Tuesday, October 7, 2014

On CK1, Young Lust, and Adult Love


I grew up in a religious household and [I was forced to attend] youth group retreats that focused on dating and ‘how to find God’s perfect mate for you.’

Some of these events included drawing on a Barbie doll with a Sharpie to display what areas of your body were permissible to touch when dating (sex was out of the question) and scare tactics by showing graphic pictures of what STDs looked like. We also were instructed to make lists of our non-negotiables for a future spouse.

We were 13-years old. We barely knew how to maintain our own hygiene.

We didn’t know what we wanted in a dating situation other than hoping they were really cute, a good kisser, and liked the same music we did. Yet list-making we did, being brainwashed into believing there was one ideal person that would be everything we wanted them to be before ever meeting them.

My list of an ideal mate included such weighty items as “tall, handsome, funny, loves God, wears CK1.”

Some of my friends made their lists and some of them met ‘their person’ and got married young. It didn’t work that way for a lot of us, though.

While I believe that my youth group leaders had admirable, good intentions, reality is that fear tactics and lists of ideals harmed my ability to learn about what actually mattered in a relationship. It didn’t train me for life within a relationship.

Or marriage at 24 years old. Or divorce at 27 years old.

It didn’t teach me about how to set healthy boundaries.
Or how to stand up for myself when something felt uncomfortable or hurtful.
Or how to distinguish what ‘red flags’ are and how to talk about them.
Or how to break up with someone in a dignified manner.
Or how to like myself first, the other person second.

Nothing about character. Just a list of check boxes that indicated if you were ‘staying pure’ or not.

At age 29, I tried something different. I threw out the old mentality and I committed to a new way of doing relationships.

I made a list of all the things that hadn’t worked and things I did not want. I did something scary – I trusted the process. I didn’t try to control the variables.

Eventually, Zachary came along.
Now he’s my dude. My partner. My bestie.

While he doesn’t wear CK1, he’s got a slew of amazing qualities, outstanding character, and he is one of the most likable people I know. He’s not someone I would have ever considered dating previously, though, because he didn’t match The List of ideals I made at 13-years dumb.

Now I see that my relationship has to feel and be holistically right, not a list of checked boxes. I’ve looked great on paper before and been miserable at home. That’s not a sacrifice I will never make again. And this resolve has led me to seeing the importance of living congruently. My insides match my outsides. My relationship matches that, too. 

When You Realize Your Heroes Are People Too

I longed to be like Pam. Her crimped blonde perm,  long, red acrylic nails, and bright red-salmon colored lipstick. Hey, it was the 80’s and she was totally ‘80’s Hot.’

I would go through Pam’s purse, taking out every item and asking her what it was for. She would then proceed to paint my nails and let me wear her lipstick even though my parents didn’t allow me to at the ripe old age of six. Pam was my hero.

She spent a lot of time at our house; over for dinners several nights a week, would babysit me and my sisters, and go to family events with us. Pam was over one afternoon and I walked outside to play jump rope (which is what we did before Facebook and Netflix). Little did my child-heart know that moment would bring my hero crashing to the ground. Pam was outside smoking.

My heart was crushed. I cried and ran inside, so angry. I swore I would never smoke and I would never trust Pam again.

Ironically, I picked up a smoking habit when I was 17 years old, but that’s a story for another day. The point is that I couldn’t handle my ideal image of my hero being tarnished by her humanity.

I think this is true of many of us. It's why we get into an uproar when celebrities or public figures show failure. If we were actually consciously aware of every person being human and full of error, we wouldn’t be surprised when humanity shows. It would be expected, in fact.

I spent a lot of time believing that my heroes couldn’t be actually human. I needed them to be on a pedestal so I could feel secure being connected to them. Even at six years old.

Now in my early 30’s I’m seeing that people are just that... people. They will be late to appointments. We will not like all of the same books. They will think I’m ridiculous for some thing I do with my life. I will believe them stupid for believing some thing they do. This is humanity.

I sat across from one of my long time mentors tonight who I have not seen in a while. She’s invested in my leadership training beyond what anyone has before, and people pay her a lot of money to do that. She’s given me free education and real time feedback on my bullshit. I love this woman.

It was interesting, though. We actually disagree on many topics or beliefs, yet we are able to hug it out and respect what the other thinks. I could not have done that a decade ago. I was able to stand back, admire her, and graciously state what I thought. There was no conflict. Just friends holding space for each other.

So maybe I’ve gotten to the place where disagreeing or holding room for someone to be human and different is expected. It’s not threatening. It’s comfortable. After all, my heroes are people, too. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Quote of the Day

"There can be no happiness if the things we believe in are different from the things we do."

-- Freya Stark

Friday, September 12, 2014

You Can’t Take Someone Where You Aren’t Willing To Go

His big, tear-filled eyes looked across the table at her. I thought my heart would explode from the cuteness.

Mom, I don’t want to eat my broccoli. Please don’t make me.”
Mom replies, “Honey, I told you if you want ice cream for dessert you have to eat all of your vegetables.”
But you didn’t eat any dinner and only had ice cream.”

The kid had a point. We laughed from the irony.

I see a bigger lesson for myself in this, and not just about broccoli or ice cream. For most of my life I think I gave people advice I wasn’t willing to take or I challenged them to do things I had never had the balls to do.

I don’t think I’m alone in that, I think it’s quite normal.

I wonder how many times we make judgments about what someone should do or say, or offer advice we have no experience in. Don’t we tend to believe we are an expert when it comes to someone else’s life? On the other hand, how often do we get challenged to do something the other person has never done?

How many books do we read where we question if the author actually lives what they write?
How many teachers have we had who teach something they’ve never lived?
How many speakers do we see where they sound good but somewhere in our gut we smell bullshit?
How many parents tell their kids something just to make them feel better or avoid conflict?

Brene Brown turned this idea on its head for me, truly. That woman is one of the strongest people I can imagine, not because she’s super badass and puts people in their place but because she actually lives what she preaches: vulnerability. I see it in her work, I hear it in her podcasts and talks, and her examples continuously expose those parts of myself I try so hard to cover.

Simply put, her biggest gift is that she gives permission to be messy.

See, the overarching problem with us is not that we judge others but that we don’t share openly and without fear, which then teaches others to shield themselves and the cycle perpetuates itself.  If we had no fear of what people thought, we’d all be living life very different. Social media wouldn’t be a competition, every conversation would be honest and exposing, and we would hold fewer resentments because the air between people would be clearer.

We muddy things by hiding behind our personalities and resisting vulnerability. It's hard. 
Vulnerability is a practice, a lifestyle... an art.

I gave a talk at a conference last summer titled “The Art of Vulnerability." As the Universe so humorously does, I had a lesson in vulnerability before speaking it. I battled through writing the talk because the desire to appear strong, collected, and together was significant. I didn’t want to show the soft parts of me. I wanted to sound competent and articulate...  I wanted to ‘wow’ the audience. Well, when the topic is vulnerability I think we have to throw all other layers of ourselves aside and be uncomfortable in our truth. And that’s just what I did.

I shared about my life’s journey, my brokenness, my wholeness, and a bunch of honest stories that related to the idea that we cannot take someone where we aren’t willing to go. Wouldn’t you know that a hundred people came up to me after the talk to ask about more conversation about vulnerable living?

I am by no means an expert in this, but I spread some goodness there. Vulnerability begets vulnerability.

Relate this to work, school, business, leadership, or relationships. You have no foundation for an experience you’ve never had. Start experimenting and growing and inviting others for the ride. And eat your vegetables. I do.

On Safe Spaces

I have always been a believer that spaces and environments affect people and vice verse. It turns out that whole idea is an actual, real thing, which must mean I’m very smart. Environmental psychology studies the interplay and affect of individuals and their surroundings.

Wikipedia describes environmental psychology as “encompassing natural environments, social settings, built environments, learning environments, and informational environments.”

My hypervigilant, obsessive nature of observing my surroundings started soon after a significant childhood trauma, which makes a lot of sense. Trauma creates deep, unnatural grooves in our brain that form our personalities and mode of operation over time.

I became a young expert at knowing where every article I owned was placed and if it had been moved, I was keenly aware of how physically close people were to me and where the nearest exit door was located, and I attempted to control every aspect of my environment as a way to self-soothe.  I wasn’t protected from harm as a little girl and from that point on I have sought to protect myself in my environment on physical and metaphysical levels.

I don’t see this as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Reality is that this has served me well in a lot of ways. For example, I’ve been complimented on the arrangement, color scheme, and decorative nature of my home for years and years. People consistently comment that they feel safe or relaxed in my living space. I’ve created a safe haven for myself and that translates to others.

In my work as a producer, I get to create live events that incorporate the whole audience/attendee experience – a sensory exploration. What do they see, touch, taste, hear, feel? That’s a niche that I don’t know of many other producers of my type playing in. It sets me apart.

As an adjunct professor of public speaking and communication theory, I get to create a classroom energy conducive for multi-level learning. As an organization coach, I get to assess and rearrange ideas and people-energy for maximum productivity and effectiveness.

Perhaps you could call me an Energy Specialist. Only no one would know what that means.

Whatever the case, I’ve done enough inner healing and work to release fear that has been associated with controlling spaces in the past. Now I get to create spaces that are freeing, peace-filled, light, and calming because that’s me.

One of my projects last year was redecorating my office. This was particularly important for several reasons:
1.     I spend more time in my office than my own bed. Sad.
2.     I have a lot of hard conversations in my work and I wanted an environment that supported a higher, positive nature.
3.     If I didn’t spend the budget money I would have lost it when the new fiscal year started.  

So here is one example, one snap shot of my work life that embodies the idea of safe spaces. Other than the terribly designed chair on the bottom left (that I couldn’t get rid of), I think I did okay. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

My Tiny Buddha

This week marks my premiere on Tiny Buddha, a lovely and widespread online publication that strives to bring peace, calm, and practical personal stories to those who seek a holistic life. My beloved has written for Tiny Buddha a couple of times and raved about working with the founder and editor in chief, Lori. 

It's true, she is a doll. And one of the easiest people I've ever worked with in the writing world.

Thank you to all who have continued to encourage my writing and sharing my story.

You can read my first article with Tiny Buddha here.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Why I Buy Myself Flowers & Wine

Before you go jumping to all sorts of conclusions, no. The subject of this post is not a passive-aggressive shot at my partner. (He buys me both often thankyouverymuch.) This is about ME celebrating ME.

A girlfriend of mine sent me a video yesterday of a business coach who expressed something really powerful: 

“Celebrate the effort, not the outcome.”


The version of myself a few years ago would have said to save the celebrating for a signed contract with several zeros after the $ sign or an Academy Award. The steps along the way were not meant to be appreciated. What have they given me? Not a paycheck, that’s for sure. In fact, some networking and professional presentations have felt like a complete waste of my energy and time.

But let’s remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day. (I know, I hate those adages but this one is just too on point.) 

We typically don’t get the big wins on the first try. That’s why the word “anomaly” is in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. It doesn’t mean it’s impossible just unlikely. It all matters, though. It plays a role for us in our leadership journey, as cheesy as it sounds, and we can choose to embrace it or spite it.

Everything inside of me has wanted to ignore the blood, sweat and tears that have gone into certain projects or professional relationships. Fact of the matter is that I have given part of myself to all of that, though. It’s all a part of me.

Have I learned? Abundantly.
Have I grown? Absolutely.
Will I make the same mistake twice? Not if I can help it.

So, today I had a small win. I landed an opportunity that I created for myself over time with a company whose staff I adore and whose vision believe in. I pitched myself to them for a big project, they wanted something less. I agreed on terms that worked for me. 

Immediately upon leaving our meeting I stop by the store and purchased myself a bouquet of brightly colored wildflowers and my favorite wine, because even though it was (arguably) a “small” win, it’s still a win.

Celebrating our wins, no matter the size, primes us for the next opportunity and leads us to the next thing. We didn’t get there overnight. We worked for it.

No one has to know about the chocolate Bon Bons and your rental of Sweet Home Alabama. Do it for you.

You deserve it.