Learning from Regret

My personal list of regrets seems endless. I regret not eating an apple, instead of three (or maybe it was six) Oreos yesterday. I regret not walking the extra mile I intended to walk. I regret not writing a blog post yesterday, instead of trying to fit it in today. Then there are the big regrets. The years of being overweight, numbing out with alcohol and the two marriages and subsequent divorces. It is so easy to wallow in regret. Whether it be the humdrum, everyday food selections, or the life-altering regret of not backpacking Europe right after graduation. I bet you and I could each write a thousand regrets over a cup of coffee.

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Hindsight is 20/20 as they say. Wasn’t it obvious the Eagles would win the Super Bowl? Of course, your restaurant would fail after just 8 short months – don’t most of them? Wait until the car, jeans or coffee maker go on sale before you buy it, and then, they go out of stock forever. Duh. There is always clarity in looking back. You know you should have bought Apple or IBM or Google stock way back when it was cheap, so I could be sitting pretty for retirement. Regrets actually have lessons for us beside rumination and beating ourselves up.

Here are the learnings from regret:

Regret means that you took risks.

As Maura Hughes wrote for Elite Daily, “If you are confident in every decision you make, are you really living? Life is about pushing boundaries and trying new things, and in order to do that, you must take risks.” I think about my ill-fated restaurant ‘Coyotes’ some 20 years ago. It was an experience in being an entrepreneur and living out a lifelong dream. I took an enormous risk. It failed. But it means that I have shown up and rolled the dice. I will never own another restaurant. Ever. Don’t bother even asking. I have an everlasting appreciation for all those who have succeeded in the restaurant business. I still have a shirt with my logo on it. I have taken risks that have paid off as well like moving back to the East Coast and going for my Master’s degree after my restaurant failed. You win some and lose some, but you have to show up and engage in the game.

Regret means that you made a choice.

As Dr. Susan Perry wrote for Psychology Today, “Life demands that we put our stake in the ground, make our choice, and do our best to meet whatever actually happens. Of course, we would like a particular outcome, but we don’t need to chastise ourselves when things don’t go our way.” I have vacillated on a million choices in my life. Indecision is frustrating and makes you less decisive. For good or bad, make the decision. The choice. Often, waiting for more data is just putting off the inevitable. There is regret, regardless of the choice. Put a stake in the ground.

Regret ignites innovation.

Regrets help you think outside your comfort zone. I can remember when I closed my restaurant. I knew I had to figure out how to hold onto my house, mostly for my children; but also for the investment. Everyone told me to sell the house and get out from under it. The more folks advised me, the more I wanted to hold on. I rented out rooms. I cut my expenses. I took a second job. It ended up paying off in the long run when I sold the house to move to the East Coast. Necessity IS the mother of invention.

Regrets are the best teachers.

As Hughes writes, “When you’re challenged, feel like you failed and regret the choices you made, you are forced to return to the drawing board and figure out what went wrong. You are forced to work harder than you want and ultimately, the success is that much sweeter.” I reflect on surviving the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew, I can see the lesson in rebuilding and fixing my house. I have a new appreciation of those who have suffered a loss whether it is from fire or flood or financial ruin. I also look out the window with renewed appreciation for the view outside my house. It’s taught me to take stock in what I have and to savor the moment. You never know how long you will have it.

Regrets point you in the right direction.

As Hughes writes, “If we were 100 percent sure of everything we wanted out of life, it would be much easier to live. But, it would not be nearly as much fun. Part of growing up means realizing what you want, whom you want and how you want to get things done. There are no set guidelines, so you must figure it out as you go. Every now and then, you might think you want something only to find out that you were wrong.” I have had countless regrets over consuming alcohol, whether it was saying something I regretted, spending way too much money on it, or feeling hungover. Realizing that I wanted a new direction has been priceless. I couldn’t have gotten here unless I had regrets. Regrets inform you. But it’s imperative to listen.

I think there is strength in knowing that we all have regrets. It’s a human experience that moves us forward, so long as we don’t get caught up in mulling over it. What is a regret that you have learned from?

Putting Gratitude into Practice

Most people have some point of feeling grateful; like when the rain finally stops; when they get the overdue raise; when the dog is finally house broken. Sometimes it’s like pounding our head into the wall and when it finally stops, we feel grateful. We can wait for the pain to stop to finally reap our reward. Finally, the house is done; the project went live; the promotion is announced. These can be once-in-a-lifetime, periodic, or once-a-year events. Being grateful for these events is important but it’s not a practice of gratitude.

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A practice of gratitude is finding the joys of life; the little things along with the big things. My dog lying on her back on the couch without a care in the world as Hurricane Florence rages outside. The first sip of coffee at 5:10 AM. The warm embrace. The smile. The knowing glance. The warm melody of the cello playing Bach. There are thousands of things each day that pass by either noticed or not. Gratitude is the butterfly net to catch them.

Here is how to put gratitude into practice:

Reframe the event or issue

I first learned this during my Results Based Coaching with the Neuroleadership Group some seven years ago. Reframing is changing the context in which you view something. Typically, it’s turning something less desirable into something desirable. Changing the glass from being half empty into half full or half empty to thank goodness we have water. Having survived Hurricane Florence this past month has really done a reframe around power, water, air conditioning and abundant grocery stores. It goes from: “I can’t believe Walmart is closed!” to “Thank goodness Food Lion is open and they have fresh produce.” “The bridge is impassable,” to “At least I have power and can work from home.” So, when you run out of gas and have to walk to the gas station, view it as at least I got some exercise today. Reframe the negative into a positive.

Find the opportunity

Figure out what is available. When Hurricane Florence was bearing down on Wilmington, NC, I was home taking advantage of power and hot water. I think I took at least two showers a day and  kept starting up the dishwasher and washing machine. I was thinking, “Well, who knows how long we will have power. Let me do another load.” My boyfriend Roy has never seen a multi-story building he didn’t like. We checked into a hotel that had nine floors. Roy immediately decided that we were going take those stairs twice. “Here is a great opportunity!” So there I was, hiking up and down nine flights of stairs. Why waste a good opportunity for exercise? Park in the farthest spot, walk in the rain, put on a loaded backpack while you mow the lawn. Find the opportunity.

Just two beats longer

I found this in Brendon Burchard’s book, The Motivational Manifesto. As Burchard writes: Let us forget for now where we are supposed to be and what we should be doing. Instead, let us hold this moment for just two beats longer.

Do not breathe so quickly. Take in air for two beats longer.

Do not scan the room. Sense the room by gazing into each shadow and corner for two beats longer.

Do not merely glance at her. Look into her eyes and hold them for two beats longer.

Do not gulp down the next meal but savor each bite for two beats longer, let the tastes melt and linger.

Do not send the heartless note. Read it once more and spend two beats longer sensing the pain it may cause another.

Do not give a perfunctory kiss good-bye while juggling everything on the way out the door. Make the kiss count, make it firm and solid and true, holding the moment passionately for two beats longer.

Life is lived in the extra beats we hold as time unfolds.

In my opinion, those two beats hold gratitude. Savor the moment.

Journaling or whatever

Figure out a way to catalogue your gratitude. I personally have been keeping a gratitude journal for over five years. People approach this task differently – you can figure out what works for you. I kept a gratitude jar on my desk three years ago and wrote each moment of gratitude on a slip of paper, stored it in a jar until year end, and read each one on New Year’s Day. There is the practice of carrying a gratitude rock in your pocket and then touching it whenever you are grateful. You can create a gratitude tree and hang a “leaf” with each thing you are grateful for. You can write a gratitude letter once a day or week or month to thank someone you are grateful for. What’s important is that you pick something you can practice on a regular basis. I currently write five things I am grateful for in the morning and one item I am grateful for in myself (like being able to climb those 9 flights of stairs – TWICE!).

Compliment others

Nothing feels better than paying a sincere compliment. It’s completely free and feels absolutely fantastic. So, whether it’s your co-worker showing up with a new hairstyle or your assistant having completed the report in a timely manner, find something to compliment. People love to be noticed. This can be with someone you know or not. If you like the earrings of the cashier at Whole Foods, tell them you like them. It’s an easy way to pay gratitude forward. If someone pays you a compliment, be sure to say “thank you.” No qualifiers to discount the compliment like: “This old thing? I have had it for years.” Or “I really don’t like the color.” Give and accept compliments gracefully.

The underlying theme of all of this is being present and paying attention. Once it is part of you, it becomes easier and things to be grateful for multiply. Try it yourself.  What are you grateful for?

Dodging a Bullet: Hurricane Florence

If you have been reading my posts, you know that my home was flooded in Hurricane Matthew on October 8th of 2016. It was an incredible lesson, a challenge and, ultimately, contributed to the demise of my marriage. So you can imagine my anxiety as I saw the path of Florence some 5 days before it made landfall and its potential path over my home in Goldsboro, North Carolina. I was scared. I wasn’t sure what to do and if I even had the fortitude to survive another storm. I did. Currently, my dog Baci, my boyfriend Roy and I are just fine, but I’d like to share my experience dodging the bullet.

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Here is what I learned this time around:

Prepare

Five days before the storm made landfall, every store I went to was out of bottled water. There were random posts on Facebook that the Dollar General had water or bread. I started to fill containers and empty soda bottles with water. I filled every one of my dog’s water bowls to the brim. I filled the bathtub. After Matthew, we had to boil water for about a week. I wanted to make sure there was plenty of water for toilets, dishwashing, etc. I had three (yes, three) exterior battery packs and every electronic device completely charged by Thursday morning. Being able to charge your phone is critical after the storm has passed. In addition, I had everything in my garage stored at waist height or above or in my house. The garage received the brunt of the damage from Matthew and I didn’t want my front yard being full of debris after the storm.

Vigilant

I’m pretty sure I logged about thirty plus hours of Weather Channel before, during and after the storm. I watched as it dropped from a Category 4 to a Category 3 to a Category 2 at landfall. I had two separate weather apps that notified me of flood, hurricane, and tornado warnings and watches. Forewarned is forearmed. It started to rain on Thursday afternoon so I took the opportunity to run the dishwasher and wash a load of clothes. Knowing we could easily be without power for a week, we were vigilant to use it before it was gone. I cooked things that needed my electric oven and held off on the things we could heat up on a camp stove. When I woke up in the morning of Friday and still had power, I made two cups of coffee before 6 AM. We lowered the thermostat about 5 degrees lower than normal in anticipation of losing power. Use what you have before it’s gone.

Break

We never lost power. Thank goodness. The downside of not losing power is that we were sucked into the anxiety of Jim Cantore (infamous storm-chasing Weather Channel correspondent) knee high in water right outside the hotel I had stayed at just 5 days earlier and constant weather alerts on my iWatch and phone. The apex of which was early Saturday morning when I woke up at 4:30 AM to see the glimmer of water up to the first step of my deck. Gulp. This is it. Matthew all over again. I was devastated. I wept. I remember Roy telling me to take a deep breath. We weren’t being flooded at that moment. This could be the worst of it. We marked the bottom step as our high-water mark. By 11 AM, it was down about an inch. It turned out to be the high-water mark of the storm. We stopped watching the news on a continuous basis. It’s not like we never turned it on but taking a break and, more importantly, taking a breath was really important.

Explore

When the water started to recede, Roy suggested that we walk in the rain down to the dam. The dam on my lake had been reconfigured to spill at a lower lake level, so it made sense to check it out. So there we were, walking in the rain about a mile and a half down to the dam. We saw many snapped pine trees and debris but as with any exercise, it was a relief to get out of the house and to see that actual dam. It had been the cause of the damage from Hurricane Matthew as the lake hadn’t been lowered and the dam wasn’t functioning properly. It was reassuring to see the deluge going over the dam and that nothing seemed amiss. We were not the only ones suffering from cabin fever as we saw many out on the road driving to see how the neighborhood had fared through the storm.

Aftermath 

Keep in mind that if you weather the storm, things will not be back to normal for a while after the storm. It took at least a week for there to be gas and stocked store shelves. Interstate 95 and 40 are still partially closed and countless other roads are closed. Roy headed to his home in Morehead City (near the coast) and it took over 6 hours to get there. Demands on local services were sketchy especially at the coast. Mail service was delayed, businesses closed, ponding on roadways and rivers was still cresting. It will be months, if not years, for many areas to get back to normal. Or at least a new normal. The aftermath goes on and on.

Gratitude

I’m so grateful we didn’t suffer any damage from the storm. There were tree limbs down, ponding, and debris, but it was small and insignificant compared to those along the coast. When co-workers, friends and acquittances now see or talk to me, their first question is “Are you OK?” They were aware of what I went through in Hurricane Matthew and were concerned that I would have a repeat. Heck, I was scared I was going to have a repeat. I feel guilty that we never lost power, cable, Wi-Fi, cellular or running water. I dodged a bullet but I am so grateful that I won’t be dealing with insurance adjusters, contractors and, most importantly, staying put in my lovely home without incident. I am most grateful for those who love and support me, no matter if I am in a beautiful lakeside home or living out of a suitcase.

We prepared for the worst and hoped for the best, and that is exactly what happened. There are thousands who aren’t as fortunate as I. If you would like to help those affected by Hurricane Florence, please contact the American Red Cross.

Run Your Race

I recently finished reading Chrystal Evans Hurst’s book, She’s Still There. She writes about drifting off your path and your life not turning out as planned. I can identify with this, as I am sure you can as well. I don’t know anyone who is living the life they were expecting back in the 1st grade, a time when one decided to be an astronaut, physicist, or doctor. There are lots of unexpected obstacles in our paths and we wake up and wonder how we got here from there.

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What I love about this concept of run your race is that it’s so easy to get caught up in comparisons to the races that others are running. The friend with the ski chalet and new Cadillac, or the sister with no student loans. I’ve run many races in my life, both literally and figuratively. The 5ks where I was the very last to cross the line, and the master’s degree while mid-divorce with two toddlers. They were my races that I survived, thank you very much, and I have the scars to prove it. I have owned a sports car convertible and two failed restaurants, even with a degree in Hospitality. There were highs and lows, but it’s my race and I own it.

Here are some ways to run your race:

Don’t Compare. Being jealous of someone else’s life is soul crushing. As Hurst writes, “We look at the lives of other people and construct opinions of them – and ourselves – based on what we see. The problem is we’re never operating with full intel.” That friend with the ski chalet and caddie? They may be mortgaged up to their eyeballs. They may have a substance abuse problem they can’t shake. It might take all the effort they can muster to get out of bed in the morning. Don’t skim social media and assume that you are less than just because you didn’t go to Iceland this year. As Hurst espoused, “Comparison can kill.”

Know your values. I have always had wanderlust. My parents instilled in me the value of adventure and travel with several trailer trips when I was kid. I have brought this wanderlust to my children. I value adventure over material objects. It’s not that there isn’t anything under the tree at Christmas; it’s just I would rather experience something than to have one more thing to store. My son competes at the national level in weightlifting. I want to be there when he competes. My daughter loves to hike. I value my time in being there for my son in competition and for my daughter experiencing the great outdoors. Make sure the race you are running aligns with your values.

Practice gratitude. As Hurst writes, “Gratitude is the practice of being thankful and showing appreciation. When you focus on what’s right in your world, you limit the power of what’s wrong to steal your joy.” I write in a gratitude journal every morning. I take stock in what went right the day before. It might just be a text from my son or a coworker’s compliment on my blouse. It starts my day off right and keeps me on the path of what’s right in the world instead of what’s wrong. I always find gratitude in something that I did for myself like my strength workout, sobriety or staying positive with a coworker. Self-gratitude is important to stay the course of the race.

Encourage others. My boyfriend Roy recently ran his third triathlon. It took a lot of training and practice. I was his support team. I was his timer when he practiced his transitions from swim to bike and bike to run (yes, a ten-second saving matters). In the weeks leading up to the race we focused on his sleep, his training, his race. Having run a marathon about five years ago, I could identify with the amount of focus and anxiety that can come with a big race. As Hurst writes, “A compliment paid to someone else can have the effect of freeing you.” Try to focus on what is going right for others as they run their race.

Pay attention. As Hurst writes, “Comparison is a habit. That means you can choose not to practice it. There is nothing good about practicing an activity that only results in a feeling of competition, envy, or strife.” When you start envying someone’s new dress or vacation or new iPhone, notice it and redirect it. This won’t happen overnight. Sometimes awareness alone can help you break the habit.  Remember what you value, what you are grateful for and lift other’s up. It’s the antidote to comparison. That’s their path; their race. What’s your race looking like?

Live intentionally. Hurst posits, “Stop letting where other people are in their run determine how you feel about your own. “This shows up for me as I see retirement some decade or more off. I can be jealous as I see other’s around my same age either retiring or eyeing it some three years from now. I start comparing and beating myself up for not deferring more into my 401k in my 40s. It’s OK. It’s my race. So, I get to enjoy the camaraderie of going to work each day and continue to further my career. It’s a waste to sulk about what could have been. Be here now and enjoy the experience.

I identified with this concept because Hurst wrote about how speed walkers would pass her as she ran in a marathon. I have experienced that several times. How come my run is slower than their walk? We are all different, we are all talented and unique to ourselves. Don’t let comparison kill your race. How is your race going?

Being Present

It’s easy to run through your day just skimming the surface. I’d bet you were on auto pilot on your last drive to work or home. You don’t remember that annoying person driving too slow in front of you or that family riding their bikes. It’s easy to blame technology and its incessant dopamine hits calling your attention back to social media and email notifications, so you can acknowledge that jerk at work or that annoying comment from a coworker on your Instagram post. We get wrapped up in our heads instead of actually being present.

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Kayaking on Lake Puiray

There is the novelty of travel and trying to get to the next spot to take the iconic picture. To check another item off the bucket list. To rush and hurry and strive and push onto the next thing. As you even read this, I wonder if you’re simply skimming this sentence (as I tend to do) and rush onto the bullets to see what you might glean (quickly) from this post.

Here are the benefits of being present:

Unexpected. One of the most beautiful moments I had on my trip to Peru a few months back was on Lake Piuray. I knew the plan was to kayak somewhere but besides that, I didn’t know much else. Well, it ended up being a highlight of the trip. We launched from a beach on a spectacular lake near Chinchero, Peru. Outside of a few farms and glacial mountains surrounding the lake, it was mostly uninhabited. The cranes, ibises, and ducks flew by and a clear blue sky bathed us in sunshine. We paddled peacefully near the reeds by the bank. I remember thinking to take it all in for just two beats longer. This is what life is all about; this hour or so of beauty, peace and tranquility. It may have been unexpected, but it was a gift I wouldn’t soon forget.

Ordinary. I have taken a short one mile walk in my neighborhood probably a thousand times. I usually have a set of earbuds in and am listening to music, an audiobook, or a podcast. I rarely “pay attention” to my surroundings. When I first did this walk (and almost every subsequent one) with my boyfriend Roy, he would stop dead in his tracks to watch the Purple Martins flying. I had never noticed them. Or their nest. Or the Ospreys. Or the Swifts. Now I do. I try not to skim through my day but rather observe the ordinary that I was oblivious to before. Be present to the ordinary.

Stop. I typically rush through my day. I try and check off all that I want to accomplish. Outside of meditating every morning, the rest of my day can seem like a long list of duties and appointments that I am checking off. A few weeks ago, I was hiking a trail next to the Eno River with Roy. He, of course, stopped next to the river for a few moments. He called me over. I stopped and looked as he pointed out the small crappies swimming in the river below the surface, only visible with polarized sunglasses. My typical behavior would be to move on forward down the trail and not stop. It’s in those moments of stopping that magic is revealed. The tiny fish were swimming as Roy threw in a piece of bark that they immediately swam for. Stop and enjoy the moment.

The feels. This has been a revelation over my past year of sobriety. When I stopped numbing out with food and alcohol, I actually felt things. I know that sounds crazy. It wasn’t like I didn’t have feelings before I quit numbing out, but when I was actually present for the feelings, I actually experienced them. I believe that there is an all or nothing view of feelings. Either we are raging with anger or stoically passing through drama unaffected (typically with a little help of some vice of choice). So, cry when you need to; it’s good for you anyway. Feel deceit, anger, regret, or resentment. Feel the feels. It makes you really present in your experience.

Meditation. I’m not sure how long I have been meditating (I’m guessing ten years) but it’s been over a year since I started practicing Sudarshan Kriya from the Art of Living. I will not pretend that I don’t have thoughts or extraneous worries as I meditate for twenty minutes in the morning. Stuff crops up. But it’s OK. This is not about turning off your thoughts. It’s about focusing on the breath and letting thoughts go as they crop up. It’s not about perfection. It makes me present, out of my head, and back into my body.

Whether today is a run of the mill day with a long list of to-dos, or you are on your dream vacation, don’t rush through: take a breath and feel the moment. Be here now. In this moment, regardless…Be Here Now. Each moment has its magic. Are you ready to be present?

Peru’s Amazing Animals

When I signed up last year to travel to Peru, I had no idea I would be seeing wildlife in their natural habitat. I expected, like it had been on my first visit to South America, that most of the wildlife would be captive. As in caged or behind glass enclosures. Or, as I had seen in Brazil some thirty years ago, ten snakes in a beat-up wooden box (yes, it was terrifying) or small parakeets with clipped wings kept as family pets. This is not what I found when I traveled to the Amazon jungle, the high plains of Lake Titicaca or the mountainous Andes around the Sacred Valley.

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Macaws along the Tambopata River

Here are just a few of the amazing animals I saw in Peru:

Bullet Ants. These ants are gigantic in “ant” terms. Up to 1.2 inches long. We happened upon one while hiking through the Amazon Jungle near the Tambopata River. Our guide Saul had one of these humongous ants on a stick large stick and explained that their bite was one of the most painful. I stood back as others took pictures. I guess I was afraid it could develop wings and fly towards me. Upon researching it once we were back home later, I found this first-hand account of being stung by Dr. Justin Schmidt: “It really felt like a bullet. It was instantaneous, almost even before it stung me. It was absolutely riveting. There were huge waves and crescendos of burning pain—a tsunami of pain coming out of my finger. The tsunami would crash as they do on the beach, then recede a little bit, then crash again. It wasn’t just two or three of these waves. It continued for around 12 hours. Crash. Recede. Crash. It was absolutely excruciating.” Luckily no one was stung, but I am glad to no longer be in the same hemisphere with those ants.

Caimans. As we first arrived in Puerto Maldonado and survived an intense bus ride down a rutted road from the airport to the Tambopata River, we embarked on a boat down the river. Along the 90-minute boat ride, we stopped to view different animals that happened by. We ran into a mother caiman with about 6 baby caimans of different sizes. The caimans are relatives of alligators and crocodiles. We sat offshore as the baby caimans walked along the riverbank and the mother sat 5 yards offshore with only her head (and large eyes) above water. I was surprised since the baby caimans were various sizes, but our guide Saul explained that the eggs hatch at different times, each up to a week apart, resulting in different sized caimans. Interesting.

Parrots and Macaws. We left our lodge along the Tambopata River at about 6 AM (horrifically early for folks on vacation). We hiked through the jungle and embarked on our boat while it was still dark, just to be prepared to view the parrots and macaws along the cliffs of the Tambopata. I had very low expectations. How in the world did they know that these birds would show up? It’s not like we had an appointment. Sure enough, along with several other boats of explorers, there we saw the magical blue-headed parrots flying along the cliffs. I would guess there were at least 60 parrots, if not more, flying along the banks. No cage. No clipped wings. Just beautiful blue and green parrots flying in the wild. About 30 minutes later, we parked our boat with several others along the riverside and watched as red, green, blue and yellow macaws flew along the cliffs and stopped to perch in the tree tops. I have to say that watching 4 or 5 macaws fly with their extraordinarily long tail feathers is spectacular. To see these amazing tropical birds in the wild?  Priceless.

Moorhen. We spent several days on Lake Titicaca, which is the largest lake in South America and the highest navigable lake in the world at 12,500 feet. We took a boat along the reeds and marshes of the Uros of the Floating Islands. There was this striking bird that had black feathers, the size of a mallard duck and a prominent red beak. They were visible throughout the islands and marshes alongside egrets and herons. The red beak is very distinguishable and showed up in many of the crafts that the local villagers made.

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Alpaca near Lake Titicaca

Llamas and Alpacas. I expected to see llamas on my trip to Peru. I did not expect to see its shaggy cousin alpacas. I really did not expect to see llamas wandering around one the seven wonders of the world at Machu Picchu. As we traversed the rocky steps and awe-inspiring ancient site, there they were; hanging out for photo bombs and eating the grass around the archeological site. We didn’t see alpacas at Machu Picchu but did see them in Chinchero, Peru. Llamas and alpacas have been domesticated in Peru for over 6,000 years. In fact, llamas are the only residents of Machu Picchu in present day. So, there’s a wonderful surprise for you while you explore the ancient site.

There are many more animals that we experienced in the wild like howler monkeys (loudest monkey in the world), puno ibis, wood storks, Amazonian oropendola (they make ingenious teardrop nests hanging off tree branches), capybara (largest rodent in the world), russet-backed oropendola, black-tailed trogon, spix’s guan (distant cousin of our turkey), vicuna (very shy cousin of the llama) and paradise tanager (spectacular in color as well as singing ability). It seemed as if there were gifts that showed up at least once a day on the trip. I have a new appreciation for the diversity of flora and fauna in Peru and a new patience for letting them reveal themselves. What do you need to appreciate?

7 Ways to Engage in JOMO

You decide against going to the company baseball game on the off chance your ex might be there, and according to the Facebook posts, it looks like it was a ton of fun. You want to go to your high school reunion but you haven’t yet lost the weight you want, so you decide to skip. What if your old boyfriend shows up single and rich? You stay at the Christmas party for one more hour (and one more drink) to see if they finally play your favorite song. These are examples of FOMO or the Fear of Missing Out. You say Yes to things you really don’t want to attend or No to things; and then regret that you didn’t go. It can make you either completely over-committed, or wallowing in shame over not feeling good enough to attend.

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All social media channels fuel the fire on FOMO. The Instagram pictures of fabulous food at the new restaurant you’ve been wanting to try, the fabulous pictures of Glacier National Park your friend just sent you (wow, I want to go there) or the Facebook pictures of your college friends getting together while you recuperate from surgery. There is an antidote for this. Blogger Anil Dash coined the acronym JOMO (or the Joy of Missing Out). For me, it’s an acceptance of being OK where you are.

Here are 7 ways to engage in JOMO:

  1. Other’s Expectations. As Wayne Dyer famously said, “What other people think of me is none of my business.” There is true peace in that. Let go of knowing or fulfilling other’s expectations and you will find joy. Isn’t that why you went to the committee meeting on Tuesday, so that you were seen instead of really caring about the agenda? I’ve done that in the past – just shown up so that everyone could check off my name on the list. Cathy was there. Letting go of other’s expectations is where the joy is.
  2. Their moment. When my kids and I went to Colombia about two years ago, my kids wanted to climb the 740 steps to the top of La Piedra del Peñol. I was fifty pounds heavier than I am now and I didn’t figure my adult children would want to wait for me to climb the rock. I waited at the bottom. I figured I would regret it, but it was their moment. I have a picture from the top of the rock, of my beautiful children smiling in the camera with that enormous sense of accomplishment. It is their moment together. Two Colombian-American kids standing at the top of an enormous Colombian rock taking a selfie. There is joy in letting it be their moment.
  3. Just say No. Christine Kane calls this the Proactive No. It’s one of the reasons I turned down an opportunity to go to a baseball game a few weeks ago. I hate baseball. Don’t go to something that you feel is boring. Unless my kid is playing in the game, I’m not going. Proactive No’s are rules to live by, like: I am always home on a Sunday evening, 2. No horror films (ever) and 3. I will never schedule a flight before 7 AM. These are your guidelines so that you have an easy out of the cocktail party on a Sunday night, “So sorry, Sunday evening is family time.” There is joy in Proactive No’s.
  4. Be complete. You are good enough right now. You are complete. If you are in a relationship or not. If you are overweight or underweight. If you have made your first million or not. If you finished the marathon or not. If you have been to all fifty states or you are missing three (Iowa, North Dakota and Alaska). You are complete right now. When I was suddenly single last year, I knew I had to be completely on my own before finding someone new. No one else or thing or place can complete me. There is joy in recognizing you are complete right now.
  5. Mindfulness. There are many ways to get to mindfulness. It might be yoga, running, or meditation. I personally find that the meditation that I learned from Art of Living is the best way to get me centered each day. I have been doing this twenty-minute meditation without fail for over a year. Focusing on my breath helps me reset my head. Let go of regrets and fears. Joy is all between your ears.
  6. Solitude. At this point in my life, I face an empty nest except for my beloved dog. Some of you might be rolling your eyes as you face getting the kids’ back-to-school clothes, signed up for activities, all while working a full-time job and trying to get the laundry done. You are just wishing for the time you’re faced with blessed solitude. Initially, the silence was deafening, but eventually, it morphed into peace and joy. Solitude takes getting used to and it’s not easily accepted initially. We end up filling up the solitude with technology, screen time and addictions. Grab that classic book you’ve been meaning to read for the last decade and relax into solitude. That’s where the joy is.
  7. Be grateful (not jealous). I have friends that travel the world, that accomplish amazing feats like triathlons and marathons, and have the means to go to exotic locations like Bali and Antarctica. I am grateful for the people in my life and am so happy an old college friend just relocated to Paris for the year. I’m so happy that a college friend traveling to Machu Picchu two years ago prompted me to make the trip myself just a few months ago. I personally know over fifteen people that have completed marathons. That is amazing. Being grateful reframes everything into joy.

JOMO is just another way of letting go. Releasing the energy that you might be missing out on something even better. There is joy in just releasing it.

6 Surprising Observations About Peru

I had the great fortune of traveling around Peru a few months ago. It was a great trip. I had certain expectations about Peru and most of them were based on assumptions I had made from previous travel to South America. It’s like assuming that Canada and the United States are the same. Same language. Same continent. It all must be the same. Well, of course it’s not. There are similarities to other South American countries, but there are so many things that are very different and unique to Peru.

 

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Here are some of my surprising observations:

  1. Even in anger there is politeness. When my friend Vicki and I arrived in Lima to begin our trip, we took an Uber from the airport to the hotel. It was around 10 PM. It was packed with people on a narrow sidewalk waiting for our car. Apparently, our Uber driver made some other drivers angry as he maneuvered to position his car to pick us up and put our bags in his trunk. Lo and behold in about 5 minutes into the drive, one of those drivers cut off our car to stop our driver. The angry guy got out of his car (in the middle of the road) and banged on our car with his fist. A heated argument ensued. Vicki and I just shot a glance at each other as if to say, “Are we safe?” I heard the other driver say to our driver in Spanish, “Out of respect for the ladies, I’ll let you go.” He turned away and got back in his car. We were back on our way; no further discussion or explanation. We went from an argument that felt like it would come to blows, to a peaceful end once the instigator saw “the ladies in the back seat.”
  2. Driving is no holds barred. It appears as if there are absolutely no rules of the road. Vicki and I took several Uber rides around Lima and, in every case, I felt as if I was taking my life into my own hands. Many intersections between roads had no signage or traffic lights. It was a free for all getting across; like a giant game of chicken. Even if there was a red light, cars (including our vehicle) would start to creep in and cross the street regardless of oncoming traffic. This created a cross stitch-like maze at many intersections. I would be thinking, “Well, we are stuck now” and our driver would press forward and cram his car into some impossible crack in the congestion. I texted my kids that, “Medellín (Colombia) has nothing on Lima drivers.” My son texted back, “Bold statement.” I stand by my statement.
  3. Being a pedestrian requires being alert and patient. Vicki and I saw that there was a coffee shop about half a block across the street from our hotel. It took about ten minutes to get across a major boulevard. The crosswalks are not always marked and one-way streets are not obvious. It takes a few minutes of observation to see “what the possibilities are” as far as traffic goes. Suddenly, as you stand on the sidewalk, you see an incoming onslaught of cars from nowhere. Observing other pedestrians is important as well. But by far, the most important thing is patience. I might be bold enough to walk in front of a car in a major U.S. city in the middle of gridlock, but in Peru? Vicki and I were outside a major archeological site for about ten minutes just trying to figure out how to cross an intersection.
  4. Living is simple. We had the opportunity to go into several homes in Peru from the Amazon Jungle to the Uros of the floating islands of Lake Titicaca. People live simply. A solar panel or a generator for electricity. No refrigerator or big screen television. A large pot on a fire and some wooden bowls for a kitchen. I recently wrote a piece on needing less stuff. It’s amazing what we view as necessary in the United States compared to the friendly country folks of Peru. In the country side, there are mostly tuk tuks (motorized three-wheeled taxis) and very few full-sized cars. A cow attached to a rope eating along side a road. Even in the bustling city, you don’t notice folks standing around staring at their electronic devices. It felt as if most of Peru was unplugged from distractions.
  5. Roads are not a priority. Destinations like Machu Picchu and Lake Titicaca must be big business in Peru. The infrastructure of the country seems in-congruent with tourism. We traveled on some roads that I would not even dare to hike across let alone drive a tour bus on. There was one rutted dirt road on the hillside between two archeological sites that due to heavy machinery during the rainy season was practically impassable. The driver navigated at slower speeds but some of those ruts were over a foot deep. I remember thinking at the time, “I hope we aren’t coming back this way.” When we were traveling from the airport at Puerto Maldonado to the Tambopata river, we were on another road that was mostly gravel and full of pot holes. The guide said that the road was less than a year old. I have to say, it may be the difference in weather and amount of traffic but Colombia had smoother, more modern roads than Peru.
  6. Bathrooms are different. I assume it is the septic system in Peru but toilet paper is thrown in a trash can instead of the toilet. This is a hard habit to break. I would reflexively throw the toilet paper in the toilet and then admonish myself. In some areas, we had to pay one or two soles to use the bathroom and were portioned out four or five squares of toilet paper (I know…right?). The craziest thing for me a lot of public toilets did not have toilet seats. I have a new appreciation for the luxury of not sitting on porcelain. I was expecting pit toilets at some point, but every toilet was a flush toilet, where even toilet seats were sometimes a luxury. You have been warned.

There is great diversity of topography and fauna in Peru. From the Amazon river basin at 400 feet above sea level to the 12,500-foot-high plains pass into Puno. From the glacier-topped Andean peaks to the beaches of Lima. It may not have been what I expected, but it was an engaging, unique exploration into the unknown.

Cry? It’s Good For You.

Some of the best memories from my childhood in Wilmington, Delaware are of my dad rocking me in our black rocking chair while I cried. I guess I was about 5 years old and, being the youngest and only girl, I may have caused a few of the outbursts by pushing my brother Rick or driving him to crazyland. Or, I may have just been plain melodramatic, which sent me to that magical rocking chair with my dad quietly soothing me. Until recently, I feel like he was the only one who let me cry. It’s taboo in our culture to cry. I think we all have those moments where we stifled down the tears and kept a stiff upper lip. I remember the first time I was terminated from a job, as I focused solely on holding back the tears. I have no idea what was said in that meeting, I just remember valiantly “holding it together.”

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Crying is frowned upon for either gender, although it seems boys are pressured to not cry more than girls (I don’t remember seeing my brothers in that magical rocking chair). Crying a sign that you can’t control your emotions, that you are weak or, perhaps, a loose cannon. Well, it turns out that crying is actually good for you.

Here are the reasons it is good to cry:

Toxins. Crying is a toxin removal system. It’s like a dump truck taking the garbage out. According to neuroscientist Dr. William H. Frey II, PhD, “Crying actually removes toxins from the body. Tears help humans eliminate chemicals like cortisol that build up during emotional stress and can wreak havoc on the body.” Who doesn’t want to do a cortisol dump occasionally? You don’t need a medication or self-medication (in the form of alcohol or drugs) to eliminate the toxins. Just sit down and have a good cry. It’s a natural body cleanse without the side effects, except for puffy eyes.

Blood pressure. It lowers your blood pressure. I think of it like a release valve on a pressure cooker. Let the steam go. Release it by having a good cry. As cited by Marlo Sollitto, “Crying has been found to lower blood pressure and pulse rate immediately following therapy sessions during which patients cried and vented. High blood pressure can damage your heart and blood vessels and contribute to stroke, heart failure and even dementia.” Crying can be good for your health.

Stress. It’s no surprise that since it can remove toxins and lower blood pressure that crying can reduce stress. “Chronic stress can increase the risk of heart attack, damage certain areas of the brain, contribute to digestive issues like ulcers, and cause tension headaches and migraines, among other health issues. Humans ability to cry has survival value,” Frey emphasizes. Since I gave up alcohol over a year ago, it’s been easier for me to cry and I have to say my blood pressure has never been better. I know this is anecdotal but any means to reduce your stress is important.

Relationships. It can help your relationships. This seems counter intuitive. How can crying help your relationships? As Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD wrote for WebMD, “Remember, the ability to feel comforted by others is wired into us from birth. So why not turn to it when you are struggling? Your loved ones can be a wonderful source of strength when you are feeling overwhelmed. They can help calm and comfort you, renewing your ability to think clearly and fully engage in life.” When I received some bad news a few weeks ago, my boyfriend Roy offered for me to cry on his shoulder. This is the first time in decades that someone offered for me to cry on their shoulder. It not only strengthened our relationship but it helped build trust. Crying can build relationships.

Through. Richie Norton said, “To escape fear, you have to go through it, not around it.” I can remember in my Neuroleadership Coaching training that most of us are just skimming through life and not actually allowing feeling. Coaching, therapy or just a close relationship, can set up a safe place to feel. It’s difficult to get past pain or fear without feeling it. We end up numbing out pain through food, alcohol and drugs instead of being in the moment of hurt. Think about labeling the feeling to really accept it. Like tightness in my throat, clenching in my belly and tears running down my face…this is what rejection feels like. Acknowledge your pain or fear. Label it. Understand what it is doing to your body and where you are feeling it. Go through it and not around. Crying does that for me.

It’s amazing that we all seem to try and hold back one of our bodies natural reactions to alleviate our pain. Crying is cathartic and helpful. Be present with it and let it happen.

Tenacity. Lessons from Kayaking.

I have been called tenacious as long as I can remember. I can remember driving in a blinding snow storm to get back to Ithaca, New York after Thanksgiving break. I was alone in my Honda Civic and regardless of the twists and turns down route 79, I was bound and determined to make it back to school. I did. When it came time to reopen my restaurant in Santa Rosa, California after the health department decided I needed a new tile floor at the cost of $20,000 that was not in the budget, I did. When my children wanted to go to Medellín, Colombia for Christmas and my home was ravaged by Hurricane Matthew, I still made it happen. If life throws down a gauntlet, I will pick it up and run with it.

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Vicki and I kayaking on Lake Titicaca.

A few months back, my resolve and tenacity were tested. My friend Vicki and I sat in a two-person kayak a thousand miles from shore (well, that’s what it felt and looked like) on Lake Titicaca! The wind was pushing waves higher, the water was 40 degrees and there was no one in sight. At the time I wondered if I had bit off more than I could chew; that maybe this wouldn’t be a happy ending. Obviously, I am able to write about this now, but it was an experience I won’t soon forget.

 

This is what I learned about tenacity on Lake Titicaca:

 

Discern. As we headed to the launch site on a peninsula on Lake Titicaca, we were on a large, comfortable boat. I was observing the water. In retrospect, I was actually assessing the landscape. Vicki and I had initially decided we would be in single kayaks for the 3.5 mile paddle. As I watched the water out the window and saw the waves starting to rise, I asked Vicki if she would be OK in a two-person kayak.  I felt like a larger boat would be more stable on the waves. It was a decision I did not regret. Only one brave soul in our group, Debra, did a single kayak and she was sorely tested. When handed a big task, make sure you use your discernment before jumping it.

 

Gear. As we suited up in our rain jackets, life preservers and paddles, I thought back to kayaking on the Newport River about a month earlier with my boyfriend, Roy. I had gotten blisters from the 45-minute paddle. I quickly got the attention of one of the guides and asked for a pair of gloves in Spanish. Luckily, we were the last group to depart from the beach, and he made it back in time with two right handed gloves. I made due with putting the extra right-handed glove on my left hand. The water was cold and I knew that it would be a lot more than 45 minutes for the 3.5 mile trek. Tenacity is important but making sure you’ve got the right gear is important as well.

 

Learn. This was not my first time in a kayak. It was the first time I’d ever been in a two-person kayak. It was also the first time I would be steering the kayak with a rudder and pedals to direct the boat. We watched as two kayaks departed and how the rudder was deployed. Our rudder was not deploying via a pulley as expected. Once in the boat, I checked the pedals to make sure they were operational and asked one of the guys on shore to make sure he physically put the rudder into place. I also made sure my kayak spray skirt was tight so that water (did I mention the water was cold?) did not spray into the boat. I watched as others who had just deployed went in circles in the small bay from our departure point. As you gather information, make sure you use it to your advantage. I had used a kayak spray skirt some three days earlier and knew it would be important to be snug. I knew that operating the pedals for the rudder would be important. When you have a big project, make sure you learn as much as possible with the time allotted to gather it, and more importantly, use the information.

 

Team. The biggest advantage of a two-person kayak over a one-person is teamwork. Vicki and I paddled two strokes on the right side and then two on the left. We started off by saying right, right, left, left. Then we started counting 1 right, 1 right, 1 left, 1 left. This morphed into to 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 2, etc. We would decide initially on 10 strokes, then 15, then 20, then 25 and took brief rests in between each set. We took turns calling out the numbers and then finally decided to just count the first set and the rest were in our heads. We had the ability to adapt. If 25 strokes were too much, we cut it back to 20. If calling it out loud was too taxing (it was), then we would count to ourselves. If I started to get off course from the waves, Vicki would point it out. I’m not sure I would have made it across without Vicki. As Vicki said, “I really am glad that we did the 2-person kayak. It was only my third time in a kayak ever and my first in a 2-person kayak. I would have been miserable by myself and not sure if I physically would have been able to make it.It was a tough paddle that took about two hours. When you want to achieve something, use teamwork and devise a system, if possible.

 

Strategy. When we initially set off to go to Taquile Island on Lake Titicaca, we had no idea where on the island we were headed. We were in front of all the other kayaks and I just focused on the far-right end of the island, hoping that someone would point the way later. Eventually, a motor boat came along and pointed to the opposite end (the far left-hand side) of the island. I then changed strategies and steered toward the left-hand side. I was open to change in strategy and Vicki confirmed our focal point. A multitude of waves kept taking us off course. A second motor boat came up dragging another two-person kayak behind it. The man on board was shouting to me in Spanish: “Wait. There are dangerous rocks.” I hesitated. I told Vicki what I understood. We seemed to be about halfway to our destination and the lake seemed way too deep for rocks. We decided to muster on. We made the decision to move on but I was cautiously scanning the water for rocks. Once you decide on a strategy, be open to more information and adapt.

 

Calm. I was pretty nervous for most of the trip to Taquile Island. The waves were even higher than I anticipated. When one wave came across the kayak between Vicki (in front) and myself (in back), I was really nervous. What happens if we tip over?  I don’t see a rescue boat close by. I don’t think I can swim that far. I had a thousand concerns running through my head. I shut up the voice of doubt. On a rest break, I looked up at the blue sky, I counted two beats longer and just appreciated the fact that I was on the highest navigable lake in the world (at 12,500 feet) and just tried to take it all in. I kept my worried thoughts to myself and tried to remain as positive as possible. Panicking Vicki or any other kayakers was not going to help anyone. Keep calm and carry on.

 

We made it. A total of 4 kayakers were towed to Taquile Island. Three kayaks made it in one piece, although it was a lot more arduous than we expected. The current was against us rather than with us. It ended up being life affirming and I am proud that we made the journey. I believe that tenacity won out in the end and it made all the difference.