How would you perceive yourself if you could look into your own life from afar, as a distant objective observer? What would you learn? What would you change?
This morning I went to a local café as I often do on Wednesday mornings to get some space to work on big picture ideas and fire up my imagination. A bit along the lines of Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Date in The Artist’s Way.
One reason I frequent this place is that while the food, coffee and service are great, I often have the place to myself which is key. They normally get busy later in the day and at weekends, but I prefer the peace and background music as soundtrack for my thoughts.
Today I was running a bit later than normal and as I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed a car parked in my usual spot. I realize this is judgmental but it was a particular type of imported mid-range luxury car
that I often associate, in Dallas, with annoying selfish people!
I foresaw an image of a self-important individual talking on their phone or perhaps even doing a video call on speaker the whole time and disturbing my peaceful breakfast and productivity. I hadn’t had coffee at this point, I should stress.
When I got into the restaurant, I headed towards a booth I often sit in, past a customer who I felt almost glowered at me. Darkly clothed, sour expression, negative presence. Bad energy bears. Strange how you can just sense that, even without looking directly.
Since the staff know me, we had a little chit-chat and laughs, and I made my order and got started on a new blank page in my notepad. This is my happy place remember.
Somewhere along the way I noticed, but without paying too much attention, an unusual interaction between the person and the waitress. Something seemed slightly off. The person (not saying if it was a woman or a man) seemed to be asking for the bill but then had a lot more to say, the server looked sad but with a forced smile.
I went back to my coffee and page that was by now slowly filling up. Next minute, I noticed the customer snapping at the waitress over something else. They seemed pretty fired up and rude about something. This was jarring to me since I know the staff to be competent and friendly. The customer and I were in the same restaurant/place but having polar opposite experiences.
The kind of negativity I was sensing was at odds with the way I was feeling, pleasantly relaxed, so the behavior seemed pretty laughable to me as a remote observer. I wondered what kind of hateful Yelp review the person might post about the place after they’d stormed off.
After the customer finally left, I consoled with the waitress about how rude that person was. She replied in acknowledgement, and then added “it’s not the first time they’ve been here, that’s just how they are.”
Think about that for a second.
In a sense the whole series of events felt like some sort of out of body experience, like I was looking through a one-way mirror at an interrogation, or sitting watching a play.
Honestly, as much as the whole pantomime felt unnecessary and laughable to me, I also felt a twinge of recognition and embarrassment at seeing myself in the lady’s seat at times in the past.
It got my thinking to Charles Dickens' tale A Christmas Carol, The Ghost of Christmas Past, and the questions I opened the article with.
The timing of this vision seemed spot on. It’s approaching the winter solstice and a range of religious and secular celebrations ahead of the new year. Also, I’m writing a new preface and introduction to The Good Life Book for its fifth anniversary, and generally wanting to share more with you.
If you haven’t heard me say it before, I really don’t like myself when I’m writing long-form nonfiction i.e. books (short articles are the opposite).
I have to admit that I’m grumpy and often frustrated not only by my inability to string together cogent sentences that aren’t junk, but I’m doubly frustrated at how much time it takes me. Time I could be spending doing something else! I stick at it because I love trying to help, inform and entertain people. No pain, no gain. Really, I'm grateful to be able to do it. It just doesn't always feel that way while I'm doing it.
I thought about how short tempered I’ve become particularly since the pandemic, and particularly in Dallas traffic. Hasn’t anyone in this place learned to use their blinkers? Too often I’m in traffic lamenting that there isn’t some sort of way to show, indicate let's say, to the other driver that you’re planning
to turn in front of them at an intersection rather than play a guessing game. There is, Dallas, there is!!!
Anyway, I digress.
You see the story isn’t really about the customer or what car they drive. Or Dallas traffic. I apologize for my apparent judgmental attitude, and all I can say weakly in my defense is that as a writer sometimes you feel
as you go through your day that you encounter characters that are straight out of a story (or should be in one).
Dickensian characters in this case.
The story is really about the prompt for me, and us, to look at our collective behavior from an arm’s length perspective, particularly when the behavior is negative, ask why, and learn and grow from that. I’ve experienced that when I’m most critical of others is also when I love myself least.
I’ve experienced the other side to that too, a win-win over time, you bring your positive energy to others and it comes back at you twofold or even severalfold, and ripples out from there. But only if you give it with
an open heart and no expectations. I’m opposed to trying to “fake” anything, but each interaction is like a distinct mini-transaction, and you decide what you’ll invest. Really, all of life is a sum total of how you show up in individual moments. Going forward, I want to participate in more of the right version of that, and I want that for you as well!
Looking back at the past year or two, this reflection is yet another proof point for me that being alone in a darkened room writing nonfiction for long periods is not good for my emotional, spiritual and relationship health!
At least not the way I’ve been doing it in the past. Even, ironically, when I’m writing about self-help. I never want to be that person who is all hypocritical “do as I say, not as I do”. Rather, I want to fix the way I do things so I can model the type of life that I want to live, and I’m trying to help others achieve.
My frustrations and stresses have spilled over into other parts of life. I’m now prioritizing walking and meditation in addition to my usual cycling exercise. I’m prioritizing relationships with friends I haven’t kept up with, and even getting back to see colleagues in the coworking spaces I used to work in pre-pandemic.
I’ve even included the idea of User Experience as it applies to how others experience you in the M.E.A.N.S. approach, which you’ll hear more about next year. It is a start, I’ll let you know how it goes.
No doubt you’ll hear the tale of A Christmas Carol again in the near future. It is fairly ubiquitous at this time of year. I hope that from now you’ll remember this little story too, and take the opportunity to reflect,
then bring how you show up in the world to the next level.
You’ll be glad you did!