Monday, December 31, 2012

Top 5 Nuggets of Advice for 2013 from the Last 5 “Top” Lists I Read

Happy final day of 2012! And welcome to one of the last chances to reflect on the year that was, and the year ahead… before it’s finally here. Publications everywhere are churning out their end of the year “Top” lists like crazy-from “Top 10 Video Games”  to “Top Scientific Discoveries to “Top 13 Things Not To Worry About on NYE”  and “Night-sky Highlights for 2013” (note, some of these look really cool.) 

So yes, I have been reading a lot of these lately. Less to find out what the future holds, or to remind myself what happened this year, and more to plot a course for the future. If you are like me, you’ve skipped this whole top section and jumped right to the meat below: the Twitter-like bullet points which sum up the list in a neat and tidy fashion (is there anything worse than a “Top" post that doesn’t bold or bullet pointit’s entries?) We’ve got things to do before this year is over, right? We’ve got to plan how we are going to be more successful, a better person, how we are going to make the year ahead count, and all before midnight, right? So without further ado…

5. “Take everything with a grain of salt”

I really wasn’t that impressed with this list-not only was it rather meandering and a little first-world for my tastes (“at least once a day try to eat something really delicious, like a small chunk of fine cheese or an imported chocolate,” and “(t)urn off background TV,”) but it centered around one glaring insinuation-that we know what makes us happy. Happiness has been a conundrum for me ever since reading blog posts by Penelope Trunk (an avowed happiness obsesser for a while). Is happiness the point? Is that the meaning of life? That sure would be nice to know, eh? So often have I have heard others, as well as my own family, hope for happiness… offhandedly it seemed, and without introspection… that I was wary of the concept. I had to examine it, “become one” with it, and see if the whole goal of happiness held water (Cecilia Farran,owner of a spiritual and emotional wellness store here in Wisconsin, made this point even clearer when she had the audacity to tell people: “(d)on’t necessarily believe anything that you think.”) This list seemed to assume that everyone who read it agreed on what happiness was and that happiness is great (“Happiness is the only true measure of personal success” is the first line.) Comfort? Contentment? Satisfaction? I won’t argue that there is some advice I believe in listed here (such as taking time to plan and prioritize) but I am not sure if it makes one happier.

4. “Making money is the by-product of a clearly defined purpose.”

This was a well-written list in my opinion. It had some great, eye-catching entries that had my inner cheering squad chanting “Yeah! Grab 2013 by the horns! Trash that small stuff!" (Because, as Bukowski said, “we are terrorized… by trivialities…. eaten up by nothing.") So this one is worth reading through, but the main thing I took away from it, the main inspiration which I wanted to hold on to, was what he said in #5 about profit. Let’s say happiness is my goal, and let’s say I’m really happy hanging out at home. Cuddled up in a warm chair, drinking a cup of organic coffee, maybe taking time to read a book, petting a cat or playing a video game. Well, sorry, I cannot live on happiness alone. I don’t live in the warmest place in the world so I need to pay for that house and that heat. Supporting the organic food movement is important to me, and that coffee costs money. And that pet? As the owner of a domestic animal, I feel I am responsible to ensure his health and so yeah, there’s that vet bill. I can’t believe this is true, but after I turned 30, I realized good things don’t just come to those who are good people (more on this later.)  Freedom is great-it gives you the chance and the flexibility to try so many different things. But there comes a time when having the freedom to do any and everything needs to be reigned in. You need money. And for a while, I wondered if my personal beliefs and principals were holding me back from monetary success? This phrase put money more in perspective for me.

3. "The sweet spot of anything you do is at the intersection of a.) your INTERESTS, b.) your SKILLS, and c.) SOCIETY’S NEED."

Ha ha! A list of one. Gotta love it. And it’s a good one, at least for contemplation. My dad sent me this on LinkedIn. He and I (and a number of other people we know or are related to) are Jacks or Jills of all Trades. We are just so damn curious, finding so many different ways to have fun in this crazy old world that sometimes… we forget to have a career. Or we purposefully don’t want one (we hate being pigeon-holed you know). But lo and behold, we get one anyways. People will put you into a category, whether you like it or not. It's how humans understand the world. It’s like the advice I got on writing a novel; you could be writing a genre-bending sci fi fantasy mystery, but the bookstore is only going to put that book on one shelf. The author of this article states that you can only be one thing first (a sci fic fantasy mystery, or a mystery sci fi fantasy, for instance.) To find out what that first thing should be, you should look at what you like to do (your passion or interest-what is fun for you), what you are good at (skills or talents you have developed to make your life meaningful) and what is relevant to society (what the market demands.)   

2. Embrace the most positive aspect of a negative situation-even if it means putting a positive spin on vomiting

Life as a human can suck. I do not have a chronic illness. But I may one day. Or a loved one of mine may. And there are plenty of good souls out there, fellow earthlings who right now are faced with this or other adversity. Though this list hinges on the “happiness” phrase which caused me so much angst earlier, it’s more of a list of “how to get through the day”- for anyone, regardless of their situation. Life is hard, but I have never seen anyone with a more creative take on dealing with this topic than this author, who came up with a list of “Vacation Places Where I Have Vomited!

1. "Purely focus on doing something to make you more valuable to other people"

I hated this list the first time I tried to read it. I got lost in his very first example (“soo you want me to become a doctor?” was my take away at the time.) But strangely, the idea kept gnawing at me. Call me a glutton for punishment, but I get a kick out of “hard truths.” It’s sick, but I thrive on challenges, and feel most accomplished when I bend other’s perceptions (I took up the French horn because I heard it was the hardest instrument to learn).

Here is a photo of me trying to understand math:

Actually, that was me trying to understand the Monty HallProblem after a few shots of Irish whiskey. It nearly brought me to tears, but I worked at it, and eventually (after I let go of the fact that I wasn’t suppose to want the door with the goat behind it), I sort of got it.

So I went back to this article. And after I slogged my way a little farther through it, I hit a few more mental road blocks. First off, #5 in the list was “The Hippies Were Wrong” (which was what I found out when I turned 30,) but the author’s use of a ruthless businessman to prove his point was a major turn off to me. Then the story, “(r)emember when Chick-fil-A came out against gay marriage? And how despite the protests, the company continues to sell millions of sandwiches every day? It's not because the country agrees with them; it's because they do their job of making delicious sandwiches well. And that's all that matters.” But... but… we vote with our dollars! And I don’t want to be seen as choosing delicious chicken over what I believe are human rights!

But the very next line righted my ship. “You don't have to like it.”

There it is.

I didn’t like it. And my decision, right, wrong, or who cares, was not to buy a chicken sandwich.

This article went on to inspire me to believe that I could do more than just not buy a chicken sandwich. People do more every day. Much like my #3 above, this kernel of knowledge helped me to find focus. It helped me reconcile my desire to be compassionate and caring towards others, while reaping more than a cursory “because-it-makes-me-feel-good” reward.

I don’t know exactly what I will be doing in 2013, but I will do something–because I know in the past I was the person in this article who said, "(w)hy should I create anything when the things other people create suck? I would totally have written a novel by now, but I'm going to wait for something good, I don't want to write the next Twilight!" Even if people choose to critique or criticize whatever I end up doing (and there is a good part near the end of the article on that), at least I will have something to show.   

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