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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.

ghost on the street

This Halloween, let’s pledge to stop ghosting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko on Unsplash

What I learned from a Covid scare

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

It Is Not About Me

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

Expectations Versus Reality

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

Know Your Limits

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

Let Others Know You are Not 100%

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

Take Care of Yourself

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

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

women working

The Business of Empathy

In last week’s post, I provided a teaser about the “feeling economy.” During a Right Management meeting, the term was mentioned as a side note but not really explained. But the term intrigued me, so I did some research.

Just as machines brought us into the Industrial Age, machines, specifically computers, are setting the foundation for the Feeling Economy. The Industrial Revolution emerged as machines replaced humans in repetitive jobs. Many people were affected by this shift as they lost employment to machines. On the positive, as machines took over the easy tasks, humans became the thinkers and the craftsmen. Computers continued to handle more and more leading us into the Technological Revolution, and now computers are swiftly taking over intellectual labor. Voice recognition allowed them to handled customer service calls, and now they can even write articles. I understand that this may scare many people, but what is emerging is so hopeful and beautiful to me. What we are moving into is the Feeling Economy.

women working
Photo by UX Indonesia on Unsplash

At least for now, the one thing computers can not do is have empathy. They can not relate on a personal level with humans. Maybe they will be able to do so in the future, we’ll see. But for now, what makes me excited and hopeful is that what is finally being recognized and valued is emotional intelligence. The California Management Review and the Smith Business School introduce us to the Feeling Economy. As Artificial Intelligence (AI) takes on not only mechanical and repetitive tasks, but moves into analytic and thinking tasks, we move closer to a Feeling Economy where people focus on interpersonal and empathetic tasks. The next boom is with workers who focus on the feeling tasks and emotional sensibilities.

On a personal level, I feel like this frees me from being a machine and provides me the space to be fully human. My strength, and my weakness, is my Type-A drive. This innate drive has allowed me to accomplish incredible things and keep things on track no matter what. It has also made me an unfeeling task master putting projects above individuals’ needs. For much of my work life, I was a machine. I saw the project at hand and only looked at the facts, what needed to be done and by when. I was automated. I was efficient. And I was very cold, distant, and heartless. I almost never took people’s feelings into account. What needed to be accomplished was of sole importance.

Thankfully, slowly over time, I have become more human and empathetic. What has helped me learn and accept the deep truth and need for empathy is that everything is transitory. A profession, a specific job, or a current project being worked on, all of these things change. Think about your term paper for school and how important it was at the time versus how important it is to you now. Most of what we find critical in the moment, is meaningless in the future. What I regret now is not how I performed my work, but how I treated those around me as I bulldozed my way through my work.

We are not here to accomplish things – although we may. Primarily we are here to connect. We are here to give and receive compassion. We are here to love and be loved. All the stress in the world is due to deadlines, ideologies, and other man-made concepts. Peace is found in connection, compassion, and love. I am learning to focus on the experience I or my cohorts are having. When I work with people in job transition, they can learn everything they need to about the job search from Right Management’s extensive articles, videos, and even AI resume review app. My principal role is not to teach or help them complete the process. What I can and should do is help them grieve the loss of their old position, sort through the anger of being let go, and deal with the fear of being between positions. I am in the feeling economy.

In releasing my computerized ways, I am learning to let go of expectations. Expectations are based on a right or wrong, they are based on timelines, they are based on my perceptions. Where I find more joy myself and more relief for my candidates, is focusing on their progress and growth. Yes, we are still working to land them a new position, but I am thanked more for helping people regain their confidence, have hope in the face of uncertainty, and for providing comfort and support. The result, the new position, is often just the framework for their personal growth.

Daniel Goleman introduced Emotional Intelligence back in 1995. Since then Brené Brown, Simon Sinek and others have been leading the charge of evolving business leadership into the feeling economy as empathy is posed to become more important. As with many changes and rebirths, some professions may be affected as we move into the feeling economy. But the shift to focusing and valuing people, feelings, and emotions gives me hope we are headed in right direction as a species. I am pretty excited. You?

Cobra Kai

Good Guys and Bad Guys

Sundays are my usual writing days. I had planned to explore the new “feeling economy” but then last night we watched Cobra Kai on Netflix and I just had to write about it as it is the perfect show to be launched at this time. I will not even get into the surprising artistic merit of this show as I would like to focus instead on our perceptions and our need for clearly defined good guys and bad guys.

Literature and art are historically centered around the central theme of the good guy and the bad guy, the hero and the villain. Protagonists in every story need an antagonist to derail their efforts. Think about every Marvel Comic movie ever made. Many of our stories are focused on person-versus-person. One character is a good guy who struggles against the deviousness of the bad guy. But the clear-cut differentiation between good and bad is becoming more and more blurred with shows like Breaking Bad which shows a good guy gone bad for the right, and then wrong, reasons.

from IMDB

What Cobra Kai does is take it one step further. The black-and-white good and bad guys from Karate Kid alternate between their old label, reversing labels, then being both good guy and bad guy at the same time. As I have written before, I think this is much closer to the truth. We are all good, at times. We can all be bad at times. But mostly we are human, fallible, imperfect, inconsistent. What causes problems in the world is when we label someone for a single action and refuse to understand their motivation, their backstory or to offer them a chance for redemption. Once they are labeled, they are condemned.

Sometimes using a label allows us to commit horrific acts as we feel justified because we have labeled and dehumanized the other. Anytime we separate ourselves from others we are hurting ourselves as well as others. Whether we label others as good or bad, Democrat or Republican, Cubs fan or White Sox fan, we are only looking at one slice of the whole person and losing our humanity along the way.

For the past 30 days I listened to the Fostering an Undefended Heart meditation course. At the core of the class was the desire to break us from our us-and-them mentality. It is so easy to think only of ourselves, our lives, our needs, our perspectives. The class used exercises to help cultivate forgiveness, worth, peace, compassion, kindness, and joy in a telescoping fashion; first by truly embracing these concepts for ourselves as self-love is a challenge for many, then out to those we love, then out to those nameless people around us, then out to those with whom we are in conflict, i.e., the bad guys. Through the course I found myself becoming whole as I truly saw and embraced others wholly.

In an entertaining way, Cobra Kai does the same thing. Through the show we do not only see one aspect of the character, we learn their backstory. We see areas they do well and where they don’t. We see their struggles, we see their efforts, we see them grow – and fall back. It is interesting that the characters in the show that now appear to be the bad guys, are the ones which we have not learned their backstory yet. We can make Kyler out to be the bad guy who beats up nerds and is a womanizer, but will he be so easy to label when we know the full picture of his life?

This week notice your labels. When are you putting others in a box? Take a moment to see that person fully and see if your hatred lessens and your compassion grows through understanding.

new puppy

Overcoming Willful Ignorance

One of the good things 2020 has given me is reconnection with old friends. For the past few months, I have been meeting weekly with a chum from college, Sammy. We have terrific conversations which range from intelligent and informed to silly and sassy.

One of the phrases Sammy uses frequently is how people being “willfully ignorant” really upsets him. To him, the right action, the right thought, the right way to be is obvious. And if it is obvious to him, that means other people are choosing to be contrary to what is right and definitely true. This week however, Sammy shared a story where he was the one perceived as being willfully ignorant.

little sister mei mei the new puppy
Little sister Mei Mei

Sammy has been posting frequently about his soon-to-be new puppy from a breeder. I had thought it was strange that he would purchase from a breeder as I assumed he would choose a rescue as he had in the past. One of his other friends thought the same thing and confronted him with her anger that he would be so willfully ignorant in choosing to purchase a pet from a breeder. He was outraged that she could accuse him of doing something socially and ethically wrong. How dare she judge him without asking him why he was doing what he was doing. I shared with him that I too wondered why he went that route and he had a very valid reason; short story is one of his rescue dogs will not be in this world much longer and the remaining anxiety-ridden rescue dog needs a new safe non-threatening companion and a puppy from a breeder is the only option.

Inspired by this event, let us explore the concept of willful ignorance.  Through the rest of this article, think of when you have accused others or been accused yourself of willful ignorance and therefore judged and convicted of wrongdoing before all the facts were known.

Who Made You the Judge?

I am judgmental. It is my inherent nature. My Myers-Briggs and Enneagram results confirm this. Even if you are not inherently disposed to be judge and jury like me, we all have experienced times where we assumed we have the right to judge others. Unless we are literally an elected judge whose job it is to determine if an action goes against a law, we should not judge.

Judgment without Facts

Both myself and Sammy’s other friend assumed it was absolutely wrong that anyone would purchase from a breeder. Like most controversies today, we only saw black-and-white; either you adopted a pet, or you were a horrible person. Neither of us sought understanding before we passed our judgment.

Seeing Only from My Perspective

The problem with how we reacted to Sammy’s choice was that we judged his actions from our perspective, experience, and beliefs. We did not seek to find out his perspective and why he chose what he did. If we had, we would have understood his backstory and that he was making a conscious appropriate decision.

I was called-out on a similar unconscious bias a few weeks ago. I had posted a meme vigorously proclaiming how those who do not return shopping carts to the corrals are in the wrong. I had posted it because I like to return the shopping cart every time I am able as I know I am becoming self-absorbed when I don’t. What a friend pointed out to me is that I have no right to dictate or assume what others should do. He brought up valid points that those who do not return carts my be physically unable or that they may not have a car. Usually I think twice before I post and I didn’t this time. Honestly, I was so focused on my own thoughts, beliefs and actions, that I didn’t really read what the post was implying about others. I appreciated my friend calling me out on my self-focus.

It is Me and You not Us and Them

When we are caught up in our own beliefs and judgments, we group people as this label or that type making them lose their humanity. What is hurting our society right now is not only that we judge, but that we lump people into groups. We are all shades of gray. We are all good and bad. We all have value and we all have foibles. When we dump someone into a group or a label, we miss out on connection and understanding.

As you go about your week, look for your desire and need to judge others. Watch how you lump people together by one action or aspect of their being. Notice how you leap to conclusions without knowing the whole story. Instead, make real one-to-one connections and seek to understand. Understanding leads to empathy and change. We can make the world better, one interaction at a time.