It Doesn’t Get Easier

The other day I went to see a client/friend, most of my clients become friends, as I don’t enjoy working with people I don’t like. Anyway, he is an extremely determined and optimistic man by nature, and when I saw him, it made me want to enter some deep breathing zone of perfect meditative balance, whatever the hell that is, to counteract his energy.

He rushed into the interview late and frazzled, and all I could picture was him standing on one foot, balancing an overflowing dining set for eight on various body parts with sticks and canes as props all while trying to hold his breath and plaster a smile on his face. His attempts to be present were genuine, though I could hear his mind churning.

Finally, the room emptied out, and for a brief moment he dropped the dishes, the plastered smile, and the breath returned to his body. He looked at me sincerely and in an exhausted state of sadness said, “it gets better, easier I mean, right?”

I wanted to turn into Mary Poppins or Sally Sunshine, is she a real person? Or some other cheery singing person and offer some ray of golden positivity. Yes, of course, the sun will come out tomorrow, every cloud has a silver lining, blah, blah, blah.

But I didn’t, I don’t. I looked him directly in the eye and with full sincerity and replied no it’s going to get worse. Life doesn’t get easier it gets harder. The problems of the cute girl in English class not noticing you exist and your team lost the championship game, and you crashed your mom’s car, get replaced with trying to pay your rent, trying to feed your kids, and not noticing that your wife is leaving until she’s gone. These get replaced with more worrying about your children and now your parents and your business. And then your health, your spouse’s health, and everyone you know dying, social security, and finding purpose in retirement. Life does not throw easier balls.

AND it does get easier. Not because life creates a filter, only allowing the smallest pieces of pain through, but because you change. In time, if you work on it, you learn to adjust yourself. Unmet expectations cause pain. The distance between reality and expectation and the tightness of the grip on that expectation is the formula for predicting pain or happiness. (This is not where I debate the definition of happiness and joy and all the other adjectives to describe a positive feeling, pick whichever one works for you.) If you practice loosening that grip on expectation, eventually it will get easier to deal with the never-ending stream of challenges the player called life tosses you from the pitcher’s mound.

In fact, I like that analogy. In baseball do the balls coming at you get easier as you progress? No. The better you get, the better people you play with and the pitches come faster and with more twists and turns and challenges. But with lots and lots of practice, you get better at dealing with them. With practice, you learn when to lean in, when to pull back, when to loosen up and when to tighten your grip. You learn to handle it better. If you don’t practice as life starts increasing the speed and complexity of the pitches, you will find yourself unable to deal with them. You will get hit and knocked down and get the wind knocked out of you and find yourself on the ground over and over struggling to stand. If you practice, practice hard like a baseball player trying to make it to the majors, you will learn how to loosen that grip on the expectation side of the formula. You will learn to accept reality even when it is in conflict with your expectations, and while life won’t get easier, it will get easier.

You Are Home

“I have to go home.” William Miller

“You are home.” Penny Lane

I am a strategist. I like to plan. My work and life are focused on looking ahead and developing a pathway to get there.

Whether it’s in my personal life or with my clients, striving, moving forward, accomplishing a goal, experimenting, challenging my world view, it’s what I do. Read some number of books, experiment with a new diet, learn a new program, climb higher, swim further, complete some training. There is always something I am working on, somewhere new I’m going.

Early on in my career, I connected with this great group of people who had the life. They traveled, hung out with interesting people, worked from wherever they wanted – a coffee shop, their living rooms, a house in Mammoth, or Salt Lake City, an airport, a park bench. Life was an adventure, and I desperately wanted membership in their private club. As I traveled around the country working from hotel rooms, park benches, mountain retreats in Colorado, houses in the Berkshires, or coffee shops, I would desperately strategize how I could gain access to their elusive lifestyle.

Just today, I found myself Google searching ‘writing opportunities’ and ‘how to work as a writer,’ as I sat there looking through the list of potential writing gigs feeling uninspired I remembered I was in the middle of writing this. I write. I am already a writer. No need to search out how to get to where I already am.

There is no club membership whose acceptance will get me to the finish line. No accomplishment that will allow me to mark the complete box on the to-do list of life, other than death. The truth is I’m already home, and so are you. We just have to open our eyes to it.

That’s Good, That’s Bad

As a kid I loved the book That’s Good, That’s Bad by Joan M. Lexau. It’s a simple story about a boy in a jungle running from a tiger and encountering misadventures with a rhino and a crocodile. The writing and the pictures are very straightforward and are punctuated with judgments as to whether the action on the current page is good or bad.

My friend was recently going through a breakup. Her boyfriend, generally a nice guy, just wasn’t being that nice to her. He would cancel plans with her, showing up late or not at all. He was kind of irresponsible with money. Seemed emotionally incapable of having a discussion without an explosion. His general lack of interest in showing her that he valued her and the relationship left her feeling, well unvalued.

AND anyone who knew him would describe him as a genuinely nice guy. When they did hang out, he was fun and kind and helpful and they laughed and generally had a great time. She spent many a night pleading with the relationship gods to just make him be worse so she could see him for the bad that he was and end things.

As children, we see things as good or bad. People are good guys or bad guys. Objects are good or they are bad. As we age we have the unfortunate task of accepting that fully formed human beings are complicated and possess not only both good and bad qualities but also lots of in between ones.

Was Jack London a racist? Did Martin Luther King Jr. cheat on his wife? Was Mark Twain obsessed with fame? Did Amazon take a stance against the travel ban? Did Nordstrom stop carrying the Ivanka line as a statement or because of lack of sales?

The world and the people in it are complex. Unfortunately, the childhood gift of keeping everything in their one box doesn’t hold up. Good people do bad things and vice versa and more often than not human beings are not good or bad, they are fully flawed, beautiful, stumbling along, developing humans.

Regrets, I’ve had a few

Richard-Bach-airplane-Husky-4736“Wrong turns are as important as right ones. More important, sometimes.”

When I was in my early 20’s I devoured Richard Bach’s, One and The Bridge Across Forever. The author and his wife, Leslie, fly a plane through concurrent realities meeting alternate versions of themselves. I think the books were supposed to make me fall more deeply in love and be willing to risk it all for my soul mate.

Though I missed catching the love bug I was deeply and profoundly moved. You see as these two people visited themselves in parallel planes, each situation showed what their lives would have been like had they made different choices.

What I saw was that I could be more brave. I could risk making the wrong choice because some substitute version of myself would be living out the other choice somewhere else.

I could leap into the unknown, take risks, try things out. If it didn’t work it didn’t really matter.

What would you do if you weren’t so scared of making the wrong choice?

Constant Curiosity

blinders-on-carrotI don’t like sports. In my earlier years I had an angry politically polarized opposition to them in a way that is generally reserved for our self-righteous youth. My infuriation was typical: The disproportionate allocation of resources and attention on sports vs. arts and education. The destruction of the environment to keep our elitist golf courses pristine. The lack of respect for education by the “dumb jocks.” The artificial world created by lugging children around the town creating a never ending scheduling hell and distracting obsessions when there’s real work to be done in the world. I could have gone on for hours.

Do you know what gets the highest number of viewers on television? Football. People really like football.

Recently, I had the most delightful evening with a friend I met about a year ago who is on his way to becoming a very dear friend of mine. We sat and talked for hours and we both walked away better people. We allowed ourselves to be changed.

Allowing yourself to be changed does not feel comfortable, indeed you must go through some irritation. There were so many moments where my tight grasp on my beliefs wanted to shut down the conversation. Wanted to send me away feeling correct and firmly holding my view of the world in place.

In talking about rape on college campus he said, “I just want to smack these young girls for allowing these boys to behave like this.”

My feminist brain exploded, alarms going off, shouting inside about victim shaming, responsibility etc. insults dying to pour from my mouth and put this man in his place.

Thankfully the side of me that’s constantly curious kicked in. I listened. I asked questions. Why do you think that is? Tell me more. I wasn’t trying to win the debate, I wasn’t trying to wait for my moment to make my point, I was curiously trying to understand who he was and what he thought. And he was equally curious.

We learned. We grew. We talked about life. We talked about why teen girls seem to lose their self-worth and assign it solely to the attention they can attract and hold from boys. How much of who we are is inherent and how much is learned, dissecting specific examples from our lives to see what we brought into the situation and what we learned from them as the incidents shaped us. We discussed whether equality should mean lowering the bar to let more in or raising the floor and how to raise the floor for all. We talked about language, the beauty of it, the weaponization of it, the responsibility of the quick tongued.

We talked about curiosity.

I was in a hotel bar eating some lunch and the Tom Brady story was on every T.V. people were talking about the decision to allow him to play after the famous ball-deflating incident of 2015.

I exhaled my solidly held hatred for a world I don’t understand and I texted my friend who likes football. I asked him, what happened with this story? Why did they change their minds? Why does it mean so much to people? I asked the bartender, what’s this all about, what are your thoughts on it?

Empathy is about being able to put yourself in another’s shoes. Curiosity allows you to open the solid grip on your world perspective and to be effected by the world. Without allowing for constant curiosity we will achieve the very sad accomplishment of going to our graves unchanged. We will remain solidly stuck in the place we came in at, with no better understanding of ourselves or the world around us.

Without curiosity there is no empathy, without empathy there is no learning, without learning we can confidently remain on our conveyor belts with our securely adhered blinders on until the end of our lives.

Help Me

10830083_10152950727207044_7841098557273133540_oI host a huge Thanksgiving dinner at my house every year. In my normal routine cooking doesn’t often make the priority list. So I get it all in at once. For three days straight my sisters and I cook. We are more of an “ish” crew so the meal begins when everyone arrives and throughout the day people show up, they snack, they drink and they help.

I heard a story once about a robber who went to an elderly woman’s home to rob her. She was excited at the sight of an able bodied man at her door and rushed him in to help her move a large piece of furniture. She had several tasks that needed doing and she was gratefully walked him through them as he hung pictures and moved bureaus. The afternoon ended with some tea and cookies and two new friends.

Of course in a world where the Internet allows Abraham Lincoln to warn us of the dangers of Facebook, this story could be completely false. The point however, remains valid.

So many of us are afraid to ask for help, not wanting to impose, not wanting to look weak, not wanting to feel indebted. We look at it as a sign of weakness. In reality people feel better when they are helping. It allows them to connect. It allows them to have a place in the world.

I have a neighbor and we’ve known each other for years, we’ve always wanted to connect more but there seemed to be some barrier – time, the awkward childhood rejection trauma that makes us hesitate in creating friendships, who knows why the barrier was there. She removed that barrier in one very simple text, “I hate to bother you but I really need someone to hang out with my very needy toddler for 15 minutes so I can get this project done, could you possibly come by for a few minutes.” There it was – the connection created and not reversible. I was needed, I was a part of something, I was invited into her life and the barrier permanently crumbled away.

You want the people on your team to feel more connected to the work, your kids to feel more connected to the family, your friends to feel more connected to you. Invite them in. Ask them for some help, even just for 15 minutes, let them know they bring worth and value and that you need them. Doing it all yourself doesn’t make you a superhero, it makes you an island surrounded by people who feel unneeded.

Beyond Money

Money Pile 00 dollar bills
Money Pile 00 dollar bills

What would you do with a million dollars?

My daughter came home from school the other day excitedly recounting her English class. The discussion was what would they each do if they had a million dollars. One girl said she would give it to her mom to help with the bills, one said she would buy donuts and my daughter said she would use it to house homeless people and animals.

It’s easy to look back on the idealism of our youth with a smile of pleasant disregard and it seems that only in our youth are we able to envision a life motivated by a purpose beyond money.

The goal of your life, the goal of your company’s life cannot be to make money. While devotion to shareholder value is certainly valid and essential, that cannot be the reason you do what you do.

That is the outcome.

If your only intention was to make money you would simply select a business with the greatest return and do that. There’s a reason you chose to do what you’re doing beyond the money.

Let’s assume for a minute that you don’t have to worry about making money. What would you do then? What would your business do? What would motivate you to get up every day and go work hard everyday if money wasn’t a factor?

Write that down.

Now figure out a way to make money doing that.

A Rose by any other Name

jonnycash1Was Juliet correct in the meaninglessness of word assignment? The glaring irony of the person these words were uttered to, his own name now inseparably synonymous with love and romance, warrants some thought.

Words, like all symbols, can cause implicit reactions. Just as we have emotional responses to smells that carry us back to sitting in grandma’s kitchen, words can also create automatism.

We spend months or years or a moment deciding on the name that our offspring will be saddled with for the rest of their eternity. When I meet people who already have an association with my name it’s almost always positive. My name is generally a throw back to a generation of great aunts who apparently were always wonderful people. When we meet someone who already has an association with our name it takes time for them to allow you some place in the name.

When naming a company or a product or a person or a pet we go through a lot of turmoil, the thing is it’s usually the wrong debate. Do you like this name is the wrong question. The real question is, what are people’s emotional responses to those words, and are you going to be strong enough to create a new reaction in them?

Sue spent a lifetime fighting to change the inherent reaction people had to his name, if only he’d thought to hire Johnny Cash to market it for him he may have made it to his death with his ear intact.

Don’t ask other people what they like, ask yourself how hard you’re willing to work to make people’s association be what you want it to be.