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.