Stepping onto the Stage

When I was a kid I dreamed of being an actress or singer.  I held the hairbrush up to my mouth while staring into the mirror, imagining the TV show that would be centered around my life or my tour on Broadway.  Outside of a camp production of Wizard of Oz and my role as the Scarecrow, I have rarely been onstage.  I had the wonderful experience of attending George Bernard Shaw’s “Saint Joan” production by Bedlam at Duke University’s new Rubenstein Arts Center. It was a mesmerizing show that at several points, had us literally sitting on the stage.  In fact, there was no real boundary between the stage and the audience. It got me thinking. Isn’t that how life really is?  We are all on the stage but just don’t realize it.


Here are some thoughts about stepping onto the stage:

Disconnect. Part of the experience of attending a play is disconnecting from your device.  One of the actors walked across the front of the room with his device and asked that we shut off our devices.  I had already turned mine to airplane mode but when you actually turn off your device, it’s not as easy to get connected again.  I don’t do this enough.  Completely disconnect from the distraction of the latest text or email or Facebook update.  There is peace in disconnection.  I can’t imagine one of the actor’s pulling out their phone in the middle of the performance.  So why should you?

Borderless. There was no border between the action of the actors and the audience.  In the second and third acts, there were chairs on what would normally be viewed as the actual stage.  But we were all essentially in the same room without any delineation between the actors and the audience.  Life is really like that.  You never know when you might be the leading woman or the villain.  I attended a meditation last week and a woman took the chair I had set out to sit and to meditate in.  For a moment, in my mind, she was the villain.  At the end of the meditation, she apologized for taking my chair. People walk over our borders and then back out again.  Life really has no borders.  We try to buffer ourselves with a bumper, a border, a wall. They are all an imaginary construct.

Roles. There were only four actors in the play covering 24 characters.  At several points in the first act, three of the actors were swapping roles.  It was sort of mind blowing to watch three guys switch accents, body language and chairs. They were exchanging roles like the passing of a baton back and forth.  It’s amazing how at work or at home I can get enmeshed in the role of “mother” or “fixer” or “devil’s advocate”.   What if I relaxed and let someone else take on that role?  What if I found a role that I don’t usually play?  Perhaps the heroine or patient listener.  Have you switched roles lately?

Presence. There was a point where we were a couple of feet from two of the actors in the play.  I was there.  In Orleans, feeling Joan of Arc’s passion for the fight against England.  I could see her tears on her cheek and the spittle of the antagonist as he called her a heretic. Taping into the actor’s energy and really being present made me feel as if I was there in 1429. I didn’t know what time it was or what the weather was outside.  I was busy hoping that Joan could avoid the stake. Rooting for a change in history. Willing a change in destiny for this powerful heroine.  What if I brought this presence to the rest of my life? To be there now.

Impact. At the end of the play after Joan of Arc has died, we see the impact she has had on her detractors and supporters.  She speaks to each of the characters on her journey and we realize the impact she has had on each of their lives and thereafter.  How often do you take stock in the affect you have on the people in your life either past, present or future?  I am not the heroine that Joan of Arc is but I know I have had an impact.  Taking stock in the clients I have transformed through coaching, teams I have aligned through facilitation and, most importantly, my children that I have supported to achieve their dreams is humbling and fulfilling.  Take stock in the impact you have had on others and yourself.

In a life full of screen time whether it be binge watching The Crown, surfing the internet or obsessing over an unreturned text.  All of this takes you off the stage and into the audience.  Not at arm’s length.  Embrace the experience of being on the stage.  Everyday.  Show up and be.

How to Act “As If”

I was skeptical. I could get caught up in a negative spiral of waiting: For the other shoe to drop, for the inevitable to happen, for my failure at hand. I was great at worrying, awfulizing and catastrophizing. It’s easy to get sucked into the negative vortex. The “What else could possibly go wrong?” kind of thinking. I’ve been reading about the law of attraction for at least a decade. The law of attraction is basically the belief that if you truly imagine the best outcome, whether it be more money, the love of your life, or spiritual awakening, it will happen. The key is to believe. If you are skeptical, as I was, it won’t happen.


I am here to tell you I do believe, and it works wonders. I’ve been in a financial stalemate with my home for more than 16 months. I rode the roller coaster of foreclosure, bankruptcy and financial windfall for all of that 16 months. But the key to my success was the belief that I can attract the outcome I want. It wasn’t easy. I fell off the wagon a few times with a negative battle or two with the Universe. In the end, I kept acting “As If.” And I am finally over the financial hurdle that has plagued me for over a year.

Here are some ideas on how to act “As If”:

Affirmations.  I read affirmations every single morning regardless of what country I am in or how early my flight to Atlanta is. It grounds my day. I know I want to continue to be sober, to manifest money and to make a difference in people’s lives. There are affirmations all over the internet but you can start by reading The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod. He has free resources on his website. I have been reading his morning affirmations for over a year and keep adding to my list with other programs I have read or listened to. The key to any affirmation is to say it in the present tense so that it is a truth rather than a wish. My affirmation list is now four pages but you can start small! Even one or two sentences will start your day off right.

Gratitude.  I have been writing a gratitude journal for over seven years. There are a lot of ways to write a gratitude journal. I used to write three things at the end of the day. In the last year, I have been writing five things I am grateful for first thing in the morning. I have read you should write more than one word like “bacon.” It’s better to write: “I am grateful for delicious, crispy bacon.” The more detail, the better. It insinuates it into your well-being. I read recently that you should try to be grateful for a different thing for up to 21 days. I have a friend who recently told me she writes down 1,000 things she is grateful for every day. That is a challenge I have not taken on, but I imagine truly gives you a grateful heart. A grateful heart attracts more things to be grateful for.

Act. The biggest shift for me over the last year was investing in my house. This seems a bit crazy, doesn’t it? Why put in a new sidewalk or landscaping if you are expecting the mortgage company to padlock the door? This, above all else, was my biggest leap of faith. I didn’t know where I would find the money or skilled labor but I kept moving forward. The contractor would show up. The money would show up. The mortgage company would make a concession. The Universe wants me in this house. The Universe wants my dog to continue to be in the house she has grown up in. I bought the plants, I hung the pictures, I fixed the dripping sink, and made the bed every day. I act everyday “As If” this will be my forever home and it has been transformative.

Mindful. I participated in the Happiness Program from the Art of Living some nine months ago. I have been doing their meditation daily ever since. I have had several people mention that I seem so much happier. Less stressed out. That’s pretty amazing considering some of the correspondence I have received from the mortgage company. It’s a mindset. Everything will work itself out but enjoy the moment right now. My dog is next to me on the floor next to my desk. I have a wonderful cup of coffee. The sunrise has been spectacular this morning. It’s great right now. And now. And now. Be here right now and take it all in.

I am a work in progress as I assume we all are. I have had intermittent moments of doubt. I can fall into being the devil’s advocate. But when I embrace the law of attraction and act “As If”? The day is brighter, my smile is bigger and I appreciate where I am right now.

You Are The Architect of Your Reality

There is an accident on the way to that critical meeting. You will never make it in time. Well, that deal is lost. Your coworker called in sick. Ugh. That project is stalled yet again. Can we never make a deadline? Your son is not returning your text. He must have been in a car accident. Or abducted by aliens. Or in jail. The one constant in all these situations is your negative bias in the interpretation of events. It’s stressing you out. Believe it or not, you oversee how you view these events. But Cathy! How can I possibly view these things in a different light?


I just started reading Shawn Achor’s book Before Happiness. Shawn suggests that success is based on being a positive genius. A positive genius is someone who can change their brain patterns to view the world in a positive light; to take in  information and put a positive spin on it rather than wallowing in negativity. Seems hard, doesn’t it? So much easier to succumb to the negativity bias that our brains are seemly hardwired for. You can change it, though. You can overcome your predisposition to view information in a negative light. You can. Really. Imagine all the worry and stress you can let go of if you choose to be the architect of your reality.

Here are Shawn’s three main points in choosing the most valuable reality:

  • Recognize the existence of multiple realities by simply changing the details your brain chooses to focus on. This reminds me of Byron Katie’s The Work. The first question in The Work is “Is it the truth?” I want to look at my son not returning a text as, “He doesn’t love me.” I can ask myself, “Is it the truth?” Let’s see. He drove 13 hours at Christmas to be home with me. He’s been really supportive with recent issues with my house. He sent me flowers for Mother’s Day. Nope. It’s not true. Of course, he loves me. So I need to realize that there are many interpretations of the information I have. So what if it’s been twenty minutes since I texted him. Maybe his phone is dead. Maybe he is working out. Maybe he is sleeping in. Focus on the details in a more positive light. As Mike Dooley says, “Thoughts become things. Choose the good ones.” There are multiple realities at any given time. Decide on which reality to focus on.


  • See a greater range of realities by training your brain to see vantage points and see the world from a broader perspective. Shawn quotes a study where a group of people were asked to draw a coffee cup and saucer. EVERY person drew the cup from a side perspective. EVERY LAST ONE. I have to admit, if I am asked to draw a coffee cup or a house (for that matter), I will draw it from the side perspective. But can’t you draw it from a bird’s eye perspective? Are both true?Don’t you look down at your coffee cup in the morning? Isn’t that the perspective you usually see? There are hundreds of vantage points. It’s so easy to get caught up with our status quo perspective. We don’t typically re-frame it. There is a whole range of views. If my coworker is sick and the project might be delayed, maybe there are more resources I haven’t thought about. Maybe this is my chance to step up and own the spotlight. Maybe we need more data before proceeding. Open up your perspective to see more points of view.


  • Select the most valuable reality that is both positive and true, using a simple formula called the positive ratio. This is not creating a panacea. Choose data that is true and the most positive. If you constantly seek positive data, the outcomes are better. In companies, a Losada ratio of 3 positives to one negative indicates a more profitable business. So, when you get a seemingly negative data point, look for something positive. Rethink it – the car accident on the way to work, not a big deal? If you had been five minutes earlier that could have been you in that accident. At least you are still on your way to your destination. Be grateful for not being involved in an accident and still on your way. As Achor has advised, “Go out of your way to build employee strengths instead of routinely correcting weaknesses. When you dip below the Losada line, performance quickly suffers.” Look for the good and it will appear.


I’ve been trying to live by this over the last week or so. I look to interpret the current reality in a positive light. I’m not saying that my negativity bias doesn’t creep in from time to time, but I am slowly changing my default to looking at what’s right, rather than what’s wrong. Be a positive genius.

My Dog. My Witness.

It has been a tumultuous year. I lived in limbo for seven months following Hurricane Matthew, rebuilt my home, saw my daughter move to the west coast, and some seven months ago, decided to stop numbing out with alcohol. There has been one constant through all of this: my beloved Brittany named Baci. I’ve written about Baci several times in the past but it’s not until you are truly tested that you realize the love of a dog, may be the secret to your success.


I say success after all this tumult because I am so much better than I was a year ago. I am stronger. Wiser. Complete. Happy. I need to give credit where credit is due. It’s all because of a dog. The best dog I have ever owned. Of course, the Universe conspires when I need inspiration to write a post. Articles on the love of a pet and its health benefits started showing up in my feed this past week. This post on my dog is long overdue.

Here is how Baci has been my witness:

Social lubricant. If it’s the neighbor, the UPS driver, the HVAC guy or the tile setter, Baci is the social lubricant that brings it all together. Sometimes, it’s me allaying fears that she might be a biter (she’s not), or a question about her breed (Brittany), or getting up in someone’s business when they are repairing the house. Baci is the natural ease of social tension if a stranger is walking up to the door or a neighbor is walking their dog. People are naturally curious about Baci or any dog for that matter. She makes awkward interactions so much the better by just wagging her tail and soaking up the attention.

Alarm system. Baci sleeps most of the day. She is nine years old and kicks back most of the day at this point. I live in a larger, older home. There are noises. Unaccounted for noises. A creak here, a sigh there. I know that if it’s something to pay attention to, Baci will be on top of it. Her hearing is a lot better than mine. She can hear a garbage truck or the UPS driver from half a mile away. I know that if it’s something to be concerned about, Baci will let me know. If she is calmly sleeping and the ice maker dumps a load of ice cubes and she doesn’t react? It’s all OK. And she knows it’s her role.

Stress reducer.  As I write this, Baci is sleeping sweetly under a picture window. She looks so calm and relaxed. How could I possibly be uptight about doing my taxes today with such a relaxed dog in the room? As written by Kristen Strut for Huffington Post, “There’s a reason therapy dogs are so effective: Spending just a few minutes with a pet can lower anxiety and blood pressure, and increase levels of serotonin and dopamine, two neurochemicals that play big roles in calm and well-being.” So Baci is my therapy dog and I get to have her everyday, all day.

Heart health. I don’t have high blood pressure. I have a family history of high blood pressure but somehow it’s missed me. Now I realize it’s probably Baci’s doing. As written on WebMD, “Heart attack patients who have pets survive longer than those without, according to several studies. Male pet owners have less signs of heart disease — lower triglyceride and cholesterol levels — than non-owners, researchers say.” Hmmm. The rest of my immediate family doesn’t own a pet. Baci is the secret to my heart health.

Unconditional love.  Baci does not care if my boss is mad at me or if I gained five pounds. She doesn’t care if I put too much lemon in the dish for dinner or if I binge watch Ozark all day. I frequently wake up at 4 AM. Baci doesn’t give a hoot if I wake up at 4 AM. She’s ready to go. No judgement. No admonishments. I am perfectly perfect as far as she is concerned. She even forgives me if I forget to fill the water dish or stash her toys for a few days. She loves me no matter what. And I love her.

Allergy fighter.  I am allergic to multiple things from aspirin to dust mites to various trees and grasses. I was on asthma medication for some fifteen years. I’ve had Baci for the last nine years. I am now off all asthma medication. I can’t say it’s Baci for sure but not having to take asthma medication is terrific. As written on WebMD, “A growing number of studies have suggested that kids growing up in a home with ‘furred animals’ — whether it’s a pet cat or dog, or on a farm and exposed to large animals — will have less risk of allergies and asthma.” I realize this is anecdotal but this is the longest I have ever lived with an inside pet and now I am asthma free.

I have a reason to get home. A reason to get back safely from a trip. A reason to wake up. A reason to stay sober. A reason to get dressed and get to work. A reason to keep my house. A reason to be grateful. A reason to stay the course. Baci gives me purpose. She is there through thick and thin. She is my rock…yes, she is my witness.

When You See Something, Say Something

I had the opportunity and privilege to hear Gretchen Carlson, author of Be Fierce, speak in early February on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace. It was a room full of Human Resource professionals. Gretchen apprised us of the fact that what we currently are doing is not moving the needle on workplace harassment. All the training and policies in the world are not having an impact on workplace harassment. In fact, of the one in three women who are harassed in the workplace, only about 29% ever even report it. So the majority of the victims keep it to themselves. They are afraid of retaliation and, worse, being fired.


Carlson pointed out that victims fall silent and feel helpless. There is this corporate attitude that “we have no reports of any harassment.” This is a delusion. The real reason people don’t report it is that they don’t feel safe and/or they feel like it’s their fault. One of the big takeaways is that we don’t address the bystanders. The guys in the boardroom who don’t step up and shut down the offenders in the room are responsible. Most of the time, this means a man stepping up since 94% of the CEOs are men. It all starts with speaking up. When you see something; say something.

I did some further research after this talk and came up with some points to share that tie in with Gretchen’s talk:

Let your body speak.  As written at the University of Exeter, “Remember, you don’t have to speak to communicate. Sometimes a disapproving look can be far more powerful than words.” This is an easier gateway to doing something without actually speaking up. I think this is great advice if you are in an unfamiliar situation or group. It also might be helpful if you’re dealing with a larger group. If someone is making a joke at someone else’s expense, go silent and let your body speak your disapproval.

Don’t add fuel. I find that typically the reason why women (the usual victim) don’t speak up is because the response from the group was positive; as in everyone laughed when Bob said I was sexy. The “group think” is that if everyone laughed, everyone is in on the joke. Everyone is in agreement. The peer pressure makes you laugh at the joke. In reality, laughing is only adding fuel to the fire. Bob is going to continue because it elicited a laugh from “everyone”. Don’t be everyone. Don’t laugh. Do no harm. Don’t add fuel to the fire.

Bring empathy. Ironically, the empathy is for the harasser. As written at Exeter, empathy prevents someone from distancing themselves from the impact of their actions. So “I hope no one ever talks about you like that” is a great approach. It also prevents the harasser from dehumanizing their targets as well. “What if someone said your girlfriend deserved to be raped, or called your mother a slut?” This is an interesting switch. Instead of coming to the defense of the victim, create empathy in the harasser.

Be a friend. This bolsters your friendship and keeps the harasser from being put on the defensive. I would recommend doing this in private. As written at Exeter, “Hey, Dave. As your friend, I’ve got to tell you that your tee-shirt isn’t doing you any favours, it’s killing your rep with the ladies. Do yourself a favour and don’t wear it again – chuck it out.” I think if you did this in private you would be less likely to get a defensive response. Be a friend and instruct them on their behavior.

Be a distraction. I can remember when my kids were toddlers. If they started to whine or misbehave, I would pick them up and start looking at pictures on the walls. “Oh, look at that pretty tree. I wonder where that tree is. Do you like the tree?” It would almost immediately calm them down. So, interrupt your harassing co-worker with, “Hey Bob, do you know when the budget meeting is?” “How long is the drive to the airport?” Again, a redirect is less likely to get a defensive reaction.

Bystander training. The biggest takeaway from the conference with Carlson, was to start with the top folks in your organization and let them know that the culture starts with them.  Tolerance for misbehaving is in the boardroom. Talk to your CEO and President and let them know that they need to put their foot down when that sexist email is forwarded to them or if they tolerate the racist jokes of their managers. Bystanders, especially those in power, need to step up and speak up.

It starts with you. It starts with each and every one of us. We need to speak up. Whether privately with the offender or with body language or silence or checking in with the victim to find out how you can help. Be careful how you use slang terms that are pejorative of a race, gender or religious group. I know I used to refer to my freckled easily burned skin as “cheap Irish skin.” This belittles me and an entire country and its descendants. Yes, I am part Irish but I don’t get to judge the entire country with less than valuable skin. Be the solution. Not the problem.

Harassment and its collateral damage needs to be addressed by the organization. These suggestions are to help nudge the culture of an organization so that a respectful workplace can be created and maintained. It can’t be addressed by one victim or one Human Resource professional. It takes a village.

Canada. It’s another country.

As I write this, it’s a rainy morning in Vancouver, British Columbia. I am here as an alumni to take the Path portion of ORSC (team and individual coaching), created by CRR Global. It’s been several decades since I have been to Vancouver. I am blessed in that, as a child, we took family trips to Canada and I had visited all the southern provinces of Canada by the time I was nine. As a kid, if everyone spoke the same language as I, I didn’t realize there were cultural differences. I remember the beautiful Butchart Gardens of Victoria and the profound crevasses of Banff National Park. And the adventure of the stretch of highway where there wasn’t gas for some 200 hundred miles and just praying we would make it with our enormous trailer that we were lugging behind us. Thankfully, we did.


As I order at a restaurant or check in at the hotel, I wonder if I am obviously from the United States. Do they hear an accent? Do I dress funny? Am I clumsy? I say this because it’s hard for me to tell who is a tourist and who is a native. I just went to Starbucks for a coffee and ordered my usual. I assume those working there are Canadians. Are most of their patrons tourists? I have no idea. The differences here are subtle but there are differences that weren’t apparent to my nine-year-old self.

Here they are:

Celsius. Temperature is temperature. Whether or not you relate to it as Celsius or Fahrenheit, it doesn’t really matter, right? The funny thing is that when I found the thermostat in my room, I saw it read 22 degrees. Wow. We could hang meat in here. So of course, I had to google to convert the temperature to Fahrenheit – like it mattered. Why not just sense whether it’s too warm or too cool? The funny thing is that in my class yesterday, which was largely Canadians, someone said, “It must be 25 degrees in here.” She meant that it was hot. I chuckled to myself. I’m glad I knew she was talking Celsius.

Taxis.  Luckily, I happened to research whether or not Lyft or Uber were available in Vancouver. They are not. I’m not sure about the rest of Canada, but in British Columbia, you must take public transit or a taxi. In the last year or so, I have realized that renting a car is an expensive encumbrance when traveling on business. Between parking, gassing up and tolls, it is just one more burden, kind of like an extra suitcase, that you have to take care of and keep track of. Luckily, there wasn’t a language barrier, which is the biggest plus to ridesharing apps. But if you aren’t in a well-populated location, it can be impossible to find a cab. In fact, I didn’t go to a museum I had planned on visiting because I wasn’t sure how I would get back to the hotel.

Currency. The last time I was in Canada, my daughter and I were in Quebec. I was trying not to have any Canadian currency. I try not to have any cash in any foreign country because it’s a mess to exchange back. In fact, like the euros I have from my trip to Paris, they are still clanging around in my wallet. Too minuscule to change and more of a remembrance of a great trip. The last time I was in Canada was a road trip with my daughter four years ago. We were in Montreal and visited the breathtaking Notre-Dame Basilica. I remember they only took cash for entrance and they did take US dollars. The exchange was pretty poor but I didn’t care. As I travel around Vancouver at restaurants and shops, I am careful that they take credit cards so I don’t have to mess with exchange of currency and I keep a few US dollars for tipping.

Language. So we speak the same language but as I said, my class is largely Canadian. I would guess that 95% of the words are exactly the same. It’s only the odd “PROOO-cess” or “Aboot” that crop up in conversation. The other difference, at least compared to Eastern North Carolina, is the diversity. The service jobs in Vancouver seemed to be staffed with people from all walks of life – from an Irish waiter, to a Korean busboy to a Nigerian desk clerk. It feels as cosmopolitan as Manhattan. As I walk down the street, there all sorts of languages being spoken. Again, I’m not sure if I’m in the middle of the tourist district (think Times Square) or if there is an international university nearby. But it feels as if everyone is welcome here, regardless of origin.

Pace.  This is a large city. The thing that strikes me that is vastly different from a city like New York is that the pace is much more relaxed. Considering the blend of diversity and the size, it seems very calm. None of that frenetic buzz that seems to increase your anxiety. There is no rushing to and fro. My walking pace is even slower. For such a large city, it’s very calm.

Hot sauce.  If there is a minus, it’s the hot sauce. No Tabasco. No Texas Pete. No Cholula. There is British Columbian grown-and-produced Verde and Salsa Diablo. I tried it out. It was acidic. I realized after I read the label that besides having Canola Oil in the top three ingredients (re. mayonnaise…yuck) there is lemon juice. I am not a fan. But this is a minor complaint compared to the rest of my experience.

Rain.  I recently traveled to Seattle for Thanksgiving. It rained a lot. It has rained or drizzled almost non-stop since my arrival in Vancouver. The difference it that this is an umbrella city versus a rain jacket city. Seattle is a rain jacket city. More people can fit on a sidewalk if they have a rain jacket on instead of an umbrella. In Vancouver, you have to maneuver down the street to make sure to not crash into someone else’s umbrella. Funny how different cities adapt to similar weather.

I wish I had more free time to investigate Vancouver but maybe next time. Our classroom was on the top floor of the building and was floor-to-ceiling glass facing out. We were suddenly interrupted by five flying bald eagles yesterday. We all stopped to gaze at their majestic flight with snow-capped mountains as a back drop. Uniquely awesome. I will be back.

Controlling for Happiness

I just finished Mo Gawdat’s brilliant book called Solve for Happy. Gawdat’s premise is: “Happiness is greater than or equal to your perception of the events in your life, minus your expectation of how life should behave.” It is profound for me because he grounds a lot of what he suggests in research and, being an engineer, in mathematics. Gawdat is the Chief Business Officer for Google X. He has a lot of money. He is successful. It’s easy at first glance to dismiss his ideas like they are coming from Bill Gates or Warren Buffet. None of these guys are worried about making the monthly mortgage payment. What could he possibly know about happiness when his bank account is overflowing? The thing is that Gawdat lost his 21-year-old son to a mistake made in an appendectomy. He suffered a loss that I would not wish on anyone. Despite this enormous loss, he has found the formula for happiness.


I have never suffered a loss as profound as a child. Gawdat doesn’t grind an axe about the hospital. He doesn’t blame a divine power. He takes it as a lesson from his son, Ali. He brings us into his enlightenment. Gawdat had already solved for happy many years before Ali’s death. He at one time had purchased two (yes, two) Rolls Royce’s on the same day and found that he was empty. All the money in the world could not taper the stress he felt from trying to control and plan everything in his life. I have a ton of clients who suffer from this over-planning. I have suffered from trying to control all the variables in my life. This is an illusion of control. You and I really don’t have any control over those outside of us.

Here are the only two things you can control:

Your Actions.  Gawdat struggled with trying to control everyone and everything in his life. Every employee, family member and outcome. Have you done that? I have. I’ve tried to control the perceptions of my neighbors, co-workers and family members. I made sure my kids were dressed in name brand clothes, got the best grades and created the impression of the perfect happy family. That whirlwind of effort and control was exhausting and unfulfilling. It left me empty. Invariably, something would go wrong. My son didn’t want to go to my Alma Mater, my daughter wanted to spend her Spring Breaks hiking in the Blue Ridge mountains instead of coming home, and 50% of the students in the class I was teaching at the time would fail the exam. Ugh. That illusion that you can control others weighs you down. You are lugging a giant sack of expectations and it is making you suffer.

As Gawdat writes, “My first breakthrough came when a friend taught me about the Hindu concept of detachment, when you strive to achieve your goals knowing that the results are impossible to predict. When something unexpected happens, the detachment concept tells us to accept the new direction and try again. There is no sadness or regret, and no grief over the loss of control.” I love this because it’s not like you throw your hands up in the air and say, “Oh well” and give up. You continue to take action and you just realize that the outcome will be, for the most part, unexpected. I think of every weightlifting competition I have attended to watch my son compete. I want him to win. I want him at the top of the podium with a gold medal around his neck. I show up. I envision success. I wear my lucky t-shirt. The outcome is out of my control. No amount of wishing and hoping can change the outcome. It will be what it will be.

The lesson is to take action. I’ve recently lost a bunch of weight from some lifestyle changes. Now I need to work on my muscle mass. I need to do push ups and lift weights. I need to take action. I have control over whether or not I take action. What the outcome will ultimately will be is up to forces outside of my control. Whether my son qualifies for the World University Championships this year is up to variables way outside of my control. I can show up and support him. Ultimately, the outcome is outside of anyone’s control. Act and detach from the outcome.

Your Attitude. As Gawdat writes, “While actions are the visible levers of achievement, attitude is the true game changer.” I know a lot of folks who suffer from external locus of control. This is the belief that whether or not you have a good day is dependent on the world around you. So, if it’s raining outside or if there is an accident on the way to work, It’s going to be a bad day. I know you have worked with someone like this, or perhaps, are even married to someone like this. They cannot accept responsibility for anything that happens. There is always someone or something to blame.

The secret is having an internal locus of control. Owning the fact that you have complete control of how you respond to anything whether it’s the rain, bad news from the IRS, or a devastating loss. This doesn’t mean you can’t grieve. In fact, you should grieve a profound loss. The worst thing you can do is ignore or numb out the pain. What you resist persists. The majority of setbacks are magnified or diminished based on your attitude toward the setback. I play some memory games every morning. I mess up. I can cuss myself out or just say “Oops.” The acceptance that I am not perfect and make mistakes, but not letting it bring me down is important. Keeping a positive attitude is critical for happiness.

Gawdat’s outrageous audacious “moonshot” goal is to create one billion happy people #onebillionhappy. There are three steps. The first is to make happiness your first priority. The second is invest in developing your happiness skills. The third is to tell two people who will tell two people. This is my step three. Now you go tell two people.

Finding Beauty at the Bottom of a Lake

The lake I live next to is lowered every year during the month of January. It is a man-made lake that is fed by a creek, which lies some 50 yards off the banks of my home. When looking at the barrenness after it’s lowered, it is easy to feel like the bare lake bed, its collection of stumps, and debris are suddenly revealed; ugly and unsightly. Something to hide.


The truth is that there is a particular beauty that unfolds over the weeks and sometimes months that the lake is mostly empty. This has been an annual event that for the last 15 years and I have watched. In the first few years, I dreaded it. I certainly would not invite guests to my home to behold the sodden tree trunks and the refuse sitting at the bottom of the lake. In the last 5 or so years, I have actually looked forward to this process. This rebirth of the lake. The beauty of the entire process.

Here are those discoveries:

Seagulls.  I live some 100 miles from the North Carolina coast. Typically, we don’t ever see seagulls this far inland. I have no idea why but the lowering of the lake attracts flocks and flocks of seagulls. Like clockwork every year, once a few tree stumps are revealed, there are the seagulls. How wondrous is that? I don’t need to go to the beach. I can sit in comfort on my couch and watch these marine birds frolic in the lake bed. No need to gas up and drive to the coast. The seagulls stop by every year for a visit.

Canadian Geese.  Regardless of the time of year, there are geese. But in the winter time, it’s like watching West Side Story; one gaggle are the Jets and the others are the Sharks.  One group slowly approaches in an arrow head formation while the other approaches from the opposite direction in a similar formation. They head towards a collision until one flinches and suddenly, they are in retreat. I can image Sir David Attenborough’s voice describing the encounter. I realize now that the larger group is usually victorious in claiming their turf. Regardless, it is an elegant dance.

Herons.  Herons live on the lake all year round. Typically, I only see one or two during the summer and fall. The lower lake level brings out a flurry of activity. Just yesterday, I saw four of them strategically placed down the entire riverbed about thirty yards between each of them. I’m sure the allure was the poor fish population which has no where to hide when the lake is lowered. So there they all stand, like sentinels waiting patiently for their prey to swim past. Rather like shooting fish in a barrel as they say. Rain or shine, they wait for their next meal in their stoic blue-gray beauty.

Ice.  The lake would typically never freeze over. For one thing, we are in the South and aren’t supposed to get long-term, sub-freezing temperatures. For another, if the lake were full, there would typically be too much movement for it to freeze. But every January, the temperatures drop and with the lower water volume, they readily freeze over. This is when the fun begins, as the ducks and geese are literally standing on ice. It’s quite the show as they ice skate with their webbed feet.

Wind.  Obviously, there is wind all year long. The remarkable thing about the lowered lake is that there are different coves and jetties that are created. There can be stillness within inches of a gust whipping across a different pool on the lake. It’s like different-styled brushstrokes across the masterpiece in an ever-changing mix of texture and light.

As I sit here and write, looking out at the lake, the water is slowly reclaiming its space. It rained yesterday, and those drops have slowly added to the level and the creek has disappeared below. The lake renews itself once again and, eventually, will reclaim its banks. It’s a wonderful process, unveiling secrets and beauty each year.

“If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” – Mother Teresa

You are angry because your coworker hijacked the project near and dear to your heart. Who do they think they are? One of your favorite singers is a lot heavier since first appearing on American Idol. Geez, put down the Twinkie, will you? Your child needs financial help…again. How many times do I need to bail you out? You blew off that exercise class…again. I’m a lazy, flabby slob.


This is judgment. When you are wrapped up in judgment you cannot love; even yourself. We are taught judgment from a very early age. For me, it was not having an expansive vocabulary (What do you mean you don’t know that word?), not achieving straight A’s or not having the physical prowess of my siblings. I judged myself for not measuring up. This judgment and comparison robbed me of my joy and will rob you of yours. Stop judging.

Here is how to let go of judgment:

Catch yourself.  First, you need to be aware that you are judging. It is so easy to fall prey to a constant stream of judgment of yourself and others. How to change it? It starts with awareness.  I make an effort to be cognizant of my judgments. When I notice that someone has gained or lost weight, or is wearing something I don’t find appropriate, I think to myself, “This is judgment.” I have found myself passing judgment all day long. Whoa. Whether it’s me getting on the scale in the morning to an additional five pounds, or rolling my eyes at the screaming kid throwing a tantrum in the grocery store. Hmmm. This is judgment. The first step is to be aware that you are judging and then label it.

Whose path is it?  “Don’t compare your chapter 1 to someone else’s chapter 20.” – Anonymous. This is a profound quote for me. I don’t know where you are in your book and I don’t have any idea how many pages have preceded the current chapter. We are all on different journeys. I don’t know if your path has been rocky, a steep hill, or if you have been on the couch for the last ten years. Comparison of your path versus someone else will rob you of your joy. Focus on your path. On your happiness. Stay on your path.

Find admiration.  I have several friends who are expert yoga instructors. They are in fabulous shape. I could live in jealousy of their expertise and physical prowess and compare my somewhat klutzy self to their elegance. I am so much more at peace and happier when I just admire their expertise and power. Wow. What an amazing dedication of being outstanding at yoga. I admire them and am proud to call them friend. Find admiration for what you think you lack. And get beyond yourself.

Compassion for yourself and others.  Let go of the mistakes that you and others have made. Depending on the depth of the wound this may take more time and involve going through rather than around the feeling. I can get wrapped up in what my parents, teachers, spouses, and friends should have done differently. In the end, history cannot be rewritten and the regrets that are harbored in your heart help no one, especially yourself. Having compassion for that egotist at work, or your fickle client, or your ex’s addiction is, in the end, freeing. Compassion is finding love for friend or foe. It is holding that special space of love and forgiveness. This compassion starts with yourself and can help you change with others.

Thoughts become things.  You do get to choose your thoughts. It seems at times that your mind is blasting you with uncontrollable thoughts and judgments. You can choose instead to choose thoughts of love. I have recited affirmations for years to help develop a more positive outlook and results. It is a practice of centering and focusing on happiness and love. I have been following Mike Dooley for years and am subscribed to his Notes from the UniverseEvery weekday I receive a message from the Universe helping me push forward on my wondrous path. His tag line is: “Thoughts become things, choose the good ones.” This is a powerful message and keeps me mindful of trying to focus on possibility and love rather than blame and judgment.

If you are constantly judging yourself, you don’t have time to love yourself. Take a breath and be okay right now. You will love it.

Taking Flight

I have wanted to go indoor skydiving for the last decade. It’s been on the proverbial bucket list waiting for the stars to align with the right set of people and circumstances. Well, it finally came together the last week of 2017. My daughter was home from Seattle and my son from Miami. The weather was too cold to see the Christmas Lights at Busch Gardens (the original plan), so we decided that our last day together as a family would be spent trying something indoors and adventurous. This more than qualified!


If you live in Wayne County, North Carolina, you see billboards for Paraclete XP when you’re driving along the highway. It’s an indoor skydiving facility west of Fayetteville, NC, in the town of Raeford. Due to the long drive and an early flight time the following day, we had to get on the road by 7:15 AM. Comfy clothes and sneakers were a prerequisite. We arrived as requested 45 minutes before flight time at 9:15 AM. Prepared for the unknown.

This is what I learned about taking flight:

Be prepared.  Comfy clothes are a must. It’s not like you would show up for indoor skydiving in heels and a skirt, but sweatpants and a t-shirt were the right clothes, regardless of the temperature outside. I didn’t realize we would be suited up in a jumpsuit, so dressing in layers that could be removed was important. We were also advised to take off any jewelry and watches. Had I realized that, I would have left my watch and jewelry at home. There were lockers available for storage, but not having to keep track of something and recovering post-flight would have been one less thing to think about. Keep it simple and be prepared.

The right instructor.  I don’t know if it was just sheer luck or if the universe aligned us with Manny. By his accent, we figured he was an Aussie or a Kiwi. Manny was at least 6’ 2”, engaging and optimistic. There was a couple ahead of us in the flight chamber and their instructor was a petite man. He did a fine job, but I couldn’t imagine him trying to corral my bulky weightlifting son or reigning in my 5’ 8” frame. I was completely confident in Manny’s abilities and I feel like I wasn’t apprehensive because he seemed in full command. As expected, he took control and did an excellent job herding us flying kittens. Make sure you are matched with the right instructor.

Sign language.  I had not realized it, but you cannot communicate once you are all suited up with earplugs and helmet in the waiting chamber, let alone in flight while in a loud wind tunnel. We watched a short instructional video that taught us the basics of keeping our chin up, our legs straight and arms stretched out. The most important hand signal was that of an extended thumb and pinky for “relax and breathe”. The other important thing to realize is that you really can’t communicate once in the flight chamber. All the communication is coming from the instructor. If you want to bail because you are terrified, well then All. Bets. Are. Off. I hadn’t realized this before entering the chamber. No one had given me the “Ah, hell no, I want out of this” sign. Turns out, it wasn’t necessary. Just know that once you are in the flight chamber, you are in.

Every move counts.  We had one other person in our flight group besides my children and me. Our impression was that he had been indoor skydiving before. He was the first one to fly, then my son, Benson, my daughter, Natalie, and then, yours truly. I was glad this kid (he appeared to be in his late teens) was first. He was a gangly mess. His knees were bent for most of the first two-minute flight and he seemed to bounce all over the chamber. As they say, we were schooled of what not to do by this young chap. If I knew one thing, I was going to keep my legs straight. My son was next and made it look easy.  He was calm and purposeful. My daughter was next and then I was up. Gulp.  I covered my chest with my arms and slid into the chamber. The sheer volume of air being shoved up my nose felt like a fire hose. You would think I would realize that stepping into a wind tunnel would, by definition, be full of wind. I had not anticipated the amount of wind, which is crazy, in retrospect. The first flight in, I realized that even a millimeter of change in one’s hand or chin could cause a sudden directional or altitudinal change. Manny kept signaling for me to take a breath. Somehow, with all that air rushing around you, it’s instinctual to not breathe. I finally started to get a handle on relaxing, breathing and making small adjustments by the end of the first flight.

New heights.  We each had had our turn and now we were up for our second flight in the chamber. The gangly kid went first and then, next up was Benson. Towards the middle of Benson’s second flight, Manny latched onto Benson and gave the wind operator a nod. Suddenly Benson and Manny lifted off and went up about 2 and half stories above us. We all ran to the glass. I thought. Well, that’s cool. Benson was so rock solid at this, he got to fly high. Next up was Natalie. Sure enough, she and Manny went flying two and half stories up. I figured. There’s no way Manny will take this old, uncoordinated lady up into the stratosphere. Well, I was wrong. Check out the recording on YouTube. First of all, when I went for my second flight I went higher than Manny’s head without realizing how I had done it. I had found my wings. Next thing I knew, Manny had latched on and into the high reaches of the wind tunnel we went. I have to say, I wasn’t scared. I really was relaxed and just enjoyed the ride. Stressing out over whether I would hit new heights didn’t change the outcome.

Exhilaration. I hadn’t expected that each time I left the flight chamber, I would become light-headed and my heart would race. Again, seems obvious in retrospect. I was so focused on the experience that I wasn’t paying attention to my vital signs. It was an amazing sense of wonder and exhilaration. I had just flown for upwards of 4 minutes total and it was life-affirming. I think most of us have had dreams of flying but to actually do it…for real? Amazing. To leave the restraints of gravity and to float above the ground;I will have that experience forever.

When we were all finished and basking in the glow of our accomplishment, I asked one of the instructors on how indoor skydiving compare to free-fall skydiving. I asked how long free-falling normally lasted. He said one minute. I had just been flying for close to four minutes. Hmmmm. Actual skydiving was never on my bucket list. It is now.