Win Free Coaching: Summer Quiz Pt 2

I’m noticing a few friends and colleagues are unplugging from social media for the summer, which is so inspiring that I thought I would try it for August. So, no Facebook for me this month. (I even had to disable it to make this happen.) So far, I’m doing pretty well, but I have jumped on to wish people happy birthday and I confess that I got on by accident once (don’t ask), so I guess I’m 90% there. You’ll be happy to know that this is an international trend; a colleague in Scotland and one in Australia are unplugging.  I’m about to go camping with my daughter this weekend, as part of our annual Mom’s Weekend that is part of her sleep-away camp experience. (My husband will be camping with our son at the boys’ camp as well.) These camps are over 100 years old and have never had electricity in the cabins, so it’s a great chance to truly be in nature– that is when I’m not getting lost in the woods without my flashlight!

Here is the good news about many people unplugging.  This gives you a better chance to win a free 50 minute coaching session this month. Beginning last week, I started a challenge to readers who are not current clients. All you have to do is be one of the first 3 people to respond to 5 quick questions, either last week, this week or next.  Post your answers in the comments section and then I will contact you to arrange a free session. (To see last week’s challenge, just scroll to the previous blog post.)

Here is this week’s summer quiz:

  1. What is the most summery thing you did this week?
  2. What is your go-to summer outfit to wear when you’re not working?
  3. Where have you traveled so far this summer?
  4. What is your favorite ice cream you had this summer and where was it?
  5. What is your big goal to get done by Sept 1?

That’s it. Just post quick responses in the comments section and I will contact you. Feel free to pass onto friends and family. And try to experiment with unplugging some for August.  You’ll find that you have a lot more time to enjoy the sunshine 🙂

Here is my favorite recent picture from camp with my daughter.

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Just Show Up

As Woody Allen once said, “80% of success is just showing up.” I love that quote because it’s so basic. We forget that before we can become successful, we just have to show up. I know we’re all busy and have a lot of things going on, but the reality is that we do the things that we absolutely have to do, like going to work each day, because we don’t want to lose our jobs. We know that we have to show up at our siblings’ and best friends’ weddings, so that’s easy. But how many of us don’t show up again and again in ways that matter? Last fall, I took an online course through Live Your Legend called “Connect With Anyone.” It’s a 12 week course that involves weekly online coursework, online check-ins, and mastermind groups. I was really looking forward to being part of a big community of entrepreneurs, and even though I learned a lot, I was surprised by how few people actually showed up week after week to comment on what we were learning and be there for others. I noticed the people who wrote about themselves but never commented on others’ comments. I noticed the people who dropped out, but I also noticed the people who stood out because they consistently showed up. They have since become friends and mastermind partners with me and I continue to be grateful for their generosity.

The fact is that it’s hard to commit to show up consistently in so many ways. What about playing with your kids? Or staying in touch with your friends? I can’t tell you the number of people who have said to me over the years, “I’m not good at keeping in touch with friends.” The reality is that some people simply don’t make it a priority, so those who do, like my husband’s close friends from high school, really stand out. How many of us show up at our kids’ events but text all the way through? I certainly have my flaws, but texting through performances is not one of them. I know how quickly our kids are growing up, and how important it is to really be present for every second of a cello recital or a first musical, or a house design project. Showing up means unplugging and being present, but in our sped-up world, it’s increasingly uncommon.

I know that showing up is hard to do when you’re tired and have a lot going on, and sometimes the best choice really is to stay home. It’s true that sometimes when you do show up for something that’s not essential, it turns out that it really wasn’t important to come. Sometimes the party isn’t fun or the new yoga class is a bust. But how do you know unless you try? A few nights ago, I went to a cabaret open mic night at a local church. It was scary to do. I hadn’t sung professionally in over 10 years, even though I had written a lot of music and recorded and released two albums since then. Still, I had chosen to put performing on hold for a long time because with two young children and a husband traveling internationally a lot and many evening commitments, there were too many things (and people) pulling at me that mattered. So anyway, this week, since my two kids are both away at sleep-away camp, I decided that now was the time and I was going to show up at this open mic, no matter what the outcome. I quickly rehearsed my two songs, one an original song and one a jazz tune, and drove to the church. I forced myself to meet 30 people who had been coming regularly and to sit through 3 1/2 hours of a big range of performance abilities. I was delighted to hear some strong singers and was also impressed that people who really couldn’t sing well at all still had the courage to show up and get out there.

The best part of showing up when you’re scared and you don’t want to, is that sometimes amazing things happen. In my case, I got great applause and wonderful feedback, I connected with some musicians I really liked, and I even got a future gig out of it, so I’m now officially back in the saddle performing-wise. The last time I had a gig, I was paid really well and reviewed by the Boston Globe. This time, however, I’ll be part of a group of 5 performers, each of us singing only a 20 min set, and I will not only do it for free, I will have to pay $70 toward the pianist and the space since the evening is a fundraiser. Yes, I’m taking a few steps back to get started again, but I’m proud that I took time off for my family, even while keeping other facets of my music front and center all along.  The fact is that when you put something front and center, other things naturally have to fall behind. But the answer to changing that is still to show up, no matter the outcome.

To find your world stage, think about the things and the people that matter to you and make sure you are showing up for them, unplugged and present, because you never know what will happen. You might just discover how much you’ve missed performing.

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Slow Down

For those of us who tend to be Type A more than we care to admit, summer is the necessary pause that allows us to slow down. What I love most about this time of year is that the light shifts to a much more brilliant hue, the weather is lovely and warm, and the pace changes to something much slower. All of us with kids breathe a collective sigh of relief when school is over and camp is on. No homework, no playdate organization, no racing around, no activities. We can finally sit on the front stoop and watch the sky.  Summer is also the time my family and I travel; we just returned from a few weeks exploring Portugal and Spain. Travel is a great teacher, because you are forced to slow down, to be inconvenienced, and to not understand over and over.  It’s very easy when you are in another country to just want everything done the way it is done back home, but that’s not how it works. In Lisbon, we stayed in a tiny apartment in an old Moorish slum that involved over 60 steps (with crumbling cobblestones) to access. None of this would have been to code in the States. The “do gooder” in me wanted to paint over the endless graffiti on every building, and I wondered why everyone moved so slowly and no one seemed to be working much. In Santiago do Cacem, we stayed in the countryside where there was literally nothing to do except relax, or go to the local beach. We had a private house with a little balcony with views of the ocean. As long as I didn’t fret that the pool was too dirty to swim in and the kids were covered with mosquito bites from having no screens on the windows, I was fine. Watching the sunset over the valley and enjoying the pace of doing nothing was the reset that we needed. Then in Faro, we spent the day at the beach with a picnic of fresh tomatoes and cheese and bread, cherries warm from the sun and chocolate, and spent evenings laughing as a family while playing cards. I responded to as few emails as possible. Even though I wanted to clean our apartment’s dirty tile floor and was frustrated by the uneven WiFi, it was a great reminder that life doesn’t have to be perfect to be happy. I could just let go.

In Seville, the weather was 107 degrees every day and the streets in the old city so narrow that the sidewalks disappeared in the middle of a block, leaving cars to travel within inches of each passerby. I missed the safety and ease of American streets and sidewalks, but I was mesmerized by the beauty of this old city, with the Moorish influences mixed with beautiful Spanish architecture. I remembered that when it’s really hot, you have to go slowly. And you need to rest in the afternoon, which is why siestas are so popular in hot southern countries. On the way back to Lisbon, we stopped in Evora and the temperature was boiling and the Roman ruins not as impressive as advertised, but we had a lovely picnic as a family and bought some souvenirs. Back in Lisbon, we had to practice our breathing after our first housing plan fell through (long story) and we had to drag our suitcases up and down the cobblestone hills of Lisbon to get to our new place. But you can’t walk fast when dragging suitcases, and in the middle of this, we passed through a large African wedding celebration, with all the people dressed up in colorful garb, the women and children dressed particularly elaborately.

We’ve been fortunate to travel internationally quite a bit.  I’ve now traveled to 25 countries, and my husband to 35. My kids, at ages 14 and 12, have been to 10 countries.  And yet, we are hardly perfect as travelers. Our trip began with a missed flight due to a scheduling change I hadn’t made note of, forcing us to return home for 36 hours and catch a much-less convenient flight two days later. On our way out of Lisbon with our brand new rental car, we realized we had received a lemon car, with a broken clutch that wouldn’t change gears, and after discovering smoke coming out of the hood of our car, we pulled over to the side of the freeway and spent hours in a public housing slum, waiting to be rescued. We were delayed by hours getting to our next place, and the owner of the hotel almost didn’t let us in since we arrived so late. It was only after I threatened that we would have to sleep in the car with our two children that the gates were opened and we were let in.  I realized in these tough situations, that I had to slow down so that I could respond to each issue calmly and effectively.

To find your world stage, remember that travel is essential to understanding the greater world, as well as yourself. It will never be perfect and it will never be easy, but it will challenge you and delight you in unforgettable ways. And, just as summer naturally does, it will force you to slow down, which is something that we all need in this crazy, chaotic world.

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My family in Seville, Spain

Life Is Good

It’s easy to focus on the bad things happening in the world. This week, Otto Warmbier died, having been in a coma for over a year at the hands of North Korean prison guards.  I can’t imagine the pain his parents went through, knowing that their college-aged son was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for supposedly taking down a propaganda poster. In addition, yesterday the group of 13 all-male US Senators finished the draft on health care, which will make care too expensive for millions of Americans, and make being a woman and having children a liability.  I do wonder if these men remember that all people come from women’s bodies, and that they would not be alive if it weren’t for their mothers. To penalize women for needing maternal health care if unconscionable.  Then there’s the Philandro Castile trial, in which a cop was acquitted of shooting a black man simply because his car’s tail light was out. If this had been a white man shot, the trial would have ended differently. And then there’s hate crimes and global warming that our administration doesn’t recognize. It’s enough to make one think that life is pretty bad. But it isn’t.

There have always been bad things going on throughout history: wars, famine, fires, drought, plagues, and cycles of evil despots. Children used to regularly die of small pox. Women used to often die in childbirth. Education used to just consist of a one room school house for everyone except the very wealthy.  Slavery used to be legal. But with all of our advances, we still see every day how much violence and despair there is in the world, and it’s hard to feel hopeful.

And yet, a few days ago, I was walking around a lake near our home on a gorgeous afternoon with azure blue skies and perfectly formed clouds, and a group of geese gathered to navigate launching themselves into the water. Watching them made me smile. They took turns and didn’t push, and one by one, they managed to all slide into the water and then swam together in formation. This week, my 14 year-old daughter returned home from a school trip to France. As my husband and I waited for her outside the big immigration doors, we felt so grateful to have the ability to travel almost anywhere in the world and be welcome with our passports. This was the first time I had been to the international section of the airport this year, since Trump’s attempts at the travel bans. It was so heartwarming to see every possible race, religion, and country streaming through the doors. We saw women in head scarves with young children, a few older Indian women in full saris, hip Europeans in tight jeans and cool t-shirts, and an old Korean couple meeting up with their grandson, among others. We also got a text from our daughter before she emerged through the doors, letting us know that her group was delayed because one of her classmates, who is Chinese, forgot his visa, and was being questioned by immigration officials. He ultimately got through with no problem, but we were reminded of what so many people go through when traveling, and how lucky we are.

When you feel the world’s despair, remember to focus on what you are grateful for. I often have my clients list all the little things that they love, since it’s particularly helpful for those who feel stuck or lost. Once they remember what they love– whether tulips or swimming in a lake or snuggling with their children– then they can get clarity for the rest. To find your world stage, remember that the world has always been broken. As Leonard Cohen once wrote: “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” Don’t let the cracks get in the way of your daily joy. Today, go find a sunny spot and enjoy watching the geese play.

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Ignore Instructions

Throughout our lives, we are taught that we need to listen to authority, follow instructions, and go with the crowd. That certainly makes for more orderly schools and work places, but it doesn’t work in emergencies. Even if we are alone, the voice of propriety may drown out our protective instincts if we’re not careful. The fact is that when your life is on the line, you need to listen to your instincts and notice your surroundings so you can make the right decision. When I was backpacking in my twenties throughout Europe, I found myself being followed one night by someone on a deserted road in Saltzberg. The good girl in me wanted to ignore that I was being followed, in case I was mistaken. After all, I didn’t want to make a scene. But my intuition knew that I would be in trouble if I didn’t do something drastic. As the footsteps got closer to me, I looked around and found the only people in sight, which was a couple sitting in a parked car, and I jumped in their car and asked them to please take me to my hotel. They were surprisingly gracious, and the stalker moved on. If I hadn’t listened to my instincts, the ending might very well have been different.

Take the incident this week in London, with the huge high rise, Grenfell Tower, bursting into flames and tenants being told to stay in place so that they could be safely rescued. Many of those people did not made it out, because they couldn’t be reached by firefighters in time before they succumbed to smoke inhalation. Those people supposedly did the right thing, listening to authority and obediently waiting for help. But as a result, they didn’t survive. According to the New York Times, “The fire action protocol said that residents who were safely inside their apartments when there was a fire elsewhere should stay put, keeping doors and windows closed… But David King, a building engineer, said that in his three-decade career, he had never heard of residents in high-rise buildings being told to stay put.”  The BBC stated: “One resident of Grenfell Tower, Michael Paramasivan, said that he had been told in the case of fire he must stay in his flat – advice he ignored. ‘If we had stayed in that flat, we would have perished,’ he said. This is not the first time the advice to stay put has been called into question.”

During 9/11, after the North Tower was hit, many workers in the South Tower were told to return to their desks since the danger was confined to the other tower. Following these instructions ended up needlessly killing many people. According to The Guardian, “The evidence that people were instructed by employers and security guards to remain in the South Tower, and thus were condemned to death, is spreading this weekend. Ernie Falk… said that he was walking into the bank’s reception area when he heard a ‘horrendous boom’ of the first plane’s impact, and made a successful run for it… ‘I heard people being told, ‘The building is secure. The safest place is inside; stay calm and do not leave.’ That’s what they were saying. They were telling people to go back up to their offices and their desks, like the building was not in danger.’ People who worked in offices above the ninety-third story would have been able to reach their workplaces only for the second plane to plow into the tower beneath them – leaving them with little or no chance of survival.”

One of the biggest lessons of these tragedies is that people did listen to authority and perished as a result. So often we want to please others and do the right thing and to fit in with the culture. When I was a new college graduate, I worked in a high rise just a few blocks from the World Trade Center. Our offices were on the 50-60th Floors. My first day of work, I asked where all the exits were. I was told that the elevator was all that I needed. They figured that there wasn’t going to be a fire, and if there was, it would be taken care. In almost two years of working there, we never had a fire safety drill, so I always kept in mind where those exists were. At home, we have a ladder in my office to extend from our second floor window in case of fire. I taught my kids how to check for two exits on every flight and how to count the seat backs in case of smoke. I also taught them the universal sign for choking in case they are ever choking, so that they can be helped. I’ve taken self-defense and I’ve taught some moves to my daughter, reminding her that she’s a sitting duck if she just wanders down the street looking at her phone, as so many people do. It’s important to stay alert and notice surroundings, so you can see the van hurdling toward a pedestrian pathway, which is sadly more common these days.

To find your world stage, keep yourself safe in your daily life by noticing your surrounding and not listening to instructions asking you to stay put in an emergency.  The authorities may want to maintain order, but in the end, you want to maintain your life, which is far more important than pleasing others.  You may want to not embarrass yourself by jumping in a strangers car for safety, but in the end, keeping safe is more important than looking cool.  The world needs what you have to offer. It’s your job to stay safe.

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Grenfell Towers in flames

Hurt Feelings

When I was little, I learned the old adage, “Sticks and stones can break your bones but words can never hurt you.” But that was before the internet and social media. Before, we had societal shame and advice columns like Emily Post to chastise people into better behavior and keep civility in check. Now it seems that anything goes. Not only do we have a president who lies regularly and tweets hateful messages, but we have social media filled with trolls, who attack and threaten others for kicks.  Manners and a sense of propriety have been replaced by anonymous haters who go to great lengths to topple authority, threaten women and minorities, and instill fear in everyone else. In addition, we have a situation in which normally nice people who behave well in real life, become thoughtless online, posting pictures from parties that many weren’t invited to. They brag incessantly about their kids’ accomplishments or how “blessed” they are by all the abundance in their lives, hiding all that isn’t working, and leaving us to feel that we truly can’t keep up with the Joneses.

Last fall, Time Magazine wrote an article called “Why We’re Losing the Internet to the Culture of Hate,” stating, “Now if you need help improving your upload speeds, the web is eager to help with technical details, but if you tell it you’re struggling with depression it will goad you into killing yourself.” There are in fact too many cases of sad, lonely teens searching for answers on social media, who find bullies who remind them that they are better off dead. Countless teens have taken their own lives after anonymous trollers on Ask.fm advise them to cut themselves, hang themselves, or “drink bleach and die.” Most parents have no idea this is going on.  Even beyond teens, the internet can be a toxic place for adults.  Anita Sarkeesian, who spoke out against misogyny in video games, received rape threats online and bomb threats at speaking engagements, and Jonathan Weisman, from the New York Times, received so much anti-Semitic hate mail, that he quit Twitter, in spite of 35,000 followers.

Beyond trolls and cyber-bullying, there is a mean-spiritedness that infects social media.  Many people have lost a sense of what is right and good in how we treat others online, even our so called “friends” on Facebook. Last weekend, I found out that I hadn’t been invited to a family friend’s daughters wedding, even though I have known the family for over 15 years, we are regularly in touch, and I was asked last fall for ideas for reception venues. There is nothing like seeing pictures of a wedding you should have been invited to.  It’s like a punch to the gut. But people do this all the time.  A few years ago, a woman I used to know well got married with weddings on both coasts and posted ongoing pictures of the wedding not for a few days or a few weeks but in fact a few months. Three years later, she is still posting wedding pictures. I don’t think anyone would tolerate this offline, but online, it’s a brave new world.

I recently read about a bride who actually emailed all of the people whom she didn’t invite to her wedding before the wedding, explaining in detail why they weren’t invited.  Do we really need to spell out that you’re not as close to your pals from Zumba class? Apparently, “you’re not invited” notifications are becoming increasingly common. I personally blame reality tv shows like Real Housewives and Keeping Up with the Kardashians.  Put a bunch of unintelligent, heavily made up, angry and bored people together and you get season after season of drama and cat fights.  People seem to love these shows the way people love rubber necking.  It’s watching someone else’s misery and feeling better about your own life, but still wishing for their wardrobe. I do wonder what my grandmother “Ganny” would say about all this if she were still alive.  She believed in always being a lady, which meant using good manners at all times, and making one’s guests feel welcome.  Once at a dinner party, a guest spilled red wine on the white table linens and was mortified. So Ganny spilled wine too to make the guest feel better and smooth the situation.  She would be horrified by how people talk and dress and act today, with way too much skin showing, glued to their phones, and bragging and diminishing others at every turn. The fact is that civility is what makes life pleasant. All the characters in Jane Austen novels knew that, but we have somehow forgotten.

To claim your world stage, remember to use the same manners online that you use offline.  People’s feelings matter, and in spite of the adage about sticks and stones, words can hurt. Remember the Golden Rule of treating others the way you want to be treated.  Don’t post pictures of your wedding online and please stop the endless bragging about your kids. You kids don’t like it and neither does anyone else.  And if you encounter a troll, remember that in the end, they will come back in their next life as a cockroach.  Because civility is in short supply, the more classy and gracious you are, the more you will stand out.

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You Do Know

We have this idea that we don’t know what’s right for us. We need to read one more article, or consult our therapist, or check in with friends.  I find with my clients that so often when they say, “I don’t know,” they in fact do know. This seems to be a particular issue with women, who are trained from a young age to check in with others, to please, to test the mood of the room, to fit in. It’s hard to trust what you know when you’re checking on Facebook for what’s in or what’s acceptable or what others like. Often people feel stuck because they have so many parts of their lives that are up in the air, that they can’t figure out what to fix first, since they are all interconnected. I just gave the advice recently to a woman: “If you’re trying to take apart a ball of twisted yarn, you just need to grab onto something and work with that and then other parts of the yarn will loosen a bit, so that you can find the piece that allows the knot to loosen.” It’s the same with us.

I have a client who wants to please her family and friends, who expect her to stay in her little town and get married and have babies, but what she wants is to live all over the world. When she says, “I don’t know,” she is just mourning the fact that she needs to break away from her “tribe” to be true to herself, since she values freedom and adventure and they don’t. A woman I spoke with recently knows that she wants to have a baby and stay home and work part-time, but her fiancé doesn’t want to work a full-time job that would support them, since he is a free spirit.  She is realizing that she knows what she needs may be in conflict with the partner she’s chosen. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but better to know this now than later. Another woman wants to keep working when she gets married and has kids, but now that she’s engaged, everyone else in her life assumes she plans to be barefoot and pregnant, and that terrifies her.  Another client just had a successful art show with great reviews and was excited about moving forward and getting her installation into top museums, but suddenly lost all her confidence this week and questioned whether she should do art at all.  When I gently pointed out the connection between her spending a few days tending to her elderly and very critical mother and doubting herself and her art, she saw the link too.  She knew, but sometimes it takes an outside person to remind us of what we know.

My job is to remind these clients that they do know what they need.  The key is to be brave enough to speak up about what you know and let the chips fall where they may.  That takes courage and staking a claim to what you know is scary.  More than anything, we have a need to belong, and facing criticism or rejection feels like outright abandonment.  I have a friend who was disowned when he told his parents he was gay.  The thought of not fitting in or being accepted is awful. But living a life of “I don’t know” is worse, when you know deep down that you do know and just aren’t willing to say it.

To find your world stage, remember that you are unique. What you need and want is going to be different than many people in the world, in your country, in your state, in your town, on your street, and even in your family.  You may be the only vegan in a family of meat eaters.  You may be the only Republican in your town.  You may be the only poet in a city filled with software engineers.  But your tribe exists somewhere.  You just have to find it.  And in the meantime, every time you say, “I don’t know,” remind yourself that you do in fact know.  You have a right to ask for what you need and want, whether it’s staying home with a baby, or traveling the globe and leaving your little town for good.  You do know.

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Beware of Traps

When I first started coaching, I thought naively that the key to helping clients achieve what they want is to identify their goal and break it into small, actionable steps, using SMART goals. This was drilled into us in coaching school as well.  The only impediments, we were told, were internal gremlins that remind us that we aren’t good enough. We even had to create a large 3D version of our own gremlins in school.  I brought in a black angry bird-type creature who had a sign around his neck that said, “I Don’t Deserve” on one side, and on the other side, “I Do Deserve.”  (I still have him somewhere in the attic.) While I do believe we all have internal voices that can get in our way, I have found that the biggest traps are 1) family expectations and 2) blind choices that are societally imposed.  Just like that silly and addictive phone game called “Temple Run,” in which a man has to jump over broken bridges and run around fire balls and out-chase various crazed gorillas, we have those challenges too. The difference is that in the game, we know that we need to avoid the fire and the gorillas.  In real life, it’s not so easy to recognize a trap when we see it.

When I graduated from college with a music degree and got a ‘hot’ job at a law firm that paid well and involved lots of free and expensive dinners with clients, the trap would have been believing that I loved the law, when in fact I loved the pretty art work on the walls, the pay, and the free food.  Many of my friends ended up at law school because they were smart and everyone in their family went to law school, but then they realized that they hated the law and if they were lucky, they never used their degree. I thankfully had parents who supported my dreams as long as I supported myself financially, but a number of my clients struggle with going against the tide.  One client wants to leave the small town her family has been in for generations and live and travel abroad, but to her parents, their daughter may as well be joining a cult. Another wants to leave the family farm but she is so invested in being the good girl, that she’d rather keep that image up than move to the city and embark on a new career. Another traveled half way around the world to get away from a stressful family situation, only to find that her family had in essence traveled with her anyway, since they had 24/7 access to her through texting and social media.  She is learning to create boundaries with technology so that her family doesn’t have unlimited access to her, but it’s not easy.

As difficult as family expectations are, the harder traps to spot are the ones that we make blindly because “everyone does it.”  I know of a few people who knew when they were walking down the aisle that they were marrying the wrong person, but the guests were there, the presents were bought, and they were already almost 30, so it was time to settle down.  I know others who had kids soon after marriage even though their relationship was shaky, because they didn’t want to be “old” when they had kids; they are now divorced.  I also know others who had 3 kids because “3 is the new 2 and everyone is doing it,” even though it nearly put them over the edge in terms of emotional and financial strain.  But at least they looked impressive on Facebook.  I spoke with a woman recently who wanted to marry her boyfriend but was afraid to insist on it because it seemed too needy, and besides, plenty of people live together.  I spoke with a client with over $1,000 per month in car payments, who turned down a dream job because it paid $20,000 less. I pointed out that her new cars were costing her her dream.  And I spoke with another person recently who hated her job, but felt that she had to stay in it to pay for her eventual mortgage and her eventual life with her boyfriend who didn’t make much money.  I reminded her that she wasn’t trapped yet, but soon enough she would be if she didn’t slow down and really think through each choice and its ramifications.

As you find your voice and claim your world stage, watch out for the traps that appear, both to please family and to go along with the crowd.  Watch out for the part of you that tends to ignore what you love, even if it’s different than everyone else.  In our crowd, it seems that everyone I know loves coffee and yoga and Beyonce.  Not me– I love seltzer and hiking and Bach.  Most people love skiing and white river rafting.  I’d rather read a book or get a massage. The more we take the time to get to know ourselves, the less likely we are to sign up for someone else’s life instead of our own.

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Remember to Stretch

I am currently taking an online fitness class called the Entrepreneur Fitness Academy, which is reminding us of the importance not only of healthy eating and exercise, but also regular water intake, getting enough sleep, and making sure we stretch. Of all the suggestions, the one I tend to forget is daily stretching. And yet in many ways it’s the most important. So many of us are hunched over our computers day after day, that it’s a wonder we don’t all develop a hump back. I remember seeing an old Japanese woman once, when I was living in Japan, who was so bent over from picking rice for years, that she could no longer stand up straight. I never forgot that. The backpacks my kids carry to school are so heavy, that they are 20% of their body weight and so I have had to resort to bribing my kids.  If they get the weight under 10%, they get money.  So far, both have benefited from the bribery program, although it’s hard to maintain it, when more and more is being sent home, in addition to heavy laptops.  And they are not even in high school yet.  What are we supposed to do to protect our postures?

I have a friend named Annie, who is a fascia expert.  She told me that fascia is like the net that holds everything in our bodies together. But if we don’t exercise or stretch, our fascia can become tight. If we overtrain the same thing can happen. Aging naturally makes our fascia less free. So it’s really important that we take care of our fascia, through regularly stretching and foam rolling. After realizing that I needed to add “dealing with my fascia” to my self-care list, I bought a squishy foam roller and some little balls of different sizes on Amazon and started working with them. I have been using my foam roller to work out kinks in my upper back, and now I understand the idea that yoga devotees already know:  if you become unstuck in your body, you start to become unstuck in the rest of your life. Flexibility in your body is the key to an open spirt and a full-hearted life. So often we tense our bodies in response to stress or a difficult person, but in closing ourselves off from bad things, we close ourselves off from the good as well.  Brene Brown talks about this concept in her books on shame resiliency.  We tend to numb ourselves to bad feelings to protect ourselves from the difficult things in life.  But in the end, we also numb ourselves to joy.  To live fully, we need to embrace all of it, the good and the bad. Stretching helps us to connect with the unyielding parts of ourselves, be forgiving of our imperfections, and release and let go.

In a larger metaphorical sense, we need to not only stretch our bodies, but we need to stretch our minds, our emotions and our spirits.  So often, adults get fixed into one narrow ideology, whether politically or religiously.  We surround ourselves with people who share our world view and forget that there are millions of people out there who don’t believe in our religion, understand our culture, or embrace our politics.  There are books that we love that others don’t get and that’s okay too.  The minute we need to have everyone around support our world view, we’re in trouble.  I started listening to Dave Ramsey a few years ago for that reason.  Dave is a born-again Christian financial guru from the south who loves guns and pick up trucks.  And he is very conservative.  We have almost nothing in common and some of he people who call into his show are uneducated and say things like “me and the wife are wanting an RV so we can hunt more.” I don’t know people like this, which is why I listen and learn.  I never want to believe that my world view or my politics or my culture is the only way.  I want to stretch my beliefs so I can always remain open to the world.

As you seek your world stage, remember the importance of stretching, in all ways.  As important as it is to stretch our bodies, it’s equally important to stretch our minds and spirits.  The world needs more people whose minds are flexible and hearts are open.  In the end, we need to be like a bamboo tree that can bend so that when a storm comes, we don’t break.

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A bamboo grove that I photographed in Kyoto, Japan.

 

Don’t Eat the Marshmallow

In the 1960’s a Stanford professor named Walter Mischel began a series of psychological experiments with young children, which ultimately revealed one of the most important factors in later success– the ability to delay gratification. The Marshmallow Experiment involved leading a 4 or 5 year-old child into a private room where there was a marshmallow on the table.  Each child was offered a deal:  if he or she did not eat the marshmallow for 15 minutes while the researcher was gone, there would be a reward of another marshmallow.  If the child didn’t wait, there would not be a second marshmallow.  The choice was eat one now or wait and eat two later. All the kids in the study were videotaped. Some children ate the treat as soon as the researcher left, some waited a few minutes as they tried to distract themselves and then finally gave in, and some managed to wait the whole 15 minutes.

Even though the study itself was interesting, what was really fascinating was the follow up with these children over forty years. The kids who held off eating the marshmallow had higher SAT scores, were less likely to be obese, had better social skills and a lower level of substance abuse.  In all measures of success, the group who showed the ability to delay gratification outperformed those who couldn’t wait.  If you think about it, the ability to put an immediate want on hold for a great goal is the key to success.  It means you commit to the hard work of being a good student, you hold off on having a baby until you’re married, you don’t succumb to drugs, you don’t eat everything you feel like eating, you get to the gym even though you don’t want to, and you don’t spend money on a car you can’t afford even though it might impress your friends.  Instead you hold off, push through the discomfort, and wait until you can make the right choice for yourself.

How many of us are able to delay gratification, however, in every area of our life for a greater goal?  It’s not easy.  We may be conscientious in our jobs but not careful with our diet.  We may make fitness a priority, but overspend so much that we’ve racked up a lot of credit card debt.  We may spend a lot of time with our kids, but don’t spend much time on our own self-care.  The reality is that it’s impossible to do all things perfectly and full out, since we only have so much energy and so many hours per day.  Most educated people I know agree that being a good student and working hard in your career are not optional for success, but we may let other things slide, like fitness and exercise, thinking that they aren’t as important, when in fact they are.

I’m currently taking an interesting online fitness program for entrepreneurs called the Entrepreneur Fitness Academy.  Before we even get to learning more about diet and exercise, we need to spend two weeks getting in to a champion mindset and then setting goals that are specific and measurable so that we know where we’re headed.  But most importantly, we need to have a WHY for our goal.  Why is that important?  If it doesn’t matter to you, it won’t happen.  I’m just guessing that for the kids with the marshmallows, those with the strongest why for waiting may have been able to hold off the longest.  Maybe those kids who held off focused on the fact that they were going to get two instead of one, or maybe they wanted to please the researcher, so their parents would be happy.  For those who didn’t wait, maybe they focused on the joy of eating what was in front of them, or maybe they didn’t trust that they really would get a second one.  That can kind of thinking, that life is short so why not have fun now while you can, can be a dangerous trap leading to all sorts of unhealthy behaviors, from drug and alcohol addiction to bankruptcy to crime.

To find your world stage, find what delights you and be aware of the importance of delaying gratification to get where you want to go.  The fact is that being uncomfortable is often a necessary part of creating success.  Change is scary, whereas going with what is known and safe feels good in the moment. In the end, however, it just keeps you stuck.  The key is to find every way you can to hold off on what is easy and right in front of you, knowing that there is a greater reward coming.  Hold off on the marshmallow, since there are better things waiting for you.

 

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