Pivotal Life Lessons from My Own Experience

woman-with-black-curly-hair-drinking-from-white-coffee-mugPivotal Life Lessons from My Own Experience

  1. One of the greatest gifts you can ever give to someone is your time.
  2. Truly great communicators are those who know how to listen.
  3. Saying “no” to someone can enable them to find their own strength.
  4. Viewing failure as something celebration-worthy opens up a whole host of opportunities.
  5. Learning how to fail is as important (maybe even more) as learning how to succeed.
  6. Mindfulness enriches life immensely.
  7. Knowing who you are and what you stand for matters.
  8. The concept of perfection is a misnomer; true perfection is found in the supposed flaws.
  9. Routines are great until they become ruts.
  10. All your ducks will never be in a row; sometimes you just have to go for it.
  11. Meditation is actually very, very simple.
  12. The answers you seek are always within.
  13. Taking care of yourself allows you to care for others.
  14. There’s always a positive way to view something.
  15. Allowing yourself to stand in awe, makes life feel awesome.
  16. There’s something great about a family pet.
  17. Dancing, singing and skipping are totally energizing J
  18. Nothing beats fresh, homemade food.
  19. Talking and laughing with good friends is the best therapy on the planet.
  20. If you really, truly want something, you’ll find a way. Guaranteed.

yodaGasp!  Yoda Was Wrong!

“Do or do not, there is no try.” So said Yoda in one of the Star Wars movies (confession: I’m not actually a Star Wars fan, just someone who’s aware of a yoda-ism or two; hope this doesn’t make you think any less of me).

For a long time, I have loved this quote. The implication as I’ve understood it has been that you either do something, or you don’t. You don’t “try” to do anything. My sense is that Yoda would have us believe that the concept of “trying” is a bit of a misnomer.

If we look around us, there is actually evidence to support Yoda’s claim. Think about it; you can’t actually “try” to sit on a chair. You’ll either sit on it or you won’t. You can’t “try” to play an instrument; you’ll either play it or you won’t (whether you play it well or not is another story altogether). As you consider this quote, you can see the truth of it, can’t you? Well, I assert that if you consider it for a little longer, you’ll see that it’s wrong.

While the idea that you either do something or don’t is true to a certain degree, there are actually two additional truths that need to be considered alongside this yoda-ism. The first truth is this: as you do something repeatedly you actually get better at it. This applies in the context of playing an instrument that I pointed to earlier. While it’s true that you either play an instrument or you don’t, when it comes to creating music that is enjoyable and/or recognizable, this only comes about as you invest time and energy, as you strive for something more than merely the creation of a sound from said instrument. In short, as you TRY to create something more, you actually DO create something more.

The second truth is that there are actually achievements that are attained through a process of trying. Think about a child who slowly but surely moves toward the milestone of walking. At first, rest assured, she is NOT walking. But between the time that she isn’t walking and the time that she achieves her first, legitimate step, she is TRYING. She is investing time and energy and effort into a particular objective. This trying is very real. She is not yet walking – in the Yoda world, she is in the “do not” phase. But she’s not yet in the “do” phase either – she’s between, in the “trying” phase. And so, all you Yoda-lovers out there, there actually is a “try”.

I think what Yoda was actually getting at is that when you set your mind on a particular achievement, the question of whether or not you’ll get there becomes moot. Your mind is so powerful a tool, that once you determine that you will accomplish something, achieve a milestone, or reach an objective, the “trying” phase can almost be overlooked. That being said, I want you to understand that trying is actually still an essential part of the process. Trying is about the investment of whatever it takes to get where you want to go.

Bottom-line: if you truly want to achieve something, your commitment to that end alone will ensure its success. You cannot, however, overlook the investment of time, energy and resources that mark the time between the naming of the goal, and the achievement of that same goal. To get from A to B, you’ve got try. And, as the saying goes, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”. This trying is actually what distinguishes ”do” from “do not”. Sorry Yoda, you had it wrong.

groundhogSix More Weeks Until WHAT?

Groundhog Day.  It’s a North American tradition – specific to Canada and the USA as far as I know.  Basic folklore says that on February 2nd, otherwise known as Groundhog Day, the groundhog will emerge from its burrow and if it sees its shadow, there will be 6 more weeks of winter.  If it doesn’t see its shadow, then it’s only 6 more weeks until spring.  Or something like that. 

This tradition has baffled me for many years.  When I was younger, I didn’t really understand it; I heard it as “if the groundhog sees its shadow we’ll have 6 more weeks of winter; otherwise, it’s spring!!”  This, of course, doesn’t make any sense at all.  According to the calendar there are 6 more weeks of winter regardless.  The official first day of spring doesn’t arrive until March 20th (or is it the 21st??). 

At any rate, folklore aside, what I want to point to is this:  Groundhog Day and its corresponding folklore is a powerful example of the power of perspective.  I’ve written about this before and yet, from what I’m noticing in the world, I think the message bears repeating (several times, as the case may be).  What message?  This message:  the way you choose to view something, the perspective you hold on a given situation, plays a powerful part in determining the choices you’ll make and the way you’ll show up in the world.  Why does this matter?  Because the choices you make and the way you show up make a difference in how you live your life.

Let’s say, for example, that you choose to say that “there will be six more weeks of winter” as opposed to “there are six more weeks until spring”, where is your focus?  With the first statement, your focus is on winter, right?  Not only that, your focus is on the fact that there’s more winter to endure before the arrival of spring.  When you make the ever-so-slight shift to the statement, “there are six more weeks until spring” your focus is on spring, and on the ensuing countdown.  It’s a perspective of anticipation as opposed to endurance.  And when you’re anticipating or expecting something, the way you approach it is different than when you’re enduring something.  Do you see what I’m talking about?

So, if you take this lesson and extrapolate it to your life, the question I’ve got is this:  are you enduring things?  Or are you anticipating things?  Are you putting up with things?  Or are you looking forward to something?  There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these perspectives.  Each one is valid and rooted in a modicum of truth.  What changes, however, is the resulting attitude you’ll hold, the choices you’ll see and the outlook you’ll embrace.  When you stand in the place of anticipation, looking forward, there’s a way that you hold a certain excitement and joie de vivre.  When you stand in the place of enduring and putting up with things, your approach is instead one of trepidation and despondence.  Which one will serve you better?

I know that there are times where endurance is what makes sense.  This is especially true if you’re dealing with a crisis of sorts.  And yet, even in that crisis, when you can shift your focus to one of anticipation – even if only for a moment – there’s a way that you can navigate the challenges with just a bit of ease.  Understand, this isn’t about pretending that the challenge or crisis doesn’t exist.  Instead, it’s about understanding that even while the challenge is there, there is something to look forward to.  No matter what storm you’re weathering, the sun will come out in the days ahead.

Bottom-line:  when it comes to getting the most out of your life, living it as fully as possible, and creating all that you want for yourself, there’s something to be said for getting deliberate about your perspective and approach.  Over the next six weeks, will you endure?  Or will you anticipate?  Or will you choose something else altogether?  Find out what will serve you best.  Then choose that approach to your life.

Full length of young men and women holding cellphoneDid You Get My Message?

When I look at the world today, I confess: I’m in awe of the technology that surrounds us. I’m amazed at the dexterity with which young children can navigate websites and keyboards. I’m in awe of how quickly information is transmitted around the globe – it’s literally a matter of seconds in most cases.  And I love the ease with which we can do so much at the click of a button; things that in the past would have taken days or weeks and involved multiple individuals and steps can now be done in minutes (hours if we’re on a slow internet connection). The world-wide-web has transformed our world so that it’s almost unrecognizable from two decades ago (which really is not that long ago, if you think about it). With all of this ease and convenience, there’s a trend that I’ve noticed in the world of communication in particular. Whether you’re looking at personal communications or professional is irrelevant. The same trend exists, the same needs appear, and the same expectations abound. At its very core, communication has become an instantaneous thing – and as such, it has produced a need for instant gratification in turn. Let me explain.

Texting, emailing, instant messaging – these are the most current methods of communication for many at this time in history, although phone calls still happen from time to time. These methods of communication happen immediately, in real time (barring, as aforesaid, some sort of connection blip).  Because these links are instantaneous, and because so many of you live attached to your electronic communications devices, there is an expectation (albeit unwritten and unarticulated in most cases) for instant reply. Consider the following:

I text you, you get the text, you respond, NOW. 

Or, you email me, I read the email, and I reply, NOW.

I phone your cell (I know you’ve got it on you, why wouldn’t you?) and so you pick up, NOW.

Can you see the pattern? Can you relate? Do you understand what I’m talking about?

Admittedly, most of us are able to draw SOME boundaries around this. We turn off our devices when in meetings, and we’re learning to not text and drive.  Overall, however, there is an expectation of immediate connection that is infiltrating our world, and it’s causing more harm than good.

1)      Our capacity to be patient is diminishing. So often I see individuals — clients, colleagues, friends, family, myself – in a seeming state of being unable to wait for an answer. Thumb twiddling, nervous twitching, staring at a phone, willing it to ring, beep or otherwise signal an incoming message.

2)      We’re losing our ability to problem-solve. When a solution to a problem isn’t immediately forth-coming I notice employees sending a quick email or text to their superiors – and those superiors are responding with a solution, rather than allowing the employee to come up with a solution on their own.

3)      We’re missing out on opportunity for real, genuine meaningful connection in favour of these “pseudo-connections”. You sent me an email yesterday, why would we need to get together and chat?

So, what to do about this? How do we embrace the benefits of modern, technological advances, without falling prey to the challenges of the same?

1)      Keep drawing the boundaries. And draw some more. Challenging yourself to turn your phone off for a day during the weekend ensures that you and those around you find other ways (more meaningful ways) to connect.

2)      As a leader, challenge your employees to email/phone/text you ONLY in emergencies. Open door policies are great, being available to your team is great, but not if you’re inadvertently disempowering your people. Let them figure things out.

3)      When you don’t get an immediate response, move on to something else. My experience tells me that there really is very little that can’t wait. And part of our opportunity right now is being able to discern what those few genuinely immediate needs are.

 Bottom-line: these are exciting times we live in. So much is available to us, so much can be done that we couldn’t even dream of not that long ago. That being said, when it comes to our communication patterns, we’ve got to ensure that we’re still communicating with one another in rich, meaningful, reasonable ways. We’ve got to step away from the “instant gratification” trend that seems to be emerging in this area. In short, we need to be willing to wait a bit, and trust that the world will still go on, even if our answer is received 5 minutes from now, rather than in 5 seconds.

failure-success.jpg__800x600_q85_crop_subject_location-516,282Want to Succeed? Get Ready to Fail

I know that I’ve addressed this topic before.  As we begin a new year, however, given that everyone seems to be setting goals and objectives with a view towards success, it feels prudent to share some insights on this again.

You see, everyone wants to succeed at whatever it is they’re engaged in. Success is a good thing – it provides a sense of accomplishment, of completion, of having arrived. In pursuing success, however, we often try to skip past a critical aspect of the experience. Overlooking this aspect deprives us of experiencing success as fully as we can.

What’s the missing aspect? What’s the missing link?

Failure.

Failure is an essential piece of the experience of success and too often, we dismiss its importance. It’s as though we expect to simply arrive at success, without any of the failures that inevitably lead to that milestone moment. Let me tell you, it’s not doable.

On some level I think we all know this. When you try something, it’s rare that you’re going to “nail it” right out of the gate. Most of the time, you have to try, and then try again, and again until eventually you succeed at whatever it is.

In spite of this knowing, however, we diminish the importance of failure as part of the journey to success. So much do we diminish it that, too many people stop themselves at the point of failure. In other words, they fail, they stop trying. Rather than seeing the moment of failure as “one step closer to the moment of success” it’s regarded as the moment to stop, to give up. As a result, you never succeed.

Another way to look at this? You simply will not succeed if you’re not willing to fail.

One of the things that I believe is necessary – one of the things that we’ve forgotten even as we’ve evolved as a species – is how to fail well. We celebrate successes all the time. What would become possible if, as part of the journey to success, we celebrate our failures? My personal sense is that there’s some merit in this.

Bottom-line: it’s important for us to stop trying to avoid failure and, if anything, seek it out as an experience that leads to our much desired success. Failure helps us achieve, whatever it is we’re striving for. If you’re truly committed to succeeding, start looking for ways to fail in service of that success. Trust me; every failure you experience brings you one step closer to your goal.

how-a-positive-attitude-leads-to-a-positive-outcomeAre You Ready to Find The Gold?

Over the years I’ve been accused of being a Polyanna. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, essentially it’s someone who always sees the bright side. Some find this an annoying tendency. I get it.

I won’t deny that my go-to response tends to be a “positive” one. Whether or not I’ve always been this way, I can’t say for sure. Certainly, it’s been a hallmark trait of my adult life, if not my childhood (although I suspect it showed up even way back then).

This is not to say that I can’t be cynical at times. Rest assured, my inner doubt and skepticism are alive and well – and they do come out to play, fairly often. That being said, I can usually move past these  seemingly negative responses and  on to more possibility-filled waters fairly quickly, no matter the circumstance. How?

First, I look around me and source out something for which to be grateful. Maybe it’s the circle of support around me when I’m feeling sad; maybe it’s my warm house when the weather outside is being its all-too-unpredictable Southwestern-Ontario self; maybe it’s the hot tea prepared for me by my loving husband when I’m feeling achy and stuffy. Whatever I find, I start there and express some gratitude.

Then, I stand in possibility. I ask the question, what is possible here? What’s the gift of this circumstance, no matter how grim it might seem? What am I learning about myself and my capacity? What do I know now, that I didn’t necessarily know before?

Third, I make a really conscious choice: a choice to allow the negative and positive to coexist, however that looks. In other words, I allow I choose to shift to a space of allowing. This allowing often takes the form of “it is what it is.” I know that this phrase can be somewhat nebulous – but it’s accurate at the same time. It contains no judgment, just an observation of the situation at hand. It creates space for the seemingly negative experience as well as the possibilities that might arise from it.

Finally, from this space of allowing and observation, I consciously move on. I put my focus on moving forward, however slowly, with whatever is, to a positive choice. I circle back to the second step, and bring that experience of possibility, that lesson, that gift to be the focus of my attention, as much as possible.

If you’re paying attention, I hope you’re noticing that my seemingly Pollyanna tendency isn’t about ignoring the bad stuff. Instead, it’s about allowing that stuff, even as I find the gold that’s buried somewhere in and amongst it all. Because what I know for sure – what life has taught me, is that it’s there. Yes, sometimes it’s buried pretty deep, And sometimes it takes quite a bit of digging to find it. If I’m willing to keep my eyes open, however, I do find it. Every single time.

Some might say I’m lucky. But I don’t think I’m any luckier than anyone else. I’m just as lucky as you and you’re just as lucky as me. The gold is there to be found, whenever you and I are willing to dig for it. No matter what’s going on in your life, no matter how rocky things might feel, I invite you to consider: are you ready to dig for the gold?

The Paradox of Perfection

perfectionI’ve got a confession to make. I have this pet peeve that’s grown over the years. I’m not sure it bothered me when I was younger, but the older I get, the more of the world I experience, the more this one notion drives me nuts.

Perfection.

Everywhere I turn, I see people on the quest for perfection. Perfect grades, perfect performance, perfect beauty, perfect experiences. No matter what we’re talking about, there’s an evaluative judgment that seems to be happening, and everything is gauged against perfection.

Here’s the problem.

From where I stand, I notice that we’ve got our definition of perfection all wrong. When asked to define the concept, there’s a way that we consider perfection – no matter the context – to be “flawless”.  If there is anything askew, anything not quite right, then it’s deemed imperfect. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about an assignment, a project, a performance, or whatever. Perfection is considered to be that circumstance which is without flaw, without error, without anomaly.

Talk about a set-up. Here’s what I mean.

If we look at the natural world around us, there are many things that we would describe as perfect. A flower bud; a tree in bloom in the spring; a calm lake after a summer storm.  If you take a close look at these natural things, circumstances, scenarios, you’ll see that even as we describe them as perfect, they are flawed. Perhaps there’s a slight discoloration on a petal. Maybe a tree branch is gnarled.  Whatever.

The irony is that these flaws – these supposed imperfections – are part of what contribute to the perfect whole. The flaws are what make the perfect thing, perfect. Why? Because the flaws are what distinguish each and every thing, from every other thing. Can you get your head around that?

Perfection is NOT about being without flaws. Yes, I know, when it comes to things like school assignments and grades the goal is 100%, which is supposedly perfect. But in the larger frame of life, when it comes to how we live and how we show up, we need to stop minimizing the value of flaws. We need to stop trying to do away with them and start embracing them.

Bottom-line: flaws are essential to the true experience of perfection.  If you’re looking for things to be perfect, make sure you celebrate the supposed flaws, the quirks, the anomalies as part of the puzzle. Whether you’re talking about a project, a thing, a person or an experience, it’s the only way to really know perfection.

half full or half emptyThe Biggest Opportunity in 2015

Optimism.  It’s a word that’s used a lot and a concept that’s misunderstood in my opinion. A few years back, I wrote a series of articles exploring the lines of The Optimist’s Creed, a piece that I quite enjoy. Today, as we stand in that space that straddles the end of one year and the start of another, I want to revisit one line of that particular creed.  The last line is one that beautifully captures what it truly means to be optimistic. As we reflect on the year that’s passed, and look to the year ahead, understanding the essentials of optimism can serve us all well. My intention is to shed some light on what true optimism really is, distinguishing it from idealism and Polyanna thinking that seems to sometimes set people’s teeth on edge. 

The last line of the Optimist’s Creed captures the core truth of every optimist’s approach to life.  At the heart of every optimist lies an awareness and understanding that no matter what is going on, no matter what is happening or what challenges are being faced, human beings have the capacity to rise above it all.  Let me explain.

As you go about your business of living, you will be presented with various scenarios in your life.  Some will be filled with ease and joy.  Some will be trying, to say the least.  Others will be downright abhorrent, things you’d want to resist and avoid at all costs.  This is true whether you’re an optimist, a pessimist a realist, or an idealist or prefer some other descriptive word for yourself.  This is part and parcel of being a human on this journey called life.

The true optimist recognizes that no matter the circumstance, you have the capacity to react, as well as the capacity to respond.  This latter capacity is what the optimist chooses more often than not.  You see, if you are looking to shift your way of operating in the world, if you’re looking to transform your outlook to one of optimism, then you have to start embracing your capacity to RESPOND.  What does this mean? In a nutshell, when you respond, you look at the circumstance, evaluate the information at hand, and then make a choice about how to be with what is. For the optimist, the choice that you will make (again, more often than not) is the choice that elevates you above the mere circumstances and trappings, to the place that provides you with opportunity.

So, if you have massive debt in your financial life, as an optimist you’re not going to pretend it’ll go away on its own; instead, you will look that debt square in the metaphorical eye, sees it for what it is, then look to see what opportunity exists to eradicate the debt.   If you’re longing for a meaningful relationship in your life, as an optimist you won’t sit back and hope for one, nor will you settle into a “this is my lot in life” frame of mind.  Instead, you’ll accept that the single life is your current experience and at the same time, you’ll take some concrete action to change your circumstance to one of partnership and relationship.  In both these scenarios, the defining quality of optimism is the recognition that there isn’t simply a problem at a hand, but rather an opportunity to be explored.

Bottom-line:  optimists understand that they always have the opportunity to choose – to choose their outlook, their response, their way forward.  No matter what’s going on, optimists will find the opportunity embedded in every challenge.  Yes, optimists get angry, get sad, get confused and frustrated at times.  And, even with those feelings, optimists know that life is meaningful and rich.  If you’re looking to take an a more optimistic approach to the world in 2015, then start embracing your life as it is, even as you work to make it what it can be.

giftsWhy You Don’t Deserve Gifts

Gifts. They’re an almost essential part of the holiday experience. At this time of year, we can all relate in the context of Christmas or Hannukah or Diwali, but even throughout the year, gifts often accompany celebrations of all sorts.

Gifts can be fun to give, fun to receive, fun to open and fun to purchase or make. They can also, however, be laden with all sorts of emotional baggage, including guilt and such. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. At the very least, guilt can enter the equation when one considers the idea of reciprocity; there’s often an unspoken question of whether or not the gifts being exchanged were of equal value. And if they’re not – if one person gives or receives a gift that is perceived to be worth more or less, there’s a certain amount of guilt that shows up.

The other emotionally charged experience when it comes to gifts is that of “deserving” as in “do I deserve this gift?” Indeed, our culture perpetuates this notion in the language of “Santa’s naughty list” or “nice list” as the case may be. The idea is that you need to behave a certain way in order to be worthy – or deserving – of gifts.

But here’s the thing. Nobody deserves a gift. Why not? Because gifts are not things to be earned or deserved. Gifts are simply given and received, no strings attached. If it’s something that’s deserved, or earned, then it’s not a gift, it’s a reward. There’s a difference.

Think about it. When you work hard at something, when you prove yourself to be deserving, there’s a payoff at the end. It could be as simple as a sense of accomplishment, or something more concrete like a certificate of recognition, a raise, a token of merit – whatever. These are rewards, they’re not gifts.

Gifts, on the other hand, are given freely, without consideration of merit. Or at least, they should be. A true gift is something that is given because it wants to be given. It’s done without expectation, and without being attached to behavior or merit. The minute it’s attached to anything, it ceases to be a gift.

Bottom-line: stop asking whether or not you deserve to receive a gift; you don’t. Stop asking whether or not others deserve to receive a gift; they don’t. Gifts are not deserved or earned. They are freely given and graciously received. This is what makes a gift, a gift.

shutterstock_115748269Prepare to Create Some Holiday Magic (Yes, You Can!)

‘Tis the season to be jolly. At least, that’s what the popular Christmas carol would have us believe. And yet, as I look around me, I see so many people who are anything but jolly. Stressed, tired, hurried, harried – sure, but definitely not jolly.  I’m very aware that this season – the Christmas season for me, that of Hannukah, or Diwali or Kwanza for others – is supposed to be one of peace, of joy, and of beauty.  On an intrinsic, cellular level, however, I also know that the intention of this time of year is often in direct contrast to what many experience.  Why is that?  Why are things so crazy-busy, driving many to the brink of breakdown, when the season itself is supposed to be about something completely different?

Before I answer that question for you, let me confess:  overall, I’m actually okay with the busy, hectic pace of the season.  There’s something very vibrant, and alive about the whole thing.  Yes, it can be draining, like anything else that you partake of in huge quantities.  But it can also be invigorating, at least for me.  I’m weird that way.  The hustle and bustle is part of the experience that I savour.  It’s busy.  The malls are crowded and loud.  I have to wait in lines – sometimes really long ones! – to make my purchases.  But I’m okay with that.  I always have been.  There’s something about the energy of people that I just love (although admittedly, I am particularly grateful for the peace and tranquility that awaits me at home following a day of shopping). 

Now, I get that not everyone enjoys the sort of frenetic pace that seems to go hand-in-hand with this season.  But I have to wonder how much of the frenzy gets created by the lack of two specific qualities: namely, clarity and patience.  What might be possible if, despite the busy-ness that abounds during the holidays – whether brought on by shopping, baking, wrapping, decorating or whatever else – every one of us could make a conscious decision to first and foremost, get clear on what matters to each of us at this season, and second to  flow with things, to be kind and patient, to be at our best in the midst of it all?  I’ll tell you what would be possible:  a thoroughly enjoyable holiday. 

You see, no matter who you are, what you celebrate, how you celebrate or with whom, what I know for sure is that when you can take the time to clarify what really matters to you, and then make the decision to breathe, to slow down, to savour and enjoy the experience – yes, even the mad holiday shopping experience – everything really does flow with ease.  That line-up that’s 50 people deep?  It passes much quicker when you can converse with the person in front of you, or do a bit of people watching.  That parking space that seems so elusive at the mall?  It somehow shows up when you just exhibit a bit of patience.  Those crazy family-folk who drive you nuts because they’re just so not like you?  Somehow you can find a way to be with them in a positive space when you determine that for whatever reason having them as part of your experience matters to you, and you create a concrete picture of how “being with them” will look. How do I know this?  Because I’ve been there, done that and lived to tell the tale.

Bottom-line:  ‘tis the season to be whatever you choose to be. The holidays are only ever as beautiful, as crazy, as peaceful as you create them to be.  It really is the season to reach into your soul, clarify how you want to experience the holidays, and then determine to do just that.  ‘Tis the season to create the magic, even when it seems like it’s nowhere to be found.  You have the power.  So engage it.  Be deliberate about your holiday experience.  And watch the frenzy turn into fun.

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