Storytelling

The 4 Step, 3 Minute Way To Slow Down Your Life And Reflect On What Matters

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Last night I got dinner with a dear friend who straight up devours any food set before him - not because he has poor eating hygiene, but because he enjoys the food. We got burgers and we shared fries. I started on some fries to warm up my stomach as we were talking. Thirty seconds pass and I look at his tray to see a street food graveyard. The wrapping that held the burger as one unit was crinkled and discarded and there was a contemporary pallet of ketchup / mustard / hot sauce across the plate, swirling together into nice sunset tones.

I had not even looked at my cheeseburger. 

He and I often laugh about how slow and methodical an eater I am (I am not slow, but I sure am methodical) compared to his vacuum cleaning system that disappears whatever lands on the table. 

I have observed and journaled a lot over the years about the Life Pace of different cultures. We all know that America runs on Dunkin and it is overcaffeinated and that society here puts value on moving fast. In Up In The Air, George Clooney's character says "We are like sharks. If we stop moving, we die." A little dramatic, George, don't you think? Can we find a middle ground where we stay alive but slow down a wee bit? 

American business is cutthroat. Corporations are ruthless. Sales quotas still exist. Greed is still one of the seven deadly sins. When we are so afraid of keeping our job, it is no wonder that people sacrifice slowing down and reflecting on themselves and what matters. 

I am sensitive to the world's pace around me. I have become more and more introverted over the years because being so extroverted in college wore me out and I could not keep pace with the extroversion of society. And that is not a bad thing.

In my next life, I want to be the geography professor I had in college. He told me of a time when he was GIVEN FUNDING to travel to multiple countries around the world, sit down at a coffee shop, and actually time how long it takes - with a damn stopwatch - for strangers on the street to walk from one point to another in his visual plane in order to study how people move through their cultural surroundings. That is it. He studied the pace at which people moved around in different cultures. WHAT? That is epic. Think about it. He got paid to slow himself down, sip coffee, and peoplewatch for science. If that is not escaping the Matrix, I do not know what is. 

But like me and my food consumption rate, it is about what you value.

I value conversation. Others do not. 

The past month of my blog posts has taught you how to be a more aware and effective communicator. It is important to teach because these days two kinds of communicators are dominating the market:

  1. the kind who talks just to hear themselves talk and you are a worthless piece of human material to them.
  2. the kind who talk just to receive affirmation that what they say is valid - and I do not mean that they listen to your response, I mean that they see you start to respond, count that as affirmation because they are so insecure, and then do not listen to a word you say. 

Neither of these are conversations. In the fast paced culture we live in, people want to be heard. Plain and simple. The problem is that everyone wants to be heard so it is a power-struggle-shouting-match to only talk about themselves. I know so many people who get lost in the fray. They know they want to learn more about themselves and differently express themselves to the world.  They do not know how, though, because they are focused on getting ahead in their work, so the arrogantly insecure coworkers and bosses overtake them. 

Everyone in this societal stranglehold desperately seeks to yell out how they feel but they do not because they do not know who can support them and what to do after they yell it out. They simply want to yell. 

People want to express themselves. 

The past four posts was the first step to becoming more aware of what you want to yell out and, more importantly, what is getting in the way of that. For most people I know, it is the pace of the world around them. Maybe they are lucky enough to know how to self-reflect and journal, but have trouble slowing down to focus on it. A lot of those people do not know how to reflect. 

You cannot learn to express yourself more authentically without slowing down and stepping back from the crazy train of your daily life in America. You have to hop off at the next station and stare at the forest, even if you are the only one there. 

Start here:

  1. What part of your life is moving too fast for you to keep up?
    • work?
    • relationship?
    • money?
    • sports / exercise?
    • sex?
    • nutrition?
    • pets?
    • friendships?
    • other: _________?
  2. Why is that part of your life of value to you?
  3. How long have you been unable to "keep up" with it?
  4. What feeling states have you experienced about it?

This simple set of four questions should take THREE MINUTES for you to complete. That is all. What it does is helps you label your feelings (likely angst) and the cause. Once you have these answers, you have a perfect prompt to:

  • journal about!
  • or tell someone about, and then ask for their advice.

Tell them the answers to your questions. It is easy. Watch: "Hey, man, for the past three months or so, I have been feeling stressed about work. It is like its demands and my coworkers are moving too fast for me to keep up. I like what I do but it is anxiety-provoking because I am exhausted and I feel like I am barely on top of things. Do you have any advice?"

BOOM. All four answers in a pretty little paragraph. That felt good. 

You slow down to answer those questions. You slow down to express the answers to your friend. Your friend slows down - hopefully - to give you some advice. You slow down to think how to change that advice into a plan. You slow down to put that plan into action at work the next day. 

Feel relieved yet?

Finding Authentic Voice, Part 4: The 6 Pieces Of A Successful Conversation

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Anger does not get us anywhere. It feels good to let out because anger carries so much energy with it, but it is not a long term solution for either he who lets out the anger or its intended victim. This is why conversations that are fueled only by emotion - any emotion - end up with the participants too distracted by the emotion that mature self-expression goes out the window. Examples include: any argument between drunk people at a bar or a kid crying to its parents about wanting a toy.

The needs of those involved are rarely met because it is an unattractive and ineffective display of self-advocacy. 

On the flip side, relying too much on intellect while suppressing emotion can be detrimental. Several times in the past I suppressed emotion in difficult conversations with significant others so that I could focus on what was being said in the conversation and offer a level, honest response. No matter how honest my response was, I came across as detached and unempathetic. Even though we both were feeling feels, the fact that I suppressed mine in the convo made her feel more alone and dejected. Suppressing mine only made the conversation feel worse in the end.

Luckily for everyone, there is a middle ground where the magic happens. The problem for everyone is that it is a difficult space to navigate. People get anxious about letting themselves feel strong emotions when trying to communicate in a respectful way. It takes practice.

I am here to tell you it is manageable and possible. I had to learn how to do it myself many times.

Whatever it is you have been ruminating on and workshopping with me over the past three weeks, it is time to let it out in a healthy and effective way. 

Last week you defined WHY you want to express the thing you want to express. If you have not, go back now and do it now. Knowing the Why gives you the objective of your conversation. The goal you would like to achieve. 

Example 1: in the scenario where you hate your boss, sure, you likely feel anger, but the reason why you will talk with HR will not be because you hate him. They will not care to hear that. Instead, your goal is to enjoy your workday more without the stress of wondering what your boss will do or say next. That is why you care to hate your boss.

Do you see the difference? 

The past client I described knew that telling HR his boss was a douche would not help his situation. Instead, our work together made him realize that he was going to speak to HR because he cared about his job and the cool ideas he had for it. 

The goal of the conversation is bigger than the person to whom you are speaking.

As a result, tell it as a story. Easy as that. When you sit down with the person to whom you want to express yourself, follow these steps:

  1. PREPARE THE AUDIENCE. Say: I have been having a lot of trouble with something and I want to have a conversation with you about it.
  2. TELL THE STORY. Describe ALL of the relevant data points to set the scene for the person and lay the framework for why you are having this conversation.
  3. LET A LITTLE EMOTION IN. Explain what is affecting you, how it is affecting you, and why. Be specific and honest.
  4. RESPECT THY ENEMY. Even if it is a boss you hate, explain their position, the things they say/want, and why they seem to do that, if you know. Do not whine, though
  5. ASK FOR HELP. Now that you have the context (2), your side (3), and the other party's side (4) presented, inquire as to how to proceed. Ask for advice on how to accommodate all parties involved so that you can move forward. 
  6. REPEAT WHY YOU CARE. Reiterate why you care at all. In our example, it is why you care about your job and what you are motivated to achieve within it.

Follow this outline for any conversation. Practice it. You will still feel quite vulnerable as you are describing the situation. Instead of anger or sadness taking over, though, you will feel the emotion behind your description and it will remind you why you care. 

This form of conversation honors your emotion while respectfully communicating your feelings and needs. 

As I said, I have had to practice this many times. Last year, I had this exact form of conversation with a boss in a side job because the culture amongst coworkers had become sadistic and toxic. I knew complaining and venting would not achieve any change, so I followed the above format in order to present every layer of the situation, of which my boss was not aware. I was able to explain how burnt out I felt and how it affected our work with clients. Because of the fact that I referred to how it was affecting other specific people as well and how we were all at a loss, my boss sought those people out and asked for their perspective the very next morning. 

Remember: if you are polite, honest, and authentic when you express yourself, you will succeed in conversation. If the recipient cannot handle it, then that is their problem. Speak your truth.

Try it out. You will do great.

How To Find Your Authentic Voice, Part 3: What Is The Point?

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If you have not read the past two weeks' posts, a) shame on you and b) go back and read them. As a Sparknoted summary that will not give anything away from the actual posts, Part 1 was about self awareness and Part 2 was putting preliminary words to something you want to express. Now that you have diligently followed my instructions and you have done the homework from the last two posts, you should have a simplified note of what you want to express in its raw form. Some examples could be:

 If you hate your boss: "GAHH he / she is such a self-absorbed a-hole!"

Or if you are mad at your significant other: "GAHH I wish he / she would stop telling me to X"

Or if you have a pitch to give: "Why can't they just tell how incredible my product is? 

That is okay. Let it be pure and angry. Vent into that notebook. It is the starting point. 

Now comes the most important part. The ultimate question: WHY DO YOU WANT TO SAY THAT? What is the objective of what you want to say? Why do you want to tell your boss that you hate him / her? Why do you want to grab investors by the collar and shake them into understanding why your product is so amazing? Why do you care about the way your significant other is addressing you? 

If you can answer the Objective question for your situation, you are at a huge advantage. I asked my client - the one I mentioned in last week's post - that question and, after he stutter-stepped for a second, we got down to the fact that he enjoyed his job, he knew he was good at it and that he had a plan for its success, but that his value of autonomy and innovation was being intruded upon by his manager. Ultimately, it was not solely that my client was mad at the manager as a human being but mostly that the manager represented an obstacle to my client's long term performance and growth as an employee. The next step - which you will read about next week - was taking his answer to the Objective question (and the personal goals and value sets) and crafting a conversation with the HR office in which he talks about his role and his goals for it and how it would benefit the company and how he relates to his manager in a polite and level way...instead of sitting down and reaming the guy out and getting nowhere but angry again. 

Your homework for the week is to think about the thing you so badly want to say and ask yourself why you so badly want to say it. What is the point of expressing it for you? What good would it do?

Spoiler Alert: it is emotional. 

When I discovered my voice for the first time at the Book Swarm in California, I spoke up not because I was angry at my colleagues but because we were not focusing on what was most important for the project in that moment. But why did that matter to me? What was the point of speaking up and getting them back on track? 

It is because I loved what we were doing. In less cliche terms, I was so immersed and so interested in the subject matter and what we were trying to accomplish that I felt like the discussion in the moment was an obstacle to our efficiently completing our task as a team. I cared about the subject, so I cared about my team’s success, and I spoke up to that authentic feeling. 

Truly why, on the deep level, do you want to give your boss a piece of your mind? What value set is involved when you tell your significant other how you’ve been feeling? 

Your unique answer to that question will ground you back down from the raw truth and remind you why you care. That way, you can have the polite, authentic conversation you want to have and express exactly what you want to express. 

How To Find Your Authentic Voice, Part 2: Start With The Raw Truth

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What are you keeping inside you right this second? What are you wishing you could tell someone? What do you wish that you had told someone and missed the opportunity?

Oh no, is this where Taylor lectures about regret and how to carpe our diems? Not really, but kinda sorta. Here is the deal: we all go through that pain of wishing we had said something different or just something at all in that moment that passed and will never come back around. Holy cannoli, I can think of numerous girls on whom I had a wild crush to whom I never took the opportunity to say anything because I was too scared and worse, I did not know how to say it. 

But that is not all true. I did not know how to say it effectively. We all know what we want to say - we rehearse it endlessly in our heads day in and day out - but never get around to saying it because we let fear set in of taking the risk and panic about the person's reaction, then we overthink the heck out of it to the point where every letter in every word sounds wrong because you cannot decide how you will possibly survive saying the words out loud in real life. I was the Lord Commander of Overanalyzing situations and conversations when I was in high school, I might as well have been paid for it. But when I think back, there is no question that I knew what I wanted to say. The overanalysis was my brain's attempt at controlling the situation that was causing me so much torturous anxiety before I even put myself into the situation. A constant preemptive fight or flight response.

Expressing your undying love for your crush in grade school is such a perfect example of this because 

  • A) hormones are RAGING
  • B) ALL the feels are happening
  • C) humans fear rejection
  • D) even good parents had not yet taught you how to handle risk and rejection
  • E) I had not yet started my company to help you develop authentic self-expression

Honorable mention: 

  • F) the terror of his/her friends being nearby, 
  • G) the subsequent gossip about the words you chose, and 
  • H) how little you focus on class work because you are thinking too much about seeing him/her by their locker between third and fourth period. 

Are you remembering how that feels? I sure remember it, and I am willingly subjecting myself to it as I write this. 

Fast forward to now. You are finally through puberty but instead of bearing your soul to a crush, the person to whom you want to express yourself is your boss and the acceptance you seek is from your coworkers. Similarly, you may be an entrepreneur who wants to pitch to investors or share your idea with potential teammates. Or maybe you have a job interview or a networking event in which you want to articulate your skills and value. 

It does not matter what the scenario is now because the fear and anxiety can be exactly the same as in high school. You are clear that you want to ask your boss for a raise or to fire Jack in cubicle 3 but you do not know how to articulate it appropriately in order to avoid sounding arrogant or whiney. You know what you want to pitch to investors but you do not know how to make the presentation structured and compelling. 

Overthinking is what we do. Our brains want to control situations, especially situations about which we are anxious we are anxious because it is perceived as a threat to our survival. 

NEWS FLASH: that is actually a good thing. The fact that you panic is a sign that you care! Otherwise, you would not spend so much time thinking about whatever it is! Boom, knowledge bomb. It is a genuine desire in which you place a lot of value. The only way that it becomes a bad thing is when you give into the fear, overthink the hypothetical conversation, and then never follow through with it. That is when I start my lecture about regret. 

So here is what you do: whatever your specific thing is that you want to say right, I want you to write it down in its rawest form. Even if it includes profanity, even if the words feel messy or silly, write it down. Do not manicure it or edit it in any way. Write down your first draft. That way, even if only a single sentence, it is out of your head and you bypassed the stress response. 

There is no pressure involved with the first draft. 

Maybe you hate your boss. Write down why or what you wish to ask for, anger and all.

Maybe you have a wedding toast to give. Write down your ideas in some order, no matter how cliche they sound.

Maybe you have a networking event. Write down the talking points you want to cover in conversation, no matter how boring.

Just get words out of your head and we will polish them later.

I had a client last year who was on the road to being fired, was angry about it, and wanted to go to HR to explain his side of the story. The problem was that he did not think he would be able to politely articulate his side without coming off as angry and whiny. 

The first thing I did with him? We wrote down what his anger would want to say about his manager - basically that he was an incompetent waste of space at the company. It felt goofy for my client to write it out as though he were venting in a diary, but it diffused his stress just enough to rationally take the next step, which was to discuss the true objective of talking to HR (to keep his job or only report his manager's behavior? Those are different things) and then strategically craft the wording in the most level and effective way for everyone involved. 

Overthinking is just that: thinking. So get the rough draft of whatever it is you want to express on to paper so that you get yourself ahead of your own brain and the fear. 

Your five-minute homework assignment: 

  1. Who do you want to speak to / what expressive task are you thinking a lot about right now?
  2. What do you want to say (uncensored and unpolished)?
  3. Write it down.
  4. Breathe a big sigh of relief.
  5. Kiss puberty panic goodbye. 

How To Find Your Authentic Voice: A Beginner's Guide

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The first time I wrote a blog was when my sister and I went on a road trip around the west coast starting back in 2011. It was a great way for our family, friends, and ourselves to keep track of the daily adventures and, more importantly, convey to our mother that we were alive and safe. Cute side moment: she would make her morning coffee and sit down to read our post from the night before before she read her morning newspaper. Mm the best way to start the day. It was fun and it was natural because I have always liked writing and it helped that the subject matter was super easy. It was also easy because a) I was not trying to gain income from its exposure and b) we knew the extent of its exposure: just family and a select group of family friends who knew about the journey.

Fast forward to 2015 when I wrote my first blog post for The Tailored Quill. I did not know how it was supposed to be used or how it could translate into clients or income. Instead I simply knew that I had to have one because everyone else did. If you were ever curious about how impressive I am, know that I wrote ONE WHOLE BLOG POST ------ and that was it for a really long time. I wrote another post a few months later. Yeah, months. That is like 1000 years in Millennial social media chronology.

The second post was more like a cute summary of why I started the business but it did nothing to convey what the reader should do about it. SOLID content marketing. But hey, everyone starts somewhere. So my blog sat stagnant for two years until I felt it in my heart that I had a lot I was ready to say. More powerfully, I knew how I wanted to say it. That is when I sat down last year and made a list of almost 200 topics on which I could write blog posts, most of which could easily be broken down even further into more topics. 

Fast forward / rewind to a couple days ago when a friend told me that last week's post about the two questions you need to ask as the first step toward career satisfaction (which she happened to read while at work) made her realize that she did not in fact hate her job as she thought. She instead disliked certain pieces of it while it otherwise checked off many boxes relating to her goals and interests. She stated "the two questions reminded me why I do what I do and put it in perspective, even though my story has always been that I'm terrible at it and that it is miserable."

 

She went on to articulate what I was thinking: the fact that it is difficult - sometimes impossible - to know what impact I have on people who read my work even if they never become clients or ever get in touch with me after reading it. I can track clicks and engagement on my blog page, but Squarespace cannot yet measure the lingering emotional impact the content has on visitors. And this is a crucial point about entrepreneurship that applies to every other arena of your life: 

Expressing yourself with an authentic voice is always valuable even if you do not know who is listening. 

I did not hear my true authentic voice until six months after I started my company in 2015. I did not find it in high school or college or even in the years of mental health work before I started The Tailored Quill, but it was growing ever so incrementally. I found it on the second day of the Book Swarm in Oakland, CA, where I was hired as a scribe to record and consolidate material from industry experts to craft a book on Narrative in the 21st century with a small team in only two days. The second day was when the team got together and took all of the previous day's material to package it into concise, world-rocking chapter outlines. It was basically ten of us in a big room interrupting each other and debating what should be included where and how to emphasize what. 

Several team members were debating one point ad nauseam and I suddenly burst in to the fray and commandingly offered the perspective that the focus ought to be on the broader scope for the moment and that the point about which they were debating was in fact more appropriate for a different chapter altogether. Even though I was "right" and they relented in order to move on, I personally was like "Oh damn, that's what I sound like??" and my whole life, evolution, development, interests, jobs, thoughts, and goals all passed before my eyes and connected to how I saw myself standing there and speaking in that moment. 

I sat down and thought about that for a solid ten minutes. My brain and its prior skills and knowledge recognized that the group was focusing on the wrong thing and then...here is the magic moment...I CHOSE TO SAY SOMETHING. I chose to speak up right then. Something in me was ready to do that and impelled it. 

I did not know that starting my blog would impact people's lives when I started it in earnest last year, but I was able to feel that same impulse within me that it was time to start speaking up. As opposed to when I "started my blog" in 2015, I knew what I wanted to talk about this time and I knew that I was ready to share. 

Now, believe it or not, this is not a boastful blog post. I am not trying to celebrate myself. Sure, I am reciting my own personal narrative growth but my point is that I am just like you. I spent years frustrated that I was not heard, years wondering how to authentically express myself, and it will forever be a challenge. It is becoming more and more consistent in this blog and in conversations about my work but it is not perfect. It is like yoga. You have to keep practicing it in order to actually stay flexible.

I can, however, consistently recognize the impulse to express something, even if I do not end up expressing it. That is the first step. Feeling the urge to express yourself but not following through causes tension within you and may lead to stress and frustration. I am willing to bet that you feel the same kind of detachment between who you are now and the fully aligned, authentically expressed you.

Example 1: standing up for yourself to a boss?

Example 2: articulating your true value in a job interview?

Example 3: Telling a cute stranger at the bar that they are attractive without sounding rude and creepy?

Need I go on? You can come up with countless other examples. And that is okay. All of it is so normal.

In fact, society promotes the disconnect between your expressive drive and the actual act with cutthroat work cultures and an intense "This is the land of opportunity! Go take it for yourself!...But also be careful! It is super dangerous too and you might not succeed!" ideology.

No one can know when the moment will occur, and that is the way it is. You will never make it to that moment, however, if you recoil and avoid the conversations you want to have or avoid asking the questions you want to ask. You will be stuck shoving the voice into a teeny tiny box deep behind the fire of tension and inauthenticity. 

What I want you to do is breathe and shrug and say "Yep, I do not have my voice yet...AND THAT IS OKAY. Cut yourself a break. Do not get down on yourself because society thinks that you are failing. It took me 26 years to hear my authentic voice for the very first time. That is 9,490 days! 

That is a long time seeking the sound of authenticity.

If you are able to accept the fact that that detachment being present is totally cool and normal, then you open the door to the cavern deep inside you (see my post on Cave Diving) and you will feel the same subtle impulse that I did/do and you will not hesitate to say what you want to say in exactly the way your brain has yearned for you to say it. 

Who knows what you will say, but you will hear it when you say it, and your life will never be the same. 

Why We Do Not Actually Know Anything...And Why That Is Okay

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In high school, I participated in the French exchange program in which a student from our sister school in France came to Vermont for a couple of weeks and then we went to France for a couple of weeks. In a nutshell, my exchange student could not have cared less about the program or me, so I spent a lot of time eating Nutella on bread and getting to know his family.

Two thirds of the way through the trip there, I officially became fluent in French. Not only was I able to speak it so much more smoothly, I began to DREAM in French. That is right, my unconscious thoughts had been completely transcribed into another language. That was so cool but also so bonkers crazy to me as the young strapping lad that I was seeing the big world. The switch flipped in my brain. It had beat all the levels of learning syntax and grammar and now advanced to a totally new land of levels. I remember sitting on the edge of my bed bewildered after awakening from having dreamt in French the first time as though I had awoken on another planet with no recollection of how I had gotten there. Or maybe like Neo in The Matrix when skills were  downloaded into him as computer software and he suddenly knew kung fu. But where he could defy gravity, manipulate the fabric of existence, and fight a ton of bad guys at once, I could dream in French. Definitely the same level of cool. 

Prior to my trip, my favorite english teacher back home heard I was going to France and she dropped the bomb question on me of "who is the authority on translation between languages?" As in, "how do we know and who definitively says whether or not a word in one language actually means this other thing in another language?" Maybe there is a scientific answer to her questions but that rocked my world at the time. 

Within my studies of neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy in college, I became more and more fascinated with the concept of communication and what constituted "language" across species over the course of evolution (SPOILER ALERT: probably has something to do with how I went on to become a Narrative Coach years later...). In a neurobiology seminar, I led a lecture on how crickets communicate and a subsequent discussion on nonverbal language of other kinds of animals. These discussions taught just how wide the breadth of nonverbal language is and how "verbal language" is just plain sound that air makes moving across parts of our throat. No different than a swan singing or a wolf howling or a cricket rubbing its wings together to chirp. All language is simply an ordering and contextualizing of sound. So when someone does not know how to speak English, it means they have not learned how to form the air with their mouth, breath, and throat in the same patterns to which we grew accustomed.

History tells us how the spread of languages occurred in human evolution as the early homo sapiens began to travel up and out of Africa. The middle eastern languages (Ancient Egyptian, anyone?) and then the romance languages and boom, we have language all over the world. Despite understanding the sprawl and movement of language, I have never heard anyone answer my English teacher's question. I invite any language experts reading this who do know the answer to please help a brother out.

A major topic in philosophy of mind that was presented by Descartes in the 1600s is the concept of "privileged access" that describes how we conscious beings have our own unique self-knowledge. In other words, the way that I observe and interact with stimuli in my surroundings and perceive colors and shapes is theoretically unique to me because no one else can possibly view the world in the exact way that my eyes and brain do. Furthermore, I cannot know how someone else sees a situation even if I am standing right next to them. They may see things and observe them totally differently.

If you are ever bored, think about the question: Does that person see the color Red the same way that I do? and then clean up your brain off the ground. 

I believe the theory of privileged access extends to language. When was the last time that you said "You know what I mean?" after trying to explain something? NEWS FLASH: NO ONE WILL EVER KNOW EXACTLY WHAT YOU MEAN. If you are lucky, they will recognize what you are talking about and identify that you use the same descriptive words as they might to describe an experience. Even people with complex vocabularies cannot 100% perfectly describe their perceptual experiences because it is possibly always going to be different than the way their audience may see it, regardless of how detailed an explanation they provide. 

So why do we teach? Why do we explain things at all if no one fully understands what is being said? I believe it is to connect. We want to relate. We want to understand each other. We want to know that we are not alone in the world and that our experiences are not somehow incorrect. History itself is storytelling in order to provide another generation context for why they live where they do and how they might want to live in that culture. Tales told around the campfire throughout the millennia are the experiences of the teller to which the listeners try to relate or which they try to remember in the course of their own lives. At least teaching can be effective when it is taught in an appropriate way for students to comprehend the information. 

At the end of the day, even if students comprehend something that is being taught and a friend's story at a bar makes somewhat sense to me, we may still not actually know what the person means. But that has to be okay because chances are we never will. We cannot know what the story they are describing actually looked like to them when they witnessed it. All of the colors and objects and perspective and emotions. 

Perhaps we do not know anything about what is said to us. Perhaps all we need is to be able to feel what we think we understand of the story. What rings true to us and what relates to our life and values. 

Perhaps there is no correct translation between languages at all. Maybe there never has been or will be. But also maybe they are translated just enough for us to be able to connect to each other. Better yet, maybe just enough to help us accept that we all have our very own experience of life in the movie theater of our minds and that that is okay because we are experiencing life differently together. 

My vacation a couple weeks ago took place in multiple French-speaking countries. My French came back quite strongly by the end of the trip and, even though I would not say I was necessarily fluent again as I was in high school, the locals seemed to understand what I was saying. I received the correct orders at restaurants and directions in the mountains, and I even held a whole conversation about a certain kind of popcorn with a local woman in a supermarket.

Maybe we are not as far off as we think. 

How Working With Me Is Like The Best Cave Diving Trip You Will Ever Take

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When I tell people that my career has been in mental health and that my business helps individuals with self awareness around their self-talk, ambition, and authentic expression through writing, speaking, and communication, I am often asked if meditation is involved. If you read my post last week about how active an activity (redundant again. You are welcome) meditation is, I find it interesting that meditation is so front of mind when topics of mental health and introspection are discussed. Those same interactions proceed into a discussion of how the persons are "not good at meditation" or "cannot meditate" or are "scared of introspection." I get that. Let us be honest, meditation takes time, introspection is scary, and deep internal personal change is like pushing a boulder up a hill forever (google search: Sysiphus).

But I am going to zoom out a bit. People get nervous about mindfulness as a discipline because they think there is a right or wrong way to "do it", when really the only wrong way to do it is to not practice mindfulness at all. But yes, that is when it gets super scary because it is like "Umm, where do I start and how do I stop?" People may start with meditating, then devote a couple hours a week to journaling, then over time become comfortable turning inwards at will. The problem is: the moment when you open the hatch too far and tumble down into your self and cannot find the way out of the caverns of your inner world, you straight up panic and thrash around in the previously tranquil pools of your consciousness. People freak out, climb out of the hatch, and lock it up tightly because it was too scary. No more introspection. No more journaling. No more deep breathing. Just shallow breathing and surface level thoughts from now on.

That is where people get stuck and they settle for handling life on their own without mindfulness. That only lets new panic take the place of the other panic. You will become unhappy at work, irritable at home, and antisocial with friends because you feel all the tension build up inside of you while the hatch behind your heart remains triple locked. And THAT is where I come in.

Mindfulness is scary because it requires vulnerability and no one else can be mindful for you, but that does not mean you have to do it alone. Why do we get the most out of yoga at a yoga class? How do we come to write our thesis papers in college? How do we learn to chill out the hormones and comfortably speak to a crush in middle school? We benefit from the support of a teacher, advisor, or caregiver. Yes, it provides accountability and accountability is a good motivator, but more importantly having someone there to support your introspection reassures you that you will be safe and cared for no matter how scary it gets. As soon as I begin working with a client, it is deeply collaborative. I meet them on their level and we journey into the abyss together. Sounds daunting? Duh, but that is the point of every exploration. Exploration inherently involves the unknown and tackling the unknown is so much more fun when you have a teammate committed to the exact same journey with you.

Here is what happens:

  1. We open up the hatch together.
  2. I help you dive into the pool of your inner consciousness (I do not push you off the diving board, I promise)
  3. I will hold your cell phone so it does not get wet
  4. I will hand you a big inflatable donut so that you do not drown
  5. We bob there, letting the current of the water gently bounce us along the path of your narrative goals
  6. You feel more comfortable in the water as your awareness becomes more grounded
  7. You hand me the donut floatie while you dip your head into your new empowering self-beliefs
  8. You start swimming freestyle further and further toward new communication styles and authentic expression. 
  9. You exit the hatch, rejuvenated like after a long swim in a calm lake instead of a frantic flail in the shark tank at Seaworld.
  10. Repeat.

You want to get to know yourself better? Want to improve your communication with friends or coworkers? Want to stop beating yourself up about your ideas and ambitions? All you have to do is take the plunge.

How A Snow Storm Shows You Who You Really Are, part 1: NEED

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Today, the eastern united states is witness to a large snow and ice storm. We up here call it a nor'easter and know that all it really means is to lace up our L.L.Bean duck boots a little tighter and make sure to keep the hood of our North Face parka in place over our heads when we inevitably leave the house. It is supposed to accumulate up to a foot of fresh snow. 

Even though there are a lot Boston-area residents who have lived here for a long time and are no stranger to winter conditions, this funny thing happens when the forecast calls for a dumping like today: people think that it is the end of the world. It is as though meteorologists reported that the zombie apocalypse will, in fact, begin at the stroke of midnight on Thursday morning and that we all better be indoors and out of sight forever. I drove past Whole Foods and Trader Joe's yesterday at 2:00pm(!) and both parking lots resembled a Los Angeles interstate. Random horns were honking somewhere, pedestrians looked both ways twenty times in the ten foot walk to their cars, and a hundred other cars piled into the through spaces to get a spot that can no longer be vacated because too many cars are piled into the through space. Smack my head.

Admittedly, I recognize the value of stocking up for a snow day and I wanted to get provisions myself, so I waited until 8:30 to go. Traffic had died down and there were parking spaces, but checkout lines still extended down the hallway to the bakery at Whole Foods. Judging how slow the line was moving as I meandered through the threadbare aisles, I was prepared to take a loaf of bread and ration it out to people in line to fortify them on their journey. 

Produce baskets were just baskets at that point, the pasta section was destroyed, and all of the pre-made food shelves were completely empty. Does anyone else remember the Millennium Bug scare and how we all prepared for a new Dark Age? That was right around New Year's Eve, too... What a coincidence. Anyhow, I miraculously found everything I wanted (cheese pizza, macro bars, and a deformed yellow bell pepper that was not damaged, just misunderstood) and asked the cashier how he was holding up. He told me he would be off today and could not believe the day they had had. That is reasonable. He went on, though, to tell me that he saw people earlier in the day fighting over food on the shelves. I did not ask him to elaborate on what he meant by the word fighting (but I absolutely pictured Catness Everdeen and all three of the Hunger Games movies), but let us stop for a second and consider the typical shopper of a place like Whole Foods: GROWN UPS. ADULTS. FIGHTING for non-perishable food that they want for a single day of bad weather. Even millennials and hipsters I know who shop at Whole Foods would not actually argue or lunge for that last box of almonds and cashews. It was like a scene from every virus outbreak movie ever after a pharmacy or food shop had been looted. 

So what the heck happened? Did a looming snow cloud make us resort to baser instincts? Maybe. But does a snow storm make us need to fight over food? No. What it boils down to is our perceived sense of need. Sure, hunger is one of Maslow's Foundational Needs we have to satisfy to survive, but what food does Maslow say is necessary and how much should be bought when there is a snow storm? 

I choose to write about this after last week's post about New Year's Resolutions and making realistic personal change because a lot of people's "commitment" to make change starts with a perceived need, and I think that is wrong. 

"I need to lose weight"

"I need to make more money"

"I need to get my life in order"

Are these not desires? See, stating a need assumes some external pressure. A reasonable need is to complete a certain work assignment by noon so that your boss can use the information for a board meeting. The need comes from a pressure outside of you that bears down on you in order to instigate action. An external pressure that invites action like that is also known as a stressor. In that sense, acting to satisfy that need requires acting through a level of anxiety. Exhibit A: yesterday at Whole Foods. There was a whole lot of anxiety-fueled need swirling around based on the external pressure of a snow storm. 

Now think about your Resolutions that you may or may not have set last weekend. How many were born from some external pressure (i.e. a fitness freak coworker who has passive-aggressively made comments for the past six months about how little cardio you do) and how many were out of a genuine desire born within you?  

Turning Needs into Wants eliminates the external pressure and the subsequent anxiety. There is more comfort in pursuing a change that you genuinely want and it is typically much more interesting and healthy. Not to brag or anything, but I went to Whole Foods last night with the desire for some food to have available today instead of the pressing need for a certain kind or amount of food to ensure my survival. That way, if there was no Annie's White Cheddar Mac & Cheese left on the shelf, it would have been okay with me and I would have found something else. After all, I chose to wait until just a few hours before the snow was supposed to begin, so you were not going to see me pointing to the far wall and stealing a ton of stuff from people's carts as they dumbly look toward the far wall. The fact that I was not in any state of anxiety allowed me to laugh about the sad state of the shelves with other shoppers and have a calmly supportive conversation with the cashier about the Civil War he had just endured. 

Make realistic goals, people! You need food for the snow day? How much do you actually want to have available for your family? You need to lose weight? What do you actually want to do to start (Hint: start by reading last week's post)?

We do not need to be savages in an upscale grocery store. We simply want to survive. Google Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. What is the minimum amount of quinoa necessary for you to survive a snow storm? 

Why The Holiday Is The Perfect Time To Hire Me, Part Two: New Year's Resolutions

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Allright, folks. You are back to work in a wobbly haze, still wondering how you were able to fit that Toll House pie around the stuffing and dinner rolls in your stomach. On your commute home right now, you realize that tomorrow is Friday, which means that it is almost the weekend and this weekend is when we say goodbye to 2017. "Another party? I suppose I could get dressed up and be festive one more time. Maybe just a few drinks this year." But another year done and gone? Yikes. All done. Bye bye. 

2017 was supposed to be our savior. It was expected to be the beam of sunlight bursting through the clouds of 2016 and warming us with the grace of hope and optimism. Instead, another cloud rolled in and it started raining. Even if people do not make a big deal about New Year's Eve, I do not know of anyone who does not stop for a mental millisecond to consider the fact that another whole year has past and you need a new calendar to hang up. I personally never put much emphasis on going out and watching fireworks with thousands of other people in the freezing cold, but I without fail always feel very sentimental about the turning of the year. It is a strong mental marker for the memories and experiences that occurred in the time span of twelve months, the nostalgia of which immediately transforms into the "Holy s***" moment of "what the heck is gonna happen next?"

We cannot control the future but we can control the choices we make as the future comes our way. As such, humans make these funny things called "resolutions", which are steadfast promises - mostly about physical health and lifestyle - that people get stoked about and talk about for a whopping couple of weeks before the reality sinks in of having to maintain that promise FORRR-EHHH-VER. A sudden amnesia breaks out and not a soul says a word about resolutions for another 11.5 months. 

My question about resolutions that I never hear anyone ask is "Why should making intentional personal change be deflected to one time per year, only to be dismissed after mere weeks?" I know what you are thinking. You are sitting there reading this with your freshly typed list of potential resolutions in a word document just behind this window, and I seem to be conveying to you that they are meaningless. As they are written right now, yes, most of them are meaningless. But read on.

The root word of resolution is resolve, and the google searched definitions of resolve start with the verb to mean "to settle or find a solution to a problem." If this were the only definition listed on the interwebs anywhere, it would affirm the classically American "fix it" mentality (just think about health care for a second). Luckily, two more definitions are offered: 

1) to decide firmly on a course of action

2) a firm determination to do something

These are better. I like how both include the adjective firm as though we would not believe the focused nature of the word determination when left on its own. A resolution is rooted in the framework of someone wanting to do something and then FIRMLY choosing a course of action. It sounds so empowering like that, like the determination in Aragorn when he turns and runs by himself toward the whole Orc army in the final battle of Lord of the Rings. We can get jazzed up about resolutions because it is exciting for us to think of something that we desire to change and then come up with a plan to pursue that change. Feel that new strength!

So why does that excitement crash and burn before January has even finished? The majority of resolutions are meaningless not because they are invalid or poor choices or you are an idiot for even thinking about those in particular, but instead because they are simply unrealistic. 

I will let that sit there for a second. 

Your resolutions are not wrong, they are just unrealistic. A lot of people commonly set resolutions about losing weight. Say you want to lose fifty pounds. Okay, awesome. More power to you. But how are you going to do that? And by when? And then what? What is the actual plan around losing fifty pounds? What list of changes and commitments must you fulfill in order to reach that one goal? People would like to lose fifty pounds but they do not consider that within their lofty resolution is a ton of hidden resolutions such as but not limited to: seeing a nutiritionist, taking their advice, changing what food you buy, how you cook it, how much to eat, what gym to go to, to get a personal trainer or not, what kind exercise to choose, how to improve, how to recover, how to maintain. 

That is eleven individual resolutions that people could choose as an alternative to the lofty hope of losing fifty pounds and are so much more connected to reality. They are quantifiable. So what is wrong with stating the resolution to see a nutritionist and let that be it? That would be so easy to achieve in January. Just one consultation. Then make one single food item change based on their advice. Two steps in to our list. You are killin' it. Am I the only one who feels like these goals are so much easier than the one we started with?

Think about it for yourself. Are your goals for the new year realistic for you and your lifestyle? Here is where I come in and why you should hire me in January. For years now, I have practiced the aforementioned goal setting technique and taken it a step further to strategize the actual action steps for each one. That way, starting several years ago, I no longer set one or two distinct resolutions to pursue above all else at the turn of the clock but rather I concretely and chronologically organize my to-do list in a logical order that is realistic for me to work on. An example is completing a self-paced online course for a new certification that really should be done before I do anything else on my list so now it is the first priority in January. Instead of resolving to make a million dollars this year, I resolve to work on something much more tangible about my business that may (hopefully) eventually lead to making a million dollars. 

This form of strategic goal setting is something I have used to help clients in their entrepreneurship, for instance once they have defined a brand narrative and their products are all packaged up, but I am using it more and more now with clients in their personal relationships. More specifically, how to communicate with others close to them. We humans get into habits at a young age with regard to interpersonal communication, so many then do not have any clue how to adjust / improve their communication in a time of need. As such, the desire to improve communication is unrealistic because the individual does not know how to even begin. I help clients break down their lofty goals in order to create realistic, step-by-step action plans. They say "I would like to improve the communication in my relationship" and we break that down together. They say "I want to get clients for my business" and we make a plan together.

Do not think that you have to set a lofty resolution to be like everyone else. How many people do you know have actually accomplished a legitimate resolution? You still have four night to choose your promise so take your time. Here is a four day plan:

  1. Tonight (Thursday): think of a lofty goal for yourself.
  2. Tomorrow (Friday): make a list of what would need to happen in order to achieve that. Really break it down into its parts.
  3. Saturday: look at that list of simpler goals and choose one that feels realistic for you to achieve in January. Write it down.
  4. Sunday: while you dress up for your party, take a look at it again. If you still think you can realistically achieve it in January, then you have your resolution. Go forth and prosper (Do not throw away the other list, though. You still have to achieve the other items, too, just in their own time). 

Cheers to you, to your realistic resolutions, and to your success in 2018.

DECK THE HALLS WITH FIVE QUESTIONS THAT HELP YOU ASSESS YOUR RELATIONSHIPS AND COMMUNICATION STYLE

Andddddd suddenly it is December again. Even though Christmas music has been playing and Starbucks has been using the red cups for over a month, now is when we buckle down and freak out about gift-giving, snow tires, and, of course, even more time with the family.

I love my family and I am lucky to have a family that communicates through an endless group text message, but every family has their own version of pervasive challenges that never quite go away. Especially around the holidays, personalities clash, arguments happen, the house is suddenly THAT MUCH smaller as "grown up, mature" kids try to prove how grown up and mature they are. 

For the majority of families whom I have served in the mental health field, holiday time together is an impassible terrain of anger, sadness, and trauma. In every case, all of the tension is caused by the absence of a single tool: respectful communication. It is very difficult for a child to have a parent or sibling yell at them and relentlessly blame them for something they did not do and for that child to simply shrug it off with a "well, something is going on with them and they are projecting all over me. I wonder what is wrong."

When you are getting berated for no reason, it is human and normal to feel sad, angry, resentful, and defensive because you are being attacked and your self worth is threatened. I am one of the billions of people who have been bullied before, and I still get bullied to this day. Think about bullying, though. It is so sad that a bully is so insecure about him or herself in some way that they have to exert negative control over peers who they deem to be weaker in order to feel less powerless and more worthwhile in the world. What if that bully instead approached some of the "weaker" kids, asked to sit down at their lunch table, and be friends with them, and over time be able to talk about their anger and stressors to friends who would show him or her compassion?  Why does the bully not do that?

Because it is DIFFICULT.

It is difficult to express your feelings. It is difficult to trust others with your vulnerability. It is difficult to be authentic. It is difficult to take a deep breath and remind yourself that it is not your fault. 

Why do you think we had a section in high school health class when we were formally taught how to use "I" statements to express our feelings and have a respectful conversation? Because it is difficult to say "I felt hurt when you said ____  to me." It takes a lot of self-awareness to know how specifically your feelings are hurt, and even more self-assuredness to verbally express them.

And therein lies the big issue.

Not many children or adults know how to put words to their feelings and calmly discuss them. A lot of people know what they are feeling but, because they do not know how to verbalize it, they resolve to believe the only way to express them is through action or argument, leading to fights and resentment.  You cannot change others but you are always able to make change in yourself.

Last week I wrote about gratitude for the connections we make, and respectful communication is the fire that forges those connections into healthy relationships. You see, how you carry yourself day to day and communicate with those around you comprises the story you tell the world. We will never be done working on personal expression and respectful communication, myself included. But we cannot do it alone. I am proud of my own ability to openly express my thoughts and feelings and I had a lot of help along the way. Now I help people identify the stories that they are telling the world, how it is getting in the way of their goals or their relationships and, most importantly, what to do about it.

I have helped clients effectively present wedding toasts, strategize comfortable and authentic networking for their new startups, and hold a respectful conversation with HR about a boss that they absolutely hate.  Our presence is not enough to make a strong relationship. Healthy connections with others comes down to how you communicate. And let me be clear. We all need connections.

So now that we are riding fast toward the New Year, stop and think about the connections you have right now (family or otherwise) and ask:

  • How do I communicate with them?
  • What tone do I use or emotions do I feel during the interactions?
  • Can I feel that I want some kind of change?
  • Is something missing in the connections that I wish was there?
  • Can I put words to what it is?

That is where you start. 

INNOCENT LITTLE DATA POINT: A new definition of Story in your daily life.

In a class I recently taught on storytelling and personal branding, I asked the group "What is a story?" I only heard crickets at first as everybody totally overthought the question. I did not want to assuage their anxiety so I let the silence continue. Eventually three answers were called out:

"Something that happens to a character."

"Has a beginning, middle, and end."

"A glimpse into somebody's life."

All of those are correct. But the definition could be distilled even further. I intentionally oversimplify the definition of a story to "a data point". That is all it is. Plain and simple. A data point. Sit with that for a second. Does it make sense to you? Does it confuse you? Or does its simplicity anger you?

It should not. Here is why.

The three answers that the students shared were correct because a story is in fact an event that occurs with which someone interacts, it has a sequential structure to it, and the way in which someone reacts to the event says something about who they are. But these events can be huge (like a bomb going off) or teeny tiny, like me turning my head to look out the window a second ago. Interestingly, a lot of people I have taught and spoken to confuse story and narrative. I have found that they often think of story as a large grandiose recount of a period of time but, even though stories do involve an amount of time passing, they are not necessarily large.

What adds magnitude to them, however, is how events affect our lives. Very small things can dramatically affect people. A smile from a stranger on the street, hitting all green lights on the way home from work, catching that perfect sunrise at that perfect moment.

Now think even smaller than that. Me typing this post, me moving my fingers, my thoughts changing from one sentence to the next, what other thoughts come to mind and distract me. Even the act of telling you what a story is is a story. It gets super layered from there but every little thing that occurs, every way we look, every tiny action we make, is a story that contributes to our day and subsequently how we feel about that day and then how that day affects tomorrow, and so on and so on. This is why I call them data points. These miniscule-all-the-way-up-to-enormous events in a given day are bits of information that collect and impact a future.

Think about a classic scatter plot you learned how to make in grade school math class. You plot little dots on the graph and see what sort of trend it makes overall. This is a perfect example:

Each dot = a story

Ultimate trend and overall layout of the data = the narrative

On its own, a data point does not inform anything. It is simply a piece of innocent information. An event that occurs. It contributes to a narrative, though, because we react to it and apply our own meaning to the event based on emotional biases. That is how an event lingers with us longer than the event itself lasts. That is why someone's death affects one person so much more deeply than someone else (sorry for going dark). I alluded to this last week about how meaning that we assign to actions and events make them live on endlessly in the future. Our subjective assignment of meaning is just that, subjective. We have debates and arguments about events and stories that we experience, but our arguments are only ours. We each experience events in our own very unique ways only because we attach our own unique meanings to them. But without the meaning we attach, an event is just an event. 

Just a data point. 

Think about this for yourself. Think about every little teeny tiny thing that has happened for you and to you today and to which you have reacted. Really think about it. If you are doing it correctly, you ought to feel overwhelmed pretty quickly by how many things actually occur in a given day. 

Here is an example. A few minutes ago, I watched a gentleman on the sidewalk get out of a cab with six different pieces of luggage. One normal sized suitcase, a carry on rolling suitcase, a tiny rolling suitcase, and three messenger bag-like briefcases. The briefcases he piled on the large suitcase, looping their handles on the suitcase handle. Then he proceeded to stack the tiny suitcase on the small suitcase and methodically try to match up the handles so that one finger could hold the tiny suitcase in place while the majority of his hand could guide the small suitcase. The whole event lasted thirty seconds and was rather humorous at first (clown-car status) but two things made it less like a circus act and more of a seriously impressive endeavor: the man was impeccably dressed in suit, tie, and trench coat and the man's face conveyed nothing more than straight determination. No distress, no visible embarrassment.

Okay, scene set. Now story time. In that thirty seconds:

  • I stopped typing because I saw that this was no ordinary taxi exit,
  • I observed his dress and mannerisms,
  • I reacted with laughter first and then intrigue,
  • my eyes narrowed watching his hands dance around the suitcase handles,
  • I felt self-conscious that I was staring for too long,
  • I realized he could so easily look up and see me at the window eavesdropping on his adventure,
  • I consciously decided to keep watching,
  • I picked at a fingernail in anxiety for the man's struggle,
  • I felt surprise by his stalwart focus and composure,
  • I felt joy when he figured it out and started moving,
  • and I was left with immense curiosity for where he was heading...and why he owned so many small pieces of luggage...

See? A lot of stuff happened in a tiny amount of time. I have no idea where that man is but I am still curious about his journey and where he was going with so many bags. I want to know his story. And that event was significant enough for me to spontaneously decide to include it in this post, which took more time, which may have eliminated the possibility to do something else with that time, and the ripple effect continues from there for my day and week. 

It was just an innocent event that has now affected my day. And every bit of that story and my interaction with that event is its own story as well. Its own data point. Just like my students said, the Event of the Gentleman and the Suitcases had a beginning, middle, and end, it is something that happened to a character, and, most importantly, it presented the tiniest glimpse into his life. At the same time, my interaction with that event had a beginning, middle, and end, it happened to me - I experienced it - and it gives a little glimpse into my life by how I react to random moments.

SILENCE IS GOLDEN: How saying less actually says more.

I recently attended a workshop on effective communication. It was three hours long on a Thursday morning. The content focused on mental frames we use that bias our interactions and affect the ways we engage in conversations with others. For instance, how formulating the belief that someone won't listen to you before you have even tried speaking to them inspires us to avoid any conversation altogether. The content subsequently covered a step-by-step method for conducting a productive conversation with respect, integrity, and confidence. 

I was content to learn that a lot of my conversations with people already follow that general method, but what was most interesting about the workshop was how direct and concise the content was. The prowess of the facilitator and the idea of "leaving your audience wanting more" not withstanding, it was a strong emblem for how communication should be. 

See, we humans think that we need to beleaguer subject matter to get our point across. That is often why it is easier to tend to be more wordy in writing than is necessary. Think of someone you know who - to put it diplomatically - is proud of something they know and loves to tell people about it ad nauseam. Do you often think that you would still get their point if they had concisely expressed their message once and left it at that? Aside from any arrogance behind talking about something longer and more frequently than is necessary, think about how much more time we would have in life if everyone got to the point and moved on.

Yeah, kinda depressing. But here is the thing. It is very difficult to be concise. It has been something I have been working on for years in interpersonal conversation. In text messages and college papers and cover letters I have improved over the years, but I know I can do better in person. 

Because my human experience on this earth is made up of my unique interpretations of events and stories based on what intellectual / emotional capacities my brain developed, how I understand a message or story from someone is guaranteed to be at least slightly different than the way they imagine and understand it themselves. Even when I feel like I totally get what they are saying, it could very well still be because I am thinking of something different. I will go over this more in depth later when we cover "conflicting narratives", but it suffices to say that we can all work on getting to the point.

"Why do we need to do that?" you might ask. Because wordiness comes from insecurity. We fill in our sentences with useless fillers like "just" and "like" and even a lot of adverbs to curb the edge of what we are sharing, whether out of fear of how the other person will take it or out of insecurity about what you are saying. If you read my post from a few weeks ago (see Friend-request your stress), I am willing to bet that you can identify interactions or individuals that cause you stress or insecurity. Those are perfect examples of moments to expect that stress, blurt out what you need to, and breathe into the silence that follows. Isn't it ironic that our stress response of adding more words to our conversations is our way of trying to shy away from a situation?

Next time you feel yourself start to blabber on and on, ask yourself: how much more do I need to share? Have I yet conveyed the point I wanted to make? If so, stop there and accept the fact that your message has been shared. If you have ever heard the old proverb Silence is golden, then let it be so and see what your audience does next. 

FRIEND-REQUEST YOUR STRESS: How to optimize your learning in an overstimulating world

I saw a meme once that alluded to the fact that the purpose of school is to fill us in on what has been going on in the world before now. Simply to catch us up on why are learning in the first place. Yeah, I see your wheels turning. You are thinking back to that social studies class where you learned about the Ice Man in the Himalayas or Alps and are curious how that applies to your accounting job now. It is kinda disheartening to think about all the classes we have sat through and wonder what you learned and why.

Pause for a deep breath.

We have learned a lot in our lives. Everything in life is learning even if not in a classroom. What is taught in school is constantly evolving. Evolution is change. Change causes stress. When I am learning something new - like when I had to teach myself my own bookkeeping a few years ago - I have a miniature panic attack at the beginning. Just a little one. It has to happen because it is human. Getting unexpected instructions at work right now is like getting homework at the end of a class period. It suddenly stresses you out a bit because you did not know of it before.

And what is worse, WE ALL HAVE DIFFERENT LEARNING STYLES. Not only do our bosses and teachers all have different personalities that lead to different teaching styles, every student and employee has a totally different learning style. No wonder communication breakdown is the primary cause of job dissatisfaction. But I digress. More on that later...

Learning something new causes stress. Straight up. And that stress is tied to a unique learning style.

Perfect example: Someone very dear to me learned how to administer stress tests while studying Exercise Physiology back in college. She was verbally taught all the step-by-step procedures to administer the test, what each apparatus and programmatic feature was, and how to explain the process to the subject. All good and interesting, except she had no clue how it all fit together. Cue the minor panic attack (Stressing about a stress test: priceless). Luckily she had initiative and has the same blended learning style as I do so, come time to demonstrate the stress test in the lab portion, she did not hesitate to volunteer. Even though she did not fully understand what was about to happen from a practical perspective, her engagement in the demonstration made her consolidate all of the information and understand the process to every detail.

Not all of us have the initiative that she did to take the risk and volunteer to be a test dummy, but we all feel those sudden rushes of momentary panic when we are taught something and do not understand it. All you have to do is recognize it and move on.  Even if you do not ask for help at that point, you must keep going. Reread the textbook seventeen times, stare at the math problem, google how to do what your boss just asked you to do.

We live in a world that is completely flooded with information. Words, images, data everywhere. I thought there was a lot of information to learn back in middle school when we did not yet have cell phones or AOL. Now look where we are. Something new is thrown at us in alarming fashion a zillion times a day. A lot of it we do not consciously notice but our brains and bodies register. It is a lot. Some would say too much. If the overload of information does not match your learning style, anxiety is bound to arise. We are learning new information both consciously and unconsciously from so many new sources all of the time that overwhelm will happen. It is guaranteed and it will not stop.

But here is all you have to do:  Accept that. Yeah, that is all. You are going to get anxious. Every day you are going to get presented with something new to absorb into your limited capacity brain tissue, and it will cause stress. Do not shy away from it, though. It is just your brain wiggling and adjusting itself to store more information. Own it. Expect it.

Why? So you are not surprised when the stress pops up. That way, you will recognize the stress simply as your response to the change and then you will be more open and comfortable to learn the new thing or take on the new task even though it is unfamiliar and unexpected. 

So say hi to your stress, do not push it away. You might learn something from it.

KIDS THESE DAYS: THE MILLIONTH REASON WHY TECHNOLOGY SHOULD BE FEARED AND RESPECTED

I read an article in Time magazine back in 2013 about how technology has changed the way that children learn these days. Selfie fever was already an epidemic at the time, but kids did not know how to take them correctly. They simply knew that they had to dress up, pose "effortlessly", and take a thousand pics just to be sure.

The Millennial generation was the first to grow up with the onslaught of computers and cellular phones. My sister is on the upper boundary of the Millennial age bracket and she did not get a cell phone until senior year of high school, by my parents' insistence. This new weird gizmo was too dangerous to be entrusted to an adolescent...

When she got hers, my brother and I looked on with wonder, interpreting what we saw of the phone as the combo of a landline, a remote control, and a PlayStation 2 controller. We were all like, "what's a text message? Don't you talk on it?"

Little 'ole me came along and my parents softened a little by letting me have a cell phone during sophomore year of high school instead of senior year because so many other kids already had them. My parents are not pushovers or people who predictably hop on bandwagons, so giving us phones was genuinely due to the value of accessibility. If I needed to access my parents for anything, I no longer had to go to the school office and wait in line to make a landline call out. My phone, a beautiful and sleek Motorola flip model, lived in my backpack (cause there was no way something that bulky could live in my pocket just yet...especially with an antenna) and there was security in knowing that it was mine and that it could be used to contact my parents at any time.

And that was before any apps...or a camera...

The Time article scared me when I read it because it meant that the advent of the internet and the proliferation of cell phones fundamentally changed the way that human beings learn information. In the old days, it was lecture and discussion-style and then you take a test to realize how much did not actually sink into your brain. The teacher was the source of information, however, and you could not comfortably call that teacher at home if you did not get something. You had to refer to a book of some kind.

But then in 2013, the article spoke to how students hear the information from teachers and make mental note of keywords or key-phrases that they can then look up online or on their phone later on or before the test. Not only that, if there was a story on the news that seemed interesting in passing, children will log the topic and tv channel in their mind so that they know where they could find it later instead of sitting down and watching right then. They learned where to find the information, not the information itself.

It freaked me out because it meant we youngens were learning in such a different way than people had in the past and even the way that I was learning had changed over time.  

But even though the kids that the article referenced (FOUR YEARS AGO, mind you) simply tie a balloon to the back of their brain that holds the location of the new knowledge just to have for later, that is still new knowledge. Forming the memory circuit for where that information lives is still a new memory circuit. Sure, the person does not absorb the history lesson's content right then, but they still have taken in a new piece of knowledge about that content. Not only that, but they have created a new adaptation for survival in knowing where to find certain information that they are being taught is important.

This learning style contributes to the overall ADD of my generation because the logging of the key phrase and where to find the content only takes a couple of seconds, freeing up time in the classroom to draft one's next tweet or zone out looking at the cute guy or girl in another row. Kids now ask "what's next?" because they tie up the balloon and compartmentalize information so quickly.

I am absolutely guilty of this, especially in the past few years when the amount of accessible information has continued to explode and the amount of things I have wanted and needed to learn has similarly expanded in the course of entrepreneurship.   

So why am I still scared of that article?

I am scared for the kids. I think I am fine and most of my adult comrades who use the balloon trick are fine because we mostly know why we are saving that memory circuit and because we need to devote our attention to some other piece of our job. But kids do not know what they should devote their attention to yet, which is why technology is so distracting and the allure of social media is so strong. They tie up a balloon about history class and when the test is and call it good. Then they hop back on Instagram.

So even though kids are still learning, I can still be scared.

You'll never read this, will you?

Blog - one of the goofiest but most recognizable words in the world. Like a lovechild of "blah" and "fog". Both super exciting. The first recorded mention of the word was in 1997 as part of the word "Weblog" before its separation into the phrase "we blog" allowed it to become a verb in addition to a noun. The term "Weblog" makes a whole lot more sense, let's be real. Now blogs are as ubiquitous as thermostats: random instruments that are secretly necessary in daily life. Blogs often take the form of a lack of form, leaving it up to the writer to craft it the way they want and about whatever they want (SPOILER ALERT: we'll cover this a lot more in a later post).  

Whether you're a quintessential millennial (like me) or a well-informed baby boomer, you very well know how blogs are the rebellious middle child between a tweet and a novel. It has stuff to say and it's ready to argue, but it's going to argue it in 600-1200 words and then turn stubborn, holding fast behind the words once it's published. The younger sibling will comment on it, the older sibling will discuss it on their book tour, but the middle sibling will remain stoic. 

Like the events that punctuate a culture's history, blog posts are the stories that compose the blog's overall narrative. The first time I wrote a blog was in the summer of 2011 when my sister and I took an epic road trip around the west coast for two weeks, documenting how many pastries we ate and how many times her iPod Classic (yup, remember those? The iPods that could store a hundred thousand songs or something?) thought it was a good idea to play Christmas songs on shuffle. We published the blog because we knew the trip would be an adventure and our closest friends and family wanted to be included in that adventure (it was amazing. If you happen to find it in the internet-land, please enjoy).

That's what blogs do: they connect people. Even if you don't read this post - let's be honest, you likely won't; it's the first post - I now get to be stubborn about a topic. And you ought to pay attention, because everything I will talk about actually relates to your life. And yours. And yours. And mine. That's important to understand so I'm glad you read all the way to this point (you did read this, right?).