Posts Tagged With: courage

Is This All There Is? Nope! Courage, Creativity, & Commitment (reinvention)

Most people have hidden in their souls—“I always wanted to…”

 

When I was fourteen, while living in France with my parents, we attended a Formula One championship automobile race at Spa, Belgium.  The roar of the cars, the beautiful girls, and the international jet set congealed into a full-fledged teenage fantasy for me.  I wanted to grow up to be a race car driver.  I eventually outgrew that dream and many others along the way to adulthood, career, and now ‘retirement.’  Most, if not all of my childhood dreams turned out to be fantasies, not grounded in the real world. How many people can actually be an NBA star or have a hit record?  Like it or not optimism and hope can only take you so far, after all the hard work and discipline as noted entrepreneurial expert, Joe Robinson says, “Luck always factors in.”

Most people give up those fanciful dreams and accept the received values, tastes, and activities of society to define their life.  They find a tribe or group to identify with (often sold by the media) and then emulate those opinions, tastes, and values.   But they don’t renew or inspire, because they can’t.  They came from someone else.  Renewal later in life compels shifting goals from the extrinsic (money, status) to the intrinsic.  Unless some kind of lightning bolt from the Pollyanna’s Secret hits me, I probably won’t write a number 1 best seller, so it behooves me to focus on inner goals for satisfaction and achievement.  But inner goals are inherently squishy, so I look for metrics to confirm I’m succeeding, but not for fame or money, but to confirm I reach people.  I still want achievement, just like back in the career days, but of a different kind.

Occasionally, a certain mood descends on me.  Recently, I woke up at 3 am and stared at the ceiling.  Thoughts bombarding the stillness:  What is the point in writing and publishing?  Who really cares?  Later that day, I went to my local non-chain coffee house and looked out the big picture window and watched people in business attire scurrying around.  I once played that role and quit when the suit became too small for my soul.  I don’t want to go back, but keeping on the path of renewal and reinvention isn’t easy either.

I’ve achieved a lot of my inner and outer goals since retiring (art exhibition, publishing three books, Victoria Falls, getting up late every day, and more), but not all.  Some goals elude me. I either don’t have the perseverance (learning guitar) or the courage to start over (move to the tropics).  I still have a bucket list, but at times the will to pursue disappears.  Then it is time to renew and like this season, autumn, let the dead bury the dead.  As this season demonstrates, leaves fall and a new cycle begins.

Reinventing takes work and like a job requires time, effort, and maintenance to sustain it.  I chronicled my initial reinvention journey in Living the Dream Deferred and at times it was tough, at least as tough as advancement in my original career in education.  Now that I’ve been into it for a few years, I can report that real re-inventors are few. Most retirees settle into some long time leisure interest and occasional volunteer work, traveling, or continue their original career.  For brave or crazy few that strike out into the brave, new world, it is an on-going process.

Real reinvention demands courage, creativity, and commitment–courage to take risks, creativity to find your own path, and commitment to mission.  But different from the first half of life, my goals have become more intrinsic, less extrinsic.  The extrinsic markers, (in my case; sell a few books, get some hits on the website) don’t sustain without an underlying purpose or mission.

Courage is not about being fearless or getting rid of fear.   It takes heart to pursue a dream and look silly, stupid, bad and then get up and do it again.  As the renowned teacher Osho says, “Courage does not guarantee you get what you want, but you WILL grow.” In my life, I’ve always welcomed the excitement of the unknown whether traveling to foreign countries or transferring to a new job—the novelty effect.  Courage opens the door to learn new stuff, meet new friends.   In other words—grow.

 

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Expression Is Liberation Reception 2009

Creativity works symbiotically with courage.   We’re all creative all the time, albeit usually unconsciously.  But a consciously creative life fulfills a deep longing.  I never knew how much I wanted to express myself creatively, until on a whim I took a painting class and experienced the joy of thought-free expression.  After a few years of painting abstracts, I was invited to have a show of my work.  (Don’t get too impressed, the venue was a hair salon).  Rummaging for a title to the show it hit me, what does painting do for me?  Liberation.  When painting I break out of my constant stream of thoughts, and give form to feelings without words.  I called the exhibit Expression As Liberation.  If I can do it anyone can.  I have zero natural talent in painting.

 

Creativity provides an intrinsic reward.  When I focus on writing or painting, time flies.  Neurotic fears and anxieties fade and the muse/ creative flows.  And once awakened, the muse doesn’t like to go back in the bottle.  The muse can be a jealous lover.  At times inner resistance arises and I miss several days writing and my mood goes south.  On the other hand, when the muse has had her due; the traffic doesn’t bother me so much, the cloudy day doesn’t seem so dreary, and I expect good news from those I encounter.

Sustaining creative endeavors at any time takes commitment, but even more for older individuals who learn slower.   After the thrill of ‘beginner mind’ expression wears off, even minor intrinsic goals of progress often elude the older learner. How does one persevere through the inevitable doubt and failure?  I found it helps, when the form of expression lies embedded in my early years.

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Former high school principal seeking  freedom

 

In my twenties, I wanted to change the world through writing investigative exposes like Woodward and Bernstein, but quit writing (except for the occasional barroom poem) due to the profession’s inherent instability.  Five years ago I picked up my poetry again, did some open-mikes and eventually published.  The creative wheels greased, I then pontificated on local politics from my blog SM Babylon.  My blog exploring reinvention, Living the Dream Deferred, followed.  Now, when my commitment fades, I remember my young and idealistic self who wanted to change the world through writing, and then put hands to keyboard.

As a youth I imagined freedom would be behind the wheel of a Formula One car.  The road course of life has taken me through many detours, dark tunnels, and box canyons, even now in post-career life.  Dead-ends may slow me down, but I don’t stop.   Freedom is an inside job with outside activities.  If a roadblock appears then I make a pit stop for support and recovery, then get back in the race.  The power to persist comes from deep seated, sometimes unconscious passions, desires, and talents.  I regularly ask myself:  Can I self-validate?  What are my intrinsic goals and values?  How do I detach from external pressures?

Retirement from the career world is a chance to reinvent, maybe take on a new identity, and rekindle the flame of life.   Dig down and release your creativity, find the courage to experiment, and make the commitment to cross the river to renewal.

Categories: Creative Expression, Reinvention | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Afraid of Nothing on Victoria Falls’ Gorge ( adventure)

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Flying Swing at the Gorge at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

 

Looking over the 300 yard chasm in front of me, I sweated bullets. I was about scratch another one off my Bucket list, but  first I had to jump into the void at Victoria Falls.

After visiting Iguassu Falls in Brazil/ Argentina, in 1996, I committed myself to going to Victoria Falls. The power of the water called me, but this leap into nothingness was an add-on. I didn’t have to do it, but my basic operating principle is to walk my talk and take leaps into the abyss.

Vic Falls’ gorge qualified for a test. The Falls had been on my top five Bucket List for years, but I didn’t know that included the gorge. A courageous young man had awakened in my sixty-something soul, and now I had to jump or scurry away like a cowardly rat away from the light waiting at the bottom of the abyss.

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Most people don’t have a Bucket List. For decades I didn’t. I was one of those people afraid to dream and commit for fear of failing and the likely follow-up—self-abnegation. Mostly my list was a Someday List, if everything is aligned then maybe I’ll do it. But someday never comes.

A Bucket List is something to accomplish, a goal, and takes action. I’ve pondered what is going on with me when I don’t act on goals—procrastinating like we all do? It’s a whole field in clinical psychology. Prominent researcher in the field Tim Pychl’s summation on how to overcome it is simple—Just get started—NOW. Not someday.

But then many people never commit to or get started on their Someday /Bucket List? I think it often boils down to the “C” word—courage. Procrastination comes from failing to do the aversive tasks it takes to achieve goals. What is an aversive task? Something perceived as difficult, boring, risky, and / or expensive. And is it possible to adjust our attitude to be more open to new experiences and the attendant risks they bring? Can one override the reptilian brain that seeks to protect us from danger?

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Our Guides, Swiss & South African

 

I pondered that at the edge of the gorge.  I had made it, I saw Vic Falls, I heard the roar, I felt the ‘smoke that thunders’, but then there was an add-on. Egged on by my 25 year old guide from Switzerland, who said she would jump the gorge if she were allowed by the employer. After a couple drinks I one-upped my traveling companions who had chosen to take a riverboat ride, instead, I declared, “I dive into the abyss tomorrow”

The next day sparkled with mist rising from the falls and several rainbows. Arriving at the jumping spot, I handed over my camera to my guide and calmly waited my turn in the three part experience. First ride was a zip line across a narrow part of the 400 foot chasm. Easy and fun. Next, another zip line but this time with a fast drop of 80 mph. The coup de grace was the Flying Swing—A free-fall leap of four seconds followed by swinging back and forth across the chasm.

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After four seconds of free-fall

 


A group of  South Africans, burly men and sturdy women, all in their thirties, waited in front of me, giving me 20 minutes to rethink this—the Leap. I watched the line shrink as they one by one disappeared into the void.  Some hesitated, some dived in head first.  All cried out.

The mild weather suddenly turned warm and humid. Sweat dropped from my eyes, my hands got clammy. Before any thoughts of fear my body expressed it. I spent the next 18 minutes reminding myself that the jump was safe and secure. I vowed to ‘just do it’ when I got to the platform.

When the last one fell from sight, I knew my time had come. I walked to the edge and promptly stepped into the void. Instant bliss washed over me and a grin spread across my face. Big fun! Fear vanished. Adventure prevailed.

But courage is like the proverbial bath—once is not enough. It’s a practice. That leap led to reflection on how often lack of courage holds me back from adventures and fun:

  • Flirt with a potential date and promise to call and don’t?
  • Promise to go to a group or party and then flake?
  • Fudge on my true feelings with someone just to maintain their friendship?
  • Allow self-absorbed narcissists to dominate a conversation because I don’t want to upset them?
  • Ignore issues In a friendship because I don’t want to upset her?
  • Complain about some social ill and never do anything about it?
  • Dream and talk about moving to a tropical island and do nothing.

Sometimes there may be valid reasons to hold back. But what about principles? Do I stand for something or not? It is a line in the sand that moves constantly, depending on my mood and the circumstances? Sometimes discernment may mean not acting, but it could also be— Laziness? Cowardice? Lack of information?

On my Someday, now Bucket list are many places to see and experience. For many years I traveled solo and loved it. I also have taken tours and enjoyed that. But lately my taste for solo travel has waned and at the same time, I want the excitement of discovery that regimented and organized tours don’t offer. I have contemplated the options. What would be courageous, the tour or the solo trip? The Tarot offered me a clue on this: Do nothing and the answer shall arise— patience and trust. Not liking this answer, I then threw the I Ching and it said, ‘furtherance of the small’ or watchful waiting.  Not a time for rash action.

Psychologists have discovered that forced decisions are not the best. When I feel a compulsion to make something happen, I explore my creative self. Artists know it as the Muse, others call it god. Regardless, it is that aspect that can’t be seen or touched.

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bridge to Zambia

One form it takes is in the ‘ah ha’ moments in life. Coaxing it out of the unseen and unknown takes determination and patience for me. A coach, therapist, or minister may stimulate those moments, but it comes in its own time. Calm, discipline, and faith set the stage, but it still takes courage to say YES to the unknown—-that mysterious call to do something just because. Regardless of the results, when I do it feels good.

Sitting at the 18th St coffee house in Santa Monica, CA, surrounded by other ‘laptop’ workers, I reflected on the above adventure and looked at the excuses I tell myself to avoid taking action and risk failing. What’s at stake? A totally illusory sense of safety that my comfort zone will protect me from negative emotions? Bogus! My moods swing like The Flying Swing, up and down and sideways. The best I can do is to be real and face the fear, anxiety, and impatience and step into the unknown. As one teacher says, the result is not guaranteed, but you will grow. And for me, that is living my dream.

Categories: Discover / Adventure | Tags: , , , , , ,

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