Susan Dunn

Article Summary:

How changing your attitude can positively effect your perceptions, emotions, and thought processes.

Changing Your Attitude: When You Change, Everything Changes

It was my first visit back home in over a year. I'd been in Minnesota for college, and returned home just long enough to marry and move to North Carolina.

I returned with a year old baby, the wife of a medical student, struggling to put food on the table, though at that time in life materials things don't matter much.

This town I returned to, I had hated. Why? Because we had moved every 3 years, and it had been fine until this time, but it was 3 weeks before high school, and what kid would want to start a new high school of 4,000 not knowing a soul? My Dad infuriated me by acting like he'd done me a favor, and I made it clear to him he had ruined my life. We dug into our positions.

"Why did you do this to me?" I bellowed. "You ought to appreciate it," he said, and told me why, but I didn't listen. "You'll appreciate it some day," he said, finding me beyond reason.

What did I hate? The size of the school, having to compete with Ann-Margret (the movie star) if I wanted to sing in the musical, their Chicago accents, and the crowning blow - my advisor dubbed me "Sue" the first day and I never got rid of it. In fact my favorite thing about going off to college was being able to reclaim my name. If I hadn't sunk into the victim position, I might have been able to reclaim it sooner!

I hated the gray skies and the freezing winter wind (while ignoring how much I loved ice skating outside), but I hated spring worse. They released us at spring break to wander the streets in wretched weather with dirty snow everywhere (while ignoring the crocuses and violets I never saw again). My family never got to go on a cruise like everyone else's. But I hated the summers worse because it was never hot enough to get a tan )while ignoring all the fun on the catamarans on the Lake). Not a happy camper, I gathered evidence to substantiate my feelings (and ignored, in my memory, all the things I had enjoyed).

Fast forward to my return to this "horrible" place. Winnetka is one of the affluent suburbs on the North Shore of Chicago. A planned community nestled on the shores of Lake Michigan, with more Frank Lloyd Wright houses than anywhere else in the nation, it is astoundingly beautiful, a place you dream of living.

With my blinders off and my attitude corrected, I saw it from my Dad's point of view. He worked hard to give us the best he could, and how proud he must've been to move us there. In fact I remember it in his walk as he showed me around the first week there. "It's the best public high school in the nation," he told me, and the education I received got me into one of the best liberal arts colleges in the nation.

The crime rate was so low we never locked our doors. Everything was a short drive away, and there was always parking. There was everything Chicago has to offer - the art museum where I spent many a Saturday, recently voted best in the nation. Parks within walking distance which they froze in the winter for skating.

As I drove through the village, the sun slanted through the trees on either side of the wide road that arched overhead. "You can't tell me people don't think about future generations," my Dad often said. "Someone planted all those trees who never lived to see them."

"This is the most beautiful place on earth," I mused to myself, astounded at my earlier perceptions and attitude. Could this really be that "horrible place"? As a parent, I could only dream of providing such for my own child some day. Most of all I was stunned at what I had missed, in my retelling of this terrible place. Once I had closed my mind, I hadn't let any fact intrude. I had had plenty of good times there - how could you not - but in the retelling, you wouldn't have known it.

I went over in my mind what I had then that I had no more - I had taken for granted and devalued a lake in the back yard with boating as well as beauty, nationally acclaimed museums and cultural events, convenience, service people who knew you by name, the best public education possible at the time, nice people, and safety.

I had the inklings of a lesson ... how your attitude effects your perceptions and your thoughts affect your emotions. But it took a few more rounds because moving is difficult. You wonder if there will be friends, and all the unknowns.

My husband and I continued the family tradition of moving every 3 years. By the 2nd move it had finally sunk in that there's beauty everywhere, something to appreciate that you'll miss like hell when you leave and may never see again in your life, and nice people everywhere. If they call you something you don't like, you "just say no," and you get used to the weird accents.

When we left Durham and moved to Cincinnati, I missed the cozy town, the ocean, and the lovely parks, but I gained a cul-de-sac that was like a kibbutz for my only child, great restaurants, and the opportunities of a big city. It was the gloomy snow belt again, but there wasn't mold in the back of the closets. It's always a tradeoff.

Back we went to Durham, then on to San Antonio, Texas. When we got to San Antonio, I missed the colorful four seasons, and getting anywhere in 5 minutes, but rejoiced in the sunshine, the plethora of restaurants, and the muliticultural influence. The first tornado warning scared me, and the rattlesnakes, scorpions and tarantulas were unnerving, but I remembered how I'd adjusted to the mold on the back of closets in Durham and the slugs on the back porch, no less unnerving. I was learning to cope with change, and handle transitions.

I realized the things I'd missed, and so learned to approach the next move with optimism, to seek and find and appreciate the good in it, and to enjoy it every day. In fact I'd immediately start a mental list of "things I'm gonna miss a lot one day" to stay focused on the positive, enhance my enjoyment, to bloom where planted.

I should add that my mother complained the entire time she lived in Winnetka, which is no doubt where I learned that attitude. I was lucky to get the lesson in my face so young. Right now I'd love to have had the life she had then, as far as the location was concerned, but of course it wasn't the place that pained her, it was the pain inside her that made the place unbearable. It was just easier to blame it on the place than to do the work on the pain inside.

You see, moving doesn't really solve anything if you're miserable, because you take you with you. It's cleaning up the place inside you that allows you to find the best wherever you are and find the good wherever you are - and that, of course, it figurative as well as literal.

P.S. I appreciate it, Dad.

Susan Dunn, MA, of The EQ Coach, offers coaching, Internet courses and ebooks for your personal and professional success. She is founder of the EQ Alive! coach certification program, which has no residency requirement and trains coaches internationally. For a free ezine, email sdunn@susandunn.cc.

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