Monday, June 30, 2014

Tears in the workplace

I spent some years working in a patriarchal work setting. I recall times when I just wanted to cry because of the sexism. But I was so determined not to cry in the office. I wanted to show my professionalism. And besides, I could take whatever came my way just like a man, right?! I did my crying at home, thank you very much.

Just recently, however, I talked with a friend about how some workplaces are beginning to realize that the old ways of doing business are not only not good for women, they're not very good for men either. There's a growing awareness that some corporate policies are inhumane. Too much is simply expected of people. My friend said that some women in top management are advocating that women (and men) be real, be human, be who they are—and not leave their emotions at home. Some women are saying it's not only acceptable to cry in the workplace; it can be healthy.

I've been thinking about that a lot. I do know that tears moisten our hearts, soften them, make us more open to others. Might that be good for a workplace? Hmmm, perhaps it is time to stop expecting people to be robots or superhuman—leaping tall buildings in a single bound—in the workplace. Maybe it really is time to see that when we let employees feel respected, fully human and all of who they are (partners, parents, daughters, sons, whatever else), everybody wins. When workers feel cared for, supported and respected, they'll give all they can to that job. That's quite different from the old joke, "The beatings will continue until morale improves."

Workplaces can change. They can add heart to the emphasis on head. Maybe we need to start with tears?

Friday, June 27, 2014

Creative sharing

When I think of people who have changed my life, I include writers, artists and other creative types whom I've never met but whose sharing through books, music, photography, paintings, sculptures and other forms has helped me grow. I have learned so much—and continue to learn—because of my exposure to the creativity and sharing of others.

That leads me to wonder whether any of my creativity and sharing has made a difference in the lives of others. And further, I wonder whether you can imagine that your words, songs or art linger in the hearts and minds of others. Or perhaps it's your love of cooking. Or sewing. There are so many artistic and creative expressions—and so many ways to share those gifts.

Everyone has something to share. What's your gift? What's your purpose? What's your passion? In what areas of life are you creative? Or do you have more exploring to do in order to discover that? If so, what are you waiting for? Is there something that holds you back from sharing yourself and your gifts?

Go ahead. Put yourself out there and share the best of you! You may never know what that might mean in the lives of others. But count on it: You'll make a difference to someone.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Taking risks

Are you comfortable taking risks? What do you do when you feel stuck? When what you're doing isn't working or no longer provides you with joy or satisfaction?

Many people are risk-averse. They're just not comfortable going outside their comfort zone, trying something new, making changes. That's nothing to be ashamed of. It just simply is—if you're that type of person. It's also a fact, however, that nothing will change if you don't change. So, if you are risk-averse, I encourage you to take some small steps toward making friends with risk.

I have several clients and a few friends who right now are making big changes in their lives—taking risks on new careers, new relationships, or some behavioral changes that they hope will lead to greater fulfillment, happiness and joy in their lives. One is even moving far away from family (and way out of her comfort zone) in the hope of landing a job that will bring her closer to her dreams.

If you have something that isn't quite fitting you these days, you don't have to move across the country or quit your job to get unstuck. Perhaps you simply need to change your attitude. Reframe how you see something. Find what you do like in your current situation and build on that. Is there something you can do today that will move you closer to your dreams? Create a plan of small steps to get you wherever you want to be. One step at a time: That's how we reach goals.

If you'd like a complimentary strategy session to discuss this, please contact me.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Do you really listen?

How are your listening skills? Have you ever felt completely heard?  You know, those times when someone else looks right at you, sits forward in her chair, and really listens to your every word, asking questions when appropriate to draw you out further? Yes, we probably all know what that feels like—rare as it may be.

I suspect we're all guilty of doing a lot of "listening on the run." Listening while also thinking about the errands we still have to run and what we're going to fix for dinner, etc. It happens a lot these days in our multitasking society.

I think it's worth practicing deeper listening skills, however. And when I say that, I'm challenging myself, too. When I coach my clients, I truly set aside my own "stuff" and listen deeply. I try to do that in my personal life conversations, too, but I'll confess I'm just as guilty as anyone at "listening on the run." I want to do better, however.

Why? I know that listening well to others creates better bridges to them. I get to know them better. I learn more about life—and likely, even about myself. I make others happy, and we know happiness is contagious and that it spreads. Is there anything that so makes us feel wrapped in love and care as truly being heard? So why not ramp up our listening skills today?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The freedom of letting go

Not long ago I read about a woman whose house burned to the ground, reducing everything she owned to ashes. At the time, of course, she was devastated. Later, however, she realized how freeing it was to have fewer possessions. Now ten years later, she decided it was time to experience that feeling of freedom again since her house has become cluttered with possessions.

Her solution? Each day for a year she's committed to letting go of at least 10 things. She's giving them away or throwing them, depending on the condition of the item. Her comment at this point? "I honestly get a little rush from getting rid of stuff," she says, adding that "it's energizing."

This made me take another look at my own possessions. Slowly, I have been decreasing the clutter, giving items to Goodwill or my church's rummage sale—or just tossing what really isn't worth even giving away. But there's still plenty here.

It's also made me think about the inner clutter. What old baggage am I holding onto? What anger and resentments need letting go? There really is a freedom in decluttering both our inner and our outer lives. And any time is a good time to do so.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Can you forgive yourself?

We hear a lot about the importance of forgiveness. Much of it is focused on the resentments and anger we carry about what others have done to us. And that is extremely important. We do need to forgive others for things they've said or done to us, whether unintentional or intentional. It's important for our own mental health—and, yes, our physical health, too—that we forgive and let go of all the baggage surrounding whatever happened.

Every bit as important, however, is something not discussed as often: forgiving ourselves. Are you still carrying around guilt or shame about something you did or said in the past? Isn't it time to forgive yourself and let it all go? For most of us, that's the toughest of all.

I don't know how that works for you. Sometimes it helps me to write down what I'm feeling around that past event—the guilt, shame, anger, resentment, whatever emotions have built up around it. Get it down on paper and out of your body. That helps me let go and forgive myself (and others, too). Some people say, "Let go and let God." That works, too. Let God take away the old resentments and baggage. God has already forgiven us, long before we ever reach the point of forgiveness.

Is anything weighing you down today? Try forgiving and letting go. You'll feel so much lighter. In fact, I've heard it said that doing so can actually help with our weight issues as well since we often eat our emotions. As I learned in Weight Watchers, "Feel the feelings, don't feed the feelings."

Friday, June 20, 2014

Stories strengthen family relationships

Want to strengthen your family relationships? Share your stories.

Now that both my parents are dead, I so wish I would have asked them even more questions about their life stories. I heard some of them, but I know there's so much more I don't know. Turns out, knowing family stories is an important component in strengthening families and building resilience in younger generations. A study done by an Emory University psychologist, Marshall Duke, and a colleague, Robyn Fivush, showed that children who knew a lot about their families' histories had a stronger sense of control over their lives and higher self-esteem. Such families seemed to function better. And children from those families "know they belong to something bigger than themselves."

There are many ways to share your stories with children and grandchildren. It can be done at family gatherings, when on vacation or just in the course of daily life. Remember to share both the funny stories and also those about adversity and how you or other family members coped. There are many life lessons to be learned that way. Or you may wish to put your stories into book form. When I first became a grandmother, someone gave me a "Grandma's Story" book. The idea was that I should answer the questions on the pages of this album and include photos so that once I'd finished the book, I could give it to my grandchild who would then have a story of my life. I was too busy in those years and never quite got the book done. Now, nine grandchildren later, I don't plan to write in nine different books. My hope is to create one book with stories and pictures that I can have printed for each grandchild.

Stories. They're so important to us all—and in ways we maybe didn't quite imagine. Start sharing yours today. And ask others around you to share theirs.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Use your voice

I so admire those who use their voices to call us all to higher standards, who point out injustice and aren't willing to settle for the status quo.

Recently Angelina Jolie delivered a strong speech against rape as a weapon of war when representatives from 150 nations met in London for the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. Among other things she said, "It is a myth that rape is an inevitable part of conflict. It is a weapon of war aimed at civilians. It has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with power. It is done to torture and humiliate innocent people and often very young children."

Further she added that wartime rape "is a crime that thrives on silence and denial." Jolie wants the conversation on ending rape as a war weapon to begin. Good for her. She is using her fame for good in the world. She has found her voice and spoken out before on important issues such as the plight of refugees and displaced people, vulnerable children in the world, environmental conservation and many other global justice issues. She has a "bully pulpit," and she is using it.

You and I don't have the fame and the "bully pulpit" Jolie has. But we surely do have venues in which we can raise issues that are important to us. Is there an issue about which you are passionate and which needs some attention and awareness-raising? What's stopping you? Is today the day to use your voice for good in the world? Go ahead, your voice is unique and important.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Life's smaller losses

We take so much for granted, don't we? Physical ability. Mental acuity. Family. Friends. Home. Job. And so much more.

We take things for granted ... until we lose them, that is. Suddenly, our attitudes shift a bit and we realize the delicate and tenuous nature of so much of life. Sometimes we lose something in one swift move. A job is gone. Our house goes underwater financially—or a tornado or hurricane claims it. Loved ones die. And we need to work through a cycle of grief before we can move on to whatever becomes our "new normal."

Other times, we lose something we had counted on a piece at a time. As we age, our physical abilities—and, yes, our mental acuity as well—are part of that gradual decline. We can't carry as much as we used to, we can't stay up as late, we don't have quite the endurance or stamina we once had. We don't remember things as well as we did. It's more difficult to recognize those losses because they're so gradual. Of course, sometimes we see those losses offset by increased wisdom, a feeling of being more comfortable in our own skin, a better perspective on life, etc. But they are still losses and we do well to recognize that—and move on to our "new normal."

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Love's power

How connected are you to those about whom you care? Do you wish for stronger or deeper connections? If so, what are you doing about it today? And how do you show care to those you barely know or don't know but with whom you interact each day?

We are told that our connections to other people—family, friends, colleagues and others—steer us toward better health. Those connections can mean longer life, we're told.

Love is powerful, isn't it? And we aren't just talking about a primary relationship or close friendship. We're talking about all sorts of relationships. Each one of us has multiple opportunities in any given day to show love to other people, whether it's the barrista who serves up our morning joe, the little child who got separated from his mother and needs your help, or the crabby cashier. Who can even estimate the power of that love and care? Just put it out there, knowing the world needs so much of it right now. Know, too, that when you show that love and compassion to someone you meet, the ripple effect will go well beyond anything you might imagine. And isn't that a lovely thought? Often, what you've put out into the world comes right back to you. Big time.

Surely that's worth doing each day, isn't it?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Do you tell your age?

When it comes to stating my age, I'm in the "name it and claim it" camp. However, I do have friends that don't hold with that practice. That's fine. We each get to choose where we fall on that question. What do you think?

Here's my thing: I am grateful for every day, every year. I am thankful for all the experiences I have had—and those yet to come. More and more, I want to celebrate every moment. I want to live gracefully, gratefully and agelessly. So far anyway, each birthday beats the alternative!

Life is not all about youth and beauty. I know it seems that way when we see TV ads or read the cover lines on magazines as we stand at grocery check-out counters. We're given dozens of way to lose weight and look sexy, a myriad of suggestions for creams and lotions to make us look younger and rid ourselves of wrinkles and brown spots, and ideas for makeovers so we don't look old. Mind you, I do want to look as good as is possible—while also being comfortable. No more high heels. No more shoes that pinch. No more short skirts. But still I definitely enjoy stylish clothes and jewelry. It's so much more than that outside package, though, isn't it? It's also about who you and I are on the inside. It's about what we value and how we live and love. It's about our attitudes. And those things have nothing to do with age.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Please share them in the Comments box below. Thank you.

Friday, June 13, 2014

In the darkest night

When you live life awake and aware, you find life lessons all over the place. Now, I will confess that I spend plenty of time unaware, too. But more and more I'm trying to notice things in and around me.

So last week when friends and I were enjoying a couple days of shopping and exploring the lovely town of Cedarburg, Wisconsin, I saw a chalkboard sign outside a coffee shop with these words: "Do not let your difficulties fill you with anxiety. After all, it is only in the darkest night that the stars shine more brilliantly."

Several of us noticed that sign—and had a good discussion about what it said. Who would have thought we'd ponder deep thoughts on the street outside a java shop?

I have spent far too much time worrying about things that might never happen—in fact, that most likely never will happen! I have wasted lots of time letting my "difficulties fill me with anxiety." It is also true, however, that in the darkest of times I've experienced, I have seen others step forward with help and encouragement in ways I could never have anticipated. They were stars who shone most brilliantly when my night was darkest. When things seemed extremely bleak to me, I saw light shining. It didn't matter that at times the brilliance was a tiny star. It was light in the darkness. It was good news in the face of difficulty.

If you're experiencing a dark time right now, keep your eyes open for the brilliant stars. For surely they are there. Please contact me if you'd like to talk about a dark time right now. I am happy to provide a no-obligation, complimentary coaching strategy session.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Healthy minds

We think a lot these days about what we put into our bodies. No matter where you turn, you can hear about diets, healthy eating, and weight issues.

It's really important to give thought to such matters. Staying healthy and well requires that we do so. Our energy level depends upon it. You and I feel better when we do pay attention to what we eat and drink.

How much time do you spend thinking about what you put into your mind? Are you letting lots of negativity in? Are you listening to gossip, complaints, scary stories of what can happen to you if you do this or don't do that? Are you watching disturbing TV programs or reading books that drag you down? Are you filling your mind and spirit with things that don't uplift or inspire?

That's easy enough to fix. It begins with awareness. Pay attention to what you're seeing and hearing. Make some changes so your mind can be healthy, too—and your spirit can be joyful. It's about making choices that are good for you.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Life with passion

Last week I blogged about Maya Angelou, who recently died. Quite by coincidence, my desktop calendar included a quote by her when I turned over its pages last weekend. Another good one, I might add. Another tidbit of wisdom from a woman who left us a rich legacy.

"My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style," Angelou is quoted as saying.

Aren't those great components for life? Passion? Oh, yes, it's just a joy to observe those who live life at full-tilt. It's even better to do so ourselves.

Compassion? Yes, this really is an important part of life. It's not just compassion for others, as important as that is, but it includes self-compassion as well. You and I all thrive when we're treated with compassion.

Humor? I've always said that I especially need two things to get through life: my faith and my sense of humor. Both seem pretty important to me, and I was blessed that my family passed both of those on to me.

And style—it takes some of us a while to feel comfortable enough in our own skin to develop a style that fits. How good it feels when we finally do, though.

Decide today to do more than survive. It's time to jump in with both feet—and thrive.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Friends of all ages

Some time ago a friend of mine admitted that she really didn't have friends of different ages. Nearly all her close friends were about the same age as she was. She sounded intrigued, however, when I told her about the variety of ages among my friends.

I have some friends much older than I am. They are my teachers and mentors as, in so many cases, they have gone before me in many life experiences. I gain from their perspective on life, too. They take things in stride more than I do.

I have some friends far younger than I am. I love to soak up their energy and enthusiasm, and they tell me that they learn from me just as I do from those older than I am. I learn a lot from them, too, even while I mentor them. Don't you love the idea of mutual mentoring?

I have other friends who are around the same age as I am. Sharing similar birth years doesn't mean we share life experiences, though. So there is always something to learn from each one.

So when I turned my desk calendar to a new day and saw the following message, I completely agreed: "A fabulous mixture of friends makes the texture of life deeper and richer."

And age isn't the only component for "a fabulous mixture." But it is one. Differences are great, too. Are your friendships wide, deep and rich?

Monday, June 9, 2014

Attitude makes the difference

Have you experienced failure lately? Done something that made you feel disappointed in yourself? It might be as big as failing to successfully complete a task at work. Or it might be as small as killing a favorite plant or having a cake fall and look more like a pancake. 

Failures and perceived failures can really drag us down, can't they? If we let them, they can cause us to get stuck—and then fear of future failures sets in and off we go, spiraling downward.

So much can be learned from those things in our lives that don't work out as we'd planned, however. In fact, I believe we learn more from what we call failures than we ever learn from successes.

When his attempts to create a light bulb didn't work time after time, Thomas Edison famously said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." Recently I read a different version of what Edison said. I'm not certain which one is accurate. But either version gives us much food for thought. That version is: "I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work." And so he did.

What's the difference? Attitude. If I can see that what I perceive as failure, in fact, really holds the possibility of lessons to learn, it's no longer a failure, is it? It's an educational opportunity. I just need to see it differently. I need to open myself up to whatever I might learn from the experience I had labeled as "failure." What do you think? Can you reframe something and discover life lessons in it?

Friday, June 6, 2014

What others remember

I just can't resist one more quote from Maya Angelou, who died last week. She was such a prolific poet and writer—and left us with so many inspiring thoughts.

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel," Angelou said.

Most of us think long and hard about what we say and what we write. Will my words make me look intelligent? Will they inspire and impress others?

We also spend a good deal of time thinking about what we do. Will this career choice bring me more money? Power? Will I get praise if I volunteer with this organization? What if I bake the best desserts for the family reunion or block party? Will joining this group look good on my resume?

So isn't it humbling to think that those things aren't what will be remembered? I do believe Angelou is right: How we make others feel is what will be remembered.  I am more impressed by the leader who treats everyone the same—from the maintenance person to the administrative assistant to the CEO—than I am by the leader who appears erudite, well-spoken and in control. I am far more impressed by those who are gracious and take time to listen than I am by those who are on every committee and whose to-do lists are several pages long. It's really about the love in their heart.

I will never forget my first day on a new job while I was in the midst of my divorce. A colleague sat down in front of my desk, pointed to a photo of my three sons and said, "Tell me about this picture." I felt so welcomed and cared for by that simple move. I still remember that woman for how good she made me feel that day. She helped me forget my fears about the new job. In that moment she helped me forget the trauma of my life. She reminded me of the three precious guys in my life, and she helped me feel accepted.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Develop courage

Earlier I blogged about the death of the courageous writer and poet Maya Angelou. She left us with many words of wisdom. One of her famous quotes deals with courage.

"One isn't necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can't be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest," Angelou wrote.

Each one of us is born with immense possibilities and potential. One of the traits we can choose to develop is courage—courage to speak out for what we believe. Courage to follow our dreams. Courage to love and be loved. Courage to be those things Angelou mentioned: kind, true, merciful, generous and honest.

I have also heard it said that courage doesn't indicate a lack of fear. Rather, it involves facing our fear and doing anyway that which we fear. It is a sign of hope to me that we need not be born with it. Who of us feels that we were? And who feels that she or he always shows courage? It can be developed, however. And it can be nurtured. You can nurture it in yourself. You can nurture courage in others. In fact, I've heard the word "encourage" described as "putting courage into" another person. Similarly, "discourage" is "taking courage out" or another. I like that—and I want to do more encouraging than discouraging.

What can you do today to build up your courage muscle? To encourage others?

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

'Choose love'

Recently actor Jim Carrey told graduates at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, that they'd have two choices when they walked through the institution's doors to go out into the world: love or fear.

"Choose love," Carrey told them, "and don't ever let fear turn you against your playful heart." He told the graduates that he wished more people could realize "all their dreams and wealth and fame" because then they would see "that it's not where they're gonna find their sense of completion."

Further, he told them that fear would be "a player in your life" but they would get to decide how much to let it drive them. "So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, so we never dare to ask the universe for it," added the author of children's books and the founder of The Better U Foundation.

How much of a role does fear play in your life? What do you do when fear comes to call, as it does regularly when you try reach for your dreams or pursue your passions? Are you able to look fear in the eye and see beneath its disguise? Naming it helps tame it. Facing up to it and seeing it for what it is helps shrink it so it's more manageable. Then it's so much easier to make that other choice: love. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

What's your legacy?

Last week 86-year-old Maya Angelou died. She leaves behind such a legacy of poetry and other writings and a lifetime of speaking out—against racism, sexism, rape, identity and so much more. She was raped at the age of 8 by her mother's boyfriend. She grew up in the Jim Crow South. Her writings are raw and real. But her life story was positive.

And so another brave voice has been stilled. But the wonderful things about writers and poets is that their voices really aren't stilled. We still have their words.

Are you thinking yet about what your legacy will be? There are so many ways to leave a legacy. You don't have to be a writer or a poet. You don't have to be an artist whose paintings live on. Perhaps you have children or grandchildren whose lives you have helped shape and continue to deeply influence. Maybe you've left a mark on a workplace. Or you have made such a difference in the lives of friends and neighbors that they pass that on to others in what we call the ripple effect.

You and I don't do good things simply because we want to be remembered or want to leave a legacy when we're gone. But it still is worth thinking about: Do you want to be a positive influence? Or a negative one? Now is the time to give that serious thought.

I've mentioned before a book by Dawna Markova that made a deep impression on me: I Will Not Die an Unlived Life: Reclaiming Purpose and Passion. Markova talks about how we tell our life experiences and stories: as "rut stories" or "river stories." You can imagine a rut story—it's negative, smacks of poor me, and depicts your life as one stuck in a rut. A river story, on the other hand, is positive and has forward movement like a river; even when negative things happen to you, you don't get stuck there. You don't let those things crowd out the blessings and the positives of life. Maya Angelou definitely told river stories—even when she was speaking out. Thank you for all you gave us, Maya!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Add joy to life today

I just listened to a free online sample meditation by Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra. It was all about being uniquely who I was created to be.

I've heard that same message from several sources: No one else on the planet is exactly like you. No one else has your unique DNA. No one else looks, acts and thinks exactly as you do. No one else has been nor ever will be created who will do what you do just like you do it. You are unique. You use your unique gifts in a way that's also unique to you.

Isn't that amazing? It's also quite humbling, I think. I don't take that message to mean you should be under great pressure to discover just what you came here to do—forever. I think that process of discovering what your gifts are and what you're passionate about should be fun and exciting. Who are you? What are you meant to do today? As Deepak Chopra said in the meditation, today you might be here simply to smile at someone who feels very sad. A smile or a kind word from you might be just what someone needs. It doesn't have to be a huge task. It doesn't mean making a choice about a career that you'll stay in forever.

What do you need to do today? How can you add joy to the world today? Perhaps it's the flowers you've planted around your home that bring happiness to someone passing by. Maybe you sent a card of encouragement to a friend. Or made a call to a family member who's going through tough times. Just be who you were uniquely created to be. You'll figure it out!