In thought, emotion, habit, word, attitude, and consumption, may we all exercise disciplined, quiet, and humble moderation.
May we breathe deeply and observe ourselves kindly.
May we reflect on our automatic responses, however briefly, seeking understanding and grace, for ourselves as well as others.
May we practice self-compassion, in order to offer it also to others.
May we recognize the myriad inherent ‘both-and’ paradoxes of life, embrace them, and even laugh freely, mirthfully, at the complex, absurd, tragic, and natural beauty of it all. Between apparently stark and irreconcilably opposing poles, where is the Transformational Third Way? I intend to seek this path more in the coming year.
Make important decisions when you absolutely have to; before then, take your time. Take a breath and ask yourself, do I have to decide right this minute? How can I make the most of the interim?
Stand in possibility and connection. It is always possible to connect.
It’s all so much easier said than done, and I’m aggravated humbled every day at how my walk lags so far behind my talk. And yet, every breath I am given is another opportunity to try (*sigh*). All this talk is my genuine effort to nudge myself toward my highest and best. When I come to the end, assuming I’m given a moment to look back, I hope I can honestly say I did my best, and be okay with it. Come to think of it, why wait until then? Why not ask every day? Every encounter? With any given breath?
I want to die at peace, whenever and however it happens. So I commit to living in peace as much as possible. And even (especially?) this aspiration needs a moderate approach (cue cosmic laughter)!
Happy New Year, friends.
May 2022 bring us all a little closer to one another’s best selves.
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]
Everything is F*cked by Mark Manson
Burnout by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski
[Own Your Present by Candace Good, MD]
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
A Promised Land by Barack Obama
Think Again by Adam Grant
Change by Damon Centola
Who You Are by Michael Spivey
Persist by Elizabeth Warren
Managing Transitions by William Bridges and Susan Bridges
The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean
[Bowling Alone by Robert D. Putnam]
[The Secret Lives of ChurchLadies by Deesha Philyaw]
The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker
The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks
The Culture Puzzle by Mario Moussa, Derek Newberry, and Greg Urban
Tribes by Seth Godin
Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong
Together by Vivek Murthy
Why We’re Polarized by Ezra Klein
The Greatest Love Story Ever Told by Megan Mullaly and Nick Offerman
Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir
Eat a Peach by David Chang
Becoming by Michelle Obama
[A Conflict of Visions by Thomas Sowell]
A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver
[Navigating Polarities by Brian Emerson and Kelly Lewis]
Cooked by Michael Pollan
Radical Compassion by Tara Brach
How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan
Caffeine by Michael Pollan (Audible exclusive)
This Is Your Mind On Plants by Michael Pollan
The Half-Life of Marie Curie by Lauren Gunderson (Audible exclusive)
Men’s Health by Daniel Goldfarb (Audible exclusive)
The Wisdom of Joseph Campbell, In Conversation with Michael Toms
[Humble Pi: When Math Goes Wrong in the Real World by Matt Parker]
Stop Walking On Eggshells by Paul T. Mason, MS and Randi Kreger
This Is Not the End by Tabetha Martin, ed (Audible exclusive)
In the Pleasure Groove by John Taylor
The Power of Us by Jay J. Van Bavel PhD, and Dominic J. Packer PhD
Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama
The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander
I consider myself to be, wholly and without question, an Optimist—with a Big O.
In The Art of Possibility, Ben and Roz Zander describe a cynic as a passionate person who doesn’t want to be disappointed again.
By this definition, cynics are not altogether hopeless and negative; they are simply wary and cautious based on past experience. Still, I judge cynics and find them tiresome. I reject their gloom and doom outlook. Sometimes I really just want to throttle them. In their presence I turn up my outward optimism to happy headbanger volume. I can tell this makes them a little crazed—they see me as Pollyannish, idealistic, and naïve—and likely wish to strangle me, too.
And here’s the thing: I also possess a deep cynical streak; one that can really overtake my consciousness sometimes.
Every day I campaign ardently to empower myself and those around me, pointing to all the ways we can claim our agency and effect positive change. I advocate for using all of our kindness, empathy, compassion, and connecting communication skills, in every situation—take the high road! Be our Best Selves! And yet at the same time, a darker part of me, my shadow side, silently tells a contemptuous story of the forces we fight against. I paint a sinister picture in my mind of impediments made of ‘the other’ people—the small minded, the pessimistic, the underestimating, unbelieving, rigid, unimaginative, distrustful, conventional, supercilious, and condescending them. They are not like us. They are the problem.
Of course this is not true. It’s just a story I tell—a counterproductive and self-sabotaging story. How fascinating.
Sometimes I tell this unsympathetic story aloud, out of frustration, impatience, and exasperation. Sometimes I actually name people and label them all those negative things I listed. It feels justified and righteous. But then I feel guilty, as if my worse self kidnapped the better me and held my optimism hostage until I vented against my better judgment. I wonder when my words will come back and bite me in the butt? What will I do then?
I suppose I can only claim passion and disappointment. Sometimes I let the latter get the best of me and allow shadow to overtake the light. It happens to the best of us; I can own it. There is no need to disavow the disappointment and disillusionment, the dissatisfaction with what is. If I didn’t care so much—about patient care, public policy, physician burnout, patient-physician relationship, and relationships in general—I would not suffer such vexations. And it’s because I care so much that I fight on, to do my part to make it better. I stay engaged in the important conversations, even if I have to take breaks and change forums at times.
Yes, I, the eternal optimist, harbor an inner, insubordinate cynic. While most of me exclaims, “Humanity is so full of love and potential!” another part of me mutters subversively, “Also people suck.” Some days (some weeks) the dark side wins, but it’s always temporary. The Yin and the Yang, the shadow and the light, the tension of opposite energies—that’s what makes life so interesting, no? We require both for contrast and context, to orient to what is in order to see what could be.
The struggle for balance is real and at times exhausting. And it’s always worth the effort.