Monday, September 5, 2016

I Can Only Be Me

Thanks to everyone who reached out wondering where the hell I've been.  Apparently people have figured out that when I've gone silent, it's usually a sign that I'm stressed out and don't want to blog about the thing that is stressing me out.  I've gotten a few "I haven't heard anything lately, what's up?" messages that I genuinely appreciate.

To build on the "life is an RPG" analogy, when I'm not writing it's because I ran out of MP.

To those people - you've been right.  It's been a stressful few weeks for me.  I'm sure I'll probably write more about that in a future post, but for now all I'll say about the matter is that my homestead living arrangement is being dissolved into a more standard individual-contract-per-bedroom style one.  I was struggling a lot with how to share the story of why this is happening with my blog - on one hand, I want to be honest and open about my life; on the other, I want to respect peoples' privacy and I really don't gain any enjoyment from talking about drama.

In reflecting on it, I've realized that I've known the best way to handle it all along.

I have a policy for when I give people advice: give generic advice to specific problems.  I don't like telling other people what to do - to me, it's the troubleshooting equivalent of giving a man a fish.  When people ask me for help with their personal life, I never feel like it's my place to give orders.  In my experience, I can usually come up with a fortune-cookie style nugget of wisdom that helps people look at things in new ways.

Let me be clear - I love giving people advice.  I love connecting with other people and I love troubleshooting problems, and so listening to other people's issues feels like most natural fit for a "life's purpose" for me.  If you're reading this and you're stressed about something, consider this blog post as an open invite to reach out to me :)

And I saw her face... I am a beaver...
Shelly Flowerspeak:  A Glossary

Main Ideas
  • Do Whatever You Want, As Long As You Will Own It.  Then, Own It.
  • Connecting With Others Is the Most Rewarding Life Experience.
  • Go On Quests and Gain Levels.

Basically, I think those three concepts are the best way to summarize why I make the decisions that I make. This blog is my attempt to follow those three tenants - I want to share my truth with as many people as there are who want to hear it, and in doing so want to make a tangibly positive impact on as many people as possible.

With all of that said - the following ten guidelines represent the top ten most common solutions to peoples' personal problems.  Obviously, all of this is just my own opinion and isn't meant as hard science; that said, they've all worked for me.

1.  There's More Than One "i" in "Communication", and
2.  Make a Conscious Effort to Build Trust With Others

People often say that I seem to find it really easy to get along well with others.  Allow me to share with you my secret - I ask people questions about themselves that I think are interesting, and do my best to care about the answers.  And when people do the same for me, I try to be willing to share everything, as honestly and authentically as possible.

Really.  That's it.

I define trust as "the state of genuinely caring about another persons' best interests, and having them feel the same for you".  Trust is the condition in which communication flourishes, and the best way to establish it with someone else is to show genuine interest in who they are and what they want.

Trust builds communication, communication builds trust.  When I talk about "connection", that interaction is basically the thing I'm talking about.  The more you share yourself with others and allow others to do the same, the more you will connect, and the stronger your relationships will grow.  People notice when they're being shown respect, and they almost always will reciprocate in turn.

It might not sound like much, but when I look at the thing that has truly brought me the most happiness in life, it's been forming close personal bonds with other people.  I grew up with a supportive family and found my soulmate in Cody and have some of the best friends I could ask for - when all is said and done, my happiest moments have all come from creating good memories with people I love.

My biggest fear growing up - loneliness - is what happens when you don't form connections with others. And for anyone who struggles with it, I highly recommend this video as a launching point.

Dance like no one's watchin'..
3.  Make a Conscious Effort to See the World Through the Eyes of Others
4.  Don't Try and Solve Problems While You're Angry

Have you ever noticed exactly what an argument is?  It's basically just two sides reacting to feeling like their opinion isn't being heard.  Exchanges grow loud and heated, each party gets angry, and then the conversation becomes less about solving a problem and more about winning a fight.

The best way to truly win an argument is to make a conscious effort to listen to the other side.  If you're not willing to do this, how can you expect your opponent to?  More often than not, the best thing you can do to turn an argument into productive communication is to take the high road and show that you're willing to hear what they're saying.

When people relay conflict situations to me, I can usually tell when I'm only being fed one side of a story. In these cases, I like asking people questions that will force them to empathize with their opponent.  Something like "if a newspaper were interviewing the other person about the situation you describe, what would they say?", or "if you were to write a short story from the point of view of the other person, what would it look like?".

It can be extremely difficult to do this, especially if you don't trust the other person.

~surrender to the flow~
5.  Make Decisions That Will Make You Happy...
6.  ...(because) You're the Only Person You Can Count On 100%

I was once talking to a friend of mine who was having issues dealing with his ex-girlfriend.  He was frustrated because she was always calling him up, asking for favors, even though she had dumped him for another guy who she was currently dating.  He felt like she was being selfish and not respecting his feelings.  He told me this on the day she asked him to go to the DMV for her to register her car since she was two hours away and couldn't do it.

I asked him why he even talked to her at all.  He said it was because she needed his help, and that he was concerned that without him her life would fall apart.  He told me how he always dated women like that, and how it was something he struggled with but just couldn't help.


I told him that as long as he truly knew that keeping her in his life was making him happy, that I was all in favor of it.  But with that said,  he needed to stop and ask himself exactly what he was getting out of it. Obviously there was something that kept him coming back (wanting to "rescue" her?  hoping she'd want to date him again?  fulfilling a sense of purpose?) and he needed to figure out exactly what that was so he could truly decide if keeping up contact was worth it.

Sure, she had her faults and they sounded pretty annoying to deal with.  But ultimately the decision to keep talking to her came right down to him.  He thought that "her changing her ways" would make him happy, but didn't stop to consider that (a) she might not ever change, (b) he didn't really have the right to demand that of her, and (c) he had the ability not to be bothered by it.

There's one thing I always say to people who come to me with relationship issues:  "You both deserve to be with someone who will make you happy".  If that's what the relationship is, or at least if that's what it can be, great!  But if that's not the case, all that staying together does is prevent each person from finding the better fit that they each deserve.

I purchased this sweatshirt for a quarter at a thrift store.  I'm not sure how to feel about that.

7.  You Get To Control How Valuable Others' Opinions Are

I once got outed as transgender on a jamband-related message board without realizing the impact it was going to have.  At the time I was keeping a blog about my transition, and I didn't think it would be a big deal to put a link to my blog in my profile.  I made a post asking about a ride-share for a concert that was coming up in the near future, and all of a sudden someone posted "uhhh has anyone read his (sic) blog?" and then all of a sudden it was pages of internet hippies making fun of me.

It was really awkward at first.  It was the first time I had experienced any real rejection that came from having transitioned.  They weren't nice about it either - it mostly schoolyard-level insults about my genitals - and it was tough to read at first.  Thankfully, a handful of people wrote out to me, apologizing for the other people poking fun and assuring me that there are lots of cool people in the scene.  They told me that they liked my blog and respected my transition, and I ended up making a handful of friends out of it at a time where I really needed some.

It taught me a lesson.  Let's say that 100 people responded to me, and that 95 of them were insults and 5 were complimentary.  Sure, that hurts at first.  But two days later, I had made five friends out of it, and never talked to any of the jerks again.  As far as I'm concerned, that's a win.

Early on in my transition, I was scared to go out in public presenting as female.  I hated the way I looked and felt like entering the public eye was inviting myself to be humiliated.  I still remember where I was the first time I noticed someone do a double-take to play "guess my gender" when I was walking around the mall, and that flushed feeling of embarrassment knowing that I didn't pass.

It lasted about ten seconds.  And then I asked myself why I cared about that person's opinion.  In all likelihood, I would never find out who they were or see them again.  It was a powerful moment - I realized that all my fears of rejection were unfounded because the opinion of strangers held no value in my life.

The same goes for situations where people don't like me.  I always try my best to be liked, but I don't think anyone can accomplish that 100%.  In the cases where I don't get along with someone - I just try not to think about them.  There's no use in harping over the fact that someone doesn't gel well with me - I wish them all the best, but there are enough people with whom I connect that there's no need to try to please everyone.  My door is almost always open, but I'll never try to push anyone through it.

I'm running out of pictures for this blog!  If you have any pictures of me that you don't think I know about please email me!

8.  Consider Risk Versus Reward When Making Decisions
9.  Understand the Difference Between Safety and Comfort, and Make Yourself Uncomfortable

When I look back at the thought process between "should I transition or should I just kill myself?", it kind of blows my mind that I was actually so afraid of rejection that I was willing to go to lengths that extreme to avoid it.  In my head, not transitioning was the safe play - as long as I didn't do it, I didn't need to worry about all of the bad things that might come along with it.

But it wasn't really the safe play.  The fact that I was willing to kill myself at the time over it tells me that.  Not transitioning was actually just decision that allowed me to stay within my comfort zone.  As long as I never let people see my true self, I wouldn't have to worry about getting rejected for it.

That kind of logic is what keeps people from making the decisions that will ultimately make them happy.  You should always try and keep yourself safe, because as far as we know this is our only chance at living and we should see it as a privilege.  But why keep yourself comfortable?  What good does that get you?

The only way to expand your comfort zone is to consciously try to step outside of it.  I say this as someone who leaves the house every day looking like an androgynous wizard in a poncho with flowy pants and rainbow dreadlocks - once you no longer fear people thinking you're weird, you become free to do whatever you want.

Go out and take risks.  Ask people out that you think are out of your league.  Apply for a job you're not qualified for, or create art for an audience knowing they might criticize you.  Some of my best experiences came from going into new social scenes alone and forcing myself to make friends - it wasn't easy, but doing so taught me how to be confident around strangers and ultimately paid off.

"Don't write checks your ass can't cash" - a lesson taught to Rich Pelkie over a game of Smash Brothers.

10.  Be Accountable For Your Mistakes, and Learn From Them

I used to self-identify as "someone who hates conflict and confrontation", and I would avoid them like the plague.  In doing so, I became something of a doormat.  People would ask me favors and I'd say "yes" even though I wanted to say no, because the idea of being honest made me more awkward than just doing the favor and not saying anything.

I used to think that was just part of who I am.  And it got to the point where it caused me real-life tension, when I would start to get angry with other people and not know any way to express myself.

Eventually, I realized that I can't just write myself off as "someone who can't engage in confrontation".  That isn't a core characteristic of my identity - that's just me trying to rationalize a flaw so that I didn't feel bad about not trying to improve it.

The same can be said for laziness.  Sometimes, I will put off work to the point where it becomes an annoyance for those who live with me.  I used to say that's just who I am - and those closest to me have rightfully called me out for it.  Sure, it's one of my weaknesses and even now at age 36 I can sometimes be oblivious to the fact that I'm not pulling my weight - but at least I do my best to not fall into my old habits.

Sure, everyone has their faults, and fixing them is sometimes near-impossible.  That's why they're faults.  But that doesn't mean it's not worth trying to improve ourselves, because ultimately that's how we grow.

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