On Birth Order and National Vinyl Record Day (The latter is way cooler, the former is more apropos to counseling)

SO, today is my birthday.

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Here’s me celebrating in my second favorite hat.

That’s not what this is really about, though. It’s about the amazing holiday (or holidays) that just happens to coincide with my birthday: National Middle Child Day.

Not sure when the unilateral decision came to add a plethora of arbitrary holidays to an already over-populated American calendar, but here are a few of my favorites: Vinyl Record Day

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(ALSO my birthday, but less related to counseling, equally awesome, though, check it out); Croissant Day; Do A Grouch A Favor Day; Tell A Story Day; Scavenger Hunt Day; Flip Flop Day; and, of course, Talk Like A Pirate Day.

National Middle Child Day affords me the opportunity for a quick conversation on birth order. Birth order is both accurately predictive and keenly misinterpreted as an algorithm for individual responses.

Most people tend to hold their judgments about birth order predictions too tightly rather than viewing them as both accurate and inaccurate. Birth order both shapes our responses and doesn’t, simultaneously. We would do better to view a person’s birth order as predictive along a dynamic spectrum rather than as categorically definitive of fixed traits that have been crystallized since birth. Sometimes we will act out of these stereotypical traits–sometimes we will not.

There are a variety of factors (including but not limited to birth order) that increase the likelihood for our predisposition to specific traits. Take the middle child, for example. Middle children tend to be more go-with-the-flow, amicable types who get along well with most people…or so we like to think.

For those of you who are rebelling against my quick description of your siblings, this is where the “other factors” part comes into play. If there’s a large gap between first born and middle, or middle and youngest, this can skew the stereotypical application. Or if there are step siblings involved who were only part-time inhabitants of your home, that changes things. Or if there was significant trauma in the home, or boarding school, etc., the landscape varies.

This applies to any birth order individual. There are often characteristics that make it easy to spot birth order and others that skew the “one size fits all” research results.

Doesn’t this just reinforce the amazing mystery that is human nature? We are so simple in some ways and vastly complex in others. We can’t even understand ourselves, much less be reduced to quantifiable birth order statistics.

This complexity is often demoralizing to us. But it’s so important and useful. In light of today’s conversations that seem to reduce Robin Williams’ tragic and untimely death to a cluster of depressive attributes, remember that there was infinitely more to him than that, and there’s infinitely more to you than birth order, a DSM diagnosis, or your current situation.

I will come back to Robin Williams’ death another time, but please know I’m grateful for the positive attention these conversations bring to mental health awareness. Simultaneously, I know the heavy focus on these symptoms overshadows much of the other vibrancy offered. He can easily come across as a tortured and insecure soul in these bird’s-eye view eulogies. Just as you can come across as only tortured in your own worst moments of self-appraisal. It’s in those very moments that complexity is comforting.

With the recognition of our astonishing mystery comes the reassurance of knowing we can’t be confined to drab, brown boxes that have outlived their usefulness. So if you want to celebrate that mystery with me, slip on those headphones and pull out that circular record, the one that doesn’t fit a square box in any and every way.

Life Unplugged

So I was planning on posting about last week’s radio appearance today, but the podcast isn’t available quite yet.  So in an attempt to be adaptive, I’ll share some transitional thoughts, which will eventually entail linking my vacation experience to the conflict between the digital and analog world.  I hope to have the summary and podcast available by next week for anyone interested.

I was away over Fourth of July week.  Prior to leaving I’d decided to unplug and focus on my analog world, while tuning out the immediacy of digital demands.  I was excited about my plan to engage in borderline monastic seclusion, and to read, reflect, meditate, and spend time with my family.  As with most things in life, the results were mixed.  There were unexpected intrusions: hospital visits, 3 days of rain (where I had planned on basking in the sun), crippling thoughts, cancelled plans, and a variety of other obstacles.  I had two options: view the week as a failure, or choose to face the life lessons and enjoy the moments of adaptive possibility.  There was definitely internal conflict about which path to choose.  The emotional side of me wanted to say it was a failure.  Ultimately, I couldn’t escape what I knew was stirring in me–a teachable moment.

So what does it mean to unplug on vacation, knowing that we’ll face hurdles and inconveniences (both externally and internally)?  To unplug is to set a boundary that our life and emotions don’t always cooperate with.  For me, it translates into allowing enough distance from my routine to be affected by the parallel change in culture, rhythm, and relationship .  And when I become disconnected from the routine, a routine that lures me into a sleepy, static apathy, I experience the opportunity to shift.

Our decisions to unplug on vacation will never work out exactly as we hope.  Life will, inevitably, bleed in to our attempts to avoid it.  It will disrupt our hopes in ways that are expected, and others that are unexpected.  It’s always good to be intentional about stepping away from life, making a decision to unplug, and giving ourselves the opportunity to perceive with different senses.  Instead of expecting that we’ll enjoy every moment of that time away, we’d do better to know that we can learn from it.

My vacation didn’t go as planned.  There were a lot of disappointments, frustrations, and internal demons.  But there were also some priceless moments of beauty, connection, and warmth.  What I can say is that I came home changed.  Those experiences, on some level, altered me.  They taught me much about my own weaknesses and shortcomings, and they helped to forge resiliency from being knocked over by my failures and struggling back to my feet.

In the words of Nelson Mandela, when we come back from the world of the unplugged, I hope we can come owning this reflection: “There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”  How well do you leverage all of the disappointments of life, unplugged?  Do you let them cripple you, or revive you?

Welcome

Life is layered, complicated, untamed. It’s a passion of mine to understand the layers.

I hope this is a place where we can dialogue together about the many pages, intricacies, complexities of life. Through that interaction there’s room for every one who comes here to experience understanding at an intellectual, physical, and emotional level.

Welcome to a place where life is embraced for all of its messiness. I look forward to learning from you, and I hope you find value as well.

The Storyteller

We all have a story to tell. It’s built into the fabric of our DNA.

Think about your earliest memories and what they say about your developing personality, your caregivers, and your heritage.

Now, think about one of your favorite memories. What does that memory say about your identity, interests, and values? A deep level of emotional insight is developed through sharing your life experiences, your stories, with others.

Storytelling has been an integral part of the human experience as far back as we can observe. The earliest known cultures had their own oral traditions of creation, life, and death, from the Hebrew account of creation to the Epic of Gilgamesh. Sociologists confirm this oral tradition was profoundly important due to the intimacy it created between the teller and the listener, and through the flexibility used by the narrator to tailor the message to the needs of the audience.
The storyteller had to be able to know and understand the audience, and choose what was most important for that audience, with the goal of reorienting their thinking or feeling. Storytelling, then and now, has deep meaning for identity, relationship, and life.

Most counselors don’t describe themselves as storytellers. They fear the descriptor would confuse people and lead them to think the counselor isn’t there to listen, but to talk.

Fortunately, storytelling is infinitely more than talking. A story can be told in a word, or a picture, or a look. It can be a monumental expression through one touch from parent to child, or the message captured in the furrowed brow of a friend. These interactions communicate essential elements of a relationship that deepen intimacy and reflect back to the “listener” valuable information about himself or herself.

Let me invite you to see my storytelling role this way, as a vehicle to communicate how I see you, to reflect back to you the way you see yourself, and to create a desire and understanding for the way you could see yourself. I want to invite you into a more relational experience of your world, one that can be translated to the important people in your life.

I tell a story that invites others to face tension, to see its value and not fear it. It’s a story to disturb and entice people to experience a truer picture of themselves.
We all need storytellers in our lives who are willing to help us see life as it is and point us toward the value of life as it could be. This is an invitation to understand your own story in a new and profound way.

I’ll end with the work of Mumford and Sons, songwriters who approach storytelling well. I hope this song reorients your thinking to the beauty of a journey towards authentic freedom.

After all, what good is a story unless it impacts our lives?

Mumford and Sons, “Sigh No More”

Love; it will not betray you
Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free
Be more like the man you were made to be

There is a design, an alignment to cry
Of my heart to see,
The beauty of love as it was made to be

Who do YOU want to be freed to be?