Life at Warp 10

Cinderella Strong – Guest Post by August McLaughlin

Last April, I read a post on the Cinderella fairy tale that made me see it in a completely new light. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I asked the author, August McLaughlin, if she’d allow me to re-post it here today. If you’re not already a regular reader of August’s blog, make sure you go there after. It’s my favorite place to get well-being tips–from healthy eating, to inspiration, to resolutions that could save our lives.

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Cinderella Strong

By August McLaughlin

August McLaughlin Dolly Cotour Alice Hu 2011Taken literally, one could argue—and numerous have—that Disney’s Cinderella is a passive woman who does nothing to improve her dismal situation.

Rather than stand up to her evil step-family or step out on her own, she relies on others—singsong mice, her fairy godmother, and a handsome prince. She makes wishes, and they do the dirty work. Her prize? A beauty makeover and happily ever after with Bachelor #1.

In the 1980s, psychologist Colette Dowling presented similar views in her best-selling book, Cinderella Complex: Woman’s Hidden Fear of Independence. (It’s a fascinating read, if you’re interested.)

But what if Cinderella is entirely metaphorical? Here’s what I see:

Cinderella’s mice represent her spirit, prodding her to believe in “the dreams [her] heart makes?” Our hearts recognize our dreams before we can pursue them.

The evil step-family illustrates the naysayers in life—people, including ourselves, who tell us to stop striving, that our goals and pursuits are foolish, that we’re destined to live out our lives doing undesirable work, caring for everyone but ourselves.

The fairy godmother is Cinderella’s muse—the inner voice that prompts us to step out of our comfort zones and toward our passion.

The glowing gown she wears reflects how she feels once she begins honing in on her dreams. Once we find the “shoe” (life path) that fits, we stands a bit taller, and our inner-beauty shines outward.

Reverting to her “raggedy” self at midnight represents the time, rest and self-care personal growth requires. There are no quick fixes. We all face risks and challenges along the way. If we embrace them, they can help make us strong.

And speaking of passion, the hunky prince represents the handsome life Cinderella eventually obtains, and the chivalry she finally shows herself. Once that happens, the world is her stage to dance on. Sure, we might get blisters now and then, and every step won’t be graceful, but we’re free to live happy, authentic lives.

Ever seen bits of Cinderella in yourself? When have you felt Cinderella-like? What did the experience teach you?

August McLaughlin Thriller AuthorAugust McLaughlin is a thriller author, health writer and freelance journalist based in Los Angeles. To learn more, visit her website and connect with her on Twitter: @AugstMcLaughlin.

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Megamind: Is Praise More Powerful than Criticism?

MegamindBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

There’s an old joke that women marry men expecting they can change them, and men marry women thinking they’ll never change. Both end up disappointed.

Change is a tricky subject. How do we know if someone has truly changed? And how many times should we give a “second” chance? Should we even bother trying to help someone change?

Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to: We can’t change anyone, but we can be the catalyst for them wanting to change. (Click here to tweet this.)

This is exactly what happened to Megamind.

Megamind is a blue-headed alien who lands on earth as a baby after his planet is destroyed. Megamind crashes in a prison and is raised by criminals, while his nemesis (another alien baby sent from a different planet in the same destroyed galaxy) grows up in a wealthy home.

“No matter how hard I tried,” Megamind says about his school years, “I was always the odd man out. The screw-up. The black sheep. The bad boy.”

Even when he tries to do nice things for the other children, it backfires and he ends up in the corner. He decides that being bad is the one thing he’s good at.

He becomes a super-villain, and his nemesis becomes a superhero named Metro Man.

After years of battling each other, and completely by accident, Megamind manages to kill Metro Man. He takes over the city, and then…he’s bored. Without anyone to oppose him, where’s the fun in being a super-villain?

He comes up with a plan to give Metro Man’s powers to someone else and create a new hero to battle. In the process, reporter Roxanne Ritchie mistakes him for a museum curator named Bernard (thanks to a watch Megamind wears that allows him to disguise his appearance).

Roxanne and “Bernard” fall in love. As Bernard, Megamind gets told how inspiring he is, how strong and brave and funny.

Throughout his life, people lectured him about how bad he was and how he needed to change.

But he never had a chance to learn the rewards of good actions.

By loving him and showing him what life could be like if he changed, Roxanne gave Megamind the push he needed to want something different.

Megamind starts to clean up the city because he knows it will make Roxanne happy. He returns the works of art he stole. When the hero Megamind creates turns evil, Megamind finally steps up to stop him and becomes the hero himself.

Sometimes we don’t change because of the consequences of our actions. We change because we finally realize what we’re missing, and we want it more than we want to avoid the pain and struggle of changing.

I’ve been around Great Danes since I was seven years old. Danes are gluttons for attention, especially as puppies, which means that if you scold them for a bad behavior—giving them attention—they’re going to repeat that behavior any time they want your attention. If a bad behavior earns a reaction, it becomes a game for them.

So when you’re raising a Dane puppy, you have to do something that seems counterintuitive to most people. You ignore all bad behavior. No punishment. If they jump on you, you stand still, cross your arms, and turn your face away. If they chew something they shouldn’t, you distract them and hide the chewed object.

And you praise the stuffing out of them for the smallest good behavior.

Doing this hasn’t failed yet to turn out a well-behaved dog.

Dogs are very different from spouses, but perhaps the same principle applies.

What if, instead of griping and lecturing and criticizing our spouse for the things they do that we don’t like, we gave them praise and affection whenever they did something right?

Maybe you’re all better at the marriage thing than I am yet, but I know I tend to take the things my husband does right for granted. Why should I have to thank him, hug him, or praise him for doing something around the house? Isn’t that just what he’s supposed to do? So what happens is, more often than I want to admit, he only hears the negative.

Perhaps the power of praise to bring about change is highly underestimated.

Have you ever consciously or unconsciously changed your actions because of positive feedback? Parents, do you find this idea works with your children? Couples, does this work with your significant other?

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Why Every Couple Should Play Video Games Together

Marcy Kennedy World of WarcraftBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Video and computer games are some of the most underrated relationship-building tools.

My husband and I had a long-distance relationship from the time we met until we got married (and even after we got married as we waited on immigration). Many people wonder how we could possibly know each other well enough to get married if we’d never lived near each other. Alongside long hours spent talking on the phone and webcams and all-too-brief visits, we were also able to learn about each other through playing online games.

Put your skepticism on hold—I’m about to tell you three things you can learn about the person you’re with simply by playing a game together, plus why I think every couple can benefit from it.

Do they know how to share, and will they make sacrifices for you?

In World of Warcraft, the game my husband and I started playing as a long-distance dating couple, bag space is at a premium. You start with one bag (out of a possible five), and you don’t have the money to buy any more. So what? Well, if you don’t have enough bag space, you’ll waste a lot of time running back to a vendor to empty your bags rather than being able to complete all the quests in an area at once. And until you reach level 20 and get riding training and a mount, all travel is slow and on foot.

You also start out broke, with not a single coin in your purse. You have to earn money by completing quests and selling what drops from the monsters you fight. This can make buying new gear, buying bags, or getting the training you need slow at first.

Unless your significant other has a higher-level character and is willing to send your baby toon (a way of saying “low-level character”) four 16-slot bags and 250 gold. They just showed that they value helping you over advancing their own character.

Any game where two players can share items, ammo, money, or information can tell you a lot about the character of the person you’re playing with.

How do you function as a team?

In WoW, you can play cooperatively with someone else by joining a group and going on quests together. (A lot of games have this team element to them, so, again, this point isn’t confined to WoW.)

My husband and I play as a damage-dealer/healer pair. He has to have my back and protect me from mobs that would rip through my flimsy cloth “armor,” and I have to make sure I don’t let his health drop to critical levels. Does the person you’re with watch out for you, or do they run off and let you die?

Other quests and dungeons require a certain amount of strategy. In other words, you need to develop good communication skills if you expect to succeed.

And when you fail, do they blame it all on you? Or do you both accept responsibility and figure out a new plan together?

How patient will your partner be with your shortcomings (or what they consider shortcomings)?

According to my husband, I’m a slow player with limited situational awareness. I locate quests slower, choose my rewards slower, empty my bags slower—you get the idea. It’s a difference in our play styles. I’m living the fantasy and savoring the experience. He just wants to level because he’s already played the content multiple times before.

I also tend to accidentally attract bad guys because I don’t see them. I prefer to play with my view zoomed in closer, while my husband plays with his zoomed out as far as it will go. Neither of us can understand how the other plays the way they do.

So we work to find a compromise between our play styles, we try to be patient, and we continue to play together because the fun we have far outweighs our frustrations.

Have you played video or computer games with your loved one? Is there anything else you would consider an underrated relationship-building tool?

For another great post on the value of gaming in life and relationships, check out Kristen Lamb’s post “Gears of War—Playtime, Obsession, Foundation of a Happy Marriage.”

Image Credit: Jer Wilcocks Photography (That’s my husband and I from our engagement photo shoot in the picture.)

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The Dark Knight Rises: Is Your Safety Net Hurting You?

The Dark Knight Rises Batman movieDo the safety nets we give ourselves stand in the way of our success?

In The Dark Knight Rises, Batman has been “gone” from Gotham City for eight years. After the death of Harvey Dent (Two-Face), many consider Batman a villain, and Gotham hasn’t needed him. The police have violent and organized crime under control. Bruce Wayne is a recluse.

Until a new villain, known only as Bane, arrives in Gotham. He plans to first tyrannize and then destroy Gotham with a nuclear detonation. Bruce Wayne comes out of retirement and becomes Batman again to protect the city, and is betrayed into Bane’s hands. Bane cripples him and dumps him into a prison that’s essentially a hole with only one way out—straight up.

“Why didn’t you just kill me?” Bruce asks.

“You don’t fear death,” Bane says. “You welcome it. Your punishment must be more severe.”

Bruce is willing to die, so death won’t hurt him as much as seeing Gotham turn to dust. Bane leaves a television active so Bruce can watch the plot unfold.

Even while he is in the prison and claims to fear death, Bruce says, “I do fear death. I fear dying in here while my city burns and I’m not there to save it.”

It wasn’t death he feared at all. It was dying, forgotten, in a hole, rather than dying a hero, in the process disappointing everyone who depended on him—losing his ability to be Batman.

Bruce Wayne, unlike most people, didn’t need to stop fearing death. He didn’t fear death. He feared life.

After his wounds heal, Bruce makes two attempts to climb out. Anyone who wishes to escape ties on a rope (to keep them from dying when they fall) and tries to climb the curved, vertical wall.

Both of his tries fail. He’s running out of time before Bane concludes his reign of terror by killing everyone.

Finally the man in the next cell tells Bruce the secret. He has to climb out the way the only one who ever succeeded, a child, did—without a rope. To succeed, he has to be willing to risk complete failure because the fear that comes with it will make him strong. It’ll make him fight harder than he otherwise would have.

Sometimes you have to let go of the rope if you want to succeed.

When Bruce leaves behind the safety net of the rope, he’s able to make the jump. He’s also able to realize that Alfred (his faithful butler) was right when he accused him of being afraid of living and moving on beyond Batman. Batman was the rope, the safety net, in his life.

Not all safety nets are bad. My husband and I keep an emergency fund in case we have unexpected expenses. When I rode horses, I always wore a helmet.

But I’ve also cut some safety nets because I’m better, stronger, and happier without them.

Grief can be a safety net. So can anger.

Because my mother-in-law has been divorced four times, my husband and I agreed before we got married that we’d only consider divorce in the case of adultery or abuse. Without divorce as our safety net, we had to be certain we were making the right choice, and we’re forced to work hard to keep our marriage good.

Blogging and being on social media cut my writer’s safety net. Now if I fail, I do it publicly. And if I quit, you’ll all know it. I don’t have the safety net of anonymity anymore.

What safety net might be holding you back from a happy life?

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In Time: Does Death Serve a Purpose?

In TimeDoes death serve a purpose?

The movie In Time is set in a world where time is the currency instead of money. Everyone is genetically engineered to look 25 years old forever, but once you hit 25, you only have one year left to live unless you earn more time. Not surprisingly, the poor live day to day and minute to minute. The rich live forever.

Will Salas lives in the poorest time zone. He saves the life of a rich man, with over a century on his arm, who wants to die.

“The day comes when you’ve had enough,” the rich man says after revealing he’s lived 105 years already. “Your mind can be spent, even if your body’s not. We want to die. We need to.”

While Will sleeps, the rich man gives him all his time and dies. Will ends up accused of his murder and runs for it. He travels to the richest time zone, where he wins almost 1,000 years in a poker game. The man he loses to doesn’t need that time, but his pride is wounded, so he invites Will to a dinner party where he hopes to win it back in another game.

At the party, Will meets his host’s daughter, Sylvia Weis.

“What do you do, Will?” she asks.

“I haven’t quite figured that out yet.”

“Yes, why bother?” she says in a dry voice. “What’s the hurry?”

“Right. Why do today what you can do in a century?

As they dance together, Sylvia tells him she doesn’t believe his story of “coming from time” (their way of saying old money). She saw him at a restaurant earlier in the day where he was eating a little too fast. When you don’t have much time, you try to fit as much as you can into every second.

“Sometimes I envy them,” Sylvia says, referring to the people who live in the poorest time zones.

Will frowns. “You don’t know anything.”

The clock is good for no one. The poor die, and the rich don’t live. We can all live forever as long as we don’t do anything foolish. Doesn’t that scare you? That maybe you’ll never do anything foolish, or courageous, or worth a d*mn?”

Death is terrible and sad (even if, like me, you believe in an afterlife), but perhaps facing death teaches us things we couldn’t learn otherwise.

Death imposes a deadline on us that we can’t cheat or extend. It forces us, if we’re wise, to make the most of each day.

If we want to achieve something, we’re motivated to start and work toward it rather than putting it off indefinitely.

We learn to value those we love. We cherish our time with them, celebrate each birthday. We apologize and say I love you because we never know if the words we say will be the last ones they ever hear.

We have the saying “You only live once” for a reason. It reminds us to sometimes spend a little more to go to that fancy restaurant for our anniversary. To take the trip to Europe we always talked about. To leave a lasting mark for good on the world with whatever time we have.

And I wonder if the people who do that, who live each day as if they’re not sure they’ll have another, aren’t able to meet death at the end without fear, knowing their time has been well spent.

Do you think death might serve a purpose? Are we only meant to be on this earth for a limited amount of time?

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Are You Brave Enough to Take Responsibility for Your Actions?

Disney Pixar's BraveAre you Brave enough to take responsibility for your actions?

Set in the Scottish Highlands during the 10th century, Brave is the story of Merida, daughter of King Fergus of Clan DunBroch. Merida’s mother wants her to be a proper lady and marry one of her father’s allies, while Merida wants to shoot her bow and ride her horse. She wants her freedom.

While running away from the three firstborn sons who’ve come to compete in Highland games for her hand, Merida ends up in a Stonehenge-like stone circle. A path of will-o’-the-wisps appears, and Merida chases after them. They lead her to a witch’s cabin.

Merida promises to buy all the witch’s carvings, plus give her a silver necklace in exchange for one thing—a spell to change her mother. “I want a spell to change my mum,” Merida says. “That will change my fate.”

Merida blames her mother for all that appears to be wrong with her life, but doesn’t give her mother any credit for the good things she has.

After Merida’s mother eats the magical cake and turns into a bear, Merida refuses to take responsibility.

“It’s not my fault!” she exclaims. “I didn’t ask her to change you into a bear. I just wanted her to change…you.”

Merida blames the witch for changing her mother in the same way that she blamed her mother for the things she didn’t like about her life. Merida and her mother return to the witch’s cabin, but the witch is gone. She left a message for Merida, though, telling her to “mend the bond torn by pride” before the second sunrise if she wants her mother to change back.

Merida thinks this means the tapestry she sliced with a sword earlier in the movie. She manages to sew up the tapestry and throw it over her mother just in time.

But it doesn’t work.

Her mother doesn’t change back until Merida apologizes. What Merida finally realizes is that the freedom to choose her own path also comes with the necessity of taking responsibility for her actions.

Our past, our families, the things that happen to us through our lives influence us, but in the end, the responsibility for how we live is ours.

Man must cease attributing his problems to his environment, and learn again to exercise his will – his personal responsibility.”Albert Einstein

It’s not only in the big things where we love to shove responsibility onto someone else.

When we get a speeding ticket and blame the police officer, wasn’t it actually our fault for speeding in the first place?

When we forget to do something our spouse asked us to, and blame them because they didn’t remind us, wasn’t it actually our fault for not paying better attention?

Failure to take responsibility holds us back the same way it held back Merida from having a good relationship with her mother. Until we can accept responsibility for our shortcomings and failures, we can’t fix them.

When do you find it most difficult to take responsibility? Is it in the big things…or the little ones? Do you think it’s human nature to put the responsibility on others rather than accepting it for ourselves?

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The Amazing Spider-Man: Doing Good vs. Doing What’s Right

The Amazing SpidermanSometimes it isn’t easy to know what the right thing to do is.

After Peter Parker forgets to pick up his Aunt May in The Amazing Spider-Man and she has to walk home alone at night, putting herself in danger, Uncle Ben is fed up with Peter acting out and shirking responsibility. He tells Peter that his father lived by a code: “If you can do good things for other people, you have the moral obligation to do those things.”

In other words, when you have a particular talent or ability that could help others, your responsibility as a decent human being is to use your skills to benefit others.

It’s a clunky replacement for the traditional Spider-Man theme of With great power comes great responsibility. And while on the surface it could seem both the new version and the old version are essentially saying the same thing, Uncle Ben’s new line better reflects the subtle questions raised by the plot.

Because in saying that when we are able to do good things for other people, we’re morally obligated to do those things, we have to ask ourselves two questions.

Whose definition of good are we using?

And do we have a full enough view of the big picture to know what the truly good thing to do would be?

Dr. Connors, the villain in The Amazing Spider-Man, wants to release a gas into the air above New York to mutate everyone into giant lizards. As a lizard-person, he’s stronger, faster, and able to regenerate. In his own way, Connors believes he’d be helping turn people into something “better.” Humanity, in its current state, is weak. He has the power to perfect humanity. Wouldn’t that be a good thing that’s within his ability to do?

And when Peter Parker should have acted to stop the thief who later shot Uncle Ben, he stood by because he felt like the store clerk was getting what he deserved for being a jerk. In some ways, Captain Stacy was right in calling Spider-Man a vigilante. Peter felt his personal view of justice was the only right one.

For most of the movie, however, Peter’s actions fall more cleanly into a category of good accepted by the majority of people. He’s catching bad guys and helping advance science. And yet, he acts without a broad enough understanding of the consequences of his actions and the wider implications.

When he goes to dinner at Gwen Stacy’s home, he and Captain Stacy argue over whether Spider-Man is a hero or a hooligan. Peter suggests Spider-Man is doing good because he’s catching car thieves and other criminals.

“If the police wanted those car thieves off the street,” Captain Stacy says, “they would be.”

“Then why are they still on the streets?” Peter asks.

“Because they’re small fish, and we want them to lead us to the boss.”

The police were working with a bigger understanding. They wanted to catch the person in charge of the car theft ring, not just the low-level, easily replaced lackey Spidey webs to the wall. Were Spidey’s actions good? Yes. He took a criminal off the street. But did they also potentially sabotage a greater good and a longer-term plan?

Peter also gives the equation to Dr. Connors that allows the re-growth of limbs but also creates monsters. He didn’t know enough about Connor’s character or the morality (or lack thereof) of the bigwigs in Oscorp to so blithely share the equation his father worked so hard to hide.

While I do believe that we all need to use the talents we’ve been given to help others, I also believe we need to do so with a dose of humility. It’s so easy to look at what other people are or aren’t doing and think we know better.  It’s also easy to judge them from the outside looking in.

Great power isn’t just about having the responsibility to act. Great power means we have the responsibility to think about the consequences if we act, to seek the bigger picture first. And great power sometimes means waiting until the right moment to act.

How do you walk the line between knowing when to use your skills to try to help others and when not to? Do you think having good intentions makes up for it when we accidentally cause harm?

If you’re a writer, check out Jami Gold’s helpful post on How The Amazing Spiderman Rocks Subtext. Lisa Hall-Wilson also has an interesting Spiderman-themed post on The Cost of Keeping Secrets.

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Are You Working Too Hard?

Are You Working Too HardAre there limits beyond which we can’t—and shouldn’t—push ourselves even in pursuit of our goals?

In Episode 1 of Battlestar Galactica’s first season, the humans are on the run from the Cylons (machines originally created to serve humans). The Cylons’ attempted extermination of humanity left less than 50,000 survivors, and all of them now live on the small cluster of ships protected by the Battlestar Galactica.

Somehow the Cylons are able to track the human’s FTL (faster-than-light) jumps. They attack every 33 minutes, down to the second. FTL jumps are extremely difficult to plot safely, and when the episode opens, the humans are struggling to have jump coordinates ready every thirty-three minutes while also maintaining their equipment. If a ship breaks down and they can’t repair it in 33 minutes, the Cylons will kill everyone on that ship.

Because FTL jumps feel like riding a rollercoaster, not even the civilians have had more than a few minutes sleep. The fleet’s fighter pilots and other essential military personnel are running on stimulants (what they call stims).

“Five days now,” Dr. Gaius Baltar says in a rant to the Cylon delusion only he can see. “There are limits…to the human body. To the human mind. Tolerances that you can’t push beyond. All those are facts. Proven facts. Everyone has their limit.”

They can’t keep going. They have to find a way to shake the Cylons or they will all die.

The Cylons’ plan of attack is perfect because, as humans, we do have limits. We can only push so hard for so long before our bodies give out. No amount of determination can change that.

For the last year and a half, I’ve been working seven days a week on average. During some stretches, I worked 12- to 14-hour days. I was tired. I was sick every month with something new (and worked anyway). My creative well was dry. And even though I was working hard in pursuit of my dream and trying to be a responsible adult, I recently realized that I’d reached my limit physically, emotionally, and creatively.

In her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse who works with palliative care patients in the final months of their lives, explains that the second-most common regret expressed by dying people is “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” They feel like they missed out on the more important things in life in order to succeed at work.

The temptation to burn ourselves out in support of our dreams is something almost anyone in any profession can fall prey to. We might think we’re being dedicated, and sometimes there are times when we do need to push hard, but we also need to rest. Without it, we’ll ruin our health and relationships. We won’t be doing our best work. And when we look back on the end of our lives and see only work, we’ll regret it.

Ignoring the need to rest is short-term thinking.

Because of this, and because I want my life to be more than the sum total of what I’m able to produce, I’m making a change. It’s not going to be an easy change for me. I have emotional baggage (why can’t the airline lose that for us, eh?) that means I feel guilty and afraid when I’m not working. I know it’s not healthy. It’s not balanced. And there’s only one way I know to fix it.

I am taking one day a week completely off from work. No social media. No writing. Maybe even no housework. I’m also setting aside one afternoon/evening a week to spend time with my husband. He deserves more of my time than he’s been getting.

Maybe this change means I’ll reach my goals a little slower. Maybe it means we have to live a simpler life and pinch a few more pennies in the short term.

And you know what? I’m okay with that, because I’m in this for the long haul. A life well-lived is about the long haul.

Have you been burning yourself out in the pursuit of your dreams because you think that’s the only way to “make it?” Or are you instead fighting, like me, to find a balance? I’d love to hear about the choice you’ve made and how/why you’re putting it into action.

(For an excellent, non-geeky look at this topic, check out Emma Burcart’s post “Sometimes We Just Need a Break.” For writers, I also love Kristen Lamb’s beautiful post “There Is A Season” where she talks about needing to let our minds, bodies, and imaginations rest if we want to be career authors rather than one-hit wonders.)

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Photo Credit: Michael Lorenzo (obtained via www.sxc.hu)

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How to Use Our Weaknesses to Our Advantage

Image by Sarej at sxc.huHow do you feel about your weaknesses? Are they things you’re ashamed of and try to hide? Or do you brush them off because we’re only human?

Have you considered your weaknesses might actually be a secret source of strength?

Ehud was an Israelite who lived sometime between 1380 BC and 1050 BC when the kingdom of Moab had beaten Israel in battle. After 18 years of living as subjects of Moab, the Israelites chose Ehud to deliver their annual tribute.

But Ehud wasn’t a normal messenger. He was left-handed, and he had a plan.

In the ancient Middle East, being left-handed was often looked at as a disability, but it’s possible that Ehud and many of his family members used this seeming disadvantage to their advantage. They took what was a weakness and found a way to turn it into a strength that allowed them to be unique fighters.

Ehud made a two-edged sword the same length as the distance from his elbow to the tip of his middle finger, and he hid it under his clothes on his right thigh.

After the tribute was paid to the king of Moab, Ehud sent those who carried the tribute back home ahead of him, and he turned back to talk to the king alone.

“I have a secret message for you, O king,” Ehud said.

The king sent away all his attendants so only he and Ehud remained in the cool room. Ehud motioned the king closer, grabbed his sword with his left hand, and plunged it into the king’s belly fat. The king was so fat, in fact, that his belly flab closed around Ehud’s sword, hiding it.

Ehud left, locking the door behind him. When the king’s servants returned and found the door locked, they assumed the king was relieving himself. So they waited. And waited. And waited, until finally they became embarrassed by how long the king was taking and unlocked the door to find their king dead.

The Israelites took advantage of the disorder caused by the death of the Moabite king to free themselves. They ended up having peace for 80 years.

All thanks to Ehud’s seeming weakness. Had he been a right-handed man and reached for his sword with his right hand, the Moabite king would have seen the attack coming. He would have been able to stop Ehud in time, or at least scream for help. Only a left-handed man could have succeeded, because the king didn’t expect an attack from the left hand.

Retired professional basketball player Michael Jordan once said, “My attitude is that, if you push me towards something that you think is a weakness, then I will turn that perceived weakness into a strength.”

We all have the capability to turn what looks like a weakness into a strength.

My tendency to be stubborn (which is a nicer way of saying unreasonably obstinate and inflexible) about some things can also mean I’m determined and don’t easily give up. I just need to watch that I give other viewpoints genuine consideration.

My husband is a procrastinator. He puts off or delays even important things until the last minute. While it’s difficult for a workaholic like me to see sometimes, when properly harnessed, this means he knows how to separate work time and play time in a way I can’t seem to master.

People who stutter have the potential to become some of the most talented speakers and actors because their weakness forces them to pay attention to their breathing, inflection, and tone. Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis, and James Earl Jones all stuttered.

Not every weakness can be turned into a strength, but I think many of them can be, depending on how we look at them. If we can figure out how to bind the aspect of our weakness that hinders us, it allows the strength hidden within to come out.

Do you have a weakness that you think could be turned into a strength? Or do you think that we shouldn’t bother working on our weaknesses and should instead focus on making our strengths even stronger?

Photo Credit: Andrzej Pobiedziński (obtained via www.sxc.hu)

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Would You Change Anything About Your Past?

Apollo and DaphneSometimes I wish I had the power to turn people to stone.

Or into a tree like Daphne, when she was pursued by Apollo.

The great warrior Apollo mocked Eros (the Greek god of love) for handling a bow and arrows. “What have you to do with warlike weapons, boy?” Apollo asked. “Leave them for hands worthy of them.”

Angered, Eros drew two arrows—one of gold that would make the victim fall in love with the next person they saw, and one of lead that would instead inspire hatred. Eros shot Apollo with the golden arrow and the beautiful nymph Daphne with the lead arrow.

Apollo fell madly in love with Daphne, and she fled from him in fear and disgust. Apollo chased her.

But more than just her hatred of Apollo spurred Daphne to run as fast as she could. Throughout her life, Daphne chose to explore the woods over giving in to the advances of the many men who wanted her. She longed to guard her virginity and stay unmarried like Apollo’s sister had.

She stood to lose everything if Apollo caught her. And he was gaining on her.

Daphne called out to her father for help, and he turned her into a bay laurel tree. Her skin changed to bark and her hair into leaves, and her arms sprouted out into branches.

Daphne was safe from Apollo and from all the other potential lovers who might have stolen her virginity against her will.

That’s the power I wish I had. To turn people into something else so I could protect them from hurt and from harm.

Lately people all around me seem to be hurting. They’ve lost their job or can’t get the job they’ve always wanted. Their children are sick, or their marriages are ending. My grandparents are struggling to adjust to losing their independence and having to leave their home. My former neighbor’s son died in a head-on collision a week before his wedding.

It’s difficult to see so many people in pain.

And yet, I wonder. If I could protect them all from anything that would harm them, would that actually be for the best?

Daphne was safe, but she was also stuck as a tree forever. She couldn’t explore the woods anymore or take part in the woodland sports she loved. She couldn’t grow as a person. She couldn’t change her mind about what she wanted from her life.

Was safety worth what she lost to gain it?

What if the trials and the pain are what turns us into the people we’re supposed to be and gets us to the place we need to be?

Blogger and fantasy writer Tameri Etherton recently wrote a beautiful post about how her failed marriage in England and the guy in a band who broke her heart and stole her sunglasses taught her to love unconditionally and made her able to appreciate her now-husband when he finally came along. She ended the post by saying, “Sometimes people ask if I’d like to go back and change anything in my life. I would be afraid to do that. If I changed one thing, then maybe I wouldn’t be where I am right now.”

I’d be afraid too. When I look back on my life and my husband’s life, I can see how each disaster actually brought us one step closer together and made us better people.

I’m more resilient and more hopeful than I was. I’m more merciful. I think I’m also more patient and determined. And I’m doing what I love for a living.

When I look at the challenges we’re still facing and the challenges people we care about are facing, I can’t help but think one day we’ll look back on them, too, and be unwilling to change a thing because of the place they brought us to.

Do you think we get something from enduring trials that we couldn’t get from a perfect life? Would you do back in time and change anything if you could?

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Photo Credit: Debra Kristi on WANA Commons

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