A New View of Success for a New World: John Robbins and “The New Good Life”

“He who dies with the most toys wins.” – Malcolm Forbes

“I have no desire to replace conspicuous consumption with conspicuous frugality.” - John Robbins

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“More than forty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described one of the foremost problems with the old good life.  ‘We are prone,’ he said, ‘to judge success by the index of our salaries or the size of our automobile rather than by the quality of our service and relationship to mankind.’ “

So quotes the man I’ve called “a gift to humanity”:  bestselling author, former heir to the Baskin-Robbins ice cream fortune, recipient of the Rachel Carson Award and the Albert Schweitzer Humanitarian Award, founder of EarthSave International…and the guy who, at least temporarily, pretty much converted me to vegetarianism after reading his Diet for a New America years ago.  For those of you not familiar with him, John Robbins grew up in wealth and privilege but decided at a young age that he wanted to pursue a different path than the one he’d inherit from his father – head of the Baskin-Robbins empire and a continued life of wealth and privilege.  Without giving too much away, he ended up with his wife, Deo, off the coast of British Columbia in a one-room log cabin they built themselves and lived in for the next ten years, during which time their son, Ocean, was born.  As the years went by, Robbins became committed to animal welfare and vegetarianism, as well as other environmental concerns, and the Robbins family expanded to include Ocean’s wife Michelle and the couple’s twin boys, born three months prematurely and suffering repeated bouts of oxygen deprivation that led to their autism.  The New Good Life: Living Better Than Ever in an Age of Less reveals enough of this background to give insight into Robbins’ character and values, but the real point for readers is something most of us already know:  “We have now entered an entirely new phase in our nation’s and our world’s economic existence.  We have come to the end of the financial world as we have known it.”

Robbins has known both wealth and what some would call poverty.  In 2001, he and his family had what he believed were sufficient income and savings prior to the twins’ birth, but the boys’ special needs, expected to be lifelong, led him to invest his money in a fund controlled by an attorney friend whom they greatly trusted.  For seven years the investment yielded respectable returns…until December 2008, when the friend called John with “excruciating news”:  The money had been invested with Bernard Madoff.

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John Robbins

John Robbins

Robbins and his family made it through the most devastating crisis of their lives, thanks to hard choices, hard work, and the kindness of many friends who supported them.  And only two years later, he published The New Good Life, in the same calm, reasoned, sane tone that I’ve admired for years.  While the book is devoted in part to “Getting to Know Your Money Type” (disclosure:  I’m a Saver and a Vigilant) and “Four Steps to Financial Freedom,” there’s much more to saving ourselves and our planet.  Backed by the extensive research that underlies his other published works, Robbins tackles housing, vehicle purchases, public transportation, family size, green cleaning alternatives, and, of course, food, even including recipes for favorite family dishes such as split pea cabbage soup and tangy lentil-barley stew.  Using real life examples from friends as well as family, he guides the reader through a myriad of ways to make gradual changes in every part of life, that can lead to a new vision of hope as well as economic and physical health.

This is a book to read, and read again – thoughtfully, carefully, and to share with friends.  Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy as soon as you can.  Then “Go forth and be fruitful, go forth and be creative, passionate, and fully alive.  Go forth and bring the wisdom of your soul to bear on every choice, every experience, every breath, and every moment.”

Sound like a tall order?  It won’t by the time you get to the end.  And I bet you’ll find yourself numbered among the many like me who are thankful men like John Robbins are alive in this world.

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For more information on John Robbins, his family, and his work, be sure to visit his website at http://johnrobbins.info/ and his Amazon.com page at http://www.amazon.com/John-Robbins/e/B000APQ3YC/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1398124297&sr=1-2-ent.

The New Good Life

 

 

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Because Dreaming and Doing Go Hand in Hand: Meet the Guys Who Want to Help You “Live Your List”

Live Your List

How many of you have a “bucket list”?  You know, that tally of life goals you’d love to achieve before you kick the bucket, as the popular saying goes.  Does it occasionally seem like  a mere catalog of wishful thinking, or have you set your list in motion but need a little help to finish it?

In this month’s installment of “Tell Me About It,” I asked authors, bloggers and speakers Jerrod Murr and Ryan Eller – two men who are the best kind of dreamers and doers, i.e., GIVERS – to talk about a cool project they call “Live Your List” – and why they’ve set out to help people just like you.

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LW:  Jerrod, your website describes you as “not your average, shoot for the stars dreamer…Murr is a dreamer of dreamers.” Okay, that caught my attention…just what does that mean?

JM:  I find it difficult to describe yourself, so Ryan wrote this sentence for me. This is his description in his own words:

“When Jerrod and I were in college, one of our classmates described Jerrod as a dreamer of dreams, and it always stuck with me.  I try to surround myself with dreamers, and most people limit themselves to the preconceived notions of those around them.  Jerrod has no limitations on his dreams.  If he told me he was going to be the next person on the moon, I would believe him.” 

Jerrod Murr

Jerrod Murr

LW:  Ryan, on your website, Jerrod says: “Ryan gives hope to the dreamers and challenges leaders to step up and live a life of intention.”  Have you always felt it was your mission to lead and encourage others?

RE:  I come from a family of leaders.  I didn’t come from a wealthy family, a prestigious family, or even a well-educated family, but I came from a family of strong leaders.  Hard workers who have spent decades investing in other people without seeking fame or fortune.  I have been fortunate to be in an “iron-sharpens-iron” world from my youth.

LW:  Jerrod, you started your public speaking career at 14.  What were you talking about at that age?

JM:  At 14, I gave a speech to a huge crowd in Wainwright, OK, town of 300 people.  I was the Valedictorian of my 8th grade class.  I had three major points: 1. Thank you, Mom.  2. I believe in God.  3. Thank you, Mom.

LW:  Now I’ll be honest – I hadn’t heard of you gentlemen before coming across a mention of your bucket list project in a Facebook group – but I was immediately intrigued by this crazy thing you’re spearheading called “Live Your List.”  How did it start?

JM & RE:  “Live Your List” is the mantra we have adopted for our lives, business, and presentations. It’s a short way to describe living a life of intention.  We believe everyone should be proactive in how we live, dream big, set goals, play, love people, do more than you feel capable.  We, as a race, are incredibly strong and tend to underestimate ourselves.  Most of us just need a little encouragement.  The LiveYourList project is our way of practicing what we preach.  We are all about bucket lists and use that as a key concept in our life strategy.  With that in mind, the project helps people check off “buckets” and reach their dreams! 

Ryan Eller

Ryan Eller

LW:  And speaking of bucket lists…that term is familiar to almost everyone now, thanks primarily to the eponymous 2007 movie starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman – but do you think we’re more a nation of dreamers rather than doers these days?

JM & RE:  It completely depends on how you define dreaming.  We discussed this on a recent Live Your List podcast.  We are a nation of many daydreamers, wishers perhaps.  People who simply wish things were better or different.  The lottery winner mentality of dreaming.  But dreaming and doing go hand-in-hand.  Dreaming, for us, is more akin to vision.  You must have a vision for your life, then pursue that vision with reckless abandon.

LW:  Millions of people in this country, millions of dreams…how do you choose whom to help?

JM & RE:  Great question.  First, we can only help dreams we hear.  So go to LiveYourList.org to share your story or nominate a story.  We have a team that helps us decide which dreams to pursue.  From there, it’s a matter of resources.  We are putting up personal funds, as well as teaming up with incredible people who have offered talents and resources for the projects.  For instance, we have pilots who have volunteered to take people in the air, cosmologists who do makeovers, and farmers who let people milk cows.

LW:  Obviously the concept of giving is enormously important to you.  You are also both men of faith.  How does that drive what you do?

JM:  I wrote a book a few years ago called 30 Days to Give.  Shameless plug, would much appreciate you checking it out on Kindle or Nook.  Proceeds help the #LiveYourList project.  This book is an in-depth answer. The short answer is that our faith affects us deeply.  We believe we are called to be givers.  Case closed.  So give.  And we try our best.

LW: Where do you see the Live Your List project heading in the future?

JM & RE:  Definitely Antarctica, because we want to go there!  But truly,  the response has been incredible, and we are very grateful.  In only two months we were completing an overseas trip for someone, setting someone up to barrel race in a rodeo, sending an amazing teen to a professional basketball game, and more (secrets yet to be revealed).  We have literally hundreds of applicants and supporters, so even the sky is not the limit!  Actually, space.  Our answer is space.  That’s where LiveYourList is heading in the future!

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Hmmm…sounds like Jerrod just may be the next person on the moon, as Ryan hinted.  How about you?  What kind of dreams and goals have you put on your bucket list?  What have you done to achieve them so far?  What would it take to bring them to fruition?  Would you be willing to help someone else cross an item off their list?  I’d love to hear from you.

To learn more about Jerrod and Ryan and the great work they’re doing (hint: it’s not just about bucket lists), visit them at http://ryaneller.com/ and http://jerrodmurr.com/ or follow them on Twitter at @Ryan_Eller and @jerrodmurr.  Thanks for your time, guys!

Next week is Book Review Monday…and I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the latest offering from a man I consider a national treasure, John Robbins, author of the bestseller Diet for a New America – and what he has to say about “The New Good Life” in a time of economic and environmental upheaval.  Hope to see you then!

 

 

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Step Into Yourself and Raise Your Standard

This month’s installment of “Be My Guest” comes to us from Devani Anjali Alderson – a fellow Tribe Writer as well as author, globetrotter, marketing maven and photographer…not to mention CEO of Marketing4Traffic…with an important message about something so many of us do and so many of us ultimately fail at – setting goals.  As in other years, I wrote up my list in January…and despite intentions to the contrary, haven’t looked at that list since.  I’m convicted…how about you?

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Goal setting. It’s such a mainstream thing to do. New Years, birthdays, five-year markers… So many people wait for a “big” occasion to set a goal. And yet very few people sit down and create a strategy for actually making it happen. You don’t need to wait for a significant event to change your life. As Tony Robbins says, “You need to be sick and tired of being SICK and TIRED.”  That’s when you decide it’s time to stop making excuses and just get things done. The time for procrastination is over. Dead and gone.

Anthony Robbins

Anthony Robbins

Crystallize your goals and have a WHY. Do you know why so many “diets” fail? It’s not necessarily that the “diet” itself doesn’t work. It’s that people jump in without crystallizing the reason behind their desire.

Recently I had a coaching session with my mentor, Jim Sheil, co-founder of Board Meetings International. He explained a process to me for setting goals that would easily get accomplished. Below are the top takeaways I got from him:

1. Write Down Three Highlights from the Previous Year: This is important so you can see the “ups” you had. It will help motivate you for the year ahead. It will also show you the activities you enjoy, so you can incorporate them into the upcoming year.

2.   Write Three Lessons From Last Year: Knowing what you learned helps you feel proud about yourself and reminds you of life’s lessons. And it crystallizes the key points you learned.

3. Write Goals: There is a specific process to writing goals.   

    a. Make them realistic. Everyone’s version of “realities” is different, so when brainstorming what you want to happen, make it doable. But remember that realistic doesn’t mean “dream small”… It just means maybe you should start with baby steps!  

    b. Make them measurable. Add a time limit and date you want each one accomplished by.

    c. Stick with a list of 3-5.  Don’t make some long list of a dozen goals. It’s much better to get a couple of goals accomplished than have a dozen that have been abandoned.

4. Look at the list DAILY!  If you don’t remind yourself each day about what you want…you’ll eventually forget and burn out. You need to ingrain your goals. Put the list everywhere – on the bathroom mirror, in the car, in your wallet, everywhere!

Here is an example of one of my goals: “On August 1st of 2014, the first draft of my marketing workbook is complete and with an editor.” For me, this is realistic; there’s a date I expect to complete this, and it’s not daunting. My original goal was: “I am a published author of a bestselling book/workbook that inspires speakers, authors, and business owners to get back to the core passion of their business.” It was too grand, and I was setting myself up for disappointment. There was no way I could realistically complete this.

You want realistic goals so you don’t get disappointed. That sets you back and makes it that much harder to accomplish what you want. You want to make it EASY to move forward. Once you’ve gone through this process, share it with close and uplifting friends. People whom you KNOW will help and cheer you on when you feel down.

Here’s the thing: goals are awesome. They give clarity and purpose to our lives. But what’s the point if we don’t act on them? We’ll end up depressed, sad, angry, bitter, and with other negative feelings that harm us and the people around us. While it may seem convenient to set goals during major events, there’s no reason to wait. Waiting means you’re letting life happen, you’re giving up your power, and you’re not living up to yourself.  That might sound harsh, but frankly, if you’re not living up to what you know you can do, you’re wasting your beautiful, precious life, and the world will not get to see or be helped by your gifts.

Love yourself enough to step into your skin and raise the standard. There’s no reason to hide, no reason to wait, and no reason for excuses.

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How about you?  Have you set goals you had trouble fulfilling because they were unrealistic or lacked passion – or have you aced them and are moving on to new ones?  Has something stopped you from even setting them?  Devani would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.  And be sure to check out her website at http://marketing4traffic.com/.

Devani Anjali Alderson

Devani Anjali Alderson

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Please Don’t Call Me “Unemployed”

Hey-ho, unemployment woe – I’m not in the mood for you.

Not right now, anyway.  Maybe because it’s too early.  I only left my job last week, after all.

But I’d rather believe it’s because I’m better prepared than on previous occasions when I got the axe, the pink slip, the news, whatever you want to call it.  Yep, I’ve been there before.  Seven times, in fact.  Last week was Number Eight.

They say you never forget your first time, and the first time was the worst.

There I was, going about my business while the rumblings, which there surely must have been, eluded my ears.  So when my boss called me into her cubicle (even the department director had a cubicle), I had no clue I was about to hear that essentially my entire department had just been eliminated.

Shock quickly gave way to fear, not to mention a sense of being cut adrift.  How long would it take to find another job?  Did I even have the necessary qualifications to get another one that would pay enough?

I soon found myself typing up my coworkers’ resumes.  At home I lay on the couch, plagued with worries about whether my car, on which I was still making payments, would be repossessed.  Human Resources assistance was, frankly, a joke, and not just in my case: at one point enough of us complained that at least two recruiters were called on the carpet.  But as it turned out, I was fortunate enough to be carpooling with a friend who had a friend in another department, and said department had an unexpected opening, and…

Suffice it to say that I didn’t need to worry about my car being repossessed.  In fact, I would stay with that company for nearly another decade.

* * * * *

It gets easier.  You learn that the world doesn’t end, to not become too emotionally invested, for in the eyes of a company you really are just a number.  You apply for unemployment yet again and curb unnecessary spending.  You give a speech on surviving a job loss at your Toastmasters club.

While I’ve been very fortunate in not having experienced unemployment as a single parent or sole breadwinner, I know what it’s like to lie awake at night worrying about money.  Old journal entries are filled with mathematics and bank balances.  I still remember the frustration of putting out literally hundreds of resumes and receiving, at best, about a two percent response; the nagging anxiety, as the months moved into the double digits with no offers, that there must be something wrong with me; the sense of failure when it finally came to a choice between paying rent or expensive COBRA health insurance; the secret wonderings of Is my age working against me?  Have I been out of work too long to be considered?

And oh, I could go on.  The interview questions that don’t really apply to your experience.  The worry that the job you know you don’t want is the one that will be offered, and you’ll feel you have to take it.  The well-meaning but annoyingly repetitive queries of “Have you found something yet?  Any news on the job front?  Have you thought about doing something different?”

So I worked on becoming better prepared this time, because this time my job had a foreseeable expiration date.  Interestingly, though I was ready for a “change of scenery,” I found myself having unexpected emotional reactions at various times as the embers of old fears were stirred.

But I knew even before that date was announced that I had to do something different.  Knew I had to change if I didn’t want to endlessly repeat the same old patterns.

So on January 1, 2014, I embarked on my “Year of Believing Dangerously.”  Oh, the rational voices in my head tried to kill it before it started.  They warned of reaching the December 31 finish line a puddle of dashed hopes and laughable expectations.  “You don’t know what you’re getting into!” they claimed.  “You’ll end up alone and depressed on New Year’s Eve, wondering how you could have been dumb enough to think…”

But another small voice overrode them. “So what?  You’ll still be better off than you were before.”

And thus, when the still-triggering question of “What are you going to do?” came up, I learned to articulate a new hope, and with practice my voice became stronger.  I committed, for better or worse, to moving towards something I wanted rather than something I didn’t merely to pay the bills.  I didn’t want fear to be my impetus anymore, to drift for days, weeks, months, staying up too late at night and spending too many hours surfing the Internet while I waited for a phone call, an email, an offer, an assignment.

So please don’t call me “unemployed.”  It’s a word with negative connotations, besides which I will indeed be employed, even if humbly at my bedroom desk and not in a paying capacity at first.  I’ll be brushing up on my proofreading and computer software skills.  Researching, writing and marketing articles.  Reviewing books and serving as a beta reader/proofreader for other writers.  Continuing my daily exercise in a quest to reach my goal weight.  Listening to motivational speakers.  Reading.  Interviewing and blogging.  Taking courses and seeking volunteer opportunities, working on developing new relationships and networking opportunities.  Designing a new website.  Job hunting while I’m reinventing.

And, to slightly paraphrase a line from one of my favorite novels:  “If I come a cropper, at least I can say, ‘Well tried.'”

Writer for Hire

Writer for Hire

 

 

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The 3 Questions Writers Forget to Ask

Readers, I’m delighted to feature fellow Tribe Writer and playwright Lindsay Price as my latest guest poster.  This month she’s asking three very important questions any writer needs to remember — and I’m certainly filing them for future reference.  Please stop by her website and say hello when you’ve finished the post.  Take it away, Lindsay!

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Writers ask many questions during their career: How do I get published? How do I make a living? How do I sell more?

Writers who use social media to further their careers have even more questions: How do I grow my blog? How many times a day should I tweet? Which social media platform should I use?

With all these questions, it’s easy to lose sight of your writing goals.

I know. At thirty I felt lost at sea as a writer. I had no idea what I was doing or where I was headed with my career. Fifteen years later I have a writing life that I love with a clear plan for the next fifteen years.

What happened?  

Every writer only needs to ask themselves three simple questions to find career clarity.

What do I want?

It’s not enough to say, “I want to write.” You’ll need to be more specific. Do you want to make a living? Do you just want to finish something? Do you want to write as a hobby or a profession? What do you want to work on specifically? There are so many genres and subgenres of writing. Where will you focus?

Hone in on exactly what you want to achieve as a writer. This will affect how you work, what you work on, and how much time you spend writing.

Who is My Ideal Audience?

Who do you write for? Is it The Hunger Games crowd or those who love historical romance? Think specifically about your audience.

Write a description of your ideal audience member. What do they look like? What do they do for a living? How much disposable income do they have? What do they do in their spare time? Where do they hang out online?

This exercise will define every step you take with your career. A clear understanding of your audience will dictate the tone of your blog posts, what kind of material you write, what you retweet, and the publishers you approach. For example, if your audience is primarily on Instagram, don’t focus on Facebook no matter how much you like it.

Don’t cast a wide net hoping to find a hit. Instead, define your audience to create a focused career strategy.

What is My Purpose?

Why am I writing? This is a question many writers forget to ask and yet it is the most important of all. Why do you write? What does writing do for you? Does it provide you with artistic satisfaction? Does it quiet the voices in your head? Do you write to change lives? Challenge? Entertain? All of these are valid choices but what is the right answer for you?

A purpose will give you drive, help you find subject matter and help you out in your darkest writing days. When the question What am I doing? rears its ugly head, you’ll know.

When I was thirty I answered these three questions for myself. And it was the turning point of my entire career. I defined my want and my purpose. Instead of writing with an ill-focused hope of being published or produced,  I started writing for a specific audience. I became the writer I’ve always wanted to be.

Exercise

Answer these three questions:

  • What do I want?
  • Who is my ideal audience?
  • What is my purpose?

Create an action plan for each answer. For example, once you define your ideal audience, write down five blog post titles that would appeal to that audience. If your writing goal is to be published by the time you’re 30, find five publishers who focus on your ideal market.

Your action plan will make your time more productive, your writing more purposeful, and your career more enjoyable. You’ll be taking steps to achieve the best writing life possible.

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Lindsay Price is a professional playwright and dramaturg. She wants to you start writing, keep writing, and get writing done. Find her at Write. Now.  http://www.lindsay-price.com/welcome/.

Lindsay Price

 

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Ready, Set, Chernobyl

After mere weeks of blogging, I was reading the latest spate of vitriolic comments on one of my favorite blogger’s posts.

Which was in itself pretty vitriolic.

And I felt that said blogger was being just a little over-reactive, a little trigger-happy.  But I hesitated to say anything because I didn’t want to come across the wrong way and risk triggering her even further.

It isn’t that I don’t understand triggers.  Believe me, I have a few of my own.  Sometime last year I came across an illustration on Facebook that I found sexually offensive and which had my blood pressure at the boiling point for about a half-hour, I think. An illustration I most likely would never have come across if a relative’s former spouse hadn’t commented on it.  Which comment I never even saw, by the way.  I was just offended that someone I thought highly of would…even be commenting on it?

Uh, yeah, I think that’s how it went down.  Man, that was easy!  Getting offended, I mean.  Overreacting.

Or, as I’ve taken to calling it, “Chernobyling.”

It’s especially easy when we have the Internet.

Now for the most part, I love the Internet…the ease of accessing information, of communicating with friends and relatives at a physical distance…but that day, reading the aforementioned blog post, I found myself, after an initial reaction of, “She does have this tendency to be a bit excitable,” feeling a bit weary – and in a bit of a quandary.

Because sometimes those passionate blogging voices are necessary.  They expose wrongs and call out things that need to be made public and addressed…that people are entitled to, and should, get angry about.

But that morning I felt weary because it seemed that so much of what goes on in the blogosphere is sheer reaction.  I thought, not for the first time, how good we are at getting our “knickers in a twist” as the British say, over a certain issue for a week or so…maybe a month…and then the flame dies down.  The furor cools.  Until the next “issue” that lights up the blogosphere like a Christmas tree.

Yet isn’t that what bloggers want?  To blow up the Internet?  After all, that’s what garners that most precious of assets, comments.  From readers.  That’s why the vast majority of us start blogging.  Currently I know of only one blogger who ever completely closed her blog to viewers and hence commenters while she continued to pour out the dysfunction that had become her life.

And that day, I couldn’t help wondering what all this reaction was really accomplishing, except an increase in blood pressure medicine prescriptions.  On days like those, I’ve found myself glad for my “quiet little blog,” not given to scholarly research or exposing wrongs, for I know I would find the responsibility  exhausting…as some have.  More than one blogger I follow has had to take a break simply to recharge.

It’s a bit of a dichotomy for me.  On the one hand I, too, wanted more readers, more commenters, more interaction, not purely for egotistical reasons (Hey!  Look at me, I’ve got so-and-so many followers!), but simply because I enjoy the interaction.  I admire those who do the research, read the challenging books, do the requisite hard thinking and follow up with the hard questions.  At times they make me feel shallow, though I know that’s not their intention. That’s simply their voice.

The same day I read the blog mentioned in this post’s opening paragraph, I read a comment from a gentleman evidently trying to inject a note of calm reason into the discussion.  He was promptly accused of being dispassionate and told that quality did not serve the discussion or the gender being targeted.   I’ve also been accused of being dispassionate, only in the sense of “lacking urgency,” at times.  Sometimes I bend too far backward in an attempt to infuse a tense situation with calm, or to avoid inadvertently hurting someone’s feelings, or to avoid being misunderstood.

When I’m not Chernobyling myself.

Yet I’ve done my share of Facebook shares to call attention to things I feel need to be publicized, made a few sardonic or worse comments on certain posts, or in response to others’ responses to certain posts.   And sometimes I’ve thought more carefully before I spoke, not just in an effort to prevent misunderstanding, but because I’m increasingly aware of the digital footprints we all leave.  (If you haven’t thought much about this lately, try Googling yourself – you might be surprised what comes up.)

What a weird balance to maintain.

But how about you?  Do you gravitate to the “quiet” blogs or the more reactionary?  Or do you find a necessary balance in both?  Have you ever left a comment that you regretted, or are you exceedingly cautious about your “digital footprint”?  I’d love to hear your perspective.

 

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Unplanned Obsolescence

“In industrial design, a policy of planning or designing a product with a limited useful life, so it will become obsolete, that is, unfashionable or no longer functional after a certain period of time.

I first heard the term “planned obsolescence” in my high school psychology class and in my innocence was shocked and disgusted at the idea.  Nearly four decades later, the concept doesn’t surprise me, but these days, I’ve been thinking off and on about a different kind of obsolescence.

It’s not just middle age that’s responsible, although the older I get and the more icons from my childhood and teenage years pass away, the more technology advances too fast for me to feel like I can keep up, the more I understand what made my elders look back fondly at “the good old days” and the more I understand the fabled “generation gap.”  I don’t have a smart phone because I don’t need one.  I’ve Phonesnever used some of the tools my author acquaintances rave about because until fairly recently, I did very little writing for years.  Software applications I taught myself over a decade ago are periodically updated, but it hardly matters when I haven’t even used them in as long…and how long will it be before the next update (not to mention the next new gadget) appears?  If only I had grandkids to instruct me.

“Sometimes I think it’s better for people like me to die and get out of the way,” my mother said a couple of years ago as she was ruminating on the same general subject.  I disagreed, but in a way I understood.  And now that I’m facing unemployment yet again, even as I know I’m ready for a change, I also know that comments like one from Maria Shriver in the December 2013 issue of AARP magazine will occasionally echo in my mind.  Asked by an interviewer if it was “hard to get back into that [television journalism] work,” she admitted, “When you leave your career, it’s hard to find your way back.  People move on.  Things change.  The technology’s different.”

Frankly, before I found the job where I’ve spent nearly six and a half years, by the time I’d submitted over 500 resumes I felt rather as if, like Hester Prynne, I should be wearing a letter on my clothing, only mine would be a “U” for “Unwanted” or “Unemployable”!

Can I get a witness?

But speaking of people moving on…

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“Am I too boring to be a friend?” I asked myself sometime in the middle of last year, in one of those moments where nothing in particular is going on and your mind has time to wander and you remember that it’s been, oh, how many years now since you heard from so and so, and how come they never call or email or even try to friend you on Facebook?  You know the ones I mean – the friends who just quietly drop out of your life with no warning.  It happens to all of us at some point.  And every once in a while we surface from our busyness long enough to wonder about them.  Especially if they were once close enough to email us almost every day.

Now I’ll admit that I’m as much to blame as the next person when it comes to being lazy about keeping in touch.  Friendships are a two-way street.  It’s also normal, according to the experts quoted in newspaper and magazine articles on the subject, for some of them to just die a natural death as personalities, needs and circumstances change.  But fast on the heels of that aforementioned moment came the memory of one friend telling me years ago, “You always have something new to tell me.”  I was more active then, so I had something to talk about.  Nowadays I can’t say that nearly as much…and then find myself wondering if people have disappeared from my life simply because I’ve gotten boring!

There’s a scene in Conrad Richter’s wonderful novel, The Trees, in which protagonist Sayward Luckett invites a woman newly arrived to the wilderness in which her family has settled to a thing called “tea,” a ceremony something Sayward has little familiarity with, but upon which she improvises with the resourcefulness that characterizes her even as a young teen.  Yet the two women leave pauses in their quiet talk over the shared meal, says Richter, for it wouldn’t do to tell everything about themselves on the first meeting – what would they have to talk about the next time?

I was thinking along these lines when I met a fellow writer from an online group last year at Starbucks in person for the first time, after we’d discovered that, out of hundreds of members, we lived in adjacent towns.  Specifically, I was thinking about it when we had our own quiet spots during conversation and I was scrambling around in my head for something else to say.

Perhaps I’m just being paranoid.  Hell, maybe I just need to check out some tutorials and join a Meetup group or two.  Or volunteer.

But then there are those who take on a form of obsolescence at least partly by their own choice…

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“Tragic tale emerges a year after remains of mom, daughter found,” blared the headline in my local newspaper.  Two women aged 62 and 87, the latter suffering from dementia, unseen by anyone for at least six months.  Withdrawn from relatives, with no friends – thought by neighbors to be in Maryland, where they went for several months each year.  Relatives sent flowers and registered letters, hoping for some kind of response when the silence became a real concern, but the women “guarded their privacy”…until their skeletal remains were found in their house by the police a year ago.  Both are believed to have died of heart disease.  The fate of their dog is unknown, since only his pet carrier was found, with a note saying that his owner was no longer able to care for him due to poor health.

From what has been pieced together of this incredibly sad story, it’s clear that the daughter was overwhelmed by caregiving and her own medical issues.  And at some point, privacy turned into self-imprisonment.

It’s impossible to help wondering what was in the mind of that caregiving daughter found in the master bedroom.  Had she simply given up?  What tangled thoughts or fears were in the mind of her mother, found unclothed and dead in a hallway?  Was she searching for help, alone, hungry, confused?

IsolationTheir story is, said the article’s author, “one of isolation – the kind that can accompany advancing age, especially in Florida where so many older people relocate and leave behind close relationships.”  it’s a type of isolation I witnessed too frequently in the nursing homes my grandmother temporarily inhabited before spending her final decade with my mother…the “obsolescence” of the aged, who once held babies and jobs, who lived and loved and related, who were now dependent for the most intimate of care on paid staff.

In the back of my mind, I feared becoming one of them.

* * * * *

Devices made to wear out by a certain date so they’ll have to be replaced.  Jobs disposed of at the scratch of a pen.  Relationships fading into silence for reasons unknown…if we never bother to ask why.

How does one keep from becoming obsolete?

“Keep learning new things.”  “Challenge your brain with puzzles.”  “Get out and volunteer.”

Yet it’s so easy to isolate ourselves behind a computer screen, a Facebook group, a text or a tweet…because we don’t feel isolated, do we?  After all, we’re communicating!

Until one day we’re not.

Next month another job will end.  And while I’m ready for a change, ready to embark on a new chapter of my life, I’m also more aware than ever of the ticking clock.  Remembering how comfortable I got sitting at home among my familiar surroundings and habits following other career breaks, even before I had the world at my fingertips on a home computer.  I know I’ll have to step up my game to keep the virtual world from replacing the real one, because we need human contact to take us out of ourselves, to sharpen us, to remind us that the world is still a very big place even as our “connectedness” makes it feel so very small.

To keep from becoming “obsolete.”

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How about you?  Have you ever felt left behind by the rapid pace of technology or a job loss?  Seen a formerly close relationship fade inexplicably into the sunset?  Worried about “outliving your usefulness,” as a friend once described her state after physical disability forced her to leave the workforce for good?  If so, how did you deal with it?  I’d love to hear from you.

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