Making Good Choices

Creative people are curious, flexible, persistent, and independent with a tremendous spirit of adventure and a love of play.” – Henri Matisse

Yesterday we were driving to Parkour camp when Miss O said, “I really like Coach Kurt because he’s always teaching us about making good choices. Which is important in Parkour.” Then after a short pause she added, “I think it might be really important in life.”

Parkour derives its name from the French phrase meaning obstacle course. A year into the pandemic, I think I would have signed Miss O up for any in-person class that gave her an outlet to use all the extra energy building up from having to do online Kindergarten but I was fortunate enough to make the good choice of Parkour.

Watching the kids learn Parkour, it appears that they are just running, vaulting, climbing, and dodging. But what Coach Kurt as the founder of his Parkour training company and his other coaches seem to be emphasizing is that we have choices in how we navigate an environment. Social emotional learning shows up in most curricula for kids these days but as I digested Miss O’s statement, it struck me just how much she was learning… from play.

Thinking about this sent me to my copy of Gifts of Imperfection by author and researcher Brené Brown. She cites the work of psychiatrist Dr. Stuart Brown about the benefits of play as derived from his research and work in the fields of biology, neurology and psychology. “Brown explains that play shapes our brain, helps us foster empathy, helps us navigate complex social groups, and is at the core of creativity and innovation.”

More than that, Brené Brown’s entire book is on the choices we make in life and how cultivating the right things can help us to live more whole-heartedly, as she terms it. “Wholehearted living is about engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness.” It is all about making the right choices in life, to build on Miss O’s statement. Here are the ten guideposts that Brené offers:

Guidepost #1: Cultivating Authenticity: Letting Go of What People Think

Guidepost #2: Cultivating Self-Compassion: Letting Go of Perfectionism

Guidepost #3: Cultivating a Resilient Spirit: Letting Go of Numbing and Powerlessness

Guidepost #4: Cultivating Gratitude and Joy: Letting Go of Scarcity and Fear of the Dark

Guidepost #5: Cultivating Intuition and Trusting Faith: Letting Go of the Need for Certainty

Guidepost #6: Cultivating Creativity: Letting Go of Comparison

Guidepost #7: Cultivating Play and Rest: Letting Go of Exhaustion as a Status Symbol and Productivity as Self-Worth

Guidepost #8: Cultivating Calm and Stillness: Letting Go of Anxiety as a Lifestyle

Guidepost #9: Cultivating Meaningful Work: Letting Go of Self-Doubt and ‘Supposed To’

Guidepost #10: Cultivating Laughter, Song and Dance: Letting Go of Being Cool and ‘Always in Control’

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown

(Anyone interested in these guideposts might want to take the assessment that Brené Brown offers for free on her website.)

Thinking about how we are always making choices on how to navigate this obstacle course of life, I think Miss O summed it up that it’s important to make good ones. Or at least the choices that are meaningful to us. So when I saw Coach Kurt at Parkour camp yesterday, I made the choice to pause and tell him what my daughter had learned from this company and curriculum he so thoughtfully has put together. With glittering eyes he thumped his hand to his heart a couple of times and then said, “Thank you for sharing that with me.”

(featured photo from Pexels)

No Name Calling

Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.” – Winston Churchill

About ten days ago, a week before my daughter’s elementary school let out for the summer, there was a school Field Day where the entire student body of 400 kids played games at 28 stations to earn food and prizes. They were looking for volunteers so I tended the soccer kick station with another parent.

It was an easy 10 feet kick into a goal. We had a lot of kids come by – Kindergartners who had feet about the size of a deck of cards, differently abled kids that came by with their instructional aides, and most of the student body including the 5th graders who looked like they were ready to take on the world.

Everyone was displaying great spirits until one girl, perhaps in the 4th grade came by with a friend and gave the ball a kick. I shouted “Wuhoo” and she said, “Don’t say ‘Wuhoo.’ I’m a failure.” And I said that she kicked the ball with lots of strength and she repeated, “I’m a failure.”

Her ball hadn’t gone in (we didn’t really require that) but most kids could get it in, even the little Kindergartners. So I gave it her the ball again and said, “Kick it again.” And she did – without even really trying and it didn’t go in. She said, “See, I’m a failure.”

I was flummoxed. Her assertation that she was a failure was a wall that seemed to keep everything from going in. With that up, it didn’t seem like anything could penetrate.

With the first post I wrote about confidence, I can, I quoted author and psychiatrist Neel Burton who distinguished confidence from similar concepts by explaining confidence is feeling “I can,” self-esteem is feeling “I am” and pride is the feeling of “I did.”

When the little girl came to the soccer kick station, she both asserted that she couldn’t and that she was a failure. And once that was in the air it seemed to operate like a foregone conclusion for which there was no quick fix.

Because we can fail over and over again and still be confident. Here are some examples.

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan

Failure is only an opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” – Henry Ford

A woman who never gives up can’t fail.” – Abby Wambach

The distinction seems to lie between admitting we’ve failed without calling ourselves a failure. I hadn’t thought much about that small difference until I heard researcher and author, Brené Brown tell a story about when her daughter was in pre-school. The pre-school teacher told Brené that one day after Brené’s daughter had been doing art at the glitter table the teacher said to her, “You are a mess.” And the daughter retorted, “I might be messy right now but I’m not a mess.”

In the retelling, Brené laughed and said that her roots as a shame researcher were visible. We can describe our current situation without calling ourselves names. No name calling is a rule in my household since I heard that story, and I apply that to the conversations I have with myself as well.

My daughter overheard me telling my mom about the little girl who called herself a failure at Field Day and was fascinated by the story. It was a great opportunity to talk with her about what happens if we believe the names we call ourselves. I hope the ripple effect is that she won’t call herself names and maybe even say something if she hears someone else doing it.

This is my fifth post about confidence. Here are the others:

I Can

Fear and Confidence

Growth Mind-set

Bossy Pants – Confidence and Leadership

Fear and Confidence

Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.” – George Adair

The other night our iPad fell on the ground. My kids and I were getting in the car after visiting my brother and his wife. My brother folded the stroller and the iPad that my 6-year-old daughter always uses fell out of the pocket and landed on its corner. We picked it up and went on our way but as we drove, my daughter discovered that the power button had been slightly crimped down by the fall and so all the iPad would do was show the Apple icon and then go black over and over again.

This iPad is her favorite thing in the world. It represents her agency in the world to discover things that other 6-year-olds are doing. It has her books, videos and games so it is also her main source of entertainment. That iPad holds a lot of power and possibility in one sleek package.

She started wailing in the backseat that it was broken. I calmly said, “Don’t worry, I’ll take a look at it when we get home. We’ll try to fix it.” And she wailed back, “We can’t try. It won’t work.”

What?? We fix things all the time. This was the little girl that just an hour before had confidently stood up on a paddle board and was paddling it by herself on Lake Union. And then she was jumping off the paddle board over and over into the lake to swim around with not a worry in the world.

And now she was saying we couldn’t even try. That all was lost. Everything was broken and would stay broken. This wasn’t normal or rational, this was fear.

It struck me that confidence can’t show up when fear is running the show. So in my ongoing inquiry into confidence, I went digging in to get some perspective into this.

In their book The Confidence Code, authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman distill the definition of confidence from all their sources of research and erudition into “Confidence is the stuff that turns thoughts into action.” They also describe the other positive attributes that often go hand in hand with confidence, what they label as the confidence cousins: self-esteem, optimism, self-compassion, and self-efficacy. But all of these things, confidence and the cousins that work to create belief that you can make something happen, are part of our rational/thinking brain.

Neuropsychiatrist Dan Siegel and parenting expert Tina Payne Bryson have great illustrations in their book The Whole-Brained Child that illustrate how fear is a downstairs (limbic) brain function and that when we flip our lids, we temporarily lose access to the upstairs brain that supports thinking. The downstairs brain that provides quick reaction so when we are in critical moments of fight of flight doesn’t stop to think about it.

So in our moments of fear we lose, maybe just momentarily, access to the stuff that creates confidence until we move though it. This brought to mind for me of one of the rapid fire questions Brené Brown often asks her guests on her podcast Unlocking Us: “You are called to be very brave but your fear is real and you can feel it in your throat, what is the very first thing do you do?” And the answers from her guests are things like:

  • Oprah: “Take a deep breath. Remind myself to breathe.
  • Dr. Angus Fletcher: “I think of the bravest person I know who happens to be my son who is much, much braver than me.
  • Dr. Julie Gottman: “Put my hand on my heart.

Coming back to my daughter in the car I asked her if what she was saying was because she was afraid of losing her iPad. She said she guessed it was. And owning that, we then could reason through the fact that the only sure outcome was the one if we didn’t try. If we did nothing, the iPad would stay broken. So we had nothing to lose by trying.

Sure enough, we got home, fiddled with the button and it came back to life. The button is a little tricky now but our confidence is restored. We could try – and it worked. As the quote for this post says, and it is one of my all-time favorite quotes because it has gotten me through many barriers of my own making, “Everything you’ve always wanted is on the other side of fear.

This is my second post delving into confidence. I Can was the first.

(featured photo from Pexels)

An Honest Mistake

Make your ego porous. Will is of little importance, complaining is nothing, fame is nothing. Openness, patience, receptivity, solitude is everything.” – Rainier Maria Rilke

I wrote a post for today to celebrate one year of doing a post every day. Then I looked back at my posts to confirm whether it was May 19th or May 18th when I started the practice, I found that I skipped a post on June 11th. Damn! If I hadn’t looked, I could have posted my victory lap and it would have been an honest mistake but once I knew, then I couldn’t celebrate because it became a dishonest mistake.

Not that I think anyone who reads the blog would have noticed. In fact, there could be some followers who wished I skipped more than one day, if you know what I mean… 😉

But somehow it matters to me because I think that if I’m going to go to the effort to write about my life, I might as well be as honest as I can be. I’m sure I have blind spots that keep me from seeing who I am in totality but at the very least I can not believe the BS my brain produces when I see it. Because when I do buy into the fiction, it just wraps one more layer between me and my experience of life that keeps me from feeling the beautiful, joyful, and yes, sometimes gritty reality.

I dated a guy when I was in my early 30’s who was always telling me what a nice guy he was. He’d usually say that as an addendum to a story he’d be relating from work or his first marriage that involved a kerfuffle of some sort. And because he got into a lot of disagreements that related to him needing to be in control or not listening very well, he had to tell me quite often what a nice guy he was. I think he really thought of himself that way but (and this probably goes without saying) I think that he was many things good and bad but objectively speaking, he wasn’t that nice of a guy.

Reflecting on the relevance of this to life, I went looking through Brené Brown’s book Atlas of the Heart to find the section on Places We Go To Self-Assess. There are three definitions offered there:

Pride: Pride is a feeling of pleasure or celebration related to our accomplishments or efforts.”

Hubris: Hubris is an inflated sense of one’s own innate abilities that is tied more to the need for dominance than to actual accomplishments.”

Humility: Humility is openness to new learning combined with a balanced and accurate assessment of our contributions, including our strengths, imperfections, and opportunities for growth.”

I loved that Brené Brown includes that word humility derives from the Latin word meaning groundedness. So I’m practicing humility to try to accurately assess my blogging contribution and opportunities for growth until I actually reach the 365 days of posting. And then I’ll celebrate the milestone with pride, not hubris, I hope!

Anyone else meet a “nice” guy that wasn’t? Or discovered an honest mistake recently?

(featured photo from Pexels)

The Inner Hustler

We drink the poison our minds pour for us and wonder why we feel so sick.” – Atticus

I woke up this morning in a sheer panic at 5am worried about money. Getting up at that time isn’t unusual but the panic is. And I wasn’t worried about money now – I was worried about money in 6 months for no particularly good reason because as a self-employed person (or maybe even an employed person), the future that far out is never possible to see.

Sitting on the meditation cushion 15 minutes later, I went diving to find the source of the panic. As I peeled back the layers, I kept stumbling on the idea that I hadn’t been working hard enough.

Taking two days off to take care of Mr. D as he’s recovered from his cough had been enough to awaken my inner hustler. And this beast was telling me I wasn’t keeping up with my hustle for self-worth.

I find it so insidious that the more work I do to meditate and be aware of my internal state, the more I sometimes have to face the things that are as natural as breathing. Hustling for self-worth being one of them. As the daughter of two parents with a strong Protestant work-ethic, I like to say that I come by my productivity panic honestly.

Sure, I have to be responsible for my little family and that means constantly juggling trade-offs and boundaries as they relate to the work I do. But managing practicalities is a completely different reality from appeasing my inner hustler – you know the one that tells me that I have to DO something to be WORTH something.

Looking for some perspective on this panic, I found this passage from The Gifts of Imperfection by researcher, professor and author Brené Brown. “We convince ourselves that if we stay busy enough and keep moving, reality won’t be able to keep up. So we stay in front of the truth about how tired and scared and confused and overwhelmed we sometimes feel. Of course, the irony is that the thing that’s wearing us down is trying to stay out in front of feeling worn down.”

The remedy that Brené prescribes for letting go productivity as self-worth is cultivating play and rest. She quotes psychiatrist, clinical researcher and author Dr. Stuart Brown, “Play helps us deal with difficulties, provides a sense of expansiveness, promotes mastery of our craft, and is an essential part of the creative process.”

Play, as in activities that have no purpose, isn’t a part of my life that I have been focusing on even though I have two very willing playmates. I count this morning’s panic as my wake-up call to incorporate more of it.

(featured photo from Pexels)

Do One Thing Well

A year from now, what will I wish I had done today?” – unknown

Deep into the section on expectations in Brené Brown’s book Atlas of the Heart, I had a huge a-ha moment. She was talking about a conversation with her husband in which they both confessed to each other that they had an easier time parenting on the weekends they did it solo. Because they set aside their expectations to be able to do anything other than parent for that weekend.

This put a shape to the experience I have had as a single parent. Because I never expect that someone else will take the night shift or be there on the weekend, I have had to set really clear boundaries on the work and hobbies that I do because I know I won’t be able to duck out for a couple of hours.

That means that nights and weekends, I pretty much focus on hanging out with my kids. I do get a few chores around the house done with their “help.” The tradeoff for giving up Saturday morning hiking with my friends has been the gift of not believing I can try to do both things.

I know many of my parenting friends do an incredibly great job of splitting up the parental labor. One person will do the 9am-noon shift on Saturdays so that the other can go swimming and then they switch and the other gets “time off.” I have a pretty good inkling that if I was doing parenting with a partner that I would try for that approach and be a lot more confused about what I could handle.

I don’t know who said “Do one thing at a time and do it well.” My mom? Winnie-the-Pooh? Or maybe it’s not ascribed to a particular person because everyone who has learned the wisdom repeats it. When I wrote the post a couple of weeks ago about being invited to climb a mountain this summer, so many of my dear and wise blogging friends reminded me that parenting goes fast and there will likely be time to return to my hobbies later.

I believe that at some point I will have a partner again and more personal freedom. However, there isn’t anything I would trade for this uncomplicated time where I learned to really spend time with my children and enjoy it. Sometimes not having help forces us to distinctly draw boundaries we wouldn’t know to set otherwise.

(featured photo from Pexels)

At the Core

Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t — you’re right.” – Henry Ford

Last weekend we drove about 15 minutes down to Shilshole Bay on Puget Sound to see a dock where sea lions like to congregate. It was packed with sea lions – usually a dozen on the dock and I counted a least a dozen more swimming in the water.

Every once in a while, a sea lion would launch itself out of the water in an attempt to land on the dock. The new weight would make the dock roll one way or the other causing all the sea lions to bark. But there was one sea lion in the center who was doing most of the work to keep the dock level. It would lift its head high and shift its weight this way or that to stabilize the dock again.

It made me think of how impactful what is at the center is. As I was pondering what was at my core, Life, in that beautiful way that sometimes happens, delivered the answers to the question I’d just uncovered. In this case it was through the latest the Unlocking Us podcast about living into our values. In it, Brené Brown had an exercise to determine our core values.

Her research shows that when in a tight spot, most people call on their one or two go-to values. So on her site, there is a pdf of about 120 values. Her recommended approach was to circle the ones that called to you and then distill them to the two values that encompass what is central for you. It may change over time but this exercise was to identify what is key for right now.

Doing the exercise, I came up with faith and usefulness. Faith, which for me encapsulates confidence, courage, adventure, integrity, spirituality, openness, love, optimism and gratitude. Usefulness I thought did a good job of rolling up my other values of reliability, learning, kindness, growth, family, and independence,.

Over the years I’ve done a lot of work to strengthen my physical core. It has enabled me to carry heavy loads up mountains and I feel it most now when I hoist my toddler onto my shoulders. But thinking about my core values, faith and usefulness, I realize that they are what I go to again and again to power me when I have to dig deep. Like with the sea lions, when I am living into my values, they are the center that brings me back to level when the world is rocking.

Expectations

You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” – Mark Twain

On Friday, I was so excited to spend a morning with my toddler whose preschool was closed for a teacher in-service day. His sister had her last day of school before the holiday break so it would just be the two of us. I expected that he would soak up all the individual attention and enjoy all the fun we could cook up. I expected it would be a lot like spending time with my daughter when she was two-years-old and it was just the two of us.

What actually happened is that he spent the whole morning missing his sister and coming up with ideas like biking. I was happy to oblige only to find out the only route that he wanted to go was the one to his sister’s school so we could go get her. He wouldn’t listen to reason that it was too early to pick her up (after all, he is two-years-old) and my patience was frayed by not only his disappointment but also my own.

You know what they say – expectations are a bitch.

So I opened Dr. Brené Brown’s recently published book Atlas of the Heart to the section entitled “Places We Go When Things Don’t Go as Planned”

She does a beautiful job of defining disappointment – “Disappointment is unmet expectations. The most significant the expectation, the more significant the disappointment.”

And then she delves into expectations. The whole section is so illuminating but here is the part that caught my eye:

“When we develop expectations, we paint a picture in our head of how things are going to be and how they’re going to look. Sometimes we go so far as to imagine how they’re going to feel, taste and smell. That picture we paint in our minds holds great value for us. We set expectations based not only on how we fit in that picture, but also on what those around us are doing in that picture. This means that our expectations are often set on outcomes totally beyond our control, like what other people think, what they feel or how they’re going to react. The movie in our mind is wonderful, but no one else knows their parts, their lines, or what it means to us.”

Dr. Brené Brown – Atlas of the Heart

And the antidote to this disappointment? “Communicating our expectations is brave and vulnerable. And it builds meaningful connection and often leads to having a partner or friend who we can reality-check with.”

Reading over this, I thought of all the expectations that come with holidays – like that someone else will love the gift you got them or that loved ones will be able to perfectly see what you most desire and give that to you as a gift.  With little ones, I expect that they will treasure the gifts I spent time and money to get them – and not just the box that it came in!

While I couldn’t reality check my expectations about our morning together with my two-year-old, thinking through this process has helped me immensely to uncover my own hidden expectations. And then to recognize in turn how they lead to disappointment. It also made me see that my expectations that he will ever have moments of acting like a first child are completely silly. This helps me relax into the beautiful relationship that we do have so I can enjoy the time we have together for what it is, not what I imagine it should be.

Foreboding Joy

Wear gratitude like a cloak and it will feed every corner of your life.” – Rumi

Standing side by side yesterday with my 82-year-old mom as I made Thanksgiving dinner and she made the apple pie, I felt the physical presence of gratitude: the warm heart, the loving hands, the palpable sense of how many years we’ve been doing this. It, combined with the sounds of my kids playing in the other room with my friends, would have brought me to my knees in a prayer of thanks had my hands not been covered with turkey.

As I counted my many blessings in that moment, I couldn’t help but feel that pang of fear. What if something changes? It was the counter punch of foreboding joy.

It was such a relief when I started listening to the work of researcher, educator, author Brené Brown when she talked about the fact that we all stand over our babies at night or loved ones in a vulnerable moment and feel that seizure of heart that is “what if something happened to them?” And more so, her research that says giving in to the foreboding joy but trying not to enjoy it too much doesn’t work.

In fact, the only thing that works is to be grateful. Which in the midst of Thanksgiving seemed like a perfect full circle thing to remember.

So I’m grateful I know that other people feel this. And that it doesn’t mean that something bad is going to happen.

I’m grateful I know that I don’t need crisis to change. Because I associate the foreboding with my past when things fell apart so they could come together again. I’ve come to recognize that I can both keep evolving and handle things as they come.

I’m grateful that even the day after Thanksgiving, what I’m grateful for is still at the fore.

I’ve heard Brené give the example of a man who she interviewed as part of her research. He talked about losing his wife of 40 years after a car accident. He regretted holding back even a little bit of love so that he wouldn’t lose it all if something happened to her. Because when something did, all he thought was that he should have enjoyed it all more.

I’m carrying that story with me as we move into the Christmas season and all that’s good ahead.

Trust Me

Forget injuries, never forget kindnesses.” – Confucius

My toddler has learned to say, “Help me” when he needs assistance. He pronounces it with a soft “h” so it comes out “elp me” but it still is very effective at signaling when he wants help opening or moving something.

What’s fascinating to me is that even at 2 ¼ years of age, he is already learning some selectiveness of who he wants help from. He’s happy to let his older sister help him open pouches (those packets of apple sauce he can squeeze out and drink down) and fruit snacks because she doesn’t like those and never takes a cut off the top. But he does not want her to help him open candy or toys because she often takes a sample first.

Watching these two, it’s like they are illustrating the concepts of trust from the recently aired Brené Brown Dare to Lead podcast with author and leadership coach, Charles Feltman entitled Trust: Building, Maintaining and Restoring It.

Charles Feltman’s definition of trust is: “choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions.” Wow – I had to listen to that one twice.

And when we choose to trust another person or company, we not only expect that they’ll take care of what we value but do it how and when we want. This makes me think not only of many examples from my career but also of the precious few clothes that I take to the dry cleaners and entrust them to take care of them, clean them and get them back to me on time.

Charles Feltman colors the definition in with several additional factors: sincerity (meaning what you say), reliability (meeting the commitments you make), competence (having the ability to do the job), care (having the other person’s best interests in mind).

The podcast had so many great examples at how we build and also destroy trust at work. Often overcommitting so that we can’t actually meet the deadline or pretending we have competence that we don’t are some of the ways we erode trust. Those descriptions brought back my first year of work after graduating college. I had been hired to build out the computer network for the local electric utility using Union labor from their Communications department. I overcommitted all the time and pretended I knew what I was doing again and again before I learned my lessons to check with the team before making promises.

But eventually my reliability and competence caught up with my care and sincerity and I was able to build and in some cases rebuild, trust. And then I moved on to manage people and experience the other side of the relationship.

All of this gives me great hope for my daughter who wants to be a big help to her brother but can get distracted by what she wants. My kids are learning to trust and to be trustworthy one interaction at a time. They don’t always get it right but they seem to learn a little bit every time they negotiate it as do the rest of us!