Monthly Archives: June 2016

Your Own Personal Prison Break


“Care about what other people think–and you will always be their prisoner.”

~Lao Tzu, philosopher and writer

I collect quotes that strike a chord with me, and file them away for future reference. Sometimes, when I need inspiration for a blog post, I dip into this quote file and randomly select one to write about.

At first, when I opened the saved email with Lao Tzu’s admonition above, I was tempted to just close it and make another random selection. I didn’t feel ready–or particularly qualified– to write about this quote.

Maybe that’s because, at any given moment, and far too often, I am still someone’s prisoner. Which I guess makes me about as qualified to write about Lao’s quote as the next guy.

One thing I do know for certain is that those of us who care what other people think–and, like it or not, that’s the majority of us–were not born with this trait. Or should I say liability. It’s probably why I’ve always enjoyed being in the company of toddlers. They see potential in everything and everyone. A stick turns into a magic wand or a toy gun. Other children in the park whom they have never met before are potential friends. Adults become horsies they can straddle, or amusement park rides that propel them high into the air.

Toddlers don’t worry that they might appear foolish. They don’t give a whole lot of thought to what other people think at all.

That is, until they cross some unforeseen boundary and behave in a way that garners disapproval from an important adult in their lives. At first, they might instinctively believe their behavior was justified–but no, the adult is clearly unhappy with them, and is expecting some sort of apology or acknowledgement that what they did was unacceptable. This is where it starts for most of us, this caring what other people think. And then the lesson gets solidified once we go to school, where what other people think can impact our report cards.

U’s were unsatisfactory. U’s terrified me.

Now don’t get me wrong; I firmly believe that children need parameters set for them, as differentiating between right and wrong does not always come naturally. Take the situation that occurred at a recent family get together, where my four year-old great nephew bit my three year-old great nephew on the arm. Clearly such behavior needs to be addressed, and it was. We wouldn’t want the little bugger growing up thinking that biting arms (or other body parts, for that matter!) was OK, would we?

But what many of us fail to do as we age is to learn how to distinguish between the disapproval we might receive for doing something harmful or illegal, from the disapproval we might receive from others who simply don’t agree with something we’ve said, done or want to do. And the more important those others are to us, the more we crave their approval or worry about what they think of us. Worse yet, we extend that need for approval to include people who don’t really matter that much, and sometimes even to people we don’t particularly like.

And the fact is, unless we are doing something illegal, immoral or that would cause harm to ourselves or others, we really shouldn’t worry about what others think of us at all. Or at least try not to. Chances are they aren’t thinking of us anyway. And if they are, well, there’s no way we can control other people’s thoughts–especially since we have such a freakin’ hard time controlling our own.

Once again, I am writing about a concept that I continue to personally struggle with, but that I really feel is true. I think of all the amazing inventions, all the wonderful books, music and movies, all of the great companies and all of the tremendous acts of charity and kindness that would have never happened if the people who created or performed them worried too much about what other people thought.

And I think of all the things I didn’t do over the years because I did.

I think that’s why, when someone shares their idea or a dream with me, I’m all over it like  paparazzi on a celebrity. My thoughts zoom right past “That’ll never work,” and I go into “What can we do to make that happen?” mode. I envision entire marketing plans for businesses, projects and programs that are just a twinkle in their daddy’s or mommy’s eye, then rein myself in to suggest first steps.

Ask me what I’m so passionate about that I could do it day after day for free, and I’d say, “Helping people go for something they really want.” And, under my breath I’d add, “And not care what other people think.”

See, I think a lot of us don’t go for our personal gusto, not because we fear failure–we’ve all failed at something in our lives and survived just fine. It’s that we fear what other people might think of us if our crazy idea failed.

So we keep that crazy dream locked up inside. And the world never gets a chance to benefit from or enjoy it.

That’s a damn shame.

In her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware shares what she learned from her patients during their final weeks of life. The number one regret?

I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

I don’t want to bring that particular regret to my deathbed. Yet, now that I’m 60 years old, I am more aware than ever how finite life is. Better get my ass moving on that bucket list.

Referring back to the Lao Tzu quote, I hereby commit to setting myself free from this day forward–as best I can, at least. This can be the most amazing time of my life if I want it to be.

How about you? Is there an adventure you’re postponing? A dream you’ve been suppressing? I think it’s time to give yourself permission to pursue it.

Time to stage your own personal prison break.


Golf Ball Season


Our house in Syracuse is across the street and down a hill from a municipal nine-hole golf course. You can’t actually see the golf course from my house, but you can’t help but know it’s there because, every spring and early summer, it’s golf ball season.

See, there’s a certain hole in that course where, if you slice them just right, you send golf balls over the fence, down the hill and onto our property. I find them nestled against the curb in front of our house, on my front lawn, or in the flower beds on either side of my front porch. One memorable time, while I was weeding my backyard garden, I witnessed one in action, bouncing down our driveway and coming to a stop at our garage door.

Finding golf balls is as much a part of my spring as the blossoming of early perennials, packing away my winter sweaters, and medicating my reaction to tree pollen.

The one waiting for me at the foot of our driveway when I got home from work today happened to be a nice, pretty new Titleist. I generally feel a little badly for the golfer when he or she sends a new one over the fence, as those things aren’t exactly cheap. But the majority of the balls that land in our yard are obviously practice balls, the more expendable, practical choice for the beginning golfer.

I never learned to play golf. Oh, I took some lessons and tried playing it on the very course I live near today, but it didn’t come naturally to me, so I quit.

I quit because, for too many years, I prided myself on being a perfectionist. And I used this desire to be perfect as a compass for my life; if I was good at something (and/or received praise for it) I stuck with it. If not, I dropped it.

Besides, what’s wrong with wanting to be perfect, I’d wonder? Isn’t “perfect” a wonderful word, a positive one? Don’t people remember Olympic gymnast Nadia Comaneci for her perfect ten? Why settle for B’s when you can get A’s, for “good” when you could be “best”?

And that perfectionism served me in many ways. I did very well in school. Loved reading because I was good at it, and writing because of the grades and accolades it brought me.

Then there was art. From the time I could hold a crayon, I loved to make pictures. Although I had no formal art training, I experimented with watercolor, chalk, pencil, ink, charcoal and acrylic paints. My mother didn’t just put my pictures on the refrigerator–she framed some of them. I believed I was destined to design greeting cards and illustrate children’s books…that was until, my sophomore year in high school, I got a C in art.

I never took art in school art again. Nor pursued a career as a commercial artist.

Writing, on the other hand, consistently brought me the grades, praise and awards I craved. Long before I graduated from high school, I had my mind set on being a writer.

Little did I know that the perfectionism that drove me to write would also turn out to be my biggest roadblock to a successful writing career. Far from being a “positive’ trait, it held me back, taunted me, scolded me. I’d get a rejection slip and quit writing for months at a time. I’d start a novel and, compared it to the work of my favorite authors, then abandon it, embarrassed, disgusted. Without teachers to stoke my ego and provide me with the encouragement I so needed, I floundered and procrastinated, struggled and avoided.

Yeah, perfectionism does that. So much for being a positive trait.

What I didn’t understand for the longest time…well, actually there were three things:

First, Nadia didn’t achieve her stunning level of performance naturally. She practiced. A lot. Yes, she possessed physical attributes that lent themselves to becoming a gymnast, but she also needed to spend countless hours honing them to accomplish what she did during those ‘76 games. Certainly she stumbled and fell and had imperfect dismounts during the years of practice leading up to her perfect scores.

Nadia exemplified the phrase practice makes perfect. If I had worked on my writing or art with even a tenth of the dedication Nadia put into her routines who’s to say what I could have accomplished.

Second, I’ve found that with any endeavor, the best lessons often come from one’s mistakes and failures. I think–I hope–that I am a better sister, friend, aunt, employee, writer and all around person based on the mistakes I have made over the years and what I eventually learned from them. In fact, I have come to believe that we’re all here to learn. Life is one unending series of lessons. And we’re not going to excel at each and every one of them–what’s the challenge in that?

And third, whether it’s pursuing hobbies or vocations or better mental and physical health, it’s important to have fun with the journey. When I finally stopped expecting myself to write epic prose and just began writing more regularly, I began enjoying both the process and the outcomes more. Sure, I still wince a little when I catch a typo or grammatical mistake I’ve made, and I still sometimes really envy the brilliance in other writers. But I know that my time at the keyboard is cathartic for me and, I hope, beneficial to others. Plus I learn from those other writers. And truly, that’s enough.

So as I retrieve the golf balls that come to my yard each year, I hope that the people who sent them my way don’t give up too soon. If they’re having fun, getting exercise, and spending time with friends, I hope that can be enough for now.

My only advice would be not to invest in new Titleist balls from the get go. Learning something might come at a cost, but it doesn’t have to be so expensive.


An “Angel Numbers” Game

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My sister sometimes calls me, with humor and affection, a weirdo–and, well, compared to her I sort of am. She’s the black and white sister, the one who looks for common sense in all things, the down to earth one.

Me, not so much.

I’m gray, and I’m not talking about what my hair color would be without the dye jobs I get every ten weeks. I have thoughts, ideas, questions and beliefs that I find difficult to articulate, not only to my black and white sister, but to most people I know. I think that’s why I like the Internet so much; I can Google these thoughts, ideas, etc. and always find people who share the same ones, or who provide me with new insights on them. Kindred spirits are always just a few keyboard clicks away.

I also think that’s why I took to writing when I was younger. It was definitely why I took to keeping journals; I probably have a couple dozen or more totally filled journals that capture decades of the musings that I’ve had a difficult time sharing aloud.

For example, I get a kick out of numerology. It’s not anything I’ve studied in depth, but I find reading about it interesting, and tend to believe numbers can tell us things or provide us with clues about our lives.

Take the number three. It’s been my favorite (lucky) number for as long as I can remember. I love that my name–Mary Anne Hahn–is comprised of three names of equal length, and that it’s twelve letters long (when you add the numbers in twelve together, 1+2 = 3). Add the numbers from my date of birth together, 4+2+3+1+9+5+6, and they equal 30–or 3+0=3. The street numbers of many the places I’ve lived, including where I live now (2+7+3) boil down to three.

Coincidence? I think not, although I can hear my sister saying, “Weirdo.”

One can find tons of websites brimming with similar, sometimes sinister, numeric “coincidences.” But even before I got online, I remember reading in the newspaper about how a numerologist pointed out that the numbers in the date that Nicole Simpson was murdered, June 12, 1994 (6+1+2+1+9+9+4), add up to 32–O.J. Simpson’s professional football jersey number.

This pertinent info couldn’t be used in court, but it makes one wonder, yes?

And even before that, I remember hearing about the numeric similarities between facts surrounding the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. Fascinating stuff.

So naturally, I figured that there just had to be a reason why, on a regular and sometimes daily basis, I see my partner John’s birthday, October 18. Usually, it’s when I glance at a clock: 10:18. But sometimes it’s the total on a cash register receipt, or the time stamp on an email at work. Last weekend, at the marina, it was the birthday of one of the customers I sold a fishing license to.

So to Google I go, typing “meaning of seeing someone’s birthday” in the guru’s search box, Admittedly, I expected to find that John and I have some sort of cosmic connection, that we were meant to be in each other’s lives, and yada, yada, yada.

But instead I learned that the ten-eighteen phenomenon had nothing to do with John. It had to do with me.

I discovered that numbers seen repeatedly are referred to as “angel numbers.”  For those who believe in such things, angels use these repeated numbers to get our attention–to get a message to us. Although raised Catholic, I can’t say I completely buy into the concept (or reality) of angels, but I really like the messages that the numbers 10 and 18 supposedly mean:

Angel Number 10 encourages you to move forward in your life with faith and trust that you are on the right path in all ways…Have faith that your inner-urgings are leading you in the right direction and you will find future success and fulfillment on your chosen path…Angel Number 10 brings a message to step forward in new directions and look to new beginnings with an optimistic and positive attitude as they will prove to be auspicious and beneficial to you in many ways, now and in the future.”

Angel Number 18 …[asks] you to think only positive thoughts to do with prosperity and abundance. When you have high expectations and maintain a positive attitude, the angels and Universal Energies help you to manifest your highest ideals and achieve success in all that you put your intentions and efforts towards.”

I can deal with success, fulfillment, prosperity and abundance, right? Plus I like the part about being on the right path; I’m becoming more and more sure of where I want to take this blog in particular and my writing in general, so it’s nice to get a little encouragement from beings I’m not entirely sure I believe in.

If you too tend to see certain numbers on a daily basis, I invite you to check out this site. Let me know if you like what you find there.

And if you believe what you find, I won’t tell my sister. 🙂