Pockets of Win

Procrastination impacts our lives like an avalanche. We wait, put off, distract ourselves with other things. Then a pile of rubbish comes landing on our heads and we end up with a mess far greater than the delayed activity that caused it.

It has been six years since The Power of Slow hit the shelves, but the principles that live within it still apply today. One of my favorite principles stems from the Procrastination Station chapter, in which I talk about designing pockets of win to keep you motivated when you’d rather be doing something else.

We all put off unpleasant tasks; I don’t know a single person who derives pleasure from plowing through crappy assignments. Most of us moan about the things we have to do that we’d rather not be doing at all: getting up earlier than our bodies prefer; writing those month-end reports that seem endless, repetitive and, in some ways, frivolous; following up — yet again — with someone who chooses to ignore his original promise. And yet we persevere, knowing the alternative is paralysis.

Procrastination adds to the dilemma as we draw out feeling bad about those necessary things in life; and then “those things” loom even larger in our already overtaxed minds. Creating a pocket of win can pull us out of our funk and into the light.

Creating a pocket of win is simple. It is a reward system that causes us to feel better about ourselves — and the world around us. eBay is one of my favorite places to create a space of “yes” for myself. Recently, my son and I cleared out his shelves and placed his beloved comic books on eBay so that he could a) have more space for new books and b) earn a little cash along the way. I find myself checking in on the auctions whenever I start to feel a little blue. It perks me right up to see people’s interest. It then motivates me to continue on, even when I don’t want to.

Then magically those reports get done, the quality of sleep improves and well, those people we chase for answers? Sometimes they surprise us too.

 

The Appreciation of Depreciation

Nothing measures the passage of time more than watching children grow. Or trees that suddenly shoot up to the sky. Or cars that have served you well that suddenly show signs of aging.

My loyal sports car has a few rough edges now. It failed to pass inspection, showing its depreciated value for the first time since I bought it seven years ago.

“It’s time to invest in your lifestyle,” my love said.

He is right.

I naively thought I might be able to replace my car with another one for a reasonable price. The car dealer suppressed a laugh.

“Ma’am. I don’t think so.”

I could almost hear my sports car sighing with relief when I decided it was time to put some money into repairing it back to health.

Car repairs stress me out. It’s beyond my comfort zone (and I’m used to a certain level of uncertainty. It’s the basis of my entire career!) But there is something about motor oil and grease and loud banging noises that throw me off balance. So I asked my love to escort me to the repair shop for a consultation. He nodded, hmmm’ed and made other sounds of affirmation as the mechanic rattled off the things I’d need to make Herman (yes, that’s my car’s name) well again.

It’s amazing what happens when you’re in distress like that. The mechanic agreed to work with me on the price and the timing. He really wanted to help me. I was astounded by his generosity. And grateful for giving my car what it needs.

Whenever things break down, whether it’s a car, device or household gadget, there is always opportunity to look behind the curtain to discover the remarkable people who will come to your aid. Or the experience of not having that thing work and what it feels like when you are without it.

We are so accustomed to everything functioning as we want it to, including ourselves. And when things — and other people – don’t act as we wish them to, it’s a chance to examine our own expectations.

Life is full of mystery. And I have gained a new appreciation for the depreciation of things. How else would we see the magic lurking just beneath the surface of All That Is?

 

 

 

Forgetting the Fear

The tops of the trees swayed. We heard laughter and a few admissions of fear. The ropes whirred like a Porsche on the autobahn. Feet dangling. Hands braking. Tree-top walking at its finest.

We had a brilliant idea today. Five kids. Two adults. And a walk through the tree tops.

The last time I did an obstacle course 30 feet above the ground was for a science show with the kids. We were hired to film the segment for a popular show (Galileo). And although we only got to do a few elements of the entire course, I was fine with spending two hours in a harness and hanging on for dear life in front of the camera’s lens.

In real life, doing such an obstacle course takes serious stamina and a tad bit of crazy to complete.

So today, as I climbed to the heavens with my love and all those kids, I completely forgot to be scared. I was more concerned about the littlest child clicking his carabiner onto the right wires. Then, as I mounted the ladder as the final participant, I realized — at nest level with most birds — that I was afraid of heights.

The truth was I had no time for fear. What lay before me was a job to do. I needed to keep up (and not keep everyone behind me waiting) so I clicked, changed, clicked, whirred, wailed and wheeled my way through the entire thing. There were easier obstacles to conquer, which gave us a reprieve, until the next physical challenge met each and every one of us. Upper arm strength here. Coordination and balance there. By the time we got to the final element, which was a free fall 12 meters down (that’s 35 f-ing feet for you English system folks), I was happy and tired. Five innocent faces peered at me from below. I couldn’t let them down. What was I to do? Remember the fear or simply free fall to the beat of my own heart.

Don’t scream, Christine, I told myself. So I squat into the fall (like I saw my daughter so elegantly do) and screamed at the top of my lungs all the way down.

I am certain there is nary a bird in those nests now. But I made it, shaking and laughing. With a small admission of the fear I had so thankfully forgotten until the very end.

Miracles Take Time

Time is one of my favorite topics. It affects absolutely everything in the Universe, inanimate or not. How long a thing, person, plant, planet or pet exists depends on the isochrony of the clock.

When I was a graduate student, I brought my love of language together with my love for time in a course on the study of timing in speech. Words and time melded into a cacophony of noise and blips on a screen. My final presentation was based on President Clinton’s Inaugural speech, measuring the length of time it took for him to say “My fellow Americans.”

According to Wikipedia, isochrony can be defined as “the postulated rhythmic division of time into equal portions by a language.” In other words, how long does it take to say something and how even are we with its delivery?

Sometimes it takes years — and its delivery is neither even nor measurable.

In my experience, life cannot be measured by the speed of words, although linguistic professors might disagree. Trying to quantify speech is a noble and — in my mind — fruitless effort. What and how things are said are less important than the meaning that lands on the listener.

How we define things informs our experience much more than the speed with which such things are conveyed. Slow plays a central role when we realize the tempo of life cannot be measured in syllables or Southern drawls. In this sense, Slow means mindfulness. We bring our minds — and our hearts — into the equation of Truth, resting there like a swan on a lake’s edge.

My son amazed me with his courage today. He knew — in his heart of hearts — that speaking his truth was more important than following someone else’s guidelines. He wants to switch schools to find the square hole for the peg he has carried through his entire school career. So he took matters into his own hands and wrote a letter to the school principal who runs the school he wants to attend. Despite her office’s initial rejection, he spoke his truth — in his own time and with his own words.

The result was a tearful call from the principal who said, “I want to meet this kid.”

Force may chip away mountains, but authenticity moves them.

Miracles take time. In fact, they are beyond time. Miracles are not the fulfillment of our every wish, but the realization of what is already there. We tend to believe in miracles when things go our way; but if we dig deep down into That Which Is, we realize that miracles are really the emergence of what we already have.

If you know something is true beyond reason, evidence or physical manifestation, then wait for the miracle — for it will come. You are not insane, but wise beyond words. And time too.

 

Get Lost and Return

We all have Lost and Found stories. It is a part of life that things — and people — come and go in our lives.

But have you ever had an item mysteriously disappear only for it to return under equally mysterious circumstances? As with most everything, we have a choice about how we view such losses. In my mind, things are never really lost. They are merely in movement. Sometimes they travel to far ends of the Earth before returning to you.

Whether it is an inanimate object or a living being, we are one massive gyrating ball of energy. We undulate to the pulse of the Universe. When we play by its rules, the most incredible things happen.

I once lost a camera in a New York taxi. Someone from Venezuela found it and returned it two months later.

Losing my camera in a NYC taxi was the first real lesson for me in the Universal Law of Loss and Return. After I discovered the camera was missing, I fretted interminably. It didn’t help. So I decided I needed to release my emotional hold on it. I went into full acceptance that it — and all the memories I had captured on it – was gone. And then a young Venezuelan woman left a comment on my mother’s blog, claiming she had seen a picture of her on the camera in front of her newly created blog and if the camera might belong to her.

She left the comment on my birthday.

Releasing our hold on things and fully embracing What Is So is the key to energy’s return.

Another example of this is how I learned to accept that my most precious necklace (aptly named My Power) feels the need to travel. About five years ago, it mysteriously disappeared. Just when I had finally come to terms with its lost, it showed up in a pocket of a jacket I hadn’t worn in a year. Recently, I misplaced it again, but having been through this before I knew it would show up when I least expected it. I found it in my gym bag a week later.

Last year I accidentally left my wallet in a Freiburg taxi. As I was about to get upset, my friend reminded me of the Universal Law I was getting to know so well. I admit I entered a state of doubt, but decided she was right. Five days later I got a call. The wallet’s contents (including all credit cards!) was found in a garbage bag at the central train station. The angelic man (whose last name meant angel in German!) insisted on driving to my doorstep to return it.

My son accidentally dropped his bus pass somewhere between school and home. An anonymous person returned it via mail without a trace of identification.

When things like this happen, it feels like a hug from the Universe.

Just yesterday, I lost my calendar. I have no memory of it slipping from my hands. But now it too has delved into the ocean of energy exchange. I allowed myself to fret for a moment, then entered the space of acceptance and anticipation. I’m looking forward to its journey and possible return – in whatever form the Universe decides it will be.

Run (in the Forest), Run!

What does running have to do with the power of slow? There really is nothing Slow about running per se. With a minor exception of one blazing summer as a Washington, D.C. intern, I’ve never been the jogging type. But I do love my walks through the woods. I do them every chance I can get.

Run Phones meEvery now and then I’ll bring my iPhone with me to listen to music. But as I briskly jaunt through the forest, those annoying ear buds kept popping out of my ear. Dangling down to the forest floor, they seemed to mock me. I was about to give up every listening to music on my iPhone again until RunPhones contacted me. They offered me to try their product in exchange for a review on my blog.

So I agreed.

The headband comes in two types of styles — the warmer, fleecy type for winter and the cooler, thinner material for summer. Both are washable so you don’t have to worry about them getting funky after a while. I got the summer kind (thankfully). As the temperatures rise, I don’t really want anything on my head. I was ready for an itch-a-thon, but the headband is so comfortable, I soon forgot I was wearing it at all. It’s like having a portable stereo without the cackling ear buds to ruin the fun.

Another bonus is I don’t have to jack up the sound to have the high fidelity that the RunPhones provide. I always felt like ear buds were making me go deaf. Now I’ll be stylin’ whilst maintaining my hearing too!

I may never take up jogging again, but I’ll certainly be listening to my tunes  more often whilst traipsing through the forest.

The Frenzy of Immediacy

Ping. Click. Bing. Bloop. Blip. Huuuuuunnnn!

How often do you hear these sounds on an average day? And each time you do, your attention is pulled away from what you are doing to what someone else wants you to know.

Parenting in a digital world is a lot different than the pre-digital age of raising kids. You can’t get away from the demands as easily. In fact, you are on your guard 24/7, thanks to smartphones and other devices.

Just recently, my teenage son discovered the power of pissing Mom off by simply sending an evocative text message claiming this thing or that — because he wanted things a different way after all. Falling prey to the frenzy of immediacy, I would give him a reaction every time. I thought I was being a good, attentive mother, addressing my son’s needs, responding with discipline or reward, depending on the circumstances. But then, just this afternoon, as another ping, whirl, bing message hit my iPhone’s screen, I realized I didn’t have to give in to the temptation to give a reaction at all to my son’s complaining that he didn’t want to go to tutoring, despite our agreement this morning (and last night — and last week!) that he would. I could remain silent, not pay attention, ignore him. Just this once.

I realized what I had done all these months. With my immediate responses, cajoling, explaining, reacting, I had filled the space where his conscience should be. He didn’t have a chance to listen to his inner voice because it was replaced by my own. So I waited to see if he would indeed hear it. Within four minutes, he sent a third and final message that agreed he would go to tutoring after all. Even though he felt he didn’t need it.

He had been given time to review the countless conversations we had had about the importance of being your word. Of doing what you say you are going to do. To do things that are right, even if they are sometimes uncomfortable.

In our modern, gadget-saturated world it is tempting to react to every little message that crosses our path. It’s exhausting. And unnecessary. Sometimes sleeping on it is better. Looking at things with fresh eyes, instead of frenzied ones, can reveal the truth behind the situation. But what we need — above all else — is to give ourselves the time to digest what is truly important.

In a world drenched with information, silence is golden – more often than we think.

The No Vacation Nation

Our relationship with time is embedded in our culture. It is never so apparent than in the different ways in which people view vacation. For some, vacation is a luxury; for others, it’s a birthright. One glance at this chart reveals how diverse our perspective is about taking time off. It shows the number of mandatory vacation days per year. France wins – hands down – with 30 days. The United States lands on the opposite end of the spectrum with exactly zero.

vacation days 2015

 

After seeing this chart, I got curious.  John Piana, a veteran of Corporate America with over 20 years of experience and a work-life balance proponent, approached me with some of his ideas as to why Americans don’t view vacation as a necessity. He calls the United States the No Vacation Nation. It is so deeply entrenched in people’s minds that anything other than working is considered “time off” (even hospitalization – I swear I can’t tell you how many of my American friends told me to enjoy my time off and to consider it a mini-vacation when I went in for surgery– are you serious??).

Power of Slow: Do you think Corporate America will ever introduce mandatory paid vacation? 

John: If it does happen, it will be awhile.  In order for a fundamental change like this to take place, it needs momentum.  Right now there’s little to none.  And even when momentum begins to build, it will still have to overcome the powerful business lobbyists who will likely keep legislators from getting behind it.  Until the issue gets to the point of a social uprising, mandatory vacation will just be coffee shop talk.  However, I think a potential wildcard is social media.  I’m amazed at how many times social media has shown the power to turn public opinion almost overnight.  A social media firestorm could quickly transform the mandatory vacation landscape.

PoS: What things can leaders do to stay offline and in life while on vacation?

J: Simple.  Make the choice!  Prioritize it.  Set the expectation and precedent beforehand with your manager and with people reporting to you.  Explain you will not be calling or logging in during vacation.  Or if that is an impossibility (which I don’t buy), begin to take back control by severely limiting the contact and explain to others you will be checking in very infrequently, perhaps even defining the specific times of day you will check messages.  When an employee leaves the company, everyone always finds a way to get things done without that person.  It should be no different when an employee goes on vacation.

PoS: How should employees address the lack of vacation issue?

J: Set boundaries and priorities in advance with your manager and co-workers.  Once they know that vacation is a top priority for you, it becomes your holy grail.  Not only should you get fewer interruptions during vacation, but it also can become a motivational/reward tool to be used by your manager.  As far as simply asking for additional vacation, I think that may work in a small business setting only.  Large and mid-size companies will simply give a corporate-speak answer and say their hands are tied due to company policy.

PoS: Is mandatory vacation truly needed?  Does the government need to get involved to correct this?

J: Neither government nor corporations will solve this issue (see my ‘Work-Life Balance Advice That Makes Sense‘ post).  The US government won’t get behind it for reasons I mention above.  Employers long ago abandoned their long-term commitment to employees.  This is no more evident than seeing defined benefit pension plans being phased out.  Also, employees aren’t sharing in the ‘good times’ like they once did, but definitely feel the pain of the ‘bad times.’  If the company had a great year, that 2% raise becomes a 2.5% raise.  However, if the company had a bad year, there’s a good chance you’ll be shown the door.  Definitely not an equal risk-reward trade-off.  However, in general, I think free markets and, more importantly, the will of the worker should be sufficient to address this issue.  Again, I think social media could be a wildcard.

***

Social media has toppled empires. It could topple the belief that vacation isn’t important too. I advocate posting as many palm tree pictures this summer as possible, people. Let us rise up to celebrate our lives — both in and out of the office!

Vulnerability is not for the fragile

Teetering on a tightrope, trying not to look down, arms dancing from side to side in spread-eagle fashion. Toes sweating. Heart racing. Mind frozen in concentration. Being vulnerable is not for the fair-hearted.

Somewhere in my history, I thought showing any sign of weakness was somehow wrong. Being vulnerable was high on my list of not-to-do’s. Instead, I proudly belonged to the stiff upper lip crowd, smiling through simply everything. The message I received at a very early age was that being cute somehow meant I’d be lovable. In the black-and-white shadows of a child’s mind, that also meant not being cute meant not being loved.

And everyone wants love, yes?

We piece together a belief system as we grow, drawing conclusions and meanings from experience. And we live as if those carefully constructed guidelines are true.

And while our personalized rules and regulations may have served us well for a very long time, they become outdated at some point because life is an ever flowing river in which you never step twice.

If I have learned anything in the last two years since I moved to my beloved Freiburg, it is that breaking yourself wide open is the most courageous thing you can do. And courage takes strength, not weakness. Vulnerability does not leave us cowering in the corner in fear. Right before we walk on that stage of authenticity, we may be afraid, but the moment we move forward into the lights, something starts to shift. We release something within ourselves, like a dark secret that has weighed us down. And suddenly, the pressure that vacuum-packed secret created dissolves in thin air. When we step into that tender space within ourselves, we are drawing on the implicit well of goodness with which we were born. We reveal the very essence of who we are. And that is simply irresistible.

Vulnerability is contagious. When you rest in the vastness of your utmost truth, others start to settle into theirs. Have you ever noticed how you suddenly attract very different people when you are being real versus being fake? We start to break a long-held pattern of “keeping it altogether” to falling slightly apart. And in that brokenness, we create a new space for people to join us in our uphill battles and sorrow. We are not left behind. Quite the contrary! In embracing our own humanity, we invite others to do the same.

That is when the beauty of life — in all its richness — unfolds. Being vulnerable is key to living the life you are meant to live.

Take that leap of faith. This is your life. Who else but you can live it?

Jammin’ to the Good Stuff

My kitchen shelf is stocked to the brim with homemade jam. Admittedly, I became spoiled at the tender age of twenty-two. It was the first time I tasted Monika’s fine bread spread. Hand-picked, summer ripe fruit and a little sugar are the only ingredients she uses. We are talking Slow Food, locally grown and consumed. It is the kind that is so Slow it can’t even crawl.

My favorite jam is raspberry. Unfortunately, it seems to be everyone else’s too. As abundant as Monika’s garden is, even it has its limits on the raspberry yield it brings every growing season. I am mindful not to be too greedy during my sporadic visits to her house. Inevitably, she will offer me an array of flavors, which I take with a humble bow, trying hard not to eye the jars for fear raspberry might not be among them.

One day, after biting into a not-so-satisfying pear jam, I placed my bread back on the plate and wondered why I didn’t just open up a jar of raspberry jam. What was I saving it for? Why was I being so stingy with myself?

We do this. We put off the good stuff for later. Vacation? One day. That trip with the girls? Maybe next year. That visit to family? Well, they’ll always be there…won’t they?

We deny ourselves a lot of things, but jam? I mean really. Life is too short for bad marmalade. Why suffer when you don’t need to? When you already have a shelf full of stuff that makes you happy? I looked at my reflection in the marmalade spoon and asked: What on Earth are you saving it for?

So I got up, dumped the pear jam and opened a new one filled to the rim with raspberry delight.

We are worth having the good things. And when we forget what we’ve already got, it’s good to be reminded.

Take time to enjoy the good kind of jam. The jam that makes you jump in the morning and say “Yeah!”  It is what makes life so very sweet.