After many starts and re-starts and pauses and do-overs, here are my unabashed musings for 2017: Balancing inspiration against necessity, input against flow, it is a cautionary tale with a happy ending. Walt Disney would approve.
- Beware the arsonists.
When my husband was about 11 years old, he wanted to see what would happen if he lit matches in a field. After his curious experiment gone awry devolved into frantic foot stomping and plummets of smoke that quickly beckoned fire trucks with full sirens blaring, Todd decided to make a hasty retreat home. As he walked in the door, his mom was staring out the window at fire hoses set on a flaming field. Turning to greet him, she stopped and peered more closely – what…have…you done?! Despite Todd’s well rehearsed response – nuthin’ – his once-thick-now-gone eyebrows spoke the truth. The only person standing that close to a fire is the one who started it.
Now there’s a new brand of fire starters, fueled by social media…they’re the ones I like to call the Arsonists: they quietly set someone’s reputation on fire while the occupant sleeps peacefully inside, unaware of impending doom. The Arsonist waits until the person is engulfed in flames, then rallies everyone once the damage has been done – “This is out of control! Stop the fire! 911!” Looking like a hero or maybe just like an innocent bystander, they hide tightly gripped matches in sweaty palms. Everyone is so busy figuring out what to do – rescue the occupant? throw water on the fire? look away? – that nobody notices the one whose eyebrows are singed. Beware the Arsonists.
2. Be wary of the popular vote.
Watching politics south of the border has been a lesson in losing: You can win the people’s vote and still lose the race. You can win the party vote and still be a loser. This is the plight of leaders. I was recently chatting with a friend, a leader, one who works hard for others and has a solid following. Not long into the conversation, he begins to vocalize doubts about whether he should keep leading…maybe he’s doing more harm than good…there have been quiet criticisms…he’s lost some friends. As we each open up, the similarity of our experiences gets eery: here we are, different personalities, different age brackets, different genders, different cities…managing the same issues. What is that about? That, is all about the human condition and the plight of the popular vote.
The one thing we were each intended to do on this earth was to walk our own path. That unique path definitively defies what others think we should do. So, why do we feel the need to conform, to sell out our own true selves? Sometimes when I question my path – a hard path, I concede – I consider the words of the late Robin Williams , “I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel alone.” This was said at the height of his popularity. Be wary of the popular vote.
3. Watch out for locusts.
I spent some of my growing up years in the Prairies, Saskatchewan, land of the living skies. One hot summer afternoon, I was running through a golden field of wheat with a friend. We were chasing each other and laughing when something landed in my hair…and moved. It was a locust, quickly followed by many more locusts, circling from above and below, swarming us and the tall grass, clinging to our hair and clothes, eventually leaving us to our hysterical screams and frantic spasms as they found a nearby canola field to consume.
Locusts are reviled by anyone who grows anything: They take what they didn’t plant, moving from place to place, field to field, always consuming, getting fat off the labour of others. They give little and take much. Watch out for locusts.
4. Hang with the bees.
When my daughter was two years old, she saw the most adorable, fuzzy bee on a pretty flower. Bending over, she held out her chubby finger beside the flower, hoping the bee would land on it for closer inspection. Unfortunately, the bee did just that. It then did what many of us do when feeling cornered: It attacked. A tough but important lesson for a little girl with betrayed tears and a swollen finger.
Still, bees are important. Don’t kill a bee, even if it stings you! (Think about that.) Contrary to what the Bee Movie says, flowers and plants would still grow if there were no bees; they just wouldn’t reproduce. Bees make seeds viable. People are the same. There are those who quietly move among us, supporting good work and passing it along, spreading positivity and cheer, doing the hard work of ensuring that others beyond themselves grow and prosper. Let the flowers have all the attention as long as there are future generations of flowers for others to enjoy. These busy bees are about growth, not accolades. Surround yourself with bees.
5. Keep your circle tight.
I love people. The more, the merrier. I remember once telling a long-time friend that I wanted to move to an acreage. I also love nature. She laughed heartily before pointing out the obvious: I’d be at least a thirty-minute drive from another soul on any given day. You’d hate it. I’m not entirely convinced of that fact, but it is true that people give me energy.
A valuable truth I learned about people – a tough one for an extrovert – is that it is possible to like people and not let them all in. Not everyone that you like is everyone that you can trust. In fact, if you’re going to walk your own path, the people who walk that path with you are few. Oprah wrote (yes, I’m quoting Oprah) – “Do not think you can be brave with your life and your work and never disappoint anyone. It doesn’t work that way.” As I experienced others’ disappointments, I also experienced harm. Unintended or not, I was getting beat up. So, I did something completely contrary to what most everyone else is doing in this social media-crazed age of “more is better”: I emptied my social media accounts. I chopped my Facebook “friend” list from 1000 to 100. I narrowed my personal Instagram followers to less than that and made my account private. I realized that some who were removed might take it personally, considering it a slight against them. I had to be okay with that, to accept that the potential for misunderstandings were less than the value of feeling authentic and safe. I actually like way more people than I let in. I’ve learned the difference between who I like and who I trust. There should be a difference. I know that now.
Being true to our path and purpose is the ultimate resolution and one that we should resolve to do every day, not just once a year. It’s a path that inevitably starts out shiny and bright, but can become shadowed by challenges and hardships. My daughter just quit her competitive soccer team. She has played soccer since she could barely walk, at every level, from top-ranked teams to simply kicking the ball around with her sisters. She loves the game and has said that she will always find a way to play, even if it’s just for herself. That is the test of an authentic journey: Regardless what happens from beginning to end, smooth trail to gnarly path, summit to valley – if we are being true to our purpose, we will always find a way to live our purpose, even if it’s just for ourselves.