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?

gnome go away

Are your means leading to your ends?

The other day a friend shared with me a simple reality check for our behaviors. He said that he looks at his goal and then reviews the methods he is using to reach that goal to determine if those methods are actually moving him toward his desired end result. Very simple. Very telling.

Here are a few examples where the means are not getting to our desired result:

I have often wanted to have deeper, more loving relationships (goal). My actions (method) have been to be distant and aloof to keep me from being hurt.  The result is that my distance kept others distant which prevents my having deeper, more loving relationships.

A millennial dreams of owning his own house (goal). Every day he eats out breakfast, lunch, and dinner (method). The result is that he is not able to save enough money for the down payment.

A spouse wants to be trusted by her partner (goal). Yet she continued to lie and manipulate him (method). The result is that she is less, not more trusted by her partner.

A worker wants to receive a promotion and be respected in the company (goal). He constantly complains to his co-workers that he is not treated fairly (method). The result is that his co-workers see him as a complainer instead of management material.

Looking at the goal, method, and results is simple in design and difficult in practice. The two challenges that come up are the ability to look at our methods objectively and second, to know that if we are not headed toward our goal, we need to make changes.

Being Objective

Humans are very rational beings. Or maybe I should say that we rationalize things to make ourselves feel better about them. We can do awful, unethical, or at least not wise things, but if we can find some story or premise to explain our choices, we feel justified. To learn from the Goal-Method-Result tool, we need to look at each action objectively, without excuse or justification. If we explain away our less-than-ideal choices, we can not learn to do better.

Goals

The goal can be something specific like buying a house or the goal may be something less tangible like being more peaceful. It is important for your goal to be YOUR goal. It should not be what others want you to do or what you believe you should do. In your heart of hearts, what would make you happy?

Method

Next, look at your current actions, words, and beliefs. This is not a time to analyze, just uncover. Be honest with yourself. What are you doing?  What are you not doing? How are you currently acting, speaking, and feeling?

Result

Now play out those methods to the end. Are they moving you toward or away from your goal? If they are not moving you toward your goal, what is the end result you are heading toward? Look at the examples I provided at the beginning of this article. The methods applied were in direct conflict with the end goal.

Change

Nothing changes until something changes. It is hard to honestly look at our methods (actions and beliefs). It can be more difficult to be willing to change those methods. First you need an honest desire and willingness to be and do different. We may want change but the actual transition into something new can be terrifying. Even welcomed change is scary because it is not what we have known. Humans crave consistency. Our stress levels are lower when life continues in the way we are accustomed. That is why so many people stay in a bad relationship or an unfulfilling position longer than they should. It is the devil they know. Moving into something new upsets the apple cart, takes us out of our comfort level. But it can also move us toward our goal.

What is the life you want (goal)? What are your current actions and beliefs (methods)? Are you heading toward or away from what you want? Are you willing to make a change to head you in the desired direction?

couple talking

Interior Monologues

Have you ever had a conversation where you didn’t feel heard or understood? Have you ever become angry at someone else because their words didn’t seem to match their actions? Does it feel like our conversations, maybe more so now, seem to be disconnected?

The reason why communication is usually stilted is because we do not know, own, and express our truth, and because we are taking people at face value instead of looking at the motivation behind their words. One of the most powerful notions I have learned lately is that everything someone says and does, is ALL and ONLY about them. Let that soak in. What people are saying and doing is simply a reflection of their needs, expectations, and perceptions.

Let me give you an example. I help with administrative tasks for my husband’s business. To get done what I need to get done, I need information from him. He is very busy, and it is often difficult to receive the information I need from him. For a while, we had some conflict. I was playing the nagging wife trying to get information from him. He would then, rightfully so, get angry at my nagging.

It wasn’t until we looked at what was under the surface, at the true motivations we both had for our words and actions, that we were able to understand and improve the situation. From my side, I thought my husband didn’t care enough about me to get me the information that I needed. I wasn’t pestering him for information. I was desiring love and attention. From his side, my husband thought my nagging was an attack on his ability to do his job. He thought I was berating him for being incompetent. Much larger topic than just workflow, isn’t it?

To help us navigate the real issue, we need to take a step back, seek to understand, and share our truth.

Take a step back

As I help others with conflict, the first thing I tell them is to remember that everything someone says or does is all and only about them. Taking a step back to uncover, as much as we can, the story behind the story, provides us with understanding, empathy, and the ability to address the true issue. Instead of focusing on what seems to be the issue, when we can see the bigger picture and we can work to resolve the real cause of the conflict.

Seek to understand

The first hurdle here is willingness. It is much more comfortable to be a self-righteous victim and attack the other for what they are saying and doing, than it is to take the higher ground and seek to understand. However, as we saw in my personal example, if I stayed in my self-righteousness and just continued to pester for information, nothing would be solved. It is beneficial to all involved to understand the truth of what is going on.

Share our truth

If we don’t share our truth, if we don’t explain why we are acting the way we are, we can not expect our problem to be solved. The first step here is taking the time and having the courage to look at why a situation is difficult for us. What is our underlying backstory? When we can uncover that and share it, we are then closer to having our needs met.

Look at some of your current challenges. Take a step back. What is the real issue for you? Have you communicated your truth and your needs? Have you sought to understand what may really be going on with the other person? Are you working to solve what is below the surface?

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?

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.

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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.