January 31, 2011


Today, I’ve been thinking a lot about beginnings and childhood. I was chatting with some friends the other night about parenthood, and it spurred on these reminiscences I suppose. Now, none of us have children of our own, but I’ve worked as a nanny for many years and a teacher before that. They have their own experiences with little ones in their family. We were tossing ideas around about what types of parents we would want to be – lenient or strict, open or cautious, etc. – but my thoughts became focused more on my own parents and childhood than about what I might do if I had my own children.

I began thinking about what I most cherished about my childhood, despite the trauma I experienced and the following very difficult years. What about my beginnings had most shaped me? Then I came across this poem I wrote many years ago, and I thought it said it best:

Stinging summer sweat
oozing from my pores,
wetting the back of my
sunburned neck.

Limbs, not yet proportional,
moving me towards my goal.

Fresh cut grass –
smells of periwinkle blues
mixed with jasmine flavored wine.
Honeysuckle flavors mixing
with thorny, rosy vines.

Shimmering breezes cooling
my unwrinkled brow.
Muscles contracting,
pulsing with youthful energy.

The different shades racing past,
blending into one calming palette.

An expanse of opportunity –
to play, to run, to sleep, even to write.
I've left my footprints all over
this childhood field.

Sleeping beneath a bed of stars.
Thinking of the me that
was, is, and will be.

Thank God for the wide open space
that surrounded my home.
I was never confined,
never forced to resign
to thinking, to living
Whatever faults my parents may have had, the one gift they gave me was space to roam, to explore, to reject being boxed in. At times, when I feel life or my perspective or my dreams becoming small – I return to those times when I had a full sky above me and wide open space around me. I remember that limitations are so often there because of my own small thinking or fears – and that, the reality is, I have all sorts of freedom to stretch, expand, and go big.

What beginnings most shaped you?


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January 28, 2011

Lessons from Mister Rogers

Okay, so I know Mister Rogers may strike many of us as quaint, yesterday, trite, or maybe even scary (eek! those sweaters!), but I recently read his book and found many little nuggets that I thought many of you might find inspiring or fun as well. Here ya go:

1. A life of spiritual wholeness is represented by looking inward with our hearts (inner disciplines affect how we see others), looking outward with our eyes (how we see others affects how we treat others), and using what we've learned practically, with our hands (serving).

2. Slow down.
-Hurriedness causes the soul to be hard and resistant. But taking time and going slow nurtures the soul.
-Taking one's time, especially in relationships, allows the other person to know he or she is worth the time.

-If we can learn to wait through the "natural silences" of life, we will be surprised by what awaits us on the other side.

3. Be vulnerable.
-Be willing to try new things and keep trying new things even if you aren't good at them.
-Vulnerability is an important quality because it gives others access to our complexity.

4. Feelings are okay.
-You don't have to hide them and there are ways to say how you feel that aren't going to hurt you or anybody else.

5. Be a good neighbor.
-Your neighbor is simply the person you happen to be with at the moment.

6. Forgive.
-Undesirable feelings or behaviors can be rerouted and released into excellence.

7. Hold onto your innocence.
-Appreciate life's mysteries through the eyes of a child - never lose the ability to look at the world through your child's eye.

His favorite quotes:
Gerald Sittser, A Grace Disguised:
We live life as if it were a motion picture. Loss turns life into a snapshot. The movement stops; everything freezes.

Madeleine L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time:
If someone knows who he is, really knows, then he doesn't need to hate.

Madeleine L'Engle, A Wind in the Door:
Love. That's what makes persons know who they are.

If any of these strikes a chord, then I encourage you to spend some time reflecting on how you can actually integrate the lesson into your day to day life. If this became a value or idea that you held in high esteem, how would your actions, words, or thoughts need to shift in order to honor that?


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January 26, 2011

The Power of Negative Thinking

"One fact of nature is that people have a 'negativity bias': we react to the bad more strongly and persistently than to the comparable good ... One consequence of the negativity bias is that when people's minds are unoccupied, they tend to drift to anxious or angry thoughts. And rumination - dwelling on slights, unpleasant encounters, and sad events - leads to bad feelings. In fact, one reason that women are more susceptible to depression than men may be their greater tendency to ruminate; men are more likely to distract themselves with an activity. Studies show that distraction is a powerful mood-altering device, and contrary to what a lot of people believe, persistently focusing on a bad mood aggravates rather than palliates it." ~Rubin, The Happiness Project

I couldn't agree more! As a coach, much of the work I do centers around the thought life of my clients. Through conversation, activities, and homework, we uncover the thoughts that the person is dwelling on or persistently returning to that are causing them to feel angry, anxious, or immobilized. I’ve certainly been in situations where shifting my focus from unpleasantness has proved difficult – sometimes seemingly insurmountable, so the strategies I share with my clients are definitely ones that I use myself!

It really is a shame that we can have a week of good and then the thoughts or feelings prompted by one bad day, moment, or experience sinks their claws in and refuse to let go without some effort on our parts to eradicate them. I haven’t yet discovered any real strategies for skipping this step altogether, but I have found ways to decrease the duration and clear techniques for shifting away from these persistent, tiring, and limiting thoughts.


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January 24, 2011

The Value of Material Things

Victor Frankl describes in Man's Search for Meaning the intake process he went through at a concentration camp. Among the things he describes, one thing particularly caught my attention - the moment when each person is directed to hand over all of their possessions.
The men and women are stripped of their clothing and all personal effects. In this desperate moment, there were various attempts to hold on to material things - a wedding ring, a good luck charm, a photo, or, for Frankl, his manuscript containing all of his scientific work. At the moment when the manuscript is confiscated, Frankl asserts that the psychological response was to strike out his "whole former life."

As I read this passage, the thought occurred to me, "What is it about material objects that comfort us or anchor us? Is it possible that material things provide some value that I haven't before considered?"

Growing up in the midwest and in a middle class family, the desire to obtain material objects was frowned upon or ignored as a goal altogether. Even now living in San Francisco, it's not uncommon to overhear conversations lamenting materialism. But, Frankl's comments caused me to reconsider the role material objects play in our lives.

I started noticing around my house the material objects that anchor me, that seem to shout "Here I am, this is my life!" - a novel I've read over and over again, a necklace that was my first piece of "real" jewelry, a photo of my lover ... These material objects tell a story, mark time, transport me back to a moment or anchor me to the present ... wow!

It now strikes me as absurd to try to avoid materialism. It seems to be an inherent way that we remember our history and create our present. Material objects can provide comfort in times of discord, anchor us when we feel unstable, or, on a simple level, tell the story of who we are to others.

What's a material object you own that tells your story?

January 21, 2011

People Collecting

In The Happiness Project, the author spends a bit of time talking about how to "play seriously" - essentially, how to really make sure that her non-work time is actually fulfilling and not just full. One of the things she decides to do is to start a collection. She takes up finding bluebird related stuff .. um, not my thing for sure!

In fact, I was inspired to start a collection myself, but couldn't really come up with anything ... until last night.

As I was waiting for my hip-hop class to start, a gal joined me on the bench and asked if she was in the right place. After assuring her that she was, I struck up a conversation, asking the usual "you're a stranger but I'd like to talk to you" questions. Now, this doesn't always work - sometimes you get the people who are clearly not interested (and, in fact, some days, I'm that person). She, however, was very engaging and friendly.

Eventually, though, we hit the dreaded lull in the conversation - squiggly silence. I thought in that moment, "This is that point in every first experience you have with someone where you decide to let them be just another stranger or to go that extra step to find out more." I turned and invited her to a show I'm going to this weekend. I had to hold back a laugh in response to her surprised expression! This response though was followed by something else - gratitude. I think we all want connection more than anything else, but fear so often gets in the way. So, it's nice when that initial wall gets broken down.

In that moment, I realized what I most like to collect - people!! I randomly invite people out for things all the time and do so because of this love of collecting people and their stories. I love the possibility of bringing this person into my crew; seeing how she'll blend and connect with my other people. I enjoy bringing all of my folks together and then just listening to their stories and seeing what they bring out in each other.

This is also a huge part of why I am passionate about coaching - it affords me the opportunity to constantly meet people, learn about them, listen to their stories (with the added benefit of doing something else I love - working with them to get past anything that's stopping them from living fully!).

It takes a bit of courage to be a people collector. It can be met with surprise and annoyance. It means going out on a limb I suppose. I guess my midwestern upbringing bolsters me a bit!

All in all, I'm proud of my collection so far ... and am excited to see what new acquisitions I'll make this year!

What do you collect!?

January 19, 2011

Just For Today ...

William Edward Hartpole Lecky, a historian, once said, "There are times in the lives of most of us when we would have given all the world to be as we were but yesterday, though that yesterday had passed over us unappreciated and unenjoyed." This he noted in his book, The Map of Life in 1904!

Wow! A map of life ... I'm so curious as to what the whole book says, perhaps I'll take up reading it ... you can join me - it's online:

Back to the quote though - I love Lecky's not so subtle reminder that this day we are living may seem bland, uneventful, repetitious, and, yet, with one shift tomorrow, would instead be longed for.

We often hear admonitions to live "now" - in the present - it's even one of my 12 Commandments ("Don't miss this moment"), but Lecky's statement brings a reason as to why into high relief for me.

Beyond the usual points that you'll miss out on what you could otherwise experience, lose out on opportunities to connect with others or learn something ... Lecky's thought on the matter causes me to reconsider my repetitive, boring days to be something altogether different. Namely - peace, ease, and comfort. Days to be appreciated and enjoyed - even in their monotony.

So, for today (and hopefully days to come), I'll take comfort in the repetitions of my day, enjoy the stability of routines, and look for the little moments that distinguish this day from the others.

January 17, 2011

If You Can't Say Something Nice...

Have you ever heard of "spontaneous trait transference"? Essentially, studies show that, because of this psychological phenomenon, people unintentionally transfer to you the traits that you ascribe to other people.

So, if I tell Nathan that Mark is arrogant and unreliable, Nathan associates that quality with me! On the other hand, if I say that Mark is funny and intelligent, I'm linked to those qualities.
What I say about other people sticks to me - even when I talk to someone who already knows me. So, the next time I find myself wanting to say something critical, I'll do well to be mindful that doing so greatly impacts how people see me!

I guess that old saying isn't so off the mark!!

January 14, 2011

Who You Is & Who You Ain't

"Between the ages of twenty & forty we are engaged in the process of discovering who we are, which involves learning the difference between accidental limitations which it is our duty to outgrow and the necessary limitations of our nature beyond which we cannot trespass with impunity" ~W.H. Auden

During my 20s, I definitely did a lot of the work aimed towards answering the question, "Who am I?" I remember it as a time of feeling completely confident one moment and then unsteady & confused the next. There were days when I felt so uncomfortable in my skin. These days were balanced, though, by ones in which I easily walked into any situation and felt at ease.

Through a myriad of experiences, I began to discover a self composed of likes, dislikes, attitudes, fears, beliefs, hopes, weaknesses. I understood myself on new levels and did the work of breaking old patterns of thought & behavior so as to escape the "accidental limitations" that I'd been held back by for years.

I remember distinctly, a few days after my 30th birthday, thinking, "Whew! I'm so glad to be done with that whole 'finding yourself' business!" Little did I know! Only weeks later did I realize I had entered a new phase, which I call the "But can you deal with who you are" phase! It became clear to me that the new work to be done was to not only accept who I was, but who I wasn't.

When I came across Auden's statement, it made perfect sense. We do have a duty to get past the "accidental limitations" that arise due to trauma, circumstances, or a variety of experiences. This is much of the work I do with my clients - identifying the "false identities" they've taken on as a result of past trauma.

Also, it's important to know what is outside of our nature, because not doing so does lead to detrimental outcomes. Without this clarity, we chastise ourselves unfairly or waste time on things that we aren't suited for. This is also some of the work I do - using a variety of activities and conversations to guide my clients to a clear sense of what they've been striving after that has been a drain, because it is not really a part of who they are.

So! Never again will I say yes to day long shopping adventures (not in my nature). No longer will I say no to high-heels (turns out, I really do like being girly sometimes - one false idea I had to outgrow).

Here's to accepting who you ain't as much as who you is and living in alignment with this knowledge!

January 12, 2011

Effective Hugging

When hugging, research shows that the minimum time necessary to promote the flow of oxytocin and serotonin, which are chemicals that promote bonding, is six seconds!

Now, really, that sounds like a short amount of time. However, when I started counting in my head - "1-Mississippi, 2-Mississippi..." - I almost squirmed out of my skin! Now, for those of you who know me, I'm pretty affectionate and show it by little caresses or hugs or kisses all the time. So, I was a little surprised to notice that staying in an embrace for six seconds challenged me a little bit.

Of course, I also live in a world where anything that takes more than three seconds is considered an impediment to progress ... so, maybe not so surprising after all?

Either way, don't feel nervous if you hear me mumbling under my breath next time we embrace or holding on despite your little shimmies to try to get away - I promise, it's for your own good :)

January 10, 2011

Overwhelmed by Choices?

"Although people believe they like to have lots of choices, in fact, having too many choices can be discouraging. Instead of making people feel more satisfied, a wide range of options can paralyze them. Studies show that when faced with two dozen varieties of jam in a grocery store, for example, or lots of investment options for their pension plan, people often choose arbitrarily or walk away without making any choice at all, rather than labor to make a reasoned choice." ~The Happiness Project

I suppose this isn't too shocking of an idea. I, as well, have found myself staring blankly at a wall of canned soup - wanting just a bit of chicken noodle - but being confronted with such variety - abandon the purchase altogether and wander over to the bread aisle where … well, I didn't have much success there either!

I won't comment on how we got to the "more is better" way of thinking - I doubt I could say anything very new on that topic. What I will say is that this moment in the book had me thinking about the many things I do have in my life to choose from and whether or not limiting my choices in one or more area might make a difference.

To my surprise, the first thing that popped into my mind was cutting back on the number of meetup groups I'm a part of! Upon closer examination, I noticed I had joined a ton of meetup groups solely because they sounded like something I should be doing. Yet, for all of my good intentions, I'd spent way more time deleting the invitation emails than actually attending any of the events!

So, I picked my top 3 and left all of the others, with some minor cringes of pain when saying goodbye to the karaoke, kayaking, and knitting groups (hmm .. I swear there were non-"k" groups that got booted too!). Giving up these groups did feel a bit like a loss - after all, shouldn't I want to be out in the world, doing new things, meeting new people? Yet, at the end of the day, I had only created a clutter of choices for myself and was ending up on my couch watching "The Sopranos" anyway!

After trimming down my choices, I actually feel like I have more to do! I can say yes to each meetup in my three groups consistently, because I’m not spread so thin between twenty groups. Not surprisingly, the quality of the relationships I’m forming in those groups is also improving – so, fewer events has led to more – not less – connection!

I find, when working with clients, this comes up a lot as well. Amazingly enough, I’ve gone through this process with a client who had too many dates to choose from! She felt like she was floundering in a sea of choices and was even afraid of making the wrong choice. So, she’d just gone silent – had stopped responding to the men altogether! We worked through her fears of choosing, developed criteria for when to say “yes” and when to say “no,” and winnowed down her options! She had some great dates, but, best of all, she felt better about her ability to not get stuck when too many options were available.

So, I’m curious … what could you do with a little less of?

January 7, 2011

It’s Nothing But A Neuron…

Have you ever walked by a pie shop and, upon smelling a fresh backed pumpkin pie, been transported back in time to a fond memory of Thanksgiving? Or maybe caught a glimpse of a stranger with certain features and found yourself thinking about that girl or guy from way back when? How about a significant other who one day playfully wrestles with you, and all of a sudden you find yourself lashing out at him without really understanding why? What exactly is occurring neurologically and what are the implications for the recovery from the trauma of past abuse?

According to Daniel Siegel in The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are(1999, Guilford Press), “understanding how trauma affects the developing brain can yield insights into the subsequent impairments of memory processing and the ability to cope with stress.” Before exploring the impairments and coping he refers to, let’s take a quick look at how memories are created and recalled in the first place.

There is a saying -- neurons that fire together, wire together. When we have an experience, neuronal pathways are created in the brain by neurons firing and connecting to create a neural net. When we smell the pumpkin pie, what is actually happening is that a particular neuronal pathway is ignited. This neural net has now been modified in that it holds the initial memory of Thanksgiving with family and now the time walking by the store and experiencing the same smell. Thus, the neuronal pathway is expanded and reinforced by the reactivation.

Now, consider the implication if, instead of the warm smell of pumpkin pie, the experience is trauma or fear. As Siegel points out, with “chronic occurrence, these states can become more readily activated (retrieved) in the future, such that they become characteristic traits of the individual. In this way, our lives can become shaped by reactivations of implicit memory, which lack a sense that something is being recalled. We simply enter these engrained states and experience them as the reality of our present experience.”

This is what Siegel means by “impairments of memory processing.” You respond to your significant other in the moment with fear and anger thinking that what he is doing is the problem, when, instead, a neuronal pathway has been triggered and the implicit memory of your abuser restraining you is activated. This is what you are responding to in reality. The same thing occurs in response to stressors. If our experience starts to make us feel trapped or scared, we may respond in the same way we did when needing to survive the abuse rather than in a way that actually addresses the present day stressor.

So then, are we always to be held hostage by these firing neurons? Absolutely not! “Each day is literally the opportunity to create a new episode of learning, in which recent experience will become integrated with the past and woven into the anticipated future” (Siegel). Neurons can be re-wired!

Perhaps the first step is to simply absorb the fact that many of our present day responses, thoughts, emotions are nothing but a neuronal pathway lighting up! Recognition of this creates space for the individual to consider the possibility that what they think or feel is going on may not be what is, in fact, really happening.
Secondly, as Siegel states, when one is able to inhibit the engrained state and respond to a situation, trigger, or stressor in a new way, that neuronal pathway will be adapted. The more frequently this occurs, the more modified the neuronal pathway becomes, and the behavior, thought, or emotion that is produced is also modified.

Finally, from my experience coaching women who have been sexually abused or raped, the ability to actually respond in a new way comes as a result of, first, identifying simply what is actually happening without adding any emotion or interpretation. Next, by looking for all of the possible explanations (not just the ones that reinforce the ideas we already have), one can then respond in a considered manner based on these reflections rather than on the initial gut (neuronal) instinct. Hence, a new response occurs and the neuronal pathway is modified.

While the brain is a very complex system and much of the neuropsychological research has produced mostly conjectures and theories at the present time, for anyone in recovery and/or striving toward lives that are thriving, understanding how abuse impacts brain development and memory can only support you in your journey.

Whenever I am coaching someone around issues of trauma - regardless of whether it be sexual abuse, physical abuse, or divorce, using techniques to retrain the brain is ways a part of what I do! If you'd like to explore Trauma Recovery coaching as a way to overcome the patterns of thoughts and behaviors that often develop as a result of abuse, just schedule a call!

January 6, 2011

My Twelve Commandments

Gretchen Rubin, in her book The Happiness Project, sets out to discover ways to be happier. As she begins thinking about what sorts of resolutions she'll make to improve different areas of her life, she notices some "overarching principles" - and names these principles her "Twelve Commandments."

I was intrigued by this idea - and so set about writing my own list - here they are:

1. Be good to myself and others
2. Love outrageously
3. Stop holding my breath
4. Smile at strangers
5. Say it out loud
6. Be hardcore
7. Stay in touch
8. Don’t miss this moment
9. Have great adventures
10. Don’t wait for things to be perfect
11. Laugh deep belly laughs
12. Relish being wrong

Coming up with this list wasn't a complete breeze. I had to pause often to decide whether a commandment was really something I believed in or was inspired by or whether it was based on some external expectation. I loved doing it though!!

What are your 12 Commandments - what principles underpin your life - hold you, guide you, inspire you!?

January 3, 2011

Getting the Results You Want

"Current research underscores the wisdom of his [Benjamin Franklin's] chart-keeping approach. People are more likely to make progress on goals that are broken into concrete, measurable actions, with some kind of structured accountability and positive reinforcement." ~The Happiness Project
I couldn't agree more, which is why one of the main things I do with my clients is create "measurable results" - even when it comes to abstract ideas like worthiness, confidence, or communication. I love seeing things become focused and manageable as my clients get clear about the small strides they can take towards a larger goal!

Are there things you've wanted to change, but you're stuck either because the task seems too big or you just don't know where to start? We should chat - just schedule a call!

January 1, 2011

Love the One You’re With…

The more I work with clients, the more I am aware of one of the greatest hopes we have: That our hurts will not have been in vain, that there is some way to make it matter. I know we often look to volunteering with organizations, offering our time and energy to support a particular cause, or serving in some other way that contributes to society. This practice is of great value to both the giver and the receiver. Yet what often goes unnoticed are the opportunities to serve those who are in our immediate circle ... the ones we are closest to, the ones who put up with us during those years of struggle, the ones who cross our path every day.

Often what inhibits and prevents us from giving or sharing freely with others is a kind of stinginess. This is not the stinginess that makes you give a $1 tip when you know you really should give more. It’s not the kind of Ebenezer Scrooge stinginess that causes you to ignore the circumstances of others. Rather, it is a type of stinginess born out of a need to hide and protect ourselves and to preserve a sense of control. Where does this type of stinginess come from in the first place, how does it most often show up, and how can we break free of it?

Human beings are funny creatures. We crave interaction and relationship, yet often behave in ways that directly counter this need. The main thing that gets in the way of us authentically interacting and forming relationships with others is our need to look good! How many times have we been in a conversation, and we have no idea what the person is talking about? Yet we nod and agree as if we are also a scholar on Far Eastern spices. When we almost trip and fall on the sidewalk, our first response isn’t, “Thank goodness I didn’t get hurt,” but rather, “Did anyone see me fall?” More significantly, we are struggling through a divorce but refuse to tell any of our friends, because we don’t want them to think we are a failure.

For many of us, this need to look good is often exacerbated by an experience in our past that made hiding the safest choice. Additionally, many of us have suffered in silence and worked to keep up appearances to the outside world – looking good was a way to shield ourselves from revealing the truth.

Our egos are important and our need to protect them is also functionally appropriate in many circumstances. However, if we never risk ego by giving up looking good, then we miss key opportunities to share and learn from others, to give others a chance to share genuinely with us, and, perhaps most tragically, to really be seen and known by others. We have to stop hiding.

Another way that stinginess shows up is in our amazing ability to make choices for other people. I am sure we have all experienced the following sort of invitation, “Hey, there’s a party this weekend, I’m sure you’re too busy to go and wouldn’t be interested, but I think it will be a lot of fun – you should come.” What in the world is that?!

This sort of non-invitation is used as a defense mechanism to protect our egos from disappointment and rejection. This type of exchange allows us to believe that the person is rejecting the party (because they are busy) rather than rejecting us. The error is in thinking that a “no” to an invitation means the person is saying “no” to you personally. If we can recognize that a person may refuse an invitation for any number of reasons (granted, one of those may be because you aren’t their cup of tea), then we can give up the need to protect ourselves by offering these sorts of non-invitations.

Instead, make a clear request - “Would you like to help me on this project?” instead of, “I have this project that I would like your help on, but I understand you’re probably too busy.” Then, accept the person’s answer (which, by the way, will often include an explanation such as, “Sorry, I already have too many projects.”) without taking it personally. By making clear requests, you avoid inserting a negative influence that would rob the other person of the opportunity to choose for him/herself.

Additionally, not asking others for support (e.g. keeping the fact that you are going through a divorce to yourself ) is also a type of choosing for others. The people in our lives want to give their support. It is an act of stinginess to deny them the opportunity to love and care for us. So, how do we counter this tendency to choose for others? It may seem simplistic, but, when you extend an invitation, filter out anything that is not the clear request. When you need support – ask. Stop choosing for others!

Step 1: Get clear about what you want. What specific type of support do you want/need?
Example: I would like to talk by phone; I want to meet in person.

Step 2: Get even more specific – How often? What day? What time?
Example: I would like to talk by phone once a week on Tuesdays at 12p.

Step 3: Ask for confirmation/agreement.
Example: How does that sound? Would that work for you?

Step 4: Negotiate. Based on the person’s response, you may need to adjust the details or you may have to hear them say, “No, I can’t do that,” and not fall into meaning making as a result.

It is a gift to those with whom we are interacting to give up looking good rather than deceptively nodding to avoid acknowledging that we do not understand. It is a gift to let others choose for themselves by making clear requests rather than using non-invitations. It is a gift to others to ask them to support us rather than hiding behind excuses for not doing so (e.g. “I don’t want to impose.”) It is a gift to those we love to risk our ego in order to build a more intimate relationship.

We will discover that our relationships become more genuine and the ones we are with will appreciate our openness. So, stop being stingy! As we search for ways to contribute to the broader society, keep in mind those who are close to us. Embrace the opportunities to serve them as well by making clear requests.

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