How Will I Measure My Life?

Last week I lead the Come Alive program at the Haven Institute.  When I arrived on the property and discovered the group was significantly smaller than I had thought, I found myself disappointed. I imagined the week was going to be challenging because sometimes, with smaller groups, there isn’t the same level of energy, and if there is any degree of resistance among participants, it can become even greater because one person’s engagement or disengagement has a greater impact.  Plus, I wanted to cover my travel expenses and though I hate to make leading programs about the money, it is a factor. 

However, once I got to know the folks in the room everything changed.  I loved the week. Yes, Carole and I were called to be more creative in offering experiences that engaged everyone.  We could not rely on the usual structure to fill the week. But this was great and I think we both liked the challenge.  Also, with a larger group, there is less demand for my own vulnerability and personal connections, assistants and interns becoming far more connected to folks than I.  So again, this past week offered me the chance to connect on a deeper personal level with each member of the group. In the end I realized it wasn’t really the numbers that mattered at all.  The group was special because they were engaged, committed and willing to step forward throughout the week. 

This brings me to the next piece for discussion.  What measures a successful, fulfilling life?  This question surfaces for me as a result of an article forwarded to me by a colleague.  The article is the most emailed article this year from HBR (Harvard Business Review).  Here is the link in case you want to read the article yourself:

I enjoyed reading the article and quickly realized that the way I measure my life is by my level of aliveness. Aliveness to me means engagement, commitment and willingness.  When these three conditions are high I have a felt sense of fulfillment, joy and success.  In thinking about these three conditions, I realize they are each something I have a choice in creating in the context of anything my life presents. Sure there are activities that naturally invite these elements because of my own likes and dislikes. But really, even is life is presenting some stuff that is not to my fancy, I have found that attitude adjustments related to these areas can make all the difference. The Come Alive was a relatively easy example.  Because I love and am generally always curious about people, I knew that once I engaged, the rest would follow. 

There are other areas and situations in my life that are far more difficult. I have been in groups where I have disliked the path we were taking or found members of the team or group very difficult to deal with.  In those situations, my level of engagement has declined. I become less committed to outcomes, and I suspect others in the room might call me willful and not at all willing.  The degree to which I let these barometers slide without notice or attention becomes a key driver in aliveness.  For me, the worst is not cranky or willful, no, the low of lows is when I become disengaged and apathetic.  When that occurs I can go without oxygen and there is a numbness and deadness that, once set in, becomes very hard to shake.

So in the end, how I measure my life becomes a daily opportunity—a moment to moment invitation. Am I engaged? Am I committed? Am I willing? If not, what can I do to adjust?  Generally speaking, the answer involves a revealing of myself.  There is something I need to say that I am withholding or there is something I am feeling that I wish not to expose or reveal.  Once I take care of that, my aliveness returns and though things around me might not change, I see and experience the world quite differently.  I am curious, I am able to connect, and I am deeply in touch with loving myself and others in the world around me.  That, to me, is success!

It’s Showtime Here In Whitefish!

CrisMarie is engaged in the local community theater again this year. She is once again playing the part of the family maid. This year’s production of Dividing the Estate, though billed as a comedy, has some quite realistic themes of fighting over money and other dysfunctional family dynamics that can cut close to the core. Her character, Mildred, the maid, gets a bit caught up in the “When do I get the money” theme of this Horton Foote play.

I have now seen the play three times. It has not been as easy to enjoy as last year’s zany comedy, You Can’t Take it With You, but I am beginning to appreciate Foot’s ability to show a slice of middle-American life.

I think we would all prefer not to recognize how we could be one of the members of this play. I hate to think I would hire lawyers and argue about the division of money and property the day my parents die. However, I have no doubt that if feeling desperate and fearful about my own security and livelihood, I too, would likely resort to unfavorable human dynamics in order to survive.

What is interesting for me during this annual theater experience and seeing the play so many times, is that I’m seeing aspects of the characters that I would otherwise never fully appreciate. Stella, the matriarch of the family, at first pass seems controlling and demanding. Three shows later, I am much more aware of her deep desire to have her family close. Though she doesn’t listen or connect to anyone other than Doug, the older servant, I get that she wants to give something to each of them. When one of her children is in trouble, she drops her crusty attitude and does whatever is needed. Stella’s unwillingness to divide the estate is much more about keeping the family together than holding on to money and land.

I could go on with each character, but unless you live in Whitefish and are around this weekend, you may never see this play. I don’t think it is one that shows regularly.  Still, I am reminded how much I like live theater.

In my many years at the Haven with Ben and Jock, I would always enjoy listening to them share their views of plays they would see in New York City.  Each year they would spend a week or more watching two plays a day, if possible, and come back using the stories from the stage as a connecting point for all of our lives.  For them, theater was so much like life.  Throughout the year at The Haven leading groups, these guys would work endlessly with the stories of peoples’ lives.  The hardships, the pain, the joy, the craziness—would be played out in group after group.  Ben and Jock were masters at directing people and assisting them in seeing how the choices they were making in their lives provided them with possible new interpretations on ways of living.  I loved learning from them.

I get it now. Each day of my life is like live theater, always acting with some objective in mind.  There is always a back story influencing each interaction. I have lines that I use and often forget.  I have a choice at all times to either respond in the moment and connect with the others on my stage or simply live life from the script without fully making an impact or connecting.

I get it and I am grateful for my annual community theater experience, and joyful that CrisMarie loves acting.  Maybe this year I will even make it to New York City for a week of seeing plays.  I know for sure that I will be at the Haven directing, assisting and participating in the rich and wonderful stories of others who join me on that stage.  Hopefully, I’ll do as well as Mildred and the others in Dividing The Estate at bringing all of me to the stage in whatever part is mine to play!