Know Your Limits

We all have limits, whether imposed by laws, like speeding limits or self-imposed, like dietary rules. We also have limits of what we’re able to do– whether it’s how many miles we can run, or how high a note we can sing. Those are easier to see, but the limits that are harder to recognize are those on our spirits. We are daily bombarded with robot calls and endless emails. (I get about 100 emails per day and my husband about 300.) We have multiple forms of news and social media, which are hard to shut off. We have endless requests from people, whether it’s a needy child or a demanding friend or a difficult co-worker. We may have learned to set boundaries and even how to re-state our boundaries if they are ignored, but that doesn’t mean that others will listen and respect them and follow suit. With my coaching business, World Stage Coaching, my clients often talk about stating boundaries that others don’t respect, whether it’s a boss demanding more work and more travel, or a parent assuming they can crash at your apartment, or relatives who expect you to take care of their kids when they come to visit. Ultimately you can set boundaries until you’re blue in the face, but if others don’t hear you, it can feel useless. Here’s where limits come in. It’s helpful to say, “I’m sorry, but I’m at my limit here. I am not able to___________ (fill in the blank).” And then you leave.

This week, both of my teenagers are inundated with end-of-year school work, my husband is gearing up for a week in China, having just spent almost a week in Colombia. My daughter needs food and supplies for an up-coming camping trip and after she returns, she is home for three days before she leaves for 10 days for a school trip to Spain. My husband will not be around for any of this and we have no family nearby.  A few night ago, I found myself writing a welcome card for our new neighbors to go with the box of cookies I bought, while talking to the exterminator who was droning on about ants and how best to handle them, while my husband announced that he forgot he was going to be on a Korean radio talk show and would be on the air (from home) in the next few minutes– and this was 8pm at night. My son was on the phone with his math tutor and my daughter had just come back from a tennis lesson and was trying to write an English paper. After the Korean interview, we did dash over to give the neighbors cookies. I don’t even remember dinner. And that was only last Wednesday night between 8-9pm. It occurred to me that boundaries didn’t come into play here. The reality is that I had reached my limit. After a certain point, I told my family I was off duty and focused on myself.

Yesterday, I got a massage and got my hair done, because I knew that if I was going to survive the recent demands on my time, I was going to need to keep taking care of myself. I told everyone in the family last night that I was going to focus on getting ready for my up-coming cabaret concert. But both my kids wanted to sing by the piano– which is sweet for absorbed teens– so we sang songs, while my daughter strummed the ukulele. My son had also decided last night that he wanted to write a musical about teens riding the rails in the Great Depression and had already written 1-2 songs and a scene by 10pm and wanted me to set one of the songs to 30’s music, which I did, because I was happy that he was excited about this new project. Still, it tested my limits last night and again today, when he was asking about how people talked then and what names were common– all great questions, but I had reminded him that I will have more bandwidth for helping after my show is done. Did I mention that I haven’t performed professionally in 12 years? Today, it became clear to me why I couldn’t get back to it earlier. There is so much non-stop giving that happens if you’re a really committed parent. People talk about how kids just need an hour of quality time. It’s not true. They need lots of quantity time– so that you’re around when they’re excited about a new show they’re writing or they ask about why kids are trying drugs or how to ask a girl to dance. They need you around a lot when they are teenagers, just as they did when they were babies.

So, today, like yesterday, after a certain point, I had reached my limit, and I shut the door and took a nap. It wasn’t completely uninterrupted, but it was good enough. I will no longer try to defend boundaries I have chosen over and over. Instead, I will let people know that I have reached my limit and I’m done— whether it’s explaining, giving, or finding missing objects. It’s a good feeling not to be available to solve every problem. I look forward to implementing it more often.

To find your world stage, know your limits and inform others when you’ve reached them. And then go take a nap, or have that massage, or do something else nice for yourself. You deserve it.

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Soccer Lessons

When I was little, soccer was just coming to the States as something big in California, and by the time I was in third grade, most of my friends played it. I remember playing in the hot fall sun, running up and down the field and following the ball, since I didn’t know how to hold my position, and my grandfather asking my mother if I was going to have a heart attack because my face was beet red. In one of my first games, I scored two goals, which thrilled me since my dad took me out for ice cream sundaes to celebrate. Soon after, however, the coaches realized that I could kick far and was better on defense. I became the full back sweep, the last person before the goalie. I prided myself on protecting the goal and clearing the ball down the field. I ended up playing five years through my childhood and one year in high school before I hung up my cleats. I wasn’t the best player– some of those went on to Division 1 soccer in college– and I wasn’t the worse. But I loved it.

Because it was the seventies and eighties, my coaches were mostly women, some of whom had never played soccer, since the boys got the more experienced coaches. The coaches I had for most of my years were a team of two women, one of whom, my main coach, was disabled. She had an aggressive form of MS, so each year she coached us, she was less mobile. The first year she tired easily, which is why she had her assistant to help. By the last year, she came to practices in a walker. I never saw her kick the ball, and I’m not sure the assistant was much better at soccer, but they knew how to coach, we did well as a team, and most importantly we also learned a lot about life.

When my daughter was in second grade, I decided that I wanted to coach my own team, not because I had been a great player, but because soccer had taught me so much that I wanted to pass on. When I got my team list, which was supposedly a “random, computer-generated list” I realized that I was given all the beginners except my daughter, who was a strong player. (My husband, who understands statistics, reminded me that this was not random, but generated by a mom who worked for the town and wanted her daughter on a team of stars.) I had 14 six and seven year-old girls, and part of the challenge was getting them to focus long enough to learn the game of soccer, in between chatting and cartwheels. We were the Bad News Bears of soccer, inexperienced and expected to lose, but the good news is that none of the parents were pushy, because these families wanted their girls to have fun, not to push them to get on travel soccer by age eight.

The nice thing about our team is that no one expected us to do very well– I wasn’t a known coach and the team had almost no talent, or so people thought. I read books and watched videos about how to coach, and every week we had circle time before our practice started where we made sure the girls knew each others’ names in the early weeks, and could talk about what was working and not working on the team in later weeks. We played both in the fall and the spring, and each week the girls got better and better, so that in the final game, which was the championship against the hardest team– the team that had all the star players– I reminded my team that I was proud of them no matter what, but that since no one was expecting anything of them, this was their chance to shine. And shine they did. We won, to the other teams’ shock. We won in spite of rain and mud and injuries and the other team so sure that they were going to win.  I have never seen such a triumphant group of little girls, their white shirts covered in mud, with huge toothless grins on their faces.

My daughter is back playing soccer in high school, having taken a few years off, since she and we didn’t want her to enter the intense world of travel and club and select soccer. My son, however, begged us to be on the travel team, so finally he tried out at the end of 6th grade for the last two years of the program. His team plays hard and he’s improved as a player, but the boys aren’t particularly nice to each other and after months of playing don’t really talk to each other off the field. Most of the parents and many of the team just aren’t friendly, as though we are rivals of some sort, competing for the few soccer scholarships handed out, when in reality most of these kids will never play Division 1 or professionally. I’m not the first to point out that youth sports, particularly soccer, has completely lost its way, which is sad to see, because the lessons I learned have served me my whole life.

Soccer is so much more about “going for it” in general than it is about scoring goals.  It’s about your personal best, even if that isn’t perfect.  It’s about embracing the process of learning, not the end result, about learning grit and being kind to yourself when you make a mistake or lose, and being gracious when you win. It’s about friendship and fun and team work, and realizing that we all have an important position to play. These were the messages my coaches passed on, two older women whose kids had been long grown but loved being part of little kids’ lives. How to play became less important than how to be on a team, how to be in the world, how to show up on a field and go for the goal, whether you make it or not.

 

Some of my team in 2011– my daughter is the tallest in the middle.

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Innocent Bystander

When I was in college and taking Psychology 101, I never forgot learning about the Kitty Genovese case, which took place in March 1964. A 28 year-old American bar manager was stabbed to death in her apartment building in Queens. Over 30 witnesses either saw or heard the attack, but none called the police. This ultimately became known as the Bystander Effect or Genovese Syndrome. Here’s what Wikipedia states: “According to the principle of social influence, bystanders monitor the reactions of other people in an emergency situation to see if others think that it is necessary to intervene. If it is determined that others are not reacting to the situation, bystanders will interpret the situation as not an emergency and will not intervene.” We tend to need “social proof” to know how to react. During the Asch Conformity experiments, one line was written on the board and compared to three other lines, one of which was clearly the same length. And yet, the room was completely filled with actors except for the one student, and the actors kept giving incorrect responses. Ultimately the lone student would switch his answer to conform to the others even though it wasn’t right. 

This week, I had two experiences with being an innocent bystander and having to act even without social proof. Last Sunday, I was in Boston walking down one of the busiest streets filled with lanes of cars. I happened to see an old couple standing on the curb next to a parked car. At first, I assumed they were going to get into that car. But then I realized that they were peeking out into traffic and trying to figure out how to cross when they weren’t at a crosswalk and the man was using a walker. My first reaction, as it is for many people, was that I was sure they knew what they were doing and I didn’t need to intervene. I figured that they would make their way over to the crosswalk. But a little voice nagged at me, so I asked them if they needed help. They said no, but they clearly weren’t moving toward the crosswalk. It would have been tempting to move on, but I felt like they were in over their heads. I said, “You know you should really cross at the crosswalk, since it’s much safer” and the woman said, “My husband can’t walk well and we can’t walk that far.” They clearly were wanting to cross right then and there in front of three lanes of traffic. So I said, “Maybe you should at least wait until the cars have a light, so the street will be clearer.” But the woman was in a hurry for some reason and didn’t want to wait. So I took a breath, walked in front of them, put my hand out to traffic, and miraculously the entire crowded Boston street stopped, with no honking, as I stood there with my umbrella in the middle of the street in the pouring rain, and the couple slowly made their way across the street. It felt like a scene from a movie in which a person is standing in the street and all the cars are silently stopped. I was grateful that I chose not to be an innocent bystander while that couple crossed the road, because I would have felt horrible if something had happened.

And two days ago, I witnessed my son’s soccer practice, in which one kid was being bullied by the whole team, right in front of me and two of the coaches. The kids were shouting mean things to this boy, about how they thought he was a lousy player, and laughing at him and refusing to pass to him. He just stood there and took it. I kept thinking that someone would intervene and yet no one did, not even the coaches. So after five minutes of this, I ran over to the coaches and yelled, “You need to stop this right now. Do you hear what they are doing to him? Imagine how he must be feeling?” The coach looked more embarrassed that I had called him out than upset about the situation. In fact, he didn’t seem to think that this was a problem. It took another 10 minutes before the coach gathered the kids and simply said, “You need to be nicer to each other.” What? That was it? I was stunned at how complicit these adults were. They should have been ashamed of themselves for allowing this. But the reality is that it happens all the time. I think about the Holocaust and how so many people decided just to be innocent bystanders, thinking that since they weren’t Jewish, it wasn’t really their problem. I am grateful for the people who did stand up to injustice even if most people didn’t.

To find your world stage, remember that there is no such thing as an innocent bystander. If you are watching and someone needs you, you have a moral obligation to respond. Don’t wait for social proof to know whether to act, and don’t assume if there are others around, that you don’t need to do anything. The world is sad and broken enough. We need more people willing to respond, regardless of what others are doing.

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Good News

After what has felt like years of winter, it is finally spring in Boston. Today it was 70 degrees and sunny and even though I put on some sunblock, I still got burned. And yet, it felt so good to finally feel the sun on my skin and to look up at the beautiful clear sky. It is so easy to focus on the sunburn and forget the glorious day, since it can be hard to remember the good things when bad things happen, even minor things like sunburns. Everyday it seems that there is more bad news in the newspaper. Even so, the Polyanna in me sees the silver lining and thinks “And yet…” The recent Southwest flight that killed a passenger who was sucked partially through a window was devastating to that family. And yet, everyone else survived because a very skilled female pilot guided them safely to the ground. The recent Waffle House shooting was horrible, in that it was another mass shooting, falling so recently on the heels of the Parkland shooting and the students’ protests of “Never again.” And yet, the hero who saved the day was a black man in the south, the kind of person who is sadly not celebrated enough. And the horrible event in Toronto in which a crazy man plowed into innocent people was reminiscent of the Nice and Berlin attacks, and yet even in the horror, witnesses rushed to help the wounded. One woman left the cafe where she had been sitting to hold the hand of a man who was dying, since she didn’t want him to die alone.

Yesterday it was cold and pouring rain after only a few days of sunny spring days, and after our long winter, it felt like a cruel joke. And yet, I saw the explosion of pink and white blossoms overhead and the tulips confidently poking up through the ground. I spent all day today doing laundry and cleaning and tidying and my husband did hours of yard work to get ready for our Spanish exchange student who is arriving late tonight from Madrid. In addition to getting our kids to art classes and soccer games, my son needed help prepping for his Model UN competition for tomorrow and my daughter for a singing audition for a musical. My husband and I are dragging from hours of chores, and yet, we will have a 16 year-old Spanish girl in our house for ten days and then my daughter stays with her family in a few months. Last spring, we hosted a French girl for my daughter and next year we hope to host a Chinese student for my son. This is what makes me feel hopeful, that in a world that seems to have gone mad, there are students from other countries coming to stay with us and learn about our world, just as we will do with them. It makes the world seem smaller and more friendly.

To find your world stage, remember to look for the good news in the bad. Sometimes you may have to search hard, but there’s always something. And next time it rains, remember to look for the blossoms that provide the contrast to the dull grey and give us all hope, when it may feel hard to find.

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Don’t Need to Know

Now that I have been off Facebook for three weeks, I have to say that I have a feeling of calm that I could not have predicted. The first few days of not being able to check it literally felt like withdrawal, like the time after my junior year of college when I cut out all soda and caffeine, resulting in withdrawal headaches for weeks. The reality is that I was so much clearer and more focused my senior year without being constantly propped up by Diet Coke, as I feel now without the quick fix of Facebook. Today’s students use Adderall as study aids, even though they don’t have ADHD, because they want a competitive edge. The fact is that Adderall is just speed in a pill, no different in terms of how the brain receives it than street meth. As our society speeds up faster and faster, we think that we have to and that we even can stay on top of everything, but the reality is that we can’t. We can’t do it all or learn it all or see it all, but we think we can. Facebook and social media in general plays into this, this belief that we can be friends with everyone and be seen and celebrated and not miss out. It’s kind of sad really, if you think about it. Because having real friends takes time. Georgia O’Keefe once wrote: “Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time – like to have a friend takes time.” In spite of the fact that O’Keefe died over 30 years ago, it seems as though she could have written it today.

The reality is that we have the same bodies and brains that we had fifty years ago, when there were no personal computers, or internet or social media, and yet we think somehow that we can go faster. When I was in my twenties in the 1990’s and worked at a law firm to support my music, the firm hired messengers to deliver packages and to hand out last minute messages about meetings from office to office. Today, documents would just be emailed. But the pace then was slower because it had to be. We think progress is great, but we couldn’t envision the downside of cyber bullying or 24/7 work or “friends” who are not really friends. One hundred years ago, we couldn’t image such cheap and easy air travel or the idea that most Americans would own their own car. But we also couldn’t imagine endless international business trips that our bodies are not frankly designed for, crossing oceans in hours when it took our ancestors months, and expecting our bodies to react to the time changes easily. Or traveling by car at such high speeds, and being confronted with the dangers of texting or other myriad distractions. One hundred fifty years ago, most people lived and died in the same place and married someone who grew up near them. Only the very wealthy got to visit great sites around the world. For everyone else, they lived in the same place and knew the same people. But at least they knew who their friends were and didn’t waste time corresponding with fake friends on Facebook.

If you think about Facebook as a concept, it mainly provides noise and distraction. There are exceptions, of course, in which old buddies or distant family can find each other again. I was able to find my third cousin and get the details of a funeral that my father wanted to attend for his second cousin, since my grandmother had been very close to her first cousins. But Facebook also has allowed me to reconnect with old flames (with my husband’s permission of course), only to find that they haven’t aged well, which reminds me of my own mortality in a strange way, even as I gloat that I look better than they do. But mainly it’s all the endless information that none of us needs to know. One of my “friends” is a guy I musical directed once in college. We weren’t friends even then, but he was a guy with a good voice I once knew, who is constantly posting about how evil Trump is. Even though I don’t like Trump, do I really need to be hearing from this guy I knew once at age 20? What about my favorite post, which is “Had such a blast at so and so’s wedding! So glad to be invited. Here are some awesome pictures!” when in fact you weren’t invited but had to wade through dozens of pictures from the party you didn’t make the cut for? The reality is that I don’t need to know that the woman who was a friend at age 16 but isn’t anymore is selling her couch and her daughter has Lyme or that the guy from junior high has medical issues. If someone doesn’t want to tell me, then I don’t need to know it, any more than I need to cyber-stalk celebrities about their lives. Because in the end, who cares? What does Kate Winslet’s life with kids from three different husbands have to do with me?

The answer is to shut it down, get off, breathe and look around at your own wonderful life. And if your life isn’t what you want, then roll up your sleeves and get to work. But having the breathing space to just focus on you and your immediate world is so incredibly freeing. To find your world stage, remember that you don’t need to know what everyone else is doing and what parties you haven’t been invited to. Just focus on what matters in your own life and enter more fully into it without distractions.

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Affinity

I remember years ago having an argument with one of my friends, who is a gay Jewish man, about who was more oppressed. I felt that women were and he was sure that gays were, in addition to Jews. We finally gave up and laughed, because the whole thing was so silly. I think of this often as I contemplate what college life will be like for my kids in a few years, with its safe spaces to protect students from anything upsetting. Affinity groups exist for every possible sub-group, based on race and sexual orientation and culture. It seems that more and more we are separating and protecting ourselves from those who are different. This is unfortunate because so much is lost when we hide from people whom we can learn from.

There is a new trend in K-8 schools to start affinity groups for young children, sorting students by race, so that kids of color feel more support. My son’s school tried that last year with the kindergartners, and many of the parents were so upset by the idea of separating the races, that the experiment was discontinued and the head of Diversity and Inclusion fired. Many parents pointed to the fact that “separate but equal” does not work, as shown in Brown vs. the Board of Education. At the Bank Street School in New York, not only are the races separated, but the children of color get special favors and treats, and the white children are chastised for their “white privilege.” According to the New York Post (July 1, 2016), here are the stated goals for the white group (see right).

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What’s interesting is that a long-term study called the Diversity Challenge, which was the largest study on college diversity, followed 2,000 students from UCLA over 5 years to see how diversity impacts identify and attitude and conflicts. “Data from our study showed pretty conclusively that intergroup contact reduces ethnic tension and increases in friendship across ethnic lines,” says Sidanius. “Universities should do everything in their power to increase the level of contact between different ethnicities. They should make roommate assignments random and fight against the natural tendency for students to segregate themselves.” This study came out in 2009. (See diverseeducation.com– March 10, 2009.) And yet almost 10 years later, we still have this idea that we need to protect ourselves from people who are not like us.

And yet, what defines us? Should I only hang out with white people or just women or just people who are upper-middle class or just Americans or just people from the Boston area, or what about just coaches or just musicians or just parents or just people who are married? All of those things define me, but if we start breaking in affinity groups to protect ourselves, which group speaks to who we are? For someone who is black and rich, can they relate to someone who is black and poor? What about working class white people. Do they have a lot in common with educated whites? What about gay people who are Asian. Are they more Asian or gay? This weekend, I spent a few hours rehearsing with a friend and colleague who is a musician who also went to Yale. But he is a man, he is gay and he is black. Wouldn’t we normally not be in the same affinity group? Last night, we had dinner with a couple in which the wife is white and grew up on the Upper East Side of New York City. The husband was born in Vietnam and escaped on a raft after the fall of Saigon. She went to prep school for high school. He worked in his family’s diner and went to public school. If he had been in the Asian group or the poor affinity group, he wouldn’t have connected with a rich, white girl, and they would have missed out on a great life together.

I totally understand why schools have created diversity programs, since traditionally minorities have been under-represented. But my son’s school has over 50% non-white students. In spite of that, racial diversity continues to be emphasized even though the school lacks economic diversity more than anything, since there is only so much scholarship money available. Students need to learn that race is important but it’s only one part of identity– it shouldn’t be over-emphasized. Yes, we need to do a lot better as a society to stop police brutality toward black and brown people. It’s unfair and unacceptable. But we also need to attend to all the poor white people struggling from unemployment and addiction in Appalachia, for instance. Instead of safe spaces protecting us from others, we need to be more involved with people not like us, to care about other races and classes and cultures and life circumstances.

To find your world stage, stop thinking about how you’re oppressed and how your rights are being violated, whether it’s because of your race or sex or religion or culture, and instead seek to understand and be understood. The world doesn’t need more affinity groups and safe spaces, or people arguing about who is more oppressed. Instead, we need more joy and connection, no matter where we come from.

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Try Something New

I’ve been feeling in a rut lately, between the 24/7 job of parenting, and work and house responsibilities. For many people today, whether they are parents or not, it can feel like a never-ending treadmill that’s hard to step off from. Going to Hawaii for a week with my family recently was a wonderful break, but then after the 12 hour flights to get home and the jet lag from being six hours off, not to mention trying to re-enter the speed of our lives and the constant cold and snow which is Boston’s eight month winter, we were starting to lose the magic of our trip, only two weeks after returning.

And then I remembered a book I had dipped into a few years ago in a bookstore, called One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way. Psychologist Robert Maurer uses a Japanese manufacturing philosophy called kaizen to help his patients achieve big changes in their lives, working slowly and gently on tiny changes that can build up to big changes over time. So this past week, I decided to try a few new experiences. Last Sunday, we went to a new church for Easter, which was run by Episcopal monks who are cloistered in Cambridge. I didn’t know that Episcopal monks (brothers) existed, but we went to a beautiful service in which the mass was sung entirely, there was incense and water was splashed gently at us. The monks were so friendly and welcoming, and unlike other churches we’ve attended in the past, sometimes for years, this was the first church that didn’t want us to join some committee or pledge to give monthly. We were just welcomed as we are with no expectations.

A few days later, I tried a new reflexology place, which ended up being very strange– the man was rubbing my ears and head over and over like I was a dog, and seemed very aggressive with the foot rub. It reminded me of the time years ago when my husband and I were in Thailand and asked for a massage. The Thai lady, who was dressed in a bikini, covered me in cooking oil and then climbed on top of my body to massage me. I didn’t know whether to laugh or scream. It was very strange, but ultimately made for a great story. And then a few days after the reflexology, I had my first solo yoga class. A friend just got certified and wanted to try out her teaching on me. The class was amazing, even though I had been nervous about doing it, since I haven’t done yoga in years and I’m not very flexible these days. But since I was doing it for a friend, I pushed away my anxiety and showed up and benefited so much from the yoga that I plan to start incorporating some of it every day.

And today, instead of a more typical Saturday, which involves driving my daughter to art classes in Boston and my son to/from soccer games, and endless laundry and chores, I went to a Dave Ramsey conference all day, and my husband took charge of everything. For 10 hours, I laughed and cried and took notes and pictures and had the bandwidth to start thinking about my life in a bigger sense, since sometimes there isn’t always time for that. It was an amazing and inspiring day attending his Smart Conference, and I learned so much from all the experts on the stage about all facets of my life. And being in a crowd of 6,000 people who were thrilled to be there too was fabulous. Tonight my family got Indian food from our favorite Indian place and watched one of the best comedies I know– Rat Race– which always makes us laugh. And for the first time in almost 10 years, I have gone one week without Facebook. I shut it down last weekend for 3 months, to see how I feel. The first few days I felt withdraw symptoms and a fear of missing out, but a week later, I feel great. I’m not comparing myself to others and not emerged in the endless drama of bragging and complaining, which always drains me.

I know the concept of kaizen is making small changes, like meditating for 1 minute per day or walking for 5 minutes per day and building on that. But for me, trying a few new experiences this week has made me feel less stuck and more excited. And I plan to do more next week. I want to start jogging with my daughter before school beginning on Monday, and getting to bed early enough at night that I am more rested during the day. I’m also going to try vegan eating for 3 months to see how it feels. I’ve tried it off and on over the years, but never for that long, so this will be an interesting experiment.

As you claim your world stage, ask yourself where in your life you’re feeling stuck and what new experiences you could have this week that could shake things up and make you feel more excited and alive. Maybe you will feel like you’re holding a sparkler in your hand, lighting up your world in a new way.

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Perfect Moment

My husband and I and our two teenagers flew out two weeks ago to spend a week in Hawaii with my parents. We had such a good time just being together. I know that isn’t true for every family so I feel quite grateful. There were some days that were overcast or raining, and we all got quite sunburned when the sun was too hot for our pale skin, even with sunblock. We had to stake out chaise lounges by 8am every morning to get places by the pools since there were a lot of guests, but we didn’t mind. The fact is, a week of no cooking or dishes or laundry or chores was pure heaven for me. We all spent a week unplugged from the demands of life, from email obligations and work and school, and it was amazing. There were imperfect moments, like when it was pouring rain while hiking around the volcano park, and my daughter was getting chafing from hiking in her bikini and there were long waits for some restaurants at night, and my parents’ room was louder than ours, so they heard the elevators going up and down at night. But in the end, it doesn’t matter, because I was with the five people who matter most to me in the world in a beautiful slice of paradise.

Sometimes it is easy to forget when we expect perfection, but then I remember that all the perfect moments of my life have been imperfect. I got lost a lot when I backpacked through Europe in my twenties (and this was before iPhones and GPS), but I met amazing strangers who helped me out all along the way, and it left me knowing that most of the world is good and cares about others. It rained the day of our wedding, but then the sun came out through the stained glass windows while my dad walked me down the aisle, which was glorious. My daughter’s birth didn’t go according to plan. The pain meds stopped working, so I just screamed hysterically and pushed for two long hours, but I delivered a beautiful baby girl who was calm and alert. For my son, his shoulders almost didn’t fit so I had to stop pushing while they brought in a special emergency team, but my little linebacker arrived screaming and ready for dinner and it was all worth it.

On this recent trip to Hawaii, every night we sat by the beach waiting for a sunset, but it never came because the sky was overcast, until the very last night when we weren’t on the beach but by the pool. When I saw the pink sky, I rushed over to the beach, to watch the most exquisite sunset unfold over twenty minutes, through every shade of pink and orange and red— it was like a light show that God put on for all of us. The whole beach of people were watching in a hushed reverent silence, and then a group of dads and their kids came barreling into the oceans, screaming with footballs. When I asked them if they could keep down the noise because the rest of us were in awe of this glorious sunset, one of the men was dismissive and angry at me in a strangely shaming way, saying that I wanted to be silent because I was all alone and nobody wanted to be with me. I was stunned that a stranger would say something so snarky and rude, not to mention untrue, but I refused to lash out back at him. Instead, I said, “Did you really say that?” and he said yes. My answer: “Wow.” I let him feel the shame of his words, knowing that he was surrounded by his kids and friends who heard him. And then I turned back to the sunset and sang “Amazing Grace” over and over and over like a benediction, so that I could let go of that moment and focus on the glorious sight. I remembered that in every perfect moment, there is still imperfection, which doesn’t have to take away from the moment if you don’t let it.

To find your world stage, relish those moments like glorious sunsets, even in their imperfection, since there is no such thing as perfection. Like a tapestry that is purposely made to be imperfect so as to not out-do God, life’s great moments are the same way: imperfectly perfect. And like a sunset, make sure you drop everything when it happens and run toward it, because those are the moments of life that you don’t want to miss.

 

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Work Is Work

A lot of clients come to me for business and career coaching who have bought into the belief that they need to quit their job and live their passion overnight, as if they are doing something horrible being employed in a job that they don’t love. The reality is that most people can’t afford to just leave their jobs without a lot of savings and/or family financial support, so the process can take some time. And for clients who have obligations like children and/or a mortgage, it’s even more important to make changes carefully and slowly, so they don’t get burned. But nonetheless, people feel guilty because their job doesn’t fill them with passion and they don’t even know what their passion is.

I hear from a lot of clients that if every second of their day isn’t amazing, then they are in the wrong career. It is possible that they are needing a change of work, but what I try to remind clients is that every career has its own “sh*t sandwich”– you just have to decide which sandwich you’re willing to eat. I remind them that there is a reason that work is called work and not play. It’s work. And sometimes even dream careers are still not always fun. Take Yo Yo Ma, one of the greatest cellists of all time. He gets paid really well to do what he loves more than anything with top musicians around the world, has played in every great hall, and is rich and famous and loved by millions of audience members. But, he has to lug his big cello around everywhere– he once left it in a cab by accident– and has to travel hundreds of days per year even when he’s under the weather, and he has to play pieces that audiences may love but he may be tired of after decades of playing them. I read an article about him in which he confessed that he wasn’t always patient with his kids when he came home after traveling a lot, and that he missed a lot. But that’s the price of being a world-class musician.

I’ve noticed lately that more clients are coming to me who want to be entrepreneurs, including one last year who had just graduated from college. My advice to her was to go out into the world and work for various companies, trying on as many different hats within a company as possible. But a concerning trend that I’m seeing is that many people have this idea that you can make a lot of money and only have to work a few hours per week and do exactly and only what you love. I have literally never seen that to be true. The people I know who retire at age 45 do so because of huge financial success, and are able to “work” 4 hours per week, like the famous book called The Four Hour Work week describes, because they are retired and are managing personal investments and living off all the money they made from twenty-five years of 60-80 work weeks doing either finance or building companies they started. Some of them loved most of what they did while others did a lot that they didn’t want to do to get to their level of success, but now appreciate the freedom of having money and options. None of these people started a business at 22 and were wealthy by 23, however. And all of those people did things they didn’t want to do as part of their jobs; they put in a lot of time, accumulated a lot of stress, and had to be away a lot from their spouse and kids, to create that level of success.

If you want to be an entrepreneur, it should not be solely for the lifestyle. Yes, if you work for yourself, you can choose your hours, but you will work longer hours, not shorter ones, because you are responsible for everything, from creating and delivering the product or service, to customer service, to sales, to marketing, to billing. If you like wearing all the hats and want to be 100% in charge, then that’s great. But if you only want to do one small piece, like sales or marketing, then you’re better off working for someone else. If you don’t have a burning desire to get your product or service out into the world, then it’s not worth the hassle. I love being a coach, but coaching has literally nothing to do with running a business, all of which I do. I’m fortunate that I enjoy wearing those various hats, but many coaches graduate on a high from the intense experience of coaching training, only to find that they have no training on how to build and sustain a business. Of my original 20 classmates who went through training but were not being sent by their company to do internal coaching, one third didn’t graduate, one third graduated but didn’t start coaching businesses, and one third started businesses, with only half of those still in existence five years later. And I went to the top coaching school with really impressive students with lots of business experience!

To find your world stage, remember that work in the end is still work. You want to find something that uses your skills and interests and that makes the world better in some way, but it doesn’t necessarily mean starting your own business. And if you do want to be an entrepreneur, always have service at the front of your business, because if you’re not serving your customers with a product or service that they need and are willing to pay for regularly, then you don’t have a business but instead a hobby. You are not doing something wrong if you’re not feeling passionate every second. Just take little steps toward either tweaking your current situation or finding a new job that will make you happier. Then work will feel more like play.

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Change Takes Time

One of the things that I don’t like about the coaching industry is that it sells the idea that you can have anything you want in life quite easily as long as you pay a lot of money for a given coaching deal. The expense is carefully reframed as “the investment.” Now I’m a life/executive coach, but I don’t change exorbitant fees (like over $1,000 per month), because I want my services to be accessible to people. However, there is a well-known coach who emailed everyone on his list last year to offer a “carefully curated group of top business professionals” to form a mastermind group for the “low” price of 10k per year. Not very much was even being offered for that price, except the opportunity to be surrounded by top professionals. I deleted the email, but I know a few people who were burned by this. And interestingly, a year later, there is no reference on the internet to the program that was offered at all, as though it never existed, after the coach himself pocketed a million dollars. The reality is that a lot of people think that if they pay enough money, they will be transformed, but it doesn’t work that way, because change happens over time and has everything to do with how much work a person is willing to do, not just in the short run, but over time to maintain the change.

Clients come to me after they’ve been burned by programs like this.  I don’t believe in fleecing people and promising the moon. I believe in working week by week on effective change. Period. I hate to break it to clients wanting a quick fix, but most change takes three months to see tiny changes, six months to see momentum, and a good year to solidify the habits associated with the change. Change is hard work and it’s not easy, which is why most people give up or don’t try in the first place. I have found in my own life and with friends and clients, that change doesn’t happen in a day or a weekend, no matter how inspiring the weekend. I know Anthony Robbins charges a lot for his intense weekend programs, but I wonder how many people are permanently transformed, and how many people could have the same or better effects reading his books and/or working with a coach? I have friends who have called after taking the intensive Landmark program (kind of like EST from the seventies), feeling transformed, but a few months later, they admit that it didn’t really do anything permanently for them.

The biggest obstacle for most people is that we have false expectations of how change happens. I’ve seen friends lose a lot of weight quickly, but the ones who lose it slowly over time find that the changes ultimately stick. And the methods aren’t very sexy: 1) keep track of portion size 2) write everything down 3) realize that sugar and junk and high fat foods should be occasional treats 4) exercise every day 5) get enough sleep and 6) lower stress. That’s it. Some people do better with more protein or less or more carbs or less, but nobody needs to adhere to the zealotry of various diet camps, like Vegans vs. Paleo, because foods work differently for each person and there is no one right diet. Ultimately it still comes down to: Eat less and focus on real foods, and exercise and move a lot more. That’s it.

As you seek your world stage, beware of the coaching programs promising you an easy solution to changing your life for a high “investment” of money. You don’t need to spend 10K for a weekend to change your life. You just need to decide that you’re ready to change, and then find the books and/or people who can help you. For some, it’s going to AA meetings, or joining Weight Watchers, or checking out Toastmasters, or getting resume services. For others, it’s finding a coach to have your back as you do the hard work of change. But just remember no matter what, that you can decide to permanently change whatever isn’t working. It’s up to you.

 

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