Friday, May 27, 2005

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

First, real estate, which, by no coincidence, involves both change and where we might see ourselves in 10 years. Knowing my audience, I’ll focus down to residential real estate for young, single, career adults with a dog. Also, let me get the old real estate truisms out of the way, which include…

  • Buy low, sell high
  • Location, location, location
  • Buy lower end in a better neighborhood rather than top end in a worse neighborhood.
  • Look for “potential”; the simple things to fix up that can make a big difference in curb appeal or livability. A lot of people have less imagination than you do.

That’s all the truisms I know. The rest of what follows I made up. Here goes…

  • Know your limitations, financial, skills, time, and inclination. This means don’t become “house poor” unless you are very confident you will grow into more resources within the next several years. Don’t buy a “fixer-upper” unless you have the skills, time, inclination, and extra money to devote to the needed projects.
  • Don’t let the house consume you. I’ve always stretched to the edge of my means when buying a house. This does not mean that the way dad did it is always the way it should be done. A house can be a nice hobby and diversion from career stresses and provide a good sense of satisfaction when you enjoy the improvements you’ve made. But a house is just another set of material possessions that can consume us out of all proportion to its worth if you let it. I hate trying to keep a balance in life. Being obsessive-compulsive about some things some of the time is so much fun.
  • This real estate market! We are in a spectacular market…for the speculative investor. Most of us are not speculative investors. We need a house to live in, not to gamble on. It’s nice that we still have very low mortgage interest rates. But, unfortunately, in this market at least, low interest rates also allow people to raise housing prices to “whatever the market will bear.” And that is quite a lot in some parts of the country. I’m not familiar with housing inflation in your neck of the woods. I’m sure it’s not anything like the inflationary vortex we’re experiencing in the southern coastal areas – up an average of 100% in two years! But in your case, selling one home and buying another within a few miles in the same general market area should be a wash – except for one thing. If prices have inflated 10 or 20%, your taxes and homeowners insurance will probably increase that amount in your new home compared to your existing one. New assessments and new insurance policies are triggered by the purchase of the home you are moving into. These costs would have remained stable in the old home.
  • Be diligent, be wise, and have fun doing it. The journey is the destination.
  • Renting can be more appropriate than buying under several circumstances: Being uncertain about your job or future; being in a wild real estate market you don't trust are just two.

These changes in location, houses, and financial obligations can be stressful, which leads to the next topic, “change.”

First, the truisms about change…

  • Change can be either good or bad. (duhhh)
  • Change is inevitable and constant; we just don’t notice it or pay attention to it most of the time
  • And, of course, the inimitable “serenity prayer”: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” (Generally thought to have been written by Reinhold Niebuhr)
  • Change consciously made is a growth experience. Yes, I know, please, no more growth experiences!!!
  • Change unconsciously made is sticking your head in the sand. But we will become conscious of it sooner or later. Later is harder.

That’s all the change truisms I know. And I think I made up that last one. Here is more “change food for thought”.

  • We have limited control over change, but we do have some control. Oh, another change truism: “If you don’t know where you want to go, it matters not what road you take.” We need to know where we want to go to be able to influence change. The road we take does matter.
  • The joys of “the road less traveled” is often a myth. There is often good reason why it is less traveled. It may seem like a shortcut to what you are after at the moment. There may be beautiful scenery along the way. But it may be a road full of ruts and potholes, or even a dead-end. It may not take you where you intended to go.
  • The “wisdom to know the difference” is an interesting thought where the “serenity prayer” rather keeps us hanging. What is “the wisdom to know the difference” between what we can change and what we can’t? Between what we should change and what we should leave alone? One writer calls this wisdom “discernment”. A synonymous concept is having well-established standards of conviction for your life. Having principles that you virtually automatically invoke whenever opportunities for change come your way. These convictions put you in a position so that you don’t have to agonize over which change to accept – these decisions will be automatic. Your conscious emotional energy can be reserved for the decisions between the better of the best options rather than being wasted on options that may lead down the wrong road.
  • Change can be exciting, fun, and deeply fulfilling when it is directed toward your most deeply held aspirations and based on your most cherished convictions.

This is a good segue to the topic of “where you see yourself in 10 years.” Interesting thought. How to approach this one. Hmmm.

First off, I’m not going to speculate where I see my daughters in 10 years because I have trouble speculating even where I see myself in 10 years. This question relates a great deal to the previous two topics, change and real estate. Our aspirations and convictions, roads taken resulting in present circumstances, opportunities and limitations – all bring us to the potential for our future. Even real estate is included in this question because we have to occupy space, land, and we have to pay someone, somewhere, to occupy it.

Speaking for myself, I will be in my late 60’s. I will be either working part time in something I enjoy doing, or fully retired. I will be physically located either where I am, or in Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, or Alabama. (Confirmation about not knowing my future: Two years after this is written, I find myself retired in none of these locations!)

This raises some questions about my current preferences - What are they? What kinds of limitations or constraints do or will I have? Is it possible to know what is best 10 years from now based on what I know now?

My broad choices are…

  • Keep my head in the sand and let these changes creep up on me and surprise me – the “whatever will be will be” mentality (it could be interesting); or
  • Agonize over these choices without identifying principles and convictions that serve as the shining lights that identify my aspirations; the “whatever feels right at the moment” approach; or
  • Raise my level of consciousness of the things that are most important to both my wife and I; our values, our convictions, and use those as the basis for the incremental decisions we make each week, each month, along the way to where we want to be in 10 years.

Any of these three options work to varying degrees. The third option takes the most work., but it will most likely achieve the best results. This third option takes tons of continuing dialogue with those most affected by the decision…requires an investment of time to read, to visit, to experience different options that seem attractive as to lifestyle and location. But most of all, it requires, collectively, knowing and accepting who you are, what you want, what you can tolerate, and what you can’t. To the extent that these things, these personal desires, are moving targets, you will be inefficient in your quest. I was going to say to the extent that these things are moving targets, you would be wasting your time. But this is not true. Again, I believe the journey is the destination. We can have satisfaction in the journey. In fact, if our focus is laser pinpointed on the target, and all our life’s energies and priorities are focused on achieving that target, what happens when we finally get there, which surely we will with that kind of focus? After a momentary self-congratulation, can you imagine a greater let down? “Now what do I do with my life?” you might ask.

Just for the sake of dreaming, here are some of my current, subject to change, preferences.

  • Retired - year unknown – depends on finances, additional planning, and adjusting expectations for a realistic retirement standard of living, i.e. do we begin lowering our expectations and standards now, or do we wait for the shock of retirement?)
  • In a lower cost of living area than I am in now so resources go further;
  • In a small town near a larger city;
  • Nearer our adult children, by plane or car;
  • With interesting topography and flora and fauna;
  • Near a college or university and a lake or large stream;
  • With the ability to have a small motor home to travel about (this could be a part of the process of seeking out this retirement place);
  • Involved in my church and encouraging others in hope;
  • That my wife is happy in the process and the destination.

Nonetheless, we all want “the best” for our future. But “the best” can be so many different things, and so changeable. Certainly, clear priorities, commitment, consistency, and action are required. The question “where do I see myself in 10 years” raises many other questions. I am looking forward to dwelling on these questions, knowing that, as stated in the previous blog, “we become what we consume”. Stated in other words, we can become what our mind dwells on. This certainly influences where we will be in 10 years. To the extent we really want something we will think about it a lot, dwell on it…every road we take will lead us toward it (note lyrics of Emmy Lou Harris’ “Someone Like You” except substitute a place or circumstance for the lover). The excitement and motivation will continue to grow as our goal comes more clearly into view as the obstacles clear away. Other interests will always compete. But those can be the next priorities. That’s where constant awareness of and dedication to priorities is so important – if the original vision of where you want to be in 10 years is what you really want.

The interesting thing is, we can end up in circumstances totally different than what we planned and still be very happy. Even happier than what we planned. I guess that means happiness can't be planned, just lived.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

We become what we consume...

Are you among those who doubt or deny that what you read, what you watch on TV or at the movies, or the music you listen to has little if any influence on your thoughts, your attitudes, and ultimately, your behavior and character?

I am amazed at people who actually believe that the entertainment they regularly expose themselves to has little or no influence on the person they become. They seem oblivious to an obvious reality.

Doesn't it make sense that those who expose themselves constantly to violence develop violent tendencies? That those who expose themselves constantly to dishonesty tend toward dishonesty?

And conversely, wouldn't it make sense that those who expose themselves constantly to selfless, giving situations tend toward becoming selfless and giving?

I'm not speaking of absolutes here. I'm speaking of human tendencies that result from what we do with our lives, our senses, and our time.

One might then ask, "does that mean if I watch a show featuring terrorists that I'll become a terrorist?" No. But if you spend large amounts of time watching shows depicting terrorism in a positive light, such as from an Islamofacist perspective (or from an America-hating perspective like Newsweek) then you are likely to have a greater tendency to agree with the purposes of terrorism, if not also develop tendencies toward that sociopathic behavior.

Another might suggest that watching anti-social or immoral entertainment is a person's voyeuristic outlet - by having an outlet one could argue a person is less inclined to do such things in real life. This would argue for the thought that billions are spent on advertising so that people will NOT buy the product; that such advertising just serves as an outlet to reduce the desire for the product. Hmmm.

Newsflash: Adverstisers spend billions on advertising because advertising works! People who watch or read advertisements are more likely to buy the product!

Our practice of watching immoral entertainment and denying its effect on us is an addiction just as assuredly as smoking is an addiction. I've spoken with addicted smokers who will actually get defensive and angry at the suggestion that there is a connection between smoking and emphysema as they hack and choke with their smokers' cough.

The addict denies his addiction. In a sense we are all addicted to various things that aren't all that good for us. It is our challenge to identify them and change if we sincerely desire to be a better person, whether the addiction (or strong, controlling habit - take your pick of words) involves the foods we eat, substances we smoke, entertaining we soak in, friends we keep...

It all boils down to life priorities. What do we want to become? Just as "we are what we eat", we become what we consume, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. The book of Proverbs proclaims, "As [a man] thinketh in his heart, so is he." (Proverbs 23:7.)

Some don't care what they become, so whatever life makes of them is OK. Others believe they are so much in control of their lives that the negative, destructive, anti-social entertainment they consume doesn't effect them. They are above it all - uh huh, uh huh.

I have some ocean-front property in Arizona you might be interested in.

The Flushing Rumor: Who Are the Sociopaths?

I'm not sure what's worse: the irresponsible, reactionary, anti-American liberal media, or the irresponsible, reactionary, anti-American, Islamofacists. Well, maybe I am sure.

The casual observer of recent news reports and opinion on this topic will note the majority of the blame being heaped on one of our favorite whipping posts, the "liberal media", in this case Newsweek. They, like the crew at CBS, were so caught up in their anti-American predisposition that they took a shread of information and made it into something it wasn't.

The radical, and perhaps even the moderate, Islamists did the same thing. Starting in Afghanistan, thousands (or is it millions) of these otherwise good and kind people are taking an unsubstantiated thread of information and rioting and killing over it. The average shrink in this country would call this behavior extremely psychotic, worthy of one with a diagnosis of an extreme bi-polar disorder. That kind of reactionary behavior would normally get someone put away in prison or a high security mental hospital for a very long time.

So, have we come to expect this severely reactionary behavior from a major portion of the worlds population as "normal" and worthy of tiptoeing around? I think that "norm" is absurd.

As much as I would like to nail liberal media like Newsweek for their sin of bias, the majority of our finger pointing is in the wrong direction. Muslims would like to be known and understood as decent people, yes? Decent people don't riot in the street killing innocent people because an erroneous innuendo ticks them off. That is a sociopathic mental illness. And apparently a lot of them have it.

Click on the heading of this blog for an excellent related article from the National Review.

And from the web site Jihad Watch, here is another observation of the character defect of the "radicals", however many million there happen to be:

And finally, Ann Coulter's pointed comments about Newsweeks' anti-American rot from within:

Monday, May 09, 2005

Self Esteem - Or Moving Deck Chairs on the Titanic?

The title of this post leads to a wonderful article on "self-esteem." Self-esteem is not the end all and be all of improvement in human behavior and success. In fact, it may be just the thing to perpetuate bad habits and failure. In essence, if someone is screwing up, what's the basis for self esteem? Complementing mediocrity perpetuates mediocrity.

The link is a must read for anyone interested in this topic.

Overcoming the Past

A friend of mine and I were discussing our parental responsibilities and compared notes about our efforts at parenthood.

My leaning was to acknowledge that there was always something I could have done better as a parent to give my children a better example, to teach them better, to be more consistent, more loving, more faithful, more prayerful, while not dwelling on my failures in these later years.

His leaning was to acknowledge that no matter how we performed as parents, we did the best we could, and it is the young adult children's responsibility to seek and make the right decisions in the life they now command. He had his own life experience to back up his position. When he was three, his abusive, alcoholic father gave his mother the choice between her three year old son, or her husband. Based on her own insecurities, she chose her husband and abandoned the child.

The child grew up, feeling abandoned, unwanted, defensive, alone, fearful of closeness, aloof from others. Entering adulthood, he made a decision to assume responsibility for his own life. He decided to not allow the past to be his excuse for the future. He knew he was an intelligent being aware of the right things to do, and decided to do them. He learned from this lifelong experience that he could have chosen to go either way...either to remain shackled as a victim of the past, or get on with life, taking responsibility for his own decisions and success.

In reality, both of these leanings are at work. We, as parents, could have done more, but the adult children are responsible for making their own good decisions now. It is a mistake to sabotage their future because of the sins, insecurities, or misfortunes of the past. Sure, our circumstances from our childhood and young adult years help mold what we have become: our fears and worries and likes and dislikes, joys and sorrows. But, with our own efforts, we can change our thinking and our circumstances.

But what if what we can do oursleves is not enough? What if the past is too strong?

One of my new favorite scriptures is "For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do." (2 Nephi 25:23) After all we can do. After we do all we can do, and we can do no more ourselves, what are our options as parents or as young adults who have had a less than perfect childhood? If failure is not an option, the only other option is to believe in Christ and be reconciled to God. Allow his grace to transcend our fears about marriage, our fears about relationships, our fears about failing again. Trust in him to carry us over the rough spots and into his love - so we can learn how to love and trust again, after all we can do ourselves.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Example of one of my "callings" at church...

For those who may be interested in what a typical "Sunday School" lesson is like in my church, (and for those daughters who might want to know a little about what their dad studies and teaches in church), I've provided a current example, below. This particular lesson is being taught in the Priesthood meeting during our third hour. It is a lesson from the teachings of the Presidents of the Church. In this instance, this is from the teachings of President McKay, who in 1951, became the ninth President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. The heading provides a link to the chapter of his book that my lesson is based on. Here it is. I hope it provides an insight or two...

David O. McKay…
Chapter 9: Overcoming Temptation

Lesson aims:
To understand…

  • What is temptation
  • The implications of premortality and postmortality
  • Practical ways of overcoming

What are the major forms of temptation that come to each of us as discussed by President McKay? (Page 82)

What are some examples of each of these forms of temptation?

Temptations of appetite or passion: [Ask others to give examples]

A yielding to pride, fashion, or vanity:

A desire for worldly riches or power and dominion over lands or earhly possessions of men [or over other people].

Why are we tempted? Why do we have all these choices?

Part of the answer lies in the reason why the wisdom of God fixed a veil between our premortality and this life: [This part is not in the KcKay chapter. But I find the purpose of the premortal life, and the hope for the postmortal life particularly helpful to the topic of this lesson, so I discuss it.]

Elder Maxwell explained:

“…mercifully, the veil is there. It is fixed by the wisdom of God for our good. It is no use being impatient with the Lord over that reality, for it is clearly a condition to which we agreed so long ago…Without the veil, we would lose that precious insulation which would constantly interfere with our mortal probation and maturation. Without the veil, our brief mortal walk in a darkening world would lose its meaning – for one would scarcely carry the flashlight of faith at noonday and in the presence of the Light of the World. Without the veil, we could not experience the gospel of work and the sweat of our brow. If we had the security of having already entered into God’s rest, certain things would be unneeded…”

Elder Orson Pratt answered this question this way:

“…if we had all our preexistent knowledge accompanying us into this world, show to our Father in the heavens and to the heavenly host that we would be in all things obedient….in order that we may prove ourselves before the heavens obedient and faithful in all things, we have to begin at the very first principles of knowledge, and be tried from knowledge to knowledge and from grace to grace, until, like our elder brother, we finally overcome and triumph over all our imperfections, and receive with him the same glory that he inherits, which glory he had before the world was.”

How do these statements explain to you why we are given temptations in our darkness of understanding – behind the veil?

[Consider the reasons for our mission on earth without knowing our "history."]

So this explains why we are tempted. Now why is it important that we overcome temptation?

To please Heavenly Father…
But why?
How does this desire to please God affect what happens to us in our postmortal life?

What are the two states or conditions after our mortal life but before resurrection?

Paradise and prison.

What is experienced in each state? A partial judgement. Quoting Victor Ludlow about this early phase of our postmortal state, he observes:

“When an angel visited and taught him, Alma received later insights about the period directly after death. He recorded: “The spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow…The spirits of the wicked…shall be cast into outer darkness; there shall be weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, and this [is] a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them; thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection.” (Alma 40:12-14).

“Thus a partial judgment occurs after death as people enter the world of spirits – the righteous to a state of rest and peace; the wicked to a state of darkness and fear. These two states are called paradise and prison, ad we remain in this spirit world in either state until our resurrection. Eventually, each of us will enter one of these two postmoral existences. Since the state we find ourselves in is dependent upon the way we live, a preview of both states may help us decide how to conduct our lives.”

And a preview of both states may help motivate us to resist and overcome temptation.

To recap:

We have discussed three types of temptation…
We discussed why we are tempted…
We discussed a motivating influence in overcoming temptation…

Now let’s focus on ways of seeking assistance in overcoming temptation. What are some tools and principles that can help us?

Resist temptation. (James 4:7)
Decide who you will serve; maintain that as a steadfast principle of life

Assimilate God’s word. (Matthew 4:3-4)
Let His word permeate your personality and attitude; leave no room for the opposite.

Don't listen to fools. (Matthew 4:6-7)
Along with this is the principle of association, who our friends are, what we read, how we entertain ourselves, and don't waste on talents being provoked into senseless acts…

Do not place the temptations in a higher status than God. (Matthew 4:8-11)
Keep reevaluating, realigning, and reasserting priorities based on your principles.

Live the gospel; put others first. (Matthew 16:25)
Remember what President Hinckley said is the symbol of our faith.

Do not believe that you have overcome and are above temptation McKay page 87, 5th paragraph beginning with “All good things…”

“All good things require effort. That which is worth having will cost part of your physical being, your intellectual power, and your soul power – “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” But you have to seek, you have to knock. On the other hand, sin entices, it allures. You do not have to put forth effort…It is like the billboard advertising attracting you to drink and to smoke. It is like the message that comes into your very homes with the television and radio…Evil seeks you, and it requires effort and fortitude to combat it. But truth and wisdom are gained only by seeking, by prayer, and by effort.”

When are we most vulnerable to temptation. We are most vulnerable when we are preoccupied with our greatest pleasures and preoccupied with our greatest disappointments and doldrums. These are the times when we should pray most -- pray to Heavenly Father to lead us away from temptation and pray to thank Him for what He has given us, for what He promises us, and for His divine protection and guidance in the circumstance we find ourselves in.