What You See is What You Get

What you see is what you get could be rephrased as what you don’t see, you can’t enjoy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched one of my kids or grandkids struggle to find a toy that’s right in front of them. It’s always funny because I can see it so clearly while they overlook the toy with a blank stare. If they continue to overlook it, they don’t get to play with it.

In a similar way, I sometimes find myself seeing every single problem around me and failing to see what’s going well. It’s right under my nose, but I look past it to the next problem. I know I’m not the only one. I have seen friends, family, and clients do the same thing.

And why wouldn’t we? For some of us, life has provided inescapable circumstances that made it necessary to guard against a next inevitable outburst, attack, cruelty, or manipulation. We learned to be astute detectives of negative energy. We can feel the slightest shift in tone, mood, tension, set of a jaw, or raise of an eyebrow.

When we have repeatedly been blamed for someone else’s mood or behavior, we learn to personalize the negativity. Again, why wouldn’t we?

We meet each day with a foundational slant toward self-protection. Self-protection can be a part of self-care. But it’s only healthy when balanced by an ability to recognize and absorb the positive, to solve problems rather than just avoid them, and to have the capacity to step back and gain perspective.

This can be difficult when a day bombards us with things that are noisy, annoying, frustrating, unfair, difficult, and stressful. It’s easy to get sucked into a vortex of disagreeable, anger-making people and events, especially when we are tired, overworked, underappreciated, sick, or suffering from trauma or loss. Once we’ve been sucked in, it becomes even more difficult to see anything beyond what’s wrong in every relationship or situation.

And it can be hard to argue with our position because our complaints may be on point. Customer service should be more knowledgeable and helpful. Bosses should treat all employees fairly. Police shouldn’t profile. Minorities shouldn’t experience discrimination. White people should get the same consequences as POC. Rich people should be held accountable for unethical or illegal behavior. Policies should protect the vulnerable.

For anyone whose vortex pulls toward self-limiting thoughts, those may also feel true. Statistically, it may be less likely for you to get your dream job because of your race or your age. You may be less likely to get into the college of your choice if your parents cannot donate to its Foundation.

It isn’t unusual for someone to get caught in a cycle of negativity. And given the current failures of so many systems and institutions, it can be more difficult to extract ourselves.

The good news is that there are steps you can take to help change that.

Start by recognizing that what you see is what you get. When you focus on negative. You’ll only get negative. The good may be right there, but you will not get the benefit of it because you are focused elsewhere.

Collectively, we know this. How many movies have you seen where a character overlooks someone offering love, kindness, loyalty, and dependability in favor of someone who does not?

Find a token that reminds you to notice each small kindness or lucky break in your days. A bracelet, ring, watch, desk ornament, screen saver, bookmark, plant – anything will work. It just needs to be something that will pull your attention regularly.

If it helps you, keep a tally. You can do this as a text thread to yourself. Create a new contact on your phone just for this. Each time someone smiles at you, holds the door, tells you they appreciate something you did, apologizes, compliments you, helps you lift something, add it to your tally. Add up the score each day or each week. Sit with that number and allow yourself to see how it makes you feel.

Practice opposites. This is fun for rebellious people like me. We like flipping things anyway. Here’s how that may look. When you have a thought like: I won’t get that job because…(negative, negative, negative), flip it around to an opposite idea: I will get that job because I’m willing to work harder than anyone else (Even if you can’t bring yourself to say you’re the most experienced, talented, or best candidate, you have the ability to exert effort and claim that as a reason to hire you.) Trust me, I’ve hired a lot of people. I’ll take the employee who works hard over the most talented any day!!!

Question yourself. No one has to know you’re doing this. Just do it as an exercise. When your self-talk says: My boss always wants me to fail, question that thought. Begin by stating this as a belief rather than fact: I believe my boss wants me to fail. Follow that with this question: Do I know for a fact my belief is true?

Unless your boss has told you or someone else in the organization, they want you to fail and unless you have seen that in writing or heard a recording, you don’t know it for a fact. You have that perception, but it could be wrong. Stick with that possibility for a minute and ask this question: If I am wrong and they don’t want me to fail, what would I do differently?

Turn the answer into action. Do whatever it is you would do differently in response to the above question as an experiment. Commit to it for a period of time (at least a month) and notice the results.

Let yourself be surprised. Since you’re doing an experiment for yourself, you will not lose face if you’re wrong so let yourself be surprised by whatever happens. If things get worse, you just learned you need to get out of a situation that’s never going to let you fill your potential. If things get better, whoo-hoo you win! There’s really no downside to this.

Trust yourself. I know you may read this and say I am trusting myself. That’s how I know things are bad. True on one level. But that’s only one level. When you fully trust yourself, you’ll be able to set that aside and know you can be okay even when things are bad.

And the more you learn to trust those parts of yourself that may not have had the safety to develop, the more you will recognize you can be more than okay. You can achieve, inspire, be your best self…thrive.

The good is there. You just have to see it. What you see is what you get.

Uncertainty

Every day, I am acutely aware of the uncertainty that surrounds me. In my state, one in five are uncertain whether they will have access to enough food to live a healthy, active lifestyle. That’s 20% of the population facing food insecurity.

In 2020 when my city recorded 49 murders, the rate was 24.8/100,000. That was above the national average of 6.5/100,000 people. To date this year, we have had 70 murders. These include a small child who was shot and killed in a car riding to the zoo.

Not all shooting victims die. Last week, a mother and her two-year-old were wounded while driving on the interstate. Three nights ago, gunshots rang out at the end of the block when I was standing on my front porch saying goodnight to my sister. We all flinched, shook our heads, and went back to business. My neighborhood stopped calling the cops over gunfire years ago. It was pointless.

Before you get too excited by that statement. Yes, we call 9-1-1 if someone gets hurt. Even that can be dicey. A few years ago, I called to report that there was a man outside my house yelling that he had been shot. First question from 9-1-1, “What color is he?” Huh?! How ‘bout just send an ambulance?

Then came the pandemic in which we’ve amassed the eighth-highest death rate from COVID-19 in the country. We’re 33rd in population so those12,000ish deaths that represents haven’t been enough to trigger support for mitigation policies or push the number of those fully vaccinated to 60%.

Life is more tenuous here than in many places. And we haven’t even gotten to the high incidence of chronic health conditions, high ACE scores in children, high rate of domestic violence, or the number of children needing permanent homes.

How does all that uncertainty affect us?

Uncertainty is a fact for everyone, but some are able to construct situations that keep the feelings of worry and anxiety it can bring at bay. But with the pandemic came uncertainty for everyone for a time. It swiftly became clear our mettle was going to be tested as individuals and as a society.

We haven’t yet gotten ahead of SARS CoV-2 so we can’t fully analyze who dealt with its reality best. But there are indications that many of us white-knuckle clutched onto anything from before the pandemic that made us feel more certain (or normal).

And we have demanded those things even when scientific evidence could not support us having them – large weddings or funerals without masks before vaccines in indoor spaces; sporting events; concerts; indoor dining; maskless classrooms. This leaves me to ponder whether we’re more concerned about losing our artificial sense of certainty than we are about sacrificing our actual safety?

I also wonder whether the undertow pulling progress backward in states like mine is related to discomfort with uncertainty. We know what happens if we do things like we’ve always done them. We aren’t so sure what will happen if we vary.

Some people may think I’m talking about fear of change. But we willingly change things all the time. We change our hair color, houses, décor, clothes, schools, jobs, hairdressers, doctors, vacation destinations, etc. We embrace change we have determined will bring something we desire. We may not have absolute certainty, but we have an adequate level of confidence to feel comfortable taking the risk.

When change is forced on us, uncertainty comes with it. In that situation, some thrive. They seem to be able to rely on the fact that they’ll be okay even if they don’t know what comes next.

I feel like that’s the key: The knowing you’ll be okay whether things are certain or not. Because things are never certain. You may think they are until lightning strikes, a hurricane blows in, or a stray bullet hits your window.

If that’s the key, it would follow that progress, growth, and improvement are all facilitated by a deep knowing that whatever happens, we will be okay. That sounds really big! It is. And that’s for another post.

For now, I’ll leave you with a few things to contemplate:

  • Can you sit with uncertainty and still feel calm, safe, and comfortable with yourself and your path (maybe not every moment, but overall)?
  • Do you tell yourself the truth even when it makes you feel less certain than denial or fantasy?
  • Are you comfortable with allowing for the possibility of an unknown outcome?
  • Are you confident enough to learn rather than jumping to conclusions that feel certain?
  • Do you sell yourself short in order to create a more certain outcome?
  • Does uncertainty cause you distress in some situations, but not others?  
  • If you were certain it would turn out okay, what would you do that you’re not doing now?

Certainty is a powerful illusion. One that we often count on to our own detriment. We can change that but first we must get more comfortable allowing ourselves space to feel uncertain.

Change of Venue or Change of View

How do you know if you need a change of venue or a change of view? When things aren’t feeling good at home, at your job, with your fitness routine, or in the kitchen it can be tempting to cast out the old, uproot yourself, and make a huge change.

This may be appropriate. If your neighborhood has become dangerous, it could be wise to move. If your job has never made you happy or you see no way to advance, it could be wise to change to a whole different career. If your fitness routine doesn’t improve your endurance, strength, or flexibility or doesn’t leave you feeling calmer or more balanced, maybe you do need a new fancy piece of equipment. If you find yourself reaching for junk food, maybe you need a new stove.

But big changes can come with big costs, huge stakes, and may or may not take care of the problem. Any big change will be a distraction for a while. The question is whether that change will directly result in improving whatever it is that’s causing you discomfort.

Sometimes a need for change is obvious. When I was learning to fly, my first instructor screamed at me pretty much from the time we turned final until we were on the ground each and every landing. It quickly became clear that he was not the best instructor for me. I needed calm confidence behind the other controls. Once I had that, I could relax and improve.

At other times, it is harder to determine whether I need to change something external or change my internal view.

I’ve been called a risk taker because I started a business when I was a single mom not receiving regular child support. I’ve been called a risk taker because I sold a successful business to pursue another path entirely. I’ve been called a risk taker because I learned to fly.

But if you know me well, you know I’m not really a risk taker. I am a careful student who learns as much as I can, weighs each outcome I can envision, and then decides what to do. At times that has meant changing pretty much every external thing in my life all at once. At other times, it has meant staying on a path when the timing didn’t pan out as expected.

To a casual observer, my decisions may look rash or erratic. To the impatient, I could appear indecisive. To the conservative, I can look like a rebel. And to the impulsive, I can feel like an anchor. But the results are decisions I feel confident in and comfortable with.

So how do I get there?

I begin by identifying the fundamental problem I’m trying to solve.

Once I’ve identified the problem, I look for possible simple solutions.

The simplest solution can be to change the way I view something. But that can be the most difficult emotionally. For example, it may be hard to give up a childhood wish for a house with the perfect lap pool located on a tree-lined street even though it doesn’t meet any more needs than living in my current home with its ample back yard and swimming at the rec center.

When my children were young, I wanted to pursue a PhD. I wasn’t happy with my job and I’d always wanted a PhD. First, I’d need a Masters. I explored degree programs, looked at course offerings and schedules, and investigated financial aid.

The financial reality was that I would have to work full time and go to school in the evening. There were course offerings that would allow that. I would qualify for financial aid. I just needed to find someone to watch the kids.

I could get the degree I wanted plus I’d be eligible for more jobs. But I’d already taught a Freshman Comp course at a community college and determined I hated teaching. I decided I might want to be a therapist, so I looked at PsyD programs.

When I got to the point of finding someone to watch the children, I realized how little I would see them…for years. At that point, I decided it wasn’t worth it to me to pursue the degree. Instead, I could find a different job using the BA and experience I already had.

Eventually, that lead to starting my first business where I was the only salesperson. I spent hours listening to clients and learning their stories. This satisfied the part of me that would have enjoyed being a therapist.

I didn’t go from having a dream to finding an adequate substitute for the underlying need in a straight line, but over time that’s exactly what happened. And I was able to avoid the regret I knew I would feel missing out on time with my kids.

Whether the simplest solution is a change in my view of the situation or a change in external circumstances, I implement small improvements I can as quickly and inexpensively as I can. Sometimes, that’s all that’s required. A simple solution provides an adequate change.

If a simple solution doesn’t feel sufficient after a period of time, I move to the next simple step. Once I run out of simple ideas, I begin to look at larger changes.

Slowly implementing change gives me a chance to let go of desires that feel compelling in a moment but less important later. It also means that I am less likely to feel overwhelmed. Along the way, I have the opportunity to shift my point of view and see if it makes a difference.

You know how it sometimes feels like we just fell into the right thing? Intentionally implementing small improvements until everything feels right often feels that way. And a change of venue may not be required at all.

Space Food

Space Food – fit for man on the moon. Today’s scrapped launch of the Artemis I moon rocket reminds me of the food I ate as a child courtesy of the space program. And since a trip to the moon now that I have grandchildren feels like a throwback, why not take a trip down memory lane?

Once space flights began to last past a few minutes, it was necessary to address food for astronauts. In the beginning, there were packets of things like mushroom soup, orange-grapefruit juice, chicken with gravy, beef and vegetables, pears, strawberries, and a cocoa beverage in the form of semi-liquid inside tubes. The other option was bite-sized cubes of compressed, dehydrated food that needed only saliva for rehydration.

As time went on, the selection became wider and more tasty. Freeze-drying was used to preserve food while preserving the flavor. The freeze-dried food needed water to be rehydrated and was still primarily squeezed out of tubes.

For the Apollo program, advances made it possible for astronauts to eat with utensils and enjoy tuna salad, chocolate pudding, and cornflakes. I really hope they were crunchy. But keep in mind, there was no refrigeration so even if they had crunchy cornflakes, there was no ice cold milk to go with it. Not to mention, if you tried to pour milk over the cereal, you’d end up with a floating trail of milk – a visual I find amusing.

As these progressions were made, some ideas were incorporated into the Earth food market. The two I remember best are Tang and Space Food Sticks. I ate my share of Space Food Sticks as a kid. Caramel was my favorite flavor.

Unlike banana Fudgsicles®, I don’t specifically remember the taste, but I’m pretty sure I would recognize the texture. The appeal of this snack was two-fold. One, astronauts ate them! Duh! And two, they could stay in the pantry for a long time so they were always handy.

Oh who am I kidding. We didn’t have a pantry. We had a kitchen cabinet with Alka-Seltzer® on the top shelf, Premium saltine and Ritz crackers one shelf down, and Space Sticks and uniced strawberry Toast’em® pop-ups below. Sunday dinner was oven-fried chicken breaded with cornflakes baked on the oven timer while we went to church. It was served with reconstituted powdered milk poured from a wide-mouth gallon pickle jar. But the vegetables were most likely fresh and from the garden.

Now, back to Tang. I don’t know anyone my age who didn’t drink Tang. It was universal. My grandmother even mixed it with mayonnaise to make salad dressing for carrot raisin salad.

Tang wasn’t actually developed for the space program but became inextricably linked with NASA when it was consumed on early manned space missions. Sales increased dramatically when John Glenn sipped an orange beverage out of a pouch during a Mercury mission. To capitalize on this sales boost, a series of Tang commercials in the1960s featured space explorers and related taglines culminating in the 1969 “For Spacemen and Earth Families” ad campaign.

General Mills used this association to its advantage and found long-term success with expanded flavors and popularity around the world. While sales have diminished in the US, Tang is still readily available.

Given the supply chain disruptions of late, shelf stable foods look more and more appealing. Perhaps GM can capitalize on this new round of space missions to orchestrate a resurgence of sales in the US. I’m sure there are numerous people my age who would enjoy having a glass of Tang with a grandchild while watching a rocket launch.

You won’t be able to eat a Space Food Stick along with your Tang though. Sales floundered as enthusiasm for the space program waned. Production finally ceased in 2014 although the snack was brought back for a brief appearance on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.

Personally, I’m ready for NASA programs to feel like they’re moving forward rather than backward. But if we’re stuck in the way-back machine could somebody please get me a banana Fudgsicle?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”