Be Willing to Walk

One of the best things I have learned as a parent and as a person, is not to give too much importance to any commitment, whether a school or an activity, in case the situation sours and you have to walk away. I think about this dynamic often as a parent in a competitive cut-throat world, in which parents push their kids relentlessly to succeed. While my husband and I work hard not to push our kids, many of the parents around us do. It’s hard when your child has made the team or the orchestra to walk away, even when the coach or director is badly behaved, but it’s essential to be able to.

When my daughter made it into a highly regarded youth orchestra, which hundreds of kids audition for, we were so excited for her. But when I sat through the first rehearsal and heard the conductor actually threaten bodily harm to one of the sweet little violinists because she couldn’t play the passage right, I was horrified. I looked around at the other parents watching and they were all smiling. When I asked a veteran parent about this, his answer was, “They get amazing results from the kids and it looks great on the college resume.” He didn’t seem to care that the conductor was abusive, given that she screamed: “If you don’t get this passage right, you will wind up in the hospital and I will wind up in prison.” The next week, I watched again, and the conductor was just as terrifying, so I told my daughter that we were going to walk away. Nothing was worth this kind of abuse. I called the school and they gave a full refund, although they reminded me that most parents don’t complain about the behavior because their kids improve.

Last spring my son auditioned for a competitive choir in Boston that sings with orchestras and opera companies. The director really liked him and wanted to groom him for great things. The problem was that month after month, the rehearsals were long and intense and there were many performances and demands outside of rehearsals. My son’s voice was starting to hurt from overuse, since he is one of the leads in Mary Poppins at his school right now. He was starting to get insomnia and other stress-related ailments from being over-scheduled. He was being groomed to sing a solo with a professional orchestra, but he doesn’t really like classical music. And the director seemed particularly interested in the few boys in the chorus, inviting them privately for ice cream with him, which we refused to let our son do because we thought it felt creepy. So, we walked away.

I think of all this because of the recent trial for the gymnastics doctor who was found to have molested hundreds of girls over 20 years, often while the parents were in the examining room. A lot of people have commented that they don’t understand how the parents didn’t know. But I totally understand that. They didn’t want to know because the stakes were too high. When your daughter is poised for huge success, you don’t want to be the person who blows the whistle. The gymnasts didn’t tell because they wanted to be one of the five who made the US team. But I get it because I see it everyday in my town, with parents who are so invested in their kids’ success, that they aren’t willing or able to speak up before it’s too late.

In our town, parents allow their kids to play on multiple soccer or hockey teams from a young age, and the kids’ muscles are strained from repeating the same sport over the over. We wouldn’t let our kids try out for travel soccer until they were older since we had a babysitter who had had two major surgeries from soccer before she was 16. A boy in our neighborhood had his leg shattered last fall from a collision on the field, I believe from years of overplaying. But when I ask parents why they allow coaches to insist on more and more practices and then games that are sometimes four states away, the parents shake their heads and say, “It’s an arms race, but if we drop out or speak up, we lose.” So as a result, everyone loses.

The fact is, we don’t always choose right. The preschool we chose for my daughter was like Lord of the Flies, with bigger kids bullying little kids, terrifying my girl. We walked away from a lot of money to go with the more orderly school that had rules that everyone had to follow and she ended up thriving. We walked away from the pediatrician who was rude and condescending to us, when my son had a medical problem that this doctor didn’t know how to fix. We walked away and found a great team to help him and never looked back.

To find your world stage, remember that if something is wrong, you do need to speak up. And if the situation doesn’t change, sometimes the best thing is to walk. Nothing is worth getting hurt or abused– no gold medal or Ivy League school or accolade is worth that. Keep your eyes open and notice when something isn’t right and speak up. In the end, you can either try to please others and get along, or you can please yourself and stand up for what is right. In my mind, that’s an easy choice.

 

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Silver Linings

I’ve always been an optimist. I believe that most people are caring, and that in spite of all the misery in the world, life is fundamentally good. I try to focus on the beauty of the seasons, the joy of holding a new baby or a squiggly puppy, the wonder of seeing life through a child’s eyes, the excitement of discovering a new city or hearing beautiful music. Even though I’m not a huge fan of winter (I don’t ski and I hate being cold), I love the hush of winter and the look of snow falling through a window. Even though it rains a lot in spring, I am a huge tulip lover and am mesmerized by the explosion of color after a dull, dark season. Summer is swimming in lakes and sunshine and shorts and fresh berries. And fall, with its glorious color and crisp air and apple picking, is magical.

And yet, it’s easy to forget those things when life gets tough. In the last three months, my son had an emergency appendectomy, and then two months later had a laser treatment for a skin condition he’s had since birth, which leaves him bruised for weeks, often with his eyes swollen shut. It was one thing when he was a little guy and we could hide him from the world, but now that he’s in middle school, it requires a whole new level of courage returning to school even with faded bruises. Now that he’s finally healed, my daughter had a snowboarding accident on a school ski trip earlier this week and has been home with a concussion, with dim lights, no technology and no visitors– not easy for a teenager.

My husband reminds me that our house didn’t burn down, we are not dying of cancer, and we don’t live in parched places of Africa where there is no food and water. That is true, but still. On top of this, my son’s down jacket was stolen, and the attic has a leak from various winter storms, so in spite of a lot of roof work over the years, our 80 year-old house is going to need even more repairs. The good news is that it’s not fall of 2016, when the entire family passed lice back and forth for two months until we finally got rid of them, and then my daughter broke her finger, which took four months, two doctors, one physical therapist, one occupational therapist, and a lot of driving to heal.

But as all of this was happening, I thought of the silver lining, which is that my son had an amazing team at Children’s Hospital for both medical procedures, and we live near one the best hospitals in the world. We were 20 minutes away when we needed emergency attention and not in the middle of the Sahara, as my mom actually was when she traveled through Africa with her parents as a preteen. The good news about my daughter was that she was wearing a helmet that saved her when she fell back hard against the icy snow and blacked out. The ski patrol said that this saved her from very serious injury, and we will always be grateful. (In fact, we are keeping her helmet for our memories, given that she can’t use this one again, to remember what it did to help her.) And, I have a client and a neighbor who will now wear helmets because of this.

There are other silver linings too. Because Americans have Trump in the White House, we are slowly waking up to the fact that we need to be citizens and not consumers, and that we need to get off our devices, turn off the Kardashians and march. Because my daughter was home and had to be unplugged, we made art together and I read stories to her, which is something we haven’t done a lot of in years.

I’m starting to hear from more of you– which I love!– that you’re wanting to make changes in your life, to get in shape, to learn more about yourself and the world. The world becomes a better place when we take care of ourselves, because then we have more to give to others. One of the lessons I’ve learned when I’m under stress is to make sure I have time to sleep, eat well, and exercise. It allows me to be more patient and present.

To find your world stage, don’t forget to find the silver lining. It doesn’t mean going around with rose colored glasses on. You have every right to feel bad when things don’t go well. But as soon as the crisis passes, or even if/when it doesn’t, it is a great spiritual practice to ask what is good about this. I don’t believe the oft-used slogan of “Things Happen for a Reason” since there is never a reason for so many things, like children dying in wars or suffering from hunger. But, I do believe that there is a silver lining that we can see if we really look. And finding that lining allows us to endure the next time things are hard.

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Remember the Dream Again

A year ago, I wrote about Martin Luther King and what a hero he was, not only to black people but to all of us. I am re-posting this again this weekend, because it is more important now than ever. Americans have spent a year feel assaulted by the bully we have in the White House. We already know that Trump is sexist and racist, but his horrible comments this week about not wanting people from s*** hole countries is disgusting. I feel ashamed to be American, and I can only imagine what Martin Luther King would have thought. I hope that we all find the courage to start marching in protest against all the dismantling that has been done already, from our environment to foreign policy.  It is ironic that these comments were made on the eve of MLK Day, given that this day honors a man who stood up for the poor and the oppressed and who understood the power of language to unite or to tear down.  He cared about justice and building a better world for everyone, not about making more money at others’ expense. In honor of Martin Luther King, here is the post I wrote exactly one year ago, celebrating one of my heroes. May we all remember that freedom is not something we can take for granted, and we must fight for it every day.

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech and none of it was planned.  The night before, King asked his aides for advice about the speech, as to whether he should use the “I Have a Dream” line, which he had used a few times before.  His advisor, Wyatt Walker, said, “It’s trite, it’s cliche.  You’ve used it too many times already.” The next day, King did not plan to use it.  He wanted something as powerful as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address but just couldn’t seem to nail it.  When he reached the podium, it was almost 90 degrees and the crowd of 250,000 people had been standing in the heat for hours.  King was 16th on the program, almost at the very end.  As Norman Mailer wrote, “there was… an air of subtle depression, of wistful apathy which existed in many. One felt a little of the muted disappointment which attacks a crowd in the seventh inning of a very important baseball game when the score has gone 11-3.” King delivered a rather staid address, reading from his notes, but it clearly wasn’t as passionate as other speeches he had given in the past.  As he neared the end, Mahalia Jackson, who was behind him, having sung earlier, cried out: “Tell ’em about the dream, Martin!” King paused, put down his notes and decided to preach like the Baptist minister he was, and the rest is history:

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood…I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character… I have a dream that…one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” (The Guardian: Aug 9, 2013.)

Over 50 years later, some of the dream has come to fruition, like having a black president in the White House the past eight years, but racial tensions continue, with white cops killing innocent blacks and blacks retaliating.  Most recently in the news, there was a very sad and disturbing story of four angry black teens kidnapping and torturing a disabled white teen to seek revenge on all white people.  The ordeal was videotaped by the teens and posted to social media because I guess getting noticed for their hatred was far more important than not getting caught.  Still, it makes me so sad and angry that all these years after the Civil Rights Movement, there continues to be more racial hatred and violence.  Dr. King would be so disheartened to see this, and yet I’m sure he wouldn’t be surprised.  Racism is taught at home and anti-racism has to be taught as well.  Children don’t just grow up knowing the importance of not judging by the color of one’s skin. It has to be taught.  Children aren’t born racist.  Babies love all colors; they love people who play with them.  It is adults who teach them to be mean and judgmental and afraid of people not like them.  And we should be ashamed.

My family is fortunate in that we can afford to live in a town that is very racially and religiously diverse, with 30% Jews and many Asians and African Americans.  My son’s classroom last year was 50% non white, his teacher was Indian-American and his aide was African-American.  The year before, his teacher was Costa Rican. My daughter’s school is an international school with 75 countries represented. At her birthday party, half of all the girls spoke another language as their first language.  My husband’s best friend is Japanese, and our kids have grown up thinking that “Crazy Uncle Dave” is somehow blood related, even though we are pale white people.   My kids know that discriminating against people because of the color of their skin is like choosing friends because of the color of their tennis shoes– it’s pretty random and unfair. But not all parents teach this.  Some white children are taught to hate and fear blacks and visa versa, and that’s sad, because the cycle will never end until all of us learn and teach the right thing.

As you begin this new year, committed to finding and living your world stage, remember the brave preacher that one hot August day, who had a dream that someday black children would be equal to white.  This is also a man who took a chance, against the advice of his aides, and put his speech down, knowing he had no other words to read from, and followed his heart in order to inspire a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people looking for direction and hope.  Remember to ask yourself how you are helping Martin Luther King’s dream to live on in the way you live your life.  And ask yourself what your “I Have A Dream” speech is, and what would happen if just once, you lay down your notes and spoke from your heart.  You might just make history too.

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Do the Hard Thing

I saw a documentary recently on middle class teens who became addicted to heroin after taking pain killers for a sports injury. After the prescription meds became too hard to find or too expensive to pay for, they switched to heroin and even ended up using needles, entering into a life that neither they nor their parents could ever imagine. What struck me most was the number of teens who described their surprise at how good they felt the first time they took the pills. One guy said, “It felt so amazing that I figured it had to be good for you.” This was an college-educated guy saying this.

I thought of all the things that feel good and are good for you, like snuggling a child and eating blueberries hot from the sun, or watching a sunset in explosions of orange, and going for a walk. But then I thought about how many of us find it easier to bury ourselves in our phones and not snuggle, or eat a bag of chips instead of the blueberries, or decide we’re too busy to watch the sunset and miss the colors that only last for a few minutes before they’re gone. There is a reason that so many people increasingly throughout the world, in first world countries, are overweight or addicted to alcohol or drugs or gambling. If you go to an American mall on a given weekend, it’s shocking how many people are fat, wandering around eating fast food and drinking soda, with tons of packages on their arms, for a day of shopping as sport. I’m curious how many of these people are in debt and can’t afford to be shopping for fun.

The fact is that the key to being successful is being willing to do the hard thing day after day after day, while everyone else seems to be having endless fun, if you believe social media. Tony Robbins once said, “Every successful person did what no one else was willing to do.” We read about Olympic athletes who train for hours per day in grueling weather conditions and through physical pain to get where they want to go. Entrepreneurs have been known to work 80 hour weeks. The Pixar creators apparently worked so much in the early days to launch their films, that they slept in their offices to save time. There are stories all the time of obese people who finally got up the courage to lose 100 pounds or more, one step at a time.

For me, the hard thing is eating healthy foods instead of junk food and sugar, and getting out there to exercise most days. It’s writing my blog every single week no matter what, for almost 2 years and with over 100 posts at this point. It’s showing up 100% for my coaching clients every single session and coaching some days beginning at 6:30 for Australian clients. It’s the discipline of meditation and chi gong. It’s being there for my kids when they are sick or struggling or need help or comfort, or just want to have fun, and putting other things aside. It’s tracking every penny that we have spent for the past 25 years, budgeting every month, and not wasting money so that we can spend on what matters to us– a nice home, private schools, international trips, and things like camp and skiing. I say this not to brag but to mention that many friends with similar income have asked how we can afford this, but they forget that we don’t go shopping for fun, or go out to eat often, or spend $30 at the movies, or buy fancy cars. (We have one car, an 8 year-old Subaru, which works great for us.) We do the hard things so that we can have what we want. It’s definitely not easy or even always fun, but it’s so worth it.

To find your world stage, ask yourself what easy comfort you rely on, like watching too much tv or eating fatty treats or shopping all the time, that you will need to give up to become well-read and fit and fiscally responsible. It is definitely not fun in the moment, but the rewards are so great. Remember, nothing that is that easy is usually good for you, particularly in the case of addictions. Life is not meant to be smooth sailing all the time.  It’s meant to be rewarding, and that comes from doing the hard thing that many people can’t or won’t do.

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