Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Rubber Meets the Road

“There’s still time to change the road you’re on…” says the Led Zeppelin song “Stairway to Heaven.” Sometimes, you wonder if there’s still time though, don’t you? Birthdays will do that to you. Mine is coming up. I don’t mind. In fact, I revel in my birthday every year.

I like the idea that your birthday is your own personal New Year. You don’t have to wait for anything to happen in Times Square. Then again, usually you don’t get fireworks either. Celebration of a smaller scale doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it. But it’s a great time for reflection, resolutions, goal-setting. It’s like your annual review at work or at least your own status report time.
If you’ve worked for someone other than yourself, you’ve probably had an annual performance review. If you’re like me, you hate them. The last thing in the world I want to talk about is a review of my shortcomings (hey, I AM standing up!) with someone whose view of your year is jaded by cold, cruel objectivity. And, if you’ve been working as long as I have, you’re pretty sure there isn’t anything out there like objectivity because, let’s face, humans are subjective. And yet, you’re expected to have an adult conversation with someone that you can’t exactly argue with. My favorite saying for moments like this is one I borrowed from my nephew, Rob, “SIGH.” Yes, I say this to myself.

So status reports and reviews are to be endured. So the big difference here is that when you have this conversation with yourself, you can argue. Take my advice, don’t do this aloud in front of people or if you do at least have the stealth to wear a Bluetooth so people will at least think you’re on the phone with someone, someone besides yourself.
OK, so now that I have you set up for the worst possible birthday you’ve ever imagined, we’d better set some ground rules.

1.      No mirrors. Hey, get real. You’re one year older. There may be grey hairs. There may be some extra pounds. There may be hair where it shouldn’t be and no hair where it should be. There might be speckles and spots and sags and wrinkles. You’ve earned all that. So, no mirrors. Do what you can, but it's not part of the review. OK, feeling better?

2.      No fair bringing up stuff from more than a year ago. This one is hard, isn’t it? You’ve got all those tapes playing in your head, all those things to kick yourself around the block about, what you might have done, what you didn’t do, what you did, what you shouldn’t have done. That was then. This is getting a little better, right?

3.      Here’s a biggie. It’s no fair grading yourself on something you couldn’t control. My dad was really big on this one. Both my mother and my step-mother died of cancer. My dad kept beating himself up because he “could have done something.” Even my most annoying daughter-logic wouldn’t let him absolve himself, “Daddy, you mean to tell me that you had the cure for cancer…and held out…twice?” He would tilt his head and raise his hand, his gesture for crying uncle when you had him. But seriously, think back over the last year and ask yourself if you could really control the disaster or perhaps just embarrassing flub that’s caught in your craw from the last year. Put through this filter, the list should be getting shorter of things you’d like to discuss with yourself, right? So, as much as I would like to spend time complaining that once again I did not win the Lotto, the tiniest bit of liability I can own up to is that I did not buy a ticket. Oh, well.

There are probably more ground rules, but I’m getting bored so you must be too. You get the idea, though. If you are going to pick a fight with yourself, you have to fight fair. But wait! You have to be fair when you’re patting yourself on the back too. That means no taking credit for things you haven’t actually done. Thinking about dieting isn’t dieting. We’re clear.
I like to think about the past year as part of a path or journey. Sometimes the road is bumpy. Sometimes the road is smooth. Sometimes there is rain; sometimes, sunshine. Did I stop and smell the roses? Sometimes. I think I could stand to do more of that. The Hubs says I need to get out more. I think he’s right. Did I work hard? Definitely, sometimes too hard. See that roses thing. Yup, I could stand some improvement in the work/life balance department.
Did waste my time on useless worrying, whining, procrastination, anger, drama or other emotional drains? Hmm, yes, some here and there. I’m really good at the sloth thing, maybe an over-achiever. I was pretty conscious of minimizing the drama and anger, though, not that I didn’t have ample opportunity to go overboard there. There have been some tempting tempests in teapots. I worked hard to make the distinction between those and Defining Moments.
Did I help others and myself? I feel pretty good about this one, although I think I could always help my husband more than I do. I ask him about this.

“Just scratch my head,” he says, reading the New Yorker with the snoring dog and the demando-kitty vying for his attention. It’s a small thing but he likes his head and back scratched.
I volunteered for stuff I didn’t have to do. I performed unplanned acts of kindness. I tried to give my young friends new experiences they might not otherwise have had. Dylan got to go ghost-hunting. Andrew got wheels, again, this time with a better lock. I helped at the spaghetti feed. Oh, a biggie: I helped with that family reunion last year, although that help was mitigated by my enjoying myself while I was there! I dragged my husband and friends with me on well-deserved breaks from the tedium. I tipped big. I gave people ups in line. I forced cake on the fire stations as a thank you for being First Responders and surprised all of them. I can be pleased with that. I could have done better, too. I tried to be kind. I tried to make people laugh. I prayed, prayed hard, for the sick, the sad, the poor, the mistaken, for after all, I am all of these too.

All-in-all, it was a good year. My solar return comes to me with a pretty good rating. There’s still room for improvement. I still have work to do. I’m not done yet. I’m looking forward to my new solar year.
The 9 of Wands shows someone who has had ups and downs in life. He’s taking a bit of a break in his journey, leaning on one of the wands like a walking stick. He needs a little support. He wears a bandage on his head. He’s been wounded, but he’s still standing. He assesses the road ahead.

If you look at your life as just happening to you, see yourself as a victim or recipient of what life has to offer, you just see the road, rough or interesting or a bit of both. But the secret of the 9 of Wands is this: If you look into the abyss and the abyss looks back, scary as that is, it also means that what you bring to the road is just as important as what the road brings you. You are an active participant in your life. Just take the next step and you'll bounce along, like a rubber ball.
Best wishes!

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