Don’t sweat the small stuff – Part 2 – Lightening Up

Lighten up

Wow, this was my hardest blog to write yet.  Why?  I believe because it is so close to home.  The suggestions that Richard Carlson introduced in his book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and It’s All Small Stuff include the following which I grouped under Lighten Up.  (Don’t miss out on Part 1 – Make Peace with Imperfection)

  • Be flexible with changes in your plans
  • Cut yourself some slack
  • Get comfortable not knowing

Anyone that knows me well is probably saying and snickering, “Oh that is not Kathy, I wonder where this going.”

Knowing yourself

Who of you have heard me say, “I need a plan that tells me that there is no plan?”  Others know that I suffer tremendously from FOMO – Fear of Missing Out.  I have been referred to as a perfectionist, a control freak and let’s put it all out there, an Aries. I admit that I have traits from each of these stereotypes, but I also know that not everything is black and white.

The bottom line is that I like to have a plan and get the most out of everything that I do.  I vividly remember the first time I learned this truth.  I was in a team building event and we were broken out into groups of four.  I was sitting with 3 of my peers, who are still among my closest friends today. We had just finished the Meyers Briggs assessment and we were reviewing our results. Our coach asked the question, “When you go on vacation, do you like to have everything planned or can you just go with the flow?”  I quickly answered, “I like to go with the flow!”  My “friends” sprayed their drinks all over me and in unison screamed, “go with the flow?!? The only way you can go with the flow is if you have a plan that tells you to go with the flow!”  Talk about a lightbulb illuminating over my head.  When I finally stopped being mad for making fun of me, I pondered their response for a moment. They were absolutely right!

Plan for “No Plan”

I have come to appreciate that when I wake up on a Saturday morning without plans, I can start to stress.  As my husband, Ralph, will attest to, he literally sees the fear in my eyes and the wheels in my head start turning.  There is even bigger problems if the sun is shining because my mother’s anthem begins playing in my head, “It is a beautiful day outside. Don’t waste it. Get outside and do something!”  Ralph and I have jointly learned that to make the most of a Saturday morning, it is best to declare our intent the night before, ‘Tomorrow, we are going to sleep in until we wake up, no alarms.  Then we are going to lay in bed as long as we can. Next, if we feel like it, we will get up and get something to eat.  We are not going to call or text anyone to make plans. We are going to go with the flow.”  Phew, now I can sleep in and not wake up panicked. I have a plan!

Well, I had a plan, until the texts tart and the invites arrive.  Now I have to make a decision.  FOMO kicks in. My desire to please everyone kicks our “no plan” out of bed.  Suddenly, I am sweating the small stuff.  We are blessed to have such wonderful friends and family that want to see us.  We are waking up together in a fabulous apartment with views of the river, healthy.  It is a gorgeous day outside and there are wonderful things we could be doing, together. Why the heck am I sweating?  My plan “to have no plan” is affected!

Lesson learned: Be flexible with your plans

Time to put it all in perspective. We review our original plan and the potential revisions.  I think to myself, “take a deep breath, be flexible, and simply make a decision.  Keep to the original plan or adjust according?”  Phew, okay, we are done, one more smooch and we can start this glorious day. No matter what we do, it is going to be wonderful!

The Perfect Plan?  

Admittedly I need a plan, or at least structure.  I have learned to be flexible that the plans may change.  The next question is, “Is there such a thing as a perfect plan?”  No, I can admit that there is always another option that might be better.  However, my point of view is that with some research you can come up with the best plan possible.

Here was my dilemma.  My cousins were coming into NYC for the weekend.  I suddenly felt the pressure to plan the most amazing weekend which was excruciating for me.  Why you ask? Personally, 1) I want everyone to have an amazing time, 2) I don’t like to miss out on anything (FOMO) and 3) when I travel, I want to see it all.

Imagine coming into the city with no plan and you wake up on morning one and decide to go to Central Park for a walk.  Next you jump on a subway and head downtown to 9-11 Memorial.  However, while on the subway you realize you really want to go to St. Patrick’s Cathedral which is back up by Central Park!  For someone like me, that just blows my mind.  We just lost hours commuting. If only we had planned ahead, we could have gone to St. Patrick’s first and then headed downtown.  Apparently, though, I am not like everyone else.

My cousins came to NYC to spend time together, it was a mother/daughter trip.  They also wanted to spend time with the rest of the family.  They were not bothered by the fact that we barely saw any of the major attractions in NYC.  They knew how to enjoy the journey, appreciate the side trip to Connecticut for boating with our cousin, indulging in the NYC cuisine, shopping in Brooklyn and brunching with my family.

Lesson learned: Cut myself some slack

I have learned now, that when people are coming to visit, I ask them for a list of their must-dos, like to-dos and do not want to-dos.  I take these requests, organize them by locations, activities, etc., and put a rough sketch together to plan a day to the best of my ability.  I know that structure will help organize the day, eliminate indecision and allow for changes. For my cousins, just being in NYC and being with friends and family was enough.  Everything else was gravy on top.  I have to trust that If there is something that is really top of mind (like a specific Danish from a bakery, 3.7 miles away), they will ensure that it happens. I can’t be responsible for organizing everything.

Paralysis by Analysis

Unfortunately, this is worse when I am planning my own trips or activities.  I am now the one responsible for defining the parameters.  What are my must-dos, or what are my top priorities in location, hotels, etc.?  FOMO (fear of missing out) and my desire to get everything perfect can put me into a state of paralysis by analysis.

This is a recurring theme in my life.  I have yet to book my flight to Italy in September. I know I am going, I know the latest day I need to get there and when I am flying home.  The unknowns; what is the best airline, how early should I go, what else can I squeeze in.  These unknowns manifest themselves into the fear of making the wrong decision or worse, missing out altogether.  I will often avoid a decision so that the multiple options dwindle down and then I just need to pick from the limited possibilities remaining.  Unfortunately, this causes me much angst and aggravation.

I recall my first visit to London with Ralph.  I had lived in London and knew it well. However, this trip we were staying in a different neighborhood and we had limited time.  I wanted to make the most out of it.  I spent hours the night before picking out the ‘perfect’ hotel; the ideal location for the optimal price.  Ralph, on the other hand, was enjoying time with our friends during our last night of the visit.  Grrrr, it frustrated me.  It is not because Ralph wasn’t helping, but rather because I was stressed trying to make a decision.  His comment, which was a very valid point was, “Any hotel will be great, even if it is not perfect will be good enough. Make a decision so you can join the conversation and enjoy the company now.”  Curses batman, sometimes I hate when he is right.

Lesson learned: Be comfortable not knowing everything and any decision is better than indecision.

At the end of the day, what is the big deal?  Pick a flight/hotel/movie and move on. There are no crystal balls. Even if you do all the research in the world, something completely out of your control may happen.  (check out Part 1 of this series – Make peace with Imperfection – Life is not fair).  I am currently working on reprogramming the talk track to remind myself that the quicker I can make a decision the quicker I can move on to other things that will bring me peace.  It is not necessary to sweat the small things when making decisions.

Meet Serendipity

Ralph and I obviously have 2 very different approaches to planning our activities.  He can go with the flow and I like to have a plan.  When we tried to compromise and he made a plan, I often didn’t trust he had done enough research.  On the other hand, when I tried to go with the flow, I couldn’t relax and have fun.  We had to find a solution.  Meet our friend, Serendipity.  We agreed that we would each do some research in advance of the event.  We would figure out what the top restaurants were, the top things to do and our personal must-dos. The other stuff would fall into the nice-to-have bucket.  With this information in hand, and with a rough sketch, we would allow Serendipity to be our guide.  We were no longer on a strict time table which allowed Ralph to feel like we were going with the flow.  We had done enough research to overcome my FOMO.

As you can see, the book was so inspirational for me.  It helps me to remember the importance to lighten up.  I know myself well enough.  I need a plan, even if that plan is  “no plan” and/or invite Serendipity along.  Although my friends may tease me and say, “why don’t you just tell us what movie you have selected” when I suggest a plan, I have learned that they appreciate it.

This will continue to be an ongoing journey for me and I know I will continue to be the butt of many jokes for years to come.  I am ok with that.  I am working to reprogram my talk track (see  Reprogramming your Belief System blog) and change the dialogue in my head to help me not sweat the small stuff – no decision is a bad decision, which can always be adjusted and the quicker I can make the decision, the quicker I can enjoy life and be happy.

I hope this has helped inspire and enable you to let go of some of the small stuff too.

Serendipity always rewards the prepared. – Katori Hall, American playwright

My new mantra – Don’t sweat the small stuff – Part 1

Don’t sweat the small stuff

I admit it, I can sometimes sweat the small stuff.  The big stuff? Not so much.  I tend to be okay with the big stuff because there are more defined decision points, pros and cons.  If I am honest, I can lose some major hours in a day worrying about things that in the grand scheme of things do not matter.  I recently read the book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and It’s All Small Stuff by Richard Carlson.  This book was recommended as part of a Women Taking the Lead podcast.  I relate well to Jodi Flynn, she is also a Type A female leader, and thus trust her opinion.  I added every book she suggested to my book list.  I am so glad this is one of the first books that became available from my library list.

BTW, did I mention that I *finally* have a library card again?  That’s right, 20 years after moving into NYC, I made the leap. Until recently, I didn’t read very many books.  If necessary, I would buy that random book in the airport or download a book to my kindle.  Now that I am reading and listening constantly, I decided it was time to make the leap and sign up for a library card.  Well, wasn’t I surprised by how easy it was, not to mention how much money I can save. Some of us can be slow learners.

Anyway, back to reading listening to Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.  Apparently, I was late to this rodeo as well.  The book was published in 1996 and as I talk to others about it, I get the look, “duh, you are just reading it now?!?”  I learned a lot in this book and thought it would be of value to share.  It is an interesting and easy read.  There are over 100 short chapters, each with an actionable insight or practice that you could incorporate into your life to help make a difference.

As I was listening though, I often got a feeling of déjà vu.  I felt he was giving the same advice, just in a different way.  This drove me bonkers, probably because I am a type A, organized person, and I obviously sweat the small stuff (yes, I am hearing my own irony here).  To personally get the most out of it and continue to garnish value, I had to summarize the key points and group all the insights and practices accordingly.  Please keep in mind, this is my interpretation of the book.  You may have a very different understanding or method for extracting the most value for yourself.

Let’s call the key points – DSSS (Don’t Sweat Small Stuff) Guiding Principles.  Each week I will focus on a different principle(s) and share my point of view with the same goal as usual, to inspire and enable each of you.

DSSS Guiding Principles

It’s interesting.  I don’t think I read anything new or earth shattering in the book.  However, in some cases, ideas and explanations reinforced things I already believed in, provided new ways to look at things and most importantly highlighted areas where I had true gaps (ahem, opportunities) to work on.  This goes back to the Loyalty blog and being honest with yourself first.  It has provided me more material to work on!

  1. Make peace with imperfection
  2. Lighten up
  3. Learn to live in the present moment
  4. Fill your life with love
  5. Remember that you become what you practice most
  6. Practice humility
  7. Make service an integral part of your life
  8. Praise and blame are all the same
  9. Seek first to understand
  10. Argue for your limitations, and they’re yours
  11. Lower your tolerance to stress

Make peace with imperfection

Here are some of the chapters/insights that fall into this category:

  • Surrender to the fact that life isn’t fair
  • Give up on the idea that “more is better”
  • Repeat to yourself, ‘life isn’t an emergency’, life is a test and only a test

Pulling up your bootstraps and moving on

Let’s start with the facts: Life isn’t fair.  I think we have all had a lesson on this one early on.  When I asked my mother, “Why does Karen (my sister) always get the new bike and I get her hand-me-down?” or “Why does she get to stay up later (despite being 6 years older)?” or “Why didn’t I win the lottery?” or “Why didn’t I get picked for the team?”  or “Why did my husband leave me?”  I could always count on my mother’s advice, “Sometimes life just isn’t fair.  There is not much you can do about it.  Cry if you want to, but move on quickly.”  If I look back now, this was such sound advice that has allowed me to get through many things. For those that know me, you have probably heard me say at least once, “Just pull up your bootstraps and carry on.” This was the start of building mental toughness.

In some situations, these items helped me practice harder so I might make the team next time.  In other cases, I whined for years (wah, wah, wah, Kathy’s never had her own bike) and celebrated the victory when I bought my first new bike with my own money at the age of 35.  I learned that you can’t win the lottery if you don’t play.  Most importantly, I would use these opportunities to learn  I refused to let them define me.  At the end of the day, I learned to recognize that the universe is not out to get me, it is not singling me out.  I believe things happen for a reason (and you may never find out what that reason is).  The quicker you can accept it and move on, the less stress you will have.  The next time something happens that doesn’t seem fair, ask yourself whether it really matters in the scheme of things.  Can I learn something? Change something?  If not, why fret?

Grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence

This is an opportunity for me to work on this philosophy, “more is not always better”.  I suffer from FOMO – Fear of Missing out.  I will save FOMO for another blog, because I have a ton to share on this.  Let me share one story told by Paul Coelho that I love. It helps me put things in perspective when I get caught up in FOMO.

There was once a businessman who was sitting by the beach in a small Brazilian village.
As he sat, he saw a Brazilian fisherman rowing a small boat towards the shore having caught quite a few big fish.
The businessman was impressed and asked the fisherman, “How long does it take you to catch so many fish?”
The fisherman replied, “Oh, just a short while.”
“Then why don’t you stay longer at sea and catch even more?” The businessman was astonished.
“This is enough to feed my whole family,” the fisherman said.
The businessman then asked, “So, what do you do for the rest of the day?”
The fisherman replied, “Well, I usually wake up early in the morning, go out to sea and catch a few fish, then go back and play with my kids. In the afternoon, I take a nap with my wife, and evening comes, I join my buddies in the village for a drink — we play guitar, sing and dance throughout the night.”

The businessman offered a suggestion to the fisherman.
“I am a PhD in business management. I could help you to become a more successful person. From now on, you should spend more time at sea and try to catch as many fish as possible. When you have saved enough money, you could buy a bigger boat and catch even more fish. Soon you will be able to afford to buy more boats, set up your own company, your own production plant for canned food and distribution network. By then, you will have moved out of this village and to Sao Paulo, where you can set up HQ to manage your other branches.”

The fisherman continues, “And after that?”
The businessman laughs heartily, “After that, you can live like a king in your own house, and when the time is right, you can go public and float your shares in the Stock Exchange, and you will be rich.”
The fisherman asks, “And after that?”
The businessman says, “After that, you can finally retire, you can move to a house by the fishing village, wake up early in the morning, catch a few fish, then return home to play with kids, have a nice afternoon nap with your wife, and when evening comes, you can join your buddies for a drink, play the guitar, sing and dance throughout the night!”
The fisherman was puzzled, “Isn’t that what I am doing now?”

 I often question myself, “why are you going through all this mental anguish? Is the outcome going to provide something much better than what you have today?  I play my positive talk track to override my FOMO – enjoy what you have in front of you. When you finish enjoying that you can move on to the next thing.  I envy the people that naturally do this.  I am going to continue to practice!

Life isn’t an emergency

Life isn’t an emergency, this is a mantra that I also need to keep reminding myself.  Don’t get me wrong, there are sometimes emergencies. However, that typically involves trouble breathing, excessive bleeding or possibly a bad break/sprain.  In these cases, call 9-1-1 and stop reading this blog!  Most other things, however, truly do not constitute an emergency. If you are walking home when it starts pouring and you are not carrying an umbrella, accept it.  You are going to get wet.  As my mother would often tell me, “You will not melt.”  I can attest to the fact that I have yet to melt despite the rain.  Unfortunately, for some reason, which is beyond my understanding, I will often classify something as an emergency in my mind.  Well, maybe not an emergency but a “sky is falling” scenario.  OMG, my parents are coming in 2 hours and we don’t have any food in the apartment!  As Ralph will try and remind me, “this is not a tragedy.”

I had just finished reading this book and my parents were coming in for an early dinner on Friday, 3pm to be exact.   I had planned the menu on Thursday night and was feeling quite proud that I had made a few quick decisions, along with a grocery list and could knock it out easily on Friday morning.  However, the weather on Friday morning did not want to cooperate (yes, still haven’t gotten over my fear that I might melt), nor my need to get a few other things done.  When 1pm rolled around and I still hadn’t left the apartment to go shopping, I started to panic. I could feel the blood pressure rising.  I could hear the pace of my dialogue with Ralph increase and my level of frustration skyrocket.  With the book still fresh in my mind, I started to use some of the techniques to help me not sweat the small stuff.  The main one that I stated over and over was, “Life is not an emergency.”

This is my parents, coming into NYC to visit and catch up.  They were not expecting a gourmet meal (especially not from me!).  I also stopped and recognized that my elevated stress level was having an impact on my time with Ralph.  As I was barking orders, his levels of frustration were rising. Right, one step at a time.  First, go to the store. Success, I was out the door.  While walking, I kept chanting, “this is not an emergency, this is not a big deal.”  My blood pressure slowly began to decrease. I quickly realized that I could buy a rotisserie chicken and sides for less than the cost to purchase the chicken and other ingredients, as well as eliminate the time needed for prep and the craziness that would ensue. I called Ralph and told him we were going with Plan B.  This then came out of my mouth, “this is not a big deal, let’s focus on enjoying the preparations and being in a good mood for when my parents got there.” Ralph in return asked, “Who is this and what did you do with my wife?”  In that one event, I managed to implement multiple strategies to help me enjoy the afternoon, I surrendered to the fact that sometimes life (or the weather) is not fair, I gave up on the idea that “more is better” and I repeatedly told myself that “life isn’t an emergency” and believed it!   Needless to say, we had a lovely afternoon with our family.

Finding Peace

This first DSSS Guiding Principle – Make Peace with Imperfection helps me reset my thinking and remember that I cannot control everything and quite honestly most things are not a big deal.  Each morning, I spend time with my Affirmations and ask myself, what strategies am I going to deploy today to help me not to sweat the small stuff.  Today, I promised to remind myself that life is not fair, nor is it an emergency, and that less is more. I believe if I say it enough times it will become engrained and then the norm.  This will then allow me to make peace with imperfection and leave more time to be happy and enjoy life.

The next time you start to stress, or get caught up trying to make everything perfect, may this scene from my favorite movie, Dirty Dancing, as they arrive in the Catskills help inspire you not to sweat the small stuff:

 

Lisa : “Oh, my God. Look at that! Ma, I should have brought those coral shoes. You said I was taking too much!”                                                                 Mom: “Well, sweetheart, you brought ten pairs.”                                                 Lisa : “But the coral shoes match that dress!”                                                       Dad: “This is not a tragedy. A tragedy is three men trapped in a mine, or police dogs used in Birmingham.”                                                                             Baby: “Monks burning themselves in protest.”

5 steps in the journey of inspiring loyalty

I have been thinking about the term loyalty over the past week, probably because I talked about it in my last blog, A book that continues to inspire.  What is the value of loyalty?  I have often seen this quote:

“Respect is earned. Honesty is appreciated. Trust is gained. Loyalty is returned.” 

In my opinion, one cannot simply ask for loyalty (well, I guess it never hurts to ask, but it cannot be simply granted).  Loyalty is returned over time. It is the result of conscious respect, honesty and trust over an extended period of time.  As you build upon each step, you build loyal relationships and enjoy a more peaceful life.

1. Hard work comes first

After reading my sister’s blog this week, It’s my job, I was reminded that there really is a step before you can earn respect: hard work.  In our family, that is simply a given.  You could always hear my father stating, ‘Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Don’t worry what others are doing, work hard, cream rises to the top.’ As my father instilled the values in his daughters, I now watch with pride as my sister is successfully instilling that in her children.  I believe it is through hard work that you gain the respect of your peers, your bosses, your friends, family and even acquaintances.

As a leader, my preference is to have a hard working, dedicated, self-aware team member that may lack experience but makes up for it in determination.  I always found that someone that was willing to learn, take the time to research, ask questions and work hard could learn the material. I don’t believe you can teach hard work later in life.  This is a value that is instilled at a young age and is nurtured as we mature.  I had the pleasure of hearing the stories of my father, who started his career in the mailroom and worked his way up to be the president of his company.  Although this seems like the stuff that movies are made from, my father is not a cornerstone example.

Listening to and reading stories about entrepreneurs, there is a recurring theme.  It all starts with an idea, a vision, a passion – the WHY they are doing something.  Apply a lot of hard work, grit and determination, and hope for a little luck and you will have success like Steve Jobs (Apple) and Phil Knight (Nike).  This also applies to athletes like Michael Jordon, scientists like Stephen Hawking and numerous others.  If you read their biographies, they don’t tell you that it was luck, but that it was hard work.

2. Respect is earned

If you work hard, I have found you will earn the respect of others.  Have you ever heard someone say, ‘I don’t respect her, she works too hard’? Worst case scenario might be that others will be jealous of what you are accomplishing with your hard work. I believe hard work is a symbol of good ethics, good people, strong bones.  Think about the people in your life.  Why do you respect some and perhaps not others?  Are there any that you respect that you do not consider hard workers?  I respect my father and mother or their years of hard work and dedication to their jobs and family.

3. Honesty is appreciated critical

The quote states that honesty is appreciated, but in my opinion, it is critical.  Can you really respect and trust someone that is not honest?  To be build loyalty I believe you need to be honest with yourself, your boss, your peers, your employees, your vendors, your customers, basically everyone.  Would you trust or put your loyalty into someone that was not honest?

First, let’s talk about being honest with yourself.  This is one of the hardest things to do, in my honest opinion.  Self-awareness is a term we tend to throw around lightly, “I know my strengths and weaknesses.”  Unfortunately, this tends to just be a well-prepared set of answers for an interview. The real test is whether you are being truthful with yourself to truly identify your weaknesses and then taking steps to improve and/or surround yourself with people that can fill in your gaps.

In the workplace, as you build a team, the best leaders understand their weaknesses and hire people whose strengths compensate for those weaknesses.  This always sounds easy. However, many people are fearful of exposing their weaknesses because someone might exploit those weaknesses and cause harm.  To be honest, there are times that I do not blame people for feeling that way. It’s happened to me, and it’s hurt, I admit it.  However, in those times, I muster up my father’s mantra, “cream rises to the top.”  He taught me to always do what’s right.  I believe that the more honest you can be about yourself the better you can serve others. Knowing your weaknesses and sharing with others will minimize the need to omit the truth, over promise and fail, thus earning the respect of others.

Honesty with others is equally as important.  Over the years there have been many stories that have helped solidify this in my mind and help set it as a priority in my values.  Honesty can make you vulnerable.  It is scary enough to be honest with yourself, but now to share that with others?  I remember vividly sitting in the partner’s office at Ernst & Young.  I was a first-year auditor, barely out of college a year.  I had made a mistake.  A $1M mistake to be exact.  I didn’t do it on purpose, but I knew I had to come clean. I was scared having to face Jim, a very stern, no-nonsense guy. Would he fire me?  He asked me what happened and I told him honestly that I made a mistake.  I didn’t try to blame someone else. I didn’t try and hide it.  I said, “I am sorry, I screwed up.  I did not know the right thing to do, but I can promise you I will not do it again.  I have learned now.”  He looked back at me and thanked me.  He told me that because I had come forward and told him about the mistake and took ownership for it, then he could control the damage and manage it accordingly.  If I had tried to hide it, it could’ve had much bigger ramifications later.  I can tell you, I learned 2 very important lessons that day, 1 – I never missed an account in an audit again and 2 – always tell the truth as early as possible.

On a side note, that meeting with Jim, also had a profound effect on me for another reason.  Everyone used to be so scared of the “partner”.  He was the big boss, difficult to approach, and scary.  I remember walking into his office, looking at a picture on his desk of him, his wife and 3 kids and thinking, ‘hmmm, he is a dad just like my dad. My dad is a big boss, but he still talks to us, teaches us. He is human.”  Jim was approachable and I think that is the reason it was so easy for me to be honest with him.

I also pride myself on being honest with those I work with; my peers, my team, my stakeholders.  Perhaps a bit too honest sometimes. Most people I have met will admit that they always know where they stand with me – good and bad.  As I often say, “I can’t lie.”  However, this helped them know that when I gave them a compliment, I was being genuine.  They also knew if I provided correcting feedback that I had their best interests at heart and wanted them to grow from the experience, not be punished.  I honestly want everyone to succeed (hence my mission to inspire and enable people to realize their goals).  As if you couldn’t already tell, I value honesty and I am comfortable with the potential vulnerability it creates.  I believe that being honest with myself and others allows me to learn and become a better person to serve my family, friends and colleagues.

4. Trust is then gained

I believe it is easy to trust someone when they work hard, you respect them and they are honest all the time.  However, what if you just met someone. Do you know if they are telling the truth?  Can you trust them?  Are you the type of person that needs to wait for proof before you trust?  Or can you trust them until they prove otherwise?

Years ago, I learned you have a choice; trust until someone crosses you or doubt until someone proves that they are worthy of your trust.  I was part of a team building event with a consulting group, S3 Consulting Solutions.  The lead consultant, Steve educated us on this concept of how different people approach life, relationships, decisions, etc.  Nirvana is when everyone can trust that people are coming from a good place.  I chose to be an optimist and trust people first.  This is a core tenant when I am building a team.  This pairs well with my philosophy of believing that no one wakes up with bad intent (check out my prior blog on this topic).  If you can believe that people are inherently good and mean well, then taking the stance to trust first can prove to quickly build a relationship that can grow stronger from there.  Therefore, as I continue to interact with people, it is not about proving whether trust can be earned, but rather ensuring that it is maintained.  “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me”

Trust within a team or relationship is essential and the earlier you can establish it the better. It will eliminate cycles of ‘testing’ or ‘proving’ yourself.  Working from a state of trust, you can speak openly and drive productivity rather than assigning blame.  Steve and team also taught us that it is best to quickly call someone out if you feel that they betrayed your trust, if they did not live up to an agreement.  Rather than reverting to doubt or skepticism, you walk a mile in their moccasins, better understand their intent and remain at a level of trust to move forward.

I have learned that a weakness of mine is not working well with people that come from an initial state of distrust.  Have you ever worked with someone that often second guessed you?  Needed to have the data to back up your statements?  Questioned everything?  To me, that is exhausting.  Because I come from a state of trust first, I struggle to understand where they are coming from. I have since been working to appreciate why someone comes from that place of fear or distrust and do my best to provide them the information and evidence they need to be able to trust.  I am working hard to not take it personally, by walking a mile in their moccasins and appreciating what they need.

5. Loyalty is returned

Just as I felt that we needed to add hard work at the beginning to start a path towards respect, I believe another element critical to building loyalty is being able to articulate the WHY.  When you can share your passion, your vision, your belief system, your values which make up WHY you are doing something, it helps people understand the underlying rationale.  People inherently want to believe in something.  They want to believe in you.  By explaining WHY you are doing it allows people to trust.  It will even help people overlook a mistake, trust even though there is no evidence to support a decision, or accept a gut feel.  When someone can understand WHY you are doing something, trust your intentions, believe you are always honest, and respect your hard work you have laid the foundation of loyalty.

This is why loyalty can take time.  Loyalty will not be returned based upon words alone.  Continuous actions, supporting those words is what builds loyalty.  I believe actions often undercut a person or company’s desire to create a loyal relationship.  If you say honesty is a core principle, but then reward someone for lying, people will quickly know these are only words.  If you tell your child that it is important to always be on time, and then you show up late for soccer practice, it is your actions that will be remembered.

What is the value of loyalty?

My father has another phrase he would say often that sticks in my head, “One ‘aw s**t’ wipes away all the ‘atta boys’.”  I believe that loyalty is when the ‘atta boys’ can override any ‘aw s**t’ that may happen.  There is nothing better than being in a loyal relationship, which is a two-way street.  When trust is in abundance you can spend your time looking forward and making things happen. Otherwise, you spend your time living in fear, waiting for the other shoe to drop, refusing to be open and vulnerable, trying to grab your share before someone else and overall being miserable.  My goal is loyalty all around.

May this inspire you to be loyal to your friends, family and colleagues and receive that loyalty in return.

Loyalty and friendship, which is to me the same, created all the wealth that I’ve ever thought I’d have. – Ernie Banks

A book that continues to inspire

Do you have a book that you read a number of years ago that has stuck with you?  Do you remember the name?  The story? Or, maybe just the feeling you get when you think of the book? For me, it was a book I read over 10 years ago (thank goodness for the old boarding pass bookmark to remind me of the trip).  This is one of the rare books I have packed and unpacked over the years.  Something clicked and I decided that it would be worth my time to re-read it.  This is the first time I have ever re-read a book and what an experience!

The CEO and the Monk by Robert Catell and Kenny Moore with Glenn Rifkin

This book describes the unlikely partnership of a savvy CEO and a former monk who led their company to the top even while embracing a higher set of business standards.  It examines KeySpan’s success from the perspective of Robert Catell and Kenny Moore, who formed an unusual but potent relationship that enabled the company’s rise from a small local utility monopoly to one of the nation’s largest and fastest-growing energy providers. It has done so by adopting the values of the community it serves and espousing a management philosophy that brought caring and a sense of soul into the workplace.  The results not only improved the bottom line, but forged a corporate culture with meaning.

I wish I could remember why I bought this book.  Did someone recommend it to me? Was it a top seller?  Was it because it was based upon a New York company?  I don’t remember now. However, I do remember the story.  A CEO that cared about the employees and the company.  A company that was loyal to his employees and customers.  Even back then, I felt that this was unique.  The part that I loved is that the CEO came to rely on Kenny, the ex-monk to help him keep a pulse on the soul of the company, the people.  Kenny was the trusted advisor.  He was empathetic.  He would listen to what people were saying. He would put together programs to thank the employees and encourage the CEO to meet with as many employees as possible.  Kenny ensured that the CEO was not stuck up in the Ivory Tower of management.

Reading the book this time, it makes complete sense why I love the book so much.  I resonate with the monk’s role.  I love being the cheerleader, inspiring the team, but also listening and understanding what motivates them.  My dream job would be that monk’s job.  Be the trusted advisor to the CEO to help him/her to inspire and enable the team to see the vision and enjoy the journey.

 Company Loyalty

However, reading it this time, it struck another cord.  The values that the CEO and monk talk about within a corporation are the same values that I try to live by and those that I crave in any company with which I work  We spend nearly 1/3 of our time at work and most of us treat it as a job, a place to earn money.  Unfortunately, we do not tend to be loyal to the company because the overwhelming feeling is that there is no loyalty returned to us.

Back in my dad’s business heyday, there was loyalty in the business place.  Companies were loyal to their employees and in return the employees were loyal to their companies.  Same with customers – the loyalty flowed both ways.  I believe focused on what was right, rather than what was best for the bottom line.  Companies had a purpose, they knew why they were in business and usually it was tied to the local communities.

Unfortunately, as companies grew, the economy faltered and/or improved efficiencies became priority, the loyalty seemed to fade.   I recall by the time I graduated from college, I already knew my first job would be a stepping stone to the next.  I started with 120 first year employees at Ernst & Young and it was a known fact that less than 20% would remain after 5 years.  However, this was not unique to public accounting firms, it was a common conversation among my friends in various industries that it was important to get our foot in the door, get our experience and move on to get the raises.  By this time pensions were nearly non-existent.  I recall my dad questioning a person’s stability, 3 jobs in less than 2 years?!?  My response, exasperated, ‘Dad, that is the new way of business. Time’s have changed.  Make the move first or you will be moved out.’

I admit it, I was part of the evolving generation.  As a family, we personally learned that despite loyalty dedicated to a company, it may not be reciprocated.  I didn’t believe a company could have a soul. The best you could hope for were good people with good intent and good values. I have been very fortunate over the years to have worked with some amazing people in my career.  It was from my peers and my leaders that I would get the guidance and support I needed to succeed, not the company.

As I think back, there was one company I worked for, a small software company, that provided the best experience.  I ponder whether it was the company itself, or the founder who created the loyalty.  I was employee #61 and the president and his wife knew all our names.  We were invited over for dinner.  He supported my move to England and he encouraged me to make the most of my time there.  I recall him asking, “Kathy, what countries will you visit? You have 52 weekends, that is 52 countries you can visit!’.  Every employee knew why we were working for the firm, we believed in the mission and there was a tremendous amount of loyalty in both directions.  Now, that was a smaller company and I think it is easier to have that passion; that connection with your employees. It gets more difficult as the business grows and you cannot physically know every employee on a personal level.  Does the company lose its soul at that point?

 Difficult, but not impossible

Hence why I loved this book.  It was the first time I had heard of a corporation taking the time to grapple with this dilemma.  This book taught me that just because you get big, it does not mean you must lose that personal connection. As a leader, it is that much more important to recognize the need for that connection and find innovative ways to make it happen, like hiring an ex-monk.

The CEO had a vision, a purpose for the company.  He cared about the community and the employees and refused to succumb to the growing greed in Corporate America.  I loved that he recognized that he needed a ‘spiritual’ leader for the organization.  He knew that he did not have the bandwidth to spend the time needed with individuals, but that it was critical to listen to the employees.  Enter the ex-monk.  He listened, he observed, he walked a mile in the teams’ moccasins.  He could then package his findings and share them with the CEO to make suggestions for improvements.  I guess some of his quirky ideas in the book, like having a ‘funeral’ to mourn the old way of doing business, or sending Valentine Day cards, or hiring an Improv comedian have inspired me over the years.  For those that know me, I have been known to adopt a mascot, Eddie, to build teamwork, as well as adopt a team motto to prepare for battle.

 Cause and Effect

I don’t know which is cause and effect.  Did I love this book because I am a loyal person and I want to see more empathy in the work place, thus my mission to inspire and enable others?  Or, did my mission and my desire to drive more loyalty back into the workplace start to develop because I read this book?

One thing I know for sure, there was a seed somewhere.  You remember the things that you are passionate about.  I am so excited that I re-read this book, because so many ideas that I am forming related to conscious capitalism, empathy in the workplace, striving to partner with a business leader to help them drive employee engagement/loyalty, have all taken on a greater meaning.  It is building on a foundation that was set a number of years ago.

I encourage you to think back to that book that inspired you years ago and re-read it.  You may be surprised that it either re-awakens a dream or desire or reaffirms a core set of beliefs that could use some polishing.

Thanks to this book, this is being added to my positive self-talk track going forward:

“Doing the right thing, being socially responsible, and holding tightly to a core set of values about how to do business and how to treat people will never go out of fashion.” – Robert Catell, CEO of Keyspan, from The CEO and the Monk

Reprogramming your belief system

The Time Off To-Do List

How many of you have that list of things you have always wanted (or needed) to do, but for some reason you never seem to get to it?  If only I had time. I would read books. Finally take a yoga class. Meditate. Spend more time with my family.  Lose weight, oh yeah, that has been on the list for a long time.  When I left my job I thought, well, this is going to be easy now, I have the time. I wrote out a to-do list for my time off.  I went so far as writing everything down. 1 – babysit our new nephew, 2 – lunch at my friend’s burger joint, Joy Burger, 3 – put together the Italy photobook, 4 – redo my resume, 5 – yoga, 6 – mediate, 7 – read a book, and the list went on.  112 items to be exact.

Some items were easy, practical and with a little effort they were checked off the list. I successfully cut our cable bill in half, I sorted out all the medical EOBs (bonus, refund secured). Casino with parents; check, check. I was getting things done!

I was excelling on #7 – read a book.  I got engrossed in reading, listening to podcasts and my first audible book.  Since I knew I was on a journey to discover and define myself, it is not a coincidence that most of my reading/listening has been either self-help or business related.  I became a junky, listening to podcasts while walking to an appointment, stealing 30 minutes at lunch to read or doing sit-ups while listening to a book.  I’ll be honest, these books were motivating for me. Each one with a different impact on my life. (cue the series of blogs to come).

In nearly every inspirational book, entrepreneurial success story, leadership podcast, there are always 2 underlying themes. First, it’s important to understand what makes you happy, what drives you and ultimately where you want to go. Visualize the end goal.  Second, it doesn’t happen by itself.  You must take care of yourself; invest in your future to ensure it happens.

 Motivated but still not ticking items off the list

So, I was motivated, but why was I still not eating right?  The hairy, emotional, complicated items were still sitting out there.  Despite all this freedom, why could I not find the time to learn some yoga moves? Why wasn’t my resume perfected?   It finally dawned on me that my belief system was a bit out of whack.  There was some sort of fear or negative self-talk that was sitting out there, sabotaging me.  I had to change my talk track, I had to reprogram my thinking.

Typically, a good song would become my mantra to drive me into action like, I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor

Did you think I’d crumble?
Did you think I’d lay down and die?
Oh, no, not I!
I will survive.
Oh, as long as I know how to love I know I’ll stay alive.
I’ve got all my life to live.
I’ve got all my love to give.
And I’ll survive,
I will survive.

However, this helped when I had suffered a setback.  I was in a good place right now.  I didn’t need to pull up my bootstraps.  I just had to go from good to great. What was holding me back from being a better person?  The items sitting out there on the to-do list – meditation, yoga, etc.  were things that would make me feel healthier, relax, find peace and take time to dream.  So, what was I afraid of? I may not have figured it all out, but I believe the crux goes back to the selfish question (See Is it OK to be Selfish blog).  I was wired to get things done. Go.go.go. Dreaming didn’t pay the bills.  I was afraid of what I would hear when I slowed down and focused inwardly.  It was time to be selfish.

Changing my talk track

I had to change my talk track. It is ok to slow down.  It is ok to take care of yourself.  It is ok to be successful.  There was a quote that Jodi Flynn would add at the end of each of her podcasts, Woman Taking the Lead, that I was religiously listening to:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. (Marianne Williamson)

I had also read the book by Hal Elrod, The Miracle Morning. His 30-day Challenge provided me the kick start I needed.  I committed to waking every morning and going through a routine called the Life SAVERS – Silence, Affirmations, Visualization, Exercise, Reading, Scribing.  Huh, amazing, these were all the things hanging out there on my to-do list.  I had to reprogram my brain.  So, I began by stating 2 paragraphs every morning (Marianne Williamson’s quote) and the following statement.

I am 100% committed to becoming the person I need to be—through daily personal development and living with daily discipline—to easily attract, create and sustain the levels of success that I truly want—and deserve—in my life.

Seven weeks later I am still practicing the SAVERS everyday. I can feel the difference.  They are now a habit that I cannot live without in my life.  Slowly I have come to believe these statements and use them to motivate me.  I don’t HAVE to exercise. I WANT to exercise. This is my gift to me.

I don’t believe in preaching that you HAVE to do this to see success. Everyone needs to figure out what kick starts them. What I do strongly believe is that positive self-talk helps propel you forward.  Negative self-talk seems to only attract that which you are putting out into the universe.

 Give it a try

For a giggle, pick something you have consistently beat yourself up about and spend some time asking yourself what you are afraid of?  Why do you think you really cannot accomplish it? (Reread Fear vs Freedom) Next, create a very positive statement of the opposite.  Repeat that positive statement every morning, out loud for a month.   See how that changes things.

I have witnessed many success stories of people that changed their talk track from negative to positive and achieved amazing things.  I am most proud of my sister, Karen who 3 years ago was hoping to simply lose a few pounds for my wedding but changed her focus and talk track – that she should/could successfully complete a Spartan Race – a mentally and physically grueling challenge.  Not only did my sister complete 1 race, but 4 spartan races.  That is guts, determination and a ton of hard work.  AROO!  (Listen to her positive talk track here)

Reprogramming your fears

I will leave you with this song that is my new anthem that gets me up and going.  May you be inspired to reprogram your fears, one wire at a time.

Fight Song by Rachel Platten

This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I’m alright song
My power’s turned on
Starting right now I’ll be strong
I’ll play my fight song
And I don’t really care if nobody else believes
‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me
 

No One Ever Wakes up with bad intent

Early lessons

‘Never judge someone unless you have walked a mile in their moccasins,’ was a constant mantra from my father when I was growing up. This critical lesson was instrumental in establishing my approach towards life and shaping my leadership style.  I looked up to my father (and still do), so, I would take this phrase quite literally and spent many an evening shuffling around the house in his big brown moccasins.  Honestly though, this is a standard saying in our family and a value that has also now passed down to his grandchildren which we all try to live everyday, or at least remind each other of it when we steer off track.

One of my earliest moments when I knew I had truly embraced this philosophy was in high school. I was dragging my feet to get my driver’s permit.  My parents couldn’t understand why, I rarely shied away from a challenge.  When pressed, I finally shared, ‘Do you remember last year when we were driving near the high school and that young girl cut you off?  Dad, you got really angry.  What if that was me, and I made a mistake because I was still learning?’  Quickly we both realized we didn’t know the circumstances in that young girl’s life that caused her to rush, maybe she had just gotten some bad news and was rushing to the hospital. I like to remember that he paused and smiled because at that point he knew he had taught me well.   From that day forward, he was much calmer behind the wheel of the car because he would apply his philosophy towards other drivers.

If I am honest and look back even further, my parents were teaching me this philosophy in elementary school when I would come home crying every day.  I was being chased around the school yard by the same group of boys that I had considered my friends.  At the time, it felt like they were picking on me.  My father simply said to me, do you really think they would bother calling you to say wear sneakers rather than your clogs if they did not think this was a fun activity and actually liked you?  Hmm, I hadn’t really thought of it that way.  I was looking at it based upon how I felt.  When I put myself in their sneakers, I got it.  This wasn’t so bad after all!

Throughout my life, my father often helped me through difficult situations when someone had hurt me.  He rarely judged.  He would simply remind me to put myself in their shoes and not take it personally.  When I understood their point of view, it was easier to forgive and not hurt so much.

Empathy

Empathy: that feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions.

Ah, that was what my parents were teaching me, to have empathy for others.  This is a core tenant of my Catholic upbringing; the Golden Rule – ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’  How do you know what is the right thing to say or do if you don’t know that person?  Thus, pairing this with my father’s mantra constantly playing in my head, I would ask questions.  I have always wanted to understand what people are thinking or feeling; how they approach things.  If you can understand someone better and share their experiences, through empathy you can then give to others.  It provides a foundation for trust, as well as creating an opportunity to learn new ways to approach and experience things.  I guess my questioning approach is a way of trying on everyone else’s moccasins.

Applying this premise to work

Even in the work environment, I would often put this philosophy into action.  When a team member was not performing at their peak, my first question was always, ‘Is everything alright? Do you have everything you need to be successful?’  When I have asked this question over the years I have learned a lot about my team members; sometimes basic things, ‘I am just having a bad day’ to extreme situations, ‘My child, mother (fill in the blank) is ill’ or ‘I was just diagnosed with cancer.’  That quickly puts things in perspective.  On the flip side, I have been told, ‘Kath, to be honest, I don’t believe you have explained the requirements well, nor set the expectations fairly and that’s why I am not doing well.’  I have also learned the person really didn’t enjoy what they were doing, they weren’t happy, period.

It is not our natural tendency to share these personal experiences, we have been trained that it shows weakness. As a leader I always felt it was important to give people the opportunity to share.  I wanted to understand what was going on so I could potentially help.  However, without asking the question, you may make inaccurate assumptions.  (We all know what happens when we ASS-U-ME!)   If you think about it, none of these explanations indicate that the person is incapable in the role.  There is something else going on.  Thus, the approach needs to be different, perhaps offering time off, changing my own behaviors or even helping the person find another, better opportunity for them.

This philosophy, core to my management/leadership style, created a team environment.  Just as I would ask them to share, I was open as well (as if you couldn’t tell from these blogs that I am an open book!).  Over the years it has helped diffuse some very difficult situations. Rather than taking things personally it helped us to work together and solve problems.  I believe this really drives loyalty within a team and relationships; understanding each other’s stories, goals and preferences helps create respect and substance to work better as a team.

There is no bad intent

I learned an even more valuable twist on this philosophy later in my career.  We were going through a major change initiative which impacted numerous teams, functions and personalities.  As most of the people did not report up to the same person, it was critical to influence the change rather than deploy a command and control approach.  Frustrations would flair, other groups wouldn’t necessarily step up and help, it felt at times people were looking to undermine any progress.  Finally, the Executive stood up in the boardroom and clearly articulated, “No one wakes up with bad intent!”  Ding – the lightbulb went off and this brought back my father’s mantra, “Never judge until you have walked a mile in someone else’s moccasins!”  This valuable lesson I had learned as a child had an even greater work relevance.

Going through change is never easy, people are resistant. However, it is important to understand what is going on in others’ heads.  If you stop and ask people, ‘What are you scared of? Why do you not want to do this?  What would make this better?’ you will get a plethora of invaluable insight.  Now you can change your approach to explaining the change. You can preface it with the WHY to help people understand.  It helps people get over the hump by telling them what’s in it for them.

This really transformed me even further – when someone irritates me, now my first thought is, ‘if no one wakes up with bad intent, what is going on?  What am I missing?  Can I change how I am explaining something?’  This has really helped me with my relationships, especially with my husband, Ralph.  He also subscribes to this philosophy, so when either of us reacts in a way that would not expected, we ask the question, ‘What’s going on?  What did I miss?’  It changes the dialogue from an accusatory, angry, frustrating exchange to one of exploratory, sharing and understanding. Trust me though, although I may now know how he is feeling, I may still not agree with his logic. However, that is a different topic for exploration another day, hehe.

In Conclusion

If I look back over my life, I believe this philosophy has helped me forgive quicker, build stronger relationships and get things done faster/easier.  Like my father, I try not to judge, I like to find the good in everyone.  When I can proactively approach a situation with this philosophy it has served me (and those around me) well.  Unfortunately, it is not always that easy, and those who know me know, I can quickly snap, get frustrated or even shut down if someone irritates me.  Nowadays I will look back and realize my misstep and apologize.  I am working to avoid these situations by approaching every interaction with the question, ‘what’s the story of your moccasins?

So, the next time someone irritates you, I hope I’ve inspired you to stop and think, “I wonder what size their shoes are?!?”

“Remember that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something and has lost something.” – H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Is it ever OK to be selfish?

Imagine my surprise

I was recently called selfish for leaving my job, by my husband of all people.  This label he used one night during a conversation really stung me.  This decision I, wait, we had made was not made in isolation, nor was it taken lightly.  We had weighed the pros and cons, both financially and emotionally on us individually and as a family.  We both agreed that it was the right thing to do and that he fully supported me.

However, a few weeks later, when money was not flowing like it used to, and I wasn’t as happy has I had expected, I asked him if I had been really selfish.  Should I have just sucked it up and continued at my job, bringing home good money although I was miserable and my values where being compromised?  In a very simple and honest statement, he said YES.  I was stunned.

Is selfish a negative word?

I have always grown up with the notion of the word, “selfish” being a very negative adjective which would immediately prompt me to change my ways.  When he saw my face, the shame and disappointment written all over it, he was quick to argue that it was not a negative thing.  He continued on to explain that I needed to take care of myself first so that I would be in a position to take care of others around me, like him, my family, my friends who are so important to me.

It prompted further discussion of whether the word selfish was purely negative, or if that was simply my upbringing.  A quick google of the definition in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and found the following answer to my question: selfish means concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself: seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others.  So, there you have it, it is a negative definition.

Put your oxygen mask on first before helping others

But wait, aren’t you instructed on an airplane to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before you can help others.  One could argue that you are concentrating on your own well-being before someone else’s.  A person who strives for selflessness would argue that you should put that mask on the other person first.  So as I see it, there is a fine line and it comes down to intent.

As Jerry Lewis once said, “I am probably the most selfish man you will ever meet in your life. No one gets the satisfaction or the joy that I get out of seeing kids realize there is hope.”  No one in their right mind would consider Jerry Lewis selfish for his work with the telethons for Muscular Dystrophy, however, by definition if he is doing it to please himself, does that change his work from selfless to selfish?

Research shows…

This was getting interesting.  By nature, you could argue that nearly every action that is not selfless is selfish.  As John Johnson, PHD in Pyschology Today discusses Good, Neutral and Bad Selfishness in his article, if I take 20 minutes to meditate every day, am I actually taking away time that I could be giving back to the community?  This is where the intent and the beneficiary needs to be considered.  As long as your intent is good or even neutral you should not beat yourself up over your choices.

In fact, as I talked to others and read more, selfishness can be very beneficial to you and those around you.  If you keep giving and giving without taking care of yourself, you end up in a situation where you do not sleep, are unhappy, make mistakes, ruin relationships, have a break-down and/or put your health at risk.  It is all about finding the right balance.  Everyone needs a vacation, they need time alone to rejuvenate; to ensure they get themselves healthy.  It is important to know this for ourselves, but it is also important as a leader, a friend or family member to recognize this need in others, and call out when you see the signs that a break is needed.  People need the encouragement to be told that they need to take care of themselves and that being selfish is OK!

Yes, it is ok

So finally, after much dialogue and research, my husband and I agreed, being selfish, is a good thing to be, when we are prioritizing our own physical, health and psychological well-being so that we will be in a good position to take care of others.  We further promised to use the word self-centered: concerned solely with one’s own desires, needs, or interests; when we felt the other was not taking into consideration the other person’s best interest as well.

May this inspire and enable you to know your limits and when you need to be selfish and take care of yourself.

“It’s not selfish to love yourself, take care of yourself, and make your happiness a priority. It’s necessary.” ― Mandy Hale

Fear vs. Freedom

Everything you have ever wanted is on the other side of fear – Henry Ford

Avoiding risks

I grew up in a very loving, nurturing, protective environment.  My parents always encouraged us, but at the same time wanted to make sure we were protected and safe.  My father was never comfortable going on a cruise with his wife and 2 girls because he could never save us all if necessary.  Flying however was ok, because we would all go down together (we are a close-knit family).  We would get the cautious “wet road speech” every time we left the house (even if it wasn’t raining). We learned to always have a shovel, coat, blanket, flares and food in the trunk, just in case.  We learned to be ready for anything that could go wrong.

I was rarely told that I couldn’t do something, in fact I was very encouraged to dance, play sports, take music lessons, makes friends, etc.  Often times, when I asked if I could do something new, there would be a series of questions that created a foundation of doubt or fear.  “Do you really want to go on a trip with 3 of you, 3 isn’t a good number, someone typically is left out”.  What if there is an accident, how will you handle it.  I didn’t know it at the time, but it was a fear based approach to life and one that undermined my confidence in my early adulthood.  I would often choose the safe route rather than the risky one.  I don’t blame my parents at all and I am very appreciative of all they have done for me, but by acknowledging this it has helped me gain the confidence I needed in the future. I wanted to live freely, rather than being hampered by fear.

I always followed the rule book, excelled in classes, became the captain of the sports teams, led the marching band, worked hard and enjoyed friendships. Let’s call a spade a spade, I was an overachiever.  I soared through college, secured a job at Ernst and Young before graduation and was married at 25.  I lived the cookie cutter, white picket fence type life.  And it seemed like I had it all, until the day it changed.

When I got the call from my husband that he was leaving me, I was crushed. At 29, everything that I had known was called into question.  At that point, I knew this was the bottom. I realized that I had taken the safe, reliable choice all my life.  I did what I thought was the right thing to do, but where had that gotten me?  The floor can still fall out beneath me.  This was a pivotal moment in my life.  I could be the victim and continue to live in fear, or I could embrace the freedom and shoot for the moon. What is the worst thing that could happen?  I would have to move back with my parents. Oh yeah, that was exactly where I was currently living.

Moving On

So, I got back on my feet and moved into New York City which had always been a dream, but I never had the courage. I adopted my mantra – Out with the Old, In with the New.  I bought the SUV that I always wanted, went on holidays, I let Zagat’s Top 50 guide my dining choices.  I was definitely leaning a bit too far over my skis, but you know what? It was fun. I was enjoying life and it offset any challenges.  I was also getting the opportunity to travel for work which turned into an opportunity to move to England full time.  I loved England and I couldn’t wait for the opportunity to live abroad.  I met new friends, explored Europe, learned new skills and even managed to save some money.

I lived without fear.  Why not go to Denmark for the weekend? Why not head to Greece for vacation? I am sure I had downtimes during these years, but you know what?  I don’t remember those, I remember all the positive things.  I used those memories to power the next adventure. I decided that I was going to take a sabbatical from work and travel around the world for a year. YOLO – you only live once.  Then fear was reintroduced into my life, not my own, but other people’s fear that made me stop and evaluate my decision.  This was a big step, leaving a well-established job, backpacking in countries where I didn’t know the language, being susceptible to different diseases. Did I really want to do this?

WHY not?

This is a critical question. – why Not do this?  What was the worst thing that could happen?  I would end up back on my parent’s couch?  Guess what, been there, done that.  Having a failure behind me helped me see that the worst things are not really that bad.  The good would outweigh any potential negatives. I was fortunate though, by this time I was confident of living freely and not giving into my fears.  So, off I went.  Nine months later I was back with a photo book and a lifetime of memories and new friends. Oh and yes, briefly living on my parents couch until a contract came through and I resumed my career.

Now, I think it is important to point out there is a third element which I do not subscribe to: recklessness.  I don’t let fear rule me, but I do not take extreme chances that put my life in jeopardy.  When crossing the border between Laos and Cambodia, they illegally tried to charge me $5, I didn’t resist and paid the money. Another traveler, however, was incensed that they would illegally charge her (keep in mind $5 in this part of the world equated to 5 nights lodging).  All I could think of was what they would write on my tombstone, “Here lies Kathy who saved $5 by not giving into the Laotian authorities”.

When my prior company called after 9 months of traveling and presented a great consulting opportunity, I knew it was time to come home.  The additional 3 months of travel remaining was not worth losing this opportunity.  Time to get back to work and save up again for another trip. I now use the barometer – when I am on my death bed, will I look back and say, “I wish I had done that, rather than being safe?”  I try to choose freedom when I can.

Fear vs. Freedom

The fear vs. freedom question weighed heavily on my mind when I was making the decision to leave my last position. There are the common items that come to mind and they vary based upon your experience and level of fear.  Hesitant people will ask, “how will you afford the mortgage or the insurance, what if you don’t find something right away, what if you get sick?”  The extremists will panic (they will not even ask the question because they are putting themselves into the worst possible situation immediately), “OMG you will never find another job ever again, you will lose your home, Ralph will leave you, etc.”

So, that being said, a lot of thought went into this decision and we chose freedom rather than fear (and I stress, WE, because my decisions today now affect my new husband, Ralph and me).  I realized I had become very fearful after spending 13 years at the same company.  I was no longer leaning over my skis and it was time to get back on the slopes for a great ride. This time I was fortunate to have a partner with me.  What is the worst thing that will happen, we have to move back in with my parents?!?  Been there, done that!

Final Inspiration

In keeping with the theme, I take great pride when I think back to my ‘around the world’ trip and recognize that my journey was the inspiration for my cousin to visit France, a dream of his own.  He knew if his cousin could do it, sure as hell could he.  He continues to thank me to this day. I loved that I could inspire someone else in my journey.  May this serve as an inspiration to you to choose freedom over fear where appropriate.

Excerpt from The Magician’s Way, written by William Whitecloud, “As he spoke, I could see two paths in my mind: one that appeared attractive in the beginning – broad, paved, sunny – that ultimately lead into a swamp; another that appeared at first to be unappealing – dark and narrow and overgrown – but that actually lead to an island in the sun.  Your choice of paths, I realized, determines whether you create poverty and misery or fun and profit.”

It is time for me to inspire and enable myself

My mission in life is to be the trusted advisor to friends, family, colleagues, strangers; inspiring and enabling them to bring their ideas and desires to reality.

Wow. Did I just state that out loud? Yes, I have taken the leap and put it out there. I am a leader. I admit it and I am good at it. People enjoy when I help them make a decision, when I bring a plan together, or when I help execute an idea. They appreciate that I hold them accountable, ask the difficult questions (ok, maybe not all!) and push them beyond their comfort zone.

I have taken a number of different leaps in my life – some good, some not so good. I have learned from every one of them and am better for them. Today’s leap is a result of an even larger leap that started just 5 months ago. OK, I will state that one out loud as well. I left a senior level, well paid job where I was successful. WHAT?!? You may ask.

The better question should be WHY?!? It is so important to understand the WHY behind everything. Get used to that question, because you will see a recurring theme with me.

OK, so, WHY did I leave my job?

I am a driver, known to work extremely hard and get things done. Some have affectionately called me the task master (my team) or drill sergeant (my sister) or project manager. In fact, my friends informed my husband-to-be that I always love to have a project and to make sure he did not become the project! I am a former Certified Public Accountant, thus good with numbers. I like to measure things and prove that things are getting done. I LOVE to check things off my to-do list (and my husband’s honey-do list). Operationally, I am a visionary that can quickly map out a plan. (Did I mention I always need a plan, even if the plan is to do nothing?)

I have learned that I am equally driven by people and making them happy. I get my energy from people. I get my greatest joy in life when I see someone else succeed and secretly I know I may have had some influence. I enjoy listening to people to understand their goals, likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses, and then inspire and enable them to succeed by providing the WHY.

So, what I have learned is that I am a Nurturing Driver and this is now my answer when asked what kind of leader I am.

Are you asking yourself, WHY hasn’t she answered the question yet of WHY she left a senior level, well paid job where she was successful? Apologies, just wanted to ensure you understood a bit of the background first. Now the WHY.

I personally was not being inspired nor motivated to achieve my goals, and any efforts I put in place to nurture and drive success with others was undermined by a command and control type of leadership. I could not be true to myself, my values and my leadership style in the current environment. The first time I heard myself bark to a team member, ‘I don’t know WHY, just do it’ I knew it was time for a change. My frustration, anger, negativity was impacting me emotionally and physically, as well as putting a strain on relationships.  It was time to move on.

Now, you may ask, WHY didn’t I find another job first, before walking away. Another good use of the important question. Externally my explanation was that I was working 14 hours a day, maintaining my newlywed status and getting my needed energy by spending time with friends and family, I just didn’t have the time and energy needed. Internally I knew that it was time to take care of myself. As I have been sharing, my passion is about helping others. I have never really made it a priority to inspire and enable myself to ensure my ideas and desires become a reality.  It dawned on me the importance of taking care of yourself before you can take care of others.

So, there you have it. My journey for the past 3 months; having the confidence to embrace what my mission is and share it with others. I have had many other insightful findings these past few months, as well as numerous experiences over the past 46 years of my life. I look forward to sharing these stories with you so that perhaps they may inspire and enable you to realize your dreams.

“There is no passion to be found playing small—in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” —Nelson Mandela

For those that know me, I love feedback, please feel free to reach out to me and share your thoughts, comments, ideas at eequalswhy@gmail.com.