Return to the Amazon Jungle

When I left the Amazon jungle thirty years ago, I had no illusions that I would ever return. In 1988, I was there with my then husband Orlando to see the sights of his homeland Colombia; the Amazon River and Manaus, Brazil were tacked on for good measure. Flash forward thirty years and here I sit, under mosquito netting, the sounds of cicadas and frogs outside and the humid air that hangs on you like wet jeans. This time, I am in the Peruvian Amazon Jungle and half a mile from the Tambopata River, a downstream tributary to the great Amazon River. I am husband-less, older but no less tenacious and traveling with a friend; I think tenacity is a requirement for this type of journey.

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There are many differences besides the language and technology, but there are many things that are magical and otherworldly. This is what I found:

  • Tour guides. The first time around, I was in Manaus with Orlando searching tour companies that would take our American Express card. We were willing to go with any guide that would take our “plastic”. At the time, Brazil had extraordinarily high inflation rates so they would actually receive significantly less cruzeiros to the dollar once they received reimbursement from the credit card company. Nonetheless, we prevailed and ironically found a young Peruvian guide to take us upriver on the mighty Amazon. Our guide in 1988 knew English, Spanish and Portuguese but mostly regaled us with Michael Jackson songs instead of biology. This time around, I searched and received recommendations from several well-traveled friends, set up the dates and itineraries 6 months before and, most importantly, had a very well-educated guide, Saul, who was a wealth of information on all the flora, fauna and culture of the region. Saul knew where to go and at what time to fully take in the rich variety of nature in the Amazon.
  • Food. In 1988, we followed our guide around the streets of Manaus purchasing provisions for our two-day trip into the jungle. I remember limes, chicken and rice along with Brazilian rum. I know bottled water was not so ubiquitous as it is today. I think we typically drank bottled Coke. We traveled on a small boat and would stop at riverside places that would cook for us. This would take several hours and I never knew what we would be eating. In 2018, we had freshly-prepared buffets for each meal with salads, soups and desserts. Fresh juice from an array of unpronounceable fruits that were all delicious but completely foreign and not replicable. Bottle water dispensers were located throughout the jungle lodge where we stayed. Hot coffee and tea were available all day. We could eat at our leisure and have as much as we wanted. What a difference 30 years make.
  • Animals. I can still remember dragging a 15-pound “state of the art” camcorder with film cassettes and trying, haplessly, to record the monkeys and birds as they flied and romped in the trees. I failed. Orlando failed. We could not record a thing but we pointed aimlessly above, in the hope we’d accidentally caught something on tape. This time around, we cruised right up to a chalky cliff and saw 50 to 60 parrots flying, swooping and cackling. Amazing. We walked 25 yards and enjoyed coffee and cake as we saw some dozen or so brightly colored Macaws perch, soar and lick the chalky cliffs. There were about a half dozen scopes set up to record or view the varieties of Macaws that came out to play. Most amazingly, for me, was running into, on three or four occasions, the romping, swinging and flying of six or so Saddleback Tamarins. Two would jump from branch to branch like they were synchronized swimmers. They are very small monkeys and their bodies were the size of a squirrel with a very long black tail. I felt like they would show up mid-hike just to entertain us or perhaps we entertained them with our cameras, scopes, flashlights and iPhones? Who was watching who?
  • Accommodations. This is a drastic change from 30 years ago. My first time here, we slept in a one-room house with what seemed like 15 hammocks. The family we stayed with included their children, our guide, our driver, Orlando and myself, where each of us slept swinging from the rafters in individual hammocks. No bathroom. Just the woods and stories of pythons lying in wait (I recall relieving myself once on the entire trip…but perhaps my memories have been edited). This time, we are in a beautiful open air two-story lodge complete with television, masseuse and store. Our rooms had a private bath, mosquito netting, and intermittent Wi-Fi. There was a hammock by an open wall facing the jungle full of howler monkeys and exotic birds, like the Amazonian Oropendola, which made a sound like water dropping in a barrel.

Regardless of the decade, the Amazon is timeless. The water rolls by ceaselessly, the animals still make sounds foreign to my urban ear, and there are a million species of insects who ignore Deet and still penetrate long sleeve shirts. The beauty and grace is unmatched. It cannot be recreated by animation or drawings. It must be experienced. And to do so is life changing.

Riding a Bike Again

Getting on a bike and riding again is a great metaphor. You never forget how to ride a bike. It doesn’t mean it’s easy and that there isn’t just a little bit of fear that you may not be successful. All the trips, falls and faux pas in your life come roaring back to tell you that you can’t do it. I believed that. I figured I was too old to be able to bike again. Too uncoordinated. Too out of shape. Too, too!

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Well, then there is Roy. Roy doesn’t seem to know a challenge he can’t take on. And he doesn’t see why I can’t attempt something as well. Roy isn’t held back by limiting beliefs. I’ve been seeing Roy for about three months. When I first met him, he was talking about jumping out of airplanes. He thought I should quit my current life, hike the Appalachian Trail and sign up for a triathlon in August. So when he started mentioning me buying a bike, that seemed like small potatoes compared to some of his other suggestions. Might as well start small, right? I bought a bike about a month ago. This is what I have learned from the experience.

 

Getting back on the bike again:

 

  • Safety first. I have previously viewed helmets and bright yellow reflective shirts as optional. When my first husband and I owned a motorcycle in California in the late 80’s, wearing helmets was optional. If you weren’t required to wear a helmet on a motorcycle, why would I need to wear one on a bike? I knew I wouldn’t be able to pedal faster than five miles an hour. I know I never wore a helmet when I was riding my Schwinn with training wheels at age 6. Times have changed and regardless of whether or not there is a law requiring the wearing of a helmet, it just makes good sense. I’ve learned from running at 5 AM that cars can’t see folks without a reflective vest. I would never even think about driving without a seat belt. The odds of crashing are slim but my gray matter is more important than having hat hair. Safety is always first.

 

  • Easy does it. I appreciate that the first time I rode the bike, Roy and I didn’t go much farther than two miles. Any time you are reintroducing yourself to something new or something new to you in the last few years, take it easy. I think most of us are guilty of getting a new gym membership and overdoing it the first time at the gym. I’ve done this with things like playing a guitar or knitting. My fingers get sore and I never want to pick it up again. Easing into it makes it more pleasurable and less daunting. Make sure you don’t overdo anything, so that you want to come back and do it again.

 

  • Get a coach. I really appreciate that Roy rode beside me that first time out. I had not been on a twenty-seven-speed bike ever in my life. I really didn’t understand the point of twenty-seven speeds. I mean, wouldn’t three work just fine? That’s where a coach comes into play. Roy coached me through changing up the gears and down and where and when to change them. I messed up quite a few times like down shifting when I was supposed to up shift but having someone coach me through a really simple two-mile ride was super helpful. I can imagine that if I had tried this on my own, I probably would have stayed in one gear the entire ride and never have understood how all those gears really do make it so much easier, especially all the hills. Having a coach was invaluable. Don’t go it alone, find a coach.

 

  • Buy the gear. So one two-mile trip on my new bike taught me that I was going to have saddle sores if I didn’t buy some bike shorts. What a difference bike shorts made! I can ride for ten miles now and be relatively saddle-sore-free. I also bought a cycling shirt so I can take my cell phone in case of emergency and added a water bottle holder to the bike frame. I have been admonished by cycling connoisseurs against a kick stand as it slows down your speed (although I don’t see me breaking any speed records). Buying the right gear makes it all much more enjoyable.

 

  • Enjoy the ride. It’s amazing how much different things are on a bike instead of driving or walking in the same neighborhood. You notice different things. I would previously never have run if it was 80 degrees or warmer outside. It was too uncomfortable. On a bike? It’s a relief to get out in the breeze. If thunder clouds are rolling in, as it did this past week, there was still time to get in two more miles before it started to rain. On foot, I would have had to turn around the minute I saw dark clouds. In a car, you don’t even notice “a hill” or branch in the roadway. It’s a different perspective and you are alert to different things like cars and dogs being walked. It’s nice to have a change in perspective.

I had what seemed like a thousand reasons never to get on a bike again. I’m glad I had the support to go out and give it a try. What are you holding back on? What hobby do you need to revisit?

Just Two Beats Longer

I just finished Brendon Burchard’s book, The Motivational Manifesto. It’s a thought provoking book but what I found most useful were the last few minutes (I listen rather than read books). Burchard recommended having things last two beats longer. It’s a captivating thought. Not a minute longer. Not a week longer. Not a century longer. Just two beats longer. Well that’s pretty doable…isn’t it? So, breath in for two beats longer. Gaze at your lover two beats longer. Pet your dog two beats longer.

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It’s such a simple concept. It doesn’t require a new notebook, new tennis shoes, or a new rain jacket. No equipment required. Just two beats longer. I’ve been paying attention to this and this is what I have found.

The benefits of two beats longer:

  • The greatest luxury. Burchard writes, “the greatest luxury of life is an unhurried mind.” Is this not completely and utterly true? When you are not hurried, it’s like a giant down comforter. Things soften. Life is richer. Moments extend. It’s like letting off the gas and just coasting. It’s such a relief not to be pounding forward. Taking two beats longer provides for a more luxurious life. An unhurried mind waiting and able to focus.

 

  • Multi-tasking is a lie. I used to think I was multi-tasking. You know, driving a car, listening to the news, putting on lipstick and drinking a Grande Frappuccino all at the same time. Instead I was skimming through and doing each thing less than 25%. Uni-task and focus on the moment. I was hiking the Balsam Trail on Mount Mitchell a few weeks back. As you hike along there is this waft of balsam. The smell of Christmas. I stood there and closed my eyes. I took two beats (perhaps more) longer. I soaked it in. I won’t soon forget that moment. Don’t skim. Take it in two beats longer.

 

  • Linger in your relationships. Burchard writes, “What would happen to the quality of our life and relationships if we simply amplified our senses just a little longer?” Hold the kiss for two beats longer. The embrace. The touch of the hand. Gaze into your lover’s eyes. Be there now for two beats longer. What would such a minuscule change do to your relationships? It’s like turning up the volume with a slight touch. Bringing things into focus. Being present and available for those you love. Love just two beats longer.

 

  • Respond versus react. Most of the unsavory moments of my life were when I reacted instead of responded. Those moments when I came back with a snarky comment or rolled my eyes. If you take two beats between reacting and wait to respond, it can be the difference between keeping a job or losing a job. Between maintaining a friendship or becoming enemies. Between getting a client or repelling them. As I look at the difference between responding versus reacting, it’s all in the moments in between. Two beats longer gives you space to respond; not just react

 

  • Savor the moment. Burchard writes, “Do not gulp down the next meal but savor each bite for two beats longer, let the tastes melt and linger.” I inhale food. I have to be one of the fastest eaters I know. I think I have been racing my older brother Rick since elementary school to eat all the Cap’n Crunch before it was all gone. I’m still racing and I can afford all the Cap’n Crunch I could want. Taste the moment. The food. Enjoy it. It’s not something to get through but to enjoy. Slow down for two beats.

 

  • Be present right now. That’s what this all comes down to after all. Be here right now. There is a really easy way to do that. Wait. Two. Beats. Longer. Eckard Tolle told us this in The Power of Now, “The past gives you an identity and the future holds the promise of salvation, of fulfillment in whatever form. Both are illusions.” Waiting two beats longer gets you into the moment right now. Let go the worries of the future and regrets of the past and be in this moment right now. Two beats longer.

 

This is so simple. So elegant. It’s not that hard to do. It’s just a conscious effort to wait…two…beats…longer. Give it a try and see what a difference it makes.

Getting Past Doubt.

Doubt is paralyzing. It grabs you by the shoulders and says, “There is no way in hell you can keep this house, Cathy.” “There is no way in hell you can ride a bike for ten miles.” “There is no way in hell you can run in a marathon.” It’s the super glue that suddenly holds your shoes to the ground. It’s the snooze button on your alarm that keeps you from the training run. It’s the second, third and fourth chocolate chip cookie that keeps you on the couch, instead of calling the mortgage company. Doubt is insidious and pervasive. It’s the devil’s advocate running amok in our head. You and I both need to shut it down.

I have struggled with self-doubt my entire life. My bet is that you have it as well. The thought that only the people who were blessed with magical powers; the chosen few who can actually achieve their dreams. But as I sit here, almost 57, I have overcome that nasty self-doubt and when I really reflect, I am pretty fortunate and, dare I say, happy.

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Here are the secrets to getting past doubt:

  • The Rule of 10-10-10. I have used this in coaching. Suzy Welch wrote on this in her book of the same title. When you are faced with a decision, look at the ramifications for each way in 10 minutes, 10 months and 10 years. So, in a major decision like holding onto your house or foreclosure, it’s important to follow the process. In 10 minutes, either holding onto the house or letting it go is devastating. In 10 months, the credit implications of walking away could be catastrophic but the financial burden of staying could be paralyzing. In 10 years, the equity in the house could be a financial boom and the credit fiasco would be a long-ago memory. When faced with doubt in a big decision, be sure to look at the long-term ramifications.

 

  • Notice that you’re alright right now. This is from Rick Hanson.  Our negative biased brain wants to look for negative meaning in everything around us. So that rustle in the bushes is a venomous snake instead of an innocent bird. Doubt is partially built on this same negative brain bias. Thoughts of I am too old; too fat; too slow start to paralyze our forward momentum. In reality. If you take stock. You are alright, right now. I say this because if you are reading this post, you aren’t on a sinking ship or in a burning building. I have shoes on my feet, a roof over my head and, thank goodness, a good WiFi connection.

 

  • Take stock. It is so easy to dwell on what is not going right instead of what is going well. Take stock of your accomplishments. This does not mean you are a narcissist. It means that you can take ownership of what you have done. I’ve lived on both coasts. I’ve traveled to South America and Europe. I can speak Spanish reasonably well and I bake a damn good loaf of bread. I have two fantastic kids who I raised through some pretty rough transitions in my life. Most importantly, I’ve made a difference in many people’s lives through my coaching and facilitation. There are several people out there who started running in 5k’s and half marathons because of me. That is incredibly gratifying. Taking stock keeps doubt at bay.

 

  • Be mindful. I’ve written about my daily meditation practice from the Art of Living. It keeps me grounded in my breath. I believe I am more present because of the practice. It’s not easy but I try to be in the present moment and not anticipating tomorrow or dredging up the past. I have recently started swimming laps. Swimming laps takes away all the distractions. There is no iPhone, no television, no music, no conversation, or mindless eating. All you have is your body, the water and your breath. I’m not thinking about my grocery list or if my daughter will call or about last night’s failed meatloaf. I’m not dwelling on doubting my abilities or skills. I am in the present moment. Whether it’s mediation, swimming, yoga or a walk, find a way to get present. It keeps the doubts at bay.

 

  • Yes and. This is the rule of thumb for improvisational comedy. It’s also a great way to brainstorm. So instead of saying, “No” or “Yes, but…”, you are keeping your options open. So if I am doubting I can keep my house out of foreclosure, I say, “Yes, and I can rent out a few rooms,” or “Yes, and I can get a second job,” or “Yes, and I can run a cooking class out of my kitchen.” It makes everything possible instead of impossible. It keeps your doubts under wraps.

I have not perfected this and there are times that when I get a phone message from my attorney or boss that I immediately assume the worst. But almost immediately, I take a moment to reframe the situation and wait for more data before jumping to catastrophic conclusions. Doubt is nothing but fear rearing its ugly head. You may have a small lapse but keep moving on.

Sticking to Your Path

You’re jealous because your coworker just got a new red sports car, and your car is a beat-up 90’s Honda. You’re upset because you weren’t selected for the super duper high profile project, but your arch nemesis from work was. Your ex is posting cozy pictures of her new boyfriend all over social media and you’re home alone on a Better Call Saul binge. You feel inadequate. You feel sorry for yourself. You are on the Comparison Highway to Inadequacy. You need to get off that highway and focus on your own path.

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I’m a speaker. An executive coach. A mother. A dog owner. An author. I don’t get paid what Tony Robbins gets paid to speak. I don’t have the same client list as Marshall Goldsmith. My kids (are awesome) but they aren’t on the cover of Time magazine or on a Wheaties box (yet). My dog hasn’t won any Westminster Dog Shows. I haven’t written a single book and, therefore, never sold one (although there is a free copy here). The point is, how high is that bar for you? If I compared myself to everyone around me on all aspects of my life, I would be sorely disappointed. Stick to your path and quit looking at everyone else’s.

Here are some ways to do that:

  • Acceptance.  Be okay with the path that is in front of you. I was stuck in a should cycle for the last nine months on decisions regarding the rebuilding of my house post-Hurricane Matthew. I should have purchased all new cabinets. I should have bought new kitchen furniture. I should have gone with a different electrician. This is wearing you down. All that “should-ing“. Accept what decisions you have made and move forward. All that should-ing is making you dwell on the past and draining you.

 

  • Different.  I love this quote from Internal Acceptance Movement: “Everyone has their own unique journey. A path that’s right for someone else won’t necessarily be a path that’s right for you. Your path isn’t right or wrong, or good or bad. It’s just different.” What I try to do, say when I see that new red sports car in the company parking lot, is tell myself: “Wow. Suzy really likes cars. Good for her.” Everyone values different things, be it material possessions or experiences. I love to travel and maybe my son doesn’t. We are on different paths and that’s OK.

 

  • Pace.  This is my biggest problem. I am always in forward motion. I want to accomplish the next thing. I want it done yesterday. This makes me incredibly impatient with other folks who operate on a different pace (i.e.: slower). It doesn’t bring out my best side. As I tap my fingers, waiting for a response to ten rapid fire texts to my assistant. Take a breath and connect with your inner Buddha. Acknowledge your pace and quit trying to have people get on board with your pace. That’s how people start to stumble. Stay in lane and keep your own pace and don’t worry about anyone else’s.

 

  • Suspend.  I know you’ve done this. You see that your coworker has put on weight or is wearing something that, from your vantage point, is unattractive. You pass judgment in your head. “Wow. Janet needs to drop a few pounds” or “What made her think that looked good on her?” It’s difficult to suspend judgment but you can label it. Say instead, “So Cathy, this is what judgment looks like.” Step away from the comparing paths and label it.

 

  • Present.  Be in this moment right now. And now. And now. Don’t try and recreate history. No, your ex is not coming back and that’s OK right now. Trust that the path you are on is just fine and it’s taking you in the right direction. Don’t “catastrophicize” the future. Sometimes paths cross and it’s lovely, and there are wonderful memories made, and then they uncross. There will be new paths to cross in the future. As you walk your path, be present.

 

You may not end up where you intended to go but you will be off of the Highway of Inadequacy. Trust you are exactly where you need to be. Trust that you are enough. You are enough.

Look and Listen: Lessons from Birds

I had an amazing experience in early June, I went on a birding expedition with the Lower Neuse Bird Club. When my companion Roy suggested I go, I was a bit intimidated since “I know just enough about birds to be dangerous.” That means I know the difference between a cardinal and a blue jay (the former being red and the latter being blue). My knowledge starts and ends about there. Getting up at dark o’clock and heading out to a preserve with a bunch of folks I don’t know, to look for elusive bounty seemed impulsive. I figured I’d be lucky to see one yellow bellied sapsucker or some other assumed mythical creature. I was wrong.

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Lower Neuse Bird Club. Photo by Mike Creedon

This is what I learned from my birding adventure:

  • Expert. This whole adventure would have been foolhardy without a few experts along. We met up with the caravan from New Bern, NC in Otway, NC and then traveled to the North River Preserve in Carteret County, NC. Our expert for this trip was John Fussell. This guy is mighty in his knowledge of all things birding. Our first stop on the preserve had Fussell with iPod in hand shouting out bird names like, who has never seen a Dickcissel or Blue Grosbeak? I meekly put up my hand. I had no idea if that was a bird or a disease. Well, I soon learned that Fussell had already scouted the area that morning and was calling the birds with his mighty iPod. It was fascinating. Calling up bird like ordering up fries at a drive through. Having an expert along when birding is critical.
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Indigo Bunting. Photo by Mike Creedon.
  • Patience. As I have written previously, patience has never been my strong suit. Well, when you go birding, you better be patient. Fussell would be trying to call up a bird and there all fifteen of us stood at the ready with binoculars, high-powered cameras and scopes waiting. And waiting. And waiting. Then suddenly someone would call out the bird and its location. I was skeptical that my patience, albeit finite, would pay off. Sure enough, after struggling to find an elusive Indigo Bunting on the top of the large pine next to the tallest grass on the right of the electrical pole and five feet to the left of the ditch. Magic. There is the bluest bird I have ever seen. Not in captivity but there flitting in the top of the brush singing its song. Patience pays off.

 

  • Observant. Veteran birders are super observant. I figured a newbie like me might be lucky to see much more than one or two birds. I have never been super observant. I will say that when I am in the market for a new car or phone, all I notice is that particular car or phone. The same thing applies to birdwatching. With a few experts along, suddenly all the brush and grass disappeared and there was a Dickcissel perched on a branch. Focusing on movement and the environment around you. It’s funny, all of a sudden, there would be a bird flying overhead and someone would call out “Common Yellow Throat.” Paying attention paid off with all kinds of sightings.

 

  • Notes. It didn’t take long to notice that many of the birders were taking notes. Pretty soon, I had my phone out to take notes myself. I had no idea that I would see so many unusual birds and that I would want to remember the names. It’s like everyone was keeping tabs on the various birds they observed. Initially, I figured, what was the point? But then I realized, I might want to find out more about the birds later. And…I just might want to write a post about this experience. So, I better keep track. There were at least five to six people keeping track. By the end of the trip, I had at least twelve birds I had never seen before. And I can pull up a name like Indigo Bunting without having to use my faulty memory. Keep notes of your observations. It will keep things fresh.

 

  • Listen. I had no idea that most of birding centers around listening. This may be obvious to you. We all have heard birds singing first thing in the morning. I rarely listen to a bird’s song. Well, these birders? They know a bird’s song! They have little things that they believe the bird is singing. It’s similar to a Mourning Dove’s sound, which sounds like weeping. I can’t remember what some of the more experienced birders said, but it was interesting how once they gave an identity to what a bird sounded like — “That’s a dog, that’s a dog, that’s a dog” — that was all I could hear. The real lesson here is to just listen. Now all I hear is bird’s singing and notice how one is different from another. It’s easy to just skim over the sound but if you focus in and listen, they are all unique.

I cannot begin to tell you how helpful everyone on the expedition was. If you asked, “What is that?”, someone would chime in. If someone didn’t know, they would say so. It’s like we were all there just to experience whatever came our way. I have to say, it was a lot of fun and opened my eyes to what is really going on out there. Get outside and start to notice what is around you.

I am Intelligent and Witty. Blind Spots and the Johari Window.

I worked on a coaching certification several years ago and the classwork involved the Johari Window. The Johari Window is an instrument developed by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham and it helps you understand the way you view yourself and how others view you (or don’t). It has 56 adjectives and if you’d like to try, go to this link. So our assignment at the time was to coach a classmate through the Johari Window and my classmate, Stephen Starkey, coached me.

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Blind spots on the Johari Window are those adjectives that others selected to describe you. Of the friends and family that participated, the majority chose intelligent and witty to describe me. I was taken aback by this and my coach Steve helped me uncover why. Although I think I’m smart and that I can be witty, I don’t really own it. It’s OK for me to describe someone else with those adjectives, but it seems egotistical to own them myself. Wow. Was that a breakthrough! I thought it was OK for me to describe others as intelligent but I couldn’t embrace it myself. How is that holding me back?

This brings up a recent book I read by Sheryl Sandberg called Lean In. She describes how women hold themselves back and offers advice on how to “lean in”. I can remember being in the top of my class in elementary school and then, suddenly, flicking the switch. Smart girls (intelligent girls) weren’t valued. At least from my skewed eleven-year-old perspective. Time to lean into and recognize my attributes.

If you think your blind spots are holding you back, let’s look at some ways to embrace them:

  1. Own. The first thing I did was set up an action item to own the words. My action item was to incorporate the words into my daily meditation. You might need to incorporate them into your daily prayers, affirmations or gratitude at the end of the day. You can’t live the words unless you own them. Obviously, others already know you own them so it’s time for you  to pick them up and carry them around.
  2. Utilize. So start using them. If one of your adjectives in your blind spot is “happy”, then go out and “be happy.” Live it so that you feel it. Smile to yourself in the mirror. Don’t forget, it’s you that you need to prove this to. Most others already know that you are “happy.” Utilize the adjective so that it comes alive in you.
  3. Free. Set it free. I have to say I found this to be quite empowering since acknowledging these two blind spots. Suddenly it’s not as hard to write or develop a solution to a problem. I’ve said to myself, “Cathy, you’re intelligent and witty, writing a blog post shouldn’t be that hard…pssssht.” Like I said, it’s like a road block as been removed. Now I am free.
  4. Get over it. I have to say I was terrified to write this post. I initially felt like an egomaniac, actually putting these two words out there. I can’t embrace it unless I “get over it.” Everyone out there has attributes and it’s obvious to everyone else that you are “happy, compassionate and adaptable.” Get over it, they already see it. You’re not an ego maniac (yeah, it’s not one of the adjectives available).
  5. Live. Live your acknowledged adjectives. Keep them alive and depend on them going forward. Don’t forget to make them apart of your everyday life. This is what you “are”, so live it. Quit trying to hide your “happiness” or “silly” sense of humor. There is a reason you were gifted these adjectives, so go live it.

I hope you check out the Johari Window and see what blind spots you might be ignoring or hiding. Can’t wait to see what you find.

Cutting Loose. Lessons From Traveling With My 88-Year-Old Father.

This is a repost from several years back. It’s one of my favorites. My dad turns 93 this June and is still an inspiration.

My dad’s 87-year-old brother passed away suddenly several weeks ago in Florida. My dad wanted to attend the funeral and asked me to assist him. It turned out to be quite the adventure and gave me the opportunity to see my dad in a different light. My parents have traveled the world but in the last 15 years have remained “set” in their day to day routines. In retirement “auto-pilot” of doctor’s appointments, “Civilization” (a computer game), Food Network, checking for the newspaper and mail their rigid schedule is capped with dinner at 4:30…yes, 4:30. In the span of about 24 hours, we had made the arrangements and were prepared to venture beyond the envelope of about a 15 mile radius of our hometown. Ready or not, here we come.

This is my Dad's Thai lunch....ice cream.
This is my Dad’s Thai lunch….ice cream.

The amazing thing is that the trip opened my eyes to my dad’s resilience, adaptability and patience. One would think that one so set in his ways would have a difficult time adapting to modern technology, broken routines and uncertainty. Nope. Not a problem. It made me realized that a guy who traveled to Korea, hitch hiked across the US in his twenties and canoed in the wilderness of Canada…can handle just about anything you throw at him. Just because you usually live in a well-honed routine, doesn’t mean you can’t break loose and venture out.

So this is what I learned:

1. Open. You need to be open; whether it’s Thai food, switching seats on the airplane or waiting to find the bathroom. My dad had no preconceived notions and was open to any change in course. I don’t think my dad ever had Thai food before but when my cousin suggested we eat there as a group, he was all in. Some folks sitting in his row on the airplane asked to switch seats…gladly. If we needed to find the gate at the airport before finding the men’s room; no sweat. Be open.

2. Trust. My dad trusted me completely. This was really gratifying. He had unfaltering faith in all the arrangements. I told him to check his bag (although he asked if it was free) he was willing to follow my direction and understood the rationale when everyone else came on the plane lugging a slew of carry-ons. Hotel, rental car, flights, parking, directions…he never questioned a single decision. If you want to break loose, go with someone you trust implicitly.

3. Patience. Pack some patience. My dad has this in spades. Anyone who taught 8th grade history for 30 years, has to have it in their DNA. We had two delayed flights and weren’t sure we were going to make a connection on the way home. He wasn’t anxious for a second. He would just open up his magazine and keep reading. Did I mention he is 88? If you aren’t blessed with the patience gene, try a little meditation.

4. Flexible. Anytime you want to break out of your routines, you need to be flexible. When we were connecting flights in Atlanta, we needed to find some lunch. “What do you want Dad?” Whichever line is shorter. Pizza it is. At a Thai restaurant for lunch but all you really want is dessert…ice cream it is. Three hours to kill? Head to the hotel for a nap. On the way back to Raleigh, we needed lunch again. Chinese food by gate A1 before getting on the plane. Be flexible.

5. Curiosity. When you venture out, make sure you have some curiosity. My dad can talk to anyone…I mean anyone. I remember when we were kids, if my dad was missing in action, he probably met someone in the check-out line. Upon his return, he would regale us with how interesting so and so was. He knew everyone in his row on the plane by the time we landed. You cannot talk to just anyone unless you have curiosity. Pack some curiosity when you break loose.

6. Habits. No matter where you venture to, you need to maintain some habits. Brushing your teeth, showering, and coffee in the morning. My dad has been telling me for years that he does 30 sit-ups in the morning…every morning. Sure enough, there he was at 7 AM in the bed next to me doing his sit-ups. Even amongst all of the travel and mayhem of unscheduled time, he managed to take his daily medications. Habits keep us on track and give us some normalcy amidst the chaos.

7. Prudence. Anyone from the depression era has a healthy dose of prudence. My dad wanted to know if the coffee on the plane was free…and the cookies as well. Was the coffee in the hotel lobby free? Was the breakfast free? It pays to double check. We didn’t realize some of the roads in the Orlando area were toll roads, but my co-pilot was ready with quarters by the second toll booth. It always pays to have a little prudence.

The experience of traveling with my dad was enlightening. I really admire him for his ability to roll with the punches (or plane delays) and his openness to constant schedule changes. Spending those three days with him was priceless. I’m glad we got to cut loose together.

My daughter. My hero.

My daughter, Natalie, is my stable rock. My ballast. My hero. She has recently turned twenty-five and moved to Seattle about a year ago.  I had the great fortune to spend a recent weekend with her in New Mexico where she was born.  It was great fun to return to a state that has many natural marvels and be able to give context to how her life began.  Some twenty-six years earlier, my first husband and I moved to Albuquerque to run a restaurant and try our luck as entrepreneurs.  The restaurant eventually failed and put immense pressure on our marriage.  The wonderful shining glory that came out of that ill fated move to Albuquerque was a delightful, precious blue-eyed baby girl with an infectious smile and laugh.

Outside of a return trip to New Mexico when Natalie was eight, she has not returned.  She has faint memories of that trip and certainly does not remember her first four months of life in the Land of Enchantment. We had a lot of fun returning to where it all began. It also brought up some of the reasons I have depended on her for so much in her quarter century on the Earth.

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Here are the ways Natalie is my hero:

Open. Natalie is open to any and all adventures. We did not have much of an agenda once we landed at Albuquerque’s Sunport except for a restaurant reservation or two.  Whether it was strolling the plaza in Santa Fe or taking a hike around a reservoir, Natalie was open.  She had no deadlines, no agenda, no must-see spots.  I feel like so many people in life have hidden agendas or hidden intentions.  Not Natalie. Anything goes. Wanna hike?  Sure.  Shop? You bet. Sleep in? OK. It makes me rethink how open I am to what is next. Be open.

Decisive.  Natalie may be open to all the options but once she has made up her mind, or the group has made up their mind, she goes after it. We had decided to hike Tent Rocks located outside of Santa Fe with my brother, Rick.  Once the decision was made, there was no going back.  I’m pretty sure that even if it was raining or 110 degrees, Natalie would have made it to the top of that slot canyon. She was committed. Even a random crossing of a rattlesnake on our path could not deter her from her destiny. Once you have weighed out all your options, be decisive.

Empathy. I have always had an issue with balance. I pause at the top of steps and escalators to get my barring. There were several times along the hike that Natalie grabbed my hand. I didn’t ask. She knew. When navigating very narrow footings, she said, “just one foot in front of the other.” I didn’t ask. She knew. As we hiked she would insist on a water break.  Not for her. For me. She pays attention. She senses the discomfort. She anticipates the need. It’s such a gift that I don’t know she is even aware she has it. Be in tune to those around you.

Navigator. Natalie and I had explored a trail near Santa Fe around a reservoir.  The trail was not well marked.  Towards the end of the hike we lost the trail. Pretty soon we were hiking through low uncharted brush and no fellow hikers were to be seen.  We had no GPS.  No cell coverage. I felt a bit of concern. There was no need. Natalie had a feel for where we were and led us back to the trail head and parking lot. There have been many hiccups and storms in my life over the last year and Natalie has been the calm navigator seeing me through. Make sure you have a sound navigator to help you through the storms.

Ballast. Every boat has a ballast to weight the boat upright. Natalie is my ballast. She is rarely rattled by events and keeps an even demeanor.  I can be easily flustered and fly into worst case scenarios. Natalie keeps me balanced by listening and asking questions to help me understand my own thinking. I may be ready to unload all the cargo on the boat or drop anchor but Natalie is the voice of reason.  Who is your ballast.  Maybe you are a ballast for someone else.  It’s important to have a ballast to even things out.

Joy. Natalie has infectious energy. She also happens to be a great selfie taker.  There she is in the center of the photo flashing her enchanting smile.  I cannot look at a photo of her without smiling. She is joy. She is possibility. She is magic. There are very few people that I know who exude that joyful energy. It sparks action. Everything seems possible when there is joy in the room.  I am so fortunate to have her in my life. Find joy.

I am so proud to be Natalie’s mother and, most importantly, that she is in my life. She makes everything brighter and more amazing. Who is your hero?

3 Misconceptions About Happiness

I have written and read about happiness a lot in the last seven years since I began my blog. My editor and friend sent me this link to an interview of Laurie Santos on the Megyn Kelly show. Dr. Santos teaches the largest class at Yale University and she has some great insights. Happiness seems even more elusive in our technology-fueled life when we have a powerful PC in our hands and are over committed in all aspects of our lives. You can imagine the stress a Yale student must be under. Just getting into an Ivy League university is a major feat of stamina, tenacity and grit.

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As written in the New York Times, Yale had such a demand for this class, with one quarter of the undergraduates enrolled, they had to move the location a few times in order to accommodate all the students. As reported, Dr. Santos speculated that Yale students are interested in the class because, in high school, they had to de-prioritize their happiness to gain admission to the school, adopting harmful life habits that have led to what she called “the mental health crises we’re seeing at places like Yale.” It’s important to understand the misconception around happiness as it can shed light on what to NOT do if happiness is your aim.

Here are the three misconceptions as espoused by Dr. Santos:

You don’t need change to be happy. This is like the carrot in front of the horse spurring forward action. We believe that we will be happy when we lose 10..20..30 pounds. We believe that the next job, promotion or pay increase will suddenly create happiness. We decide that getting engaged, married, buying the house, having a child, or getting that kid out of the house post-graduation, will finally bring happiness. We put off our happiness until we attain this elusive change we imagine will bring that great joy. Weddings and births are landmark moments in your life. They are fleeting. Don’t delay what you have right now. Change will come and it is constant. I believe that being in the moment is where happiness lies. Are you alright, right now? Then feel the warmth in your heart, take a deep breath and be in the moment. Don’t delay happiness for the next hurdle.

Don’t procrastinate and veg out. When we are so over-committed, it’s easy to think…oh wow Tuesday night is free. Let me sit on the couch and veg out. Instead of vegging out, happiness lies in challenging ourselves. Think about using your hands. I am a cook and find satisfaction in trying new recipes and stretching my comfort zone through baking bread and making gnocchi (a two-day process). There is great satisfaction even if the end product is not perfect. As written in Psychology Today by Dr. Carrie Barron, “Research has shown that hand activity from knitting to woodworking to growing vegetables or chopping them are useful for decreasing stress, relieving anxiety, and modifying depression. There is value in the routine action, the mind rest, and the purposeful creative, domestic or practical endeavor. Functioning hands also foster a flow in the mind that leads to spontaneous joyful, creative thought.” So is that guitar gathering dust? When is the last time you picked up those knitting needles? Joy is found in the act of challenging yourself. Don’t get wrapped up in the perfection of it. Just do.

Don’t focus on the hassles. I have worked on this a lot in the last decade. I am impatient by nature so getting in a traffic jam ten years ago would send me in an angry spiral. I re-frame it now. I pray that no one is injured in a car crash and am thankful my car is running. If I am late, I am late. Dr. Santos encourages making a gratitude journal of all the things you are grateful for. I have been writing a gratitude journal for at least a decade and it’s made a tremendous change in my outlook. Dr. Santos recommends something I had never heard of before. She calls it negative visualization. So imagine what it would be like if you didn’t have a roof over your head, or your pet passed away, or you lost a parent. Seems counter intuitive but it makes sense as you now have a new appreciation for what you have in your life. It’s easy to take what is in front of us for granted. You have clean water coming out of your faucet, as well as heat and a device that you are reading this on. Isn’t life just grand?

I work with many clients that have small children, intense travel schedules and financial difficulties. It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind. Take stock, challenge yourself, and be grateful. Happiness is here.