When Great isn’t Good Enough

Even when we create miracles, sometimes the people who have asked for them aren’t able to receive them.

Life can be like that. And it’s frustrating. And somehow nearly amusing.

The smile hasn’t left my face in over an hour. It is an odd reaction, really, having just learned my major client will no longer be in need of my services.

Well, that’s not entirely true. Need and ability are too different things.

The client is no longer able to be in need of my services.

Despite the miracles created. Despite the level of effort. Despite the best foot put forward. Over. And over. And over again.

blueberrypieMy mama never told me life could be like that. She alluded to it with the “Did I ever say life was fair?” adage. But if you tried really hard, knocked things out of the park, did your very, very best, people were bound to reward you for it, right?

It turns out life is not about fairness at all. It is about the events and the moments to which we respond.

And my response is this:

Causality in this instance is misleading. You may do exactly what people ask and then they change their minds. Just like that. You did not cause their reaction. Something else did. And there you stand holding a steaming hot pie, that you thought might be blueberry, wafting a delicious aroma throughout the room that suddenly no one wants. Even though you strapped on your boots and hiked to the Andes to retrieve the berries. And then harvested the wheat to make flour until your hands bled. And ground the flax seeds until they turned to oil. And chopped down a tree to fire up the wood stove. And bent the iron cast to shape it into a pie form.

And you baked it and tended to it and stood proudly as it bubbled syrupy to the top.

The pie is burning my hands now. And yet my smile lingers, as if an inner knowing said: “You’ve been set free. You never wanted to be a baker anyway.”

When great isn’t good enough. Yes, life can be just like that.

It is the Journey, Not its Destination

Computers get tired. Smartphones too. Every once in a while they get sluggish after all the work they’ve done. They need to be switched off, left alone for a little while and given a chance to reorganize all the information we have put into them.

The human mind is no different. On occasion we too need time to reboot.

It is uncomfortable to move outside of the familiar. In fact, it can be downright terrifying. “What if’s” crop up in our heads like dandelions on a lawn. We grip the ledge of our dreams, hoping we never, ever make a mistake. But missteps and errors are every part of the process. The most painful part is not in taking action, but in our own judgements about those actions.

Take time off? Fire a major client? Rethink what’s next without a safety net?

Major life changes don’t usually happen in an instant. They are typically the product of years of thinking, dreaming and wishing things were different. Then one day you wake up and discover they can be. Sometimes all it takes then is one decision that will turn your life around forever.

The cool thing is that one decision then leads to another and another and another. And before you know it, you are a decision-making machine. You suddenly find yourself in flow, cruising down the River of Life, riding the white waters with ease and grace. Those scary rapids don’t seem so scary after all when you come face to face with them. In fact, the roar of the water gives you great courage to move forward – for what other chance do you have but to bring them into your fold?

Have you ever tried resisting a river current or an ocean wave? Most of the time Nature has its way. It is the same in life.

As my wise thirteen-year-old son recently said, “You have freedom of choice and can decide which path to take, but the truth is you will end up where you are meant to be either way. It is the journey you determine, not its destination.”

I’m in for the ride. Are you?

Daring Greatly or Why Perfection Sucks

I don’t blame religion for our current predicament. Our Western world is obsessed with doing more, being better and engaging in unhealthy competition, especially with ourselves.  I can’t help but wonder how we have gotten so caught up in this notion of perfection. Christianity tells us we are not perfect, but that we should attempt to be like Jesus, who is. It’s a set-up really because perfection doesn’t exist even if Jesus did. It’s a construct that makes us ill as we strive for the unattainable.

“At least you tried,” I hear a small voice say to me. It sounds like a cop-out, like a consolation prize for the just-missed opportunity to show just how perfect you can be.

Only we can’t be.

Brené Brown, an extraordinarily down-to-earth shame researcher who struggles every bit as much as everyone else, says in her recent book Daring Greatly:

Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience.


But oh! How we yearn to be just those things! If we are perfect, we might be seen. People might like us. We might finally be accepted. All clean and neat and fantastically ordered. If we are bulletproof, we will never, ever feel the creep of shame that rides our arteries up to our skulls and back down again.

But have you ever really liked a person you have viewed as perfect and impervious to any kind of mishap? I don’t think so. There is nothing loving and warm and wonderful about someone who tries to be immaculate. Oftentimes they are riddled with judgement, especially about themselves.

To be imperfect and vulnerable is to be human. And to be human is to be alive, making mistakes, getting upset and showing up even in the face of your greatest fear.

The very thing we run away from (the fear of getting hurt) is the very thing that, when we trust that process of opening up to the unknown, makes life worth living. It is that moment when we step on stage, knees knocking, heart pounding, palms sweating, mind whirling, and do it anyway.

Stepping on stage really means taking a risk. When you open your heart, it could get crushed. But to keep it closed means you won’t feel the flip side of fear, which is love.

And love is why we are here.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? It is as if we have to relive the birth experience over and over until we finally get it. Pain is a part of life. It is what ensures us that we get back on our path when we go astray.

And that’s what friends are for. They are the ones who hold your hand across those treacherous ravines, loving you even when you are broken. As Brené writes so beautifully, true friends are the people who love you for your vulnerability, not despite it.

Daring greatly means being in that arena, even if your prospects for success are slim. It’s not about winning, but about showing up and getting up. Time and again. Even when you fall.

I’m game. Are you?

 

Difficult Conversations

The year 2014 is coming to a close. In a few weeks the holidays will be upon us.

I have never been happier to say farewell to one of the hardest years of my life.

In many ways, it has been a good year. I have developed new, positive, life-sustaining relationships that have given me so much strength in a time when I’ve really needed it. I have also had to allow some relationships to change dramatically, in the form of little to no communication and a distant well-wishing to ensure a healthy, new way of being.

Change is always difficult because it brings up a lot of things we’d rather not examine. It calls up our weaknesses and our blind spots. We are confronted, challenged and greatly unsettled by the newness of it all.

And yet change is also a way of tilling the Earth to bring in new, fertile ground. It is as necessary as oxygen. In a way, change means evolution. If we aren’t changing, we aren’t growing. And if we aren’t growing, we are dying.

And no one really wants to live in a state of death.

Ironically, change also brings death, the ending of the way we used to be. We have the opportunity to alter our thoughts, actions and behaviors to become more aligned with who we truly are.

Forgiveness can help.

It seems as though 2014 has been the Year of Difficult Conversations. I have had a lot of them – as recently as last week when a client admitted to me that he was sorry the way our project failed; that he appreciated my professionalism through it all; that he is embracing the Power of Slow as his world topples too. It was a magical moment of grace as I realized he could actually hear me say, “It was frustrating to know that my best didn’t yield what you were looking for.”

It was a conversation of forgiveness – and it moved me in ways I have yet to fully realize.

What I have also learned this year is that while difficult conversations may sting like hell, they are like wildfires that burn away the debris for new life to emerge. If we don’t express what we truly think and feel, those words burn us from the inside out.

Speaking your truth takes a lot of practice. A few things have helped me along the way whenever I’ve had to have an uncomfortable conversation:

  1. Prepare your key message. Practice what you are going to say. Start from the ending. How do you want the conversation to end? Begin it with that intention in mind.
  2. In some cases, it is helpful to actually say, “No matter what I am about to say, I want you to know that I care about you/the project/our collaboration, etc. You matter to me – my telling you this is actually an act of trust that you can hear me.”
  3. Do not take anything the other person says personally. It is not about you, your worth or your position in life.
  4. Actively listen to the other person. Do not allow distractions such as your smartphone or Facebook status get in the way. It shows respect when you give the other person your full attention.

You may feel like a toddler, waddling from one piece of furniture to the next as you hang on for dear life whilst falling periodically on your butt. But I promise you it will get better, your relationships will grow stronger and the ones that end as a result of your honesty were not meant to be in your life anyway.

The Secret to Happiness

Life can be hard. People can be harsh. Situations can lead us down the path to Hell. In all my years on this Earth, I have learned a few things that have become unshakable truths.

No one can make you happy or unhappy. You are the source of all joy and all sorrow. The way in which you experience things comes from within.

That may seem like a huge weight to bear, as if you are responsible for simply everything. Not so. All you can do is decide how you will respond to what happens.

Don Miguel Ruiz, an international best-selling author from Mexico who embeds his beliefs in the ancient Toltec tradition, offers powerful guidelines to maximizing our happiness. I discovered his book, The Four Agreements, about a decade ago. They are simple truths that have helped me on numerous occasions when things seemed to be falling apart.

Taken from the Toltec Spirit Website, Ruiz’ agreements are listed below:

1. Be Impeccable with your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.

2. Don’t Take Anything Personally: Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

3. Don’t Make Assumptions: Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

4. Always Do Your Best: Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

As with anything new, applying these agreements to our lives takes time. We are entrenched in habitual behaviors that aren’t easy to break. While we may not always remember to honor these agreements, life seems to go more smoothly when we do.

Some of you may master several of the points well while struggling with the others. For years I took things personally, acted defensively when I felt attacked and avoided conflict as a result. With tons of practice, I have been able to free myself from taking on other people’s projections and making them a part of me. I see them now for what they are (raising teenagers has helped me tremendously with this issue. You simply cannot live with a teen and take everything they say to heart.) And they are not a part of me at all.

Healthy distance and a loving heart can heal the trauma that created our bad habits. Happiness, after all, is not a destination, but a state of being. I would love to meet you on your journey to peace.

The great news is we get to decide anew every day for – or against – our own happiness. How will you choose?

Quieting the Complaining Mind

Between the hours of two and four in the morning, my mind enters the Fret Zone. I worry, complain, argue and fight about the weirdest things. It is as if all the frustration from the day comes tumbling into one pile of yuckiness. And if I am awake, those thoughts try to convince me that they are right.

Do you ever have one of those worst-case-scenario daydreams? It creeps up from behind when you least expect it. Then bam! You are rattled by a catastrophic thought.

Watching the evening news only reinforces the anxiety that the world is going down the tubes. I recently had to walk away from the television because every single story had a negative ending.

Clifford Nass, a professor of communication at Stanford University and co-author of the book The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships (Penguin 2010) suggests that negative and positive emotions are handled in different hemispheres of the brain. Negative emotions, he suggests, generally involve more thinking so the negative information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones. As a result, we tend to dwell on unpleasant experiences and use stronger words to depict what they felt like than happy ones.

An experiment conducted by Roy F. Baumeister, a professor of social psychology at Florida State University and co-author of a Review of General Psychology journal article “Bad Is Stronger Than Good” (2001) reveals how the same experience in reverse offers different intensities of emotion. The loss of $50, for instance, resulted in a stronger negative reaction than the happiness stemming from gaining the same amount. 

Of course it comes down to survival. Those who anticipate bad events tend to be better prepared for them. Back in the Cro-Magnon days, it was important to be a little pessimistic about the future. Your cognitive functions were necessarily on high alert so as not to slide into a false state of security. Any Mammoth hunter knows you need to get it before it gets you.

But today? Do we really need to be plagued by all those negative thoughts? In our relatively safe environment (and I speak only for myself – I am aware that someone in Syria certainly may not feel this way at present), we have a lot to be thankful for.

Therein lies the solution. I have found there is no room in my brain for the complaining mind to voice its opinion when I am feeling grateful. A state of gratitude is easily come by. All you need is to look at what you have, say a prayer of thanks and recognize the abundance around you.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, recently said in an interview that she has long practiced daily gratitude by writing down the best thing that happened to her that day and dropping it in her so-called “Joy Jar”. Whenever she’s feeling blue, she picks out one of the pieces of paper and reminds herself that good things do come her way (I mean, Julia Roberts played her in the movie version of her book. I’d ride on that one for a couple of months, wouldn’t you?).

So the next time you’re up at 3 a.m. wondering why the world can be so mean, remember the good things. Think about them hard. Revisit your jar of joy – in whatever form it takes — and remind yourself that Universal Goodness does indeed exist.

How can you get your daily dose of joy? Well, my friend, as with all things – large and small — it starts with you.

Facebook Fatigue: The Search for Less Input

Bing. Buzz. Ping. Riiiiinnnnng! The invention of the smartphone has altered our lives forever. But has it improved them?

On any given day, I will receive, delete and answer over one hundred emails. Newsletters I never subscribed to pop into my inbox, multiplying no matter how often I unsubscribe. Text messages come from all corners of the Earth through Facebook, WhatsApp or the conventional iPhone delivery service. And I know I am not alone.

Every day we are inundated with information. I daresay 98% of it is useless or simply annoying. It sucks our time and our energy.

And yet we continue to pursue the data flow as if our lives depended on it.

Many of my friends have expressed Facebook fatigue. They post stuff, some quite successfully. They get a quick high from yet another like, but that fades fast. I have found myself begging my kids to allow me to post photos of them (which they despise) in hopes I will draw attention. But for what purpose?

WhatsApp, the multi-featured messaging system that was acquired by Facebook in February 2014, has found an astounding breadth of users in a relatively short time. According to a recent Huffington Post article by Peter Diamandis, this highly disruptive service is growing fast. He reports:

Quick Stats on WhatsApp:

  • 64 billion messages processed per day – 20B sent and 44B received
  • 465 million users on platform
  • 1 million join platform every day
  • 70 percent of users come back every day

If the average text message takes even ten seconds to write and send, you can image how much time we spend with our devices.

Or try on this for size. According to the blog Digital Marketing Ramblings, 72% of online adults visit Facebook at least once a day. In Europe there are 206 million active daily Facebook users; in the US and Canada it is 152 million. And the average time spent on Facebook — per day per person — is 21 minutes.

Don’t get me wrong. I love knowing what other people are doing and keeping up with friends and family. I also adore receiving photos, audio notes and messages from loved ones scattered across the globe. But the pull to pay more attention to my iPhone than my real life has me disturbed.

So for the next week, I am trying a little experiment. I am not going to check Facebook. Not once. Thankfully my social media clients are on a hiatus so I won’t have to.

Time saved thus far: over an hour.

Number of nerves saved: countless.

I’ll keep you posted. Pun totally intended.

Done, Not Perfect

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”   — Maya Angelou

Beloved creativity. It can be an angel or a monster. It can haunt dreams – and fulfill them too.

Many of my friends are what I term “Creatives”. They see life — no — feel life in a remarkable way. They see beneath the surface of things, sense the pulse of the Universe that pushes blood through veins and capture the very essence of being. It is humbling to be friends with such people. In honor of their talent, I strive to do my own creative impulses justice.

Nothing gets my creative engine revving more than a walk through the woods. It is my oxygen tank, my life support system, my place of solace when the words just won’t come. Actually, I know they are there. They are always there. But sometimes the layers of life’s distress cover the thoughts needed to express that inner world just crying out to be unleashed.

A stressed Creative is uncreative. And there is nothing more frustrating than creative constipation.

Perhaps that is the real reason why I advocate The Power of Slow. Without allowing for our customized pace, life’s creativity would wither on the vine. Existence would be flat, accompanied only by the squeak of the hamster wheel we’re on.

Sound dramatic? Consider how many great ideas go unrealized because we say “I don’t have time”. In essence, we do. We just divert our attention to certain things while ignoring others. We prioritize to fit in that which we think we should be doing, all the while forgetting what we are meant to do.

If you want to unleash your inner Creative, the first step is to silence the inner Critic. We all know that voice inside that tells us lovely things such as “You don’t deserve it. You’re not good enough. Who do you think you are?” Prepare some canned answers when that voice shows up. “I so deserve it. I am more than enough. Who am I? Watch, and you will see.” In reality, that inner Critic is our fear, like a well-intentioned parent trying to protect us from harm. The trouble is most of what we imagine is harmful is imagined harm.

If you don’t try, you’ll never know. And who would want to be in the dark about their own potential?

One of the best lines I ever learned came from my sister who helped me see perfection wasn’t worth striving for. “Done, not perfect.” Call things complete. Move on. Enjoy the ride. Do what you can in the time that you have. Trust me. It’s not worth stressing about.

So go out there and create. The world will be richer for it. Truly.

The Slow Go No

It took me years to discover the power of ‘no’. For some reason I always thought if I said ‘yes’ enough, people would like me. And so I did.

Saying ‘yes’ to things seemed to be the path of least resistance. If I agreed, everything would be just fine. Because it was what others wanted. And I knew I was supposed to be there for other people. That’s what I was told. A good person says ‘yes’ to virtually everything. ‘No’ was somehow selfish, as if ever thinking about yourself was, well, a major no-no.

But one day I woke up and looked around me. I had conceded to things that felt off. It was if every ‘yes’ I had uttered had pushed me a millimeter off the track I was meant to take. It required a major adjustment.

The first lesson was to learn how to decline, say ‘no’ — and mean it.

At first, the road was bumpy. I would be plagued with a sense of guilt and – yes – fear. As if I would die if I met someone else’s request with my own spoken negation.

Saying ‘no’ after years of ‘yes’ shocks people. They have to get used to the sudden change.

Recently, I was reminded of my ‘yes’ years by a series of requests coming from various sources.

“Can you promote my book for me? Oh, for free, of course.”

“Can you read this paper for me? Oh, for free, of course.”

“Can you donate to my cause/my work/my life? Oh, I have nothing to give you, of course.”

The final request got me to thinking. Really? You want me to give you money (again – I had already said ‘yes’ once before). And I had already told you ‘no’ with an explanation.

And then I realized ‘no’ is a full sentence. So I responded with that one glorious word and hit the send button. No explanation required.

And you know what? I did not die. As a matter of fact, I grew an inch. And it felt so very good.

If you feel you have become Life’s doormat, pick yourself up with one of the most powerful words in any language.

‘No’ is ‘yes’ for you.

 

How to Thrive, Not Just Survive

It is as if Arianna Huffington took off her high heels and climbed into my head. For the past week I have devoured her latest book, Thrive. It is not as if she says anything new, but reading her book is like getting a whole year’s supply of self-affirmations in one sitting.


In essence, she tells the reader: “You are not crazy to feel overwhelmed. I was too. And I decided to do something about it.”

I have long known that Arianna is a great champion of sleep. So am I. I have no problem getting enough rest. But the quality of it has seemed to suffer over the past few years. Life’s challenges have awoken me in the middle of the night and robbed me of dreams. Technology and my ambition to keep up have left me feeling depleted.

Arianna’s premise is we must redefine the meaning of success to include well-being, wisdom, wonder and community. As my book The Power of Slow boils down to one word – ‘choice’ – hers boils down to one too — ‘love’. The more I think of it, the more I realize the limits of our minds. We have no love in our minds, only thoughts. When we react from the mind, we are entangled in the web of our own making. In fact, every stressor we feel comes down to one thing — our reaction. Stress comes from a lack of trust that everything is going to be alright.

The truth is if we define “alright” to be That Which Is, then yes, everything will be alright. In fact, everything is alright all the time. Everything is indeed in alignment with the Universe. Our trouble begins when we ourselves are not.

Love can change that. When we come from our hearts’ center, we are free.

Thrive is a smart piece of work that cites Greek and modern-day philosophers alike. She even quotes Carl Honoré, whose thinking about the Slow Movement greatly influenced mine.

My favorite part of her book is her discussion about time. She speaks of it in terms of physics. Time, in the physicist’s view, is a landscape in which past, present and future can be seen. Like a mountain and a meadow and a wildflower all converging into one big thing. If that is true, than we needn’t rush. All of time rests on a single canvas.

This book insists that we can not only survive, but actually thrive, even in our 24/7 world. As with all things, the quality of our lives is not informed by our bank account of Facebook fans or Twitter followers.

The beauty of our existence is informed solely by the depth of our hearts.