5 Benefits from Going Vegan

I started dating my boyfriend Roy almost three years ago. On his dating profile, he said he had been a vegan for about 9 months and found it boring. Being that I am quite the foodie, I assumed I could convert him from the “dark side” of boring bland veganism back to being an omnivore. Well here I am, three years later, and I am practically a vegan although I have succumbed to cheese pizza and my beloved cambozola cheese. There is also the about once-every-two-months bite or two of seafood, but that has occurred less frequently over time.

Roy slowly indoctrinated me into going plant-based by first sharing a few documentaries, Forks Over Knives and What The Health. These are films not about animal cruelty, but focused on the health affects of eating meat and dairy. I come from a long background of seeking out and preparing culinary delights, regardless of if said culinary delight had a mother or not. Alligator, escargot, caribou, foie gras, yellow tail…I have tried it all and enjoyed it immensely. Vegetables and fruit were in my diet, but I was lucky to be having one or two servings a day. After the documentaries, Roy turned me on to NutritionFacts.org by Dr. Michael Greger. He sent me YouTube video after YouTube video on meat, chicken and pork. I asked him to not send me anything on dairy, as I was not ready to give up my beloved cheese. I finally acquiesced and he started sending me the YouTube videos on the evils of cheese. I am at this point of being 95% vegan, with only small amounts of dairy products in my diet (perhaps some cheese in a salad or a cheese pizza about once a week).

Here are the 5 benefits from going vegan:

Cheap

I have saved a ton of money going vegan. I thought it would be more difficult to find ingredients, but every grocery store has apples, blueberries, grapes, mixed greens and a whole plethora of dried and canned beans. I have had a more difficult time finding vegan cheese at my local, rural Walmart, but as long as I stock up when I am at a specialty grocery or natural foods store, the rest of those items are incredibly cheap. I think I used to spend $10 per meal on flank steak, chicken tenders and lamb chops. Focusing on having meat for one, two or three meals (bacon and eggs for breakfast) is a lot pricier than two cans of beans, a bag of greens and several types of fruit. Outside of specialty items like vegan cheese or substitutes like beyond or impossible meat items, the rest of the items are very inexpensive.

Cholesterol

Two years ago, after I had lost 50 pounds from eliminating alcohol.  I had high cholesterol when I visited my doctor. I was on a low carb diet at the time. I had assumed with a dramatic weight loss that all of my “numbers” would have been terrific. Not so. My doctor threatened me with statin drugs if it didn’t improve in the next year. I assumed it would work itself out and that the cholesterol was just a fluke or age-related. I became a vegetarian about two months later and mostly vegan about five months later. When I returned to the doctor for my annual exam, all of my cholesterol numbers were in range. I have to say, I was shocked and assumed that when I returned to the doctor, I was going to walk out with a new prescription for statins.

Prescriptions

I have been on asthma and allergy medications for the last twenty years. I am allergic to dogs (yes, I own my beloved Brittany Spaniel, Baci), cats, dust mites, trees and grasses. I read Dr. Greger’s book, How Not to Die, about a year ago. He addresses how being plant-based can eliminate many drugs from one’s diet. Well, I decided to drop one medication for about four weeks, and then another, and then another. So that now, I don’t take any medication related to my allergy-induced asthma. I went from 5 drugs daily down to zero. I have no scientific reason for it except that meat and dairy cause a lot of inflammation (which is why it is tied to so many cancers). So here I am prescription-free, which is a huge cost saving and hassle-free.

Interesting

I love a challenge. I want to figure out how I can take an old tried and true recipe and make it vegan. It might mean finding a vegan cheese or meat substitute, or searching the internet for how to make cashew blue cheese. It’s all out there. I will say, the last gauntlet for me is trying to figure out how to use my sous vide for vegan recipes and I’m going to try it this week. I have some terrific cookbooks like Thug Kitchen and But I Could Never Go Vegan, which really helped in the first months I took this challenge on. There was a point where I just didn’t care about trying to replicate something I would have had as an omnivore. The impossible and beyond products are great but replicating meat isn’t my desire anymore. I prefer beans, tempeh and whole grains. It’s taught me to flex my culinary muscles and I can make a chili now that you would be hard pressed to even realize it’s vegan.

Easy

When I asked Roy about being a vegan, he said it was easier than he thought it would be. I think that initially I figured I’d be out there buying tofurkeys and chorizo substitutes. I did a little of that and bought crazy ingredients like EnerG Egg Replacer, Whole Wheat Pastry Flour, White Miso and Nutritional Yeast Flakes on the Internet. It’s now mostly buying seasonal items, like butternut squash, figs and Cosmic Crisp apples (they are awesome). Going to a restaurant has gotten easier as well. There are more vegetarian menu options (they will frequently have cheese…usually too much cheese) or even at chains like Cracker Barrel or BBQ restaurants, you can order three or four vegetables as an entrée. Almost everyone has a salad on the menu – you just need to make sure there isn’t any bacon or feta cheese in it. I do carry a vegan protein bar in my purse, but it’s rare that I have to resort to that. Peanut butter on an apple or banana is a perfectly healthy vegan meal…it’s just not that hard.

I never thought I would be a vegan at this point, but as I have been culling out my kitchen over the last few months, I decided I needed to donate my electric knife, whose sole purpose over the last twenty years was to slice up turkey on Thanksgiving. I can’t see going back to being an omnivore at this point. There is no upside and I’ve lost my desire for bacon and foie gras. If you had asked this foodie ten years ago if I would be a vegan today? I’d have said you were crazy. Seeing all the positive impacts it’s had on my life, I can’t imagine going back. What stops you from being a vegan?

Quantum Flirts (the Universe is Winking)

This is a repost from over 6 years ago: ORSC is still a terrific course and the Universe is still winking.

I have been training for the last year with CRR Global and a few weeks ago I went to the fourth installment of my Organization & Relationship Systems Coaching (ORSC) training. This stuff is magical. The topic on the last day was Quantum Flirts which is as described by CRR Global, “a short-lived, transient, perceptual signal which can be used to provide us with insight.” It is based on the work of Arnold Mindell and Quantum Mechanics. So the way I see it, it’s like the Universe is sending you a sign. As Arnold writes, “In everyday terms, Arny explained this idea of ‘many worlds’ by saying that when we begin to focus on something, we see its most probable state, the one that fits into our culture and consensus reality. Yet, in each and every experience there is a multitude of other experiences lying in wait, though in Arny’s interpretation, we choose one and marginalize the others. To say it very simply, the moment we call something ‘a’ or ‘b’ we have marginalized all of its other possible states (c, d, e, etc).” The Universe is flirting with you and you need to pay attention to catch it so that you can see the possibility of a different outcome. It may be a flicker of a bulb, the song of a bird or a flash of sunlight on a wave, but it’s the Universe winking at you laying out hints.

I was fortunate to be the volunteer coached by Grace Flannery in Quantum Flirts. She asked that I bring up a current issue or hot spot that had stressed me out with someone close to me. I talked about my son and his desire to find a place to live this summer instead of coming home and there are a multitude of options and growing for staying in Miami. I further explained how his mode of communication is texting which can leave one wanting (me) for more and frustrated. She then asked me to look around the room or outside and see if there was anything that caught my attention for just a second. I noticed how a classmate was flipping his reading glasses and the glint of light from it. This was my “flirt”. Grace ask me to animate the flirt and I flickered my fingers in an arc in front of me. Grace expounded on my gesture with a “Fa la la la la”. I copied her. She said, “So when your son texts, you can just say ‘fa la la la la.'” We did it in unison. The observing class then copied me. We were all there “fa la la-ing” and copying my gesture. I could not stop laughing. We all cracked up. The Universe flirted with me and it was hysterical. My aggravation with my son was a construct of reality but by paying attention to the spark or “flirt” I could imagine that there could be a different outcome. I could let go and see it in a different light. It’s not a hot spot, there is potential in my relationship with my son to any outcome that I chose. His constant texting and options are his way to engage. So be it.

So how do you tune into the signals and flirts around you? Here are some ideas.

1. Presence. If you aren’t living in the moment, it’s going to be pretty hard to pick up on any signals. If you have ever meditated (and if you are a faithful reader of my blog you should be by now 🙂 ) do you start to notice every sound or smell or the crazy shapes on the inside of your eyelids when shut? You are officially “present”. I always notice the sound of the clock in my office, the birds outside or the ventilation system. Get present; become present.

2. Notice. Take notice of what is going on around you. I started noticing every animal that crossed my path and not just my dog. Turtle out in the lake bobbing with its head at the surface. A glint of light off a wet leaf, the clock is at 11:11, the receipt fell on the floor to only show the word “thanks”. Start to take note of what is going on out there or in there. My dog is sleeping, my dog is sighing, my dog is running around at lightning speed because geese are in her space, my dog is out of the water. I try and remember something about the dream I just woke up from. Take notice.

3. Offer. So what does this sign have to offer? Why is the universe or a higher power or quantum physics sending a signal to you? I know that each time I see a turtle I feel like I need to slow down and be patient. When I see a robin I think of rebirth and Spring. Canadian geese are a nuisance and I’m wondering if I am pestering someone. Perhaps my children? My neighbor? My boss? My dog is out of the water. Maybe I need water and nourishment as well. The receipt that fell with “thanks” showing is offering me gratitude. What is the offer?

4. It’s right. Don’t get caught up in perfection about what the sign or the flirt means. It means what it means to you. I know sometimes I “cheat” and Google “tornado as a symbol in a dream”. Apparently, this could be a sign of stress. Makes sense. That resonates for me. If it doesn’t, maybe the tornado is a sign of escaping danger. Animals like Robins, Herons and Turtles almost always have a Shamanic reference. Those are easy to Google as well. I dreamt about a broken bottle the other day and the reference for that symbol was “potential”. What it felt like for me was avoiding the broken glass. There was a person I was walking on egg shells for and I feel like the broken glass was the symbol I could relate to.

I’m less about everything happens for a reason and more about taking in information. I do like to think that things show up at the right time and that the turtle that just stuck his head up through the surface of the lake is telling me to slow down. What signs do you see?

Reconnecting in Paris. No Regrets.

This is a repost from 5 years ago. Great trip, the best of friends and countless memories.

“Those Girls and The Blonde” sounds like a great name for an 80s girl band. It wasn’t. It’s the name of my two roommates and I from 1981 when our landlord (otherwise known as Dragon Lady) coined the phrase after “The Blonde” (Susannah) ripped up the carpeting in our basement, slummish apartment in Collegetown. Susannah is one of the few born and bred Manhattanites I know. She takes charge. She’s decisive. The carpet was horrible and “there’s hard wood floors under there.” So the other “Girl” Janine and I went along for the ride, ripping up the carpet.

We have remained friends for over 35 years. We all had our first born children in 1993. We’ve seen each other marry, sometimes divorce and move to various cities (Washington D.C., San Francisco, Boston, Croton-on-Hudson and Scottsdale). We’ve never lived in the same city at the same time since Ithaca. We’ve had a few reunions but since about 1983, TG&TB have not reunited at the same time sans kids and spouses. So when I had an opportunity to go to Paris, I contacted them both and suggested we reunite in the City of Light. Janine and I were both Paris Virgins and Susannah was fully versed in all things French. We had a plan and TG&TB always execute a plan. We spent 6 days reconnecting in a lovely apartment near the Eiffel Tower.

These are my lessons from reconnecting some 33 years later:

  1. Let someone lead. Several weeks before departing for Paris, I found some activities that we might want to try out. There were huge email trains between the three of us about costs, times, travel between arrondissements, etc. It wasn’t working. It would take several days to get confirmation. So I finally suggested that Susannah take over the planning going forward. Janine and I signed off on whatever Susannah wanted to cook up. We had faith that she knew what we would like and what would work. As they say, too many cooks spoil the broth. Pick a leader, have faith and stick with it.
  1. Be willing to get lost. Ever since my daughter turned me on to Google Maps for walking directions in Manhattan, I’ve been pretty obsessed with not being lost. I realize now I am a “Direction Control Freak.” I also hate to appear the tourist with the pocket map. I had to let my judgment go. For God’s sake Cathy, you are a tourist. Who cares if someone else knows it? They will the minute you try and say “Bon jour.” So what if we walked the wrong direction for half a mile in the Marais. It’s Paris. Every street is interesting and unique. I believe it was Janine who said, “It’s all as intended. We are where we need to be. No regrets.” When we were lost, we stumbled on an out of the way café full of locals and sans tourists. It was wonderful. Get lost.
  1. Quality versus quantity. When you go into one of the largest museums in the world, focus on quality over quantity. We took a guided tour through the Louvre with an American expat who had phenomenal art and history knowledge. We stood looking at a sculpture of Hercules for almost 20 minutes. We discovered how his face change from docile to contemplative depending on the angle. It was fascinating. I’ve never spent that kind of time on one piece of art…ever. I’m more of a fast food consumer of art. Trying to check off each piece as fast as possible, Degas…check, Renoir…check, Mona Lisa…check. This is not the way to appreciate art. This was a huge shift for me and I appreciate our guide’s contemplative example. Don’t consume, appreciate.
  1. Make space for connection. I’m not positive but I think we ducked into at least three cafes a day. So if we had walked for an hour, let’s grab a table and a drink. If we stumbled on an interesting café, let’s grab some café crème. It was around one of these tables that we reconnected about career choices, our kids and reminiscing about our youth. Those conversations may not have happened if we were too busy trying to make sure we went to every museum in Paris (which I’m not sure is possible but is certainly not practical). I found fantastic advice and stories from two women I respect immensely.
  1. Utilize your strengths. We all were paying for different things. I figured, it would all wash out by the end. I didn’t feel compelled to keep track. Thank goodness Janine is incredibly organized and meticulous. Between the exchange rate and dollars versus euros, she kept it all straight. Susannah was our motivation. She knew the best falafel place in Paris. It might be a mile and a half away but her enthusiasm was contagious. So what if we walk 8 miles in one day. I was the compass. Street crossing in Paris is pretty crazy. There are cars and motorcycles come ricocheting in from all angles and walking at the cross walk is critical. It became a chess match as to how to get to the street you wanted without losing life or limb. Fall back on your strengths.
  1. Be realistic. We made sure that we were rarely rushed. So if we wanted to check out a park on the way to Notre Dame, we make sure it was doable at a slow pace with time to spare. If it wasn’t? Move on. If the Uber driver hasn’t been able to find you for twenty minutes, take a cab. If the maître’d explains that the dish has raw duck in it, order something else. Be realistic.
  1. Be open to adventure. Janine and I went up the Eiffel Tower together. It’s a pretty trippy adventure. The funicular is at an angle and with all the structure supports going by, it is a bit disorienting. When we got to the top, I wanted to stay inside. I was as high as my acrophobia wanted to take me. Janine ran upstairs and ran back down. “Cath. You have to go to the top. It’s not bad.” I did and it was worth the flight of stairs up. Susannah wanted to see the Saint-Chappelle. From the outside, it’s not very impressive and we had just been through Notre Dame. When we entered what I later found out was the first floor, it was some chipping paint with a low ceiling and trinket stands. I thought, “What’s the big deal?” Then we walked up a stone circular staircase (did I mention I’m claustrophobic?). At the top was, and is, the most beautiful chapel I have ever stood in. My breath was taken away and tears were in my eyes. I know that if I hadn’t gone with TG&TB to Paris, I would never have stood in that awe-inspiring spot. Be an adventurer.

This was a trip of a lifetime with two of my favorite people in the world. So think about it. Who would you like to connect to again? Break out of your normal agenda and take off on a reunion adventure of your own. There will be no regrets.

Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Paper

I recently read an article by James Clear where he referenced a statement often heard in grade school: “Keep your eyes on your own paper.” He referred to the admonishment of not cheating. Clear pointed out the deeper message: “It doesn’t make a difference what the person next to you writes down for his answer. This is your race to run. It’s your assignment to complete. It’s your answer to create. How your paper compares to someone else’s is not the point. The point is to fill the paper with your work.” It’s the same as Hike Your Own Hike or Sticking to Your Path–your work, art, trip, journey, life is your own masterpiece, project, destination and adventure.

Keep your eyes on your own paper

The rebels in the classroom (ahem, like myself) would, once admonished, give a side glance to the room to see who had their head up with their eyes off their paper, or squirmed in their seats or dozed off in the back. I was also gathering information on how confident everyone looked as they took the test or quiz. Scanning the room is nothing but a comparison, which is the thief of joy. Whether or not someone is succeeding on the test, or whether they do it quickly or confidently, has nothing to do with my work. My test. My art.

Here’s how to keep your eyes on your own paper:

Clean slate

As Clear wrote, “No matter what you spend your days doing, every morning you wake up and have a blank piece of paper to work with. You get to put your name at the top and fill it with your work.” The possibilities are endless. There is something magnificent about a clean slate. It’s like starting a new recipe and dicing the onions, sautéing them in the pan, moving forward with possibility. I can keep the onions raw, translucent or caramelized brown. It’s all up to me. I am the chef. I have the paint brush and I can make any stroke with any color I have. There is such power in possibility. And we get a new clean slate each morning and I have absolutely no idea what my neighbor is doing with their slate. It’s your clean slate. Use it for your art.

Don’t judge

As Clear wrote while he reflected on his own writing: “I thought this was a good article. Why don’t people seem to enjoy it? Or, I’ll feel like I wrote something average only to see it become the most popular post of the month. Regardless of the outcome, I’ve realized one thing: we are often terrible judges of our own work.” I can relate. I wrote a post on my father’s time in Korea a few weeks back. I thought it was a great post and yet it had barely 100 views. I wrote a post on Earnest Shackleton’s leadership style back in 2014 and it’s been viewed over 6,000 times. There is no telling who will like it or who won’t. We are terrible judges of our own work. I can remember leaving tests, finals or quizzes from elementary school through grad school and I was rarely good at determining how well I did on the test. Stay away from judging yourself – odds are you really don’t know anyway.

Ship it

In Seth Godin’s book Linchpin, he says: “The only purpose of starting is to finish, and while the projects we do are never really finished, they must ship.” I have to say that especially during test taking, I was without fail the first to leave the exam. If it was five students or two hundred, I was almost always the first to leave. I didn’t go back and double check or perhaps it’s my penchant for the $hitty first draft. I write, I create, I leave my art and ship. Put the pencil down and move on. Perfection is constricting. As Godin says, “Ship it.”

There is one you

Martha Graham was consoling Agnes de Mille about the randomness of success: “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.” There is only one of you. Don’t let your art be lost. Keep going. Produce no matter what product, what art, what music. You are here for your unique ability to produce your unique product.

There is joy in being present with the process. Don’t focus on the end product. Or the end product of your neighbor or the runner next to you or the hiker in the next tent. It’s the journey, not the destination. Make your own art, whatever that may be, and be there in the process with your eyes on your own paper.

Memories of My Lake House

This is a repost from last fall, enjoy.

This house has been home for over 17 years. My children grew up here. My parents built onto the house. My dog has fought tirelessly against squirrels and honed her fly catching skills (yes…she can catch a fly) in this house. My friends have visited to stand on the deck and take a selfie with the lake as a backdrop. My boyfriend has observed all manner of wildlife with his morning coffee while perched on a deck chair. I have documented and marveled at countless sunrises. It’s been home and the center of my life for seventeen years.

My son came home this past weekend to say goodbye to the house. We moved here when he was eight and his sister Natalie when she was ten. Their heights and weights are marked on a closet door. The slow evolution of my son’s height lagging his sister until a growth spurt propelled him ahead. It’s all there. Each penciled line and scrawled date. Years in the making. Time marches on and, so do my children. He is in Miami and she is in Seattle. My father passed away, my mother is on the West Coast. The boyfriend Roy is in Carteret County or as he refers to it: “God’s Country.” All that is left is me and my dog and the move to an apartment about 8 miles away.

Memories of our lake house:

Remodeling

The house was built in 1975 and for almost every minute I have lived here, it’s been in a perpetual state of remodel. When we first moved in the kitchen was completely gutted and I remember trying to feed a family of four with a microwave in the family room, a refrigerator in the dining room and washing dishes in the bathroom sink. I think back now, why the heck didn’t we just eat at McDonald’s every day? There was the porch and carport that eventually became a sunroom and garage. There was the three weeks of summer camp when we decided to surprise the kids by completely remodeling the second-floor bedrooms, bath and all (and yes, I actually painted). The dining room and living room remodel where my dog would not walk across the new floor for weeks (yes…she’s that neurotic). And the addition of the in-law unit and a front porch; my parents moved in six years ago. Finally, the reflooring of the first floor and a brand-new deck across the back of the house. The paint colors have changed, the seventies wood paneling is gone, and popcorn ceilings were scraped off, but the bones are still there. It’s the same steps my kids came down each Christmas morning to see what Santa left.

Games

My fondest memories are of playing games around the kitchen table. My son remembers Tripoly, using macaroni to ante up and dreaming of ending up with a huge pile of macaroni by the end of the evening. I remember playing Uno and prefacing each +2 draw card (a really bad card) with “I love you!” to try and soften the blow. I remember always wanting my Dad on my team for Trivial Pursuit, especially for the history questions and my Mom for all the science questions (Medical Technologists know a bunch of medical and scientific terms). I looked forward to every Christmas break when my college-bound children would come home and play Super Mario Brothers on the Wii. I can hear Natalie laughing and screaming at her brother as he always seemed to be charging ahead and taking advantage of his sister’s good graces. There was also the brief stint of playing with the Wii and having endless sword fights. There is a ton of laughter in these walls.

Boats

I remember when we bought this house and the original owner pointed to the boat slip and said, “You’ll need to get a boat.” Well, sure enough we did. This led to knee boards, beginner skis, wake boards, single skis, and a tube. You name it, we tried it. Benson was amazingly tenacious on an innertube as we tried in vain (most of the time) to kick him off banking the boat on a tight corner. I remember the one and only time I got onto an innertube behind the boat and I could not stop laughing from fear and exhilaration. My poor kids stared from the back of the boat forlorn yelling, “Mommy, are you OK?” I survived. Later there were kayaks and paddle boats. I have truly learned this lake from stem to stern. It’s an amazing eco system that changes from cormorants to martins to mallards in an endless cycle with the ospreys and herons being the only apparent constant. There are a multitude of memories in that lake.

Neighbors

For almost seventeen years we have had the same neighbors. I can remember the original owner, Pat Jones, pointing to the houses and saying, “Well, there’s Fred and Pete across the street and the Nuns next door.” I was a recent transplant from California and I remember thinking: “Wow, a gay couple across the street and catholic nuns next door…pretty progressive.” Of course, this was incorrect, “Pete” was Marilyn’s nick name and the catholic nuns were actually “The Nunns.” Terrific neighbors all. We didn’t need neighborhood watch because I’d get a text or call if anything out of the norm was happening in my yard while I was away at work. The best story that Natalie remembers is that the original owners let us drop the kids off at the top of the driveway to be picked up by the bus at the beginning of the school year (before we moved in). We had instructed the kids not to bother the owners and that we would swing by to pick them up. One time, Natalie desperately had to use the bathroom and she ran across the street to Miss Pete’s house. Natalie asked to use the bathroom and, of course, Miss Pete obliged. This started a family friendship that led to many shared gatherings and Thanksgivings together.

This week has been a week of lasts. The last loaf of bread baked in the oven. The last sunrise photo posted on Facebook. The last evening watching a lone Great Blue Heron pacing the lake bank searching for a fish. The last cup of coffee. The last shower. The last walk through the neighborhood. The last post written from my chair looking out at the lake. As Dr. Suess said, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Goodbye, Sweet House – thank you for the memories.

Keeping the Amygdala in Mind at Work

The amygdala is the almond shaped cluster of cells at the base of your brain and is part of your limbic system. It is responsible for your stress response and because it is innate, you have very little control over it. Fear is a good thing. It has protected you, me, our ancestors from walking off cliffs, encounters with tarantulas or even saber tooth tigers. The amygdala is also the keeper of fear memories, a log book of those past dangers and close calls that were avoided. As with any operating system, no two people are alike. We each have our own modus operandi. Your amygdala is unique to you and has kept score differently than mine. I may have no problem speaking in front of an audience of 200 folks and you might be terrified. I might cringe and shut down at being the brunt of a joke on a Zoom call while you may love being the center of the hilarity.

There are four classic responses to fear or stress: Fight, Flight, Freeze or Fawn. As written by Sherry Gaba in Psychology Today, “Flight includes running or fleeing the situation, fight is to become aggressive, and freeze is to literally become incapable of moving or making a choice. The fawn response involves immediately moving to try to please a person to avoid any conflict.” Imagine all these in the workplace, even more so, think of these in a mostly WFH workplace during a pandemic. Perhaps our hands are tied but it is still showing up.

The Amygdala in the workplace:

Fight

So how does fight show up? A stressed-out coworker using the fight response might send long diatribes blaming every other department for missed deadlines, or veto a change to the plan without reason, or go behind their arch enemies back to shut down a program. The fight response may not be overt but behind closed doors. The fix? A private conversation. In this case, I think video is better to be able to read body language. For someone whose automatic response if fight, addressing it quickly is important. The fighter wants to be unchecked so they can do more damage. Hold them accountable, although I would try to do it privately, if possible. Remember that the fight response may be behind closed doors and might take some effort to uncover.

Flight

So how does flight show up? For someone working under stress or anxiety, they may ghost a meeting with a contentious coworker, not respond to requests for a deadline, and, perhaps worst of all, just quit. I have seen folks just quit “out of the blue” because they can’t seem to cope with the demands of work. Flight, for them, is their automated response. 

The fix? Try to talk to the coworker privately. I think speaking over the phone without video can feel safer, as in safer to express our true feelings (and fears). If you are managing someone in flight mode, give them some space and then help set up resources that will allay their fears. When we see no end in sight, the overwhelm can make us want to flee. See what resources are available to reduce their workload. This maybe not be possible and it may not work; sometimes, the only solution is to let them fly off.

Freeze

So how does freeze show up? An anxious coworker will become inactive. They may be afraid of losing their job due to the recent company initiative, and not respond to emails and phone calls. It may feel difficult to move things forward due to a coworker’s inaction. They may never answer the poll, or the meeting request, or the IM. The fix? I think a private phone call maybe the best approach. Make sure they are alone and, if not, schedule the call for a private time. Privacy while WFH can be difficult to arrange. Once on the phone, probe for their fears or frustrations. Putting their saber tooth tigers in a cage can help them do better thinking. When someone is hijacked into freeze response, there won’t be effective thinking until the cage door is closed. Someone reacting with freeze response may take some time to uncover.

Fawn

So how does fawn show up? The stressed coworker turns to pleaser mode. They preemptively agree so as not to upset or anger a coworker. You may notice that they quickly agree perhaps without reason. You may have thought they were opposed to working on the project on a Saturday, but they quickly prove you wrong and say, “Yes”. 

The fix? Well, the pleaser sometimes will take care of all the loose ends and be quick to move forward. You may think, why should I question it? Again, although it might seem counterproductive to talk to the fawner, talk to them by phone. When it is a private conversation and you ask if they have any misgivings with the plan, you are more likely to get an authentic, non-fawn, response. Having a bunch of pleaser responses may seem easier but their responses, especially long term, will alienate and burn them out.

Having stressed employees react from their amygdala is automatic and lacks cognitive reflection. Once someone has left their prefrontal cortex (where they do their best thinking) and landed in their amygdala, thinking has dropped. What is important is to adapt our response to their amygdala reaction. 

6 Tips to Stop Pleasing Others

The disease to please is Habit 8 in the insightful book, How Women Rise. I am a recovering please-you-alcoholic. When I felt trapped in my unhappy second marriage, I was wallowing in trying to be “love and light” to a man who would never be happy. It has taken me four years to realize that, in retrospect, I kept tying my happiness to whether he was happy. I spent years keeping track of my internal list of rules to try and make him happy. No lemon, no lime, steak is too rare, too well done, not too spicy, not too bland, dinner at 6…no at 7…no at 5:46, heat set at 70…no 73…no 68, no dairy except for pizza, nothing vegetarian…ever. I look back and wonder what I was trying to find or obtain. Why did every grunt or disapproving look have such a hold on me? Where was I in that relationship exactly? I had evaporated into a pleasing abyss. Was I his codependent?

Pleasing others is why women are held back from rising in the ranks. When I coach female clients at some point in the coaching engagement, they frequently figure out that they need to be able to say “no”. As Katie Phillips wrote for Talented Ladies Club, “People pleasing isn’t a topic we talk about often, and it may not have occurred to you that you were stuck in the rut of putting others’ needs and happiness ahead of your own.” Tying yourself to anyone else’s happiness is exhausting. If how you are feeling at this current moment is dependent on anything outside of yourself, it’s a losing proposition and, one, you have little, if any, control over.

Six tips to stop pleasing others:

  1. Delay your response.  As Vanessa Van Edwards wrote, “Here is my favorite anti-people-pleasing phrase: “Let me get back to you.” Or Stop. Just for 50 to 100 milliseconds. This small amount of time is all you need, according to a 2014 Columbia University study, to make better decisions.” So instead of a knee jerk reaction to say yes to a project or meeting or updated slides or making chicken fried steak, delay your response. Frequently in the moment, especially if it’s your boss or unhappy spouse, you are in your limbic brain. When you are in your limbic brain you are in fight or flight or freeze response. Your prefrontal cortex (where you do your best thinking) is shut down. All the blood has rushed to your legs for you to take flight. Give yourself some space and delay your response.
  2. Start small. Say “no” to small things at first. Like watching the basketball game, or the movie, or the Friends episode, or answering the phone, or taking out the garbage or staying up late, or getting up early or scheduling a meeting over lunch, or after five. I think starting in your personal relationships might be easier at first and then move on to your work relationships. It’s easier to say “no” to one more treat from my dog than “no” to my bosses’ demands. My son was home earlier this week and was watching some show I had no desire to watch on my only television. I said, “Let’s watch something else”. He was surprised but we found something else we both enjoyed. As with most things, it seems to start with small steps.
  3. Effective relationships.  This next idea may seem crazy but it is better for your relationships. As Dr. Ilene Cohen wrote for Psychology Today, “I learned that when you do too much for others, you over-function in your relationships, which inevitably leads others to under-function. Though my intentions were good, they ultimately hindered the overall effectiveness of my relationships.” I think of saying yes to so many projects and tasks at work actually doesn’t give my direct reports and coworkers opportunities to learn and grow. As for my marriage, it created a scenario where my ex functioned in a smaller and smaller role as I maintained the scaffolding of the relationship rules. In the end, I was exhausted and the relationship was a figment of my imagination. Strive for effective relationship through an even playing field of collaborative roles.
  4. Be authentic. Aligning with your values and being authentic with your needs and wants is not something many women are brought up with. As Cohen writes, “I came to terms with the fact that we’re all unique individuals. We should be able to act authentically and connect with who we are and what we value, instead of always doing what others want.” Perhaps it was being the mother of a new born child and 4 a.m. feedings, but somewhere after motherhood, I forgot how to prioritize myself. Be authentic with yourself and what your needs, and yes, your wants are. Align with your authentic self.
  5. Don’t. Saying “I don’t” instead of “I can’t” is so much more empowering.  As Van Edwards espoused, “‘I don’t’ establishes a clear boundary, making you sound much more confident and clearer in your intentions. On the other hand, people who say ‘I can’t’ seem like they’re giving an excuse and might have some wiggle room to give.” I have actually used this frequently as a sober vegan. It’s much more empowering to say “I don’t drink “ or “I don’t eat meat”. Try using “don’t”.
  6. Stop apologizing. My boyfriend Roy has admonished me for this many times. “Quit saying sorry!” And, yes, he means apologizing for everything, which I have been known to do. Again, I think this is more frequently part of the female vernacular. As Van Edwards wrote, “The next time you say no, say it with meaning. Don’t apologize because you have to prioritize. Don’t feel bad that you have something to take care of. You are standing up for you; and remember, if you don’t stand up for you, no one else will.” Apologizing is discounting and minimizing your priorities. Stop stepping back from what you want.

I struggle with this every day. I want to do for others. I realize now that pleasing others is in many ways a way to give my power away. To a great degree, it’s implausible to think that pleasing others has an impact on how someone perceives me. Perhaps the most important thing is how I perceive myself. How does people-pleasing impact you?

4 Fixes for Winter Pandemic Overwhelm

As I write this, it is February of 2021, a year into the pandemic. I thought this whole thing would have blown over by now. I thought we would be back in the communal workplace, making business travel plans and I’d be free to use my passport. Nope. In the last week or so, I’ve noticed articles about how this pandemic could last for upwards of 5 years. What?

My dog is great company and a terrific, if not needy, co-worker but I want to get back to the office. I want to run into random co-workers walking down the hall or by the water cooler. I want to be able to reach out to that co-worker who lost their son last year and find out how they are coping. I want to see the latest pictures of several coworkers’ grandchildren. I want to be planning the annual field day events. Nope. It is not going to happen. Not anytime soon. Perhaps never.

By now, like me, you have probably adapted to the “new normal”. You have your home workspace figured out, you have your Zoom background dialed in, you have your wardrobe culled down to Zoom tops, yoga pants, slippers, and earrings you can wear under a headset. Now in the winter of our discontent, we need to figure out ways to punctuate the work day so that we are not working ten-hour days without a break. We can’t cheat and do back-to-back Zoom calls. I have some ideas on how to close the stress loop even if you can’t get outside.

Here are 4 fixes for winter pandemic overwhelm:

  1. Move.  As in, move your body. Let’s assume you live in Minnesota and it’s minus 20 degrees outside. There is snow everywhere and ice on the sidewalks. Figure out a way to move inside. Put your phone on a charger in a separate room (this will also stop you from blindly screen scrolling). Put dishes or clothes or groceries away, one item at a time.  Walk to the farthest bathroom when you need to wash your hands. Watch a yoga YouTube video (like this one from my yoga expert friend Susannah), dance to my boyfriend Roy’s favorite dance music, “Tighten Up” by Archie Bell & The Drells, stretch, lift weights or do pushups. As written by Michelle Bihary on Harvard Business Review, “If space is a big constraint, try standing at your desk to improve your metabolic health. Alan Hedge, Professor of Ergonomics at Cornell University, recommends using a 20-8-2 breakdown to guide you: 20 minutes of sitting, 8 minutes of standing, and 2 minutes of moving for every 30 minutes at work.” In order to move, you will likely need to revamp your schedule to give at least ten-minute breaks between meetings.
  2. Mindfulness.  Mindfulness does not require being a monk in a monastery. It does not mean you empty your head of all thought. It is really about just being in the moment and paying attention to your body (instead of your head…i.e. thoughts).  I have been trying out three apps recently: Headspace, Calm and Insight Timer. A trend in all of their meditations, and sleep stories (yes, they have sleep stories you can drift to sleep on); the trend is inhaling for 4 beats, holding for 4 beats and exhaling for 6 beats. If you can do this for 5 cycles, you will be less stressed and overwhelmed. It closes the stress loop. As Bihary wrote, “A simple practice is to take five deep breaths, five times per day. When you concentrate on breathing deeply (as we do in yoga), you’re disengaging yourself from distractions, lowering your heart rate, ingesting more oxygen into the lowest part of your lungs, and stabilizing your blood pressure — in turn, lowering your stress level.” Being mindful can be as simple as taking a break to intentionally breath deep.
  3. Grateful.  Being grateful reduces stress. Bihary espoused, “Gratitude practices and expressing appreciation have long-lasting positive effects on the wiring of our brains. Research shows that gratitude takes our attention away from toxic emotions by helping us focus on more comforting ones. People who consciously count their blessings tend to be less depressed. When we feel grateful, it increases our levels of dopamine and serotonin, the neurotransmitters responsible for making us feel happy and enhancing our moods.” My gratitude journal has morphed over the years from an evening to a morning event, from three things to ten things; and now to my current habit of writing five things I’m grateful for (almost always people or my dog, Baci) and one thing I’m grateful I actually physically did like “drove safely, hiked or maintained my sobriety.” Figure out what suits you and give it a try.
  4. Connection. There are those out there who have way too much connection with their spouse, roommate or homeschooling children. By far I have seen that the folks who seem to have suffered the most with working from home are those that live alone. I live and work alone from home for most of the week and am fortunate to spend the weekends with my boyfriend. Finding ways to connect can be tricky depending on the current local requirements. Let technology be your friend. I am super lucky that my daughter Natalie has started calling me weekly via FaceTime. It makes a huge difference to see as well as hear her. My family has orchestrated a few family Zoom calls that have been a huge bright spot as well. In the book Burnout, connection is one of the many cures for closing the stress cycle although the book was written pre-pandemic. Figure out ways to connect with coworkers and family on a more casual basis like virtual trivia nights or family feud. Make time to connect with others on things besides production reports and customer complaints. 

Bihary had another stress booster that I haven’t tried out yet but will throw out as another suggestion: blowing bubbles. I love blowing bubbles but since I don’t have a grade school kid in my house, I haven’t stopped at a store to pick a bottle up. I’m putting it on my shopping list though! If there is something that incorporates deep breathing and being in the present moment it is the magic, fun and fragility of blowing bubbles. I hope you try a few of these fixes for the winter doldrums. If there is any way to get outside for even fifteen minutes, that is super effective too. What is your favorite winter doldrums fix?

What Holds Women Back

I have been coaching for over ten years. I’ve coached women and I’ve coached men. The things that my female coaching clients are struggling with are completely different than those of my male coaching clients. After reading How Women Rise and Burnout, I’m starting to realize that there is a pattern to the obstacles that many women face. 

Here are my thoughts on what holds many women back:

Perfection

Humans are not perfect but it doesn’t mean we don’t try, sometimes at great lengths, to be perfect. As written by the Nagoskis in Burnout, “You have the goal of ‘perfection’ which is an impossible goal, as you start the project or the meal or the outfit or the day, and then something falls short of ‘perfect’, the whole thing is ruined. And sometimes if your goal is ‘perfect’, some part of you already knows it’s an impossible goal, so you think about your project, or meal, or outfit or day, knowing you’re never going to achieve your goal; so you feel hopeless before you’ve even begun.” So many of my clients are setting expectations that are completely unachievable. Perhaps it’s the hurt of negative feedback that makes us set our expectations to unachievable heights. Or we remember our parents admonishing us for falling short on our third-grade math test and promise to do better, or it’s airbrushed Good Housekeeping photos that create an unattainable goal of the perfect dish or bedroom suite. Let in the wabi-sabi and perhaps just do the “trying your best” approach. As written in How Women Rise under Habit 7: The Perfection Trap, “Perfectionists usually struggle with delegation. If you have super-exacting standards, it stands to reason that you would have difficulty letting others do their jobs. And monitoring people’s efforts is time-consuming.” Accept not being perfect.

Humility

Most of my clients who are women sit around waiting around for others to notice their accomplishments and rarely, if ever, claim them themselves. It seems so utterly unfeminine to boast about how great you are. In How Women Rise this falls under Habit 1: Reluctance to Claim Your Achievements and Habit 2: Expecting Others to Notice and Reward. Women, including myself, typically don’t want to be seen as the braggart down the hall who is always claiming their victories, no matter how small. And we can sit around and wait for someone to come along and suddenly realize all the achievements we’ve had and expect someone else to notice and reward it. I would consider this all humility and humility is not good marketing. I have coached many women who are terrified that they are really imposters and will be “found out” and terminated. These are women who have had tremendous success in their careers and are surprised when their boss call’s them a “rock star” or puts them up for promotion. The secret is to acknowledge and own your achievements and, please, please, please, do not contradict if someone acknowledges your achievement.

Pleasers

In the book Burnout, this is called Human Giver Syndrome. This is partially defined as, “Believing you have a moral obligation – that you owe it to the world – to be happy, calm, pretty, generous, and attentive to the needs of others. Givers may spend years attending to the needs of others, while dismissing their own stress generated in response to witnessing those needs. The result is uncountable incomplete stress response cycles accumulating in our bodies. This accumulation leads to ‘compassion fatigue’”. In How Women Rise, it’s Habit 8: The Disease to Please, “If you’re a chronic pleaser, chances are you know it. And you are probably aware of how it holds you back. Maybe you routinely say yes to task and jobs that you know will eat up your time but bring you little benefit.” I have countless clients who have a very difficult time saying no and mounting overwhelm from the accumulated stress. If you want ideas on how to complete the stress cycle, read this. Find ways to say no and to make space to close your stress cycle. Pleasing others long-term will likely hold you back and exhaust you.

Expert

In How Women Rise, Habit 3: Overvaluing Expertise, “Trying to master every detail of your job in order to become an expert is a great strategy for keeping the job you have. But if your goal is to move to a higher level, your expertise is probably not going to get you there. In fact, mastery of your current role often serves as a useful strategy for keeping yourself in your current role.” In my career, I can think of countless men that were promoted who were clueless on the details of the jobs that reported to them. A woman isn’t going to even apply for a job that she doesn’t feel that she knows at least 80% of. A man? He’ll apply if he’s got 20% of the skills. There is no problem in being an expert at what you do especially if you find the job fulfilling and want to stay where you are. If you want to move up? You’ll have to let go of some of the details and accept that delegation will need to be part of your success. If you want to rise, let go of being the expert.

I think back to when my son was making a cake over a decade ago. The cake batter was all wrong. I wanted to take over. He demanded, “Let me fail.” It has many of these parts wrapped up in that statement. I wanted to be the cake expert, I wanted to please him by taking over and I wanted it to be perfect. I had to let go and walk into another room and let the mistake unfold or not. It went against every instinct in my body. Perhaps I am hardwired this way as a woman but I am trying my best to rise and move beyond.

Crossing the Mile-High Swinging Bridge

In January of 2021, my boyfriend Roy and I traveled to Boone, NC. We’ve been taking short road trips mostly in North Carolina to avoid flying and to steer clear of sudden changes in travel restrictions imposed by other states. We stay in hotels that have kitchenettes so that we don’t have to depend on local restaurants to have decent vegan food. After several trips to the coast this fall and winter, we decided to head to the mountains. I had ulterior motives in selecting Boone: I knew I had some unfinished business on top of Grandfather Mountain, crossing the Mile-High Swinging Bridge.

My first trip to Grandfather Mountain was in 2011. My parents, my son Benson, and my brother Dave decided to travel up the mountain while on vacation visiting my Uncle Jim and Aunt Diana in Beech Mountain. We drove up the winding road to one of the four peaks that make up Grandfather Mountain, Linville Peak (5,295 ft). We took the stairs and came upon the Mile-High Swinging Bridge, America’s highest suspension footbridge. It’s a 228-foot suspension bridge that spans an 80-foot chasm at more than one mile in elevation. It was windy that day. It was pretty warm to be on a mountain top but there were sixty or so folks milling around crossing the bridge to the higher pinnacle on the other side. Benson and Dave crossed immediately. I froze. I stood there and watched my 17-year-old son clambering on the rocks on the far-off pinnacle. I was overcome by fear. All I wanted was for my son to come back across that bridge and to be next to me. There was no way I was crossing that bridge and all I wanted to do was to go down that mountain before someone I loved was hurt. Unfinished business. 

The Mile-High Swinging Bridge

My experience crossing Mile-High Swinging Bridge:

Windy

I looked at my weather app that morning and it was showing negligible wind in Boone. The weather called for partly cloudy skies, calm and highs in the 50’s. No rain, no snow. This was the day to attempt my crossing over that bridge. Of course, regardless of what the weather is at the base of a mountain, it has little to do with what is on top of the mountain. I think I was deluding myself that it would be calm and not windy on top of the mountain. When Roy and I drove to the top, the wind was gusting upwards of 50 miles per hour. I was wavering. In my mind, my next trip to this infamous bridge was going to be on a calm day. As with most mountain tops, wind velocity increases with altitude. I had not put that into my equation. This was my chance, gusts or no gusts, Roy and I marched up the stone steps to the bridge. 

Support

I wasn’t setting foot on that bridge without Roy to hold onto. When we arrived at the bridgehead, there were five or so folks milling around on the other side and the bridge was empty. There is a large warning sign that says that no more than 40 folks can be on the bridge at one time. I knew there was no turning back now. The bridge was empty, my support was by my side and I was going to cross, gusty winds or no. I knew we could go at my pace. There would be no one holding us up or bearing down from behind. The bridge is about six feet wide and 228 feet long, so not having anyone else on the bridge was optimal. I could hold onto Roy with one arm and the other on the railing. I felt supported. I kept thinking of the thousands of folks that had crossed that bridge and it was still standing. Roy went at my pace as we crossed the span. The bridge itself would sway and the wind created a type of music through the metal planks. I was surprised by how loud it was but somehow it distracted me from my fear. I remember thinking that the midpoint was clearly marked on the bridge and what would be so bad about just turning around and heading back? At least I set foot on the bridge, right? I kept going, marching along to the intended destiny of the pinnacle at the other end of the bridge. We made it.

One Way Back

When we arrived at the end of the crossing, Roy was pointing out how structurally sound the bridge was. I have no idea if he was trying to allay my fears or if he really thought it looked exceptionally sound. He was pointing out the infrastructure as we stood on the paved landing. I knew I had no intentions of scrambling on rocks, I had enough of heights at that moment. Why test fate? There was a young woman with a small baby who was waiting for her husband to come back down from the rock scramble. I could tell she was as frightened as I was. I thought for a moment as I stared back across the span that perhaps there was a trail that I could take down from this precipice. No way. It was cold, windy and I didn’t have any gear even if there was a trail down from that spot. The only way out was back through. I wanted to immediately traverse back. But of course, there was a family making their way across the bridge with a toddler leading the charge. Yes, a toddler. Did I mention I am super impatient? Once the group with the walking toddler was across, I looked at Roy and said, “Let’s go first and get across.” We made our way back with a large family behind us. I’m pretty sure there were less than forty of us on that bridge, but I for one was not going to stop to count!

It’s exhilarating to step into fear. Crossing the Mile-High Swinging Bridge has been on my bucket list for ten years. Sometimes the wait seems to make it inevitable. I knew that if I ever had the opportunity to be standing at that bridgehead again, I could not let the chance to cross slip away. I remember Roy asking when we first got to the parking lot, “Are you sure you want to do this?” I wasn’t sure, I was resolute. When there was a second chance to conquer my fear, I had to take it. I’m proud of myself for taking on the fear and, even as I hyperventilated on the crossing while the deafening noise of the wind whistled through the planks, I stared fear in the face and walked through. It was life affirming.