What do you most want to learn?

It is said that we teach what we most want to learn. Research is “me search.”

One of the exercises I have tried while crafting my “offer” to my ideal clients is to consider the topics I most enjoy exploring through writing. By looking at my “tag cloud” or my category list, well-being and consciousness are big on my list. I also love thinking about and experimenting with how to increase employee engagement and career satisfaction.

Regarding my well-being focus for the past few years: in 2015-2016 I realized I had gained more weight and life felt stressful. More travel and meetings were required of my position as a manager for an international division. I knew something had to change. I did not like the feeling of my clothes getting tighter, or my need to take the “edge off” with a glass of wine as soon as I got home each day.

I decided to take a 10-day pause from my nightly glass (or 3) of wine when I came home each night. Whew, lots of emotional stuff came up. Then I realized I’d started taking the “edge” off by over-eating more often, or justifying extra chocolate or dessert because my day had been stressful and “I deserved it” I told myself.

But what if I could live a life where I did not feel a need to buffer my emotions with alcohol or food? What if I could learn to feel my difficult and uncomfortable feelings, without needing to dull them? 

As someone slightly on the introvert side of the introversion/extroversion spectrum, being with people for the majority of my day is taxing. Susan Cain advises introverts to find “restorative niches” of quiet or tranquility in our day, in order not to be overwhelmed by the social interaction required.

As a nexus point for 5 different departments and many different countries and regional units, it felt like constantly being “under fire” from far too many bosses or project managers, to whom I was accountable, even though I technically reported to just one director.

Restorative niche? Only if I could work at home (and I did now and then). I craved “deep work” assignments when I could have uninterrupted time to work on a project or develop a tool or workload model, for example. But the number of conference calls and meetings grew exponentially with the number of different initiatives we were called upon to execute.

I got really good at saying “no” toward the end, and also much better at delegating to fellow team members while developing their skills. Not always a popular choice for the entities which funded our small team. But a necessity nonetheless, since we were not able to deliver high quality results when spread too thin.

Fall inlove with taking care of yourself. (1)

So what do I want to teach and learn?

  • We must make conscious choices in our lives. We cannot do it all, nor should we. We must decide on what is essential and strategic, and do only that.
  • Wellness is non-negotiable. Our employer may think our mid-day run or yoga class is optional, but for many of us, it is the restoration we need to be most productive.
  • Working harder is not an option. Most of us are already maxed out. Working smarter is an alternative. Turning down calendar appointments is an option. Setting boundaries and expectations and communicating those is critical.
  • Being willing to receive tough feedback as a leader is essential. When people know you trust them, and are willing to listen and make changes, or help influence the process based on feedback, they trust you. Trust is essential to getting the work done efficiently.

These are some of the hardest lessons I had to learn in my time as an operational manager in a very large medical device company.

What do you most want to learn? Do you spend time writing about this topic as well? 

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

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Weighing ourselves down

Many of us find it hard to get rid of objects in our lives that remind us of someone we love, or an experience we have had. So we hang onto boxes of these things, unnecessary objects that weigh us down, simply because we associate them perhaps with a loved one who has passed, or an experience we enjoyed.

But the memory of the person or experience does not require the object to exist in your mind. You can choose return to that memory at any time simply by thinking of of the person or experience. Rather than keeping wardrobes of Grandma’s old clothing, maybe keep a favorite teacup she enjoyed, and put it somewhere that you see it periodically.

The weight of our things in the world tends to weigh on our minds, even if packed away unseen in drawers, boxes and basements. Sometimes people try to de-clutter the main areas of their house by storing things out of their line of sight, but this just postpones making decisions about whether these items serve them.

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Marie Kondo explains that our attachment to things is really about an attachment to the past or fear about the future. To me, there is so much wisdom here. I still struggle with letting go of things that are “perfectly fine” or were gifts from someone. But if they are not things we use or enjoy, then the purpose of the gift (to be received) has been completed. We are free to let go if they will just sit in a box and take up “guilt space” as I used to do.

This practice of paring down and living with less seems to be easier for generations that grew up with more abundance (actually with more excess than was ever imagined in the 30’s or 40’s). But when the fundamental belief is one of sufficiency, letting go is so much easier. I come from a family that likes to hang onto stuff. It has been rather challenging and tricky for me to accept that, in light of my aspiration toward minimalism. I must remind myself that I can only control my own choices when it comes to these matters.

Sometimes the “stuff” that requires letting go is our ability to control other people, particularly family. I may wish for them to be free of all the clutter and items that appear to weigh them down. But then I add extra “weight” by judging and imposing my ideas of how things should be, rather than allowing them to be who they are and make their own choices.

Practicing compassion toward myself and toward others is a necessary part of the process. If I am asked for help in de-cluttering, I will be eager to pitch in. But if the impulse comes from pressure or shame, then I am part of the problem, not the solution.

cristy@meximinnesotana.com

 

 

 

Why do we crucify ourselves?

I love early mornings, when I sit with my coffee and write, sometimes with a cat on my lap, sometimes just with a few fresh ideas in my head. After a good night’s sleep, my mind is clear, and sometimes the remnants of a dream come forth. Very often I forget them right away, and that is okay. My subconscious lets me know when I need to remember them.

This morning I had fragments in my head of a song by Tori Amos that I have not hear in years, possibly decades: “Why do we crucify ourselves?” So that was fascinating. It is a good question though. Why indeed?

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Isn’t it amazing how some music imprints itself upon us in a way we cannot explain. This particular album was introduced to me by my best friend in college. The Little Earthquakes album was a staple of our music mix in those days.

“I gotta have my suffering so I can have my cross…”

Yeah. I guess some of us were taught to use Jesus as an example of behavior we should follow. I am going to risk offending people in this post, and probably confess my beliefs here and how they have changed over the years.

I wholeheartedly embrace the example of Jesus as a spiritual teacher, perhaps even a savior in a way. But I always puzzled at people who are so self-sacrificing that they neglect their own self care. The Bible says that Jesus died for our sins, that his suffering was our redemption. So why do we insist on suffering more than needed?

Every human being suffers. It is part of our DNA. It is part of what helps us have empathy for others, the understanding of sadness, of grief, of anger, of any depth of emotion. And yet when we are young, some of us are told “don’t cry, it will be okay” or “honey, don’t be sad.”

It reflects possibly our parents’ inability to deal with their own emotions that they asked us not to express our own. Everyone has sadness, anger or loneliness at times in their life. It is okay. Nothing has gone wrong. These emotions help us to connect with ourselves, and with others, and to let us know when things may need to change in our lives.

Anger is how we SHOULD react to injustice. It is something that can motivate action, though not necessarily sustain it. And yet many of us were taught not to express anger, but to fear it. Or we were not shown that it was okay to be sad sometimes. But being angry or sad is part of the human condition, nothing that should shame us.

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When we resist or deny our feelings, that is when they cause more suffering. Our feelings are like vibrations in the body. They come, they move through us, and they complete themselves. Probably no other practice has helped me understand this than yoga and meditation. Every emotional state is temporary. Many of these states are a result of our thoughts rather than anything external.

Simply by feeling our feelings, possibly naming and acknowledging them, we allow them to move through us. They can be a guide to let us know we should reach out to friends and connect with loved ones. They can help us know when we are moving toward danger or toward joy.

As more people develop emotional intelligence, they may learn to identify and embrace their emotions rather than “buffer” them away with alcohol, food, Netflix or other addictions. Instead of piling on the guilt and shame over feeling sad or angry, they can release this added suffering and feel more peace.

I certainly have not mastered this, and have had to deliberately practice feeling my feelings, and identifying the thoughts behind them. But it has allowed me to stop crucifying myself over mistakes, or my own shortcomings. That serves nobody. I am pretty sure Jesus would agree with me on this one, and allow me to forgive myself.

 

 

 

Emotional hangovers

Do you ever find yourself lashing out at someone you love in a fit of anger at some perceived injustice? But then you realize that it is really your own thinking that is causing the drama, not that other person. In fact, that other person is helpful and loving, and really your anger is misdirected.

Oh, how I wish I did not have to confess to this kind of “emotional childhood” in my own life. I do a lot of work on myself, in meditating daily, doing yoga, journaling and doing “thought downloads” to figure on what’s really going on in that head of mine. And still, there are emotions like anger that feel so powerful sometimes, that it is hard to step back and get some perspective while we are “hooked” by them.

It can feel powerful sometimes, when we are angry. It can feel useful and justified too, especially when we perceive some injustice that has been done to us, or someone we care about. But does being caught in anger actually help us? Or does it do more harm than good?

The Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön refers to this tendency as “shenpa“, the hook that triggers our habitual tendency to close down. It is usually involuntary and gets to the root of why we suffer as human beings. It is that urge that attaches us and causes us to withdraw and perhaps retreat into blame, anger, jealousy, etc, instead of remaining present and calm in the moment.

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Some of us have struggled with early programming in which we reached for food or a drink to calm those uncomfortable emotions as they came up. We were taught not to show anger (very common for women) or to stop being upset over something. So this habit takes some unlearning. It takes deep compassion and awareness to sit with those uncomfortable feelings, to allow them to come up, and to recognize the thoughts and stories we are telling about the situation.

When I recognize I am caught in anger, and I can observe it and breathe into it before I lash out, usually I realize it is not the circumstance “causing” the anger, but rather my thoughts about it. For example, if I feel that I am telling my husband and important thing, and he is looking at his phone, I could choose several reactions. I could get angry because I think he is not paying attention I could tell myself a story that he doesn’t care about me. I could yell at him and tell him he is not listening.

Or: I could calmly tell him that I want to talk with him about something important, and ask if we can talk without distractions. Usually he is very willing, and he realizes when something is important to me. Sometimes he is tired, and he does not really feel like working out my latest angst when it comes to my big career change, or the latest drama at work. I get it. I know I obsess and talk a lot about my work these days. Big decisions ahead. And I tend to analyze things to death, in case you had not already gathered that from reading my blog.

One thing he said from a discussion which really stays with me: “I don’t know how to help you.” I realized what I wanted was not help, it was empathy and understanding. When he came over to put his arms around me to tell me he could understand I was suffering, and wishes he could do something about it, I finally melted. I immediately felt bad about my behavior. Here is a man who loves me very deeply, and I was not angry with him at all.

If anything I was angry with myself. I wanted to find the courage to express certain things at work, but not be affected by the “political” ramifications of those truths. I had invented a story in my head about being trapped in a situation that “is not fair” and where I was the victim. But a day and a half later, after some yoga and reflection and a better night’s sleep last night than right after my anger storm, I have more clarity.

I am not trapped in a situation. I choose to stay in a job which provides me many benefits and much flexibility to develop new skills and challenge myself in new ways. I know that the current position is less of a fit for me now that I have begun exploring what my heart and soul are asking. But it is still my choice, whether I stay or leave. At least as the moment, though it’s not a good sign that I keep yearning for an “exit package.”

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What I realize today is that I have enormous gratitude for my kind husband and all of his patience and support for me. He is on my side, and he cares deeply for me. My storm of anger was misdirected, probably because he is a person I trust to reveal the more “raw” side of myself. Isn’t there a country song with a line about “we only hurt the ones we love?” I am extending myself compassion right now, as he has so often done for me, when I do something I regret.

It does help to beat myself up over this behavior, yet I feel myself doing that as well. Compassion is hard, but I typically feel it for other people easily. It is SO much harder to extend it toward myself. Yet I will practice that now. We all deserve compassion, and I am no exception. I am human. Flawed. Imperfect. But still worthy of forgiveness. 

 

 

 

 

 

Adult tantrums

I am a little embarrassed to admit that Christmas Eve this year I indulged in an “adult tantrum” about all that I had committed to do to prep for the holidays.

It wasn’t pretty. My hubby and I had been sick with colds during the week, so we were behind our usual holiday preparations, and I was struggling to get some things done at the last minute.

Upon reflection, I realized that the reason I was upset was not that I *HAD* to do anything for the holidays. Nobody was forcing me. I choose to celebrate the holidays in this way with my family, exchanging gifts and creating traditions especially for the children in the family.

When I reminded myself that I was doing the best I could under the circumstances, and that it is not my obligation to create a “perfect” holiday for anyone, I could finally relax and enjoy the time. When I was able to take a breath and realize that the purpose of the holiday is to pause, to reflect, and to enjoy time with loved ones, I came back to reality.

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I realized that my inner dialogue was responsible for creating this idealized version of a holiday, in which I was falling far short. Also I know that I suffer from decision fatigue quite often. It is part of coping with an a.d.d. brain, and it is part of my reality. During the holidays, with all of the gift giving choices to make, this fatigue tends to be magnified.

Our expectations during the holidays are what typically get in the way of our joy. In recent years, I have tried “turning down” my expectations, so that I can focus on what is really important. I still wish my family might refrain from gift-giving and do something charitable instead. But I also realize that giving gifts brings people a lot of joy, and some people really do enjoy selecting gifts for loved ones.

I have explored the concept of emotional adulthood, and I realize it applies in these situations as well. We are responsible for our own feelings, and not the feelings of others. I cannot control whether others have a happy holiday. Since it is our thoughts that drive our feelings, having thoughts about “I have to…” or “I must…” tend to leave us feeling trapped, resentful, and Scroogey.

If we have thoughts instead of gratitude, for the opportunity to travel to see family on the holiday, or for all the abundance we have enjoyed in the past year, we feel joyful. If others in my family rely on me to provide their happiness, either by my getting them a perfect gift, or following family traditions to the letter, that is their business. I am not responsible for their thoughts and expectations of the holiday. I certainly hope and wish they enjoy it, but that is their own responsibility.

Holidays can be stressful for many reasons. But when we understand emotional adulthood and take responsibility for our own feelings, we can minimize our stress. That is certainly something to celebrate!