantly in awe of what got produced in that studio. I could never have produced their stuff, and they could never have produced mine. Every single thing was one of a kind. Isn’t that amazing?
  • Keep track of things. At various times I’d have about 10 different projects going at once. Some were works in progress. Some were drying and waiting to be fired in the kiln. Some were waiting to be glazed. Some were cooling. It would be easy to lose track of everything. It’s important to take notes. It’s even more important to pay attention.
  • People can be really, really cool in a variety of ways. There were a lot of cool people in that class. My professor was the coolest one of all. I want to be her when I grow up. But everyone was special. Everyone had qualities that I admired. Everyone touched me in a different way. Something about the atmosphere there allowed people to be free to be themselves, and I love that.

If you ever get a chance to take a class that allows you to spread your wings in the creative realm, I highly recommend it!

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Have an Awful Day

It’s fascinating how the definition of some words evolves over time to signify the opposite of their original meaning. Awful originally meant “full of awe.” I miss that definition. If we allowed awful to fulfill its original role, people would stop saying awesome. I, for one, would be thrilled, because awesome is a word which annoys me for purely aesthetic reasons, although I admit I have resorted to using it more than once myself.

But as usual, I digress. I would like you, dear reader, to have a day full of awe. Take a moment every once in a while today to come to a complete halt. If you need a reminder to do this thing that is so foreign to your routine, set the alarm on your cell phone if you must, but take the opportunity to let this fast-paced world in which we live swirl around you and past you while you stand still and look around. Become the still point in the turning world. You will be amazed at what you see.

I’m talking about stopping to smell the roses writ large. Appreciate the flowers at your feet, yes, but also the sun on your face and the wind in your hair and the clothes upon your back and the food on your plate. Be grateful for your health if you have it, and your friends and your coworkers and the fact that you get to be here, right here, right now, breathing and living. That’s a very significant accomplishment, and it takes a lot of intricate things falling into place just right in order for it to be possible.

Appreciate the complexity of life. Appreciate the simplicity of life. Realize that graffiti can often be beautiful and even the most irritating situation has something to teach you. Use all five of your senses if you can, and enjoy the fact that you have them.

It would be easy to take the next step and start talking about spirituality and higher powers and all the religious trappings that go with those. But for this moment, this “right here”, just this once, don’t focus on that. Just concentrate on feeling the awe of this amazing gift you’ve been given, without trying to read the return address on the package.

Here’s wishing you a truly, wondrously, spectacularly awful day!

awe_space

[Image credit: magicalthinkingbook.com]