Are you throwing the punches or absorbing them?

It’s very easy to pass on a bad mood without even realising it. Like when you’re sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic, already frustrated because you are running late, and some idiot in an SUV cuts in front of you. You’re still fuming when you get to the office and so you snap at your colleague when she tries to tell you about her crazy weekend.

She is already not having the best morning, because her excitable dog peed on the carpet – again – just before she was supposed to leave the house. Your harsh tone pushes her precarious positivity over the edge, so when her husband phones from the supermarket to find out what type of bread to buy, she yells at him for not knowing – after five years together – about her gluten-intolerance.

But of course he does know, which is the whole reason he phoned to double check in the first place. He grits his teeth at her unjustified attack, but she hangs up before he gets a chance to defend himself, which is even more infuriating. Then he takes it out on the cashier, who has just started a nine-hour shift.

Throwing-or-absorbing-punches

On her way to work, the cashier had stood for an hour in a crowded, overheated bus, musty and fogged up by everyone’s breath, and then walked through the rain from the bus stop to the shop. This man’s rudeness so early in the morning is the last straw and her tone is abrupt and resentful with all of the customers coming after him.

So the disease spreads, but it just takes one person to break chain. One person who absorbs the negativity instead of passing it on. One person who, after their initial angry reaction, shrugs it off and thinks, “Whatever. It’s actually not such a big deal.”

I don’t believe there is ever an excuse for rudeness. Nonetheless, a sympathetic case can be made at any time for any one of us to lose control of our emotions. Everyone is dealing with something. Many of the times we yell or snap at someone, the things we are yelling about are actually not the things we are truly upset about – there’s something else going on in another area of our lives.

It takes strength to absorb the impact without releasing it. To always be the calm, emotionally responsible, considerate, non-reactive person when everyone around you is just letting their feelings carry them from one situation to the next. I don’t think it’s possible to be that person all the time. At least, I don’t think I could be that guy every time. But I will try to be him sometimes.

When you have the capacity to absorb the blow, do the next person a favour by not passing it on. You don’t always have to be the zen person, but it can’t always be someone else either.

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Negotiating with the Sorting Hat

Everyone has a favourite Hogwarts House (don’t deny it, I’ve seen you waving your wand and muttering spells). Everyone secretly hopes the Sorting Hat will choose them for that House when it slips onto their heads and over their eyes. Why? Because they know that is where they will fit in – or where they want to fit in.

What’s in a House?

Generally, members of each house are known for possessing some common characteristics. They are known for being courageous or clever or crafty or kind. And so it is with great trepidation that each first-year stumbles over to the little stool in the Great Hall and settles the Sorting Hat on his or her head on the first night at Hogwarts, hoping that the Hat will place them in their favourite House.

So pretend this hat is black and pointy. Use your imagination.

So pretend this hat is black and pointy. Use your imagination.

As a first-year, you believe that the Sorting Hat is all-powerful and that its word is law. Only later, after discussing it with others, do you realise that most people negotiated their way into whichever House they ended up in. Harry convinced the Sorting Hat he belonged in Gryffindor, not Slytherin; Neville narrowly avoided Hufflepuff; and Hermione almost went to Ravenclaw. That conversation with the Sorting Hat’s little voice in your ear is one of the most personal of your life, as the hat looks into all your potential and you persuade it one way or another.

Other people are hats

Every one of us has some idea of how we want to be thought of and remembered. Throughout our lives we are labelled, tempted and excluded by different groups of people and societies, as we achieve certain goals and make various decisions. Many of those decisions are very, very difficult, but there is usually no right or wrong choice (although it certainly feels that way at the time). The paths you choose, like the House you’re Sorted into, will influence how you are remembered by others, however, so try to imagine where each road will put you in ten or twenty years’ time.

It is very easy to go along with other people’s ideas of who you are and what you should become. Always remember that you have the power to decide your House and whatever it is you want to be known for. You can negotiate with the Sorting Hat.

Dreams are for grownups

What advice would you give the next generation if you were asked? When Dolly Parton (yes, that woman is a legend, an inspiration and a fabulous role model; I could extol her virtues and achievements at length if you asked) was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters (D.H.L.) degree from the University of Tennessee in 2009, she gave the commencement address telling that year’s graduates to never stop dreaming.

Ambitious all-nighter

We all remember our teenage dreams (thank you Katy for not trademarking random phrases in your lyrics). How close did you get to achieving them? Linda Ronstadt decided as a young girl that she wanted to be a singer and she went on to forge a path for women in rock ‘n roll music, becoming not only the first-ever solo female artist to perform sell-out arena and stadium tours, but also the top female artist of the seventies (yep, the whole decade), the winner of eleven Grammy Awards and one of the best-selling artists of all time. (So what are you doing with your life?)

I watched a recent interview where Linda told ABC News that it took her ten years to learn how to sing. The interviewer was startled and asked, “What do you mean it took you ten years to learn?” Linda said that it took her ten years to learn to control her “instrument” to deliberately perform any way she wanted it to. She said that she loved singing so much that she wanted it to be her job so that she wouldn’t have to waste time doing anything else. To make a career of singing, she would have to work as hard at it as anyone else works at their office job, so for ten years she practised singing for six to eight hours every day. All that hard work is what enabled her to sing everything from pop rock to jazzy ballads to Mexican mariachi music to opera (I’m not making this up) to killer duets like this gem from 1987.

Fortune favours the dreamy?

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

But is hard work always enough to achieve your dreams? Firstly, the term “hard work” is relative – depending on how much you really want that dream and how much you are truly willing to sacrifice for it. Are you willing to spend eight hours a day for ten years working towards your dream?
Secondly, for every aspiring actor, singer, athlete, writer that makes it, there are hundreds if not thousands who work just as hard, or in some cases even harder, who are never successful. Often there is as much luck involved as there is talent and hard work. Countless success stories come from people simply being in the right place at the right time.

I think it is okay, even healthy, to adjust, change or even give up on certain dreams as you get older. The stream of life and time goes on whether you want it to or not. Sometimes holding on to a dream that you’ve been swept past, that is getting further and further out of reach, only causes regret and heartache, and you end up missing out on the opportunities life is offering you now. Letting go creates room for new dreams to grow.

Time to wake up?

How do you know whether it is time to give up on a dream or not? What if you give up and it turns out you would have made it if you had just kept trying for one more year? That’s a risk everyone must take – but whenever you are thinking about letting go of a dream, that would be a good time to do it, as you are probably already in the process of making peace with it. You must be able to live in harmony with yourself about your decision, which brings me to my last point:

Giving up on a dream does not make you a loser or a failure. It may even make you a strong, wise and resourceful person. But no matter how many dreams you let go of, you can never ever give up on yourself. Once you give up on yourself, there is absolutely nothing left. Dreams are easily replaceable, but you are where they are born and there is only one of you. You will have more dreams and more successes. That is where Dolly had it right – dream more, even if you have to come up with a new dream every once in a while to replace the old ones.

*Seriously, you need watch Dolly’s commencement address to become a better person.
**In 2012 Linda Ronstadt was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. As a result of the illness, she now has no control over her vocal cords, which means that she is no longer able to sing. I almost didn’t add this fact to the blog post, because it is heartbreaking. As can be seen from the interview linked to above, she seems to be philosophical about it and remains grateful for the years in which she could realise her dreams. Here she is performing live on television with Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris in the ’70s (Linda is on the far right and Emmylou in the middle).