Sunday, March 21, 2010

Strength to Break Routines

To break up my routine of staring at the same face in the mirror every day, I sometimes grow beards. Each morning someone different reflects back at me, and for twenty-four hours I become that person.

The first day I’m a late sleeper who forgot to buy razors. The next, I’m on vacation, and the next I’m an international action reporter. Fourthly, I’m a college professor, and after a week, just before I shave my brown and gray beard off, I’m a much more attractive and younger version of Santa Claus.

I usually receive positive responses from friends and family about the change. This often motivates me to try and go past my Claus-in-training face to my ZZ Top. But my goal is suddenly redirected by a painful skin rash and a piercing sound.

“Why don’t you shave that thing off?” my mother will ask. “It makes you look so old and nasty.”

I quickly put the blade of my razor to my face and neck to end my suffering. But also to experience the reward of my clean-shaven skin’s first breath and the image of a man I hadn’t seen in seven days. Then I start all over again, enjoying each new person until day six when the voice and rash return.

But then my strategy to break my routine becomes its own routine and I’m right back where I started; in a routine. We need them to accomplish day-to-day goals and sometimes to build something long-term. But at what point do they stop helping, and instead start controlling? Where can we find the strength to break them?

After I graduated from high school in 1987, I changed addresses every single year until 2008. Sometimes it was just to another floor in the same building or a different part of a city or to an entire other country. My reasons for the moves ranged from necessity to adventure to facing a challenge with which I didn’t want to deal. Part of it all had been a journey, but another part had become a routine.

Because I didn’t move in 2009, my streak is broken. My withdrawal from the race was the result of pure exhaustion, and boredom of only scratching the surface of something instead of digging deeper to find out what was beneath.

As each day of my second year in the same place passes, I realize that my world isn’t ending because I’m breaking a routine. In fact I’ve been rewarded with closer relationships and stories of strength as I build something larger than I could have ever imagined.

Not moving last year was the biggest routine I ever broke. It has given me the strength to make other changes like eating healthier, spending time with family and friends and not immediately becoming angry when something doesn’t go my way.

But being still hasn’t been easy. I had to suddenly stop the routines of the person I was for the past twenty years. My urge for continuous movement, and my fear of responsibility frequently re-emerge, threatening the man I am trying to become.

So I grow beards. With each day’s growth of whiskers, I am reminded that I can be someone else. I can be responsible and passionate and generous and even adventurous. Through each face, I learn and become inspired to be the best I can.

This week I am sending you strength to break a routine. Call an old friend, go for a walk, eat at a new restaurant or take a night class. We all have the power to make positive changes in our lives, but we must take that first step.

As far as my beards go, my mother will be happy to know that since spring is here, I’ll stop growing them. But I seriously doubt she’s going to like my new routine to cope with the heat and humidity of the weather; shaving my head.

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