Monthly Archives: March 2019

Monday Motivator: See Ourselves as Others See Us

O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae mony a blunder free us,
An’ foolish notion:
What airs in dress an’ gait wad lea’e us,
An’ ev’n devotion!

–Robert Burns “To a Louse”

My first year in college, my dorm was across from a tree-lined street where I’d walk to church on Sunday mornings.

One spring morning, I was sitting in a pew when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I looked back expecting to see a friend or someone I knew from my dorm or a class. But it was a total stranger.

“Excuse me,” she said. “But you have a worm in your hair.”

I’m pretty sure I thought I looked nice in my Sunday clothes to that point. But once you hear that you have a worm in your hair, all your attention is centered on that. And hoping that there aren’t more.

So I’ve sympathy for the character in Burns’s poem because I’ve lived it, although I’m happy it was a worm that had fallen out of a tree, not a louse.

We live in a culture where we are advised to ignore what others think and go off on our paths like Thoreau at Walden. And we can be too focused on how others see us. More than once, I’ve left a dinner or a meeting thinking that everyone must think me a total idiot. When I’ve later asked people, it was clear that they didn’t think me an idiot; in fact, they didn’t think about me at all. A good lesson learned.

But there’s a problem with ignoring how others view us; it isolates us from knowing some of the very things that keep us from being successful.

We all know people like this:

  • Those who go on their soap boxes about a favorite topic and don’t notice how desperate their listeners are to escape.
  • People who claim that they would be happy if they only had a better boss, colleagues, spouse, job, etc. But those external elements have changed (some of them multiple times), and they are still complaining. When others try to tell them that they have the power to make some changes themselves, they immediately shut down the conversation with a ‘you don’t understand’ or ‘my case is different.’

When we seem to be battling the same troubles over and over, it might be a good idea to get outside of our own heads and look at how an outsider would view the situation.

And if someone takes the time to tell us that we have a worm in our hair (physical or metaphorical), then we need to take the time to get it out of there.








Monday Motivator: Know Your Fears

When I was a kid, I lived in fear of three things:

  1. The end of the world. When we went to my grandfather’s house on Sunday afternoons, he would hold court in the living room about the end of days and the antichrist. To be honest, I didn’t understand half of what he said, but I knew that this was something terrible, and I was sure each day that the newspaper would announce he had come and the world would end. If my grandfather’s words weren’t bad enough, there were the church revivals that the other kids attended, and their garbled accounts made the last days seem even more horrible.
  2. Quicksand. My parents loved Westerns, both television shows and movies. I saw many people get stuck in quicksand, and it struck me as a terrible way to die. I had nightmares about taking a walk one day in my yard and suddenly being sucked down by quicksand and being suffocated in mud.
  3. Flying Saucers. Who knows why anything becomes popular in elementary school? But in fourth grade, flying saucers were the talk of my class. For a month, I slept with the covers over my head in the hopes that if space aliens came into my bedroom, they wouldn’t notice me.

Now, obviously, I was a fearful kid. But there was one thing that didn’t haunt my dreams: Tornadoes. Which might be considered odd for a kid in Alabama where there were tornado warnings throughout the spring. One year, a tornado actually came down our road, but didn’t touch down until three houses up the street, destroying most things in its path.

It’s not that I was brave around storms. I wasn’t. I hated them. In fact, when the sky got dark, I often ran home and hid under the bed. (I’ve already said I was a fearful kid.)

But there was a difference between tornadoes and my other fears: Tornadoes were a reality in my life. They showed up like clockwork several times a year. So like it or not, I had to deal with them. So my fear stayed away until there were actual signs a storm was coming.

Fear can teach us many things. But first we have to recognize if our fears are rational and based on reality. And if they are, then we must find a strategy to listen to them and  deal with them without their overtaking our lives. But if they are not, we need to find a way to overcome them.

I did overcome my unrealistic fears. I read ‘Revelation’ for myself and learned that maybe my grandfather did not have the last word on the end of days. After a thorough search of my yard, I decided that, as long as I didn’t go out west or into the jungle, I was probably safe from quick sand. As for flying saucers, we all passed fourth grade, and, during the summer, it became too hot to sleep with the covers over my head.

Monday Motivator: Don’t Make Safety Your Only Goal

Jim Carrey in a commencement speech, talked about his father, who was naturally funny and could have been a comedian. However, he chose safety and went to a job that he didn’t like for years. Then, when he was middle-aged, he was let go. It was then Carrey said that he realized that going the safe route was no guarantee of actual safety. And if doing something safe was going to result in failure anyway, why not try for the goal you really want?

I’m always hesitant to take these sorts of stories at face value. Because it is one person looking at another person’s life and coming up with conclusions that may or may not be warranted.  Who knows the full story? Maybe Carrey’s dad was willing to work at a job he hated because it provided enough security for him to give his son options. And most people don’t become rich and famous like Jim Carrey, so there is no guarantee that if his father had joined the comedy tour, that he would have made it or even liked the grind or the travel. There are certainly miserable comedians out there.

But there is also something to be learned from the story. Failure can find us in many ways. A roommate of mine in college majored in petroleum engineering. At the time, it was considered one of the safe majors (if you could pass all the math and engineering courses.) She actually liked the program, but some people were in it just for the money. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld says.) But a few years after she graduated, the bottom fell out of the oil market. She told me that there were months when, each day, she saw colleagues walking out of the office with their personal belongings in a cardboard box.

We can minimize but never eliminate risk. Therefore, it makes sense that when making a choice, we don’t make safety our only criterion.