Are You Open or Closed?


Answer each of the following questions –

Are you open to:

  • The possibility of being wrong?
  • The possibility that someone is better at something than you (smarter, more athletic, more successful, more popular, more attractive, etc)?
  • The possibility that you are better at something than someone else?
  • The possibility that you are hurting someone or something even if that is not your intention?
  • The possibility that you are creating problems for others that you have not anticipated or intended?
  • Trying to understand someone else’s reality or perspective, even if you think you disagree with or don’t like them?
  • Trying something different?
  • Re-thinking your usual assumptions (about yourself, others and the world)?
  • The truth that we are all equally important?
  • The possibility that there are some things we’ll never understand?
  • The possibility that we are not supposed to understand or control everything?

How’d you do with the question list above?  Did you answer Yes to most, if not all of the questions?  How long did it take you to answer each question?  When was the last time you really stopped to reconsider your perspective or opinion and actually shifted your tack?

Perhaps you are not as open as you think if you:

  • Answered Yes to pretty much every question and/or
  • Spent less than a couple of seconds thinking about each question and/or
  • Can’t remember a recent example of shifting your perspective

So this quiz is more about how you took the test, rather than the test itself.  If you think you passed the quiz but actually failed it, don’t feel bad.  I would’ve done the same thing for most of  my life.  In fact, I probably would’ve skipped most of the quiz and went straight to the answer.

I guess what I’m saying is Are you open to the possibility that you are actually closed in some way?

Can You Spare Some Change?

“The only constant is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.”  — Isaac Asimov

Change* is inevitable.  Change is hard.  Change is scary.  Change is difficult.  Or does it really have to be hard, scary and difficult?  Maybe change can be a joyous, wonderful discovery?

We often make unexamined assumptions about the events in our lives and their likely consequences.  But I have been proven wrong about my assumptions so many times that I’ve come to the conclusion that our assumptions are really just choices based on whether we view events with optimism or pessimism.  We too frequently mindlessly buy-into sometimes counterproductive positions such as “change is hard/scary” when we can really choose a healthier interpretation of an inevitable or necessary change.

These mindless assumptions we make are also self-fulfilling.  If we assume change will be hard, then our resistance to the inevitable or to making a necessary change just makes the transition more difficult.

“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.” M. Scott Peck

I don’t believe I have been any more change-receptive or change-adverse than the next gal.  Most of the time it took fairly drastic measures to break through my denial and allow me to see that the consequences of maintaining the status quo was worse than the change itself. Only then could I do or accept what was inevitable or necessary.   This was true pretty true much across all aspects of my life – nothing was immune from my denial.

But each time, I have found when I have made a necessary change (or accepted the inevitable), it was never as bad as I expected.  In fact, there were instances when the change was so profoundly liberating that I could not imagine in hindsight why I was so resistant to the change in the first place.  Clearly, I was the one making the change unnecessarily difficult.

My most recent major change was divorce after a 20 year marriage.  The degree of liberation I felt, both physically, mentally, emotionally and psychologically was unbelievable.   In my wildest fantasies I could not have predicted how much better I’d feel, and that I could channel that time and energy to explore and invest in myself and discover my life’s passion.  I felt like I was reborn and 10 years younger.

So here’s the problem with resisting change:  During my state of resisting, I could neither envision nor be receptive to the range of opportunities that could result from the change.  If I only focus on my fear and pessimism, I will create the worst-case scenario I most fear.  If I envision and act on the best possible scenario, and am open to the unknown, I may go places beyond which I was able to dream.

“There are more places in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”  – William Shakespeare

*Other reading about change:  Change Agent, You, Growth and Change:  The Human Symphony


Change, for a change

Change, for a change

Falling Up (or, Breaking Down is Hard to Do)

alice-falling-down-rabbit-holeRecently I had another* young woman crying in my office.  She had been in an ongoing conflict with another student, and the resulting discussions had her feeling completely off-balance and unsure.   Like everyone else who is surprised to find herself in a bad situation, she has participated in the dynamic with good intentions and a belief that she is not responsible for the conflict.  She was In the Box with her classmate but didn’t know it.

When we told her she was equally responsible for the tension that had been escalating in the lab, she was caught completely by surprise.  She felt she was being treated completely unfairly, that this was in no way her fault.   Despite her protestations, she was now having trouble working and concentrating, seemed to be in an ongoing tailspin, and could see no way out of her growing despair.

Her situation reminded me of the times in my life that I felt the same way, though sometimes to different degrees.  Once when I really felt like I had hit rock bottom was right around the time I was going up for promotion.  I had spent the previous six years as part of a dual-career marriage with two small children at home, trying to survive – no, succeed – in the publish-or-perish academic game of roulette.  The stakes were either tenure or my walking papers, with no middle ground.

Unfortunately I was not managing the work-life balance at all.  My health was down the tubes, my marriage was seriously on the rocks, though work was progressing well enough.  I didn’t realize I had a problem until one day, out of the blue, I just burst into tears while walking down the street.  In hindsight, I was probably depressed and creating my chronic pain conditions from my out-of-control stress.  Clearly, my self-awareness was nil and my denial absolute.  My lack of awareness meant I was probably taking out my stress, frustration and resentment on those around me while thinking I was being helpful and loving.

At the time, I felt my situation was hopeless:  I was stuck in a ridiculously demanding job and in an unhappy marriage with no end in sight to my miserable situation.  I did not feel I could change jobs or get a divorce with two elementary school-aged children at home.  I had no one I could really talk to since I rarely felt safe sharing my vulnerabilities with others.  I was on my own.

The breakdown was one of the best things to ever happen to me.   Hitting rock bottom was the beacon that broke through my denial about my life and my role in creating my situation.  I soon realized that I was at a crossroads:  to either continue my blame and denial game, or to do whatever it takes to fix my life.  Continuing to feel that bad did not feel like an option so I pulled myself together and made a plan to regain my sanity and save my family.

That decision caused me to begin a lifelong journey of introspection, self-care and self-discovery that has led me to find my life’s passion.  I am grateful that this crash occurred while I was still relatively young.  The crash forced me to get off a negative and destructive path and instead, to follow the light.

When facing a set-back, a disaster, a change, no matter how bad or hopeless it seems, we all have a choice.  We can either choose to continue our downward spiral or to view the event as an opportunity to grow and improve.  Shawn Achor, in his book The Happiness Advantage, calls this choice falling up, i.e. creating opportunities out of setbacks.  Falling up is a hallmark of successful people.

Thus, I told my student that I’m really happy this happened to her while she’s in school with supportive people here to help her, since a conflict of this nature was inevitable given her false self-image.  I also felt she was lucky that this happened to her at such a young age as I was at least a decade older when I was first forced to really confront my demons and finally set out on a healthy, happy journey.

I’m not sure yet but I think my student has decided that she will fall up too.  I will be here to fall with her, either way.

*This is a surprisingly frequent occurrence in my office, but since criers usually come back to talk some more I have to assume that I am not the source of their tears.