Why I decided to start a Gratitude Jar

I decided to start a gratitude jar this week because…

  • As they drove home from the Jersey shore during a nasty thunderstorm, my parents car was sideswiped by a young mother whose five month old son slept in the backseat.
  • My home heating system was deemed unsafe, a fire hazard and needs to be replaced immediately.
  • I spent majority of the week away from my family repairing our rental property that our former tenant decided to turn into his personal pinata.
  • A dear friend of the family passed away after a long battle with cancer.

So why, in such a lousy week, start a gratitude jar?  Because I’ve endured lousy weeks before and I stewed and spiraled with anger, despair and resignation. And quite frankly, those negative reactions became tangible weights that I shouldered for far too long.

In Episode 1 of the Power of Creativity Podcast, I discussed the intimacies of my “toughest season”. And since that season, three years ago, I’ve worked on changing. Its been a slow, up-hill change but I’ve progressed. I’ve changed.

Yet this week, with it’s hellish humidity and  shovelfuls of shittiness, I needed to remind myself that this will pass and that my life is a compilation of  wonderful things.

Hang around long enough and you’ll learn that living is tough business. It’s a punch-you-in-the-gut, kick-you-in-the-teeth, steal-your-lunch-money, insult-your-momma, spit-on-our-grave kind of business. Yet there is so much for to be grateful for.

Negativity is easy. Gratitude and positivity take work and conscience effort.  If you’re bearing the cumbersome weight of negativity and desire to live lightly then I would recommend a starting a Gratitude Jar.

It’s easy. Get a jar, place it on the kitchen table and everyday leave a little note–  a word, sentence, paragraph of gratitude or even a brief description of something that made you happy that day. It’s a simple yet empowering practice, one the whole family can rally around.

My hope is that our Gratitude Jar will teach my children to temper their entitlement and how gratitude can help them constructively navigate through their own tough seasons.

jarAnd so in what has been one of the shittiest weeks in recent memory, why am I thankful?

  • Because my parents, the young mother and her son were all unharmed.
  • Because cold showers build character.
  • Because I now know how to properly spackle drywall.
  • Because life is as fleeting as a child’s smile. A smile that curls and holds just long enough to catch the sunlight, to make you smile, to obliterate any thoughts of death and to remind you how wonderful it is to be alive.

Be well,

Jay

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Why you Need to Play the Positive Blame Game

The other night I watched the documentary, I’m Not Your Guru, which chronicles the life and work of self-improvement coach Tony Robbins. The film, which is currently available on Netflix, captures the gripping, raw moments of Tony’s Superbowl of sorts, a week long self-awareness conference known as Date with Destiny.

In what I consider one of the more insightful moments of the film ( and there are many), Tony explains to a 19 year old girl how her blaming her father for her struggles is actually leaving her powerless and trapped under his influence. Robbins then expounds on how we very rarely, if ever, blame people for the positives they provide us. How we fail to recognize that the hurt people levy upon us actually makes us stronger.

It’s apparent that when we blame people and circumstance for our failings, shortcomings and unhappiness we diminish own own power and provide these outside forces greater control over ourselves.

finger-1299243_960_720However, when we play the positive Blame Game, we find new levels of strength and understanding. And though this, we begin to appreciate and love ourselves and others (even those who did us wrong) on new, deeper levels.

So when the positive Blame Game scene ended,  I put down the popcorn, picked up the pen and did a little positive blaming exercise myself. Here it is…

  • I blame my wife for making me realize that vulnerability is a strength not a weakness.
  • I blame my mother for making me sociable. For making me enjoy the company and comfort of others.
  • I blame my father for my grit. For muscling through adversity.  For not leaving a job until its done and done well.
  • I blame my children for my constant desire to play and create. For wanting to escape the trivial trappings of adulthood and fuel my creative engine.
  • I blame my brothers for my affinity for camaraderie and brotherhood.
  • I blame my former tenant (the one who left my rental property an absolute shit hole) for providing me with some good writing material and a challenge that is conquerable with a little sweat, some elbow grease and a few trips to Home Depot.
  • I blame the kid from my high school English who called me a faggot (because I liked to write) for inspiring me to sit down and write as fiercely as I can everyday. I also blame him for my cavalier, not-giving-two-flying fucks attitude about people’s opinions regarding my love of writing.
  • I blame my autoimmune disorder for giving my life clarity, direction and purpose.

If you’re feeling a little weak, a little wounded ( and who isn’t) I encourage you to partake in some positive blaming.

Its a quick, powerful exercise that allows you to see the good in people, the good in tough situations. And by doing so, you find new perspectives and uncover a deeper sense of gratitude for your life.

You can’t change your personal history but you can change the way you respond to it. If you’re trapped in a cycle of blaming and it’s leaving you restless, stressed and overwhelmed I highly recommend giving the positive blaming exercise a try.

Be well,

Jay

If you liked this article, checkout…Are you self-compassionate?

Give a listen to my interview with artist Amy R Terlecki on The Power of Creativity Podcast. Amy and I discuss parenthood, why selfishness can be a good thing and how busy people can still find time to be creative.

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Why Today is a Great Day to Fail (Unless You’re a NASA Flight Director!)

failure

Failure is perceived as an ugly word.

One that, Apollo 13 Flight Director Gene Kranz famously stated, “is not an option.”

Though I love the brash, chest-rounding spirit of, “failure is not an option”in Kranz’s case, failure wasn’t an option. If he failed, three astronauts would have died.

But most of us are not NASA Flight Directors (and if you are please stop reading this post and get back to work there are lives at stake!). Most of us are regular people grinding through life. Regular people who consistently fail and who are often petrified by the fear of failure.

No disrespect to Mr. Kranz, but the older I get the more I think failure is an option. And a damn good one. Because failure indicates a try. And  sometimes as adults we stop trying. We fail to heed the immortal parenting advice we give our children whenever they’re uncertain, “All you can do is try your best.”

I write every poorly morning.

Now before I write, I sit quietly for a few minutes, clear my head and sip my coffee. When I’m ready to write I whisper to myself (like a caffeinated crazy person), “Today is a great day to fail.”

I know– it’s stupid. It’s anti-American. But acknowledging that I’m about to do something imperfectly diminishes the weighty stress of trying to be perfect.

If I was like ,”Today, I am going to write like Charles Dickens!” I would be petrified, immobilized by the thought of writing like the original Chuck D.

My goal is not to write like Dickens. My goal, for better or worse, is just to write, everyday. And if I can do that, no matter the of quality then I’m victorious, everyday.

In our hot pursuit of perfection we forget that failure, not perfection, is the catalyst for growth. We also forget that no one dwells on our failures as much as we do.

Look,  dear Reader– you’re not perfect. I’m not perfect. In fact, we stink.

So now that we have established our ineptitude, our incompetence– we have permission to fly.

Be well,

Jay

Listen to the Power of Creativity Podcast: Episode #1 where I discuss fear, failure, creativity and parenthood with artist Amy R Terlecki.

Recent Posts:

Are you self-compassionate?

How do you deal with change?

 

The Power of Creativity Podcast: Episode#2- Interview with artist Amy R. Terlecki

Amy R Terlecki is a commissioned abstract artist, mother of two, avid coffee drinker and yoga enthusiast.amy

In this episode, Amy and I talk about the creative process, how to balance creative work with the responsibilities of parenthood and why its incredibly important for adults to let go of their fear of perfection.

If you’re a busy adult who has a desire be creative or to reignite your creative engines I invite you to give this episode a listen.

Takeaways

-Adults find happiness when they stop worrying about social norms and meeting the status quo and start doing things that provide personal fulfillment.

-In an attempt to achieve perfection, you must first learn to embrace failure.

-Failure is an essential part of any sort of creative and artistic growth.

-Denying your creative passions is dangerous business. Creativity is essential for personal growth and happiness.

-It is possible to be a dedicated parent and still have interests outside of your children.

-As a parent it’s okay to be selfish. In fact, carving out time each day to focus on you and your creativity will make you a happier and better parent.

Checkout Amy and her art at….

www.tinybulldesigns.com

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Checkout the Power of Creativity Podcast Episode #1- The Healing Power of Creativity.

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The Power of Creativity Podcast: Episode#1- The Healing Power of Creativity

 

Episode #1:The Healing Power of Creativity

Our lives are mired with difficult stretches where everything seems to be going wrong. In this episode, I recount my most difficult season and explain how creativity not only helped me through that season and made me a stronger person.

If you’re like me, an adult strapped with responsibility, its easy about forget about creativity as you focus on the demands of daily living. My experiences have taught me that creativity is one of the keys to finding happiness and to further unlocking the mystery of you.

Though you may not be a writer, I bet you have a desire somewhere in you to be a creator–we all do! It’s a basic human instinct.To make your thoughts and desires a tangible thing for the world to enjoy. Maybe you have a desire to start your own business, restore an old car or crochet sweaters for your children. Whatever creative urge rings inside you, I encourage you to release your fear and answer the call. You will be happy you did!

 

8 Lessons from a First Time Landlord

 

rentTwo years ago my wife and I attempted to sell our home.

For four months our house sat on a cluttered market with little interest as we bubbled wrapped glassware, packed boxes full of baby toys and grew increasingly nervous.

We couldn’t afford two mortgages and the idea of our home sitting vacant on the market for the looming winter scared us.

We talked sheepishly about renting, hesitant to assume the authoritative “landlord” moniker. “Landlording” seemed so responsible, so adult.  Plus we’re both easy-going, non confrontational people who wanted to spend our free time yelling at our children, not managing a rental property.

But we were stuck.

So after much discussion, debating and Googling we decided to cautiously assume the pragmatic title of landlords.

We found tenants within two weeks. A nice couple with jobs strapped with below average credit. But we were attracted by their ability to offer cash for the first month’s rent and the security deposit.

The first year and a half was great. They paid rent on time and asked for very little. And after the rent was collected and the mortgage paid Cindy and I were able to stash a few bucks away.

Then December 1st came and the rent didn’t arrive until New Year’s Eve.

Over the next few months the rent was consistently late. We enforced late fees, made phone calls, sent text messages and mailed letters. We tried to reason and compromise. But late rent became partial rent.  Then partial rent became no rent at all.

Spring melted into summer and the last thing Cindy and I wanted to do was champion an eviction, fix up the house and find new renters.  So we drafted a new lease that included a payment plan to reclaim the delinquent rent. A plan they agreed to. A plan I was confident would work.

The first date the delinquent rent was due came and went without any payment.  Without explanation.

We were out of options. We had no choice but to file for eviction with our local township.

In our two years of being landlords we learned a lot. We learned that a rental property can be a great source of extra cash. But we also experienced the stress and frustrations of renting. The drama and unnerving feeling that the rent maybe late or not coming at all. Here are 8 lessons I learned from my first go-around as a landlord.

1. Know the renting laws

Before you rent your home, you need to know your local and state laws. (Like whether your township require a home inspection before you can legally rent.)

Go to your local township office and request literature regarding rental laws and procedures.  This literature will benefit both you and your tenants. I would also recommend reviewing local laws with your tenants before they move in. Even if you don’t understand all the legal vocabulary, the act of reviewing these laws will present you as a knowledgeable and experienced landlord ( even if you’re not).

2. Abide by your lease

Your lease is a binding document that is designed to guide all of your decisions.  Let it.  Your lease should be transparent and the tenant expectations should be clear. I advise reviewing  all parameters of the lease before the tenants move in. Glossing over lease expectations can lead to future problems.

3. Document everything

For quick correspondences a phone call will suffice. But serious matters ,that could lead to an eviction, should be done in writing (I suggest by certified letter). If you do need to evict, clear documentation is critical.

4.Be understanding but firm

Life is tough business. I understand– children get sick, companies downsize,  transmissions explode. If you’re a landlord long enough you will hear plenty of reasons why rent is late. Be compassionate and understanding but be cautious and don’t be afraid to enforce your late penalties (and your lease must include late penalties!). You also may try to separate fact from fiction. Don’t get into the business of dissecting truth. You’re not a lawyer. You’re a landlord and it’s your job to adhere to the demands of the lease, to protect your investment and to provide your tenants with a comfortable living experience.

5. Do some market research before you evict

Know the rental market landscape before your house is empty. Consider the time of year and whether it constitutes a high demand of renters. Research the  comparable rentals in your market and understand that your house may sit vacant for sometime before you can obtain a new tenant.

6. Be cool

When there is money at stake, when a tenant is refusing to pay rent there is a tendency to make quick, reactive decisions rather then making a sound, logic decision. When faced with a tenant issues– take your time, review your lease, sleep on it, do a downward dog. You’re the landlord, you’re in charge–take your time and think it through.

7. Use a big picture lens

Thinking big picture before you rent your home is important. Consider the following questions– Is your goal to rent as a means of building equity? Is your goal to pay down the mortgage to make a bigger profit when you sell the home? Will dealing with a few weeks of landlord headaches provide you with a lifetime of financial flexibility?

8. Build a relationship

Like any, the landlord/tenant relationship needs to be cultivated with respect and communication. Just because you own the property doesn’t give you the right to be indigent. And though you may not like your tenants–and you don’t have to–  you do need to be respectful. Remove your personal feelings from the equation, build a landlord/tenant relationship on respect and you’ll create a positive situation that benefits both you and your tenants.

Are you self-compassionate?

Last week, while visiting family in suburban Tennessee, I read 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do by Amy Morin.

Morin’s book, one I would highly recommend, offers practical advice on how to effectively overcome setbacks and to thrive on adversity.

On the last day of our trip, my son Chase developed swimmer’s ear.

With his head in my lap, watching cartoons and moaning when the pain spiked, I rubbed his back, attempted to comfort him while turning over one of Morin’s quotes,

“Self-compassion may be the key to reaching your full potential.”

As a parent there’s an intrinsic desire to fix your children. To take extinguish their pain because when they hurt you hurt.

So why when we, the adults, suffer– why do we isolate ourselves? Why are we shamed by our pain?  Why do we deny help? Why do we mask our pain with pills, with silence, with excuses?

I’ve learned that most adults, though compassionate toward others, are not terribly compassionate toward themselves. Instead we compound our own problems, we victimize ourselves and further deepen our suffering.

When we hurt, do we treat ourselves with same amount of compassion we treat our children? Or are we harder on ourselves? Do we ignore and suppress our pain? Are we our harshest critic?

Compassion, by definition, means to “suffer with”. Self-compassion is the act of rubbing your own back and reminding yourself it will be okay.

By practicing self-compassion, by forgiving yourself for your shortcomings, failures and pain you’re giving yourself permission to endure, to forge ahead, to live a courageous life.

Be well,

Jay