If we were living in normal times I would’ve been writing about current events on my blog as a way of processing and inviting conversation. Instead I’ve been deliberately silent.

I stayed silent because so many people are strongly and poignantly expressing the collective horror, sadness and outrage that I also feel over the murder of George Floyd and the countless other black men and women dying from injustice.

Because I respect the need to center Black voices in the ongoing struggle against racism, I have retweeted, reposted and amplified to my admittedly small circle.

I am doing what I can, where I can, when I can and I know I can do better. I committed long ago to challenge my biases, to engage other white people around race, to work to dismantle systemic oppression, and to broaden the conversation about DEI.

What’s prompting me to write now is the wave of despair I feel witnessing relentless Calling Out against allies because they are not devoting 100% of their attention to anti-racism 100% of the time.

There is legitimate and undisputed need for anti-black racism to remain in the public awareness through news, social media and active protest.  American citizens habitually lose interest and look away when a tragedy dominates the news cycle for “too long”. So we know that it’s essential that people don’t move on when nothing has yet changed.

But what is gained by Calling Out or shaming an ally for posting on Insta or Twitter about something significant in their life not connected to racism?

I’m not talking about influencers taking a #BLM selfie for product placement, or celebrities making tone-deaf, self-serving public statements, I’m talking about people who have committed to being non-performative advocates and allies willing to own all of their flaws & mistakes along the way.

I know that allyship is in the eye of the beholder, but I fear that so much calling out & attacking will lead to shame and inaction.

It’s a big leap for some folks to even realize that all Black people are not aligned on how white allies should engage.

  • One person says “Remember to check on your Black friends and co-workers” and another person says “Stop performing caring and leave us alone!”.
  • One co-worker says “Stand up for me and speak out”, and another colleague says “Don’t presume to save me or speak for me”.

The conflicting messages are, in fact, the first part of the learning. Feeling uncertainty and discomfort about doing or saying the wrong thing is baseline for personal growth.

Calling someone out is easy on Twitter/Insta/FaceBook. Calling someone In is harder and takes more time. It’s that same immediacy that causes us to withhold the grace for others mistakes that we often have in person.

Our society appears to be increasingly susceptible to polarization and absolutes rather than nuance. This is nowhere more apparent than on the internet where “with us or against us” is now signaled by a persons willingness to wear a mask during a pandemic.

The calls for justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and others, criminal justice reform, and defunding police/refunding the community have caused some people on social media to adopt a “with us or against us” attitude toward posting.

Some folks are viewing any deviation from anti-racist content on social media as grounds for attacking the sincerity of the supposed ally’s commitment to anti-racism. That requirement moves allyship from an ongoing process of learning about and taking action against oppression (my definition) to an impossible place of never messing up and never posting about anything other than racism.

That feels like defeat to me.

I know I can’t live up to that measure on social media, in my work or in my life. I don’t abandon my allyship because of fatigue or because as a white cis-gender woman I have the privilege of ignoring racism. But I reserve the right to have the fullness of life – the sorrow and the joy, the horror and the beauty, the serious and the frivolous.

I am single minded in my devotion to working to make the world more compassionate, equitable and just. I am just as single minded in my commitment to my ongoing learning about my own biases, privileges, and blind spots.

Enjoying a cat video or a beautiful garden doesn’t diminish my commitment to Black Lives Matter. Posting on Twitter about PRIDE, or disability rights or Women in STEM doesn’t diminish my commitment anti-racism. Things may slow me down, life events might interfere, but my dedication doesn’t change.

I was thinking of the Emma Goldman quote “If I can’t dance I don’t want to be part of your revolution” as I scrolled through various attacks and subsequent mea culpas social media. We have a framed print by the activist artist Ricardo Levins Morales in our house to remind us of the fullness of life.

We have another print included below that illustrates a quote by the labor activist Rose Schneiderman that I read daily. It is my prayer for the world – that we will all have the right to life, and the sun, and music and art. That we all have bread and roses.

But first we need to find faith in each other and a little grace.

Ricardo Levins Morales illustrates a quote by Rose Schneiderman

 

 

Long ago I decided to openly share my political leanings on my blog and business website.

Mainly because folks who disagree with the work I do are going to assume I’m a bleeding heart liberal  (do people still say that?), or an “elitist”, or a Commie, or a Socialist, or whatever pejorative is au Courant. It’s simpler to be clear.

If you’ve worked with me as a coach, or participated in one of my workshops, you’ve heard some version of my core beliefs:

  • We are all good people doing the best we can – and we can do better.
  • Assume ignorance before malice.
  • To know the good is to do the good.
  • The common good is worth individual commitment.

These are beliefs that inform my thinking and my actions. The language may change depending on the audience, but the guiding principle is static.

Maybe its 6 weeks of isolation, or maybe its my over-dosing on the news, but I am struggling damn hard today to live my values.

The Covid-19 pandemic has intensified behaviors that once upon a time in our society would have been unthinkable. The one that’s getting to me today is the appropriation of the language of civil rights struggles to promote a fringe, anti-quarantine agenda.

It is twisted and cruel.

Some may call it framing or spin, but I fully believe “words create worlds” to paraphrase David Cooperider.  So calling “Stay-at-home rules” a “Lockdown Order” makes space for all kinds of outrage and false equivalence.

Citizens unhappy about actions meant to protect the majority – to which they belong – are posturing as if their civil rights are being trampled. I want to know:

  • Who is marginalized?
  • Who is disenfranchised?
  • Who is being sacrificed because “we” are more important than “them”?

There’s a big difference between believing you are marginalized or disenfranchised, and demonstrated evidence that you, in fact, historically and currently, have fewer rights and less power.

Anti-quarantine rallies have appropriated phrases like “My body, my choice” to support not wearing a mask. The same “choice” that they would withhold for a women’s personal reproduction decisions.

When I say “My body, my choice” I mean I will fight for everyone’s right to make their own reproductive decisions and I won’t interfere with your choice.  Appropriated that phrase means “My choice will be your choice too.”

Anti-quarantine folks equate their “struggle against injustice” and loss of their liberty to shop, dine out, and watch sports, to Rosa Parks’ fight for integration and civil rights after slavery and Jim Crow.

Even though public safety is a common good, not evidence of oppression, anti-quarantine folks are falsely equating pandemic safety measures to actual genocide – to Hitler putting “Jews on trains”.

I support Free Speech because I value my rights enough to fight for your right to express your views even when I find them morally reprehensible. Like the statement about Hitler.

Today I can feel myself struggling to find my balance and grace in the face of the appropriated language and the many inflammatory, falsely equivalent headlines.

So I am reminding myself right now, out loud and in front of you,  “I am a good person doing the best I can, and I know I can do better.”

I know we can all do better.

FDR Memorial, Washington DC

My family has been isolating here in DC since March 12th.

I’m grateful that we’re healthy and able to live our social-distance lives without some of the more serious stresses being experienced by the poor, the disenfranchised, the service workers, the health care workers and the first responders.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember it’s not a competition. We can all put our suffering in perspective on a scale from near death to absolute luxury, but it doesn’t change the fact that each of us are suffering.

Yeah, yeah, first world problems and all that, but shaming folks for feeling lousy about their own personal circumstances doesn’t actually DO anything productive. Except possibly let the shame-er (is that a word?) do a little virtue signaling and feel self-righteous about their social awareness.

In my privileged, bougie life during Week 1 of isolation I did the following:

  • Stared at the bedroom ceiling in paralyzing grief. I do not recommend this as an alternative to sleeping.
    • The grief was and is a combination of the empathy over the struggles my clients are experiencing, my own loss of clients & income from March – September 2020, and the anticipation of what this world event means to a whole generation of young people.
  • Had 1-2 glasses of wine every single evening while telling my husband this is an absolutely acceptable coping mechanism for both of us.
  • Took 4 naps. This may not be a big deal for others but I haven’t napped since the first trimester I was pregnant with my daughter 22 years ago. Since I am not pregnant I’m going to file the napping under depressed escapism.
  • Spent 68% more time reading news on my devices (yes multiple) according to those highly annoying reports they give you each week.
  • Read 7 magazines on the library app Libby.
  • Took a long walk every day with the kid to notice flowers, cute dogs, and interesting architecture.
  • Purchased Fellowship of the Ring movie (extended version)
  • Read good two novels, abandoned one mediocre book.
  • Took turns sharing my office with my husband so we could each make phone & video calls in privacy.
  • Baked bread.

Week 2 had a bit more structure

  • Decided to give away coaching to anyone who needs it (pay-what-you-can). Because being of use to others is more important than money right now.
  • Stared at the computer screen for several scheduled hours a day NOT writing the book I’m working on.
  • Flipped through 3 cooking magazines on the library app.
  • Reached out to clients, family & friends to see how everyone is doing.
  • Read one good novel and abandoned 4 more that the library recommended but were too uninspired to continue.
  • Baked some more bread.
  • Started to do yoga in the mornings with the kid (who is herself adapting to college online)
  • Downloaded three self-help books from the library and started plotting out my much needed self-improvement.
  • Purchased Two Towers movie (extended version)
  • Removed my essentials and gave my husband my office as he is on video calls nonstop at this point. The dining room table is now work-from-home central for both me and the college student.
  • Started converting my professional development workshops and trainings to Webinar format. I’ve resisted this for years for a variety of reasons but that’s another blog post.
  • Scheduled some video appointments with my therapist (Yay me!)

Now we are heading into Week 3 and I am setting my intentions in the hope it will keep me accountable. In week 3 I will:

  1. Write at least 250 words a day. A modest and therefore achievable goal.
  2. Bake the biscotti I have been craving and not judge myself for eating it with my mid-morning coffee.
  3. Create a daily schedule EVERY DAY! and then use it. Several days in the last few weeks are a complete blur which is disturbing.
  4. Do 30 minutes of yoga or other exercise.
  5. Finish the really good book I discovered so I can start the next book in the series.
  6. Resist the urge to check NYT, WaPo, BBC, Reuters, Twitter and FB every hour. Yes resist is a loose goal because I don’t know what my tolerance for this is yet.
  7. Practice using loving kindness when the urge to judge or give in to outrage overwhelms me. Especially when indulging in #5 above.
  8. Find one good thing every day to reflect on before I (hopefully) sleep.
  9. Take melatonin every night because the majority opinion is that its not addictive and what can possibly be bad about being addicted to getting full 6 hours of sleep anyway?
  10. And finally, – maybe I should make this #1? – I will forgive myself if I do not execute on any of my intentions for Week 3.

I hope you and yours are healthy and treating yourself with gentleness.

Hit me up if you want a video chat or need some coaching. That is a serious offer.

an isolated beach in Spain
A beautiful, isolated beach visited last year

 

 

 

 

I just got back from a week long excursion to catch up on my Continuing Education Units (CEU) for my Coaching practice.

A lot of professions require Continuing Ed so you stay current with ethics and techniques, and often its viewed as a hassle so people wait to the very last minute. I had an attorney friend who every year crammed all her credits into day long online classes in December to make the deadline.

I could do my CEU’s online but it had been several years since I had an opportunity to get back to my Gestalt roots so I signed up for two different sessions. Because my little sister lives 10 minutes down the road from the institute this plan had the added bonus of hanging out with family in the evenings.

Those five days I spent immersed in Gestalt process really felt luxurious like a reward or treat.

Don’t get me wrong our highly skilled instructors pushed and pulled and modeled and it was completely exhausting.

But I had a chance to observe other coaches and facilitators and appreciate methods and  possibilities that wouldn’t have occurred to me. I had space and time to practice techniques that I’m good at, and re-learn those skills that have gotten a bit rusty.

I know CEU’s are in service to the client and regulating the profession, but this was more like I had checked into a Spa where all I had to think about was myself. Turning my phone off for 4 hours at a time, trying to capture insights in my journal, reevaluating what I thought I knew about myself as a coach and facilitator.

When I was describing my enjoyment to a colleague as a treat that I gave myself, it reminded me of a meme my daughter shared.

I hope all your CEU’s for the coming year are Spa CEU’s.

Amanda can have a treat

Back when I was an actor and director I had a policy of not reading reviews while the show was running. Everyone else read them so I had some idea if they were good or bad, and the general blame & praise placement. I really tried to avoid them because I knew that those outside opinions would color my thinking and maybe sow doubt.

Most theatre critics are skilled at offering criticism and analysis that helps folks decide if they want to spend their entertainment dollars on a particular play. Which can really go a long way to help playwrights, actors and directors get their name out and build a reputation.

Sometimes the critic is inexperienced or kind or simply disinterested in theatre because they are really the food or music critic. Occasionally a critic is in love with their own writing and their clever turn of phrase. Hence the avoidance.

There was one time when I read a review that I believed 100%.

It was an awful review and the critic hated everything from the acting to the set and lighting design. I had several pointed mentions that gave me great satisfaction because everything they criticized was exactly what the director requested. I remember thinking “Success!”

For better or worse I still think in terms of reviews when it comes to my workshops and training evaluations

I don’t read the evals right away and when I do, the first thing I look for is evidence that what I delivered matched what was requested. So folks who don’t like the content or scold me that “referring to myself as a white woman highlights difference when we are all the same”, all that is just fine.

And even the folks who just don’t like my style or delivery, thats ok too. I personally don’t like Joaquin Phoenix’s acting, but the Academy disagrees apparently.

What is harder to take is the folks who attack my credentials, the research I reference or the need for the kind of work that I do. Sometimes they include words like “identity politics” and “snowflake” and “trigger.” Occasionally thoughts like “we are all human beings”, and “everyone should just be kind” get tossed in.

The most scathing reviews/evals always seem to be from the disgruntled. Evaluations can also be used to highlight what went well as a foundation for more positive work, but again, maybe thats just me.

I recently reviewed a batch of my workshop evaluations and found one golden thread amongst some severe and harsh paragraphs of dissatisfaction.

My critic said that my calling participants Sir and Ma’am was “disrespectful and clueless” given that I had introduced my self as a Cis-gender woman using she/her pronouns. They went on to share a whole lot more about my lack of everything from brains to training to a legitimate right to speak about diversity but thats not important.

What’s important is that they were right. After 2 years of living in Alabama I had exponentially increased the possibility of misgendering someone because I’d conformed to the Sir/Ma’am norm.

From now on I’ll try to refer to participants by something visible like “the person in the yellow shirt”, or “I think the person with the pink go-cup was next”. That may not work in room of participants all wearing white coats or uniforms, but I can figure that out when it happens.

So thank you Squeaky Wheel for giving me some feedback that was necessary, helpful and 100% true. I humbly apologize for making you uncomfortable and I will do better next time.

PS – Always fill out your evaluation surveys! Use that 5 point scale! Everyone needs feedback! 

Raise your hand if you’ve ever been called “bossy”. Or “intimidating”.

Or how about “too” anything as in “too loud”, “too angry”, “too pushy” and, my favorite, the generic insult “too much.”

What these adjectives have in common, other than the fact that they’ve all been applied to me, is that they’re often used to remind (or force) women to remember accepted gender roles/norms. Being “too much”, bossy, or aggressive deviates from social expectations of the “nice” behavior that keeps folks comfortable.

I could get lost right here in a rant about the hegemonic, heteropatriarchy reinforcing the status quo, but I have a different point to make today.

My point is that when I coach women clients, or speak with women at workshops, invariably some version of the bossy accusation comes up. The women know these phrases are used as an attempt to diminish and silence them. It’s not a mystery. But it still stings.

The only thing that comes up more often is time management, followed by self-care as a close third. Because if you had better time management skills you would have some time for self-care right?!?

I know folks are working to shift the narrative on cultural norms and we’re all supposed to aspire to being a “Bad B**ch” or a #Bossbabe, but to me that feels like reinventions of the Enjoli woman with better memes.

Real women navigating insults and slights have to decide how to own the words and then strategize about when to ignore, when to reframe, or when to modify their behavior and language to make others comfortable.

Most simply aspire to being accepted, advancing, and achieving without censure or backlash for being insufficiently nice, agreeable or modest.

In the meantime, while we wait and work for the slow, societal shift away from sexism I propose the following solution.

A dance club.

Specifically a “Bossy Women’s Dance Club”. We would only admit women who have been consistently accused of being Bossy, Pushy, Intimidating, or Angry for a minimum of 27 years. Unfortunately, this means some members of the club will be in their early 30’s.

Feminist men of all ages are welcome if a member vouches for their feminism. Men will however pay an additional entrance fee equal to the percentage of the gender pay gap represented by their race.

A dance club would promote self-care with a triple whammy of “me time” in a nurturing, space with like minded folks, fun music to dance to (exercise!) and well made cocktails.

So as I wait for my angel investor to make the Club dream a reality, I make do with … Jazzercise.

I’ve attended Jazzercise in different spots since the late 80’s when leg warmers were all but required. I currently drive 30 minutes – each way – 3 days a week in DC traffic to get to a really great studio in Arlington run by a powerhouse of positive energy named Renee.

Jazzercise lets me sweat in a room without mirrors and pretend I’m still someone who could get into a club. It lets me worship at the altar of Mr. Worldwide with zero side eye & no discussion about the inherent cognitive dissonance necessary for my enjoyment of his beats.

Jazzercise is the perfect “self-care” for my bossy, middle-aged self because there’s no such thing as “too much” on the dance floor.

If you see me at Jazzercise I hope you’ll be pushy and introduce yourself.

I don’t know about you but I seem to have an almost magical ability to catalog every moment in my life where I fell short.

All those times I was “too much” –  too loud, too enthusiastic, too big, too flashy, too standoffish, too serious, too jokey.

And of course all the times I was “not enough” – not smart enough, rich enough, pretty enough or thin enough. Or plain old just “not good enough”, what ever the hell that means.

I consider this Too Much/NotEnough habit a special subset of the occassional 3 am litany of every wrong I have ever done to another person starting from grade 2 through yesterday.

That’s a different blog post.

The Too Much/NotEnough habit snaps to the front of my mind whenever I accidentally grab the wrong mental yardstick. I have several I reach for out of habit.

The first one was a gift from my mother – “Some people don’t have any legs”. Designed to remind her children that someone else always has it worse, this phrase was deployed to silence complaints big and small, from a skinned knee to a lost job. No whining, suck it up.

I agree that remembering that others have it worse is a valuable exercise to remind us to be grateful for what we have. Sometimes. But not all the time.

Comparison done right can remind you of what’s important. It can refocus gratitude and build resilience. It can even motivate us in a healthy way to get back up, try harder, or emulate those we admire.

But the wrong yard stick leads to dissatisfaction at best, and misery at worst.

My second yard stick is of the “Someone announced a new job/ promotion on Linked-In” variety. My dad always had those “gimme” yard sticks with hardware store names on them, so I picture this one with FOMO written in big red block letters.

That “too much/not enough” refrain starts playing to the tune of “should”, as in ‘I should be at that point in my career!’, ‘I should have that title by now!’, and ‘I should work harder!’ This particular measure highlights what’s missing like the tick marks on the door jamb that showing you are always shorter than your older sister.

The last stick in my mental tool box is the (unreali) stick. Not sure that worked but anyway…

This is where I compare myself to someone famous like like Brené Brown and discover …

“I am a FAILURE!!! We are the same age! Look at all she has accomplished! The books she has written! The people she helps! How brave she is! I never even got the PhD! Why would anyone want to work with me when they can just go hire Cook-Ross or Brené Brown? I should just quit!”

Once I peel that cudgel out of my hand and take a breath, I remember that comparison can also be a “Carrot” as in…

“Wow. Brené Brown’s success proves folks are willing to engage in change and transformation on a personal, vulnerable level. That is so cool. That means I can do DEI workshops and coaching from that same personal, vulnerable place.”

Now before anyone takes offense, know that I do not think I have Brené Brown’s chops, I am not a professor or an LISW, nor do I do the kind of leadership training she does. This isn’t really about Brené, although I do think she’s amazing.

What this is all about is the frequency with which I forget that we can choose how we measure ourselves.

Nobody makes me compare myself to Brené Brown, or a successful colleague, or a person struggling to make ends meet. That’s all straight from my tricky little mind.

Most days, when I beat back the “shoulds” and “too much/not enough” monsters, I work on replacing the carrot & stick with a clear picture of my personal best. Where I am today, how I got here and where I want to go.

So if I compare me today to with me five years ago, I can really appreciate what I’ve learned and how much my skills have improved. I can be proud of what I’ve accomplished and still focus on where I want to go next.

As I expand my consulting and coaching I am keeping this idea of personal best front and center because I want to work with folks interested in meaningful, sustainable change, achieved through self-knowledge and vulnerability.

I know where I want to go,  how I want to get there, and how I will measure success.

And I’m sure hoping you want to come along.

Onward and upward!

In my current love/hate relationship with social media its easy to forget why I liked it in the first place.

Facebook was a great solace during the three years when my office was isolated and I could go entire days not speaking to anyone except by email. Have I mentioned I’m an extrovert?

Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Insta linked me to the outside world. And Pandora.

One big benefit of working alone in an almost empty building was that I could play music as loud as I liked – electronica & jazz for writing workshops, grants or  PowerPoints,  classic rock & funk for collating binders.

Social media connected me with folks I’d never meet in person (friends of friends, journalists, activists etc.) and more importantly created a much larger circle of information. I know we all live in our bubble of self-selected media, but having FB friends outside of my regular friend group continues to introduce information I might otherwise ignore or miss.

For instance, a Native artist I follow  introduced me to Indian Country Media so I learned of the DAPL protest actions long before it surfaced in the New York Times. Social media introduced me to, among other things, emergencies and issues affecting women of color, the LGBTQ community, Black Americans and native peoples.

I’ve read perspectives that I agreed and disagreed with from Libertarians, Bernie progressives, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and international citizens, activists and journalists.

So it’s not all bad.

However.

Since the election I have decided that social media and journalism has to be balanced with conversations In Real Life (IRL).

I’ve started reaching out to old friends and acquaintances to schedule chats over coffee, phone, or Skype. I’ve started reaching out to make new acquaintances and friends to meet and chat. Did I mention I’m a shy extrovert who doesn’t make friends easily?

It’s hard to be the initiator all the time (no one likes rejection), and time is as limited as ever, but committing to In Real Life is helping me feel hopeful in a way that liking folks social media posts isn’t.

Hearing opinions and updates accompanied by voice and body language puts me back in the “I – Thou” that I know I need.

So hit me up for a coffee date or drink.

Meanwhile, this brilliant animation my inspire you to join me IRL.

 

Donald Trump is the best thing to happen to American women since Seneca Falls.

In my work I get to facilitate conversations about implicit bias (racism, sexism, classism etc.) usually by using logic and humor, evidence and anecdote. These are calm, introspective, respectful conversations designed to be a thought-provoking means for people to understand that implicit bias is a human problem.

But now, with Donald Trump saying, or being accused of, something biased nearly every time he opens his mouth, the reality of assorted -isms is front and center in the public dialogue. No more pussyfooting around! Women are speaking up every day about the appalling, pervasive reality of sexist behavior and the weight of the evidence is to great too ignore.  And I am grateful.

The reason I named my blog Amandatoryrant was because once upon a time I facilitated conversations and trainings around bias that were mandated. This often seems like a good solution to the folks mandating, but its a tough go for those who don’t want to be in the room.

Like with many change initiatives, the first hurdle with bias is understanding there is in fact a problem. The second much larger hurdle is understanding that you – yes you – are part of the problem. This is a dangerous and fertile ground. Rich bottom land ripe for planting new ideas that is studded with landmines.

No one wants to be accused of being racist, sexist or think of themselves as guilty of any other bias. We are all good people.

However, thanks to Trumps unrelenting sexism and the growing evidence presented by women he has groped and assaulted, we are experiencing a crack in the complacency that normally surrounds these “minor incidents.”

The fact that millions of women are now sharing stories of how their bodies are touched against their will is making it easier to talk about everyday, casual sexism. This isn’t “he said, she said” this is millions of assertions of “that is my experience”, which makes it harder for reasonable people to ignore or discount.

So thanks Trump, for showing the world that sexism is really, really a thing. And its huge. It’s a disaster.

Once we accept that bias (implicit and overt) is a thing – and that we can do something to change it – the final hurdle is deciding what that something will be.

This is where I come in. I spend a great deal of my life (professional and personal) talking, training, and writing about bias in one form or another.

Coaching individual women (and some men) to surf, survive, and thrive inside systems where implicit bias burdens them with invisible obstacles. Coaching individual men (and some women) to examine and change systems where implicit bias has taken root.  And helping groups, large and small, to articulate their ideals and wrestle with how to live by them every day.

Our country is on track to [continue to] experience sexist, racist, xenophobic backlash for the next 8 – 12 years. And, thanks to Trump ripping the band-aid off our complacency, we are also on track to make progress around issues that will no longer remain under the surface.

I suspect that I will have a lot more folks knocking on my door looking for a consultant to help reduce bias and improve their culture of inclusion.

Call me. I can’t wait to get started.

mommy

 

I took a 30 minute walk outside today.

A lunch time walk may not sound like big deal but I have an unhealthy habit of forgetting to get up from my desk for 5 hours at a time. I always have the best of intentions to take a break and walk outside in the middle of the day. And I have never done it until today.

Self-care, those intentional choices we make to nurture our bodies, minds and spirit, are the first items on the chopping block when time gets tight and the to-do list gets long. For me the first thing to go is “taking a break”, followed by writing, “seeing friends”, eating “healthy food”, and ultimately exercise. This past year I didn’t even plant any annuals because I knew I would have to water them. It was a bleak garden year.

Many days I am hanging on to my exercise class by my fingernails. I work out distracted and unfocused, with headaches and colds, coming in late and leaving early to accommodate clients, trying to fit in at least two classes a week.

But that’s not really self-care. That’s just enough fuel to keep going.

Last year my coaching business nearly doubled, I tried unsuccessfully to bring on associates, and was forced to both raise my rates and turn down clients to make it all work. Sounds like a success and feels like a disaster.  And almost all self-care disappeared.

I decided this morning that I would put a walk on my calendar every day and set an alarm just like a meeting. I don’t miss meetings and I have a Pavlovian relationship with my iPhone calendar alarms, so I booked five walks. I still have too much work, and am finishing (or starting) things right up against the deadline, but truly another 30 minutes is not going to make that big of a difference.

I am also planning to scheduled one writing hour per week.

This is the simple technique I start my clients on when they are overwhelmed and need to make change: Make it small. Make it concrete on your calendar. Make it repetitive.

But I forget to take my own medicine sometimes.

I used to be dismissive of the concept of self-care when I was younger because it sounded so basic – eat decent food, sleep, see friends & family, get some exercise. Either I didn’t understand the concept of overwork at the time, or I maybe I bounced back quicker, whatever the case I am currently quite respectful of the concept and need for self-care.

Now that I’ve learned my lesson, I plan to spend more time being intentional in scheduling my breaks, my visits with friends, and my “purpose & joy” to quote a wise friend.

Snowdrops I discovered on my walk today.

snowdrops feb 2016
Snowdrops, February 1, 2016

 

I wish I had a truth mirror. I would hold it up in front of my clients so they could magically see what others see.

One of my biggest frustrations with my (usually women) clients is their inability to recognize and own their unique talents, abilities, skills and knowledge. I witness time and again the automatic downgrading of skills because if its easy for them then it must not be that hard, right?

Some of this is modesty and style, some of it is living in a culture that treats women who own their accomplishments as “pushy” and “braggy.” And I think a massive chunk is related to the fact that we spend so, so much time reflecting on what is wrong with us that we never get around to what is right.

Ask someone to list all the ways they need to improve, and the list is long.

Ask someone to list all the ways they excel and often its … crickets.

We do this in our personal lives when we name bits and pieces we like (“I have good hair and pretty hands”), but don’t find much to recommend about the whole package. I’m guilty of this one myself, see above hair and hands.

It’s hard to listen to people underrate and diminish their skills, especially skills that I don’t have and couldn’t begin to master. BUT its totally satisfying to witness them finally understanding and owning their value.

The frustration I struggle with every time is that I want them to get there more quickly. I know I can’t hurry anyone’s learning, and the magic truth mirror only works if you are ready look in it, but a girl can dream.

“Mirror, Mirror in my hand,

Who’s got the maddest skills in the land?”

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When our daughter was younger she was really into The Bearenstain Bears books and cartoons. The books, if you have managed to avoid all 300 of them, dealt with single issues that were resolved generally through good ole-fashioned common sense, kindness and humor. Very formulaic and still much beloved by children.

They had a habit of hokey titles even with modern story lines “The Berenstain Bears and Too Much .. Birthday… Homework… TV. “Too Much Pressure” is my personal favorite. Mama cries in a helpless heap when she gets a flat tire and can’t get Brother to Karate and Sister to Soccer at the same time. Personally I think its good for kids to see “wise, strong mama” break down and cry once in a while.

As I try to finalize a workshop I am leading soon, I find that I am once again “Amanda Bear with Too Much Content.” There is so much potential in the conversations that unfold around the professional development work that I do that I start to think every concept is essential, every slide potentially life altering. And that’s just silly.

I learned long ago to “be present” while presenting so the conversation is the driver and not the agenda. Of course some content is vital to the learning, but the discovery in the room prompted by the content is the goal, not finishing the deck with five minutes to spare at the end of the session.

But.

Until I’m in the room with the glow of 3,000 lumens, and the hum of the projector fan, I will suffer the agony of culling, curating and perfecting my content. The only Mama Bear that can save me from “Too Much Content” is time. It will run out and what I have will be more than fine and still too much.

I don’t think PowerPoint workshop presentations are a good topic for a Berenstain Bears book but there may be one lurking out there for all I know. You can watch the Too Much Pressure cartoon version by clicking here.

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I recently described the last six months of my life as a time of “unprecedented stress.”

What would have been more accurate is if I had said to my friend “I am experiencing a time of unrelenting pressure to deliver an increasing number of outcomes in ever shorter amounts of time.” Sort of like running in front of lava or a landslide. Funny in a Looney Tunes cartoon, less so in real life.  Maybe if I could make my feet do those fast wheelie things it would be okay.wile-e-coyote-3

There are a lot of reasons for the additional pressures and the explosion of work, some positive & some negative, but its important to keep in mind we have suffered no tragedy, no one is ill, none of the top 10 Life-Stress Events are currently present. (Touch wood)

Add to this mix the fact that my husband and daughter have also had a tough few months and we have a heady brew of cortisol and other assorted hormones making for one jagged household.

On top of the tightly booked calendar there always seems to be something that needs doing: a client that needs a follow up, laundry that needs folding, an email that needs a reply, so its easy to just go, go, go. And we get good at it don’t we?

The tough part is figuring out how to come out of it.

Last night after dinner I changed into my robe and lounged on the couch and re-read a favorite Terry Pratchett book (Making Money) and realized that it felt like a vacation day.

Home on time, no meetings, no events, no four-more-hours-of-work waiting for me before bed. Just decompressing with a thinly veiled sci-fi fantasy commentary on modern banking and economics.

It was a reminder, not of the mythical work life balance we all strive for, but what a danger it is to let urgency become the default groove. Sometimes it’s necessary and you have to push through and get it done (Hello January through June 2015!), but we humans love our habits and emergency mode is as addicting as any other form of adrenaline.

I’m a creature of words. I need time to think. And write my blog. And lots and lots of time to socialize and talk about what I think. And when the schedule is this heavy and the stress is this steady, I can’t think properly anymore.

Time to step back and see how to lower the stress level.

Because crazy busy is not a thing, it’s a habit.

Over-scheduling is either a choice, or it has a solution called “cutting something.” Everything feeling like an emergency because of over-scheduling is also a choice. I can’t always control my schedule, but I can control my attitude.

My goal for June – December of 2015 is surface tension rather than “crazy busy.”  Float delicately on my calendar (and life) like a water strider, poised and professional. And the house may have to clean itself.

I’m not sure it’s ever done, but I’m strongly considering a blanket email to my entire contact list as a kind of apology – “I’m sorry I’ve become that person who hasn’t replied to your email for six weeks. It’s not you its me.” But maybe everyone has forgotten what they wanted and moved on by now.

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Anyone needing an easy laugh should come to my Jazzercise class on days the instructor works in routines that require clapping. Since I have yet to master the ability move my feet and clap my hands at the same time, the result is an earnest yet ridiculous, Jerry Lewis-like flailing.

Thankfully there is never more than one of these per class.

A bigger issue than my lack of large motor skills is the way I lose my rhythm when someone in my family is out of sorts. My instinct is to sidetrack even my most important and essential activities to do whatever needs doing, or shore up whatever needs reinforcing.

Let me be clear that my husband and child are NOT standing in front of me screaming for me to be self-sacrificing. It’s my own super clever brain that tells me that I’m a selfish person (and a bad mother/wife/sister/friend/human) if I don’t put others first.

Work-life balance (ha!) is manageable if and only if (iff) nothing is breaking down, screwing up, or spinning out of control due to unforeseen circumstances.  So that means never.

I know this.

I teach this.

And under pressure I forget this as quickly as everyone else.

That’s one reason the tag line for my coaching & consulting biz is “Nothing endures but change. Be here now.” To remind myself and my clients that the only control we really have is over our own minds.

Whether you follow the Four Noble Truths, Oprah and her vision boards, a religious community, or just positive thinking – getting your head back in the present moment can help get you back in the rhythm of your life. And all its various beats.

For me, its remembering even if I can’t clap along I know the song won’t last forever.

A rhythm related side note: Once upon a time I watched My Sister Eileen (a mostly dreadful movie), and saw a very young Bob Fosse doing some of his signature moves, but because I had recently seen Cabin in The Sky I noticed that John W. Sublett (“Bubbles”) must have been an influence on Fosse. Its an amazing movie. There’s also a scene where Ethel Waters sings Taking a Chance on Love and Bill Bailey does the Moonwalk. Before Michael.

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Given their druthers race is not usually the go to conversation topic for most people. It’s not hard to understand really, when you think about the ever present fear of saying or doing something that will get you called a racist.

I can say from experience someone calling you a racist (or homophobic) feels awful. I’ve been called both.

You can’t really defend yourself when someone calls you racist because its their perception of who you are.  Based on whatever facts they are using (assuming words or actions), our intentions, motivations and back story are no longer relevant.

What ever you say ends up sounding like a “but I have black friends” excuse.

When I have the opportunity to lead workshops about race I usually pull out the Jay Smooth video. This does a couple of things: gets some very important ideas in the open quickly, lets everyone look at a screen rather than each other while they hear those ideas, and puts an African-American voice in the room.

The fact that I am a white woman can work for or against me when talking about race. Again perception.

The other day someone introduced me to a new tool for my tool box.

Amandla Stenberg, a 16-year old actress, made a video about cultural appropriation for her history class: “Don’t Cash Crop on My Cornrows – a crash discourse on black culture.” I give it an “A” for its ability to raise issues in a meaningful way that leads to further discussion.

Don’t know why this feels like progress in the face of continual reporting of black men and women being shot to death by police, but it does.

Given my druthers I’d wade into a tough conversation every day if could. Anyone need a workshop?

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