Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Because I Can . . .

I have likely mentioned in an earlier post that I have coordinated an annual retreat for a group of professional speaker friends of mine for the past 12 years. By definition, a professional speaker is someone who gets paid a fee for presenting a keynote speech, conducting a seminar, facilitating a workshop or presenting a humorous program for some kind of group, corporation, institution or government agency. They generally earn all, most or a substantial amount of their annual income from their speaking services. We call this the Veteran Speakers Retreat because all of the speakers who attend (including their spouses) have been presenting for at least a couple decades. But, in truth, we are a bunch of seniors in the third-half of our lives and have now developed interests other than building our speaking businesses.

Part of the planning process for each year's retreat is determining what topics we will discuss at our interactive morning sessions. We only have sessions in the morning because we want to go out and play the rest of the time. And, of course, the sessions have nothing to do with the speaking business, they just have to be fun. So, as the committee was brainstorming ideas for a theme and coming up with ideas and titles for nine of the ten sessions (one session is the same each year, so we don't have to consider anything for that time slot) a number of ideas came out. Lo and behold, the idea "because I can . . ." was put on the table. At first, it didn't mean much to most of us. Then the person who contributed the idea offered this explanation.

It seems that two of the people on the planning committee had been in South Carolina at a speaking engagement and on the way back to their home in Virginia, they decided to drive across the state of North Carolina to Charlotte to visit with another member of the planning committee and her humorous husband. At breakfast the next morning, the female member of the visiting couple poured some cereal into a bowl, added some fruit and began to eat the cereal and fruit without adding any milk. This struck the female of the host couple to be a bit peculiar. Whoever heard of eating cereal without milk, she thought. So, curiosity got the best of her and she asked the visiting female why she was eating her cereal and fruit without milk. Here was the reply . . .

"Because I can!"

Now, think about it? That is a perfect answer. There doesn't need to be any other detailed explanation. It gets right to the fact of the matter. She eats cereal and fruit without milk because she can. So, we adopted that as the theme of the weekend for the retreat.

Now, of course, just like in the news, you hear the new buzz phrase "back story," meaning, so, this is the story, but what is the actual story behind  the story, what led up to the story. So, since we determined that we all do things "because we can," there has to be some kind of background to whatever it is that "you can (do)." We then took the concept of the "back story" and created four sessions from that, all related back to "because I can." I might add that the female member of the visiting couple does seminars and workshops on storytelling. Thus, this all comes together in a nice, neat package. The four sessions we created were titled:

Back Story: Surprises That Got You Here . . . (the unexpected that got you here this place in your life)
Back Story: Difficulties That Got You Here . . . (difficult challenges in your life)
Back Story: Blessings That Got You Here . . . (divine providence, people, events)
Back Story: Stupid Things That Got You Nowhere . . . (those stupid ideas and choices you shouldn't have made)

It's your turn now. What are the things you do in your life just "Because you can?" Everyone of us has at least one thing, but probably many. For example, I like oatmeal (back to cereal again), however, I drink almost no cow's milk any longer. I like my oatmeal with raisins, cinnamon and real maple syrup (real as opposed to the maple flavored syrup made mostly with corn sugar and artificial flavor and color). No milk, thank you very much!

Here's another example. When I pick up a new book, I don't just open it up and read it. I look at the title and sub-title. Then I read the back cover. If it's a hard cover book with a dust jacket, I next read about the author on the back jacket flap. Then I read about the book on the front jacket flap. If I'm still interested, I check the copyright date to see how old the information is. Then I look over the chapter and section titles in the table of contents. If something there peaks my interest, I turn to the index and look for specific subjects, topics and key words. If there is no index, that's pretty much the kiss of death for that book. If I find the subjects, topics and key words I'm interested in I'll flip to look at some of those pages. That's when I'll finally decide if I want to buy and read the book. My time is valuable and my money is hard earned, so before I'll invest any of either of those commodities I want to be reasonably sure I won't be wasting either of them. And I do this, why? Because I can.

Of course, I have lots of back stories about many things that have brought me to where I am today and can do all the things I choose to do, just "because I can."

Because You Can . . .

Take a little time and think about some of the things that others may view as a bit quirky or eccentric about you. These are things you do "because you can." They are some of the things that make you a "designer original." There is no one exactly like you in the world, even if you have a twin or a couple triplet siblings. It's also one of the wonderful things about being human. We each have the freedom and capability of doing certain things in certain ways, probably different than anyone else you know. You were blessed with this right and freedom.

Grab a pad and write down three things (or more if you want to) that you do "because you can." Think of things that others may glance at you strangely when you do whatever is. Perhaps it's something others envy or admire you for. Maybe it's something that grates on someone else's nerves like scraping your fingernails down an old fashioned chalk board (they were mostly black in my early school days and were called blackboards).

After you've written them down, look at them and relish these unique things just "because you can."

Back Stories . . .

Everyone has a back story. To be more accurate, everyone has many back stories. What are some of yours? Many of my back stories are based around the very diverse, interesting (at least to me) and, at times, exciting and even a little glamorous career I've had in audio and video recording, production and sound services. I'm proud of founding the radio station at the college I attended that is still on the air and has since become part of the curriculum of the (now) university, 46 years later. I'm proud that my little budding media production company in Washington, DC had the exclusive contract to produce all the radio public service announcements keeping the public informed with the agency responsible for the U.S. bicentennial celebration in 1976. Each event, whether in your professional career, your family, your community or your own personal interests is a part of the big back story that is your life.

Back Story: Surprises That Got You Here . . .

Take your pad and pencil again and write down three (or more) "Surprises" that got you to where you are in life today. Perhaps it was how you met your spouse, if you have one. Perhaps, it was preparing for one occupation or profession and then some surprise, a serendipity, came along and took you in a direction you had never considered and became the thing that carried you to where you are today. Believe me, there are so many you could write a book of your back stories.

After you write them down, just a couple brief sentences, reflect on them. How did they change your life? Where might you be had this "Surprise" not have happened? Who might you be married to? What might your career look like? You get the idea.

Back Story: Difficulties That Got You Here . . .

No one gets through this life without some adversities. You've heard it said, I'm sure, and there is even a book by this title, "Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People?" Other people express it as "S**t Happens!" What are the "Difficulties," the tough challenges, the things that came along and changed your life in a way you could have never guessed you'd ever face. Again, grab your pad and pencil and write down three (or more) of them. Just a few brief sentences to remind you of these events and challenges.

Once again, after you have written them down, take some time to reflect on them. You are today who you are and where you are, in some part, larger or smaller, because of these "Difficulties" you faced and had to deal with, like it or not.

Back Story: Blessings That Got You Here . . .

Yes Sir! Yes Ma'am! It doesn't matter whether you are religious, spiritual or a non-believer, you have been blessed. Just think about of all the places in the world you could have been born and from all the parents who could have joined a sperm and egg cell. You are the totally unique individual you are. Maybe you were born in abject poverty and that made you want to do everything you could to get out of that condition as an adult. Maybe you were born in a very wealthy family who spoiled you rotten and you wanted out of that situation. There are so many circumstances it's impossible to even consider how unique your "Blessings" are. Take that pencil in hand and jot down a few descriptive sentences about three (or more) "Blessings" in your life. Perhaps, you've never even thought of them as "Blessings" before.

Now, take some time and reflect on these "Blessings" and how they got you to where you are today. Maybe you've thought about this in the past. But, then again, maybe not. It's time to start realizing just how "Blessed" you are no matter what your circumstances at the moment.

Back Story: Stupid Things That Got You Nowhere . . .

Now, this back story can either be fun or embarrassing or both. Let's face it! No one goes through life without doing some really stupid things. Oh, they seemed reasonable, logical, rational and like the right thing at the time, but when the rubber hit the road, we got nowhere. We were the black patch left on the road as the car sped away. Yes, these are the things we really want to forget and we hope no one else remembers them either. But, alas, they are part of our lives and, while they got us nowhere, hopefully as we look back now we can laugh at ourselves and wonder just what we were thinking at the time. So, for the last time, grab that pad and pencil and write down three of these "Stupid" things that got you nowhere. It's not likely that you only had three or less. None of us are that good. It could have been a relationship, business decision, job change, moving to a new home or leaving an old home or taking a vacation that shouldn't have happened. Whatever they are write them down.

And, as before, take a little time to reflect on these "Stupid" things and think about what the lesson was from each one of them. If you can, have a good laugh on yourself. Believe me, you are not even close to being alone. No one wants to really admit they made some "Stupid" decisions and did things they really don't want to bring to light. But believe me, each one made an important impression on who you are and how you, somehow, got to where you are today.

Because You Can . . .

So, here's the thing. You are the sum total of everything you've ever done, all your blessings, every relationship you've ever had, no matter how long or short the duration, every decision you've ever made, every challenge or difficulty you ever faced and, yes, every stupid thing you've ever done. Relish this. It is who you are and why you are precisely where you are today. And, here's the best part. If you're not who you want to be or doing what you want to do or being where you want to be . . . you have the freedom to change any or all of it "Because You Can . . ."

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