31 Chapters
Medium 9781605098869

5 Avoid Victimitis

Muchnick, Mark Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

WHEN I WAS in eighth grade I joined a youth group, and at our first event we had a speaker who introduced us to the PLUM game. PLUM stood for “Poor Little Unfortunate Me,” and the speaker’s contention was that most of us knew how to play this game all too well, especially when we were faced with tough challenges or if things didn’t go our way. He explained that when people play the PLUM game, they take little or no responsibility for their own situation. Instead they pretend to be victims when actually they’re just whining about their regrets—for example, how they don’t get what they rightfully deserve, how things never go their way, how they always get the short end of the stick, and all the other ways that life has somehow cheated them.

He called this pattern of behavior “victimitis” and was quick to make the distinction between it and being a true victim: “People with this condition actually have the ability to change their circumstances,” he said, “but somehow they convince themselves that they can’t.” Next he had us practice whining “Poor little unfortunate me!” in our most nasal voice possible. This way he could be certain we understood just how annoying people with this disease sounded. Then he gave some examples of the regrets that adolescents with victimitis whine about, most of which rang true for our group: “I got a bad grade on the test …” “I didn’t make the team …” “I didn’t get the part I wanted in the play …” “I’m not popular …” “My parents are on my case …” “I’m grounded for a week …” After each example we had to shout “Poor little unfortunate me!” The exercise was both invigorating and revealing, and it still sticks with me today.

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4 Turn Adversity into Opportunity

Muchnick, Mark Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

SOMETIMES LIFE THROWS us challenges that test our resilience and threaten to keep us stuck in a rut of regret. Lloyd Bachrach knows this all too well: he was born with a congenital bone deficiency that made his lower limbs so unusually small that doctors told his parents he should be institutionalized. When his parents insisted that they were going to take him home, they were warned that he would never be able to have a normal life. “He’ll find his way,” his parents responded.

Lloyd’s parents encouraged him early on to figure out how to do things on his own and refused to coddle him. To the amazement of his doctors, he learned how to crawl without the use of his legs. He became progressively mobile and, despite his severe disability, attended public school when he became school age. Lloyd’s attitude from the beginning was one of no regrets for the cards he’d been dealt in life. “You can’t miss something you never had,” he’d say. Lloyd also adopted a motto that embodied his can-do approach: “It doesn’t matter what you don’t have—just use what you do have to pursue your goals.”

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14 Listen to Your Heart

Muchnick, Mark Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

PART OF HUMAN nature is trying to make sense of the world. To do this, we apply mathematical properties, the principles of cause and effect, deductive reasoning, scientific inquiry, the laws of physics, and other time-tested tools to provide insight into how and why things happen. Yet there is still a lot that we don’t understand and can’t easily reduce to logic or linear equations. For example, why do coincidences happen? What is luck? Does karma really exist?

When we can’t explain something through science or logic, we instinctively call it a mystery, an anomaly, a miracle, magic, or fate. In essence, we are inclined to find a reason for everything that happens to us in life, even in the absence of rational explanation. This quest for meaning leads us not only to contemplate the random occurrences in our life but to consider acting on them as well. In other words, we must be open to listening to our heart and taking an unforeseen path in life when the opportunity presents itself—even though we have no guarantees about where that path will lead. This, of course, has implications for regrets: if taking this path does not work out the way I had hoped, will I regret it? Or alternatively, if I don’t take this path, will I regret not knowing where it would have led and possibly miss a life-changing opportunity?

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18 Pursue Your Happiness

Muchnick, Mark Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

WE ALL HAVE a spot in life—a place in the world where we feel happier and more energized. When you’re at your spot, you know it because it’s where you feel at your very best just for the mere fact of being there. That was the case when I first stepped foot in San Diego at the age of twenty-one. The weather was perfect, the beaches were beautiful, and the vibe was one I can only describe as “surfer casual”—shorts and flip-flops were permanently in fashion and considered acceptable attire everywhere I went. As an added bonus, snow skiing was just two hours away. You could literally be on the slopes and then back in the waves on the same day! I kept thinking to myself, I hope I live here one day.

Sure enough, I came out to San Diego to pursue my happiness. It was there that I finished my formal education, and during that time I got married, started my career, and spent unforgettable times with friends. Both my wife and I felt like we had found our spot. But only after we moved away did this realization became clearer. While moving allowed us to focus on our professional goals and get back on our feet financially, we continually found ourselves yearning to be back in California.

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30 Make the World a Better Place

Muchnick, Mark Berrett-Koehler Publishers ePub

IN A WORLD where the news headlines are monopolized by war, death, abuse, destruction, crime, tragedy, and scandal, it is refreshing once in a while to hear good news. Every now and then we come across accounts of people who have served as positive role models, done something constructive for their communities, donated their time or money, performed random acts of kindness, or even saved lives. Their stories inspire us and momentarily give us hope that the human spirit can still conquer. They also remind us that each of us can make a difference by doing our part to make the world a better place.

Two such people I know are Dave and Flo Wagner, who have spent most of their adult lives helping people make a better life in impoverished countries around the world. In their twenties, the Wagners did their first tour in the United States Peace Corps in Africa. Since then they have been actively committed to promoting entrepreneurship and educating parents about HIV/AIDS in developing nations throughout Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe, and Africa, including war-torn regions like Ethiopia and Darfur.

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