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Listening to my Pain

The new book Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – And The Unexpected Solutions by Johann Hari, has had a strong impact on me. As someone who suffers from anxiety, I am always looking for solutions. This book took a different approach from what I usually read and is a worthy companion to the multitude of other books addressing anxiety and depression. One area he writes about is how our pain is important. Our pain tells us something and we should listen to it rather than stifle it.

The book opens up with a story about when the author was in Vietnam.  He had eaten a toxic apple and begins violently vomiting. When he gets to a doctor, the doctor tells him   that the vomiting saved him. Had he stopped the vomiting, he would have died. The doctor told him, “You need your nausea. It is a message. It will tell us what is wrong with you.” This thesis continues throughout the book. How can we allow the pain to last long enough to diagnose the problem? Often stifling the pain merely masks the symptom and does not allow us to dig deeper.

Hari argues that depression and anxiety may be very appropriate reactions to what we are experiencing in our life and changing our circumstances might be exactly what we need to address our feelings. He identifies seven Reconnections we need in our society to help heal the rising number of people suffering from depression and anxiety. “Reconnecting with Other People” is number one on his list. As an introvert, I struggle with this. I happily take advantage of all technology that allows me to live in my quiet space—amazon instead of shopping, texting instead of talking, social media instead of group events. So I was concerned. Were all introverts doomed?

But an experience I had last week clarified things for me. I realized how I could maintain my introversion and still enhance my reconnection with other people. Last week I had horrible cramps. During that time of the month, I usually try to slow down and be extra kind to myself, but that day was just a busy day and there was nothing I could about it.  I was making dinner and was about to grab an Advil to deal with the pain. At that same moment, my husband walked into the house. I thought about the book and decided to listen to my pain. Sure I could take an Advil and keep moving at a crazy pace, but what I really needed was to lie down on the couch and give myself a break. Then, I thought about the idea of reconnecting with other people. I asked my husband, who had literally just walked in from a long day at work, to please jump in and take over making dinner so I could put my feet up. He did and I was able to relax  knowing that dinner was now in his capable hands. My pain alerted me to what my body needed. I needed rest. And it also allowed me to reconnect with my husband. I revealed my vulnerability and he did not dismiss it instead he validated my need and helped me.  I don’t have to go to parties or shopping malls to connect. I just need to reach out when I need it and feel heard.

When reflecting back on my life, I realize some of the most beautiful memories are when I reached out and allowed people to help me with my pain. When my kids were little, I lived in a community where we all helped each other. We were a bunch of exhausted moms who had little help.  We created playgroups, watched each other’s kids and kept each other company. Being a new mom can be incredibly lonely. Somehow we were lucky enough to turn our pain into a wonderful and supportive community.

Listening to our pain rather than covering it up is a valuable tool to help direct our choices. What is your pain telling you and are there ways to dig deep and make changes to the root of the problem rather than covering the pain? Finding community that works for my personality is an effective way for me to address my anxiety and is a priority for me going forward. As I take another step towards my 50th birthday and adapt to parenting teenagers, my village needs have changed. But I plan to make an effort to reach out to others and get the help I need whenever I need to ease the pain.

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The Junior Year Journey

Being a parent of a junior in high school is not easy. As we know life seems to move faster with each year. But when junior year comes along, life pushes the pedal to the metal. As someone who always drives the speed limit and avoids all fast amusement park rides like the plague, I am holding on for dear life. Talking about college, visiting colleges, prepping for ACT/SAT, prepping for the drivers test, AP classes and the overarching awareness that life as I have known it for 17 years is about to change is tough and I need to figure out how to handle it.

I am not someone who avoids change. I have enjoyed watching my kids get older. I love seeing their independence grow. I did not cry when my kids marched off to kindergarten. I was so very excited for them. I embraced their bat/bar mitzvah year with joy and excitement. Therefore, I am a bit thrown for a loop with how much this year is toying with my emotions.

All I can do is try to control what I can control. If life is moving too fast in one domain, I can try to slow down in others. If I am feeling extra vulnerable, then I need to create a life that helps me feel secure. What can I do to help myself survive and maybe even thrive during this time?

This is my plan I am putting into place and I hope it helps others think about how they can adapt when times are tough.

Wake up earlier

If life is going to fast, I need more time to gently enter my day. By waking up 15 minutes earlier, writing in my journal and connecting to myself, I am stronger and better able to deal with the tornado of my day.

Go to bed earlier

I am diligent about getting into bed as early as possible. I am trying to honor my sleep cycle and if I am getting up earlier I must go to bed earlier. If I am overtired, I do not have the strength to deal with the topsy turvy emotions I feel.

Honor my introversion

One of the indicators of being an introvert is that we can feel depleted by social interactions while social interactions energize extroverts. To protect my energy, I have to say no to invitations. I feel uncomfortable about this sometimes, but it is what I need to do to protect my already vulnerable foundation at this time.

Meditate

Meditation teaches us how to notice what is going on without judgment. Having this more sophisticated awareness of my thoughts and emotions allows me to deal with them in a more reasonable way. I am learning to accept what I feel, challenge what is not true and treat myself more gently.

Spend time just the four of us

My sadness around our family changing is best addressed by appreciating what is here right now. We have prioritized being together as a family more than ever and my daughter, despite her busier schedule, has been game. Being together at a restaurant or watching sitcoms and movies or just laughing and teasing each other during car rides is grounding and seems to slow things down temporarily.

Imagine a fabulous future

Being around friends who have been through this is powerful. Reading blogs like Grown and Flown is life saving. Imagining our future with my husband can be exciting and freeing. Life will go on when my kids move on. I have a new business, a wonderful husband and the most amazing dog that is not going off to college luckily. I have friends and family and hobbies and goals and the next phase will be wonderful.

Adapting to change is a life skill that we must embrace since change is inevitable, but I can be kind to myself in the process.

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Master Memory Maker

In Chip and Dan Heath’s book The Power of Moments, they explore how moments can change our lives and how to be more intentional creating special moments in our lives. As I listened to an interview with Daniel Pink and Dan Heath discussing the book, I realized that my grandfather, whom I called Zeyda (yiddish for grandfather), was a master memory maker. Not only did he literally create our memories by always having a camera or video camera in his hand and singlehandedly capturing every single family moment—from birthdays to holidays to bar mitzvahs. But beyond that, he created memories in other ways as well. His creativity and zest for life benefited his eight grandchildren in ways that impact me to this day.

Embrace Silliness

Every Chanukah we would take a family picture with the grandchildren, grandparents and aunts and uncles. It was a whole crazy mess as we all tried to find our places by the fireplace and my Zeyda set up the timer so he could be in the picture (thank goodness because otherwise we would have even fewer pictures of him!). But he took these pictures a step further. With thoughtful planning, he would pick a theme each year. We would take a couple of classic pictures and then the fun would begin. One year we dressed up as clowns with full makeup and another year we wore Groucho Marx glasses. Laughter was the name of the game. There was no way to stay serious during this annual event.

Sunday Outings to I-Hop

Now that I am a parent, I appreciate even more how my Zeyda would throw all eight grandchildren into his enormous car and drive all of us to I-Hop for breakfast on Sundays. In would go the 8-track tape of Fiddler on the Roof or Cabaret and we would all sing along as he smoked his cigar out the window. My Zeyda loved the carefree nature of children and our laughter fueled him. I can still feel myself in the car surrounded by people I loved—elbows and knees banging into each other as we squeezed in.

The Shaky Bridge

I don’t know if the bridge was actually named that, but my Zeyda managed to find the shakiest bridge in Trenton and we would go and jump on it. I hesitate to imagine why it was shaky, but we weren’t scared at the time. It was our amusement park. Seriously this man knew how to find the fun in anything!

Once in Love with Amy

We would listen to the song Once In Love with Amy in the car, which of course I loved because my name is Amy. However, one day my cousin Micole asked if we could listen to Once in Love with Micole. Well, poor Micole did not have many songs named after her so my Zeyda was heartbroken. He did not want her feelings to be hurt. So he told us he had a song for her at his house and we all went back to his office and looked and looked and looked for the song. Of course we never found it, but Micole seemed satisfied. Crisis averted. Zeyda’s imagination knew no bounds.

Kindness Trumped all

My Zeyda was not a traditional grandfather.  He took us all to see the movie Animal House when we were too young; he had a subscription to Playboy “for the articles”, and he told dirty jokes constantly. He did not make rules or follow rules for the sake of rules. His only rule was kindness.  At I-Hop, all the waiters and waitresses loved him. He loved people and treated everyone with respect. The only time he ever lost his temper was if one of us was being unkind. That was completely unacceptable. A famous story of my Zeyda is when he hired a blind man to sweep his shop. Of course the blind man was not very effective at this task, but he needed a job and my Zeyda could not bring shame upon him. The consistency of his kindness sent a strong message to his grandchildren and I know kindness continues to be a guiding value for me.

As I think about these memories, I have perfection in my mind– we went to breakfast every Sunday and that we took crazy pictures every year. But I know that can’t be true in reality. But this imperfection is a beneficial reminder. We don’t have to be perfect in the traditions and memories we create for our kids. Some years we are more on top of things than others and that is ok. Making memories does not have to follow a strict pattern. My Zeyda did not make things difficult. He was inspired by what he enjoyed and was motivated by spending time together with the family he loved. My lesson learned from reflecting back on his life is to be intentional and authentic and the memory making will happen.

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Surviving a Tough Time With Your Adolescent

In all likelihood one or all of our kids will go through a tough time at some point during the adolescent years. They may have a hard adjustment to a new school, new teacher, a best friend may move on, a first love may break up or he or she may just feel unsettled. Hormones kick in and kids develop at very different rates, so puberty can be a time of much confusion and uncertainty. Parenting a child who is having a hard time can be a particularly lonely time even though we are in very good company. Privacy can feel paramount at this time due to your child’s preferences or your own feelings of embarrassment or insecurity. Below are things I have done personally to help myself and my child deal with a difficult time.

Find a cheerleader

Is there someone who thinks your kids are great no matter what? My mom serves this role for me. She reminds me of how awesome my kids are and having lived through it all before, she knows how short this window of time is in the scheme of things. A little perspective and unconditional love can go a long way.

What makes your child happy?

Now is the time to give your child a little extra TLC. Make sure you child has an opportunity to just be a kid. Does your child have a favorite restaurant, meal for dinner, can you watch a favorite movie as a family, bake together, play a family board game, go to skyzone and jump around? Get your kid away from social media and foster connection with people who accept them for who they are.

Get out of town

Sometimes you have to give your kid some real distance from the stress. Go visit his favorite cousin who lives in a different town, plan a quick getaway with the immediate family, or hang out with old friends who no longer live in town. Give your child an opportunity to disconnect from the challenges of every day life and refill his or her bucket. This builds resilience and coping skills.

Seek out grounded and sensitive friends

 This is not the time to talk to the exaggerators, over reactors or the completely clueless.  You need someone who will respond gently as you reveal this vulnerability. Find someone who won’t exacerbate the issue or ignore it. It is a really delicate balance, which is why it can be such a lonely time. This is an excellent time to rely on an already established relationship with a therapist or to start going to one.

Self-Care

Caring for an unhappy child can be emotionally draining. Be sure to fill your own bucket by taking some time to restore. What energizes you? Do you need time to sit and read, exercise, talk to a best friend, go for a walk, get a massage? Do what you need so you can be extra sensitive and patient for your child. And know in your heart that this too shall pass.

Follow to the Experts

I recommend any of the books below:

Wendy Mogel: Blessing of the B- and Blessing of the Skinned Knee

Julie Lythcott-Haims: How to Raise an Adult

Lisa Damour Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions Into Adulthood

Get your child help

We all need to know our limitations. Sometimes our kids need to speak with someone besides us. There are many wonderful people who can help your child. Obviously a therapist is ideal as they have the experience and background to provide effective tools. Other options are other adults like aunts, uncles, other family members, older cousins or family friends. Really anyone who is mature and cares about your child can help. A school guidance counselor can sometimes be a helpful ally as well.

Home is where the heart is

Family can be a source of strength and support even while our kids seemingly want to move away from us. Creating a home that is supportive, welcoming and loving can go a long way to help. Taking life a little less seriously can remind our kids that everything is temporary and things will get better. A happy home can give the whole family strength, including you as you tackle this challenging time.

Adolescence is tough–we know because we have been there. It is challenging as kids grow emotionally and physically. And as the saying goes “we are only as happy as our most unhappy child”, it can be a very difficult time for you. The more we can do to help our children laugh and experience joy the better able they will be able to survive this time and the better you will be as well.

I know there are lots of creative ideas out there that resourceful parents have uncovered. Please share any tools you have used to survive this time in your life.

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Create Space in 2018

“Create the Space to Let Life Happen” is the motto on my 2018 planner designed by Ashley Staum, owner of “She Plans.” A planner, when used proactively, can be a tool for freedom. The freedom to grow, stretch and create is a goal for many of us and with a little planning we can create those opportunities in 2018. Growth requires empty space: time for spontaneity, time for rest, time for connection—to ourselves and to others. We cannot develop brilliant ideas without time. We cannot be true to ourselves without reflection. But we need to be intentional about these things. Before you fill your 2018 calendar with obligations, prioritize time to just daydream (remember the good ole days when we would do that?). Here are my tips:

 

Reserve time on your calendar

On my Google calendar I color code everything. I have a color for my work, for my play, for each child and for my workouts. This allows me to be sure I am making time for what is important to me and that no one color dominates my life. My daughter’s high school has a brilliant program. They reserve 2.5 hours for the students every Monday and they call it Genius Block. This is time students can pursue their dreams, take learning to the next level or just relax. We should all build Genius Blocks into our life and fill it however it makes sense. Pick a color and start to book time to do what you need/want and don’t even allow yourself to question it. You deserve it and our world can definitely use a few more geniuses.

Create space in your body

Lauren, my awesome personal trainer, has taught me that unless you have space in your body, you will not be able to build muscle safely. Stretching is an integral part of our sessions and is supposed to be an integral part of my daily schedule (I am working on that). Let me tell you, taking time to stretch and take care of my body has led to me being stronger than I have ever been. It turns out that not getting injured is an effective way to be healthier. Take time to develop space in your body through stretching, yoga, massage, whatever you can do to show your body some love. It will thank you for it.

Create Space in your mind:

  • David Allen, creator of Getting Things Done a work-life management system, says “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” Allen has a five step plan for getting things done and the very first one is called Capture, where you literally dump anything and everything out of your brain onto paper (or a computer organizing system). Once you have emptied everything out of your brain, you can begin to figure things out. Holding stuff in your brain to remember wastes precious resources and can cause unnecessary stress. So as you prep for 2018, begin to capture everything you hold in your brain into some sort of system either paper or digital.
  • Use mindfulness to single-task. The more we focus on one thing at a time the more space we have in our brain to dedicate to that one task. Think of a garden hose. When you spray the water in lots of directions, the pressure is distributed and diluted, but when you allow the hose to go in one direction only, it can be powerful. Our mind works the same way. When our mind is going into a million directions, it is diluted. Your life deserves your full attention. Engage your mindfulness skills to hone your attention on one thing and enhance the quality (and most probably the quantity) of your work.

Magically make more time appear

In the movie Sully about the Miracle on the Hudson, it is clear that one of the reasons the simulator could not accurately reflect what the human pilots did was because computer simulators do not need to take up time making decisions. Decision-making takes time and energy. One secret to creating extra time is to build in habits that you do without thinking. Imagine how much wasted time you would have if you had to decide to brush your teeth every day. If you create habits in your life, you gain that extra time to do things that actually make you happy. Just like you make your coffee without thinking (or at least I do), create other habits that keep you on track and free up some of that decision making time.

Create space in your physical environment

Rachel Jones, a joyful space specialist and founder of NourishingMinimalism.com, explains that clutter creates anxiety and wastes time. She offers a clearing clutter challenge to get rid of 2018 items in 2018 and she even offers a motivational chart to help us track. I plan to do this challenge. If it will help limit the amount of time I spend looking for my glasses every day, the happier everyone in my family will be!

These are just a few ideas about how to make space in 2018. Experiment and have fun with it. Simply being proactive rather than reactive is a great place to start. I would love to learn how you build more space into your life. Check out my worksheet to help you play with these ideas. To a happy, healthy and free 2018!

 

 

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Flywheel Breakthrough: Nothing Changes if Nothing Changes

I have been going to Flywheel religiously two days a week for several years. Flywheel is a spin class where you ride a stationary bike to music with an instructor leading the way. I love the dark space where I zone out and ride to the beat. The music fills me and I get taken away on a journey each class. During class you accrue a score based on your effort (a calculation based on resistance and speed). I somehow get the same score every… single… class. For a while I tried to increase my score by saying to myself before class: “work harder!” Not surprisingly that was ineffective. Finally, I took matters into my own hand and planned how to increase my score ahead of time. As they say “nothing changes if nothing changes.” So I decided to do things differently. I made a plan before class and implemented it and immediately got a score 15 points higher than my regular score (an increase of 6%). I used the same methods that I give my clients when they are working towards a goal and it worked. Below is an outline of my plan which can be applied to all of our goals:

Ask

I had the opportunity to chat with an instructor after class a few weeks ago and I finally revealed my frustration. Why couldn’t I increase my score? He suggested a technique to use. He explained that I should focus on my speed rather than my resistance. In other words when I ignore the teacher’s instruction, ignore the resistance, but follow the speed. Hmmm, this had never occurred to me. I guess there is a method to this madness!

Breathe

OK, I know I am a yoga instructor so you would think breathing would be obvious, but it wasn’t. I needed to use my breathing to help me. Sometimes I would panic and breathe too fast and shallow. I needed to take some deep breaths to help me along. By connecting with my breath, I was able to stabilize my mind and get back on track.

Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway

As a student of the Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, I have learned that procrastination is just a form of fear. So I asked myself what I was afraid of? Why couldn’t I push past my number? What was holding me back? I uncovered the fear: the fear of being uncomfortable, the fear of getting hurt and the fear of pushing too hard. I knew I had to move past these fears if I wanted to progress.

Take it One Step at a Time

As a coach I tell my clients to create bite sized chunks when pursuing the goal. It can be intimidating to think about the big goal, so instead we should break it down into smaller goals. Spin classes include approximately a dozen songs per class. I decided to focus on one song at a time. I made a mini-goal for each song. I did not allow myself to think about three songs in the future; I just focused on the present song. How was I feeling right then? Could I add resistance, could I add speed? Was I working at the right pace for myself right now?

Self-Compassion

How was I talking to myself throughout class? Was I being kind or was I beating myself up? I promised myself I would say supportive things like “if you need a break after this song, you can take it.” This helped me not panic when I was giving it my all during a song and worrying about whether I would be able to keep up with this pace during the whole class. Knowing I would listen to my body and take care of myself, I was able to increase my productivity. Self-compassion helped reduce my fear.

Be Proactive

It took me a couple years, but I finally decided to be intentional about the class. I wasn’t ready to make a change until I was ready. For the first couple years maybe I was just trying to create a routine for myself where I actually showed up to class. But one day I was ready to take my workout to the next level and when that happened I made a plan. If we want to make a change in our life, we need to give it the respect it deserves by asking questions and making changes.

Lesson learned. When it is time to make a change, be intentional, methodical and kind. We don’t need to excel at everything we do, but when it is time to make a change, go for it!

 

 

 

 

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A Yom Kippur Moment

Sitting with my whole family in my sister’s home, I notice how my 12-year-old niece, without thinking, sits down on my dad’s lap. How special that a 12-year-old can still feel comfortable with her grandfather and without thinking just take a seat. And my dad gratefully accepted her on his lap. I am confident the moment was not lost on him. We both share the ability to appreciate the moment.

It was just a moment, a moment of connection, a moment of love, a moment of trust, a moment that was the result of 100s if not 1000s of moments before.

This moment encapsulates my hopes and dreams for my own future. One day I want my 12-year-old granddaughter to come and sit on my lap without a moment’s hesitation. I want to allow it to happen and experience that moment of gratitude. I want to represent safety, love and compassion to my grandchildren. I want to provide a place where they can just be.

While I watched my niece sit on my dad’s lap, I also felt a tinge of sadness. My niece will not be a sweet and innocent 12-year-old forever and my dad will not be around forever.  How can you grapple with this moment of pure love and joy, and then deep sadness?

I guess the point is just to feel and welcome whatever emotions arise. These moments can create multiple emotions, both positive and negative. It is not our job to judge these conflicting emotions. It is not our job to deny them either. We are complicated creatures, and simplifying these moments would not do them justice

As I get older I hope to continue to feel these emotions no matter what they bring up. I hope as a mother I can model how to be open and awake to these emotions so my kids will appreciate these moments as well.

How can we stop and enjoy these moments? If I had been texting, I would have missed it. If I had been thinking about what I needed to do tomorrow, I would have missed it. If I had been worrying about something I said earlier, I would have missed it. But I didn’t. And for that I am grateful.

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Diamond In the Rough

While unloading groceries yesterday, my engagement ring got caught on one of the drawers and my diamond slipped out of its setting. I was shocked to see my ring setting minus a diamond! Luckily I was able to immediately find the diamond, but my heart was racing when I did.

I have had this ring for over 20 years. I wear it every single day. I never take it off. It is a small enough ring that it does not get in the way and I would feel naked without it. I have never wanted an upgrade, even as I have genuinely admired the upgraded rings of my friends around me. I happen to love big beautiful diamond rings. But so far I have not replaced mine.

My 16-year-old daughter was sitting with me when the jeweler asked me if I wanted to upgrade my setting. She looked horrified when I paused to consider it. (As I mentioned, I love big beautiful diamond rings.) She shook her head vigorously. “That is the ring daddy gave you! I can’t imagine you with a different ring. I love your ring!” Not surprisingly she had a strong opinion (she is 16), but I appreciated her nostalgia. Not everything needs to be improved or upgraded.

As we approach our 20th anniversary of marriage, this event made me stop for a moment and think about any symbolism my broken engagement ring might have. I rarely see a coincidence as a mere coincidence. What is this telling me?

Don’t take things for granted:

I have worn this ring for over 20 years without a problem, and then out of the blue it comes out of the setting. My husband and I have our daily routine. We go to bed together, we wake up together, we touch base during the day, we organize our schedules. This predictability is not something to take for granted. Unexpected things can happen. Appreciate the routine.

Time can wear down the foundation:

images-92Sure, love can grow deeper as you are married longer, but minor annoyances can also grow, age-old fights can become ingrained and the wear and tear of life can feel insurmountable. In many ways marriage can get harder as we get older. This is less of a problem if you acknowledge it and move through the challenge together. Sometimes my husband seems surprised when things are tough. I gently remind him that marriage can be hard work sometimes. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.

Shiny new things can be appealing:

Sometimes my husband and I think about things we can buy to add a little spice into life. But ultimately, spending money is not going to strengthen our marriage. For us, simply going out to dinner can make us feel more connected and happier together. For our 10- year anniversary, instead of a trip to Europe, we went out for Indian food at our favorite restaurant (located in a Jersey strip mall!). While going to Europe is an amazing way to celebrate, that was not going to work for us at that time. In the end, I will always remember that evening as being full of love and laughter—which is why I married him in the first place!

Expectlife coaching the unexpected

My father-in-law passed away six months ago and grief is a powerful thing. My husband’s suffering was hard on our marriage. But, thankfully we had the foundation to get through it. Marriage is not immune to the ups and downs of life. If we can honor that, we can get through them together.

Things are just things:

Ok, I got lucky and found the diamond. But what if I hadn’t? That would have been ok. I don’t need a ring to prove our love. Love is the energy we bring to our relationship on a daily basis. Love is knowing that we are both completely invested in the success of the relationship. It is a delicate dance and I don’t want to learn to dance with anyone else.

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The Hero of Your Own Story

Much of my time as a coach is building my clients back up. I have had cancer survivors, spouses of cancer survivors, clients who have cared for sick parents and others who have cared for children with special needs. These are people who inspire me, yet when I tell them this, they look at me like I have six heads. They’re not so special, they tell me. Loo at all their failures. When I point out all the amazing things they have accomplished, they say, “Oh you had to say this because you are my coach.” No I don’t and honestly I could not pretend to be inspired even if I tried.  These are people who have suffered and survived. They should be strutting around tooting their horn, but instead they are stuck in self-doubt.

My job as a coach is to remind people that there are multiple ways to tell their story. There is no one right way. Our life is complicated and telling our story is complicated. Is the way you tell your story serving you?

When prepping for job interviews, I help my clients write their story. What are you proud life coachingof? What have you struggled with and survived? How have you grown as a person. How have your circumstances made you the person you are today? And how does this translate into you being successful in the future? You cannot convince a future employer that you are awesome if you are stuck in a mediocre story. Practice telling your new story until you believe it in your soul.

This is your truth. I am not asking my clients to lie or create something out of nothing. We all have things to be proud of. We have all survived in our own way. But we need to see it and believe it. And, most importantly, we need to tell it–to ourselves and to others.

In the book The Artists Way, Julia Cameron advises her readers to let their fear be their fuel. When writing your story, let your self-doubt fuel you. When you spiral downward by focusing on your perceived failures and your weaknesses, question your assumptions. Imagine I am sitting in front of you. How would I challenge you? What are you minimizing? What are you highlighting?  Why are you making those choices and do they serve your future? We all share a fear of failure as well as a fear of success. Use that fear to fuel you.

You get one life. Are you going to be the hero or the villain in your story? You are the hero… trust me. Not because you are perfect or because your life was easy, but precisely because it is not.

 

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Courage

I have spent much of my life not feeling brave. As a child, I would go to bed at night and wonder what I would be afraid of that night. My options were: 1. Dracula 2. The house catching on fire 3. Robbers. Every night I would consider the possibilities, select one and then… ready, set, worry. I was shy, afraid of strangers, afraid of heights, afraid of getting in trouble, afraid of fire, afraid of thunderstorms, afraid of snakes and afraid of not being liked.

But despite this, my life has been filled with brave moments. One of my favorite moments of bravery was in 3rd grade I walked up to 8-year-old Suzy during music class and said “I like the games you play, can we be friends?” She said “sure!” and 3rd grade got a whole lot more fun.

One of the hardest consequences of this is dealing with other people’s perceptions and judgments—and eagerness to push you to “get beyond your fear”. No one wants to look like a wimp. But I also realize that there are many ways to be brave and sometimes the most visible and traditional measurements of bravery are not always the most revealing.

For instance:

  • My daughter hates roller coasters, which was challenging when she went to amusement parks during camp, but she is not afraid to speak up for someone being picked on.
  • My son was afraid of fire drills in elementary school, so much so that the principal would cocareer coachme and get him before each fire drill and bring him outside early. Yet, he was the only grandchild who was unafraid to hold his great-grandmother’s hand as she lay dying.
  • My former colleague Jennifer was soft spoken and unassuming on the job – often getting overlooked for promotions. However, on 9/11, when we were a few blocks from the world trade center, she suggested we walk toward the Twin Towers to visit the children’s center on Broad Street to ensure the kids were safe.
  • I was recently terrified when hiking with friends when we came to a part that I described life coachingas “cliff diving” and they described as “walking along a path”. But the next week I bravely got a routine colonoscopy in an effort to protect my health.

This makes me question, are there some people who are braver than others or are we all just brave in different ways? This is critical in understanding how we can help ourselves grow. Instead of thinking about all of our cowardly traits, why don’t we reflect on all the brave things we have done?

Also, how can we protect our vulnerable side? Is it ok to not go cliff diving (aka walking on a steep trail), or skip the amusement park, or avoid asking Suzy to be friends? I don’t know. I guess we all need to decide when fear holds us back and when it is ok to honor our fear. When does it make sense to push and when does it make sense to give ourselves a break. And when we are around someone who is afraid, I hope we can think about what message we are sending to him or her if we push him or her outside his or her comfort zone. I hope we can remember a time when we were afraid to better understand, empathize and show compassion to someone else who is scared.

I no longer imagine the dangers every night before I go to bed—instead I protect myself life coachingby not watching Stranger Things (which is hard to do because my family loves it) or Law and Order SVU before I go to bed and I read a nice novel instead. And when I do get scared, I remind myself that we all have our “mishigas” (yiddush for craziness). I know when I need to get over myself (schedule the colonoscopy) and when I can let go (skip the hike). Everyone has their fears and knowing when to accept and when to push can impact our quality of life.