Tag Archives: Judgment

The Complex and Powerful Beauty of Vulnerability

Vulnerability has become quite the buzz word these days. It is considered rather trendy to talk about vulnerability, and even more so to “be” vulnerable. To be vulnerable is to share pieces of yourself that you wouldn’t normally share.  It is shining a bright light on those darker areas of your life.  It can feel kind of like ripping a Band-Aid off a painful, ugly wound.  Bottom-line – vulnerability usually hurts in some way.  But at the same time it acts as a release that can feel incredibly good too.  Shining that light or ripping off that Band-Aid allows you the opportunity to let go of that thing you were working so hard to hide from everyone – once released you can begin to heal and move on.

Dr. Brené Brown is perhaps one of the foremost experts on the topic of vulnerability. If you have ever seen her Ted Talk on vulnerability, then you understand why. She describes vulnerability this way – “Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think.”

And so the catch with vulnerability then is that it requires that you trust the person with whom you are being vulnerable. It is a leap of faith. It is scary and yet freeing at the same time.  To be vulnerable with someone requires a certain amount of courage and it requires letting go of the need to control what people see and think about you.  But if you are able to do that, if you can find a way to be vulnerable with someone, you open the doors to an amazingly beautiful growth opportunity for yourself as well as in your relationship with that person.

But beware the biggest obstacle of them all if you choose to set out on this vulnerability journey – we live in a culture and in a time when we are taught to believe that to be vulnerable is to show weakness, and weakness, of course, is bad. However, as Brené Brown points out, “Vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous.” Such a true and important distinction. Treating vulnerability as a negative or bad thing only serves to make people hold on to their stuff more tightly…to continue putting on a façade for the rest of the world rather than being their true selves.  The strength required to be vulnerable is such that many will run away rather than face it.  Truly being vulnerable is one of the utmost signs of strength a person can display.  It is one of the most beautiful things to behold, and as such should be applauded not scoffed at.

Trendy or not, vulnerability is powerful and freeing, so go ahead and give yourself permission to own your story, all of it, and to be vulnerable in the midst of it.

Broken, But Fixable

So often when I look around I see so many signs that point to the fact that we are a broken society.  Life in general is hard these days and living our purpose and acknowledging our true self can be near impossible in this crazy, modern world in which we live.  And I recently sat through a presentation that thoroughly reinforced these thoughts and feelings.  The presentation included some alarming statistics about suicide, the number of people with mental health issues who are not seeking treatment, and the overall impact of such things on our work and personal lives.  Depression, drug & alcohol abuse, anxiety, etc.  The effects are wide spread.  I was struck by just how far reaching this mental health epidemic has become and by how broken we are overall as a people – not just because of the statistics themselves, but because part of what fuels the increase in those statistics is the societal messages we all receive about what it means, according to the society we live in today, to seek help.

We are all doing the best we can with what we have been given, learning from those around us who are doing the best they can as well…but still we find ourselves in this place.  So many people in our society are dealing with challenging things in their lives while at the same time lacking a knowledge of the tools that could help them better navigate those difficult times.  Instead, most people struggle to work things out on their own.  Sadly, this is something I see all too often in my work – so many people struggling to deal with any of a number of issues both personally and professionally, but unwilling to seek help, be it counseling or coaching, because they have been taught to believe that in seeking help they are indicating they are unable to handle things on their own…that they are weak or somehow flawed.

One in four people struggles with some type of mental health issue. What’s even more upsetting than that statistic is the stigma society places on seeking treatment. The societal messages are that you should just ‘learn to deal with it in your own’, “suck it up”, “get over it”, and “everyone else can handle it so why can’t you”.  Such shame and humiliation is cast upon those already struggling with so much.

The “shame of it all” is both in terms of the shame that the people struggling to decide if they should seek help or not feel as a result of those societal messages, but also that we as a society allow that stigma to perpetuate. Rather, we should acknowledge that life is hard for all of us, that we all could use a little help from time to time, and that seeking that help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

So what causes this societal stigma? Is it a lack of love and understanding of our fellow humans? Is it because we do not teach resiliency?  Is it just the chaotic, fast paced life we live in?  Is it the high expectations held for us, real or perceived?  Is it because we have not been taught how to ask questions and to make our own choices?  Is it because we have not been taught how to stand tall in the decisions we do make?  Or is it because of a loss of creativity and curiosity?  I am not sure we will ever truly know the exact cause(s), but one thing that is for certain is that the societal stigma attached to seeking help for even the mildest of stressors in our lives, such as every day stressors like finances, relationships, work, or caregiver stress, is slowly killing us.  We need to find a better way.

The reality is that everything is connected – we can’t leave our problems at home or at work. The mind/body connection is real. Pretending otherwise only makes things worse.  We need to begin recognizing how hard it is to admit the need and/or desire for help.  We need to see it as a strength and not a weakness.  If we are going to help each other through this life, we need to start by creating awareness of the problem and then developing a culture of caring.  We may be broken, but we are still fixable.  A good place to start is to become more mindful of our words and the messages we send with them.

“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.” – Yehuda Berg

Lessons

So I took a few weeks off from writing my blog. I just decided I had too much going on and something had to give. I also didn’t want to quickly write a blog post simply so I could say I published something every week like I have up to this point.  Instead I spent a few weekends, when I would otherwise do my blog writing, enjoying uninterrupted time with friends and family.  I set a boundary for myself and stuck to it.  It was some much needed recharging time for me.  But it was interesting how guilty I felt doing it.  That little ego voice in my head was quick to tell me I was a slacker and that if I were any good at organizing my time I could have gotten it done.  But you know what?  I stuck to my decision despite that voice and I learned some valuable lessons along the way too – lessons that have been recurring for me quite a bit over these past few months…

Lesson #1 – Let go of the need for perfection. This is a really tough one for me. I swear perfectionism in actually hard wired into my DNA.  But I am gradually learning that it really is okay to deviate from any plan you originally set for yourself.  In fact, if you allow for a little variation it can even result in creativity and growth opportunities.  A few lessons on the periphery of this one are forgiveness and acceptance.

Lesson #2 – Take things in stride and don’t let them bother you so much. Easier said than done, no? But that’s the goal.  That’s what we should work towards, right?.  Relax, breathe, and take one step at a time.  Things are seldom as bad as they initially appear.  Often we just need to take a little time to put them into the proper perspective.  The related lessons here are open-mindedness and flexibility.

Lesson #3 – Accept the interruptions of life…enjoy them and learn from them. Life is a never-ending journey filled with sharp curves, road blocks, and lots of construction. Whether you like it or not, it is going to be that way, so why not just sit back and enjoy the ride.  Subsequent, related lessons here include patience and being present.

I have heard it said that the universe continues to send things our way until we have learned the lesson intended for us.  I certainly can say from my own experience that is true, at times painfully so.  My desire for perfection and to maintain whatever standard I set for myself is often so rigid that I create quite a bit of suffering for myself – all of which is easily remedied when I step back, breathe, accept the present moment as an opportunity to learn & grow, and then simply let it all go.

What’s your area of growth opportunity?  What lesson is the universe still helping you to learn?  These are powerful reflection points, so don’t overlook the importance of spending some time pondering them.  Embrace the lessons coming to you.

“We repeat what we don’t repair.” – Christine Langley-Obaugh

 

Say It Softly

As humans, we want and need feedback…suggestions…criticism – call it whatever you want, we ask for it continually.  We crave it yet we cringe or run away when we receive it. We are dying to know what people think of us, our work, our outfit, our hairstyle…you name it, we want to know what people think. But the moment that feedback comes, we often want to curl up in a ball and die because it isn’t exactly what we were hoping for, or worse yet, it is downright mean.  And yet we only grow as people if we face the feedback for what it is. Such a strange relationship we have with feedback.  So convoluted.  So confusing.  So frustrating.

Here’s a recent personal example to further illustrate my point: I asked for feedback on short workshop I recently did and I received quite a bit of feedback from the group of people with whom I worked to put together the event (as I had hoped I would – since we all had worked to put it together I was anxious to hear their thoughts on the final product, delivery, etc.). Most of the feedback was the typical niceties (good job, I think it went well, etc.). Some people mentioned the sound issues we had (while completely valid and quite frustrating, that was unfortunately beyond our immediate control…but helpful feedback nonetheless).  But there one piece of feedback that had an edge to it.  It seemed to be a list of complaints with no acknowledgement for the work that went into it.  It was as if there was nothing good about the whole event.  I wanted to run from that feedback when it came through in my email.  It came across such that it triggered that oh so familiar ego voice in my head which began questioning if I was good enough, if I knew what I was doing, etc..  It was the kind of thing that allowed the ego mind go to town.  And unfortunately I don’t know the person who delivered the feedback well enough to know their true intention, but nevertheless that email got my mind rolling down a dangerous and unhealthy path.

And on some level I also found myself feeling some anger about it. Who was this person to do nothing but complain. They didn’t have to make all the contacts to set all this up.  They didn’t have to deal with old equipment that didn’t work right.  They hadn’t spent hours preparing and practicing.  My mind got stuck cycling between the anger and insecurity I was feeling after reading that email.  I had to force myself to close my email and walk away for a few hours.  Okay…until the next day actually.  I needed to let it go, to give myself time to put it into perspective.  So I went home and meditated on it a bit  (after my mind seemed to fixate on it for a while though).  I needed to distance myself from the content, reflect on what were valid concerns (like the sound issues), what was perhaps an issue of someone not reading previous emails and then complaining that they didn’t know something, and what were areas where we truly could work on and improve.  That time away to reflect, rather than immediately responding to the email, was essential I believe so I could respond in a more loving way.  I needed to do that so I could loving accept the person and the feedback and move forward in a more positive way.

And now, after processing it, I realized one additional thing – I really just want people to say whatever they have to say with a little love. I would prefer they land the plane softly. Otherwise it feels like people assume we intentionally screwed something up, like we went out of my way to do something they didn’t like – which of course is not usually the intention or case.  In reality I believe it’s a communication thing, which is a good thing because that is something that’s fixable moving forward.  It is a learning moment.  But I also realize my desire for people to say it a bit more softly is likely a pipe dream and that in reality I need to hone my skills in the area of personal development so that when I do receive difficult feedback it doesn’t make me want to run and hide.  Perhaps by modeling that which I wish to see others do I will influence some portion of the population to be more gentle and loving with their words.

And so to close today’s blog, I offer a few words of encouragement to those giving feedback – don’t operate from a viewpoint that someone intentionally did it “wrong”, but instead offer suggestions from the heart with the intention that everyone benefits. And to those receiving the feedback – don’t respond to difficult feedback right away, rather give yourself time to process it properly and find a way to respond (if a response is even necessary) that is productive and of service to all involved.

On Being Special…

I’ve got some bad news for you. You are not special. You are not unique.  You just aren’t.  None of us are.  Oh, we all want to be special or unique, the best in some way.  In fact, we are usually taught from a rather young age to believe that we are unique and special compared to others.  This is true to the point whereby we often develop our identify through that perceived or learned uniqueness.  And while the underlying desire behind that teaching my be well intended, it often creates many problems for us – both with others and within ourselves.  The bottom line is that if we ask the right questions and listen to people’s stories we will quickly find that we are not all that unique or different as we like to think.  The truth is we share experiences, emotions, worries, dreams, hopes, likes, dislikes, etc. with many other people.  When you really take the time to examine this, you will find we are all more alike than different.

Sure, you may be taller than me. Your hair might be blonde to my brunette. You might be skinnier than me too.  You may have gone to a “better” school than me.  You may come from a family who has more money than my family.  You may have a more prestigious job than me.  In all those ways society might say you are more unique, more special, than me.  But those are merely external things.  And there are many external features and factors we could consider if that were the purpose here…things that can make us look different and thus make us unique from one another in that way.  But that’s not what I am talking about here.  I’m talking about who we are as people.  Who we are on the inside.  Hopes, dreams, fears, emotions, integrity, honesty, our authentic nature, etc.  In those things lies many more commonalities than differences.  So again I say, you really are not special when compared to others in the ways we have been taught to compare.

You are special, however, in the fact that you are a child of the universe – for those who are a little more spiritual in nature I would say you are a child of God (or whatever higher power you believe in). By special in that sense though I mean you have a purpose, a job to do, something you are meant to accomplish – you have something to offer this world. In this way again, we are not special or unique – we all have an important role to play.  The details of our individual roles may differ, but the fact remains, we all have a role to play in the world.  We may not always choose to play that role, but it is ours nonetheless.

There is comfort to be found in the common bonds we share and celebrations to be had for the gifts we have been given so that we can offer up to the world that which we were meant to share. My hope for all of us is that we spend less time trying to prove how unique and special we are and more time sharing our gifts with the world. So much good can come from each of us playing our part in the symphony of life, rather than in the competition so commonly seen in today’s world.  So go ahead, celebrate your true uniqueness by sharing your gifts with the world.

“We cannot accomplish all that we need to do without working together.” – Bill Richardson

In A Perfect World

Confession – I am a recovering perfectionist. Recovering as in I work on it daily…everyday. In some ways it is like an addiction – it is a daily struggle to stay on track and not slip back into that old habit.  I struggle with the tendency to be perfect in all that I do each and every day and I struggle to remind myself that I am not perfect – never have been and never will be – and that’s okay.  It’s hard, to say the least, and I am not even sure I know how or when I learned to be this way, but at some point in my childhood perfectionism became a thing for me and I have been fighting with it ever since.

From what I say to what I do and how I do it, I am in a constant battle with myself.

  • * I write in pencil mostly so I can erase things if they aren’t neat enough or organized on the paper in a neat and orderly fashion.
  • * I will redo projects, writings, lists, etc. numerous times if they are not “perfect”.
  • * I obsess over what I am going to say in scheduled meetings…and you can be sure I will critique what I said after the fact with a fine tooth-comb.
  • * I will even go so far as to write out things I am going to say in meetings if I think it is important enough to make sure I say the right words.
  • * When I write my blog, I write and rewrite over and over in a search for the perfect words.
  • * I have put off doing many things (i.e. projects, life goals, etc.) in my life because not everything was “perfect”.

That’s just a sample of the ways in which my perfectionism manifests itself daily…just enough of a sample to give you an idea of what I am talking about.

And if I’m not perfect, which of course is all the time, then that ego voice in my head has a field day telling me what a horrible person I am because I can’t get anything right. It is a crazy, vicous cycle that for years plagued me with little relief. But in the past 3-4 years I have slowly come to accept and understand that, like everyone else in the world, I am not perfect, that I will not do things perfectly, and that despite my imperfections the world will continue to spin on its axis and life will go on.  I will be fine, as will others around me, despite my imperfections.  It’s a matter of reprogramming my brain to relax in the face of imperfection and ultimately to stop expecting it altogether.

“Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.” – Salvador Dali

Here’s what I have found to work for me when I feel that perfectionst tendency kicking in:

  1. Stop and breathe.
  2. Step back and ask myself how big is this thing really…what’s the worst that can happen if I don’t do/say this perfectly.
  3. In extreme cases, I may ask for a second opinion from a trusted friend or colleague on how big of a deal a lack of perfectionism might be in this case.
  4. Most importantly, I give myself permission to be human…which means I give myself permission to not be perfect.

Being perfect is not the same as wanting to do excellent work. Wanting to do excellent work is a wonderful and important goal, but we have to find a way to release ourselves from the stranglehold of perfectionism in the midst of trying to do excellent work. Trying your hardest and doing your best should be the goal, not being flawless or otherwise risk being subjected to internal ridicule.  We thrive and improve from hard work, determination, positive support and motivation, not from listening to that demeaning voice in our head beating us up for not doing something perfectly.

I know I am not alone in this battle with perfectionism. I have met enough others just like me to know perfectionism is a bit of an epidemic in our society. So the good news is there are plenty of us out there to be able to support one another in a quest to let go of the hold perfectionism has on our lives.  Each one of us is perfect in our own way, so there is no need to compare ourselves with some external, unrealistic measure of perfection.  Simply work hard, do your best, live a positive and powerful life and allow yourself to be perfectly imperfect.  Strive to make tomorrow better than today, don’t strive to make it perfect.

“Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection. – Kim Collins

Celebrate The Good And The Bad

Four years ago today my life changed in a way I could never have imagined or foreseen. And it was certainly not in a way I would have ever wished for, but the end result so far has been, surprisingly, quite amazing. I would never have guessed it could go from what felt like the end of the world as I knew it to the most amazing time of my life.  It has truly been a radical transformation.

In the blink of an eye, it seems, I went from being married to someone I considered my best friend and partner for life to being single and uncertain of what the future had in store. It was a painful and confusing time to say the least. But after a few years of deep reflection, soul searching if you will, and dedicated time spent working on myself and figuring out what truly makes me happy, I reconnected with parts of myself I had lost touch with over the years…parts of myself I really liked and which held great meaning for me.  So I began doing things that allowed me to stay in those places and be that person again.  So freeing, so energizing, and so empowering.  And now I am doing things I am not even sure I could/would have even imagined for myself before.  I am playing bigger than I ever have, embracing the opportunities life sends my way, working hard to make a positive difference in the lives of others and the world as a whole.  I have never been happier or more focused, nor have I ever experienced as much success as I am right now.  It has definitely been a transformational couple of years for me.

Isn’t it funny (not in a humorous way but rather in an interesting and curious way) how life can throw things your way that feel and seem just absolutely awful and insurmountable? Like you will never recover? Like things will never be the same again?  Like you will never be happy, or successful, or (fill in the blank) ever again?  And yet, in all the cases I have ever seen in my life, things that have happened both to me personally and to people I know or have encountered in my life, better things always seem to come.  It’s as if the universe is saying to us that difficult change, while it can be temporarily devastating, can actually be good for us.  One might even argue it is a necessary part of life.

I’ll use a butterfly as an analogy. Caterpillars change into a beautiful butterfly through an amazing metamorphosis process we all learn about in elementary school. They wrap themselves in a cocoon and begin a massive transformation.  When that transformation is complete they are radically different from their initial form…they have become beautiful, colorful creatures.  Clearly, their transformation is not easy, but the end result is absolutely amazing to behold…a new life having been born.

What I have seen and experienced is that, despite how awful it can feel on the onset and even as you trudge through it, major changes in our lives are what seem to help get us on the path we are suppose to be on in the first place. Could it be the universe dealing us the hand we need to have in order to fulfill our greater purpose? That’s certainly one explanation for it.  Of course, when dealt that hand we have to play it or nothing can ever possibly come of it…but if we choose to play that hand, again despite how hard it can be at times, amazing things can, and in my experience do, happen.

We all experience challenges in our lives, but if we embrace those times as opportunities to bring something even better into our lives we open ourselves up to amazing transformation. Our view or perspective of those challenges makes all the difference. If we get caught up in the negative side of the things that happen to us, that cause major change in our lives, we will miss out on the opportunity that has been provided to us to make something great out of a negative or unpleasant situation. So celebrate both the good and the bad, the blessings and the challenges, in your life – they all serve a purpose, designed to help us live the best life we can.  You just might be amazed at the outcome!

“I dwell in possibility.” – Emily Dickinson