What I did when he called me “Sir”. Lessons in self-acceptance.

I rented a car last month at the Philadelphia Airport.  As I drove up to the car rental booth to leave, the gentleman in the booth said, “Good afternoon Sir…I mean Ma’am.”  This is not the first time I have been called “Sir”.  But it is the first time I actually didn’t get upset and decide to grow my hair out to at least Julia Roberts-length, wear fake eyelashes or put on low-cut shirts.  My lame attempt at pushing my woman-ness to the forefront so that not another soul on the planet will ever get my gender wrong again!

self acceptance

I remember distinctly the first time someone called me “Sir.” I was at the Concord Mall, home for Christmas Break from college in the middle of my senior year.  I had just gotten what we referred to back then as the 80’s “corporate do”.  It was a short haircut to help make one look more like a professional and less like a co-ed.  I was milling around a Thom McAn shoe store and a guy came up behind me and said “May I help you, Sir?”  I was mortified.  He caught his error almost immediately but as we can see by this post, I have not forgotten it.  Ever. And this is some 30 years later.  In my twenties, my solution was to look for something to “prove” I was a woman At.All.Times.  Happily, that is not my solution now.

So you are probably wondering how I can react differently now.  Here are my lessons in self-acceptance:

  • Stand in their shoes. It’s really embarrassing to call someone by the wrong gender (unless it’s what they want to be identified as).  I imagine that the guy at the shoe shop and the guy from the rental car place were just as embarrassed as I was.  Empathize for their embarrassment and it makes it easier to let go of your own.  That sounds counter intuitive but give it a try.  I think you’ll be surprised.
  • Tap into the energy. I reflected on the mistake as I drove away.  Perhaps I was exuding power.  The attendant felt that power as I approached.  As Amy Cuddy’s work has shown, when someone sees a non-anatomical figure walking powerfully, 80% of the time they assume it’s a man.  I remember in my final coaching class with CRR Global, I was facilitating with a tall, charismatic man name Michael.  At the end, I remember the insightful instructor Marita Fridjhon said, “This is a power couple.”  I realized that I had taken on Michael’s power. So take that testosterone driven energy and tap into it. Own it.
  • Test your assumptions. I had taken note at the airport about how many more men travel solo than women.  In fact, I rarely see women traveling alone, sitting in restaurants alone and checking into hotels alone.  I don’t know that many women who are comfortable eating in restaurants alone, heck, I wasn’t comfortable with it when I first started traveling for business some 25 years ago.  So for all I know, that attendant assumed a solo driver was a man. Check your assumptions.
  • I have been practicing meditation for over three years. I have learned to separate from the reaction and make space for a pause.  This helps me get off the self-critical talk that thirty years ago was, “OMG, he thinks I’m a man.  I am too tall.  I am too fat.  I am unlovable.” Crazy talk.  I am sure that I ruminated about it for months as I desperately sought to be more less masculine.   But now?  I can easily respond with a friendly smile and say, “Oops.”  I love Dan Harris’ book 10% Happier, where he says that meditation is like “…getting behind a waterfall.”  All those thoughts are flying by but you can step back and not get attached to it.  Practicing mindfulness helped me stay out of the drama and it can help you.
  • I will never be petite. It is impossible to be 5’2 when I am 5’8.  It is what it is.  I’ll also never be an astronaut, or ballet dancer or president of the United States.  I’ll never be a father, or a judge or cowboy.  But what I can be is a great author, fabulous mother and most importantly, make a difference in people’s lives every day.  This is not dependent on me being more petite or less masculine.   I’ve learned that I can accept myself as I am.  I am perfectly imperfect.  Freckles and all.  Accept yourself as you are.  There is less of a battle that way.

I am me.  Can you be you?

25 Itzy Bitzy Mindfulness Habits You Can Start Now.

As Shirzad Chamine says in his 15 minute meditation resource (which is free by the way), “We spend so much time in our head, we can forget we even have a body.” When you think about it our head is about 10% of our body mass but we spend most of our resources and time staying up in our head instead of really occupying our body. Whether it’s a worry loop of “did I close the garage door this morning” or “don’t forget to buy ground coriander” or rehashing the disagreement you had with your partner, we spend a lot of time in our heads while our bodies are just going through the motions.

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I love the analogy that Dan Harris uses in his book, 10% Happier, when he experimented in all types of meditation. “Meditation helps you get behind the waterfall (of thoughts).” As I like to say in my workshops, you want to stay out of the back of your head or your limbic system and stay in the front of your head where the prefrontal cortex is. Your best thinking is in the prefrontal cortex. The best way to stay there is to try and be present. Mindful.

So here are the 25 itzy bitzy habits to keep you in the present:

1. Smile when you enter a room.
2. Wiggle and account for your toes.
3. Take three deep breaths.
4. Feel the temperature and texture of the air as it enters and leaves your nostrils.
5. Touch your thumb and index finger to feel the ridges of your fingerprint.
6. Listen for the farthest sound you can hear.
7. Listen for the closest sound you can hear.
8. Feel the weight of your body on the chair as you work.
9. Meditate for 5 minutes in the morning.
10. Do yoga for 5 minutes in the morning.

Being more mindful is also about eliminating distractions. As Dr. Hallowell describes in his book, Crazy Busy, we all just skim through life. We don’t take time to ponder. I skim emails, texts, articles, and Facebook posts. We are in a constant state of distraction which creeps us back into our limbic system and out of our best thinking. So the next few itzy bitzy habits are about eliminating distraction so that we can get back into the present.

11. Turn off all notifications from social media and email.
12. Have a technology sabbatical after 7 pm.
13. Keep your phone in another room (or off) when connecting with others.
14. Set up rules for spam so it goes to your junk folder.
15. Set up blocks of time to work on important projects.
16. Set up blocks of time to answer emails and phone calls three times a day.
17. Set up emails as tasks so that your inbox is not your to-do list.
18. Touch an email once and decide what it is and handle it.
19. Listen to instrumental music while working.
20. Use Luminosity every morning for 5 minutes.

Another key factor with being present is actually being awake and well rested. Getting between 7 to 7 and a half hours of sleep a night is critical to success. Zoning out at work or at home with the folks that you love is not healthy. I’ve worked with a ton of clients around sleep I’ve talked with Executives who aren’t able to work as effectively because they aren’t getting enough sleep. This is not a personal issue, if you have employees coming to work zoned out from lack of sleep, they are not doing their best work. So here are some more itzy bitzy habits around being well rested.

21. Go to bed by a set time 15 minutes earlier than before.
22. Leave your technology in the bathroom or kitchen (not in the bedroom).
23. Set your alarm to wake up 5 minutes earlier.
24. Read a fiction book for 15 minutes before going to bed (it helps create dreams).
25. Write 5 things you are grateful for in a journal at the end or beginning of the day.

You might be wondering about the last two habits. When you are grateful, you are more positive. It’s difficult to be grateful and worry at the same time. By reading a fiction book at the end of the day, it helps kickstart dreams. If you watch the latest from CNN, you are more likely to have restless sleep and start the worry cycle again. Spark some whimsical dreams by reading some classics by Mark Twain or Charles Dickens. Which itzy bitzy habit will you start with?

9 of the Best Books from My Reading List

You’re thinking. I’m not sure what book is worthwhile. After all it’s an investment of your precious time.
At least 4 hours if not much more.
If you’re going to invest 4 to 8 hours of your precious, over committed time to reading a book, you want to make sure it’s worth your investment.
Guess what? I’ve got you covered.
I’ve already invested my time in several books over the last year and I’m going to point you in the right direction.
Easy peasy.9 Books

Most Impactful book. The Four Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz. This book is short and sweet and eye opening. The agreements are: Be impeccable with your word, Don’t take anything personally, Don’t make assumptions and Always do your best. From childhood we take on all sorts of agreements which skew our view of the world and of our thoughts. To drop all your prior agreements (re: your story) is incredibly challenging. If you listen to the audio book it’s read by Peter Coyote and he does an excellent job. If you want to change your thoughts, this is a must read.

Most Inspiring Book. Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. This is the incredible story of Viktor Frankl as a Holocaust survivor. It’s gripping but incredibly enlightening. Here is a trained psychiatrist recounting his days as he watched many people perish as well as those who overcame the unrelenting torture that was Auschwitz. “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Need inspiration, this is your book.

Most Useful Book. The Relationship Cure by John Gottman. The basics of connecting and/or not connecting with the people in your life. I am vigilant now about the way I connect with people. Am I turning away, turning against or turning towards connection. We’ve all done it. Deliberately ignored someone, been defiant or reciprocated an outgoing gesture. It’s all here. And if you listen to it on audible, Dr. Gottman is the narrator. His voice is so calm and so accessible. You absolutely feel like you can start using the information right now. Really.

Interesting but Not as Useful. Spy the Lie by Philip Houston, Michael Floyd and Susan Carnicero. This book was written by ex CIA operatives. Fascinating stories and tips for picking up on liars. The only problem is that I’m not a detective or a Russian spy. I guess I might be able to figure out if my son stole a cookie from a cookie jar by reading his body language but I guess I don’t think I have that many liars in my life, which is a good thing. This is a must read for anyone in the detective field or maybe Human Resources.

Most Accessible Book. Positive Intelligence by Shirzad Chamine. Chamine gives you things you can start doing right this minute to get out of listening to the saboteurs that are talking in your head. He also has a ton of free assessments and audio meditations on his website: positiveintelligence.com. His main suggestions is to do PQ reps or I would call them mindful techniques to get really present. You can’t be worrying or suffering from anxiety if you are in the moment. Another bonus is that he is the narrator of the audio book.

Most Encompassing Book. 10% Happier by Dan Harris. Dan is a reporter for ABC news. He takes you on an auto biographical journey on his way to being happier and under less anxiety. He chases down every genre of self-help gurus. So if want the Reader’s Digest on Deepack Chopra, Dalia Lama, Eckhart Tolle and countless others, this is your book. It’s fun, at times light hearted and other times cynical but always real.

Least Likely to be Utilized. Unstuff Your Life by Andrew Mellen. This guy has excellent ideas to completely reorganize your life. I would love to hire him to organize mine. But his ideas seem way too OCD. His mantra is everything has a home and everything is in its place. He also obviously does not have a dog or children or a wayward husband. I’d love to take a week off and reorganize, label and back up all my photos but I think I’ll just rely on Facebook.

Cracks Me Up. You are a Badass by Jen Sincero. Jen narrates this self-help book. She is incredibly funny and doesn’t pull any punches. I don’t think I implemented anything from this book but I was incredibly inspired when I finished it. “I can pretty much guarantee that every time you tearfully ask yourself the question, “WTF is my problem?!” the answer lies in some lame, limiting, and false subconscious belief that you’ve been dragging around without even realizing” It’s a fun read and even better listen on audible.

And Out of Left Field. Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jonathan Davis. This book is some 20 hours long so I only suggest this if you like reading about historic figures and if you have a lot of time. I don’t actually have a lot of time but I listen to books when I travel so I got through this in a few weeks. Interesting story and it’s amazing how large the Mongol empire became. Barbaric to be sure, but an amazing story.

A few other honorable mentions are Small Move, Big Change, Better than Before, How to Fail at Almost Anything and Still Win Big, and The Obstacle is the Way. I have also been listening to the Great Courses which is a lecture by a professor who is interesting but they are all about 12 hours long so it is a commitment. But if you want to learn how to be a Non-Fiction Writer or Settle Disputes, there are a bunch of titles to enjoy.
So get out there and pick up that book and invest your time. I didn’t include the many books I thought were duds. Happy reading.


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