Blog: Balla Waxing

Life Lesson No. 9: Dreams

I don’t mean dreams we have during the night, I mean goals. Life goals.

From the time we’re old enough to listen, we hear people talking about how important it is to our happiness and fulfillment to follow our dreams. Sounds good. But what’s often left out is how that works – the operative verb here being “work.”

Elementary school children are petted and told they can be anything they want to be. Anything. They’re blank slates. They’re smart, talented, gifted. They have everything going for them, etc. So they grow up thinking something wonderful will happen to them along life’s pathway, and they’ll just at some point BECOME what they want to be. Everything will magically flow to them.

Not true in my world. Following my dreams has meant years of schooling beyond high school, years of trial and error jobs, and hundreds of hours spent honing my chosen craft over nearly two decades. It has meant thousands of dollars in tuition, hundreds spent on books and conferences. And I still haven’t achieved my dream.

But another important dream-chasing verb is “persevere.”  So, I do.

Lesson No. 8: Gates

Several of my childhood summers were spent on my grandparents’ ranch in the mountains of New Mexico near Cloudcroft. It was a working ranch, meaning they raised cattle, pigs, chickens, and most of their own feed. My granddad and uncles rounded up the cattle on horseback, and there were always one or two tame horses we grandchildren were allowed to ride. One huge old animal named Banjo was my favorite.

Fences were everywhere on the ranch. Made of barbed wire, they served not only to keep the domestic animals together and close by, but to keep marauding animals out. And every fence had at least one gate. In order to get out the front yard, we had to go through the gate in that fence. There was a gate in the fence around the corral, and a gate in the fence down the hill from the house to the field where the water tank was.

One of the all-time favorite fun things to do on the ranch was to put on old clothes and splash around in that water tank. But as is typical of city kids, one day on the way to the tank we left the gate open, and Banjo got out. By the time Granddad found him, his legs had been badly cut by barbed wire when he tried to jump back over the fence.

Watching Granddad put ointment on the open gashes made me feel like a chainsaw murderer. But it also taught me something about natural consequences that result from our behavior.

It taught me that the people who came before me had insights that I hadn’t yet lived long enough to learn. It taught me to pay more attention to my actions, and to sometimes ask what the end result of a behavior might be. It taught me that there are things in the world that might harm me, so I should be careful who and what I allow behind my fences. But most importantly, it taught me that as I move through life, there are relationships, failures, and even victories better left behind. And I learned to close the gate.

Lesson No. 7: Watch Your Back

During my graduate studies in Psychology I learned that murdered people are most often killed by someone they know (this still holds true, even considering the sad mass-shootings we’ve sustained recently). Husbands and wives kill and main each other regularly.

A few years ago, several studies were done in which pairs of friends were recruited to participate in what researchers assured them was a gravely important experiment. One friend was told to press a button that would give a shock to the other when specific questions were asked. The other friend/partner sat behind a screen, and was told to scream horrifically when given the signal. Of course, the researchers repeated several times to the Shocker that sending an electrical charge into their friend’s body was for the greater good. And even though some Shockers expressed agitation at hurting their friends, they still allowed themselves to be talked into giving that friend what they assumed to be painful shocks when told it would offer important information to the world. Even though their friends screamed in what the Shocker believed to be great pain, they still flipped that little switch. (The good news is that the wires attached to their friends weren’t actually electrified.) An interesting bit of information was that the researchers measured the levels of electrification the Shockee would have received had the electrodes been connected to electricity, and while some Shockers only gave what they thought to be gentle jolts, others gave levels that would have resulted in injury.

My takeaway? Think long and hard before making yourself completely vulnerable to another human. Human nature being what it is, that person will most likely at some point let you down. Because you never know when your friend will take it into his head that doing or saying something that hurts you is okay. And sometimes people cannot resist throwing your vulnerabilities back in your face.

Of course, some fortunate few will find a life-partner who will keep their secrets, who will refuse to torment them with past failures. They exist. They are that rare thing – a human who can be trusted.

Lesson No. 6: Nobody’s Perfect

In my opinion, the word “Perfect” is much over-used in reference to human beings. Our culture demands that we strive for perfection, even while we accept that no one outside of Jesus Christ has actually been capable of achieving it. And then again, we’re told that practice MAKES perfect. The whole thing seems to boil down to definition, so here’s mine: human perfection is living the life you were intended to live and being the person you were born to be. Period.

According to Holy Writ, everyone is given at least one gift. GIVEN the gift(s), not allowed to select ones that appeal to us from among many. It’s our responsibility to find our gift, own it, develop it, and use it for good.

If I could have chosen my gift, I would be one of the great music composers who have through the ages stirred our spirits, lightened our darkness, and elevated our hearts in praise to our Creator. So, sometimes being who I’m supposed to be may mean accepting that I’m not who I would rather be.

The old saw that we can do and be anything we want is not always precisely accurate. Some of who we are boils down to aptitude – the hand we’re dealt at birth.

For example, someone with only one arm is most likely not going to become a brain surgeon or fly a fighter jet. But then again, even though the famous pianist Paul Wittgenstein lost his right arm during World War I, he chose not to give up his birthright. He continued to perform after commissioning Ravel to compose a piano concerto solely for the left hand.

As creatures who often pursue the path of least resistance, some may think this gives us a free pass at striving to achieve. Not at all. Some of who we are is based on how hard we’re willing to work at it. No one becomes great at what they do by merely wishing it.

But as long as you’re working toward and practicing at being who and what your gift(s) allow, it follows that (while you may not be exactly where you’d like to be in your relationships, spiritual growth, or even your career), you’re exactly where you need to be right now. It means whatever you’re currently going through is preparing you for your next step – teaching you what you need to know in order to progress.

Meanwhile, we grow impatient. We put pressure on ourselves to be great, or get a move on and become a star. And there may be people around us who, for whatever reason (I’m convinced it’s out of a sense of their own failure to achieve their definition of “greatness”), feel it incumbent upon themselves to either verbally or passive-aggressively define OUR level of perfection. Ignore them. They’re still struggling to find their place.

Life is a process. And part of the joy of living is to explore and make the best of our boundaries. We are, after all, creative beings with an almost limitless ability to learn and become.

As long as you’re doing the best you can, you’re doing what you need to do. Relax. Hang in there, and enjoy the ride.

Life Lesson No. 5: Geographical Amnesia

My dad was pastor at a church in New Mexico during my high school years. We had a fairly good sized youth group, most of whom attended the same high school I did. Our group included cheerleaders, student council members, and other “Popular” kids.

While not a complete outsider, I was not a member of the upper crust IN group. I was too different, came from too conservative a background, didn’t have enough money, was too shy… who knows?

One thing, however, became crystal clear very early on: just because you shared what you thought were wonderful conversations with someone at a church youth activity didn’t mean they’d hang with you, or even know your name while at school. I remember feeling hurt because a cheerleader youth group member wouldn’t even return my “Hi” while walking in the hall between classes.

While this may sound like a whine, it’s not. That experience was a wonderful teacher. It spurred me to search for a person’s inner self, to open myself to friendships with kids who were otherwise invisible.

And it taught me that deep-thinking, intelligent, fun, and life-enriching people may live inside some of the plainest packaging.

Lesson Number 4 – Tender Plants

Everyone knows one of these people. These are the folks who take offense at the slightest infraction – usually unintended. She’s the one who gets her feelings hurt because you compliment someone else on their appearance, but not hers. She’s the one who sulks and pouts if her family and friends don’t fall all over themselves congratulating her for the outstanding quality of her every deed. “Not to take anything away from your efforts,” she’ll say at the workplace, “But the original idea for this project came from moi.” And then she’s the quick to intone, “I told you that would never work,” at the first sign of a failure. These are the people I call “Energy Vampires.” They are extremely high maintenance, and as such will drain every living being within an arm’s reach of every ounce of their Life Force, leaving them exhausted. My message to them? Get over yourself. There are lots of us here, and we’re all doing the best we can. My message to the rest of the world? Run, don’t walk, away from this type of person. You’ll live longer and be happier.

Life Lesson No. 3: Builder vs. Destroyer

One of my favorite authors Louis L’Amour often said there are two kinds of people – Builders and Destroyers. In my experience, every human falls into one category or the other – some more blatantly than others.

I’ve learned to seek out the Builders. Their energies are focused on either creating things or making them better. They’re the folks who cheer when others make an effort, even if it doesn’t result in the best possible outcome. They consistently look for the good in their contemporaries.

Beware the Destroyers. Their raison d’etre solely consists of criticizing and tearing down. Most likely driven by some psychological need to feel superior because they are consumed with feelings of inferiority, they hardly ever say anything good about anyone. This is the person who calls attention to everyone’s less-than-stellar workplace efforts, piano recital, or vocal performance. The one who can be relied upon to point out another’s physical deficits or anomalies. The person who just can’t say anything good about anyone – ever.

My advice? If you feel you cannot be whole as a human unless you have a Destroyer as a friend (and that in itself is grounds for seeking professional help), ask them to stop that behavior – at least in your presence. Otherwise, stay as far away from them as possible. Research indicates negativism is contagious.

Lesson Number 2

Never write anything you don’t want the whole world to read – including your parents – because someone somewhere will think it ever so clever to pass it along to anyone who can read, or read it aloud to anyone who can’t. Examples of the wisdom behind this lesson are found throughout history. Stuff like love letters from public figures to non-spouse recipients, and political secrets that get leaked and not only destroy careers, but wreak havoc with national security (think Emails, Tweets, etc.). Bottom line? If you wouldn’t want to see it in headlines, find a different way to express it.

Life Lessons Learned the Hard Way: A Serialized Chronology of Ignorance and Naiveté Over 64 years of Hard Living

Lesson Number 1 – Learned in first grade: Never, never tell an embarrassing secret to someone you think is your friend and then expect her to keep it quiet.

Never. No matter how badly you want to talk about it, and no matter how many times your friend promises “not to tell another living soul.” I’m no research scientist, but it seems to me there’s a direct correlation between the number of times they promise not to tell and the number of people they then rush out to tell. If the six degrees of separation theory holds any water, within a few hours the whole world will know who you have a crush on, that you are developing hemorrhoids, or that it was you who farted in the library instead of Paul Scrawberry.

The Truth about Ecstasy

I recently ran across a book in the “Self Help” section at Barnes and Noble that caught my attention. As usual, the cover boasts the benefits the Reader will accrue by purchasing and reading it. Screaming bullet points on the back include the statement that humans have the right to a life filled with ecstasy – that if we live even one day in something other than ecstatic happiness, it’s our own fault. She (the author) is willing to share her secrets as to how to move our life into that continual state of bliss. What an incredible claim, I thought, expecting a Dali Lama- or Mahatma Gandhi-esque offering. So I thumbed through the book.

Lots of instruction to let go of friendships that are less than perfect (including any friends who have been the victim of misfortune – gee, that’s just about everyone I know), a command to meditate at least fifteen minutes per day, and even daily platitudes to commit to memory that can be pulled up at a moment’s notice to convince yourself what you’re experiencing is indeed ecstasy.

My thoughts? It’s a bunch of hooey. Because the truth is life experiences, even the bizarre or horrifying, when repeated over time become the norm. We humans are amazingly adept at adapting. And, of course, the norm grows boring.

I for one don’t want to be under the pressure to perform ecstatically every day. Besides, one of the realities of life is that it often sucks . . . and it’s supposed to. It’s through challenges that we grow our coping muscles and learn wisdom. It’s the yin and yang of life – the light and dark. I cannot imagine anything more irritating than to have someone command me to “be happy, it’s all good” in the face of tragedy or loss.

My life has included a few mountain top highs. I treasure the memories. But one reason I can describe those times as mountain top is because there are also valleys against which to compare them.

Final word? Grow up, Lady Author (who appears in her photo to be about fourteen). And after you’ve gone through the pain life inflicts on every participant, write something worth the paper it’s printed on. Then I’ll take you seriously.