Birds are tweeting after a week of agony from coming this far north a little too early. Piles of melting snow and ice remain after our rare arctic blast this past week, which has been one for the record books here in Austin. We were fortunate and never lost power, and even then, with the furnace trying to keep up, it was cold in the house and we had frozen and burst pipes. But hope is showing its face with some warming sun this morning.
It’s been a difficult week, where 4 million were without power for three or more days, freezing in their own homes, and it will be a big loss for insurance companies and a gain for plumbers who will come in from every state. We’ve put in our request because of those burst pipes.
This week is a reminder of the old Scout motto … be prepared. A last-minute trip to the grocery found the shelves bare, and the city issued a boil-water order to those of us who still had water after those burst pipes. Thankfully, we had what we needed.
Some of us will forget it all three days into the sunshine, but others, like me, will take some actions now to be ready for the next time. Freezing inside a home for a week can be avoided, and maybe some pipes can be insulated and a backup generator installed. It seems frivolous, but it won’t feel that way when it’s needed.
I regret not anticipating this storm and being more prepared, but I was also thinking about regrets in life and work.
If I look back on my life to date, I don’t have a lot of regrets. But I’ve thought of a few. And most of them have to do with poor communication.
Fights, Arguments, and Stubbornness
Looking back, I see that if I had taken the time to listen, and been less anxious to react, I could have saved a lot of wasted energy in arguments, fights, or just being stubborn. Almost all of the things that occurred were prompted because I was quick to judge.
Count to 10
As a child I was coached, “Count to 10 before you react.” It was great advice. As an adult, a counselor once said, “Just say, ‘This isn’t a good time. I need a little time to process this and I’ll get back to you in an hour,’ or ‘tomorrow.’” What great advice … but you do have to come back and deal with it.
Kids are a great test of our patience, and our instant reactions are often hasty and overblown. “Let’s talk about this tonight” is a great way to let the anger subside, the emotions reduce, and the steam bleed out of the old pressure cooker.
Think about your own life and the ugly “That’s not like me” reactions.
And think about intent … and how much you care for the person. Is the reaction worth the pain it will cause? Do we really need to teach a lesson or make a point?
Pipes freeze and the water expands, exerting pressure on the pipes. If you can’t relieve the pressure, you have broken pipes and you’re without water for days. Just like relationships. You get angry, you freeze up or overreact, and the relationship is damaged. Sometimes it’s a small, easily repairable crack, other times the pipes are broken in multiple places and healing is difficult. And sometimes we get stubborn, and we distance ourselves.
We’re Not Talking
I remember a sad moment when an acquaintance told me he had been estranged from his father and had not spoken to him for 18 years. I asked what his father had done that had been so horrible, and as he started to tell me, he realized that, whatever it was, it wasn’t so bad after all. The emotion had gone away, but the stubbornness had not. I suggested maybe he should reconnect with his dad. But he said, “I’m not over it yet.” I think he was in love with the idea of being right. Three weeks later his dad had passed, and he seriously regretted his decision. The moment someone dies, much of the baggage goes away, but then we can’t go back to resolve things.
I think people like that think they are punishing a parent or a friend by not seeing them, but the punishment is a self-inflicted wound too. When we have unresolved anger, it comes out in other ways, impacting our kids, our families, our work, and our health. It’s not good for anyone and accomplishes nothing.
I am always curious when I hear of people estranged over anger, and rarely does the crime equal the punishment. Yes, there are crimes that do require distance to avoid pain or abuse, but disagreements or hurt feelings do not seem to me to be reasons for not speaking.
I had a distant family member who was not speaking to her dad and mom because she was convinced by her husband that she had been wronged by being expected to help raise her younger siblings. Once the husband was gone, the healing began, and she reconnected and had a few good years with her parents.
I have a buddy whose daughter isn’t speaking to him, does not show up for family events, and only calls when she needs money, which of course he gives her in hopes it will heal things. She is angry over the way she was raised. He and his wife are not sure what that means. It breaks his heart. What she may not realize is that the estrangement is probably disrupting her life and relationships more than she knows.
Sadly, I have dissolved business relationships in anger over an e-mail when I should have picked up the phone. And sometimes I’ve picked up the phone too soon and said something I regretted. Just this week I almost destroyed a relationship by overreacting to an e-mail from someone, but once we talked, I realized I had misread intent.
So my best advice…
Don’t hit send in anger. Count to 10 … or 1,000 if necessary.
Don’t pick up the phone in anger.
Find out the INTENT before reacting.
Wait till all the emotion has dissipated, and then do your best to address it head on, with a listening ear.
Check your mood. Are you reacting badly to something because something else has irritated you?
Give EVERYONE the benefit of the doubt. Don’t assume they have bad intentions.
Take a breath and ask yourself, “Will my reaction make things better or worse?”
Listen before reacting.
Apologize as soon as you realize you acted badly.
There is rarely a good reason to disconnect from someone in anger. Almost all things can be healed. Estrangements are bad for everyone, but worst for you.
There is no shame in seeking professional help, especially if you keep getting stuck.
I was not raised in a perfect household. I never heard my parents argue. Ever. I’m not sure that was a good thing, but I’m guessing it was a rule my parents implemented. What might have been better is to hear that arguing is part of life, and finding a resolution to arguments is a lesson we all need. I did not get that, therefore I overreacted unfairly to criticism until I learned.
But I was also raised to put myself in someone else’s shoes before I judge them, and to turn the other cheek and not seek revenge when someone wrongs me. Both have served me well.
There would be no disagreements, no wars, no major issues, if we would just talk without reacting. We would not puff up and allow our egos to become offended and need to prove our dominance.
What can you do to improve your communication?
What can you do to heal wounds?
Where do you need to listen without reacting or responding?
Who do you need to call today?
Don’t be like the frozen and cracked pipes. Relieve the pressure before it builds. Never go to bed angry. Face it, no matter how hard it is. And if something bothers you, get it off your chest in a loving way. If not, it will always come out, but only after building up to the point of explosion.
If we all worked on these issues, we would all be happier. It starts with me.
P.S. This past Tuesday our triplets turned 19. Our daughter was home, but the boys were stuck at school with the storm. It was the first time in their history they were not together as one and at home with the family on their birthday. I’m very proud of all three and think they handled it well. We desperately wanted to give Grace a cake, but we did not have all the supplies, so I went out in the snow-covered streets, made my way to the only open place in town (7-Eleven), which took me about 45 minutes to get to, only to find out they did not have most of what we needed. But I made it back alive, and Laurie managed to scratch together a birthday cake with no icing. It worked out, we celebrated, and the goal was accomplished. It was a red-letter day.
Last week was tough because we had to cancel our big artists’ convention (the Plein Air Convention) due to the pandemic. We determined it was just not practical to try to do it by May. And since this is our primary income for the year, we announced an alternative … PleinAir Live, our virtual art conference, to be held a second time, with all new speakers, this April. You’ll learn a lot and grow even if you don’t see yourself as an outdoor painter. I hope you’ll explore it. We also had such a success with Watercolor Live, we’re doing it again. Though we don’t have our faculty together yet, we’ll make it world class. And signing up now is the lowest overall price. We already have 800 people signed up. We’re excited, thank you. We hope these things will help us get through the pandemic until we can return to normal, and we’ll probably keep these events alive even after that for the people who can’t leave home to attend things in person.
A steady drizzle of frigid droplets falls upon the old porch. My normal view of blue or purple hills in the distance is grayed down to barely visible, and the air is so cold, it feels as if I could throw water into the air and watch it turn to ice crystals.
I arose early with my head spinning with ideas, putting my toes into the warm blue corduroy slippers with the wool lining. I’ve pulled an old sweatshirt over my head, and a blanket is wrapped around all of me other than my arms and fingers, which kiss the cold keyboard.
Last week artist Stewart White was visiting and imparted some advice to my kids. Simple, yet meaningful. He told my son, “If you just finish what you start, you’ll be ahead of most people.” And he suggested to my daughter, who stared down at her phone the whole time, that it’s good to engage with people, look them in the eye, and don’t stare down at your phone the whole time. I thought Stewart’s advice was spot on.
Three Important Lessons
It made me think … if I could choose only three things to tell my kids, what would those three things be? I’d love to know what your three things would be too.
Number one for me would be to trust God. I’ve seen the anxiety this pandemic has caused in our family – the fear, the concern, the boredom, the feeling of being locked down, and there is simply no answer other than trusting that God has a plan. And though I get criticized for sharing my feelings about this topic, it’s who I am. My intent is not to push it to you.
Too Much Stress
I can say that in my lifetime, I’ve stressed about things I never should have stressed about. I’ve worried, I’ve made myself sick, and when all was said and done, most of what I worried about never occurred. As I’ve matured, I’ve realized when I stop stressing and start assuming there is a plan, things work out better.
Since I’m limiting myself to three things, the next two are pretty hard to pick out of all the wisdom life has to offer. Therefore my number two is to pick a good mate, a life partner, and to learn to listen to and trust their instincts. In theory, they have your back more than any person on earth, and they can see things you cannot see. And they are usually willing to tell you things no one else will tell you. That’s why I tell my kids to be careful in your process, take your time, get to know someone deeply, and try to get beyond the infatuation. Some put more time into buying a car than picking a life mate. And though you need common interests and things to do together, the worst thing you can do is find a replica of yourself. Life is about balance, and this is one of the best things you can do to find balance and perspective. Of course, it’s not for everyone. No pressure.
What’s in Your Mind?
Now the pressure is on. What is number three?
It seems to me that most problems people have, most problems I have, boil down to self-esteem and self-talk. I’ve written about past experiences where I declined invites from world-famous people because I did not feel worthy. How sick is that? Yet, as I think about my friends, my relationships, and all the people in my life, the ones living the best lives tend to be the ones who have figured out how to have self-esteem. Therefore my best advice is to work on your self-esteem and conquer those issues with the tenacity of your entire being. Doing so impacts how you filter every word, every decision, and whether or not you enjoy your life.
I read the book Think and Grow Rich for the first time at 15 and the book Cyber Cybernetics at age 17. Both were life-changers. But I’ve battled these issues much of my life. We have little voices in the back of our brains that bring up insecurities rooted in something from our past, and that don’t even make logical sense. I resisted Tony Robbins because of his style and my perception that he was all motivation (I attended one of his very first seminars before he had developed the depth he has today), and I’ve since found he has a lot to offer. I’ve been to his events and will go to more.
Investing in your self-esteem is the best investment you can make. It’s better than Bitcoin because it influences every decision and direction in your life. And current literature on the topic has shown theories from the 1930s have turned out to be true: Your physiology is impacted by your thoughts.
Today I guard my thoughts like I would guard Fort Knox, because when they seep in as seeds they can grow into watermelons that disrupt your life. It’s a constant battle, one that never stops. The only difference between those who have self-esteem issues and those who don’t is that those who don’t have learned to recognize that our brains naturally default to negatives in order to protect us, and that we can overcome those thoughts.
Focus on these three, and life will be pretty amazing. Then there is much advice that will serve you well in other areas.
What about you?
PS: I used to tell myself I wanted to be an artist but was not good enough to do it, or I did not have the talent. That’s changed. And if that’s you, I can help you in many ways.
First, check out my free lessons called Paint by Note. I’ve taught thousands to paint, including people who knew they could not do it.
Second, sometimes life throws lemons and you have no choice but to make lemonade. Most of my income is reliant on a couple of big in-person events we do, and the biggest one was canceled this week. Thankfully to survive we created online summits, which are helping us survive, and they are helping people make massive art progress fast. The next one is called PleinAir Live, and it’s coming in April.
Third, after deep study of learning, we’re employing what we’ve found to help people learn better, faster. We’re doing several top artist workshops employing this technique. Check it out and watch the video about SOAR workshops.