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!

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?

handling covid-19

Dealing with the Fear of Uncertainty

At an online work meeting the other day, management shared this graphic which was found on LinkedIn. The message is beautiful, but unfortunately the author of the graphic could not be found. The graphic is focused on the current pandemic, yet the message can be applied to our lives in general.

who do I choose to be during the Covid-19

Over the last month or so, if I am going to be absolutely honest, I have been wavering between the fear, learning and growth zones. Two weeks before our state announced official stay-at-home requirements, I fell into the fear zone. The unknown tends to send us into fear. In the States, fear transformed into lack of toilet paper – for whatever reason. Being in a hurricane zone, it was funny to watch how like myself, my neighbors prepared for the virus like we would a hurricane. We stockpiled water and food. I saw lines at the gas stations. Our fears from previous storms, made us act similar ways – even though surviving a tropical storm is very different than surviving a virus.

Isn’t it interesting how our fear – fear of the unknown, fear of loss, fear of others’ actions – makes us act in unhelpful ways? After leaving the hoarding phase, I noticed my tendency to use food (usually bad-for-me “comfort” food) and distraction (Candy Crush / Netflix) to make me feel better. If it did do anything to alleviate or dampen my fear, the affect was usually short-lived and often caused more issues than it solved. My unconscious mind thinks coffee, chocolate, and binge-watching are the easier, softer way to reduce my fear. All it really does is puts fear on a pause button, and then fear comes back with a vengeance once the pacifier is removed.

The seemingly easier, softer way is in the fear zone – sharing information (without fact checking), hoarding, blaming others, and drowning overthinking-brains in alcohol or carbs. Unfortunately, no matter what is going on, this does not work. What does work is when we can move into the learning or the growth zones.

These zones are full of acceptance, surrender, compassion, and conscious action. This is where we stop fighting reality and learn instead the power of accepting what is really going on. We surrender to the new reality and surrender our misguided belief that we can control the uncontrollable. We stop having pity-parties for ourselves and begin look to who we can help. Sometimes we are able to help in big ways as in the case of the front-line healthcare workers, sometimes it is an action like delivering food to shut-ins or those without work, and sometimes it just means picking up the phone and connecting with someone who needs to hear a friend’s voice.

The difference is that in the fear zone we are avoiding reality and believe we can control the uncontrollable. In the learning and growth zones, we accept reality and act on what is within our means to affect.

Take some time to review how you are handling this unprecedented situation. Which zone are you spending most of your time in? Don’t attack yourself for spending time in the fear zone; it happens as we are all human. Just use this review to consciously decide where you want to be and how you want to spend your time.

Hang in there. Share your success and struggles with us here.

F.E.A.R.

Once again, I got pulled into fear. My mother-in-law was going to have surgery. Knowing how some of my friends reacted when they had the same type of surgery, I began to worry. A few family members also expressed their concern. Over time, a few of us were in a full-on fear frenzy. I could feel the fear, worry, and concern mounting in me and others. Unfortunately, at the time I was not able to gain any perspective. After the surgery, when everything turned out fine, I remembered that FEAR is really an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real.

False Evidence:  The worry I had before the surgery was all conjecture. Yes, my friends had had struggles with the surgery, but I had no concrete proof that my mother-in-law would have the same issues. My worry was based on false evidence. I took a few small facts and the experiences of others, and my mind began to blow them out of proportion. How often have you taken something out of context and make it into a mental reality? When have you made a mountain out of a mole hill?  Our minds are programmed to look for danger so we can keep ourselves and those we love safe. Unfortunately, our minds often work overtime creating problems where there are not any. In the desire to remain safe, we create stories of what we need to keep ourselves safe even if our fears are not true or inevitable.  

Appearing Real:  I took my thoughts and mental stories as fact. The more I replayed the story in my mind, the more it made me think it was a forgone reality. I created the story. I was the one who replayed it. I was the one through repetition who started to believe my own lies.

Photo by Niklas Hamann on Unsplash

Enough things in this world exist to worry about, we don’t need to create more. Here are a few ways to stay out of the slippery slope of F.E.A.R.:

Just the Facts, Ma’am:  Don’t create false news. Look at the reality of the situation. Look at what you know as a hard, cold fact not what you fear may happen. Stick to the facts and the reality of the situation not your perception or embellishment.

No Instant Replay: The pain of fear happens in us replaying our fears again and again. Something has not happened, yet we are experiencing it again and again and again by our replaying the potentially negative situation in our minds. Stay out of your mind and stick to the reality of this moment.

Address in the Truth: The time to take action is when something actually occurs. Stop acting on “what-ifs.” It is ok to be prepared for the bad, like stocking up on hurricane supplies, but if you barricade yourself in your house before a storm is officially announced, what good does that do?  

What fears are currently plaguing you? Are they true, eminent, real concerns or the story you made up of what could happen? Are you replaying your story again and again until you are terrified? Are you acting on your fear instead of the reality of the moment? 

When Mother’s Day is Tough

The experience of Mother’s Day can be diverse depending on the person and their childhood. This is the first Mother’s Day for my niece. I love receiving the photos and stories of her first born. She and her husband love their son and are active in his development. It is beautiful to see. I wish her the happiest of Mother’s Days this year and in the future. She is a beautiful expression of the ideal mother and what Mother’s Day is meant to be. For some of my friends, this Mother’s Day is difficult because they have lost their mother, their best friend, to age or disease. They are mourning the loss and remembering the good times. For them, Mother’s Day is perhaps bittersweet. This post, however, is for another set of people.

Two years ago, my friend Lisa Lamont posted a poignant message on Facebook. “Recently there was a post going around with daughters sharing pictures of their mothers who had passed and wished they were still here because they missed them very much. The post said that there is no bond like that of a mother and daughter. When I saw it, shame kicked in. Because I do not have (nor have I ever had a bond with my mother).” In working with clients over the years, I know my friend is not the only one who did not have a Norman Rockwell relationship with her/his mother. For many, Mother’s Day is a time of shame, regret, and anger that their relationship with their mother is not what others appear to have.

Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), “Mother Tucking Children into Bed,” 1921. Cover illustration for “Literary Digest,” January 29, 1921. Norman Rockwell Museum Digital Collections.

Perhaps you felt abandoned by your mother, or smothered, or attacked, or any of the toxic patterns listed here. We don’t all win the lottery of being born to two highly emotionally-developed individuals. In my experience, most of us are challenged with some emotional defects which negatively affect those around us. Our parents are no different. They may be battling their own emotional demons, leaving no room for them to make perfect parenting decisions in every moment. Many times, our mothers do the best they can do after having their own less than perfect relationship with their mothers. Being a parent is a very difficult position. Expectations of perfect parenting are thrust upon a new parent even when they do not have the role model to emulate or the means to learn how to best perform their role.

The result for us may be that we are angry at our mother or the fact we were born to the mother we were. I challenge you instead to find the gifts you were given because of the parents you were born to. What did you learn about how to treat others? What did you learn about embracing your own self-worth? What did you learn about accepting others? What did you learn about unconditional love?

This Mother’s Day, if you are one of those who bear scars from a less-than-ideal childhood, release the anger that things should have been different. Find acceptance and forgiveness that your mother did the best she could at the time. And work every day to be the best mother to your children or mentor to those around you. We heal not by fighting or resigning to what was, but by consciously choosing to embrace a healthier life.

demanding queen

Do It for Me

For over three years now, I have been helping individuals manage unexpected job transition. I love the variety of people I speak to and the different goals and challenges they have in defining and creating what they want next in their professions and lives. One type of candidate, however, always makes me sad.

These individuals are angry that the services they are receiving (for free mind you) are not doing all the work for them. They expect their resume and cover letters to be written for them. They expect me to search and apply for positions in their name. And they are REALLY angry that things are not being done for them.

demanding queen
Photo by Alice Alinari on Unsplash

Part of me laughs. How can you expect me to write your resume when I don’t know your professional history and accomplishments? Do you want me to go on the interview for you too?! Then I wonder, if you can’t get the will power to look and apply for positions, are you going to have the initiative to actually perform the position once you have it?

Most of the time however, I am sad. These candidates are so angry and are only making the issue worse. Yes, they were laid off. It is a horrible situation to be in, especially, if it comes without warning and if the family is already having financial or medical issues. But avoiding pain by putting the onus and unreasonable expectations on others, holding on to resentment, and not making any effort of their own, only creates more problems.

Blaming / Attacking Others

The first thing I see are individuals who want to blame everyone else for their problems. My manager was a jerk! This was total ageism! Why aren’t you writing my cover letter for me? You are supposed to get me my next job, where is it? In Rising Strong, Brené Brown calls this Bouncing Hurt. “The ego likes blaming, finding fault, making excuses, inflicting payback, and lashing out, all of which are ultimate forms of self-protection.” These candidates are hurt and instead of addressing their anger, fear, and sadness, they attack those around them.

Sitting in Resentment

When we are angry, it is ok to feel that emotion. Journal about it. Explore the stories about why we were hurt. Emotions are great tools for helping us understand what is working and what is not in our life. But we are not meant to sit in the emotions forever. Feel them, explore them, then release them. Holding on to the anger and resentment only creates more anger and resentment. We experience what we focus on so the more we focus on the bad experience, the more our life is unhappy.

Make an Effort

Stop waiting for the situation to change or for someone else to rescue you. What can you do right now to make your situation even a little bit better?  We are often blocked in making an effort because it means we have to stop blaming others and take responsibility for our lives. Have the courage to move past the pain and into action.

Life can be difficult. We experience disappointments, sudden losses, and heartbreak. It happens. We can not control what happens, but we can change how we react to things. Be aware of holding on to your anger, blaming others, or expecting someone else to fix what is wrong. Our lives become amazing when we step up, accept responsibility, and take even a little action toward what is better for us.