Tipping “Normal”: Adult Singles in America

3567904905_66cf7378da_bOne by one—but as a singular collective group—we’ve tipped “normal.” For the first time since such data has been tracked, there are more single than married adults in the US. That “I’m the only one” feeling you had walking into your first post-divorce school meeting? No longer valid.

What does this mean? I’ll leave the ramifications of changing lifestyle choices and spending priorities to the economists, but this statistical verification that we are getting better at leaving legal unions than creating them reveals disjointed and turbulent times—where we can easily connect from an Internet-cloaked distance and yet live alone in a crowd of neighbors.

This isn’t really about marriage. It is instead, a vision of our growing disconnection—where “busy” has become the standard response to “How are you?” and slow-cooked conversations have become a luxury meal. With so many fast-flying opportunities, we’ve applied efficiency beyond its “intended use,” compressing relationships to fit available calendar windows instead of creating the space to grow them well. Mobility, efficient living and a lessened focus on fundamental connection skills has left many of us as unconnected islands—more archipelago than community.

An unfortunate career or financial choice, divorce, death, chronic illness… all of these can breed isolation and start a secluding spiral. From childhood “time outs” to penally-administered solitary confinement, isolation is a clear communication of “unacceptable.” For connection-craving creatures such as us, isolation grows loneliness, and lonely people often make desperate choices to fill the unwelcome emotional space—grabbing at unhealthy behaviors to pull their heads above water, no matter how they may ultimately harm themselves or others.  From the quiet individual tragedy of an unfulfilled life to the headline-generating disenfranchisement of a generation, lack of connection leaves too many with no lifelines to support, correction and perspective with which to find their way back.

Our new “normal must include purposeful connection—born of proactive kindness and intentional interactions. Rather than networking resources, we need to connect people. Not gathering them as knots to be used in our own ascent but rather, weaving them—one to another—into society’s fabric. This is how we will harness hope, create vision and channel volatile energy into forward momentum…because the difference-making handout will never come from a government or political entity. It will be the one we stretch out to the lonely one in need of a friend.

Date Like A Grownup: Anecdotes, Admissions of Guilt & Advice Between Friends

 

Powering Change Through Proactive Kindness

kidsmilkshakePowering Change Through Proactive Kindness:

Because the Little Things Aren’t.

We esteem it in colleagues, prize it in friendships and teach it to our children. Kindness. It’s a tick up from mere politeness or tact. It’s more than a social grace or nurtured civility. It is intentional but without expectation: the measured response to a harried co-worker; the averted eye from another’s embarrassment. It’s a smile, a nod, an acknowledgement. A “good job” or a “well done!” It warms a moment and may elicit a smile.

But it can be even more…

Michael Puett of Harvard University teaches the wildly popular “Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory,” a course centered around the premise that small actions—and behaving kindly—will lead to a more fulfilling life and a better world. He boldly promises, “This course will change your life.” And students say that it does.

Kindness as a reflexive response is laudable. But kindness as an action can be life changing. Proactive kindness reaches out in unassuming ways to unsuspecting targets. It may be stealthy upon approach but is crystal clear in intention.

It encourages. Once the conveyor belt is loaded and any archaic paper coupons have changed hands, there’s no real need to converse with the grocery checkout clerk unless the asparagus rings high. But to merely stand there flipping through smart phone news updates or scanning the bargain candy is a wasted opportunity. Yes, there may be nothing bankable in this for you, but it will hold value. Stay with me…

Engage for a moment. He may not be receptive, and that’s fine—he’s working. But moving beyond the rudimentary exchange creates openings for connection. I’ve heard stories of betrayal, longing and aspiration in checkout lines, offered a few words of encouragement and then heard the shopper behind me carry on the conversation as I wheeled off with my receipt.

Most recently, there was a solitary man at a networking event. 60ish; newly unemployed. Feeling like a fish out of water, lacking the legs to venture onto new terrain. I sat next to him as he forked a salad, and we talked about the difficulty of attending an event where you know no one. The challenge of looking for work after fifteen years with a company you expected to retire from. A great guy planted in unfamiliar territory—warm, conversational, intelligent. He emailed me the next day: “After our conversation I felt more at ease…. Thank you for your kindness.” I’d seen him in conversation as I scooted home to feed my son—and hoped. Reading his email, I flat-out floated.

Helping someone rev out of a rut will impact more than that single life. It will bring possibility to the entire web within their reach. It’s a minimal expenditure of energy that can catalyze infinite potentials for the world in which your children and grandchildren will live.

It inspires. Sometimes people don’t recognize their own possibilities. Sometimes an alternate, more accurate perspective is but a pivot away. People hide hopes within themselves without even noting their quiet burial. Illuminating these gifts, spotlighting these latent talents or passions can direct steps toward a better life path.

I’d reconnected with my high school friend Brenda via Facebook. We amped our reunion to the next level over glasses of wine. And then, when I needed a photographer, I knew…

“Me?” Brenda had no grasp of her own talent, but I’d seen her Facebook portrait photos. She was working in a law office, indulging her love of photography on the side.

“Yes, you!” I described what I’d seen—her gift for capturing personality and emotion—and that she was my absolute first choice to shoot my book cover.

Would she have launched so deeply into her passion absent my affirmation? I hope so. Like to think so. Spotlighting the best in others is so “Brenda.” I only know that identifying her talent—calling it out for her to see—seemed to energize her and nudge her towards tackling numerous life challenges. I like to think my request was a puff of wind that prodded her to raise her sail.

As we weaved through an hour of traffic to watch our sons compete in a nine-minute race, my friend Danielle described a recent encounter. Two strangers were running the steps at the dam near our homes. Danielle had encouraged them as she neared her twentieth circuit, and they were, no doubt, curious about the friendly brunette with boundless energy. In the conversation that followed, she shared her fifteen pound weight loss and love of running, encouraging them in their initial foray into fitness. Eventually, one of the women asked for a photo—a selfie of the two of them—”because you are my inspiration!”

The truth is…this nameless woman inspired Danielle. My friend’s proactive kindness—a simple “you go girl” to a stranger had opened a connection that also gave Danielle a glimpse of herself in better lighting. “I don’t know her name, but she wanted a picture of the two of us. Together.” Realizing that she was an inspiration to another has actually inspired Danielle to simply continue being Danielle…reaching out to strangers without expectation—but with the intention of extending kindness.

Which kind of proves my point that…

Proactive kindness changes things. Looking for opportunities to be proactively kind pulls you into the moment. These intentional interactions integrate our separate cocoon-ish thoughts with present circumstance. Proactive kindness creates an alertness to those around us and a sense of purpose within the previously mundane. It will energize an ordinary morning at the gym and ease the pain of a seemingly aimless meeting because it is never wasted and has life beyond its point of action.

And frequently, like Danielle, we are the recipients of our own proffered gift. Acknowledging the value in another and witnessing the impact of this affirmation will, most often, feel so crazy good, it will spur us even further in the quest to be kind.

Originally published on LinkedIn.

Image Credit: By krzyboy2o/Wikimedia Commons | “Milkshake Anyone?” under Creative Commons

Donating Dreams and Gifts of Life

FBprofilephoto2Donating Dreams and Gifts of Life:

Organ Donation is the Ultimate Act of Altruism

I’m a future organ donor. The emblem is affixed to my driver’s license, and I’ve discussed my intentions with family and friends. Can’t say that I’m keeping the mileage down—my parts will be well-worn by the time anyone gets them. But the section of my brain that remembers where I’ve parked my car? Barely used at all… 

Two bone grafts and a ligament graft to my right ankle in 2012 shifted the idea of tissue and organ donation from the hypothetical to something very personal. A life changing gift of such magnitude that, as I crested 14,000 foot Handies Peak in Colorado seven months later, I cried.

Given the nature of my bone grafts, it is likely that grieving parents made the selfless choice to enable my ankle reconstruction as they grappled with the erasure of the ordinary dreams we all cherish for our children. Benevolent strangers retained the capacity to care for unknown others in the midst of heartbreak, changing my future, and potentially, the lives of fifty others per the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Encoded donor family contact information from my hospital folder provided an easy avenue to express my thanks. But it wasn’t… Easy, that is. Time and again over the weeks following my surgery, I typed out the beginnings of personal notes, only to hit “delete” as I envisioned actual families, torn by irreplaceable loss, reading my words. Imagined faces, but as real to me as the healed ankle on my own body.

They didn’t save my life, but the donations saved my active lifestyle—something of inestimable value to me. “Thank you.” “I’m sorry.” I lingered over words that would link to a critical chapter in a shortened life—and matter more than any book or article I’ll ever write.

Eventually I found them—imperfect, but genuine, and sent my message-in-a-bottle thank you, wishing that hearts healed as easily as bodies.

And I checked my donor status. I was fairly certain my decision had been formalized but was compelled to confirm. “Organ donor.” There it was: a tiny red heart at the bottom right corner of my driver’s license. I verified details on my state’s website and printed my registration.

Thinking ahead to your own death isn’t pleasant, but planning for organ donation is the ultimate act of altruism. Take the time to make your intention official. Please search for the “organ donor” website in your country. Here’s a link to the U.S. organ donor website: http://organdonor.gov/becomingdonor/stateregistries.html. Your choice will be life changing.

Divorce: Dead-end or Detour?

BenchMore men and women are finding themselves in alternate lives they didn’t really plan for. And they’re discovering that…maybe, they didn’t pack so well. Even the most amicable divorce—and few marital disconnects end in a happy handshake—can strand the unprepared on the other side of forty like a roadside ex-con palming the stub of a one-way bus ticket.

As painful as a public display of private dysfunction may be, for many, it’s what comes after the divorce that isolates, derails and depresses opportunity. All those years of raising kids while pursuing a career and growing a marriage—well, being married at least—didn’t leave much time for building more than a basic carpool-based support system. And an abrupt deposit into the fortieth, fiftieth or sixtieth decade of life absent a spouse—at a time any offspring are branching into their own separate lives can be alarming. Addressing basic changes such as housing, finances, insurances and legal ramifications is all consuming. When there is finally time to survey the new landscape, the midlife single may find that, after final social divisions, his or her circle of friends is more of a desolate dot at the edge of a crowded canvas.

Somehow, this feels shameful. No friends? Well you should have thought of that back in your thirties before you started cocooning with the hubby and kids. Now, well…it’s a little too late.

And it can feel that way. Handholding couples drift by, and all the others are in such a hurry… It’s not like anyone advertises “Friends Needed,” so the midlife single often sticks to the shadows of life—living “on pause” until they regain the “couple’s pass” for a merge back into society. This is a dangerous time for the isolated, because loneliness makes fools of us all. Looking for a relationship with which to bridge reentry often leads to more unhealthy connections, second and third divorces and diminished confidence.

Many give up, settling for cyclical shallow relationships or for silent, solitary lives. Depression can move in like heavy cloud cover. And while these single adults may have more time for careers, they’re unlikely to be performing at top capacity—insulation tends to stifle innovation and creativity.

The answer? Purposeful connection. Acting as a bridge for others, whether they be divorced, widowed, newly transplanted or simply isolated. Because this isn’t a government issue. It’s a (lack of) community issue. Which make it my issue and your issue.

Here are my three drops in the bucket:

1) Cabernet Coaches. Weekly all-inclusive “women only” gatherings that create opportunities for friendships and built-in connecting time. This is not an “until I find a relationship” commitment—it’s a lifetime, “Yay for the Girls!” celebration. Every Wednesday.

2) Coed Cabernet Nights. Informal come-one, come-all weekend get-togethers. With a broadcast email to selected connections and an open invitation to friends of friends, we gather and branch out. This isn’t a couples or singles event—it’s a “people” night. The focus is on connection rather than any relationship attachment—and the coed “cabernet” is more likely to be a lager.

3) Inclusive Readiness and Proactive KindnessBusyness has enabled a culture of polite oblivion—our eyes skirt past those at the fringes of life to follow the more engaging action in the middle. We’re planning next steps, future conversations and treading schedules that don’t allow our feet to touch down! We are isolating ourselves and quite frankly—in our race toward the horizon, we’re missing the journey’s innate joy. Inclusive readiness requires peripheral vision—an alertness to others. Proactive kindness is the action step—the willingness to pause for engagement.

Without effort, our worlds contract. Without calendar space, our connections atrophy. Without awareness, the divorce detour can be a dead end. Only through connection can the divorced and widowed build bigger, better lives.

Life Lessons From the Lab

Lily the LabSo-called teachable moments aren’t limited to parent-child discussions. Or at least they shouldn’t be. Just as a resourceful writer will repurpose good, bad and even mundane occurrences into writing material, wisdom is waiting within ordinary days for the perceptive and receptive amongst us. I once wrote a light-hearted piece on useful character traits exhibited—however unwittingly—by pets. Recently, as my chocolate lab Lily snored beneath my kitchen table—while I scrambled to complete just “one more thing” on my evergreen, renewable “to do” list, I personalized “pets” to “Lily.” But this isn’t about her. Or dogs. It’s really about you and me.

Relish Current Successes. When she’s inhaling the contents of her food dish, Lily isn’t contemplating backyard squirrels. Likewise, when sniffing and rolling around in disgusting yard finds, she isn’t yearning for a walk. Not surprisingly, she’s always pretty happy. Contented, even. In this era of efficient, Internet-enhanced living and continuously beeping calendar alarms, we see our horizons from a much greater distance than we used to. And sometimes we hold our own carrot at arm’s length to spur continual forward motion. Momentum is laudable. Necessary. But eyes continually focused on a shimmering future will miss present details. These may be important. Or not. Regardless, you can’t evaluate what you ignore.

Staying “tuned in” to the immediate grows our capacities for learning, performance and appreciation.

Make Unapologetic Choices. Lily isn’t shy about expressing preferences. She has favorites: places to dig, warm basking spots in the sun, people… Not that there aren’t redeeming and even admirable attributes in any passerby who would stoop to scratch her ears, but she is quite comfortable seeking out who and what she wants. If you toss the wrong toy, she’s likely to bring you the annoyingly squeaky one she prefers.

It’s OK to have preferences and make decisions that exclude alternatives. Sometimes we hoard our options, storing choices as chores to be completed in the future. This is unwieldy and can add unnecessary stress.

Sometimes it isn’t a matter of right or wrong but merely a matter of “yes” or “no.”

Heed Your Limits. Lily doesn’t burn out. Instead, she naps. Try to interest her in tugging on a rope after she’s had her fill, and she’ll give you the same blank expression I give some basic words after I’ve been editing too long. Knowing our own limits is key to maximizing our efforts. Exhausted brains and bodies perform at lower capacity, which can actually extend the time spent on ordinary tasks and lead to less-than-optimal results. No one else has a problem saying “no” to us. Why is it so hard to say “no” to ourselves?

Let your engine idle occasionally—and don’t let guilt or anxiety drain the benefits of restorative rest.

But Stretch Yourself. Lily’s stretches often include an impressive back paw to ear move that would horrify a beginner yoga class, but the overall concept is good. And the alternative is a creeping inflexibility that will ultimately minimize motion. If we continually work to perfect only what we already know, our focus narrows. We begin forgetting that the world is bigger than what we immediately see. Little annoyances grow into big stresses, and our lives get smaller. Stretching is riskier but leads to discoveries that will grow our lives. Which life do you want to live?

Failures provide valuable information from which to create new opportunities.

Originally published on LinkedIn.

 

The New Single Majority in America

One by one—but as a singular collective group—we’ve tipped “normal.” For the first time since such data has been tracked, there are more single than married adults in the US. That “I’m the only one” feeling you had walking into your first post-divorce school meeting? No longer valid.

What does this mean? I’ll leave the ramifications of changing lifestyle choices and spending priorities to the economists, but this statistical verification that we are getting better at leaving legal unions than creating them reveals disjointed and turbulent times—where we can easily connect from an Internet-cloaked distance and yet live alone in a crowd of neighbors.

This isn’t really about marriage. It is instead, a vision of our disconnected times—where “busy” has become the standard response to “How are you?” and slow-cooked conversations have become a luxury meal. With so many fast-flying opportunities, we’ve applied efficiency beyond its “intended use,” compressing relationships to fit available calendar windows instead of creating the space to grow them well. Mobility, efficient living and a lessened focus on fundamental connection skills has left many of us as unconnected islands—more archipelago than community.

An unfortunate career or financial choice, divorce, death, chronic illness... all of these can breed isolation and start a secluding spiral. From childhood “time outs” to penally-administered solitary confinement, isolation is a clear communication of “unacceptable.” For connection-craving creatures such as us, isolation grows loneliness, and lonely people often make desperate choices to fill the unwelcome emotional space—grabbing at unhealthy behaviors to pull their heads above water, no matter how they may ultimately harm themselves or others. From the quiet individual tragedy of an unfulfilled life to the headline-generating disenfranchisement of a generation, lack of connection leaves too many with no lifelines to support, correction and perspective with which to find their way back.

Our new “normal must include purposeful connection—born of proactive kindness and intentional interactions. Rather than networking resources, we need to connect people. Not gathering them as knots to be used in our own ascent but rather, weaving them—one to another—into society’s fabric. This is how we will harness hope, create vision and channel volatile energy into forward momentum…because the difference-making handout will never come from a government or political entity. It will be the one we stretch out to the lonely one in need of a friend.

 

*Reprinted from LinkedIn.

Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon via Compfight cc

Pin It on Pinterest