Did You Get My Message?

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.

happy1How Well Do You Own Your Greatness?

What makes you think you’re so special? This is a question I hear a lot of people ask of others.  Heck, sometimes it’s asked of me.  Often, there’s a sneering energy that accompanies the question, a taunt of sorts, the underlying suggestion always being that you are not as great as you think you are.  And sometimes, the people on the receiving end of this question are deserving of the taunt; they’re holding themselves as better than others, placing themselves on a pedestal, thinking that nobody measures up to them.

Often, however, the person on the receiving end of the question isn’t the culprit that he or she is being portrayed to be.  The culprit, instead, is the asker of the question.  And the issue isn’t thinking too highly of one’s self, it’s not thinking highly enough.  So rather than take a moment or two to discover their inner greatness, they’ll stand in their perceived “weakness” and endeavour to bring others down to that level.  After all, it’s so much easier to stay stuck where you are, rather than rise up to where you want to be, right?

I bring this up in today’s article I’ve come to understand that there is a fine line between excessive pride and excessive humility.  Neither of these perspectives will serve you very well, no matter who you are.  When you hold yourself as greater than what you are, knowing everything, needing nothing from others and always at the top of your game, you will eventually take yourself out of the game.  Nobody wants to play with someone who’s arrogant and a know-it-all.  On the flip side, if you place yourself on a “lesser playing field” of sorts, you’ll rarely be asked to join the game and, if you are asked, you won’t be able to play to your full potential.  Why?  Because others won’t necessarily put in the effort to find out what your potential is.  Or, if they do invest the effort at the outset, they’ll stop championing you forward the minute they realize that they’re more invested in your success than you are.

Part of your job as a human being is to discover, know and own your inner strengths.  What are the particular gifts and talents that belong to you?  What are you great at?  Another part of your job as a human being is to balance this knowledge of your strengths, with knowledge of your weaknesses.  Where can you use support?  What is your Achilles’ heel?  And once you know these two sides of you, you need to stand in what makes you great, while acknowledging where you need help.  This is the essence of confidence.

No matter what your spiritual beliefs, one of the things I know for sure – and this is confirmed for me as I look around the world – is that each and every person on the planet has an innate set of gifts, strengths, and talents as well as areas that need some refinement.  Everyone knows something; nobody knows everything.  Your job is to truly stand in your greatness, knowing that there is greatness in you, and balance this with the knowledge that there are aspects of you that need some work.

Bottom-line:  downplaying your greatness is just as much of a disservice to you as making yourself better than you are.  There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance; and there’s a fine line between humility and lack of self-esteem.  In both cases, bring yourself right up to the line – and make sure you don’t cross over. 

eastern_gray_squirrel_73_by_easterngraysquirrel-d5wpwy0Losing Focus? Here’s How to Get It Back

As I sat down to write this ezine, I had the strangest experience. I drew a complete and total blank. Really. It was so bizarre. I’d never experienced this degree of “empty-mind” before. Don’t get me wrong, my mind was swirling with thoughts; but nothing would crystallize. NOTHING.

The strangest piece of it was that I had gone to bed the night before, and woken up that morning with a sense of what to write. I remember thinking, “oh, that would be a great ezine topic” – and then when it came time to write, I couldn’t recall what my fabulous idea had been. So, what did I do? I reached out to my facebook community for help (isn’t that what we all do?). I asked them to ask me a question or two, anticipating that this might jumpstart my writing process. The first question? “Why do we lose focus?”

Hmph. My initial reaction was to roll my eyes and think, dear Lord, if I knew the answer to that I wouldn’t be in this boat, would I?! And then I sat with the question and thought two things: 1) that’s a really good question and 2), maybe I do know the answer to that. So here’s what I came up with.

Based on my own experience, my sense is that we lose focus when we’re not committed and when we’re distracted. No matter what it is that takes us off track, these two culprits – lack of commitment and distraction – are to blame. They kind of go hand-in-hand. When you’re insufficiently committed to an idea or plan, things can take you off track.

Distractions can take all sorts of forms: the needs of others; the needs (or perceived needs) of your own; noise; action; movement; animals (think, “squirrel!!”); menial tasks; books; requests – the list could keep going.

Knowing that these two things are ultimately what have you lose focus, the question now becomes, “What do you do about it?” How do you ensure that you get your focus back?

Well, having been through the experience myself, here’s what I’ve found helpful and effective:

  1. Take a deep breath or two. This serves to bring you back to the present moment, to the task at hand.
  2. Close your eyes. This serves to shut out the world around you, to connect yourself with yourself.
  3. Ask yourself what it is about this task that matters to you. Why did you take on this endeavour in the first place?
  4. Take a moment to recommit. In other words, ask yourself if this task still matters.
    • If it doesn’t LET IT GO – it’s not worth your time.
    • If it does, construct a framework in which you’ll work. Set the timer, close the door, whatever it takes to confine yourself for a specific stretch of time, for the task at hand.
  5. Acknowledge yourself for whatever progress you’ve made.
  6. Repeat.

Bottom-line: losing focus happens to everyone at some point. Regaining focus isn’t as challenging as you might think. The root of the matter lies in increasing commitment and decreasing the distractions. Become aware of these two elements, and you’re well on your way to increasing your ability to maintain focus.  

man-multi-taskingSuper-Busy? Stop Doing This! 

In my last few ezines, I’m pretty sure I’ve made reference in one way or another to the busy-ness that is permeating the world around me. Clients, family, friends, myself – there is so much going on and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. It’s the nature of the holiday season, and the inevitable quality that defines the lead-up to the end of any year. I accept that.

That being said, what I’ve noticed is that there is this strategy that so many employ in an effort to deal with the busy-ness, and this strategy is actually self-defeating. Moreover, it’s a misnomer – it’s not actually possible in the purest sense that’s implied.

What’s the strategy I’m referencing?

Multi-tasking.

The term has an allure and appeal to it, no doubt. I mean, when you’re busy, how cool is it to be able to do more than one thing at a time, in an effort to get it all done? Very cool, right? The problem is that it’s not actually doable.  Your brain, your mind, can actually only focus on one thing at a time and so, by extension, you can in fact only do one thing at a time. As a result, any time you try to multi task, you dilute your energy, you dilute your focus, and you dilute your effectiveness.

So, what’s the solution? Remember to think and focus in terms of ONE. One breath at a time, one task at a time, one step at a time. That’s all that can be done and, indeed, it is the only way to get it all done.

Bottom-line: let go of the notion that you can do it all at the same time. Yes, you can do it all. However, you can only do it all by narrowing your focus. Let go of the need, the desire, to multi-task. Single-task instead, and notice how much more you accomplish.

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Writing provides me with an outlet for sharing my insights on a regular basis. I freelance for magazines and publications as opportunity presents itself. I also channel my thoughts into regular blog posts and monthly articles. Blog posts are visible on my blog page, and an archive of articles from my monthly ezine, LAUNCH –as well as some articles from publications – can be found on the “articles” page of this site.

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