February 25, 2011

Lessons from a Turtle

"Adults are always asking kids what they want to be when they grow up, because they are looking for ideas." ~Paula Poundstone

How fabulous is that! I know I’m still certainly wondering about what I’ll be when I grow up, and I know many of the folks around me are thinking about this, too.
For me, though, there are the added questions of, “Is it too late?” & “Shouldn’t I have accomplished more by now?” I took a bit more time to finish my undergraduate studies than usual; then I spent some time roaming the halls of an elementary school trying my hand at teaching and learning a lot about myself.

When I came to California, I focused on child development (and napping) as I nanny before now turning my attention to psychology & coaching. Seems a bit schizophrenic, but each stage has in some way built upon the previous one. Now, most days, I appreciate my wiggly journey. Still, I do sometimes agonize about this, because I am many paces behind those who followed the straight and narrow.

When we feel the pressure to make our mark, crave the pride of achievement, or desire to experience ourselves at our best, our first point of reference for measuring where we stand is often what others are doing or have done. Is there real value in this exercise of comparison? Well, I suppose it depends on what your ultimate goal is.

To my mind, I see two possible outcomes from engaging in this sort of reflection (to be sure, there may be others). If your goal (though possibly an unconscious one) is to reinforce negative ideas you have about yourself as being less than, incapable, flawed, etc. – comparing oneself to others is like a gateway drug to self-deprecation. There can be real value in seeing how you measure up to others, but if you can’t compare yourself to others without becoming depressed, self-critical, exasperated, defeated, pitiful, and chagrined then this is not a healthy choice for you.

However, if your goal is to do something about your current situation and to move forward despite time, age, circumstances then it might be possible to become inspired, motivated, encouraged, and educated as a result of comparing where you are with others who have acquired the same things you now desire but don’t have. In other words, through curiosity and studying their very straight journey, you may add some arrow-like qualities to your own path.

My point is, I can look to a coach who is my age, has my education but is much further along in building her business and making a living and think to myself, “Damn it, see, if only I hadn’t…” or I can look to see how this person got to where she is and learn – and, perhaps, learn fast!

We only have one life journey. Whether it be a wiggly one or a straight & narrow one – it's ours. So, for all of my wiggly friends out there – move, be active, learn and don’t allow yourself to be distracted by self-deprecating thoughts. For my straight & narrow friends, I hope you’ll share what you’ve learned.

Just as we might discover who we want to be when we grow up from kids, we also do well to remember the age old Aesop fable The Tortoise and the Hare. It’s not how quickly you can get to where you want to be – it’s whether you get there at all.

February 23, 2011

Trauma Is Not A Competition!

"...a man's suffering is similar to the behavior of gas. If a certain quantity of gas is pumped into an empty chamber, it will fill the chamber completely and evenly, no matter how big the chamber. Thus suffering completely fills the human soul and conscious mind, no matter whether the suffering is great or little. Therefore the 'size' of human suffering is absolutely relative." ~Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

In working with people who have experienced some sort of trauma, whether it be sexual or physical abuse, divorce, or loss of a relationship, it is very common to hear minimizing statements such as, "It only happened once," or "I know others have suffered worse things."

There is a very real psychological purpose behind minimization - it prevents the person from being overwhelmed by the experience and thoughts and feelings that come along as a result.

However, as one reaches the place where simply suppressing or managing the effects of the trauma is no longer satisfying, these minimizations need to drop away.

As I've told clients,trauma is not a competition! You don't get fewer points for being abused once as opposed to many times. As Frankl states, suffering, be it great or little, has a way of filling our minds and hearts to capacity .. taking over our thoughts and guiding our behavior.

So, rather than trying to escape the impact of the abuse by minimization, take the time to fully acknowledge the extent to which you've been changed or hurt and to what extent that experience is interfering with your life, relationships, and ability to live a life that you love right now in the present.

In doing so, you will be able to deal with the areas of your life that have been impacted rather than remaining stuck, hurt, angry because you continue to believe that your hurt wasn't "great" enough to be justified, to warrant reflection, or to deserve your full attention.

What have you been minimizing and ignoring that you'd instead like to acknowledge and heal?

If you think you'd benefit from partnering with me in answering this question, please don't hesitate to schedule a free 30 minute discovery session! I'm still offering four free sessions to all new clients, so now is a great time to experience coaching!

February 18, 2011

Real Friendship in a Time of Casual Acquaintances

"Friendship is more than acquaintance, and it involves more than affection. Friendship usually rises out of mutual interests and common aims, and these pursuits are strengthened by the benevolent impulses that sooner or later grow. The demands of friendship for frankness, for self-revelation, for taking friends' criticisms as seriously as their expressions of admiration or praise, for stand-by-me loyalty, and for assistance to the point of self-sacrifice are all potent encouragements to moral maturation and even ennoblement.

In our age, when casual acquaintance often comes so easily, and when intimacy comes too soon and too cheaply, we need to be reminded that genuine friendships take time. They take effort to make, and work to keep. Friendship is a deep thing."
~William J. Bennett

I find that so many of us, many with 400 "friends" or more, still feel alone ... having no deep human relationships. We can access each other in seconds ... and, perhaps because of this, have lost the stomach for enduring with each other through time and circumstance in order to form solid connections.

Additionally, we seem to cringe at the idea of committing to anything that takes more than half an hour, and so miss out on opportunities where friendships could flourish. For example, every time I mention that I dance with a hip-hop crew and we rehearse twice a week for two hours, mouths drop open, eyes glaze over, and people are amazed that I give so much of my time to "one thing!" Yet, this dedicated time to a group of people and something that I love has resulted in some real friendships. So, being willing to commit to one thing may actually prove to be more valuable than doing lots of different things.

I was particularly touched by Bennett's statement, because I'm finding more and more that it is my "real" friends who are having the most impact on my life, on who I am. My understanding of what it means to be a friend and to be befriended has grown exponentially since my 20's ... and, quite frankly, it's a challenge some days to remain accessible and tuned in.

But, overall, I am deeply grateful to those in my life who have found me worth their time .. who have stayed with me through many adventures .. who have made the "effort" to keep me .. and are enjoying the journey with me.

It's also inspiring to think of the friendships that are yet to be formed ... the unknown faces and lives that may pop into my life at any moment and who will then look back with me upon that moment years later with amazement that something so wonderful could have been born out of one simple moment!

Maybe today, take a moment to thank your "real" friends for loving you so unconditionally, for bailing you out, for setting your straight, for laughing and crying with you, and for seeing in you what you have a hard time seeing in yourself.

February 16, 2011

Time to Get Moving!

“Many a false step was made by standing still.” ~Fortune cookie

When we are struggling to break out of certain habits of thought or behavior, it often seems safer and easier to just stick with the status quo. We often find ourselves at a moment when we can take a step forward or simply keep our feet planted. The choice we make at such moments is crucial.

Reasons for standing still are numerous .. movement creates momentum and we can be unsure or afraid of where that momentum might take us. We may feel a bit unsteady when we take some new, first steps - kinda like toddlers fumbling around. Those fumbly steps are so critical though - without them, we never have the opportunity to experience leaping, running, or dancing!

There is, however, very little to gain from standing still.

Now I'm not talking about the kind of stillness that comes from being peaceful or making decisions with foresight and thoughtfulness.

What I do want to challenge is the idea that standing still is the "safe" choice. How can allowing your feet to become as roots in the ground be safe? It seems to me, if you are firmly planted, you are much more vulnerable to those who can approach and use you as they will.
 
It's time to uproot ourselves! To shed the distorted thinking, memories, and fears that immobilize us.

More and more, I'm spending time supporting my clients in shifting their focus from the fears and distorted thinking that keep them from embracing opportunities or others.

If you'd like to get a move on, please schedule a time for us to chat to discuss how coaching can support you!

February 14, 2011

Time Out for a Love Poem

Okay, I just couldn't resist! It's Valentine's Day, and I'm am not a big fan of the holiday - I don't run out and buy flowers, candy, and cards - but I do appreciate a good love poem! So, from one of my favorites....

Cien sonetos de amor - Tie your heart at night to mine, love
~ Pablo Neruda

Tie your heart at night to mine, love,
and both will defeat the darkness
like twin drums beating in the forest
against the heavy wall of wet leaves.

Night crossing: black coal of dream
that cuts the thread of earthly orbs
with the punctuality of a headlong train
that pulls cold stone and shadow endlessly.

Love, because of it, tie me to a purer movement,
to the grip on life that beats in your breast,
with the wings of a submerged swan,

So that our dream might reply
to the sky's questioning stars
with one key, one door closed to shadow.

February 11, 2011

Not All That Glitters Is Gold

Life’s road can sometimes be as glittery and entrancing as the yellow brick road. It would serve us well to remember, however, that what Dorothy found at its end was a fraud, a fake, smoke and mirrors. The road she had to walk before reaching her goal was the sooty steps of the witch's dark castle.

Sometimes our journeys aren't pretty, but they are our journeys nonetheless! Today, I'm reminding myself that some of the glittery roads I've traveled ended badly while some of the gloomiest roads led to real joy and discovery.

We should be wary of the road that glitters too much. Though the path that lies before us may not always shine, it is forever solid even if filled with witches and flying monkeys.
 
What dark roads are you happy to have traveled?

February 9, 2011

How Choosing Can Make All the Difference

The fact that we have the freedom to change “is hard to face up to, so we tend to invent an excuse by saying, ‘I can’t change now because of my past conditioning.’ Sartre called excuses ‘bad faith.’ No matter what we have been, we can make choices now and become something quite different. We are condemned to be free. To choose is to become committed: This is the responsibility that is the other side of freedom. Sartre’s view was that at every moment, by our actions, we are choosing who we are being. Our existence is never fixed or finished. Every one of our actions represents a fresh choice.”

I came across this quote in one of my textbooks and it seems so well timed given the most recent postings I’ve made regarding reshaping who we are and being mindful of our moments. I particularly like the idea that our existence is never fixed or finished. In relation to the outcomes of abuse or trauma, it can sometimes seem like we are just stuck with these results. As I work with clients, one of the main hurdles to overcome is the idea that they have no choice in how they think, respond, or feel.

So, just a gentle reminder that, whatever your past experiences, you are not condemned to forever be in a fixed state of reliving or rehashing.
If you could choose to give up a way of thinking about yourself or others that has resulted from abuse or some sort of hurt, what conscious choice would you need to make?

February 7, 2011

Undoing the Lessons of Abuse

There’s a time in all of our lives when we have no concept of life, time, or pain. Tragedy is oversleeping on Saturday morning and missing your favorite cartoon. You don’t understand the frown you see on all of the big people’s faces…you wonder what could be so bad that they yell, cry, and fight. There’s also a time in all of our lives when we become the thing we couldn’t understand…we find ourselves lying in bed with the covers over our head, afraid to come out and face what’s on the outside…inside…there. We've all had that one thing that causes us to retreat to our beds…to shut out the world…to shut out life. For me…that one thing was my grandfather.

I remember the day my grandfather came to live with us. He appeared out of the blue, this short, wrinkled thing that reminded me of the old guy on Fraggle Rock…so how bad could he be, right? He always wore this fuzzy brown and orange cardigan. He spent most of his time watching Channel 13, which was the public announcement channel in our small town in Oklahoma. All day long, the screen would alter between solid blues, greens, and reds, with bold large print announcing the Bingo Meeting at the Local Union #202, the Pancake Breakfast at St. Mary’s Catholic Church…stuff like that. We didn’t talk much. I can only imagine the things he had seen and done during his long life – but he took all of those stories to the grave and left a far more interesting one behind.

Most of our interactions consisted of me taking him his nightly bowl of cereal and holding the screen door with the springy hinge open so he could go out onto the front porch. At the tender age of 10, I felt immensely proud and extremely grown up for helping out. After holding the door open one day, my grandfather took me by the wrist and sat me down with him on the swing.

By now, you’ve probably guessed what happened that day (and would continue to happen) – my story isn’t nearly as rare as it should be.
 
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Last week, I shared some reflections on how I was shaped by my childhood beginnings. Today, as I thought more about this, I realized that this moment in my life – when my grandfather began abusing me – was also a beginning.

Every person who has been abused or experienced a trauma remembers that first moment when the ground shifted and life became, well, different. To be sure, there were a ton of lessons learned, but the two that shaped me the most were that being vulnerable only leads to trouble and that I had to handle things on my own.

Undoing the lessons learned from this beginning has not been easy, and they still try to rear their ugly heads from time to time. Even so, I have made my way to the other side and found myself at yet another beginning! Today, I use all of the lessons I had to learn to counteract the effects of the abuse to coach others who have experienced trauma or abuse through the process.

To those who have been abused or suffered a trauma, I just want you to know that you’re not alone. It is possible to put to rest the lessons learned and to “reshape” who you are.

If you’d like to know more how I made the journey to recovery, please schedule a time for us to chat…

February 4, 2011

Moments

Now working on another year of life … I can say that I’m better today than I was years, days, hours ago … yes, even hours – because each moment of life presents its own unique opportunity.

We make choices not every day – but every hour, every minute. Life can change in a split second – that’s how long it takes to make a choice – am I going to be loving or hateful, am I going to shout or speak softly, am I going to be open or closed off …

Humans desire simple things – love, respect, friendship – but we’re stubborn. We refuse to give before we receive – I want mine before I’ll give you yours. But in the very next moment – you’re no longer there to receive and what I had to give is now worthless. So why hold on, hold back the love you are naturally driven to express?

What’s amazing to me is that, in those split-second moments, years are determined. Be mindful of your moments. Welcome love into each breath – look, gaze adoringly on the one’s you love – because – in the very next minute – they may no longer be standing before you.

February 2, 2011

Key to Having Flow in Your Life

I've had friends say to me from time to time, "Things just seem to flow for you. Jobs, relationships – they just seem to come to you ... why is that?!" I've never really been able to answer this question well, but, after reflecting for some time last night on a new opportunity that has recently become available for building my coaching practice, I decided to take a closer look at this concept of “flow.”

Immediately, I was reminded of my life this time two years ago. I'll give you the punch line first and then tell all the dirty details: I lost my nannying job one day (the father was out of work, so they could no longer afford me) and got hired for a tutoring job the next day!
 
Now let's go back in time:

While still working as a mentor for teens in 2009, each leader was asked to write up a personal profile that would be shared with the parents and teens. One of the questions was: What are your dreams and aspirations? Now, the typical responses were often about wanting to start a family, some career goal, or places to travel. While I surely have some similar intentions for my life (Italy!), when I thought about what I really dream and aspire to be/do, I realized my answer would not fit the status quo. So, now, a decision presented itself - go with the standard response or be authentic? Here's what I wrote:

"To live in such a way that people are better off for having known me. To love unconditionally, to forgive radically, and to live with integrity."

Now, those thoughts are so key to who I am that putting them out there for just anyone to see is stepping into being vulnerable (not my first instinct) and giving up being stingy with myself (openly sharing). It also meant risking being misunderstood or judged (another thing that drives me crazy!).

A week after the profiles were posted, I got a call from a mom who had seen the posting. She said, "I read that and immediately knew you were someone I needed to connect with!" We had about an hour conversation, getting to know each other, and she shared with me about her company that produces and distributes meal replacement products. I had no interest in becoming a "salesperson" - but I filed it away as something to keep in mind for others.

The day after I lost my job, I called her, because I had some extra cash (read “severance package!”) and wanted to give her products a try. Now, the conversation began by her asking the usual, "How are things going?" Rather than give the standard answer of, "Fine," - I said, "Well, it's been an interesting week! Yesterday ..." and I went on to explain what happened with my job. I also decided to share about the possible tutoring opportunity I had lined up but hadn’t yet heard back from. To which she said, "Oh, I've been looking for a tutor for my daughter! How about I hire you!?" ... and there ya go! ... I had a new source of income. On top of that, because she knew my situation, she offered to work with me on the cost of her products, so I could go ahead and give them a try!

As I smiled again at remembering how one door closes and another door opens, I decided that the flow in my life is directly related to:

1. A willingness to give up looking good, to be authentic, to as often as possible be genuine about myself, my life, my needs, my desires even when doing so goes against social norms or what feels most comfortable.

2. Due to this, I get into communication with people and share in a way that is vulnerable, open, non-stingy,

3. Which creates the space for opportunities, support to flow into my life either from the person directly or from someone who they may know.

All of this definitely applies to personal relationships as well!

So, if there is anything that I do at all to create flow in my life – assuming it’s not just blind luck! – I would say it is these things!

If you were to set aside looking good, the fear of being vulnerable (or whatever else it is that stops you) – what would you do today? Who would you get in touch with? What phone call would you make that you’ve been putting off?

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