Category Archives: 50 on 50

50 thoughts on turning 50: #33 Question everything (or maybe not)

Screenshot of my results from the Four Tendencies quiz.

Screenshot of some of my results from the Four Tendencies quiz.

As much as I hate to admit it, I like Facebook quizzes. I know they’re created so Facebook and other companies can collect information from users, but I’m still always amazed when they give me results as if they actually have tabulated my answers and analyzed them.

So when my friend Linda shared a link to a quiz about the “Four Tendencies”, I had to try it. The quiz was created by author Gretchen Rubin as part of the research for her book, “Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits–to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life” in which she tackles the question of how we can make good habits and break bad ones.

I know it’s just part of the book marketing, but I was curious anyway. Especially because I know Rubin is the author of “The Happiness Project (Revised Edition): Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun”, in which she takes a year to explore the idea of what makes us happy. I haven’t read the book, partly because around the time it came out, I’d been exploring a somewhat similar topic and thinking about writing a book. I’d amassed a box full of notes and research. When I saw her book, I sighed and moved on to another idea.

Theoretically, anyway. What I really did was start researching the next book idea. Research isn’t writing. As my publisher well knows.

But back to the quiz. It’s a simple quiz, just a few questions about how you respond to some general situations, like making a New Year’s resolution or dealing with expectations. When I got my results, I wasn’t surprised: I’m a Questioner.

Anyone who knows me will tell you I ask a lot of questions. (Ask my friend Laura.) I over research and over analyze. I’ll ask questions about your questions and then go research the answers. So what did surprise me was that, according to the quiz, Questioners “resist outer expectations” and “meet inner expectations”.

I often do reject other people’s expectations of me. I wouldn’t say that’s been a lifelong thing; only in the past maybe 10 or 15 years have I really been able to stand up to people who boss me around, and to stop living other people’s expectations of me and living my own.

Except that in that rejection of other people’s expectations, I haven’t really been able to hold onto my own expectations of myself. I don’t feel like I ever live up to my own expections.

I let myself down. A lot.

But then I mused a bit on the quiz’s explanation:

“Questioners question all expectations, and will meet an expectation only if they believe it’s justified, so in effect, they meet only inner expectations. Once Questioners believe that a particular habit is worthwhile, they’ll stick to it—but only if they’re satisfied about the habit’s soundness and usefulness. They resist anything arbitrary or ineffective; they accept direction only from people they respect. Questioners may exhaust themselves (and other people) with their relentless questioning, and they sometimes find it hard to act without perfect information. If you’re thinking, ‘Well, right now I question the validity of the Four Tendencies framework, yep, you’re probably a Questioner!”

This is really quite accurate. I don’t just reject what other people want or expect; I do what I think is right and worthwhile and justified and respectful. As for my inner expectations? I do meet them – when I feel they’re justified.

I’m not always a slacker.

In the follow up email – because of course I signed up to get more information – I learned that Questioners are motivated by logic, fairness, and reason. They do exhaustive research and often suffer from paralysis by analysis.

And then a light bulb went off over my head: this is me, and maybe this is why I can’t finish a writing project.

It’s not that I don’t want to or that I’m not willing to do the work. It’s because, if I’m being honest, I don’t feel like anything I write has value, it doesn’t meet my own inner expectations. Outside expectations don’t matter – reader feedback or a deadline or a paycheck or even a signed book contract. What matters is what I’m thinking inside, what I’m expecting from myself: do I feel it’s quality work? Is it an idea that will bring value to other people’s lives? Is it necessary, in a world being bombarded with information, to add my creative voice to the clamor? Am I doing the best job I can do?

Probably not.

Which I know isn’t sound reasoning. I know some of my writing is good – no, great. So it’s not like I never like my own work. I just balance what I offer with what the world needs and often find myself wanting.

Of course, if I think about it, if I really believe that my creative work has no value, then am I questioning the integrity of the publications that pay me? These aren’t stupid people. They’re not giving me money to be charitable. I clearly write something they need. My publishers put out some quality stuff. They’re also dear, dear friends. But they’re not having me write a book to do me some kind of favor. I respect these people…don’t I? Maybe in not believing in their belief of me, I’m actually not respecting them?

I think it’s what Rubin means when she writes in the more detailed tendency report:

“Questioners are motivated by sound reasons—or at least what they believe to be sound reasons. In fact, to others, Questioners can sometimes seem like crackpots, because they may reject expert opinion in favor of their own conclusions.”

All of this shouldn’t surprise you. The fact that I’ve done an entire blog post based on a few lines of feedback from a Facebook quiz should give you all the proof you need that I’m a crackpot.

So what do I need to do? Stop questioning myself. Or should I?  Isn’t research good? Isn’t learning more better than not know learning more?

What I really need to do is get the book and see what Rubin suggests for breaking bad habits and starting good ones. You know, do more research.

This post is part of my series, “50 thoughts on turning 50″. It won’t surprise you that it’s been two years since I started this project and I’m just a little more than halfway. I told you when I first posted it might take me until I’m 60 to finish. Now I know why. You can  read more posts here.

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50 thoughts on turning 50: #32 Nothing but the truth (but whose truth?)

I often read Young Adult books, because I like to see how authors are dealing with difficult topics in a way that young people can understand them.

In this election cycle, I’m reminded of the YA novel “Nothing But The Truth”, by Avi. I read it years ago, and have reread it several times, because it’s an excellent portrayal of how what we see on the evening news – or, with the advent of social media, online – is only a snippet of the truth. And how that truth is filtered and distilled down through the eyes of each person involved in the process of telling the story.

Here’s the premise of the “documentary novel”: Phillip Malloy is a ninth grade student. During the morning announcements, the school has a policy that all students must stand and remain silent during the playing of the National Anthem. Phillip, however, happens to be in a homeroom with a teacher who not only tolerates tomfoolery, he joins in it himself. So Phillip talks and does homework while the teacher cracks jokes. But when the school reassigns all students to new homerooms, Phillip finds himself in Mrs. Narwin’s homeroom. She also happens to be Phillip’s English teacher. And Mrs. Narwin takes the rule of silence during the National Anthem very seriously.

Phillip continues to play the class clown and hums along with the National Anthem in his new homeroom. The more Mrs. Narwin asks for silence, the more Phillip acts up, until she sends him to the principal’s office.

What follows next is a domino effect of events: suspension from school, a civil rights lawyer, national news. It’s a game of telephone, with lives and careers at stake.

What’s so brilliant about this book is that it’s told in transcript style, so readers see the actual conversations between teacher and student, parents and child, parents and local politician, politician and local journalist. There are letters from the teacher to her sister, newspaper clippings, memos from the school board to the teachers in the district. It allows the reader to see the motives behind all of the participants: a dedicated teacher who loves her students and doesn’t want this one punished (she just wants him to stop humming during the National Anthem); a student who knows he’s being a smart ass but doesn’t want to get in trouble at home (because there are bigger issues going on here, including parents expectations at odds with a child’s wants and needs); parents and politicians with their own agendas (and not always with the child’s best interests at heart); a school board on the eve of a budget vote (and dollars often take precedence over people); a journalist with her own goals (and an inability to get the facts right); a conservative talk show host charged with stirring up controversy (and ratings).

The reader gets to see how a complex situation gets boiled down to a headline or sound bite, until a teacher is ruined, parents are vindicated, a politician is elected, and a student is left to navigate the turmoil it all leaves behind.

It’s fiction…or is it? The book was published in 1991, but the premise – the way the story is manipulated, the way the public reacts to a news story without knowing any of the real story – happens every hour of every day. And with social media, every second of every minute of every hour.

This short fiction book – you can read it in a few hours – will remind you that behind every headline is a whole story, and behind every story are real people, with real lives, and that what we pass around as truth is really nothing more than rumor.

Go read it. Now. Before you spout off on social media or forward a story you haven’t actually verified or make a judgement based on a three minute news story that doesn’t begin to tell the whole story…and ruin relationships and friendships in the process. It’s an important lesson to learn in this emotionally charged election year.

This post is part of my series, “50 thoughts on turning 50″. Read more here.

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50 thoughts on turning 50: #31 Forgiveness

Click the image to watch the video on the CBS News website

I warned you that doing a list of 50 things I’ve learned about turning 50 might take 10 years to finish. It’s a year and a half after my big day, and here we are, at #31. Hey, I’m farther along than I thought I’d be. I’m not as big a slacker as I thought! That makes it a fitting time to share a video I saw back in 2010 that resonated with me: Ben Stein, talking about forgiveness.

“You’ll be amazed at how much sunnier and roomier it is in your head and in your heart if you just get rid of everything’s that’s blocking the light,” he says.

He’s right. I remember a Bible study leader talking once about how in Greek word pictures the word forgiveness is an image of the person wronged carrying on their back the person who wronged them. Unforgiveness is futile, and we’re only hurting ourselves.  Or maybe a better illustration is a quote that’s been attributed to everyone from Buddha to Anne Lamott: ““Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.”

As we end 2015 and head into another year, maybe it’s time to clean out our hearts of resentments and anger, and start 2016 with a fresh attitude towards other people. As Stein adds, “I like doing it, and it’s really a gift for me.” And, like Stein, I think it’s time to forgive ourselves – for past sins, for not being kind to ourselves, for not being perfect humans, for shortcomings big or small … like not keeping up with writing projects …

You can see the entire video by clicking the image or visiting the CBS news website.

This post is part of my series, “50 thoughts on turning 50″. Read more here.

50 thoughts on turning 50: #30 – Protesting and Social Media

comedians in cars trevor noah

(Click image to go to website)

My social media news feeds have been filled lately with rants and lectures and quips and tirades on myriad hot button social and political topics.

I’m all for supporting causes we believe in, but I’m often left wondering how often we hit “share” or “like” on social media and feel like we’ve done some great service to social justice, when in reality all we’ve done is hit “share” or “like” on social media.

I’ve been trying to sort through my thoughts on this when I saw this week’s episode of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee”, and was struck by something guest comedian Trevor Noah said:

“People are now able to protest in their underwear. And that almost defies what protesting should be about. The whole point of a protest is to get up out of your bed, put your clothes on, walk out in to the cold and say, ‘I stand for this. I march for this.’ And now you really don’t have to have that conviction, ‘cuz you’re on the couch, in your underwear, you’re going, ‘You know what? I don’t like it, either.’ Punch in a few characters, and you’re ‘Yeah, yeah, I fought for the cause.’ No. You didn’t.”

For years I’ve struggled with this topic when it comes to church. We talk a lot about loving our neighbor, and we give to charities, and we support missionaries. But until we stand in the streets and publicly speak our mind, or get our hands dirty doing actual work, or sit down face to face with people on the other side of issues and actually inhale each other’s words in conversation, we really can’t say we’ve taken a stand, or fought for a cause, or had a discussion.

It’s easy to hide behind 140 characters and a photoshopped profile photo, easy to take a stand and argue back online when you don’t have to look someone in the eye, hear the quiver in his voice, feel the tension in the air, and be accountable for the words leaving your lips.

The other thing that struck me about this episode was Noah talking about apartheid in South Africa, and what it means to be black, white and colored (yes, those three are all different in South Africa), and growing up with parents who were illegally married (yes, in the 1980s), and what it means to live in a country where free speech was outlawed until the mid 1990s.

Really, watch the entire episode. It’ll give you something to think about.

This post is part of my series, “50 thoughts on turning 50″. Read more here.

50 thoughts on turning 50 #29: T.H.I.N.K.

Eugene de Blaas (1843-1932) The Friendly Gossip

Eugene de Blaas (1843-1932) The Friendly Gossip

Someone posed a question on Facebook recently, asking how you know when the story you’re about to tell someone is actually gossip.

Gossip. It’s a topic I’ve actually thought about quite a lot over the years.

I was at a women’s Bible study once, many moons ago. While I had been a Christian for a long time (at least in label if not necessarily in understanding), it was my first Bible study ever, my first women’s event ever, and I was really new at this church. The women broke off into small groups for prayer – another new thing for me – and started going around the table and sharing fairly lengthy stories about people they were requesting prayer for. Details that included at least first names as well as specifics about situations, illnesses, etc.

One women started talking about her baby sitter, requesting prayer for her while revealing where she lived and some specific details about her family. Turns out, I was pretty sure she was talking about a friend of my daughter, and when the story was finished I asked a question about the girl. The woman leading our group turned to me and said, “Joanne! We’re not here to gossip!”

I’m sure I turned 50 shades of red. I didn’t know any of these women, had never been to a Bible study before and was mortified that I’d been found out as an ignorant Christian. This was gossip?

The truth is, I had sat through some very detailed “prayer requests” that, if you really think about it, were just gossip. That they were shared in a Bible study didn’t change that fact. But in my zeal to learn how to be a Christian, I also learned how to share and receive prayer requests.

Yup, I learned how to be a better gossip in church. Continue reading

50 thoughts on turning 50 #28: Signs, signs, everywhere signs

EPA award 2015

Not quite two weeks ago, I was on a deadline for my humor column and battling a solid wall known as writer’s block. No amount of thinking, free writing, talking to the dogs or crying got me and farther than a few sentences for the column that was due on April 5th.

Some writers claim that there’s no such thing as writer’s block, preaching that “butt in chair” will get the writing job done. That’s a great start. But when you have to write something coherent, and funny, writer’s block is a real thing.

So there I was, banging my head against the wall trying to finish one of the dozen column ideas I had, when I thought about going on hiatus from the humor column. I’d just signed the contract for my next book – this is a local history book with a focus on Mt. Hope Cemetery – and I was thinking that maybe trying to mix two genres was going to be more difficult than I thought. I can’t just turn on the funny; it’s a lot of work and there’s a lot of mental “funny” that goes on before I sit down to write the column. I’m typically not a great multitasker, creatively speaking. I need to be in research mode full time to get the book done on schedule.

I finally got the column done, sent it to my editor – and that night learned that a humor column I wrote had won a first place Evangelical Press Association Higher Goals Award in the Humorous category. The column? “Insomnia: things that keep me awake at night”, which I wrote during another episode of writer’s block.

EPA award 002

What the judges said about my winning column. The irony was not lost on me that the column that won, while I was battling writer’s block, was a column about writer’s block.

A long time ago, in a religiously focused life, I would have taken that as a sign from God that I should not give up writing the column. And in some ways, it was a validation for me to keep writing the column while working on the book. I love writing humor, and knowing that what I write makes readers happy is important to me.

But the history book makes my publisher happy. I mean, he’s really excited about it, so the fact he gave me a contract when I pitched the book was a sign, too, right? Plus, I’m really excited about it; it feels like the right time for a project I’ve been working on for a couple of years. And I think the people I’m writing about who are dead in the graves would be excited about it, if they were able to have an opinion. (And one of them may have an opinion, given something that happened when I was walking around the grave site, talking out loud.)

But then I go back to the humor sign. What if I have writer’s block next month? And the next? What if I should have signed the contract for a different book idea I’d also pitched (which was more humor-focused)? Uh oh, did I make a mistake?

Back when I was looking for God’s direction in literally everything, I saw almost everything as a sign from God. Do this. Don’t do that. It started to feel like the song by Five Man Electric Band:

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery, breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?

It led to a condition I call Paralysis By Analysis. All of these signs got confusing, to the point that I was afraid to make any decision. I mean, I want to do what God wants me to do, right? And if I don’t do what God wants me to do, He gets mad, right? But how was I supposed to know what God wants me to do? So I ended up doing nothing, or at the very least not trying new things or exploring things outside my comfort zone.

As I’ve matured, and especially as I hit my 40s and now 50, I’ve learned that you can read anything as a sign, especially if you’re already inclined to second guess your decision.

So Lesson #27? How do you read the signs? Maybe there aren’t really any signs at all, except the ones we erect ourselves.

How do you know what does God want you to do? I think God wants you to honor him by using your talents, by taking advantage of every moment life gives you, by making other people happy and seeing God in you, in whatever way that is. Do people see joy? Kindness? Integrity? Faith? Humor? Those are the signs we need to be looking for.

Theologically sound? Probably not. But as we all know, I’ve never claimed to be a theologian and my spirituality lately is a little outside the box. I am, after all, the person who walks through cemeteries talking to the people buried there. But do consider this: don’t spend so much time looking for signs that you miss the adventure.

And because I know the song is now stuck in your head, here’s the whole thing.

This post is part of my series, “50 thoughts on turning 50″. Read more here.

50 thoughts on turning 50: #27 We are the sum of our ancestors, at least when it comes to fear

Turns out that if you scare the bejeesus out of a mouse, its offspring will be afraid of the same things.

Turns out that if you scare the bejeesus out of a lab mouse, its offspring will be afraid of the same things.

I remember, many years ago, watching an episode of “Touched By An Angel” in which the angel Monica is counseling a young girl brought up in difficult circumstances who is fearful that she’ll go on to live the same life her parents led. Monica assures the girl that just because her parents before her made bad choices in life, it doesn’t mean she has to follow in their footsteps.

“We are not the sum of our ancestors,” says the soft spoken Monica.

I wrote that quote down (as you know, I’m a quote junkie) and have mused on it often over the years. We are not the sum of our ancestors. Or are we?

According to a study out of Emory University, researchers have used olfactory conditioning to study whether or not fear can be passed on genetically to offspring. In other words, if your great grandmother had the bejeesus scared out of her by spiders, does that explain your own spider phobia? Continue reading