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Creating Our Own Magic

It’s spring break for my girls and what better way to spend it but at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. This will be Leah’s second trip and Katie’s first to the Magic Kingdom. This will be my third trip (first as a 7 year old, second and third as an adult) and it’s interesting to experience it again. It’s during this trip that I’m finally enjoying the park for what it is: a place where magic can happen. Yeah, I know…that’s rather naive and counter to the cynical notion of the corporate artificiality of Disney. But, magic can happen if we allow it.

As a kid, I remember being enchanted by the Swiss Family Treehouse located in Adventureland. What young boy wouldn’t want to live in a huge treehouse? Now, as an adult, I tried to relive that magic, but it was strange. The whole experience was just climbing steps to the top and seeing the Robinson’s sleeping quarters, a dining room, and a sitting room. I kept wondering if that was all there was. And for me, that was really all there was.

This morning, my wife got an email from a friend of hers who lives with multiple sclerosis. In their communication, Caroline mentioned that we climbed the Swiss Family Treehouse and her friend offered a whole new perspective on this place in the Magic Kingdom. Turns out that she was told she couldn’t climb the treehouse due to her condition. She laughed and replied that that was all she needed to hear. She got out of her wheelchair, slowly climbed to the top, took a few minutes to savor her personal victory, and then slowly descended to the bottom.

I can’t help but see that treehouse in a whole new light.

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Some Gifts Are Best Not Accepted

One of my daily reads is ProBlogger simply for Darren Rowse’s terrific advice for how to blog better. I’m in the process of implementing many of his tips so be on the lookout for some improvements in the next few weeks.

One of Darren’s posts yesterday caught my attention, not because of his blogging advice, but because of a more powerful reminder about what to do when you get some hate and anger thrown in your direction. Consider this insight that Darren gained from a Buddhist monk:

When someone attacks you with anger and hatred say to them:
“thank you for your ‘gift’ – but I think you can keep it for yourself.”

It is easy to take on the anger of other people and to wear it as a burden of your own but it is usually unhealthy to do so.

Anger and hatred directed at you by another person is their anger and hatred and not yours. While they may wish for you to take it upon yourself – ultimately it’s a “gift” that would be better not received.

I tend to have strong empathic qualities. If a co-worker, customer, or my wife gets angry, I sometimes have difficulty not getting wrapped up in their emotions. But remembering that the emotion is theirs to own and give away and I have a choice as to whether I accept it is a liberating concept.

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Does Happiness Always Mean Getting Your Way?

The BBC had an interesting article yesterday called Why are Dutch children so happy? that went on to explain why the Netherlands was at the top of a recently published Child Wellbeing Report produced by UNICEF. (By the way, the United States – perhaps unsurprisingly – rates pretty much near the bottom compared to Europe and Canada). The lead-in to the article reads:

Dutch children have been rated the most fortunate children in Europe. Their parents go out of their way to please them, and teachers expect less of them than some of their European counterparts.

Well, that’s not exactly how the UNICEF report portrays the Netherlands, but does raise some interesting questions when we think not only about our own children (regardless of which country you call home) but own lives at work. How much is our own happiness tied to having things go our way? Can there be happiness in our challenges and struggles?

Let’s take this example from the BBC article:

18-year-old Ysbrand, a student in Helmond near Eindhoven, says this picture matched his childhood. He says that his parents spent a lot of time with him when he was younger. His mother stayed at home while his father worked.

But, he said the contrast when you get to 18 can be something of a shock.

“Now I’m left to look after myself,” he told the BBC News website. “My parents say that I need to care for myself and to be independent. It’s hard. I don’t have much money as a student and to go out is expensive. Beer, for example, is very expensive in the Netherlands.”

By focusing on what will make us happy right now, we postpone possible future pain. Not that we shouldn’t aim for joy in our life, but we need to be honest with ourselves and consider whether our present experience – even if it does suck – won’t make us a better person down the road. Sometimes we need to unhappy in order to learn how to be happy. I can certainly remember painful experiences in my life that were hellish in their own special way, but in reflection I’m so glad that they were my experiences. I wouldn’t be half the person I am today without them.

And I hope this doesn’t seem like I’m picking on the Dutch. Frankly, I don’t think the example of Ysbrand above is all that different from some of the experiences I’ve seen from fellow parents here in the U.S. The desire to coddle and over-protect kids transcends borders and culture.

Today, we’re challenged to look at our own happiness and determine whether that happiness is real or is simply deferring pain for another time. Ask whether that graduate degree that might be challenging and even painful to undertake might lead to a better tomorrow for you. Ask whether the pain of quitting your job might not be the first step toward finding your own soulful work. Remember that happiness sometimes means taking the hard and painful path.

Be well.

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We Learn So Much About Life From Death

Things have been chaotic and emotional for our family over the past week. On Monday, my wife’s grandfather, J.W. Starr (known to his grandkids and great-grandkids affectionately as Papop), died at age 85 after a very sudden diagnosis of terminal cancer. Turns out the cancer had been incubating silently within him for a while only to make it’s full presence known at the end. The time from when we first heard the heartbreaking news to the moment he died was less than a week.

Fortunately, my wife scheduled a flight a couple of days before he died and arrived in time to see him and hold his hand one last time. Shortly after he died on Monday, Caroline called me and told me to pack up the kids for the 1000 mile drive from Austin to Albany, GA.

That long drive-time in the car sparked an internal dialogue and reflection on Papop’s remarkable life and the wonderful legacy he left for all of us. He taught us so many lessons just through his simple actions. He modeled the values he felt were most important without ever needing to preach. He gave us the blessing of showing us how to live.

Have the courage to follow your faith even when it may not make sense to others
When he was in his early twenties, Papop volunteered for the military and fought in World War II as a bomber pilot in the Pacific. But before he completed his pilot training, he made the fateful decision to propose to and marry the love of his life, Mary Smith (who we all now call Mimi). Mimi held on to the letter that Papop sent to his own parents announcing his intentions and in that letter he acknowledged that their decision to marry may not make sense to their parents. In particular, Mimi’s parents reasonably feared that she might find herself a war widow before their first anniversary. However, Papop had faith that this was the right decision and knew that it was their love that would bring him home safely. Papop and Mimi were married for 62 years and their relationship is known in our family as “The Great Romance.” Together, they offered a model of what a strong marriage is for all who knew them.

It’s never too late to find your passion
One of Papop’s great legacies is his artwork. His paintings can be found in each family member’s home as well as the homes of art collectors throughout Georgia. He primarily painted landscape scenes of his life: the beaches, lowlands, and marshes of South Carolina and Georgia. As we sorted through some of his unframed works in his attic studio this week, we also discovered some lesser known works, such as portraits and still-life. The amazing thing is that this passion didn’t come out until he was much older. When we asked Mimi about how Papop started painting, she told us a story that surprised all of us. When she was a schoolteacher she had to grade papers. At that time, Papop enjoyed watching television, but it was distracting to her papergrading. So Mimi bought him some paints and brushes and hoped that this less noisy diversion would keep him busy. Turns out it not only kept him busy, but unleashed a vibrant yet untapped talent that inspired him throughout the rest of his life.

Soulful work can last a lifetime
After returning from WWII, Papop continued his education by getting a Master’s degree in Social Work and served as the Director of The Family Service in High Point, NC and then worked for the Federal Probationary Office in Macon, GA. Eventually, he and Mimi came to Albany, GA in 1952 and there he worked in his father’s typewriter sales business. Not too long ago, he retired, but continued to work in the Career Development Office of a local college. He often told us that his work helping young college students figure out their future plans was the most fulfilling work that he had ever done. Papop also gave his time to his church community that meant so much to him. For Papop, work wasn’t something to be shunned or avoided, but something that gave meaning to his life. It was his way of sharing the blessings he had with others.

These are just highlights. Putting Papop’s life into a brief retrospective is nearly impossible, though my sister-in-law managed to do this in what must be one of the all-time great eulogies ever delivered.

We talk about living a full life with no regrets. We talk about how to live in service to others. We talk about leaving a legacy behind us. It’s a blessing to encounter a role model who shows us how to do these things with grace, love, and humility. By reflecting on their lives, we’re challenged to find the magic in each day, to give far more than we get in return, to be the type of individual who makes a positive impact on each person they encounter. One way of thinking about Papop that has stayed with me is that it didn’t matter whether you knew him for an hour or a lifetime, he left a lasting impression that made you want to be a better person.

We all miss him and were blessed to know him.

John Walter Starr (1922-2007)

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Be Patient With Yourself

I’ve been a rather delinquent blogger lately and that’s been weighing heavily on me. Actually, kind of stressing me out. But I don’t think this is just a case of blog guilt…it seems to go deeper than that. It’s a feeling that I’ve been letting myself down, that I’ve been letting some of my own dreams and aspirations flitter away. There’s also a feeling that I’ve been ignoring some wonderful friends and not keeping up my end of our relationships. For the past few months, I haven’t been able to consciously figure out this block, but I sure have felt it in the pit of my stomach. Every time, that dark feeling has voiced this question: If the ideas behind Bailey WorkPlay (including this blog) and my relationships are so damn important, why am I unable to care for them anymore?

I haven’t been sleeping well lately and last night was no exception. I tossed and turned, not really able to fully relax. But somewhere in that strange state of twilight sleep I heard another voice which simply said: Be patient with yourself. Undoubtedly, my subconscious was able to break through the logjam and offer the help that my conscious mind could not. That was a few hours ago and I’ve been awake and contemplating the message ever since. All of which leads me to some insights that I hope find some resonance for you, too.

The harder we try to do something or the tighter we try to hold on to an idea, the more amorphous it can become. For me, I’ve been clinging to the notion that I should be able to do everything at the same level of intensity while forgetting that so much has actually changed in my life. New work, new home, a whole new zip code that’s 1500 miles from where I used to be. Change is good, but it can lead to unrealistic expectations of ourselves…an impatience when we don’t adapt immediately.

If you find yourself in full self-flagellation mode, give yourself permission to be patient. Be mindful of the ideas to which you’re rigidly clinging and get curious about what might happen if you released your grip even just a little. And consider a short mantra to help you through. Here’s mine for today:

Here I am. Being patient with me. Listening to my true inner voice. Knowing that I can restart again. Small acts are okay. Being patient with my humanness.

Be well and be patient.

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Coming Back To Life

Yep, I’m returning from a long, but much needed hiatus and feeling all the better for it. It’s amazing what a little change in scenery can do. In our case, we exchanged the go-go-go hyperdrive environment of Washington DC for the (relatively) laidback pace of Austin TX. Sometimes our body, soul, and mind just needs a fresh start.

So, here I am…new work, new home, new commitment to living completely. All that includes a renewed sense of purpose for Bailey WorkPlay and The Alchemy of Soulful Work starting with a site redesign. If you’re reading from Bloglines or another rss reader, come and take a look (c’mon, click here…I didn’t do all that work for nothing). In addition to what’s already there, I’ll be adding in some cool functionality that should add to the reading experience.

Friends and readers, sorry I’ve been gone for so long…it’s good to be back. Again, we all take this journey together. Let’s be the heroes and heroines of our adventures.

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Our Now Is All We Have

When God wants you to follow a particular path, God will clear all obstacles from your way.

This belief has occupied my mind these past few weeks. In this short span of time, we managed to get our current house under contract and have an offer accepted on our top home in Austin, TX. So, as of August 1, we will be official Texans and Austinites.

Yet, even though most of these things easily fell into place, we did (and still do) experience some nail-biting and gut-wrenching episodes surrounding financing and repairs on our present home. I must admit that there have been more than a few times when my wife and I looked back on our decision to move and asked whether it was the right decision. Was our determination to move to another state 1500 miles away justified? Or was it a semi-delusional dream for new adventure and a better way of life? Of course, these are the questions we ask in our darker hours…but, when we reenter the light we know that this is the right path and that Austin has always been preparing to accept us. In the end, we recognize that these past few months have been an exercise in faith.

Still, it’s almost impossible to not obsess over all the details and the potential areas where things could go wrong. Fortunately, I received a trackback from Halina Goldstein who writes a blog called The Inner Travel Journal. Wandering through her blog, I discovered a post called Obsessions that really spoke to me. She writes of how we neglect the present by overfocusing on the past and the future:

Each moment is potentially exploding with energy, creativity and significance. Exactly how this I cannot say, but I know that it’s true. And the more I’m willing to let go of empty thoughts about something in the future that may or may not come true (and they will never come true exactly as I’ve imagined them anyhow), the more I’m willing to simply RESPECT THIS VERY MOMENT, NOW, the more I will enjoy my journey.

It’s a beautifully stated reminder for us to slow down, breathe, and get present. After all, that’s all we really have that’s real.

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Finding Purpose Is The Journey

Ever have the thought that the sooner you find your purpose in life, the happier you’ll feel? It’s kind of like our unique sense of purpose is the final piece to the puzzle of life and once it locks into place…well then we can check that one off the list and then really start living.

I admit this trap is hard not to fall into at times. And when you do, it’s always nice to have someone help you climb out. For instance, I like what Patricia Soldati writes in her article, Finding Purpose: Don’t Let It Get You Down:

Purpose is not a thing, or a goal to be achieved. Maybe it’s your workor maybe not. It lives on no one’s timetable and defies any systemic approach that says, “At the end of this lesson, you will be able to”

In fact, the more you hard-core it — set your mind to finding it — the more elusive it becomes. You end up chasing away that which you most want to embrace in your life.

She then lists four ways to reconsider the journey of finding purpose. My big takeaway? Number 2: Find it outside of your own needs. Sometimes I get so wrapped up in my own sense of self-exploration, I forget that the answers to the really big questions just might exist outside of myself.

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Giddyup Cowboy…We’re Moving To Texas

Yep, the Bailey clan is moving to the Lone Star State. Austin, to be particular. After nearly a decade in Washington DC, we say “adios” to the area (as well as gridlocked traffic, long commutes, skyhigh real estate, etc., etc.) toward the end of July.

I guess you could say that this was a long time coming, really. Caroline and I have been talking for a while about getting out and finding new adventure somewhere else. We both had a feeling that we were getting stuck here and falling into complacency with surroundings and a lifestyle that didn’t light our fire. We considered places like Minneapolis, Charlotte, Seattle…even Toronto. What we were searching for was a slower pace of life, friendliness of neighbors, lots of culture and character, and a place where we could enjoy the outdoors. It seems like we found these qualities in Austin.

And with any adventure, there’s some risk involved (or else it wouldn’t actually be an adventure, eh?). Neither of us have work waiting for us which is a slightly scary prospect for someone who knows how hard it can be to be jobless. To tackle that problem, I’m making a couple of recon trips to meet with potential employers. My first will be next week (May 10 – 14) so if you’re in the area and would like to meet, let me know.

Right now, the plan is to sell our house so we’re busy it ready to market. This is a lot of work and fortunately we’ve found lots of folks to help. We hired a professional organizer to help us pack up our non-essential items and get rid of our clutter. We hired a painter to redo all the interior walls. And we’re considering whether to lay new carpet or not. Last weekend, I spent a great deal of time on the outside of the house and in the yard. This weekend, I anticipate doing some more yardwork and sprucing up some tired looking shrubbery.

I continue to have great visions for Bailey WorkPlay and the Alchemy of Soulful Work. I hope you’ll continue to check in and follow along as we intrepid pioneers hitch up our wagon and migrate to the Texas Hill Country. If there’s one thing I can share as I look forward to this next chapter in life, it’s that life is far too short and precious to wait around. I know I don’t want this to describe me:
“Most people would rather be certain they’re miserable, than risk being happy.”
-Robert Anthony

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The Greater Sin Is Not Dreaming Big Enough

I’ve been meditating on a particular prayer that prefaces a sermon written by Davidson Loehr, a Unitarian Universalist minister in Austin, Texas. Through this prayer, I’m facing off with that great demon known to us as Playing-It-Safe. Davidson writes:

If we must fail, let us fail at high endeavors. Let us not fail to be mediocre when we could instead fail to be absolutely brilliant. Let us not fall short of being moderately compassionate. Let us rather fall short of being fully compassionate.Of all our failures in life, perhaps the saddest are those in which we failed even to try and serve the highest and noblest ideals.

It is a sin to fail at low aims. Not because we failed, but because we aimed too low.

But it is not a sin to fail at very high aims, like aiming for truth, justice, compassion and character. Because even our failure puts us into the company of the saints, the company of those who also believe that rising to our full humanity and rising to our full divinity may be the same rising.

Striving after low and mean ends is a boring sin, not worthy of us. Let us have greater ambition for our failures. Let us vow never to fail at anything that wasn’t noble and proud, never to settle for lower aspirations for ourselves, our lives, our country or our world.

We will all fail at some things. But let it not be a failure of vision, a failure of aspiration. If we must fail, let us fail at high endeavors, and then let our failures bless us – for they will.

Amen.

You can read the full sermon here.

The passionate idea of working toward great and noble ambitions in our lives offers both comfort and strength. When put into this context, we are free to set our mind and body toward the light we want to create. Even failure cannot touch us or our soul.

I think this prayer ties into Curt Rosengren’s recent post on an interdependence of dreams and actions. When we gather the courage to dream big things and then take action to follow our heart’s calling, we move beyond the small ideas of success and failure. These are often inaccurately measured based on someone else’s notion of the world. Instead, we journey on a path which is uniquely our own…where the endpoint is uncertain, but clearly a paradoxical place of excitement and solace.

Extended Play (04/23/06): My friend Garth at exploreplay has a great quote from Jon Krakauer’s book Into The Wild which really accentuates the power of following your sense of adventure. It starts: “So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism…” Visit exploreplay for the rest of the quote…you’ll be glad you did.

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