Lessons and Lavender Flowers

The grown-ups were sitting in Dunkin Donuts at the Outer Banks when I got the text from Elizabeth that she’d just passed the halfway mark of her first 8K. Since she was walking, and her cousin Sarah Beth was jogging, I knew that SB would soon be nearing the finish line.

“Let’s go Y’all,” I said, wrapping my pumpkin muffin and heading for the door. “If Lib’s halfway through, then Sarah Beth is probably getting close to the finish line, and we don’t want to miss that!.” 

We hustled to the car and rushed back to the school where the 8K had begun 30 minutes prior. Jumping out of my Highlander, we scattered in different directions: David to the race course to spot his nieces along the route, Becky and I to the inside gate of the track, and Mike and Lisa to the finish line to see Sarah Beth cross it.

I loved waiting there with Becky. We were both charged with the happy anticipation of seeing the girls come into view, feelings intensified by the gorgeous day. With temps in the 60’s, a gentle breeze, the sunshine on our arms and faces, we couldn’t have asked for a lovelier day. Then too, there was music, laughter, squeals from children, and the smell of popcorn wafting across the center of the track.

My phone rang. It was David. “Elizabeth sighted,” he said in his best military officer tone. Then he added, “She’s looking good. Strong pace.”

A few minutes later, Becky and I spotted her in the distance, and I couldn’t help but feel a mother’s pride. She had done it! She had stayed the course and completed what she had set out to do. As Elizabeth came through the open gate and onto the track, she asked me to join her in walking towards the finish line. LOVED doing that!

Earlier that morning, I had reminded both girls of one of my favorite terms in psychology, self-efficacy. Loosely defined as one’s ability to make something happen despite challenges and difficulties, I told them that self-efficacy was actually more important than ability. There are plenty of folks out there of average intellect and ability who believe in themselves and their goals so much that they work like crazy to achieve them. The moment someone decides, “I can’t,” she’s right.

As Elizabeth and I walked that last lap together, I asked, “So, was there ever a moment that you let doubt creep in? Did you ever find yourself wondering if you could do it or not?”

“No Ma’am. I knew I could do it. A couple of times, I just thought, ‘I don’t really want to.’”

I had to chuckle a little. Isn’t that often the case? We know we can. We just don’t want to. We’re tired or stressed or bored. We’d rather be stretched out in a hammock somewhere. We’d rather be doing anything than what we’re doing. And yet, there are times when quitting is not an option. We all have to do things that we don’t want to do whether it’s performing our jobs, getting up with a crying baby, paying bills, doing our homework, or completing an 8K.

At the finish line, we saw Sarah Beth with her parents. Happy and sad at the same time, she had achieved a personal best and yet there had been no one there to witness it. Since no one knew what a little speedster she had become, we misjudged her estimated time of completion. We all hated that, and I hope that she doesn’t let our poor judgment detract from her accomplishment.

Although they don’t know it, Elizabeth and Sarah Beth provided examples of some important life lessons:  belief in oneself, going the distance, and doing what’s required whether there’s anyone there to take note of it or not. Sometimes those private, inner victories can be sweet.

And here’s another lesson from Elizabeth. Along the course, a little girl ran up to her and gave her a tiny lavender flower. It was one of those unexpected treats that made the journey a little more enjoyable. Lavender flowers are everywhere. We just have to look for them.

Advertisement

Shake it Off

Some of my friends and I have been tossing around some ideas about things we want to try, things we want to accomplish. It’s more than checking items off of a bucket list like visiting Italy, riding an elephant, or bungee jumping. Not that those things aren’t worthy of our endeavors; they’re just not on our lists. The things we want to do involve WORK on our part(s), and they also expose us to teasing, ridicule, and snickering behind our backs.

Some of my friends and I have been tossing around some ideas about things we want to try, things we want to accomplish. It’s more than checking items off of a bucket list like visiting Italy, riding an elephant, or bungee jumping. Not that those things aren’t worthy of our endeavors; they’re just not on our lists. The things we want to do involve WORK on our part(s), and they also expose us to teasing, ridicule, and snickering behind our backs. Hmmm, now that I think of it, sometimes the criticism and skepticism are right up front.

So should a person go for it or continue playing it safe? I think you know my answer to that! It’s tied into positive psychology, a mindset that emphasizes optimism, personal choice, and happiness in human development and overall mental health. Generally, the so-called lay person thinks of psychology as a field in which people with mental and emotional disorders are helped by talk therapy, drugs, or ECT, and while those things happen, psychology is much, much more.

Here’s a neat story that fits nicely into this topic. A couple of Sundays ago, I attended church in Myrtle Beach and heard a story about an old donkey who fell in a deep, dried-up well. His owner tried to get him out, but his efforts were in vain. Finally, he realized that nothing he did was going to get the donkey out of the well, so he came up with an alternate plan. He called his neighbors and asked them to bring their shovels so that they could help him fill in the well. After all, it was dry and useless, and the donkey was old anyway.

At first, the donkey brayed and carried on something fierce. He was scared and angry. Still, the men persisted in their dirt shoveling. Suddenly, they realized that the donkey was quiet, and when they looked down into the well to see what was going on, they saw something remarkable. Every time someone hurled a shovel of dirt on him, the donkey shook it off and then stepped up on it. The men continued shoveling, and the donkey continued climbing until eventually he was above ground.

You don’t have to be a psychoanalyst to see the moral of the story. When life throws dirt on you, shake it off and keep stepping up. You don’t have to get buried by dirt. You don’t have to stay trapped at the bottom of a well. No matter how many people are actively involved in shoveling dirt on you, you have a choice to shake it off and step up…or not.

One of my friends got a rejection letter about a story she had submitted to a magazine. I wrote her on Facebook and said, “Yay! It means you’re actually doing something instead of just talking about it.” Another had a poem of hers criticized for having too many gerunds. Did it bother her? Probably. And yet I know she’ll shake off the dirt and try again. As I write this, I’m thinking of people who are making jewelry, drawing birds, writing stories, writing books, and training for a marathon. I feel certain that in all of their lives there are people with their shovels raised and ready to use.

I hope my friends stay the course. I hope they keep shaking off the dust regardless of who’s shoveling it or how much gets dumped on them. I hope they’ll read this donkey story and that it will help them the way it helped me.

Wandering in the Desert

When Paul and Amanda and Olivia were here this past weekend, Paul and I had a brief conversation about some psychology books I had recently read. He listened politely (someone taught him some excellent manners), but then mentioned that he looked at those specific books as “self-help.” I’m not above reading self-help books, so it kind of caught me off guard. Then he said that if he needed any help, he’d look to the scriptures for answers.

Hmmm. I agree with him that the scriptures are replete with advice, stories, and instructions on how to how a fuller richer life. There’s also lots of encouragement about overcoming fear, many reminders about loving one another, and several stories about people who veered off the straight and narrow and faced some dire consequences.  In fact, there are so many parallels between self-help books and the scriptures that I can say with assurance that regularly dipping into these types of literature has saved my life (figuratively speaking) on many occasions.

Back to Paul. I talked a little bit about the exodus out of Egypt and of how, to me, that was an example of how people don’t have to live lives of slavery…or even of unhappiness. A person can change his life IF he has the desire. He might have to leave behind a former way of life, walk through the Red Sea, and wander around in the desert for a while, but he can do it. In other words, change is hard. Whether the proverbial desert is for four days or four years or longer, you’re going to have to work, and you might have to eat manna instead of steak and potatoes.

Last night as I recalled our conversation, I thought of the man who led this exodus, Moses.  I thought of how he tried to get out of his “calling” by telling God that he had speech issues.  But God knew that Moses was the man He wanted and wouldn’t take no for an answer. We know the rest of the story. We know that Moses led the people out of bondage and that his brother Aaron was his mouthpiece (at least some of the time).

What I’m getting from this second story is that God wants everyone to use the gifts He’s given us, and when we agree to do so, He’ll find a way to help us succeed. It might not be a speech challenge. It could be your looks, your social status, or your misperceptions about your abilities. Whatever it is, God can work through and with you IF you’re willing to walk around in the desert for a while. Overnight success is pretty unlikely.

So yes, I agree with Paul about the scriptures being the original self-help book(s). Sometimes I just need a little helpful commentary to help me understand them better, and that’s where psychology, philosophy, and literature come in.

Philosophizing at Nacho Hippo

I truly believe that we as humans are the sum total of all of our choices. Each day, each hour of each day, we make choices about what we’ll eat, how we’ll spend our time, with whom we’ll associate, whether we’ll study or watch television, whether we’ll exercise or waste more time on FB, and so forth. Physically, mentally, cognitively, emotionally, socially, and behaviorally, we make choices all the livelong day, choices that can affect our future, our health, and our careers.

One of the many enjoyable things I did during the Christmas holidays is reconnect with old friends. On New Year’s Eve, I met Dorothea at Nacho Hippo at Market Commons in Myrtle Beach, and we spent an enjoyable hour or more reminiscing and philosophizing. Dorothea and I had a great time talking, talking, talking, and I found myself wishing we’d had more time to get better acquainted when we were younger mothers.

One of our topics of conversation was personal choice. Over delicious nachos and tacos, I told her that the most profound thing I learned in college was that I am the master (or should that be mistress?) of my fate. I can blame my disappointments and shortcomings on the weather, the economy, my children, or my ancestors, but that’s a copout. Really, it is.

Decades ago, I was sitting in a PHI 101 class stealthily working a crossword puzzle while I listened to the professor talk about some of the great thinkers in philosophy. A lot of the things he was saying were either too complicated for me to understand or too boring for me to think about. But then, Dr. Jones began extolling the work of Jean Paul Sartre and said these thought provoking words of Sartre: “I am my choices,” a simple phrase that I’ve never stopped thinking about.

Granted, there are “extenuating circumstances,” but overall, I truly believe that we as humans are the sum total of all of our choices. Each day, each hour of each day, we make choices about what we’ll eat, how we’ll spend our time, with whom we’ll associate, whether we’ll study or watch television, whether we’ll exercise or waste more time on FB, and so forth. Physically, mentally, cognitively, emotionally, socially, and behaviorally, we make choices all the livelong day. Plus, as Dorothea and I discussed, the little choices we make pile up over time and can affect us in all sorts of ways, some good and some not so good.

As I sit here at the computer, I’m dining ( late lunch) on some goodies that one of the admissions counselor’s mothers brought by for us. I ate a ham sandwich on white bread (no wheat available) without mayonnaise. I opted for pretzels instead of chips, one dark chocolate Bliss square, and a tiny little piece of a brownie. Oh yes, and I’m drinking water. I can’t see myself drinking another soft drink after reading about the correlation between sodas and diabetes and obesity. I’m not bragging on my restraint (I wanted a brownie, chips, and another sandwich) but merely demonstrating the impact of personal choice. Oh, and I also went for a three-mile walk before work this morning, and YES it was cold, very cold. It would have been easier to stay in my warm house and play Scrabble on my Kindle, but too many choices like that, and I’d end up stiff, grumpy, and chubby.

That’s one type of choice. Here’s something else I heard from a student yesterday. She’s begun and dropped out of three different programs at the college, all for the same reason: they take too long to finish!

“What are your career choices if you don’t graduate?” I asked her.

“That’s why I’m back again,” she said. “I’m going nowhere fast in my present job. I don’t even have any benefits.”

Looking through the schedule of classes, we found a couple that would fit her schedule. Unfortunately, she hasn’t committed to either of them yet. Too late at night, too hard. What will she decide? It’s her choice, and it’s a choice that could affect her entire future and that of her children. It’s only a semester and only two courses, but these courses are fundamental stepping stones…or not.

Last week Dorothea and I walked out of Nacho Hippo still animatedly discussing the importance of personal choice, and I’ve got a feeling she’s still thinking about it today. I know I am.

Galloping and Prancing Along

Had you rather look at the neighborhood mums and pampas grass or walk on the beach and look at hundreds of beautiful prancing, trotting, galloping horses? You never know what awesome sights you’ll behold if you don’t get outside and “just do it!”

Quick post about the wisdom behind “Just do it!” I went to the beach this past weekend, primarily because I wanted to attend a baby shower of a friend’s daughter. Plus, my better half was “in the woods” on the hunt for that elusive deer, and I think he’s happier when I’m engaged in something fun. Less guilt on his part, less nagging on mine.

I woke up Saturday morning with tons of things to do before the shower at one. The event was in Shallotte, NC, and I hadn’t even bought a gift yet. It was chilly outside, and I thought, “I think I’ll skip walking this morning and aim for this afternoon. “  Who was I kidding?? I knew good and well that if I didn’t put the miles in that morning, then I wouldn’t be doing it that day. I had plans with one of my lovely daughters that afternoon, and they didn’t include walking.

“Okay,” I thought. “I’ll just walk around the neighborhood. It won’t be that bad (boring), and I can always get landscaping ideas.”  While lacing up my shoes, I had change of heart and decided to go to the beach. It’s only couple of miles from my front door. How could I justify letting such an opportunity pass?

Folks, I’ve been going to Myrtle Beach for decades, and I have NEVER seen the sights I saw Saturday, at Myrtle or any other beach.  At first, I saw three horses and their riders and thought of how cool and unusual that was. Then a couple more passed me. Looking into the distance, I could see perhaps a dozen more trotting towards me.  Before the hour was over, I had seen hundreds of them. I’m not too good at estimating numbers, but trust me when I say HUNDREDS. Some were galloping, some were prancing, and others were just sauntering along. Some liked the surf and ran right through it; others were more skittish and raised a ruckus when their riders tried to steer them in that direction.

Not only were the horses an enjoyable sight to behold but so were their owners. All were smiling and reveling in the sheer beauty of the morning and of the opportunity to be on the strand. I responded “Good morning” to dozens and dozens of greetings. I began to wonder if perhaps there was a certain personality type (extraverted and friendly) that gravitated towards horseback riding, but when I asked a horse owner at church yesterday, she said, “No, they were just all happy to be allowed to ride on the beach.” Sadly, she missed that ride but will be there with her hat and boots on next year.

Apparently, Myrtle Beach allows horses to be on the beach one day per year, and Saturday was that day. It was an awesome sight, one that I would’ve missed if I’d walked around the neighborhood admiring mums and pampas grass. Just do it! You never know what you’ll see right outside your door.

Books Save Lives

Books have saved my life…and my psyche. My name is Jayne, and I’m a bibliophile.

My name is Jayne, and I’m a bibliophile. So are some of my friends. My children are too. In fact, I borrowed this quote from my son Paul’s blog (http://pbcrolley.tumblr.com) because I liked it so much.

“I know that books don’t save lives on the grand scale. They don’t end wars and such. They don’t cure cancer. But at the same time, books saved my life. And I know they’ve done that for friends of mine. Writing and reading bond me to other people—at its best, literature makes me feel less alone in the world. Great people, great books, great music—these are things that remind me of what beauty people are capable of creating and spreading through the world. So, maybe books do save lives—just not in a dramatic way.” Rob Roberge: The TNB Self-Interview (via synecdoche

I bought a Kindle a few weeks ago and am absolutely loving it. Where I go, it goes. I can even take to church because I’ve downloaded the Bible and the Book of Mormon on it. Today if I tire of reading my latest book delivered by Whispernet, The Motion of the Ocean, I can read bits and pieces of the other 27 books lined up at “home.” Last week Martha and I visited a book store at Edisto, and I bought six books. Six books! Isn’t that a bit excessive for one visit? Yes and no. They were gently used books shelved in the back room of the shop and so their prices were greatly reduced. Plus, I bought two of them to give as gifts.

As we were looking at the selection, I spied The History of Love, a book I’d heard described on NPR and had ordered from Amazon the week before. Martha bought it that afternoon. I wonder if she’s begun reading it yet. It’s none of my business of course. It’s just that yesterday she mentioned her obsession with books and declared that her book buying frenzy had to cease, at least until she read those she’d recently purchased. My other friends are like this too, especially Connie and Kristi.

My children love books too. While their tastes and interest vary widely, they’re all three Harry Potter fans. The girls love all sorts of fiction, and both read an array of nonfiction based on their current lifestyles, Carrie about raising children and Elizabeth about teaching and decorating. Lately, Paul seems to be reading more psychology and counseling material since that’s to be his life’s work. All of them know where to find spiritual words of wisdom too. All know where to read reminders like “Live in thanksgiving daily.”

Books have saved my life…and my psyche. My favorite book from childhood is The Little Engine that Could; because of it, I’ll usually keep on keeping on even when the journey gets rough. I say “usually” because there’s no sense in trying to control the uncontrollable. A favorite from adulthood is The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, no surprise to the people who know me. Dr. Covey’s words reminded me that I and I alone am the master of my fate and that it’s fruitless and a little crazy to blame other people for unhappiness or lack or growth. This morning I dipped into Simple Abundance by Sarah ban Breathnach and was reminded that “Even lousy days possess hidden wonder.” I’m thinking of the novels I’ve read this year and how each one has expanded my horizons and yet narrowed the gap between my fellow earthlings and me. In my book club, we’ve read several books about women and their choices, and I’m amazed at how despite race, socioeconomic status, culture, and century, we’re more similar than not. We face the same battles, heartaches, joys, anxieties, and dreams.

Is there a book that changed your life? Tell me about it.

Ellen’s Secret

Yesterday in Wal-Mart, I picked up a magazine and skimmed an article about Ellen. If you’ve seen her lately, you have to have noticed something different about her, a glow that exudes health and confidence. She’s always been an attractive woman, but now she seems especially so. “What is it?” I’ve been asking myself.

Last night I discovered her “secret” as I hurriedly read through the article; it was in Shape in case anyone wants the full version. This is what I gleaned:  she looks radiant and healthy because of choices she made regarding diet and exercise. I don’t remember the exercise part, but I do recall the diet part. In her earlier years, Ellen ate lots of red meat, French fries, and fried food galore. She didn’t feel that great, but she didn’t attribute her lack of energy and blahs to her food consumption.  She’d gain and lose, gain and lose, and then gain and lose some more.

Then one day, Ellen realized that being healthy isn’t about depriving yourself of things you enjoy. It’s about rewarding yourself with things that are good for you. For example, she no longer eats fried food, but rather than looking at it as a deprivation, she looks at it as eliminating something totally not good for her. She’s amazed, maybe even appalled, at the foods she ingested “back in the day,” and now she eats lots of fruits and vegetables and stays away from dairy products and red meat. She views it as a way of nurturing herself, of treating herself well.

I loved the article (at least the part of it that I read) because I, like Ellen, feel something between despair and compassion when I hear women lamenting the fact that they’re “so fat” and that they need to go on a diet. It sounds negative, like they’re going to deprive themselves…and indeed they are. According to Ellen, that doesn’t work. You have to make a commitment to a total lifestyle change. You have to make a commitment to a healthier you, one with energy and confidence. That doesn’t happen with deprivation and self-denial; that happens with loving yourself and making a commitment to health.

So much for the cinnamon buns! Where are those strawberries?

Get Moving!

Just a couple of quick thoughts about how Elizabeth, Carla, and I plan to use ME from this day forward. We were sitting around talking about size and shape and the impact that just a tiny bit of exercise could make on both. This is a topic that comes up quite often since we seem to eat more and move less when we’re on vacation.

I don’t have the time or inclination to get into the tremendous value of the E word (exercise) today, but I do want to mention that we all three agreed that it’s the secret to weight control, overall fitness, energy level, disease resistance, stress reduction, and even confidence level. We also agreed that sometimes it’s near nigh impossible to work in a fitness routine when life is so BUSY.  “Still,” I insisted in my diatribe with these young women, “You can do something. Just move!”

Movement and exercise are vital for both physical and psychological health, and I’m as sure of that as I am sure that the sun’s going to come up tomorrow. We sat there staring at each other for a few minutes, and then I lowered the boom (so to speak).  I asked them if they’d ever heard the phrase, “If it is to me it’s up to me,” and neither of them had. Elizabeth giggled and then asked me to repeat it.

“Hey, think of it like this. ME stands for Movement/Exercise, and if it’s going to happen, it’s up to me to get moving.  It’s up to ME and for Me.” I think they liked my little acronym, and I hope they read this blog and get moving. ME, Ladies…ME.

Always Too Early to Quit

Norman Vincent Peale

 Ever get stuck on a project? Ever feel like whenever you take one step forward, you take two steps back? Ever feel like throwing in the towel and giving up on something you’ve been working on? I have. I think one of the things that holds me back is time…yes, and maybe lack of focus too. Like you, I have 168 hours per week to do things, and yet my hours seem to be frittered away by details, especially those involved with making a buck. I’m not complaining, just sayin’. 

Whenever I feel discouraged, I love reading success stories, especially those that come about after a few trials and tribulations. It’s a bit disheartening to read about instant success if you’ve been plodding and planning and trying your dead level best to succeed at something and have it come to naught. From what I can pick up, however, that’s not how it usually happens. 

Someone once said (maybe you can provide the source of this quote) that most overnight successes take about 20 years. While it might seem easy and quick to the outsider looking in, achieving major accomplishments takes time, effort, and maybe even a little help from above. Rome wasn’t built in a day, right? 

This morning I’m thinking of Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, minister and prolific writer. The only book I’m familiar with is his famous The Power of Positive Thinking.  Published in 1952 and translated into at least 42 languages, this book was once rejected so many times that he gave up on it. The story I heard is that he threw the crumpled manuscript into the trashcan and forbade his wife to remove. Evidently, she had more confidence in his work than he did because she took the trashcan, manuscript within, to a publisher who saw the “power” of the book and took a chance on Peale’s seminal work. 20 million copies later, the book is still going strong. 

I often spout his quote, “Change your thoughts and you change your world,” in classes when cognitive psychology is being discussed. It’s a simple, yet powerful thought. This morning I came across an even shorter one that I’m going to keep in mind: “It is always too early to quit.” 

I KNOW that if my friends and I get frustrated with our project progress, then there are others who do the same. From now on, I’m going to remind myself of Peale’s advice. It worked for him.