Mountains and Molehills

The crushing weight of anxiety placed firmly on our chests, we face new challenges — or avoid them at all costs — with a pending sense of impossibility. We know we have done something similar before this moment, and yet we cannot help but feel we are trudging up another mountain. And somehow we think that this time we won’t be able to master it.

Before every talk I give, every article I write, every call I make, I see that mountain off in the distance. The vice of fear curls its fingers around my head and I wonder if I may have lost my touch in the seconds it took between agreeing to the assignment and actually doing it.

Then, despite the mild paralysis, I step over it and onto the stage, tackle the keyboard and pick up the receiver to do it anyway.

I am not alone in this feeling. My expertly skilled friend feels the same. Before every job, he gets the tingle of performance anxiety. And yet he is a master of his craft. A true artist that moves me – heart and soul.

And so it is – we see molehills and think they are mountains. Before we know it, we are in the midst of that very thing we feared. Only we have forgotten to feel bad because we feel so good doing what we do best.

Stevie Nicks, the lead singer of Fleetwood Mac, once said. “If you have stage fright, it never goes away. But then I wonder: is the key to that magical performance because of the fear?”

I think so. A little bit of fear mixed in with the passion that pushes us through it to the other side is what keeps us moving forward. And makes us so excellent.

Expand that comfort zone. Never give up. Stretch beyond what you think is possible.

Because anything is possible.

Anything.

Friday – In Pictures

A picture speaks a thousand words. And because my super-duper webmaster finally fixed the bug that made my blog sick (and pictureless), I am honoring his efforts by posting a few of my favorite snapshots today.

Enjoy the view!

I gave my best friend this mug before I set off for a new life in Freiburg, Germany. I had no idea what awaited me…

(c) 2014 Tanja Bruch Photography

(c) 2014 Tanja Bruch Photography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One thing I hoped for was a lot of sunshine.

freiburg sky april 11, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I got it.

And sometimes, with change, comes upset. Like spilled milk. But look at how pretty it can be!

Freiburg spilled milk

 

 

 

 

 

 

Freiburg is special. I knew I was on to something.

Freiburg tree 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Even the trees smile here,” my visiting sister said.

I had to agree.

Freiburg Erdmännchen_2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

There’s even a local petting zoo within walking distance.

For free.

Freiburg - road less travelled

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes taking the road less travelled is scary.

Foto-5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can get into deep water.

But truth be told, it has been so very worth it.

Cuz what you get in the end is the sense of being free. Which means FREI in German.

Kinda like FREIburg. Yeah. Life is funny like that!

herman

Dancing Outside of Time

Have you ever wondered why you can pick up where you left off in a conversation with really good friends, even if distance and time separate you?

Have you ever considered why time seems to fly when you spend time with someone you truly love?

Researchers will tell you it is because your time perception is skewed by desire, expectation for reward and motivation to achieve a goal.

But I have another theory.

We live in two systems: the first arranges our lives around the clock: 8 am breakfast meeting; 10 am Skype call; noon lunch meeting and don’t-forget-to-pick-the-kids-up-after-soccer-practice this afternoon. It is a structured existence in which we operate much like machines. 

Only we aren’t machines. We are living, breathing human beings with feelings.

The second system relates to our emotional world. Because love is the strongest emotion, it suspends time altogether, making the clock, and everything bound to it, absolutely irrelevant. We literally dance outside of time when we spend it with people who give us positive emotions.

Time is a construct, an organizing principle that alleviates commercial trade. It isn’t real. And yet we live as if it were. When love enters the picture, its power overrides our sense of time crunch, hurriedness and desperate lunge to the finish line. All of it fades into the background when we experience the wonders of love.

It explains why I can talk to my best friend for two hours straight while it feels like twenty minutes. Or why a week spent with my love feels like an hour. Or why a chat with my mom whizzes by at the speed of light.

The ties that bind us feed our souls.

The only solution I’ve found to clock combat is to love time itself. Even though it is something we’ve made up — like an imaginary friend — it feels real to us. If we embrace time as a friend, it will give back to us just as our real friends do.

And then we can all dance in and out of time – together.

 

Dipping into the Pool of Possibility

Would you rather hear what you can have versus what you can’t? Most of us respond better to positive reinforcement than to that ever-dangling carrot just out of reach.

Neuroscientists agree. In a recent study published in Social Neuroscience, researchers found that a more positive approach to coaching enhanced students’  ability to visualize their future. By asking students where they saw themselves in ten years (instead of having them focus on their immediate weaknesses and areas of improvement), the researchers found different areas of the volunteers’ brains lit up when scanned. The so-called “positive coaching” group showed brain activity in the following areas:

  • Visual processing — the area of the brain that is activated when imagining future events

  • Empathy and Emotional Safety

  • Global processing — the ability to see the Big Picture

  • Proactive approach to reaching goals rather than simply reacting to loss or fear

When we look at what’s wrong, instead of looking at what’s right, we get mired down in feelings of despair and dread. But when we shift our focus to what is working, our brains actually respond! We can literally change our entire world simply by taking a different perspective. It doesn’t change the facts, but it does change how we feel about them.

It’s like that with time too. If we think we don’t have enough, we’re right because time is actually relative — our sense of time is intimately interwoven with our moods and emotions. If we feel centered and in control of our schedule, we are empowered and more productive. We can accomplish things in quantifiably less time when we are less stressed and more focused.

So let’s concentrate on what’s right about our world instead of looking at what we don’t have. And that dangling carrot? Well, think of it as the driving force that keeps you moving forward, a beacon on your path to what’s next without losing sight of the beauty of where you are now.

P.S. Need to slow down? I just had a chat with Matt Townsend on his radio program about why we need Slow more than ever. Have a listen!

Planting the Seeds

Whether you have a green thumb or not, you are a gardener. You plant seeds wherever you go.

Sometimes we are like dandelions, multiplying ourselves through the myriad ideas we sow. With just one gust of wind, we can cover an entire field with our seeds. Some might call the product of our labor ‘weeds’. Others might call it a work of art. Like dandelions, our efforts to make an imprint in the world may not be appreciated by everyone. And that’s okay. It is in our nature as human beings to wish to procreate, if only through our ideas alone.

At other times we may plant a seed that takes thirty years to grow into its fullest potential. One act of kindness, long-forgotten, could impact lives in ways we learn about well after the fact, if at all.

One of my favorite stories stems from a Chinese proverb about a woman who carries water along a path every day by balancing two pots hanging from a pole. The one pot is ashamed of its ugliness because it has a small hole that leaks water onto the ground. The other pot seems more beautiful because it serves its purpose of bringing water to the woman’s family. That is, until one day the woman says to the broken pot, “You are unique. The hole you have waters the path along the way. I planted seeds to make my walk more pleasant. And now I have a beautiful garden to enjoy every time I get water. Thanks to you.”

Many times I have wondered if I was on the right path. It seemed everything I touched withered on the vine. But what I did not realize was how I was planting seeds all along. Even in the darkest of nights, my efforts were not falling on fallow ground. Everything we come into contact with furthers our purpose, whether we are aware of that fact or not. And sometimes our purpose is different than what we would have ourselves believe.

Planting seeds may come naturally to you. You may be a passionate person who knows what she wants. Or you may be shy, uncertain or shaken by life’s twists and turns. Wherever you are, know that what you do and who you are makes a difference. You do indeed reap what you sow.

What do you want to see grow in your life?

Offline and in Life

Working from home can make you crazy. Human beings require connection. Not just through Skype or text messages. But also through honest-to-goodness, real-life contact. It is the human touch that makes all the difference.

Apart from a brief stint in Corporate America, I have worked from home for most of my adult life. And there are certain tricks I have established to ensure I remain a part of the human race.

Being a writer is a lonely existence at times. We sit with our blank screens (and heaven forbid! our blank stares), alone with our thoughts — and deadlines. The crush of inner discipline is required to maintain momentum when all you’d rather do is eat chocolate in bed.

When you work from home, it is all too easy to shuffle from bed to bath to desk in your pajamas, but I have found that I cannot be on a conference call in my bathrobe. I am most effective when I am fully dressed, wearing makeup and even perfume. I suppose it is my way of preventing too much distance from myself and my fellow man. Besides, the postman knows I work from home so he rings my bell several times a week to drop off packages for others in my building. Virtually, every day I’ll venture outside mid-day for a nature walk and to see other people. I don’t have to interact with them, but just knowing I am not alone helps considerably.

It is ironic that I am in public relations, as private as I am within my four walls. That is the paradox of the at-home worker. We create quiet miracles from the edge of our seats with nary a colleague to high-five us when we score a win for our clients.

That is why meeting with friends on a regular basis is imperative. Remaining connected is essential for your mental health. Unplugging from the virtual world is good for you too.

Get offline and into life today. Hug someone you love. Twice. Nothing beats the warmth of another that you care for deeply. Embrace it for all it’s worth.

 

 

The Slow Road to Heaven

Speed is relative. Okay, so you can quantify it, measure it, try to control it. But in the end, everyone has his own custom pace.

Mine used to be a lot faster than it is now. But my deceleration was gradual. I only notice how slow I’ve become when I hear my friends talk about their hectic lives. Their treadmill existence. Their scampering and clawing to God-knows-where.

I jumped off that hamster wheel a long time ago. Living in Europe helps. People understand the meaning of vacations and rest here. Even stores close once a week to give their employees a break.

I don’t call that backwards. I call that progress.

But visits to my homeland and chats with my American loved ones remind me of how I used to live. It makes me tense just thinking about all that pushing and pulling I used to engage in.

For a lot of people it is necessary to play the Corporate game. They have children to feed, educate and launch. They have mortgages to pay. Slow isn’t a part of their vocabulary, even with the very best intentions.

I wonder when life became so complicated that we had to have the five bedroom home with six baths. We trade our personal bank account of time for a paycheck and a pension fund. And the years slip by while we pound the treadmill in hopes of getting to that elusive place called heaven.

Heaven is here on Earth. Having tried the fast track, I realize now that — at least for me — the Slow Road will do just fine. Living with less does not mean living small. A big life starts — and ends — in our hearts and minds.

 

On Being Real

Dreams are an awesome map to the psyche. They illustrate our innermost thoughts and fears. And hopes too.

In our dreams anything is possible. We can bend time, suspend it or move beyond it, if we wish.

Last night I had the best dream ever. I walked into a café and was greeted by the owner who was wearing a wool sweater. He asked how I was, although I didn’t know him. I put on my very best face and said “Great!” even though, in my dream, I really wasn’t that great at all. He hugged me, then went about his business. I sat next to an artist, whose paintings suddenly turned dark. The room filled with a negative vibration and I could feel the walls closing in on me.

I didn’t like how things were going so I decided — in mid-dream — to back it up and try again. I hit the “rewind” button on the scene and started it again.

Same café. Same owner. Same wool sweater. He asked the same question, only this time I decided to be real. I told him I wasn’t that great at all and that, well, life had thrown a few curveballs my way. He hugged me again, then went about his business. I sat next to the same artist whose pictures now took on a whole new vibrancy. Shoot, her images even danced! The room filled with an atmosphere of love, care and compassion.

So symbolic.

When we choose to be real, we give people permission to do the same. It builds trust and opens hearts.

It gives us the space to let things be exactly as they are. No fighting. No struggle. Just acceptance for the Way Things Are.

I learned a lot from that dream. We have a lot more freedom than we sometimes believe. With that freedom comes the power to choose who and how we wish to be.

I vote for being real and wooly-sweater hugs. How about you?

The Google-ization of Life

There is more to life than convenience and quick answers. Sometimes the slow route to knowledge is more interesting.

Yet Google would have us believe — with its heart-warming television commercials — that the world is just a click away. And every answer to every question too.

Google is indeed a great service. Thanks to the search engine, I was able to consolidate my vacation time by spending it exactly as I wanted to. With a quick search, we were able to find restaurants, parks and even a massage place in just a few minutes. With the help of our iPhone navigation system we quickly found what we were looking. It saved us time and gas trying to find these places.

But technology is not infallible. Even our GPS wasn’t aware of changes in the road system. Sometimes we had to take a right instead of following the insistent voice of our device that we should turn left.

Nobody’s perfect. Not even Siri.

Google has set a new pace to modern life. We now expect to know virtually everything. We can Google-sleuth to find information based on even tiny bits of information — online reviews tell us whether that movie or doctor’s office is worth a visit. And we tend to believe total strangers’ opinions rather than trying things out for ourselves. Google has shaped our world in ways we have yet to realize.

The service itself continues to change at a quick clip too. Take Google Maps, for instance. Just a few weeks ago, it still had that grey-green satellite view of the world. Today, it’s sexier, pointing to exact streetcar routes and even the intervals within which they depart and arrive.

Last year Google purchased an app that used to cost $250 to use. Now it costs $30,000.

I don’t call that progress. I call that extortion.

Love it or hate it: Google has us by the gaggle. It is up to us as to whether we choose to live life according to its algorithm or our own biorhythm.

Maybe if we relinquish the need for omniscience, we will actually open our eyes to what is before us instead of following the commands of our gadgets that often lead us astray. Taking the slow road sometimes is a task worth considering, if only for a moment.

The Transformative Power of Crisis

The most interesting people are those who have experienced life on many levels. They have seen highs. They have seen lows. They have triumphed and overcome. They have utilized conflict to the betterment of their own lives — and those of others.

Crisis isn’t something anyone wants to invite into their lives. But it is indeed a part of life and whether we like it or not, it is what carves our features. Times of trouble are like ocean waves that craft our shell into a smooth, pristine jewel. Crisis is what shapes us most into who we are.

If you ask a cancer survivor what he or she appreciates most about life, it typically isn’t that bouquet of flowers or higher wages that comes to mind. It is the cancer itself that taught that person things most do not get to learn. It is a level of understanding that comes with the gifts – wrapped in the cloak of desperation and pain — that cannot be explained. Yet it transforms the person into something new. A stronger version of herself.

Some of the greatest gifts of my own life haven’t come in shiny, happy packages. In fact, most of them have had jagged edges that have cut me to the bone. But it is in those moments that we get to prove what we are made of. We are stronger than we think.

We will prevail.

In those moments of darkness, we get to rise up to the water’s edge, ride the wave and know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this very moment — and all those moments that will follow — is a part of the Greater Plan.

Use your time on this Earth wisely. Your life is a gift. You are too.