My daughter. My Hero.

This is for my daughter on her twenty-ninth birthday!

My daughter, Natalie, is my stable rock. My ballast. My hero. She has recently turned twenty-five and moved to Seattle about a year ago.  I had the great fortune to spend a recent weekend with her in New Mexico where she was born.  It was great fun to return to a state that has many natural marvels and be able to give context to how her life began.  Some twenty-six years earlier, my first husband and I moved to Albuquerque to run a restaurant and try our luck as entrepreneurs.  The restaurant eventually failed and put immense pressure on our marriage.  The wonderful shining glory that came out of that ill fated move to Albuquerque was a delightful, precious blue-eyed baby girl with an infectious smile and laugh.

Outside of a return trip to New Mexico when Natalie was eight, she has not returned.  She has faint memories of that trip and certainly does not remember her first four months of life in the Land of Enchantment. We had a lot of fun returning to where it all began. It also brought up some of the reasons I have depended on her for so much in her quarter century on the Earth.

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My brother, Rick, my daughter, Natalie and I hiking in New Mexico in 2018

Here are the ways Natalie is my hero:

Open. Natalie is open to any and all adventures. We did not have much of an agenda once we landed at Albuquerque’s Sunport except for a restaurant reservation or two.  Whether it was strolling the plaza in Santa Fe or taking a hike around a reservoir, Natalie was open.  She had no deadlines, no agenda, no must-see spots.  I feel like so many people in life have hidden agendas or hidden intentions.  Not Natalie. Anything goes. Wanna hike?  Sure.  Shop? You bet. Sleep in? OK. It makes me rethink how open I am to what is next. Be open.

Decisive.  Natalie may be open to all the options but once she has made up her mind, or the group has made up their mind, she goes after it. We had decided to hike Tent Rocks located outside of Santa Fe with my brother, Rick.  Once the decision was made, there was no going back.  I’m pretty sure that even if it was raining or 110 degrees, Natalie would have made it to the top of that slot canyon. She was committed. Even a random crossing of a rattlesnake on our path could not deter her from her destiny. Once you have weighed out all your options, be decisive.

Empathy. I have always had an issue with balance. I pause at the top of steps and escalators to get my barring. There were several times along the hike that Natalie grabbed my hand. I didn’t ask. She knew. When navigating very narrow footings, she said, “just one foot in front of the other.” I didn’t ask. She knew. As we hiked she would insist on a water break.  Not for her. For me. She pays attention. She senses the discomfort. She anticipates the need. It’s such a gift that I don’t know she is even aware she has it. Be in tune to those around you.

Navigator. Natalie and I had explored a trail near Santa Fe around a reservoir.  The trail was not well marked.  Towards the end of the hike we lost the trail. Pretty soon we were hiking through low uncharted brush and no fellow hikers were to be seen.  We had no GPS.  No cell coverage. I felt a bit of concern. There was no need. Natalie had a feel for where we were and led us back to the trail head and parking lot. There have been many hiccups and storms in my life over the last year and Natalie has been the calm navigator seeing me through. Make sure you have a sound navigator to help you through the storms.

Ballast. Every boat has a ballast to weight the boat upright. Natalie is my ballast. She is rarely rattled by events and keeps an even demeanor.  I can be easily flustered and fly into worst case scenarios. Natalie keeps me balanced by listening and asking questions to help me understand my own thinking. I may be ready to unload all the cargo on the boat or drop anchor but Natalie is the voice of reason.  Who is your ballast.  Maybe you are a ballast for someone else.  It’s important to have a ballast to even things out.

Joy. Natalie has infectious energy. She also happens to be a great selfie taker.  There she is in the center of the photo flashing her enchanting smile.  I cannot look at a photo of her without smiling. She is joy. She is possibility. She is magic. There are very few people that I know who exude that joyful energy. It sparks action. Everything seems possible when there is joy in the room.  I am so fortunate to have her in my life. Find joy.

I am so proud to be Natalie’s mother and, most importantly, that she is in my life. She makes everything brighter and more amazing. Who is your hero?

6 Benefits of a Morning Swim

I started swimming on a regular basis about three months ago.  When I relocated to Durham, North Carolina, I found a public indoor pool and decided to sign up for a 10-visit swim pass.  I have to say I was a bit nervous.  If you have ever been to a public pool or shower, it can be intimidating.  Are the showers mildew covered, is there a private place to change, will the pool be a decent temperature, and, most importantly, will there be a free lane for me to swim in? I reserved a lane online, paid my fee, and drove, with trepidation, to the Campus Hills location on an early Saturday morning.  There was plenty of free parking, a pleasant gentleman at the reception desk, and a clean, empty locker room for me to leave my belongings as well as baskets available to take personal items out to my lane.  I was reassured.  Now all I had to do was swim.

My local indoor pool

I was on my high school swim team my sophomore year.  I can remember the early morning practices and swimming upwards of 2,000 to 2,500 yards.  What I remember most was the trance like state I would get into, swimming back and forth.  I was longing for that.  The Zen state of just being, I think it’s what brought me back to the pool after some forty years.

Here are 6 benefits of a morning swim:

It’s a great start.   There are almost always other swimmers at the eight-lane pool.  I ran into one of the women that was swimming a few lanes over on the way out the door.  I told her to have a great day and she said “Nothing can go wrong after starting my day with a swim.” I heartily agreed with her. It’s like teeing up my day for success. I’ve exercised, I’ve showered, I’ve centered myself.  It’s a terrific way to start your day.

There is one path.  Throughout my day, I need to make countless decisions whether it be what to wear, what trail to walk my dog, what to eat, or what task to work on. When I’m in the pool, there is only one way and one direction and one thick black line on the bottom of the pool.  That is my only path.  I follow the black line until it ends at a T and then, I go back the other way. It’s such a great antidote for decision fatigue.  Jump in the pool and just follow the black line.

No technology. There are no calls, emails, social media, or screens…at all. It’s amazingly freeing to be without the distraction of any notifications. I do wear an iWatch which, miraculously, counts my strokes, my laps, and heart rate.  But outside of biofeedback, I am free to detach from the outside world and focus on the black line below.

It’s good for your heart. Of course, any exercise is good for your heart but as written by Dr. Daniel Bubnis for Greatist, “One study found that people with a regular swimming routine lost weight and had decreased carotid arterial stiffness, lower blood pressure, and increased blood flow to the brain. All these benefits reduce the risk of heart disease.” I have to say that my blood pressure was already lowered most likely by eating plant based but I’ll take anything that’s good for my heart.

It burns calories. I noticed this almost immediately when I started tracking my swimming on my watch.  I burn close to twice the calories that I burn on a hike of the same period of time (say 30 minutes) and my average heart rate is higher as well.  As Bubnis wrote, “Since your whole body is working, it’s no surprise that swimming is a real calorie burner. Swimming burns the same number of calories as jogging (without the joint stress). And that’s if you’re swimming at a relaxed pace!” It’s a workout even though there’s no sweat!

Less stress. For me, it’s the repetition of the stroke, the breath, the hum of the bubbles in the water, the trusty black line below, the peace and flow when I push off the wall to glide effortlessly forward. As Bubnis reported, “A 2012 survey commissioned by Speedo found that 74 percent of participants had reduced stress after swimming. And 70 percent said swimming left them mentally refreshed. Keep in mind that any form of exercise can help reduce stress. But water-based activities are known to have additional soothing effects. It’s just hard to be stressed out when you’re floating in water.” Swimming can reduce stress.

I initially started swimming during the winter because it was the one activity that wasn’t as dependent on the weather, and I could reserve a lane time that fit my schedule. There are some days when it’s not a morning swim, although I do prefer to swim in the morning. I have slowly been working my way up to longer distances, today was 1,200 yards! I think back to swim practice in 1977, and Mrs. Woods starting us off with 1,000 yards freestyle to get warmed up. Whelp.  I can’t swim the entire length of a pool with one breath either.  It’s just nice to find peace, solitude, and a little bit of Zen to start off my day.

Endings. Letting Go of the Anchor.

This is a repost from 18 months ago. Enjoy!

I have been stuck for about 4 years now. It has likely been more like 10 years. I can blame the dissolution of my marriage on Hurricane Matthew but the downward spiral happened years before. I spent six years putting lipstick on a pig. I ignored the signs of an absent partner and spent my days “being love and light.” I sat on the same couch, I made all his favorite meals, I invited him on my business trips, I tried to shoehorn myself into his heart in all manner of ways hoping we would turn the corner. He left anyway.

The last three and a half years have been spent trying to get free of him financially. At long last, yesterday, I am free. I stood at the mailbox and cried as I held the document that released me. The deed to my home is mine. I am free to do whatever I choose, whenever I want. It goes on the market this weekend. So now is the ending. As William Bridges writes, “Transition starts with an ending. This is paradoxical but true. This first phase of transition begins when people identify what they are losing and learn how to manage these losses. They determine what is over and being left behind, and what they will keep. These may include relationships, processes, team members or locations.” So now comes the ending and making these critical decisions of what must stay and what must go.

How to embrace endings and let go of the anchor:

What must go

Clutter is a distraction and weighs me down. I am a huge fan of Marie Kondo and her book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Her series on Netflix is inspiring as well. Marie is a joyful, delicate person. She is in tune to the spaces she enters and is incredibly upbeat. She walks people through all their flotsam and asks the simple question, “Does this spark joy?” Or as I like to think of it, “It’s a hell yes or a hell no.” Three years ago, purging my life of all things of and with my ex was easy. Most of it was “hell no.” Now that we have a property division and I am curating my belongs, I am even more brutal about what must go. Now I think it terms of “do I want to pay for this to be moved to the next place?” It was easy to hold onto an old couch or sauté pan if I didn’t have to transport it anywhere else. Now that I would have to move it? It’s a hell no. Ending is letting go of what weighs you down.

What was

I am wrapped up in all the memories in this house. I am wrapped up in all the sunrise pictures I’ve posted on Facebook. I think of all the wild animals that have flown, crawled, slithered and walked their way into my view. I wait patiently every morning for the sunrise and whether it will be more magical than the last. I note the variety of birds that have flown by my lakefront backyard over the last seventeen years. The ospreys, Great Blue Herons, hummingbirds, Egrets, little blue herons, mallards, cardinals, woodpeckers and Bald Eagles. I reminisce and hope they will take one last bow before I leave, but treasure that I was here to experience it at all. There is the closet door that marked my children’s height and weight over ten years. The photos of holidays and celebrations over seventeen years. I am grateful that I experienced it all and so happy to have shared the memories with my children, friends and family. I am so happy that this home has sparked joy and I look forward to another family being able to create their own memories. Endings are about keeping the memories and moving on.

What will be

It was my coach, Tammi Wheeler, who wisely pointed out that I was entering “The Neutral Zone”. This is the uncomfortable place of stepping off a cliff and hoping for a parachute on the way down. Living with the decision that I am leaving this magical place. To be open to the possibilities of what will come. To trust myself that it’s as it should be and I will, as always, land on my feet in an even better place. As Bridges writes, “This is the time between the old reality and sense of identity and the new one. People are creating new processes and learning what their new roles will be. They are in flux and may feel confusion and distress. The neutral zone is the seedbed for new beginnings.” I am preparing myself for the new patterns and processes. I trust the Stoics’ Amor Fati (love of one’s fate) and keep a curious mind as to what the next adventure will be. Endings create possibility.

As I reflected on this experience with Tammi last week, I said that this house had been an anchor for seventeen years and it was time to let it go. I am excited and apprehensive as I take hold of the tiller of the boat and head out into open waters and new beginnings.

Got Time Poverty? 4 Causes

The most difficult part of working remotely is that my day has no chapters, no boundaries. There are no bookends to my day. Traveling to work or to school or the daily arrival of my children home from school used to make a delineation in the day. There are the blurry lines of “Am I at work right now?” or “Am I on a break?” or “I’ll answer this one email even though it’s 3 PM on Sunday.” My days are one big smoosh of what feels like aimless work and yet at the end of the day I say to myself, “How was I home ALL day and I got NOTHING done?” This has been my excuse for months as I have barely written any new blog posts. I have been suffering from time poverty. I have plenty of time – I just have no idea where it goes.

I read an article from by Ashley Whillians on Ideas.Ted.com in which she wrote, “Time poverty is a serious problem, with serious costs for individuals and society. The data that I and others have amassed show a correlation between time poverty and misery. People who are time poor are less happy, less productive and more stressed out. They exercise less, eat fattier food and have a higher incidence of cardiovascular disease. Time poverty forces us to compromise. Instead of preparing a nutritious dinner, we grab chips and guac and munch mindlessly while staring at our screens.” Hmmm. It’s not just me that is sucked into screen time and feeling miserably unproductive. 

Here are some of the reasons I suffer from time poverty:

Technology

Whillians posits, “Technology interruptions break our hours into confetti.” I love that metaphor. Confetti. Light little pieces of magical colors that have absolutely no functionality and are a mess to clean up. That would be my inbox on 3 different email accounts, 4 different messaging systems and 2 different phone numbers. That is my technological confetti and I’m cleaning it up all day, every day.

Shawn Stevenson wrote, “Just being near your phone impairs cognitive performance. If we’re going to be empowered… if we’re going to be able to reach our potential in an increasingly distracted world, we MUST do some practical things to maintain control of our attention. This recent study uncovered that THE MERE PRESENCE of your phone can cause significant cognitive impairment. The researchers conclude that, even if your phone is not “dinging” with notifications, even if it’s face down, even if it’s turned OFF, your brain still has to use significant mental energy not to pick it up (whether we realize it or not).” Hence, in order to write this post, I put my phone in another room and shut down all apps on my laptop. 

Money

Whillians wrote, “Money does not buy joy. A culture obsessed with making more money believes, wrongly, that the way to become more time affluent is to become financially wealthier. We think, “I’ll work hard and make more so that I can afford more leisure time later.” This is the wrong solution. Focusing on chasing wealth leads only to an increased focus on chasing wealth.” I think it’s also a focus on material versus experience. This is tough in the middle of a pandemic. Why not buy a big television to binge on Netflix for the weekend or a freezer to store all my backup to the backup meals in case I get quarantined for two months? Amazon can get you anything you want in a matter of days, if not hours. Just because you can buy it, doesn’t mean you should. Time well spent is the new affluence.

Busyness

I can panic if I see that my schedule is back-to-back for the day and panic even more when my schedule gets freed up with a cancellation. I value the busyness and take pride in getting it all done in one day, taking the dog out, making dinner and setting up that long overdue dentist appointment while working all my meetings in flawlessly. Whillians wrote, “With our self-identity so wrapped up in work and productivity, the social appearance of being busy makes us feel good about ourselves. In contrast, focusing our attention on something other than work can threaten our livelihood and status. We worry we won’t be valued, and, in part, we are right.” I am trying to stop sending emails and texts outside of “normal” business hours. I’m trying to stop being part of the problem and not encourage the cult of busyness.

Future

I always think I’ll have plenty of time later. I plan and load up my Saturday with chores and errands. And when Saturday arrives the day evaporates into unplanned phone calls and a change in the weather. Whillians posits, “Statistically, the best predictor of how busy we are going to be next week is how busy we are right now. Our minds frequently forget this important point and trick us into believing we’ll have more time later than we do now. This over optimism means that we become cavalier with our yeses, even with the small stuff we don’t want to do. We also want to say yes; we see it as a way to overcome idleness and feel productive, connected, valued, respected and loved.” I think of my plans a few Thursdays ago. Swim at 7:15 AM, meeting with WIN at local coffee shop at 8:30, Coach at 10 and 11, then Rotary Meeting at 12:30 at a local country club, then Group coaching at 2 PM, individual coaching at 3,4 and 5 PM. Thank goodness I had a cancellation. What was I thinking to overbook my day? If one thing goes wrong, my whole day can fall apart and in the end I feel completely depleted.

One of the gifts of moving to Durham are the countless trails and greenways. Within two minutes, my dog, Baci and I can be on a path walking through the trees. I used to listen to books but now, I am present in the moment and leave my earbuds at home. I listen to the birds, watch the squirrels torment my dog, look for redbud in blooming and watch the breeze kick up pear tree blossoms and watch it flutter in the ground like snow. The cure to time poverty for me is to be here right now. How do you cure time poverty?

Anatomy of a Weightlifting Competition

My son, Benson, has been lifting heavy things above his head for at least ten years (mostly for wrestling and football in the beginning) but he has been doing it as a sport for about eight years. It’s been over two years since I was actually at a weightlifting competition in person due to the pandemic.  Benson and I drove to Columbus, Ohio for The Arnold which is a giant competition of bodybuilding, weightlifting, gymnastics, running, wrestling, strongman and boxing (to name but a few).  Columbus is awash with physiques from all walks of life but it definitely is skewed to large muscle-bound men and women strolling the streets in athletic wear. I calculated more that once the weight limit of an elevator while descending with four or more herculean bodies on board. Being at The Arnold was quite the experience.

My son, Benson Robles, competing in the Snatch at The Arnold.

My children have both been athletes and participated in sports for the majority of their lives. Soccer, football, water polo, track, and wrestling, I’ve been in the crowd (or lack of a crowd) for the last fourteen years. I’ve driven three hours to see my son compete in a wrestling match to only see his hand raised because he didn’t have an opponent.  I’ve sat in the bleachers for my daughter’s soccer match where there was just my father and me in attendance for the visiting team. I’ve flown to Miami, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Atlanta, to see my son compete in weightlifting competitions.  I’ve sat nervously on my phone streaming a competition hoping and praying the connection won’t drop and listening to commentary that you don’t hear when there in person. It’s strange to hear someone talk about your son strictly from a sport perspective. Someone you will never meet but they are critiquing your son on the merits of his techniques.

Here is the anatomy of a weightlifting competition:

Weekend

Most, if not all, the competitions are on the weekend.  Some start on Thursday and they are all over by Sunday (local one-off meets are typically only one day like Saturday).  The men and women who are the lightest and lower qualifying weights go first. So, women that are 55 kg and men that are 61 kg start the competition, but they are arranged by categories like 55 H or 61 N.  The letter of the category indicates where this group is slotted in the competition.  So, a later letter alphabetically indicates that they have a lower total lifted (weightlifted) in prior competitions, so they are slated to go earlier in the competition, in this case on Thursday.  My son’s category was 96 A.  That means he is in the 96 kg competition, and he is in the final flight of the competition because he has an A (the most weight lifted) category, and participants in the flight are likely to be on the podium. He was slated to lift at 10 AM on Sunday.  Benson is usually at the meet with teammates or comrades from the same gym and will usually see some of the other competitions before he lifts but definitely after he has competed.

Leading up to Sunday

Leading up the competition is mostly down time and eating.  We traveled by car all day on Friday. Benson got together with his teammates on Friday night after several folks had already competed. So, every competition has a group, smaller competitors that have already gone, those competing the next day and those like Benson, still trying to time his workouts, eating and sleep up to the competition. Benson has historically had to eat (a lot) to maintain or “make” weight. He’s had times in his athletic career where he would be doing burpees and/or tapering off food and water before a weigh-in but this time he was comfortably in the range.  He went to lift on Friday when we arrived and then slacked off on Saturday.  I don’t completely understand the schedule, all I know is to go with the flow; if he’s hungry we head to a restaurant (he normally orders two entrees) or if he’s tired we hang out in the hotel room. Benson knows what he needs and I just sit back and wait for instructions.

Competition Venue

The day of the competition the weigh-in is usually two hours before the time of the competition. I dropped Benson off at the venue to weigh in and then we went back to the hotel.  I personally prefer an early time so there isn’t a lot of sitting around overthinking things.  Benson has lifted as late as 8 PM which makes for a very long day. We arrived back at the venue at about 9:45 AM.  Athletes and coaches have lanyards that have their credentials and time slot; they go behind the lifting platform while the audience, like nervous moms, sit in the stands or folding chairs depending on the venue accommodations. This was an enormous competition because it had several age groups and competitions going on at once.  So Junior, Senior and University students were all competing on 6 platforms.  Every other national meet I had been to had three platforms, this was big. There were curtains behind the main lifting platform and weights, chairs and mats behind where the competitors and coaches that can’t be seen.  When I watch the competition on live stream it is very frustrating because you can’t see who is waiting to come up next or hear who they are calling up next.  In person, you can hear what’s going on and, more importantly, see that your son is waiting in the wings with his coach to go next. 

Weightlifting Poker

Each lifter gets three attempts at the Snatch (going from the ground and above the head in one movement) and three attempts at the Clean and Jerk (going from the ground to your chest and then another movement above the head).  The weight on the bar always starts at the lowest weight and with each attempt must either go up in weight or stay the same.  The weight NEVER goes down.  To be clear, it is three attempts total at the Snatch.  So, if you miss your attempt on the first snatch, you can try at the same weight or you can try at a higher weight.  If you miss, they usually will assume that you will come back to attempt the same weight.  Most lifters (and their coaches) will usually wait out the two-minute clock before saying they want to try a higher weight (if you miss an attempt and have to follow yourself because no one else is lifting that weight, you get a two minute clock). If you just missed, you want as much time as you can muster before attempting again.  This creates what I call Weightlifting Poker.  If you are trying to beat your other competitors, you must be willing to go up a kilogram in hopes that the other guy won’t be able to make it.  So, if three guys have said they are trying 150kg and the first two guys miss their attempt, the third guy can win at 150kg unless the other two lifters have another attempt; then they can go one kilogram higher on the next lift.  During the competition, it’s a constant change of who the next lifter is as lifter and coach try to figure out, their best lift, how the other competitors are doing so far and if they have enough rest in between to make the next lift. At the Arnold, I would say that the platform that Benson was competing on, had at least 50% red, meaning that at least half of the lifts were missed. It was exciting and nerve racking to watch not knowing which lifter would prevail.

In the end, my son took three silver medals.  He had the second heaviest Snatch at 142 kg and the second heaviest Clean and Jerk at 172kg and the second heaviest total (add the Snatch and Clean and Jerk together) of 314 kg.  He barely missed a 175kg Clean and Jerk for Gold. As I sat in the audience, I overheard some guys talking about “Benson Robles” being the one to beat.  Pretty cool at a national meet. The entire competition is a ballet of skill, might and mental fortitude. I’m so proud of my son for his tenacity, hard work and endless training that has brought him this far.

Leadership and Sir Ernest Shackleton

Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance ship was found in Antarctica this week after sitting at the bottom of the Weddell Sea for 107 years. I wrote this piece in 2013 after I read Alfred Lansing’s book called “Endurance.” It’s my most popular post and I felt it was timely to bring to light once again, Shackleton’s incredible grit and leadership. Enjoy!

“Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success”. Sir Ernest Shackleton

I just read Alfred Lansing’s book, “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage.”  The book is about the voyage of the British ship “Endurance” in 1914 and, it’s leader, Sir Ernest Shackleton.  It is an amazing account of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition and how 28 men survived for 21 months after the ship was beset in the ice floes of Antarctica.  How does a man lead 27 men to safety in sub freezing temperatures, no digital equipment (not even a radio) and countless obstacles (including climbing for 36 hours over uncharted mountains without climbing gear); leadership and grit, that’s how.

The ship was first beset in the ice floes for 9 months and then, the pressure of the ice pack slowly (but surely) crushed the boat, so the crew of 28 had to take to the ice pack on the Weddell Sea.  The ship sank about 30 days later after the crew had taken most of the provisions and three life boats off the ship.  The rest of the odyssey involves 7 months of camping on ice, rowing on the open seas in lifeboats, breaking the group up and eventually, hiking uncharted mountains without any gore tex or ice picks to an eventual rescue of the entire group (every frostbitten one). 

This is what Shackleton taught me about leadership.

1.  Honest.  Shackleton was brutally honest in the expectations of the expedition (see quote above).   Safe return doubtful.  Only those who are up to the challenge are going to sign up.  All leaders can learn from this.  Don’t sell the job as something it isn’t.  If the work is tedious, say it.  If there is constant travel, be upfront.  Be honest when you are bringing someone on to your team.

2.  Team.  Shackleton built a cohesive multi-national team of 28.  He made an instant gut decision.  He asked Reginald James if he could sing (he could and was chosen).  Two Surgeons, a tried and true Navigator, Photographer, Artist, Seaman, Cook and Carpenter. He fit the team together like a puzzle. Great leaders do.  They don’t look for carbon copies of themselves, they look for complementary pieces.  Have a diverse team of talent and character with traits that don’t resemble you.

3. Decisive.  Shackleton made a decision and stuck to it.  There was no waffling.   When you decide to get off a breaking ice floe, you can’t turn back.  He adjusted the goal several times from one island to another but he never waffled.  The men knew that Shackleton could be counted on.  When you lead, be decisive.  Your folks are counting on you.

4.  Inclusive.  He was constantly seeking opposing viewpoints.  He would listen to other’s viewpoints whether it was which direction to go or how much food to dole out.  In the end, he would make the decision, but everyone would be heard.  When they were on the 7 day sail to Elephant Island, if one person was chilled, he ordered  hot beverages for all.  Inclusive leaders have their finger of the pulse of the group as a whole.

5. Delegate.   Shackleton delegated clearly, definitely and with no regrets.  He left Frank Wild in charge of 22 men on Elephant Island.  Everyone knew Wild was in charge and Shackleton left him there with full confidence that Wild would succeed.  He did.  Delegate projects with full confidence in your team.  Don’t waver or take it back.  Delegate with clarity.

6. Improvise.  Obviously they had to constantly improvise.  Wood from the sinking ship was used for shoe bottoms, blubber from penguins to light the lamps, lashing three men together to slide down a mountain face like a toboggan.  Shackleton and his men made do with what they had.  Don’t wait for the next software upgrade or next year’s budget to move the project forward.  Improvise with what you have now.

7. Faith.  Shackleton had unfailing faith and optimism.  He kept the more pessimistic and ornery folks in his tent, lest they infect the others.  You cannot survive 21 months in the bleakness of the Antarctic with little more than the clothes on your back, a compass and a stove without optimism.  Leadership is all about having undying faith that you can overcome any obstacle.

I have to say that as I read the book, I was stunned, and impressed with the insurmountable obstacles that they did overcome and for Shackleton’s heroic, unfailing, inspiring leadership.

Got Imposter Syndrome? Here Are 5 Fixes.

There have been countless times in my life where I felt like an imposter. When I was in Junior High, I was first flute in the All-State Orchestra (granted Delaware is a very small state). I was initially proud of making first chair only to be overwhelmed by feeling like I would be caught. Found out. Attending the Hotel School at Cornell University where I was a work study student feeling completely inadequate with my fellow upper crust students whose pedigree far outranked my own. My first job out of college as a manager for a catering company in Manhattan. I was a 21-year-old woman working in a basement with 25 men, some twice my age, trying to manage a fast-paced catering business where the only rule was to “yes” to any customer request (i.e., lunch for 100 people in 45 minutes). Every day in that basement was complete anarchy with four phone lines of incoming orders and trying to supervise a largely immigrant crew. I felt like I would be unmasked every day.

As written by Chris Palmer for the American Psychological Association, “Up to 82% of people face feelings of impostor phenomenon, struggling with the sense they haven’t earned what they’ve achieved and are a fraud (Bravata, D. M., et al., Journal of General Internal Medicine, Vol. 35, No. 4, 2020). These feelings can contribute to increased anxiety and depression, less risk-taking in careers, and career burnout.” 82% of people are feeling the same way as me?  This doesn’t surprise me because I coach people every day who struggle with these same feelings. This manifests in my clients as countless work hours, fear of delegation and perfectionism

Got imposter syndrome?  Here are 5 fixes:

  1. Shine a light.  It starts with acknowledging you are feeling inadequate, or you are harboring doubts. As Jack Kelly wrote for Forbes, “The first thing you should do is acknowledge these feelings when they arise. There’s no need to hide it from others or feel badly about harboring these thoughts. By confronting your self-defeating thoughts, it’s the start of taking proactive steps to change your mindset.” Turn on that light switch and make what is in the back of your brain into the light.  Acknowledging is the first step in addressing it.
  2. Acknowledge your accomplishments. It’s really easy to have amnesia about your accomplishments.  Did you grow up in a single parent home and manage to graduate from high school? Are you able to speak two languages? Have you been able to raise a child to adulthood? Did you thwart a deadly illness? Have you finished a 5k? Did you finally earn that certification you always wanted? I remember finally crossing the mile high bridge on Grandfather Mountain.  I was terrified, but I did it. Write down your accomplishments and take stock.
  3. Watch your self-talk. I find the easiest way to reframe self-talk is to use the third person.  So instead of saying “I’m an idiot”, I think “Cathy you’re an idiot”.  Seems harsh.  I would NEVER call anyone an idiot so why the heck would I call myself an idiot.  It’s similar to reframe it to what you would say to a friend.  As Palmer wrote, “Try to observe when your impostor feelings surface and how you respond to them.” Be compassionate in your self-talk.
  4. Let go of perfectionism. I’ve coached countless folks who struggle with perfectionism.  In my mind it’s the manifestation of imposter feelings.  So, they constantly work harder and longer to make their output as perfect as possible so that no one will find out that they are imperfect and, therefore, an imposter. Palmer wrote, “It may help to release yourself from rigid roles. For example, Orbé-Austin said people with impostor phenomenon often see themselves as helpers––people who come to the rescue. “Breaking free from those roles so you can be someone who doesn’t know it all or someone who can’t always help can allow us to be more robust people and professionals,” she said.” Perfection is failing, it’s suffocating and keeping folks stuck.
  5. Share your thoughts. Perhaps through therapy, a coach, or a trusted friend, share your imposter feelings with someone you can confide in. I find when I coach that when my client actually says something out loud (instead of rumination), it will bring insight.  Saying it out loud makes it real and prompts examination. As Kelly wrote, “By sharing with others, it will release the pent-up burden. You’ll quickly find out that you’re not alone and this is shared by many other professionals. You will feel a big sense of relief once you find out that it’s commonplace, you’re in good company and it’s not just you.” Share your thoughts so others can weigh in and help examine their validity.

I believe that comparison is at the root of most imposter feelings. I envy my neighbors new Tesla, my friend’s vacation to the Alps, or my sister’s promotion to Vice President. Comparison is the thief of joy and will keep me in the imposter zone. As a friend said to me recently, “Stay in your lane.” Focus on what’s in front of you and your experience and let others focus on their lanes. How do you address imposter feelings?

5 Surprising Observation about Durham

I moved to Durham, North Carolina about 3 weeks ago. I’ve previously lived in Goldsboro, North Carolina for the last twenty years and in three weeks, I’ve been surprised that a 60-mile difference in location in the same state would be so different. My good friends will tell you that I’ve had my eye on Durham for over ten years. My daughter graduated from Duke University and my son graduated from the NC School of Science and Math, both of which are in Durham. I think the idea originated when I was sprawled on a blanket in the middle of Duke’s East Campus, listening to my daughter perform in the Duke University Symphony Orchestra. There, among the Georgian architecture and the sprawling green grass, hundreds of folks on camp chairs and blankets listened as the orchestra played showtunes masterfully. It was captivating. I remember thinking, there and then, I would like to be walking distance to campus and be able to take in lectures and performances whenever my heart desired.

One of at least seven tiny lending libraries on the Durham Greenways

My father had always espoused the merits of living near a university. Ironic that he himself never did so, even in retirement. But in January of 2022, I had nothing to hold me to Goldsboro. I had retired from my full-time job, sold my lake side home and my son had moved from Miami to Charlotte. It was time to take the leap and I have been more than pleasantly surprised.

My 5 surprising observations about Durham:

Greenways

My home is in the Woodcroft neighborhood of Durham. No, it’s not walking distance to Duke or UNC but it has an extensive system of greenways. I had no idea there were upwards of 30 miles of greenway within the Woodcroft and New Hope Valley neighborhoods with numerous pet waste stations and tiny lending libraries along the route. For the first week that I lived here, I could walk in any direction without having to walk on a shoulder of a roadway. 70% of the greenways are lined with trees with homes backing up to it, without cars racing by at 40 miles an hour. I was really surprised to find a Calisthenics workout park at the crossroads of three greenways without any way to get there except on foot. Like a hidden workout gym without any parking. I’m super excited to experience the transformation of the seasons here. 

Quiet

My home is quiet. I am 1 mile from Interstate 40, 10 miles from Raleigh/Durham International Airport and 100 yards from Woodcroft Parkway. I don’t hear any traffic, flights or most importantly, trains. Yes, it could be insulation on the house or the location of my bedroom, but I am amazed that I moved from the sleepy little town of Goldsboro with its 4 AM trains and 10 PM fighter jet maneuvers from Seymour Johnson Airforce base to the silence of the “big” city. 

Food

I’ve been a vegan (plant-based) for over 3 years. Trying to eat plant-based east of Interstate 95 is always a challenge. I can’t think of one restaurant in the entirety of Wayne County (where Goldsboro is located) that is a vegetarian, let alone, vegan restaurant. Now, when I search “vegan restaurants near me”? There are 23. 23 restaurants that cater to my lifestyle choice. There is also an array of grocery stores within a 10-minute drive, everything from Whole Foods to Harris Teeter, Wegmans, Sprouts or Fresh Market. All these stores have entire sections of plant-based food. Amazing.

Wildlife

On one of our first walks on a greenway, I was taken aback by the broad-winged hawk, sitting motionless on top of a birdhouse. I felt like they were checking me and my dog, Baci out. I ran into three deer crossing a greenway and there has been a cacophony of bird song as we meander on the trails. Perhaps, most importantly of all, there are a multitude of squirrels to bait my dog Baci. I’m not sure what made me think that Goldsboro had the corner on the market for squirrels, but Durham has not disappointed.

Diversity

On my walks with Baci, we have seen every age, gender, ethnicity, and color. There are young men walking their dogs, old men running at 6 AM with headlamps on, elderly women sitting on one of the many benches along the greenway, a young couple with a newborn in a stroller, foreign middle-aged couples debating in French, and the young father with his daughter riding a Strider bike. What is fascinating for me is that almost all are quite friendly. Most folks are quick to smile, wave or share greetings. Perhaps I had assumed it was more like a big metropolitan city, where most folks stare blankly forward, but these Durham-ites are friendly. 

I think this is all surprising because Durham County is three times the size of Wayne County.  I wouldn’t expect it to have greenways, food choices and wildlife that are so accessible and yet still maintain a quiet, friendly environment with access to major universities and an international airport. I am surprised but happy with my decision to move.

How to Decide on Happiness

I have struggled over the last few years with finding happiness. I have strained, pushed, and worked on finally arriving at the railroad station, boarding the rail car called Happiness. Having taken this very circuitous route, I’ve come to realize: it’s not a destination; it’s not arriving or departing. It’s not being on standby. The thing is that it’s always been in me. It can be in me right now. It’s funny because as I write this, my dog Baci just relaxed into my lap as I wrote that sentence. She isn’t struggling any more; she is just deciding that laying next to me is perfect. And that is just perfect with me.

I recently read Michael Neill’s The Space Within. It’s a thought-provoking book about just letting things be. About giving up control and focusing on what is. To letting go of your thinking and worrying and just letting things be. I think this is about just deciding to be happy right now. Just let life work itself out and yet embrace happiness now. It doesn’t take a milestone like buying a house or the divorce to be final or for you to complete the marathon; be happy right now. The key is to decide. So go ahead and decide on happiness right now.

Here is how to decide on happiness:

Happiness is not the goal

This seems counterintuitive. If you view happiness as the goal, you never find it.  There is always one more hurdle to jump over. One more thing to check off the list.  You never seem to arrive. I have the new car but I won’t be happy until it’s paid off.  Once the car is paid off, then I’ll need to get new tires. Once I get new tires, then the brakes will need replacing. There is always one more thing before happiness is ours, right? The finish line keeps getting extended. We never achieve satisfaction. We never ever arrive. Quit focusing on happiness being the goal.

Happiness is not dependent on others

I can remember thinking as a kid that I would be happy when I found the love of my life or when I had children. Basing your happiness on someone outside of yourself will lead to disappointment. It all starts with you. When it’s dependent upon others, others disappoint. They let you down and then your happiness evaporates. When you can find it in yourself, there is no disappointment. There is only your mindset. If my dog wants to snuggle next to me or not. If my lover tells me they love me or not. If my child gets the job, or graduates from college or not. Happiness is within me and is self-created.

Happiness is not about getting what you want

As Neill writes, “The secret to happiness is simply this…your happiness does NOT depend on getting what you want.” This means that similar to The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy always had home in her heart. She just needed to tap into it. Happiness is within you right now. You don’t need to get the next thing: The new car, house, jacket or coffee maker. Happiness does not exist in the striving for what you want but rather in you right now. Let go of the wishlist and be happy right now.

Happiness is not in the doing

Neill writes, “If you are doing things in order to be happy…you’re doing them in the wrong order.” For me this means to be happy while doing. It starts with the mindset of being happy right now. Start with being happy. Start between the ears. Doing will follow. Just start with a smile on your face and bliss between the ears. Neill suggests looking for the space between words. It’s difficult to look for the space between words when you start looking for it. It’s in the space. That pause. That moment where the infinite is. For me that is being present. Not multitasking. Not looking at your phone. Just be.

Happiness is not a short cut

Neill espouses, “By taking the time to live life in the slow lane, we quickly experience a deeper, more profound experience of contentment.” I opted for a walking meeting with a coworker of mine. The meeting took at least 30 minutes longer than I had expected. The thing is, I connected with the coworker and found out about some recent health issues she was having. I only had thirty minutes on my schedule but the walk and the conversation led to places I didn’t expect or anticipate. It’s letting go of control and letting the path unfold as it needs to. No need to rush, take short cuts or push through. Take the long way, the slow lane and don’t miss a thing.

I wrote myself a note in the Silence Course I took a few years ago. The first item on the note was to smile more. Several people at the course had told me what a beautiful smile I had and how it lit up my face. We all have beautiful smiles. We all need to smile more often. Don’t wait to smile or be happy. Be happy right now. Smile right now. It’s infectious. Are you happy right now?

Are You Alright…Right Now?

I bet you are. Mostly because if you are reading this you are not being chased by the police, or an elephant or even a shark. If you are in the middle of a major medical procedure like heart bypass or having your gall bladder removed, you are probably not reading this. The truth of the matter is, most of the time you are alright right now.

I’ve been reading Just One Thing by Rick Hanson. It’s a book of simple practices to add to your life to develop a buddha brain. A buddha brain, as defined by Dr. Hanson, is using neuroscience and emotional balance to create happiness, love and wisdom. Couldn’t we all use a dose of that? Well, this is lesson 42, which is titled: “Notice that you’re alright right now.”

Here is how to implement this into your own life:

Pause.  As I write this, I’ve recently moved to a new city, I’m trying to make sure I’ve shut down all the connections from my prior apartment and am worried about setting up the new apartment. There are many unknowns like who should be my dentist, where is the cheapest gas, should I bother the landlord about the broken towel rack and what about a new massage therapist? I know you have similar preoccupations. It may be a medical decision or the unknown leak under your car. There is something preoccupying your head. Press pause. Stop. This very instant. You may think you don’t have time, but unless you are in the middle of performing brain surgery, you have time to pause. So pause.

Sense.  Now that you have stopped your monkey brain from ping ponging from issue to problem to disaster to worry, scan your body. How is your big toe doing? Still there? Any pain? What about your ear lobes? Still hanging in there? Slight pain in your back from that workout yesterday? Ok. But you are doing okay for the most part. Sense it. After I read this lesson last night, I was snug under the covers of my bed. That’s a wonderful feeling. Sense the moment. Right now.

Stock.  Take stock in the moment right now. Is there a roof over your head? Do you have food in the fridge? Shoes on your feet? People you love and care about? When you take stock, you figure out that it’s not so bad. In the past few months, I have gone down the rabbit hole of catastrophizing my financial situation. When I do that, I am diminished. Reduced. Small. A victim. But when I take stock in the moment? I am a badass. I have the tiger by the tail. How would you rather feel? I thought so. Grab the tiger by the tail and take stock in how much you have.

Relax. As Dr. Hanson writes in Psychology Today, “This background of unsettled-ness and watchfulness is so automatic that you can forget it’s there. So see if you can tune into a tension, guarding or bracing in your body. Or a vigilance about your environment or other people. Or a block against completely relaxing, letting down, letting go.” This is going to take practice. We are so hardwired for scanning the environment for threat that relaxing into the moment is against our biology. Feel your shoulders, let them sag. Relax your jaw. Let your thoughts go like balloons into the blue sky. Breathe. Try it. I’ll wait. There is no rush.

So how did that feel? Pretty good, huh? Check in throughout the day. Is everything alright right now? Maybe it’s at the top of the hour. Maybe it’s when you wash your hands. The important thing is just to notice