Master of the Moment

Golden Rule #25: Enjoy the Ride. The View is Amazing!

Sometimes I think we get so focused on where we are, and where we want to be, that we forget to enjoy the ride along the way. Our life is much more than a series of things we check off a list of things to do each day. So very much more. In fact, I think the best parts of life may be the ones we don’t plan within an inch of their lives. The spontaneous moments that just sort of happen as unplanned happy accidents.

Tonight was just one of those moments. We reunited with beloved friends after several years apart, several years of lifetimes, and the hours flew by much too quickly. We relived old memories and made new ones, and reminded ourselves, there will be a next time, after more moments of lifetimes.

Copper is the master of the moment. He really doesn’t have a visible concept of the past or the future, and he makes the most of the here and the now. It is such fun to see him live his life wholeheartedly — there are no coy games with this beautiful golden boy, and when something captures his interest, he leaps in with all four feet and tail waving gaily.

copper 2

I absolutely love how Jack London puts it:

I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.

Use your time. Make the most of every moment you’re given. Make a triumph of every aspect of your life. No regrets! And no dry-rot.

Breaking It Down

Golden Rule #24: Make the Minutes Count. There’s Always Something You Can Move Forward.

You’ve probably heard the adage, if you want to get something done, ask a busy person to do it. It’s more true than you know. And there’s this, which is so true it’s not just a saying, it’s one of Newton’s Laws: a body in motion tends to stay in motion, and a body at rest tends to stay at rest.

A big job that seems overwhelming can be broken down into many manageable steps. For instance, I’ve been groaning and sighing over the state of my disorganized garage for longer than I can remember. I’d tackle it, make some headway, and then it would drift back in again. It was frustrating, overwhelming, and always there.

This summer, when my schedule turned into a weird blend of quiet weeks alone followed by less-than-predictable days of various family members coming home, I realized I had some say in things. Yes, it was still summer in Florida, and too miserably hot and humid to spend time cleaning out the garage. But if I brought the garage into, say, the dining room, a few boxes at a time, nobody was going to be disturbed. Except me, of course.

It started with nine Rubbermaid tubs. Some had Christmas decorations in them. Some had mystery contents. Nine was a manageable number, stacked against the wall. I could go through three or so in the evening after walking Copper. I set up a work station: the table cleared and ready to accept box contents for sorting. A large trash bag under the table, easily accessed. Empty boxes for items to be donated or sold. And a box for kept items to be organized and labeled for future access. I kept a file box of blank index cards handy for labeling and referencing box contents.

I apologized to the dining room almost nightly, as the piles continued to grow. Bags of trash went outside to the trash can. Boxes were loaded into the garage for yard sales and donations.

The progress, at first, was almost imperceptible. I couldn’t imagine ever getting through the load of stuff lingering in the garage. But little by little, evening by evening, weekend by weekend, it began to happen. At one point I had thirty empty Rubbermaid tubs in the dining room. Yes. Thirty. It was stunning. The decisions began to come more easily. I could lift something up and know almost instantly whether I would keep it, toss it, or recycle it. Turns out I had a lot of stuff that, while still useful, had served its purpose in my life and was ready for a new life with someone else. I could keep the memories without having to keep the stuff. That right there was life-changing!

Three garage sales. Yes. Three. In a single summer. (That’s it’s own post right there.) A plan for reorganizing the garage that, while it’s waiting for cooler weather, is going to happen before the end of the year. And so this massive project, which still would have been waiting to be tackled, is well in hand, thanks to a determination to move things forward even in small increments. It didn’t get the way it was overnight. It wasn’t going to get organized overnight. But it will happen.

How did Copper teach me about this particular life lesson? He knows all about making minutes count. When the prospect of doing 20 minutes of homework every day seemed overwhelming, he could break it down into five-minute increments of having fun together. It was a delight to see his mind challenged and his eyes focused on whatever we were tackling together. And after five minutes, if he was losing interest, it was time to stop anyway, and start again with something else a little while later. It worked beautifully. Over the course of many months, those five-minute increments were resulting in a better trained dog (and handler) than I had ever imagined. Years’ worth of work were managed five minutes at a time.

copper sleeping with canada goose

A Little Extra, For Lagniappe

Golden Rule #23: Be Memorable. In a Good Way.

The original rule reads, “Deliver more than someone expects — better, faster, cheaper, more.” And then the caveat: Be memorable. In a good way.

We’ve all heard the stories about products or service that are so appallingly bad they end up going viral, circulating in the endless stratosphere of the world wide web. You don’t want to end up there.

I dare say no one sets out to end up there. They get there without intending to. They get there because they forget in the end, we are all people, and sometimes the best solution is remembering to treat people like people.

I’ve become familiar with the statement, “Good enough for government work.” It’s kind of a low bar, to be honest. Delivering the minimum, or a shade or two below the minimum, doesn’t do much for your reputation. It makes people hesitate when someone asks about their experience working with you. That hesitation is sometimes all it takes for someone to take their business elsewhere.

These days, it seems like all it takes to really succeed in business is to show up where you say you’ll be, when you’ll say you’ll be there, and do what you agreed to do, for what you agreed to charge. Don’t overpromise and underdeliver. Just don’t do that.

If you want to be memorable in a good way, underpromise and overdeliver. Give someone more than they’re expecting. Show up early, do more, and invest yourself in their project. Think outside the box. Have a great attitude. Listen to other people, thoughtfully and thoroughly. Make sure you give better than you get.

People are usually surprised, and in a good way, when they get more than they’re paying for. Living in the south, I have learned the word ‘lagniappe.’ It means, in French, a little something extra. In his deliciously readable “Life on the Mississippi,” Mark Twain described it this way:

“It is the equivalent of the thirteenth roll in a ‘baker’s dozen.’ It is something thrown in, gratis, for good measure. The custom originated in the Spanish quarter of the city [New Orleans]. … If the waiter in the restaurant stumbles and spills a gill of coffee down the back of your neck, he says ‘For lagniappe, sah,’ and gets you another cup without extra charge.”

I love how he defines the word by showing it in action. And really and truly, that’s the whole point: define yourself and your work by showing it in action.

How has Copper taught me about lagniappe? He extracts it from me! Just about the time I think, there, that’s enough of a walk, or a game, or homework, he decides that there’s time or room for just a little more. Is he memorable? You bet! I’ve learned, when he seems unable to settle down, to ask him, what do you want? Or to do a few minutes of homework with him. Invariably his behavior improves, and so does my own outlook.

sunny side up

To Thine Own Self Be…Appropriate

Golden Rule #22: Appearance Does Matter.

Maybe it’s a Southern thing, this idea that we can roll into a place just as casual as anything and it’s going to be okay. In some cases, that’s perfectly fine. But your appearance always says something about you, whether you want it to or not.

I’ve had prospective team members show up for interviews in cargo shorts. I’ve had colleagues arrive on construction sites in flip flops. I’ve encountered clients at the beach when neither of us was dressed for the office. And while that’s all well and good, I think the word “appropriate” is important. A job interview isn’t a great time to make a bold statement with your personal appearance — unless it’s a really positive impression. And nobody expects you to be in suits and ties at the beach. There’s nothing to be proved by dressing as informally as possible, or by doing the minimum when it comes to your personal appearance. I’m not saying be obsessive. I’m saying, be appropriate.

What has Copper taught me about appearance? He’s taught me to be authentic. Whether he’s coming out of the grooming salon or parading through the house sporting every leaf that ever fell in the back yard, he’s thoroughly himself. He doesn’t put on airs. He doesn’t check his breath when he encounters a doggy friend on his walks. He doesn’t duck around another block hoping nobody sees him looking like he looks. He’s quite proud of his appearance, no matter how he actually looks.

copper over the shoulder look

The Value of Other People’s Time

Golden Rule #21: Always Be Prompt.

I grew up in a parsonage. In those years, you weren’t on time unless you were early. I didn’t really grasp that very well, and my response, when asked if I was ready, was usually “Almost!”

That, by the way, is not the right answer.

Now, in business, I work with people who are not on time unless they are early. (Karma, and not the doggie kind.) I have learned to respect and embody this quality. Am I always early? Well…no. Do I feel better when I am? Absolutely.

Punctuality is a huge tell about someone’s approach to themselves, their work, and other people. It shows respect for other people’s time. It shows that you know how to manage your own time, and even anticipate situations that might cause you to be late. I’m sure there’s an actual name for the anxiety associated with the prospect of being late. I did a little cursory research and all that did was generate anxiety about researching anxiety. So just trust me: it’s a real thing.

Copper runs on an internal clock that tells him when it’s time to get up with me in the morning, when to curl up on the bath mat outside the shower, when to go to the laundry room and stare at his leash (time for a walk!), when to nudge his food bowl hopefully, when to gently ring the bells on the back door to go outside, when to tap the freezer door with utmost care when he wants doggy ice cream, when it’s time to brush his teeth at night…he takes his cues from his environment, for sure, but he has a clock that nudges him forward. He is always, always ready to go on an adventure! And trust me: Copper is never late. 🙂

copper leashed up and ready to go!

Something We All Have in Common

Golden Rule #20: Listen More Than You Talk.

I learned a long time ago that though people are very different, they have in common a favorite subject: themselves! It’s hard to learn anything about anything or anyone if the only sound is that of your own voice. Ask questions, and listen. Cut back on the caffeine, if necessary. 🙂

I met someone a few years ago who knew my parents and brother very well, but really didn’t know me at all. (I haven’t been home much since moving to Florida, apparently.) He phrased this so beautifully: “Debbie, before today I really didn’t know much about you other than that you existed. Help me to know you better, please.” And he asked me a few questions which allowed me to share enough to round out the “family portrait.” I thought that was a very nice way of saying, “Tell me about yourself.” Which is a bit…blowsy.

Copper has driven this lesson home for me — if I bombard him with words, and tones, he really can’t figure out what I want from him. Now, if I need to talk just to vent, will he listen? Of course. Usually lying on his side with his back pressed up against me and his eyes closed. But he listens very patiently. But if I want him to hear me, and respond, I choose my words carefully, and limit them to words and phrases and tones he understands.

copper with shoes 3 months old

Cookie Cutters and Sweet Spots

Golden Rule #19: Beware the Cookie Cutter Solution.

What works great for someone else might work great for you. Then again, it might not. I have learned to be mindful of cookie cutter solutions. One size sure doesn’t fit all.

That being said, it’s always worth listening to how someone else has addressed a challenge, a question, an issue, or a problem in their own lives. Other people’s solutions drive what we wear, what we eat, what we sleep on or in, what we drive, and sometimes even what we do. Think about the seemingly endless offerings of “how to’s.” You can Google it, you can YouTube it, you can Pinterest it, you can Instagram it…all these exciting new verbs! There are podcasts, webinars, FaceTimes, video conferences, and so many more options for scooping up other people’s solutions and pouring them into the hopper. But wait! Are we then fitting the solution to our problem, or tailoring our problem to the solution?

Sometimes a quick patch just isn’t enough. Sometimes you gather the information, mull it over thoughtfully, and then determine your course of action based on what’s right and appropriate for your unique situation. It’s never a bad thing to hear the wisdom of others, but in the end, you have to own your solution, and its consequences.

When Copper was a puppy, we quickly learned that his brain emitted two strong chemicals: adrenalin and melatonin. The adrenalin rush might have made him cute as a puppy, but quickly made him tend toward wild, hard-to-handle moments involving very sharp puppy teeth. Not cute at all. We learned the “football hold,” picking him up and tucking his two front paws underneath our forearms and gently but firmly holding him in that position. Did he struggle? Usually. Eventually, we earned the long-awaited “huff” as he sighed, signaling his submission. At that point he was admitting we were in charge of the situation, and he was releasing melatonin, resulting in much calmer behavior.

post walk repose head shot

That wasn’t a mean power struggle at all. We just calmly reassured him by our body language that we were in charge, and he eventually acknowledged that fact. No yelling, no hitting, no banishing, no startling…and no cookie cutters. We just took those moments as they came, and learned to apply the correct solution to the issue, rather than fitting the issue to the solution.

That, by the way, is a short-term fix almost guaranteed not to work in the long run. It’s why the plethora of books and guides and journals and systems and plans eventually come up short. Rearranging your life to fit the solution is, in the long run, an exercise in rigidity and futility. Some modifications are inevitable, and they do become second nature. You change your diet to benefit your health, for instance. But we are so much more than the sum of our various conditions and solutions! Give yourself permission to seek “sweet spot” solutions that are outside the cookie cutter approach. You might be surprised by the results!

Doggie Karma!

Golden Rule #18: What Goes Around, Comes Around

The thought dispensed by my box of gathered thoughts today: “How people treat you is their karma. How you react is yours.” (Wayne Dyer)

In life, you can’t control what other people do or say, or what they don’t do or don’t say. That part isn’t up to you. However, how you respond to those things is up to you.

This is one of the hardest lessons to learn, for me. It transcends jobs, and workplaces, and volunteer activities, and church committees (especially those!), and just about every interpersonal interaction, whether professional, social, or family. It’s one of those things you know, and yet you still get to keep learning it.

You never know who’s watching, or listening, when something happens that you don’t expect. And you know what? They watch you, and your reaction, far more closely than they watch the event or incident that caused it. Sometimes your reaction speaks far more forcefully than any action that preceded it.

Copper and his jolly ball

Copper and his jolly ball

It was amazing to me to learn how Copper would take his cues from what was happening around him. He still does, in fact. My attitude often determined his reaction. He wasn’t about to come trotting over to me if I yelled for him to COME HERE! in a giant booming voice. But if I crouched down like I was going to play, and then turned around and tiptoed just out of sight, he came every time, mostly out of curiosity. I learned I had to be better or more appealing than whatever was causing him not to do what I wanted him to do.

How does this relate to what goes around, comes around? Doggie karma! If I want to elicit a particular reaction from Copper, I’d better make sure my action inspires it. And if I react badly to him, it’s hardly fair to expect his behavior to improve.

What goes around really does come around. We don’t get to decide when, of course, or what, or how. But we can rest in the knowledge that that is not up to us. We are only responsible for what we do and say, and how we react.

Help Wanted

Golden Rule #17: Help Others Whenever You Can.

In the course of any given day, opportunities to help others will present themselves. They just will. Usually they’ll poke their funny little heads around a corner when you’re not looking for them, or when it’s really inconvenient, or when you feel like maybe instead of helping someone else, you could use a little help yourself. Your hands will be full, or you’ll be thinking about something completely different, or you’ll be in a hurry, and suddenly you’ll realize, there is something I can do to help that person. Maybe it’s a really simple thing like letting them out of a parking spot when traffic is backed up. Maybe it’s helping a guy load an unwieldy sheet of plywood in his truck bed on a windy day. Maybe it’s holding a door open, or letting someone go ahead of you in line somewhere, or doing some thankless little thing that no one will see or notice. It’s still the right thing to do. Do it anyway.

When I drive out to Pensacola Beach, the last bridge we cross to get there is a toll bridge. It costs a whole dollar to get onto Santa Rosa Island. A buck to get to the beach. Best value in town. Before I pull up to the toll booth, I make sure I have my dollar ready, and I have another dollar ready to pay the toll for the person behind me. I absolutely love doing that. They can’t thank me. They don’t know me, and I don’t know them. I can’t see their reaction when they’re told that their toll was paid. Pretty sure if they’ve made it to the toll booth, they’re ready to pay, so it’s not about the money. Nope. It just makes me feel good, giving that tiny little gift to a complete stranger. One time, somebody did that for me, and I just loved it. Made my whole day.

When Steve and I were first married, we had no money. Christmas arrived, and we had absolutely no funds to buy gifts. Someone anonymously gave us $100. To us, that was huge, and we promptly scurried out and bought gifts for our families. They were “nothing” gifts purchased at a local drug store. The internet hadn’t yet burst onto the scene, and stores were scarce and sparsely stocked. Still, that anonymous gift meant everything to us. Receiving it made it possible for us to give gifts to others.

Pensive Copper in Kitchen

How does Copper help others? Well, he’s a big fan of the spontaneous butt sniff, but that isn’t always well received. Copper has a gift: he can tell when someone is sad or upset, and he makes it his personal mission to comfort them and calm them down. He staples them to the floor with his large golden self, and his very presence is a reassuring gift.

If you look for the negative things in life, you will find them everywhere. And if you look for ways to be helpful and courteous, you will likely be astonished by the fact that they far outnumber the negative things. It will change your focus and your outlook. Try it! You’ll like it!

The Things That Speak to Your Soul

Golden Rule #16: Feed Your Muse.

copper nose on pillow

I love this one. I really do.

What in the world is a muse?

Put very simply, it is a source of inspiration. Some call it a guiding genius. You can have more than one muse. (Note: the title of this rule is not choose your muse. That’s another lesson for another time.)

In life, in the myriad of things you do because you have to, or because no one else will, or because you just want to keep the peace, there are a few things that speak to your soul. You know what they are. And what speaks to you might not mean a thing to the person right next to you. It’s okay. We don’t all have to share a single muse.

But know this: you do have a muse, whether you know it or not. It might be a person, or a place, or an event. It might be more than one thing. It might be a line in a movie, or a reassuring pat on the back from someone you love and trust. It might be the thing that grounds you when your circumstances are uncertain. And it can change.

Feed it. Nurture it. Listen to it. Give it a voice. Give its voice volume over all the negative notions swirling around you. Read it, again and again. Listen to it like a favorite piece of music. Keep it close by, where you’ll see it often and be reminded of its place in your life.

My muse? Usually something in nature. The woods. The water. The sky. The certainty that there are things bigger than me, and things smaller than me, and they all have their place and function. To listen to my muse, I step outside myself and the ruts of my thoughts.

Does Copper have a muse? I think perhaps he is mine. There is wisdom in his eyes, his demeanor, and his truthfulness. Copper can’t be fake. He just can’t. He’s true to himself, and to me. He doesn’t mask his feelings. He is absolutely authentic in every way, and sometimes I trust him and his perceptions more than I trust my own.

waiting for jen