Good, Better, Best or Quit?

On any given day, should you strive for good, better, best, or just quit? In the past week, I’ve read three quotes that stuck with me:

The first was from Arkansas Razorback Men’s Basketball Coach Eric Musselman:

“If you strive for good, you will get average. If you strive for great, you will get good. Strive for perfect so you can achieve great.”

Eric Musselman

It’s the kind of aspirational statement you’d expect from a coach. It immediately made me think of Michael Jordan. (I just finished watching “The Last Dance.”) Jordan was a great player! He was a great player because he was always motivated to win.

miss target
I can improve but still miss the target.

I can be motivated to win, but I’ll never be a great basketball player. In fact, I can do everything Eric Musselman says and I’ll never be a great basketball player. I could play a lot of basketball and I’m sure I’d improve, but would I be wasting time that could be better spent in some other endeavor?

That question brings me to quote #2 and perhaps an even better question. Is striving for perfection good?

Let me start with a quote from newsman Josh Belzman replying to @EricPMusselman

“Strive for perfect and you’ll give yourself an ulcer and then a heart attack. No thanks.”

Josh Belzman

Obviously, Mr. Belzman believes striving for perfection is detrimental to one’s health. But even if it doesn’t lead to a heart attack, the idea that we must reach an ideal that cannot realistically be attained or sustained prevents some of us from ever getting started. And there’s some wisdom to that. Why put time and energy toward a goal you know can’t be achieved?

So, what’s the best way to be outstanding in your life?

I’m going to go with the idea that it’s more important to be a great human being than to achieve any certain anything. And that brings me to the third quote, one by Marianne Williamson:

“As big as the problems are on the outside, that’s how big on the inside we have to be in order to handle it. Every unhealed place in our lives is coming up for review now, because the more healed we are within ourselves the more healing we can bring to the world.”

Marianne Williamson

Real strength always shows itself in the midst of difficulty. It looks attentive, kind, caring, vulnerable, empathetic, and loving. It feels solid. It does not need to manipulate or mislead. This kind of strength lies within all of us.

The way to be outstanding in your life is to honor, support, reinforce, and display your best self often. If that is your intention, you will succeed no matter what you achieve because you will bring peace to your life and healing to the world.

The one thing you need to quit doing is punishing yourself. Whatever you’ve done is done. Apologize, make amends, learn something, let it go. You cannot be your best until you do.

I’m all for reaching for the stars and pushing yourself and achieving great things. I’m for showing up with energy, focus, and effort. I’m for doing the very best job I can in any job I take on. I just don’t think achievement, as we currently think of it, is the best measure of a life well lived.

You Can’t Beat a Speeding Train

Most of the time, you can’t beat a speeding train. Should you try? Sounds risky.

My oldest grandson LOVES the movie Cars. At one point in the original movie, Lightning McQueen hits the gas to beat an oncoming train. He’s a race car. He makes it across the tracks in time.

Always in teaching mode, I feel a need to let this 3-year-old know that it’s not a good idea to try to beat an oncoming train. At the same time, I don’t want to take away his heroic view of Lightning McQueen. I tell him, “Only race cars can beat trains.” To me, this is a reasonable compromise that will convey the message that he should not try to beat a train because he isn’t a race car.

His response? “My mommy’s car is a race car. Her car can beat trains too.” He doesn’t just believe Lightning McQueen can beat a train. He believes his family car can as well. I have failed to effectively communicate the lesson I intended.

The way to repair this misunderstanding is to, first, recognize it. The good news is I didn’t ignore what he was watching. The topic has been introduced and is open for discussion. Now I just need to build on his knowledge in a slow and consistent way until I’m sure he understands the risks of trying to beat a train.

If you have kids, you know lessons that stick are taught through repetition. You may also have observed that all lessons are learned through levels of understanding. Some must be absorbed many times over on one level, then another, then another.

We are at a moment in time when clear, consistent, trustworthy health messages must be delivered for us to survive. They should be repeated, built on, expanded, repaired when new information reveals previous cracks in knowledge, and repeated again. Yes, that requires more effort than sticking to a theme, or talking point, but it’s the only responsible thing to do.

The country is still in the midst of an opioid crisis that began with misinformation. But the train that is speeding toward us now is the expansion and growth of COVID-19. There is no time for playing semantics, slow reporting of numbers so that positivity rates look low, or downplaying the risks of sipping wine for hours with a group of friends at your favorite indoor bar.

There may be safe ways to interact, open schools, and keep businesses open, but we simply do not have adequate diagnostic testing, sufficiently accurate antibody testing, and ample contact tracing in place to do it now. We have not studied the airflow in our restaurants, office buildings, or classrooms. We have not expanded classroom space to ensure sufficient distance between students. We have not added funds for schools to replace group supplies with individual kits. Many states are not mandating masks for adults or children 2-10.

And perhaps more significantly, health agencies, institutions, and political leaders have failed to deliver the safety messages needed in a manner that will be effective. In fact, they are actively making the situation worse. Each day, we receive such confusing and conflicting messages, we instinctively know we cannot trust what is being said. Because we are not being provided timely, accurate, consistent messages in an understandable manner, those in charge of policy are losing the information war. And that is costing us lives.

It also makes it more difficult to thrive. You and I may stay home, clean surfaces, wear masks, and adjust to the very real threats of the virus. We may find sources of inspiration and joy. We may practice gratitude. But a basic tenet of thriving is feeling safe. It is impossible to feel safe when we cannot trust the information we receive and the institutions that deliver it.

Since we cannot rely on our leaders to level with us, it takes a massive amount of reading each and every day to filter, decipher, and piece together a cohesive image of the scientific picture of SARS-CoV-2 that’s emerging. That means it’s easier to ignore. Add to that, the tendency we all have to deny hard truths and you have a recipe for the disaster we are experiencing.

There is always the opportunity to change course, but at this point we cannot wait for instruction from an authority. It may not come. It is incumbent on individuals to take charge of the country’s destiny.

I understand that choosing safe health practices that are not fun while everyone around you has resumed life as usual can be lonely and painful. It will have financial and personal costs. My quarantine bubble unexpectedly burst last week. I feel the loss deeply. That doesn’t keep me from researching and following a safe regimen.

I can see that things are going to get worse before they get better because that’s the choice we’re making. We want so badly to beat the train. We want to return to our previous lives. The messaging failed to tell us we can’t yet do that safely. Now we’re all piled in Mommy’s slow, clunky SUV thinking we’re Lightning McQueen.

We are in a skid. Now is the time to turn right to go left.*

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7293495/

https://elemental.medium.com/coronavirus-may-be-a-blood-vessel-disease-which-explains-everything-2c4032481ab2

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7191274/

*Advice from Doc Hudson to Lightning McQueen in the movie Cars.

Vigilance Takes a Toll

Vigilance takes a toll, but there are rewards. Safety and good health require vigilance and over time. You don’t just put your child in a car seat on the way home from the hospital and call it good. To keep him safe, you put him in it every time you take a ride in the car. You have a system to remind you to take him out of the car on a hot day. You religiously scan the ingredients of food if your daughter has a peanut allergy. You don’t just do it on Mondays. You do it every day of every week of every year. That’s what it takes to keep her safe. No matter who you are, each day will require you to be alert and diligent to stay safe and healthy.

Brush your teeth twice a day. Look both ways before you cross the street. Scan your surroundings before you enter an intersection or drive across a railroad track. Don’t click on email attachments that can’t be verified. Watch for snakes when you swim in the river. Check the depth of the water before you jump in. Check the temperature of the water before you put a child in the bathtub. Keep laundry pods, household cleaners, and medication out of the reach of children. Don’t leave a six-month-old unattended on an adult bed. Don’t pour lighter fluid on a fire. And, of course, don’t run with scissors.

While most of us accept the vigilance required to follow the safety rules above, we often become defiant if we believe a safety rule will take away something that brings us pleasure (avoid fried food, avoid sugar, stop smoking, stop vaping, drive within the speed limit, don’t hug your grandchildren), requires us to do something that doesn’t offer immediate benefit (wear a mask, stay out of a crowded dance club, limit contact outside your home), and/or requires us to pay attention to multiple choices each day (drink plenty of water, eat 5 servings of fruit and vegetables, avoid gluten, walk 10,000 steps).

You don’t have to pay attention to any safety or health guidance. You can assume the risks. You might come out okay. And there’s no question, vigilance takes a toll.

Paying attention all day long and making mindful choices doesn’t feel carefree. It doesn’t feel fun. Sometimes it’s tedious. Sometimes it’s annoying. Sometimes it’s exhausting.

And constant vigilance can affect your physical health. Living in a heightened state of vigilance each and every day is stressful. The body may respond to that stress by making and releasing extra cortisol – a stress hormone that increases glucose in the bloodstream, alters immune response, and suppresses digestion. It is corralling the body’s resources for fight or flight. Normally, this response is self-limiting, but when danger is constant, the spigot may not get turned off without deliberate action to reduce stress.

In March, the US public at large began to get a glimpse of what it feels like to live defensively every moment. Suddenly, we were instructed to be on guard for a virus that could be anywhere, or everywhere. There was no way to know who may spread it so all interactions became suspect.

There’s still no way to know with certainty when you’re in danger and no way to know when the risks will decrease. The only way to be safe is…constant vigilance. A large percentage of us have not been able or willing to practice this. In a mere three months, it’s become evident that Americans as a whole have little emotional stamina even when the consequences of letting down are guard may be deadly.

This could be a window into a path for improving both mental and physical health. What if we put a laser focus on building resilience and learn from those who have been through trauma but still manage to thrive – Elizabeth Smart, Michelle Knight (Lily Rose Lee), Jeannette Walls, Joey Jones, Oprah, Maya Angelou, Col. Charlie O’Sullivan, etc. What if we entertain the thought that their spirits shine not in spite of, but because of, what they endured?

I believe flipping the script could make all the difference during this pandemic and beyond. It has been life’s difficult, heartbreaking, horrific, traumatic experiences that have taught me how strong I am, how much resolve I have, how to put fear aside in order to function, how to be alone, how to live with heartache, how to build trust, how to reset, reimagine, reinvent, how to be flexible, and that what I do matters. I am more resilient because of, not in spite of, a sometimes rocky path.

Focusing in with determination and the openness to learn when faced with difficulty puts us on a whole different path than lamenting what could have been or should be. Attempting to avoid life’s harsh realities rarely has positive consequences in the long term. And denying real challenges does not help build emotional muscle. Weathering life’s unavoidable storms requires vigilance.

And, yes, vigilance takes a toll, but there are rewards for sticking with a plan–safety, health, resilience, and the possibility of thriving even in dire circumstances.

https://www.military.com/daily-news/2019/11/18/nine-years-after-war-took-marines-legs-new-causes-give-him-purpose.html

http://www.injuryslight.com/

Just Do What You Can

You don’t need to tell me to call if I need something…just do what you can! It’s been a difficult past few weeks. We received news that my 18-month-old granddaughter has developed an unexpected complication that will require a 3rd open heart surgery. On the heels of that, my elderly cousin whose care I oversaw began to decline quickly and passed away. As this next season of difficulty for my family has arrived, so have the well meaning statements to call if I need something.

I appreciate it. I know some of you will drop everything to help. I also know some of you say to call, but in reality will most likely stay too busy to actually assist. This is the nature of the ebb and flow of relationships.
hospital
So, here’s the thing. What my family knows from the past year is that when hospitalizations grow lengthy and we all grow weary, many times it is simply beyond our ability to ask for something. Our silence doesn’t mean we don’t need help. It means we need it so much that we can’t get our thoughts together to articulate anything specific. We are barely able to put one foot in front of the other.

I’ve been in your shoes, wanting to help and hoping you’d instruct me, take the burden off me, and let me off the hook instead of having to take initiative and figure things out. I’ve wondered whether I’ll be perceived as pushy or intrusive if I take it upon myself to decide what you need. I’ve worried that I’ll accidentally do something that makes you feel worse.

In spite of those reservations, I have taken the initiative to buy groceries after a phone call in which I sensed the stress and overload a friend was feeling. She had moved her mother from a nursing home into her home to die, it was her husband’s busy season at work, and one of her sons was going through a nasty break-up and had moved back home. She mentioned she was out of milk and couldn’t leave the house.

I heard her. I did not ask for a list or permission. I went to the grocery store and bought some basics-milk, eggs, coffee, cheese, crackers, a rotisserie chicken, mashed potatoes, salad mix, bananas, muffins, a loaf of bread, deli meat, paper towels, and toilet paper. I didn’t worry whether I had chosen her brand of paper towels or coffee. I just delivered enough to get the family through a couple of days, hopefully giving them a chance to rest and rally.

Similar things have happened for my benefit. A few weeks after my mom died, I cooked lunch for a friend. After lunch, I felt really bad. My stomach hurt. I had no energy. All I wanted to do was recline. My friend checked to see if I needed to go to the doctor, then she told me to lie down on the couch and stay there. She cleared the table, washed every dish in the kitchen, and wiped down the stove. She saw in that moment what I needed and did what she could. It was a kindness I will never forget.

Last weekend when I got home from my cousin’s funeral, there was a bag of warm food sitting on my porch. The friend who I had taken groceries those years ago had roasted sweet potatoes and cauliflower and steamed spinach with almonds and raisins then delivered them to my home. I had been on the road for three hours. Arriving to this gift warmed my belly and my heart. I am so grateful for friends who seem to instinctively know how to help!

But not everyone has this sixth sense. What if you don’t know how to help? I would say, just do what you can…

When you don’t have time or are too far away to clean the kitchen, call or text. If you wait for me to post something or send an update, it may not happen. It’s not that I don’t want to keep you in the loop. I’ll try, but sometimes my energy is directed toward processing the news that EM is being immobilized and put back on a ventilator or trying to get some work done in the few hours I have before picking up DJ from school. A message saying you’re thinking of us or wishing us a day without bad news is always welcome. I will respond when I am able.

If you want to help and texting doesn’t feel right, consider a gift card for an errand running service. During a 60-day hospitalization this spring, my daughter-in-law’s co-workers purchased a gift card from such a service that was well received. My DIL needed keys duplicated and distributed, but getting to the locksmith or hardware store seemed impossible. Suddenly, she had a solution!
pizza
When you live close but are really busy, think about piggy-backing on something you’re already doing. When you order pizza, pick up an extra one and drop it off at the hospital on your way home. A quick text and we can often meet you at the front door. You won’t even have to get out of your car.

Of course it doesn’t have to be pizza. If you know something specific we like, bring it. If not, when you eat out, carry away a Poke bowl topped chicken and other generally liked topping choices; a salad with a couple of dressing choices on the side; a loaded baked potato with all of the toppings on the side; a baked chicken breast with mixed veggies; a burrito bowl; muffins or croissants. Whatever you bring will be welcome. If we can’t eat it, we will share with another family. It will not go to waste.

You can do the same when you cook at home. You don’t need to prepare anything extra. Drop off leftover mac & cheese, pork tenderloin, squash casserole, chili, enchiladas, pot roast, stir-fry, or steamed vegetables. It doesn’t have to be a full meal. Your vegetables added to protein from the hospital cafeteria will still be a welcome change.

Another easy contribution is a few home essentials you can add to your regular shopping list. Choose things everyone needs or can use that can sit on the porch for a few hours without spoiling – paper towels, toilet paper, trash bags, facial tissue travel packs, zip top bags or snack containers in a variety of sizes, hand soap, hand lotion, body wash, dental floss, Tylenol, disinfecting hand wipes or diaper wipes if there are small children in the household, kitchen wipes, unscented laundry detergent, dishwashing pods, a snuggly throw, magazines, trail mix, fresh or dried fruit, nuts, instant oatmeal or grit packets, cereal, microwavable rice, or a variety of pre-made soups.

Last week, a friend brought me a couple of things I requested from the grocery store. She threw in a copy of National Enquirer. It was the perfect addition! It made me laugh and gave me frivolous reading plus sudoku and crosswords to distract me from funeral planning.

When you have extra time, lawn care, plant watering, or houseplant sitting can be welcome contributions. Present them as options you are going to do unless there’s an objection rather than asking whether they need to be done. Providing pet sitting, grooming, or transportation to the vet can also be valuable services.

Other ways to help may be to take a shift sitting with the patient at the hospital or taking the other children to the museum, making a Halloween costume, delivering or decorating a Christmas tree. Keep things simple and appropriate. If the family normally has a small, simple tree, stick with that. Don’t bring in a 20ft elaborately decorated monstrosity unless the family has expressed the desire for one.

Perhaps the best thing you can do is make time to listen. Long-term illness and hospitalization are isolating experiences. Very few people know what it’s like to be in ICU month after month. There’s no need to offer platitudes, cliches, or assurances that everything will be okay. You don’t know that everything will be okay and even if it is, we’re stuck in the current moment. That’s where we need you to hear us, now, not in the future when things may be less difficult.

You don’t have to try to make us feel better. Just be there, really there, able to hear and shoulder our pain and loss. That will make us feel less alone, more connected, and therefore better.

If you’re not up to that task, it’s okay. There are many, many ways to reach out, help, and show you care. Just do what you can.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/emotional-nourishment/201608/helping-friend-whose-loved-one-is-seriously-ill

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/five-ways-cope-life-feels-like-always-someone-else/

http://www.cooking2thrive.com/blog/id-tell-you-but-then-id-have-to/