Repacking Your Bags: Lighten Your Load for the Rest of Your Lifeby Richard J Leider, David A Shapiro
Repacking Your Bags helps people develop their own unique vision of the good life and take practical steps at home and at work to make that vision a reality. Repacking is a travel guide for success with fulfillment and a more authentically meaningful life. It provides a simple yet elegant process to help people ask the right questions -- and get the right answers
Repacking Your Bags helps people develop their own unique vision of the good life and take practical steps at home and at work to make that vision a reality. Repacking is a travel guide for success with fulfillment and a more authentically meaningful life. It provides a simple yet elegant process to help people ask the right questions -- and get the right answers -- along the way. It helps them put together a ""trip plan"" that provides for the elements of the good life: work, love, place, and purpose. As a result of repacking, readers will be able to reach for and achieve their vision of the good life.
- Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- Second Edition
- Product dimensions:
- 6.00(w) x 8.93(h) x 0.97(d)
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repacking your bagsLIGHTEN YOUR LOAD FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE
By RICHARD J. LEIDER DAVID A. SHAPIRO
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2002 Richard J. Leider and David Shapiro
All right reserved.
Chapter Onerefinding your smile
Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag And smile, smile, smile. —George Asaf, 1915
In the movie City Slickers, Billy Crystal plays Mitch Robbins, a disillusioned radio advertising salesperson who takes a much-needed vacation to a Western dude ranch with a couple of longtime friends. At the beginning of the film, he's reconsidering whether he really wants to go—what with all the daily trials and tribulations of his life, he thinks the trip will be more trouble than it's worth. His wife disagrees, explaining why she thinks it's so necessary that he get away.
"You need to go find your smile," she tells him. She insists that rediscovering his sense of humor matters more than anything else he's doing at the time.
She's right. And over the course of the film, Mitch learns this, too. He comes to understand the value of laughter and what a difference it makes to have a smile in one's heart. At the end of the movie, nothing in his life has changed, but everything has. He still has the same job, the same family, the same problems, but having refound his smile, he is able to embrace them with a renewed sense of joy.
Over the years, we've met many people who are in the same place as Mitch at the start of the film. They've lost their smiles. There's little or no joy in their hearts. The days ahead look flat and repetitive, as boring and monotonous as high school math class. Faced with this prospect of endless replication, people "lose their edge." They feel dull—and dulled. They feel trapped, insulated. They "go through the motions," of living, but there's no life in their lives.
We hear their dissatisfaction expressed in a couple of different ways:
"I'm so overwhelmed these days. I don't know how to have fun anymore."
Or "It's just the same thing day after day. I never do anything that's fun."
That's not quite true. Most of these people have lots of fun. They've got their garages filled with all kinds of fun stuff: golf clubs, jet skis, mountain bikes, you name it. For many of them, "fun" has become an addiction. But as with most addictive substances, people build up a tolerance. So despite all the "fun" things people do, they're still not having fun.
What's really missing is a sense of joy. People find that they no longer feel an authentic joyfulness in living, despite all the fun stuff they have or do. And this is the case whether they're male or female, young or old, rich or poor, or at any stage of life.
What's happened to people is that they've lost a delicate, but critical, component of aliveness and well-being—they've lost their eccentricities. It happens to many of us as we grow up and make our way in the world. We fit in. We see how other people survive and we copy their style—same as everyone else. Swept along by the myriad demands of day-to-day living, we stop making choices of our own. Or even realizing that we have choices to make.
We lose the wonderful weird edges that define us. We cover up the eccentricities that make us unique. Alfred Adler, the great 20th century psychologist and educator, considered these eccentricities a vital part of a happy and fulfilling lifestyle. Ironically, the very term he coined—lifestyle—has come to imply something almost entirely opposed to eccentricity. It's turned out to mean a preconfigured package, formatted for easy consumption. Lifestyle now relates to things that we buy—someone else's idea of what we need to be happy. But is anyone really satisfied with these mass-marketed ideas of happiness? Is anyone really nourished by a McLifestyle?
It's no wonder so many people feel they've lost their smiles. But more poignantly, how many would even notice if they found them?
Why Do We Feel So Bad?
Forbes Magazine—"the capitalist's tool" no less—devoted its entire 75th anniversary issue to the question "Why do we feel so bad ... when we have it so good?" Some of the country's finest writers offered opinions on why so many feel so depressed despite having opportunities of which our ancestors could only dream. Their writings echoed a common theme—we're unhappy because something is missing in our lives, something that all the fancy gadgets and fun toys in the world can't replace.
The lifestyle choices surround us, beckoning from glossy magazines and flashy commercials. Yet despite all these choices, few of us really feel much freedom to choose. There's little sense of creative expression, it's always going somewhere, never being anywhere. As soon as we do opt for something, it begins to chafe ... because it never really fit us in the first place. We get trapped into thinking we'll be happy if we behave a certain way, live a certain lifestyle, and purchase all the products that go along with it.
Everywhere you look, you see people pursuing happiness, as if it's something they could capture and cage. But pinning happiness down only destroys it. It's too wild for that—it needs room to roam. You have to give it time, let it wander, surprise you.
Dave tells a story about how he learned this the hard—but funny—way.
It's not just glossy lifestyles people grab for. Instead, some of us try to appropriate slightly more tarnished images—but with just as predictable results.
The lifestyle I lusted after was the Henry Miller meets Jim Morrison expatriate poet/writer, eking out a living on the fringes of society. I wanted an alternative lifestyle, but I didn't want to have to invent my own alternatives.
So a few years ago, I moved to Paris and bought into the whole tortured artist scene. I dressed only in black and even took up smoking cigarettes to complete the picture.
It was all very serious—and when I look back at it now, all very pretentious and boring. There was one moment, though, when my dark veneer of self-importance sustained a major—and truly enlightening—crack. I was sitting in a cafe, nursing a glass of Bordeaux, affecting a pose of resigned world-weariness. I observed the passersby outside on the street going through the pointless motions of human life, and my heart was filled with deep existential despair. A small dog appeared, and while I watched, deposited a large turd on the sidewalk just in front of the cafe entrance. It seemed to me to be the perfect metaphor for the filth and degradation of everyday existence.
I ordered another glass of wine and resolved to sit and watch until someone stepped into the mess, feeling that this would sum up perfectly how we move through our days—blithely wandering along until, all of a sudden, and for no reason at all, we are soiled with foul and noxious excrement.
The show turned out to be quite amusing—and exciting as hell. Person after person would almost step into it, but at the last second, either notice and move aside or luckily just miss it. It was like watching a daredevil high-wire act at the circus. I started to have a great time. I was smiling, laughing out loud. I even stopped smoking.
The patron of the cafe, who had always seemed to me to be this forbidding character, came over to me, lured by my good humor. We got into a great conversation about philosophy and American baseball. He introduced me to his wife, who, after remarking that I was too thin, went away and returned with a bowl of the most delicious potato stew I have ever tasted. The patron broke out a special bottle of wine that we shared with great conviviality. I talked to more people that evening than I had in the entire five previous months, and somewhere along the line, forgot all about my artistic angst.
I ended up closing down the cafe, and after bidding a fond adieu to my new friends, stepped merrily out the door ... and right into the pile of dog-doo. The joke was on me—literally.
That was the loudest I laughed all night. I had refound my smile, and it stayed with me the rest of my trip.
Like Dave with his ready-to-wear angst and off-the-shelf torment, most of us try, at one point or another, to buy into a prepackaged lifestyle we think will make us happy. Just look at the catalogues we get in the mail. You've got your choice of J. Crew's sensitive urban professional. Or L.L. Bean's semireconstructed rural pioneer. The Sharper Image's early-adopting techno-whiz with plenty of disposable income. Automobiles, theoretically, provide the same easy answers. A certain kind of person drives a Volvo. He or she wouldn't be caught dead behind the wheel of a Toyota, which is driven by another kind of person. And neither would ever consent to drive their father's Oldsmobile.
Prepackaged lifestyles let someone else—usually someone fictional—do our living for us. The promise, which is also the curse, is that we can slip on a new lifestyle, including the emotions that go along with it, as easily as slipping on a new item of clothing.
The images that go along with prepackaged lifestyles are always successful ones. Models in the catalogues are always smiling and laughing. They're trim and fit. Characters on our television shows are—if not always glamorous—at least funny, and sure of themselves. The message is that their prepackaged lifestyle works. So when for us, it doesn't, we don't question the lifestyle, we question ourselves.
We think, "Oh, I just need something else, one more thing, and then I'll be happy." It's the catalogue-shopping approach to the good life. The problem is that every few weeks (or around the holidays, every other day) there's a fresh crop of new catalogues. So we're kept in a constant state of unfulfilled desire. The things we buy don't satisfy us, but we keep grabbing for more. We're addicted to accumulation, but our tolerance level is so high that enough is never enough.
No wonder so many people see their own lives described in The Overworked American, the best-seller by Harvard University economist Juliet Schor. As she points out, since mid-century, when given the choice, Americans have consistently opted for higher salaries and more money over more time for leisure and family. Yet has this made us any happier? Polls indicate the answer is no. Thus, she notes, we are trapped on a treadmill of more work, more consumer goods, and more destruction of the earth.
And on that treadmill, what happens to one's smile? Well, look around. See the expression so many people wear: half grimace, half fear. Lots of us look like we just ate a bad burrito—with great determination. We're not sure what's going to happen, but we're damn sure not going to let it affect us.
Many of us who have worked hard our entire careers reach a point, usually about middle age, when we examine our lives and say, "Hey! Is this all there is? When does the fun start?"
The problem for many people today is that they've never really developed their own vision of success. They've assumed that if they just bought into someone else's image of what it means to be happy, they'd be happy, too.
It's as if they think they can find their smiles by buying a clown mask. But that doesn't change anything. And as the old song says, it doesn't hide the tears when no one's around.
Refinding Your Smile
In the 18th century, Sebastian Chamfort wrote, "The most wasted day is one in which we have not laughed." How many days have you wasted recently? When was the last time you had a real good belly-laugh?
The famous editor and writer, Norman Cousins, explained in his best-seller, Anatomy of an Illness, how laughter helped him overcome the pain of his severely debilitating disease of the endocrine system. "I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep." Part of the therapy he designed for himself included watching Marx Brothers' movies and reading humor books.
Cousins noted only one negative side effect of his laughter when he was in the hospital—it disturbed the other patients. No doubt because they weren't laughing themselves. It's too bad he didn't have a big-screen TV, because sharing laughter is even better than laughing alone. Two smiles—like two heads—are better than one.
Humor is a gift to both receiver and giver. Stand-up comics talk about getting addicted to the rush that comes from performing. "Making a whole room of people laugh is better than sex," says comic Ralf Leland. "But then again, I've never had sex with a whole room."
Laughter made Norman Cousins feel better physically, but there's another sense of feeling better, too. Regular doses of laughter also make you better at feeling. A good belly laugh loosens you up. It brings all your emotions closer to the surface.
People who are quick to laugh strike us as lively and warmhearted. Thomas Carlyle, the 19th century Scottish philosopher, said that no one "who has laughed heartily and wholly can be altogether irreclaimably bad." On the other hand, humorless people usually seem severe and uptight. It's hard for us to imagine a group of stiff-collared Pilgrims slapping their knees and yukking it up. We tend to envision their lives as emotionally limited—not too hot, not too cold. Under control. Laughter has a way of breaking down that control. It's subversive. Nothing like a pie in the face to bring a bigshot back down to size.
We all can use a little subversion in our own lives. We can all stand to have a little air let out of our inflated egos. In Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, the wood nymph Puck, that "merry wanderer of the night," delights in poking fun at old gossips, wise aunts, and other pompous self-important types. He tells how his antics make whole crowds of people "hold their hips and laugh/and waxen in their mirth, and neeze and swear/A merrier hour was never wasted there."
How many merry hours have you wasted lately?
If you can laugh at yourself, it changes your whole mood. Think of that the next time you're rushing madly around in the morning, desperate to get to work. Step back and try to see the humor in the situation. Imagine yourself in one of those old time silent comedies. What would the Keystone Kops have to say about your character?
Tips for Refinding Your Smile
You know the feeling you get when you look over your old high school yearbook? It's an odd mixture of relief and regret coupled with a certain disbelief that you ever could have been there or done that. As you repack your bags you'll probably have similar feelings. What will sustain you though, and make it an enjoyable as well as rewarding experience, will be your ability to see the lighter side of the choices you made. If you can hang on to your smile, you'll do a better job of repacking and just as importantly, have more fun while doing so.
As a wrap-up to this part of the process and warm-up for what comes next, here are a few additional tips and suggestions for refinding your smile. As you move on through this book and afterward, we encourage you to revisit them whenever you need a lift.
Prime your smile.
It's easier to keep laughing than to start. So treat yourself to things you find funny as a means to get your laughter engine going. Rent some Marx Brothers or Three Stooges movies, or listen to a few tapes by George Carlin, Lily Tomlin, or Robin Williams.
Laugh, and the whole world laughs with you.
Laughter has its roots in shared experience. So schedule a dinner party or a picnic to be with people who make you laugh and, more importantly, who find your jokes funny.
Play with kids.
Kids are funny, and they know it. If you spend some time with them—playing, as opposed to trying to make them clean their rooms or whatever—you're certain to find a laugh or three.
Excerpted from repacking your bags by RICHARD J. LEIDER DAVID A. SHAPIRO Copyright © 2002 by Richard J. Leider and David Shapiro. Excerpted by permission of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Leider is a career counselor, consultant, and director of Leider, Inc.
Shapiro is a writer, consultant, and education director of the northwest center for philosophy for children.
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