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.
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.
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 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.
One of my favorite finds this year is the book and series called, Good Omens. In it, the earth’s birthdate is uncovered, and it turns out the earth is a Libra. At the time, this made me laugh as I too am a Libra. However, with all that 2020 is challenging us with, I am discovering that both I and the world are being asked to find more balance, which is both a core challenge and passion of we Libras.
Balance is not a fixed location but a constant readjustment. Think of someone riding a unicycle. They do not get the unicycle upright and then stay in that perfect state of equilibrium. To stay balanced the cyclist – and we – need to make constant adjustments in how we think, how we act, and how we interact.
Where all-or-nothing exists in our mind, the concept of Yin-Yang expresses balance in action. Yang gets the limelight for me personally and much of society. Yang is aggression, action, accomplishments, and holding to beliefs. Taking action is not bad in itself. The trouble comes in when this is all we have and when we don’t make space for the Yin. Yin is about flexibility, adaptability, and flow. Yin is about strength through bending and humility. You can learn more about these concepts in this great video.
For me personally, I usually lead with the Yang. I am the bull in the china shop trying to fight for what is right and make things happen. Again, this is not bad, unless action is all I have. Sometimes the best solution is in the pause, in acceptance, in flexibility, in humility, in the Yin. The key to peace is not to choose Yin over Yang or Yang over Yin but to discern when to use each.
Equality is finding balance between people. Nothing, read that again, nothing makes one person more important than someone else. Not money, not beauty, not nationality, not gender. We are all equal. The only inequality that exists is based on our own judgments. I have experienced inequality growing up a woman in a man’s world. I have being perceived as “the other” being the only Caucasian in an African American History class. I have felt superiority bestowed upon me due to my education, position, financial status, and skin tone. Through all of these instances, I see that the differences, the inequalities were all in someone’s mind. To find balance between us and others, we need to release the false sense of separation. We need to seek to understand and accept the other, instead of spreading and continuing prejudice. We need to release our fear of loss as meeting others as equals (raising up others) does not minimize ourselves. Together we are both stronger.
Steadiness through Constantly Changing
Where are you feeling off-balance? Is time making demands you can not meet? Is your thinking skewed? Is the imbalance between trying to act when the best option is to wait? Is it in feeling that you are due more than you receive or a fear that others are taking from you? Take a few moments to close your eyes. Breathe gently in through your nose and out through your mouth. Find the balance and peace of this moment. Then examine where you feel off balance. What needs to shift to help you find serenity? Throughout your day check-in and make minor adjustments to help you maintain stability in balance.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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?
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.
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
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