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The Art of Leading, Part 2

Leadership is more of an art than a science.  While there may be many laws, principles, techniques needed to lead, their is a fluidity about when and how you use each technique.  That flow is what requires leaders to employ creativity and a mixing of the elements. There is a flow between confidence and humility, giving feedback and being empathetic, listening intently and holding people accountable.  Just like the art in a museum, leaders work with a variety of texture, color, and depth.

Our digital age is designed to give us continual feedback: the dryer buzzes when the clothes are fully dry; the phone bings when an email hits our inbox; the car dashboard chimes when we need to stop for gas. We are constantly receiving feedback or, at least, the feedback is available to us.  This kind of feedback — the kind that does not take into account what else is going on with us — is easy to ignore. Necessary feedback is only as valuable as the empathy that accompanies it.

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Tom Landry, “A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear and has you see what you don’t want to see, so that you can be who you’ve always known you can be.”  If we’re never told what’s expected of us, we won’t accomplish the task.  If we misunderstand an instruction and proceed anyway, we need re-direction. Feedback is essential and it’s priceless when it’s pushing us to become more.  We all need to know what we are doing well, what we are not doing well, and how to improve.  Feedback can relieve stress, improve relationships, and promote trust, as long as it’s given from a place of empathy.

Giving feedback involves describing the specific behavior that needs correction; explaining the behavior’s effect; listening from a place of empathy; asking for a change in behavior; reaffirming the person’s ability to make the change; ending on a positive note; and following up later.  Listening with empathy requires tuning into what is being said through body language, tone, and facial expressions, not just words— understanding the bigger picture.  Empathy means being fully present, calling people by name, smiling, encouraging, and showing genuine interest. When feedback is mixed with empathy, it can be fully received. Empathy is an emotional and thinking muscle that becomes stronger the more we use it.

Whatever feedback we give this week, remember we get robotic feedback (buzzs, bings, chimes) all the time that we ignore.  Balancing our feedback with empathy is an art form.

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Words, What Difference Does it Make

A couple in ancient history was unable to bear children, even though they were expected to be the source of an entire nation.  The women’s name, Sarai, meant contentious. For 75 years, when her parents, family, servants and neighbors called out her name, she heard quarrelsome, testy, antagonistic, disagreeable, argumentative.  If you or I were called that for 75 years, we would likely become it.  She probably did too.  At the age of 75, God gave her a new name — Sarah, meaning Princess.  Every time she heard her husband call her Sarah, she heard Mother of Kings.  Not just Mother, but Mother of Kings.  A year later, she gave birth to a son.  In his lineage were several kings. Yes, this was a miracle and it also demonstrates the power of what we speak.       

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Current neuroscience tells us a single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress.  What?  Are you hearing that? What we say or think can impact our genetic makeup.  The changing of Sarai’s name to Sarah was strategic.  

When we use positive words, we can improve cognitive reasoning and kick-start the motivational centers of the brain. Using negative words prevents the release of chemicals needed for stress management.  Negative words also increase activity in the fear center of our brain.  Do you see a connection to your fears and the negative words that have been spoken about you or to you?

Depending on the words used, functions in the parietal lobe of our brain start to change, changing your perception of both yourself and others.  Over time the structure of your thalamus changes in response to your conscious words, thoughts, and feelings, affecting the way in which you perceive reality.  Certainly, we still need miracles and we also need to pay attention to the words we speak to ourselves and others.

What shift can you make in the words you say daily that will change your perception?   

 

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Why You Need a Sweaty Mob

A 5K.  It was a warm night, the park was over-crowded, when the gun went off many began to run, others walked briskly, at the back of the pack were momma’s pushing strollers.  Sweat flowed freely and mingled often.  The 3.1 miles wasn’t going to be a tremendous challenge for me because I walk 2 miles fairly regularly — alone.  Why anyone needs to gather a mob for the occasion, is beyond my understanding. But I accepted the invitation because it was wrapped in a health challenge.  

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3.1 miles an hour is an average walking speed — 20 minutes a mile.  Knowing that I walk an 18 minute mile on average, my only goal was to do all three miles at the same pace.  Walking 4 mph is an extremely brisk walk, which would be a 15 minute mile.  At the end of the 5K and as a result of the mob, my pace was 16 minutes per mile.  That’s when the light went on — when I had my “aha” moment. This is why you get in the middle of a mob and exchange sweat, even though it sounds unpleasant.   We gather people around us to push us, set the pace for us, cheer us to something beyond what we were expecting of ourselves.  I walked faster that night than I typically do and faster than I planned or hoped for because of the people around me.

Where in life are you walking alone?  What would it look like to put people around you who are pushing the limits, challenging the current pace, expecting more?  

 

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Art of Leading, Part 1

Leadership is more of an art than a science.  While there may be many laws, principles, techniques needed to lead, their is a fluidity about when and how to use each technique.  That flow is what requires leaders to employ creativity and a mixing of the elements. There is an equilibrium between confidence and humility, giving feedback and being empathetic, listening intently and holding people accountable.  Just like the art in a museum, leaders work with a variety texture, color, and depth.

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The delicate balance of true confidence and genuine humility includes understanding the significant value and influence we can have on an individual or organization.  This confidence is not self-serving but focused on making a constructive difference.  This genuine desire to make a powerful difference is balanced with humility — the understanding that we are no better, no more important, than any other team member.  Leaders recognize that nothing significant can be accomplished alone.  Everyone’s attracted to confidence and yet most of us are repelled by arrogance.  

Confident and humble people speak with an assurance and certainty.  They are fueled by small victories and yet they don’t seek attention.  In fact, when given accolades for a specific accomplishment they are quick to point out all the people that worked on that particular project. They are always celebrating the success of others.  They listen more than they speak because they realize no one person can have all the answers.  They are constantly aware that they have more to learn. Because they understand what they are capable of and what their limitation are, they aren’t afraid of being wrong.  Often times, we learn the most from our mistakes.  The art that evolves from the balance of confidence and humility is often called leadership.  

Dave Fleming says, “To start a fire you must both surrender to and tend the flame.” The same dynamic is true in leadership.  Knowing that we have both something to do and something to yield to makes leadership less predictable and more adventurous. 

To explore this topic further, join me for Art of Leading WorkshopMore information here.

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Your Design

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Your Design

Do you ever feel like your living out a story to a script someone else handed you?  Maybe it's time for you to live and lead from your own design. 

What could you do today to change your story?

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Pause for Beauty

I had the privilege of spending five days at Lake Tahoe, a place I’ve never been before.  The beauty is indescribable.  It was often said, “The fabric is thin between heaven and earth at Lake Tahoe.” The view of the enormous lake nestled in the middle of majestic mountains was breath taking.  The co-existence with the wildlife was captivating.  Up early the first morning, I scampered down to the lake over a few boulders, past a bunny undeterred by my presence and into the local blue jay’s territory.  You wonder how I know — they very loudly told me.  As I soaked in the sweet surroundings, I heard an announcement of a bear just above me.  I quickly hiked straight up to a good vantage point where I watched this bear enjoy his berry breakfast.  There is nothing, for me, that compares to this kind of experience with nature — a special connection to the Creator.

Each and every piece of nature invites us to stop and marvel.  Sunrises and sunsets are grand spectacles that happen twice a day mostly unnoticed by people too busy to look. Developing a habit of really noticing the beauty that surrounds us, takes us beyond ourselves. It’s a place to ponder, to create space in our heads, to pause and notice beauty, to absorb peace. Simply gazing at a rose reveals something to us.   

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Addicted to speed and action, we become all about the next transaction rather than experiencing transformation.  The more we pause and take in beauty, the more we can reflect it.  Remember the nature walks you took in preschool, take one this week.  Get outside and walk, pay close attention to the sights, sounds and colors of nature.  Notice what that experience does for you.  In what way does it transform you?

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Who Do You Believe You Are?

Michelangelo, painter, sculptor and architect, is one of the greatest artist of all time.  His works are among the most famous in existence.  Michelangelo’s mother claimed to be a descendant of a Countess.  He lived his entire life believing he was connected to the most important family in Europe.  William Wallace, a Michelangelo scholar, says, “. . . when you believe it and everyone around you believes it, it informs your entire persona and that’s how people treat you.” According to Wallace, being of noble descent was fundamental to the way Michelangelo looked at life and art. This belief helped create in him a mindset of success. Much later, historians discovered he was not actually from nobility. What he thought of himself, pushed him to become something more.

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What we believe about ourselves becomes the truth.  Jeff Goins, in his book Real Artists Don't Starve says, “We don’t fake it till we make it.  We believe it till we become it.”  Michelangelo thought, acted, and demanded to be treated like nobility.  As a handful of us were discussing this concept, a colleague of mine said she tells herself, “I am a CEO of a multi-million dollar business.”  This forces her to show up looking different, sounding different and acting different than a women who is in the middle of creating a business on the side.

Who do you believe you are?  It’s informing your entire persona and that’s how people will treat you.   

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Also For Me

A friend was at a fundraiser with a lot of generous folks — people who were providing significant funds for an incredible cause.  When he left the fundraiser, he drove into the convenient store next door to fill his very fuel efficient car up with gas.  He glanced back at the parking lot full of the fundraiser’s cars — Lexus, Cadillacs, BMWs, and other luxury cars.  His immediate thought was: “What a waste?”  The rationalization was that they could give so much more, accomplish so much more if they drove a lesser car.  However, they had already given more than he did, already served more people than he had, already changed more lives than he could.  That’s when he recognized his judgement and began to say to himself, “And also for me.”  In other words, when he caught himself judging the accumulation of material things, he would simply acknowledge that he could have that too, if he wanted it.  This immediately moved him out of the judgmental mindset. 

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I started wondering about using this same idea when I see people’s successes.  Instead of groaning about someone’s business success or advance in their physical workout or forward movement in their health or their fortune in good friends, what if I just said, “And also for me.”  Meaning, if I choose to put the work in, I can have that same kind of result.  It refocuses me.  It helps me turn from judgement (where I never meant to be) and take responsibility for my results (where I always thought I was). It’s a simple mindset shift but so impactful.  

Where could you apply this idea in your life?

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What's Your Dashboard Telling You

“They’re driving down the road without a dashboard.  They have a brake, an accelerator, a steering wheel but no indicator lights, no speedometer, no gas gauge.”  That’s what the self-proclaimed bean counter sitting next to me at breakfast said, when I asked about the corporations with which he was working.  They are businesses that have grown quickly but find themselves in financial trouble.  Apparently, most of them have no way of gauging how fast they are going, no indicator for when they are starting to over-heat, and no gauge that tells them how much gas is left in the tank.

In college, I drove a blue station wagon whose gauges didn’t work.  I never knew how much gas was in the tank, how fast I was going or when the engine was overheating.  The good news is half of the time it didn’t start, so those things weren’t important.  The bad news is fifty percent of the time I was driving down the road blind.  As a result, walking to the nearest gas station with a gas can in tow became common.    

How do you know when you’re going too fast or not fast enough?  What signals do you get when it’s time to re-fuel?  When do you know things are dangerously close to overheating?

Just like the corporations this CPA works with, we all need a dashboard that gauges our pace, the state of our upkeep and our need for fuel.  There are physical, emotional and behavioral signs that can serve as indicators for speed, maintenance, and fuel.  Shortness of breath, feeling anxious, and continually arriving late announce that it’s time to slow down.  Tension in your muscles, feeling constantly overwhelmed, daily putting out “fires” imply that it’s time for some maintenance. Constant fatigue, feeling emotionally depleted, and having a short fuse signal the need for fuel.  

Some time yesterday, I remember thinking I was low on gas.  This morning on my way to my first appointment, the light that indicates I need gas came on.  There is a gauge that shows me I need gas.  When I ignore it, the light flashes.  I saw the light but hadn't given myself enough time to stop to fill up.  As I was driving down the road, talking on the phone a bell chimed a number of times.  I knew my navigation system was set to silent -- I was surprised that it was chiming at me.  Finally, it dawned on me that was the third warning signal from my dash, attempting to emphasize how desperately I needed gas.  Ignoring the dashboard doesn’t keep us from breaking down on the side of the highway. 

Install your own dashboard and then pay attention to it!  It helps ensure that you will actual get where you are wanting to go.  

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Run Your Own Race

Shelly signed up for a 50-mile race through the woods.  The night before the race it rained. The course was muddy — the type of mud that takes your shoe off.  Maneuvering through the clay mixture on the hills required hanging on to the trees for the climb. After the slippery climb she was all smiles — loving it. Shelly misread a directional sign and repeated the first part of the course, adding 4 miles.  She worked hard at not dwelling on that mistake.  Many of the runners where on their second loop while she was still working on her first one.

She started to get discouraged, seeing no progress and feeling like she’d been on loop number one forever.  After the second aid station, she began to feel nauseous and dizzy.  The last drink she swallowed wasn’t agreeing with her.  As she neared the end of the first loop, the crowd was already thinning out.  She had two more 16.6 mile loops and that sounded impossible.  Maybe this wasn’t her race — perhaps the best plan was to drop out.  

After the first loop, she refueled, changed her socks and started running agin.  At the first aid station, she was pleased with her decision to continue.  She had her second wind.  In the next section of the course, she fell apart again.  Finally, she’d made it to the last loop.  The first half of that loop went well.  By the second aid station, her body ached, feet ached, mental strength waned with 8 miles still to go.  By the time she arrived at the final aid station, she was nearing the cutoff time of 16 hours.  She never planned on needing that much time.  The final four miles, a friend walked in front of her and one behind her in an effort to get her to walk faster.  There was no more running.

A few hundred yards to the finish she managed to run.  She ran in with only 8 seconds to spare.  She was dead last and it felt awesome. 

Don’t compare your race to anyone else’s, run your own race!

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Think Big, Start Small

A passionate crowd of well-wishers gathered outside a farmhouse in Maryland in September 1884.  They had come to approve the nomination of the most recently announced candidate in the presidential race of 1884.  The nominee, an attorney, was smart, well spoken and media savvy.  Belva Lockwood was the first woman to run a full campaign for the office of president.  

Widowed at the age of 22, with a young daughter to care for, she fought social convention to become one of the very few women in the country with a college degree. She secretly dreamed of a life in law or politics.  In 1866, she moved to DC as a teacher, with an eye on Capitol Hill politics.  Pursuing her dreams, she applied for admission to several law schools but was repeatedly denied.  Five years later, St. Louis’ Washington University law program began to admit women.  Lockwood and her fellow female classmates were hassled by male student and placed in segregated classrooms.  Ultimately, Belva had to petition Ulysses S. Grant, president of the school, for her degree.

Now running a one-woman law firm in the capital, she was refused admission to the US Court of Claims.  After a five-year fight to get qualified women attorneys the privilege of practicing in federal courts, she became the first woman lawyer to argue a case before the Supreme Court in 1880.  With this kind of history and vocally outspoken disposition, Lockwood was a fairly well known figure.  But it was her decision to run for the highest political office in the land that made her famous.  Washington newspapers reported her kick-off rally in Maryland and her quotable quip, “I cannot vote, but I can be voted for.” She understood the irony of a voteless woman running for the presidency but recognized the nomination as a way to awaken the country to the issue of women’s rights and the need for reform.  

Bold action and the pursuit of the things she valued shaped Lockwood’s life. Mel Robbins has encouraged all of us with the 5 Second Rule — if you have an impulse to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill the idea.  Just yesterday, I had a fellow coach say to me, “Do something you are afraid of this week!”  It was his way of challenging me to be bold.  This week practice physically moving, taking action within 5 seconds of an idea coming in your head.  I’d love to know if it helped you be bold. 

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Laugh all You Want: Hatchbacks are Memorable

Family vacations are the stuff of which memories are made.  When I was twelve, we went on one memorable vacation.  I have one sister — there were only four of us in a two door hatchback driving from Texas to Pennsylvania.  And that’s not even the painful part of this story.  It’s important to note that my sister and I have not grown one inch in height since the sixth grade.  

Two-door cars basically have a back seat for people with no legs, aka young children under three feet tall.  Hatchbacks, if you are unfamiliar with the term, don’t have trunks.  The back window lifts up and you load a very small space, the size of a kitchen sink, with luggage.  Technically luggage was too bulky to fit in that space, so we packed in bags— gym bags, duffel bags, book bags, grocery bags.  You name it.  To use the space well, we also took random items and filled any empty holes. When we unloaded the trunk, and I use that term "trunk" loosely, someone’s tennis shoes came out and then a hair dryer, followed by a rolled up pair of pajama pants, etc.  Then 423 assorted bags started flying out.  At a fancy hotel in Atlanta, we unloaded while the valet held our keys (a fat lot of good those were going to do him) and the bell hop stood with his jaw gaping open and eyes bugging out as we loaded his luggage cart with 423 motley bags and 14 haphazard items.  He would never roll it to the room with out a catastrophic avalanche.  My sister and I were mortified.  And that’s not even the painful part of this story.   Just to be clear, we had a larger family car at home but the gas mileage was so much better in this car.  After all, gas was 62 cents a gallon.

Knowing this would be a tight fit with four full grown bodies with no places for legs and things stuffed everywhere because it didn’t all fit in the kitchen sink sized trunk, my mother — who is always full of good ideas — devised a plan to ease our travel angst.  Stop every two hours, get out and stretch our legs, then rotate seats.  If you were behind the driver you moved to the front passenger seat, the front passenger moved to the seat directly behind them, etc.  Dad always stayed in the driver’s seat.  I’ve neglected to mention to you that I grew up in Corpus Christi.  My mom fondly refers to it as the end of the earth.  Pennsylvania is 18,000 miles from Corpus Christi.  No matter what way you slice it, this was going to take 27 hours of driving.  If you limit these “life-saving stops” to 15 minutes each, and it’s not likely that you will, you’ve just added three and a half hours to the trip.  And that’s not even the painful part of this story.

The little hatchback, let’s call him DeVille, developed an issue.  He refused to start his engine by a simple turn of the key.  However, he would gladly rev it up if we gave him a running start.  Every two hours on this God-forbidden journey that would never end, I would get at the back of DeVille and push, my dad stood with the driver’s door open, one hand on the wheel and one beside the windshield ready for a jog, as my mom from the passenger seat cranked the key.  Every two hours, so that we could travel without angst, mind you.  The reason you hear nothing of my sister’s designated spot in this ordeal is because she was in the back seat doubled over in pain dealing with menstrual cramps — or so she said.  And this is not even the painful part of this story.  

Now that DeVille is rolling, Dad is jumping into the driver seat and I am running along side a moving vehicle that none of us want to stop for fear it might die.  Some how I have to jump in the back seat of a two door where the driver is already seated — that’s not even humanly possible because the driver seat while occupied leaves no access to the back seat.  Once I wrangle my body into DeVille — God rest his soul — Dad’s practically on the highway. And guess what?

We still need to rotate seats, so that our travel experience won’t be full of angst! Everyone is now seated in the appropriate restful place and we have exactly 84 minutes before we do it all again.  Oh DeVille, we made some memories that summer!

Sometimes our well thought out plans are no longer accomplishing the purpose but we continue to execute them.  We had some serious angst on that trip that could have been eliminated by adjusting the plan.  Do you need to flex a little in your current plan? Consider hiring a coach to help you re-think your strategies. 

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Just Recieve IT

For Christmas, my brother-in-law had a clown hand-made by a local toy maker for my 7 month old. It was spectacular — colorful, soft, sweet, attractive. 26 years later, we still have the clown.  It was a marvelous and gracious gift.  My precious baby played with, wait for it, the box.  I kept putting the delightful clown in front of him and he kept pushing it aside to play with the boring cardboard box.  I had the clown kiss him on each cheek, still he played with the box.  I knew then we would have to practice this gift receiving thing in the future.  After all, that's what my mom did with me -- made me practice receiving gifts.  (But that's a story for another day.)

You can imagine my anxiety when the gift giving started at Christmas two years later. (He wasn't really old enough to start practicing.)  He ripped open a specially wrapped box and flung the top off, I could see from across the room -- oh my dear God in Heaven, it's SOCKS.  His grandmother, my mother, had given this two year old that preferred cardboard over a bright, playful, exceptionally designed toy—  SOCKS.  Cringing at what would happen next, I started to melt into the corner. As I did, he let out a squeal of delight similar to what a 24 year old would sound like when given the keys to a Ferrari. (I’m just imagining — I’ve never actually heard that.)  Apparently, each pair of socks sported a different dinosaur.  OH! He loved dinosaurs! The entire room full of extended family, mostly adults, was laughing, clapping, smiling over this two year old's reaction to SOCKS.  Everyone, except for my aunt.  Overwhelmed by his enthusiasm, she sat quietly on the couch crying — over SOCKS.  The point: A gift well received is enjoyed by everyone.

Today I want to encourage you to receive your gift well — your style, your raw talent, your education, your position, your strengths, your abilities, your desire to impact the world for good.  When you receive your gift well, everyone in the room will delight in it also. 

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What'd You Say?

A women checked into the hospital to have a tonsillectomy and the surgical team erroneously removed a portion of her foot.  WHAT?  Apparently, 98,000 hospital deaths each year stem from human error. Partly because health care professionals are afraid to speak their mind. Every industry and organization and family has this problem.  In the case of the woman with a missing foot, no less than seven people wondered why the surgeon was working on the foot, but they said nothing.  Dialog is a necessity!

Everybody benefits from free flowing dialog.  When opinions vary, emotions run hot and the stakes are high, it’s easy to cut off the lines of communication.  Our brains are hard-wired to fight or flee.  This is an automatic response that doesn’t require any processing time.  When you step off a curb and realize an 18-wheeler is barreling down the street, you automatically jump back onto the side walk. Or when someone grabs your purse, you immediately fight back. This hard-wiring is a life saver. Unfortunately, when our emotions start to crank up, our brains start to shut down.  

The best way to keep our brain engaged is to step out of the content of the conversation and ask ourselves what we really want.  What do I really want for myself here?  What do I want for the other person?  What do I want for this relationship?  If I keep my focus on what’s being said, I might lose sight of where I genuinely want to end up after this conversation.  Labeling people or ideas, controlling the direction of the decisions, being sarcastic, or sugarcoating our responses, immediately cuts off any free flow of dialog. As soon as the conversation becomes about defending dignity, everyone loses.  

When everyone feels safe, we can talk about almost anything. Restoring safety may involve slowing things down, making apologies, reassuring the other person of what we don’t want and what we do want.  “I really don’t want you to feel cut off here.  I absolutely want to hear what you have to say.”  “I don’t want you to think I have a separate agenda.  I really do want to move forward together.” Recognizing that our mutual purpose or respect is at risk can help us stop and reconnect.

The way we handle any exchange with the people around us, impacts how they will interact with us in the future. What would it take for us to not cut off the foot, when what’s really needed is a tonsillectomy?   

 

Let It Go

When I was first learning to water ski (don’t assume by that first phrase that I actually water ski), I had the hardest time remembering to let go of the rope after I’d fallen.  You see the rope is what kept me moving forward, upright on the water, connected to the boat.  When I lost my balance and didn’t let go of the rope, it became the thing that drug me head first through the wake of the boat almost drowning me along the way.  Everyone on the boat would scream at me to let go of the rope but my mind had trouble understanding the very thing that was to my advantage in the beginning was now trying to kill me.

Letting go is unbelievably difficult because often times we are having to let go of things that appeared to sustain us — keep us upright and moving forward.  Neuroscience explains that our brain motivates us to prevent harm and/or relieve anxiety and we see letting go as harmful or full of anxiety — we are hardwired to hang on.  This means that letting go takes some savvy, intentional steps.    

One primary step is to confront our compelling, distorted thoughts that make holding on appear reasonable and right. We entertain magical thinking ("If I give him more time, his destructive behavior will stop”), delusions ("I must keep gathering this evidence. Somehow, I can be proven right if I stick with it"), and sheer errors of logic (“Even though I haven’t needed this for a decade, someday I might. So I have to hold on to it"). Each thought pattern is a cunning argument against letting go. Each needs to be challenged and rewritten so that we can stop being dragged behind the boat.

As soon as we let go of the rope behind a ski boat, we can just float in the water.  It’s so relaxing and enjoyable to be buoyed by the lake rather than beaten by it.  Letting go ushers in peace.

What will the long-term consequences be in your life if you do not let go? What is one small step you can take today to start letting go?

 

Take out the Garbage

He stumbled into his kitchen in the middle of the night for a glass of water.  When he flipped the light switch, a little critter stood up on his back legs and stared right at him before he scampered behind the stove.  Startled out of his sleepy walk, he went after the little rat.  As he carefully pulled the stove out, his mind begin to process the situation. What if this tiny mouse attacks him? How will he protect himself? Armed with the meat fork, he continued his hunt.

When my son called to tell me about his middle of the night shenanigans, I belly laughed at the thought of him holding a meat fork as a weapon against a mouse.  For those of you who need a conclusion to the story — all is well.  The holes have been plugged and the mice have been sent to heaven or wherever they go. I chided my son by telling him the word was out in the mice community, his place was an easy dinner stop. He assured me there was absolutely no truth to that, anymore.  The next time I visited him, you could eat off the floor in his apartment — not a dirty dish, not an overflowing trash can, not a crumb on the floor.

After re-telling the story a dozen times just for the laugh, I had a revelation — get rid of the garbage and the rats will leave.  Where is the garbage in your own life or mind?  Where do you need to do a little clean up or clean out to eliminate the pests?  Where do you feel under attack, when the reality is you just need to close up some holes and sweep the floor?

Many of us find ourselves in the midst of a constant stream of negativity, judgement, criticism, blaming and complaining.  Sometimes it’s the company we keep.  Other times it’s our inner critic. Either way, it’s time to take out the garbage, so that the rats will leave.  

If you need some extra support with your own mental shenanigans, you can find me at www.lifebydesign.guru.  

 

Accolades for Dad

I’m going to jump on the bandwagon and do what everyone else is doing this week — priase Dad.  The first thing you need to know about my dad is he taught me not to do what everyone else is doing.  With one exception (today), I’ve been able to see the value and attempt to adhere to that lesson.  What he wanted was for me to not make knee-jerk decisions, to move through the moment calmly and to think before I acted and especially before I spoke.  He taught me this not with words but by his own actions.  He can disagree with you but be calm about it.  He can encourage you to change your mind without degrading you.  He can go a different direction from you but still support you.   

I recently met a CEO of a large institution.  It took less than an hour with him to recognize his marvelous capacity for leadership.  When I mentioned him to my dad, my dad explained that this CEO thirty years earlier was his state representative. My dad and the representative did not see eye to eye on a particular issue.  Dad felt passionate about the issue and visited the representative often. The day before the congressional vote, Dad drove from Corpus Christi to Austin for one last effort to influence his public official.  As he left the Capitol that day unsuccessful, he assured this young, green representative that they would remain friends.  The representative looked at him in shock explaining that my dad’s counterparts did not make the same assurances.  

Out of curiosity, I emailed the CEO’s assistant retelling this story to confirm to my new powerful leader friend that my dad never forgot him.  This young, green politician now a thoughtful, influential, intentional leader remembered my dad clearly and said, “I still consider him my pastor.”  After thirty years, he still remembered a man who respected and honored him in spite of his disagreement and felt well cared for by him.

The only time I really need this valuable lesson my dad taught me — don’t do what everyone else is doing, be calm and thoughtful, show honor and respect even when you disagree — is when I’m with people.  The days I’ve lived on a deserted island, I don’t have to practice this at all.

One tip that might be helpful as we manage ourselves: breathe.  Our brain demands a full 20 percent of our body’s oxygen supply.  Next time you are in a stressful situation, focus on taking slow deep breaths.  Another tip: sleep on it.  Time brings clarity and perspective to the thousands of thoughts that go swimming through our head. One last tip: take control of what we’re telling ourselves.  Turn “I always” or “I never” into “just this time” or “sometimes.” When we stop beating ourselves up, we’ll stop making our problems bigger than they really are.  Replace judgmental statements like “I’m an idiot” with factual ones like “I made a mistake.” Thoughts that attach a permanent label to you leave no room for improvement.  

What tips to you have for not making knee-jerk decisions?

 

When All is Lost

When it all seems lost, is it really over?  

Another spring training workout in 2016. Ninety-eight baseball players dressed in identical Texas Ranger warm-ups, stretching their backs, cover the field.  Danny’s son had always been easy to find with his 98 mph fastball and a fleet of fast cars.  Now he’s been assigned to Auxiliary Field Six with a bunch of 18 year old rookies and career minor leaguers.  The Ranger’s star players have left the field; the security guards are headed home; the fans have put away their autograph books —all that’s left is the minor league pitchers grinding it out.  

Danny can’t find his son on the field.  This is particularly concerning because Danny is contractually obligated to keep on eye on his son, who just turned 30.  He chauffeurs him to every event, lives with him in the hotel room, monitors his curfew, and takes him to 12-step meetings.  Those are just a few of the conditions of his son’s return to professional baseball — his last chance to redeem a decade of blown opportunities that made him perhaps the biggest disappointment in the history of the Major League Baseball draft.

The last time his son went missing from spring training was four years earlier.  He’d been clean and sober for several months when his roommate let him borrow his car to go home.  The house was only half a mile from the field.  What could go wrong? Forty miles later, he was buying beer at a gas station for one final bender.  Next he was at a liquor store, followed by a strip club.  Finally back behind the wheel and blacked out, speeding toward the wreck that so many in his life had long anticipated and dreaded.  His vehicle careened into a 72-year-old motorcyclist, knocking the man off his bike, driving over his head and leaving him in critical condition.  A few miles later the police catch up with him and charge him with three felonies.  He was sentenced to 51 months in prison.  

When he was released from the Pen he took a job for $8 an hour at Golden Corral.  He rode three miles from his halfway house to the Golden Corral on a donated bicycle, worked the morning shift in the bakery, ate at the buffet, pitched to a friend in the parking lot in the afternoon. That’s where a Ranger’s employee rediscovered him, with a department of corrections GPS tracking device locked to his ankle, throwing 95 mph fast balls.

Most of his time in prison he spent thinking of the opportunities he’d wasted and the mess he’d made of his life.  In high school, he had a .450 batting average with 11 home runs and 35 runs batted in.  He threw 94 mph fastball with a solid curveball.  These stats rival major leaguers, not high schoolers.  He was considered one of the best players ever to come out of high school.  He was selected first overall in the 2004 Major League Baseball Draft.  Signed by the Padres with a 3.15 million dollar signing bonus at 18 years old.  

His professional career began with his suspension before he ever took the field, for his role in a fight outside an Arizona bar.  After being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays, who were well aware of his behavioral problems, he threw a baseball at a woman’s head at a local party.  The Blue Jays released him the next day.  It would take a year before he signed a contract with any team, and then only a minor league team.  Two years in the minors and he was headed to prison.  

After a brief panic, Danny finds his son on the field, with a wave and a huge sigh of relief,  Danny thinks to himself, “He looks healthy and stable today.”

Spring 2017, after owning his alcoholism, seeking forgiveness from his victim, taking full responsibility for his action, choosing to give back to his community, committing to a clear plan for change, and repeatedly expressing his gratefulness, Matt Bush steps on the mound as the Texas Ranger's closer.

It doesn’t have to be over, just because it looks like it is.

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Small Shifts toward Wholeness

Our Sundays, our weekends, our night’s off, our holy days are lost.  Our bosses, co-workers, parents, kids, neighbors can find us at any time — day or night.  More and more we feel like we’re permanently on call. With the increased speed of our life, we pull into marked off lanes, pick up paper bags and begin to ingest fat, calories, sodium, starch. We call it food, but it has little to no nutrition. Because we have no space in our lives, we express our emotions poorly, with no real understanding about what we feel. Surrounded by this fast pace world, we often confuse wellness with an absence of pain.  Wellness is something far greater, far more exhilarating.  Wellness is a constant dance of pushing past previous limits and breaking new ground.  Wellness begins with paying attention to the little stuff — how we eat, how we listen to and take care of our body, how we process our feelings and contribute to the larger society.  

Wellness isn’t about deprivation or, on the other end, perfection — it is about pointing ourselves in the direction of growth and taking small steps to support that shift. Whether you want to start drinking more water, release pent up emotion, or spend more time sitting quietly, consider using these four steps to move in that direction.

1)  Digest information
2)  Decide on a destination
3)  Design a plan
4)  Do something

For about a decade, I drank at least sixty-four ounces of Dr Pepper a day. I knew it was not fueling my mind, body or spirit.  I was a full on addict and it was socially acceptable. I began to seek information — just listening and learning.  What was in soda? How did that much sugar impact my organs?  What would the long term result of that be?  As I ingested the information about Dr Pepper undermining my health, I kept sucking down that refreshing taste of Dr Pepper.  The education, the facts, the understanding was settling into my mind — somewhere.  I decided I needed to successfully stop drinking DP. My intention, my goal, my target, my destination was improved health. I’d tried many times before to stop the Dr Pepper habit, which meant I knew what wasn’t going to work — recruiting my best friends as accountability partners.  They just started showing up with iced down Dr Peppers for me when I’d asked them to help me stop.  Declaring out loud every morning that I was no longer going to drink the stuff, only to find it in my hand by 10:30 AM.  Not buying it at the grocery store.  There’s a drive through every mile where friendly people are happy to pour me a DP.  Obviously, it was time to try something different.

I partnered with an alternative medicine professional who could tell me about my own body and help me design a plan. I purposely did not tell her that I was a Dr Pepper addict. At my first visit, she explained that my liver, bladder, hormones, adrenal glands, thyroid were all in trouble, not to mention my alkaline balance. All of this before I turned 50. I started on a new vitamin regiment and introduced more lemon, yogurt, cinnamon, leafy greens and broccoli to my diet. Baby steps. I was taking baby steps toward health while still enjoying refreshing Dr Pepper every day.  At some point, I started on a lemon juice concoction for a couple of weeks as a detox.  While I was drinking that lemon juice recipe, Dr Pepper stopped tasting good.  Having been off it for two weeks, I never picked it up again.  Something about my wellness was shifting in my body and that impacted my mind (where at least part of the addiction exists).  That was over two and a half years ago.  After a decade of addiction, I’m still Dr. Pepper-free. 

The more we adjust or shift — even in tiny ways — the more we can look forward to sweeping changes showing up in our lives.  Cut one thing out of our diet, add 5 minutes of silence to our day, turn our attention for a moment toward kindness and before we know it we are creating a new world for ourselves. 

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On the Ranch

My mother grew up on one of the largest cattle ranches in Kansas.  She could rope a calf, run a barrel race, move a herd of cattle, drive a tractor and gather eggs all before she rode her favorite horse to school.  In all seriousness, she did do all those things — maybe not all before school.  

I grew up in Corpus Christi.  I could read a book, walk two blocks, load a backpack and eat an egg before arriving at school.  Yes, I could; that is all true — a marvel, but true.

Back on the ranch, my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins were all cowboys, business men, veterinarians, and cow wranglers . . . all in a days work.  Every summer my sister and I would visit for several weeks.  Since it was a working ranch we became part of the crew, right alongside the hired hands.  How many of you know city slickers do not make good cowboys?  We would climb on horses, ride out to the pasture, gather up a herd and drive them back to the corral.  Typically with lots of people yelling instructions at us as we moved along.  We were the world’s worst cattle ranching hands!  But we loved it.  

As far back as I can remember Grandpa would pile four to six granddaughters into the cab of the pickup truck and let us drive — even before we could reach the pedals.  He would work the clutch and accelerator, the granddaughter in the middle shifted the gears and the granddaughter on his lap steered the wheel.  Each cousin would take their turn — half of them younger than I.  All of them drove tractors at the age of 6.  They absolutely dreaded my turn.  But no one dreaded it more than I.  Grandpa would put me in his lap and say “Take us home, Michele” and I would promptly put us in the ditch.  E - V - E - R - Y - T - I - M - E.  To which Grandpa would say, “You got her in here, you take her out.” It was always a long, hair-raising ordeal that kept my cousins talking for years.  

One summer the crew needed to round up the cattle in the pasture a good distance from the barn area and drive them into the loading area.  The horses were saddled, loaded in the largest horse trailer on the ranch — 8 horses — that’s one long trailer.  Everyone piled into the truck pulling the trailer and off we went.  One by one the horses were led out of the trailer and Grandpa would announce: Bryant, Bear's yours.  Bryant would climb onto the big black horse.  Nanette, Socks is yours.  And the announcements continued.  Seven horses out of the trailer with riders on them trotting through the pasture.  Grandpa lead the last horse out of the trailer, put his foot in the stirrup, swung his leg over the saddle and with a twinkle in his eye tossed something to me.  As he began to ride off, he hollered, “Take her home, Michele.

A R E   YOU   K I D D I N G   ME?

I’m 14 years old; have no driving experience except for a couple of weeks each summer at the ranch.  I’ve never driven anything, much less anything with a 27 foot trailer that’s 7 feet wide, on a gravel road that’s not much wider.  Add to that, I don’t know where I am or which way the house is.  I couldn’t make it back to the barn if my life depended on it.  I’m holding the keys with tears in my eyes as I watch eight backsides disappear over the rim.  

There is no reason to believe that I will get out of this alive.  In fact, my initial idea is to sit in the truck until they get back to the house with the cattle in six hours and discover I’m not there.  Surely, they’ll send someone.  

After that thought leaves me feeling hungry, I take a deep breath, put my hands on the steering wheel and start to lean my forehead against it for a good, long cry — then it dawns on me I have a secret weapon. GRANDMA!  Grandma is the kindest, most gentle women on the planet.  She knows absolutely everything about cattle ranching.  She can ride a horse, rope a calf, wheel and deal with the buyer, grow the vegetables and fry ‘em up in a pan. All I need right now is Grandma.

I can’t drive, I can’t find my way out of a paper bag, but I know how to use a CB radio.  “Rawhide one,  this is Rawhide 5, come in?"  And then it happened, I heard Grandma's voice coming through the static on the CB.  “This is Rawhide one. Go ahead, Rawhide five.”  Words spilled out of my mouth like they were on fire, “Grandma, Grandpa and the others left with all the horses. Grandpa gave me the keys. I’m supposed to bring the trailer home.  Grandma what am I going to do?”

Grandma said calmly and confidently, “I’ll help you.” And she began to instruct me about where to put the key, which foot to put on which pedal, what gear to shift into and which direction to move in.  The truck and trailer lurched forward and I was off and moving with a $50,000 worth of equipment dependent on my abilities.  At every corner, I described the landscape and Grandma told me where to turn, how to line up the tires so that I wouldn’t lose the trailer in the ditch.  When a fellow rancher was coming toward me on the road.  I said desperately into the CB, “Grandma, there’s a pickup truck coming!”  She calmly said, “Move as far as you can to the side and stop.  He’ll go around.”  How likely is it he was hearing the entire conversation on the radio?  She probably sent him, for all I know.  

A full hour and a half later, with all of ten miles behind me and the truck and trailer fully in tack, I pulled into the drive.  Complete relief rushed over me; I jumped out of the truck and ran to the house, wrapped Grandma up in a big hug.  That’s the day I believed.  I believed in myself.  I decided I could do it — whatever “it” is.  

It turns out you’re the only one standing in your way!

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