support group

Learning from History

When I wrote my book, From Type A to Type Me: How to Stop “Doing” Life and Start Living It, I was sure I had a novel and new idea. But I did not. Turns out Epictetus, a philosopher from around 100 AD said pretty much the same thing. He thought philosophy should be lived, not just discussed. He taught acceptance of what is and releasing the desire to control things we can’t control. He believed in self-examination and self-discipline. Many of his quotes could have been easily integrated in my book like, “People are not disturbed by things, but by the views they take of them.” Or “Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems.” And “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

At first, I was bummed that I was my writing was not groundbreaking. Then, after I accepted that there was nothing new under the sun, I started to see his writing as a validation of my thoughts. We saw the world similarly and having the same thinking as someone else lent credence to what I intuitively believed. This was no longer my experience but a shared experience.

support group
Photo by adrianna geo on Unsplash

Often when something happens in our lives, we believe it is new, novel, and singularly unique to us. The truth is that someone, somewhere has gone through what we have. It may not be exactly the same, but it will be close enough that we can learn from that person’s experience, strength, and hope. We can understand their challenge and how it relates to ours. We can learn how they approached the issue, and what worked, or didn’t. We can be inspired to act knowing how their actions netted a positive result.

Learning from history and from others’ experiences helps us to create our own plan of action. This is different than receiving some guru’s three-step plan to happiness. This is learning from someone’s experience, applying it to our lives, and discerning how we should mirror, or not, their choices. This is real life experience that can be applied, not some sterile one-size-fits-all expert formula. Learning from others is learning to fish, not being given a fish.

Learning from others can happen on many levels. It may be talking to others who went through something similar and discerning our options based on what they tried. Small and large business can learn much from the practices other businesses have had in the past. Learning from others can also be applied on a global level so we can learn from and not mindlessly recreate history.

It helps to go through this process with a confidant; to have an outside objective voice to work through your problem. They will be able to spot things quickly and more easily because they are outside the story, outside the emotion. If they have gone through something similar, it is even better because they will know what to watch for which you may not yet realize.

What is your current challenge? Are there those you know, support groups, or memoir books which explore your challenge? What can you learn from their choices? Is there a mentor who can help you navigate what you learn and how it applies to your situation? Knowing that others were able to rise above their challenge, are you ready to try to tackle your own?

cup runneth over

What do you take for granted?

Moving to Mexico has done a lot to change my assumptions and expectations. Some of what I needed to shift stemmed from my Type-A characteristics. Some of what I had to shift was due to where and how I was raised. I learned that nothing is perfect. I learned that things do not happen in my timing. I learned my privilege of being an educated Caucasian woman. I learned how what I thought were struggles and challenges were nothing in comparison to what others went through.

It wasn’t until Mexico that I really experienced firsthand how blessed I am in this lifetime. My family did not have much money, but I have learned we had much more than so many others. My family did not have a wall of college degrees, and yet we have more and better education than many. Just having consistent water and electricity, having a reliable car to drive, having money for some little extras, raises my quality of life above so many others. I also learned how this comfort I enjoy makes it more difficult for me to handle challenges. Over the past few years, I have learned my privilege, become grateful for those things I often overlook, and strive to provide empathy and support to others.

my cup runneth over
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

To help you have this same experience of gratitude for things we take for granted, I have written this piece to take you step-by-step through my journey to receive the covid vaccine. My intention is to just report the facts as I perceived them. As you read through the piece, notice how many things surprise and shock you. What do you take for granted?

DISCLAIMER: Although this post will share my experience with getting the Pfizer covid vaccine in Mexico, this post is not about any country, covid, the vaccine, or any other controversy. If you want to debate these things, maybe you want to explore why you want to express hate instead of gratitude.

The vaccine rollout in Mexico started December 2020 and was solely for medical professionals and front-line workers. The vaccine became available to those over 60 years old in February 2021. Starting in March, I began checking the government site to see when the vaccine was opened to my age group. I had access to a computer and internet. I was not worried because I was not at risk and I had a trip planned to the United States later in the year where I could obtain the vaccine. During 2020 and while waiting for the vaccine, I continued to work from home. The weather was pleasant and I had access to multiple safe walks through the mountains. I could order food online and pick it up with my own vehicle.

At the end of April, my health insurance agent – who is more of a health consultant – told me that the online portal for vaccine registration had opened up for my age group. I can afford health insurance. I was able to use my computer and internet to access the site. My Spanish language skills were sufficient, sometimes with help from an online translator, to register. The registration stated someone would call me with an appointment. I have a cellphone that I can charge and receive calls on.

I don’t remember if my neighbor or my insurance agent or both told me that vaccines would begin to be distributed the week of May 18th. On a neighborhood Whatsapp chat that I can access through the internet on my phone and I can access because I can pay the monthly fees to live in this community, I learned that others in my age group were receiving the vaccine. I was fortunate to have the time and ability to research how others obtained the vaccine. Had I not, I would still be waiting for a phone call.

I followed up with friends and neighbors who received the vaccine. One gave me the number of a man who offers to register individuals for the vaccine and provide them early times, for a small fee. Another provided the URL where I could sign up for an appointment.  The site only had appointments for that day, Sunday, at 5pm. I signed myself and my husband up and we immediately left in our car to go to the site. Upon arrival, we were told that they were out of vaccines. We provided our information and were told we would receive a call. Our only inconvenience was a wasted hour. Had we not had our own car, it would have cost us an Uber ride which may have been equal to the average half-day’s wages. If we could not have paid that, the local bus would not have gotten us to the location before it closed.

Monday morning, 8:45am, I received a call that we could receive the vaccine at a different location this morning at 9am. Again, we were fortunate enough to have our own vehicle and the money to pay for gas to get us to the location. We are also fortunate enough to have flexibility in our work to rearrange our day to accommodate this unexpected appointment. Some individuals could not have the ability to change their schedule nor afford to miss work.

When I registered on the initial website, it provided me with forms to download, fill out, and bring to the appointment. I had access to and could afford to have these printed out. I am able to read and write in Spanish to fill out the form. Other, Mexicans and expatriates, at the vaccination center did not have that ability. Staff and others receiving the vaccine who knew English asked if we had any questions and if we understood everything. They also assisted others who could not fill out their forms.

The vaccinations were administered at a school. I was able to walk from the front entrance to a staging area, to the room where the vaccines were given, to an outdoor waiting area to watch for side effects, through a back entrance, and then the two blocks back to our car. I saw elderly individuals being brought in taxis and assisted into the center. I am grateful I can walk, navigate stairs, and sit outside without discomfort.

The vaccination center was being run by the Red Cross, the marines, and a health organization. Hand sanitizer was provided to everyone entering the school. Everyone had some sort of face covering, although not all actually covered both the nose and mouth. Needles were new and the shot area was cleaned before injection. The medical staff did not wear gloves. In the waiting area, we were seated about six inches apart.

Everyone being vaccinated followed the same protocol. We saw three people we knew also being vaccinated: one a highly educated wealthy Mexican, one an American boat captain, and one a Mexican store clerk. All filled out the same forms. All stood in line. All receive the vaccine free.

We were told we would be called in a month for our second vaccine. If there are any issues receiving it in Mexico, we have a trip planned to the United States where we could receive the second vaccine.

Afterward, I shared on our community chat the steps we took so others could do the same.

Six years ago, I would not have handled this process as well. I would have wanted everything to be clearly communicated and for the process to be easy and seamless. What we experienced would have been stressful because I would have had different expectations. Thankfully, I flowed through the process. When there was a roadblock, I accepted it and looked for an alternative. I waited. I stood in line. I was patient.

I am grateful for the ability to:

  • Walk, see and hear.  
  • Read and write, in two languages.
  • Get where I want, when I want, how I want.
  • Receive information from and support my neighbors.
  • Communicate electronically and telephonically.
  • Pay for what I need when I need it.
  • Receive water, electricity, and internet to my home.
  • Accept things as they are.
  • Learn and continue to grow.

What do you take for granted? What are you grateful for?

conversation

Healing Differences of Opinion

I remember a time in the past when friends of mine talked up a restaurant for weeks. When we could finally have dinner together, my friends were enraptured by the atmosphere, service, and food. Before, during, and after the meal their exuberance and praise was over the top. When my critique of the meal was given, it was lower than theirs. What astounded me was not only our difference of opinion, but my friends’ reaction. They took my honest experience as an afront to not only the restaurant, but to them. They had tied their self-worth and self-esteem to their belief about the restaurant. When I was less than praiseworthy of the restaurant, they felt I was insulting them.

Sound familiar? In the heightened political climate over the past years, do you or those around you take differing political views as a personal insult? I believe one of the reasons there is so much political tension is that we have moved away from honest discussion of issues and instead are defending our political affiliation as our sole identity. We no longer lean right or left, we ARE Left or Right. When our identity and self-worth are tied to something outside of our self, it leads to insecurity, fear, and either fighting for our ideology or becoming depressed and insecure when our ideology is attacked.

conversation, listening
Photo by Joshua Rodriguez on Unsplash

A recent Fast Company article explored the concept of our values being tied to our worth and how to have honest conversations. It states, “Yet hanging out with like-minded people is the opposite of open-mindedness. It signals a reluctance to learn and grow, and a false sense of security about your own values, perhaps because you are afraid to have them challenged as they are the core definition of yourself, or you fear that they are too fragile to hold when exposed to a different form of thinking.” The article has some terrific advice around this subject that I would like to share and expand upon.

Be Teachable

The article brought up the importance on continued learning. It is the concept of remaining teachable. When anything stops growing, it dies. Such is true with our minds. When we think we know it all, we have closed off and killed our minds. As I get older, I have learned that the only thing I know for certain is that I don’t know anything. By staying in an I-don’t-know mind, I strive to see situations without filters, I try not to judge based on my experience, and I have an openness to see things anew.

Listen

Listening is a key component of learning and understanding. Hearing out another’s view does not mean we agree with them or that one party needs to convert to the other’s beliefs. Instead of cutting off someone with your thoughts or attacking them for theirs, listen. Listen to what it said. Listen to what is not said. Listening leads to understanding which leads to acceptance.  To accept is to stop fighting reality. The reality is that someone has a different take on a subject. Peace is found in accepting the reality that not everyone thinks like I do. Accepting is not choosing who is right and who is wrong, it is listening to, comprehending, and understanding each other.

It Takes Two

You can be open. You can be a terrific listener. You can be accepting and willing to come together. The other person may not. It is important to have healthy boundaries. If the other party is not willing or able to listen with an open mind and only wants to attack, you do not need to continually expose yourself to that abuse. Move on to the next person who is a bit more openminded. You can not repair a relationship on your own. Both parties need to be willing to come together.

It is not always easy to hear out someone else’s views, especially if the views are very far away from our own. But to heal our country and our personal relationships, we need to become open-minded and accepting. Little by little we can begin to feel confident in our own self-worth, remove our fear, and come back together.

seeking human kindness

Compassion is Tough

I have read Brené Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection, at least twice now and never highlighted the section at the top of page 17 until my friend recently shared it with me. “We live in a blame culture – we want to know whose fault it is and how they’re going to pay. . . but we rarely hold people accountable . . . this rage-blame-too-tired-and-busy-to-follow-through mind-set is why we’re so heavy on self-righteous anger and so low on compassion.” Let’s break this apart but first, here is some of my own experience.

I have written before about my chain-smoking neighbors. They smoke constantly throughout the day and inevitably, the smoke comes into my house. This has been happening for over two years now. I complained to my husband. I complained to every friend I could. I wrote a post about it. But, until now, I never brought it up to them. I experienced pain and I leapt into self-righteous anger and blame which did not go anywhere except between my two ears.  I finally had the courage to speak with the neighbors, sanely and clearly. We discussed options; I set boundaries. Unfortunately, this has not stopped them smoking or the smoke coming into my house, but it did empower me. I stopped spending every waking movement replaying the evil they were bestowing on me. Instead, I now find ways to create my own boundaries – closing windows, using fans to point the smoke out, and reclaiming my balcony at least half the time. It is not ideal, but it feels so much more peaceful than stewing in hate.

Blame / Self-Righteous Anger

As I initially did with my neighbors, many people are turning to hate because it is easier than acting differently. Over these past years, I had a spent way too much time focused on how horrible my neighbors were. How inconsiderate they were. How they should pay for their actions. I clearly defined who was good and right (me), and who was bad and wrong (obviously them). It felt good to my ego and my indignation, but it didn’t come close to solving my problem or providing me with clean air.

I agree with Ms. Brown wholeheartedly (no pun intended) when she says that our first response to pain and fear is to attack and blame. Spend 10-seconds on Facebook at any given time and you can see this in action. Self-righteous anger is a way of life for many of us right now.

I realize I play the blame game because I tend to take on the role of victim and feel powerless to make my needs known. For others, they may be in desperate need of connection and find it easier to connect through hate instead of love. It really does not matter why we turn to hate and blame first, what is more important is what can we do differently.

Compassion

Stepping away from my own pain and anger, allowed me to see the full picture. I became aware of my neighbor’s life and their motives. By looking at their own pain and struggles, I began to have compassion for them. They stopped being the bad guy and started to be just another person struggling to be the best they can.

Compassion, Ms. Brown explains to us, actually means “to suffer with.” Isn’t that lacking today? Instead of hearing another’s struggles and fears and being with them, we instead blame and label. We don’t have the courage to actually suffer with them, to walk in their shoes. As American Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön wrote, “Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.”

Boundaries

Having compassion and understanding does not mean that we resign to accepting personal pain. No. We can have compassion for others and set strong boundaries. We can understand someone else’s viewpoint and look for beneficial solutions for all.

I think Ms. Brown lets people off too lightly when she says, “We’re so exhausted from ranting and raving that we don’t have the energy to develop meaningful consequences and enforce them.” Personally, I never thought I had another option than to rant and rave. I felt powerless and victimized. I felt that a “good girl” accepts things as they are and doesn’t rock the boat. I thought the only options were to sit in my resentment or attack someone else (which for me is not an option). I am learning the space of gray between those two options. First, I need to identify what is not working for me. Instead of blaming the other, I need to define my boundaries and needs, and then ask for them. I have the power to change my circumstance either through letting someone become aware of how they are affecting me or to make changes in how I act and react.

Moving Forward

The Brené Brown quote I shared in the first paragraph is from a chapter called “Courage, Compassion, and Connection.” These are all things I think the world is in much need right now. But how do we get them?  The way Ms. Brown tells us we gain each is by doing them. Just like we learn to walk by walking, we learn these important and powerful traits is by doing them. How can you start today?

growing plants

L.O.V.E. – Letting Others Voluntarily Evolve

Part of my purpose in life, I believe, is to help others have the best lives they can. I want the best for them. I can see their potential. I want them to be happy and content today, right now. Unfortunately, it is not possible to dictate when someone’s life will turnaround. Sometimes it is due to outside circumstances. Usually, it is due to what that person is capable of doing today at this time.

I don’t remember where I heard this, but I heard love described as Letting Others Voluntarily Evolve. Makes sense doesn’t it? A two-year-old is not ready for university level physics. In time, maybe, but not today. The concept is very easy to understand. Accepting in it certain circumstances is not.

When I am working with individuals who are just laid off, it is understandable that they are going through the seven stages of grief. They are in denial that they have been laid off. They are angry that it happened after all they have done for the company. They are depressed that it happened. Eventually, they come to accept that they need to seek other employment or maybe retire. It is difficult to see someone go through this process, but I try to give them the supportive space they need. What is more challenging, is when candidates do not make it to acceptance.

Some candidates can only see staying at their previous company. They do not want to accept the layoff happened and fight the reality that they need to move on. Other candidates can’t see a future. They are filled with hopelessness of finding something new and refuse to hear the truth of opportunities. Whether job seekers or others in our lives who are stuck, it can be hard to allow them the space to make through the stages of grief in their own time.

Truth is we can not force them. We can not make the process faster. We can not make acceptance come. We can not make this mental change for them. What we can do is hold space for them during the process, and to stay on our own side of the street.

To hold space for someone means to see the person and their circumstances objectively. It means to create an atmosphere without judgment. Holding space means creating mental and emotional space for that individual to process what they are going through. What is critical at this time is to provide them with a safe space to be angry, sad, raging, despairing. Whatever their emotion, before they can release it, they first need to feel it. It may not be pleasant to experience or watch, but it needs to be released – not justified, denied, ignored, or minimized. Like a tea kettle releasing steam, if the energy of the emotion is not released, the individual will burst.

While the affected person is going through their work, we have to be careful to stay on our side of the street. Although our heart may go out to them, it is not ours to experience. Trying to stop their pain or take their pain on our self, does not help anyone. Like a comfortable blanket, we can hold them and give them support, but we do not take on what is not ours.

If you have someone you care about who is in pain due to job loss or any other transition, do your best to provide them with a safe space to move through their pain and into the new.

books

Don’t write the ending if you don’t know the full story.

Truth be told, I am a judger. I look at people and see what they can be, not what they are. My desire is to help people be better than they currently are. This is great for my clients. They are paying me to help them become what they strive to become. This is not so great for others I meet along the way. One of my personal drives is to help improve the world by helping to improve ourselves. This is a noble, if also unwelcomed at times, cause.

What I am learning to embrace is to temper my desire to help. I ask myself if this person has asked for my help before I jump into fixing their lives. If I know it is not my business but am still triggered by actions that I “know” could be better, I take a step back and look at where they are versus where I would hope they would be. When a 20-year-old is acting dumb on Médano Beach, I don’t judge them by how this old lady acts. I try to remember how I acted at that age and cut them a bit of slack.

I must remember that I am usually meeting someone mid-story. I assume that they are where I am, or where I aspire them to be. I look at their lives and actions through the perception of my previous experience and growth. This may lead to disappointment, frustration, or assumptions. None of which is fair.

Lately I have been thinking back at my growth over the years. If you would have known me at 20-years old, I was nowhere near the person I am today. I would hate to be judged at that age by the things I take for granted at this age. I simply was not there. And that was ok. I was where I was. I had to be there before I could get here. I had to experience the good, bad, and ugly of that phase, to embrace what I know today.

An innocuous example is salary negotiation. At 25, I was not even thinking about negotiation. My mind focused on if I was good enough or lucky enough to be chosen for a position. Salary negotiation was not even a concept of which I was aware. Later in life, I started to know my worth but still didn’t understand the non-emotional process of negotiating a fair compensation. Today I help others understand negotiation. Sometimes I work with someone who is where I was at 25. I can not get angry at them for not knowing about or feeling comfortable with negotiation. They are where they are; they are where I was too.

books
Photo by Kari Shea on Unsplash

We are all where we are. Everyone we meet is somewhere in their story. Only newborns come to us with a clean slate, and some of us may even question that. For the most part, however, we meet everyone mid-story. They may be in their chapter two, maybe chapter fifteen, or maybe in their final chapter. What is important is that we do not make assumptions. We should not judge someone from our perspective, but from where they currently are.

When you run across someone who is challenging, take a minute to check in with your assumptions. Are you judging them by what you expect or by where they truly are in their life? Try to remember too that you don’t know where they have been or what they are currently going through. You are only seeing one chapter in their book.