What’s your living list?

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Everyone has a bucket list, a list of things you want to do or accomplish—at least once—before you die.

Run a marathon. Climb Mount Everest. See the world. Sky dive.

Or more simply for most of us—experience as many new things as possible.

There’s nothing wrong with the bucket list. It can be a positive driver to add challenge and enjoyment to our life. A bucket list can push us, in good ways, to accomplish big things like successfully completing a marathon. It can also be a way to reward ourselves for working hard, by taking a once-in-a-lifetime trip to a dreamed about location.

But the waiting part is a little bothersome. Waiting—or wasting the day we have right in front of us—while we pursue our sometimes elusive bucket list.

In “Biography of Silence,” a book about meditation, author Pablo d’Ors encourages us to find the magic in daily life. He believes it will, one day, make our final sunset more extraordinary. “We live lives that are not ours, and that is why we die bewildered. The sad thing is not dying but doing so without having lived. Those who truly live are always willing to die; they know they have fulfilled their mission.”

This is his personal mission—what he strives for in order to treasure each day and make it meaningful. It’s not a bucket list. It’s a living list.

  1. To write only what contributes toward improving those who read me.
  2. To abstain from greed and never compare myself to my fellows.
  3. To water my plants and care for an animal.
  4. To visit the sick, converse with the lonely, and play with a child.
  5. To say my prayers, celebrate the Eucharist, and listen to the Word.
  6. To go for walks, which I find essential.
  7. To light a fire, which is also essential.
  8. To shop without hurry.
  9. To greet my neighbors, and visit with family and friends.
  10. To subscribe to a newspaper.
  11. To swim in the sea at least once a year.
  12. To read only good books.

After reflection, I developed my own living list.

  1. To watch the sun rise with a bold cup of coffee and to watch the sun set with a bold glass of red wine.
  2. To pursue truth in all things.
  3. To spend as much time as possible with my family and to rediscover the world through the eyes of a child when I’m with my granddaughter.
  4. To read abundantly—the classics, the page-turners, and the thought-provoking.
  5. To spend part of each day—even if a small part—cleaning, organizing, or tidying up because a cluttered environment clutters my contentment.
  6. To focus on living my life as the unique individual I am and not according to others’ expectations.
  7. To unapologetically car-dance every time a great song on the radio requires it.
  8. To attend as many live performances as possible—concerts and any live music, plays and musicals, speeches and book signings—to enjoy and honor the creativity of others.
  9. To arrive early for the Sunday Mass and to soak in the beauty of silence in a sacred place.
  10. To be there for others as often as I can and to forgive myself when, for whatever reason, I cannot.
  11. To wear expensive perfume daily.
  12. To look for God’s presence—which is always there—on good days and bad.

It seems absurd to have never given this a lot of thought. Maybe part of the problem is that thinking about what is personally wanted out of every day seems a little selfish.

But the message from d’Ors is that at the end of our journey, we will not feel selfish—only regretful—if our days were not treasured.

Hang on to your bucket list. But develop a daily living list, as well.

That will be a mission accomplished.

Note: Special credit to Father Ron Rolheiser and his column, “A Different Kind of Bucket List,” which enticed me to read d’Ors as well.

Addiction and friendship

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What does it mean to be a good friend?

To an active substance abuser—the addict or alcoholic.

According to a 2016 Surgeon General’s report, about nine percent of the population met diagnostic criteria for substance use disorder for either alcohol or illicit drugs, or a combination of both. Nine percent of adults in this country translates into tens of millions of people. Of that number, only 10 percent receive any type of treatment.

The tragedy doesn’t end there.

Statista.com found that an average of 38 percent of adults in this country felt that alcohol, heroin, cocaine, amphetamines and prescription drug abuse was a serious problem in their community. To say that it’s a serious problem in one’s own community indicates that one in three individuals likely knows someone who is struggling with addiction.

And that someone could be a friend of yours.

Some substance abusers are high functioning. Others cannot function at all. There’s a sadness to all of it, though, and its ripple effect reaches friendships.

Over time, usually after several years, a substance abuser’s lies, disrespect and manipulation tactics will take its toll on friendships. Friends may willingly accept this treatment in order to keep the relationship going—hoping that if they’re present enough, empathetic enough, and selfless enough that it will all be enough for the substance abuser to become well again.

All too often, that’s not what happens.

Instead, a new addiction is created. An addiction to the addict’s or alcoholic’s needs. The addiction of trying to fix problems and rescue people.

And before long, the substance abuser and the rescuer become co-sufferers.

Author David Sheff writes in, “Beautiful Boy,”—a journey with his son’s meth addiction—of the hopelessness of giving a consuming attention to another’s substance abuse. What is hard on a friendship must be many times more difficult for a father-son relationship. He quotes writer Ha Jin who once said that for ordinary people, too much suffering can only make us meaner, crazier, pettier and more wretched. Sheff acknowledges that his own addiction of trying to make his son well led him to times when he felt meaner, crazier, pettier and more wretched.

It was only with an eventual and reluctant understanding that his son was the only one who could make himself well again that he could say, “…now I feel fine, at least much of the time.”

We come into this world on our own. We’ll leave it on our own. And while we’re here, we alone are responsible for how we live it.

Sheff says, “I am no longer preoccupied with Nic. This could change, but at the moment I accept and even appreciate that he is living his life his way. Of course, I will always hope that he stays sober.”

Back to the question of, “What does it mean to be a good friend to an active substance abuser?”

Sometimes in seeking an answer to a question, we find that we’re asking the wrong one. In unpacking the question of what it means to be a good friend, we arrive at the real question which is—“What more could I have done?”

The answer is that too much, probably, has already been done.

Practicing loving detachment is difficult. Setting healthy boundaries is hard. Focusing on living one’s own life takes effort.

And it may very well be the best you can do, as a good friend.

Absentee voting should have a place, not a priority

decentralization

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Here’s an easy New Year’s resolution. It doesn’t involve weight loss, exercise or financial goals. In fact, you’d only have to alter your schedule once or a few times each year.

Make the resolution to vote at your local precinct, when possible.

Too many are voting with absentee ballots.

There’s a place for absentee voting.

According to the National Conference of State Legislators, the practice originated with Civil War soldiers. Then, members of the military who were stationed overseas were given the opportunity. By the 1970s, it became available to many more—the elderly, the disabled, the business traveler, the vacation-goer, and just about anyone for no particular reason at all.

The Election Assistance Commission now reports that two out of five votes are cast early or with an absentee ballot. It more than doubled from 24.9 million in 2004 to 57.2 million in 2016. And unfortunately, that increase is not from new voters. The majority are citizens who had historically voted on Election Day at their local precincts and are now choosing to vote with an absentee ballot.

Despite the big numbers, absentee voting has its drawbacks.

Citizens who vote an absentee ballot at home may be more susceptible to pressure from other household members to vote for particular candidates. At a precinct site, it’s just the voter and a privacy booth—with no helpful suggestions from those around you.

There’s a certain amount of trust that goes along with sending in an absentee ballot. The voter gives up ownership of the ballot to a county auditor’s office for safe handling until Election Day. But at a precinct site, the voter inserts the completed ballot into a ballot machine where it is instantly accepted and counted.

Absentee ballots must be reviewed at the county level with an absentee board. Missing signatures, signatures that do not closely match or other directions not properly followed could result in ballots that are rejected and not counted. However at the precinct site, election officials obtain information from the voter and most questions are typically addressed immediately and resolved.

The absentee ballot must be postmarked the day before the election, and yet the post office is not required to postmark absentee ballots. Probably very few in Iowa knew this until dozens of mail-in ballots in Winneshiek and Fayette counties were not counted because of missing postmarks. An Iowa House seat in that district was decided by just nine votes.

Because the absentee ballot must be mailed early, the voter runs the risk of not having late-breaking information that could sway a vote. Election Day precinct voters have current information.

And perhaps the biggest concern with absentee ballot voting is the consolidation of election power into fewer hands. There are about 1600 precincts in Iowa where voting takes place on Election Day, but there are only 99 county absentee boards.

We will always have absentee ballot voting. It’s necessary for those who truly depend upon it to exercise their right to vote.

But keeping the vote decentralized as much as possible is pretty important.

It was former President Obama who once stated, “There is no serious person out there who would suggest somehow that you could even—you could even rig America’s elections, in part, because they are so decentralized and the numbers of votes involved.”

Obama is right. A decentralized vote is the best way to run an election.

And the vote is most decentralized on Election Day at the precinct level.

More respect is needed for election outcomes

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There’s no crying over elections.

Or there shouldn’t be. It’s disrespectful to the voters who placed a particular candidate in office.

First, we had protesters and resisters over the legitimate election of President Donald Trump in 2016. Being disappointed that your candidate doesn’t win is understandable. But disrespecting the vote from those who put him in office becomes divisive.

Now, we’re seeing that same mentality creating divisiveness from the midterm elections.

Georgia candidate, Democrat Stacey Abrams, lost the governor’s race to Republican Brian Kemp by about 50,000 votes. Abrams had the support of 1,923,582 voters. That’s a lot.

But 1,978,383 Georgians voted for her opponent. That’s a little more and enough to secure the win. These facts—and people—can’t be ignored, but she still disrespected all Kemp voters when she said, “Let’s be clear: This is not a speech of concession.”

Abrams has claimed possible fraud, but evidence of it has not been produced. What she does have are certified election results—results showing that nearly 2 million Georgians voted for her opponent. It may be tough for her to acknowledge, but a thin win for Kemp is still a win.

Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, Martha McSally, also lost her election by about 50,000 votes. She lost the Arizona seat to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. Surely, McSally would have liked to focus on the support she received from 1,059,124 voters. But it would have been disrespectful of the 1,097,321 Arizona citizens who voted for her opponent. She graciously conceded the race by saying, “I wish her all success as she represents Arizona in the Senate.”

McSally understands that we’re not entitled to much, but in this country we’re still entitled to vote for the candidate of our choice. And that vote must be respected.

Losing a hard-fought election by just 50,000 votes when 2 million or 4 million are cast must be gut-wrenching. It doesn’t have to be divisive, though.

Divisiveness happens when there’s a refusal to accept that others have the right to form political opinions and vote in a way that doesn’t match your own. It isn’t what we do. It’s what we not allow others to do.

Without this considerate understanding, family and friends can morph into “deplorables” or “leftists” instead of just citizens doing their best for country and family.

And when things don’t go our way, there’s always another opportunity in two, four or six years to try again. Voters don’t always get it right, but they’re pretty good at making adjustments and corrections. Midterms are notorious for that. But in some ways, every election comes down to answering one central question, “Is an adjustment needed?”

Abrams and McSally have proven they are viable candidates with strong support. They are certainly worthy of trying again in their next election cycle, if it’s what they desire. Showing respect for the vote and all voters—whether they were for you or against you—would be a great place to start.

In the last presidential election, my three adult children all voted for a different candidate. Surprisingly, it created a sense of contentment for this fiscal conservative. They think for themselves. It’s what should be expected and then respected of every voter.

Advocate your beliefs without dismissing someone else’s. Exercise your right to vote without disrespecting the vote of others.

You will win some. You will lose some.

Nothing, at all, to cry about there.

Goals and the fun factor

new orleans map

Too often, goals aren’t any fun at all. The vision of achievement is something we like, but sometimes the process to get there can be unnecessarily unpleasant. And the vision vanishes.

Setting a goal and reaching it typically calls for some sort of adjustment. And if the adjustment were an enjoyable one, we’d already be doing it.

If the goal is to get good grades, the adjustment is to devote more time toward studying and completing assignments. Not always enjoyable.

If the goal is to be financially secure, the adjustment could be to work more, work smarter, spend less, or invest better. These options seem like more stress than fun.

And if the goal is to lose weight, the adjustment is to diet and exercise. Again, if it were enjoyable to spend our free time dieting and exercising—we’d already be doing it.

For some of us, we spend quite a few years—maybe decades—in the pursuit of weight loss. The problem is that it’s just not fun.

But what if we could switch things up and make fun the end goal, and weight loss the accidental achievement?

The key is to define what the word “fun” means to you personally. What would make your life more meaningful and just plain happier? Once you’ve established what your “fun-ness” is, find a way to work it into your goal and reward system.

This writer struggled with losing 20 pounds for about 20 years, but looking back I can see that I was doing things all wrong. The end goal was always weight loss, and that wasn’t fun.

This year, the end goal was to have fun. If I also happened to lose weight, that would be great.

For me, learning is fun. Often, that means traveling and seeing and doing new things. I rarely travel to the same location over and over again. Once I’ve been there and done that, I’m ready to strike out for new territory.

My fun-ness and I decided to take a virtual walk across the country this year, using my generic Fitbit. I left San Diego, California on January 1st. On December 31st, I’ll arrive in Jacksonville, Florida. It’s 2,338 miles. Or about 6.5 miles per day or 13,000 steps daily.

It’s intense. But I’ve enjoyed tracking my progress across the country and learning about the cities I’m traveling through, telling myself that someday I’ll return for an actual visit.

My route took me through New Orleans about mid-October, and it’s a city that I had never visited. I decided to reward myself for my walk-across-the-country efforts thus far and physically travel there, along with my daughter, my sister and a niece. It’s poetic that my year of fun landed me in the Crescent City where there’s music and great food everywhere.

There’s a sign up in the New Orleans airport that advertises one of many great restaurants in the French Quarter. This part of the airport is usually hectic with travelers impatiently standing in line, trying to get their baggage checked. I don’t usually notice advertisements here, but was drawn to this one. Its message was, “Life is meant to be lived, not endured.”

In about ten weeks, I’ll “be” in Jacksonville. Been living a pretty good and fun life this year.

And dropped 20 pounds in the process.

Policies of current president created roaring economy

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The “you didn’t build that” guy is back.

In 2012 at a campaign appearance, then President Barrack Obama said, “If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.”

Many small business owners didn’t take kindly to that remark. Every new business begins with an idea and the personal courage to follow through on it. Business ownership is an individual effort and risk. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about half of all startups fail within five years.

The Obama administration backpedaled. It tried to reinforce the message that because business owners receive benefits from the government such as public education and the use of public roads, it supports the “you didn’t build that” notion.

Surprisingly, there can be a widespread and incorrect understanding that the government is some separate entity in this country—not a 100 percent taxpayer-funded one—that provides public goods. Statements like Obama’s fuel that misunderstanding.

The reality is that the small business owner builds a business and also funds public schools and roads through taxes. That’s a lot of individual building. Not government building.

Now Obama’s back on the campaign trail, trying to help Democrats get elected in the midterms. This time, he’s attempting to take some credit for the roaring economy.

There are times when a current president benefits from a past president’s policies.

One example is the Berlin Wall. It fell during the George H.W. Bush presidency. But history books will give greater credit to his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, and his policy of peace through strength. Reagan initiated the policy and Bush maintained it. He “stayed the course.”

The same is not true for the Obama – Trump transition. Presidential candidate, Donald Trump, campaigned to reverse the course of Obama—not maintain it. Now he’s called President Trump.

Under the Obama administration, business-harming regulations escalated. One of Trump’s first moves as president was issuing an executive order that directed government agencies to repeal two regulations for every new rule enacted. According to the White House, the regulation rollback was actually 22 regulations removed for every new rule instituted during 2017.

Obama also favored tax increases. However, Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress delivered a tax cut that benefits both individuals and businesses.

And according to the National Federation of Independent Businesses, optimism among small businesses has soared. It’s been tracking it for 45 years, and it’s never been higher.

The optimism factor is very much leader-driven, and it surged directly after Trump was elected.

Juanita Duggan, NFIB’s president and CEO, states, “There is no question that the change of policy in Washington has everything to do with the increase in the optimism index.”

Historians will not connect Obama with this current economic surge, no matter how often he attempts to take credit for it at campaign rallies. Losing presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wrote a book called, “What Happened,” where she blamed everyone else for her failures. Maybe Obama will one day write a book called, “I Happened,” where he takes credit for everyone else’s successes.

Many may feel a personal dislike for Trump. Pick a tweet. Any tweet.

For some, it makes it awfully tough to acknowledge anything positive coming out of his presidency.

But small business owners are less interested in tweets and personalities than they are in policy changes that will help, and not hinder, their businesses.

And when small businesses succeed, the country succeeds. According to the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, small businesses account for more than 90 percent of all companies in the country.

It remains to be seen if Trump can sustain this roaring economy. The midterm elections will have a lot to say about that.

Until then, give credit where credit is due. Even if it’s only begrudgingly.

Under pressure? Flip your thinking

elliott

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Even those who aren’t big NASCAR fans were on the edge of their seats during the last 10 laps of the Watkins Glen International race. Winless Chase Elliott, son of NASCAR great Bill Elliott, was in the lead. The race was his 99th start in the NASCAR Cup series, and he was still looking for his first checkered flag.

Martin Truex, Jr., in the No. 78 car was right behind him. He was close. Too close. Not quite enough speed to overpower the No. 9 car. But enough speed to hang with him and wait. Wait for the slightest miscalculation from Elliott, a tiny flaw in judgment that can happen at top speeds on this winding road course, a high-pressure error that would crack open a window of opportunity to allow Truex to sail by and sink Elliott’s 99th attempt to win his first Cup race.

Life can be plenty difficult sometimes.

What was Elliott thinking during those final laps? It would be easy to curse the competition. To grumble about not being able to shake off Truex. To even allow negative thoughts to creep in of losing it just before the finish line.

Turns out he flipped it.

Not the car. His thinking.

Elliott had recently watched a video clip by Georgia coach, Kirby Smart. He talked about the enormous expectations of his football team. Last year, they played in the championship game and lost to Alabama in overtime. There is pressure for a repeat trip to that final and decisive game and this time, to come out the victor.

The coach quoted tennis legend, Billie Jean King, when he told his team that, “Pressure is a privilege.”

We tend to think too much in this world about how to remove stress and stressful expectations from our lives—that pressure is a burden.

But what if we thought differently about stress? And expectations? And pressure?

Elliott ended up winning that race. And in the post-race interview he said that pressure is a privilege.

The only reason he had pressure at that moment was because of where he was—a 22-year-old race car driver racing with the top professionals in his sport. His determination and skill set got him to the big league. It was a privilege to be among the elite. He embraced it, even though that privilege came with enormous pressure.

And he wouldn’t want it any other way. The alternative—having no stress or expectations—would not have led him to that moment. Pressure is part of accomplishing great things.

Very few are professional race car drivers, but many have pressures. Pressure to raise our kids well, to the best of our abilities, knowing that they truly are our future. Pressure to succeed in our job or our business because, at a minimum, it keeps a roof over our head and more so because we have goals we want to accomplish. Pressure in navigating the ebb and flow of personal and professional relationships.

Imagine if we had no stress or a life with no expectations placed upon us. At first, the idea of a non-stop vacation might sound pretty appealing. But after a while, we’d want more. We’d expect more. Otherwise, the days would float by in a meaningless way.

We can flip our thinking about pressure when we realize that our journey prepared us for the challenge at hand. Our life experiences build and lead us to pivotal moments, and we wouldn’t want it any other way. It means we’ve done a lot of things right to get there. And whether we win or lose, we’ll come out better for it—better prepared for the next challenge.

Then it clicks that pressure isn’t a burden, but instead a privilege.

One that we’ve earned.