Making Change: Sometimes It Helps to Start Small

Many times when we think of making changes mid-life, we consider them on a grand scale. Quitting an unfulfilling job to pursue a dream career, ending relationships that no longer satisfy us, and moving to a new city, state or country are examples of this. Often overlooked are the ways in which we can begin to make small, daily changes that might ultimately lead us to happier, healthier, more authentic lives.  An example of this is a recent walk I took on a beautiful spring day during my lunch break at work.

After a long, hard, snowy winter, it felt amazing to feel the warm sun on my skin. I came upon an expanse of lush, green lawn that looked so inviting I decided to take a break from walking to sit on the grass. As I sat there, I was overcome by an urge to lie back and close my eyes.

This urge might seem natural enough, but I was a professional staff person on a university campus wearing a conservative dress, stockings, and heels. Final exams were over and most of the students were gone, but what if my boss or another colleague came upon me sprawled out on the grass on my back? It would hardly be the picture of professional decorum.

I wrestled with what to do. Do I maintain my professional persona or give into my natural urge?

The longer I resisted giving in, the more it struck me as ridiculous that I was even debating the matter. One day I’d be dead and would anyone really give a damn if I had lied back on the grass? I seriously doubted it, but I on the other hand would have missed out on an amazing moment.

I lied back on the grass. It felt divine. Slightly damp, but otherwise a plush cushion of comfort. I stayed there for about five minutes basking in the sun, feeling more natural and more myself than I ever had before on that campus. Reluctantly, I stood up, brushed off my back end, and returned to the office.

This is what I mean by making small, daily changes. Those of you who live life as an adventure every day may consider my example pathetic. For me, who often fights my natural impulses for fear of being judged, it was liberation. This one small act – lying in the grass on a warm, sunny day – opened me up to the possibilities of living more authentically in the moment as a way to facilitate meaningful change.

Not everyone can make major life changes without drastically impacting or risking their family, friendships, finances, or future well-being. All of us can make small, daily changes that make us feel more fully alive; less TV and Internet surfing, exercising more, engaging in creative endeavors, practicing gratitude, or simply committing to being more spontaneous. These types of changes might not bring the instant gratification or excitement that comes with a drastic, large-scale change, but they’re a good start.

Don Draper’s Midlife Spiritual Awakening

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The long-running AMC series Mad Men came to an end Sunday night with its leading character, Don Draper, having a spiritual awakening while in the midst of a midlife meltdown. It was an unexpected, though not altogether surprising, twist for the chronic adulterer, alcoholic, and creative genius who’d finally hit rock bottom.

In spite of, or perhaps because of, Don’s flaws, I’ve always liked him. He did what he wanted, when he wanted, and didn’t give a damn what anyone thought. I couldn’t help but admire his indifference, though at times it made me cringe.

Living for one’s own pleasure, however, comes at a cost. In this final episode, Don finally realizes the price that he and his loved ones have paid for his hedonism. With his second marriage over, his business and creative autonomy gone, and his first wife facing an early death, Don sets out on a desperate journey to California that will ultimately lead to salvation or complete demise.

When a friend, concerned for his well-being, insists that Don accompany her to a spiritual retreat center, at long last he finds what he’d been searching for through casual sex and at the bottom of liquor bottles. It is a deep connection with the universe, one that introduces him to the self-love and self- acceptance which has eluded him thus far. In the series’ final scene, viewers are presented with a peaceful Don sitting in half-lotus pose, chanting Om with a group of spiritual seekers on a cliff by the sea.

This scene, combined with the classic Coca Cola commercial that follows, gives one hope that Don has returned to New York and his job at the ad agency spiritually changed. It is a satisfying end to a series that presented human beings as they are – broken, selfish, complex, and flawed – and reminds us that it is never too late to make amends or to become the person we’ve always longed to be.

Farewell, Don Draper. You are and always will be the quintessential middle-aged madman.

Thank You, Ma’am

If you’re a woman of a certain age, you probably remember the first time someone called you “ma’am”. Maybe you can’t recall the exact date, time, location or culprit, but you do remember the feeling. Suddenly you were aware that you’d officially crossed over from the youthful world of “miss” to the more sedate land of “ma’am”.

It can be shocking when we are faced with someone else’s perception of us.

For me, it was a teenaged boy who uttered the word. Probably he was a bagger at a grocery store or a busboy. I can’t recall the details, but I remember thinking, once the initial shock wore off: Ma’am? Who do you think you’re talking to, buster?

The poor lad had no idea his attempt to be polite was so offensive to me.

I’m not sure if there’s an equivalent moment for men. It might be the first time they’re addressed as “sir” or “mister” instead of “dude” or “man”.

Since that defining moment, I’ve been referred to as “ma’am” many times. I no longer get offended. I realize it’s the natural progression of life.

Lately, though, an interesting phenomenon has been occurring: People are starting to call me “miss” again. Granted, they are mainly elderly gentlemen attempting to be complimentary.

I also had the surreal experience of being carded while buying a bottle of wine at a liquor store recently. I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. I said point blank to the young clerk, “Seriously? Is this some kind of marketing ploy to get middle-aged women to keep coming back?” He gave me a confused smile, but said nothing.

It just goes to show you that life has a way of coming full circle.