Emily Brontë Died at Thirty

How Old Are You?

Charlotte Bronte coloured drawing
My wife and I recently watched the movie To Walk Invisible about the Brontë sisters. These amazing sisters created some of the most enduring works of English literature.

The eldest sister Charlotte wrote Jane Eyre (Penguin Classics). The youngest sister Anne wrote Agnes Grey (Penguin Classics). The middle sister Emily wrote Wuthering Heights (Penguin Classics).

Their decision to write and publish under male pseudonyms is an amazing story of strategy and perseverance. Charlotte was “Currer Bell,” Anne was “Acton Bell,” and Emily was “Ellis Bell.”

As with all writers in their day, their work was conducted often by candlelight and always by hand with ink and quill on paper. I am writing this post in an online editor with cut and paste, auto-spell check, and the ability to publish to the world with one click of the “publish” button. It is hard to even envision the painstaking effort they expended to bring these works to readers.

There are many aspects to their story that I find amazing, but perhaps the thing that strikes me most is the fact that Emily Bronte lived only 30 years. In fact, her youngest sister Anne lived only 29 years. Charlotte lived only to the age of 38.

I do not measure myself against women who were among the most gifted writers in the English language, but I do draw two lessons from their lives:

  1. Youth should be no barrier. If anyone told them they were too young, the Brontës did not listen. Some of us seem to be waiting until some magic future date when we are of sufficient age to do something important. Go ahead and do it now. Will you get better at it as you get older? Probably. Maybe. Maybe not. In the case of the Brontës, there was no getting older. Life is uncertain and short. That leads to the second lesson…
  2. What are you waiting for? Go ahead and get started doing something you really want to do and need to do. Don’t wait for later and older. Do it now. Get it started. Do not let resistance paralyze you. If you plan to do creative work (writing, music, art, entrepreneurship), get a copy of The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles and let it motivate you. The main thing is to act. Now.

I have to confess that while we have had copies of both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights in our library for years, I have read neither. I am going to correct that soon. I think that as I read them knowing just how young these authors were when they wrote them, it will really reinforce the two lessons above.

Hopefully it will motivate me to act.

How old are you at present? If older than 30, take encouragement from what these young women did at a younger age than you. If you are younger than 30, follow the Bronte’s lead. Make it happen.

Are You a Cynic?

It is hard not to be a cynic. Put a less tortured way, it is easy to be a cynic.

The definition of the word “cynic” I have in mind is this from Dictionary.com:

a person who believes that only selfishness motivates human actions and who disbelieves in or minimizes selfless acts or disinterested points of view

I think the reason it is so easy for me to become a cynic is because I am often myself “motivated by selfishness.” I often myself doubt “selfless acts and disinterested points of view.” In other words, I am probably a cynic because I see those undesirable traits in myself and often ascribe those same motivations to others.

Cynicism can become so pervasive that you can come to disbelieve and doubt nearly everything. Most of us listen to political speeches this way. Everything Obama/Trump said/says is ascribed the worst possible motivations and intents. This is regardless of which side you are on. You may, in fact, become so cynical that you feel that way about all sides of an issue and about all representatives of those perspectives.

It is not confined to politics. It reaches into personal relationships where we simply do not trust that anyone is coming from a place of true sincerity or altruism.

Frankly, I am getting tired of cynicism. It is always easier to tear something down than it is to build it. The tools of the trade for the cynic include snide remarks, biting sarcasm, and derisive laughter. It is rather easy to be against.

Which is easier, constructing a high rise building or knocking it down with a wrecking ball?

At some point the onus must be on me not just to sit back, criticize, and tear down. Once I have knocked everything down there will be no more buildings. At some point I need to start building something. It is not enough to just be against everything. I need to actually be for something.

Of course, when I begin building, the cynics will be there to knock down. Perhaps that is the real barrier to positive action? Perhaps the cynic believes that he or she can avoid being a target by always being the wrecking ball. That is convenient. It is also lazy and timid.

This is not an argument in favor of naivete. I realize that human beings ARE often motivated by selfishness and insincerity. It is the human condition. I have already acknowledged it in my own life. This is simply me recognizing the limitations of my cynicism and stating a desire to stop being so cynical. I have a responsibility to actually do something.

Don’t just stand there – do something.

The real danger of cynicism is that it can devolve into pessimism. Pessimism unchecked can turn into depression and ultimately despair. What I need in my life is less pessimism and more optimism. I do not need unrealistic optimism, but I will take an extra helping of optimism nonetheless. Most of us are not anywhere near overdosing on optimism or hope.

Note: I thought of linking to Teddy Roosevelt’s speech delivered at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1910 where he derides the critic and the cynic. However, I can envision someone reading this that will be cynical about his motivations for delivering the speech. If you want to read it, it is only a web search away. Search the phrase:

teddy roosevelt the man in the arena

Identify Your Gaps to Reach Your Goals

IMG_0567 (2)Let’s say you are twenty-five years old and have a goal to become a ukelele player.

Or, let’s say you are fifteen and want to become a doctor.

Perhaps you are fifty-three with a strong desire to be a beekeeper.

Or, let’s say you are seventy years old and want to help relieve hunger in the third world.

Whatever your goals are, you need to identify the gaps between where you are now and what it will take to achieve those goals. What stands in your way? Before you can actually achieve your goal to become a ukelele player, a doctor, a beekeeper, or an aid worker, you have to be honest about what it is going to take to make that happen. If you allow your gaps to go undefined, your goal is just a dream that will likely go unrealized.

What do we do when we encounter a gap or chasm that we need to cross? We build a bridge.

Since some gaps are small and some are huge, there are bridges of all sizes. Some chasms are so large that a bridge is not possible. Have you noticed that there is no bridge from the United States to Ireland? That gap is just too large. We navigate that space in different ways.

Step 1 – Identify the Gap

These are the things missing in your life right now that must be bridged before you can reach the other side. Again, honesty is vital here. You will do yourself no favors by minimizing the task ahead or by lying to yourself about what it is going to take. Be brutally honest in defining the gap. What do you need to learn? Who do you need to meet? What certification do you need to achieve? How much do you need to pay? How long will this take?

Step 2 – Design Your Bridge

Break the bridge down into smaller steps. No one builds a bridge, or a house, or a nation without a plan. Use what you know about the gap you defined in Step 1 to create your plan for bridging the gap. Design it well so that you have confidence it will get the job done.

Step 3 – Start Building

Your bridge will be built by actions. Just as no bridge ever designed itself, no bridge ever built itself, either. The best bridge design in the world will bridge no gap if it is not actually built. Actions taken in the proper sequence will lead you to build the proper bridge and reach your goal. Establishing and following great habits is a key to making these actions effective.

Step 4 – Glance Behind You and Take Heart

Once you have built your bridge and crossed the gap, you will have achieved your goal. Now is a good time to look back over your shoulder at the bridge. See that bridge for what it really is. It is a testimony of the power you possess to envision a Forward Story, to design the practices necessary to achieve it, and to follow through on that design to realize your goal. You should now realize that you can do that over and over again. None of us truly arrive at a point where we have no ambition left. The sense of accomplishment you get from crossing the bridge and achieving a goal provides a powerful shot of confidence that you can use on bridging your next gap.

My gaps are currently gaps in taking my business to the next level and in my health goals. In other words, I am currently working on bridging more than just one gap. I have a couple of bridge-building projects going on right now. As Step 4 explains, I have bridged enough gaps in the past to have confidence that these current bridges that are under construction will take me where I want to go.

What gaps are you trying to bridge at the moment? How is it going?

Time Marches On – Mindfulness

If you keep a journal or write a blog — anything with dated entries — you are aware of the fact that time marches on. Even if you do not write with dated entries, you perceive the constant march. As I look back at the posts on this blog, I see large gaps of time where I did not post anything. It’s not that I was not busy or that life was not happening. In fact, the opposite is true. I have allowed the activity that springs from my many commitments to prevent me from writing for this site.

Among the many things I have been doing is completing the book Forward Story: Write the Future You Desire. I fully expected to have the printed books in hand by now, but I am learning the challenges of publishing. It is making me even more appreciative of the blessing of books and what goes into their creation. My already lofty view of books has increased considerably. (Update: the book was finally published in 2015).

How do we develop the perspective that since time marches on, we should be about things that really matter? At war with this obvious truth are the daily requirements of life like work, paying bills, buying groceries, changing the oil, and cooking dinner.

I believe the solution is what my good friend David calls “mindfulness.” This is making a conscious decision to be mindful about your life, your future, your past, and your day today.

If we live mindfully, we engage life as an adventure and remain active in bathing our experiences with substance and meaning.

How do you handle the march of time?

Update: Planting Seeds for the Future

About ten months ago I wrote a post about my first effort at growing a plant. I had never even tried it before, so there was a lot to learn — still is. The main point was that in order to reap anything in the future, you first need to plant seeds and tend them over time.

I have been watering, feeding, and tending those jalapeno plants over the winter months. The first day that my wife saw our first pepper was surprisingly exciting. The cycle from seed to first fruit is one of the most common processes in nature, but I hope I never lose the wonder of it all.

I have given away one of the jalapeno plants to a neighbor and still have five. Now that spring has arrived, I am almost to the reaping stage. Those five plants currently have 24 peppers growing and are nearing harvest time. Here is a photo I snapped this morning of two of the peppers on one of the plants:

Early Jalapneos

This experience has energized me to plant more. I now also have growing two varieties of tomatoes and the herbs cilantro, parsley, basil, mint, oregano, and thyme.

A few quick takeaways:

  • If you want something good to happen in the future, you must take the steps today to get it started.
  • You have to stick with it through periods of time when it appears little to nothing is happening.
  • Waiting can be boring.
  • You must continue tending, watering, feeding, and weeding your dream.
  • If you consistently do these things, you will likely have the good thing you desire.

Any experiences you want to share about dreams you have worked to achieve or your experiences along the way? Was your vision and hard work rewarded?