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?

connecting to others

Connection is Critical

This past year has been a challenge to many. When our contact became limited, we found out how much we took being with others for granted, and how much we need it. Isolation increased how sad, depressed, and anxious we were already feeling before the pandemic. Recently, I relistened to Johann Hari’s TED talk on depression and anxiety. One of the key points he makes is about connection; focusing on “we” instead of “me” to improve our mood and outlook about life. I couldn’t agree more.

Connection is critical. Unfortunately, our society focuses on “me”, on wealth and owning stuff, and on the social media perception of happiness instead of true enjoyment of life. All of this plus the pandemic have taken away from the real connection we crave.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

I believe this is why many have, ironically, chosen to be part of groups focused on hate and separation. As Richard Rohr wrote, “Love grounds us by creating focus, direction, motivation, even joy—and if we don’t find these things in love, we usually will try to find them in hate.” We want to feel a sense of belonging and community. Hate groups and cults feed off our desire to be part of something bigger. Focusing on hate versus love is the easier and more natural route for many of us.  

Of course, there are more positive ways to make connections. I find that supporting others can help me feel connected and minimize my self-focused depression. I am blessed to support those in job transition, those seeking work-life balance, and others who desire to live a sober life. Supporting others gives me the connection I need. Providing service to others is one of the most selfish acts I do as it not only gives me the joy of connection, but also the added side benefit that the advice or support I give to others is often what I need to hear myself.

Making real human connections, not just social media interactions, is also critical. We have become a society with the ability to communicate around the world instantaneously, and the inability to make real true connections. For me, every interaction has again become priceless. Before, especially in my Type-A days, each interaction was a means to an end, a checkbox to tick bringing me closer to the achievement I was pursing. Today, I cherish the wave from a neighbor, the good afternoon greeting of the store clerk, and the phone call with an old friend. Every chance to look in someone’s eyes and make a real connection is seized upon as much as I can.

On those days when I wake up on the wrong side of the bed and want to isolate to soak in my pain and malaise, I choose to instead go against my desire to disconnect and make an active effort to interact with everyone I can. When I can make this switch, I know my mood is positively affected.

As you go through your day, be present as much as you can. Connect, don’t isolate. Make the most of every interactive. See how your mood is lightened and be grateful.

pie making ingredients

Preparing to Be Unprepared

I stole the title from Jeff Haden’s article because it is brilliant. I don’t seek out articles written about William Shatner but this one came across my LinkedIn feed and then on Facebook through people I trust and revere, so I thought I would check it out. I am glad I did.

Over the years, I have tried to minimize my overly organized, always-be-prepared, control freak, Type-A ways. I realize my desire to control causes me stress and upset. My desire to control is only a desire, not the true ability to control. Unexpectedly, William Shatner expressed a powerful alternative to the desire to control. He showed the importance of preparation and the importance of letting go.

Preparation

Constantly shooting from the hip or reacting and not acting, will not get us anywhere. We have an obligation to do our own footwork. Research topics. Analyze scenarios. Uncover everything we can uncover. If we do not, we are making decisions and actions without all the information, and when we do that, we often make poor decisions.

Preparation, however, does not ensure results. Our preparation does not dictate how things will go. This is where I often have epic fails. I research, analyze, and come to my desired conclusions – then get very upset when life does not work out as I planned. Preparation does not mean controlling the situation. Preparation does not mean things will go the way we desire. Preparation is by definition “to make ready.” It is not the end. It is the before, before the beginning. Preparation is reading the recipe and pulling all the ingredients together. It is not the final cake. It is not even making the cake.

My stress comes from assuming that my preparation is going to dictate the result. Unfortunately, it does not. I believe that if I think things through, talk things through, create and choose scenarios, then what I desire will happen. Going back to the cake analogy, just because I choose the recipe and have my ingredients ready, does not ensure the outcome of a delicious cake. Some of my ingredients could have gone bad. Maybe my oven heats unevenly or I receive a phone call distracting me from the most important part of the process. Some of these actions I may be able to control, but often many things are just up to fate.

Often, I have this conversation with my job seekers. They prepare. They update their resume. They customize their cover letter. They practice before an interview. All of these things are good, but they do not ensure the end result of landing a position. Many things happen that have nothing to do with our preparation – changes internally at the company, qualifications of other candidates, company workload shift – which affect the end result.

Let Go

Which is why Mr. Shatner says, “Prepare, be humble, and see any one starting point as just a beginning from which all sorts of possibilities can emanate.” What he is really talking about is letting go. Do the preparation then let go of your ego, let go of your expectations. Stay in the moment and see where the breadcrumbs lead you. A comment, a chance meeting, a new piece of information, all of this can change the direction of a conversation, a job search, or any part of our life. In my life, when I am able (or forced) to let go, things happen much better and amazingly than I could imagine.

Letting go demands trust, openness, and willingness to go into the unknown. If we have prepared, we can bring some tools with us, but the journey is really one of being open to anything. It is hearing what is said, not forcing the conversation to mirror what we planned. It is letting things play out, not forcing them to happen faster than they are meant to. It is taking an unexpected path and seeing where it leads.

What do you have coming up this week? Have you prepared to the best of your ability? Are you willing to let go and allow things to happen as they unfold? 

park bench

You can’t go back

Recently I worked with a woman in job transition who was stuck. Every time we talked she would only bemoan how she wanted her old position back. She had worked for a company for decades. She loved what she did. She loved her co-workers and the company culture. She wanted it all back. But it was not possible. The position no longer existed. She could not go back. Her desire for what used to be kept her from moving forward. She was sad, depressed, and hopeless because she refused to let go of what was no longer possible.

Many of us are feeling this way right now. When the pandemic struck last spring, we did our best to adapt. We looked forward to the summer, then the fall, then the new year. Every time we reached our expectation of when things should “get back to normal” and found that nothing changed, we became sad, angry, and despondent. Lately I have seen many clients, friends, and family reach the end of their rope. They bucked up during the recent challenges inspired by the hope things would get back to normal. I am not sure if things will go back to what we knew as normal. What we need to do, is let go of the past and move into our future.

Release the Old

One of the recommendations I made to my client who wanted her old job back was to hold a funeral for her old position. She had to let go of the hope there was an opportunity to return to what was. Whether you are holding on to an old position, a relationship which can no longer be, or the life we used to know, the first step in moving forward is to let go of the hope that things are like they used to be.

Nothing stays constant. All of life grows and changes. If it does not, it dies. When things in our lives are not changing and growing, we need to mourn that their time is over. Until we let go of what was, we can never embrace what will be.

Release Time

Some of the stress people are feeling about the pandemic is because they created arbitrary dates in their minds as to when it would be over. Last March I researched the Spanish flu and learned that it lasted for two years. Instead of assuming our challenge would be over in the summer, after the election, or in the new year, I pushed my thinking into the belief that it would be at least five years. I hope and believe it will not be that long but pushing my expectation out past the point I think is necessary, has given me a peace.

We can not control when or if things will change or be better so it is best not to create expectations of timing we can not control. Many of my job seekers want their new position to come by a certain date. It is important to know when we need income and to have plans to pay our bills, but to set an expectation that we will secure a certain position in that timing is unrealistic. Instead of focusing on time, focus on your efforts as in the case of a job search or focus on the moment. Stress relief can be found in releasing uncontrollable expectations of timing.

Define What is Next

What we can do is to look at what is next. For the job seeker it is defining the ideal position. For the pandemic, it may be defining how we go about our day for the short term. We can not move toward something until we define it first. Instead of longing for what was or hoping something will happen in your timing, focus your efforts on defining what you want and making baby steps toward your goals.

As we move into 2021, release the past and your expectations of when things will change. Focus on what you want next and begin to work towards that. If you have the same experience I do, you will begin to see wondrous things come your way.

I tried

It is better to try and lose, then to never try at all

One of my Achilles’ heels is the tendency to hold myself back. It is ironic because in so many other ways I have a bull-in-a-china-shop drive toward what I want. Guess this is just one of many ways I still have an all-or-nothing attitude. Either I am driven and unstoppable, or I stop myself before I have even begun.

One of my 2020 self-care tools was watching RuPaul’s Drag Race. I was inspired by the creativity, acceptance, and talent of the participants. What I also noticed was how those who did not make it to the top, tended to doubt themselves usually to the point of self-sabotage. It was so clear to me from the outside to see that the only thing keeping them from progressing in the competition was themselves. As a career consultant, I see this play out in real life too.

Almost every day I coach job seekers who are their own worst enemy. They focus on what they think will be the interviewer’s concerns and accept the lie that they will not be considered for the position. What we work on is helping them prove to themselves first why and how they are a perfect fit for the position, so they can then express this during an interview and land the job.

Photo by Umit Y Buz on Unsplash

Lately I have been thinking of all the ways I stopped myself in the past. During the interview to become part of the Northwestern University theatrical directing masters program, I was asked to participate in the same exercises the actors did. I reluctantly agreed but didn’t put any effort into it and therefore was not even considered. I was accepted into the UCLA directing program but could not find my voice and found it easier to give up than try. In corporate America, I had projects where I allowed the group to take the lead and didn’t insist on the level of quality I did in my own work; the results were dismal. My experience in Roosevelt’s organizational development course really shows how I minimize myself, and therefore my results. Again and again, I found myself to be my own worst enemy.

My desire for perfection leads me to my all-or-nothing mentality. Either I know I am going to be not only successful but the best, or I don’t try at all. I defeat myself before I even begin. Just as I counsel the job seekers, I am making an effort to try, even if I don’t think I will succeed perfectly. Over the last two years, learning Spanish has really helped me. I had loved Spanish in junior high, but when I reached high school and had to speak the language alone, not as a class, I shut down. I was shy and timid and didn’t want to be judged. When we moved to Mexico, I was the same way. I didn’t want to be judged for my poor language skills. Finally, I learned to accept my ability – or lack thereof – and spoke as well as I could every chance I could. Through my amazing teacher and getting out there and making a fool of myself, my language skills have greatly improved. I focus on trying and practicing, not perfection.

Where are you holding yourself back in your life? What do you want to accomplish but don’t have the courage to try? Explore the why and take a baby step toward your dreams.

looking into the future

Be the Change

As we move into the new year, many of us have historically created new years’ resolutions. After 2020, we may just be praying to survive, tentatively embracing the unknown. For me, instead of just enduring the new year, my goal is to live purposefully. Inspired by the book, Becoming Better Grownups, I want to live every day making the world just a little bit better.

Tiny Nudges

I seem to have always had a drive to make the world better, to help those around me. Many times, this passion has been a hindrance. It manifested in an expectation that I could and should change the world. I felt a responsibility to make everything peaceful, fair, and just. Obviously, this is a tall order and not within my ability.  Two recent learnings are helping me refocus my desire to save the world.

First, I don’t know what is right. When I was young, I thought I knew right and wrong, good and bad. I thought my way was the right way. What I now know is that there is no absolute right and wrong. What is best can change depending on the circumstance. Sometimes what I believe is the best option, sometimes it is not. I have set aside my immature notion that I know right from wrong or even that there is an absolute right and wrong. I have learned to pause and wait for clear direction and to not act on my ego-filled judgements.

Second, a concept Brad Montague expresses deftly in his book, is that change does not come across in grand gestures. It is not LaRusso winning the championships, Bruce Willis defeating Hans Gruber, or one single amazing event that changes the world in an instant. Change happens slowly through almost microscopic shifts – the kind word on the right day, a reminder of an inspirational book, sharing experience strength and hope. A tiny nudge in the right direction can be one in a line of many small efforts that lead to the big change. Evolution happens slowly over time and so does changing personally and globally for the better.

Make the World Awesome

Instead of looking at what you can do for money or what will impress your friends, live your life by creating awesome wherever you go. What are you good at? What are you passionate about? What do you do instinctively without even trying?  If you focused on using your inherent talents for good, how could you make the world more awesome? Maybe it would be a new vaccine. Maybe it would be a way to make home schooling easier. Maybe it would be an awesome piece of entertainment to bring joy to others.

Don’t look at what the world needs. When I do this, I think of things that need to be done but I personally have no ability to do them. First look to your passion. What is like breathing to you? What can you not help yourself from doing?  Maybe you will know immediately how your inherent skill will help others, maybe you will uncover that over time. Either way, start with you and have the courage to share your special gift with the world.

As we move into 2021, won’t you join me in living a more purposeful life? Dig deep, uncover, and accept what you are uniquely created to do. Have the courage to share that talent with the world. And know that your small efforts will be part of a chain reaction of efforts which will bring about good in the world.

Wishing you all a happy, safe, healthy, and inspiring new year!