And it’s damn near impossible to get by “just upon a smile” these days. No, we’re finding we need sandbags and evacuation plans, a flak jacket and a fake news filter, a tough skin and a soft heart—and most of all, a sense of humor and a strong faith.
I, for one, am absolutely overwhelmed with all that is going on “out there.” I don’t know what to do next, who to trust, how to help. I’ve taken up meditation, yoga, and a keen interest in personal wellness—even at a cellular level (I’m trying electro-magnetic resonance therapy at Mode Mind and Body this week) just to stay sane. I’ve become deeply interested in spiritual, emotional and physical balance, because without it, hurricanes and snipers and Washington and empty nests and ice cream will utterly defeat me. I will not be utterly defeated. I’ve been through a lot to get here. I’m not going back.
Gandhi is quoted as saying “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I know he said it because it is written on my coffee mug. Michael Jackson elaborated on Gandhi’s suggestion and now it’s an earworm in my brain I can’t silence:
I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and then make a change…
As introspective as I have always been, and as open and vulnerable as I have come to be, I still find myself struggling with some of the same-ole-same-ole issues. A few have plagued me since childhood. I have written evidence of that in diaries and journals that go back 50 years—of wanting to change in specific ways and being stymied.
I remember perusing a bookstore when I first moved to New York when I was 19 or 20. I had very little money to do much of anything in that great city, I was a little homesick, and I needed to get out of my lonely 350 square foot studio apartment. Stalking books is free. Plus, the smell of books has always made me happy.
I love the image suggested by the metaphor, “…Jumped off the shelf” at me—the thought of being enthusiastically accosted by a big friendly book. And that’s just what happened to me that day. A cleverly titled book by Tom Rusk lept into my hands, and despite my poverty, I forked out the big bucks (probably less than $10.00 in 1979) and took it home.
The book, I Want to Change but I Don’t Know How, sat on my nightstand (which doubled as my kitchen table and desk) for months, and while I know I must have gleaned some good insights from it and made positive changes that I can’t now remember, I’m just dismayed that even now, I still find myself thinking that title—I want to change, but I don’t know how.
But I’m learning. I have made some pretty big changes since then. Hard changes, permanent ones (so far), necessary changes—and every time I have embarked on one of these renovations of myself, I have usually struggled with it for such a long time—lamenting that “I don’t know how”—that I’ve surprised myself when, lo and behold, I’ve made a change. My hard work has paid off.
In 1979, it was embracing exercise as a lifelong necessity. Later it was giving up alcohol (again, as a lifelong necessity! Ha!) Most recently, it was having the guts to write and publish my story. And all of these “accomplishments” required more of me than I thought I knew how to do. And they all required that I make changes to my very character. Sounds daunting? Well it was, until I found a new way to look at it.
I have learned, in my lifelong endeavor to be the best version of myself I can be, that it ALWAYS behooves me to lead with my strengths—the qualities, talents, and passions that I already enjoy and excel at. It’s important for me to spend as much time identifying (and then employing) my strengths as I do lamenting my weaknesses. Because it is those very competencies that form the foundation that supports the hard work of changing and learning new ways of seeing and being in this wild wild world. Oh baby.
Personal change requires humility and earnestness. We’ve all heard a friend, relative or lover say, “This is just the way I am,” implying that we just need to buck up and live with their character flaws. And if that is their attitude, I suppose we must, if we want to continue in relationship with them. We all know how much fun that can be. So, if you ever, ever hear me utter those words as an excuse, defense or expression of resignation, please slap me and tell me to get over myself. I can change, and I do change in ways big and small every day.
I know what my positive attributes are, partly because I know what I enjoy, and partly because I asked. Yes, I actually went out there with my pencil and paper and asked family, friends, co-workers, even Bob, my neighbor down the street—to tell me what is good about me. Ha!
I know what my character defects are too. Did I poll my friends and family on this one too? No, I did not. Because one of my character defects is that I cannot take criticism. Besides, I’m pretty damn good at picking myself apart down to bare bones without a bit of help. I’ve been doing it my whole life. (Am I doing it now?)
But let’s not go there quite yet. Let’s start with the plus side. Bear with me as I ponder my good points. I am, by nature and by nurture, open and hospitable, expressive and introspective, trustworthy and loyal. My deepest desire is to be helpful and useful to others in meaningful ways. Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Good Lord, I’m an overgrown Girl Scout! That’s got me thinking.
I need me some merit badges—some grown-up merit badges—to wear on a metaphorical sash on my psyche. When I was a Girl Scout, I just loved those colorful little emblems of accomplishment—the Gypsy badge with the red and white hobo pack on a stick, the Hospitality badge with its steaming cup of coffee, the Dabbler badge with its collection of artists’ tools. I wanted them all, all 47 of them!
I got about three. Ha! Unfortunately, another of my character flaws is a distressing lack of persistence. I regret that, I do. But hey, there’s still time!
And, if I think about it, I’m delighted to find that I already have a few really good badges on my sash! But they didn’t just happen for me. I had to work at them.
Back in 1979 when I bought the book “I Want to Change but I Don’t Know How,” I also bought a book called “Fit or Fat” by Covert Bailey. In it, Bailey outlined as clearly as any Girl Scout Manual, the steps needed to make exercise a permanent addition to my life. I have earned the “Exercise” badge.
Later, I had to learn how to make alcohol a permanent “subtraction” from my life. Again, the steps were laid out quite clearly—12 of them, which I follow to this day. I have earned the “Don’t-be-a-dumb-ass-drunk” badge.
And most recently, I earned the “Raconteur at Large” badge. I just love this one. It’s my passion. It’s the one that comes most naturally to me, but still requires discipline and new skills. It’s the one that puts me in “the zone” or a “flow state”—that feeling of energized focus and enjoyment where I lose track of space and time. But every great story-teller needs an audience. To get the badge, I needed to publish. There must have been 300 badge requirements for this one, but I checked them all off, and published me a book.
And all of these big changes or accomplishments required more than to-do (or not-to-do) lists, behavior tweaks, and “will-power.” I had to change, not just my routines and habits, I had to—as I mentioned before—change aspects of my character to make those changes last. I’m not sure which came first though, the changed behavior or the changed personal ethos. It doesn’t matter. The results are good.
In 1979, it was perseverance and self-accountability I needed, to make the exercise habit stick. And later, to give up alcohol once and for all, I needed more humility and honesty than I even knew existed. And to tell my story and publish my book, I needed a whole lot of courage and determination.
And still, I find myself trembling under the weight of this “wild world” at times. Oh baby, baby, I find myself all serious and grave. Maybe I need to work on a “Whimsy” badge. I find myself fretful and cagey. Definitely need the “Be Still and Know…” badge. I find myself judgmental and fearful (they always go hand-in-hand with me), and I know I need a whole sashful of “Kindness” badges.
And then there are those badges that were actually listed in the pretty blue-green manual back in the day, that I’d like to revisit. I still covet that “Musician” badge—maybe learn to play the guitar or ukulele. Learn to compose songs on the piano. Or the “Drawing and Painting” badge—it says I can use poster paint, crayon, water color, pencil, charcoal or even finger paint! Even the “Cooking” badge, though I’ve been doing it for decades, is a fun one to explore. Actually, I’m currently working on that one with my friend, Cyndi. She’s the best cook I know, and we get together every other week in the kitchen to experiment with creative ways to prepare healthy meals. Then we make our husbands eat what we’ve concocted.
What about you? If you could work toward any badge—be it a character enhancing way of being in the world (e.g.—my “Don’t Be a Dumbass Drunk” badge) or simply a practical or fun new or improved life skill (e.g.—my “Give Tiny Tim a Run for His Money” badge and dust off that ukulele), what would it be?
Ted said he’d like the “Be a Better Listener” badge. (I’d like that too. Ha!) Several friends have expressed interest in the “Get Up off Your Hiney” badge, in resistance to one of Dante’s Deadlies (sloth or laziness). Another friend wanted the “Don’t be a Gladys Kravits” badge,”—also known as the “Stop Stirring the Shit” badge, or “Don’t Badmouth Others” badge. One friend simply wanted the “Eat Your Vegetables” badge and “Learn to Turn the Computer on and off Without Crashing the Internet” badge. (Okay those last two were mine—better eating habits, and enhanced technology skills, but you see where I’m going with this.)
So, what’s yours? Quick, off the top of your head, what change for the better would you like to make so that your sojourn through this wild world is a little more helpful or meaningful, or simply more fun? What would it be? What came to mind first?
Or mabe you’re already about as flawless as you’re bound to be. Hmmm. Well, everybody but your dog may beg to differ. Let me suggest the “Humble Pie Baking” badge. HahahaHA!
It’s my favorite.
Please help me write my next book, y’all—A fun, funny and useful collection of musings, meanderings, and “must-do’s” to inspire you to get those badges you may have neglected when you were twelve. Or, better yet, let’s come up with a whole sash-ful of new and improved badges.
Answer just one question: What badge or badges would, if earned, make you a more helpful, joyful or balanced human being?
If you don’t want to answer publicly on this forum or on Facebook—text, email or call me and I’ll keep it confidential. You know where to find me; I’m still not famous enough to have an unlisted number.
I’ll be keeping track of every person who responds in any way, drawing names from that list and giving away paper copies and digital downloads of “Vices”, Wiffee Cups, and other cool stuff—just in time for the Holidays!
Please be sure to visit and “like” my reincarnated Facebook Author (Speaker) page. That’s where all my Sharla Dawn at Dawn photos and musings will be posted—plus any public speaking or book promotion info. Go to Sharla Dawn Gorder (@Sharladawnstoryteller) on Facebook. Leave a review if you’re in a good mood. Ha! And if you need a “story teller” for an upcoming event, I’ll bring the graham crackers and Koolaid, and I promise to leave you smiling.