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.

NPR This American Life

Spectacularly Perfect Coincidences

My husband and I have been listening nightly to This American Life, the NPR radio show. Decades ago when we would listen, we would call it “driveway stories” because we would get home and have to stay in the driveway to finish listening to the story before we left the car. These days we listen online at night and call the show “This American Nap” because the show often lasts longer than we do. But that is not the point of today’s musings.

What I want to talk about are coincidences. I have always loved coincidences, or what I like to call Spectacularly Perfect Events (SPEs). My experience of SPEs is one of wonder and magic. It is the physical manifestation of a power that is beyond our five senses. SPEs are not simple coincidences but divine or at least invisible intervention in our lives.

Our latest listen to This American Life was an awesome show called No Coincidence, No Story! We were especially touched by Act Two of the story because it was set in our old hometown, and it had such a sweet and unexpected ending. Truly it had a miraculous ending. Listen in about the dollar bill and see if you don’t agree.

My life is better when I am open to and allow myself to be amazed by SPEs. I find them to be guidance and support for my life. The SPEs in my life appear at the right time in the right way. They feel different from normal events. I can tell they are special. Like when the hair on my arms stands up when I walk down a scary alley, my body feels different when I know I am in the middle of a SPE. For instance:

After being released from the UCLA graduate theatrical program, I was down to my last dime in Los Angeles. Driving to a job interview, I became lost. This was before the days of smart phones or even cellphones. I spotted a payphone on the side of the road. When I hurriedly turned into the parking lot so I could call the recruiter, I cut the turn too quickly and hit the curb, puncturing my tire. A man approached me – I was frightened because I was a 21-year-old woman in a bad part of town. He very nicely said, “I saw what happened. Let me change your tire.” I was in no position to refuse. As he changed my tire, I called the recruiter to receive better directions. Returning to my car, I fingered literally the last $20 dollar bill in my wallet and offered it to him with gratitude for his kindness. He refused the money saying, “I was on my way from a job interview. Hopefully, this good deed will help me land the job.” I hope it did. No Coincidence, No Story.

About a year later, I was contemplating moving back to Illinois. I had found a job, a wonderful job, but the company was no longer financially sound. I was at a crossroads. My future was a blank slate, or more like a black hole. I wasn’t sure if I should stay and try to make it in LA or to head back home and start over. At the time, I worked less than 10 blocks from where I lived and was probably the ONLY person in LA to walk to-and-from my job. One day as I was walking back to my apartment after work, a guy on a bicycle passed me and said, “Going home?” Never had I seen him before nor never after. But that day I took it as a sign that I was to return to Illinois – where my life restarted. No Coincidence, No Story.

Where in your life did things happen that seemed more than just happenstance? Did you receive direction? Did you receive support? Did you get that gentle nudge in a new direction? Share with us your thoughts on coincidences and SPEs in your life.

Becoming Better Grownups

What Do You Love About What You Do?

For Christmas, a dear friend gave me the book Becoming Better Grownups by Brad Montague. I read the 300-page book in just a few days. Don’t be too impressed with my reading speed, there are a lot of pictures in the book. Brad Montague is the creative force behind Kid President and was on a mission through this book to help us all be better adults. In the process, he uncovered many secrets to a happy life.

One of his insights is around our work and how we spend our days. So often we are focused on the labels, on the nouns of what we do. “I am a doctor.” “I work at this firm.” “I have this degree.” Those are all facts, and sometimes impressive facts. But we don’t live and enjoy facts. We live and enjoy verbs. Brad humbly shares his experience at the Jefferson Awards dinner in Washington, D.C. where by chance, he was seated next to Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. He was terrified because her noun, Supreme Court Justice, was so much more impressive than his noun, YouTube video guy. But then she asked him, not what he did (noun), but “What do you love about what you do?” (verb).

That question changes the discussion, doesn’t it? She was not interested in someone’s resume. She wanted to know their passion, what makes them unique, what makes them get up in the morning. Ms. Sotomayor wanted to know their verb, their experience of life. The why of what they do.

Take a moment to think of how you would respond if I asked you right now what do you love about what you do? For me, I love to support people through difficult times, to help them see the inherent power they have, and I am honored and filled with hope and joy when I see someone transformed, to see someone take control of their life again – to love life again.

When asked why Ms. Sotomayor asks this question, because she did ask it of everyone she met that night, she responded that, “when you know what somebody loves, you know who they really are.” When we get past the labels and dig deeper into why someone does something, we get to know that person on the inside not just on the outside.

Inspirationally, Brad Montague reinvented how he saw himself and his work. He stopped thinking about how his work defined him and began working from a place of love. He stopped thinking about how he was viewed because of his title, and instead ensured that what he did inspired others. He is now in the business of love, created by love, given in love.

This refocus is also a tool of motivation. Not all work is fun and inspiring, but when I can remember that the TPS report I am doing, is going to help someone grow, I find I have the motivation to do some of the less glamorous parts of my job.

What do you love about what you do? What would it mean to you and your work to focus on the purpose of love and sharing love?

the dawn

Darkness Before the Dawn

For good or bad, one of my driving forces is perfectionism. Because of this, I am very focused on solutions, searching always for a tool or a way of being that would lead to right choices and perfect ways of living. My focus had been on the ideal, the end goal of perfectionism. It wasn’t until recently that I began to see the importance of the dark before the dawn. Before we can strive for perfection, we need to be utterly imperfect.

One of my daily readings is from The Language of Letting Go. This week Melody Beattie shared the concept that “denial is the first step toward acceptance.” I am a big fan of acceptance, so much so that I devoted a whole chapter in my book to acceptance. What this quote pointed out to me is that before acceptance, we are first in denial. If we were not in denial, there would be no reason to learn about acceptance. It is the painful place of denial we start in that gives us the ability to strive for better.

Photo by Victor ZH on Unsplash

This reminded me of the Inside Out movie that came out many years ago now. One of the biggest lessons it taught was that before each of the happy moments of our lives, there is sadness. It is in the darkness that we begin to value the light. It is in our difficult moments that we learn there is a different way. It is in the hardships that we learn to value and be grateful for the good.

Over the past years, I have loosened my desire for perfectionism. Perfectionism is no longer my goal, mostly because it is not attainable, but also because it is not enjoyable. Life is not about perfection. Life is about continuous improvement. And to have improvement we first need to start with the difficult. We are not here to become some ideal physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. We are here simply to improve, to become just that little bit better than where we started. We are here to learn a lesson, to experience the journey.

When I am challenged these days, I do not fall into a pity party or launch into a mad rush for solutions. Instead, I step back and ask what I am to learn from this experience. What is this challenge here to teach me?  These questions help me rise above the challenge itself and see this as an opportunity to learn and grow. And I thank the challenge. For without the challenge, I could not grow.

2020 has given us many things to fear and worry about. It helps me to see them as the platform for our growth. Issues with America’s politics, race relations, and institutions have come to light. It is in this negativity that we are given the opportunity to make a change. It is through the awareness of what is off that we are given the incentive to transform.

Look around you. What are your current struggles? Instead of feeding them with fear and worry, ask them how they are here to help. Are you having challenges relating to family members with differing political views? Perhaps it is an opportunity to learn compassion and acceptance. Look at each of your challenges and your fears then explore how they can be a gift to you. What lesson are they presenting to you? Next, take action. Even the smallest step can begin to make a difference for you and others.

women together

You are not alone

I remember the isolation of winters in Chicago. I can’t imagine what it is like this year after months of summer-time isolation. Even though I am in a location where I can still walk safely and warmly outside, with the holidays upon us I am beginning to feel the pangs of loneliness and isolation. As my old crutches for sadness – alcohol and comfort foods – are not an option anymore and I can only play so much Candy Crush, it has become apparent that I need to find better, longer-lasting, and healthier means of curing loneliness.

Rachel Wurzman shared her interesting findings about how our ability to connect socially and compulsive spectrum disorders are located in the same part of our brain, the striatum.  This is why when we feel disconnected from others, we reach for compulsive addiction behaviors whether they appear as excessive Amazon ordering, Netflix binging, or drug use. Much of the time, we are not even aware that we are trying to feed our loneliness with a candy bar, but somewhere deep in our brain we are trying to sooth our inner child with a quick fix. There is a better way.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Awareness

The first step is to increase our awareness. Are you obsessed with shopping, cigarettes, chocolate, Facebook, Fortnite, or YouTube? Are you constantly feeding your mind or your body, but you still feel off?  Much of our lives are lived on autopilot. We feel poorly and we unconsciously reach for something we think will make us feel better – which usually only makes us feel better for a moment, if at all. Instead, slow down, use meditation and mindfulness to come back to the present, and think before you act.

The Real Thing

Take the time to uncover what you really want and need. The addictions in our lives are bandages for our pain, not medicine. Take the time to uncover what it is that you really want and need. Where is your pain and what is the real long-lasting solution?  Focus on identifying and securing a real solution not an unhealthy substitute. In your awareness, make new and better choices.

Reach Out

As I have written about before and have been reminded of lately, the best way we can get what we need, is to give what we need. If we want to feel connected, we need to seek connection. Isolation does not cure loneliness, reaching out does. Connection and being of service are the best ways to feel part of a community again.

Remember to make real connections. Social media is a platform more to compare than share. Make real connections with real people. Zoom and telephone are wonderful means. Make use of every interaction you have. As you go about your day, make eye contact with the cashier, ask your co-worker how they are, wave hello to your neighbor. If you are aware, there are multiple times throughout the day to make a connection.

Make a Commitment

Goethe said, “Knowing is not enough. We must apply.” I am sure nothing I wrote here is a new thought for you. You know what will help. It is not the knowing but the acting where we struggle. Before you move on to the next article, make a written commitment to reach out to others. Personally, I have standing appointments with my close friends and a list of those I can call when I have time or need. Take action to reach out. In your effort, you will heal more than just yourself.

cancel written with typewriter

Feel Free to Unfriend Me

This week I shared one of my favorite quotes by Saint Francis of Assisi, “Before you speak of peace, you must first have it in your heart.” This concept is essential to an issue for which I have been struggling.

Every day online and offline, friends and family members share messages like: “Before I get comments asking if I really believe this, the answer is yes. Please feel free to unfriend me.” “Bet no one will repost this.” and “Here is what I believe. F*CK your feelings.” There has always been the random person or celebrity who says something off-putting. It is easier to deal with aggressive, confrontational attitudes when it is not someone for which I care. What I am struggling with, is how to react when these words and attitude are coming from a family member or someone I have know for decades.

It hurts when it seems a good friend will choose their ideology over our relationship. My struggle with today’s aggressive attitude stems from feeling that I am less important than the person’s ideology. It appears that my loved one’s opinion is more important than our friendship. Just like in the Civil War, brother is turning again brother over a belief. Family members and friends are terminating relationships online and offline because of one post, because of one confrontation. I feel as if I need to accept someone’s beliefs and aggression, or I lose our friendship.

I also struggle when the person I love is believing alternative facts over what I perceive is truth. Everyone has a right to their own beliefs. I do honor and accept that. What hurts is when we can not have a conversation about our differences. It is no longer about personal belief; belief has become non-debatable facts. If I have learned anything this lifetime is that I don’t know anything. Throughout my life I have been shown again and I again how what I took as gospel truth is not true in all situations, or maybe not true at all. These lessons have given me a humility and a willingness to hear someone else’s opinion. It scares me what will happen to us as a society when we stop listening to each other and stop being open to new thoughts and new information.

So, what do we do?  If coaching has taught me anything it is that I can not change anyone’s opinion, belief, thoughts, or actions. They need to be open, willing, and ready to make the change. To navigate these emotionally difficult times, we need to focus on improving our own actions and reactions. We are the only ones we can affect. The solution, as always, is not to change others but to change ourselves.

Understanding

“I do not like that man. I must get to know him better.” This Abraham Lincoln quote was the inspiration for a post I wrote earlier this year about the importance of seeking to understand someone, not immediately disregarding those we disagree with. In seeking to understand, go deeper than the issue. Find out the why behind the issue. Why is this issue important? Why do they believe in this or that solution? Why do they need a resolution? What I usually find when I go deeper than the issue, is that most always the motivation is fear. For instance, this article by the Atlantic goes into why some white men support Trump. It is not about the issues of Trump’s policies. The deeper reason for this group is personal; it is a feeling of disenfranchisement and worthlessness. The sense of power and pride once held is disappearing and this group does not know how to feel good about themselves on a personal level without it. Some men are adapting to the new world, and some are struggling.

The world is constantly changing, and it is scary. No matter what your beliefs or your situation, there is always something that can create fear and a sense of instability. The same goes for those around you. Have the courage to seek to understand. Once you can move past the surface issue and seek to understand, you open the door to real dialog and healing.

Compassion

When we can glimpse the “why” behind the issue, we can find compassion. When I see someone struggling with their lack of ability or willingness to adapt, I see a person in pain.

In my own life, I have struggled to learn to put people above deadlines and tasks. My dogged drive to complete projects was often at odds with those around me. I knew of their frustration with me since my moniker at the time was, “bitch.” They thought I was being insensitive and aggressive – many of the labels I can put on others today. And I was. But I was also feeling pain, joylessness, fear, anger, and frustration. I would be angry at others who did not see the completion of a task as important as I did. I would feel frustration and failure when I couldn’t make things happen. During that time, none of my well-meaning friends and managers could make me see the futility of my focus on work. It has taken time, therapy, re-education, and willingness on my part to change. So, it is with those around us.

If you can, switch to understanding and compassion with the difficult people in your life. Understand that they are actually struggling. Look at times in your own life when you were on the attack, protecting the things that made you feel worthy. We all struggle at one time or another. Provide the same compassion to those around you that you hope they would show you.

Acceptance

Most of our pain comes from lack of acceptance of reality. As an idealist, I often feel frustrated by the dissonance between how people are acting and how I believe they can and should act. The person is not causing my pain and frustration. I am causing my own pain and frustration by not accepting what really is. Byron Katie has written a lovely book to help us accept what is.

When working with those who want to lose weight, the first thing we do is focus on accepting their current weight. Before anything can change, we need to first accept the truth of the current situation. Sometimes that situation is not pretty and perhaps very harmful. But it is the reality. We need to first accept the truth of the reality before we can make changes in our lives and the lives of others.

Acceptance also includes accepting people as they are. Accepting their good. Accepting their bad. None of us has lived a perfect life. We have all made bad choices and gone through bad times. As we would hope that others could accept us when we are acting poorly, we also need to accept that part of the human experience is being imperfect.

Patience

If you thought understanding, compassion, and acceptance are hard, you won’t like patience. Patience is a struggle for me and my fellow Type-A’s. But patience is not only needed, it is essential. In my younger years, I thought I could and should affect everything – immediately and decisively. These days I am seeing the power of patience. When I can pause, solutions come to the surface on their own. Others may step up to make improvements for society. Individuals are given the space to make changes to themselves. When we can give others the space and time to do their own work, no matter what that work looks like, we are really acting in the solution.

Remember, we have all experienced struggles in our lives which made us act in unbecoming ways. I know I have. And I know that with time, compassion, acceptance, and understanding, I have changed. My hope is treating others with this dignity will give them the space to change. If you are also struggling with those around you, I hope that this post helped you find at least a little peace and understanding.