😎It’s Not My Only Line in the Play

I heard this quote at a conference in October. It really put things into perspective. We have a lot more shots at a goal than we imagine. I think back to grade school theatrical productions and not wanting to flub the one line I was given. But in reality, we have a ton of lines. For that matter, a ton of plays in life. I can get wrapped up in perfection in the job interview, or the presentation to the board, or the first date. It’s freeing to realize there are a lot of opportunities in life and it’s grand to not get wrapped up in the perfection of your next line in the play.

A recent facilitation for Daniels and Daniels Construction

I can relive conflicts in my life where I have an epiphany about what I should have said. The perfect comeback. The perfect redress. The perfect reparation. Finally putting someone in their place, and yet, the opportunity is long past. I can live in a loop in my head about how I should have played the situation differently. It takes energy. It zaps me. It’s completely unproductive. It was only one line.

So here are some ideas on how to move on to the next line in the play:

Piece it out

I facilitate a bunch of different trainings. They can range from Ethics, Sexual Harassment, or Human Resource Certification. Sometimes I present about CRR Global’ s “Lands Work”, Gallup’s Strengthsfinder, or Leadership Retreats. The thing is, when I first started facilitating, I would get completely caught up in the three upcoming events I had scheduled. I’d be worried about the one in three weeks when I was prepping for the one tomorrow. I would be overwhelmed and not sleep well. The secret is to focus on the next project. The next training. The next coaching client. By piecing it out to one project or event or client at a time, I can focus, be calm and better prepared. Focus on the next line in the play.

It’s about them

Delivering a line or a song or a presentation is all about the audience. Moving off of my own ego and onto the group in front of me is lifting an enormous burden off my shoulders. It’s not worrying about if I look fat in this outfit or if I can get a laugh out of the room. It’s delivering one piece that helps someone in their day. When you focus on them, it becomes a service. It makes it easier. I know that can seem like a lot of pressure but if I go into a room of two hundred people wanting to impress them all, it’s overwhelming and sure to fail. If I go into that same room with the intention to impact just one person’s life, it’s much easier. If it helps more than one person, terrific. If everyone gets it and loves the presentation? Even better. But the goal remains all about them.

$hitty first draft

Practically everything I facilitate, coach, or write is a first draft. I try not to overthink things. Granted, I have an editor for my blog, but the rest of what I deliver is on the fly. It’s in the moment. I’ve said some dumb things; I’ve said some witty things; I’ve said things I want to completely forget about (and usually don’t). Aren’t most conversations in life just $hitty first drafts anyway? Let go of perfection and be in the moment. If you mess up this line, there is another line coming up.

Be present in the moment

I’ve spent a lot of time rushing ahead. Planning. Mapping things out. I can be exhausting to be around. I can also spend a lot of time dwelling on the past. The Monday morning quarterbacking type stuff that is just as debilitating. The important thing is this moment right now. I facilitated a new group a few weeks back. I had never worked for this organization before. There were a bunch of unknowns: the audio visual; wall space for flip-charts; seating arrangements for the table. That’s all just flotsam. The real object is being present for the people in that room. It’s being present to tease out the wisdom in the room. It’s letting other folks shine their light for everyone else to benefit. If I’m more worried about the perfect room set up and refreshments, I’m not present for those in the room. So maybe you have to adjust the line in the play to fit the group in the room. Be present so you know it.

Be silent

It’s OK to be quiet. Not everything has to be filled with words. Time for folks to reflect is super important. Time for you to reflect is important as well. I think back to my first date with my ex. There was plenty of silence. I was OK with not filling every moment with language. I remember becoming certified to deliver a Myer’s Briggs facilitation. The instructor told us to wait 20 seconds after asking the group a question. Count out twenty seconds in your head.  Go ahead.                It’s an eternity, right? It’s an adjustment to be OK with silence. You don’t need to have language filling the air at all times. Give everyone time and space to reflect and digest. Some of the most profound moments in a play are when it is silent. Think back to all the pregnant pauses in a Hitchcock film. Rear Window would not be as griping without the silence. Silence can be powerful.

At the heart of all of this is just being authentic and present for as much as you can. Give up the need to know how it’s all going to end up. Every play is going to be different. Every line you deliver will have a different impact. What’s your next line in the play?

👍🏻Ask for Help

My closest friends from high school and college all had babies in 1993. Five babies born all in one year. My good friend, Janine, was the first that year to give birth to her son in March. I followed closely behind in April.  I remember talking to her on the phone after her some 48 hours in labor in the back hills of Vermont. I recall she said, “There is no gold star or medal if you don’t have drugs.” Interesting. If you take the shortcut, the easier way; the fast pass, you still arrive at the same place. No one remembers that you did or did not have an Epidural. All they remember is that you had a beautiful, healthy baby. All five of us did by the end of 1993. There was no one keeping score on who did or did not try and escape some pain. Point being, no one remembers if you asked for help or not.

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Salt Pans of Mara, Peru

Fast forward to a few years ago. I am hiking in the Andes. I am navigating down the Salt Pans of Mara, Peru. The Salt Pans are man-made shallow evaporation pools for the harvesting of salt. They have been using these “pans” to harvest salt since the Incas. I have wobbly knees, the sun is slowly setting and my guide Danny has shown me the way forward. The way forward is what I feel looks like a balance beam across the edge of hundreds of salt pans. It’s about a four to five-foot drop off the edge I hesitate. Danny looks at me, “Do you need help?” I am embarrassed. I am the only one teetering on whether or not to proceed (although I have absolutely no choice since the bus has left). The rest of my group is ahead. Danny offers for me to hold onto his shoulders as we march across what was probably in reality a foot to 18-inch-wide path. I accepted his help.

Here is what I learned about asking for help:

Pride. I remember that there was a show many years ago called Weakest Link. The announcer would say to someone that was being eliminated, “You are the weakest link. Goodbye.” When Danny offered his help, I felt like everyone on that trip was looking down at their score card to check off [Cathy needed help. She is the weakest link.] That was my pride creeping in. Blasting in, actually. Pride is a dangerous occupation. You can put yourself in a lot of danger. You can worry more about what people think instead of plain old self-preservation. Don’t let your pride get in the way of your safety…and sanity. Ask for help.

One step.  It is immensely cliché to say: “One foot in front of the other.” It is completely true. As I held onto Danny walking across that imagined “balance beam” on the salt pans, I really did just put one foot in front of the other. My head was down. I couldn’t see the finish line. I didn’t want to see the finish line. I focused on my feet. It’s amazing how an enormous project like my dear friend Susannah has been going through for the past several months of moving to another country; can become manageable by doing one step at a time. Otherwise, it’s overwhelming. It hijacks our brain into believing we must get it all done today. It won’t. It can’t. Take a breath. Take one small step. Worry about the next step when you need to. Get the help and take a step.

Adapt. On another leg of this trip, we ended up hiking down about 2,000 feet in altitude on the Inca Trail in a ruin called Pisac. There was rarely, if ever, a hand rail. The size, shape and width of the steps varied with each and every step. My foot would end up dropping from 18 inches to 2 inches. From gravel to stone to dirt. Hairpin switchbacks that llama’s apparently glide up and down. We had no idea what was next. There was no anticipating what the next ten feet might bring. Sometimes our trusty assistant (read Lifesaver) guide Juan Carlos anticipated my need for some balance and arrived at the ready as we descended yet another uneven set of steps. Sometimes he wasn’t. I muddled through. I adapted. There is no perfection in hiking. There is only a safe arrival at the bottom. Get help and adapt.

AcceptanceMy hiking mentor and Appalachian Trail hiker, Roy, instructed me to do whatever I need in order to be safe on the trail. Even crawling. Well that doesn’t sound very graceful. I needed to accept that if I wanted to get on my butt and scoot down the mountain, that was just fine. If I wanted to accept help from my guides, that is also just fine. There are no gold stars at the bottom (or top) if you use or ask or accept help. When I arrived at my bucket list destination of Machu Picchu and needed to lean on Juan Carlos down a set of uneven steps, I finally accepted it. There is no one keeping score except for myself. Get the help and, most importantly, be accepting.

This might be an American construct where we all need to be like Teddy Roosevelt and be the rugged individual. The person who can conquer it all. I can’t. I admit it. It’s freeing to actually look for help instead of being what my brother calls “a juggernaut of strength.” Be human and accept the help. It will make all the difference.

😁 6 Tips to Conquering Email

Since leaving my full-time job over a year ago, my use of email has dropped significantly.  As a professional coach, I think it is the biggest pain most of my clients are grappling with along with Slack or Team messaging. I recently read, A World without Email by Cal Newport and it’s a sobering eye-opening read.  As Newport wrote, “The modern knowledge worker is almost never more than a few minutes away from sending or receiving some sort of electronic communication. To say we check email too often is an understatement; the reality is that we’re using these tools constantly.” I find this was especially true in support roles like finance, human resources and IT.  To be responsive, we feel like we always have to be “on” and “on” is checking and responding to emails.

The amount of time spent on emails is staggering considering we didn’t even have this technology forty years ago.  As Abigail Hess wrote for Make It, “During the workday, respondents reported spending an average of 209 minutes checking their work email and 143 minutes checking their personal email, for a total of 352 minutes (about five hours and 52 minutes) each day.”  This was written in 2019, before the pandemic, when theoretically we might run into someone at the water cooler and be able to accomplish communication in a more satisfying, higher quality manner.  Way too much of our attention is captured by our inboxes.  

My 6 tips for conquering email:

Notifications.  Turn off any and all notifications.  When we hear a ping or see a visual notification that we have an email, our brain wants to go check.  After all, you may have hit the lottery or received some other windfall.  The likelihood of this is like .0001% but our brains want that hit of dopamine to see if maybe, just maybe there is an extra million or so dollars on the way.  I think of it as running out to your physical mailbox every 2 minutes.  I had to look on YouTube to figure out how to turn off notifications but it makes for an easier time to do deep high quality work.  Turn off notifications.

Phone or video chat.  Many of us are in a situation where we are not collocated with coworkers any more.  Email is devoid of all voice inflection and body language.  It is a poor and inefficient substitute for a conversation. If in-person communication isn’t possible, use the phone or video chat.  As Newport wrote, “Prioritization of abstract written communication over in-person communication disregarded the immensely complex and finely tuned social circuits that our species evolved to optimize our ability to work cooperatively. By embracing email, we inadvertently crippled the systems that make us so good at working together.” We are wired to talk and connect with others both visually and vocally.  Prioritize voice and visual connection.

Keep emails short.  I read recently that we should keep them to five sentences or less. I cannot tell you how many times my eyes would roll when I saw a multi-paragraph email and I would put off reading it for hours and sometimes days.  If it’s reference information, make it an attachment.  As Newport espoused, “Always keeping emails short is a simple rule, but the effects can be profound. Once you no longer think of email as a general-purpose tool for talking about anything at any time, its stranglehold on your attention will diminish.” Keep emails brief and to the point.

Subject lines.  Utilize subject lines so that at a glance, the receiver knows what it’s about and what, if any action, they need to take.  As Peter Diamandis wrote, “The subject needs to be unique and compelling—just like a headline on a news article, the subject should capture my attention, pique my interest, and make me want to open your email. The subject line should be meaningful: I should know what you want, based on the subject.” It might be:  Launch date for Widget Project – please confirm by this afternoon.  I remember sending emails to a coworker for proofing and putting the topic for the email and “please proof” at the end of the subject line.  Be discerning with your subject line.

Block time and set expectations. There are two ways to eliminate five plus hours on emailing.  One is to set times that you read and respond to emails like at 8 AM, 11 AM and 4 PM or setting up blocks for deep work like 10 to 11:30 and 2 to 3:30.  Either way, I’d suggest when you start this, please let those you work closely with know that you plan on spending chunks of the day not responding to email.  Have them pick up the phone if it’s urgent.  For time blocks to work, set expectations with those around you.

Don’t be a part of the problem.  Send less emails.  It’s wired into us that we must be cordial and respond quickly.  This goes back to being a part of a group of hunter gatherers.  Those that got along with the group were not shunned from the group.  We want to belong so we answer quickly.  We are wired to be responsive so that we can be connected to the group.  But email is not a conversation.  Try to connect in person, virtually or by phone.  Limit the emails you send out.

Newport refers to the state of our brains as the hyperactive hive mind.  We end up in a constant state of task and context switching which is stressful and not very gratifying.  Time to think and do deep quality work is what most of us are missing. Email is one of the causes of our distracted minds.  How do you conquer emails?

😳My Father’s Experience in Korea in 1947

My late father went in the Army on February 20, 1946 at Fort Devens, Massachusetts and then onto basic training at Camp Crower in Missouri. World War II had ended with the Japanese surrendering on September 2, 1945 and the Korean War didn’t start until June 25, 1950. This means that when my father ended up in Korea in 1947, he was there during a tumultuous time. The Japanese were gone, and the United States military were there as military oversight. My father at the age of 22 was in a foreign land, that spoke a foreign language during uncertain times.

Korean man
Photos from my father’s army service in Korea 1947

In 1947, my father was about halfway through his bachelor’s degree. He had two semesters at Colby College and one summer semester at the University of Minnesota.

From my father’s personal history:

I volunteered for duty overseas. Signing up in the regular army to be sure I got out in 18 months, I awaited assignment to culture laden Europe where most GI’s went. What a shock when I was shipped to Fort Stoneman in California on the Sacramento River, near San Francisco. I was shipped out as a radio repairman to Korea – I didn’t even get stationed in Japan!

So, there was my father on his way across the Pacific on a life defining journey:

Authority

From my father’s personal history:

With hundreds of men confined to foc’siles in bunks stacked 5 high, the trip across the Pacific became a nightmare when a 3-day storm made most troops seasick. Not allowed on deck for air, the mess halls had no one to man them, latrines were stopped up by vomit and the stench become overwhelming as men threw up and relieved themselves in their bunks. I was OK till someone 4 bunks above vomited on me—then I heaved too. During all this, officers kicked us out of their way to get by and I learned to hate arbitrary authority—military law could put us behind bars if we hit back.

This scene is horrendous. The disarray. The lack of humanity. The impact on my father was a life led with levelheaded fairness. In the multitude of comments from his past students from his 30 plus years of teaching history was that he was fair. Grades were earned. Rules around discipline were clear on the first day of his class. He was never one to abuse authority and he used it judiciously.

Korea in town.JPG

Respect

As my father wrote:

We rode a train down the Peninsula to Ch’ongju, a mountainous area between Seoul and Pusan. We broke up wooden seats and started fires in the passageway – to prevent frostbite from bitter winds whistling through broken out windows. Seeing young Korean boys with a single shirt, shorts and rubber shoes without socks staring at us from railroad stops along the way, left me incredulous. I, near a fire, with heavy army boots, two sets of socks, a hat and helmet liner, was damn near freezing to death, so how in hell could those kids survive?!? I hoped we’d never have to fight such people. Though we had better weapons it was clear their survivability and toughness were far superior to ours.

When my father ever spoke about his life challenges, he never brought this experience up. When he spoke of life not being fair, his experience in Korea did come up. He never forgot the cold and those kids. Even though his experience was one small step above those kids, his respect for them was immense.

Curiosity

My father wrote:

One day, befriending our houseboy with a pack of matches, he took me far back into the mountains to visit his grandfather’s village. Kids and most adults had never seen an American before. Sitting in his grandfather’s hut amidst male villagers, I saw women peeking from another room for their first wide-eyed stare at a real man from the West. Politely declining pipes of opium, I passed around chicklets and showed photos of my family in response – pointed to a worn newspaper blowup of N.Y.C. skyscrapers on their wall and telling them through my houseboy interpreter I had lived near there. They laughed, shaking their heads, insisting it was just artistic imagination and that there was no such city like that.

My father was not a news reporter, he wasn’t working on behalf of the army, he did this all on his own. He ventured out to find out what was out “there”. I find this to be amazing. For the price of a pack of matches, he sought out a new perspective. In the many condolences I received from his past students, the over arching theme is that he made history come alive. He marched around classrooms with a pointer as a rifle and made the students feel like they were there. This curiosity. This wanderlust. I don’t believe it started in Korea but it certainly opened the door.

Korea street with ladies.JPG

Shift       

My father always famously said that he went to Korea a liberal and came back a conservative. As he wrote:

My 7 months’ allowed me to contrast our America with poorer lands in a way unobtainable from books, converting me from a liberal critic of our way of life to a defender of American society thereafter. The poverty imposed upon Koreans by 50 years of Japanese conquest was grim. Men and women squatted and defecated anywhere outdoors even in the river they got their cooking and drinking water from. A pungent stench of human excrement overpowered us wherever we went, reminding GI’s of missing sanitation, a lack of paved roads, bridges, safe drinking water, electricity and unheated houses in sub-zero weather. I pondered how Koreans could be happy in a land stripped of forests for fuel, widespread malnutrition, open body sores, universal disease and general mistreatment by local police and authorities.

It also shifted his trajectory of his career and future studies. He sailed under the Golden Gate Bridge with the Army and decided to finish his interrupted Sophomore year at Berkeley. He studied Intro to Government, Foreign Policies and U. S. History (he proudly received two B’s and an A). This lit the fuse to his 34-year career teaching and demonstrating history.

Korean Woman

This piece was prompted by finding the pictures attached from my father’s photos.  I am fortunate that he left behind his legacy in written and photographic form. But isn’t that his way. The great historian leaving his thoughts and personal evidence for me to have a better understanding of this great pivot point of his life. I asked him in his last few months if he had any regrets. The only one was not getting a PhD. The rest is all a life full of adventure, stories told and sharing his experiences. His students and his children are the fortunate and enriched receivers. We got to live it with him.

👌Got Plan B?

“The most successful people are those who are good at plan B.” -James A. Yorke

You are frustrated because they cancelled the show you bought the tickets for six months ago.  You don’t get the promotion you’ve been dreaming of since you came to this company.  The proposal you sent to your ideal client which is going to double your income this year, is turned down.  Is the universe ganging up on you?  Nope.  You just need a Plan B.

I a few years ago I traveled to New England on business and pleasure.  I ended up with several Plan B moments.  I was staying on the 17th floor of the Hartford Hilton.  The fire alarm went off at midnight.  Sleep was Plan A.  Descending 17 flights of stairs on foot was Plan B. I was staying at my friend’s beautiful country home (in the middle of nowhere in the Berkshires) and planned on writing while there.  There was a thunderstorm that plowed in overnight. Phone and wifi were dead.  Plan A was writing.  Plan B was having a lovely day long conversation with my friend.  I missed a connecting flight at Washington Reagan airport.  Making the connection was Plan A.  Walking 10,000 steps in Terminal C was Plan B.  The important thing was being open to Plan B.

This is how I remained open to Plan B:

  • Keep the goal in mind.  I’ve retold the story of taking 17 flights of stairs and more than one person told me, I think I would have just stayed in the hotel room.  Truth is I didn’t smell smoke but in a 22-story hotel, how could I possible know what was above me.  The goal was avoiding participating in a fire and if trudging 17 flights kept me safe, then that’s the goal.  Getting home safely was the goal when I missed the connection in DC.  It’s easy to get caught up in the frustration of a change of plans but if you focus on the end goal it calms the anxiety.
  • Know where your essentials are.  When a fire alarm goes off and there is an annoying strobe light to accompany it, it’s disorienting.  I tried to turn the light on next to my bed.  It didn’t go on.  I thought the electricity was out.  Fortunately, when I fumbled over to the desk lamp it worked. But I had no idea where my sneakers and glasses were.  Having shoes and glasses were essential.  During the thunderstorm two nights later and the lights flickered, I made sure I had my glasses and shoes next to my bed.  Socks?  Laptop? Nope. Not essential. So in a work situation if you end up not having an LCD projector, use a flip chart.  If you don’t have a flip chart, have someone take notes on paper.  Figure out what’s essential.
  • Label the feeling.  I was sitting in the last row of the plane when we finally pulled close to the gate and making my connecting flight was very present in my mind.  I had a ton of anxiety and, frankly, I was angry that we were sitting 10 feet from the gate but were not actually “at” the gate with the door open.  I consciously sat in my seat and thought, this is what anger feels like.  My forehead is hot and my stomach is clenched.  OK.  And this is what anxiety feels like.  My stomach is flipping and my throat is tight.  OK.  I sat there inventory-ing my feelings as they arose and labeling them.  I was able to witness the feelings instead of getting sucked into them. Labeling the feeling keeps you from stuffing it away as well.  Let it rise and vanish as you consider each one.  If you take anything from this post, work on labeling your feelings; it will keep you from getting sucked into them.
  • A plausible alternative.  When someone cuts me off in traffic, I try and imagine that they are headed to the hospital on an emergency.  When I was sitting in the back row of the plane, I decided it must be some safety issue and the plane couldn’t pull up to the door.  When the client I sent a proposal to doesn’t respond,  I imagine my offer ended up in their spam folder.  Better reach out by phone.  A coach friend of mine, Michele Woodward, recommends that you reach out to a potential client three times.  That’s a great rule of thumb.  With smart phones and bulging email inboxes, the world is a giant distraction.  It takes patience and persistence to get through the clutter.  Assume that they want to get back to you, they are just overwhelmed.  There is always a plausible alternative or explanation.
  • What opportunity is available.  When I realized I missed my connection and had four hours to kill, I decided that I could listen to my book on Audible and walk 10,000 steps.  I’m not sure there weren’t a few folks who saw me walking by them 15 times who didn’t think I might be lost or a lunatic but here was an opportunity to get a few hours of my book done and get in 10,000 steps.  The opportunity in Hartford was seeing some thirty Hartford firefighters.  These guys were there to potentially save my life.  What bravery.  They do this every day.  Run in while we run out.  I don’t have the opportunity to see that every day.  The opportunity in the Berkshires without wifi?  Isn’t it obvious.  20 hours without social media and email and phone.  Priceless.  All I need is a good friend and a dog and the opportunities are endless.

I’ve always had my father as an example of patience.  I have always admired his unflappability.  Whether it was a flat tire or a teenager changing their mind with Friday night plans, “Daddy, can you drive me and my friends to bowling instead of playing Monopoly at home?”  I try and tap into his patience when I face my Plan B. Tools help.

😎Got Stress? 5 Tricks to Reset

I coach around 30 to 40 professionals across many industries. They range from technology, manufacturing, finance and government.  I’ve noticed a real uptick in the amount of folks suffering from stress and overwhelm.  I believe it’s partially due to so many businesses are short staffed and many are still trying to negotiate the boundary between home and work; and post pandemic, what’s safe and not safe.  I know for myself, the struggle to remember where masks are mandatory, where it’s prudent and wanting to just go back to pre-2020 is real  There is an underlying stress for many folks that a crowd of people still equals danger.  Their body is sending stress signals that other humans are germ carrying vessels and to go wash your hands again.  It’s hard to rewire our brains into relaxing and resetting into calm.  Several of my high performing clients are petrified to return to the office whether the fear is unfounded or not.  It’s difficult to recapture calm once the cortisol is released in your body but there are some tricks that can be helpful.

Here are 5 tricks to reset to calm:

Take 20 Minutes.  When you perceive a threat whether real or imagined (I can’t tell you how many times I thought a root was a snake on a hiking trail), your breathing is shallow, your heart rate goes up, adrenaline and cortisol are released. As Donna Marino wrote for Fast Company, “Psychologists call this process the “fight, flight, or freeze response,” referring to the body’s instinctual reaction to this event. Once this process is triggered, it can take up to 20 minutes for the parasympathetic system to intervene and return you to a state of calm.” So, let’s say you were just embarrassed on a conference call or the offer on your house fell through or you are angry at your partner.  Take a 20-minute break.  Once you are triggered it’s very difficult to speak and think coherently.  If there is any way to take a break to later in the day or, better yet the next day, get some space and time to reset.

Best, Worst, Most Likely.  Perhaps you are nervous to confront your direct report on a poor-quality project or to present to the executive team or to get through this really challenging class.  Think through or write down or chat with a close friend or coach. 

Ask yourself the following three questions:  

  • What is the best outcome?  My employee turns around and gets promoted, I am flawless on the presentation and they tap me for a promotion I get an A+ in the course.  
  • What is the worst outcome? My employee quits and goes on Glass Door to trash me, the executive team hate the presentation and I’m demoted, and I flunk the course and have to take it over. I saw a fun example of this on “This Is Us” as a married couple tries to compete for worst case scenario usually involving a parenting decision.  
  • What is the most likely outcome?  My employee makes improvements and we have a better working relationship, my presentation goes well with only a few hiccups, and I get a B in the class which slightly drops my GPA.  

This helps keep me from dwelling on what could go wrong to imaging the best; realistically facing the worst and then relaxing into what is most likely.

Reframing. The words that I use to describe a situation can influence the way my body perceives it. If I say, “I’m nervous about this new client as opposed to I’m excited about this new client.”  My brain is deciding I’m on high alert in the first part and curious in the second part.  For many weeks leading up to a cross country trip last year I referred to putting my beloved dog Baci into prison for 4 weeks.  Imagine how that made me feel.  When I told a colleague about it he said, “That boarding place?  That’s a resort”.  When I reframed it into a resort, I was less stressed out and more excited (not nervous) to drop Baci off. My good friend Mark sold his family home and while it was daunting, he changed his language to be “I’m excited to clear the garage or cull through my parent’s books.”  The language we use in our head and how we frame it is very important to resetting our mind. 

Role play. It’s extremely helpful to role play or practice a difficult discussion or presentation.  I can play in my mind what I want to say but saying it out loud either by myself to a mirror or to a trusted colleague or to a coach can be super helpful in dampening down one’s nerves.  It’s helpful to work the kinks out.  I do this a lot with my clients and I can give helpful feedback like, “You said “um” six times and you rambled a bit in the last sentence Is there a way to tighten it up?” I personally like to have bullets if I’m going to speak to a crowd or facilitate to a group but you may want flash cards or talking points.  Figure out what makes you most comfortable and practice it to reset to calm. 

Comfortable.  If I know I’m going into something that might make me anxious like a performance discussion with an employee or speaking to a new group or taking an exam, I try to make sure I am as comfortable as possible while matching the situation (I’m not wearing pajamas to a speaking engagement).  As Francis Kuehnle wrote for Healthline, “Aromatherapy is thought to help activate certain receptors in your brain, potentially easing anxiety.” Wear a scent that makes you feel good.  If a shirt or blouse has a tag that rubs against your skin or you are constantly tugging on a top, wear something that makes you feel confident and comfortable. Being comfortable will help you reset into calm. 

These are more short-term ways to deal with stress and anxiety.  There are many regimes that can help with your ability to cope like yoga, meditation, walking outside, better sleep and reducing alcohol and caffeine. I’ve made many lifestyle changes over the last ten years and I have to say I’m much less anxious and tend to roll with the punches more easily.  My suggestion is to try out one of these and see if it has an impact.  How do you reduce stress?

😳5 Steps to Capitalize on Regret

I recently read Daniel Pink’s, The Power of Regret. It is a thought-provoking book on a feeling that most of us shun.  It seems counterintuitive to focus on a negative emotion that could potentially lead down a dangerous path of rumination. Pink bravely investigates the topic by drawing on research in economics, neuroscience, psychology and biology.  His findings were thought-provoking; while regret is universal, it doesn’t need to be negative. 

As Amy Blaschka wrote for Forbes, “In conducting his World Regret Survey, in which he collected regrets from more than 16,000 people in 105 countries, Pink found that most people have regrets that fall into four core categories:

  1. Foundation regrets — “If only I’d done the work.”
  2. Boldness regrets — “If only I’d taken the chance.”
  3. Moral regrets— “If only I’d done the right thing.”
  4. Connection regrets— “If only I’d reached out.”

As Pink wrote, “When we handle it properly, regret can make us better. Understanding its effects hones our decisions, boosts our performance, and bestows a deeper sense of meaning.” Pink suggests a 3-step process to tackle regret properly.

5 steps to capitalize on regret:

  • Undo it. If possible, undo the damage you’ve done.  Apologize for the pain you’ve caused or for not staying in touch or for the deeds you committed. I recall someone I went to elementary school with reached out to me some ten years ago.  I was on the west coast at the time and we met for coffee.  We chatted and caught up and then they apologized for bullying me in grade school.  I have to admit that I was bullied by so many during school, I had forgotten this person’s bullying but I so appreciated that they apologized.  Maybe it’s telling the truth, writing a check, going back for the degree, calling a long-lost friend or returning an heirloom. If there is a way to undo it, do it.
  • “At least.” Silver medalists are rarely smiling as much as the bronze medalists.  The silver medalist is thinking “if only” and the bronze medalist is thinking “at least” I made the podium.  Think more like a bronze medalist. I’ve done this with my children’s dad.  I will randomly remember a breach of trust he committed (some thirty-five years ago!), and then I think, “Well, at least I have two healthy, vibrate children or at least I travelled around South America with him”. It could always have been worse. Try on “at-least “Ing. 
  • Self-disclosure. Find a friend, sister or coach or pick up a pen and start writing. As Kevin Delany wrote for Charter Works, “Writing or talking about a regret can help move it from a place of emotion to a place where you can analyze it. Research has shown that just writing about a regret can make abstract emotions more concrete and lighten the burden.” I remember when my second marriage ended, I wrote several long diatribes to my ex.  I never mailed them but the release helped me transform the pain into forward motion.  Instead of getting caught up in the regret, I was able to slowly realize that this was actually a positive direction and that I wasn’t stuck any longer.  In retrospect, it was a boldness regret that I didn’t decide to take the chance to leave him but regardless, I was now free.  Bring it into the light and practice self-disclosure.
  • Self-compassion.  As Blacshka wrote, “We tend to treat ourselves far worse than we would ever treat others, whether they’re friends, family, or even strangers facing the same mistake. And berating ourselves when we’re already frustrated and feeling like a failure is counterproductive. Instead, we’re much better off extending ourselves the same kindness, warmth, and understanding we’d offer a good friend. By normalizing our negative experiences, says Pink, we neutralize them.”  What would you say if your child or friend came to you with the same regret?  That’s the self-talk you need to rectify the regret. 
  • Self-distancing.  Distancing doesn’t mean hiding or numbing out.  Self-distancing is putting space, time or language between you and the regret. Putting space between you and the regret is taking a different vantage point like being a fly on the wall.  How would the fly see the situation?  Putting time in between is looking out ten years and seeing what advice you would give yourself now.  I remember doing a time travel meditation after I gave up alcohol to project out how I would look in ten years if I kept the same pace of drinking. It’s really grounded me in sticking to my sobriety.  Using language is all about using the second or third person. Pink says that “when we abandon first person in talking to ourselves, the distance that creates helps us recast threats as challenges and replace distress with meaning.” Figure out how to distance yourself to get a new perspective.

Reading the book and writing this piece has brought up several regrets for me but I have to say that it’s been beneficial.  It has instructed me on the path forward, provided clarity and I feel lighter from the experience.  Regret doesn’t have to just be negative, it can be powerful. 

✈️4 Tips on Traveling to Barcelona

This August I traveled to Barcelona with my son Benson, my daughter Natalie and her fiancé Kevin.  We had spent 5 days in Bordeaux before arriving in Barcelona by train. I have been wanting to travel to Barcelona and Spain in general for the better part of twenty years.  Leading up to traveling to Barcelona I had been watching countless Spanish language series on Netflix like Hache and La Catedral del Mar which take place in Barcelona. My previous travel to Spanish speaking countries has been mostly in South America, I wanted to get my ear accustomed to “Spanish” Spanish.  While learning any romance language can help you in parts of Europe, I’m not sure all that effort was worth it although I really do enjoy watching foreign language shows. 

My children walking through the “streets” of Barcelona

Here are my tips on traveling to Barcelona:

Transportation.  Traveling by train from Bordeaux took us from Bordeaux to Narbonne (France) where we transferred to a train from Narbonne to Barcelona. The train ride from Narbonne to Barcelona is very scenic.  We passed by the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain on one side and the Mediterranean on the other.  There were kite surfers on the inlets and the rest of the landscape was mostly desolate.  Upon arriving in Barcelona, Benson and Natalie decided we should take a subway to our apartment location.  As we entered the Estacio Sants, I was entirely overwhelmed by all the signage and crowds snaking in and out of gates. I have to say I really wanted to get into a cab mostly because I am not a fan of maneuvering luggage on a subway and I freeze in confusion by the tumult.  Yes, we went down some crowded staircases without escalators but in retrospect, it really was the best way to go. I’m glad I just trusted my kids to get us where we needed to go.  After walking about a half mile with all our luggage (take suitcases with wheels please), we traversed what is a labyrinth of streets (neh, alleys) of the Gothic Quarter.  There were no cars on these streets. If and when there is a car on these streets, it’s an event which shuts down a lot of the street making it impassable.  Take public transportation, have either very light bags or sturdy bags with wheels because you will be walking with your luggage. 

Catalan.  Folks in Barcelona speak Catalan. If French and Spanish had a baby, it would be the language Catalan.  This means that every sign, package and menu is in Catalan.  Not Spanish.  Not French.  Yes, we were usually handed menus in English and the majority of folks in the Gothic Quarter spoke English and Spanish due to the high number of foreign tourists but you are immersed in Catalan.  Most street signage is in Catalan which while somewhat similar to Spanish (it’s frequently written in Spanish below), it can get pretty confusing.  Sortida is Catalan, Salida is Spanish and Sortie is French for Exit. I had to study Catalan on my language app for about three months before traveling to Barcelona but when I got there…I kept reverting to Spanish.  Most will be able to speak English and will usually default to it in tourist areas but they speak Catalan and Catalan is not Spanish.

Food.  Our apartment in Barcelona had a very small refrigerator, about the size of a large dorm refrigerator in the United States.  This evolved into a happy turn of events because I never even tried to cook. This fortunately, “forced” us to eat out at practically every meal.  The food in Barcelona was terrific. For the carnivores in our group, Benson, there was a huge array of sliced cured meats like jamon, chorizo, salchichon, lomo, and sobrassada.  For a plant focused person like myself, the roasted peppers and eggplant was simple yet divine. The assortment of seafood was terrific and the octopus is not to be missed. Serendipitously, for foodies like my family, there were three of the best restaurants in Barcelona at the bottom of the stairs to our apartment.  One of which was La Alcoba Azul (the blue bedroom), was directly below us.  We had plates and plates of incredible food in the back of this cave like restaurant with very low ceilings, ancient wooden tables and candles that had what looked like centuries of melted wax.  Every morning we ducked into a multitude of cafes for espresso and lattes and whatever their specialty was for breakfast: either crispy flakey croissant or pan con tomato. The only meal we had with a reservation, was at Gourmet Sensi.  To my surprise they had some delicious creative vegetarian options like Ravioli with Truffles and Parmesan and Cannelloni made from eggplant.  Each forkful was delicious. We reflected later that probably the best food was that last night in Barcelona at Gourmet Sensi.  The Mercado de Boqueria is an enormous public market that has practically anything to go.  You can get a cup of charcuterie, fruit slices, cheese slices, olives and roasted nuts…anything.  When I go back to Barcelona, I will do a better job of planning my lunch to be eating my way through “La Boqueria”.  In retrospect, I love that we rarely had a plan yet ate incredible food at every meal, snack and coffee break. My advice is to eat the food, everywhere and often.

Explore. Fortunately, our apartment had air conditioning which is unusual for the Gothic Quarter.  It was nice to have a refuge from the 90-degree heat although there were plenty of beaches within either subway or walking distance as well.  I finally put my toes in the Med at Playa del Bogatell. There are countless public beaches to choose from.  There are numerous attractions like the public parks like Parc de la Cuitadella and Parc del Port Olimpic and anything designed by Antonio Gaudi is worth the trek like the Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, Casa Mila and Palau Guell.  The Tempo de Augusto is a historic landmark that is part of a temple that was built by the Romans in the 4th century.   FOURTH Century! There are several museums in Barcelona and we explored the Picasso Museum where they had some of his earliest works from when he was a teenager.  It’s a remarkable transformation from a classic portrait painter as a fifteen-year-old to the cubism he was known for in his later years. His style so dramatically changes throughout the museum that I kept walking up to each one to verify it was Picasso who painted it.  I think I could have explored Barcelona for another year and not found the same place twice.  My advice is to get out and explore Barcelona, there are countless offerings.

I’m glad that we didn’t have a frenetic pace to our trip and that the four of us were together for a handful of things like dinners, a flamenco show and the Sagrada Familia.  I spent time with each of my children separately and together and I had some time on my own. We constantly were weaving experiences together and apart. The result was a relaxing, delicious escape to an intriguing city.  I cannot wait to return. 

💡5 Ways to Let Go of Perfection

I have periodic bouts of perfectionism.  I can get angry with myself when a recipe doesn’t work out to my standards, a road trip doesn’t go as planned or a facilitation lands flat. Perfectionism is constantly brought up on coaching calls with my clients.  Whether it’s having exacting standards for direct reports, being incapable of delegating for fear of mistakes or working in excess of twelve hours a day to triple check the data or power through quarter end.  Perfectionism is running amuck in organizations and families everywhere.  I’ve seen clients literally paralyzed by perfection into procrastination.  They knew they had to start the project or the annual review or the strategic plan but the time ticked away as they froze into immobility.  They just couldn’t start because of fear that it would not be perfect. As May Busch writes for her blog, “Perfectionism puts you under greater stress and is just plain bad for your health. All of which makes you less efficient and effective. It’s a downward spiral, and not a sustainable way to do business or live your life.” Get out of the spiral.

Here are 5 ways to let go of perfection:

  1. Be honest with yourself. I have found that most folks who tend towards perfectionism typically already know that they are.  There are three types of perfectionism.  Socially prescribed perfectionism is striving to live up to external standards like family or the organization and the fear of rejection.  Other-oriented perfectionism is focused on having unattainable standards for others like direct reports or children and those demands hurt their relationships. Self-oriented perfectionism is focused on self with very high standards for one’s self with highly organized and conscientious expectations. Everyone has parts of all of these to differing degrees.  I took an assessment and found that my highest area was socially prescribed although the population in general skews towards self-oriented perfectionism. This is good information to have as now I understand why I focus more on being accepted by others while I have lower standards for myself.  Find out where you stand on perfectionism.
  1. Acknowledge limitations. There is a point of diminishing returns. As Erin Rupp wrote for Freedom, “Typically, productivity quickly grows at the start of a work session then reaches a point where it begins to wane. This is the point of diminishing returns. At this point, the output starts slowing and then declines, so continuing doesn’t make sense because the gains will be negligible.”  I can remember cramming for an exam in college.  At a certain point, I knew that sleep was more important than studying.  As we age, it’s more difficult to work into the wee hours of the night and expect to be at our best the next day and for the quality of the work to be as good after a certain period of time.  I also think that looking at 90-minute cycles to work is better than powering through for multiple hours.  “Working for 75 to 90 minutes takes advantage of the brain’s two modes: learning or focusing and consolidation” says Robert Pozen of MIT.  Self-imposed limitations help get to good enough.
  1. Confront procrastination. As Rupp wrote, “The key to breaking the loop of perfectionism and procrastination is taking your attention off your fears. When we overthink our tasks, they become more overwhelming.” Blocking distractions can be very effective.  Put your phone in another room, turn it off or get an app that blocks distractions. Thinking through “what if” scenarios can be effective as well.  What if my facilitation falls flat? “It’s OK because my self-worth isn’t wrapped up in whether or not it goes well.” What if it they love it? “Great, I’ve been able to have an impact and I’ve learned what works for the next time.”  What is most likely to happen?  “Probably something in between and I’ll learn something regardless.”  I also like breaking things down.  If you put it on your to-do list “Read Gone with the Wind” or “Read one paragraph of Gone with the Wind” or “Move book to my bedside”.  The first is daunting and the other two are doable.  As BJ Fogg suggests making it easier to achieve means you are more likely to follow through instead of procrastination. 
  1. Set reasonable attainable goals. This can be for ourselves and others. As Oliver Burkeman wrote for Four Thousand Weeks, “The problem with trying to make time for everything that feels important—or just for enough of what feels important—is that you definitely never will. The reason isn’t that you haven’t yet discovered the right time management tricks or supplied sufficient effort, or that you need to start getting up earlier, or that you’re generally useless. It’s that the underlying assumption is unwarranted: there’s no reason to believe you’ll ever feel ‘on top of things,’ or make time for everything that matters, simply by getting more done.” The more you chase being on top of things, the more overwhelmed you feel.  Cut out the less important and focus on what is attainable.
  1. Practice self-compassion.  As Busch wrote, “As you retrain yourself, one of the most powerful obstacles in your way will be your self-talk. When the voice in your head says things like, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right” or “Don’t be lazy” or “Everything is riding on this”, it’s hard to stop yourself from going for perfect.” Good enough is good enough. Would you call a friend “lazy” or “stupid”, heck would you say it to an enemy?  Try some of these positive affirmations instead:
  • My health is more important than my performance/accomplishments.
  • I will give myself grace when I make a mistake.
  • Mistakes are growth opportunities.
  • I value learning more than being right.
  • Everyone makes mistakes.
  •   My worth isn’t based on my achievements.

   Self-compassion is critical to reduce the anxiety associated with perfectionism. 

Perfectionism seems more rampant to me as folks cope with hybrid return to the office or full time working remotely.  We don’t seem to get the same reassurance from personal interactions that we are enough through a computer screen, it’s easier to get wrapped up in the “real message” in that email or slack message from my boss. Acceptance and grace start with ourselves.  How do you get past perfectionism?

🎶The Power of Music

Labor Day weekend of this year, my friend Mark and I went to the annual outdoor Duke Symphony Orchestra Pop’s concert on Duke University’s east campus.  This was a pilgrimage of sorts for me.  My daughter Natalie, had played this very same concert as a freshman 12 years earlier.  It’s an amazing feat for the musicians as it was the first week of school and they had just auditioned, been selected and rehearsed together for a mere 6 hours before performing for a crowd of several hundred on a sunny Sunday afternoon in September. It was my experience 12 years earlier at this very concert that started a dream that eventually brought me to Durham to live.  So here we were, Mark and I, sitting in camp chairs, the orchestra players under a white canopy and all walks of life surrounding us from babies, toddlers, freshman with back packs, families with picnics, couples with wine and cheese and senior citizens barely managing their folding chairs. We waited to be entertained by the music.

Children dancing at the Duke Symphony Orchestra performance

The experience reminded me of the power of music:

Music moves.  I usually write while listening to classical music.  It’s amazing how I instantly wanted to nod my head or tap my feet.  As written by Daniel Levitin for Psychological Science, “Researchers have shown that music stimulates the cerebellum, a region of the brain crucial to motor control. He says connections between the cerebellum and the limbic system (which is associated with emotion), may explain why movement, emotion, and music are tied together.” At the outdoor concert it was intriguing to watch the young children coming together to dance and swing and run and sway.  It was apparent that most didn’t know each other but they were drawn in by the music to dance in joyful exuberance. 

Music is nostalgic.  I had no idea what music they were going to play.  I may not know the name of a song but regardless I can be suddenly transported to another decade. They played part of Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring which has in its seventh section a rife on the Shaker tune Simple GiftsSimple Gifts supplants me to a beach on Dan Hole Pond in Ossipee NH at Camp Merrowvista at the age of fifteen. There we are – skinny teenage girls in overalls and t-shirts sitting in a circle under the moonlight singing, “’Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be, And when we find ourselves in the place just right.” I was in the right place 45 years ago and I was in the right place at that concert.  Time travel in the matter of a few seconds without a time machine or plane ticket. 

Music engages. The last song of the concert was John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” and the Maestro had us clapping in time.  At the flamenco performance I saw a month earlier in Barcelona, I was dying to stomp my feet and grab up a large flowing skirt.  The children at the outdoor concert were compelled to grab each other’s hand and spin in a circle. At the last choral performance I saw in the Duke Chapel, the entire group joined in singing Hallelujah. I remember my last day of work and my coworker Kiesha asking what walk out music I wanted.  I said I didn’t have one.  She selected one for me on her phone and played it as I strutted out of the office with my coworkers coming out of their cubicles to witness my last day of work to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”.  Music calls you to be a part of it.  To engage in it.  To participate and belong to the experience. 

Music connects. As an undergrad at Cornell in the early 1980’s, we had a group of us that worked at the Pancake House called “The PhD’s” (pancake house drunks) that used to go out most Thursdays to bars around Ithaca, NY.  We only went to bars that had a jukebox with the song “Mack the Knife” sung by Bobby Darin on it.  There are hand movements (neh, body movements) that go with the song.  There would be twenty or more of us singing along with Bobby crooning away. I think every wedding I attended post-graduation, it was a “must play” song as well as Sinatra’s “New York, New York.” It was a PhD anthem. Anything from Pink Floyd connects me to my brother, Rick while sitting on a bean bag chair in the basement of our house between two giant speakers listening to “Wish you were here” or “Money”. My children and I took a terrific 2,000 mile road trip around the southwest United States when they were in elementary school.  We had a video player (very new age at the time) in the back seat.  We listened to Lion King countless times.  “Hakuna Matata” was the anthem for that trip. Music weaves connections in my life.

What is so powerful about music is that its meaning is different for each one of us.  I hear the Eurythmics “Sweet Dreams” and I am taken back to riding the subway to work in Manhattan with my Walkman cassette player.  For you?  You may have never heard it or it takes you to a hospital room or a senior prom or a marching band performance.  Its power is endless in its connection, nostalgia and engagement in countless ways. How does music move you?