Saying Goodbye

So my son took off to Europe today! On his own… with a school group and three of his best friends. And I’m excited for him. Big fears are set aside. Other adults are with him to be there in the event things happen.

He’s the size of an adult but doesn’t have the perspective and wisdom that comes from experience… and so I worry. And sit outside so I can hear/see his plane go by. It’s a parent thing… you think about your children even when they’re not around.

The questions seep in… Did he pack enough toothpaste? Will he remember to repack his retainer and cell phone cord after each hotel stay? Is he eating anything with nutritional substance? Is he speaking up when he needs assistance? Is he being the kind of leader we have taught him to be? Is he wearing that damn money belt so his Euros and credit card don’t get stolen?

I think that’s the hardest part of parenting (so far) is not having control over their choices. Because we’ve seen what can happen… rather like that insurance commercial. “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.”They don’t teach that in school… the survival, street smart stuff.

Instead, they like to watch episodes of JackAss or that other show…

{sigh}

But he let me give him a hug in front of his friends. Two hugs actually!

And now I pray…

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Shedding Old Ways of Thinking

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I was out walking my pup yesterday when I saw for the first time – even though I had passed it a million times – an oak tree in the middle of February hanging onto it’s dried up leaves. They hadn’t fallen in the autumn months despite the strong winds and storms that have passed through in the past few months. Well, I’m not much of a botanist, but I was thinking that this can’t be good. Did the tree get enough nutrients last year? Did something happen to prevent them from coming off the branches? Would they block the buds from forming in the spring?

And then it dawned on me. That tree is me. I’d like to think I’m not that old or stubborn, but I have been known to hang onto some pretty ridiculous beliefs over the years. However justified or not, they steered me and kept me focused on the task at hand. To some degree, they even nourished my soul and kept me safe. But if I’ve learned anything in my 40 something years, those same beliefs have lead me to places I don’t ever want to go again; where I had felt so alone and abandoned, where I was angry and resentful, and even to the point that I was questioning what really mattered.

I can give you a dissertation on my reasons for holding onto (gripping for dear life really) my full-time job while raising a family. Perhaps it was what I clung to that define my value by job title or paycheck amount. Perhaps it was because I knew what it felt like and be witness to being left behind and cast aside – where someone else told me what my worth was. Yeah… those dead leaves were superglued on tight!

But during a spring renewal, I started taking those leaves off one by one and leaning into how and if they were even serving me anymore. And what I found were new buds forming and when I focused on nourishing them, it was a blossoming of all blossomings! A weeding and seeding of new ways of thinking.

What beliefs are you hanging onto? And how are they serving you?

My journey as a coach

When I look back at what my life was like 10 years ago, I cringe at how I showed up, about what I thought was important, and beliefs and assumptions I had that I held onto so tightly. (Visualize a tree with dried up leaves still attached to it in February.)

I have learned so much since then; about life, my patterns and ways to do things differently. My journey of going through coach training and becoming a Professional Certified Coach will go down as the most valuable thing I ever did for myself. The concepts I learned, skills and tools I adopted, and friendships I made forever changed how I see the world and my role in it.

I didn’t go to coach training to start a business.  Quite frankly, it was the furthest thing from my mind. I was at a point in my life where I was questioning everything and was looking to do things differently. I just had no idea where to start or even how to do it any better.

Coaching isn’t for everyone. And I dare say I have met a few who have been quick to recommend my services to their spouse or “friends”. The “fix others” approach is a classic sign of someone who is on a path headed directly toward a dead-end, mid-life crisis or major accident. In fact, they probably already have worn a path of collateral damage behind them if they only would notice.

Being part of that collateral damage or one of the people others were recommending is no picnic. But ironically, these people seem to be the most coachable. They’re open to considering new ways of thinking, they can identify how they may contribute to challenges they have, coincidently – they look at struggle AS opportunities to do it differently – and they’re eager to push their sleeves up and do the work necessary to make their futures better.

It’s certainly not an easy process – to be coached. I like to give the analogy of molting your exoskeleton; skin gets very tight and uncomfortable, you feel raw and want to hide at times, but the new shell is expansive and when careful about selection, fits perfectly for you to “grow into”.

It’s not beyond me to recognize that 10 years from now, I’ll be repeating my words “I cringe at how I showed up…” But what I know for sure is that if I continue to stay true to the coaching process, be open to new ways of thinking, stay focused on my development, the discoveries I make along the way will lead me to extraoridinary results!

Creating Space

Last night I went to a holiday gathering with some close friends. Friends we came to know from the community of our children’s elementary school. I cherish these people because as parents, we go through roller coasters of emotional strife and potentially lean on each other for support, talking things out and helping each other. It truly is part of “my village” and they have been immensely valuable to me over the years.

Trouble is, I also dread getting together with them. Being someone who is greatly affected by negative energy, when someone starts talking about a moment of struggle with their kids, I have all I can do not to get up and leave. Sometimes are better than others where I’ll put my coaching hat on a simply listen and acknowledge and validate. But my dearest friends are in such pain… life is hard… the parent struggle is real.

But it doesn’t need to be. In fact, I believe if its hard, then there are better strategies to implement – do it differently.

Very often I cringe when I hear parents talk about situations with their kids and how parents “show up”, the comments they say, Kids “act out” when they are trying to communicate something they need/want. They just haven’t learned the fine art of communicating effectively yet. They are trying to connect with us, be heard, get help figure things out, push boundaries. All normal behavior. (And quite frankly, as a grown adult, I wish I pushed more boundaries in my youth! I would have learned much more about the world and myself!) They need our guidance. And when we respond with a “I don’t care what it is you want”, it shuts them down and they learn that you are not the one they can connect with. This is a very dangerous place to be – especially with teenagers.

So what can we do differently? Create space. Create a space for our kids to open up and just talk – without judgement, without the rules being reiterated, without advice, without correction. Just listen to what they are saying. And implement active listening skills – summarize and repeat back what you heard so they know they have been heard. That’s it. Before you offer any sort of advice, correction, or guidance, ask them if they want it. It sounds simple, but hard to do! Kids want to be heard. They want to know that what is going on inside of them – the roller coaster of emotions and thoughts – are normal, and that they’ll be loved anyway.

How we respond can make or break connection. Make your goal about maintaining that connection. Create that space for them to talk, share, open up and be heard. It doesn’t change the decision you’ll make. It doesn’t change the rules. It doesn’t give them any more authority than what they had before – but it does give them a place to express themselves and be loved at the same time.

I’ve learned enough as a parent to know that there is no perfect way to parent. My own kids have their struggles and make choices that don’t serve them well. But when they leave the nest, my hope is that we’ve created a strong bond so that we’ll be the ones to turn to when life gets hard – and it will. And that we’ve helped them build a tool belt with tools they’ve used before – and add a few new ones along the way.

Asking for Help

The messages we absorb along life’s journey have a way of steering and tripping us along the way. In my work as a life coach, I work with professional women to dig deep into their patterns that get developed over time.

One commonality is that they don’t like to ask for help. I’m not talking about the “may I borrow your pen” kind of help. I’m talking about the deep stuff… the kind that could make us be seen as less than… the not strong enough to do it ourselves. The “any chance you would be able to pick up my daughter after school and get her home?” The “I need help with understanding the complexities with this project – could I bounce some questions off of you?” The “would you come over and just sit with me because I don’t want to be alone.”

These requests open us up to what is so deeply vulnerable to us as professional women living a multi-dimensional life – whose ways of thinking drive us to do it all because we should be doing it all even when it’s not humanly possible! These messages come from all over. Our upbringing – not necessarily what we were told, but what was modeled for us. Trouble is, we never saw our mothers sobbing behind closed doors, we never saw her up till 4am getting all the Christmas presants wrapped for the picture perfect morning. And social media reinforces this thinking in all the households in America!

When we ask for help, and express our gratitude, we open the doors to powerfully connecting with others – especially our daughters – in ways that strengthen relationships beyond our imagination.

Here’s my own personal story…

It was a perfect storm of a weekend: my son had an away soccer tournament, my husband was scheduled to take him and my daughter had an Irish Step dancing competition and we had made plans to make a mother/daughter weekend out of it. And then I was invited to speak at a conference – one that would be a huge feather in my cap. With no family to tap into, I was an anxiety-bound mess! What do I do?

Do I disappoint my daughter or put my career on the back-burner – again. Do I push my parental responsibilities onto another Mom? Will she think I’m a horrible parent for backing out of a very importunate weekend for my daughter? Isn’t self inflicted parental judgement the worst?! (That’s a whole other post!)

I turned to my daughter and decided to lay out the cards to her. “Honey, I have a dilemma and I’m not sure what to do.” Is how I started. I saw that I had her immediate attention. (Interesting! That doesn’t usually happen!) I explained to her the quandary: how I valued our time together more than anything, but also that this professional opportunity is a big break for me. She stood what appeared to be two feet taller, looked at me with such respect and love in her eyes, and the compassion she conveyed just Blew. Me. Away! And then she spoke with excitement. “Mom, how about we trade this weekend for the competition this summer – a bus trip to Atlantic City?! I can ride with Alexa this weekend and then we can go on the bus trip together this summer?” I didn’t know what to say. Where did this girl come from?! My face must have given all that I was thinking and feeling away because she threw her arms around me. (Gasp!) 

I reflect on this moment often – of a little girl growing up, of the lessons she took away from the moment for her to tap into when she’s navigating her career and family, for the bond we have created – together. All in the moments of asking for help.

We’re not suppose to go it alone. In life. At work. At home. We’re all wired for connection. And asking for help is a beautiful way to create it!

 

What I’ve Been Thinking…

This past week on Facebook, there have been multiple daily posts about the Harvey Weinstein saga. Here’s a man who had a great deal of power in the entertainment/movie industry and who would prey on young attractive women to satisfy his sexual urges. Additionally, he threatened, abused, induced fear and derailed the professional careers of what sounds like dozens of women. And with each story I read, it resonates with me with my experiences that I have had and have heard about of other woman I know, that this man, this culture isn’t endemic to the entertainment industry; it’s everywhere.

And yet, we also hear women who may have had interactions with him, but managed to avoid, side-step, or duck and roll their way outta there, seemingly unharmed – disturbed yes, but generally unscathed. What did these woman have that the others did not?

I don’t want anyone to misunderstand my angle here… what Harvey Weinstein did was wrong and I hope our justice system serves not just the victims, but the community. There are many lessons to be learned here.

My angle is one of getting curious about what these victims – if they could do anything different – if they could influence the next generation of young women, what advice, what lessons, what would they do differently in the same situation? We may all be created equal, but life has a way of imprinting into our psyche powerful associations that trigger us and launch our reactions and behaviors in different ways.

As a parent of two teenagers, I hope and pray that my husband and I have done enough to instill good choices in our children. In their younger years, we practiced safety and stressed the importance of using the tools available to us for them to protect themselves. Wearing your helmet, seatbelt, locking doors, and always letting a parent/guardian know your whereabouts. But what if your home life hasn’t been a safety zone? These many lessons get minimized, ignored or mocked.

I listened to a video clip where Emma Thompson was interviewed by the BBC. She calls out the “crisis of masculinity” and that it’s been a part of our culture since the beginning of time. Should there be “leadership” classes in schools? If they learned it and practiced it at school, would it get undone when at home?

I learned much later in life about the dysfunctional culture in which I grew up. I started to connect the dots when I finally took a good hard look at the patterns in my life. I could give you a long list of others to blame for them but at the end of the day, I was the common denominator. I just didn’t have the tools or know-how to do it any other way.

I read stories of women who stood up to the Harvey Weinstein’s of the world and I admire them. I take notes. And I imagine myself handling the situation similarly. It empowers me.

I also imagine what my life could have been like if I had learned the lessons, had better tools and skills from which to use to handle difficult situations while navigating life. It’s become my mission to learn them, share them and help others (especially my kids!) to gain them. It’s a long and arduous process to undue, heal, forgive and relearn experiences. If anything, the struggle has given me perspective and many opportunities with which to connect with people.

In the words of Brene Brown, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.” It’s why I became a certified coach. It’s the work I do. I provide that safe space in which others can be vulnerable. It’s a space that rarely exists for people – and so desperately needed.

Trappings of the mundane

There are days where I seem to wake up to the reality that I’m not at the wheel of my life – that other people (kids, spouse, other family, etc.) – request my attention (opportunity) to serve them. And it is an automatic response to just do. It’s fulfilling. Feels good to do for others. Rewarding.

But then there are the tasks; the mundane, albeit important when they don’t get done, that engulf the minutes, hours, days that have a way of defining my role and worth in life. This is what I get caught in – the trappings of the mundane. At times, they are rather therapeutic as a lose myself in the task only to be woken by my alarm to grab the car keys and fetch a kid. And at the end of the day, I have nothing to show for what it is that I truly want in life.

I’m overwhelmed by it – the mundane – and it’s got me caught on a hamster-wheel that I am challenged to jump off of.

So I put events into my schedule to look forward to, or block out time for those worthwhile tasks that put me in the driver’s seat again. I seem to go from one guard rail to the other – bouncing back and forth as I navigate toward something – is there a finish line? Is that what I’m missing? A visual? A daily reminder to keep me in check?

I hit pause, reboot, and start over. And ask myself, how can I maintain a smoother ride because this is not a ride I’m enjoying today.

So what are my keystones? (The events/tasks that I need to have in my life – daily, weekly, etc. – my checklist)

  • Exercise
  • Healthy eating
  • Rest

All three have been on the back burner lately.

What are the events/tasks that keep me in the driver’s seat?

  • Working my business plan, writing, coaching
  • Connection with family / friends

What are the events/tasks that derail/overwhelm me?

  • Housework
  • Yardwork
  • Expectations – mine or others (or made up)
  • When I feel abandoned
  • Not having someone I feel safe talking to – venting – exploring

Can anyone relate? How do you keep yourself ‘in check’?

Reboot.

It’s what I do when my smart phone is acting up. When I’ve exhausted every imaginable instruction, trick and hack, I reboot… in a last resort sort of way. “Why don’t I just do it first?” I wonder. It takes time. It disconnects me from that which keeps me connected to the world. And, quite frankly, I don’t trust that everything will load the same way again and it will be worse off.

After working in the corporate sector for over 15 years, I decided to take a professional pause. I could have given you a long list of reasons NOT to take one including one that I still believe in – never let go of your ability to fend for yourself. In a world that has told me repeatedly that my worth is directly linked to my job title and the number of zeros on a paycheck, I chose to let it all go.

It was humiliating. I felt reduced. Disgraced. Shamed. I felt a deep sense of rejection that took me months to rise up from. But I also believe that change is good… and that I always end up in a better place. It’s a narrative I’ve held close to my chest and that I’ve relied on.

It gave me space and time to rest, reflect, and plan a do-over.

In that pause, I looked at the patterns that have evolved in my life – great ones – and ones I didn’t like. I learned the one strategy that made all the difference in creating a different outcome. I created a vision for what I wanted for myself and road map on how to get there.

In essence, I rebooted myself, and changed the narrative on which I was basing my story.

I still get glitchy from time to time. What about you? If you could reboot, what would be different?