Gentleman in Moscow

Bringing the Pieces Together

Recently I read an amazingly interesting and well-written book called A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. It is such a wonderful novel that as soon as my husband is finished reading it, I can’t wait to read it again. If you are looking for a book well worth your time, check it out.

A myriad of passages and quotes from this book come to mind, but this one seemed most appropriate to the work I usually share in the It’s My Life blog.

“He had said that our lives are steered by uncertainties, many of which are disruptive or even daunting; but that if we persevere and remain generous of heart, we may be granted a moment of supreme lucidity – a moment in which all that has happened to us suddenly comes into focus as a necessary course of events, even as we find ourselves on the threshold of a bold new life that we had been meant to lead all along.”

Gentleman in MoscowLet’s break it apart.

“Our lives are steered by uncertainties” Although the human mind longs for consistency and normalcy, more often than not, our lives are chaotic, every changing, and full of surprises – seemingly good and bad. No matter how long we live and how many challenges we have overcome, disruption is the rule more than the exception. Amazing how we expect otherwise. Our minds, and maybe our hearts, expect and pray for constant and easy, expected and comforting. Yet every week, we are thrown a challenge, a shift, the unexpected. When we can “persevere and remain generous of heart,” we can begin to overcome these challenges, and, importantly, “be granted a moment of supreme lucidity.”

Much of my life I acted and reacted, but did not live in purpose. Thankfully I have been granted my moment of supreme lucidity. I had a glimmer of how a series of seemingly random, incongruent, often challenging incidents and choices were not a sporadic mess of a life, but the pieces of the puzzle which, when put together, create a solid picture of my life and my purpose.  Everything I have done, everywhere I worked, everyone I met, every challenge I faced, has brought me to this life right now. I can see how each was a training ground to give me the skills, understanding, and insight necessary for my purpose. Those events in my life when I thought I had failed or thought I had taken a wrong turn, now make sense in the knowing of the “bold new life that [I] had been meant to lead all along.”

Take a little time to see if you can put your pieces together. Start by uncovering each piece. Write down your professional career. What skills did you learn personally and professionally at each stage? What are your most profound memories? These may be successes or failures regarding your position, or your personal relationships with those at the company. Do the same for the different phases of your life – high school, college, first romance, marriage, divorce, children, sickness, loss. Objectively explore these pieces of your life. Then make a collage of these pieces. What are the through-lines? What are the obstacles you have met again and again? What is the meaning or takeaway of each piece, and when the pieces are brought together? Knowing and understanding the life you are meant to lead, allows you to make more appropriate choices, to not miss opportunities to share your gift, and to live with meaning.

Sometimes we must wait for a moment of lucidity and sometimes we can create one through the exercise above, either way, once you have a glimmer of the bold new life, the life you are meant to live, make choices to embrace and maximize what you are here to do.

truck buried in mudslides

Weathering the Storm

Many parts of the world are going through major natural disasters right now. Cabo San Lucas, my home and my heart, is no exception. On a Thursday morning, it started raining and it did not stop until late Friday dumping up to twenty-seven inches of rain in this dry desert climate. Not since 1933 has this amount of rain hit the city. As usually happens, the poorest in the town were hit the hardest as the only homes they could afford were in the flood plain. In retrospect, my husband and I fared extremely well in comparison, but in the moment, it was hard to see.

truck buried in mudslides
Cabo San Lucas Tropical Storm Lidia aftermath

The rain from Tropical Storm Lidia seeped through windows, walls, outlets, and floors for hours. I experienced firsthand the fate of Sisyphus as I constantly mopped up water. By the time I made it across the room, the other end of the room was already filling again. The rain would lesson and we would receive a brief break, but then it would start again and so did our work. It was overwhelming. It was frustrating because there was no seeming end. It was terrifying because the leaking cracks constantly increased in number and size. After battling this for over ten hours, the weather won. A rush of water sped down our street. My husband and I waded through almost two feet of strong, fast-moving water. My tiny Honda was being buried by this newly formed river. Amazingly my husband drove the car to high ground and safety before the engine flooded. After moving the cars, we pulled our things out of the flooding first floor to the relative dryness of the second floor. With two inches of water filling the first floor and the other leaks still leaking, we threw in the towel and gratefully moved to our friends’ house for the night.

After some clean up the next day, things started to return to relative normality. We checked in with friends and helped those we could. As we talked to others about their experience, I noticed there were two reactions to the storm. The first was hysterical. These people were understandably stressed because of what they went through plus they were anxious with worry about the possibility of losing electricity and fresh water. The other reaction was humorful perseverance. These were the people who said they were fine after the storm, but when asked further I learned they went through the same trials we did. Their attitude was they were alive. Their family was safe. They still had what they had. And they were grateful.

These reactions stemmed from the individuals’ outlook, not their previous experience. Many people I spoke to had also gone through Hurricane Odile three years ago. That storm was all Tropical Storm Lidia was plus enormous damaging winds. Some hurricane survivors appeared to have PTSD and were anxious that they would again have to experience weeks without water and electricity. Others looked at this storm and said, “I survived Odile. I can handle this.” As I have written time and again, it is not what happens to us but how we handle what happens to us. We have a choice in how we experience life.

Honestly, at the beginning, I was part of the first group. I had never experienced a storm like this before. Battling the leaks was tiring mentally and physically. Then when the river ran down the street and into the house I lost it. Stress over took me. My mind was cloudy. Fear and anxiety began to surface. I was out of my element and didn’t know what was going to happen next. As things began to normalize, I worked on relieving my stress. By using stress hacks, I reclaimed a centered mind, improved my attitude, and had the power to move forward.

My heart goes out to all those affected by hurricanes, fires, floods, and earthquakes.  If you are able, please think about helping financially or physically. If you would like to help my end of the world, donations are being taken here to help out those most affected. Or, a more fun way to help, is to come visit our little spot of paradise. Cabo San Lucas is open and ready for your visit!

drama queen

Drama Queen

We all have friends who are drama queens. I am sure you can think of one right now. No matter what has happened, the telling of the story is dramatic, over the top, and sensational. We might have been at the same incident, but in the re-telling we feel like we missed something. To us, the story is that we just missed the bus, but our drama queen friend has us stranded for hours in an unfamiliar place worried for our lives. It was just another normal day for us, but our friend reported the incident as if it was the lead story on the nightly news.

We can all be drama queens sometimes. Consciously or unconsciously we embellish our stories, we add some drama or we emphasize the negative. Sometimes this is to get attention. Sometimes it is to help convince those around us that it was appropriate to be frightened. Sometimes we are so shaken by an incident that we relive it again and again, embellishing it more and more each time. But being a drama queen adds stress, clouds our minds, and makes us be difficult to be around.

drama queenOur protective monkey brain is always on the lookout for danger. This part of our brain is usually the root instigator of our inner drama queen. It looks for and lives off danger and negativity. It wants to keep us safe so it is hyper alert for danger. But replaying and exaggerating our dangers, actually makes us more stressed and unhappy. Thankfully you can break free from this negativity.

Take some time to take stock of your drama queen status. Which stories are you choosing to share? What percentage are negative? How many neutral stories do you embellish to make more exciting and dangerous? How often do you re-tell the same negative story? Does your heartbeat increase and your voice rise with each telling? Do you thrive off the shock and dismay others show after your dramatic performance? Once you have an idea of how often you play the role of drama queen, be vigilant. Notice when she appears.

When you catch yourself in a drama queen loop, re-telling and re-telling and re-telling a difficult situation. Stop. Take three deep belly breaths – expanding your stomach while you inhale, holding for a few counts and then exhaling slowly. Ask yourself if you really need to share the story. Is there a solution you will receive if you share your story? What is the benefit of sharing your tale? Most times it is not necessary to share our drama. If you do decide it is necessary to tell the story, take out the judgmental adjectives and just stick to the facts. Taking out the adjectives removes embellishment. Then remember to only tell the story once. Resist sharing the story with everyone you know. Every time you tell a painful story, your body relives it as if it was the first time. Stop torturing yourself (and others) and remove yourself from negative storytelling.

Leave the drama to those in Hollywood and Broadway.

are you late

Time is How You Look at It

On a recent visit to Chicago, friends were asking about living in Mexico. One topic that came up was time. I explained that if a contractor said they would come at 9am Monday, it may actually mean sometime Monday, but not necessarily 9am. It could also mean 9am Tuesday. Or it could be some time Wednesday or Thursday. My very Type-A friend gasped. She could not imagine someone not showing up on time, let alone my being ok with it. But things are different down here.

The BBC had a great article about how the way Mexicans speak Spanish shows their, dare I say, disregard for timeliness. Unlike Americans who believe time is money, Mexicans aren’t bound by time. I arrived on time for a baby shower a few weeks ago where the mother-to-be arrived a fashionable hour or so later. She was not being rude. In fact, most of the attendees showed up at that time or even later. That is just their flow. And I am getting used to it. In fact, now I praise one of the home services we have for punctuality because they are usually no more than 30 minutes late. They are dependable by local standards.

are you lateDoes this release of time make your head spin? Imagine for a moment that your schedule is not rigid. Does it sent you into a panic or release you? To me it is really about acceptance. As you know I am still a recovering Type A, but I have learned to accept the local culture. I may still arrive on time, but maybe I won’t. I don’t chastise others for being a tad – or more – late. Accepting a different way of living, adjusting my expectations for myself and others, has helped me reduce my stress.

Back in the 80’s I loved the band the Talking Heads. Their lyric, “Time is not holding us, time is not after us,” comes to mind. How often do we feel held accountable to time? Remember that we all agreed to what units of time are and what those units mean. Time itself is a construct. So why be held by it? How much is time holding you? Are you anxious about being late? Are you angry when someone else is tardy? Do you begin to panic when things are not exactly when they are planned to be? Do you find any joy in adhering to time or does it just cause you stress?

Look to your day and your schedule. Does it feel tight and rigid or free and flowing? Does being stuck in traffic cause you stress? What if you relaxed a bit? I am not saying you need to be an hour late for a board meeting, but what if you cut yourself and others some slack? What if you approached time a little more leniently? What if you relaxed your expectations? What if you accepted that others aren’t as punctual as you? What would really be the end result?

On most occasions, we are rigid with our time because we are afraid of loss. We are afraid of losing time. We are afraid of losing money. We are afraid of losing the respect of others. We are afraid the world will end if we are 15 minutes late. Yet more times than not, none of those negatives result. So why not try to let go? Start with a weekend day so it is not as scary and release yourself from time-bound expectations. See if you can’t find a little relief in releasing yourself from the prison of time.

enjoy life more

What We Can Learn from Atheists

For random reasons, I heard interviews with two well-known atheists recently and found some amazing insights. The interviews were not about atheism per se, but some of the questions branched into their beliefs. Many of us believe in some sort of a God and an afterlife. We live our lives in the hopes of a final reward. We believe that something or someone is looking over the world ensuring bad does not happen. But there are those who believe that this is the only life. This world is the only world. They do not believe in a higher power with the ability to rescue us. I tended to think without believing in something more, that the struggle and strain of this world might be too much. But for these two gentlemen at least, that is not the case. Both of these atheists site their beliefs as a reason for empowerment.

Penn Jillette expresses that if there is no god to rescue us, we need to take responsibility for the well-being of those around us. Great thought, huh?  Instead of praying to an outside force to bring help or assuming some government agency or charity will step up, how would your day change if you believed you had the responsibility to make a difference? Think about all of the people you meet during the day. Who could use a helping hand?  How could a kind word, a piece of advice, or a small donation change their experience? How could you and those around you benefit from you believing and living that you have responsibility for the well-being of others?

enjoy life moreNeil DeGrasse Tyson spoke about not fearing death. Death is a natural part of life and as a scientist he accepted the breakdown of our bodies and its return to the earth. Instead of fearing death, he preaches to fear not contributing to your life. If we have just one life, it is a waste to not make the most of it. How are your fears keeping you from living your life to the fullest? How is playing small keeping you from being all you can be? Neil found purpose in making the most of his life, learning and contributing to the fullest. As he spoke, I could feel his zest for life. He lives his life under the clock and is maximizing every moment to the fullest. When we look to our own lives, are we making the most of them?

Without giving up your personal beliefs, what if you began acting as if this was your only life? What would you try? Who would you help? How would you spend every moment knowing that each and every one is fleeting and irreplaceable? What would you choose to contribute to the world? Take some time to imagine that this is your only life. How would that change this moment for you? How would it change the next interaction you have? Spend a day really living and giving and making the most of the time you have here on earth.

go with the flow

What You Can Control

Working with those in job transition, I often see people frustrated by lack of progress. Companies take too long to respond after they apply, or they don’t respond at all. The interview process extends over months not weeks. People from their network don’t return their calls quickly. The job seekers are frustrated because they are focused on the results, not their effort.

During the job search the seeker can affect certain parts of the search. They can control the quality of their resume and cover letter, positioning them to make it through the computer scanners and human resources managers. They can affect how they prepare for and respond during phone and in-person interviews. They can control how often and with whom they network as well as their own follow up.

But that is it.

They can’t control if they are chosen for an interview. They can’t control who is interviewing them and what that interviewer is looking for. They can not control the internal politics and a desire to hire from within. They can’t control how quickly the interview process takes or when an offer is made. They can’t control if a company has a hiring freeze just before an extending an offer. Unfortunately, the result of the things they can not control, is where job seekers are usually focused leading to disappointment and stress.

go with the flowWhat are you trying to make happen in your life right now? Where are you frustrated with a slow process? What can’t you wait to be resolved?

Now really look at your situation. What can you control? What is your responsibility to change? What is really in your power to do?

Do what you can and then look at what is left. Release your desire for results and actions you have no control over. I know this is easier said than done, but it is extremely powerful in lessening your stress level. Think of the serenity prayer which says, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Let’s look at the two powerful gifts of this prayer.

First, have power to change what you can. Don’t sit back and complain. Look at what is really in your power and then take action. I also recommend that you hold yourself accountable for the quality of your efforts, not the results. Find peace in knowing you have done the best you can do.

Second, let go of your desire for resolution around the things you can not affect. Let go of your anxiety. Let go of your desire for resolution. It is not the lack of resolution that is causing your pain, but your thought about the lack of resolution. Accepting what you can not change is a mental shift. It is the ability to control how you think about a situation. Just changing your expectations, can lower your stress level.

Focusing on the things we can not control increases stress and makes us feel powerless. Focus instead on your efforts. Focusing on what you can control leads to stress reduction and more contentment.