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.

charlie brown and lucy

The Dangers of Expectations

Last week I wrote about wanting things to go back to how they were, and how that expectation is unrealistic and unhelpful. This week I want to take this one step further and explore how our expectations of others and our desire for specific outcomes leads us to resentment, anger, and hopelessness – and what we can do about it.

Expectations

We view the world and others through our own perceptions, beliefs, and mores. Consciously and unconsciously, we expect people to think and act in the way we believe others should act. It is not bad to have our expectations, but assuming others can, will, and desire to live by our standards is unrealistic. I would hope that everyone would see the world the way I do and treat each other kindly, but if I am being honest, I can’t even live up to that perfectly every day.

Our expectations are not only about the actions of other people. Our expectations are also about the environment, politics, society, and every circumstance that touches our lives. Most of the North America is currently experiencing severe cold and snow right now. Many are angry or disheartened by this fact. Their expectation is that it should not be cold, but it is winter and Mother Nature does what Mother Nature does. Others are having trouble accepting election results or the seriousness of the Coronavirus. Just because we don’t want to believe the facts, does not mean they are not facts. Our expectations of people, the environment, and the world can not control the reality of any of those things.

Acceptance

Instead of stubbornly holding on to our expectations in the face of reality, we need to accept reality. The image of Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the football comes to mind. Charlie Brown constantly expected Lucy to hold the football for him. And Lucy constantly pulled the football away before he kicked it. If Charlie Brown decides to believe each and every time that Lucy will act differently than she has consistently acted, who is to blame for his pain?

As I have said before, “Pain comes from expecting a dog to be a cat. A dog is going to be a dog.” People are probably going to do what they have done before. The weather is going to be the weather. The results are going to be the results. No matter how much we believe or insist, these facts will not change. Our desire for reality to be different from reality only causes us pain, anger, resentment, and disappointment. Acceptance is the key to peace.

Boundaries

Bear in mind that acceptance does not mean we allow ourselves to be continually hurt. It is important to create boundaries and to voice our needs. Charlie Brown needs to accept Lucy will remove the football – and then he should probably find someone else to hold the ball for him in the future.

Acceptance does not mean we excuse or accept the actions of others. Acceptance simply means we stop fighting reality. When we can accept the reality of the situation, we are then empowered to do something about it. If we are around people or circumstances that do not serve us, instead of angerly attacking reality, it is best to accept the reality of the situation so that we are then empowered to change the situation or remove ourselves from it.

Much of our anger and resentment is because we are playing the victim of some person or circumstance. We are giving them our power. It is important that we set healthy boundaries and clearly voice those boundaries moving forward.  

Be Kind

As Robin Williams is quoted as saying, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” We can only the do the best we can do that day at that time. We can encourage, hope, and pray people will act better – but on any given day they are only going to be able to do what they are capable at doing. Know that even when someone is seemingly intentionally being mean, it is usually because of their own pain. That doesn’t mean you need to take their abuse, but it does mean that you can still give them your empathy.

Where are you fighting reality? What do you need to accept? What boundaries can you put in place? Instead of playing victim to circumstances or others, empower yourself through acceptance.

I tried

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

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

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

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

Photo by Umit Y Buz on Unsplash

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

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

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

Matrix there is no spoon

We are People. Not Labels.

The first half of my life, I pursued truth and absolutes. As a perfectionist, I wanted to know what was absolutely perfect, then live every moment living up to that ideal. My second half of life is being spent releasing the notion that there is any absolute truth and perfection. I am learning that my daily pursuit should be focused on love, acceptance, and compassion.

I used to be a box checker. Every day I had a litany of to-do’s each with their own little check box. Like a bull in a china shop I bulldozed over people and propriety to complete tasks and check off boxes so I could feel that I was perfect, successful, and therefore worthy.

Slowly, I learned that I was the one creating the boxes. The boxes were not some supernatural absolute directive. They were created by me and therefore could be erased and ignored by me. I was the one who defined life and therefore I could also redefine how I wanted to live life.

It reminds me of the first Matrix movie where Neo visits the Oracle. In the waiting room is a child apparently bending a spoon with its mind.

Spoon boy: Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead… only try to realize the truth.

Neo: What truth?

Spoon boy: There is no spoon.

Neo: There is no spoon?

Spoon boy: Then you’ll see, that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.

There is no spoon. There are no boxes. There are no absolutes. Releasing the notion of absolutes has given me a freedom I never experienced before. It has taught me how to bend. It has allowed me to be more compassionate. When I labeled right and wrong, good and bad, I was filled with hate, disappointment, and fear. In releasing the notion that there is an absolute, and accepting that I can never absolutely know what is right and wrong, has freed me to see each situation in the moment and discern the truth and appropriate action in that moment.

None of us is perfect. We all have times in our lives when we did not act in a way of which we are proud. As I am sure you don’t want to be judged for that low point of your life, neither does anyone else. The world is changing at an incredible rate right now. Some of us are excited about the possibilities that it brings. Others are terrified that what they have always known is gone and are experiencing a massive extinction burst. No matter where we are on that continuum, we need to take things slow, process our feelings, and stay away from labeling.

Instead of making assumptions because of someone’s actions, seek to understand. Instead of labeling someone, remember who they also are. That person is not a Trump supporter, that is my brother. That is not a snowflake Liberal, that is my BFF. That is not a seditionist that attacked the capital, it is a friend from high school. That is not evil media, that is my brother-in-law. That is not a racist, it is my aunt. That is not big tech, it is my client.

This week, catch yourself putting labels on people. Look beyond the label and remember that each of us are just humans doing the best that we can.

We welcome everyone

United We Stand

Cubs versus White Sox. Thin crust versus deep-dish pizza. Growing up in Chicago the debates were fun and fairly innocuous. These days the debates have become much more polarizing and contentious. More issues are black-and-white with no room for gray. Our opinions have become facts. Our beliefs are the only truth. The lack of open-mindedness and acceptance have led to a division in the States we have not seen at this level since the Civil War; although it may have always been there under the surface.

To me, the underlying issue is selfishness and self-centeredness increasing to obscene proportions. It started out innocently as the pride of being a self-made person and a true individual. Over time the scales have tilted too far. Today self-focus is not self-care, but a ridged extreme self-importance created at the expense of others. Sometimes this self-centeredness is created out of fear and sometimes it is created out of pure narcissism. No matter how it started, we are now at a critical time where we need to come together or we will completely fall apart. Now is a time to accept each other and find empathy instead of anger and hate. It is time to seek to understand differing viewpoints instead of dismissing others when we disagree.

To shift the current negative momentum, try to make a human connection and instead of labeling, get to know the other. You can hate what they do but hating the individual does no good. Brené Brown teaches of shame versus guilt; basically guilt is feeling bad for something done versus shame is believing the person is inherently bad because of their actions. Division occurs when we label someone as bad instead of labeling their actions as bad.  Each one of us is a bit of good and a bit of evil – we are a little Larusso and a little Lawrence – when we support and accept each other it is easier for all of us to stand in our good.

Instead of hate and labeling, take the not always so easy path of compassion. Compassion is seeing and understanding another’s pain objectively allowing you to act or provide relief. When anger arises, choose compassion over hate. Two wrongs do not make a right. The way to reduce aggression in the world is with compassion, not more aggression. Don’t forget to be compassionate to yourself. In these unprecedented times, we are not always going to act and feel at our best. That is ok. Do what you can every day and cut yourself from slack.

We may not be able to control the larger issues and struggles in the world. What we can do is change how we approach others. We can make decisions through the eyes of love instead of hate. We can focus on joy instead of fear. We can be the peace we want to bring into the world. 2020 is hanging around for two more months and 2021 does not necessarily bode a change, unless we usher one in. Find tangible ways to make your life better by learning to accept those around you. Together we can not only survive but thrive.

smoke window

A Need for Empathy

Lately I have been gifted with some terrific teachers in my life.  The cat that used to sneak into our house, who I had found a home for, is back – and has commenced sneaking into our house.  She is teaching me boundaries with compassion (instead of compassion with no boundaries). The other prominent teacher for me right now is the young woman next door.

Multiple times a day, my neighbor sits on her patio and smokes. Sometimes tobacco, sometimes other plants. As our patios are connected, when she smokes, without fail, the fumes make their way from her patio into my house. I understand that she does not want to smoke in her house and have the smell inside where she lives, but neither do I. Thankfully I never said an unkind word to her, but I have to admit that I have frequently closed my window with extreme prejudice. My angry indignant mind loves to play its tape. “She is so rude. She is purposefully doing this to me or at least doesn’t care about how her actions affect me. It is unfair that she is keeping me from having the fresh air I am entitled to.” The tape stopped the day I spoke to her.

Photo by Taylor Young on Unsplash

We were having some work done on our home and like I good neighbor, I wanted to forewarn her of the noise and mess it may cause. I hardly got the words out of my mouth when she apologized for the smoke. She said that she tries to control how much comes our way, but the wind is not always helpful. She apologized for the weekend before. I had thought she was having a party with a few friends. What I learned was her 20-something friend died unexpectedly and she and her friends were chain-smoking to help them through the trauma.

I felt like a heel. Here I spent weeks making my neighbor into the bad guy. I focused only on myself and my suffering – which I made worse by the stories I told myself. Never in all that time did I tried to get to know her. Never did I have a conversation with her to see if we could problem-solve her right to smoke and my right to clean air. Never did I consider what she may be feeling or what was going on in her life.

Many of us have like me temporarily, or fairly constantly, lost the power of empathy. We look at our goals and our needs. We see people as taking from us or denying us. It takes a figurative slap in the face like I received, to awaken us from our self-centered coma. This experience has helped me remember:

We don’t know what someone else is going through:  Before we get angry because someone cuts us off in traffic or is curt with us on the phone, it helps to pause and consider that maybe the person is having a bad day or is rushing to take care of an emergency. Instead of focusing on our inconvenience, we should look beyond our self.

There is no absolute right or wrong: Just because we have expectations of how things should be, does not mean that is how they will go or even how they should go. Who are we to judge what is right and wrong?

We are all in this together: No matter how much we try to isolate or be independent, we need one another. Peace, understanding, compassion, and empathy can be found when we stop thinking “me” and start thinking “we.”

If you want more inspiration to embrace empathy, watch this terrific talk by Simon Sinek about the need for more empathy in the workplace.

Now more than ever, at work, in our relationships, and in our government, we need more empathy, compassion and understanding.