Wheat vs. Chaff

In the Bible, John the Baptist uses the image of needing to separate the wheat from the chaff, to determine who is worthy of heaven or not. The phrase has evolved in a more secular way to mean that it’s important to separate what is good or necessary from what is not. But this is what so many of us struggle with. In this complex, 24/7 go-go culture, with stimuli coming from everywhere, it’s not so easy.
That’s what I thought until my son got really sick last weekend. In the blink of an eye, my normally healthy 12 year-old, went from happily playing to doubled over in pain.  Within two hours of his very first hint of pain, he couldn’t even walk. My athletic, energetic boy was crawling to the door, until my husband picked him up like a baby and carried him to the car. Less than four hours after we arrived at Boston Children’s Hospital, surgery had begun. Two hours later and well after midnight, the surgery was successfully completed.  I’ve never felt so relieved that it was over and he was safe.
But a funny thing happen; things started to become crystal clear for me. I had been struggling for some time to clarify who my friends were, making excuses for the “busy” friends who never call. But in a crisis, it all makes sense. People either show up or they don’t. My parents, who are amazing, dropped everything and drove down to stay with me and help out for four days and nights, since my husband needed to fly to Japan on business for a week. My friend Lorraine called me at the hospital and asked what she could do. Did I want a visitor? Could her son, who is my son’s friend, get homework?  He ended up enlisting most of the 7th grade in making cards, even though many middle schoolers feel that they are past the card-making days. But my son got homemade card after card from girls and boys, with drawings, jokes, funny sports clippings, science puzzles, and effusive lines like “We miss you so much!” Every day he read them and I’m sure it’s why he is healing so well.
In addition, my friend Ann texted her husband to come visit us in the hospital and he cheered us up by explaining exactly what they do in an appendectomy. My friend Meghan emailed a number of times and asked what she could do, and later in the middle of her two weeks of “service” as a doctor on call in the hospital– which is 24/7 work– she picked up a balloon and card and had her son drop it off, to my son’s delight. My friend Alysa called and emailed and offered to pick up groceries. Val contacted me, even though her son had had a liver transplant only weeks before, to check in. Leslie came by with her son with cookies and funny stories. Heena and her son came by with a cute card and a much-needed visit. Both Alison and Joel sent sweet texts. My friend Carol called and emailed and we caught up by phone. Riya and Hattie sent nice emails. Paula emailed her concern and followed up a few times. And teachers emailed their concerns and best wishes.
The best thing about a crisis is it really does help you to separate the wheat from the chaff. All these friends, some of whom I am closer to than others, were the wheat, the healthy part that is nurturing. But some sadly ended up showing themselves to be the chaff, including one “friend” from college who, in spite of my trying to connect with him for the past 6 weeks, well before my son’s incident, just couldn’t be bothered to return my emails or calls. When I finally texted, after my son’s surgery, he responded with a promise to connect the next day, which never happened. Before, I had been fretting that maybe I should take this personally. But after my son’s surgery, it was clear as day, that this was not about me. This was his problem and I was needing to move on. I no longer had time for the chaff in my life.
And there were other things this week. Spending joyful time with my parents matters, while catching up on bills can wait. Snuggling my kids matters, but cleaning up my messy office can wait. Watching a good movie or a funny show matters, but responding to all 130 emails like I had a gun to my head, just doesn’t work for me. Most people will just have to wait. Spending time outside in this glorious fall weather?  Yes please.  Spending one more second wondering why a non-friend doesn’t call? Nope.
To find your world stage, remember that your time and energy are precious. None of us knows when we could go from fine to doubled over in pain, needing surgery.  Seize the healthy days you have and when crisis does come, as it does for all of us, remember to separate the wheat from the chaff.  You’ll see that it’s really easy to do when you focus truly on what matters.
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Put Down the Phone

This week the weather has been glorious– the last gasp of summer with just a hint of fall. I have been out with my phone taking pictures of the azure sky and green leaves just starting to turn color. Yesterday I walked around Larz Anderson Park and relished the light dancing on the pond and the explosion of water coming from the pond’s fountain. It was one of those beautiful days that was so glorious, you couldn’t help but smile and be grateful.

And yet, all the people I passed in the park were head down, staring at their phones. There was magic going on all around them and all they had to do was look up, but they didn’t. They missed it all.

I see babies looking up at their moms with big toothless grins and all they see is the top of their moms’ head, buried in their phones.

I hear silence in restaurants because families are not talking with each other but instead all staring at their devices.

I notice parents at soccer games who actually miss seeing their child score a goal because they are so distracted.

I know from my coaching clients how lonely they are because they are looking up at the world and no one is there to greet their gaze.

Recently I went on a walk with a neighbor. I left my phone at home, but she didn’t, and she took three calls during our hour walk, even though she had the time to take care of them later since she is not working and all but one of her kids is grown. And yet later in the day I spent 90 minutes with a very busy friend, who works and has three young boys, but her phone was off and her attention was on me. There is nothing more important than giving your full attention to someone else, no matter how busy you are.

My teens joke that I will never be addicted to my phone, because half the time I can’t even find it. When I do, I find that Facebook and Instagram are pale imitations of life. Why admire a picture of a park, when you can actually be in one and use all your senses? What’s the point of “liking” someone else’s dinner if you can’t be present at your own?

Here’s what I know: what is happening right now will not be repeated. It’s not like a movie you can see again if you missed it the first time.  There’s only one time when your son learns to walk those first few wobbly steps, or when your daughter learns to read or when your new boyfriend confesses he really likes you, or when you see your friend walk down the aisle. And when I see the sky streaked in a beautiful pink, there is only one conclusion I make, as I tell my kids: “God is showing off.”

To find your world stage, remember that now is the time. We think we have endless time but we don’t, even if we get to live to old age. If you don’t notice what is around you right now, it will slip away, never to be repeated. So put down the phone and open your eyes to the glorious world all around you.

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Dirty Money

Lately I’ve been hearing about money a lot from my clients. In some cases, they have a lot of money but feel guilty for having it, as though they did something wrong. In other cases, they have very little and feel bad about themselves for not making the kind of money (yet) that they want from their dream career. I remind those with a lot of money that money is a powerful tool that can be used for good, to help with an election, to fund new green programs, to add to an underfunded school. So much good can be done in the world, but money is the engine that makes it happen. Bill and Melinda Gates are two of my heroes because they turned their vast fortune into a foundation that is actively changing the lives of poor people around the world. If they had just gone and volunteered somewhere, that wouldn’t have been nearly as effective. For those clients who don’t have enough money, I remind them that there’s no shame in not having enough or struggling, but it can be a great motivator for getting out of the house and working harder. The gift of having to make money is that it pushes you to succeed in a way that people with trust funds don’t have, which is why the children of celebrities are often not as successful as their parents, since they don’t have to be.

In some cases, clients have beliefs that money is somehow evil. A lot of people confuse the famous quote about money from the Bible. They think the phrase is, “Money is at the root of all evil” but in fact it is, “The LOVE of money is the root of all evil.” In other words, greed is a problem, because it corrupts people and turns people away from kindness and generosity. But having money is not a problem. It can be an incredible force for good. And yet, many people inherit toxic beliefs about money that keep them from succeeding. I spoke with an artist recently who felt that having to work “for the man” was beneath him. He felt that groveling for money was unbecoming because all money was corrupting. I did try to remind him of all the great philanthropists throughout history, but he was not convinced. I suppose that this kind of attitude can work if you are independently wealthy– you can have streams of income arriving without having to interact with money and then you can do whatever you want with your time. But most of us need to work. And this artist needed to make money since he has little savings and no retirement. He was asking me about some “get rich easy” solutions to create enough passive income that he wouldn’t have to worry about money. I reminded him that those don’t exist. The reality is that that’s what everyone wants– to make a lot of money easily doing something that is quick and easy and not illegal.  But if it were that easy, everyone would be doing it. The internet in some ways is like a modern day Gold Rush, in that the early adopters made a lot of money different ways. But for everyone else who has followed, it’s a lot harder because so many more people are competing.

The way to have an abundant life and to claim your world stage is to look at and change any limiting beliefs about money, such as “Money is evil, it doesn’t grow on trees, or it corrupts everything.” Remember that without money, you can’t create what you want to do in the world. But with money, you can give to causes you care about, travel, give to your children, create or fund great art, and really impact the world.

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Surviving the Storms

The past two weeks has been horrendous for those in Houston affected by Hurricane Harvey. Thousands of people are displaced, living in shelters. And the stories pouring in are horrible. A preacher and his wife drowned in their car trying to get across town.  A man was found floating in his home, since he hadn’t been able to get out in time. A woman was killed when an oak tree fell on her home. And for those who survived, the stress of getting back to normal is overwhelming, since it may take years for that to happen. For home owners without flood insurance, they have lost their largest asset. For renters, some are getting pressured to pay the next month’s rent on a home that is now uninhabitable. Those who had to abandon their cars in high waters, are now having to claim them from an impounding agency for hundreds of dollars that they may not have.

This week, Hurricane Irma has barreled through the Caribbean, destroying most of St. Martin and knocking out power on many other islands. And now it’s headed for Florida, where millions are trying to evacuate.  But in many cases, they can’t leave because of gas shortages, and there’s no bottled water if they stay. As my minister said, “No gas to leave, no water to stay.” My cousin is prepared and staying put in a safer part of Fort Lauderdale, and I’m just praying that she will be okay. She did reassure me that she has a lot of water, a good generator and lots of canned food. She also knows to sleep in the bathroom without windows when the winds get strong.

But for those of us not living in Texas or Florida, we feel helpless, wondering what we can do. The best thing is to stay in touch with friends and relatives and let them know you care. The other thing is to give to organizations like the Red Cross, which are reputable and will get the job done. Unfortunately fake charities emerge during crises, just as they did during Katrina, for instance.  It’s better to go online and give to a charity that you have vetted than respond to a charity you’ve never heard of soliciting money.  Chances are they are not real.

For all of us, whether we are directly impacted by these storms or not, we all must deal with metaphorical storms in our lives that can make us feel like the air has been knocked out of us. For some, it’s losing a job. For others, it’s losing a relationship. For others, it’s a death. One of the girls at my son’s school lost her 9 year-old sister to brain cancer last year.  Not even a year later, she just lost her mother to cancer as well. One of my daughter’s friends is battling cancer and had to leave school today for a seizure resulting from the steroid treatment. I was glad that she followed up to see that he was okay.

In life, just as in storms, there is no clear cut path to preparedness. But just knowing that braving storms is part of the human condition makes them less scary because at least we know that we’re not alone. As you seek your world stage, remember that sometimes the best thing you can do is to stop what you’re doing to call a friend or to write a check to those in need.  To be a tiny light in a world of constant storms and suffering is a gift indeed.

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Be Kind to Yourself

As we head into fall and back to school and a quicker pace of year, it’s important to remember to be kind to ourselves, as we go from fewer emails to endless ones, and from no expectations to many. My husband always teases me when it’s the first of the month, because that’s when I try out new resolutions. And if the first of the month is on a Monday, there’s even more pressure. And if the first of the year is on a Monday, well then I need to be perfect! This may sound silly, but we all have times of the week or the year when we expect more of ourselves and hold ourselves to a higher standard. Fall is one of those times for many people, between back-to-school expectations and upcoming holiday obligations.

Here’s how my Sept 1st (and 2nd) went. I was so busy attending to endless emails, and school registration forms, and helping a child whose mouth is in pain because he just got braces, that I literally forgot to post my blog until tonight (Saturday night). I didn’t realize this until I was on a walk that started so late in the day that it ended by flashlight. Everything took longer yesterday and today than I thought. It’s hard not to feel defeated by that. But I’m trying to remember to be kind to myself.

Here is a list of some of the things I did just by email or phone (no other chores included) in the last two days because I know you all can relate: I spent an hour trying to arrange a bed delivery for my son with an angry moving company guy from NY shouting at me that they had to deliver the bed on the one day that won’t work because it’s the first day of school for one kid, it’s my husband’s first day of teaching this fall as a professor, and I have morning coaching clients. But this guy was trying to tell me why they needed to deliver that day since “all of New Hampshire needs beds” the other days. (I tried to point out that Massachusetts is actually closer to New Jersey than New Hampshire so they could swing by on the way, but he didn’t really listen.) Then I spent two hours trying to find a dermatologist who will take a patient until 15 years old (many won’t for some reason) so my daughter can have a minor cyst removed. Then I set up a phone date for a friend going through a hard time, scheduled a robotics team for my son, set up a play date, looked into liability for Toastmasters for rentals (don’t ask me how I got involved with helping with this– thankfully I wasn’t able to help after all.) I emailed my minister to ask why the world seems particularly crazy these days, as well as my mom to let her know that my son’s braces are fine. Then a client, then my niece regarding her school pictures, then more playdates, tons of school scheduling, release forms for a school nature trip, arranging dropping off charity items, looking into legal documents for my business, reviewing two separate soccer schedules and one choir schedule, another client, the science museum regarding online tickets, and signed my son up for online algebra tutoring. Believe it or not, that took two days.

To be clear, I don’t write this because any of this is scintillating. It is not. I write this because many of you have similar lists. And here’s the thing: we think the problem is with us– that we can’t get stuff done in a short period of time, in spite of endless other things to do, when in fact maybe the problem is the list is too long and impossible.  I often wonder what it means to actually have a village raise a child, because I’m raising two and I’ll tell you that after almost fifteen years of parenting, there is no village. I’m going to repeat this. There is no village!  It’s you and your spouse, if you’re lucky, doing the best you can, plowing through emails to help your kids do the best that they can, hoping that someday they will get into a college you have heard of and can afford, and when they get out of college, that there will be jobs available that don’t involve serving hot drinks, and that not all the jobs will have been outsourced to India.

In the meantime, you can breathe and be kind to yourself and to all the other moms who are starting to look frazzled and it’s only just beginning. By late November, I wish all moms could take a break until January 2 and let their husbands just do take-out for December. To find your world stage, remember that every day you are creating a life you love (or don’t love) by your choices. You don’t have to get it all done. Even when you try– as I did the last two days– it still won’t get done.  So just be kind to yourself.

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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