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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.  

 

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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?

 

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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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Don't Quit

After 13 years, Tawny O’Dell had written six unpublished novels and collected 300 rejection letters.  She jokes that her epitaph should read, “Here lies Tawny O’Dell.  Just not right for us.”  Finally, her first novel was published and receiving great reviews.  

A month later, O’Dell was fixing dinner while moderating a debate between her kiddos about who the dog liked best when her phone rang.  Answering the phone was not a top priority, she almost didn’t.  The voice on the other end said, “Hi, Tawny.  This is Oprah Winfrey.”  After accusing Oprah of being an impersonator and a poor one at that, she finally realized Oprah had a book club and Tawny was an author and this could really be happening.

O’Dell would say that Norman Vincent Peale was right, "It’s always too soon to quit!"  Thirteen years is a long time to wait to be published.  Because she didn't quit, she made it as a best selling novelist.  

Whatever you are pushing toward — a business, a project, a job, a movement, a new life — don’t quit.  

I have a friend who is a triathlete, at mile 60 of a 100 mile bike ride she wanted to quit.  She was done.  It was over.  The hardest part, according to her, is not the physical preparation but the mental preparation.  At mile 60, she decided to go 10 more miles.  Then at mile 70, she decided to go 10 more miles. The best way for her to negotiate past the desire to quit was to break down the huge task into small goals.  She did quit that day but not until she got to mile 100. Persistence is the most common quality among people who have achieved something of value. They simply refuse to give up.  In refusing to give up, we learn new lessons, experience new growth and arrive at difficult decisions.  

“History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed.  They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats.” ~ B.C. Forbes

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Powered by Purpose

Last week, I attended Leadercast.  The theme of the day was “Powered by Purpose.” Our first speaker articulated the definition of purpose as the reason for which something exists or is accomplished.  Andy Stanley went on to explain that purpose is the means to an end.  He emphasized that people want to be the "something" or the "end." No one wants to be the reason or the means.  The starting point for purpose is not “Why am I here?”  Instead it it is, “Who am I here for?” Stanley pointed out that purpose is always formed across the border from “What’s in it for me?”

 

Stanley reminded us of CVS Pharmacy’s decision in 2014 to stop selling tobacco products.  CVS has always stated that their purpose is helping people on their path to better health.  The CEO of CVS said, “Simply put, the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose.”  The decision cost them billions of dollars. But they understood that purpose is a path to meaning.

Cheryl Bachelor in Dare to Serve said, “The point of purpose is to determine how you will serve others.  If you don’t plan to serve, you don’t need a purpose.”

Who are you here for?

 

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Velcro your Tools Down

She was born on a farm in Iowa in 1960.  Her anticipated life course would be to marry a farmer and spend the rest of her life on the farm.  Instead, at the age of 57, she has spent more time off the planet than any other American.  Every 90 minutes, she circles the earth traveling at 17,500 miles an hour.  Yes, she still uses her farming skills to grow cabbage in space.  

Astronaut Peggy Whitson started working at NASA in the 80’s as a researcher who supported space missions.  In 1992, she became the project scientist of the Shuttle-Mir Program.  Four years later, she was selected as an astronaut and took her first trip to the International Space Station in 2002. Last week, obscure farm girl to globally known biochemist, Peggy Whitson broke the NASA record of 534 days in orbit.  Upon her return to earth in September, she will have been in space for more than 650 days.

In her virtual interview with CNN, she explained that the challenge of living in zero gravity is remembering to velcro everything down.  Keeping track of your tools is not simple.  If you lay them down, they will float away.  She is comfortable working with her body on the ceiling or on the wall — in any orientation.  It’s incredibly disorienting to be able to work in all those different positions.  As I watched the interview with Dr. Whitson, it struck me that her adaptation is exactly what we need right here on earth — velcro our tools down so that they don’t float away and keep our eye on which way is up.  

Many times we uncover really great tools, tips, routines that keep us focused or motivated or at peace but some how we quit using them — they just float away.  Or we hear about something that could be fantastic and forget to try it. Whitson velcros her tools to her cargo pants.  That may not work for us.  Let’s find a system that keeps valuable tools in sight -- a structured morning routine, a community that keeps us focused, an electronic notification that keeps the tools in front of us.

When our lives are fast pace, full of varied responsibilities like family, job, and volunteer work, it’s easy to get disoriented.  Everyone seems to need something from us.  No one appears to be satisfied.  And we have fully spent all of our energy.  At the end of the day, we can’t remember which way is up — why are we here and what keeps us moving forward.  Staying grounded (moments of silence, affirming yourself and others, practicing gratitude) is the only way to be flexible and comfortable in a number of different places.

Life lessons from Whitson: Velcro your tools down and pay attention to which way is up.

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At the End of the Road

Big Bend, I’ve always planned to go there. It’s something I dreamed of, thought about, considered but never made happen.  Last week, I arrived at the long anticipated Big Bend National Park. Before my departure to the desert, a friend of mine said, “Way to make things happen!” Dreaming, considering, thinking about things is not the same as making it happen. “It” only happens as a result of action.

Photo by Johnathan Gooch

Photo by Johnathan Gooch

Even after a long drive and unloading at an airbnb in a nearby town, eighty miles separated us from the park. In the park, our winding road rose over two thousand feet above the desert floor. After an hour of driving through the park and a series of hairpin turns, we arrived at the trail head.  In life, even after it feels like you should be there, a long series of actions are still required in order to arrive. It’s easy to get discouraged by the long list of things that need to be done before we can even get started on something.  

I was giddy with excitement as we started down into the Chisos Basin. A wise choice to start on a trail that is going down, leaving the uphill climb for later.  The drive through the Chisos Basin is breathtaking, but walking it is an up close and personal experience unlike any other.  Seeing the lines and patterns on the erosion formed peaks and watching the critters scamper across the trail leaves you awestruck.  The trail down was taken at break-neck speed, all the time passing those coming back up.  Their faces red, breathing shallow and pace slowed to a crawl.  Still we persist.  After some weaving and climbing, we arrive at the Window. At first glance, it’s stunning.  Then you move a little closer and words escape you — only moans and groans pass through your lips. The views of the vista peaks cannot be captured in photo or words.  The realization that I’m standing in a place were less than .000002% of the world have stood this year, overwhelms me. It’s hair-raising and heart stopping to take the road less traveled.

Photo by Johnathan Gooch

Photo by Johnathan Gooch

Once you get to the window, there is no alternative but to climb back out.  One women going up said “I’m a wimp!”  Another said, “It’s so hard.”  Some used trekking poles and others stopped often.  Certainly, I took a completely different pace on the way up, than I did on the way down.  In life even after “it” happens, there is hard work to be done.  To stay the course, it’s important to remember: this is worth it.  Making “it” happen wasn’t easy but so worth it. Going all the way to the end of the road can take you to a splendid place, few experience.

Let’s go make things happen!

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Fierce and Fearless

In 1967, women rarely participated in professional or competitive sports.  Kathrine Switzer was a student at Syracuse, where she trained with the men’s cross-country team.  The Syracuse coach told her women were too fragile to run long distances.  But if she could run the marathon distance in practice, he promised to take her to the Boston marathon.  

On the application she used her initials rather than her first name.  No woman had ever run in the Boston Marathon. About a mile into the race, the race director tried to throw her out. In an interview with CBS, she said she turned around and looked into the angriest face she’d ever seen. (A picture is worth a thousand words.) Her large, stout, football-playing boy friend who was running with her handled the director, while her coach hollered at her to keep running. As Helen Keller taught us, “We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.

Switzer was brave and confident of her strength in 1967 and is still brave and confident today.  She ran the Boston Marathon this past Monday to mark the 50th anniversary of becoming the first women to officially complete the race.  Her original time was 4:20.  This week, at the age of 70, she ran it in 4:44.   

In 2013, Kathrine said, “When I go to the Boston Marathon now, I have wet shoulders—women fall into my arms crying.  They’re weeping for joy because running has changed their lives.  They feel they can do anything.”  Switzer’s fearlessness has inspired many and continues to inspire.  She is the founder of 261 Fearless, a running club designed to empower women.  261 is the bib number she wore in 1967 and again in 2017.   She pioneered the way for women everywhere by demonstrating that women are not lacking endurance or stamina. 

Now it's our turn to be brave and confident, so that others can be inspired. No one is too fragile to run the race set before them.

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When Death Brings Life

This week remembers, enacts, and participates in the hope of the renewal of all creation, including our own.  Betrayal, trial, execution, death, burial, watching at the grave, and the disturbing or even terrifying surprise of resurrection meet us throughout this week we call Holy Week.  Jesus' death was required in order to bring us life. This principle of a required death bringing life can be found every where.  

For creativity to live, rigidity has to die.

For beauty to live, disregard has to die.

For bravery to live, gutlessness has to die.

For gratitude to live, bitterness has to die.

For community to live, blame has to die.

For faith to live, skepticism has to die.

For hope to live, hopelessness has to die.

For love to live, complacency has to die.

What else do you want to live? What has to die to give way to it? Add your own refrain in the comments below.

 

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Why Wait?

I crawled into Downtown Fort Worth at peak rush hour this morning.  With this crawl, came two options: dread or hope.   With the push of a button, I turned on a podcast, enjoyed the new ideas and perspective as I slowly wound through what appeared to be the entire population of Texas on Highway 287.  

Life is full of waiting — the type of waiting that makes you ache. Waiting for a fulfilling job.  Waiting for health to return. Waiting for reconciliation. Waiting. This kind of waiting causes us to question — our direction, our decisions, our capacity. My journal is full of pages over my lifetime of notes about waiting — waiting for resolve, waiting for answers, waiting for the next action step.  Learning to wait in these season with hope is not easy.  

Waiting in the line at Walmart and waiting for your college aged son to come home for the weekend are two completely different experiences. In the line at Walmart you notice every annoying little thing — how slow the person at the front of the line pulls their wallet out, how many unnecessary items the guy in front of you has in his basket, how chatty the clerk is with the boy refilling her plastic bag dispenser.  You tend to focus on what is in your way.  As you wait for the much anticipated return of a child, you busy yourself preparing, checking every detail, readying for all the fun, long conversation, and sweetness of the moment.  Your focus is on the things that bring you joy.  

One of the best things that comes out of waiting is the refining of our character.  When a two year old doesn’t get what they want when they want it, they throw themselves on the floor and have a temper tantrum.  (Or was that just my two year old?)  How do we respond when we don’t get what we want, when we want it? Waiting well means pursuing growth over immediacy.  It means refusing to do less than excellent work at your current job when your dream job is nowhere in sight.  It means expressing gratitude for what is in our grasp, rather than complaining about what is out of our grasp.  

As I was slowly snaking my way to downtown Fort Worth this morning, I could focus on the fact that I would eventually get there.  And with that hope in mind, use my extra thirty minutes on the road to improve myself.  Or I could choose to feel drudgery over crawling along the roadway with the masses.  Over the years, I've done both, probably more of the drudgery than the hope.  The choice isn’t easy but it is ours to make.

Let's not ask ourselves, "Why wait?" but instead, "How?"

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After the Storm

Spring in Texas is gorgeous.  The sunshine is warm and inviting.  The wild flowers are blooming in all the open fields and along the highways.  Spring in Texas is where we all want to be, except when the storms fire up.  Two nights ago we had a storm that dropped an inch of rain on us in no time, the winds blew at 85 mph and the hail littered the yard.  As we started the clean up the next morning it felt overwhelming.  A neighbor down the street had an entire tree down across the road.  A friend in an adjacent neighborhood had the tree in his front yard laying across the drive way.  Our next door neighbor had a tree land on their roof and knock the chimney down.  Our pergola was picked up off it’s supporting poles and reset on the roof.  Not to mention the random large limbs in the yard and the billions of broken twigs that covered streets, drives, grass and were plastered up against walls.  

                                    The house next door.

                                    The house next door.

After a storm, it’s hard to know where to start.  Everything seems so insurmountable that you feel like no matter what, you can’t make a difference.  No matter what you start on, there will still be so much to do that you’ll never overcome it all.  We’ve all experienced personal storms or moments in our life when we felt like that.  As I began what seemed like a puny effort to face the damage of the storm, I started to think about how my actions after a physical storm are really similar to the action that needs to be taken after personal storms.  

First, just get started. If the “bleeding has stopped,”  just get started.  Once you start picking up after the storm, you can adjust your course of action.  But the big first step is just get started.  So I walked out the garage door and started sweeping the drive way.  Probably not, the most urgent or essential but getting started helped me to assess what to do next, how to break down the big job into smaller ones, etc.  Personal storms can paralyze you.  The best way to recover is to get moving.

Start on something small and manageable so that the completion can give you encouragement and motivation.  The driveway seemed do-able to me.  I scooped up several bags of debris.  It was manageable and the progress was obvious.  It helped me see that I could get the front yard cleaned up also.  One small win, after a storm, propels you to the next win.  

Get help. I do not have the understanding or skill to fix the pergola.  The only step to take there — call the experts, starting with the insurance adjuster.  Sometimes during or after a storm, the best thing you can do is call the professionals — people with skills you do not have.

Walk away for a period.  After hours of work on the aftermath of a storm, taking a break gives you fresh wind to tackle the next thing and new perspective to see the progress that’s already been made.   The entire area was without electricity, so we drove 25 minutes away to have lunch. At lunch, we relaxed, enjoyed family, and rested from the work.  Upon our return, it looked totally do-able.  Just hours earlier, it was overwhelming but now it felt conquerable.  

Finally, give thanks.  After seventeen hours without electricity, an entire community began to express thanks.  Gratitude for what we do have and gratefulness for what we typically have and a genuine spirit of awe for the intangible things of life.  No matter where you are in the storm or after, choosing gratitude will adjust your own perspective and develop a spirit of hope.

 

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Stress is like Golf

You don't want the Highest Score

Yesterday I took a life change index.  Basically I measured my stress level by looking at major events that have happened in my life over the last 12 to 18 months.  Stress is a feeling we experience when we perceive that the demands on us exceed our personal resources. On this particular index, numerical values are given to each life event.  Check off the events and add up the values.  If you score under 125 you have low stress, if between 125 and 250 you’re in the middle range, when above 250 stress is high and you should immediately and regularly reduce your stress.  If your score is over 300, your chance of illness increases 80%.  

My score — 546.  F i v e    h u n d r e d,   f o r t y - s i x. Twenty other people were in the room taking this same index.  The ones among them that were truly stressed-out were at 248 to 253.  I should be dead!  When I was in the center of all those life changing events, I found myself in emergency surgery -- an emergency appendectomy.  Stress makes us sick.  Think back on a stressful time in your life.  When it was over, did you get sick? Let’s reduce the demands on us and increase our ability to cope, our health depends on it.  

One of our best stress reducers comes in a two letter word — No.  As we learn to say no, even to good things, we can decrease the demands on us.  It becomes easier to say no when we understand what we are designed for — everything else is someone else’s yes.  Another thing that reduces the demand on us is asking for help.  It sounds so simple but seems like such a difficult step.  When we’re overwhelmed by demands, it’s a perfect time to ask for help — from family, neighbors, professionals, friends, co-workers, anyone in a position to help.  As we reduce the stress in our lives, it’s important to keep our focus on the main thing.  Many times we end up consumed in low priority activities, having forgotten the most important thing.  Whatever your number one thing is, go back to it and don’t sweat the small stuff.

No matter how good we are at reducing the demands on us, we’ll never be without stress.  Improving our ability to cope with the demands or the emotional effects is a necessity.  One of the best ways to cope with the demands of life is to schedule into our day a 30 minute recharge time.  Give our bodies and minds a moment to relax and get away from it all — take a walk, soak in the tub, sit in the park, eat lunch with a friend, go for a drive, do yoga, meditate, use deep breathing exercises.  In an attempt to manage our stress, it’s imperative that we add physical exercise to our routine.  It moves our mental focus off of our stressors and provides us with additional energy.  I know what you’re thinking,  “I don’t have extra time to recharge and exercise. Remember, I’m already overwhelmed.”  Recharge time and physical exercise will reduce our mental and emotional anxiety-stress-demands and free up some space resulting in a good return on our time-investment.  In other words, we can’t afford not to.  

What’s one thing you are willing to do this week to reduce your stress or increase your coping skills?

 

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The Value of Engagement

A gorgeous, confident women told her story with urgency today at lunch.  It started with a stressful childhood that gave way to a sick teenager which unfolded in 10 years of hospital stays, medication, surgeries to fix the joints that the medication (which was keeping her alive) was ruining.  All of this before the diagnosis and the surgery that could “fix” the problem.  As she spoke a common thread kept showing up.  When she didn’t feel good, she didn’t tell anyone.  When things weren’t quite right, she didn’t mention it.  It was understood that in most cases, there was no one to tell.  Or when she did speak up, no one genuinely listened or truly cared.  

In contrast, yesterday, I sat down with a group of women who had come together to encourage, empower, uplift and support each other.  There was a new women already half way through her life sitting at the table.  When she shared what she needed, we pulled from our experience, resources, knowledge, connections and started giving her ideas, thoughts, possibilities.  The table was full of women who cared and listened intently.  Their only focus was to bring something of value to her.   Their gain was simply to have given generously of themselves.  She walked away in shock.  She didn’t expect to get anything from that group of people — certainly not genuine care.  

In what ways are you caring well for the person next to you?

 

Silence — It takes Practice

Many decades ago I planned my day out — every 15 minutes.  I was ecstatic about the fact that I knew what I would be doing every minute of the day. No matter what happened, I made sure I was doing exactly what my minute-to-minute schedule dictated.  You can imagine the stress and anxiety I created for myself — but I felt so productive.  

A few years later I was scooped up by a mentor 30 years older than me who understood the value of silence.  She practiced silence well and reaped the benefits of margins in her life.  She wanted that for me.  Her plan for introducing silence into my life: Saturday, 6:30 AM, her living room, sit in silence, 15 minutes.  Since I was new at practicing silence, she suggested I repeat some kind of mantra that was encouraging, inspiring, comforting — whatever I choose.  At 6:30 on Saturday morning, I sat silently in her living room repeating to myself, “Don’t fall asleep. Don’t fall asleep. STAY AWAKE. STAY AWAKE. Don’t fall asleep. Don’t fall asleep.”  Six months later, that was still my mantra. My first attempt to practice silence was a complete failure.  

In a thirty year study, sociologist found that Americans are actually working fewer hours today than the workers of the 1960s, but feeling as if we’re working more.  We are running at top speed but never feel like we are catching up.  Part of that overload comes from the massive amount of information we access daily.  A small book that can be read in one sitting is more information than existed in the Library of Congress just a few centuries ago.  Another part of our overwhelm comes from constant interruptions.  Scientists have found that it takes an average of twenty-five minutes to recover from a phone call.  We experience those kind of interruptions every 11 minutes.  No wonder we never feel like we are catching up.

Peace of mind comes from looking within. “All the unhappiness of men,” the seventeenth-century philosopher Blaise Pascal noted, “arises from one simple fact: that they cannot sit quietly in their chamber.”   Being still is the most practical way to work through confusion.  The TED book The Art of Stillness states, "It's only by taking myself away from clutter and distraction that I can begin to hear something out of earshot and recall that listening is much more invigorating than giving voice to all the thoughts and prejudices that keep me company. . ."  Start practicing silence by taking a few minutes out of every day to sit quietly and do nothing.  Silence clears our heads, quiets our emotions and gives us new perspective.

 

Incapable to Inspirational

A woman born in 1880 becoming a world-famous speaker and author, traveling to over 40 countries, being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and elected to the National Women’s Hall of Fame is basically unheard of.  Women of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s were little known.  However, we all know Helen Keller, not because of her disabilities but in spite of them.  

Keller born with both sight and hearing contracted a disease that left her blind and deaf, and therefore, mute before she was two.  When Anne Sullivan arrived to teach 7-year old Helen to communicate, Keller was frustrated.  The exasperation was not because she didn’t understand the signs Sullivan was making in her hand, even though she didn’t. It was because she did not realize that every object has a word associated with it.  As soon as she made that connection, she wore her teacher out demanding the names of all the objects she could find.

As an adult Helen often spoke of the joy life gave her.  She expressed gratitude for the abilities she possessed and named curiosity and imagination as two of her priced possessions.  Her philosophy — happiness comes from within — is difficult to argue with, especially when we know her story.  

When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.
We would never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world.
Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only though experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.

I find myself completely in awe of her perspective, her bravery, her determination.  The shocking thing about all of her accomplishments is they started with curiosity and imagination.  A curious attitude asks, “How can we solve this with what we have?”  Imagination challenges the assumption, “I can’t do this!”  Curiosity and imagination expand your perspective.  

In a world, where women did not have much influence and disabled people were labeled useless, Helen Keller became an advocate, an inspiration, and a trail blazer.  It all started with a little curiosity and a lot of imagination.  

 

 

 

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Uncomfortable

It’s been two years since I’ve walked into a yoga class.  My muscles have formed a very tight union.  Like most unions, they typically get what they demand.  When I entered a yoga studio a few days ago, they quickly took to the picket line.  The class I participated in purposely used gravity to assist in stretching out muscles that resist.  Let’s just say, “My body will never be the same again.”   

But it’s what happened in my mind that’s most revealing.  With each new pose or position, the instructor would leave our bodies in a pretzel-like, inhuman kind of situation for what appeared to be weeks.  My mind would tirade, “This is too much.”  “You can’t do this.”  “You’re going to get hurt, really bad.”  While the calming music played, the soothing instructor spoke words of encouragement and the participants quietly breathed in and out, my mind was in all-out-panic mode.  Finally, I realized — I’m uncomfortable.  That’s all it is.  I’m uncomfortable.  I’m not dying.  I’m not being mistreated.  I’m not in a threatening situation.  I’m just uncomfortable.  

I wonder how often my all-out-panicked mind gets me to bail when I’m feeling uncomfortable.  It was shocking to recognize how unwilling I was to be uncomfortable.  Especially when I’ve been taught that staying in our comfort zone kills our adaptability, our growth and our inspiration.  And I want all of that.  

No new experiences, no challenges, no risks . . . may keep us warm and cozy but I suspect you wanted more out of life than that.  Pushing ourselves helps us uncover what we are made of.  Settling for warm and cozy is too big a price to pay.
 
Dan Stevens, an English actor known for his role in Downton Abbey, has said, “The comfort zone is the great enemy to creativity; moving beyond it necessitates intuition, which in turn configures new perspectives and conquers fears.” Go gain new perspective and conquer some fear by making small changes in the every day and the familiar.

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Be Sure of Yourself

Confidence is the feeling that one can rely on someone or something — firm trust.  That means self-confidence is firm trust in ourselves.  “If you have no confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life,” a quote from Marcus Garvey.

Self confidence is a skill just like playing basketball. Basketball players practice — not just once, but every day.  If we want more self confidence in a certain area, practice, practice, practice.  Repetition becomes the vehicle for arriving at our destination.  Malcolm Gladwell says that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice are needed to become world-class in any field.  Where ever you lack confidence, start practicing over and over.  It’s common for us to bail when we hit a little adversity.  When we make our first attempt at public speaking and it flops, we quit. But the 10,000 hour rule encourages us to stay at it.  Thomas Edison’s teachers labeled him as too stupid to learn. Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb but he just kept at it.  Self confidence comes as we practice it.  

Confidence is also a reflection of what is going on in our mind.  Thoughts influence actions.  Tearing ourselves down will never result in building anything up.  Self-confidence cannot come from self-deprecation. If we want more confidence, we need to start with more affirmation.  Step one: put distance between us and the people who feed us negative information about ourselves.  Step two: find people who are positive about themselves and learn from them.  Step three: deliberately affirm ourselves every day.  A good place to start is believing in our ability to improve.  As we make these changes the pathways in our brain begin to alter — the ruts that negativity had burrowed begin to fill in and our positive mindset starts building new roads to different places.  Remember Muhammad Ali saying, “I am the greatest!”  He knew affirming himself would lead to confidence.  And he definitely had that.

Lack of confidence comes from comparison, negative input, giving up too easily, and not seeing people as human but super human.  When we stop comparing and start seeing people as real, reduce our own negative input and practice skills repeatedly, the result is confidence.

When Failure is Better

Dak Prescott has been the shock of the football season. At the age of 23 starting as a third quarterback behind Tony Romo, he took the Cowboys to the playoffs. Thirty-two teams passed on him during the draft. Yet, he won rookie of the year which he shared with Ezekiel Elliott.  This is a common thread that runs through interviews with Dak.  Every question asked, he gives credit to everyone else on the field — even the teams that passed on him.  Recently when asked about the loss in the playoff game Dak said, “The loss served me better than a win would have.”   

When is failure better than success? Failure is better when it drives you to be more.  Failure serves it’s purpose when it causes you to dig a little deeper.  Failure becomes something to build on when it leaves you with a longing.

There is just no reason to avoid failure.  Failure is life’s greatest teacher.  Success magazine recently printed this statement, “The prevailing school of thought in progressive companies — such as Intuit, General Electric, Corning and Virgin Atlantic — is that great success depends on great risk and failure is simply a common byproduct.”  To achieve your personal best, to push beyond the limits, you can’t fear failure. Failure is just a necessary step in success.  

I read about a father who asked his children every night at supper where they had failed that day.  Then he proceeded to give them each a high five.  Sure, they understood the value of hard work and doing your best but he was also teaching them failure was a necessary part of life and not to be afraid of it.  Failed experiments give us new knowledge.  Constant, tireless practice that keeps yielding failure gives us experience. Even beyond that, failure teaches us resilience.  Resilience will serve us for a lifetime. 

Failure -- try it today!