people together

How to Survive 2020

Congratulations! We made it through nine months of chaos. That time was like being in a difficult pregnancy. We are relieved the pregnancy is over, but now we have a new little one to deal with. We have all witnessed the birth of a new world with new rules and new challenges. To be honest, like many of you, I am uneasy. It is hard not to be. Change is challenging. Change without knowing where we are heading can be really scary. To make the most of the reality we are in right now, here are a few ways I try to stay focused and thriving.

Stop Feeding Negative Emotions

Hard not to be angry or terrified these days. It seems no matter your political leanings or background, there is someone or something of which to be wary, afraid, disillusioned, or disheartened. I am not saying it is wrong to think this way. What is not serving you though, is always feeling this way.

According to Harvard-trained neuroanatomist Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor physiologically our feelings only last 90-seconds. When we react to a situation and have a feeling, our bodies kick in and do what they do to make us feel our reaction. The whole experience lasts less than two minutes. You may be thinking, “But Melissa, I am afraid all the time. I am worried about what is happening. I am constantly angry.” If that is true for you, it is because you are replaying the story. Every time you replay an incident in your mind (or watch it over in the news), your body reacts in real time giving you the negative feelings again. If you want to stop the feeling, stop replaying the story.

Our emotions are helpful tools. They tell us when something is pleasurable or when something is off. But that is the end of their job. Emotions are tools to alert us to a situation and then we need to decide if we need to accept or change the situation. Staying in the emotion keeps you stuck. Stop replaying the situation and decide what you are going to do about it.

everyone together
Photo by Hudson Hintze on Unsplash

Release Hate

Accepting that things just happen and there is not a rhyme or reason for it is tough. Taking personal responsibility is tough. That is why we are often quick to judge and attack someone else. We want someone to blame. Hitler was great at blaming all his country’s woes on certain people. A disturbing scene in the movie Vice, shows how people couldn’t get behind a war against the Al-Qaeda organization because it was intangible so the government decided to focus our anger and hate on a specific country, somewhere on a map to place our hate. We do this in our personal lives too. How many times have you heard what a horrible person someone’s spouse is and how that spouse is solely responsible for a failing marriage?

Jesus warned us to not focus on the splinter in someone else’s eye when we have a log in our own. As we say nowadays, those in glass houses should not throw stones. Yes, there are some people doing some very bad things right now, but they are not only that one bad action and we all have a little good and a little bad in us. It is easy to attack and blame the other but that doesn’t solve the problem or make our experience of a situation any easier. As we have all seen and experienced this year, our hate of “the other” just makes how we feel worse and doesn’t solve anything. Yes, people may be acting poorly but pointing your finger doesn’t help.

First, look at the situation as it truly is. What are the facts. What is the truth. Don’t look for quick and easy answers but what is the true messy interconnected truth? Things are hardly ever black and white. People are never clearly right and wrong. There is usually a lot of messy gray.

Next, how can you help resolve the problem? How do you contribute to the problem? What needs to be acted upon and what needs to be accepted? Instead of taking the easy route of hating and labeling the other, take a step back and see what can actually be done to resolve the issues, no matter the cause.

Be Courageous

Being hateful, angry, and fearful is easy. Being compassionate, loving, and connected takes courage. Acting rightly as our best selves takes effort. It is easy to sit back and blame others, but what will change the world is if we all take personal responsibility for how we think, act, and react. I am not saying you should run for office, join a protest, or arm your militia. You can courageously change the world through each interaction you have every day.

Are you approaching every interaction, whether with the cable provide customer service agent or your dearest friend with a desire for connection and service?

Instead of reaching out with self-righteousness, anger, or fear, how about reaching out with love?

How can you use empathy and understanding to help you provide compassion to those around you?

How can you find the courage and strength to rise above the fearmongering and hate?

When we change how we act and react, we give space for those around us to act and react better as well.

Focus on Gratitude

This one took me a while to wrap my brain around. I have been truly blessed this year. My husband and I still have work. Neither one of us contracted Covid. We are doing very well this year. And I have survivor’s guilt. I feel guilty for being ok. Thankfully, my mentor has helped me work past this. Diminishing my joy, gratitude, and good does not give anyone else more joy, gratitude, or good.  Misery may love company but being in misery with someone else does not support them. My goal is to first accept and fully embrace all the good I have in my life. I am grateful for a loving husband, relatively good health, a beautiful home, and the Cubs winning the division. Second, I compassionately hear the pain of others, sit with them in their hurt, and then help them to refocus on their good. No matter how bad things get, there is always at least one thing to be grateful for.

Holding on to how things are, will only bring pain and disappointment. Embrace this new world we are moving into, whatever it turns out to be. Release your fear, anger, and hate. Have the courage to connect with and love others. And take some time every day to focus on gratitude. These simple but not always easy steps can make a difference in your experience. Hang in there!

Barcelona

Why 20-Year Marriages Thrive

2 Decades, 20 Years, 1040 Weeks, 7300 Days. That is a long time. A long time to be loyal and partnered with one person. My husband and I have been together all that time, plus some, if you count the years we were together before we married. A week before our anniversary, an article on why 20-year marriages end popped into my inbox. Grateful that it was not sent by my husband, I thought it was a good prompt to write a post on how 20-year marriages thrive.

Relationships are Verbs

Whether romantic, platonic, or familial, relationships are a verb not a noun. A relationship is a living entity, not a static object. Being in a relationship is like everything in nature, if the relationship is not constantly changing and growing, it dies. If we want our relationship to stay the same or resign ourselves that it will never get better, the relationship dies. Throughout our twenty years, our relationship, our lives, and each of us as individuals have learned and grown through different challenges. As we learned to navigate each phase of life, our relationship deepened and grew.

Photo by Todd Heisler

Expectations

Every birthday and holiday, I joke with my husband that the present I want is for him to sing, dance, and have an accent. My desire is that he become a cross between Ewan McGregor, David Tennant, and Colin Firth. Not too much to ask for, right? Of course, having unrealistic expectations like these will always lead to disappointment and resentment. Instead, I concentrate on what I do have in a partner. A funny, intelligent man who understands and accepts me better than anyone else could. Reality is better than my expectations.

Assumptions

Everyone brings their history and their previous experiences into a relationship. This past experience becomes expectations of how things should be and our assumptions about why our partner is acting the way they are. These expectations and assumptions are usually wrong. Usually they are negative stories we are telling ourselves. It is important to bring our dishonest thinking to light. Our partner is not a mind reader. My husband can’t know what I am thinking and what I would like from him, unless I verbalize it. Many times, I also need to share my crazy assumptions so he can show me where I am off base. If we keep our assumptions to ourselves, they can never be addressed. We need to have the courage to share our crazy.

Listening

As we need to speak our truth, or what we are experiencing as our truth, so does our partner. A good relationship needs to have a safe space for us to share what we need to share. Hearing and recognizing your partner is the greatest gift you can give – and receive. Your partner feels he is really heard and seen. Through sharing our thoughts and beliefs, we can understand and support our partner on a deeper level.

Do NOT Do Unto Others

When my husband is down, he wants to be left alone to process it. When I am down, I want to be held. If I treated my husband how I would like or he treated me how he would like, it would cause anger and resentment. It is important to ask, not assume, what the other needs. And we need to voice what we need.  We deepen our relationship and understanding when we can see from our partner’s point of view, not the way we see the world.  

Acceptance

Some of us think we are perfect and everyone else is flawed. Others think they are imperfect, and the rest of the world has everything figured out. Truth is we are all imperfect. We are all doing the best we can. Sometimes we do things well, sometimes we don’t. The same goes for our partner. Believing our partner is infallible is setting up unrealistic expectations. Believing our partner is always wrong, keeps us from seeing their good. Expecting our partner to accept our imperfection but being unwilling to accept when they are imperfect is a recipe for disaster. We are all works in progress and deserve to be accepted as such.

Do Your Work

Many of the marriages and relationships that I have seen fail, the partners blamed each other. He didn’t do that. She is a such-and-such. The key factor that we can and should work on in our marriage is our self. I need to know why I react poorly to him leaving his socks on the floor and I need to change my reaction and boundaries around his actions. It is not about his socks or whether he or I pick them up. The real issue is my perception and judgments about his habits. The issue is mine. I can and should work on making myself be the best personal I can be. In doing so, I may it easier for my partner to be the best man he can be.

Love is Not Enough

Love is great for a happy movie ending, but love is just the beginning in real life. As Into the Woods explores, there is a lot that happens after happily-ever-after.  There is a lot of after to deal with after the initial bloom of love fades. Love is wonderful but for me partnership makes a marriage. This harkens back to the verb-versus-noun concept. Many people see love as a noun, as a constant, as a thing that exists in and of itself. But love is a verb. We need to work at love. We need to keep it alive and thriving. We need to nurture and support it. It is not a thing that exists on its own unchanging. It is a fire that constantly needs to be stoked and tended.  

Relationship Makes Three

Romantic songs and movies talk about two becoming one. I think a real relationship is two becoming three. It is important to remain oneself, not become co-dependent and merged. A relationship consists of two unique individuals plus the persona of the couple.  

I am truly blessed to not have found a mystical romantic soul mate, but to have found my partner in life. Thank you Super Pollo.

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.

rebuild

What’s Next?

As the world is creating the new normal after the pandemic and the United States looks to elect their next president, it only makes sense to explore what we are moving into, what we are moving away from, and what is really important to us.

Growing up in the 80’s, I was inundated with “greed is good” and the pursue of money over all else. I’m not going to lie; I followed that path for a while.  I thought the right job and the right salary would make my life perfect. And as every cautionary tale tells us, money did not buy me happiness. When I hear today that things are good because the stock market is up, I shudder because I know numbers do not create happiness and because numbers can lie, for instance, the stock market is high, but that does not mean all businesses are doing well or that the individuals working for those businesses are doing well. What I find hope in are the emerging new ways of thinking about business which Nick Hanauer shares in his TED Talk. Business is beginning to explore how financial success does not need to be at the detriment of humanity and the environment. The old adage of greed is good is being released in favor of how business success can benefit the community not just some select individuals. Businesses can be successful while focusing on all people, reciprocity, and cooperation.

In his weekly talk, Ainslie MacLeod shared that, “How your soul measures the success of this life is not by the money you make, but the difference you make.” Which begs to ask, what difference are you making? Are you choosing personal success or doing things that benefit more than just yourself? How are you choosing to live? What is really important to you? Is it having money or having health? Is it winning and being right or having close friends and family? Do you want to feel anger and hate or peaceful and content? I agree with Ainslie MacLeod that what we all truly want, what we are all striving for, what our soul truly values are cooperation, freedom, equality, respect, justice, truth, knowledge, understanding, peace, and love. What I think we are experiencing now is the dismantling of the institutions and beliefs that do not support these values. It appears that many of our major institutions are now going through radical changes which reflect a desire for inclusion, respect, and equality, versus the old way of might-makes-right, winners versus losers, and individuals benefiting at the expense of the community.

Photo by Dan Burton on Unsplash

Over the past years, I have watched as people have slowly become aware that institutions and our long-held beliefs are no longer serving us. All of nature has a cycle of status quo – destruction – and rebirth. 2020 is giving us a first-hand look at destruction. As things are being dismantled, some people are stuck in fear. The status quo, the normal, the order we are used to is gone and we are afraid of letting go of the old and moving into the new. Surprisingly much of our fear of this change is not losing the old way, but the discomfort of not knowing specifically what we are moving into. C.C. Scott said it this way, “We do not fear the unknown. We fear what we think about the unknown.” We are uncomfortable sitting in the unknown so we create a known or what we think we know about the unknown. This is why we see so many conspiracy theories these days. We want to have an answer and so we make an answer. Being in the unknown is scary and uncomfortable and, especially for Americans, we are not very good with uncomfortability.

It is important to remember though that after destruction, after losing what was, there is rebirth. Our challenge is to not sit in the destruction and the fear of the unknown, but to actively seek the new and better. What do we want the rebirth to look like? How do we want to experience life? How do we desire to be treated and how should we treat others?

This week take a look at your focus and what you want. Are you striving for answers and “facts” because you can not sit in discomfort? Are you hoping your bank account and stock portfolio will give you the reassurance you need? Is your self-righteous anger worth more than having close relationships? What do you want from this life? What do you want to experience? What do you want to give back? Are your actions and beliefs drawing you to or away from what you really want? How can you incorporate cooperation, freedom, equality, respect, justice, truth, knowledge, understanding, peace, and love? What do you want the 2021 rebirth to look like?