Life Lessons – Confusion

Confusion in one’s life is the result of:
incomplete information,
unrealistic expectations and
erroneous core beliefs.

I had finished graduate school with a degree in Architecture and Urban Planning. After five years working in the corporate world, I started my own consulting practice specializing in marketing for merchant builders in the real estate industry. My decision to forgo a pay-check and hang-out my shingle as an independent consultant involved many underlying core beliefs and hidden emotional forces I did not understand until years after I cut all my ties with a stable professional career. What I want to convey here is what I now understand as the motives for my choices and the consequences I experienced as a result of my lack of emotional self-awareness.

At the time I went out on my own I have been married for five years, had two children, bought a house and felt I was ready to show off my unique abilities and insights. Flying without a net was exhilarating. There was a great sense of determination as I broke from the establishment with no fear of failure or vulnerably. I paid no heed to the anxiety of my wife and fully expected her complete support. Little more then 3 years after I started my business, the wheels came off the wagon in my personal life and I was in utter chaos yet still I completely unwilling to reassess my approach. Why didn’t I see what was surely clear to others? Didn’t I comprehend the wreckage in my wake or the personal costs caused by my dogged determination?

They say, “Ignorance is bliss”, but I am more likely to say, “Ignorance is hell”.

The incomplete information I suffered from is more aptly expressed as ignoring information. It wasn’t that I was unaware of the interest sensitive nature of the real estate industry or that being highly leveraged was the name of the game. It wasn’t that I lacked working knowledge of the planning and execution of real estate development or the financing mechanics. It was that I was naive. I only looked at the potential up-side of my decision and ignored the potential down-side. Without a comprehensive view, I had no contingency plan, I had no idea of how and when to move to a defensive position.

Unrealistic expectations mostly involved my view of myself, my abilities and my destiny and is likely the reason I only looked at the up-side of my decision. I was over confident in my ability, I put my faith in my fantasy which translated into the belief that I was too smart to make but only a few bad decisions. Creative thinking was my strength, problem solving was my forte. I accepted the opposite of Murphy’s ‘Rule, “Nothing would go wrong because nothing could go wrong.”

The first two factors are the result of my mind justifying what my emotions wanted all along. My erroneous core beliefs included attempting to plow through several deep-seated feelings of low self-worth or negative self-image, which is to say, I was driven by my desire for success while my mind cleared the clutter out of the way so that my actions appeared to be well reasoned. The core beliefs are too numerous to lay out here, but sufficient to say, I had a need to be a lone-wolf for what I believed was self-protection, a sense that I would not receive recognition or justice in a group setting, that I would be too vulnerable to political tides and “group-think.” The disgust I felt about being used by others was a reflection of the fear of being ordinary or that being unimportant would be realized.

Yet the benefit of operating on such a weak foundation is that the resulting consequences may have been the only thing that could have changed my trajectory and therefore changed the second half of my life. The debilitating confusion resulting from foundational mistakes, the trauma of financial insecurity, the terror of nowhere to turn, the inability to ask for help; these are the horrors of life lived in the grip of a living nightmare. Had I not had acquired the gift of honesty to recognize and accept that I had done this to myself I would not have changed. With no excuses or defenses, I took full responsibility for my actions, looked squarely at my flaws and went about making the change that ushered a life of connectedness and gratitude.

All this said, I did experience a degree of success in the midst of my confusion which is evidence that there was some truth in my self-perceptions along with the dysfunction. Self-will can go a long way to achieving what we like to call success. An arrogant domineering attitude can accomplish grandiose projects that stand as testaments to an indominable spirit. Regardless of my accomplishments however, the elements of my life that were lacking were a sense of self-worth, a feeling of connectedness or an ability to experience joy. I took because I felt there was not enough and gave nothing because I felt I deserved more. Others were a means to an end, leaving me empty and mostly alone.

Neither you nor I should fail to follow our dreams and set goals that stretch the bounds of personal achievement. My hope for you is that your pursuits materialize but that they are they are done with solid planning, realistic expectations and a sense of humanity. Confusion is a part of life and uncertainty will always be present, but being connected, being present, being generous brings a quiet strength that sustains us at every crossroad.

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Life Lessons – There is Only Reality

There are no rights or wrongs, there is only reality.

Stage 2 in my book, beginning on page 13, is based on an idea we rarely consider: “Recognizing Perceptions vs Reality.” Most of the time we live in one reality that sees things consistent with the way we want them to be. All the while a second reality exists where we experience things that we judge as being outside of how we want them to be. We face this dilemma with disorientation or anger as we work feverishly, attempting to reestablish things the way we think they should be.

The argument could be made that we are confronted with this type of situation daily in many small ways that keeps us in a state of irritation. For example, people driving in a way we dislike, someone’s work habits that are different than our own, waiting a little longer than normal for a restaurant server to bring our order. We likely act as if we were justified in our discomfort and voice our concern with indignance.

Other, more consequential examples represent hotly debated issues causing people to become highly exercised while the facts of the ground are clear for all to see. For example, family structure is different then it was in the past and is continuing to change whether we like it or not. As chronicled in a recent series of articles in a special edition of Time Books in 2018, family structure has changed dramatically since the 1945 and is continuing to change in many unforeseen ways. Why would anyone argue against this change in social mores when they are clearly not capable of imposing the remedy they would want to see? If there are detrimental consequences to this evolving social structure they will soon become apparent and a natural adjustment will take place on its own and will be in line with what we would like to see or not. In other words, why argue that something is right or wrong when reality is and always will be unmistakably evident.

This illustration calls attention to the discomfort we cause ourselves when we refuse to let go of some preconceived notion of the way things should be. If we approach a subject with the idea that we have the right, therefore the only, answer, then we setup a lose / lose scenario where we can never win nor will we allow another point of view to win all the time ignoring a healthy diversity in thought and experience.

In the words of Steven R. Covey, in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he offers the solution to seeing things only from a ridged perspective. The fifth habit is “Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood.” In the section of this chapter titled “Empathetic Listening”, on page 251 he states:

“Seek first to understand involves a very deep shift in paradigm. We typically seek first to be understood. Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak. They’re filtering everything through their own paradigms, reading their autobiography into other people’s lives. …

Empathetic listening is risky. It takes a great deal of internal security to go into a deep listening experience because you open yourself up to be influenced. You become vulnerable. It’s a paradox, in a sense, because in order to have influence, you have to be influenced. That means you have to really understand.”

See the Steven Covey web site at:

Self-honesty about our strongly held reality, even as it relates to our bedrock principles, is necessary to achieve a true connection with life as it is. I use the following language in the first paragraph of Stage 2 in the book to make this point:

“We interpret everything that happens directly or indirectly through the lens of what we believe to be true. Our belief system is reinforced by what we see as evidence that our perceived truth is in fact true. This circular logic leaves us impervious to change.”

When we are willing to set aside our own point of view for a moment to carefully consider another’s point of view or to attempt to understand why things are the way they are, we become open instead of closed. Open does not mean “wishy-washy.” Acceptance that a reality beyond our frame of reference exists does not mean that we condone it or we are wrong for feeling the approach we espouse could have better outcomes. Neither does it mean that we need to keep stay quiet with our opinions. However, it does suggest that by applying humility, willingness, inclusiveness we can discuss our point of view within the context of another’s understanding of the issues. We can make our case with conviction but not as an absolute or as an ultimatum. These are the elements of maturity and the substance of disconnectedness.

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Life Lessons – Over Corrections

Life is a series of over-corrections

Comedy is the portrayal of life exaggerating both the circumstances and the human response to plausible situations. I don’t mean to show my age but I am reminded of the Carol Burnett Show and her sketch of the dysfunctional family or Tim Conway’s old man shuffling across the floor. Why did I laugh so hysterically at what may otherwise be considered sad or even pathetic? In all likelihood, I saw humor because I could relate to the absurdity of how hard I try to be perfect when deep down I knew I was just a human doing the best I can.

What I can take away from the recognition of my own absurdity is seeing that I attempt to star in a slap-stick comedy show of my own making. I exaggerate my misconceptions when I fail to acknowledge obvious flaws in the underlying rational I give for my choices. I try so hard to appear normal or “put-together” because I fear being criticized, or worse, ostracized. In the background, there is a gnawing uneasiness whispering to me that I can’t hide who I really am yet I continue the charade as if no one can see my subterfuge.

Here is where I experience the fear of being found-out. My anxiety about being exposed means that as soon as I feel someone sees through the masquerade, I immediately adjust. More often than not my nervousness causes the adjustment to be more extreme than necessary. I intuitively recognize my overreaction which adds to my feeling of ineptness. Still I continue to “shuck-n-jive” to maintain my image, all the while completely destroying any semblance of dignity.

If only I could laugh at myself. If only I could take a bow to an approving audience who saw my parody of life, not my sophomoric attempt to play-act. In the quiet of my inner being, I know I am a fraud. In my cognitive being, I construct a narrative that explains how my life really does support my mirage. In my social being, I spring into the next scene ready to show-off my brilliance and primed to manipulate any situation that would otherwise taint my image. And when unexpected exposure looms, as it always does, I twist myself into a contorted illusion and pretend to be what I am not.

In truth, I can’t think of anything more absurd, yet before I started my process of self-examination, I seemed to be incapable of stopping the ruse. Today life is not only easier and more satisfying but my relationships are so much more genuine. The ability to connect with others is so much better when I am myself without regret or defense for being anything other than “just another smuck”.

Describe your persona (the nature of your personality that is presented to others.) and indicate whether it is an image you work at presenting. If it is, explain why that image is important to you. What happens when you feel others are not seeing what you intend them to see?

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