I enjoy spending time with my family, and they enjoy spending time with me. With that said, as of late beyond the dinner meal and vacations it is more common that my connections with them are one-to-one instead of en masse.
This modular way of relating has been increasing as my kids have aged from children to teens. They have their own lives to live, and at any given time one or more of them may be hanging out with their chums. I know that this evolution is reasonable, but I still long for the time when we spent most of our hours together.
On Thursday evenings I cook dinner with my two youngest. We laugh, joke, and review our day with each other. It is a great time that we look forward to. However, “Making Dinner With Dad Thursday,” only includes three of the four remaining in-house Kunas. Thankfully, there is one event where we all participate, that event is watching “Battlestar Galactica.”
Battlestar Galactica is a TV series that ran for four seasons, starting in 2004. The storyline is science fiction and involves a humanoid race fleeing from their robotic enemies as they try to find a mythical earth. This summary may not sound very compelling. However, the storyline is just a canvas to explore other questions. Questions of prejudice, questions of religious intolerance, questions of duty, to name a few.
After she read good reviews about the series, my wife suggested that we watch the show, which is streamable on Amazon Prime. None of us viewed the show when it initially aired, so we thought we would give it a try as a family activity.
Since this is a family watch, strict policies and procedures quickly evolved. It is unclear who developed said policies, but all participants vigorously enforce them.
Here are a few examples:
1. We can only watch an episode when the entire group is present.
2. We try not to read the Amazon Prime plot summaries beforehand.
3. It is encouraged to loudly express feelings about characters and situations while the show is playing. It is not uncommon for one or more of us to loudly gasp or shout a condemnation to an on-screen actor.
4. All lights have to be off when we are watching the show to allow full immersion.
5. If a viewer gets up for a snack, it is acceptable to beg, bully, or shame them into getting refreshments for the rest of the watchers.
5. Wild speculation about a character or the plotline is encouraged. 6. Debate over such speculation is expected and should be as raucous as needed to make a point.
We typically watch one or two episodes at a time, as that is the amount of TV that I can tolerate, and it may be a week or more until we gather again. Because of these restrictions, we have been watching episodes for months, and we still have a few left before the series end.
It is a fun time that draws us together. Many of the shows deal with philosophical questions which serve as fuel for our family discussions and debates.
Like “Cooking With Dad Thursday” it is something that allows us to gather as a family. When we finally finish the Battlestar series, we will find another activity that will “force” us to spend time together.
It is essential for us to remember that we are a family. It is vital for us to remember that we are there for each other. It is crucial for us to remember that we love each other. Activities like this serve these purposes.
Dear reader, I would like to ask you to find your own “Battlestar” activity for your family. Perhaps it will be a family dinner, maybe a board game night, possibly something else. It doesn’t matter, it just needs to be something that is shared with each other and (on some level) allows interaction and communication.
Children become teenagers, teens become young adults, young adults become adults. The time that we have with each other is precious and limited. You will never get to experience today, again. The same can be said of this month and this year. Don’t waste the gift of your family.
Five PM on Friday before my birthday party finds me seated in my car departing Rockford, Illinois. I turn right on South Alpine, then left on US 20, then right on Interstate 39. I’m now locked in for my 90-minute drive back to Naperville, back to home.
My iPhone automatically connects to the car’s Bluetooth audio system. I hit the quick dial button on my Flex and dial up my sister, Carol. I often talk to Carol on my long drive home from Rockford.
Carol has favorite subjects that typically center on politics and food plans. However, in a 90-minute drive, there is always time for other topics. On this Friday we talk about kids, various weekend plans, and my upcoming 65th birthday party. Curiously, she brings up a memory from 60 years ago. What makes this memory unique is that it doesn’t represent a milestone or major event. Instead, it is a simple memory that generally would be lost to time. Making this recollection even more surprising is the fact that it is also a memory that I distinctly remember. It is the memory of my sister’s slumber party.
I travel back to the late 1950s. Back to my Southwest Side Chicago home. The old bungalow desperately in need of repair, the one with broken furniture and worn carpeting. My sister is having a slumber party with several of her girlfriends from college. The house is cleaned to the best of its ability; snacks are at the ready, clean sheets are on the beds. I am there as a five-year-old boy, and I serve as a diversion for the 20-year-old guests. We are playing hide-and-seek in the house. I laugh with one of them as she finds me hiding behind a shirt in a tiny closet. The next day I hear my sister recounting the get-together to my mother. She tells her how this guest commented on what a kind little boy I was. I find the description of me upsetting. Even at the age of 5, I know that my family prizes intelligence above all. In my child’s mind, I wished that Carol’s friend reported that I was smart, not kind.
Kindness didn’t seem like much of a prized quality; it was just who I was. Why wouldn’t I be kind? Everyone can be kind; this attribute didn’t make me unique at all. Being smart, that would make me special. Being smart would make my father more interested in me. Kindness felt like a weakness. A person who could be taken advantage. Someone who was not tough. Another one of my defects. I couldn’t imagine my father putting his arm around my shoulders as he announced to our neighbors, “I’m so proud of Michael, he is so kind.”
Fast forward to late 2017 and my impending retirement from private practice. My office staff had contacted my referral sources and my patients and asked them to write a memory about me. My referral sources commented about my diagnostic skills and the quality of care that I delivered. Their overall theme was that I was smart.
However, my patients saw me in an entirely different light. Almost universally they commented on the fact that I listened to them, didn’t judge them, and was kind to them. Clearly, the most important qualities that I possessed for them. These were patients who I brought back from suicidal depression, severe psychosis, and life-disabling anxiety. Their comments were not about my expertise in psychopharmacology. This seemed irrelevant or at least expected. What was most important to them was that I was kind to them. A quality that was lacking in other relationships in their lives.
Fast forward to last week and to the gift that my wife gave me. She had also “commissioned” a memory book. This one created from my friends and relatives letters.
I am now back home from the party, and she presents me with my memory book. The first letter is from her. She recounts memories from the past. Our marriage, the birth of our kids, other events. Woven into her recollections is a theme. She notes how kind I am. I start to read the letters from my kids, and a similar tone is indicated. That theme carries through the other letters and cards in my memory book. The memories are different, but the description of kindness remains the same. As I read, I reflect on my kids. They are all brilliant, but they are also very kind. I am so proud that they are kind. I tear up and I fill with emotion.
Dear reader, I am fortunate to travel in circles of smart people. Smart people are interesting, they are quick thinking, and fun to talk to. I like intelligent people, and I enjoy being around them.
Some smart people do great things with their intelligence; some do nothing with their intelligence. Some smart people use their intelligence to help others; some use their intelligence to take advantage of others. Some intelligent people are kind, some intelligent people are mean and spiteful.
We can all strive to learn and grow, but you either have an innate intelligence, or you don’t. Kindness is universally accessible to all. It is entirely free and takes little effort. Being kind makes you feel good. Being kind makes others feel good. In a kind world everyone benefits. So why is it that people choose to be unkind? Why is it that we prize “reality” TV shows where we enjoy seeing others being humiliated or shamed? Why is it that we love to brag to others that we have more than they do when their envy contributes zero to our lives? Why is it that we choose to hurt when it would be just as easy to be caring and supportive?
For whatever reason, the people around me think I’m a kind person. Now at 65, I have come to understand the importance of what my sister’s friend told her 60 years earlier. Kindness does matter, its importance equals or exceeds intelligence. What would you prefer, a kind and loving parent/spouse/friend, or a brilliant but mean and spiteful one?
Dear reader, I would like to challenge you today to make an active effort to be kind to those you encounter. Kindness matters.
Sunday was the day; I was not only excited, but I was also very anxious.
Julie, my wife, had been planning my birthday party for months. Although a competent person, she feels insecure when it comes to planning big events, and so she also had the jitters.
Luckily, the morning started with a fun distraction. My friend Tom came over and we “sailed” the “Mary Ann” 5 miles down the DuPage River. It was the maiden voyage for my $80 estate sale canoe. The adventure was great fun, but it also demanded a second shower for the day as I was soaked in river water.
By mid-morning my daughter Anne and her family arrived. My grandkids, Sebbie and Diana, were the perfect distraction.
Two hours before the event Julie and my two youngest kids left me to set up the party. Julie had secured a room for the event that was big enough to accommodate everyone. However, there was still much work to do.
My introvert anxiety now on the rise, I started to pace. As the party time approached, I asked Anne and her family to go to the event so I could have a little time alone.
Twenty minutes later my daughter Grace was at the door, acting as my chauffeur. I was instructed to lap-carry my sugar-free birthday cake, as Julie was afraid that it would have melted if she had brought it earlier. We entered the parking lot to find Julie standing there. “You can’t walk into the party carrying your birthday cake. There are already people here waiting for your arrival!” I handed her the cake, took a deep breath, and entered the building.
Now inside I could see others coming through the window. I marched up the stairs and into the room where my party was being held. Julie and the kids had signs, balloons, and other symbols of celebration. Trays of food were set on tables; smiles were set on faces.
Friends and family had put themselves out for me. They were there to wish me well. Several hours later my party was over. I felt great but exhausted. However, the best gift was yet to come.
Now home, Julie handed me a scrapbook with a cover made by my son William. I opened it to pages of memories. Weeks earlier she had asked the invitees to write her with memories of me. The first pages contained letters from her and the kids. I was overwhelmed. Then other messages and notes. There seemed to be a general theme, which I will likely write about in a future post. There was so much love in the letters that I was barely able to get through a single one without tearing up. It was the best gift that I could have ever received.
We all live busy lives. It would have been easy for my guests to have sent their regrets. It would have been simple for them to claim to be too rushed to sit down and write a paragraph or two about me. It is a “what about me” world where everyone is more concerned about themselves than others.
There are times when someone has to decide to either give of themself or to withhold of themself. In this situation, people gave their time to come to my party. They gave their creativity to write down their memories of me. Did they do these things because I’m so awesome? No, they did these things because THEY are so awesome.
I once read that integrity is doing the right thing when no one else is looking. They could have done nothing. They could have justified their actions because they were too busy with their own lives. They didn’t say, “What has Mike done for me lately?” They didn’t calculate the cost of their actions vs. the gain that they would receive. They didn’t ruminate over petty slights that I may have caused them in the past. They just did what they did because it was the right thing to do, and they did it with joy and kindness in their hearts. This is what I felt when I attended my 65th birthday party, and this is what I felt when I read my book of memories.
There is no greater gift than to allow the people in your life to love you and to love them in return. Thank you party guests, thank you memory book writers. Your actions say so much more about you than they do about me. With that said, your actions touched me deeply, made me feel closer to you, and allowed me to see how truly wonderful you are.
Dear reader, I need your help. If you help me, your actions will also help you.
I want to document the lives of people. This process would involve writing their story and taking some photos of them. I’m interested in telling the story of regular people who have had extraordinary experiences. Extraordinary is a confusing modifier, so let me explain. I would like to write about stories that changed the direction of someone’s life, either for good or for bad.
Most of us would say that having a child causes a monumental change in a person’s life. But what about the person who had to deal with a child’s serious illness, or perhaps the person who had a severe illness as a child? Did these experiences significantly change the trajectory of their life?
How about someone who fell into a career path, only to find out that it was their life’s calling? How about the person whose career path almost destroyed them?
Do you have a passionate interest that has impacted your life? Are you driven to change the world, no matter how small? Have you changed your ways (good or bad), and how did that impact you? Did you make a significant career change that was surprising to those around you? Did some random event transform your life? YOUR LIFE MATTERS. YOU HAVE A STORY TO TELL.
I would want to explore one storyline with you, which would likely take several hours of your time. Also, I would spend some time with you to take some photos.
I would write up your story and post it on my blog along with some of the photos that I shot. I’m doing this as a proof-of-concept for a possible book, which could include your story.
Who will know who you were 100 years from now? I look at old photos of relatives, and I don’t even know their names, let alone their story. What would it be like to personally touch a future relative? What would it be like for them to know just a little about who you were? What would it be like to have someone distill a pivotal part of your life into a cohesive narrative? What would it be like to have high-quality photos attached to that story? Images that would transform written words into a real person to the reader. Not just random cell phone snapshots, but pictures that were taken with the expressed purpose of making your story real.
I am a professional interviewer. I am a writer. I shoot photos professionally. There are folks with lesser skills who would charge you to do what I’m offering to do. Your story is worth telling.
If you are interested, here are some more details:
My initial effort will be limited to 5 stories (5 individuals). If you have an interest in me doing this for you, please don’t wait or hesitate.
I will decide whose stories that I document.
For this round, I will travel up to two hours (by car) from my Chicago area home.
Naturally, you will need to allow me to post/publish your story and photos. (I know, obvious)
I will make my written narrative and select photos available to you for your archives.
Email me at SPAMmike_kuna@hotmail.com (remove the word “SPAM” in the email address). In a paragraph or two tell me about your story. Don’t let yourself or your story disappear with the passing of time.
Let me know if you are interested.
PS If you are further than 2 hours away from Chicago, write me anyway. Although my initial efforts are limited geographically, I absolutely will consider expanding the scope of this project in the future if there is enough interest.
The offer to me came earlier this year, and to Julie’s shock, I accepted it. The offer? Julie asked me if I wanted a birthday party to celebrate my 65th birthday. She has queried such options in the past, and I have always said no. But, dear reader, it is time for a change, and I am changing. With this said, my simple “Yes” was anything but easy for me to utter.
Why would it be so difficult for me to allow someone to celebrate such a special day? The answers go beyond the obvious, but many of these reasons will be familiar to those of you who have been reading my blog.
First, the obvious. I am an introvert and being the center of attention can be an exhausting experience.
Second, the more significant reason. My life has been a life of service, both professionally and personally. I have formed many of my relationships under the umbrella of things that I have done, or could do, for others. I think that this reality is not accidental. In part, I feel if you can help someone, you should. In part, providing a service to someone justifies the relationship. “Be my friend, and I will help you.” In part, it allows me to have a certain amount of control over the connection. Like most people, I am complex, as are my motivations to do things. Those motivations are neither good nor bad, they are.
Back to my birthday party…
My real fear of asking someone to do something for me is that they won’t do it. This is based on my childhood where that was my experience. I learned very early on that I had to rely on myself. I could not expect others to do things for me. Having to rely on myself made me angry, and I turned that anger into the fuel that drove me forward. As I have said in previous posts, “Take a disadvantage and turn it into an advantage.”
I became robust, resilient, and self-reliant. However, there is a flipside to this coin. There is a part of me that wants to be loved, cared for, nurtured, and celebrated for who I am, not what I do. This aspect of me is buried deep in my psyche and highly protected. However, part of my current efforts to grow beyond past limitations is to confront these needs and acknowledge them. Hence, “Sure throw me a party.”
My past strategy had been to never expect anything from anyone, but to fantasize that people in my life would be there, “If I needed them.” As a psychiatrist, I know the folly of such a fantasy. I have worked with many caregiving patients (often women) who have devoted themselves to others in selfless ways. They have selected individuals who were more than happy to be cared for. Sadly, when these caregiving individuals needed help in return, their relationship was nowhere to be found. Their connections signed up to receive full service, not to deliver a service. Naturally, this makes sense. However, even psychiatrists use psychological ploys to get through the daily experience that we call life.
Although my actual birthday was earlier this year, my celebration is scheduled for this weekend. I am stressed as this event draws a clear line defining my worth to those around me. My old tapes are playing. Instead of thinking that the people who care about me will be happy to celebrate with me, I think that they will be resentful and act out their feelings in one way or another. I have heard stories of people traveling to another state to celebrate a milestone with an old neighbor or a casual friend. This seems entirely normal for others, but not for me. Are my close connections willing to put themselves out a bit to celebrate with me? My rational self says yes, my inner child says, no. I guess I will know the truth in a few days.
To add to this drama, Julie has asked people to write a little note or letter to me which she will bind into a scrapbook. I want such records to pass onto my children and grandchildren. I don’t want to become an unknown image on an old photograph. I want to be a real person to my future lineage. I don’t think that this is grandiosity, I believe that it is based on my sense of mortality. Who are we if no one remembers that we ever existed? Here again, I fear that I’m burdening others. This reality will also be soon known.
Dear reader, thank you for following my story. We are all imperfect. My goal in life has always been to make a difference in the world, however small. I want to leave the earth a bit better, rather than a bit worse. Otherwise, why should I exist?
To move forward with my life, I have decided to be fearlessly honest with myself and those around me, including you. I may be 65, but I still am growing and evolving. I am traveling forward to a destination not yet apparent in the fog that is my future. However, I am starting to see vague shapes ahead, and my writing is one of the things that is allowing this clarity to happen.
Next Sunday is my birthday party; the day will come and go. It will be replaced by Monday. Will it justify my childhood fears? Will it support my objective reality? I guess I will have to wait and see. Either way, I will grow. Peace.
A block and a half away is the DuPage river and its paths. As I enter the commons that abuts the river I have two choices, I can turn right or I can turn left.
Turning right takes me down a cobblestone path that leads to downtown Naperville. Along the way, there are luxury houses, colorful fountains, covered bridges, and public sculptures. It is beautiful but in a scripted way. Every bend of the path carefully calculated to be the most aesthetically pleasing. However, turning left takes me to a different reality. The reality of a preserve called McDowell Grove.
I turn left. Within minutes of walking, I am on a gravel path that winds through forest and prairie. The path takes me under a railroad trestle, then under a highway, then past a dam. Soon I am walking among trees, then through an open and wild prairie. A prairie not unlike prairies of the past. Low and rolling, buzzing with life as if to spite the long lingering winter.
I walk carrying an old camera. My Canon 7D slung over my shoulder on a strap that transects my chest. That strap designed to counter its gravid 820-gram weight.
I looked to the right and then to the left as I explore photographic possibilities. I have been on this path a hundred times, but I always find something to peak my creative interest. I enter the prairie and force my vision to the right. In front of me stands a lone tree surrounded by tall grasses. Behind me is a forest of-of trees, each member huddled closely together.
My mind floods as it starts to compare and categorize the two visual experiences. What are the advantages of being a lone tree? What are the advantages of being a tree among many in the wood?
My thoughts generalize and regroup. What are the advantages of being in a group? What are the advantages of being apart from a group? I pull my camera from my hip and press it against my cheek. I squint into the viewfinder and compose. Click, click, click. I take three shots shifting my field of view slightly with each. I slide my camera back onto my hip and continue walking. Although I move forward my thoughts remain on the trees.
My thoughts generalize and regroup again. Now I am focusing on my children and the lessons that I have taught them. Those lessons both directed and inferred. Lessons of ethics. Lessons of integrity. Lessons of justice.
I realize that there are many paths in life, I reflect that I have tried to instill in them the values that will allow them to become strong and honorable adults. Values that places ethics before gain. Values that place integrity before popularity. Values that place justice before complacency.
My thoughts shift back to the trees. In some ways, those that stand together are protected. Protected from the wind and the frost. The tree that stands alone does not have those protections, so it must become strong and resilient on its own. For its efforts, it gets to grow freely, without pressure from its neighbors to conform. However, to grow freely doesn’t mean that it will grow well. Other factors determine this.
Most trees grow together in forests, but an entire forest can be destroyed by the single lighting flash of a thunderstorm. After such a disaster the lone tree is the one that survives, that continues to grow, that ultimately determines the new direction for its species.
My thoughts shift back to my children. I see them as trees standing in a prairie. Not bending to those around them. Growing strong and able to battle the wind and the frost. I hope my lessons will help them grow well. However, I can only plant a seed, they will grow as they wish. I cannot determine this.
I accept the fact that I’m an introvert, but that acceptance wasn’t always the case. Before I understood this aspect of my personality, I used to be self-critical of my behavior. I would see people around me on the move. They would socialize with one group, and then another. They had 5 or 6 “best friends.” They would form “close” connections based on their personal monetary or career needs.
I would think to myself, “Why is it so hard for me to socialize in these ways? If I could be more like them I could…” I felt that there was something wrong with me.
I can’t recall the actual moment when I realized that I was an introvert, but I do remember that it was a great relief to understand why I behaved the way that I did. It was affirming to view this aspect of me as a positive trait; part of who I am.
With that said, there are times when introverts have to play the part of an extrovert, and I am able to put on a coat of sociability when necessary. However, since this isn’t my natural demeanor, it can be exhausting. Usually, I manage these energy expenditures carefully. An extroverted activity followed by some private time.
As I have written many times, I do like people, and I do enjoy interacting with them. However, I need my personal space to recharge. I am not energized by large groups; I am depleted. It is a rare day that I would deliberately schedule multiple social interactions. One of those rare days was yesterday.
At 1 PM I had a scheduled meeting with my pastor. I belong to a large non-denominational church, and I was meeting with its co-founder, Dave. I had set up a meeting with him weeks earlier. The meeting was based on my “leave no stone unturned” philosophy of life. Other than that, I wasn’t sure what I was expecting to happen at the meeting. I knew that in some abstract way I was trying to move forward on the “next aspect of my life” thing. Pastor Dave is a smart guy who takes charge of his world, but beyond that, I knew little about him.
The morning of the meeting met me with dread. “Why would he want to meet with me? He is too busy. I am using up his valuable time.” And so the tapes played. I understand the historical reasons for these thoughts, and I do not let them stop me. However, they are still distressing.
I returned home from my morning walk and briefly discussed my concerns with my wife, Julie. She was busy getting ready for the day, and I tried to respect her time limitations. I drove over to my friend Tom’s house and also voiced some of my fears to him. It is a good thing for me to share my irrational fears with people that I’m close. This is a relatively new behavior and a healthy one.
Soon it was time for me to go to the church and my anxiety returned full force. I reminded myself. “He is only going to spend 30 minutes with you. It is not that much of an imposition.”
One PM arrived, and I found myself seated in a medium sized room at a large round folding table. In walked Pastor Dave. I started to talk, not knowing what would come out of my mouth in the next second. I assumed that Dave did this sort of thing multiple times a day, but he told me that he was more involved with the vision of the church and that he enjoyed the chance to do something different.
Our conversation continued well past 30 minutes. At the hour point, his assistant stuck her head into the room to remind him “about that call that he needed to make.” I’m sure that this was the standard protocol when she sensed that a parishioner was taking up too much of the pastor’s time. I immediately started to grab my coat, but Dave put his hand up indicating that he wanted to continue to talk. He recommended a couple of books that might be helpful to me, and also suggested a life assessment that he found personally useful. Ninety minutes into the meeting we ended with a prayer. I didn’t feel like I wasted his time, it was a nice feeling.
Shortly after I arrived home, I drove my daughter, Grace, to a meeting. In my mind, I imagined returning back home. I would take a long shower and put on some loungewear. I would immerse myself in a project and I would consider having a glass of wine. Then, the reality hit me. I had signed up for a MeetUp group on WordPress, and it was running from 6 PM to 9 PM that evening.
Part of me wanted to bail out of the meeting, but I also wanted to go. Fears crept back in as I imagined that I would sit in a room of WordPress experts. Would I be wasting their time? Would I look foolish or stupid? I had only been learning the software for about a month and felt very much a newbie. Dear reader, I will not allow my fears to determine who I am. I put on my coat, plugged in the coordinates into my phones GPS, and drove to the meeting.
I found myself in a classroom with about 40 other people. Time to put on my extrovert cloak. With a smile on my face, I introduced myself to the three people seated around me. Soon we were engaged in a nice conversation. The formal part of the meeting consisted of a speaker talking about a major revision that was about to take place on the WordPress platform. To my surprise, I understood what he was talking about and could see the implications of the upcoming changes. There were groups members who knew more than I did, but it seemed that I knew more than some others. The meeting ended, and I said my goodbyes to my new acquaintances. I was happy that I went.
In total exhaustion, I returned home. Julie was reading a book in our bedroom, but wanted an update on my day, especially on my meeting with the pastor. I briefed her as best as I could. It was then time for my long-awaited shower. Extra hot, extra sudsy. I let the water run on my back as it relaxed my tense neck and shoulders. The day was over.
Dear reader, we are who we are. I believe that we all have strengths and weaknesses. I accept the fact that I am an introvert, and I have used this knowledge as an advantage, rather than considering it a disadvantage. I am a great independent learner, I am never bored, I come up with wonderful ideas when I am by myself.
However, there are times when I need to reach beyond my introverted self if I wish to move forward. Sometimes the uncomfortable option is the right option. Some actions can be hard, but worthwhile. I feel that for me it is important to respect my personality, but still challenge it with reasonable risk-taking.
If we are unhappy, it is easy to blame our unhappiness on circumstances or other people. However, it is our responsibility to make any change. We can’t expect others to usurp that responsibility. I encourage you to gently step outside your comfort zone today and gain a little more control over your life. Who knows where it will lead you.
Dear reader, I believe that everything we do in some ways connects to other aspects of who we are. We show our true selves in our everyday actions. Things that seem unrelated are often related if you look closely enough.
In this post, I explore how the process of building web pages has also taught me about how I relate to people. This is less of a stretch than you may think. Let’s start…
My adventure in creating websites started around 15 years ago and was directed more by need than want. In those days I was a partner/owner of a medium sized psychiatric practice. With my two partners, I had built the practice into a thriving enterprise.
Most of our business was generated from former clients and referring professionals. However, we knew that we needed a website, as it was becoming a common instrument that new clients used to find their next care provider.
I come from a blue-collar background, which inherently makes me a do-it-yourselfer and cost-conscious. I was already heavily invested in creating marketing and advertising materials for the practice and had been doing everything from brochure design (remember paper?) to head shots of the staff.
It was only logical that I build the website. To hire someone to design even a simple one would have cost thousands of dollars, as well as countless hours of committee work to write copy, and approve design concepts. I felt that I had the potential to do the necessary tasks: photography, copy creation, design, deployment. However, there was a problem, I had never designed a webpage, I had never taken a computer course, and I had never written a single line of HTML. In hindsight building a complex website was an insane thought. People spend years learning this stuff. What was I thinking?
Naturally, it was a massive project that was complicated by the fact that I had to learn everything on the fly. Initially, I tried to go the easy route by using the hosting company’s template-based web designer. I wrote two entire versions of the clinic website with that program, but it just couldn’t handle a site as complex as the one the I envisioned. I recall spending an entire Saturday trying to upload a few more pages to the site, only to have it repeatedly crash. Finally, I realized that I would have to go beyond the limitations of this easy software and use something more sophisticated. That moment was sickening to me, as it meant that not only would I have to learn an entirely new software package, but I would have to recreate every single page of the website again.
This process was occuring in my almost non-existent “spare time.” I created extra working time by removing needed sleeping time. I know my partners had no idea of the hours that I put in. They assumed that I was able to build a site during my lunch break. For months most of my evenings and weekends were spent staring at a computer screen. Sure, my lack of knowledge made easy things more difficult, but there was also the reality that I was wearing all of the creative hats. It was overwhelming.
The more sophisticated software that I settled on was from a British company called Serif. It was graphically based and similar to the page layout programs that I had used for paper publications. The familiarity offered me a small degree of confidence. However, building an interactive multimedia website is very different from placing photos and print on a physical page.
Eventually, I got the hang of it and created seven redesigns of the clinic site over ten years. It wasn’t too long before friends started to ask me if I could help their small businesses and build a website for them. This is how I became a web designer/content creator.
In 2015 my friend, Tom, asked me if I would write some copy for his small business website. He had paid someone to do the total creation of the site, and he wasn’t pleased with it. “I don’t think that the website represents me very well.” He told me. “Sure,” I said. I was eager to repay a favor that he had recently done for me.
Tom is a smart and creative guy who has a sense of style. Initially, I thought that he was overly critical of his site. I assumed that a professional would know all of the tricks to creating a visually appealing and engaging experience. It was then that I looked at the web pages. His site was an example of “you don’t always get when you pay for.” Cluttered, poorly written, lousy clipart, encyclopedia length boring content that was likely copied from elsewhere. It was not good.
“Tom, why don’t you let me build a new site for you?” The words came out of my mouth without thought. “I can’t let you do that, I don’t want to take advantage of you,” Tom replied. Suddenly, I found myself convincing him that it was OK, and a good idea.
Like most projects, it was much more complicated and time-consuming than I initially thought. Despite being a lot of work, it was fun and I felt good helping my friend. I was proud of the way the new website turned out. Simple, clean, beautiful!
Fast forward to 2018. Tom had been doing some marketing research and decided that his site would be more searchable if it was created using the WordPress PHP format instead of the simple HTML of the site that I wrote. He even found someone willing to port my created content to a shiny new WordPress site. So, what did I do? I took a look at the prototype site and saw a different vision. Once again I was asking my friend if he would mind if I would make some “adjustments.” Some of this may be grandiosity, some reality. I know Tom very well, and I have some understanding of his business. Two pieces of knowledge that his WordPress colleague didn’t possess.
Dear reader, you are reading this post on my WordPress blog site that I created several years ago. It was a straightforward creation that involved a few mouse clicks. I set it up with no knowledge of WordPress in about 30 minutes. On the other hand, Tom’s site is a very complicated bonafide website that is loaded with all sorts of content. I was telling him that I could improve his site and I didn’t even know how to modify a single page in WordPress. Why do I do such crazy things?
As you know by now when I don’t understand my behavior I ponder and try to figure it out. This is what I came up with:
I love learning new things, and I love intellectual challenges. Despite being slow going, there is a genuine thrill when I figure out even a small aspect of a new puzzle. Knowledge is my cocaine.
I have pride issues. I put a lot of energy and effort creating content for his original website. I want my work in a setting that adds to it and doesn’t detract from it.
I show that I care about someone by doing things for them. Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words.
I want to justify Tom’s friendship with me. I want to give him a good “return” on his investment in our connection. This realization was a surprise. In reality, I know that Tom connects with me as much for my imperfections as my strengths. I don’t need to prove my value to him, and I honestly feel that he would like me just as much if all we did was to hang out with each other. In fact, Tom is also a helper who is more comfortable taking care of, rather than being taken care of.
This need to be valuable to my friend stems back to a time in my life when I felt that I had little value. The, “I am not worth anything,” part of my life. This likely is also a reason why I did all of the extra work for my former clinic. It was a way to prove that I was worthy of my fellow doctor’s time and attention.
I am a protector. I have a strong maternal side to my personality. When I feel close to someone, I am constantly trying to make sure that they are safe and that their needs are met. I can guarantee that my friend does not need my protection. He is physically stronger than I am and has survived most of his life without my sage interventions. Luckily, Tom seems to understand my motives and tolerates my actions. He is happiest when his business is thriving. I want to make sure that his website does as much as it can do to help his business thrive. For whatever reason, I think I hold the key to making his website the best that it can be.
Conversely, my protective trait drives an immediate family member crazy. They view it as me trying to control them. In reality, I’m just trying to make sure that they have everything that they need. However, I do understand their annoyance, and I have tried to modify my behavior.
These are some of the reasons that I came up with, but that is enough writing for today. Hopefully, this post will get you thinking about how the unrelated parts of your life that are actually related to each other. Connect the dots and learn just a little bit more about yourself! Have a great day.
This week I made a change of monumental personal proportions. With that said, it was long overdue and probably would seem insignificant to anyone under 40. What did I do? I got rid of my landline phone.
When I was growing up a hardwired phone was considered essential, and it was an expensive essential at that. My home had a single, black rotary phone. Borning in its simple functionality. In those days phones were controlled by the powerful AT&T, which was essentially a monopoly.
Calling outside a limited “zone” meant an upcharge. Calling long distance was extremely expensive. Add-ons to your phone had to be purchased from AT&T at exorbitant prices. No mere mortal could afford an answering machine.
By the 1970s AT&T was forced to loosen its grip. Third party companies were allowed (by law) to connect with AT&T phone lines, and suddenly there was a tsunami of designer phones, answering machines, and other telephonic gadgets at reasonable costs. Ma Bell still had a stranglehold on infrastructure and charged accordingly. Long distance calls were still only made on very special occasions in my household; every second measured with no calls to exceed 10 minutes.
This all changed with the advent of the cellphone. My first one was a Panasonic box phone. I purchased it for almost $2000 in 1987; I was charged ten cents for every minute of airtime. The Panasonic was the size of a cigar box and had a separate handset that pulled out from the case. It had a giant gel type battery to power its circuitry, and the combination weighed so much that I had to use a shoulder strap to carry it. Even so, it was a miraculous invention, so amazing that people would stop me on the street and ask me what it was. “Can you make phone calls from that?” They would ask in awe and amazement.
Fast forward a decade, and what was novel became commonplace. Almost everyone had a cellphone. Fast forward another ten years and the world was introduced to the first iPhone. The iPhone not only changed an industry, but it also changed our culture. It was the first “smartphone” designed for people, not businesses. It was cool. It was a status symbol. Everyone wanted one.
Smartphones are now commonplace. Common with the affluent suburbanites where I live. Common with the poor folks that I treat in Rockford. Common in third world countries where it is more usual to have a cell phone than hot running water. Now that most people have their own “personal communication device,” the once-essential landline has become a dinosaur technology.
When I was active in my private practice, I kept the landline as an emergency backup. Our hardwired phone had multiple extensions in my home. I didn’t have to have my cell phone velcroed to my hip at all times as my answering service was instructed to ring the house phone at night. The landline also served as a central hub. The place where we would get reminders of doctor’s visits. The place where banks would call if they suspected fraudulent activity on our credit cards. The place where we would get our robo calls from our kid’s school when there was a snow day.
Every month I paid for the phone and the extra, but necessary services. Extra cost for voicemail, and the increasingly important caller ID.
Over the years our phone calls changed. The majority of the real calls came to us by our cell phones, but that didn’t stop our landline from being used. There was an endless number of calls from sellers, politicians, charities, and random spoofed numbers that implied that they were coming from down the block, rather than across the world. These nuisance calls become ever more prevalent, and ever more aggressive. If I didn’t pick up a call, the caller would call again and again. Calls during dinner time, calls late at night, calls early in the morning. Some telemarketers became so aggressive that I elected to spend over a hundred dollars to buy a “call blocker,” a device designed to intercept unwanted calls and hang up on them.
The landline had gone from necessary, to a backup, to an annoyance. It was time to go.
I retired at the end of 2017, and I planned to do a technology purging by the end of January 2018. Not only was I going to get rid of the landline, but also my cable TV, and my unreliable internet service.
January came and went, as did February. I wondered what was holding me back from making a simple cancellation call. As with most personal roadblocks, I started to explore what was going on.
Part of the problem centered on the fact that I had had a regular phone for so long that on a subconscious level it did seem like a necessity, even though I knew that this was no longer the case. Part of the problem centered on the fact that eliminating the landline would be an indicator that my private practice was over. Part of the problem was my fear that I would make a mistake. Since our phone, internet, and cable were all from the same provider, a mistake would leave us disconnected and technologically dead in the water. This last point resonated true. It was the main reason that I was not pulling the plug. Now that I knew what was stopping me, it was time to come up with a solution.
The solution was simple. Instead of starting one provider and ending another in a precision one-two punch, I would allow for an overlap. I would only cancel my old services once my new internet connection was in place and working to my satisfaction.
I know that this sounds obvious, but I had been thinking rigidly, and I assumed that my lack of action was because of laziness. I had to understand the “why,” before I could come up with the “how.”
You may ask why I’m writing about a utility cancellation. Like most things that I write about, there is a broader reason. How often do we get stuck continuing to do things that are not in our best interest? How often do we get stuck not making a change, when doing so would make our lives better? Could there be reasons for our actions that go beyond laziness? Have we thought about alternative way to think about a solution? Have we considered asking someone trusted if they had any thoughts on a solution? My phone issue illustrates that a little time and flexibility can sometimes turn the impossible into the possible. The same process applies to a bad relationship, a terrible job, or damaging behavior.
So often it is the little things in life that make the biggest difference. Small annoyances are like dealing with a cloud of gnats. Singularly, they have little impact. Cumulatively, they can bring us down.