Always Do Your Best

When I read or hear those words in the title above I get childhood flashbacks.  I can hear my first or second grade teacher tell this repeatedly to us in class as we worked on whatever assignment she gave us.  Or my parents telling me the very same thing whether it was in ballet class, that paper mache project, Easter egg dyeing or learning to ride a bike without training wheels.  Over and over.

But it's also the 4th agreement in Don Miguel Ruiz's book The Four Agreements.  Ah.  A few weeks back I made a commitment to read one chapter a week and blog about it.  And I'm just a couple weeks behind given another book which distracted me profoundly and a quick mental vacay on my typical blogging day Sunday last week.  But it's all good.  Now I am realizing this is probably my last post of 2011.  Where does the time go?

OK, focus.  Ruiz sums up this chapter like this:  "Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick.  Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret."

See what I mean about words that are so simple and so profound?  I've probably made that comment ten million times in each post about these Agreements.  Don't plan on this book being a quick read if you really want to get the most out of it.  You'll want to re-read each chapter several times.

And the beauty of this chapter is that this 4th agreement points back to the other 3.  Always Do Your Best to...1. Be Impeccable with your Word; 2. Don't Take Things Personally; and 3. Don't Make Assumptions.

Ruiz goes on to explain how much "doing our best" will vary.  When we're relaxed and refreshed our best is going to be better than when we're tired.  It will be different when we are happy as opposed to upset.  And, as we continue to incorporate the 4 Agreements into our lives, our best will become better than it used to be.  

If we do our best we won't judge ourselves.  We won't punish ourselves.  Ahhh...how freeing is this!!  Especially someone like me who inherited a big ol' Perfectionism gene.  If it couldn't be perfect - whatever it was - it (or rather, I) sucked.  I beat myself up.  Or I'd get so overwhelmed I'd procrastinate or even worse not do something at all.  What an ugly downward spiral!

It's taken years for me to wrestle and fight off that unreasonable, unrealistic quirk that's so deep in my DNA.  Probably a little over ten years ago when I first started seeing a therapist was this pointed out to me.  HUH?  Well, she was right.  

My new, more modern, personal mantra?  "Excellence, not perfection."  And I guess that's similar to this 4th Agreement in a way.  These words resonate deep in my bones whether I'm focusing on a work project, getting ready to hit the ice and play hockey or continue to grow my Silpada jewelry business.  And every other area of my life too.

Ruiz explains more:  "When you do your best, you take action.  Doing your best is taking the action because you love it, not because you're expecting a reward."  He goes on to explain the cliche of a worker.  A worker who only works because he/she is expecting the reward - the paycheck.  They work hard the whole week, suffering the actions.  They have to work to pay the rent, to support their family...and when they do get their paycheck they are unhappy.  There's only a couple days to rest (aka the weekend) and they then try to escape by getting drunk or what have you.

If we take action just for the sake of doing something without expecting a reward, we will enjoy every action we do.  If we like what we do, if we always do our best, we are really, truly enjoying life.  We have fun, we don't get bored and we don't have frustrations.  Man, sign me up!

What about when life takes away something from us?  Ruiz explains - "...let it go.  When you surrender and let go of the past, you allow yourself to be fully alive in the moment...if you live in a past dream, you don't enjoy what is happening right now, because you will always wish it to be different than it is.  There is no time to miss anyone or anything because you are alive.  Not enjoying what is happening right now is living in the past and being only half alive.  This leads to self-pity, suffering and tears."

Practice makes the master.  Ruiz reminds us that we didn't learn to speak, read, write or ride a bike right out of the box.  We had to practice, practice, practice!  And not judge ourselves when we fall.  If we break one of the Agreements, we tell ourselves OK, we'll start over again tomorrow and try again.  It will be challenging at first, but as we practice we will get better and better at honoring all four.  Stay in the moment and do not worry about the future.

See why this book is going to be a perma-fixture on my bedside table for awhile?  It's powerful stuff.  Life transforming.

After reading this book I now feel like I have a new, freshly-sharpened set of tools ready to make 2012 an even better year than this one was!  

Today is December 26, 2011.  It's the beginning of A New Dream.      


There's this thing called the "other" folder...

It's been quite awhile since I've had a double shot post week, so why not now?  Something about the holiday season, shopping rush, the solstice...my whole world just tingles with good (and restless) energy.  There's a mad scramble at work to get stuff done before the office pretty much goes quiet this week and next as people take vacation over the holidays and into early January.  And for those of us still plugging away over a hot desk and laptop, well, there's that funny struggle of wanting to get more done while it's quiet, but there aren't enough people around to truly get it all done or all the right decisions made...ah, the classic dilemma, at least where I'm working right now.  Years ago I used to work in the retail service management industry, and this time of year for vacation was a big ol' fuhgeddaboudit given the peak shopping season.  Nope - all hands on deck save for Christmas Day and New Years Day.  And today I sit here and think oh crap, I've gotta head into the belly of the beast tomorrow (meaning The Mall) and finish some last minute gift shopping. 

So anyway, last week I was on Facebook.  Now, how often have you read that or heard someone say that and think oh no. Right?  Well, as I said when I first launched fivenineteen over two years ago, my interpretations and musings on reality are better than anything I could possibly make up.  You might want to go pour yourself a glass of your favorite beverage for this one.

OK, back to Facebook now.  Last week on some ho-hum Wednesday night I happened to be browsing around and saw a post from a woman I know from the church I used to attend years ago.  Haven't seen her in probably 10+ years, which is kind of sad, but I don't attend that church any longer.

Her post: "You have two inboxes with facebook. You get notified of your messages; but you do not get notified of the messages in your "other" message box. Go to messages and click on it. After you do there is now the work "other" under your messages. (on the side bar). Click on that and see messages sent to you from people not on your friend list."

I thought OK, what the hell, I'll peruse over there and find this "other" folder.  Man, I love Facebook but it's hard for me to keep up with all the changes and learn all the nuances and whatnot.  By the time I'm home from work and on my home laptop, my brain is pretty much full and fried.

So there was the elusive little "other" folder, a tiny subfolder on my left menu bar.  I clicked on it and up popped a very long list of what looked like notifications, spammy type stuff and one email from some random weirdo dude who really likes my profile.  Uh huh, whatever.  Delete!

Then, there they were. Not one but TWO messages from a guy I was great friends with years ago who I was no longer in contact with.  Basically saying hi there, it's been forever, I'm about 92% sure this is you and would be great to catch up sometime.   Oh. My. God.  I about fell out of my chair!!  And then I about fell out of my chair again when I noticed he had sent these emails to me back in freakin' JULY!!  Holy moly...had I not seen that random post from my church friend I never ever would have even noticed that "other" folder in the Facebook message section!

My fingers flew on the keyboard.  I wrote him back, still in shock to have found this folder...and his emails from months ago!  Yes, yes, it's me, I'm alive...!!   

So what's the story with this guy, you may wonder?  In short, he is the closest guy friend I have ever had.  We met online I'm guessing around late 2004 or early 2005ish.  I had been in a relationship with another guy a good chunk of 2004 who I'd met through hockey.  He broke up with me that fall and I admit it broke my heart and put me into an emotional tailspin of sorts.  Hard to explain, and now with it being 7 years later the memories can get a little fuzzy and mushy both.  While I'm not typically the type of girl who always has to have a boyfriend, something about that breakup triggered something within me.  I immediately started online dating - on two different sites at the same time actually - and I THINK that might have been my first time ever doing that.  Nowadays meeting people online is not anything weird, but back then it still might have been a little odd given it had not been around that long.  Or maybe that's just my interpretation.  

I started going out on a bunch of dates and kind of having casual, not too serious mini-relationships of sorts (and yes, hookups) with a couple of guys.  I felt lost and hurt after getting dumped and was just looking for some reasurrance that I was really still desirable to men.  In that timeframe, I met L, probably for coffee and dessert or something.  We had hockey in common and I just remember him being nice and friendly with an offbeat and awesome sense of humor.

We went out on a couple dates and talked on the phone a few times (this is the olden days before texting became so commonplace) and somewhere in all of this we somehow realized we were better off as friends rather than dating.  I'm giggling right now, because if he happens to read this at some point I'm sure he will let me know if my memory of all of this is correct or not.

Let's just say 2005 was a hell of a year.  A lot of Life happened and it was intense.  My grandfather passed away in early February, a month short of his 94th birthday.  13 days later my niece was born.  My Dad retired.  I was growing restless at my job - a company I had worked at for over 6 years at that time and I really loved it - but my new Director and I were butting heads quite a bit.

And in the spring of that year, I went through a very dark season in my life.  There was legal drama involved in it too.  I am not going to delve into that in here, but just know it was a very bad time for me and given I am an expert at beating myself up, combine that quirk with dark drama and I just felt very lost.  I felt like my world was turned sideways or upside down...like my reality had just snapped, shifted and toppled over.

I felt lost but not alone, thank goodness. L was there for me through it all.  An amazing friend and confidant he was for me.  I confided in probably only my uber close friends circle and my family about what I was going through.  L listened and helped keep me laughing when I needed to and gave me advice.  He helped me with a few projects around the townhouse here and just was a great shoulder to lean on.  And in the funny, small world we live in, it turns out another (female) friend of his has a beach house not far from where my family has had one for 3 generations.  The 3 of us even went down there together one weekend.  Can't help but laugh at the Threes Company-ish thing it was, but it was great. 

Now somewhere in all of this, L and I started up a mini episode of Friends with Benefits.  Ummmm...yeah.  Don't judge, people.  Yeah, whenever I hear about people getting into dealios like that I used to judge and think I'd NEVER do that.  But definitely no regrets...and he and I later talked about it and agreed we would not cross that line any longer.  And we didn't.

As my dark drama was finishing up that fall, I met another guy online and it got pretty serious pretty quickly.  L and I shared our dating stories all the time, and he was genuinely happy for me when this one started taking off.  And I was very open about my friendship with L with my new boyfriend.  Nothing to hide.  

But he would have nothing of it.  He didn't want me to be around L and didn't want to meet him or anything.  Nope.  And I got grilled with ten billion questions about him too and the nature of our friendship.  Now, side note here - as I've shared this recently with a few close friends - friends I've met since that era who never knew L or my boyfriend then - it's amazing the wide variety of opinions that come out.  Some friends say well, you should have run the other way when your boyfriend got controlling and possessive like that early on.  Others say yeah, I can totally see why he wouldn't want you having a close guy friend still in your life as you were focusing on a new relationship. It's all water under the bridge now.  But I tell you, I'd never been in a situation like that before and I haven't since.  

L gradually faded from my life.  I'd made the decision to focus on my new relationship.  He and I may have gotten into a couple of spats while this 'transition' was happening too.  Again, fuzzy and mushy memories.

When I walked away from that boyfriend in spring of 2007, I kept moving forward and never reached out to L.  I had great memories of our friendship and time together but never made any effort to try to track him down.  Sometimes people are in our lives for a short while to make a difference, help us and then move on, and I chalked him up to being one of those.

And...life moved onward.

So.  2 days after I discovered those emails in my Facebook inbox last week I was on my way into Ballard to meet L for dinner.  My God, had it really been six years?  It was like no time had passed.  I cannot tell you how great it was to just see an old friend and pick up right where we'd left off.  Definitely no hard feelings or regrets.  Just hours of talking and catching up.  And a brief interlude between restaurants to walk his friend's dog - the one with the beach house near my folks'.  Even seeing that dog again brought another wave of great memories whooshing back.  Wow.

What a wonderful end of year surprise!  Oh, and he and I are Facebook friends now, of course.  He says, "hey, let's try staying friends this time, OK?"  

I think that's a GREAT idea.                               


Don't Make Assumptions

OK, last week's mental vacay was exactly what I needed.  Time to re-focus on this mini 4-week blogging project...where are we now?  Oh yeah, Week #3.  Andddd, only a couple weeks behind given Tangent Time and my vacay.  This is part of what I love about blogging - no worries on things being behind because it's just my words and the small handful of you who even read this or stumble in here accidentally.  Welcome...and welcome back, by the way!

So, cyber throat clearing, we're on the 3rd of the Four Agreements book by Don Miguel Ruiz.

Don't Make Assumptions.  Ruiz opens this chapter with a great summary:  "Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want.  Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama.  With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life."

So simple, and yet so profound.  That's what I've really enjoyed about this book...it's easy to read but mind blowing too.  Definitely one to keep on the nightstand, for I always discover new gems when I read chapters I've already read before.

All the sadness and drama in our lives stems from us making assumptions and taking things personally.  (Don't take things personally is the Second Agreement, by the way.  That was a great one to ramble on about a few weeks back in here.)  See how these Agreements tend to build one upon the other?  Pretty cool. 

The poison that is called gossip - this is how we communicate in the dream of Hell, as Ruiz explains.  Because we are afraid to ask for clarification, we make assumptions, and we believe we are right about our assumptions; then we defend our assumptions and try to make someone else wrong. 

How often have we all made an assumption about something or someone, only to have been totally wrong later?  Our bubble bursts and we get mad, sad and the drama starts.  But let's back up a minute...why do we even make assumptions in the first place?

Ruiz explains:  "It is very interesting how the human mind works.  We have the need to justify everything, to explain and understand everything, in order to feel safe.  We have millions of questions that need answers because there are so many things that the reasoning mind cannot explain.  It is not important if the answer is correct; just the answer itself will make us feel safe." 

So if someone doesn't tell us something (and we don't ask) we make assumptions and believe our own assumptions.  We also make assumptions about things we hear but don't understand.  What a big, ticking time bomb this can be in relationships!!  Damn, haven't we all been guilty of assuming our partner knows want we want, whatever it is?  "You should have known."  Lovely way to start an argument.  We blame our partner but in reality we have no one to blame but ourselves.  We didn't ask!

We don't always ask partly because we assume that people see the world the same way we do...think the way we think, feel the way we feel, judge the way we judge and even abuse the way we abuse.  Ruiz says this is the biggest assumptions we humans make about one another.

Anyone else out there guilty of getting into a romantic relationship with someone, thinking your love will change them, change the things you don't like about that person (and even deny there are maybe huge things out there that you don't like about him/her?).  Raises hand...yep I sure have.  The truth is my love will not change anyone.  Neither will your love either, by the way.  Ruiz even quips that "real love is accepting other people the way we are without trying to change them.  If we try to change them, this means we don't really like them." I'm not sure I am 100% on board with that last sentence...need more thinking time here I guess.  Sure if there are huge things we don't like then we have to wonder why we're even involved in a relationship with that person.  But if it's something silly like I don't like the way he squeezes the tube of toothpaste?  Annoying maybe, but not a deal breaker.  Honey, can't you squeeze the tube from the bottom, not the middle?  You won't?  OK, I'm outta here.  Ridiculous, right?  I'm pretty sure that's not what Ruiz meant...it's just my mind conjuring up a funny scenario like that.  

Ask questions!  This is Ruiz's wise advice to us all. Once we hear the answer we will not have to make assumptions because we will know the truth. 

But we need the courage to ask for what we want.  Sure, it one's right to tell us yes or no, but that's also true for what others ask of us.  The Right to Ask is everyone's Right.  I've chickened out of asking sometimes throughout my life, I admit, and a lot of times when I'm dating someone.  Why?  Was I afraid of what the answer might be (as in NO)?  Was I afraid of being rejected, and even at risk of 'losing' that person out of my life?  Didn't want to rock the boat?  Wasn't sure how to articulate what I wanted and didn't want to risk being seen as stupid, needy, high maintenace, whatever?  Yep, probably.  Aha, I assumed how the person would react and therefore did nothing and probably got resentful later.  BINGO. 

So once again, Ruiz nails it with another great chapter in his book.  I'm going to continue working on this - it's a lifelong process for sure - and find the inner courage to ask, ask, ask!      


Mental Vacay

Guess the Holiday spirit is in full force here.  So much so I really need some extra downtime this morning. Busy weeks/weekends usually energize me but today I'm just flat out tired.  The only thing on tap today is the Comcast guy swinging by to fix some pixelated TV channels, and then hockey later tonight.  Hopefully I'll have a second or third wind by then to skate!

So, the 3rd of the 4 Agreements post is next weekend.  Hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season!


Tangent Time!

I admit it, I got distracted and didn't have my "homework" ready for today.  Yeah, I could have crammed and tried to read and ponder the 3rd chapter of The Four Agreements, but you know what?  It's not worth it.  This is deep stuff that needs to be read with passion and concentration, not some lame attempt at speed reading just to feel "ready" for today's post.

So what happened?  Well, I had lunch with T, one of my dearest friends.  We met at Wildfin in Issaquah...she'd heard great things about it and I am always up for trying a new place to eat.  I ended up having a small burger and went easy on the fries.  I don't eat meat everyday but I guess I was craving red meat way deep down.  After a few nights in a row of yummy pasta tossed with a little pesto it was time.

T has been attending these seminars about...understanding men.  Really?? And she just raves about them - she says it's totally changed her outlook and viewpoint on dating and relationships, and has strengthened even her friendships with women too.  Sounds pretty profound, eh?  Wow, what's going on here?  How can you learn stuff like this in a class?  Led by mostly women?  

She smiled and pulled a small paperback book out of her fabulous Hermes Bolide handbag.  Called Making Sense of Men, by Alison Armstrong.  She couldn't wait to loan it to me!  Now, I admit, I'm a "black hole" book borrower (that's a self-coined term by the way).  It's not intentional, but I am not a voracious book reader, and books loaned to me, well, tend to get absorbed into a bookcase here forever and ever, never to be returned again and possibly not ever read at all. I promised T I'd do my very best to not do that in this case.  And she's pretty tenacious, so I'm sure if I don't return it promptly she'll have no qualms asking for it back - as she should!

Now.  If you knew you were going to focus on reading the Third of the Four Agreements, but then had to choose between that and a book suddenly plopped in front of you called Making Sense of Men, what would you do? Read them both perhaps?  Well, this is me we're talking about here, and given I don't do a lot of book reading, I caved and chose the Men book to focus on.  Can't blame me...plus it would be less likely to end up on a "black hole" bookshelf here in the townhouse.

I didn't know how quick a read this was!  I pretty much read it in one evening, and have re-read it a couple of times!  Can this topic be summed up in a 70-page book?  Well, of course not...we're human and complex creatures.  And yeah, I've read John Gray's Mars & Venus books, the 1990s classic The Rules and a few others about dating and relationships too.  All endlessly fascinating really...and anything I can learn about these creatures called men who I adore and who also sometimes drive me batshit crazy, well then all the better.

It's fascinating how entirely different we are wired.  Amstrong proclaims that 99% of the confusion and frustration between men and women is because we - mistakenly - assume we are versions of eachother.  "Men are not hairy women," she goes on to say!  Ha ha ha that made me giggle.

She goes on to break down the two types of attraction men have towards women.  The first - Sexual Attraction.  Obvious, right?  OK, I won't give away Armstrong's list of what goes into that - check out the book for yourself.  And what does her list of sexual attractions trigger in men?  They want to have sex.  Period.  Doesn't mean they want to date us or have a relationship with us or fall in love with us.  Nope.  I even remember some John Gray books talking about the same thing a little differently.  If a man is physically attracted to a woman, it's just that and nothing else.  This confuses us as women, because our first 'degree' of attraction in a man is if he's mentally stimulating to us (whereas in men the first 'degree' is physical).  With mental attraction in a man, maybe it's his humor or intelligence that stirs us.  By the time we as women are feeling physically attracted we've already gone through two other 'layers' or 'degrees' of attraction if that makes sense.  So ladies, if a man is physically attracted to you, enjoy it and don't take it too seriously. 

What's the other type of attraction a man has for a woman (but not ALL women per se)?  Charmed and Enchanted.  Aha!  Who wouldn't want to be with a man who is compelled to spend time with you, take care of you, protect you, contribute to you...and make you happy?  Without you needing to do anything but just be fabulous YOU?  Damn, sign me up.  Makes me even swoon here a little just sitting in my office chair, relishing those moments men have done those things for me.  Without any need to make any effort and certainly not nag.  THAT'S bliss right there. 

Armstrong goes on to explain in what she calls "Men-glish" (love that) - what men say and what it means in female-speak.  Things they say to us or offer to do for us when they're Charmed and Enchanted.  Believe me, I'm not affiliated with the author of this book or the publishing company or anything, but if you're intrigued by my ramblings here, go pick up the book for yourself!  One big key?  We as women need to be receptive to these wonderful things men want to do for us!  Anyone here ever have a man offer you his jacket because it was cold?  And responded by a, "...but won't you be cold?" in return?  No, no no!!  You are not his mother...accept his generosity and snuggle in his jacket for pete's sake!  Hell, I never turn down even the grocery store bag boy's offer to carry my bags to my car.  Just enjoy it and smile with a warm thank you.  Sure it's his job, but you've probably helped make his day too.

And there is serious "juice" required of us to be the best we can be as women.  Things like being self-confident and authentic.  And if a great outfit and killer pair of shoes helps you get there, go for it.  Nope, we can't be self-confident fueled on emptiness like sugar and caffeine.  Rest, good nutrition, exercise...THAT'S what does it.  Don't forget passion...whether it's for our kids, cross-stitching, volunteer work or salsa dancing, as Armstrong explains.  And RECEPTIVITY to men's offerings...the doozy!  YES!  If that guy asks you out for dinner and you're even the slightest bit interested, go!  All you have to do is show up, look your hot self and just enjoy a great evening out.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Receive it graciously, ladies.

I could go on and on, but I'm just intrigued with these simple yet profound insights from Armstrong in her book.  Don Miguel Ruiz, I promise your 3rd chapter is my focus this week!  

The Third Agreement:  Don't Assume Anything.