The Shame of Shaming

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. – Eleanor Roosevelt

We are ALL guilty of being judgmental. We look at someone or something and immediately form an opinion. Negative opinions, combined with a blatant disregard for the feelings of others (i.e. lack of empathy), morph into shaming and bullying – an occurrence fueled by the media and exacerbated by the Internet.

I believe our minds are hard-wired to be judgmental. Indeed, without the ability to judge between good and bad – or safe and unsafe -- our ancestors would’ve ended up being dinner instead of successfully procuring dinner.

Yet the same ability to judge what is a friend and what is a foe also turns us into critics and even bullies. For some reason, bullying and shaming give us satisfaction and make us feel good about ourselves – even superior -- which is why certain people continue to do it well into adulthood. And it becomes highly disturbing when shaming seeps into the public domain.

The Internet is filled with examples of public shaming, from the way someone looks (too fat, too skinny, too young, too old, too many wrinkles, too differently abled) to the way someone dresses, sings, thinks, loves, acts, speaks, drives, writes, believes, lives … there are no lack of examples.

I find the state of Internet shaming exhausting and anxiety provoking. It’s too easy to shame anonymously, and destroy someone else’s spirit with negativity. Just reading comments posted to even the most benign articles or photos is nauseating.

So what do we do? Two thoughts come to mind.

First, while I believe we are all born with judgmental tendencies, I also believe parents have the responsibility to teach their children to control their urge to bully and shame. I equate it to toilet training. As babies, we all love to pee anywhere at anytime, but as we grow up, we understand there’s a time AND PLACE to pee. If we can train our kids to pee and poop in a toilet, we can train them to take the high road when it comes to curbing their inclination to shame. We can teach young people how to be nice by modeling the way.

Second, if we are shamed, it is our choice to embrace the negativity OR let it go and consider the source. It is difficult NOT to be hurt by mean words. Believe me, as a casualty of bullying in elementary school and junior high, I still carry those hurtful memories. But I certainly have never let them define me. I can’t control what negative energy spews from others, but I certainly can control how to react to it. And I will never let it consume me.

I encourage you to be less judgmental as you navigate your own journey. Turning shaming thoughts into empathy creates more positive energy in your life. And if you find yourself the target of negative comments, don’t internalize them. Continue to be your own best friend.

Most importantly, don't let the negativity of others become the soundtrack of your life. That would be a shame. 

Smartphones Are Holding Relationships Hostage

Wherever you are, be all there. – Jim Elliot

It’s fascinating to me how technology changes behavior.

A syndicated article by Chandra Johnson of the Deseret News focused on the new social norms surrounding smartphones, and the changing rules of electronic etiquette.

The reporter mentioned that when telephones were first introduced, society worried that a family would never again be able to eat dinner again without being interrupted by a ringing phone.

And I remember meeting that challenge in the 1980s and 1990s with the “no answering the phone during dinner” rule.

That social shift pales in comparison to today’s smartphone intrusions, which seriously threaten to suck the soul out of both professional and personal relationships. I don’t want to come off as an old, cranky Baby Boomer, and I am the first to admit that my smartphone is stuck to me like glue. And that I am, in fact, addicted to checking email, texts, Facebook, Twitter and Words With Friends on a frighteningly regular basis.

Yet it is increasingly obvious that instead of people controlling their cell phones, their cell phones are controlling them. And relationships are suffering.   

This societal phenomenon is the topic of a book by Sherry Turkle, the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. According to the New York Times Book Review, “Reclaiming Conversation” makes “a compelling case that children develop better, students learn better and employees perform better when their mentors set good examples and carve out spaces for face-to-face interactions.”

And, I would add, when people PUT AWAY THEIR DEVICES while they are holding their face-to-face interactions. Busy or not, looking at your cell phone while you are involved in a conversation with a friend, co-worker, child, parent or loved one is a sign of disrespect. It feels like the activity on the other end of the device is way more important than what the person across the table is saying.

In fact, nothing is more off-putting than to hold a conversation with someone who keeps looking at his or her phone. When I am with people, I want them to be PRESENT, to hold their full attention, to be respected, to be important. I want to MATTER to them.

I often wonder how today’s technology will impact the toddlers, children, adolescents and young adults coming of age. Will they know HOW to hold a conversation? Will they ever look at the sky in wonder? Will they notice nature’s beauty around them?

I truly believe that you can’t be present with another person when you are continually checking your phone. And being present is so crucial when you are connecting with others. As I watch families in a restaurant stare at their phones, see young people walk through a mall or cross a street with their eyes glued to their screens, wonder how many lovers make the phone their third partner in bed – I can’t help but wonder where we go from here.

For me, I plan to work HARD at being present with others and keeping the phone tucked away when I am in meetings or dining out with friends. I will invoke the “no looking at the phone during dinner” rule, except to take a selfie, of course. If I do need to check my phone, I will ASK PERMISSION from the other person – a sign of respect.

The time has come to disengage from electronics and re-engage with each other. It’s a matter of respect, civility – and humanity.

The Power of Gratitude

Every day is a gift … just waiting to be unwrapped. – Lori Baker-Schena

It is one thing to EXPRESS gratitude and quite another to PRACTICE gratitude. Expressing gratitude is a transient activity, while practicing gratitude is life changing.

My gratitude journey began about 22 years ago, at age 36, right after the birth of my son.

A little background: I believe the 30s are a particularly challenging decade because we often find ourselves raising children while juggling a demanding career and aging parents – all without the wisdom that only time and experience bring. At age 36, I felt the suffocating stress of a life out of balance. The stress led to anxiety, many sleepless nights and endless worry.

And then a friend recommended a book by Sarah Ban Breathnach called “Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy,” first published in 1995.

The book changed my life because it taught me how to practice gratitude. And as the title suggests, it is simple: No matter how lousy your day is, no matter how sad or depressed you are, take the time before you go to sleep to write down five things you are grateful for – every single night.

This simple exercise is life changing because it forces your mind to shift into a positive place, whatever your situation. Even through my stress and anxiety, I had a plethora of things to be grateful for, big and small. My health. My freedom. My cozy bed. My supportive students. Flush toilets. The ability to walk and talk. Pizza.

Eventually, the nighttime habits of expressing gratitude become part of a daytime routine – from morning until night.

Practicing gratitude helps you shift away from a “victim” mentality to a positive space. For the past 22 years, I have NEVER asked the question “Why Me?” Crap is everywhere – bad bosses, lousy drivers, ill health, money problems, relationship issues, family challenges. But focusing on the positive of any situation, truly seeing the blue sky through the dark clouds, brings joy and strength.

And believe me, practicing gratitude is fortifying. A decade later, when I lost both my siblings to disease and my father to Alzheimer’s, when I heard the devastating words “You’ve got cancer,” I stumbled but did not fall. Because I realized despite the loss, despite the hardships, despite the fear – every day is a gift, just waiting to be unwrapped.

So I encourage you to start practicing gratitude. It takes a few minutes a night, and then one day you realize it has become automatic. And joy starts seeping in during the most unexpected times of your life.

What Are YOUR Midyear Resolutions?

Though no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending. – Carl Bard

I would like to suggest a new tradition: Midyear Resolutions. Everyone is all fired up in January to start the year with a clean slate. Yet somehow between January and June, these New Year’s resolutions fizzle out and are often forgotten.

Yet resolutions, or personal commitments, are vital when pursuing our passion. They keep us on track, motivated and ready to continue the journey. Indeed, living a joyful, fulfilling life is a beautiful marathon, not a sprint. And you want to be in it for the long haul. I know I do.

So how do you capture that New Year vitality? I suggest making some Midyear Resolutions and sticking to them.

Don’t set yourself up for failure by being over-ambitious. Keep your resolutions realistic, simple and doable. Use this midyear moment to re-energize your life and your journey.

Here are a few suggestions:

·      Be more present in the moment. When you are with a friend or loved one, be WITH him or her. Don’t be thinking about other things you need to do, or problems you need to solve.

·      Identify one thing you have been procrastinating about and GET IT DONE. Whether it is scheduling a doctor’s appointment, organizing your closet, scheduling lunch with a friend, flossing or painting your kitchen, take the steps TODAY to make it happen.

·      Do one healthy thing for yourself. If you find yourself drinking too much wine at the end of the day, cut out a glass. If you need to start exercising again, join a gym, get to a gym or simply take a walk. But MOVE.

·      Start a project that will bring joy to your life. If you have always wanted to take up ice-skating, baking or stamp collecting, figure out how to begin – and then, just do it.

·      Reach out to a friend with whom you haven’t spoken in more than a year. Even a text or email is appreciated.

·      Update your resume – even if you are happy in your job. You never know when you may need a new biography.

·      Stop worrying about your problems for a day, and volunteer for an organization that needs your help – whether it is working with small children, running a race to raise money for a medical condition, or visiting an assisted-living facility. Giving from your heart puts all of your issues into perspective.

·      Take time to daydream. What would make your life sweeter? How do you get there?

·      Stop being so cynical and start choosing joy.

·      Really commit to your gratitude journal, writing down five things you are grateful for EVERY NIGHT.

·      Take a break from electronics. Devote a meal, or a chunk of time, where you do not interact with something that needs a battery. The world can wait. Your peace of mind is more important.

·      Tell the people in your life that you love them. We don’t say those three precious words enough.

·      Remember that every day is a gift. Wake up every day with a smile, grateful that you are ALIVE on this beautiful earth.

·      Worry less. Laugh more.

It is mid-July, midyear 2016. Time to re-energize and continue on your passion path. 


The Dangers of Trying to be Perfect


Striving for excellence motivates you. Striving for perfection is demoralizing.– Harriet B. Braiker

Are you a perfectionist? Does everything have to be perfect before you are happy?

If this describes you, then you are setting yourself up for failure, because no one is perfect … thank goodness.

Can you imagine a world without mistakes? Not only would it be boring, but none of us would grow. As Harriet Braiker says, striving for excellence can motivate you to achieve great things. But trying to be perfect? You will be disappointed every minute of every day.

What drives some of us to attempt perfection 24/7? A more insightful question would be, why are we so afraid of making mistakes?

It all comes down to the fear of being judged by others. We feel that if we are perfect, no one will criticize us. If we are perfect, we will be loved.

Yet who are you kidding? What is YOUR reaction when you meet “perfect” people who can do no wrong? Do you admire them? Maybe. Do you want to hang with them? Probably not. The joy of life is that it is messy, and unpredictable, and keeps us on our toes. Chasing the illusion that we can be perfect is depressing, and a waste of time.

I’ve made SO MANY MISTAKES throughout my life. Typos, wrong test answers, choosing the wrong food on the menu – not to mention my kitchen disasters. But I wouldn’t be Lori Baker-Schena without those missteps. They are a part of me. They define me.

So how do you kick the perfection habit? Henrik Edberg provides six great suggestions in The Positivity Blog:

http://www.positivityblog.com/index.php/2015/09/17/perfectionism-habits/

1.     Go for good enough. This isn’t an excuse to slack off from a project. But it does help you avoid procrastination by trying to be perfect. Embrace your “good enough” by striving for your “personal best” and then moving on to the next project.

2.     Realize that you hurt yourself and the people around you by buying into the myths of perception.  If you continually try to be perfect, you are setting unrealistically high expectations that can only lead to disappointment and pain for everyone involved. It is in your power to stop this pain.

3.     Accept that you are human and so is everyone else. Life is messy and unpredictable. And the ability to cope with these challenges makes us human.

4.     Compare yourself to yourself. Stay internally motivated and focus on improving your personal best. Avoid trying to live up to the external pressures of what is perceived as perfect. It is a no-win situation.

5.     Do what you think is the right thing. Be guided by your own compass.

6.     Surround yourself with others who also understand the dangers of perfectionism. Spend more time with people who don’t stress about being perfect – they, too, just want to do their very best.

Give yourself a break and stop trying to be perfect. It’s a more joyous, less stressful way to live.

Body Language Speaks Volumes

When the eyes say one thing, and the tongue another, a practiced man relies on the language of the first. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Studies show that more than 70% of communication is nonverbal. Understanding the power of body language is as crucial as listening skills when communicating with friends, family and colleagues.

So, what does YOUR body language say about YOU? Here are some interesting tips to keep in mind when YOU are speaking:

1.     Let’s start with the handshake. Confidently stretch out your hand, look the person in the eye while you smile and give a confident yet friendly handshake that lasts only one or two seconds. Try to match the pressure of the handshake of the other person as well. You don’t want to be remembered for the wrong reasons.

2.     Look “open” rather than “closed.” This means unfold your arms, uncross your legs, do not hunch your shoulders, position your shoulders square with the other person, and widen your stance when you are standing to look more solid and sure of yourself.

3.     Keep a consistent amount of eye contact, which shows you have nothing to hide.

4.     Nod when the other person is speaking to you – this shows you are listening.

5.     Body language can help influence your emotions. If you stand up straight, shoulders back, chin up, chest out, wide stance – you will look AND feel energized. If you slouch, with your chin down and chest in, you will look and feel grim and deflated.

And here are some things to keep in mind when observing others’ body language:

1.     Check out the other person’s brow. A furrowed brow may mean confusion, fear or tension.

2.     If the other person does not keep eye contact or tends to look away, he or she may be uncomfortable with something.

3.     If the other person is tapping his or her fingers, he or she may be bored and/or anxious.

4.     Folded arms or crossed legs may indicate the other person is not fully on board with what you have to say.

5.     If the person’s feet are pointing away from you, he or she may not be interested in what you are saying.

It is so important to be PRESENT when you are listening to another speak – both in terms of listening and when observing body language. In our “smart device” society, face-to-face meetings are falling by the wayside, giving us fewer opportunities to practice being present. So when you do meet with others in person, make the most of the experience.

And practice good, effective, welcoming body language.

 


It's Not All About You

There is a huge amount of freedom that comes to you when you take nothing personally. – Don Miguel Ruiz

I’m sure these scenarios are familiar.

You are doing a great job at your company during a particularly challenging time and your boss calls you up uncharacteristically yelling and screaming because the budget is not being met or your department has a huge backlog. Your boss is all over you – criticizing, controlling, and ignoring your efforts and accomplishments.

Or you are working in retail, or in any service position, and a customer comes up to you and is just plain rude – bitching about everything. And no matter how accommodating you are, the customer cannot be pleased.

Or your dear friend, loved one or family member suddenly turns a cold shoulder to you, and does not have one nice word to say. And nothing you do is right.

What is going on?

Our first instinct is to take it personally. What did I do to cause this behavior?

And indeed, if YOU are rude, or mean, or simply don’t care if work gets done correctly, then you are directly responsible for this reaction.

Yet many times, this behavior has NOTHING to do with you, which brings me to one of my favorite quotes by Don Miguel Ruiz:

“Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”

Now don’t get me wrong. Constructive criticism should ALWAYS be welcomed. Yet when someone who is usually pleasant and positive is downright mean to you, avoid taking it personally. Instead, realize that something negative is occurring in this person’s life. Perhaps your boss is being pressured from his or her boss and is frightened and stressed. Or the customer is experiencing some personal trauma in his or her life. Or your loved one is experiencing a really bad day.

Before you jump to conclusions, and take offense and become defensive, stop for a moment and realize that it is “not all about you.” Instead, it is all about the person who is attacking. And instead of taking the attacks personally, separate out the facts from the hysteria/meanness and respond only to the facts – keep your emotions out of it.

It never feels good to be yelled at by someone else. But next time, exchange your anger for compassion and empathy. You will be surprised at the results … and you won’t believe how it takes the edge off.

And of course, if the bullying and meanness continue, it is time to find another boss, job or friend. 

Being Teachable: Opening Doors to New Opportunities

Experience teaches only the teachable. – Vernon Law

Everything we know, we learned from someone else. – John Wooden

As human beings, we are learning from day one.  Before we can run, we must learn to walk. Before we can talk coherently, we must learn to pronounce words. Before we can write, we must learn the alphabet. We spend the good part of our first two decades on a steep learning curve.

To be an effective LIFELONG learner, we must be teachable.

As we grow into adulthood, the ABILITY to learn transforms into a WILLINGNESS to learn. And attitude separates those who resist acquiring new skills from those who are truly teachable.

Some of us shut down in terms of learning for several reasons:

·      We think we know it all.

·      We are afraid to show others that we DON’T know it all.

·      The effort to learn new things becomes overwhelming.

·      We have a difficult time taking constructive criticism.

·      We are resistant to change and thus stuck in our ways.

In pursuing a life truly well lived, both personally and professionally, one of the key characteristics that is crucial to possess is a passion for learning that continues until the day you take your last breath. And this passion goes hand-in-hand with the ability to be “teachable.” To open your heart and your mind to learning something new keeps the world fresh, enhances your ability to land new jobs and opportunities, and gives you the strength to overcome the fear of the unknown.

I have witnessed thousands of students expand their skills exponentially because of their willingness to learn new concepts and their ability to take constructive criticism (and my red pen). And these students continued to succeed in their career because of their willingness to be “teachable.”

When we stop being “teachable,” we become stuck. When we don’t take good, valuable advice from our friends or colleagues, we become stuck. When we stop asking questions, and stop learning, we become stuck.

My passion for learning has resulted in three degrees, three separate careers and the courage to start a new chapter in my life in my mid-50s.

Where will your teachable attitude take YOU? When you are teachable, there are no limits. And it all starts with the willingness to learn.

 

Living Kindness Every Single Day

In life, you can never do a kindness too soon because you never know how soon it will be too late. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Every single time I unload groceries from my shopping cart into my car, I think about a video from my doctorate program. The topic had something to do with character traits, and the video demonstrated different ways to show kindness and consideration – the foundation of a good leader.

The video narrative involved one man leaving his shopping cart in the middle of a parking lot, while the other man took the time to roll back the basket to the designated cart return space. Just that extra effort, which the narrator termed “an act of kindness,” makes an impact in two ways. First, it prevents the cart from slamming into other cars (which has happened to me), and second, it makes the job easier for the employee responsible for collecting the carts.

That short video changed my grocery story habit: I ALWAYS return the shopping cart. More importantly, it helps to remind me that kindness is one of the greatest gifts we can give to others.

I fear it is a gift that, more often than not, is in short supply. It appears that in our hectic, 24/7, digital life, we have no time for kindness. It is run, run, run and get things done. Many of us do not possess the patience to be kind. Others don’t seem to have the temperament. And being kind takes time.

Back to the grocery store. I remember a particularly busy day with long check-out lines, when I found myself directly behind an elderly woman painstakingly writing out a check. I could feel the people in back of me slowly losing their minds. Some even started making comments. I, too, had no time to spare, but my empathy for this woman eclipsed my need to get back to my life. Why? Because some day that will be me, if I am lucky enough to live that long.

So I simply smiled at her, smiled at the checker, and transformed my impatience into patience and my snarky thoughts to kindness. And I felt so much better than letting this small moment raise my blood pressure.

Extending kindness makes ME feel so good that I constantly look for ways to create a connection with the people I encounter, no matter how fleeting. If I notice someone can’t reach an item on a top shelf, I offer to help. When I see one member of a couple or family taking photos of the rest of the group, I offer to take the entire group’s picture.

I smile at people. I strike up random conversations while waiting at concession stands. I answer email in a timely manner. I provide constructive criticism in a kind way. I listen. I am present. I write thank-you notes. I make sure the people in my life know they are loved.

I encourage you to take the time – and energy -- to be kind. In this increasingly impersonal world, where we spend more time talking to gadgets than each other, it will help YOU connect to the human race ... and pets too!

And don't forget to return your shopping cart

 


Being Happy With What We Have

Learn to appreciate what you have before time forces you to appreciate what you had. – Unknown

Apple never ceases to amaze me. The company regularly holds news conferences to introduce its next generation of shiny “must have” devices. Even if we are perfectly content with our current phones or iPads or watches, now we can purchase something even BETTER. In marketing terms, this is “creating need” for a product. In emotional terms, it reflects the distractions and advertising saturation in our lives tempting us with the “next new thing.”

Indeed, our economy runs on sales, and as a marketing/public relations professional, I COMPLETELY get it. More/newer products translate into increased sales. Why settle for only one choice of pasta when you can purchase 15 different types of noodles? Why possess only one mobile device when you can own seven? I bet you never thought about monitoring how many steps you take everyday or the quality of your sleep before the availability of wearable technology. And car manufacturers are notorious for introducing new models every year, making your current ride obsolete.

As a consequence, we never seem content with the products we already own. Instead, we are constantly yearning for something bigger, better, newer, shinier … it is a vicious cycle.

And this constant bombardment, especially on social media where keeping up with the Jones’ is taken to an entirely new level, makes many of us unhappy. We are continually reminded of what we don’t have – whether it is the “perfect” body, the “perfect” car or the “perfect” lifestyle. Few messages remind us of what we DO have.

Temptation for things we don’t have is everywhere. Without a doubt, it’s difficult to control the messages pouring out of the media, or your Facebook/Twitter/Instagram feeds. But you CAN control how you react to them.

Start by being sincerely happy for what you DO have, right now, today. Once you start taking a “gratitude inventory” of your life, you will quickly realize just how much you do possess. With gratitude as your foundation, the next step involves making the conscious choice to be happy. And in my mind, there is no excuse not to be happy.  No matter what you do or do not own, you wake up every day on our beautiful earth breathing and conscious – which, let me tell you, beats the alternative. If you are truly dissatisfied with your possessions, let it be the motivation for positive change. But be conscious of the reasons WHY you are unhappy. If it is simply because you own last year’s model, you may want to rethink your happiness quotient.

It’s okay to want the latest phone, or save up for a new car or a vacation to Europe. But in the meantime, be happy with what you currently possess. I am happy that my 5S phone does its job, I am grateful my old-school mattress still supports my back (without the need for memory foam) and I am thrilled that apps still function on my 6-year-old iPad.

I am happy. VERY happy. Although a new pasta maker would be nice ... LOL!


When You Hit The Wall, Dig Deep

“The moment when you want to quit is the moment when you need to keep pushing.” -- Unknown

Marathon runners know it. The wall. The moment during your 26.2-mile run when you feel you just can’t take one more step. It happened to ME on mile 13 during the 1993 Los Angeles marathon – one of the hottest L.A. marathon races on record. I sat down on a curb, took off my shoes and socks, stared at my bloody blisters and missing toenails, and just decided to give up.

But that moment passed, and I didn’t give up. Instead, I dug deep, really deep, and realized that I possessed the strength and determination to finish what I started. I knew the race would be painful and challenging, but I also knew that I had trained for months, gaining the skills and stamina to finish.

With every ounce of will, I put my socks back on, tied up my shoes, stood up from the curb and started putting one foot in front of the other. Step after step, mile after mile. A few hours later (since I walked the last half) I crossed the finish line.

I had hit the wall, dug deep and pushed forward.

I bring up this memory because it is relevant to all of us who are courageously pursuing our passions. In most situations, our pursuit of a better career, better relationship, better life will not be a sprint – but rather a marathon. And marathons are long. And you WILL hit “the wall.”

Sometimes it is super obvious. You wake up one morning and just want to quit. Pursing your dreams is tougher than you could’ve ever imagined, and you feel like you are taking leaps of faith without a safety net. It’s too difficult, and the easier alternative would be just to quit.

Yet other times, it isn’t obvious at all. You are pushing forward but find yourself feeling tired, cranky, unmotivated – and you are procrastinating and whining and indulging in unhealthy behaviors. That, too, is a sign that you’ve hit the wall.

And now you have two choices:

Either quit, which, in my book is NEVER an option. Give me an excuse for quitting and I will shoot it down. As long as you are breathing on this earth, there’s no excuse to quit.

Or you can dig deep and find a way to tunnel under that wall. Examine your life. Identify your fears. Ascertain your anxieties. AND SEE THE BIG PICTURE. Recapture your self-confidence, address your fears non-emotionally and objectively, figure out the little steps needed to move forward, and do not succumb to feeling overwhelmed. You CAN make it happen. You just need the WILL to make it happen.

A little bit of struggle, or even a lot, is WORTH the end result – which is a happier, more productive, more joyful life.

I suggest you dig deep and fearlessly tunnel under that wall. It is ultimately an investment worth making. Because it is an investment in YOUR life. In YOUR happiness. In YOUR joy.

The Courage to be Your Authentic Self

“It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.” – André Gide

An opinion piece by David Brooks in the New York Times, “Lady Gaga and the Life of Passion,” http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/23/opinion/lady-gaga-and-the-life-of-passion.html?_r=0 caught my imagination. The article is about living with passion, and what that REALLY means.

Brooks wrote, “People with passion have the courage to be themselves with abandon. We all care what others think about us. People with passion are just less willing to be ruled by the tyranny of public opinion.”

These people “somehow get on the other side of fear.”

I completely understand and have written extensively about the importance of letting go of fear – it does nothing to move you forward in your life goals. Yet the other side of the fear coin, and one that must be acknowledged, is the courage to truly be yourself.

Some of us are so afraid of what others think that we have NO CONCEPT of our authentic selves. This fear not only stops us from our passion, but prevents us from living an authentic life. We exist to please others, to make others like us, to gain acceptance – oftentimes at the expense of our own happiness.

The result is that we wander aimlessly trying to “find ourselves.” I am amazed and astounded about how difficult it is for some people to identify what makes them happy. We are so concerned with external approval that there is no room left for internal insight.

Courage comes in many forms. It takes courage to defend our country, to raise a family, to fight cancer and other chronic illnesses, to save a life, to move away from one’s home in search of a better life.

And it also takes an everyday type of courage to venture outside your comfort zone, to explore what really makes you happy – to discover your authentic self. And then it takes even MORE courage to actually live your authentic life, to make mistakes and learn from them, to pick yourself up again and again until you FINALLY start living your passion.

I believe that the core of my happiness comes from living my authentic life – from finding the courage to discover who I truly am and then transforming that knowledge into action. It did not happen over night, and I am still a work in progress. But simply being on the journey to an authentic life gives me endless joy. 

At the end of his opinion piece, David Brooks asks the question: “Who would you be and what would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

Answering this question is a crucial step in discovering YOUR authentic self. 


What's Holding YOU Back From Your Dreams?

Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start. – Nido Qubein

It’s a steaming hot summer day and that backyard pool looks so inviting.

You KNOW you want to take the plunge. The question is how.

Should you slowly slip in the water, inch by inch? Or are you cannonballing off the diving board? Whichever way you choose, one thing is for certain: You WILL get wet.

Mission accomplished.

I equate risk-taking with entering a swimming pool. Some people are cautious, and others are ready to dive right into the deep end. And still others need a push.

And some individuals, for various reasons, never get wet – choosing instead to sit on the sidelines and simply watch the fun, rather than be in the mix.

Who are you? If you are sitting on the sidelines, afraid to get your feet wet, what’s holding you back from taking the plunge?

I believe it all comes down to two things:

  1. Fear
  2. Lack of a clear vision

We naturally fear the unknown. How cold will the water be? Will I be able to swim? Will I get chlorine in my eyes? Did someone pee in the pool? The best way to conquer the fear of the unknown is to drill down and identify ALL of your fears. Write them down and then take the time to figure out if they are legitimate. Don’t let fears steal your future. Address them head on, and keep moving forward.

If you can’t swim (a metaphor for not possessing the skills to pursue your dreams), then make a commitment to get some training. LEARN TO SWIM.

If you are afraid to get chlorine in your eyes, wear protective gear. In real life, protective gear is a Plan B. And did someone pee in the pool? You can’t control other people’s actions – just your own. So take a good long shower when you leave the pool, and let go of what you can’t control. And is the pool cold? Stick your toe in first and find out.

And if you lack a clear vision, you still can enter the pool – just do it slowly, taking baby steps until your vision becomes clearer. The most important baby step is making a STRONG commitment to getting unstuck, and DISCOVER YOUR PASSION. Then follow through.

Stop holding yourself back from your dreams. Enough already.

Time to get into the pool. The water feels GREAT.


What We Lose By Overcommitting

Love your parents. We are so busy growing up, we often forget they are also growing old. – Unknown

 

My initial idea for this week’s blog post focused on the dangers of living an overscheduled, overcommitted, can’t-say-no life. And I speak from experience: I am the Queen of Busy.

So I sat down at my computer, fully prepared to provide a list of tips. Then I realized the Internet is filled with strategies to cope with the temptation to overcommit. These include learning to prioritize, letting go of meaningless guilt when you do say no to a request and improving your time management strategies. You don’t need me for that.

Instead, the above quote about our parents struck a chord with me, as it highlighted the bigger issue of what we LOSE by living an overcommitted life. A “crazy-busy” schedule, in addition to greatly contributing to worry, stress and anxiety, prevents us from appreciating the truly precious miracle of being alive.

One of the dangers of being so busy is that we forget how to live in the present. And by focusing on “doing” rather than “being” 24/7, we miss precious opportunities that make life meaningful.

For example, how many times to you wake up in the morning panicked by your jam-packed schedule that day: the deadlines, the meetings, the money issues, the relationship problems. The first thing on your mind is: How can I just get through this day in one piece?

And what are you missing? The chance to wake up and simply be GRATEFUL and THANKFUL that you woke up – to be present in the simple miracle that you are breathing and alive. According to 2012 statistics, 6,775 Americans EACH DAY will not be so lucky.

And being overcommitted takes you away from the things that truly matter, like spending real quality time AND BEING PRESENT with the people you love – your parents, your kids, your friends, your family members. Being present means eliminating all of the distractions in your life – from your electronics to your stress – and enjoying the moment.

Indeed, while you are busy living your life, your parents – if you are lucky enough to have them – aren’t getting any younger. Some day you won’t be able to call them on the phone, hang out at the dinner table, tell them about your day, share a photo or enjoy a joke together. And then you will realize what you missed by being overcommitted.

And some day YOU won’t be around. That is a fact. So what are you doing with your days to truly relish your short time on earth?

Even if you do find yourself overcommitted, make it a point to stop and appreciate the sun on your face, the taste of ice cream on a super hot day, the joy of your pet who missed you all day, the people in your life who make living so much sweeter.

Wake up in the morning grateful to be alive, and THEN worry about your day. Take a few minutes to call your parents, and THEN complete your deadline. Go play catch with your puppy or your toddler, and THEN answer your emails.

As John Lennon sang, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." Don't take life for granted.

Transforming Worry Into Action: It’s All About Control

Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength. – Corrie Ten Boom

Worry is as natural to me as breathing. I worry about everything, from whether I’m eating enough vegetables to whether it will rain on May 1 to whether my DVR recorded the latest episode of “Chopped” on Tuesday night.

Interestingly, I don’t worry about the bigger issues in my life – whether my cancer will return (statistically it will), whether my business will continue to thrive (historically it will) or whether my family and friends will be safe from harm’s way (prayer helps here!).

Since it is difficult to kick the worry habit, I’ve learned how to cope with this incredibly strong instinct in two powerful ways: by picking and choosing my worry “battles,” and by learning to transform my worry into action.

It is legitimate to worry about certain things because it motivates you to excel. However, it’s ridiculous to worry about other things because it just paralyzes you and often can prevent you from pursuing your life’s passions.

The differentiating factor has to do with CONTROL. How much can you CONTROL a scenario? If it is within your power to control a situation, it’s worth transforming your worry into action. And if you can’t control a situation, it’s worth letting go of your worries and getting on with your life.

For example, if you are worried about doing well on a test, this situation is in your control: you can either study harder or even find a tutor. You can translate that worry into action. So stop worrying and start studying. And if you are worried about arriving to a dinner date on time, stop worrying and give yourself enough time for traffic. And if you are worried about finding a job, stop worrying and start sending out more resumes, hone your skills, network more … cover all your bases.

On the other end of the spectrum, if you are taking a plane flight, it is SENSELESS to worry about the plane crashing – let go of the worry and leave the flying to the pilot. And it is pretty useless to worry about the price of gas (no real control), a power outage, Los Angeles traffic or the next Southern California earthquake.

The bottom line is that when you are worried about something, take a minute to determine if it is in your control or not. If it is in your control, transform your worry into action and do something about it. If it is not in your control, let it go.

My cancer may come back at some point in the future, but I am NOT going to let that fact steal my happiness TODAY. And it may rain on May 1, but then I will just pack an umbrella.

 

 

Elevate Your Journey: Take the High Road

Show respect even to people who don’t deserve it; not as a reflection of their character, but as a reflection of yours. – Dave Willis

We’ve all been there: Your boss, colleague or friend is intolerable. Instead of nurturing, he/she criticizes. Instead of being appreciative, he/she pushes your boundaries. Instead of creating a joyful, creative environment, he/she fills your world with doom.

After you come to the realization that things are not changing anytime soon, you decide to give your boss/colleague/friend a piece of your mind before heading out the door.

STOP IT. It’s time to take the high road -- even though the temptation to seek revenge or speak your mind is incredibly tempting.

Indeed, one of the most difficult things in life to do is take the high road during contentious circumstances. The natural reaction when someone is pushing your buttons, or being unreasonable or even bullying you is to respond with equal vehemence. If nothing else, it makes you feel better.

Yet what I’ve learned through the years is that you can never go wrong taking the high road – either personally or in the workplace. Not only is it an effective negotiation and coping strategy, but you will always feel secure in the knowledge that you did not stoop to someone else’s level.

Believe me when I say you have NOTHING to gain being spiteful for all the “wrongs” someone else committed. Odds are, the offending person is blind to his/her behavior and has no desire for “self-enlightenment” or to improve. Getting down in the muck just to prove your point will only end up with you feeling angrier and even more powerless.

Instead, acknowledge to yourself that this person is who he/she is, and move on. Let go of the anger, TAKE THE HIGH ROAD and get on with your life. You may temporarily feel better trying to strike back at the other person, but in the long run it will do you more harm than good.

And I am not suggesting being a doormat. There are many ways to cope with an intractable person (ask me about Nonviolent Communication). But at the end of the day, when you realize you can’t change him/ her, avoid stooping down to his/her level. This not only will prove EMPOWERING, but you never know what the future will bring, and burning bridges is never a good idea.

This holds true for colleagues, friends, former friends, lovers, ex-lovers, retail workers, “customer service” representatives – EVERYONE in your life.  You will travel a lot farther on the high road than you will getting stuck in the ditch of pettiness.

 

Finding Your Passion By Reimagining Your Job

I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself. – Aldous Huxley

Sometimes it makes sense to change jobs… and sometimes it doesn’t.

As I’ve said before, if you are TRULY MISERABLE at your job, it is time to leave. However, if the timing isn’t quite right and you need to stay put, you don’t have to feel stuck. There are steps you can take to not only make it through the day, but actually start enjoying your job.

And it all begins with two key realizations:

  1. You can’t change other people. You can only change yourself.
  2. In many instances, you can’t change your job duties, but you CAN enhance them.

Changing Yourself

It’s happened to ALL of us. The snarky co-worker. The slacker on your work team. The negative boss. The IMPOSSIBLE client. And while you THINK you can change this person, don’t even bother trying. Look how difficult it is to change behavior at home, i.e. the roommate who constantly leaves dishes in the sink, the partner whose clothes NEVER make it to the laundry basket – getting a stubborn youngster to do homework. So what makes YOU think people will change all by themselves if they a) don’t want to, or b) are happily oblivious to the situation and don’t see the need to change?

So it is up to YOU to change, and it starts with your attitude. Change how you react to your colleagues. I personally try to take the high road in work situations. If someone is super critical of my work just to be mean, I SMILE and sincerely thank him or her for “helping me do better.” If a teammate refuses to do any work, I stop resenting him and start empowering him to take action. If someone is just completely miserable AND determined to make everyone else miserable, I keep smiling, never take ANYTHING personally, but on my negativity shield and move through the day. And I live in gratitude, focusing on all the positive aspects of the job.

Enhancing Your Job

If you feel stuck with limited job responsibilities, don’t hesitate to ask to work on projects that give you satisfaction – even if it means no raise or extra work. Create opportunities for yourself. Just being able to do something stimulating, as opposed to mind numbing, is gratifying and may lead to bigger things. Also, if you can, reach across departments and develop projects that both benefit the company and your own creativity. While you have never worked with the Human Resources Department, maybe you can help them plan an Employee Appreciation Event.

Think of ways to take your job to the next level, learn as much as you can … and then leave all the stress and angst at work every night so your home can be your haven.

Focusing on the positives, learning to navigate the negatives, understanding what you can and cannot control in your life – all can help you make a mediocre job better. It can serve as a sturdy bridge until the right job comes along. Or you may surprise yourself and find that you’ve started to love your job.

But the change must begin with you.

Knowing When It is Time to Change Jobs

In a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks. – Warren Buffett

Are you stuck in a job that makes you miserable? Do you wake up every day dreading the commute to work? Are Sundays beyond depressing because you know Monday morning is only a few hours away?

Let’s face it. You spend a good chunk of your life work. If you are truly miserable, stop second-guessing yourself and find another job – maybe even another profession. Enough already.

What is less clear is what to do when you feel miserable some days, and okay the next. Or when you like the job, but your colleagues are beyond annoying. Or when you LOVE your colleagues, but the workload is overwhelming and the pay underwhelming.

And what is even LESS clear is when you are STAGNANT in a job. You aren’t miserable, but you aren’t happy. You are simply comfortable and picking up a paycheck. You aren’t following your passions, but your job pays too much, or the benefits are too good, to walk away. So you toil year in and year out feeling “comfortable” – not challenging yourself, not following your dreams.

Only YOU can decide when it is time to leave a job. Sometimes it is as simple as weighing the good and the bad – if the good outweighs the bad, it may be a better idea to keep patching the boat. But if the bad outweighs the good, then your energies are better spent looking for a new ship to sail.

Whatever your decision, it is vital to keep three points in mind:

  1. People naturally FEAR change. Many people stay stuck because they are afraid to change. It is MUCH easier to stay put, which is the origin for the idiom “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.” To make a job change, you must be ready, you must be fearless and you MUST be strategic.
  2. If you are ready to change, avoid the urge to abruptly “jump ship.” Create an “exit strategy” whereby you can still survive while seeking new paths. I often recommend that there is no shame in working as a bartender, server, receptionist etc. while you are seeking another job. Making a plan is not only strategic, it takes the edge off of your miserable work days as you prepare to set sail.
  3. If you want to change CAREERS, play to your strengths. Figure out 1) what you are good at, and 2) what you love to do. And then work as hard as you can to educate yourself, strengthen your skills and explore all of the possibilities. I’ve seen people transition from lawyers to chefs, from servers to personal trainers, from newspaper journalists to teachers. The common thread: they are following their passion and finding joy every day.

If you are miserable – or just passionless and comfortable -- don’t let the fear of change stop you from switching jobs … or even careers. Own your destiny and use your talent and creativity to seek out new paths. No more excuses. It’s time to get unstuck.

 

Building Relationships Creates Community

We build too many walls and not enough bridges. – Isaac Newton

One of the many gifts of growing older is all of the relationships we make as the years pass by – both personally and professionally.  I believe humans are natural “bonders” – we bond with friends, lovers, family, significant others, our co-workers … and of course our pets. Some of these relationships nourish us, others hurt us – but the bottom line is that relationships make us human.

More often than not, our moods and our energy are directly linked to these relationships. When relationships are running smoothly, when we are being nurtured and are nurturing others, life is joyful. And when relationships go south, which happens on a regular basis, the world suddenly turns very dark.

The importance of building bridges and connecting with others during our lifetimes cannot be emphasized enough – relationships are what move us forward, give us support, lights our way … and if we are lucky enough, relationships bring us great joy.

As we move through this journey, we should take the opportunity to reach out to others and continually build new bridges while nourishing our long-time relationships. Building a community of support allows us to amplify our joyful times and strengthen our tough ones.

Building Bridges In Our Personal Lives

Three key rules:

  1. Don’t take each other for granted.
  2. Be PRESENT when you are with each other.
  3. Let respect and trust be the foundation of your relationship.

Building Bridges In Our Professional Lives

Three key rules:

  1. Be kind and generous with your time, compliments and experience.
  2. Always take the high road – no matter what the challenges.
  3. Base your relationship on mutual respect and mutual trust.

Relationships are tricky and challenging. They can bring us the highest highs, and sink us down to the depths of misery. Yet I believe that the potential for joy outweighs the risk of disappointment in any relationship – which is why we must continue to build bridges to other people, even when our natural inclination may be to build a wall.

Procrastination is Self-Sabotage

Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work. – Stephen King

We all make excuses for procrastinating – and I’ve heard them all. We make excuses for not doing the dishes, getting an oil change, calling our parents, scheduling a check-up, exercising, paying bills, starting a homework assignment, visiting the dentist, filing our taxes, updating our resume – you name it, we procrastinate.

Why do I tend NOT to procrastinate? It’s all about control. When you procrastinate and wait until the last minute, you give up control of the situation – and opportunities are lost. Two great examples: if I wait until the second an article is due to deliver it to my client, I give up the opportunity to edit the piece and make it better. If I procrastinate on making a cancer-check appointment, I give up the opportunity to detect a new tumor in its early stages. Procrastination robs me of control … and the chance to be the best (and healthiest) mother, friend, teacher, inspirational speaker and writer I can be.

When you stop procrastinating, you gain five key things:

  1. Time – Instead of letting procrastination rob you of precious time through delaying tactics (i.e. Facebook and solitaire), you can gain time for more pleasurable activities by taking care of the task TODAY.
  2. Less Stress – It is stressful to let a task hang over your head. The more you procrastinate, the higher the stress level. Who needs that?
  3. A Better Product – If you wait to the last minute to update your resume, or turn in a school or work assignment, or make a gourmet meal, you don’t give yourself the luxury of improving it before the deadline or dinnertime passes. Time is a luxury, and you can up your game by giving yourself enough time to review your work …or spice up your sauce.
  4. Improved Health – Stop procrastinating if you need to make an appointment for a check-up, or follow an exercise plan, or brush and floss your teeth regularly. As simple as it sounds, procrastination can negatively impact your health.
  5. MORE MONEY – A lot of money can be saved by shopping early for the best deals, giving yourself time to compare prices instead of waiting to the last minute, and avoiding late fees because you didn’t pay a bill on time.

Indeed, procrastination is self-sabotage – especially when you are transforming your dreams into reality. As the prolific author Stephen King says “just get up and go to work.”

Stop with the excuses. Get it done. NOW.