A Need for Balance

One of my favorite finds this year is the book and series called, Good Omens. In it, the earth’s birthdate is uncovered, and it turns out the earth is a Libra. At the time, this made me laugh as I too am a Libra. However, with all that 2020 is challenging us with, I am discovering that both I and the world are being asked to find more balance, which is both a core challenge and passion of we Libras.

Photo by Evan Clark on Unsplash

Balance is not a fixed location but a constant readjustment. Think of someone riding a unicycle. They do not get the unicycle upright and then stay in that perfect state of equilibrium. To stay balanced the cyclist – and we – need to make constant adjustments in how we think, how we act, and how we interact.

Balance Your Time

Much has been said about balancing our time between work and home. Balancing time is also finding the present moment. Staying in the past brings regret. Focusing on the future brings fear. Being in the present moment is the point of balance between negative emotions of the past and future. It is also the space where we are empowered to act.

All or Nothing

Much of our pain these days in in taking sides and seeing issues, people, and situations as clear-cut dichotomies, which they never are. All-or-nothing thinking makes us lopsided and off-balance. Through my own life, I have found that nothing is absolutely black-or-white, right-or-wrong, true-or-false. Between all people, issues, and ideas there is always gray. When we can find that gray, we can find balance.

Action and Inaction

Where all-or-nothing exists in our mind, the concept of Yin-Yang expresses balance in action. Yang gets the limelight for me personally and much of society. Yang is aggression, action, accomplishments, and holding to beliefs. Taking action is not bad in itself. The trouble comes in when this is all we have and when we don’t make space for the Yin. Yin is about flexibility, adaptability, and flow. Yin is about strength through bending and humility. You can learn more about these concepts in this great video.

For me personally, I usually lead with the Yang. I am the bull in the china shop trying to fight for what is right and make things happen. Again, this is not bad, unless action is all I have. Sometimes the best solution is in the pause, in acceptance, in flexibility, in humility, in the Yin. The key to peace is not to choose Yin over Yang or Yang over Yin but to discern when to use each.

Equality

Equality is finding balance between people. Nothing, read that again, nothing makes one person more important than someone else. Not money, not beauty, not nationality, not gender. We are all equal. The only inequality that exists is based on our own judgments. I have experienced inequality growing up a woman in a man’s world. I have being perceived as “the other” being the only Caucasian in an African American History class. I have felt superiority bestowed upon me due to my education, position, financial status, and skin tone. Through all of these instances, I see that the differences, the inequalities were all in someone’s mind. To find balance between us and others, we need to release the false sense of separation. We need to seek to understand and accept the other, instead of spreading and continuing prejudice. We need to release our fear of loss as meeting others as equals (raising up others) does not minimize ourselves. Together we are both stronger.

Steadiness through Constantly Changing

Where are you feeling off-balance? Is time making demands you can not meet? Is your thinking skewed? Is the imbalance between trying to act when the best option is to wait? Is it in feeling that you are due more than you receive or a fear that others are taking from you? Take a few moments to close your eyes. Breathe gently in through your nose and out through your mouth. Find the balance and peace of this moment. Then examine where you feel off balance. What needs to shift to help you find serenity?  Throughout your day check-in and make minor adjustments to help you maintain stability in balance.

Living in Uncertainty

This past week I have spoken to many people who are off-balance, fearful, anxious, and unnerved by the unknown of what is coming next. Back in April I wrote about dealing with the fear of uncertainty as we moved into the new normal of quarantine and social distancing. That post focused on the importance of moving out of the fear zone of uncertainty and into the learning and growth zones. Much of that post is still relevant and worth the read.

In this post I would like to expand on this topic and talk more about the nuts and bolts of how to move out of the fear of uncertainty. Our bodies and minds want certainty. Our natural human survival instincts focus on the safety of consistency. When things are unclear or shifting, we move into fear. Instead of embracing the unknown or having the flexibility to adapt, often we grab on to anything and call it fact and truth so we can feel better with this false sense of security. Instead of manufacturing this falsehood, strength can be found in feeling calm and safe by accepting uncertainty.

The hard truth is that nothing is true; nothing is an immovable timeless fact. Truth is not truth, certainty is not certain because:

Our Knowledge Expands – What we know as truth today will probably be corrected tomorrow. Whether is it the belief that the sun revolves around the earth or that the atom is the smallest until of matter, science’s tiring exploration of our known world usually disproves its own findings. The atom was the smallest unit of matter until science was able to see into the atom and uncovered quarks, and it is obvious now that all the planets in the solar system move around the sun until, that is, science uncovers something different. Truth is just a pin in the map and pins can be moved as we learn more.

Perspective Colors Truth – I can only know what I know from my perspective. I can only see life from my view as a Caucasian middle-class woman who grew up in the Midwest.  I process what I experience solely based on my life which is not the whole truth; it is just my slice of it. I make judgments and assumptions based on what I have experienced and learned before. The bias may not be intentional, but it is there. As it is said, there is his story, her story, and the truth. Only when we can see from multiple perspectives can the true truth come to light.

Reality Trumps Belief – If we are afraid of change, we hold on to our beliefs as if they were universal facts. Nothing is wrong with faith. Faith is a strong belief or trust in something. But faith is personal, not universal. Faith is an internal experience, not a tangible fact. It is understandable that when we are afraid, we elevate our faith to the level of fact so we can use it like a security blanket. As with perception however, faith is not a tangible form of truth. Wanting to believe something is true, does not make it so.

Hindsight is 20/20 – A history teacher friend of mine shared how Abraham Lincoln was viciously attacked in his day and yet in hindsight, history has shown him as an incredible orator who ended American slavery and brought the country together after war. In my own life, I can see how my initial reaction to people and how I felt in the moment was clouded by my perspective, then eventually the wisdom of age and objectivity provided me with new insight and understanding.

Photo by Joan You on Unsplash

Instead of holding foolishly on to a fake certainty, here are ways to become friends with uncertainty:

Accept What Is – Just today I witnessed the pain a friend was experiencing because she wanted this whole Covid thing to be over. Complaining that things shouldn’t be as they are, only causes pain. Accepting things as they are, is the first step to peace and the power to change. Check out Byron Katie’s book, Loving What Is, which helps us all learn to accept what is and find our peace.  

Be in the Moment – Regret and stubbornness happen when we look to the past. Fear happens when we create a future based on our worst nightmares. Covid has certainly taught me that I can’t plan past the next five minutes; I have no idea what will happen after that. Staying in the moment keeps us centered. Staying in the moment keeps us in the right place to make changes. We can’t change the past or predict the future, but we can affect what we experience right here and now.

Release the Why – I have some theories why things are happening like they are right now, but heck, I don’t know for certain. When we release the need to know the why and the how of current events, we can find it much easier to accept the present and adapt with peaceful flexibility.  

See the Whole – Our survival instinct keeps us focused on what could harm us. But that laser focus on the bad, keeps us from seeing the full picture. Stay out of narrow-minded black and white thinking. Stop feeding your fears. Noam Chomsky recommended triangulating your news sources to help see the whole picture. I find this to be very helpful. Don’t just read what you agree with or what scares you. Look to at least three different news sources to help you get a fuller picture. I personally look at one conservative, one liberal, and one international news source to help me take out the bias and focus on the facts. Do your research to undercover the true truth about everything you read.

I hope through acceptance, presence, surrender, and open-minded research, you can release your fear of uncertainty and find stability in this every changing world.

ghost on the street

This Halloween, let’s pledge to stop ghosting

We will get to ghosting in a minute, let me first take a step back.

Over time, the focus of this blog and my coaching has shifted from how to lessen the negative effects of stress to instead how to prevent stress by uncovering and diminishing the root causes of stress. Many of the professionals I work with need deeper assistance than just time management and prioritization skills. Most of the time their stress was caused by the fact that the career, role, or company culture they were in did not serve them. Their stress was a result of not being able to recognize they were in the wrong place and didn’t know how to give themselves permission to change.

When I look at the world we are currently in, I see the same issue on a global level. We are trying to learn how to cope in a messed-up world, where what we should be trying to do is change the paradigm. As I step back and look at the root causes of much of our pain and conflict right now, it is due to our self-focus and our resistance to learn how to come together. In the Western culture where individualism, personal freedom, and individual success is valued, we have replaced the common good with self-focused desires. What is keeping us from coming together is self-centeredness, hyper-independence, and an ego run riot.

I am not saying that we are all self-serving, cold-hearted narcissists. What we do need to be honest about, however, is how our thinking is usually focused on our own wants and needs, instead of including the needs of others or at least being mindful of how our actions affect others. For instance, I have conversations almost daily with my job seekers who are upset that after interviewing multiple times, the human resources representative is unresponsive. The candidate is never informed if they are still being considered or if the role has been filled. They are just ghosted, as the young kids say, by the company. The irony is that many times these same candidates a few weeks in the future, ghost me. I don’t know if they landed a new position or what happened. They are just gone. The bottom line in both cases is that people are not thinking of how their actions or inactions (i.e., ghosting) affects others. They are oblivious to and have no consideration for how what they do or don’t do affects others. In their mind, the relationship is over and they don’t even think of giving even the lowliest of text message response. It is not that they are mean, they just aren’t thinking any further than themselves.

As Lily Tomlin said, “We are all in this together, alone.”* These days I think we need to flip the quote. We feel that we are in this alone. Even with all the technology providing us the tools to be close, more and more people are feeling isolated. We are not alone. It is not me against the world. I am part of the world. Humanity is a living, breathing organism of which I am but a part. As more and more of us can see that we are not isolated, that we are not the only and solely important person in the world, we can begin to make decisions and policies that benefit us all as a whole. And we can begin to heal the root causes of our stress.

As a first step, let’s stop ghosting each other.

*I have also seen this quote as “We’re all in this together – by ourselves.” I could not verify the correct version.

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

What I learned from a Covid scare

Don’t worry. I am fine. I don’t have Covid. At the beginning of September, however, I was not sure. I had some but not all of the symptoms – muscle aches, fatigue, cloudy mind. Mid-September I took the PCR test and after 48 hours it confirmed that I did not have the virus. While I was unwell and waiting for my results, I learned a few things.

It Is Not About Me

One of the most stressful things for me during this time was not my concern over my own health. I am in relatively good health and I personally know people who have had the virus and survived. What concerned me most was tracking when I could have possibly contracted it and who I had been in contact with during that time. The fear that I inadvertently hurt others consumed me. It made me hyper aware of how our lives are intermeshed and how even the smallest action on our part can impact others. In the days following my negative results, I had tried to be very present and aware not just of myself but how we as a community interact with each other.

Expectations Versus Reality

I am not good at being ill. I expect to be going 200 mph no matter the circumstances. Even when I didn’t feel well, I expected to be able to function exactly how I normally function. My expectations and the reality of the situation were extremely different. Besides having to stay out of expectations for my abilities, I also had to keep myself from creating fear-based expectations. Any 10-second Google search can bring a plethora of potential, but unlikely, outcomes. Bringing myself back to the moment and what I knew to be a fact kept me out of guilt, shame, and fear.

Know Your Limits

Slowing down is not easy for me. However, it became clear that I was incapable of doing things as I had been able before. Importantly, if I tried to do activities as I had on any normal day, I messed up big time. It took a lot of willpower, but I made myself slow down and do one thing at a time (multi-tasking was out of the question). When I accepted and worked within my limitations, activities went smoother with less mistakes and frustration.

Let Others Know You are Not 100%

Yes mom, I am not good at this one and did not handle this perfectly, but I did better than I have in the past. Throughout the week, I am the resource for job seekers. Certain days it was hard for me to concentrate or to think through appropriate advice. Instead of putting on the veneer of perfection and all-knowingness, I let my candidates know I was not working on all cylinders. Expecting to be attacked for my imperfection, I instead found that my candidates were more than willing to work with me and understand my situation. We worked more as partners than as expert and client. The vulnerability I showed, created more respect and collaboration that a false show of expertise ever could.

Take Care of Yourself

It is quite clear that the Universe is trying to teach me the lesson of taking care of myself. For the past year, I have had a few medical issues, nothing serious, but enough to bring me out of my normal routine. These challenges have forced me to take care of myself. I have been treating my body like an old hand-me-down car, not getting oil changes or washing and waxing the exterior, and it made my body ready for the junk yard. My focus is usually on others but being a martyr and not caring for myself did nothing to help anybody else. Hopefully, I have finally learned that taking care of myself is the first step to helping and loving others.

What has 2020 taught you? How are you beginning to see yourself and those around you differently? What are ways you can take care of yourself and be conscious of how you impact others?

people together

How to Survive 2020

Congratulations! We made it through nine months of chaos. That time was like being in a difficult pregnancy. We are relieved the pregnancy is over, but now we have a new little one to deal with. We have all witnessed the birth of a new world with new rules and new challenges. To be honest, like many of you, I am uneasy. It is hard not to be. Change is challenging. Change without knowing where we are heading can be really scary. To make the most of the reality we are in right now, here are a few ways I try to stay focused and thriving.

Stop Feeding Negative Emotions

Hard not to be angry or terrified these days. It seems no matter your political leanings or background, there is someone or something of which to be wary, afraid, disillusioned, or disheartened. I am not saying it is wrong to think this way. What is not serving you though, is always feeling this way.

According to Harvard-trained neuroanatomist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor physiologically our feelings only last 90-seconds. When we react to a situation and have a feeling, our bodies kick in and do what they do to make us feel our reaction. The whole experience lasts less than two minutes. You may be thinking, “But Melissa, I am afraid all the time. I am worried about what is happening. I am constantly angry.” If that is true for you, it is because you are replaying the story. Every time you replay an incident in your mind (or watch it over in the news), your body reacts in real time giving you the negative feelings again. If you want to stop the feeling, stop replaying the story.

Our emotions are helpful tools. They tell us when something is pleasurable or when something is off. But that is the end of their job. Emotions are tools to alert us to a situation and then we need to decide if we need to accept or change the situation. Staying in the emotion keeps you stuck. Stop replaying the situation and decide what you are going to do about it.

everyone together
Photo by Hudson Hintze on Unsplash

Release Hate

Accepting that things just happen and there is not a rhyme or reason for it is tough. Taking personal responsibility is tough. That is why we are often quick to judge and attack someone else. We want someone to blame. Hitler was great at blaming all his country’s woes on certain people. A disturbing scene in the movie Vice, shows how people couldn’t get behind a war against the Al-Qaeda organization because it was intangible so the government decided to focus our anger and hate on a specific country, somewhere on a map to place our hate. We do this in our personal lives too. How many times have you heard what a horrible person someone’s spouse is and how that spouse is solely responsible for a failing marriage?

Jesus warned us to not focus on the splinter in someone else’s eye when we have a log in our own. As we say nowadays, those in glass houses should not throw stones. Yes, there are some people doing some very bad things right now, but they are not only that one bad action and we all have a little good and a little bad in us. It is easy to attack and blame the other but that doesn’t solve the problem or make our experience of a situation any easier. As we have all seen and experienced this year, our hate of “the other” just makes how we feel worse and doesn’t solve anything. Yes, people may be acting poorly but pointing your finger doesn’t help.

First, look at the situation as it truly is. What are the facts. What is the truth. Don’t look for quick and easy answers but what is the true messy interconnected truth? Things are hardly ever black and white. People are never clearly right and wrong. There is usually a lot of messy gray.

Next, how can you help resolve the problem? How do you contribute to the problem? What needs to be acted upon and what needs to be accepted? Instead of taking the easy route of hating and labeling the other, take a step back and see what can actually be done to resolve the issues, no matter the cause.

Be Courageous

Being hateful, angry, and fearful is easy. Being compassionate, loving, and connected takes courage. Acting rightly as our best selves takes effort. It is easy to sit back and blame others, but what will change the world is if we all take personal responsibility for how we think, act, and react. I am not saying you should run for office, join a protest, or arm your militia. You can courageously change the world through each interaction you have every day.

Are you approaching every interaction, whether with the cable provide customer service agent or your dearest friend with a desire for connection and service?

Instead of reaching out with self-righteousness, anger, or fear, how about reaching out with love?

How can you use empathy and understanding to help you provide compassion to those around you?

How can you find the courage and strength to rise above the fearmongering and hate?

When we change how we act and react, we give space for those around us to act and react better as well.

Focus on Gratitude

This one took me a while to wrap my brain around. I have been truly blessed this year. My husband and I still have work. Neither one of us contracted Covid. We are doing very well this year. And I have survivor’s guilt. I feel guilty for being ok. Thankfully, my mentor has helped me work past this. Diminishing my joy, gratitude, and good does not give anyone else more joy, gratitude, or good.  Misery may love company but being in misery with someone else does not support them. My goal is to first accept and fully embrace all the good I have in my life. I am grateful for a loving husband, relatively good health, a beautiful home, and the Cubs winning the division. Second, I compassionately hear the pain of others, sit with them in their hurt, and then help them to refocus on their good. No matter how bad things get, there is always at least one thing to be grateful for.

Holding on to how things are, will only bring pain and disappointment. Embrace this new world we are moving into, whatever it turns out to be. Release your fear, anger, and hate. Have the courage to connect with and love others. And take some time every day to focus on gratitude. These simple but not always easy steps can make a difference in your experience. Hang in there!

Barcelona

Why 20-Year Marriages Thrive

2 Decades, 20 Years, 1040 Weeks, 7300 Days. That is a long time. A long time to be loyal and partnered with one person. My husband and I have been together all that time, plus some, if you count the years we were together before we married. A week before our anniversary, an article on why 20-year marriages end popped into my inbox. Grateful that it was not sent by my husband, I thought it was a good prompt to write a post on how 20-year marriages thrive.

Relationships are Verbs

Whether romantic, platonic, or familial, relationships are a verb not a noun. A relationship is a living entity, not a static object. Being in a relationship is like everything in nature, if the relationship is not constantly changing and growing, it dies. If we want our relationship to stay the same or resign ourselves that it will never get better, the relationship dies. Throughout our twenty years, our relationship, our lives, and each of us as individuals have learned and grown through different challenges. As we learned to navigate each phase of life, our relationship deepened and grew.

Photo by Todd Heisler

Expectations

Every birthday and holiday, I joke with my husband that the present I want is for him to sing, dance, and have an accent. My desire is that he become a cross between Ewan McGregor, David Tennant, and Colin Firth. Not too much to ask for, right? Of course, having unrealistic expectations like these will always lead to disappointment and resentment. Instead, I concentrate on what I do have in a partner. A funny, intelligent man who understands and accepts me better than anyone else could. Reality is better than my expectations.

Assumptions

Everyone brings their history and their previous experiences into a relationship. This past experience becomes expectations of how things should be and our assumptions about why our partner is acting the way they are. These expectations and assumptions are usually wrong. Usually they are negative stories we are telling ourselves. It is important to bring our dishonest thinking to light. Our partner is not a mind reader. My husband can’t know what I am thinking and what I would like from him, unless I verbalize it. Many times, I also need to share my crazy assumptions so he can show me where I am off base. If we keep our assumptions to ourselves, they can never be addressed. We need to have the courage to share our crazy.

Listening

As we need to speak our truth, or what we are experiencing as our truth, so does our partner. A good relationship needs to have a safe space for us to share what we need to share. Hearing and recognizing your partner is the greatest gift you can give – and receive. Your partner feels he is really heard and seen. Through sharing our thoughts and beliefs, we can understand and support our partner on a deeper level.

Do NOT Do Unto Others

When my husband is down, he wants to be left alone to process it. When I am down, I want to be held. If I treated my husband how I would like or he treated me how he would like, it would cause anger and resentment. It is important to ask, not assume, what the other needs. And we need to voice what we need.  We deepen our relationship and understanding when we can see from our partner’s point of view, not the way we see the world.  

Acceptance

Some of us think we are perfect and everyone else is flawed. Others think they are imperfect, and the rest of the world has everything figured out. Truth is we are all imperfect. We are all doing the best we can. Sometimes we do things well, sometimes we don’t. The same goes for our partner. Believing our partner is infallible is setting up unrealistic expectations. Believing our partner is always wrong, keeps us from seeing their good. Expecting our partner to accept our imperfection but being unwilling to accept when they are imperfect is a recipe for disaster. We are all works in progress and deserve to be accepted as such.

Do Your Work

Many of the marriages and relationships that I have seen fail, the partners blamed each other. He didn’t do that. She is a such-and-such. The key factor that we can and should work on in our marriage is our self. I need to know why I react poorly to him leaving his socks on the floor and I need to change my reaction and boundaries around his actions. It is not about his socks or whether he or I pick them up. The real issue is my perception and judgments about his habits. The issue is mine. I can and should work on making myself be the best personal I can be. In doing so, I may it easier for my partner to be the best man he can be.

Love is Not Enough

Love is great for a happy movie ending, but love is just the beginning in real life. As Into the Woods explores, there is a lot that happens after happily-ever-after.  There is a lot of after to deal with after the initial bloom of love fades. Love is wonderful but for me partnership makes a marriage. This harkens back to the verb-versus-noun concept. Many people see love as a noun, as a constant, as a thing that exists in and of itself. But love is a verb. We need to work at love. We need to keep it alive and thriving. We need to nurture and support it. It is not a thing that exists on its own unchanging. It is a fire that constantly needs to be stoked and tended.  

Relationship Makes Three

Romantic songs and movies talk about two becoming one. I think a real relationship is two becoming three. It is important to remain oneself, not become co-dependent and merged. A relationship consists of two unique individuals plus the persona of the couple.  

I am truly blessed to not have found a mystical romantic soul mate, but to have found my partner in life. Thank you Super Pollo.