Tuesday, June 30, 2015

You have what you need

I love the concept of transformation or the metamorphosis that occurs when a caterpillar creates its cocoon and later emerges as a beautiful butterfly. Isn't it just amazing? That's why I use the butterfly as a symbol for my Way2Grow coaching practice.

What's fascinating to me is that the caterpillar's body contains all it needs to become a butterfly. All the parts are there. When the caterpillar is inside the cocoon it has built, those parts develop and rearrange themselves out of the "caterpillar soup" that's created when the caterpillar's tissues dissolve inside the cocoon.

This reminds me that you and I have all we need inside, too, to become beautiful butterflies who can soar through life. We don't always remember that inside us, we have the resources and abilities we need. Often, we need someone else to urge and encourage us to look deeply within to discover these resources. Sometimes, though, when we're in a difficult situation—perhaps facing illness or job loss—we discover strength and serenity we hadn't known was there. Tough times can actually pull us down into our core to draw out reserves we hadn't drawn on before.

What do you need right now? What would it take for you to discover your own resources?

If you would like some coaching to access your wisdom and abilities, I invite you to contact me. I always offer a complimentary strategy session to see whether coaching can be of help to you.

Monday, June 29, 2015

The power of forgiveness

As we continue to sort through details of the recent tragic event in Charleston, S.C., when nine people were murdered in their church after sitting for an hour in Bible study and prayer with the alleged killer, I am in awe of the families of the victims and their ability to forgive.

Bethane Middleton-Brown, sister of one of the victims, said she acknowledges her anger but that her sister "taught me that we are the family that love built. We have no room for hating."

That's powerful stuff, isn't it? It's also realistic—anger and forgiveness both. It takes incredible strength to love and forgive in the midst of such horrific hatred and tragedy. Those who forgive, however, also must experience the freedom that comes from doing so. They're losing the shackles of anger and hatred that could easily have held them captive for years had they chosen to nurture those feelings. Rather, they are choosing to forgive and to move forward in the freedom of love rather than hate.

As one news article put it, "The killer was welcomed by the ones he murdered, and then forgiven by the people he deeply harmed."

I always wonder whether I would be able to do that if I faced such a tragedy. Don't you? Perhaps it's good to practice love and forgiveness in all situations, starting right now. I need to ask myself whether there are people I haven't yet forgiven for some real or perceived transgression. If I am unable to forgive for the smaller things, how would I ever hope to do so for such a tragedy as this? How about you?

Friday, June 26, 2015

Your elusive self-worth

I was asked recently to write an article about girls, women and self-worth for a women's magazine for which I'm currently serving as interim editor. The whole issue of body image, self-esteem and feelings of value and worth are something I've worked on for years—and I'm well aware that a majority of us have at least some doubts about our self-worth and body image.

We've talked about this before in these blogs. We are surrounded by media messages that tell us we're not good enough—that we have to be slender, tiny, blonde and beautiful to be of value. And guess what? Most of us don't weigh 100 pounds, wear a size 0 dress and have flawless and perfect skin.

Can we tune out those messages? Can we instead focus on the things we like about ourselves? Might we thank our bodies for all they've done and do for us rather than hate them for not being 100 pounds and size 0?

Two years ago a friend of mine had a birthday party at which we also honored ourselves as women. One of the things my friend had us do was to make a list of women we admired—and of the traits we admired in them. Then we culled from that the four attributes we most liked—and finally, we listed four attributes we most liked about ourselves. It was a good exercise. After looking at others we admire (that's always easier, isn't it?), it forced us to look at our own attributes—and celebrate them.

Why not try that today? Then celebrate your body, your abilities and yourself!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Thinking out loud vs. inner dialogue

Yesterday I referred to a poster I'd seen on Facebook that described care for extroverts and care for introverts. I'm always fascinated by these differences in personality type. It's helpful to know what's important to each of these types when you're in a relationship with your opposite, whether as work colleagues, friends, lovers, parent-child or any other.

Because my fiancé is an introvert and I'm more of an extrovert (even though I've now moved just over the line into the category of introvert on the Myers-Briggs test), I take notice of how best to relate to the other type.

I was especially struck by one of the 12 ways to care for introverts: "Give them time to think; don't demand instant answers." Because introverts process through internal conversation and thought, that's especially important. I know it doesn't work to push John for instant decisions or responses.

On the other hand, one of the 10 ways to care for extroverts is: "Allow them to explore and talk things out." Yes! That is how we process—by talking it out with others. When I hear myself describe a situation, or when someone else comments on it, I can see solutions that I hadn't seen before. And John knows that when I throw out ideas, they may well not be the final answer to something. I'm just thinking out loud.

One isn 't bad and one, good. They're simply different ways of processing information. And it's good to know that about each other.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Extroverts & introverts

Sometimes Facebook can be a wasteland and a time-sucker. Other times, it yields up news I hadn't heard, inspirational quotes that help me through my day and wonderful connections with someone I hadn't seen in years.

Recently I saw an interesting post that included two columns. One column listed 10 things with the heading "How to care for extroverts," and the other column listed 12 things with the heading "How to care for introverts." (No, I don't know why introverts had 12 things, not 10!)

Even though officially on the Myers-Briggs, I have shifted from the extrovert column just barely over into the introvert column at this stage of my life, my fiancé tells me I act like an extrovert. That I do—mostly. And he is, without any question, an introvert. So when I saw this post, I printed it out. It's really helpful as I think about how we respond to each other. The two types are quite different in what they need and what motivates them. It's really about the source of our energy: whether it comes from inside us (through time spent quietly and alone) or from outside (in relationship with others). What energizes you most? Time alone? Or time with others?

For example, one of the points in the extrovert column is, "Respect their independence." Oh, yes, that's extremely important to me. And one in the introvert column is "Respect their need for privacy"—very important for someone like my fiancé.

This posting is a good reminder to me of differences—and respecting them. Vive la difference!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Life lessons from the dying

People who are staring death right in the eye often have great insights to share. American journalist and National Public Radio host Scott Simon shares some of his mother's wisdom from her dying words in his new book Unforgettable: A Son, a Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime.

One of the things he said especially struck me: "She said I should spend more time talking to people in their 80s because, I will never forget this phrase, 'They have looked across the street at death for a decade. They know what's really important in life.' She would have wanted me to share that."

"They have looked across the street at death for a decade." That is powerful. You just know that viewing death from that proximity and for that length of time would boil down so much of life to its true essence—to the bare essentials. At least for those willing to learn the lessons, the extraneous would have been let go. The truly important would be treasured and savored. Perhaps amends would have been made and forgiveness occurred. Words of love would have been spoken. And more.

Simon summed up his mother's wisdom at the end of his book: "Write thank you notes. Tip well. Sing. Drink responsibly. Remember that good manners cost nothing, and open doors. Reach out to someone who is lonely. Make them laugh. Help people smile."

Indeed. We can each learn from that.

Monday, June 22, 2015

A tip to comfort you

Fear and anxiety can sometimes take over our lives—threatening to derail us from moving ahead. We've talked before in these blogs about looking fear directly in its eye rather than acting as though it's not there. Face it head-on. Generally, when you do that and really examine fear, it goes from gorilla-size down to kitty-size. It's much more manageable.

Examining it means asking questions such as "What specifically am I afraid will happen?" and "If that does happen, what might that mean for me?" "What will I do if that does happen?" "Can I handle it? Can I get help to handle it?" Take it apart piece by piece, and often you'll find that you really do feel more confident about facing whatever it is. And you'll see that some of the fear and anxiety is totally irrational.

However, sometimes we just need to comfort ourselves so we can regain the energy to deal with the situation. Recently, I learned a method of doing that. Sit comfortably in a chair with your feet on the floor and hands in your lap. Hold the thumb of your left hand with your right hand, surrounding it completely, and do deep breathing for several minutes. Our thumbs are our "comfort digit" since that's the finger little ones typically suck on when they want to comfort themselves. Concentrate on your breath and just comfort that thumb. This can have a calming effect for you—and you'll be ready to face whatever lies ahead.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Reducing stress

We're so aware these days of our increasing stress levels. We're also aware of multiple ways to decrease and handle our stress. Exercise, we're told, is a good way to handle stress—and it has the additional benefits of keeping us flexible and even helping with weight loss or maintenance. Deep breathing is another method.

Then there's meditation. I often have clients tell me, "But I can't sit still for any length of time without having thoughts run through my mind." I can't either. I've tried several times—and generally I experience what's called "monkey mind" where the mind races from one thought to the next like monkeys leaping from tree to tree. However, I have to say that just sitting quietly and noticing the thoughts float by still has good effect. My mind doesn't have to go blank for me to slow my breathing and relax more fully.

For those of us that aren't as inclined to sit quietly and still our minds, there are many other options that include walking meditation, tai-chi type movements and more. In fact, just Google "mindfulness meditation" and see all the possibilities.

A friend of mine takes training sessions from an organization called Capacitar, that promotes energy-based healing practices particularly for people who have experienced trauma. The practices are appropriate and good for anyone, however. And the Capacitar website has a section where you can download what they call an emergency kit of practices. You may want to check this out and try some of these to see whether you find the calming effect for which you're looking.

If you're seeking to reduce stress, just know there are many ways to do that. Keep looking until you find what works for you. If you'd like a conversation about this, I invite you to contact me.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Just walk away

"You should calmly walk away from a heated discussion when the words being traded cease being reasonable. Getting burned by someone's vitriol can only happen if they are successful enough to ensnare you in their little corner of the world."

This is another saying by the inspirational author Dodinsky that really speaks to our power to choose—not unlike the saying quoted in yesterday's blog.

Have you ever gotten into an argument that turned circular—and you could see it was going nowhere but down? Yes, me too. Or it turned nasty very quickly—and you were on the receiving end of some awful spewing? Best to just walk away when that happens. Don't get caught into a web of toxicity.

Always remember: You get to choose. Whether it's about who your friends are, how they treat you or about getting ensnared in negative, dead-end arguments and behavior, you can choose what's healthy for you. You can choose what's life-giving—and what's not. Again, it's the power to choose. And it's yours.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

You have the power to choose

"Allowing people inside your life is a beautiful thing. Letting go of people who drain your spirit is another beautiful thing you can do for your life. The key to being happy is knowing you have the power to choose what to accept and what to let go."

These powerful words come from the inspirational author Dodinsky. And while they seem pretty straightforward, I'm not sure we always see ourselves as having choices when it comes to what (or whom) we let into our lives or don't.

It's really about setting boundaries for ourselves. Boundaries are similar to fences. We create them as a way of using our "power to choose" what (and whom) to accept and not accept into our lives. Setting boundaries requires us to first decide what behavior and type of talk we will (and will not) allow into our lives. Then we also get to decide what we will do once someone says or does a thing we have decided not to allow into our lives. This consequence isn't about being punitive or manipulative. It simply states the consequence of someone crossing that boundary line.

It's just important to know that we don't have to allow someone in who is toxic and drains our spirit. And, yes, it's beautiful to allow people inside your life. Just be sure to create boundaries for yourself. You do have the power.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

'To be known'

Yesterday I blogged about telling our life stories to family. Because I had been thinking about that, something in the novel I'm currently reading really jumped out at me.

I'm reading The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. In the first chapter, one of the two sisters around whose lives this fictional book revolves, says of the mother her son knows, "He loves a version of me that is incomplete. I always thought it was what I wanted: to be loved and admired. Now I think perhaps I'd like to be known."

Fascinating, I think. Truly, our children typically know only a small part of who we really are. They know a different person from the one our closest and dearest friends know. A different person from the one our siblings know.

That's as it should be, particularly when our children are young. We don't necessarily need them to know some of the shenanigans we pulled when we were young!

But do you ever wish, as you get older, that your children (and/or grandchildren) knew a little more about your deepest values, passions and thoughts? Would you like them to know more about you? If you answer "yes" to that, find some ways that you can reveal more of yourself. It may even mean dropping some masks or armor. Are you ready to do that?

Monday, June 15, 2015

How will you tell your story?

I've been thinking a lot lately about telling my life story to my family—my sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren. Because I'm a writer, I'd love to write it out. I'm not sure exactly when this will happen as my plate seems full enough at present. But it's on my wish list of things I'd like to do. It's not because my life has been so extraordinary but more that I realize they know only a tiny part of me. And it's their history and legacy, too.

And so I've been thinking about the difference in how we tell our life stories. That brings to mind Dawna Markova's book I Will Not Die an Unlived Life: Reclaiming Purpose and Passion. In it she speaks of two ways we tell our stories: We can tell them as "river stories" or as "rut stories."

As you might imagine, rut stories numb us. Picture yourself stuck in a rut, believing that what you've always been and done is exactly what you'll always be and do—leaving no room for change or transformation.

Then there are river stories, which are energizing and carry us forward toward possibility just like a river flowing onward regardless of obstacles in its way.

It's really a matter of focus, isn't it? We can focus on life's pain and problems, making that the centerpiece of our story. Or we can focus on possibilities and promise, looking at all the gifts and blessings in our life. This doesn't mean we deny or ignore the pain and problems. It means we look beyond them to notice life's blessings—which means we more readily notice those that have been there all along.

How will you tell your story?

Friday, June 12, 2015

You & the Grand Canyon

Have you ever visited the Grand Canyon? It is truly something to behold—277 miles long, 18 miles wide at points and more than a mile deep. The canyon is simply breath-taking in scope and grandeur. Debates exist as to exactly how it was formed, but it's likely a combination of natural forces that include volcanic activity, tectonic plate shifting and erosion from a variety of water sources such as rivers, streams and ocean.

Your own growth and personal development as you proceed through life is not unlike that of the formation of this canyon. You are shaped and transformed by a variety of events and situations in your life that can wear away your rough edges, soften your heart and open up new channels of insight and seeing. It's quite amazing, really, to think about your life shaped in a similar way to earth's wonders. I certainly see that in my life.

Sometimes it's the painful situations that most shape us. Other times, it is the love of another that fuels our growth just as rain and warm sunshine brings plants to life in the springtime. Mostly, however, it's really a combination of those things.

And the result? Something truly amazing to behold! Celebrate yourself today. Celebrate the ways you have been shaped by the blessings in your life—and by those things you never would have wished to experience.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Open up to surprising gifts

Whether you are a praying person or someone who puts intentions out to the universe, you no doubt have had the experience of something very different landing on your doorstep as the answer. It's really important to be open to such surprises. Often things happen to us that have the desired result but look nothing like what we had expected.

I've had that happen recently. And it's such a reminder to me to remain open—open to surprises, open to gifts in unexpected packages, open to gifts even in circumstances I didn't want.

That's easier said than done, however, isn't it? It's pretty normal and human to have expectations that get fairly specific. But I find that those often lead to some huge disappointments. When I can stay open to "receive the gift I'm given rather than the one I'd hoped to have," as author Paula D'Arcy puts it, I'm so much better off. I see the larger picture. I can find gifts embedded even in difficult situations. And sometimes, just maybe, what I receive is even better for me than what I'd wanted in the first place.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Wisdom from a new widow

A video of Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO, went viral recently. In it Sandberg speaks candidly about the sudden death of her beloved husband while they were on vacation not so long ago. It's a moving video and includes so many life lessons that simply need no explanation.

I recommend you watch the video, but I'll summarize just a few of the points. It's always true that we learn so many life lessons from our grief, pain and disappointments. But we also learn from others who are so open about their own grief and pain. And Sandberg is just that.

She said a rabbi friend of hers once said something that now makes so much sense to her as she tries to make the most of each day and find the meaning. Here's what her friend said: "Let me not die while I am still alive." Ah, yes, such good advice. Better to stay awake and aware.

Sandberg says that she understands in a new way what it means to be a mother, both as she tries to comfort her own children and as her mother holds her and makes space for Sandberg's tears even when she (her mother) has her own pain.

The new widow shares ideas of what to say and not say to grieving people—and that's important to hear. Well-meaning people can say some extremely hurtful things. One thing she says is to not insist that everything will be OK but to acknowledge that, in fact, things really are not OK right now. And rather than ask, "How are you?" she advises asking, "How are you today?" Further, she says when you're grieving, let people in. Be vulnerable. Grief is much easier shared than borne alone.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Speak your appreciation

For some reason lately I've thought a lot about how we as women support and encourage one another—or not. Certainly, we see plenty of examples daily or weekly of women cutting one another down, being critical and judgmental. At our best, however, we know how to build up, encourage and support one another. We know how to speak our gratitude and encouragement, but do we take the time?

So when I read this in one of last week's daily readings in Mark Nepo's The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have, I took notice:

"Meditate on what these statements mean to you, and then speak them to a loved one:
• "I appreciate you and your heart.
• "I want the channel of heart to be wide open between us.
• "I make a promise to you that if misunderstandings or conflicts should grow between us, I will share them with you directly and not let them build or grow in a hidden way.
• "I would count the same promise from you as a blessing."

I imagined how much my relationships and friendships might deepen if I spoke such words to those I love and care about. I often think about how much I appreciate someone. But do I stop and take the time to tell them? Do I speak the words? Thinking them is a great start—but I need to take that next step and speak the words.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Your choice

I don't know about you, but it's not easy for me to let go of deep friendships. Yet there have been times in my life when I've had to do just that ... for any number of reasons.

Most often it occurred because a friendship was draining to my spirit—or toxic for me. This is not a judgment against the other person. That person may have been a perfectly good person. We just didn't work well together.

Sometimes our hangups or worst traits as friends might hook each other. A relationship simply may not work and may be unhealthy for you—and probably for the other person, too.

The thing to remember is that you have the power to choose what to accept and what to let go. You get to choose what's best for you without it being a judgment on the other person. As we've said often in these blogs, who and what we surround ourselves with is important to how healthy we're able to be. What we take in and what we live around affects how we see and experience life. It affects who we are and how we act.

Sad as it may be to discontinue a friendship, it's wise to take stock occasionally and see how healthy your friendships are. Sometimes there are issues that can be addressed and fixed. Sometimes, that isn't possible. And then you must choose: accept or let go of the friendship.

Friday, June 5, 2015

How you age matters

"Age doesn't matter. What matters most is how you age, and how you spend the time in between," says author Ritu Ghatourey.

In our culture, that quote seems almost counter-cultural. Our society celebrates youth—and you can hardly see a magazine on the newsstand that doesn't contain articles on how to remove wrinkles, shore up a sagging body, and keep that youthful figure and appearance.  There aren't many media messages that celebrate aging.

You and I can live in a counter-cultural way, however. We can enjoy our aging process. We can celebrate it. We can spend our time in gratitude for the abilities we still have, for the life experiences we have had, for the people in our lives—in other words, for all that has been, all that is, and all that's yet to come. We can see the glass half-full rather than half-empty. We can age well—aging both gracefully and gratefully.

Doing so means tending to the letting go process: letting go of attitudes and resentments that no longer serve us. And it means also tending to the grief process for those abilities and things we may have lost as we age. Once we have grieved such losses, we can let them go—and move on to celebrate the life and abilities we do have.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Life's give-and-take

I've heard it said that when you help someone up a hill, you get that much closer to the top yourself. That's just a lovely side benefit of helping others when they face challenges, isn't it?

So many opportunities exist all around us to help others—whether it's actual, physical help (moving someone, taking meals to shut-ins, working at a soup kitchen) or whether it's encouragement and support as someone goes through a difficult stage of life (perhaps sending a card, making a phone call, paying a visit). We can all remember times when we have been on the receiving end of such help and support. We know how much our load was lightened in the process.

What we don't always think about is what a mutual "transaction" this can be. When we are on the receiving end, we sometimes feel extremely vulnerable. We don't always like how that feels. We don't like to be what we call beholden to others. However, by allowing them to help us, we give them an opportunity to feel good about helping. Someone else gets to feel needed and to get that much closer to the top of the hill, too!

No matter whether you're giving or receiving help up a hill, remember that both of those are important and contain gifts for giver and receiver.

Any hills to climb today?

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Environment matters

Remember the verse "Children Learn What They Live"? Although I haven't seen it on posters or in magazines for a long time, I still have a coffee mug containing it. I discovered it in the back of my cupboard yesterday and thought the wisdom it contains is evergreen and needs to be lifted up again and again.

It starts out, "If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn. If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight." The next few lines have more negatives, and then it switches to positives such as living with tolerance, encouragement, praise and more, finally ending with: "If a child lives with acceptance and friendship, he learns to find love in the world."

How true this is. I submit that it's not only true for raising children (and that really IS important) but it's also true in our adult lives. If we surround ourselves with negative, critical people and fill our minds with negative news, TV shows and other influences, we'll become negative and critical. We'll look for and expect the worst in others.

But if we hang out with positive, grateful people who freely show approval, acceptance and appreciation, we will be that way, too. This also means making choices about what media messages and images we allow to fill our minds. Truly, our surroundings matter. Our environment matters—whether we're raising children or grandchildren or whether we're raising ourselves!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A different view

Ever since Memorial Day more than a week ago, I've thought a good deal about the sacrifices of the men and women who serve in our military. Memorial Day was designed to remember those who have died while serving their country.

Lately, however, I've wondered just how narrowly that might be defined. Is it possible to broaden the intent of that day of remembrance?

When I reflect on it, I'm so aware of many men and women whose bodies have returned home from war—but whose hearts, souls and minds aren't fully back home. Perhaps they suffer from PTSD. Maybe the memories of war caused them to commit suicide once they returned home. For whatever reason, many remain casualties of war even though they're back home with their families. In fact, a 2013 article cites statistics saying that the number of returned soldiers who committed suicide exceeded the number of those killed in a war zone in 2012.

I don't mean to take away from the fact that we honor our war dead. Memorial Day is an important time to do that. I just wonder if it might be time to recognize that there are many ways to die—slowly and piece by piece, or even by suicide—when the memories of what's been experienced are just too horrendous. Perhaps it's a time when we can take a different view rather than narrowing our definitions.

To me, this is just one more example of the complexity of life—and of life being both/and rather than being either/or and so clear cut.

Monday, June 1, 2015

The 'unretirement years'

Retirement is looking mighty different these days. So much has changed in the last few decades. Not only are we living longer so we have more years to be retired, but retirement savings and pension plans aren't what they seemed to be.

We can either decry the situation and grumble about how unfair life is. Or we can look at these changes to see the adventure and possibilities embedded in them. Yes, I'm fully aware that this depends completely on our health and well-being. For those who struggle with poor health, engaging in a new career isn't possible. And dealing with illness and fewer financial resources can be scary, there's no doubt about it.

But if you don't face health issues, retirement years could be a time to take on new dreams and challenges. It's a time to look at your bucket list or those dreams you kept in your pocket for decades while you worked at the job or career that simply paid the bills. What had you always wanted to do and never could? Can you do that now? Are there parts of it that could take expression now in your retirement years? What do you love doing that could be turned into a part-time (or full-time) encore career?

There are many resources and groups out there these days, too. Simply Google "second or third careers" or "encore career" and see all the resources that pop up. Many are calling these the "Unretirement years." So many options exist—and who knows, perhaps there's something calling your name that no one else has even thought to try yet. This is a time for exploration—a time to brainstorm all the possibilities. Go ahead—have some fun with it! And if you haven't yet retired but look forward to it, you can start dreaming now.