Totally Honest/ Totally Kind

My husband does executive education and works with leaders all over the world.  In his company’s leadership development programs they often use a tool called the 360 degree feedback tool.  That tool gathers information from subordinates, peers, and superiors about a person’s performance as a leader through these individuals and groups experience of them at work.  The  job of the executive coach is to give feedback; the good, the bad and and ugly about how they are doing in their role as a leader.  This can be good news and also painful to hear news that the individual needs in order to have a realistic view of their performance and to make needed changes to improve.  Without the information and a plan to execute it little change would occur.

My husband shared years ago with me his company’s philosophy for delivering this news as “totally honest/ totally kind”  and that stuck with me.  I’ve relied on this over and over as a teacher, leader, boss, family member and friend.  One incident that comes to mind is a young man who came to work on our team as a Special Education Aide.  It was his first job.  He started off strong and eager to please.  But I don’t know if he was burning the candle at both ends, working a second job or if his true nature just started to shine through.  More and more often he was found texting on his cell phone or checking facebook while he was supposed to be a role model working with a student or group of special needs students.  The final straw for me was one day during my math class, he laid his head down on the desk while being responsible for a small group relying on him to lead the lesson.  As students rotated through the three stations, each group found him in a new position: head down on his crossed arms-face to the table, arm stretched across the table, head lying on it on  and so on.  I had to keep asking him to sit up. Before we let him go (he still had substitute status) he decided to move on to a new job site.

Months later he asked us if he could come back.  He was a likable person, and my teammates were willing to give him another chance.  I wasn’t interested.  My vice principal was a friend of this young man’s and encouraged me to let him return. I expressed my objections to the VP and somehow although I had asked that it be confidential (not saying it wasn’t), that young man showed up in my classroom that same day to talk to me about returning.

Being put on the spot,  I could have been irritated about the confidentiality request being broken, or just told the young man how it was…which is what ended up happening (using what I had learned from my husband’s work at Center for Creative Leadership (CCL)).  The young man asked me about returning and I shared that I was reluctant.   I gave him the opportunity to learn why, but made it clear  it was his choice.  I wouldn’t force the bad news on him.  He expressed that he  wanted to know.  “Totally honest/ totally kind.”  I didn’t need to give him the bad news in a way that expressed irritation, dislike, or that he was less than due to his past behavior.  I shared with him the reasons I was reluctant, citing examples. I shared with him about how strongly he had started off and how pleased we were initially with his enthusiasm and willingness to learn.  I also shared the ways in which he had let us and the students he had joined our team to serve down.  I was kind and honest. We talked about his cell phone usage, facebook checking, lack of engagement with students and then the final straw of lying down while he was suppose to be co-teaching a math lesson. I checked in with him regularly (reading his body cues) as to whether he would like to continue and he expressed that he would.  Never was there a time when the bad news became a personal attack on character.

Another thing I learned from CCL when I went through their leadership development program was, SBI…Situation, Behavior and Impact. We stuck to the facts of the behavior and their impact on the role he was there to fulfill.  When we ended he had a clear understanding of what had gone wrong, I understood what he liked about our site and team and why he wanted to return and we came to an agreement about what the standard was that he would be held to if he chose to return.  After consideration, we got word that he’d chosen not to return.  Our team has a reputation for being innovators and for delivering a special education program that  we, our site and our district take a lot of pride in.  He made the choice that was right for him.

These tools from CCL have applications not only  in our work, but also in  our relationships with family, friends and our children.  Withholding our emotions or letting our frustrations get personal can have harmful effects on relationships

John Gottman (The 7 Principles for Making Marriage Work), was able to predict with over 94% accuracy whether a marriage would last or not and one of the tools used was observing how couples fight and how they make up.  Turning the bad news into a personal attack on another’s character  was an  indicator that things weren’t going to work out so well. The mode of delivery matters.

Similarly, withholding our feelings about what makes us upset and not processing it can be just as harmful.  In an article in Psychology Today on Emotional Fitness,  Dr. Barton Goldsmith states,  “When we choose to bury our feelings, we act differently. We may not make ourselves available to others and may withdraw, or just not be fully engaged when we do spend time with other people. …. When you express how you really feel (in an appropriate manner), problems get solved, relationship issues get resolved, and life is easier.”

Life is better when we have authentic encounters.  Withholding the bad news for an employee is also withholding the keys to growth for them.  When we understand what went wrong, we’re empowered to make needed change. Total honesty/ Total kindness doesn’t mean we express every personal grievance and pour out all of our thoughts and feelings…but it’s a powerful tool for examining our own motives and for sharing those things that allow us to develop and nurture authentic and meaningful relationships.

I’m not always good at these things, but knowing them and attempting to practice them is  a step in the right direction.  As my family struggles to recover from the grief of the past year, we’re all realing in how to connect and care for ourselves and one another.  It’s not easy.   None  of us anticipated finding our lives taking such a tragic turn so swiftly. And as our families grow and expand, it becomes more difficult to find the time to nurture and maintain relationships. Assuming the best of others, sharing what we’re going through when we’re able, listening and practicing patience for one another are tools that can help see us through this time of heartache.  Honesty coupled with  kindness can go hand in hand.


Don’t Bury Your Feelings: Psychology Today

You Can Rewrite Your History

As young adults, when my sisters and I got together we would often talk crap about our mom and her parenting.  We had plenty of crap to talk about.  My mom hadn’t always given her best when it came to parenting.  Once anyone of us looked old enough to fend for ourselves she left us to do just that, and additionally left our younger siblings in our care.  None of us was adult enough to do a good job and we all suffered because of it.  

But every life has millions of experiences and opportunities to create memories. The memories we were using to define our lives weren’t the only ones we had.  There were the days when our mom just wanted to be with us.  She would take us places like Old Town just to hang out (it still holds a special place in my heart). She would celebrate our birthdays with us individually and cook a meal of our choice for dinner.  We created family traditions that I still hold dear and have passed along to my children. There was never a time when we doubted that we were loved.  I still remember a day in high school when I purposely stomped through rain puddles on my walk to school and then turned around and headed home. Cold, wet  and manipulative,  I got a day with her all to myself. I treasured those memories.

My mom’s life had plenty of it’s own heartaches that as young women we hadn’t yet acknowledged.  She had a broken heart.  She was in love and betrayed by my step dad over and over again.  So many nights his late and rowdy entry into our home would wake us from a deep sleep. The arguing would start and his persistent drunkenness would permeate the walls and our souls. I remember one night I woke to the sound of his car screeching across the front lawn. The car door and the front door slamming open and shut.  Sounds of the kitchen drawer being rifled through reverberated down the hall to my top bunk shelter.  These were followed by my mom pleading with him to stop.  I crept into the hall just in time to see him push my mom aside and vanish into the night; large butcher knife in hand.

I don’t know when exactly it happened but at some point we stopped telling horror stories of our childhood. These were replaced with memories of our good times: go carting, picnics, camping trips, drives across country. We established an adult loving relationship with our mom. And suddenly our history was different.  It was no longer overshadowed by our disgruntled voices.

How and what we focus our attention on can define our experience.  We all  know the phrase “the glass is half full or half empty.  But what if it’s both.  We tend to remember “emotionally charged events” over boring, mundane ones”.  Those negative experiences we had growing up are only part of the story.  When we begin looking for the good, we often can find those memories as well.  

What about you?  When have you looked through the glass half empty to the other side, acknowledged the  rest of the story and rewritten your own history?

Managing a Full Stop

I can see why some people have a hard time wrapping themselves around the idea of retirement.  I’m three school days away from summer break and my calendar goes from slammed to empty all in one day. Frankly,(while I get excited about it) it also kind of freaks me out.  Last night, I threw a great party for a friend of mine and had another one at school for my graduates yesterday. I’ve been scrambling about writing end of the year plans, cleaning my classroom, doing grades, etc..  Adrenaline is constantly coursing through my veins.  My new Apple watch regularly interrupts my busyness to tell me to breath.  

When I’m at work, I often think about just wanting more time to myself and how I wish I could stay home more and enjoy my house.  But now I’m here, and I don’t know how to be still.  The party is over and I’ve been moving about non-stop cleaning, washing, putting things away, and everywhere I go (garage, bedroom, backyard)  I get distracted by another thing to do.  Now I’m ready for a rest,  for fun, and I have time. The deal is, I haven’t trained myself very well to slow down.  I use to wake up every morning and stretch out across the sofa, cup of coffee in hand and  look out over the mountains and the valley.  I wasn’t there long, but it was a pause.  But now from the time the alarm goes off at 6:00am until I stop myself around 9 or 10pm, I’m full speed.

So now this 2 month break is days away and I need it.  It’s been the hardest year of my life.  And I want it.  My fear is that I will fill it with things like cleaning the garage, or television.  That somehow it will pass and I will have missed it.  I don’t want to miss it.  My plan for making sure I don’t is to schedule and fill my calendar again, but with  different kinds of activities than during the school year.  I have friends I want to hang out with,  stories to share, and books to read.  I want to sit quietly and journal overlooking the ocean. I want to ride my bike, paddle board,  and take vacations with my husband Doug and be present.  That’s the thing.  I want to be present…not just for summer, but for all of my days.  For that to happen, I need to learn how to be still sometimes.  I started meditating about a year ago.  I love it, but when I need it most, I’m not very good at acting on it.  I learned in a training this year the phrase, that “practice doesn’t make perfect,” but that “practice makes permanent.”  So all the things I love, the things that help create meaning, peace, more joy and wellness in my life… summertime is practice time.  Practice with the hope that when life’s demands start flying at me again, new habits will be ingrained and permanent.  I’m not naive.  I know stress and demands will resurface…but practicing the tools to manage them now is my best hope for building wellness as a lifetime habit.

Celebrate How Far You’ve Come Before You Head Off to Where You’re Going

I just got a text from a friend and staff member Maggie, thanking me for flowers and a card we gave her at our team meeting this morning, honoring her upcoming graduation.  She thanked me for recognizing her and for encouraging her to celebrate her hard work.

Maggie is a single mom, like I was, putting herself through college while trying to raise her children and earn a living.  I’ve been there and I know how much sacrifice has gone into accomplishing this milestone.  She didn’t have plans to attend her graduation ceremony and I’ve been encouraging her to go. She had downplayed the importance since it’s “just” community college ,and her Associated Degree, and no one would really want to sit there for two hours.  It’s not “Just”!  Maggie has two kids, a daughter in high school and a 4th grade son who have also sacrificed time with mom, home cooked meals, clean laundry…who knows what else, while she persevered.  Excelled would be more accurate.  Her kids deserve a celebration too (even if it is two hours in the hot sun).

Maggie explained that her family doesn’t make a big deal of these things.  Like when she ran her first half marathon (Maggie has a crap load of medals now for all her her half marathons and Tough Mudder challenges…it’s impressive) but her dad didn’t acknowledge that when she called to share what she was so proud of.  He just compared his cleaning of the upstairs with her half marathon big day.  My parents were that way as well.  Maybe that’s how four out of their five children ended up dropping out of high school.  No one was emphasizing the things that really matter in life.

Maggie is off to San Diego State University soon and that’s a big deal too.  Today she ordered her tickets for graduation.  I’m so proud of her. She was moved that we didn’t let her big day go by without recognition and decided she wouldn’t either. She’s worked really hard for this day and it’s an injustice to not let it shine the way it deserves to in her life.  So between now and June 7th, I hope Maggie will pause.  Take a look back, reread her favorite college essay, think about her favorite moments and teachers.  Contemplate her challenges ,and the way she has risen to overcome them. And then celebrate all that has gone into this moment before it passes into the next.  Congratulations!

Soul Suicide vs. Letting God Control the Outcomes!

Soul Suicide:  The dishonest logic, that convinces one that every thought, every motivation, idea, or drive is unrealistic, unworthy…even ridiculous (the who am I to think I could accomplish this).  It’s the stifling of creativity because of fear.  And each denial of one’s potential is like committing a small suicide of the soul.

Prepping and working on “Reset for Women,” has been difficult at times. Staying focused on the present can be a challenge.  There are moments in this process when I really  question myself (especially in learning web design). At other times,  I just jump way too far ahead and start focusing on the big picture (the end result), which can cause me to just shut down and doubt what I’m even trying to do.

But I’ve persevered.

I was one of five children in my family growing up,  and one of the four of those five that dropped out of high school.  It was my husband who encouraged me to go to college (he’s an overachiever with two doctorates).  When I first started college I wouldn’t allow him to read any of my papers.  I had no confidence.  Over time I trusted him to peek into my life, my work, and my world through the lens of my writing.  Trusting him empowered me to become better.  He would guide me through some minor errors I was consistently making, and praise me for the quality of the content.  I’d written a piece about standing in the welfare line as a single mom because I couldn’t afford to purchase health insurance for my daughters through my work and needed to apply for Medical.  The essay expressed my desperate desire to set myself apart from the other people at the Social Services office.  Doug proudly shared that paper with friends one night over dinner back when we were dating.  I loved writing, and his pride helped inspire my desire and boost my confidence in my ability.  But I found that the fire could easily be put out when I let self doubt become a prevalent part of my thought process.

I wrote a piece called “Soul Suicide” after I had let fear stop me from doing what I loved too many times.  

This year I had a lot of things I needed to write about to heal (see previous blogs and About page)  and it came much easier to me.  I didn’t back off, retreat or give up. One of the biggest challenges came in web design.  Not really knowing much about it I started getting so wrapped up in viewing other sites and second guessing what I was doing that I started to become paralyzed again.  This young pastor told me “ to let God control the outcomes.” Basically do what I’m able to do, and let go of what I can’t control.  The questions like, “What if no one reads my blog” shift when I just write what’s in my heart because I need to.  We never know whose lives we touch or when they need what we have to offer…so I’m putting it out there.  Writing because I need to write. Reading because I need to read… Hoping others need to hear what I have to say and somehow it touches the lives of someone and makes a difference.

I give up! (Not an option)

Prior to owning an IPhone I could never keep track of my schedule. (Let me start with …although this particular blog won’t sound like it, that I’ve gotten better).  It wasn’t my day to day routines I missed, they become ingrained.  It was the outliers.  The rare doctor appointment, meeting, dental appointment; whatever they were, they were often lost to me (even though I wrote them down). I would remember the appt. just as the scheduled time was about to pass. I would get a moment of deja vu, followed by panic,  some choice words, an adrenaline fight or flight rush, and then an attempt to hurry out the door. I’d usually make it to the appointment only moments late. On other occasions like this morning…well… (I need to repeat that)… well, (sigh), the window of opportunity passed. I missed an appointment big time. Now I sit here filled with embarrassment over the missed appointment. To make matters worse it is one that I’d scheduled missed and rescheduled for acupuncture. Chris, my acupuncturist is patient and kind with me when I miss an appointment. But, I give up!  I put the appointment in my phone, she sent me a reminder yesterday, and then when I got up to a house full of people this morning and out of town guests who were hungry I instead cooked breakfast for them and not until 11:00 when Chris’s text arrived did I realize…Oops I did it again, but not the all cheery Britney “Oops”, I’m more the F%$@  and S&@$ and other expletives kind of Oops.  Thank God everyone had left the house after breakfast and no one was here to hear me.  Or that would have been embarrassment number 2 for the day; and the day is still young.  

I despise the feeling of panic and being out of control. One would think I’d be better at avoiding it.  Perhaps learn from my mistakes. The thing is there just always seems to be so much to keep track of.  So much to keep lined up in order to keep my sanity and at times I fail at it.

Our house is a busy house. Every time a bedroom empties at our house, another child is waiting in line to move back home and calls dibs.  This sounds like excuses, but really I don’t think I’m headed there.  I’m just working on sorting out the why and how of my erred ways, so maybe I can avoid the same mistakes in the future.  One can hope.  Hope is optimism and I refuse to succumb to defeat.  I had an alarm set for this appointment even. Let me check that…I’m sure I put it in my phone. What?  What? I’m sure I put that in my calendar.  “News Flash”: The IPhone can’t help when you skip the steps to keep organized. And there was my downfall.

Reset got started because I’m really no good at this.  This slowing down, taking a step back, taking care of me.  This morning’s a perfect example…Acupuncture appointment for grief relief vs. cooking breakfast for others.  I recognize how much I need to grow in this area.  I recognize how much I suck at taking breaks. And it’s not just this cycle of my life that suddenly caught up with me.  No. It was this way when I was a single mom of 3 young daughters, and as a college student with so much to prove. Every stage of my life as a women has “caregiver”  “overachiever” in there somewhere.  I love life and there are always a million things I can’t wait to fill it up with.  I’m on spring break from my job right now, and i couldn’t wait to have time to get to those other things… like this, Blog writing..  So empty space doesn’t exist. I  fill up my space and forget to slow down.  So I need to be intentional. I need to slow down from time to time.  And I know I’m not alone in this, because I have some great girlfriends and I watch them do the same.

So Reset for today?  No time…Gotta pack for tomorrow’s vacation!

But on the plane tomorrow…it’s headphones on, music, meditation, reading, breathing and allowing myself to reset and be present.


p.s. (I followed through on that last line!)

Forgiveness: The need to forgive ourselves

Buddhist Principle on Forgiveness:

Have forgiveness in your heart for anything you think you’ve done wrong . Forgive yourself for all the past omissions and commissions. They are long gone. Understand that you were a different person and this one is forgiving that one that you were. Feel that forgiveness filling you and enveloping you with a sense of warmth and ease”..   Continue reading “Forgiveness: The need to forgive ourselves”