It is time for me to inspire and enable myself, again…

During my hiatus in 2017, I spent time figuring out me, defining and landing my dream job.  My one critical flaw in all of this though was that I forgot to specify the location.

It has been nearly 2 years since my last blog, and I have I missed it.  I have missed many other things as well; stopping to smell the flowers, inspiring and enabling friends, and relaxing with my family, just to name a few.  I was once again employed; traveling constantly, working 14-hour days, commuting back to NYC on weekends, pouring my heart, sweat and tears into the new company and putting work first.  At least though, it was my dream job, the dream job I had envisioned.

Dream Job

June 1, 2017.  I had just 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.  As a result of The Miracle Morning (TMM) and other self-reflection, I figured out that 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. That summer I started my blog and the first entry was It is time for me to inspire and enable myself.   Part of that journey was defining and obtaining my dream job.

October 15, 2017.  That was the date that I had set as the day I would start working again.  I wanted to start shortly after returning from my trip to Italy.  When I had left my previous position on January 3, I had given myself 1 year to find my next job.  I set aside the funds to provide the cushion needed to make that happen.  However, in my head, my target start date was October 15.  I worked backwards from that date.  If I wanted to start working on October 15, I would need to be interviewing 2 months before that, start networking 2 months before that, and define my dream job at least a month before that.  Setting goals for each phase of this journey (#thisgirlneedsaplan), I knew I would not be able to land my dream job if I could not define exactly what I was looking for.

It started with defining the type of people I did/did not like working with and why, along with details like work environments, day to day work activities, etc. I combined that with my work experiences and wrote the one pager that would change my life.  I socialized it with other friends, tweaked it and then put it to work.  I read it every day as part of my morning routine, I leveraged it when networking, and I shared it with recruiters.

One of the people that read my ‘dream job’ was an ex-colleague and friend.  ‘Interesting’, he said.  He asked questions, he helped tweak it, he then wished me luck and sent me on my way.  He rang me 3 months later, saying, ‘I think I may have your dream job.’  How would he have known that if I had not clearly written it down and shared it?  This is the Law of Attraction at work.

October 22.  I was back to work.  One week later than I had declared (but months prior to my ‘real date’) I walked into my dream job working for the new CEO of this company as the Chief People Officer.

Dream Job Elevator Pitch: I am looking for an executive position where I can partner with a business leader; a CEO, who is looking to drive change through their organization and realizes that people are key to their success.  I am a seasoned executive that has been described as a nurturing driver.  I get things done through strong employee engagement. 

Be specific

I landed my dream job alright, but it was in Bedford, MA.  For those that may not know, I live in Manhattan, with my husband, Ralph.  That is 220 miles away.  I never stated in my dream job that I wanted it to be in NYC; near my family, friends, home and husband.  This was obviously slightly less than ideal.  Ralph and I talked about it and debated if we should relocate to Bedford, MA or manage it through a ‘commute’.  Since the company had offices in Kentucky, England, India and Australia, I knew I would be traveling elsewhere as well.  It didn’t seem fair to ask Ralph to pick up his day to day life to be isolated in Bedford, when I was traveling.  We agreed, this was my dream job and I couldn’t pass it up.  We would figure it out.

I am thankful for the past 2 years in the role. I learned more than I could even imagine.  I had the opportunity to meet fantastic people, live my core mission, and drive change through an organization.  However, I knew I had to be true to my other core values in life; family, YOLO (you only live once) and inspiring and enabling myself.   I am now back in NYC, restarting the blog, defining my next dream job and ensuring I am as specific as possible.

It works

The 30-day TMM challenge has turned into a daily routine for over 2 years that Ralph and I cannot imagine living without.  It ebbs and flows at times, but it has been a constant that has helped us focus and most importantly affirm and visualize what it is that we want in our lives.

During this time, I have been visualizing the future, my longer term goals; wake up every morning with my husband, practice SAVERS while overlooking water, write my book, serve companies as a Board Member and continue to Inspire and Enable others.  I truly believe, when you can visualize it, you can make it happen.  Now I have the time to get back to basics and reset for the next chapter in my life.  I hope you’ll join me as we continue to explore the realm of possibilities.

“When you visualize, then you materialize” – Denis Waitley

People Matter – 10 attributes of a great leader

Who is a leader?

First let’s start with the question, “who is a leader?”  Many people assume that a leader is limited to the CEO of a company, the President of a country, the Principal of a school, or someone that has responsibility for many people and telling them what to do.  I would argue that they are managers; they manage people and tasks, but are not necessarily leaders.

To me, a leader is someone that inspires and enables others to accomplish things.  In addition to managers, it might be an athlete, a role-model in school, a team member, a drum major, soccer coach, activist, etc. In fact, I believe each one of us can and should be leaders. Imagine if we were all inspiring and enabling others, this would be a much better place.

Next, is the old debate, “is a leader born or made?”  I believe some people are born with leadership qualities and thus have a head start.  However, I strongly believe the attributes necessary to be a strong leader are habits that anyone of us can learn and practice.  As I look back on my journey in life and especially the self-discovery over the past few months, I personally have been seeking understanding related to true leadership.  Many of the self-development areas like, self-awareness, practicing new habits, being in the moment, the power of listening, loyalty, humility, empowerment of friends and not sweating the small stuff are critical to strong leadership.

Are you a leader? 

Do you consider yourself a leader?  If not, why? What do you feel you would need to do differently to be a leader?  We all have it in us to inspire and enable others.  I was fortunate as a student to attend a few leadership events.  I participated in HOBY’s (Hugh O’Brien Youth) leadership program my sophomore year of high school.  Their mission is to inspire and develop our global community of youth and volunteers to a life dedicated to leadership, service and innovation.  (Sound familiar?!) I was learning the skill and values, while meeting role models at an early age.

Another memorable leadership lesson was bandcamp in 11th grade.  Yes, bandcamp, a leadership program for Drum Majors, because I would be leading the marching band during my senior year. (Go ahead, you can giggle because it reminds you of the line, “One time in bandcamp…”  from American Pie).  I remember receiving the advice, ‘Leaders lead from behind.”  Obviously to a kid, this struck an odd cord with me.  How could that be? If I was going to be leading the band, I should be out front setting the tempo, the pace and the tone for the rest of the band to follow.  The advice went on to describe that a good leader has their teams’ back. They don’t need to be out in front screaming, ‘look at me’.  Rather they are coaching, guiding and giving the glory to the folks doing all the hard work.  That concept lived with me for a long time and served me well over the years in leadership positions.

Servant Leadership

I was often asked about my leadership style.  I would immediately respond, “I lead from behind.”   I couldn’t articulate much more than the statement. I often felt some viewed that position as passive leader and not a driver.  It took me many years to finally put a title to my management style and validate what I always knew in my gut.  I was a strong servant leader.

A servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible. As the setter on my volleyball team, I recall my coaches reminding me that I had the responsibility to keep the spirits of my teammates up.  If a bad pass came to me, it was ‘my bad’.  If a spiker missed the kill, it was ‘my bad’.  I was to absorb the mistakes, inspire and enable the team to get it back on the next serve.  I was being trained to be the quiet leader on the court.

While servant leadership is a timeless concept, the phrase “servant leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay that he first published in 1970. In that essay, Greenleaf said: “The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions.”

The opposite of servant leadership is a command and control style.  Bingo, that explains it all!  I learned about servant leadership in high school and used it as a core basis to develop my style over the years.  I struggle with those that simple tell people what to do and choose not to explain WHY they need to do something.  To me, people matter.  A leader’s job is to inspire and enable others to feel their best and give their all.

Kathy’s 10 key attributes of a strong leader

There has been much research and discussion about what makes a strong leader.  You can read numerous articles and books on the subject.  I thought I would share my opinion which pulls together much of what I learned most recently, correlated with my life long experiences.

Self-awareness Power of Listening: being able to listen to yourself and those around you to understand your weaknesses, your strengths and how you are perceived so that you can to adapt accordingly.
Mindfulness Pause: knowing where you want to go, where you currently are and what it will take to get there, while appreciating the journey.
Courage Path less traveled: making hard decisions to go against the known/expected and following your convictions. In the book, Magician’s Way by William Whitecloud there is a story about 2 paths. The first path is broad, paved, sunny path which will lead you to a Swamp. The other is dark, narrow, and overgrown which will lead you to the island.  A leader is willing to take the risks to get to the island.
Curiosity Can I ask you a question?: constantly learning, engaging others for their opinion and looking for ways to do things better.
Inspiration Vision: having conviction, passion and beliefs, along with the ability to articulate and explain them, to excite and motivate others to join you on the journey.
Empowerment Go you: providing insight to people about what they are good at, giving them opportunities to leverage those skills and recognizing/praising them for their accomplishments.
Enablement Why: taking the time to teach people the required skills, but also mentoring and explaining why you are doing something or why it is important for them to do it a certain way.
Accountability TEAM: There is no “I” in team.  Accountability is the willingness to call someone out in a caring way so that they can understand how to improve and not accept the status quo.
Gratefulness Thank you: using those words often to demonstrate your appreciation of everything; yourself and those around you
Empathy Walk a mile in someone else’s moccasins, need I say more?

A leader’s job is to set the vision, enable, empower and motivate others. Core to each of these attributes are people!  You can’t be a good leader without focusing on people.  Even if you are not the smartest or the strongest, if you focus on these attributes you can still be a strong leader.

Humility is the cornerstone of leadership

In my previous blog about humility I discussed common admiration for humble people and how the aspiration to be humble will help us be happier and less stressed.  I ended the blog referencing a number of articles, Harvard Business Review, Catalyst, Forbes, and Washington Post, that talk about humility being the cornerstone for great leaders.

I did not actually list humility in the list of attributes above because I believe that many of the attributes are requirements of a humble leader.  I believe it is easier to unpackage humility into these attributes so that we can better relate to them and practice them; like mindfulness, gratefulness, empathy, etc.  A humble leader recognizes that people matter and focuses on how to serve them and accomplish greatness.  I don’t believe you can be a good leader without being humble.

We are all leaders

Interestingly, but not by co-incidence, I think back to the blog I wrote about my experience on the catamaran where I bonded with some extraordinary women.  The attributes I talked about in that blog (Pause, Curiosity, Appreciation/Empowerment, Power of Listening) were all strong characteristics of these ladies.  I called out those characteristics as core to my valued leadership attributes because these women are all LEADERS!  People want to follow them; they are inspired by them and are loyal to them.

In my last role, I had a mix of direct reports, some who were managing large teams and some who were individual contributors. I considered every one of them a leader.  If they were not leading a direct team, they had to work closely with peers and customers to influence them and lead them through change.  The same attributes applied.  You don’t need to be managing a team to be a leader.  Quite honestly, these are attributes that will serve us well as spouses, parents, siblings, children, coaches, mentors and friends.  As I mentioned in my last post, Why is “You throw like a girl” an insult we would be a much better society if we were all humble leaders.

People Matter

It has been proven that happy people accomplish more.  Happiness is also contagious. As a leader it is our responsibility to serve others and help them find happiness (aka success).  Research has shown that employees/people who perceived altruistic behavior from leaders also reported being more innovative, engaging in greater citizenship behavior, going beyond the call of duty, and picking up the slack for an absent colleague, friend or family member.

May this inspire you to be a leader to your friends, family and colleagues and make this a better place.

You don’t need a title to be a leader – numerous people, including me

Why is ‘You throw like a girl’ an insult?

Anything a boy can do, a girl can do better

For me, gender equality had always been a given.  I grew up with the belief, ‘I can do anything a boy can do, and maybe even better’.  I was born in an era where women had the right to vote, go to college, run a company and govern a country. Born in 1971, I started playing soccer when I was just 5 years old, coached for years by my father and mother.  If I wasn’t playing on an organized team I was playing in the school yard, or even playing hockey in the streets with the boys next door.  I was a ‘tomboy’.  I could keep up with the best of them.

Paving the way to a girls’ team

When I hit 7th grade in 1983 and planned on joining the Junior High sports teams, I was shocked to find out that there was no girls’ soccer team.  However, thanks to Title IX, which requires that women and men be provided equitable opportunities to participate in sports in public schools, Bethpage school district did have a ‘co-ed’ team.  It couldn’t be called a boys’ team but with no girls’ team, they would have to allow girls to participate.  As you can imagine, not many girls tried out.  I was not going to be stopped, I wanted to play. To this day, I am not sure if it was really my skills that won me a position on the team or the optics of how it would look if there was not a token girl on the team.

I often questioned myself why I bothered because I was sitting on the sidelines during games. There were no rules that said every kid that made the team would play an equal amount, but I had never experienced the game from the sidelines.  I also knew, as a girl though, it was going to be harder for me to prove myself then the boys on the team.  Something deep down told me that it was important to try and not give up.

I was in a practice match, the ball was up in the air, and I had a choice, I could go for it and jump for the header, or back off and let my competitor get it.  Sure enough, I beat him to the ball and successfully headed to my teammate, as well as, clocked the other guy on the head.  I remember from that moment on (when the swelling went down), I had earned the respect of the boys.  I had found my place on the team.  It reinforced my belief that girls could do anything a boy could do.  The next year we finally got funding for a girls’ soccer team in the junior high. I look back now and wonder if it was luck or perseverance that paved the way to the girls’ team.

Change often requires a stand

I know that it was Title IX that helped create our girls’ soccer team in Bethpage, as well as all the other sporting opportunities across the country.  In 1991, The US Women’s Soccer team won their first World Cup.  It is not coincidence that the top players, Mia Hamm (b. 1972) and Michelle Akars (b. 1966), were my age.  Without the rules to create the girls’ soccer team, I don’t believe we would have been able to train a team to compete at the world level.

We went to see Battle of the Sexes this weekend. It is the true story of the 1973 tennis match between Billie Jean King and ex-champ/ serial hustler Bobby Riggs, aka male chauvinist.  Billie Jean King went out on a limb numerous times to fight for equal pay for the female players.  It would have been easy to back down to the patronizing and demeaning responses from tennis organizers, but she stood her ground. She publicly stood up to Bobby and beat him to prove, women can do anything they put their minds to.  She also successfully launched the Women’s Tennis Association and earned equal payouts for women.

In my own right, I feel I was part of the battle to drive women’s equality forward at a young age.  I know I was not consciously doing it, but I knew unconsciously that I had to have the courage to stay on the boys’ team and prove that anything a boy can do, so can a girl.

Other laws have been passed over the centuries to give women rights.  First introduced to Congress in 1878, it took nearly 4 decades to pass the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote in 1920.  Here are some additional important laws and timeline.

  • 1963 The Equal Pay Act passes, requiring equal wages for women and men doing equal work. It is the first federal law prohibiting sex discrimination.
  • 1964Title VII of the Civil Rights Act passes including a prohibition against employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex.
  • 1972 Title IX of the Education Amendments Act passes, guaranteeing equal access to academic and athletic resources regardless of gender.
  • 1993 The Family & Medical Leave Act becomes law

Things that make you go hmmmph

Although there have been some other laws passed to explicitly protect women, I did not realize that we have yet to pass an Equal Rights Amendment. This amendment was first introduced in 1923, passed by Congress in 1972, but never ratified and therefore is not part of our constitution. These words are yet to be part of our constitution, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.”

When I dug into why this has never been ratified, it was fascinating to learn that the strongest opponents to ratification were women.  Because of fear, many women did not want to have equal rights to men.  They were fearful of being drafted into the military, losing rights to alimony and custody in a divorce, being expected to be held to the same standards of men in the workplace. According to our constitution, today, we are still not considered equal to our male counterparts.

Empowerment

I continued to live my life with the assumption that I had every opportunity available to me that men do.  I never felt I was denied a job because of gender or I made less money than my male counterpart (assuming I had negotiated as well). I typically held roles in male dominated industries; accounting, consulting, sales, software engineering, you name it. I was often the only female seated at the table.  That was normal for me.  I wasn’t intimidated. The toughest times were when meetings were held at the “ballet”, where I was not included.  I accepted that.  These guys didn’t want to go hang out with me to get my nails done either.

All these years in the workplace, it sucked to be the token woman, but I knew if I toughed it out, it would change.  After all, we did get the girls’ soccer team.  Today, I participate in the women’s groups that focused on empowerment. I support other women. I hire women.  I would never consider myself an outspoken feminist, however, I lived under the assumption that if we were confident, spoke up, persevered, negotiated harder and supported each other, we would continue to make progress and more women would be running corporations.  I have come to question if the progress is enough.

Are we really any better 20 years later?

The glass ceiling still exists
  • Time: Politically, only 59 countries (30%) in the world have elected female leaders
  • Despite representing 50% of the population, women are represented by only 20% within the House and Senate.
  • Catalyst: only 29 women (5.8%) hold CEO positions at the S&P 500 companies, despite the fact that 60% of the consumers are women.
  • This stat is staggering, reported in March 2015 by the NY Times, of the top 1500 companies, 5.4% are led by a man named John, and only 4.1% led by a woman with any name.
Pay is still not equal
  • The statistic widely cited is that women earn only 82 cents to a man’s dollar
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics: mothers earn 3% less than women without children. Fathers, however, earn on average 15% more than men without children because of management perception of commitment per Business Insider article.
  • AAUW; women compared to men with advanced degrees earn 26% less (it is not an education thing)
Sexual Harassment is still rampant in business as evidenced recently in the news

 Sexual harassment is the tip of the iceberg

It sickens me to learn that sexual harassment is still so prevalent today.  Never experiencing this personally, I am reminded of the seriousness and the need for action as I listen to the news stories and the personal #metoo posts from friends and colleagues.  To me, this is just wrong; the sense of entitlement these bullies have that allows them take away a woman’s dignity.

Unfortunately, though, I believe that sexual harassment is just the tip of the iceberg.  There is a non-violent and even more pervasive issue that women face today that I refer to as unconscious bias.  I personally have been in a situation where I believe I was denied an opportunity because I am a woman. I felt that the risk to my job and career was too great to fight, so I opted to ‘accept it’ and move on.  It is days like this I wonder how much better off we are than 20 years ago.

I personally felt I hit the proverbial glass ceiling.  I was named successor for 3 different roles during my tenure at one company.  I was also told that I was top talent and admittedly was compensated well. I was even told by management that I was performing at the level of a Vice President.  Despite these positive signals I did not get the VP promotion (although my male counterparts with less experience and responsibility did) nor was I granted an interview for those positions. The last situation was the most impactful.  This time it was well documented and known that I was named the successor. I had plenty of internal support from numerous leaders that I would be a strong candidate for the role, albeit not the only candidate for the role.  The sting was when I did not even get the opportunity to interview for the position.

I had numerous conversations regarding the situation.  When I asked HR and the hiring manager, “Why am I not being considered?” I was told I was not ready without any discussion on how and when I would be ready. Let’s be honest, they had already made their decision of who would be promoted.  Yes, a man with the right connections.   I wasn’t questioning this person’s capabilities.  I merely questioned how a decision could be reached without giving me an opportunity.

At that point, I had a choice.  I could either look to escalate the matter or simply accept it and move on.  “It would be hard to prove” was the advice I received from many, as well as, “the firestorm that you would create could do more damage for your career.”  As a woman we have enough challenges stacked up against us.  Often, we have to question whether we really want to risk our reputation and careers without the confidence that we can prove our case and win.  Therefore, I can relate to the many women that hesitated to make a case against Harvey Weinstein or other public figures.   There is a real fear of the powerful bullies.

Unconscious Bias

Do I regret not making a stand at that time?  I don’t honestly know the answer to that question. I wasn’t sexually violated.  I can’t prove that I didn’t get the interview because I was a woman.  I believe the violation was an unconscious bias.  Perhaps it wasn’t being denied the interview, but rather the course of actions that didn’t happen leading up to the event.  As the named successor, the hiring manager should already have been working with me to groom me to take over.  The decision was unconsciously made even before the position was vacated.

How do you prove an unconscious bias?  Just as the word suggests, they are not aware they are doing it.  I have not met 1 person that would tell me that they felt that I couldn’t do the job because I am a woman, or that it is OK for a woman to be discriminated against.  Most men (and women) would probably even tell you that there is no problem for women in the workplace (pay, advancement, etc.) today.

Unfortunately, I believe there is a prevalent unconscious bias against women that still exists today.  From personal experiences, research and discussions with other women, I have learned that there are many men AND women that unconsciously say or do things that hold women back from playing a bigger role in companies, politics, and everyday life.  This unconscious bias, which is hard to prove limits women from standing up for themselves and demanding what is right.

For any iceberg, you typically only see the tip. The biggest chunk is just below the surface. It is easier to fight against the obvious violations towards women (and we need to), but we still have a problem that needs to be solved.  We need to shine a light on the unconscious bias that is keeping women from gaining equality.  The best leaders are those that recognize women do have a strong work ethic, high emotional intelligence and empathetic leadership style that is different from men and needs to be groomed accordingly.  Leaders do not need to be ruthless, bullies, un-nurturing, emotionally unaware or unavailable to be successful.  This takes me back to my blog on Humility. The best leaders are humble; selfless, self-aware and appreciate others.  Wouldn’t we be a better society if we had more leaders like that?

Stand up today

I think back to the Title IX laws that went into effect in 1972 and that we did not see the benefits until 1991 with the first World Cup win.  Each action today will have a worldly impact tomorrow. I am very thankful that I stood my ground that day and headed that ball to take my position on the team, but I have since learned that it is time for me to stand again and help educate against the unconscious bias so that we can take our equal positions in the world.

What can you do?  Be aware and educate yourself.  Join the AAUW and be an advocate for women’s rights.  Empower and support others.  Teach not only your daughters and nieces that they can do anything, but teach your sons and nephews that their sisters and cousins are equals.

May this inspire and enable you to educate others on the inequality that still exists in this world and look for ways to improve it so that we (and our children) can all realize our dreams.

No-one changes the world that isn’t obsessed – Billie Jean King

Happy Birthday to my BFF, an inspiration to all of us

Seven days on a catamaran with 10 women, 1 captain and 1 hostess sailing to 7 Aeolian Islands off the coast of Sicily.  There are so many ways this could’ve gone wrong.  Reality TV would certainly have been able to insert drama and have us fighting, screaming, or even wrestling nude.  Instead, we emerged friends for life and planning the next adventure.

We gathered to celebrate my BFF, a woman I met exactly 7 years ago. Ironically, we met while sailing on a yacht around NYC harbor during my 40th year. I had always referred to her as my 7-year younger. We clicked immediately because we shared a love for travel and adventure. I remember that she had just returned from traveling through Asia, and we were sharing experiences from my trip 7 years earlier.  Since then we have shared many adventures, both together and separately.  She has always inspired me.  Before her 40th birthday she visited every US state, every continent, and over 65 countries.  She can be dressed to the nines sipping champagne or hiking Patagonia without a shower for 5 days. She is one person that epitomizes the term YOLO (you only live once).

Trip of a lifetime

When my BFF invited me to join her on her 5-week birthday adventure to Italy and Germany, I knew that I could not pass up the opportunity. This is one of those key moments in life when you make a tough decision.  Can you imagine this conversation with my husband?!?  “Ralph, I know I am not working, but I would like to go to Italy for 2 weeks and celebrate my BFFs birthday. No, you can’t come, it’s a girls’ trip.”  This is how I know I am married to the most wonderful man in the world.  You already know his answer, ‘No question, you have to go!  This is the type of thing you will look back at and regret if you do not go.”  Thus, the planning began.  I knew I could not go for the full 5 weeks, but which part would I join in on?  We agreed that the 2 of us renting a boat in Italy for a week was unlikely.  Decision made.

Keep in mind, I had never heard of the Aeolian Islands.  I did not know who else would be going. I had no idea the type or quality of the boat we would be renting.  I did not care.  I had enough trust and love for my BFF that I knew it would be fabulous.  I was not alone.  In total over 20 fabulous females joined this 5-week extravaganza to celebrate her birthday – Questoe40!  This is 40!

Diverse group of women

There was going to be 10 of us on the catamaran.  We all met up in Palermo where we said goodbye to some other lovelies and hello to our new shipmates for the next week.  Everyone knew my BFF well, and maybe a few others on the boat. Most of us though were strangers, but we all knew that any friend of my BFF must be good people. This is a group of fabulous females that live for adventure and are moved by FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Any concern of being uncomfortable was overruled by FOMO.

Each of these women is very different, from different walks of life, with different experiences and different goals.  However, every one of us shared a common trait, an appreciation of trying new things, living life and learning about other people.  The goal of the trip was to celebrate my BFF’s birthday, explore the Aeolian Islands and relax.  The unexpected result was the personal journey we all encountered.  At the core, we created a bond of friendship.  I also learned about their unique qualities, values, perseverance’s, mottos, accomplishments and goals which taught me things I want to add to my life to make it even better.

  • Pause button
  • Curiosity
  • Appreciation equals empowerment
  • Power of Listening

Pause

One of my friends (and now I am privileged to call them all friends) had a tattoo on her wrist, a pause button.  She put it on there to remind her to stop and appreciate the moment.  This has been a large part of my focus these past 7 months; live in the present and stop dwelling in the past or obsessing about the future. (See Living in the Present Moment blog) I loved this physical reminder that would cause all of us to pause; whether it was a spectacular view at the top of a volcano, a sunset on the boat, a toast of wine with the locals, a simple moment experiencing new friendships being created, or a quiet moment watching the sunrise over Lipari.  I would stop and take a mental snapshot of the moment.  I would take a moment and be grateful for my fortune.  I would take a deep breath and feel my body fill with warmth. These were moments for me to store away and make available for when life is not so perfect. I loved the moments when someone would call out – PAUSE – and we would all stop and appreciate what we have.

Curiosity may kill the cat, but that is why it has nine lives

This trip helped remind me why I love to travel.  I have traveled a lot over my life, both personally and professionally.  It has been a passion of mine, one that my father instilled in me as a child.  Everyone on that boat has also traveled extensively and they each have their own motivations, but everyone seemed to have a penchant for curiosity. Their desire to meet locals; understand who they are, learn about their culture and appreciate the differences.  Some of the best experiences during the week were getting to know our crew, wine tasting with Francesco Fenech, a third-generation wine maker, and a traditional local meal on Filicudi.

My father traveled much when I was a child.  I loved hearing about his adventures, but more importantly, I loved meeting his colleagues who would come visit.  I loved my pen pal from Australia (still in touch with today) because we would write letters sharing TV guides, music that we were each listening to, tales about our school activities, etc. It taught me early on that every country is different and there is a big world outside the US. I wanted to learn all about it.

Curiosity is vital to our society because it is our differences that make this world a better place.  If we were all the same, how boring would that be?  We would have no innovation, creativity or respect in the world.  Curiosity teaches us new things and provides experiences to cherish.

I loved getting to know my shipmates (my new friends), because they taught me about different places they have traveled, different experiences they have had and we could talk about new adventures we all want to experience.  My passion for travel has been rejuvenated and I have a much longer list of new places to visit.  I hope my husband is ready!

Appreciation equals empowerment

Women, and perhaps people in general, have been unfortunately known to work hard to tear others down to feel better about themselves.  I believe it is because of fear.  Fear of being judged.  Fear of being deemed a fraud. Fear of losing. Fear of failure.  There is a misperception that we need to be stronger, smarter, prettier or just plain better to win in this world.  However, this trip really taught me the power of building others up and being considerate of everyone.  There is room at the top for everyone to feel good about themselves, to win and have fun.

Imagine after a quick ‘shower’ in the salt water, your hair in a ponytail, limited makeup and the easiest outfit to throw on in your tiny cabin, you walk up to the deck, you are handed a glass of wine (white wine because they already knew your preference) and people complement your dress and how it made your eyes pop.  Now imagine you are in the kitchen grabbing drinks for the crew and someone else has put out food for the group.  Rather than fearing there would not be any left for you, a small plate has been set aside so you wouldn’t miss out.  The feeling is amazing.  Imagine having a fear of swimming and embarking on a 7-day sail and knowing that everyone has your back, including the captain ensuring there was always a life jacket nearby for you.  Imagine having a severe allergy to fish (NO PESCE!) and knowing that everyone on the boat has learned how to say, ‘she is allergic to fish and will die if she touches it’ in Italian, to ensure you are safe from any attacks.

I think we even amazed ourselves to be able to say there was NO DRAMA all week.  I know that it was because of the thoughtfulness, kindness, consideration and appreciation of others on that boat that made it possible.  As we focused on each other, I believe we all felt better about ourselves.  Hearing from others what they liked about us was empowering. We were all reminded of our strong qualities.  Don’t be surprised if you start to hear more praise from me in the future.  We all feel good when someone gives us a compliment and it doesn’t hurt the giver either!

Power of listening

It may sound silly, but I was reminded of the importance of listening this week. Every one of these fine ladies took the time to listen and engage in conversation.  They asked questions, they provided insight and shared their own experiences.  I have been looking for my point of view that defines me and this week helped me solidify it.  As you know, my passion is to inspire and enable others to realize their goals.  I have learned that the key element to this success has been my ability to listen.  Listening to myself, listening to how others perceive me, listening to others, and listening to the universe. It allows you to ‘hear’ what someone is actually saying or feeling even when they do not articulate the words.  Since I am a listener, I am drawn to others that do the same and this group met that mark!

A toast until next time

I will share a few pictures of this adventure so you can see the camaraderie and friendships that we created.  We jelled from the first toast on the boat. Together, we celebrated each accomplishment in the past, present and future such as facing a fear of water, hiking a volcano, traveling alone, getting engaged or married, overcoming cancer, evolving from a divorce or bad decision, or going after a dream.  As we wish our BFF a very happy birthday, we also cheer new friendships and a life altering trip.  Thank you, ladies!

To my AEO Vino Sisters –may we always remember to pause and appreciate the moment, nourish our curiosity, empower others and continue to listen with our heart, mind and soul.   – Kathy Eastwood

Humility; how not to sweat the small stuff – DSSS Part 6

Think about someone you admire most.  What are the characteristics they possess that draw you to them?  Let me guess, you believe them when they tell you something, you feel they are telling the truth, you know they have your best interest at heart, they listen to you and understand you, they are selfless, self-aware, and appreciate others.  Am I close?  Also, they do not brag or pretend to be more than they really are, right?  Put simply, they are humble.

What is humility?

Webster’s dictionary defines humility as not proud or haughty; not arrogant or assertive.  I like Richard Carlson’s definition in Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and It’s All Small Stuff, “Being humble means accepting your limitations and making an effort to make the world a better place without wanting to take all the credit.”  Let’s start with the first point, a humble person is self-aware.  They know what they are good at, as well as, their limitations. If a humble person is aware of their limitations, they appreciate other people and their strengths.

I believe the second point is key to why we like and admire humble people; they try to make the world a better place.  This can take so many forms; giving to those less fortunate, building innovative products to improve society or simply brightening someone’s day with a smile or words of thanks or encouragement. Bringing the best out of others can help make this world a better place.

Lastly, Richard stresses doing all this without wanting credit.  This may be one of the hardest things to do.  In truth, we do very little by ourselves.  There are always others contributing, directly and indirectly.  How do you feel when someone else remembers to share the credit with you?  This should motivate us to credit others when we can, because it feels good.

Think back to the person you named when you started reading this blog.  I bet they surround themselves with others and have a passion to make this a better place.  They believe, “the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts”.  Each individual’s contributions will have results, but when accomplished together, 1+1 = 3.  These are the people we are drawn to, the people we want to spend our time with and support.

What is the antithesis of humility? 

Sometimes it is easier to recognize the opposite of humble; the arrogant jerk in the office or the neighbor you can’t relate to.   I am sure you can all quickly name some of these people.  They are quick to cut you off, in traffic or conversation.  Everything revolves around them and what will serve them best.  These are the type of people that I prefer not to spend my time with.  I often ask myself, “What am I getting from this?”  All that I am doing is feeding their egos and feeling empty myself.

I am currently reading How to Win Friends and Influence People in the Digital Age, an adaption from the original.  A key take-away regarding humility was, “we all have an innate, unequivocal desire to know we are valued.”  I can tell you, I don’t feel valued when someone continues tooting their own horn and forgets to ask what motivates me or how I am feeling. How can someone make it a better place for all of us if they never ask the question, “what makes the world go-round?” or simply, “How are you and what makes you happy?”  I prefer to spend time with those that appreciate me.

 

What does this all have to do with not sweating the small stuff?

This topic started because of my summary of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and It’s All Small Stuff by Richard Carlson.  One chapter talked about practicing humility and its importance in helping take things in stride.  I called out this one chapter by itself because I strongly believe that humility is a key personality trait to being a good human being and ultimately a strong leader.  At the time, I did not see how it related to all the other key topics until I sat down and thought more about humility.

Here is what Richard Carlson had to say in his book, “Humility and inner peace go hand in hand.  The less compelled you are to try and prove yourself to others, the easier it is to feel peaceful inside.”  Interesting, I hadn’t thought about it in that context before.  I agree, it is easier and less stressful to focus and appreciate others, make it a better place.

He continues, “Proving yourself is a dangerous trap.  It takes an enormous amount of energy to be continually pointing out your accomplishments, bragging, or trying to convince others of your worth as a human being. Bragging actually dilutes the positive feelings you receive from an accomplishment or something you are proud of.  To make matters worse, the more you try to prove yourself, the more others will avoid you, talk behind your back about your insecure need to brag, and perhaps even resent you.”  Now I can see where the stress comes into play.  If you have an inner belief that you are doing the right thing, if you focus on sharing the outcomes, rather on what YOU did, you can enjoy the results and ultimately rewards.  I must go back to my father’s belief which he instilled in me, which I talked about in my blog, 5 steps in the journey of inspiring loyalty, “Don’t worry what others are doing, work hard and do what you believe is right, cream rises to the top.”  He has been teaching me humility for years.

Richard goes on to say, “Ironically, however, the less you care about seeking approval, the more approval you seem to get.  People are drawn to those with a quiet, inner confidence, people who don’t need to make themselves look good, be ‘right’ all the time, or steal the glory. Most people love a person who doesn’t need to brag, a person who shares from his or her heart and not from his or her ego.”  I am not sure I can say it any better. I now better understand how being humble can bring more peace into my life.

I have also realized that humility does go hand in hand with much of what we have already talked about in my blogs discussing Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff; Make Peace with Imperfection, Lighten Up, Live in the Present, and Fill your life with love.  If you practice these (as well as a few others to come soon), humility will come naturally.

Humble does not mean weak

There is a perception that if you are humble, then you are weak.  This could not be further from the truth. I believe it takes more strength, confidence and resolve to be humble and not shout your accomplishments from the mountain tops to gain validation.  You need to look inwards and appreciate what you have accomplished, be grateful for those that helped you accomplish it and highlight the results that everyone will enjoy.  This is true strength.

Mother Teresa was the epitome of humility.   She was dedicated to serving the ‘poorest of the poor’.  Stepping out on her own, she worked hard to make it happen; gained Indian citizenship, petitioned the church to allow her to leave her order and start a new one, obtained medical training, solicited donations, and opened up homes for the dying, providing all her love, devotion and compassion to those in need and those that others did not want to touch.  As a result, 30 years later the Missionaries of Charity had almost 4000 sisters working in 610 foundations, in 450 centers in 123 countries across the six continents. It takes strength and resolve to accomplish all this.  Although she was recognized far and wide for what she accomplished, she remained humble throughout.  When she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, she refused the traditional Nobel honor banquet and requested that the $192,000 budget be allocated to help the poor in India.  When Pope Paul VI came to meet her in 1965 she informed him that she was too busy with her work among the poor to meet with him.  She did appreciate the recognition but she knew that she was not doing this alone, she was supported by God and many others, 4000 sisters in fact.

No one would call Mother Teresa weak and many people aspire to have her courage, dedication and stamina to help others.  I am confident she had peace in her life because of her focus to make this a better place, despite the difficulties.

I think about this in the context of our everyday lives.  There is a fine line between accepting praise and bragging. I have often heard friends and colleagues shrug away from a compliment or dismiss their accomplishments because they don’t want to brag.  I believe this is where the perception of weakness is created.  We would all be better served to accept the praise with, “Thank you, I appreciate it.  It did take a lot of work (or it wasn’t easy).”  Assuming you did not act alone, it is also the perfect moment to give credit to others as well.  Be strong and own it, but, be humble as not to boast and forget the others that contributed.

Leadership

It’s interesting, all this research and discussions on the humility from the past week kept bringing me back to leadership.  Harvard Business Review, Catalyst, Forbes and Washington Post are just a few of the articles that talk about humility being the cornerstone for great leaders.  Next week I will explore more on this topic.

Practicing Humility

In the meantime, may this post inspire us to practice humility by accepting and being grateful for the life we have, admitting we are not the best at everything and striving to bring out the best in others to make this a better place to live in.

 “Humility is the mother of all virtues; purity, charity, and obedience. It is in being humble that our love becomes real, devoted and ardent.” – Mother Teresa

Practice Makes Perfect – DSST Part 5

Getting back to Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and It’s All Small Stuff by Richard Carlson, the next big rock is about becoming what you practice.  We know that practice is the best way to create good habits and perform better.

At the end of the day, there is no magic pill for learning how to live more stress free and find success. It takes hard work, focus, discipline and practice.  Each book, podcast, interview, etc are saying similar things.  For me, the value of reading the different versions or perspectives is the repetition in different formats, the various stories that may resonate when we are in different moods or the words that we understand better.  In a way, I believe this is the value of my blog, looking to find ways to use my stories to inspire and enable you to fulfill your goals.

A picture is worth a thousand words

I will never forget a picture we had in our basement that I would see each day I went to get ready.  It was literally a picture that simply had 1,000 words on it.  The reason that it touches a funny bone for me is the fact that I recall a professional debate I had with a boss years ago.  I was very good at putting my point of view together in a PowerPoint presentation or lengthy word document with lots of words.  He kept asking me to simply create a picture that told the story.  He was trying to coach me on the idea that one picture could get across the message I was trying to articulate.  However, I was not a visual person.  To me, I needed the words.  We seemed to be at a cross roads.

The greatest lesson that I took away from that was that people learn in different ways.  Things stick due to multiple factors, like circumstantial things; time of day, amount of sleep you got, frame of mind, etc. or how they absorb information; visually or verbally, or even how they take feedback; demonstrate what you are doing wrong or highlight the right way to do it.  Now I do try and put a picture together, with the words available as backup.

In my professional career, my team would often hear me share the following advice for sharing information.

  • You need to tell people something 7 times before it will start to stick
  • People absorb things differently in different format – video, writing, storytelling, being hit over the head with a baseball bat, pictures, you name it. No two people are the same.
  • Even if you are telling a story, you might need to tell it in the 1st person and then again in the 3rd person for it to make an ‘ah-ha’ moment for others.

As I continue to read, listen to podcasts, talk to people and ask their perspectives, I keep hearing the same underlying message just shared in different ways.  It is very reassuring, because it means that I don’t have a ton to learn, but rather there is a huge opportunity to hear it in different ways so that a different element might stick and help drive my personal transformation.

13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do

For example, I was listening to Christoph Lochhead’s podcast, Legends and Losers with guest Amy Morin this week.  Amy was the author of  13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.  She had written this list years ago during a particularly difficult period in her life and it had gone viral.  According to Amy, mentally strong people have healthy habits. They manage their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in ways that set them up for success in life. Check out these things that mentally strong people don’t do so that you too can become more mentally strong.

  • 1 – They Don’t Waste Time Feeling Sorry for Themselves

Mentally strong people don’t sit around feeling sorry about their circumstances or how others have treated them. Instead, they take responsibility for their role in life and understand that life isn’t always easy or fair.

  • 2 – They Don’t Give Away Their Power

They don’t allow others to control them, and they don’t give someone else power over them. They don’t say things like, “My boss makes me feel bad,” because they understand that they are in control over their own emotions and they have a choice in how they respond.

  • 3 – They Don’t Shy Away from Change

Mentally strong people don’t try to avoid change. Instead, they welcome positive change and are willing to be flexible. They understand that change is inevitable and believe in their abilities to adapt.

  • 4 – They Don’t Waste Energy on Things They Can’t Control

You won’t hear a mentally strong person complaining over lost luggage or traffic jams. Instead, they focus on what they can control in their lives. They recognize that sometimes, the only thing they can control is their attitude.

  • 5 – They Don’t Worry About Pleasing Everyone

Mentally strong people recognize that they don’t need to please everyone all the time. They’re not afraid to say no or speak up when necessary. They strive to be kind and fair, but can handle other people being upset if they didn’t make them happy.

  • 6 – They Don’t Fear Taking Calculated Risks

They don’t take reckless or foolish risks, but don’t mind taking calculated risks. Mentally strong people spend time weighing the risks and benefits before making a big decision, and they’re fully informed of the potential downsides before they take action.

  •  7 – They Don’t Dwell on the Past

Mentally strong people don’t waste time dwelling on the past and wishing things could be different. They acknowledge their past and can say what they’ve learned from it. However, they don’t constantly relive bad experiences or fantasize about the glory days. Instead, they live for the present and plan for the future.

  • 8 – They Don’t Make the Same Mistakes Over and Over

They accept responsibility for their behavior and learn from their past mistakes. As a result, they don’t keep repeating those mistakes over and over. Instead, they move on and make better decisions in the future.

  • 9 – They Don’t Resent Other People’s Success

Mentally strong people can appreciate and celebrate other people’s success in life. They don’t grow jealous or feel cheated when others surpass them. Instead, they recognize that success comes with hard work, and they are willing to work hard for their own chance at success.

  • 10 – They Don’t Give Up After the First Failure

They don’t view failure as a reason to give up. Instead, they use failure as an opportunity to grow and improve. They are willing to keep trying until they get it right.

  • 11 – They Don’t Fear Alone Time

Mentally strong people can tolerate being alone and they don’t fear silence. They aren’t afraid to be alone with their thoughts and they can use downtime to be productive. They enjoy their own company and aren’t dependent on others for companionship and entertainment all the time but instead can be happy alone.

  • 12 – They Don’t Feel the World Owes Them Anything

They don’t feel entitled to things in life. They weren’t born with a mentality that others would take care of them or that the world must give them something. Instead, they look for opportunities based on their own merits.

  • 13 – They Don’t Expect Immediate Results

Whether they are working on improving their health or getting a new business off the ground, mentally strong people don’t expect immediate results. Instead, they apply their skills and time to the best of their ability and understand that real change takes time

Holy cow, Batman. Guess what, nothing here on her list is too different from what I have been writing about for the past 3 months.  There really are only a core set of basic life lessons that can help us all be happier and accomplish more.  The key to all this is finding the way to practice and create the good habits.

Practice makes perfect

I once received advice from someone about habits and the necessity of working to change them.  Think about a tree and its roots.  A root takes time to be nurtured, to grow and become a key support system for the tree.  Now consider that some of these roots are good habits and some are bad.  If you have had a bad habit for a long time, i.e. dwelling in the past, obsessing about the future or having a bad self-image, that root is going to be large and massive.  You can’t just ignore it because it is part of the trees support system.  If you just chop out a bad root and don’t have a strong good root to take over, the tree can fall. You need to ensure you have developed some strong good habit roots to support you as you cut off the bad ones.  And once the good habits become the core support system, they will overcome the bad ones and be what you rely on going forward.

How do you create those strong, good roots then?  Practice. This is a no brainer when we are talking about sports, music, cooking, etc.  No one expects someone to walk onto the soccer field and suddenly score 5 goals, while defending the goal at the same time.  A winning athlete will typically practice hours each day to excel at their sport.  We all know that there are some naturally gifted people, but that number is minimal.  Ask any athlete, musician and successful business woman what their secret to success is and they will say hard work and practice.  Even in the business world, we start with a strong educational background and degrees.  We engage in different enablement sessions throughout our career. We may even spend money to go back to school to get an MBA or certificate or hire a professional coach to help us improve.

Why then, do we not do this for ourselves?  Why don’t we dedicate enough time for ourselves to practice these new skills?  Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and It’s All Small Stuff, Richard Carlson talks about, “Becoming what you practice”.  There were many items that I had grouped under this category.

Establishing your own routine

Each morning I begin my day with a series of activities to help me prepare for the day and help me develop the skills to better live in the present and not sweat the small stuff.  Richard talks about quieting the mind, getting up early, scheduling time for inner work, relax, set aside quiet time everyday, develop your own helping rituals.  Richard is not alone here. Amy talks about it in #11 and #13 above; Don’t Fear Alone Time and Don’t Expect Immediate Results.  Other people I have listened to talk about a Power Up and Power Down hour each day.  Whatever the routine, the bottom line is that people are investing in themselves to be mentally strong, happier and accomplished. This takes me back to one of my first blogs where I talked about, Is it ever ok to be Selfish.  This is the epitome of being selfish.  Once you are strong you will be in a better place to help others.

My motivation to get there was Hal Elrod’s The Miracle Morning approach.  He talks about Life S*A*V*E*R*S.  My husband and I have been getting up an hour earlier every day, Monday through Friday, to practice our Miracle morning.  We committed to doing it for 30 days.  Three months later we, it is now a key element of our lifestyle.  We even managed to train the dog we were watching to respect our 25 minutes of silence.  She would get very excited when my eyes opened after meditation and my earphones came off because then she knew it was time for exercise and she could join in.  Rather than changing our ways of doing things, we knew it was important to hold that sacred and have others (meaning the dog) work around us. (See Reprogramming your belief system for additional items I got from this book).

The hardest part of getting to this point is making the commitment and then creating the strong root that overtakes the bad habits, i.e. sleeping in, wallowing in self-pity, thinking other things are more important. Honestly though, the rewards are there.  Even our money tree is flourishing!

May this motivate you to define a personal routine to ensure you can focus and enable yourself to be happier and more successful.

There is no glory in practice, but without practice there is no glory… – Unknown

Vacation mode, appreciating the small things

On Vacation

Although I am on a ‘garden leave’ from work it doesn’t mean that I can’t take a vacation as well.  It’s a vacation from job hunting, networking, self-development, exercise and focus on the to-do list.  All these items tend to be a full-time job these days.  Sleeping in until 10 am this morning was truly a treat as we typically get up at 6 am to start our morning routine.  I may even take a nap today, ssssh, please don’t tell anyone.

I am writing this blog while sitting in the sun, listening to nature and overlooking a beautiful lake in East Tennessee.  Two years ago, we started planning this trip while on our honeymoon with our dear friends, Team Honeymoon.  We were enjoying the Finger Lakes at the time and looking at the stars when someone called out that the Solar Eclipse would be happening in two years.  We quickly looked at the path and agreed, we should all meet in Nashville to check it out.  This is what I love about my friends.  With that initial seedling of an idea, we all worked together and made it happen.  Just in case the eclipse was a bust, at least we would be in a great town that we have all wanted to visit.  We then decided to tack on a few extra days to check out the Smokey Mountains.

Appreciating what I could see

We traveled all the way to Nashville to see the eclipse. We always knew there was a risk we would not see it due to the weather.  However, if we lived in fear, we would not have seen anything, so we proceeded.  Everything was going perfectly. We got to a great viewing point at a Science Center, had the proper glasses, a few cocktails and each other.  The eclipse started and it was amazing, unbelievable, phenomenal really.  I got goosebumps.  It then started to get dark, the temperature dropped. It was getting close to the total eclipse, just 20 more seconds… Queue the big, ugly black cloud.  Yup, that’s right, right before the diamond and the total eclipse, the cloud blocked everything.  We could have let that ruin it.  However, we did get to experience the bugs and the birds going nuts, the darkness and the awesomeness of the entire event.  I appreciate every minute of it and am so glad we did not miss it.  Isn’t this part of the effort to not sweat the small stuff?

Don’t sweat the small stuff

For the past six weeks, we have been talking about not sweating the small stuff.  While I had some downtime, I thought it would be the right time to recall some of the nuggets I’ve been talking about. This trip has been a true reminder of these items and a chance to test whether I am living them, owning them, and incorporating them into my life.

  • Make Peace with Imperfection
  • Lighten Up – let go of a plan
  • Live in the present (NOW)
  • Fill your life with love; find the extraordinary in ordinary and recall your favorite things

It’s interesting, as I sit here and think about my friends and this trip, I naturally live these things when I am with my friends. They taught me these basics years ago and I only tend to truly embrace them when we are together.  Even with the eclipse, I appreciate what we did get to experience, not what we missed and can look forward to the next opportunity in 2018 (Latin America) and again in 2024 (USA).

Common Denominator

My life changed tremendously when I moved to England and met my colleague and her husband.  She had been helping me find a place to live before I had even arrived.  She invited me to come stay at her place in the country that first weekend to ensure I was not alone.  This was out of my comfort zone; staying in someone’s home that I did not know.  Because I was living in a new country, I knew I had to take the leap of faith and just go with it.  That first night, after some niceties, we walked through the field and I had my first pint in the pub.  Six hours later, she and I were still up talking about anything and everything.  When we woke in the morning, we couldn’t remember exactly what we had discussed but we knew that we had created a lifelong friendship.

Five years later, another American acquaintance had a similar experience. I was visiting England and invited her to meet my England friends.  Many hours and drinks later, as well as conversations, she was brought into the fold and the friendship grew.  This pattern repeated through the years.  Someone would introduce someone into the mix and invite them on a trip with us.  It wouldn’t be unusual for one of us to open our house to a stranger because they were a friend of a friend.  There was always a common denominator.  Everyone is nice and kind and funny (duh, that’s a no brainer), but they would also have an adventurous spirit, a sense of FOMO (fear of missing out), a silliness they were not embarrassed to admit and most importantly an appreciation for the small things (and drink…can’t omit that one).

Appreciating the small things

When my England friends first came to America to welcome me home from my year’s travel abroad, they had a laundry list of things they wanted to do.  There were the obvious things, i.e. Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, etc that they wanted to see.  However, more importantly there were the small things, like, steam from a pothole cover, being dripped on by an air conditioner in NYC, catching a firefly in a jar, seeing a cow.  These simple things could make us smile and laugh uncontrollably.  We worked hard to ‘tick’ the boxes and appreciate all the little things we have seen and done.  As a result, over the past 16 years, we Yanks and Brits have spent hours/days trying to out-do each other on the various vacations we have taken together to find the small things to appreciate about a city, county, state, etc.

When I stop and think, they have taught me so much about living in the present, appreciating the simple things, going with the flow, and lightening up.  We can be happy spending the day overlooking the lake or jumping in a car and being silly in Dollywood the next day.  We have our list of things we would like to do, but then prioritize and ensure we spend quality time together and appreciate the simple things.  Isn’t this what we have been talking about?  I can assure you, I am not sweating the small stuff this week.

Because I am on vacation, I am going to keep it short and share one last thought so that I can go and meditate and spend some quality time with my dear friends and husband, whom I wish a very happy 2nd anniversary to whom.

The greatest gift of life is friendship, and I have received it. – Hubert H. Humphrey

Don’t sweat the small stuff – Part 4 – Fill your life with love

Extraordinary in Ordinary

Now that I am learning to live more in the present, as I discussed in last week’s blog, I thought the next logical guiding principle from Richard Carlson in Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and It’s All Small Stuff should be how to fill your life (your NOW) with love.  One of the first things Richard shared was that you should look for the extraordinary in ordinary.

This phrase immediately brought me back to my senior year in high school when I was in the pit band and we performed the musical, Pippin. The musical uses the premise of a mysterious performance troupe to tell the story of Pippin, a young prince on his search for meaning and significance.  We had practiced every day for months. The music and story were part of my soul.  I did not realize how much though, until I went to see the Broadway Revival in 2013.  I went by myself and as soon as the first cord was played the tears started streaming down my face and they didn’t stop until I had long left the theatre.

I had chalked this up to a resurgence of memories from high school; friends, accomplishments, loses, etc.  However, there was something tugging at me that made me believe there was more.  Fast forward 4 years.  I am finishing up the book, Shoe Dog which is an autobiography by Phil Knight, founder of Nike and he has a quote where he talks about the simple things in life having brought him the most joy. The tears start flowing again, as I pull up the soundtrack to Pippin. Four months later I am reading Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and Richard’s recommendation to manage the small stuff is to find the ‘extraordinary in the ordinary.”  On go the tears again.  You can’t tell me that this is all simply bringing me back to old friendships in high school.  The trigger was the word “extraordinary” which would bring me back to Pippin.

When I sat down to write this blog, and the focus was about filling your life with love, I had to listen to the soundtrack, read the lyrics and figure out once and for all what the connection was that was tugging at my heart strings.  I realized that I had this internal battle back in high school between being free to do what I wanted and living a simple life (note, the risk-free life).  I wanted to be extraordinary, thus why I related to Pippin.  During the musical, we join Pippin on his journey and desire to be extraordinary. We feel for him when he finds himself in an ordinary life, but rejoice with him when he finds love, happiness and fulfillment in the simple things. He found extraordinary in the ordinary.

Need to be Free

When I listen to the words from the songs in the musical, it pumps me up and encourages me to live free, like a bird, now! For instance, here are some of the songs and snippets of lyrics that touched me.

Corner in the Sky, “Rivers belong where they can ramble. Eagles belong where they can fly. I’ve got to be where my spirit can run free. Got to find my corner of the sky.”
Extraordinory “Well, here I am to seize my day. If someone would just tell me when the hell it is. Oh, give me my chance, and give me my wings.”
No time at all, “Oh, it’s time to start livin’. Time to take a little from this world we’re given. Time to take time, cause spring will turn to fall. In just no time at all….Oh, it’s time to keep livin’. Time to keep takin’ from this world we’re given”
Simple joys, “And wouldn’t you rather be a left-handed flea. A crab on a slab at the bottom of the sea, than a man who never learns how to be free.

 

My take away from these songs is that you had to be free, you had to enjoy life,  and live it to the fullest.  As a senior in high school, that was the cornerstone of who I was and how I would live my life.  However, there was a duality to it all for me.  Could you be extraordinary, be free to do what you wanted to do, while doing what was expected and fulfilling your responsibilities? Would I get bogged down and trapped when I knew there was more in me?  I believe every time I hear the soundtrack it brings me back to these questions.

Finding happiness in the simple things

The next stanza in the song, Simple Joys, pushes me further, “Sweet summer evenings, sapphire skies. Feasting your belly. Feasting your eyes. Simple joys have a simple voice: It says time’s a living prize.”  Pippin then finds love and recognizes that love is core to his being and happiness.  In Love song, he sings “They say the whole is greater, than the sum of the parts it’s made of. Well if it’s true of anything. It’s true of love.

In the song Finale, Pippin finally reconciles the difference between dreaming and enjoying the simple things.  He sings, “I’m not a river or a giant bird that soars to the sea. And if I’m never tied to anything. I’ll never be free…They showed me crimson, gold and lavender, a shining parade. But there’s no color I can have on earth that won’t finally fade. When I wanted worlds to paint and costumes to wear, I think it was here, ‘Cause it never was there…”

Wait a minute!  “I think it was here… it was never there” That quote symbolizes what I have been yearning and want to achieve; appreciating and loving the simple things.  You can be free and live, while appreciating what is already here. You can find the extraordinary in the ordinary.

I believe this is the true follow-on to the last blog, “Learn to live in the present moment”. It is critical to fill your life with love. That is why this musical has been so important to who I am and why it continues to touch my soul every time I think about it.

Before I go off on another tangent, I am going to stop where I am for this week.  Richard Carlson has many great additional recommendations related to Filling your Life with Love. I will share my thoughts and stories in the next edition.

For today I want to leave with the inspiration that we are all extraordinary and each ordinary moment is extraordinary.  We should love what we have, and remember that it is right here, NOW.

“While it may seem small, the ripple effects of small things is extraordinary.” Matt Bevin

Don’t sweat the small stuff – Part 3 – Living in the Present Moment

Learning to Live in the Present Moment

“Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry – all forms of fear – are caused by too much future, and not enough presence.  Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of non-forgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence.”  – Eckhart Tolle

Past, present and future.  Any of the self-help books I’ve read, the autobiographies of happy people, most entrepreneur success stories, nearly all the religious beliefs and much research, tells us that we should focus on the present, the NOW.  However, most of us tend to spend a disproportionate amount of time on the past or future, leaving very little time in the present, myself included.

As I have been working through the series on Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and It’s All Small Stuff, author Richard Carlson had quite a few tools/insights related to this guiding principle of Living in the Present.

Take a moment and think about these three items as they relate to your life.  What percentage of time/effort/thinking do you spend on each; dwelling in the past, living in the present and stressing about the future? The experts suggest that we should aim to spend most of our time in the present.

Personally, I don’t dwell much in the past. I am an optimist and pride myself on looking forward.  I think about the future often rooted in my constant need for a plan, my fear of missing out (FOMO) and my obsession with lists to get things done.  I believe that my focus on the future leaves me little time in the NOW. What if I spent more time in the NOW, would I appreciate what I have and sweat the small stuff less? I am confident it would.

Value of the Past

As I mentioned previously, I don’t spend a lot of time dwelling on the past.  Ideally, I enjoy remembering the past to invoke happy thoughts and reliving memories. For me, it is a database of information to call upon to improve the future and ensure I don’t repeat the past.  I pride myself on not regretting what happened in the past.  The past is past, I cannot change it.  I will often console myself with the belief, “Everything happens for a reason.” I may not know that reason, but I trust that I will either figure it out in the future or it may be a benefit for someone else.  I have had this capacity most of my life. My divorce best demonstrates how I manage to move on and not dwell in the past.

I had every reason to be angry at my ex, hold a grudge and never forgive him.  When I look back now, I appreciate what I gained, rather than the hurt.  I moved into NYC (a great desire of mine), I moved to England, took a year off to travel and met numerous lifelong friends. Oh, and I would be remiss if I don’t recall meeting the most amazing husband years later.  I can’t say for certain none of this would have happened otherwise, but most likely not.  I guess this relates to my ability to put myself in someone else’s shoes, which I discussed in my blog on No One Ever wakes up with Bad Intent. I believe my ex did not wake up with the intent to personally hurt me, he needed a solution to his challenges.  Do I wish that he had gone about it a different way?  Yes, most definitely.  Did I hurt?  Yes, most definitely. However, what value would I get from holding onto my bitterness.

As I look back now, I realize that I had adopted a form of meditation and mindfulness that helped me get through the ordeal.  I recall going to church every day and praying.  It was my way to surrender to something greater than myself.  My prayer that I would recite continuously was, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”  I also adopted a chant that many might recall me saying, that I still use to this day, “In with the good, and out with the bad.”  I coupled this with breathing.

This was nearly 20 years ago.  I was not into meditation, I was not overtly religious, but these were tools that I used to cope with the disappointment, the shame, the hurt that I was going through.  One day, I was then able to pull up my bootstraps and move on.  As I discussed in my blog, Fear vs. Freedom, overcoming this in my life, allowed me to focus on the future; knowing that with time, prayer and faith it would all work out.

I also chose not to regret what has happened even though it might have eliminated some pain, I would not have been blessed with the goodness that did exist in the marriage. I wouldn’t have gotten to know my in-laws, owned a house in Farmingdale, etc. just to name a few.  I say the same thing when asked if I regret not leaving my last company earlier.  I look at what I would have missed out on in the process.  I met an amazing group of people in my different roles, learned new responsibilities, and most importantly, even in the worst situations, learned how I did not want to lead, which has now defined my mission in life.  If you look hard enough, you can find good in every situation.  I am a true believer that every glass is half full.  To be fair, I would argue, that I am such the optimist that even if there is just a bit of water in that glass, it is better than none and if there is none, then it is an opportunity to get more.

Future

Let’s jump to the future next.   “Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry – all forms of fear” as Tolle points out in his book is where I can get caught up.  I believe this can go in a couple of different directions.  As I discussed in Fear Vs. Freedom blog, I don’t allow fear to keep me from doing something.  I have worked hard not to let my fear of failure, loss, hurt, humiliation, etc. limit me.  However, as discussed in my last blog, Lighten Up, my Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) and need to have a plan, can focus me too much in the future and not enough in the present.

Fortunately, I have a strong belief that with planning, visualization, positive thinking and hard work you can make most things happen.  I am good at getting things done. My process is to visualize the future (or goal) and figure out what I (or anyone for that matter) want.  I then work backwards to figure out what you need to do today, tomorrow and next week to make it happen.  There is the optimist again.

I have been grappling with the concept of getting things done.  Obviously, it is not focused in the past, but where does that fit in?  The future? The present?  The reason this question is pressing for me is because this is where I spend most of my time.  I have my checklists and I am ultra-focused on all the things that are needed to accomplish the future state. I wish I could say that this is part of the present, but I don’t think it is.  I think I spend very little time in the present.  This time off has taught me to stop and smell the roses, spend more time with my parents, and appreciate the time to cook dinner for my husband, but has it really taught me to live in the present?

Living in the NOW

How do you relax?  How much time do you spend by yourself?  In the past, when I needed to relax, I would play a game on my computer, aimlessly channel surf and get lost for a few hours in my new logic puzzles.  I thought this was healthy and something that was helping me.  Truthfully though, I was avoiding quiet time. I have learned I didn’t like spending time with myself and just being.

I had the pleasure of spending a week in Rochester with my husband and his family.  We had a week of minimal activities.  Our “plan” was to relax, enjoy the company and appreciate our surroundings.  I was loving life.  I had finished a book, completed numerous puzzles and even worked on my networking plan. Even in the relaxed state, I was getting things done.  I then had a thought.  I was going to just sit on the back patio, by myself and watch the grass grow for a bit.

Can we talk about being uncomfortable?  Sitting there, my chest was getting tight and I was out of my element.  I was doing nothing.  Can I do nothing?  Apparently, not very well.  But I persevered and kept watching the grass, enjoying the birds singing, noticing the greenness of the grass, the beauty of the trees, and the faint sound of the lawnmower.  I was letting myself think, enjoy, feel.  I am not sure how much time passed, but at the end, I was feeling so much more relaxed. It was a completely different feeling from spending an hour playing a game.

It dawned on me why I had always used the ‘games’ to quiet my mind.  I was scared of being alone with my own thoughts. This was a skill that I had lost.  I had mastered it while going through my divorce by going to church and focusing on building the strength to move into the future.  However, I had stopped living in the present.  It was time to start practicing.

A Plan to Smell the Roses

This concept that I would commit and plan time to practice being in the present seemed counter-intuitive to my therapist.  As he said, the whole point is to just live in the moment and when it hits you, smell the roses.  I couldn’t argue with him. However, I had a problem. I did not know how to be in the present, in the NOW.

Let me share with you, how bad I am at this.  When I am getting a massage, I am focused on the outcome.  Will they hit the right muscle with the right pressure to release all the toxins built up?  Will I be able to relax?   I am completely focused on the outcome, rather than enjoying each touch and each breath, as well as just being.

It then hit me that this may be the reason I cannot recall most of the holes that I have played on a golf course. I love playing golf. Although we don’t get out that often, we will often play the same courses.  Ralph can remind me about each hole, where the tree is situated, the beauty of the next hole, and even how I played it last time. I just look at him in awe.  I have no recollection.  You know why?  I am so focused on the talk track in my head, “How fast we are playing? What club I am going to use? Where are our partners? Can I get a beer? Do I need to pee.”  Holy cow, I am forgetting to enjoy the course and take in all the nuances.  I am focused on the outcome again and not the fun in getting there.  No wonder I sweat the small stuff.

My sister-in-law then recommended reading the book, 10% Happier by Dan Harris. Only half way through, it has opened my eyes to the fact that I am not the only one challenged with this. Living in the present takes practice.  Therefore, I committed to myself that I need to plan to spend more quiet time with my thoughts.  Once it becomes a habit, then I won’t need a plan and I can spend more time appreciating the holes on the golf course and smelling the roses, unplanned.

Breathe

As with most things I have focused on so far, I strongly believe that much of this is about reprogramming your beliefs.  I want to live in the present. I want to enjoy more of what is here, rather than constantly focused on the outcome.  Everyone has their own crosses to bear, their own demons to slay. Hopefully this blog will inspire you to figure out where you spend most of your time today (past, present or future) and how you can reallocate more time tomorrow to NOW.  You can’t enjoy the past because it is already gone and tomorrow is not here yet. NOW is where we can be happy, because NOW is here.

“Breathe. Let go.  And remind yourself that this very moment is the only one you know you have for sure.” – Oprah Winfrey

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