What Is Your Value?

We are constantly evaluating and being evaluated. Grades, applications, audits, performance indicators, reviews, evaluations, assessments, appraisals, exams, measures.

And those are the external evaluations.

We also have the constant litany of internals comparisons: Is he/she more/less successful/smart/thin/interesting/accomplished/talented/wealthy/attractive/likable/famous/stylish/better/lovable than me? Sometimes those comparisons and assessments come from others, often giving credence to our worst fears or best hopes. Sometimes we cannot even hear the value/praise or suggestions/concerns from others because our internal script is so much louder and more definitive.

Who determines our value?

It’s easy to say that we determine our own value, yet the affirmation or criticism of others often carries consequences. Even if our livelihood does not depend on that evaluation, we may attach psychological value to those opinions as if each acquaintance or loved one is literally St. Peter.

I’m not even sure it’s correct to say that we determine our own value. We all have blind spots, biases and unspoken fears which all impede our ability to make an accurate judgment of what is the epitome of “too close for objectivity.”

If the judge is not ourselves, and not others, when who?

To me, the question is moot. Our value as humans, both individually and collectively, is beyond judgment. It’s analogous to asking what is the value of a rock? One rock may not have much value, but where would we be with no rocks? Our existence is tied to that rock, to the water, the air, the mosquito and to each other. We each bring a light to the world that is precious and common at the same time.   Like the rock, we are each essential and yet dispensable. We don’t have to attach value to that. We just are.

Similarly, who am I to judge someone else? I don’t need to feel better than someone else to feel good about myself. My light and connection is not affected by how successful or talented someone else is. Yet I dim my light when I engage in jealousy, spitefulness, or contempt, so I’m only hurting myself.

I am not above such feelings, however. To be human means a constant struggle with our fears and the monologue in our head that feeds the fear. Love, gratitude, connection and forgiveness are the enemy of fear and feeds our light. And that is what I value.

Flipping Gender Stereotypes at Work

Let it be known that I completely agree with that idea that a double-standard exists regarding aggressive/assertive women at work. You know: an assertive woman is labeled aggressive (and then the B word) but an assertive male isn’t.    As an assertive woman who has been called the B word more than once, I completely resonate with the unfairness of that label.

Let me also point out, however, that the reverse is probably true. Men who are overly sensitive and emotional in a non-angry way probably tend to be labeled as soft. “Grow a pair”, “get a backbone”, and “girlie men” come to mind.   Women are rarely criticized in this manner.

So it seems to me that the issue is when someone acts outside the expected behavior of their gender. It’s not so much a female stereotype issue but rather expectations about gender roles in general.

I spent most of my life trying to conform to the expectations of others, and I can tell you that it’s neither healthy nor fun. I do not recommend that we change who we are for the purpose of making others feel at ease. Nor do I recommend that we force our style upon others, constantly challenging them to accept us on our own terms.

Aristotle once said that wisdom means finding the optimum balance.   Admittedly, part of my assertive self was more about my belief that I must be assertive in a man’s world. However, at work that belief came at the expense of my feminine, soft side.   I’ve since learned that I can be both feminine and assertive and that combination tends to make me more effective and accessible to others. Not that I’ve found the right balance yet given the feedback I still sometimes get…

So during our discussions about improving gender role expectations, perhaps those of us who sometimes go too far can find the yang to our yin and find a more effective balance.   Who knows? Maybe bringing both our yin and yang to the table will help us move the agenda forward in a way that respects others and our authenticity alike.

The Noise In Your Head

Romeo on a tear

Romeo on a tear

Do your thoughts race constantly? Do you have a hard time quieting your brain? Do you sometimes have a hard time focusing on the subject at hand?

You might be ADD, but you also may have let your mind get out of control.

My little schnauzer-poodle pup is the same way.   He will literally run in circles on the leash or chase his tail all day, probably like many of our brains. If you think about it, your brain in that state is probably as productive.

When I ask Romeo to sit or stay, he can actually do it. He can’t do it for long, but experience tells me that his ability to do so will grow with practice.

Just think what your brain can do if you practice your self-discipline. You’re not even a dog.

If you’ve gotten this far in this blog, you probably sense that your racing brain is a problem. It’s hard to focus. It’s hard to relax. It’s hard to enjoy yourself. That’s because when you’re wrapped up in your thoughts, you can’t feel your emotions. You’re either in your head, or you’re in your heart. The two can communicate, but you tend to focus only on one or the other.

By focusing on your thoughts, you may be able to ignore the sadness, despair, resentment or fear that you feel. But you are also ignoring the sense of peace, inspiration, love and joy that you feel.

Furthermore, the thoughts in our head are usually not very helpful or constructive.   Usually that voice is full of must and should statements, or statements of judgment and negativity, all of which generally create unhappiness. That unhappiness then reinforces our desire to stay in our heads and out of our hearts.   That’s an awful downward, yukky spiral.

Reverse the spiral. Go up! Yes, you may open yourself to sadness or anger, but it’s better than that emotional purgatory where your mind is trapping you. Here are a few ideas for shutting down that annoying brain:

  • Lose yourself in something you love to do – You know what that is. Go do it.
  • Do yoga – Whether you love it or not, yoga teaches one to be mindful and present with one’s body.
  • Meditate – Yada yada yada, I know you hate this, but do it anyway. Shirzad Chamine, author of Positive Intelligence advocates that we meditate 100 times per day in 10 second intervals. If you can’t sit for an hour, be mindful for 10 seconds at a time. Even Romeo can do that.
  • Be mindful – You don’t have to meditate to just be mindful with your task. Next time you take a walk (or any other activity that doesn’t require your concentration), focus on one of your senses at a time for as long as you can manage.
  • Brain dump – Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, suggests that we write without thinking for 3 minutes per day. She says it’s the equivalent of the brain dump and helps to empty the brain and creates space for thought and inspiration.
  • Connect with something greater than yourself – Pray. Commune with nature. Play with a baby. Savor the love you feel for your family. Do whatever it is that makes you feel connected.

If you commit to a practice of accessing your spirit/emotions/body rather than your mind, you may find a more peaceful, centered, and effective you. What do you have to lose? Except your mind?

Your Attention, Your Reality

Someone told me recently that they have a complete grasp on reality and they call it as they see it. The inference is that others don’t have an accurate perception of reality. And thus the beginning of endless disagreements and arguments.

In fact, there are thousands of things that we can focus on at any given moment, including what we see, smell, touch, hear or taste. We can also focus on something that’s in our mind, past, present or future. So at any given point in time, what we choose to focus on is a choice. If I’m focusing on how loudly the clock is ticking, someone else watching TV may say the clock is not loud at all. We have different realities, and we’re both right.

We also have different realities when it comes to interpreting others’ behavior. I sometimes get this weird habit of noticing how wet or dry someone’s mouth is while talking. I’m not proud of it. It doesn’t happen that often. But when it does happen, I have a hard time not focusing on it. Just like if I said, “Don’t think of white polar bears.” What are you going to do?

Likewise, if I get fixated on someone else’s positive qualities, say how smart or clever they are, then I will just marvel at how wonderful and talented they are. I will have positive emotion (admiration, inspiration, enjoyment) and will share that emotion with others vicariously.

Or I can choose to get fixated on some negative quality. It might be that they incorrectly conjugate their verbs, have their bra strap showing, or that they’re somewhat clueless to social cues.   I might even decide they are narcissistic or self-absorbed. Confirmation bias says that I will notice cues that support my theory  and ignore those that refute it.  Pretty soon, I’m digging deeper and deeper into my negative and critical belief to where pretty soon I’ve decided that person is just not a worthy human being. Contempt, disgust, resentment abound. Now what am I sharing?

Others may be completely unaware of this person’s shortcomings. Well, I have a firm grasp on reality. They do not.

So here I am, frustrated and contemptuous of someone else’s narcissism, smug in the knowledge that I know reality but others don’t. How’m I doin’?

Does this sound familiar? I’ll bet we’ve all been here at one time or another.

It’s a natural tendency. But we don’t have to be a slave to our tendencies. Instead, beware of what you notice and focus on in others. That belief and focus defines you, not them. When you find yourself focusing on someone else’s shortcomings, just catch yourself in the act and switch your perspective. Find something to admire and love in that person.  Now your reality includes people that are good, talented, kind and loving.   And that’s a much nicer world to live in.

Jumping to Conclusions

It’s oh so easy and deliciously fun to jump to conclusions about others’ motivations, especially when we can feel indignant and justified while making others out to be petty, small-minded, or selfish. We can decide they’re a jerk, an a**hole, a biyotch, or (favorite expletive) and feel superior to them.

It’s great fun until someone else does it to us.

But that’s different, we say.   We’re right.

What I’ve learned is that everyone has their perspective which is just as valid as our own, regardless of whether we understand it or agree with it.  Failure to at least try to understand someone else’s perspective can be damaging to morale and relationships and undermine a group’s effectiveness.

I have to admit that some people are particularly difficult to understand and it may be tempting to just write them off as narcissists, selfish or small-minded. And I may not always be wrong when doing so. After all, even a broken clock is right twice per day. So for all of those times (since I can’t ever really know when I’m right) when I find myself indulging in negativity, complaining, or self-justification here’s what I try to do.

First, I must acknowledge that I form some judgment or assumption when I form a conclusion.   There may be a belief attached to that. For example, if my friend is in the habit of offering something to me that she knows she cannot deliver, I may decide she’s manipulative (a judgment/assumption/conclusion). But if I examine my underlying belief (it’s her job be honest with me so that I feel safe or valued), I can see what the real issue is and have a conversation with her and/or make a decision about what her friendship is worth to me.

Second, I can examine my own role and potential hypocrisy in this situation. It’s easy to cast blame on others, but much harder to take ownership of one’s own contribution.   A great starting point for this self-reflection is as follows: if I’m accusing her of manipulation, there is probably some element of manipulation that I myself am employing such as getting mad if she doesn’t do what I want.

I also may be hiding a belief from myself that is potentially unflattering. For example, my underlying belief in the above scenario might really be that my affection for her is predicated on her doing something for me.  I may be very unwilling to admit this to myself and instead rationalize the conflict to say it’s about honesty.   I can test my assumption by asking myself whether her company alone is sufficient for me to continue our friendship. Or perhaps I pressure her to do things for me that she’s not comfortable doing? Is this her way of getting me off her back?

Finally, I can also do an exercise where I envision other reasonable explanations for her behavior. She might simply be an unrealistic and overly optimistic planner who is sincere in her offers at the time.   She might have every intention of making that promise work, but later find she’s too busy or overwhelmed.   She might be misusing one of her strengths if she’s tired or stressed out. In other words, I am now looking at my friend from the point of view of her humanity, not her failures.

These exercises are not necessarily designed to get someone else off the hook after behaving poorly. They are intended, however, to help one get a new perspective on what was previously a very one-sided internal dialogue.

There are multiple benefits to making this effort in such situations. For example, trying to see the conflict from another’s perspective will smooth the way when discussing the issue with them. You’re less likely to make her defensive if you’re not leading with an accusatory tone. Also, it’s much easier to forgive someone when you consider or realize that you have contributed an equal or significant part to the problem. And that forgiveness, as Suzanne Somers once said, is a “gift you give yourself”. That gift to yourself is peace of mind and the power to retain your equanimity and positive emotion.

Therefore, engaging in such exercises means that you can potentially be rewarded psychologically and emotionally for your efforts. Like other skills, these actions get easier with practice, as do the concomitant benefits. So what do you have to lose besides your premature conclusions and resentment?

Protecting Our Children

No matter how disappointing the behavior, I believe that everyone is doing their best.   It’s easy to judge someone else and say what they should or should not be doing.  And we may even be right.  But seeing someone else’s faults is completely different than seeing our own.

I used to be pretty critical and judgmental (and I still can go there pretty quickly): one of those ‘my sh** doesn’t stink’ kind of people.  But then I learned and accepted the fact that the qualities we tend to hate in others are the faults we hate in ourselves.  So if I say you’re judgmental and lazy, it’s really my own judgement and laziness that I hate.

So I’ve learned to shut up to avoid adding hypocrite to the list.

Doing our best notwithstanding, we have a particular responsibility toward our kids.  Our hypocrisy and judgment might roll off the back of an adult who may emerge relatively unscathed or unfazed by our criticism.  It’s completely different with children.  Those messages come loud and clear to kids, and those judgments get etched into their psyches.  In this manner, I believe our children inherit our unresolved issues and carry them into the next generation.  Until someone breaks the cycle of denial and passivity, those issues will get handed down through the generations.

Our parents came to the US to give their daughters a better life.  And they did.  We had every educational opportunity possible.  We never wanted for food, shelter or clothing.  For our children, I want to give them a better emotional and psychological start by dealing with my issues so they don’t have to.  They’ll have their education, of course, but that’s not enough for me.  I want them to have peace, tranquility and a feeling of being loved and accepted just as they are.

Not everyone is ready for this journey; I get that.  But please consider that the possibility of your hidden, unresolved issues unwittingly bleeding over to your kids is real.   We take great pains to lock our doors at night and wash our hands to keep our families safe.  You wouldn’t want to expose your family to measles, flu or MRSA, which are mostly pretty treatable and temporary.  Infecting them with a feeling they are not loved or worthy could last a lifetime and even multiple generations.

I know it’s scary to look inside and possibly find you come up short in some ways.  Know that we all do, as you probably know by looking at others.  You know those around you are struggling to be good and do good.  You forgive them (I hope) for their humanity.  Consider granting yourself that same kindness and doing the same for yourself; you’ll find your flaws are no different (better or worse) than anyone else’s.  You’ve seen it all. You know what it’s like.  So there’s nothing in there that you haven’t seen or know how to solve.  You’ve been telling others how to fix these things your whole life.  You might be surprised it’s a huge relief to deal with that nagging problem once and for all.  The irony is that once you accept your own faults, it becomes easier to accept the faults of others.

So don’t be afraid.  You have everything to gain and nothing more to lose by being brave.   As my man William Shakespeare says, “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

Life Is A Beauty Pageant

Honey Boo Boo and her Mom

Honey Boo Boo and her Mom

I had a dream the that I was asked to emcee a beauty pageant at the last minute and I was horribly unprepared.  As you can imagine, it was not pretty (haha).   At least I was not a contestant.  I’d much rather feel unprepared than come in last in a beauty pageant.

Actually, I’ve had far worse:  Being picked last for the kickball team.  Not that I blame any of those kids (how DID they always get to be the ones picking?) since if I saw myself back then, I wouldn’t pick me either.  Skinny and terrified,  I looked like I’d run away screaming from the ball if it came at me.  It didn’t take long though for them to realize that I was actually a Bad Ass kickball player.  I was never picked last again.

So I learned a valuable lesson at an impressionable age: sometimes we’re judged based on little or wrong information.  Therefore, I should not take these decisions personally.

A similar lesson was learned when I moved from Texas to California in the 80’s.  In Texas, I was completely invisible, especially to the opposite sex.  In California, that completely changed, and in fact, I was suddenly of some interest to the males there.   There was nothing magically more interesting/attractive/relevant about me when I crossed the border into California.  It was the Caucasian/blonde/blue beauty standards that changed, not me. Perception is subjective and relative, and not for me to take as some personal indictment.

So many life decisions are made for us in this manner by others.  School admissions, prospective employers, prospective mates or friends, scholarship or grant reviewers, award committees, publishers, and yes, beauty pageants are comprised of people making decisions and judgments about us based on incomplete, biased, or even inaccurate, information.

Yet we take them so personally. “I’m such a failure; I’m unwanted; I’m unattractive; I’m inferior;  I’m not good enough”.  At the same time, we may also dismiss the positive outcomes as having nothing to do with us. “I got lucky; The others were losers; He’s only interested in me because of …; They felt sorry for me.”  Either way, we find yet one more way to engage in destructive, self-limiting self-talk.

There are certainly situations where I was not selected because I wasn’t as good, as qualified, as accomplished, as pretty as the chosen one.  But most of the time, I feel that if I’m not selected, it’s truly because I was not a good fit for what they were looking for, and the outcome was as it should’ve been.

I wrote previously about how romantic chemistry has to do with finding someone who replicates your childhood wounds.  Therefore, if a male is not interested in me that way, it’s  partially because we are not a good fit.  He is not the yin to my emotional yang or visa versa.  Not a good fit, and not because I’m unattractive or flawed.  It also does not mean that I give up on trying to look my best when I leave the house or work to make myself a more interesting person.

Employers similarly are looking for a person who provides the skill set needed and fits their workplace culture. For example, I may be a shy person who prefers to write, but they may need someone outgoing who is a good talker.  A poor skill and personality fit means it would be difficult for me to be successful there.  Not a good fit, and not because I’m incompetent.  It also does not mean that I quit trying to build my skill set.

A school who does not want to admit me may be looking primarily for the best academic talent and my strengths are… elsewhere.  If academics aren’t my strongest suit, I would struggle in an environment that was so academically competitive.  Not a good fit, and not because I’m stupid.  It also doesn’t mean I stop trying to bring up my grades or hone my other talents.

Or instead of continuing to improve myself, I can just believe these decisions confirm that I’m a worthless human being, feel sorry for myself, and go on a chocolate binge.

I look back on the forks in the road of my life and sometimes wonder, “What if…?”  I don’t really know if the universe, fate, karma, or God leads us down certain paths.  However, I do know that the cumulative Yes and No decisions made on my behalf have led me to where I am now, and that place is pretty awesome.  Things have worked out pretty well despite the multitude of No’s and rejections, because there have also been plenty of Yes’s and acceptances too.  I don’t take those rejections personally any more than I take any of the successes too seriously.

I do believe that things “work out” in the end.  I also believe that the odds for a good outcome are vastly improved if I approach the process with a positive, open-minded attitude and am dedicated to finding the silver lining in a setback.   So the next time I’m asked to emcee a beauty pageant unprepared, I’ll be grateful that I’m asked only to employ my communication, positivity and relational talents on the fly, not something difficult like walking without falling while sporting 4 inch heels.