Oprah Winfrey

It is never wrong to do good

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You’ll never be faulted for doing your best.

Regardless of the outcome, always fall back on doing something for the common good.

I’m currently reading The Road to Character, a book by columnist and political pundit, David Brooks. I recently watched an interview of his with Oprah Winfrey and was so impressed with the subject matter, I purchased the book he was promoting.

Mr. Brooks talks and writes about the difference between Adam I and Adam II, the latter being the person who has lived a eulogy life, not the resume life of Adam I. You’ll need to read the book to understand the full contextual meaning, but what follows is just one of many elements that resounded with me. I provide this excerpt verbatim:

Wooden people assistanceWhen a person gives a poor man shoes, does he do it for the poor man or for God? He should do it for God …

The poor will often be ungrateful, and you will lose heart if you rely on immediate emotional rewards for your work. But if you do it for God, you will never grow discouraged.

A person with a deep vocation is not dependent on constant positive reinforcement. The job doesn’t have to pay off every month, or every year.

The person thus called is performing a task because it is intrinsically good, not for what it produces.

You see, we’re not responsible for the outcome. Most of the time, we’ll never witness how our good deeds helped another person. If our motivation was only to observe first-hand the benefits such deeds might produce, we’d stop doing good in short order. We must exercise faith and hope that our actions are not wasted.

Your ability to discern your vocation depends on the condition of your eyes and ears, whether they are sensitive enough to understand the assignment your context is giving you. As the Jewish Mishnah puts it, “It’s not your obligation to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from beginning it.”

All that we do with a clear conscience is good. We must not refrain from standing up and stepping forward. The good we do may be the beginning of a widespread process of well-being for others, or it may be the finishing touches on that which was started some time before you came into the picture.

It’s never too late to do good. Why resolutionize your intentions until next year? Start now.

 See also: Your positive imprint on mankind, Do little rather than nothing, Valuable acts of kindness, Positive community activism

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What is your calling?

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Sue Monk Kidd, author of numerous books including the New York Times best seller (for two years) The Secret Life of Bees, was a recent guest on Oprah Winfrey’s show, Super Soul Sunday.  The description of the show indicated that the author would be talking about her true calling as a writer.  That got my attention, because I’m trying my darnedest to be a writer.  Correction: I am a writer, I’m just not an author yet.

Perhaps you’re asking, “Do I have to have a calling?”

No, you don’t.  I can only speak for myself when I say that I’ve known that I’ve had a calling for most of my adult life.  I didn’t know what it was, but I knew I had one.  I always seemed to be searching for the right project/job on which to spend my time.  As an employee, and as a volunteer, I did my work superbly, always trying to be the best version of myself – and for the most part, I was.

But something was missing.  I always felt that I hadn’t latched on to what I was called to do.  I can describe how that felt by using Sue Monk Kidd’s experience when she switched from being a nurse to being a full-time writer.  For her own reasons, Sue Monk Kidd felt “out of alignment” and she didn’t feel she was “in a place of belonging” as a nurse.  She also described the time before she answered her calling as having “homesickness for (her) your home.”  Then she made the decision to be a writer and this is how she felt, “there is no place as alive as when you’re on the edge of becoming” what you were meant to be.

Exactly.

Household garage sale to raise funds for the Alzheimer's Association.
Household garage sale to raise funds for the Alzheimer’s Association.

And she added that it takes lots of courage to get there – to activate the calling that you know is yours.  Several years ago I found my niche – working with the elderly.  For six and a half years, I worked in the senior housing industry.  For five years after that, I volunteered as an Alzheimer’s Association caregiver support group facilitator, and another five years as a Certified Long-term Care Ombudsman for the State of Washington.  Good stuff, and it felt right, and it was.  But I had yet to use that wealth of experience in what I would define as my calling.

Confession: I’m a fairly decent writer.

Now hold on there, Irene, shouldn’t a calling be something at which you excel, some sort of skill that you’ve honed to perfection?  In my case, the answer is no.  Sue Monk Kidd validates what I mean.  She said there are three things you need to be a writer: 1) have something to say; 2) have the ability to say it; and 3) have the courage to say it at all.

Ergo, I am qualified.

I believe in what I'm doing.
I believe in what I’m doing.

I am one and a half years into writing my first novel.  It focuses on the lives of a group of adults who have Alzheimer’s disease or other dementia and the loved ones who are their caregivers.  Woo hoo!  All the work I’ve done in the past ten-plus years can be used in my calling!  I excelled at all of those tasks, and some day I will excel at getting my manuscript published.

Some agent and some publisher out there wants to sign what I have to offer, and I believe that my degree of writing ability won’t get in the way of them doing so.

Have no fear all you agents and publishers who might have just read that last sentence.  I am doing my best and I’m working hard at my craft.  I’m not of the opinion that just because I feel I’ve found my calling I can just haphazardly go about my writing, not working as diligently as I have in the past.

I’m taking this calling seriously because the subject matter is a serious and personal one to me.

My advice to you the reader?  Do what you know you’re supposed to be doing, and do it well.  Whether you label that as a calling or a job matters less than if you believe in what you’re doing and are committed to it.

Getting unstuck

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Living in the Present.

Fellow blogger, Kathy, has been struggling with the challenge of living her life without her mom who died from pancreatic cancer several years ago.  In the About section of her Blog, Kathy says: “On 12/4/2007 my dad said four words that would forever change my life. ‘Mom has pancreatic cancer.’  I lost my mom to this dreaded disease 348 days later.”

Learning how to live in the present while still mourning a death can be a very difficult matter.  Oftentimes we have the need to keep a person’s memory alive by reliving the journey that lead up to the death; ruminating over the whirlwind of activity after the death; and getting stuck right there – either not willing to go beyond that, or simply not having the ability to do so.

The following are very valuable statements: “You’ll get over the sadness eventually.  It’ll eventually hurt less.  But you have to get beyond where you are, because that’s what your mother would have wanted.”

Those are very true and worthwhile words, but if we’re not ready to hear them, they provide little benefit – at least initially.  Am I faulting the person making those statements when he or she did?  Absolutely not.  What I am saying, however, is that when we’re ready to truly hear those words, we will.  We’ll then be able to believe those words, and we’ll be able to practice those words.  It’s like having one of those moments that Oprah Winfrey calls, “An aha! moment.”  That’s what appears to have happened to Kathy.

Has this ever happened to you?  An acquaintance pours her heart out to you; asks for encouragement, advice, etc. and you provide compassion, suggestions, beautiful nuggets of advice, etc., and weeks, or months go by, wherein the acquaintance appears to be stuck in their dilemma, evidently ignoring your well-meaning words, and then – out of the blue – your friend calls you…(you fill in the blanks as to the situation – in this example, the person in need had been having relationship struggles)

Irene, you’ll never believe what just happened!  You know I’ve been in a funk because of my relationship challenges, right?  Just the other day I poured my heart out to someone on the bus and she suggested I do the following…

It turns out that this bus stranger told her exactly what you told her two months ago.  Are you offended?  Of course you are –  it’s happened to me and I’ve wanted to say, “Well duh – where have I heard that advice before?”  The key isn’t whose advice finally got through to her; the key is that the good advice finally got through to her.  Time for me to swallow my pride, tamp down my ego, and celebrate this friend’s good news.

English: Lightbulb. Linguistic teaching tool
Lightbulb Moment (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kathy – I celebrate with you that the right words came at the right time for you, and you are now able to take steps towards living in the present.  You’re learning how to celebrate your mother while still missing her greatly.  Three cheers for Denise for saying what she did when she did, and three cheers for you for having the ears, and a good and ready heart, to hear it.

Entering the arena of vulnerability.

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It’s not the critic who counts; it’s not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles; or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

re-enactment of a gladiator fight in the arena...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The credit goes to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred with dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly and who errs and fails, and is sometimes victorious.  But when he fails, at least he does so daring greatly.

The above is an abbreviated quote from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech, Citizenship in a Republic a/k/a The Man in the Arena, delivered at the Sorbonne in Paris, France, on April 23, 1910.

Brené Brown, PhD, paraphrased the above when appearing on Oprah Winfrey’s show, Super Soul Sunday.  I admit – I’m addicted to the types of shows that challenge the way I think, and/or that validate the way I think.  This particular show that aired on OWN March 17, 2013, floored me.  I needed it because I’m in the arena right now while in the midst of writing my first novel.

  • What if I don’t get representation by an agent?
  • What if I secure an agent, but the agency can’t sell it to a publisher?
  • What if my novel gets published, but it gets panned by book critics everywhere?

I guess if that happens I will need to be glad that I had the confidence to try; to dare to think that I could get published in the very competitive world of writing.  The following is what Brené Brown said to herself – and perhaps to others – after she was severely criticized after delivering a speech at a conference a few years ago:

If you’re not in the arena getting your butt kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.

I like her spunk because with that statement she’s basically telling her critics to suck it if they don’t care for her work – because at least she put herself out there; she showed up; she tried.  Ms. Brown says that there is no innovation and creativity without failure.  We all must take the risk to fail when we’re doing something that we know without a shadow of a doubt we were meant to be doing.

How ridiculous of me to be so concerned about what might happen, when I’ve yet to even finish my manuscript.  I believe in what I’m doing.  I’m proud of my motivation/mission statement for writing my book.  Oh my God  – I’m writing a book!  I don’t know if it will get published but that’s a concern for which I don’t have time right now.  I am only half way through writing the manuscript so I guess I’ll just have to keep showing up at my computer and get the darn thing done!

What about you?  What brings you to the arena in which you are now standing?  Or what prevents you from entering the arena?  In the very same second that you decide to enter the arena, it’s okay to be both brave and scared.

Maybe your arena is changing your career path; or getting into – or out of – a relationship.  Perhaps your arena is standing up for what you believe in and daring to express those beliefs.

You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.  Don’t wallow in regrets – walk into the arena without fearing failure or success.

The first Valentine’s Day without your loved one.

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The First Times Without.

Scan of a Valentine greeting card dated 1909.
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The above article recounts the personal feelings of a blogger who experienced his first Valentine’s Day without his wife who died on July 4, 2012.  For those of us not experiencing such a loss, we may too readily try to point out that this “holiday” is just a Hallmark greeting card day, or florists and chocolate manufactures making lots of money day.  It’s more than that – especially when so many memories are tied to the event.  Whenever a “first time without” comes around on the calendar, the dread leading up to that date can be very troublesome, as it was for this blogger.

I recently watched a show in which interior designer, Nate Berkus, said the following about the things we have in our lives:

The truth is – that things matter.  They have to because they’re what we live with and touch each and every day.

They represent what we’ve seen, who we’ve loved, and where we hope to go next.

They remind us of the good times and the rough patches and everything in between that’s made us who we are.

Events, celebrations, and the like provide the same type of life-shaping experiences.  That’s why today is far more than a commercial and financial windfall for the greeting card, floral, and chocolate industries.  Without someone with whom to celebrate the focus of this day, it becomes a non-day from which you can not escape.  Thank God for the memories, the photos, even the many things around the house that represent the touch and essence of our Valentine.

The world as we know it – the good, the bad, the ugly.

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In a recent NY Times post, Catherine Rampell writes about how the economy is affecting Baby Boomers; more specifically that it’s not just a matter of postponing retirement, it’s the need to hold down more than one job to meet the daily – and future – essentials of their lives.  Ms. Rampell is quick to point out, however, “(I)n the current listless economy, every generation has a claim to have been most injured.”  Certainly that seems to be the case as I have heard that Generation X and the Millennials have complained that Baby Boomers are to blame for the state of the economy – present and future.

English: Crowd gathering on Wall Street after ...
Crowd gathering on Wall Street after the stock market crash of October 1929. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of this I am certain – each generation before us, and every generation after us, will contribute positively and negatively to the world as we know it.  I have to believe that every generation has pointed their fingers at generations other than theirs, and talked about the good, the bad, and the ugly that permeates their times.  Let’s look at those generations as posted on CNN, American Generations Through the Years: (figures and personalities provided by the Pew Research Center and CNN)

G.I./Greatest Generation: Pre-1928; Kate Hepburn and George H. W. Bush

Silent Generation: 1925 – 1945; Martin Luther King, Jr. and Tina Turner

Baby Boomers: 1946 – 1964; Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jordan

Generation X: 1965-1980; Jay-Z and Tiger Woods

Millennials: Post 1980; Christina Aguilera and Mark Zuckerberg

We’re all struggling in some way, and we’ll continue to struggle as we mimic the overall consensus felt through all generations.  There are carefree times, and then there are all the rest of our days, and we get through them, because we must.  We’re better for it, but it doesn’t feel like that while we’re going through it.  I have to look to Brendan Marrocco, a twenty-six year old Iraq war veteran who lost all his limbs because of a roadside bomb in 2009.  In an Associated Press story, in the Seattle Times, Brendan said he could get by without his legs, but he didn’t like living without arms.  “Not having arms takes so much away from you.  Even your personality  …  You talk with your hands.  You do everything with your hands, and when you don’t have that, you’re kind of lost for a while.”

The end of January 2013, six weeks after getting a double arm transplant, Brendan said the following at a coming-out press conference about how he’s made it thus far:

Just not to give up hope.  You know, life always gets better, and you’re still alive.  And be stubborn.  There’s a lot of people who will say you can’t do something.  Just be stubborn and do it anyway.

Sobering words, and ones that force us to reassess our current situations.  I’m not trying to minimize what you might be going through, nor of what’s going on in my life.  It’s just that I personally can’t help but focus on Brendan’s plight and then consciously turn my eyes away from my me-ness, and towards other-people-ness.  Is Brendan worse off as a Millennial who lost so much but gained a huge dose of intestinal fortitude, defined as strength of character; perseverance?  If it were me, I would be wallowing in a very deep pit of self-pity.  That doesn’t seem to be Brendan’s current location.

The complexities and joys of feeling deeply.

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You know how people sometimes say, “I’m tall, because I got all the extra height that no one else got in my family,” or “Everyone else got the smarts in the family – I got what was left over.”

My kindergarten photo.

Well, for me, I think I received all the leftover emotions and feelings of every person born on May 18, 1953 because I have such deep feelings about all that goes on around me.  I’m delighted that I’m sensitive, yet I’m aggrieved as well.

How does this trait manifest itself in my life?

I can’t readily clear my mind when disturbing global or local events occur because I’m wondering how those affected are doing.

How are the survivors of a mass murder handling the mundane task of waking up each morning and putting one foot in front of the other?

How does a mother carry on after burying her child who was killed in the same car accident she was in when, through no fault of her own, a semi-truck lost its brakes and careened into her little Volkswagen?

How can anyone claim victory when a bomb takes out some enemy insurgents, and in doing so, innocent men, women, and children lose their lives?

I know I’m no different than you.  I’m certainly not special; many people experience feelings deeply.  But sometimes for me, it gets in the way of rational behavior, manifested in the following way:

When I say something to someone, I rethink and rethink, and rethink yet again whether or not I said it the right way, or with the right voice.

Or knowing that I’ll be having an important conversation with someone, I might even practice saying what needs to be said prior to offering my thoughts to someone else – and God help me, sometimes I even write it down.

Arrrggggh!  That was certainly something I inherited from my father – God rest his soul.  In my eyes, my father had the quintessential talent of preparing his words in such a way as to make the greatest positive impact on others.  Regrettably, it’s that attention to detail that sometimes gets in the way of spontaneity.

And sometimes, even when I’m convinced that what I’ve done or said is correct, I’m still very hard on myself, feeling that I’ve done or said something wrong, even when what I was trying to do was something right.

Maya Angelou has a wonderful saying that Oprah Winfrey often borrows:

“When you know better, you do better.”

Which I’ll take a step further:

When you do the best you can – with what you know – you’ve done the best you can.

I’ll take comfort in that statement and continue to be the sensitive, somewhat paranoid, person that I am.  For the most part it has worked for me, but more importantly, I hope it has worked for others.