"Become aware what is in you. Announce it, pronounce it, produce it and give birth to it." - Meister Eckhart

11 December 2017

What Story Will You Choose?

"Leave yesterday behind and move swiftly into this wonderful new day, knowing that it holds within it only the very best for you, and expect only the very best to come out of it."  Eileen Caddy, Opening Doors Within (1986).

Are you the sort of person who expects the best or the worst? When you wake up in the morning do you expect that the day will be a disaster or do you look forward to an adventure? Say you had to go to your local council or government office to sort out the renewal of an important document and you knew it wasn't going to be straightforward because you didn't have all of the proper documents? Would you expect to be given a hard time and have to fight for what you wanted or would you expect to be helped along the way to a successful resolution?

Are you choosing to live by old, hard-luck stories or by new, open-ended, full of hope stories?

As some of you will know, I moved to Canada from the UK a few months ago in order to spend some time with my family and get better acquainted with my grandchildren. A couple of weeks ago, I had to obtain a new driving license. It should have been a relatively simple matter of exchanging my UK license for a Canadian one. However, my UK license had expired and I'd returned it -- as requested -- to the DVLA. Without a license to exchange, I was liable to having to go through the entire application process which would include a theory test, eye test, and the driving test. And the earliest driving test appointment was about 6 weeks away. I contacted the DVLA in the UK about renewing my license but was informed that they could not renew my license as long as I was living in Canada.

Now some of you might be thinking -- why didn't he tell them he was living in the UK and have them send his renewal to his home address there and have someone send it on to him in Canada. Yes, I could have done that but that introduces an element of deceit into the process and that's not the story I wanted to choose for myself.

Instead, I decided to go ahead and go to the local driving authority office and sort out what I needed. I admit, I was anxious and expecting the worse. Several people warned me that the place was chaotic, filled with people, including new immigrants, all trying to get their licenses, have them renewed or trying to sort out other related issues. I'd been advised to get there early as the place is usually packed and expect to wait a long time. I was also told to expect "attitude" from the clerks.

I felt my blood pressure rise. I was stressed out, thinking I'll never get my license in time to obtain a car before the year's end. In short, I started to think of all the worse things that could happen. I was creating a story of disaster.

The morning of my appointment, I took some time out to do a brief mindfulness exercise followed by a half-hour walk. It was then that I decided to choose a different approach. I would go to the authority office expecting the best. I visualised the successful outcome I wanted and saw in my mind's eye walking out with my new license in hand.

My brother dropped me off and wished me luck before going in. To my surprise the place was not as packed as I'd been led to expect. I found a chair and sat next to an older man, who turned out to be a farmer who was coming to renew a license for one of his vehicles. He complained that the office was poorly run because the government had out-sourced the licensing bureau to a private company who, he argued, did things as cheaply as possible. "Look," he pointed out, "there are at least half-a-dozen wickets but only two clerks." There was a ticket operation in place but there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the way people were called forward. I noticed a few instances of queue jumping which created an air of tension among the crowd. There were also some language issues and instances of whole families turning up at a wicket when only one member of the family required assistance. I also saw several examples of frustrated clerks trying to sort out foreign documents and explain local rules and procedures to people who were struggling to understand. The atmosphere was indeed tense and confusing. "It can't be easy to work here," I said to the farmer.

Just then, a new number was called. I watched a heavy-set man with a great black beard, in his late 20s step forward. He looked like a local, wearing a cap and sweater of the local football team. I heard him speak to the clerk and she asked him for identification. He stared hard at her. He made no move to offer any sort of card or document proving his identity. She repeated her request suggesting certain identity documents that he might have -- a driver's license, a student card, a health insurance card, for example. Again, he made no move towards producing the requested documented. Instead he stared hard at her and repeated his request. She patiently explained that he would have to produce at least one form of identification. He now became agitated and I wondered what his next move would be. What "story" would he choose?

In the next moment, he exploded with a profusion of profanity, aimed at the clerk then at everyone around him. He stomped off and we could still hear him swearing as he headed back towards the street. I didn't imagine he was going to have a great day.

My number was called and I had to step into that toxic cloud the man had left behind. I took at deep breath and mentally reinforced my choice to see a good outcome.

"Good morning," I smiled at the woman before me, "I hope you won't let that outburst cloud your day."
     She smiled back and said, "It happens all the time, I'm used to it."
"Life would be better, don't you think, if we didn't have to get used to it." She looked up and made eye contact.
     "How can I help you?" she smiled back.

I explained exactly why I was there and what I needed.
     "Do you have identification," she asked.
I produced my ID papers and explained why I didn't have my old license. She listened and understood. I did have a copy of my licensing record from my online account and showed her that. It had my license number on it and with it she was able to verify my record. Long story short, although I didn't fit exactly the mold called for, the clerk found a way through the maze of rules and procedures -- including the record of my first Canadian driver's license awarded more than forty-five years earlier. And, after about 20 minutes or so--and an eye test--I was handed a full, unrestricted license with a smile and a thank you for being so pleasant. I should also say that our interaction also included a pleasant conversation about our home towns, about what I did in the UK, and our feelings about moving to a new place. Choosing to be positive produced a win-win outcome for both of us. I thanked her and left.

Once outside with license in hand, I was virtually moved to tears -- a release of all the anxiety that I had allowed to build up prior to this morning. That old story of expecting the worse had been a familiar tale. "Good guys come last" and "It's a cut-throat world" were just a couple of the "stories" I was brought up on. And those stories find a way to infect your outlook on life events. I frequently recited these sorts of stories to myself whenever I had to confront a difficult or challenging situation. But today was proof that even at my advanced age an old dog can learn new tricks -- or at least a new story.

Earlier this week, I took this new attitude into another government office, this time to finalize the transfer of ownership of a car. Again, I was warned to expect the worse. Right away I encountered a stumbling block. I needed the signature of a "commissioner" to authenticate my and my son's signatures. Instead of choosing frustration, I asked for the clerk's assistance. "Well," she said, "the town's municipal offices are right across the street." We went there only to be told that the commissioners were busy in a meeting and to come back later in the day. "That's not possible," I explained, "is there anyone else who could help?" She thought for a moment and then said, "You could go across the street to the lawyers' offices. I'm sure they could help."

We retraced our steps and found the lawyers' offices virtually next to the local government office. We went in and pleasantly explained our needs. The receptionist couldn't have been more helpful and had our application officially stamped and signed. She even made us copies and procured a nice big envelope into which we placed our documents. We'd been told there would be a charge but imagine my surprise when the lawyer only charged us $10 (and not the $20 the municipal office commissioners were going to charge). Back to the government office to complete the transfer of ownership. Expressions of gratitude all round.

Later, as my son and I enjoyed a coffee down by the harbour, he laughed, "Dad, that could have gone all wrong. That woman can be so officious and difficult at times. "It's all about choice," I replied, "We either choose to see the worst in people or the best. Expecting the worst hasn't worked out very well for me in the past so I thought why not choose a different attitude, a different story to live by."

What story will you choose today?

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