What My Dog Taught Me About Limiting Beliefs

This past week I had quite the scare.  My beloved, happy go lucky dog, Baci, was suddenly missing.    Out of the blue, I looked around on Saturday morning and said “Where’s Baci?”  Well, she must be outside I thought. I checked the “usual spots” (dog house, garage, under the deck, tree #1, tree #2, tree #3….you get the picture) but to no avail.  Then I was outside looking down the road and into “presumably” the uncharted territories of the neighbors yards and the road.  By happenstance, a neighbor was down the road about 100 yards away walking her dog and I heard a familiar bark.  Aha!

There she was two doors down barking her head off at the dog being walked defending her new found territory.  What in the world?  How did that happen?  I carried her home.  I have a wireless containment system that involves a dog collar and base unit.    When Baci gets out about 100 feet from the base unit, she receives a warning beep and then a slight shock.  I’ve had the system almost as long as Baci (about 8 years) and she definitely knows her territory.   The base unit was broken.  For how long?  Who knows?  At some point, she started testing her outer limits, her limiting beliefs.

Outer Limits.  What my Dog Taought me about Limiting Beliefs.

This is what she taught me.

  • Routine.  Baci always has the same routine.  The “usual spots” in the yard that she investigates every time she is outside.  Heck, she has the same routines inside the house.  The same windows she sidles up to peer out.  The same tap, tap, tap, tap across the wood floor.  We’ve all got the same routines.  Brush your upper right teeth before the left.  Wash your hair before your face.   Check your phone and then pour coffee.  At some point, Baci changed her routine, to head into the outer limits.  If you want to change things up, you are going to need to change up your routine.

 

  • Environment. The day that I found Baci -AWOL,  there was a blanket of snow on the ground.  This is a drastic change in environment when you live in Eastern North Carolina.  This was not the usual fare.   So with a blanket of white snow, her perspective and our perspectives, where different.  The snow was covering the usual “barriers”.  Perhaps the root (her imagined border) she would never cross or a fallen branch.  A change in environment can change the way you see the world.  Change your office, re-org your books, change the wallpaper on your PC.  The barriers will disappear.

 

  • Test.  At some point, she tested the limit.  Probably by accident at first, but she went a little farther than she had before.  And then a little farther.  And then a little more. She inched her way to new territory and was no worse for wear.  Test your limits.  Write an intro to a book.  Sign up for that art course you’ve always wanted to take.  Open a new PowerPoint template and make a few slides.  Test your outer limits.  And then go a little farther.  And then a little more.

 

  • Explore. When I look back, I was wondering how long the invisible fence system was down.  When I  reflect back, I can remember seeing Baci in places that had previously been off limits.  Or I would look everywhere for her, give up and go inside, and suddenly she would be at the back door trying to get in.  It.Could.Have.Been.Months.  Wow.  She was out there exploring.  Finding new cats, tennis balls and squirrels (probably the same squirrels, just a new tree).  She always came home.  She knew where home base was.  Go explore.  What’s on your bucket list?  Check a few off.  Barcelona, Copenhagen and Alaska are on mine.  Go explore some new trees.

I’m not suggesting we all let our pets run wild.  But I do feel conflicted about restoring Baci to her home territory.  How exciting for her to test her limiting beliefs and break beyond her usual outer limits.  Don’t wait for the next snow or for retirement or for the lottery…test your limiting beliefs.  See how exciting and rejuvenating it can be.

How to quit awfulizing so much.

Do you want to procrastinate? Do you like to procrastinate? Do want to come to a complete stop? Start worrying? Worry about the what ifs? Dwell on all the things that could happen? Might happen? Could happen? Should happen? It sucks the life out of you. Quit awfulizing.

I had a client recently gnashing her teeth because her child was going overseas for a month. Her biggest issue was the not knowing. How would they communicate? What is Skype? Where would he be living? So my question was: “How is all this worrying working for you?” Well, it’s not. It’s paralyzing, sleep depriving…a waste. Worrying or not worrying will not change the outcome.

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I’m not saying I don’t understand. I have two young adult children who have been more than an hours drive away for the last two months (one 11 hours south and one 2 hours west). They are making their own decisions, their own plans and their own mistakes.  My worrying or lack of worrying won’t change the outcome. But at least I sleep. This has not always been my M.O. (modus operandi). It’s taken me years to back off the Ledge of Worry.

How to get to worry free in 5 not so easy steps:

1. Decide.  You need to simply get on board or not. If you really enjoy thinking of endless ways how your child, your parent or your spouse could be in a car accident. If this is your fuel, then join the fretters club. But if you’re ready to do the mental dump and start living in the moment, then you need to make the commitment. This can’t work unless you do.

2. Optimism. You will need to be optimistic. This will be difficult for the glass-half-empty-people out there. What if everything is going to be better than expected? Maybe the plane is getting in early. Maybe your team will go to the NCAA finals. Maybe the boss’s office door is shut because they are working on your raise. Everything is possible including the windfall, the referral and the next project. Expect the best.

3. Turn it off.  The news that is. I was just in Atlanta and my husband had the evening news on. OMG. Shootings. Drownings. Murder. Car accidents. My blood pressure went up. My mind starts wandering down horrible trails. What if that was my kid, friend, or coworker? Nothing good can come from the news. 98% is sensationalized and depressing. I’ve taken a clue from my daughter. She gets caught in rain storms without an umbrella or in freezing temperatures with flip flops on. She doesn’t watch the news or the weather. She takes is as it comes. Why ruin the surprise?

4. Moment.  As in, Ya Gotta Live in the Moment. This is the most difficult. There is always a certain  amount of reflection and planning in life. We just need to stop dwelling on embarrassments, back stabbing and finger pointing. We need to quit anticipating the worst outcome. So your friend has cancer. Worrying for them is not going to help them. Praying for them can. Assuming they will be cured is a much more positive approach. Being with them in the moment is a gift.

5. Alert.  Pay attention to your thoughts. No one else will. You need to be vigilant. Pessimism has a way of seeping into our heads. When you get caught in your fourth red light in a row, chill out. It’s going to be fine. Sometimes I fantasize that if I didn’t get caught at the red light I would have been some place three minutes earlier and caused a car accident. This was meant to be. Just make sure you’re staying in charge of those fretting thoughts. You are your own sheriff. Clean out the riff raff.

So the next time your spouse/partner is late, imagine that they’re picking up your favorite coffee or scoring a new project. It will send out positive energy and you will sleep so much better.

What would you do?

Coping with Change

You just lost your job and you are reeling with a thousand questions. You just lost your best friend to cancer and you don’t know how you are going to go on. You are told you are getting a new boss and the word is they are a jerk. These are all massive changes. Life altering. It’s frequently unforeseen. It comes out of nowhere like a sudden car crash. Suddenly you are on a different path.

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There are lots of ways to deal with sudden change. A lot of them are unhealthy. Stuffing your feelings with food. Escaping with alcohol or drugs. Going on a shopping spree. There are healthy ways to cope with change and here are a few ideas.

 

  • Accept and label your emotions.  I lost a pregnancy about 25 years ago. I never dealt with the grief until about a year ago. I was talking to an outstanding coach friend, Sandy Lewis, about pregnancy and the topic came up. She asked if I had grieved for the baby. I hadn’t. So, for several weeks, I lit a candle and named the lost baby “Angel”. I cried. I wept. I wailed. I felt it in my stomach mostly and I labeled it. This is what loss feels like. This is what disappointment feels like. I felt it through my whole body and accepted it. Most of us usually stuff our feelings and never get them out. But they sit there waiting to be experienced. After a weekly ceremony of honoring my feelings and grieving for that lost child, I finally got past it.

 

  • What is the gift?  There is a silver lining to practically anything. The pregnancy I was talking about was an accident. But the gift was that I realized I wanted to have children. When I divorced my first husband and father of my children, I realized that I was worthy and deserving of love. And I found that love. When I was laid off from my first “professional” job, I learned that corporate cafeterias were not where my joy was. I laid off a guy last year and he realized it was time to move and retire. He hated his job. If your relationship ends, you may be thrown onto a path of adventure that you’ve only ever dreamed of. If your current job ends, you may meet a whole new group of people that you thoroughly identify with and who actually become your friends. The important thing is to find the gift and accept it.

 

  • Don’t fight it.  As Amanda Abella wrote in Lifehack, “Life changes are usually out of our control. Rather than trying to manipulate the situation and wishing things were different, try flowing with it instead.” Resistance is completely natural but be conscious when it’s time to move on. The resistance is making you suffer. As a client of mine once said, “Sit back like you are in a recliner and let the current flow. Putting your feet down in the white water is dangerous. Kick back and go with the flow.”

 

  • Find healthy habits.  I remember that when I left my first husband, I started smoking again; it was a way for me to take my independence back. It took me five years to quit again. There are lots of healthy options like meditation, yoga, journaling or taking the dog for a walk. It’s easy to get caught up in not being present. You can go over and over and over the sins of the past and get caught up in how you are going to pay the rent without a job. When you feel that start to take over, go for walk and listen to the birds. Get present.

 

  • Reframe it.  I reframe things for my coaching clients all the time. I remember a client was suffering from a mean ex-husband. I asked her what was good about the situation. She replied, “I learned I can take care of myself.” It was easy to get caught up in being the victim and not being able to find your power. If you don’t have a coach, phone a trusted friend. Let them help you reframe it. It frequently takes an outside perspective. It’s difficult to do the work by ourselves. Phone a friend.

 

Change is difficult and we are all wired to resist it. Acknowledging and accepting is the way forward. What change are you coping with?

Revamping your Mornings

Your alarm clock goes off and you hit snooze. You roll over and figure you can slide into work late because your boss is out of town. You bag going for a run or writing in your gratitude journal. Heck, you don’t even know where your running shoes or journal are! You haven’t written in it for months. You brush your teeth, take a two-minute shower, dress and head to work sans breakfast. Does this sound like your typical morning? Is it setting you up for success?

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I just finished Hal Elrod’s The Miracle Morning. It’s an inspiring book that I highly recommend. He has a ton of free resources on his website tmmbook.com. If you want to set yourself up for success, give it a read. Or read some of the highlights here. It turns out that I was already practicing many of the strategies that Hal espouses in his book. What I have done is to add a couple of tweaks to my morning routine, and I’m starting to realize that some of my success over the last few years can be attributed to my morning routine. I’ve now incorporated some of Hal’s ideas and my morning is getting even better.

So here is how to revamp your mornings:

  • Get up early.  You night owls out there are all groaning. Hal recommends 4 or 5 AM. What? Is 7 AM early enough? Frankly, I’ve been getting up at 5 AM for several years now. Sometimes 4:30 AM. If you don’t need to arrive to work until 8 AM, that gives you 3 whole hours less your commute to incorporate some of Hal’s ideas. Hal says that practically anyone can be a morning person. I have to admit, I have always been a morning person so this wasn’t a difficult adjustment. Part of the secret is your mind set. Believe you are a morning person and you can be. As Henry Ford famously said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.” Decide that you are a morning person.

 

  • Bedtime Affirmations.  This is new to me. Hal recommends setting yourself up for success with bedtime affirmations, which are free on his website. I have tried it the last few nights and I do think I am sleeping better and waking up energized. It basically says the I am going to be successful, wake up well rested, go to bed at ____PM and wake up at ____AM. You fill in the blanks. Full disclosure, I have always been an early bird and have never hit the snooze bar, so this was relatively easy for me. Try out Hal’s bedtime affirmations.

 

  • Water.  Hall recommends a full glass of water as soon as you rise from bed. I have been sleeping with a full glass of water by my bedside for decades. The thing is, I don’t usually drink the entire thing before kicking off my day. Hal points out that you’ve just spent 6 to 8 hours without water and it’s time to start re-hydrating your brain and body. It’s a small subtle thing, but it makes sense. A plant won’t grow without water. Why not feed your brain and body? Drink a full glass of water first thing.

 

  • Journaling.  The ironic thing here is that I recently started writing in a gratitude journal in the morning. I used to write in my journal at night and sometimes I would skip it. Once I skipped it a few times, next thing I know, I don’t even know where it’s located. I’ve been doing it first thing in the morning for several months now, and it works a lot better. Hal is not specific about what you journal about–you can switch it up over time to keep it fresh. Start journaling in the morning.

 

  • Exercise.  This book inspired me to start walking again every morning. I have been a lapsed morning walker for a while. I went for a decade walking or running almost every morning. Hal inspired be to get back out there and I am about a week in. It feels awesome to get outside, hear the birds and get my heart pumping. I feel better throughout the day. Hal recommends yoga and I’m thinking about shaking up my routine, once I am definitely on track to be a morning exerciser again. The key here is that it’s only 20 minutes, but that 20 minutes makes all the difference.

 

  • Tweaks.  As I recommend in my free e-book 102 Itzy Bitzy Habits, don’t take on five new routines right away. You will get burned out and give up (think New Year’s resolutions). Adapt one or two changes to your morning or evening routine for a few weeks, then add one or two more. I already have a morning routine, so I just added the exercise and bedtime affirmations. Don’t bite off too much.

This is just a brief summary of what I have chosen to take on. I already have a morning routine that takes about an hour. I’ve just incorporated some of Hal’s ideas into mine. I highly recommend the book or his website for more information. How are you going to revamp your morning?

What story are you telling yourself?

You walk into the room and everyone snickers. They must hate the new shoes I am wearing. Your assistant forgets to copy you on an email. She must have it out for me. Your boss doesn’t return your text for at least 2 hours. She must not think I am important enough.

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These are all stories we tell ourselves. We take a few floating facts and put them into a story that sets us up for disappointment. We feel marginalized and often shut down. The thing is that everyone tells Their Story in their own head. But how often do we test our assumptions? How often do we verify that we have The Story right? This whole concept was illuminated in Brene Brown’s powerful book, Rising Strong.

Here is how to unravel your story:

  • Curious.  As Brene wrote, “Choosing to be curious is choosing to be vulnerable because it requires us to surrender to uncertainty.” It is so much easier to live in our self-deprecating assumptions that everyone is out to get us. When we open ourselves to curiosity, we open to possibility. This helps reframe or re-write the story. So how does this play out? Hmmm. Maybe my boss is in an important meeting. Maybe my assistant didn’t forget to copy me intentionally. Maybe I should ask my friend why everyone was snickering. Remain curious.
  • Wabi-Sabi.  Wabi-Sabi is accepting imperfection and uncertainty. As Brene wrote, “It’s always helpful to remember that when perfectionism is driving, shame is riding shotgun.” Striving for perfection is exhausting. You will never be ________ (fill in the blank: good, smart, thin, funny) enough. Seeking perfection is inviting shame. The shoes will never be right. The report not all encompassing enough. Shame will not help the story in your head. Embrace the wabi-sabi in your life.
  • Enough.  This is one of the best quotes from the book: “Many of us will spend our entire lives trying to slog through the shame swampland to get to a place where we can give ourselves permission to both be imperfect and to believe we are enough.” It’s so important to tell yourself that you are enough. Try this: Shoulder’s back, stride into the room, smile and make eye contact. The next time you are walking into a room of new people, try it. It makes a remarkable difference in how you show up and how you feel. You are enough.
  • Own it.  Brene wrote, “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.” I’ve done this a few times with my husband over the last few weeks. When I started believing that he was mad at me or was upset about something, I would start by saying, “So I have two stories that I’m telling myself. One is that you are working really hard and are stressed and can’t be as attentive. The other is that you don’t love me anymore and you are seeing someone else.” Guess which story was true. Now I can own the real story.
  • Discomfort. This can be uncomfortable. It takes bravery. As Brene posits, “People who wade into discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about their stories are the real bad-asses.” Think of yourself as a New York Times reporter fact-checking your story. It’s definitely uncomfortable to step into the vulnerability of uncertainty. If it’s too comfortable, are you really challenging the facts of the story. Engage in discomfort.
  • Ditch comparison. Comparing yourself to other’s is another way of writing the wrong story. As Brene wrote, “Stay in your own lane. Comparison kills creativity and joy.” Comparison is a limiting belief. In addition, it invites in perfectionism. My neighbor has a nicer car. My boss has a bigger office. I don’t make as much money as my colleague. Not very inspiring. Nothing to compel you onward and upward! We are all on our own path. As Brene says, “Stay in your own lane.”

I have slowly tried to incorporate this into my life. I take a step back when I am angry or resentful over something and try to reframe my story. It’s not easy but I do feel more present and I am able to re-write the story. What story do you need to reframe?

7 Leadership Lessons From Sir Ernest Shackleton.

This is a re-post from 2013 as my husband and I unpack our still unlivable house (no plumbing yet). It’s one of my most popular posts.

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.” – Sir Ernest Shackleton

I just read Alfred Lansing’s book Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage. The book is about the voyage of the British ship Endurance in 1914 and its leader, Sir Ernest Shackleton. It is an amazing account of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition and how 28 men survived for 21 months after the ship was beset in the ice floes of Antarctica. How does a man lead 27 men to safety in sub freezing temperatures, no digital equipment (not even a radio) and countless obstacles (including climbing for 36 hours over uncharted mountains without climbing gear)? Leadership and grit, that’s how.

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The ship was first beset in the ice floes for 9 months. However the pressure of the ice pack slowly (but surely) crushed the boat, so the crew of 28 had to take to the ice pack on the Weddell Sea. The ship sank about 30 days later after the crew had taken most of the provisions and three life boats off the ship. The rest of the odyssey involves 7 months of camping on ice, rowing on the open seas in lifeboats, breaking the group up and eventually, hiking uncharted mountains without any gore-tex or ice picks to an eventual rescue of the entire group. Every frostbitten one.

This is what Shackleton taught me about leadership:

  1. Honest.  Shackleton was brutally honest with his expectations of the expedition (see quote above). Safe return doubtful. Only those who are up to the challenge are going to sign up. All leaders can learn from this. Don’t sell the job as something it isn’t. If the work is tedious, say it. If there is constant travel, be upfront. Be honest when you are bringing someone onto your team.
  2. Team.  Shackleton built a cohesive multi-national team of 28. He made an instant gut decision. He asked Reginald James if he could sing (he could and was chosen).  Two Surgeons, a tried and true Navigator, Photographer, Artist, Seaman, Cook and Carpenter. He fit the team together like a puzzle. Great leaders do. They don’t look for carbon copies of themselves–they look for complementary pieces. Have a diverse team of talent and character with traits that don’t resemble you.
  3. Decisive.  Shackleton made a decision and stuck to it. There was no waffling. When you decide to get off a breaking ice floe, you can’t turn back. He adjusted the goal several times from one island to another but he never waffled. The men knew that Shackleton could be counted on. When you lead, be decisive. Your folks are counting on you.
  4. Inclusive.  He was constantly seeking opposing viewpoints. He would listen to other’s viewpoints, whether it was which direction to go or how much food to dole out. In the end, he would make the decision, but everyone would be heard. When they were on the 7-day sail to Elephant Island, if one person was chilled, he ordered hot beverages for all. Inclusive leaders have their finger of the pulse of the group as a whole.
  5. Delegate.  Shackleton delegated clearly, definitely and with no regrets. He left Frank Wild in charge of 22 men on Elephant Island. Everyone knew Wild was in charge and Shackleton left him there with full confidence that Wild would succeed. He did. Delegate projects with full confidence in your team. Don’t waver or take it back. Delegate with clarity.
  6. Improvise.  Obviously they had to constantly improvise. Wood from the sinking ship was used for shoe bottoms, blubber from penguins to light the lamps, lashing three men together to slide down a mountain face like a toboggan. Shackleton and his men made do with what they had. Don’t wait for the next software upgrade or next year’s budget to move the project forward. Improvise with what you have now.
  7. Faith.  Shackleton had unfailing faith and optimism. He kept the more pessimistic and ornery folks in his tent, lest they infect the others. You cannot survive 21 months in the bleakness of the Antarctic with little more than the clothes on your back, a compass and a stove without optimism. Leadership is all about having undying faith that you can overcome any obstacle.

I have to say that as I read the book, I was stunned and impressed with the insurmountable obstacles that they did overcome and for Shackleton’s heroic, unfailing, inspiring leadership.

2 Bronze Medals. My Son’s Perseverance.

This weekend has been a crazy roller coaster. Ups and downs, but the ups have been phenomenal. I was just the observer; the helper; the videographer biting my tongue. My son was the tenacious warrior stepping into the arena. He competed in the final group at the USA University and Under 25 National Weightlifting Championships in Gainesville, Florida.

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Benson, my son, has come a long way. He’s played many sports, from soccer as a 5-year-old to football and basketball in middle school to state champion in track and wrestling in high school. He initially decided on the University of Miami because he wanted to be a Division I athlete on their track team. He made the team but due to some elements beyond his control, it was short lived.  So, there he was; cut adrift from any sport.  Athletic challenges, of any kind, are his passion. He needs to have an arena. He thrives on competition. This is how he landed in weightlifting and the national stage.

 

This is what we can all learn from Benson:

 

Find a posse.  I’m not sure how Benson found Crossfit Soul in Miami but it’s definitely his posse. There is a community of athletes and coaches who genuinely care about Benson’s success. Whatever success looks like. Whether it’s to compete, get in shape or just have fun. Every time I’ve attended competitions, many of his posse are there to root him on and support his cause. When I saw him compete in Miami several months ago, it felt like the entire room was his posse. Find a posse to support you in your success.

 

Be accountable.  I don’t care where Benson is in the world…he is accountable to his workout regimen. We traveled to Medellín, Colombia over the holidays and Benson went to several gyms to work out with guys that did not know English and did not know him. He was home in North Carolina and had a few days where he had to work out twice a day (insane…right?). He did. His workout is first and foremost. Be accountable to your goal. Make it first and foremost.

 

Absolutely no excuses.  Several weeks before this national competition in Gainesville, Benson had a meniscus tear. He couldn’t…shouldn’t do deep squats. He had to change his workout. He could have backed out. At the competition, he could have blamed the tear for missing his last Clean and Jerk, which would have qualified him for the USA Nationals in Chicago next month. He takes responsibility for where he is and steps into the arena for better or for worse. Take responsibility and move forward.

 

Be a badass.  Benson does not take no for an answer. He asked me to pick up some tacos for him for after his weigh in and before the actual competition. The gate keeper at the arena told me “no outside food” (which is crazy, since hot dogs and nachos are not exactly food for nationally and internationally ranked athletes). Benson came out, gave me a hug, grabbed the bag and audaciously walked past the gate keeper. Some rules are meant to be broken. Be a badass.

 

Perseverance is key.  Benson last competed at the same University National competition in September of 2016. Overall, he came out in 17th place. It was his first national competition and he admitted that he was pretty amped up when he was on the platform. Adrenaline is a powerful thing. He came out way ahead of his competitors in his group. But he was in the fourth group (each group has around 15 competitors). Typically, the first group are the ones who make the podium (the medals). Benson kept working. He kept showing up. Proud of 17th place and continued working. Persevere.

 

Grab the recognition.  As I sat there at the competition, I could see based on the results that Benson was solidly in fourth place. He could not drop any further down. Apparently, there were two competitions going on, one for University students up to age 28 and the other for those under age 25. So Benson’s solid 4th was actually 3rd because the top guy was 28. We stood there as they announced the bronze medals and inadvertently, they gave the medal to the guy in fourth. Benson’s coach immediately disputed the medal. It was a tense few moments, but he eventually had those shiny medals around his neck (One for total score and the other for a 127 kg Snatch). He stood on the podium and was recognized. Be sure to grab your recognition.

 

I truly believe that we all can succeed if we just show up and work hard. I’m not saying you can go from 17th to 3rd in the nation. You can show up and work hard in the arena you choose. What is your arena?

In the Short Rows

We are finally getting there. In the short rows. The short rows is a farming term for the rows at the edge of a plot that are shorter due to odd angles of land. It means we are almost finished. In fact, I hope that when this publishes (I’m usually a few weeks ahead on my posts), that my head will be resting on my king size bed pillow with a view of Lake Wackena. We will hopefully be at least sleeping at the house and eating and relaxing there. My husband, dog Baci and I have been displaced by Hurricane Matthew for almost 6 months. Actually, it will be 6 months to the day on April 8th. It’s been a challenge and a half.

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Our generous friends have rented out their lovely in-law to us, and it’s nice to have a private place to call “home”, or as we refer to it, as “Camp Matthew.” We’ve basically gone from 3000 square feet down to about 600. From two computers, two printers, two television sets, a gas range, four bathrooms and three couches down to one couch, one television, electric range, one bathroom, one computer and printer. This would normally be a piece of cake for a week or two. Or the original guesstimate of 2-3 months. But it’s turned out to be 6 months.

 

This is what I’ve learned about being in the short rows:

 

Focus.  I have been driving my husband nuts.  I ask a thousand questions a day about the house. “What about the closets?” “What about the vent cover in the garage?” “Should we fix the light in Benson’s room now? Or later?” “Have you watered the plants?” It’s endless. He stops me in the morning and says exactly what we are working on. Yesterday we did an inventory of everything (at the moment) that we need for the house and then we went to Lowe’s and bought it. This morning we moved all the furniture from one bedroom to another. Thank God my husband has focus because I am a scattered mess. So when it comes to a big project at work or at home, make sure you have someone who can focus the team (especially if I am on it).

 

Positive.  I recently found out that one of my top five strengths is positivity. Thank goodness for that! In fact, one day a few weeks ago, we had a setback on the delivery of the linchpin cabinet we needed for the kitchen. Nothing could continue until we had that cabinet. Well, my husband started grumbling about the cabinet and looked at me and said, “Don’t get all positive on me.” So I went off on a tirade basically, that went something like this: “This sucks. We are never moving back in that house. We are going to be living on top of each other forever.” He stopped me. “Ok. Ok. You can stop now.”

It’s funny how we need some glass half full people around. It keeps everyone’s spirit alive.

 

Lead.  I’ve learned to give up the leadership to my husband. He used to be a contractor and is incredibly knowledgeable about all things construction. In fact, he is usually referred to as MacGyver. Duct tape and a popsicle stick? Kevin will figure out how to fix the water heater. This morning, he figured out how to get an enormous, awkward treadmill through a door that was too small, without any equipment except a hammer and screwdriver. He didn’t even damage a single freshly painted wall. I was there to “help” but I know he would have done it single-handedly nonetheless. Find out the best person to lead this particular team and let them lead.

 

Visualize.  Every morning for the last few weeks, I’ve been visualizing laying on my bed back at the house and staring out the window at the lake. My husband and I have been repairing on the deck for the last two nights. We are “acting as if” we are back at home. When I started visualizing being back in the house, the log jam that was holding us up cut loose. The cabinet that was missing in action finally was delivered and everything started falling into place. Half the house was carpeted last Friday and the rest will be done tomorrow. We quit waiting on the fireplace and decided we could move with the carpeting in or without it. I coach several clients who worked on acting “as if.” They get stuck and can’t sell the house or get the job of their dreams and then they start acting “as if” and suddenly they are in forward motion.

 

I’m really getting excited that we will be home soon. There are a few more hoops to jump through like counter-tops and some plumbing fixes but we are really close! We are almost out of the short rows and onto living on the Lake instead of with the nightmare of the Lake.

The Anatomy of a Good Apology

I’ve been reading Why Won’t You Apologize? by Harriet Lerner. It’s an interesting book and I have (surprise, surprise) been trying to apply her thoughts on apologizing to my life. I have to believe that my husband is tired of being a guinea pig to my voracious reading list. At least I didn’t challenge him to a duel after reading Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow–another really interesting book but we won’t be diving into that here.

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Lerner brings up some important points and uses examples from her therapy practice. A lot of the examples she uses are based on some serious gaps in trust, like the mother of a child who was sexually abused by her husband or marital infidelity. I’m not going to address that type of apology here, but will instead look at how you can be a better apologizer at work and at home.

 

Here is the anatomy of a good apology:

 

Timing.  My husband and I had an argument a few weeks ago. I kept peppering him with questions. What he really needed was space. It’s easy to get flooded (when all your blood goes to your primitive reactive brain) and you start saying things you didn’t intend to say (i.e. swearing, belittling comments, etc.). This means it’s not the right time to talk. Certainly, not the right time to apologize. Take a break. Take a walk. Go to sleep. Pick a time that is more conducive to a calm discussion. You will be able to think better. So if your boss yelled at you for forgetting to send the meeting invite, take a break and find a time when you aren’t standing on the back of your heels.

 

Avoid “but”.  As Learner wrote, “Little add-ons like ‘but’ (“I’m sorry I forget your birthday, but I was stressed out with work”) negate responsibility. A heartfelt apology means accepting responsibility for our mistakes without a hint of excuse-making or evasion, even if the other person can’t do the same.” Think of the word “but” as an eraser of what the very first part of the sentence started with. “I’m sorry I was late, but you didn’t send a meeting invite” or “I’m sorry I didn’t feed the dog, but you never feed him.” Doesn’t feel very sincere when you are on the receiving end of that, does it?

 

Avoid “if”. As Learner wrote, “‘If’ will turn your sorry into a not-sorry-at-all.” “I’m sorry if that joke I made at the meeting offended you.” I know I am guilty of using “if”. It keeps the apologizer at arm’s length. It leaves the responsibility with the injured party. “I’m sorry I didn’t inform you of the changes” is much better than “I’m sorry if you didn’t know the changes.” The first example takes the responsibility rather than pushing it onto the other person.

 

Brevity.  This is my loquacious Achilles heel. As I mentioned earlier, I can pepper someone with a thousand questions, especially when I feel injured. Think through an apology and cut it down to one sentence or two. “I’m sorry I was asking a thousand questions last night. I feel like I was overwhelming you.” Lerner has a great example of someone apologizing and going on and on and on, rehashing the situation. This causes the injured party to tune out. They stop listening and it doesn’t feel sincere. This also means not bringing up what Lerner calls injured party’s “crime sheet”. I have a Rolodex of every “crime” my husband has ever committed and I sort by date, type and flavor at will. Put the crime sheet a way. Maybe even burn it.

 

Own it.  This is difficult for a lot of folks and is likely based on how you were brought up. There is a tendency for women to be more likely to apologize and be the peacemakers, but that’s not the rule. Some people feel shame at admitting that they are not perfect. To apologize is to admit imperfection. How many of us had our mothers tell us to “Go say you’re sorry to little Suzy.” I’m not suggesting that our mothers were wrong. More so, it’s to point out we all have different operating systems based on our life experience. If you don’t typically apologize, this is the most difficult step. It’s not easy. See if you own a piece of the responsibility.

 

Listen.  As Stephen Covey famously wrote, “First seek to understand.” Once you have apologized, listen to what the injured party has to say. They may not say anything. They may want to talk about how they feel. They may just want to move on. Don’t hold onto an agenda outside of the apology. Everyone’s deepest need is to be heard and understood. It’s the greatest gift you can give.

 

Think through your next apology and see if you can clean it up a bit. Who do you need to apologize to?

7 Lessons from Reconnecting. No Regrets.

I originally posted this last year.  It’s the one-year anniversary of this terrific reunion, so I decided to re-post.

“Those Girls and The Blonde” sounds like a great name for an eighties girl band. It wasn’t. It’s the name of my two roommates and I from 1981 when our landlord (otherwise known as Dragon Lady) coined the phrase after “The Blonde” (Susannah) ripped up the carpeting in the basement of our slummish apartment in College town. Susannah is one of the few born and bred Manhattanites I know. She takes charge. She’s decisive. The carpet was horrible and “there’s hard wood floors under there.” So the other “Girl” Janine and I went along for the ride, ripping up the carpet.

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We have remained friends for over 35 years. We all had our first born children in 1993. We’ve seen each other marry (sometimes, divorce) and move to various cities–Washington D.C., San Francisco, Boston, Croton-on-Hudson and Scottsdale. We’ve never lived in the same city at the same time since Ithaca. We’ve had a few reunions but since about 1983, TG&TB have not reunited at the same time sans kids and spouses. So when I had an opportunity to go to Paris, I contacted them both and suggested we reunite in the City of Light. Janine and I were both Paris Virgins and Susannah was fully versed in all things French. We had a plan and TG&TB always execute a plan. We spent 6 days reconnecting in a lovely apartment near the Eiffel Tower.

These are my lessons from reconnecting some 33 years later:

  1. Let someone lead. Several weeks before departing for Paris, I found some activities that we might want to try out. There were huge email trains between the three of us about costs, times, travel between arrondissements, etc. It wasn’t working. It would take several days to get confirmation. So I finally suggested that Susannah take over the planning going forward. Janine and I signed off on whatever Susannah wanted to cook up. We had faith that she knew what we would like and what would work. As they say, too many cooks spoil the broth. Pick a leader, have faith and stick with it.

 

  1. Be willing to get lost. Ever since my daughter turned me on to Google Maps for walking directions in Manhattan, I’ve been pretty obsessed with not being lost. I realize now I am a “Direction Control Freak.” I also hate to appear as the tourist with the pocket map. I had to let my judgment go. For God’s sake, Cathy, you are a tourist. Who cares if someone else knows it? They will the minute you try and say “Bon jour.” So what if we walked the wrong direction for half a mile in the Marais? It’s Paris. Every street is interesting and unique. I believe it was Janine who said, “It’s all as intended. We are where we need to be. No regrets.” When we were lost, we stumbled on an out-of-the-way café, full of locals and sans tourists. It was wonderful. Get lost.

 

  1. Quality versus quantity. When you go into one of the largest museums in the world, focus on quality over quantity. We took a guided tour through the Louvre with an American expat who had phenomenal art and history knowledge. We stood looking at a sculpture of Hercules for almost 20 minutes. We discovered how his face change from docile to contemplative, depending on the angle. It was fascinating. I’ve never spent that kind of time on one piece of art….ever. I’m more of a fast food consumer of art. Trying to check off each piece as fast as possible. Degas…check, Renoir….check, Mona Lisa…check. This is not the way to appreciate art. This was a huge shift for me and I appreciate our guide’s contemplative example. Don’t consume. Appreciate.

 

  1. Make space for connection. I’m not positive, but I think we ducked into at least three cafes a day. So if we had walked for an hour, we’d grab a table and a drink. If we stumbled onto an interesting café, we’d grab some café crème. It was around one of these tables that we reconnected about career choices, our kids and reminisced about our youth. Those conversations may not have happened if we were too busy trying to make sure we went to every museum in Paris (which I’m not sure is possible, but is certainly not practical). I found fantastic advice and stories from two women I respect immensely.

 

  1. Utilize your strengths. We all were paying for different things. I figured it would all wash out by the end. I didn’t feel compelled to keep track. Thank goodness Janine is incredibly organized and meticulous. Between the exchange rate and dollars versus euros, she kept it all straight. Susannah was our motivation. She knew the best falafel place in Paris. It might have been a mile and a half away, but her enthusiasm was contagious. So what if we walk 8 miles in one day. I was the compass. Street crossing in Paris is pretty crazy. Cars and motorcycles come ricocheting from all angles, and walking at the cross walk is critical. It became a chess match of how to get to the street you wanted to without losing life or limb. Fall back on your strengths.

 

  1. Be realistic. We made sure that we were rarely rushed. If we wanted to check out a park on the way to Notre Dame, we made sure it was doable at a slow pace with time to spare.  If it wasn’t? Move on. If the Uber driver hasn’t been able to find you for twenty minutes, take a cab. If the maître’d explains that the dish has raw duck in it, order something else. Be realistic.

 

  1. Be open to adventure. Janine and I went up the Eiffel Tower together. It’s a pretty trippy adventure. The funicular is at an angle and with all the structure supports going by, it is a bit disorienting. When we got to the top, I wanted to stay inside. I was as high as my acrophobia wanted to take me. Janine ran upstairs and ran back down. “Cath.  You have to go to the top.  It’s not bad.” I did and it was worth the flight of stairs up. Susannah wanted to see the Saint-Chappelle. From the outside, it’s not very impressive and we had just been through Notre Dame. When we entered what I later found out was the first floor, it had some chipping paint with a low ceiling and trinket stands. I thought, “What’s the big deal?” Then we walked up a stone circular staircase (did I mention I’m claustrophobic?). At the top was, and remains, the most beautiful chapel I have ever stood in. My breath was taken away and tears were in my eyes. I know that if I hadn’t gone with TG&TB to Paris, I would never have stood in that awe-inspiring spot. Be an adventurer.

 

This was a trip of a lifetime with two of my favorite people in the world. Think about it. Who would you like to connect to again? Break out of your normal agenda and take off on a reunion adventure of your own. There will be no regrets.