Category Archives: personal growth

Getting Rid Of The Landline

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.

 

 

Evaporating Time

Evaporating Time.

Time is thought to be constant.  Something that in a Newtonian world does not vary. On my kitchen wall is an Atomic clock, so named because it has a radio receiver that listens to WWV in Fort Collins, Colorado.  That transmission consists of a signal which is synchronized precisely to the atomic clock that resides there. An instrument so precise that it measures time by the electromagnetic radiation emitted as electrons move from one energy level to another. Science and technology rely on this precision. If time were not constant, our lives would be in chaos. Global travel would be impossible; cell phones would brick, Scientific research would be meaningless, nuclear reactors would melt down. However, it seems that time is not constant for me.

I worked seven days a week as a medical student. When I rotated through senior medicine, I was fortunate that my teaching resident liked me.  During the twelve week rotation, she thoughtfully gave me a Saturday off. I was overcome with appreciation. This would mean that I would have Friday night off, and could sleep in Saturday morning if I wished.  I would also have all of Saturday to do whatever I wanted to do. It was like receiving a Christmas present in August.

Early in my professional career I worked multiple jobs, which included a busy private practice. I was on call seven days a week for my patients, and I never knew when my pager would go off.  It was hard to go into noisy places because it would be difficult to take a call on my cigar box sized cell phone. I couldn’t have a single beer. I slept very lightly. On occasion, I would get someone to cover for me.  This would give me an entire weekend to do with as I pleased. I could travel beyond my pagers range. I could leave my 7-pound phone behind. More Christmas presents for sure. However, it didn’t seem three times bigger then the single day I got as a medical student.

My career continued, and it became easier to have slices of open time.  I learned how to manage my patients, and they rarely called on weekends.  They knew that I was good about returning their calls during the week, and so they didn’t panic.  I was respectful of their needs, and so they were respectful of mine. My phones shrank in size and weight.  I no longer carried a pager. More freedom, more time. But the ratio of time to extracurricular activity did not grow proportionally.

I now work three days a week, giving me a four day weekend 52 weeks out of the year.  This four day weekend my family went to Minnesota, leaving me behind. Completely free of any obligation, my opportunities were endless.  How would I fill all of those days? I quickly came up with a todo list in my head. There would be some practical projects and household tasks.  I would do some socializing. I would take myself out to eat. I would go to a couple of movies. I might even travel to the country for a day trip.  There were many things to do, but I had four days all to myself. At the start of the weekend, my  time seemed endless.

The days came and went. I did do a few practical projects, but not all of them. I did socialize some, but not to the extent that I would have liked. I did take myself out to eat, but it was at McDonald’s. I did watch a single movie, but it was over two days and on Netflix. I did travel into the country, but only to keep my friend Tom company on a business call.  There were other things on my list, but I just never got around to do them.

It was as if time shrank.  I would wake up and do a few things; then it was time to go to bed. The cycle would repeat, and then the weekend was over. Dear reader, I had a perfectly lovely weekend, but it seemed like the activities that usually would fill one day had expanded into four. It was almost as if time had shortened, or perhaps my activities expanded.  I see this trend in other areas of my life. I am doing the things that I said that I would do. But the quantity and frequency of those activities have dramatically shrunk. It is so easy to fill my time with a conversation, or a walk, or some meditation. I am not complaining, as I think this is a natural progression as one goes from a more structured to a less structured life. However, I find it interesting.

I could come up with a rigid schedule.  I could have my phone beep commands to keep me on target. I could use an accountability partner. With that said, there is something to learn from a reduction of traditionally productive activity. A growth that comes in gentle breezes of learning that are interspersed with fewer planned experiences.

Does time shrink? Does it evaporate? It doesn’t appear to be constant in my real world.  I accept that fact, but I am unsure of its significance. Sometimes not knowing is OK.

Is time really constant?

Twenty Characteristics Of A Good Relationship: Acceptance

Twenty Characteristics Of A Good Relationship: Acceptance.

I want what I want when I want it, and I live in a world where that is possible. Eat a steak at 3 AM? Sure, there is a 24-hour restaurant nearby. Buy a pair of shoes on a Sunday evening? No problem, I can even order them from my iPhone. Watch a TV show that I missed? Easy, I’ll just stream it from my smart TV.

I live in an instant gratification world, and so it is easy to think that my wish is everyone’s command. Living in such a self-absorbed space can make me feel special, but it can also make me insensitive to the needs of others. In such an on-demand world it isn’t difficult to imagine that my relationships are also supposed to give me what I want when I want it.

Naturally, I should choose good relationships that I am compatible. However, a relationship involves two individuals, not one. The second party also has needs and wants, and some of those may be contrary to my wishes.When deciding on forming a relationship, it is crucial for me to be willing to accept the person, “as is.” It is not their responsibility to become a chameleon for me.

With that said, a good relationship can involve compromise and change. If I care about someone, I should be willing to alter my behavior as long as that change isn’t contrary to my beliefs or my sense of self. The same is correct about my relationship. I have the right to tell my relationship when something is bothering me about their actions or behaviors. However, they are the ones to decide if they are willing to change their actions, not me.

I realize that unrealistic or one-sided expectations can foretell the demise of my relationships. I need to avoid the “This person is great, but they will need to change (fill in the blank) if they are to going to have a relationship with me,” scenario. Likewise, I will not form a relationship with someone with the idea that I will “fix” them. I know that when I accept my relationships for who they are, we both will be happier. However, I do have a right to be treated as an equal, and my feelings do matter.

I understand that many relationships end because one party demands that the other change in ways that they are not ready or able to change. I also understand that poor relationships can continue to worsen because the participants are unwilling to alter their behaviors when doing so would be beneficial to them and their relationship.

I have to accept that I can only control my actions in a relationship. At times individual needs will not allow us to move our relationship forward. Because of this some of my relationships will end. I accept that not all relationships will last forever. However, by being rationally accepting and not being overly critical of my relationship, I am likely to be rewarded by the benefits that such a connection yields.

A good relationship respects the needs of both parties.

My life is like my spice cabinet

What is on your bucket list?  Going skydiving? Attending baseball games at all of the major stadiums? Buying a BMW M6?  I have a bucket list too, and I am in the process of tackling one of my items. My list has some fun goals on it, but it also has some things that I need to do for other reasons.  So what am I tackling? Cleaning out my spice cabinet, of course!

Dear reader, as I type this, I imagine you yawning as you click off this post, but I am who I am.  In our house, the spice cabinet occupies an entire three shelf kitchen cabinet. For years it has been so full that finding the most common item can require digging through its entire contents.

The cabinet serves as a repository of general baking items, such as baking powder and vanilla.  It has specialty items, like my wife’s ever-growing collection of cookie sprinkles. It has cooking items, like bouillon.  And of course, it has lots and lots of spices.

The last sentence may make you think that we are exotic gourmet cooks.  This is not the case. Like many, we buy an unusual spice to try out a recipe and then keep it.  Our cabinet has Chinese, Indian, and Cajun spices with names that I can’t even pronounce. We also have the usual spices: oregano, bay leaves, paprika, basil, thyme, cinnamon, that we use often.

 The cabinet is jammed packed, and I have wanted to clean it out for years, but the thought of doing the job was overwhelming.  Instead, I would waste time digging through unneeded items to find those common spices that I did need. I would rebuy spices that we had because I couldn’t locate them in the cabinet. The cabinet was so full that a little jostling would send these bottles to their death. It was common to have a bottle fall and shatter on the kitchen countertop when I went spice hunting, creating an unnecessary and sometimes dangerous mess.  

Yesterday I decided that enough was enough and I started the process of cleaning, eliminating and restocking.  Various jars and bottles completely covered my kitchen countertops. I sorted through them. Long expired spices went into the garbage, as did those spices that we used once and are likely never to be used again. I asked my wife if she wanted to participate in the cleanup.  She said no, and I couldn’t blame her. Her refusal has exonerated me from any future blame if I accidentally tossed out an item that she would have kept.

Today I’ll line the cabinet with shelf paper, and restock it with the saved items.  Cleaning a spice cabinet is like many life tasks. At some point, I’ll have to do it all over again.

Dear reader, if you have been following my blog, you likely realize that I find life lessons in just about everything. As humans, our responses are limited and routine. We tend to practice the same behaviors in many of our actions, whether it is in our lack of attention to a spice cabinet, or lack of attention to our lives, goals, and relationships.

These are the lessons that I learned from my spice cabinet cleaning:

  • Just like bottles of unused spices, it is easy to let unimportant things clutter up my life.
  • Keeping “brain clutter” around increases my chance of not paying attention to things that I do need to pay attention to.  The result is that unnecessary problems can come crashing down on me.
  • It is OK to give up those things that are not important to me, even if they would be considered important to someone else.
  • Sometimes I have to do the real work of cleaning this stuff out of my life, even if I don’t want to.
  • Doing this necessary work doesn’t have to be pleasant.  Necessary does not mean pleasant. Necessary means necessary.
  • When indicated, I need to include the feelings and needs of those around me when making such decisions. However, my needs also count.
  • This is not a one and done process, and I will need to repeat it once my life-clutter builds again.
  • If I do regular check-ins with myself, I will be able to deal with my life-clutter sooner. The task will become more routine, it will be easier to accomplish, and I will become more efficient at accomplishing it.
  • Just like spices, having a little variability and uncertainty adds interest to my life.  However, just like spices, too much ruins it.

Wishing you a clean spice cabinet, and just enough spice to make your life interesting!

a cabinet full of unused spices!