Susanna’s 80/20 Suggestion

I finally caught up with the rest of the world and figured out how to get onto Netflix and stream the new comedy, Frankie and Grace. In one episode, octogenarian Frankie (Lilly Tomlin) wants to do a Yes Night with friend Grace (Jane Fonda) to cheer herself up over her recent separation. During Yes Night, you have to say Yes to everything.

The show reminded me of when Chris and I started dating. Like Frankie, Chris was going through a separation and divorce. Having recently watched the Yes Man movie (Jim Carrey), he was inspired to try to say Yes more often. Without getting into a lot of detail, that openness led us to where we are today, blissfully married.

I was reflecting on how often we say No because of our self-limiting beliefs (I can’t. I shouldn’t. I must. I’m not.) instead of embracing what’s possible (I am. I can. I will.) For example, instead of receiving a compliment, we brush it away because we couldn’t possibly be that. Instead of trying something new, we say we’re not interested, or we’re too busy.

At the same time, we are often saying Yes to what we shouldn’t agree to: another thankless task, enabling someone’s bad behavior, doing what others think we should do, or believing our own or others’ negative judgment of us.   Oh sure, I’ll do this for you even if it means I can’t do what I need for me. Yes, I need to make this/me perfect.

I believe we have a tendency to say Yes when we should be saying No a lot of the time, and visa versa. So let’s flip it! Here’s my 80/20 suggestion:

  • Things that don’t feel healthy or fulfilling (such as thankless tasks at work or relationships that feel too dependent) – Say No 80% and Yes 20% of the time.
  • Everything else – Say Yes 80% of the time, especially if the invitation makes you feel uncomfortable. Say No or “Maybe sometime soon” to the rest.

Have trouble saying No? Try these responses. Practice them:

  1. “Let me think about it.”
  2. “Let me get back to you.”
  3. “Maybe later.”
  4. When someone is asking for volunteers, give no response – In your head make a list of all the other things you want to do and envision the positive, glorious outcome if you actually do it.   Perhaps they’ll move onto someone or something else. If not, try Response #1, 2 or 3.
  5. “Doing X won’t work for me, but I can do Y” – If #1-4 fail, offer something that would be easy or fulfilling for you. “I won’t bake cookies, but I’ll donate $10. OK?”

Go try it!   Report back and tell me what doors or ideas opened up for you.  Maybe, like Frankie, you’ll end up wearing pearls and a blazer and dancing on a bartop with your best friend!
Frankie and Grace say Yes!

Finding the Sweet Spot: Assertive vs. Pushy

Though assertiveness versus pushiness can be a fine line for everyone, I feel this is a particularly tough issue for women. We are more inclined to try to get along compared to men. Often when we do assert ourselves we’re called the B word.   If we take the softer approach and talk from the perspective of our feelings, we’re accused of being overly emotional.

Ladies, sometimes it feels like we just can’t win. It’s no wonder we sometimes just don’t do anything at all. Am I right?

I try not to shy away from topics that I struggle with, else I’d have nothing to write about. I can only reflect on the hard-earned lessons I’ve learned over the years. Thankfully there are more lessons to come, many of them from you!

In my opinion, there are three main ingredients that are key for a successful discussion of a sensitive nature. First, you must stay calm.   Staying calm means that even if a situation upset or hurt you, you enter the conversation with peace and serenity. You are a still pond. You are a rock. You are a loaf of French bread. For example, I can be serene talking about something that happened in the distant past compared to just moments ago, or talking to an objective third party compared to someone who caused my pain. You can have emotional distance, even while talking about your feelings, so have the conversation only when you are calm.

Second, while being calm, assume that the other person is reasonable at heart.   Thus, your chosen words are not judgmental, but neutral. You are open, listen and try to understand what belief is causing this behavior. Becoming judgmental or defensive will only undermine your cause and you will be called the B word.

Finally, be succinct. Rambling, justifying, bemoaning, judging, and elaborating will make you lose your audience. And you’re serene, remember? State:

  • The fact – “I saw you leave out My Little Pony toy”
  • The way it makes you feel or the consequence – “It makes me feel like you don’t care about my stuff” or “I can’t find it when I want to play with it”
  • Your request – “Could you please put my toys away where they belong when you’re done playing with them?”

Bam, bam, bam.

An observation: this might be a huge deal to you. You might’ve cried about this for days and are trembling inside when having this conversation. The other most likely doesn’t even have this on their radar, and will just be like, “Okay.”

If not, be prepared to listen to their reality. You’re serene, right? So you’ll let their emotion wash over you so that you can listen deeply and objectively. If you really try to understand, you’ll find that their emotional reality will make sense to them in the same way that your emotional reality makes sense to you. In other words: it makes no sense except to the one experiencing it. And then you can find a sensible middle ground, laugh at how silly/human you both are and have a hug.

Ha ha. Not really.

Or maybe so?

Resources: Crucial Conversations and The Power of Positive Confrontation

I’m Too Humble to Tell You How Humble I Am

I’ve lived all my life feeling that I was a very ordinary person.  I never really stood out in academically, I was never that popular or talented, but people always told me that I had something “special”.  “You will change the world someday”, they told me.  But I didn’t believe them at the time.  

I really did not have any intention to change the world.  All I wanted was to have a family and do my job, but people kept asking me to step up and lead.  I never knew my ability to inspire others could be used to inspire others.  And now, here I am, poised to change the world for the benefit of all of you who don’t understand what it is that needs to change….

I’ve written once before about the quality of humility and narcissism as being circular blind spots.   For example, if I think I’m humble, or am telling you about my humility, then I’m not being very humble.   The story above, totally fabricated by yours truly, is an example of how someone can brag about being humble without realizing it.

I guess all I can say is that if you catch yourself bragging about your humility and you wish to be viewed as humble, you might want to rethink this approach.   I suspect that the lack of humility is rarely lost on the listener.

Take it from me, someone with genuine humility.  🙂

Mid-Life Transitions

I’m feeling old this week. Whenever I get up, there are a few moments where I feel stiff all over. I’m having tendonitis in my shoulder, and so I have limited range of motion. I’ve had some dental work recently and don’t like how that feels in my mouth. And I’m just a bit tired and physically slow so it’s tough to keep pace with my exercise class.

As they say, aging is not for the weak-hearted, but it sure beats the alternative.

It’s also hard to believe that I’m at this mid-life stage. You know, it seems like almost yesterday…

It’s tempting sometimes to long for my younger self, especially when I look at the gorgeous and strong young people around me. But I’m never one to want to go back. So far, I have always liked the Older Susanna better than the younger.   I was once as cute and strong as these amazing young people around me, but I didn’t appreciate it then.   I might as well have had the body of a 50-year old given how I felt about my appearance.

The same trend continues when I look across my life domains. I’m kind of jealous of the young people that have the stamina to entertain, go out with their friends, and to volunteer/work till all hours and their mental acuity. Yet I also like feeling like I don’t have to do everything, and be everything to all people, at work and at home and that I can turn the ticker tape in my head to off or mute. I also like the feeling that I am secure in my relationships with my friends and family. I can let those relationships be what they are and just enjoy them.

In summary, I enjoy my life so much more given that I take so much less for granted. I’m also much better at being present, so I’m less worried, stressed or upset about the past or future.

I think the hardest part for me professionally is feeling a lack of mentors.   I have always actively developed and valued relationships with those more experienced and wise than me, and had several that I could go to when I needed advice or an ear. My mentors are all, well, retired or I’ve moved to different areas of interest. I AM the mentor now for a number of people. But who advises me now?

On the personal side the hardest part is missing the daily interaction of the larger family. I understand that as we age we tend to become increasingly isolated, especially as our friends and family start to pass. Isolation is a potential threat to our wellbeing. Yet I also enjoy having a quieter house and that time to myself that an empty nest provides.

In the end, life is full of trade offs. I don’t envy young people. They have their struggles, most of which I do not want to return to. I don’t envy those older than me either, even if they are retired. I’m sure that comes with its own opportunities and challenges. I guess I’ll just enjoy where I am now, for one day it will feel as fleeting as my youth.

Susanna’s Comparative Life Table

  Body Career/ Intellectual Relational Family Personal
Youth – Assets Physical peak, form and function Education fresh, mind alert and active. Plenty of mentors Energy for socializing and entertaining All potential, yet still able to enjoy all those great moments Relatively more idealistic
Challenges May over rely on strength and stamina

Relatively low body image

Relatively poor at prioritization; tries to do it all Relational skills still in development Daily challenges of raising children; still having conflict with siblings Relatively low self-confidence and fewer emotional resources
Mid-Life – Assets Efficiency, strategy. Better appreciation for assets Experience, patience, better able to prioritize. Giving back as mentor Skills well developed; perspective on what’s important Enjoy fruits of child-rearing Self-confidence and self-awareness
Challenges Beginning loss of function Must prioritize. Mentors harder to find. Meet relatively fewer people, less opportunity for “hanging out” Daily challenges of managing parental care May be less apt to change, beginning loss of function

Message to Asian Parents

Growing up I was told that Asian kids are just smarter.  This stereotype seemed to be buffeted by all the hyper-accomplished Asian students with the perfect GPAs and mix of extracurriculars (BTW I was kind of just average or above-average or so all around). Indeed, Asians tend to be over-represented in institutes of higher learning and highly technical fields.   However, I’ve never seen any data that shows that Asians are any smarter than people originating from other continents.

Asian students do have a secret weapon though: their parents. It’s maybe not so much the parents per se as the culture. At least speaking for the Chinese American culture, it was simply a given that we’d go to college, and probably graduate school. We’d have a sport, learn Chinese, and play a musical instrument. Being cool wasn’t important, but your GPA was. Indeed, some of my Chinese American childhood friends went on to that Ivy League school and are literally world-famous.

For some of us, that formula and pathway works perfectly well; we’re 100% suited and passionate about a career in a STEM discipline, or maybe law. For the others of us, well, too bad.

Asian parents, I know you want the best for your children and economic security is paramount. I ask you, though, to weigh the degree of economic security (do they really need to make in the high 6-figures to be secure?) against the psychological cost of doing a job you don’t love. For me the toll was psychological, physical, and relational. My body and life were shutting down because I couldn’t keep doing that job.

Parents, I’m not saying that you encourage your kids to throw caution to the wind and hop a bus to LA in hopes of being the next “It” girl.   What I am saying is that maybe our young people should be encouraged to pursue that passion and dream but have a reasonable Plan B ready to go if that dream doesn’t work out, preferably one that allows them to pursue that passion at least as a hobby.

I didn’t tell you earlier that one of my Ivy League Chinese American friends ended up pursuing a non-traditional path (non-doctor/lawyer/engineer) and became world famous anyway. Many of the parents I know would not have supported that path, but fortunately for him, his did. In other words, it is possible to follow your heart and dreams and achieve that economic security. Had he pursued engineering, he might be secure enough, but would he be as happy or successful?

I know from my own experience that pursuing my Plan A (which temporally came to me in late life) not only means that I’m passionate about my job, but that work enriches my personal life and wellbeing too. And that’s worth all the money in the world.