Adequately Present

Figuring out who you are is supposed to get easier as you get older, isn’t it?

For a couple of days each November, my body, heart, and mind go into this quiet state of anxiety and fear. I’ve written about it for the last two years (2014’s “Six Squared” and 2015’s “37”) as a way to more publicly reflect upon and share what I’ve been processing internally. This year is no different.

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Words Matter

(Image: Keflavik Airport, Iceland. Its contrast to my post struck me.)

A few years ago, I wrote a couple of blog posts about the lack of interactive and thoughtful discourse (part one & part two). I’ve been thinking about this topic again recently as I’ve watched the ability to have rational conversation deteriorate in America with little visible hope that our behavior will change in the near future. We recoil any time we hear or read something that conflicts with our worldviews. Instead of pausing to absorb the message we took in and understand where that person or group is coming from, the new “proper” response is to lash out and tell them why they are wrong. How dare someone disagree with me!

Continue reading Words Matter

Constants

“If you’re lost you can look and you will find me
Time after time
If you fall I will catch you, I will be waiting
Time after time” – Cyndi Lauper,
Time After Time

I tend to end up in positions of various circles where I am the “go-to” for advice, guidance, or simply a steady presence and listening ear. I’m the guy who “has it all together” and can be relied on. I rarely lose my cool even when stuff doesn’t go the way I would have liked or in situations when I would have had the right to respond with externally visible frustration or anger. I’ve been told people appreciate that my constant calm presence. Coworkers over the years have commented that I keep it together well during busy times or when projects or clients get crazy and I don’t complain too much. Friends say I’m a good listener and can be trusted. All of this means a lot to me, and I’ve come to grow and enjoy my role in this world.

Like many people, my life is comprised of ups and downs, things that are great, things that suck, and things that are just there. That isn’t so different from anyone else’s. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some deep, long-standing friendships that started back in my early teen years which I can lean on, one of whom includes my best friend. My mom and brother still live in the house I grew up in since birth, and that brings some unspoken comfort anytime I visit. I’ve been lucky enough to work at the same company since I graduated college.

On the flip side, I’ve also experienced loss of friendships due to distance and time; I didn’t get into my original college of choice; I’ve watched a lot of things change and people come and go at work; and perhaps most impactful, my parents divorced at an age where I can’t remember them ever being married. I’ve watched each of them find their respective ways as I’ve grown up into adulthood and continue to try and figure out my stuff on my journey.

As I get older and reflect on what I’ve been though, I wonder how that event has affected every life decision I’ve made. (In my younger days, I often wondered how my life would have turned out otherwise. Where would I have lived? Who would I have become?) How much of who I am now is directly because of growing up primarily with one parent? What did I miss out on? And consequently, what did I also gain by these experiences? Maybe a perspective on the world that fewer things should be temporary and that there’s value in holding on and making things last, even when it’s hard and (temporarily) painful and the fruits of that labor aren’t immediately apparent. It’s not usually about the long haul, but the instant results.

I’ve never been much of a risk taker, though some may see traveling internationally on your own contradicting that statement. I’m pretty cautious with most decisions and take my time with things. It often takes a while for me to open up about my personal life and when I do, it’s only with a select few. I don’t like a lot of change, at least not too closely together. The last few years are challenging me on that front a bit more than I’d prefer. On the outside, I do my best to maintain my “cool,” calm, put together exterior for the sake of others. We humans are sometimes apt to become anxious when others also show signs of anxiety and fear. The last thing I want to do is the be the source of anxiousness and concern in a world that generates more than enough of that already.

Because of all this, I want & need to have & rely on other people to rely on and trust as fully as possible. I need those constants in my life to keep me grounded when things get weird. And most days, my heart knows I have that. Faith helps keep me grounded, along with friends who get me and gently prod me in the right way.

Who or what are your constants? Will they be there ready to catch you for all that you are, time after time?

Fall in Reykjavik

Strong winds blow tonight

Whipping rain at me sideways

I try to shield myself from it

But it is a vain effort here in this place

From inside my room I still hear you

Making your presence known to all

The air and skies are not calm this evening

Yet I am comfortable, content

My heart still feels at home right now

Peaceful in the midst of this perceived gloominess

The Little Black Book of Travels

I enjoy traveling. It’s not just for the experiences and seeing new places and things, but for the mental space to think that it provides. Ever since my first international trip, I’ve kept a written journal of events and reflections from those adventures. It’s a great way to remember details about what you saw and did, but also a good time to document what’s happening in your life.

Whenever I get away from home, I start seeing things more clearly. So it’s been important for me to find some time daily to sit down and write about anything. Each trip, I usually start with a new journal and this time is no different. This year, I have my “little black book” for my more personal reflections and thoughts that rarely get shared. I recently went back to read through my 2011 sabbatical journal and was instantly transported back to so many fond memories and places I visited. I even was reminded of scents and weather where I had sat in parks or cafes to write.

Even if you don’t consider yourself an avid writer, I’d recommend everyone have their own traveling little black book to document your adventures, no matter how sparse or dense the details may be for you. These written journals turn out to be great keepsakes and a better way to go back and remember compared to your social media posts or public blog posts.

#EuroGreg2016

I guess I can’t go a full calendar year to pass without traveling somewhere that doesn’t touch Illinois’s borders. (Sorry Missouri, you’re cool but since we’re neighbors that trip doesn’t count as getting away.)

Today, I head out for almost two weeks of travel through Europe with scheduled stays in the following places:

  • Pinneberg, Germany (not far from Hamburg)
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Reykjavik, Iceland

I’m looking forward to seeing friends in Germany and exploring their hometown, along with seeing Amsterdam for the 1st time. Iceland will be a short stay, but much like seeing Sigur Ros again in concert, I suspect my short time there will feel like a mini-homecoming. The connection in that country was deep and was already there before I ever stepped foot on their land.

Since I will be traveling solo, similar to my sabbatical five years ago, expect to see some updates here on the WUGO blog with reflections either related to my travels or just to life. There are many revelations about life back home once I fly a few thousand miles away from it.

Whenever I post about the trip, I am going to be using the hashtag #EuroGreg2016. It will be an easy way to filter through posts on most social media platforms for what I’m sharing relating to my travels or if it’s something different altogether. Photos will be posted sparingly during the trip with more shared later. If you want to follow along, you can do so in the following place:

  • Visit this blog regularly (or subscribe via email for notifications)
  • Facebook
  • Instagram – @gregmacek
  • Twitter – @gmacek
  • Snapchat (yes, I use it) – add me @doclloyd16

Thanks to T-Mobile’s free international data & text roaming, I’ll be able to share relatively easily wherever I’m at.

I’m looking forward to a couple of weeks away “on holiday.” Life is always interesting and rarely sits still, but like the last few years, it has provided unique challenges in some areas. Where appropriate, I will be sharing some things here. Stay tuned for more!

Gaining, Losing, & Regaining Trust

In relationships, politics, even our interactions with businesses, there is a level of tacit understanding to trust that the other party will do what they say will do or be who they say they are. We expect parents or a significant other to unconditionally love and not intentionally hurt us; we vote someone into office to serve the country and needs of the people who voted them in; we buy from companies who create products and services we assume to be reliable and consistent.

As a baseline for conversation, trust is defined by Merriam-Webster as:

A:  assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something
b:  one in which confidence is placed

Unfortunately, humans are broken and unreliable and don’t always work or react as expected. (Corporations, being made of people, are also inherently broken in many ways.) We do stuff we shouldn’t, and it hurts others. Confidence is shaken, and character may come under scrutiny. When trust is broken or merely perceived to be lost in a relationship, how do you rebuild it? How do we want to be seen and trusted again if we’ve personally done something to lose that? Is there a level of grace and forgiveness we want for ourselves and therefore should give to others along the way?

This summer, I listened to a podcast from This American Life. The episode was titled, “The Perils of Intimacy.”  The lead story was about a woman whose life was unraveling around her and the people she thought she could trust were those behind everything bad happening to her. And yet, she couldn’t get herself to leave the person who did all these terrible things. She wanted to believe he could be trusted; she needed something stable in her life when everything else was chaos. From the outside, it’s easy to say she should have left right as soon as trust was broken. But we all know nothing is as cut and dry as TV dramas portray. Emotional connections are complicated and way more nuanced than we give them credit for. It’s why I suspect most of us don’t or can’t find ways out of unhealthy relationships or bring up issues in a productive manner.

Election seasons are an interesting time in American culture, particularly when we are called upon to choose our president. For whatever reasons, it brings out pretty terrible qualities out of us as a society. We bicker and complain to anyone within earshot about particular people’s faults far more than we call out positive qualities about those we like. This year, many people have lamented that the vote between the presidential candidates from the two major political parties is like choosing between the lesser of two evils. Nobody is content, and we all feel like we’re settling. One theme prevalent this year has been one of “can I trust this candidate?” based on their previous records and actions. Even if the quantity of “good actions” outweigh those of the “bad actions,” we focus on the negatives as reasons why they are unfit. Blame it on the overwhelming volume of negative campaigning and our love of tearing other people down or blame it on the rain. Yet, even the most cynical among us wants to trust our leaders to do a good job. What does it take for them to regain that trust or earn it for the very first time?

We want to put our faith in something other than ourselves; it’s inherent to being human. It would be a tough world to live in if we didn’t trust anybody. Even the most independent people in the world have a need to believe others on some level. Yet, we frequently fail to make strong cases on our behalf for why we should trust each other with anything. We can be awful at keeping secrets, showing up on time, following through on promises, replying to people, and being sensitive to each other.

Many of us have experienced a broken trust, probably first and most commonly by being lied to by someone who you assumed would always tell you the truth. Perhaps your experiences are in not having a faithful spouse or partner or a distant parent or a coworker who took advantage of you. It’s easy to say that once trust is broken in any relationship to want to walk away forever and be done with it. After all, that’s what we’re being told is the appropriate response in storytelling in movies or TV shows: one and done! Who needs a chance for redemption or to receive the grace from you to go, “well, maybe this person was just having an off day or moment?” or even “this person is making strides to change and I should give them another chance even though they made a mistake, right?”

What do you think happens every time you acted in a way that ended up hurting someone you care about? The lies and deceits and broken promises sting. A lot. They feel the same kind of pain too. Even if they are rare to your character, it doesn’t lessen the pain. We don’t want to be left in the cold because of one or two missteps in judgment and action.

We never want that “one and done” treatment back. We know we’re messed up. We are aware we’re going to make someone upset or break a promise but we’ll want a chance to make it better and try again. And it’s even more likely that we’re going to break a pledge many more times in the future. And we’ll want arms wide open waiting to take us back again as we figure out our way.

It’s why I’m trying to be open to the idea of second, third, and 33rd chances. I need to practice forgiveness and grace when trust is lost, even when it’s really hard to do. I need to have faith that the other person’s character is better than a couple blunders. Because I’m no better than anyone else. One day I will mess up again and I don’t want trust in me to be lost so quickly. I will need forgiveness and a chance at redemption too. Trust me.

Empty Fullness

In the pursuit of many endeavors and goals, it is easy to be caught up in the act of chasing what excites you. Adrenaline rushes in, and you tell yourself you can take on a new book right now and knock out a blog post this week and start a new friendship and kick off that initiative at work you’ve been dying to find significant chunks of time for.  But then you look at that list and realize that 1) many of your goals are not related to each other, 2) you are just one person and unable to do it all – at least do it all well, and 3) you’ve lost some of the energy and joy in the pursuit.

In the midst of trying to parallel path multiple goals, stress levels rise and I find myself retreating to comfortable and known pockets of solace. When inspiration lacks, I default to distractions that take me somewhere else. Instead of reading a novel I haven’t yet read, I revisit something I am already familiar with. “Have you seen that new show on Netflix?” Nope, decided to rewatch 30 Rock instead. (But let’s be honest, that is a good decision no matter how life is going.) New music?

All this has left me feeling quite busy and with full to-do lists, but simultaneously disconnected from my world and empty. More isn’t always better.

What’s so hard about where I feel I’m at right now is that I have very honest and heartfelt aspirations for everything I’m involved with now or in what I’d like to also take on, but I lack sufficient space to let any of them grow into what they can be. There isn’t enough room between them all in the garden. I need that negative space not just between my people time, but also in between everything else. Leaving breathing space is important, even critical for me. Any one thing in my life, from a book to writing to even making a new friend, requires the room on all sides of it to let it expand and let me internally explore and absorb it more fully.

Do fewer things better. Chase less, but what I do chase, I must chase with all my heart. Be more selective but savor those choices.