Infinite Possibilities

Happy Birthday to meeee!! 

As of today, I begin my 50th year.  What. A. Ride!!  All at once I feel pretty well-accomplished and also utterly mediocre…  Married 25 years, practicing medicine 20, parenting almost 19, blogging 7.  Such a thick tribe of friends, so many of whom showered me with love and attention today, OMG.  So much to be grateful for, there simply are not enough words.  So much love.  …I might list the myriad self-diminishing comparisons here, but naah, I grow beyond such pointlessness in my advancing age.

The Book of Regrets.  That was my original title for this post.  Would it have grabbed more attention and views?  It was an honest point of query after I listened recently to The Midnight Library by Matt Haig.  Oh my gosh, HIGHLY recommend!  In the liminal space between life and death, the main character gets to peruse her personal Book of Regrets, and sample various alternative realities wherein she made different seminal life choices.  Each path shows her both favorable and adverse subsequent events and circumstances, an infinite set of possibilities, paradoxes, and outcomes.  Perspective, my friends!  I think we consistently underestimate its value, or at least neglect to practice it in too many encounters and endeavors.  What lies ahead that I have control over and not, and that will forever send me down this path and not another?  Which of the countless choices I might make, in any given moment, may close these doors and open those?  I get giddy just thinking about it—the future is so bright, so full of infinite possibilities, and I get to live into it!  OMG can’t wait can’t wait!

https://www.facebook.com/waitbutwhy/photos/a.675997765782461/3758835197498687/?type=3

Then again, in these 49 years, my Book of Regrets can feel quite heavy.  It appears sometimes out of nowhere, dropping like a sandbag on my chest—driving to work, in the shower, looking through old photos.  Within seconds I’m haplessly pinned under guilt, shame, sorrow, and remorse, sinking in the quicksand of self-loathing and powerlessness, wishing with visceral aching that I could just go back and be a better me—a much better me—in those flash moments that I will never forget, that I may never shake.  Ugh.

Paging through my book more thoughtfully, I realize that every regret is relational.  It’s never about not studying enough, failing a test, not achieving some goal, missing some external benchmark of success.  It’s never about coming up short in social comparison to others.  It’s always about hurting someone’s feelings, diminishing their self-esteem, abuse of power, and offloading or projecting my own discomfort and judgments onto others, making them suffer because I cannot tolerate or manage my own issues.  My regrets are all moral failings.  Oh man, it feels so shitty, looking back, surveying the damage I did, the relational carnage.  Wow.

*deep breath*

“What’s done is done.”  Husband has said this since our earliest days together.  I remember how freeing it felt—I still hear his voice, so clear and firm, in the living room of our first apartment, or was it a dorm room?  I am, indeed, utterly powerless to change the past.  Thankfully, shifting into agency over my present and future comes more easily every year of life and adversity lived.  Regret is painful.  And it’s inevitable.  Learning is the best poultice for such self-inflicted wounds.  And if I can figure a way to make amends, all the better.  How could I have been a better self then, when I’m always bettering myself now?  Grace and forgiveness, I know more deeply and profoundly, may be the greatest gifts we offer one another, including ourselves.  My most sincere thanks to all who have granted these to me.

Peace and equanimity, generosity and humility, joy and love, curiosity and learning, connection and solidarity.  That’s a good, strong list of healthy aspirations, ya?

It’s been a pretty awesome 49 years.  I have received so much more than I have given.  I shake my head in humble and astonished wonder.  The good news is that these days, I write my Book of Regrets in shorter chapters and longer intervals. 

Who knows how many more years I have?  However long it is, may I compose my other Books—of Contribution and Connection, among others—with eloquence, gladness, and excellent grammar. 

The Menopause Inflection

From overlook on Ptarmigan Trail, Silverthorne, Colorado. Left to right: Buffalo Mountain, Red Mountain, Silverthorne Peak

What does the graph of your life look like? 

I imagine we’d all put something related to time or age on the horizontal axis, but what goes on the vertical?  What is meaningful to you, that is worth measuring, over a lifetime?  Joy?  Financial success/accumulation?  Education? Learning?  Status?  Growth?  Contribution?

For a long time I conceptually contrasted puberty and menopause, seeing the former as an exponential acceleration in growth and the latter a rapid decline, like the two stems of a broad arch, an upside down parabola.  This past week during a patient interview, however, a wholly different perspective dawned on me.  Menopause may signal the end of child-bearing years, of youth.  Some may perceive it only as a global decline—the unmistakable physical sign that we are now closer to the end of our life than the beginning.  But what if it’s also a new beginning, life expectancy not withstanding?

My patient and I discussed the trade-offs we are called to make throughout life—career, relationships, geography, etc.  What do we get in return for trading away our reproductive years?  For me the greatest payoffs are wisdom and confidence.  After about 5 decades of living, learning, and being in relationship with self and others, I welcome this phase of life with keenness and joy.  What a relief to have my personality and values established, to know what I stand for.  How rewarding to feel that I can walk into any room and talk to anyone, knowing fully and without question who I am, without having to compare myself to anyone around me.  How fun to find opportunities for continued learning around every corner, in domains I never thought I’d encounter, or even knew existed!  Everything I have experienced, learned, and struggled through until now comprises a thread in the tapestry of my life, and the picture gets more dense and colorful with each passing day, year, and decade.

The life graph of learning and personal growth is most interesting to me.  Superimposed on the graph of challenge and pain, I might see the lines travel in parallel trajectories—no surprise.  As the years pass, though, I see a net positive slope, a steady climb of the most meaningful curves, and menopause perhaps as a milestone inflection point, beyond which the ascent may well progress with fewer stutters and regressions, as wisdom and confidence accrue, and mission/cause come into greater focus and clarity.

I choose to see and draw my life graph this way.

Why not keep climbing until the end and go out at a peak? 

Gotta go now, I’ got work to do.

Potential and Contribution (and Books)

What things—books, movies, songs, mementos, prayers—do you return to often?  Why?

Here at the end of another shockingly abnormal year, what calls you to return, beseeches you to center, to ground, to focus, and prepare to engage hereafter from a deeper, more authentic place?

When you look back at 2021, how do you assess intensity, complexity, and relationships?  It’s a bit mind-bending for me!  For so long now the learning feels as if from a fire hose, and I’m grateful beyond measure for it all.  This week I made a feeble effort at assessing my net experience of 2021—positive or negative?  How does one even go about measuring this?  I quickly settled with satisfaction that it has simply been a year of challenge, learning, and growth.  Good enough.

Four blog posts left for the year.  I’ll include books consumed below, rather than as a separate post, and I offer the titles without comment.  This year I also include content in other media that resonated, in case you want to check them out.  Reviewing the list brings me back to the places and times where I consumed the works, and I’m a little surprised to feel comfort, more than anything else.  Huh.  What story do I tell about that?  Maybe learning is my safe and happy place?  Maybe as long as I feel like I’m gaining something—information, knowledge, connection, expertise, wisdom—then I can feel secure and confident to handle whatever comes next?

After outputting for 31 days in a row, and then a 6 day GI illness that knocked me down in a big way (be careful out there, friends, there are some nasty bugs going around!), this weekend I felt a deep longing for familiar voices and lessons.  I listened again to The Art of Possibility, and I’m halfway through Start With Why.  How funny, after all these years, I still manage to come back to the same books annually.  They refill my tank, somehow; they comfort me, inspire me.  They welcome me like a big, warm, floofy arm chair.  With and in them, I relax and breathe easier.  Then I feel refreshed, ready to tackle challenges, learning, and growth with renewed enthusiasm.

In my copy of AoP, a picture of me with Ben Zander marks the page that describes Giving the A:

(This practice) is an enlivening way of approaching people that promises to transform you as well as them.  It is a shift in attitude that makes it possible for you to speak freely about your own thoughts and feelings while, at the same time, you support others to be all they dream of being.  The practice of giving an A transports your relationships from the world of measurement into the universe of possibility.

An A can be given to anyone in any walk of life—to a waitress, to your employer, to your mother-in-law, to the members of the opposite team, and to other drivers in traffic.  When you give an A, you find yourself speaking to people not from a place of measuring how they stack up against your standards, but from a place of respect that gives them room to realize themselves.  Your eye is on the statue within the roughness of the uncut stone.

An A is not an expectation to live up to, but a possibility to live into.

A photo of Hubs and me marks the page that lists the distinctions of a vision that frames possibility:

  • A vision articulates a possibility
  • A vision fulfills a desire fundamental to humankind, a desire with which any human being can resonate.  It is an idea to which no one could logically respond, “What about me?”
  • A vision makes no reference to morality or ethics, it is not about a right way of doing things.  It cannot imply that anyone is wrong.
  • A vision is stated as a picture for all time, using no numbers, measures or comparatives.  It contains no specifics of time, place, audience, or product.
  • A vision is free-standing—it points to neither a rosier future, nor to a past in need of improvement.  It gives over its bounty now.  If the vision is “peace on earth,” peace comes with its utterance.  When “the possibility of ideas making a difference” is spoken, at that moment ideas do make a difference.
  • A vision is a long line of possibility radiating outward.  It invites infinite expression, development, and proliferation within its definitional framework.
  • Speaking a vision transforms the speaker.  For that moment the “real world” becomes a universe of possibility and the barriers to realization of the vision disappear.

Listening to these passages prompted me to wonder about my own vision.  What shining light do I see on and beyond the horizon, toward which I march with conviction and joy?  It took no time.  For my patients, my children, my trainees, people I work with—for everybody—my vision is for us all/each to realize our potential and make our best contribution.  We get to define these words and their meaning for ourselves, whenever and however we want—they are intersecting, metamorphosing.  The vision’s expression is fluid, and certainly evolves over time.  And like a Why and a Just Cause, this vision grounds me in core values, while inspiring me to reach with cheerful, optimistic audacity for possibility.  I think it fulfills the vision criteria, and anyway it’s mine and I’m keeping it—for now, at least.

My favorite books always bring me back to my center, my raison d’etre, my Why—to optimize relationships between all people.

What a fantastic time of year to revel in them yet again, to refuel and recharge for the long winter ahead.

Books and Media 2021

Books [Titles in brackets have yet to be finished]

  1. Everything is F*cked by Mark Manson
  2. Burnout by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski
  3. [Own Your Present by Candace Good, MD]
  4. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
  5. A Promised Land by Barack Obama
  6. Think Again by Adam Grant
  7. Change by Damon Centola
  8. Who You Are by Michael Spivey
  9. Persist by Elizabeth Warren
  10. Managing Transitions by William Bridges and Susan Bridges
  11. The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean
  12. [Bowling Alone by Robert D. Putnam]
  13. [The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw]
  14. The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker
  15. The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks
  16. The Culture Puzzle by Mario Moussa, Derek Newberry, and Greg Urban
  17. Tribes by Seth Godin
  18. Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong
  19. Together by Vivek Murthy
  20. Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein
  21. The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Megan Mullaly and Nick Offerman
  22. Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
  23. Eat a Peach by David Chang
  24. Becoming by Michelle Obama
  25. [A Conflict of Visions by Thomas Sowell]
  26. A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver
  27. [Navigating Polarities by Brian Emerson and Kelly Lewis]
  28. Cooked by Michael Pollan
  29. Radical Compassion by Tara Brach
  30. How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan
  31. Caffeine by Michael Pollan (Audible exclusive)
  32. This Is Your Mind On Plants by Michael Pollan
  33. The Half-Life of Marie Curie by Lauren Gunderson (Audible exclusive)
  34. Men’s Health by Daniel Goldfarb (Audible exclusive)
  35. The Wisdom of Joseph Campbell, In Conversation with Michael Toms
  36. [Humble Pi: When Math Goes Wrong in the Real World by Matt Parker]
  37. Stop Walking On Eggshells by Paul T. Mason, MS and Randi Kreger
  38. This Is Not the End by Tabetha Martin, ed (Audible exclusive)
  39. In the Pleasure Groove by John Taylor
  40. The Power of Us by Jay J. Van Bavel PhD, and Dominic J. Packer PhD
  41. Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama
  42. The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander
  43. Start With Why by Simon Sinek

Podcasts

Hidden Brain

  1. Not at the Dinner Table
  2. The Easiest Person to Fool
  3. How They See Us
  4. The Snowball Effect
  5. Useful Delusions
  6. In the Heat of the Moment
  7. Group Think

WorkLife

  1. The Real Reason You Procrastinate
  2. Relationships at Work with Esther Perel
  3. Building an Anti-Racist Workplace

A Bit of Optimism

  1. Extreme Listening with Deeyah Khan
  2. Quiet Service with General Stanley McChrystal
  3. Enchantment with Chloe Valdary

The Knowledge Project

  1. Jeff Immelt:  Leadership in a Crisis
  2. Danny Meyer:  Hospitality and Humanity
  3. Adam Grant:  Rethinking Your Position
  4. Bill Ackman: Getting Back Up
  5. Jim Collins: Relationships vs. Transactions
  6. Angela Duckworth:  Grit and Human Behavior
  7. Sendhil Mullainathan:  The Chaos Inside Us
  8. Randall Stutman:  The Essence of Leadership
  9. Lisa Feldman Barrett:  Balancing the Brain Budget

Netflix

Ugly Delicious

  1. Pizza
  2. Tacos
  3. Fried Chicken
  4. Fried Rice
  5. Stuffed
  6. Don’t Call It Curry

Chef’s Table

  1. Massimo Bottura
  2. Dan Barber
  3. Niki Nakayama
  4. Grant Achatz
  5. Dominique Crenn
  6. Gaggan Anand
  7. Ivan Orkin

Street Food: Asia

  1. Bangkok, Thailand
  2. Osaka, Japan
  3. Chiayi, Taiwan
  4. Seoul, South Korea

Cooked:  all 4 episodes

Halt and Catch Fire

TED Talk: Everything You Think You Know About Addiction is Wrong

YouTube: Eugene Lee Yang:  My First Met Gala (And How I Almost Didn’t Make It)