Stress Management

On Transition: How To Take The Stress Out Of Change And Uncertainty

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I just moved across the country from Massachusetts to Utah.

Do not worry, it was planned. For a very good reason. But despite how planned it was, moving is still ranked as one of the top stress-inducing activities for human beings. I have moved numerous times in my young adult life and, even though I am really really ridiculously good at it, it is still a daunting and difficult process. 

The part that I am best at is getting in to my fully packed car, starting the engine, and driving to wherever my new home will be. I do not feel any stress during that piece of the process. Once I arrive in the new location, a little stress comes in the form of the to-do list at the new living situation (i.e. utilities, internet, unpacking, organizing my belongings, etc.), all of which is dependent on the extent of preparation prior to the journey.

Speaking of preparation, that is where all of my stress lives. I am quite good at planning the preparation and checking off all of the things that lead up to leaving my apartment spotless and concealing the keys in the freezer for my landlord, but still the process of doing all of those things is so burdensome.

I felt a constant simmer of cortisol flow inside me for about a month and a half, my sleep was affected because my brain exploded with "WHAT ARE WE GOING TO ACCOMPLISH TOMORROW???" brainstorms the second I turned out the light, and my body felt like it was riding around on the Tilt-A-Whirl ride at the carnival (google it) swirling from work to packing stuff up to "sleep" and back to work. 

Before you determine that this is just my diary entry about how successful my trip along the Oregon Trail went and a discussion of my personal stress triggers, let me clarify that this post is about transition. 

People hate change. People fear change. It is uncertain, unpredictable, uber terrifying. Change is literally the total opposite of familiarity, and human beings are wired to seek out and settle into any sense of familiarity available. Our brains crave it so that it can log the most efficient ways to survive. 

Of course we also need novelty and uncertainty for our brains to grow at all, but human beings enjoy trying to control that uncertainty by planning way ahead for something or overanalyzing every single possible scenario even though they have zero knowledge about it. 

As a result, transitions can be challenging for people in so many different ways. 

I, for example, get stressed in the daunting preparation of moving. Others may not pack much so the preparation is super easy but they get stressed by the drive itself. 

As I mentioned above, the overall process of moving is split up into:

  1. Preparation and planning
  2. The action of the change
  3. Settling in to the new state

Moving is an easy example to use for a stressful change, but I want to think beyond that now and ask you how you react to change. 

Let us think of some examples of change, large or small, that you may experience throughout a given day:

  • a rainstorm
  • a surprise meeting
  • a car accident
  • a surprise party
  • someone buys you a drink
  • your computer crashes
  • you sleep through your alarm
  • you wake up before your alarm

See, change can be all kinds of things but those things do not have to always be a surprise. Like moving across the country or knowing you have to lead a meeting today that you usually do not have to, change causes some level of stress. 

Reflection Homework:

  1. What changes or transitions have you experienced recently that you expected / could plan for?
  2. How did you react to them?
  3. What changes or transitions have you experienced recently that you did NOT expect / could NOT plan for?
  4. How did you react to them?
  5. Did you react differently depending on whether or not the change was known ahead of time? Why or why not?
  6. Go back to the three categories above and zoom in on your reaction. Which of the three steps of the change process caused the highest reaction?

A lot of people are so distracted by the stress of their change that they are unable to perceive what specifically about that change is causing the stress. If you are able to answer the above questions, you will be able to focus in on what stresses you out the most. 

If you always stress about the same segment of a change, how might you prepare differently for that segment in the future?

If you make a list of recent changes and notice that your stress is divided up through the different segments of each change, what do those changes have in common?

This awareness will lead you to preemptively quell the stress before it even begins in the future. 

You Are Thinking About "Right and Wrong" All Wrong

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DO THE RIGHT THING.

YOU ARE DOING THIS WRONG.

IS THIS RIGHT?

WHERE DID I GO WRONG?

Do you ever ask these questions? Better yet, do these questions rule your life? Are you distracted by doing things "correctly"? "I want to do it right" is probably the most common problem I hear clients complain about when we discuss obstacles to their success. I hate this notion that there is a right or a wrong way to do things in life. That is right, I just said Hate. Oooo, strong word! It is the most unhealthy mindset because it puts so much pressure on you to be perfect. Look back at my post on making imperfect action a few weeks ago. So many people think that something has to be perfect for it to be put to market or submitted to a boss. 

WHAT TO THINK

Of course you want to complete something well and feel proud of it, like that science project you spent a week constructing in high school for the science fair, but using the words Right and Wrong puts more pressure on you than is already there for the task.

Example 1, Creating a logo: Holy cannoli people think this has to be perfect. The first pressure in getting a logo made is whether or not you as the business owner likes the logo. A mere emotional reaction. The second pressure is when the business owner worries whether or not it is perfect for their brand. Uh-oh, now there is a double stack of pressure and only one of them actually matters! 

Spoiler alert: the emotional response one has to the logo is the only answer you need. It determines how well suited the logo is for the brand. It is a beneficial double whammy. Which means you are left with the extra layer of pressure dangling off the side that relates more to how the world will perceive your brand, and not the logo itself. Which means you do not need that pressure while the logo is being made. Which means you need to chill out. There is no right or wrong. 

Example 2, Nobody likes your product: This is where right or wrong really hits home like a wrecking ball for people. When an owner gets feedback that their service was not effective or the customer did not enjoy the product, this must mean the entrepreneur is a failure. Better luck next time. 

NOPE. This means that you now have data to inform how to change your product...if you WANT to. That is the key. What do you WANT to do with the feedback? 

Feeling like a failure is a choice. You call yourself that. It is another story you tell. 

Do not worry, I am guilty of it too. I am guilty of thinking that there was a right way to progress in life. Originally I thought that the right way was to get good grades in high school so that I go to a good college, work hard there so I get a job, go to grad school so that I can become an "expert", and then settle into a career that makes money. A lot of people do this, and it is not wrong to do so. But thinking that there is one single right way to do this life thing is not true and it is not healthy. 

I thought it until I got a bad grade in a class and realized that it was not going to impact my work prospects after college. I thought it until I realized that my gut was not compelling me to go back to graduate school as I thought it "should" have over the past six years. It does not matter when you do something, because it is YOUR choice based on YOUR desire. It is nobody's business to tell you when you must do something. 

I know what some of you are thinking: "But Taylor, there is definitely right and wrong. I could lose my job if I do or say the wrong thing."  True, sure. There is a wrong answer to math problems (I would know, I struggled with math). There are inappropriate things to do at work that threaten your employment (I would not know because I am an angel). But I encourage you to think of the words differently.

WHAT TO DO

"Right" and "Wrong" have a heavy, sharp, pressured connotation to them. Even if you feel like you did something "right", you feel the pressure about it. I want you to change the words. I want you to try saying "Healthy" vs. "Unhealthy" for YOU instead of "Right" vs. "Wrong" based on someone else's expectations. Doing so alleviates the pressure and makes the outcome positive. Not only that, it taps what you feel good about.

Try it out: Instead of thinking that you did something wrong when your product receives criticism, ask yourself "what do I want to do about it now? What would be healthy for me to put effort into adjusting?" 

In the absence of extra pressure, there is more space to be inspired. 

WHAT WILL HAPPEN

Right vs. Wrong relates to following what we think of as rules and acceptable behavior, but what we do not think about is the fact that we humans made up the word "rules" and "morals" and defined "acceptable behavior". Now that I dropped that knowledge bomb on you, I am not telling you to go kill someone because morals do not exist. Instead I am telling you to take the pressure of perfectionism off of your task because no human has the power to tell you a one single right way to do things. 

By thinking about what is healthy for you or what you want to do instead of what you have to do or should do, you promote your own confidence and growth while connecting why your work is healthy for you and why your work is healthy for the world.

You are promoting healthy human evolution instead of addressing a single microscopic moment of pressure.  

I have a client right now who knows she must have a difficult conversation with her mother in order to move forward as a confident, independent adult. She began saying what she "needs" to do and why she "has to" do it, but over the course of a few conversations she has shifted the language and realized that she genuinely "wants" to have the conversation because she recognizes its beneficial outcome.

Her body language has changed, her motivation has changed, and now she wants to face the challenge because she sees it as an opportunity for growth. Not just popping a stress bubble that will come back in another form later on. 

This is the resilience I wrote about a few weeks ago. If you face challenges with the question of what next move would be healthiest for you, you will never experience setbacks as failure again. You will take a next step, and then another, and then another, because there is no right way to move through life. There is only the way that you want to. 

The 3 Crucial Personality Traits You Need To Start A Business, Part 3: ADAPTABILITY

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Let us check in. At this point, you have started a business (maybe) and we have covered how the first two important characteristics to possess in entrepreneurship are commitment and resilience. Dope. You are mentally focused with commitment. You are standing strong with resilience. Your beach house is sturdy.

But now what? What the heck do you do next?

Commitment and resilience are great but they are isolated to moments of preparation and reaction. What is missing is the action in between that moves your business forward in some way. 

This is why characteristic #3 is ADAPTABILITY

Adaptability creates movement. Commitment and resilience are the bookends. 

Tomorrow you will send an email. You will make a landing page. Test a prototype. Whatever is on your to-do list. Because you have committed to scaling your business, you will succeed in achieving the most important items on your to-do list, moving yourself that little bit forward. But that success does not remain. You will get tired. You will procrastinate. Your prototype will break. A client refuses to pay you. You committed, though, so how can you handle adversity that comes on a daily basis?

You adapt. The two types of adaptability are to pivot and to evolve.

1. Pivot = changing direction for a period of time in order to maintain movement.

 

This could look like temporarily switching to a different task or changing the entire focus of the company and starting in a totally new direction.

A few years ago, I became stuck with my business because I realized that my business' obstacle was marketing. I did not yet know what kind of marketing would be most effective for my business, but I did know that I had ZERO knowledge or training in marketing and ZERO interest in learning about marketing. That was the choice point. I could either pivot and temporarily focus on something else or I could evolve and learn about marketing. 

I chose to pivot because I did not desire to learn marketing enough at that moment to pursue it, even though I knew that I desired to learn it at some point. 

2. Evolve = advancing your skills and knowledge in the moment in order to overtake the adversity.

 

Examples of this include developing self-talk rituals in order to push through procrastination or enrolling in a graduate degree program to learn all new things that will serve your business.

I have evolved in many more ways than I have pivoted throughout the life of my business. For example, I recently took an online class on a personal development coaching method that is similar to what I already offer but fills in the blanks that I noticed in my current service. When I recognized a client's need that I could not meet, I chose to learn how to meet that need instead of pivot and change the direction of the client's goals at that time or adjusting my service offering.

Disclaimer 1. Let me be clear: pivoting does not mean ignoring.

Because you are changing direction does not mean that you are turning a blind eye to an obstacle that would benefit you to overcome. In my example, I knew that marketing was important and that I would have to learn it at some point. At that time, however, I did not have the desire to learn the skills or the resources to hire someone else for the task. 

Over the few years that followed, I learned not only what kind of marketing is appropriate for my business but I was also ready to devote time to learning how to enact it. I pivoted three years ago knowing full well that I would have to face marketing some day.

Disclaimer 2. The form that evolution takes is specifically different to every person.

For one entrepreneur, it may look like mental fortitude to get off the couch or pick up the phone. For another, it will look like formally enrolling in a class or hiring some kind of coach. Another still may sit down on their couch and teach themselves the new skill. If you read my post way back about learning styles, ask yourself how best you like to learn. Knowing that will help you plan for how to react when an obstacle comes your way. 

If you can learn to implement both, you are golden forever because you will always have new opportunities to practice. For now, start with what feels healthy for you. 

Reflection questions:

What obstacles have you faced so far? 

How did you respond to them?

What obstacles are you currently facing?

How will you adapt to them?

The 3 Crucial Personality Traits You Need To Start A Business: Part 2 - RESILIENCE

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Okay so you are starting a business. If you read last week's post, you have started to consider the kinds of things to which you must commit beyond the exhilarating fantasy of your product or service idea. It is okay if you do not want to commit to scaling your business and running it from there as an enterprise. There is no shame in that. Just as many entrepreneurs start their business and then decide to change it due to their true interests as those whose ideas do not succeed and the business flops. 

Lesson #1 about starting a business is that it is alllll yourssss. Yes, there is the pressure of succeeding with it on your own, but it simultaneously relieves the pressure of someone above you hounding you about deadlines and "the way it should be done." With that in mind, take a deep breath, look at your list of many many options of places to start, and remember that the choice is yours. 

Now that you have realized there are things called bookkeeping, market research, and email campaigns and you have committed yourself to grinding through them because you care about your mission, you must begin to fortify your defenses when the storms arrive.

Personality trait number two is RESILIENCE

Resilience is defined as "the ability to recover quickly from difficulties" and as "toughness; elasticity". Enough said. 

Entrepreneurship is like building a beach house during hurricane season.

You take care to put every material into its functional spot and build the house such that its strength and efficiency increase its value for years to come. But you build the house in Florida and you can see far into the distance (Are you with me on the metaphor so far?). Then challenges come up:

  1. Early investment of your own money in the house = darkening skies 
  2. Prototyping your product = cloud layers
  3. People demean your idea = rain falls in the distance
  4. Feeling isolated = clouds start to swirl
  5. Self-doubt creeps in = rain clouds move toward you
  6. Vendors terminate a contract = bolt of lightning
  7. No one buys your product = the wind changes
  8. You pick up shifts as a barista to pay rent = the rain wall descends on the beach
  9. Society and the internet tell you a billion different things to do = the storm hits the mainland

Overwhelm ensues. What will you do? How much do you care about your idea? What have you put into the walls of your brand that will help it survive the maelstrom? Even if you have only built the first floor of your beach house, can you sit there amongst the raging winds and pelting rain and still take that next tiny step forward? 

  1. Early investment --> google how to raise money
  2. Prototyping --> who can you test it out on (friends and family are good ones)?
  3. Demeaning people --> that's fine, move on to the people who support you. 
  4. Feeling isolated --> positive self-care and reminders of the courage it takes to face the risk you have.

You see where I am going with this. There is ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS a next step, however tiny, to take that still moves you forward but it is up to you to choose to take that step. This is critical to remember. Unless you choose to eliminate the business altogether (which is your choice), you always have another option. No matter how helpless, alone, lost, and foolish you feel. 

I know because I continue to face hurricanes myself. Fun fact about me: my longest standing insecurity is about confidence in competence, or being competent at anything. Even when I achieved great success playing soccer growing up, I felt much self-doubt and perceived incompetence.

You can imagine how a personality complex like that has played into my entrepreneurial life. There are times when my brain goes numb and I cannot recall what I even offer people, what value I bring to them, or why I thought I could be an entrepreneur. I have moved around the country three times in the four years of my business, needing to reconstruct a network and find new clients each time. There have been periods of time when I had 0 clients and 0 leads. There was a time when I did not feel motivated to seek out new leads. 

For me and my life long fragile sense of competence, though, the thing that has kept the hurricane swirling is the expectation that society puts on me as an entrepreneur. I have heard ENDLESS, COUNTLESS, RELENTLESS suggestions on how to run a business, "needing this or that or my business is doomed", from tv, internet, and social media. I have fallen into the trap oh so many times of comparing myself to other business owners and authors of other blogs (who are not in my industry and who may not actually be successful - who knows?). 

I am sensitive to the comparison trap because it feeds my self-doubt. 

Here is the thing, though. I would have never been in the position to compare myself to other entrepreneurs had I never started a business. Furthermore, why do we compare ourselves to others at all?

Because we care about something. 

We start businesses for a reason. There is always a Why that is uniquely yours. I have written a lot about the Why because it is your brand's narrative and conveys your value for the world. In the case of the hurricane, however, your Why is what will get you through. 

Every time I hit a lull or moved or felt overwhelmed or curled up and cried because I was not like X, Y, and Z founders of A, B, and C companies, I can always remember why I love what my business offers and what entrepreneurship offers me.

Do what you have to do to remember!

  • Post-it notes around your apartment
  • Accountability partners
  • Finding that perfect Spotify channel

I am not foolish enough to think that getting my beach house through one hurricane means there will never be another hurricane. In reality, there are rain storms every day that I must face, and the hurricanes will only get bigger as time goes on. 

But when that next storm comes for you, there is no greater brand management tool on the market than a good old fashioned deep breath and remembering your Why.

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?

Peace From Peril: How To Turn "Defeat" Into An Advantage

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Last week we talked about achievement and this week we are talking about defeat, so here is a cute puppy to help.

Now that the Olympics are over, all of the athletes are probably meeting multiple times a week with their sport psychologists to talk about what they did wrong, what mindset they could have maintained instead, and how to deal with the regret of messing up that one turn on the course. In the Olympics and athletic world, "defeat" comes most explicitly in competition, which does not occur every day. In the real world for all of us common folk, even more factors impact our pursuit of success that the defeats can be much more frequent and of many magnitudes. A particularly rough day could include tons of little defeats, a few medium sized defeats, and one or two big ones, all even unrelated. And that is in the regular ole work force and corporate jungle. In entrepreneurship, it can feel like defeats are constant, as though the pressure you feel is a champion boxer sitting on your shoulders and swinging their arm down to punch you in the face every hour or two. But just like last week, defeat means different things to different people. 

As far as I can tell, I am human, which means that competition is hard wired into my DNA. I accept that, though I despise competition now. I grew up playing soccer and tennis and I downhill ski raced. I loved skiing but did not care or know how to take seriously the competitive element of the races. Maybe I was too focused on playing Game Boy at the time. Tennis I took seriously because of the skill involved and the finesse needed to get through a match, but soccer was my primary sport because I loved the stimulus of running around while I was simultaneously proficient at scoring goals. I held a high performance standard for myself throughout my soccer career. It was not until college, though, that I realized it was more about pressure on my self-concept as opposed to pressure related to the competition of the sport.

That was important. Certain experiences early on in college taught me to rethink what things in life warrant stress, worry, and concern, and this helped me realize that athletic competition is not one of them. I found much more pleasure in my sport from that moment on. Pressure was lifted. It did not matter.

Now I own two businesses on my own and feel pressure for...umm...let us see...survival?....all the time.  Of course success in business involves competition, but as an entrepreneur you get to choose against whom you want to compete. When I think about competition in the working world, I automatically picture the corporate landscape of sales quotas, red tape, and cubicle claustrophobia. A large corporation that looks like that would not be any competition of mine, so that stressful image is deleted. Sure, I have performed a lot of competitor research but, no matter what industry we are all in or if you are some kind of entrepreneur, your greatest competitor is your very own brain. 

Oh yeah, it can be a real bully. Because your skull is only so big, your self-concept hangs out with your self-talk, which then gossips its way over to your self-worth, and while they are spreading rumors, you feel more and more like crap and then spin the vicious cycle in such a way that the gossip only gets worse and affects every part of your day. 

Enter the "defeats". Once your self-worth is demoralized by your self-talk to the point where you think that one more second not getting an email response from a prospective client means you are a waste of space and organs, every little thing becomes a defeat and the entrepreneurial F-word (failure....) starts slinking in from the shadows to join the conversation. 

But who is telling you that you are a failure? You are.

Whose expectations have you failed to meet? Yours.

"But...but...but..." No no. It is your pressure. It is the value you place on the work. Sure, your boss or your dad tells you what the task is and how you need to perform, but he or she is operating under the assumption that you care enough about the work to get it done. Stressing about the task is simply your reaction to it. 

I have a long list of projects I have not finished and about which I sometimes keep myself up at night worrying, but that is because I have placed value on them. No one else told me that those things are important to finish and deliver. Just me.

Of course, the pressure to complete tasks by a deadline is something different, but calling their incompletion a defeat is simply my own perception and label. Like the achievements I discussed last week, however, defeats are equally subjective. I see successes as moments of gratitude and I see defeats as opportunities to learn. After all, if I curled up and cried when I hit an adverse moment but did nothing about it to try something different in the future, I would never have made it past six months with a business, not to mention five service evolutions.

Let us be real, we all have curled up and cried about work before, but I am lucky that it did not keep me from wanting to try something different.  

Defeats are moments that stop you and give you a chance to say "Well, crap. I don't know XYZ" and learn something new if you  care enough about the work you are doing. If you do not care about your work and you go home knowing ahead of time that you are going to impulsively complain about the day, then it is time to reassess your goals and outlook on achievement. 

Think about that for a second...

 

Really think about it... 

 

Let it sink in...

Now that you have decided whether or not you care about evolving in your current work, do what you did last week for achievements but flip it to be about defeat:

  1. Create a working definition of defeat or failure for yourself. What comes to mind? How easily do you come to an answer?
  2. List out examples of "defeats" that you have experienced recently, and 
      1. note why you think they are defeats (external or internal? hate your job? consequences of the "failure"?)
      2. note what can be learned from that defeat

You will love the relief that comes with realizing you are not actually a failure at life. As usual, it is about perspective. It does not matter if you are a professional athlete, you work in a cubicle, you own your own business, or you are in medical school. Any stress of pressure and competition as well as any fear of failure is yours and yours alone.

Now that you really know if you care about your work or not, the choice is yours: want to curl up in a ball and cry and stay the same or do you want to curl up in a ball and cry and then evolve into a more authentic, aligned, and purposeful you?

How To Win Olympic Gold Every Day In Life And At Work

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Here is a fun fact about me: I cry every time I watch the Olympics. Yup, that is right. Huuuuuuuuuge sap right here. With a foundation of pride the athletes have in representing their country to how impressive they are in their individual skillsets, the Olympics get me EVERY. DAMN. TIME. Watching the competition can be so stressful, too, though (#Womensicehockey last night, anyone?) even though I am not competing and I have no personal stake in the outcome. I cry because no matter what the result, it is such a cool achievement to simply be there and compete in the sports about which they are all so clearly passionate. I am always fascinated, though, by the athletes' focus on winning medals as the ultimate emblem of their achievement when any athlete who has ever participated in the Olympics that did not earn a medal can still call him/herself an olympian and garner almost as much recognition for their athletic prowess than the medaling superstars. Obviously not the exposure and press conferences and sponsorships and book deals that come from winning medals and world cup championships all the time, but exposure nonetheless for the foundational reason that they are at the olympics: to compete in an athletic sport.

I have always had an odd relationship with competition and achievement. I have become more comfortable as an adult with certain forms of confrontation and in fact have become strong at conflict mediation in professional settings. My engagement in competition, however, ended after college. The subject of competition relates so much to narrative, both on the individual and cultural levels, that I will dedicate a whole post to it soon, but for now the Olympics has made me think a whole lot about the idea of achievement. 

When I watch Alpine Skiing in the Olympics (my favorite sport to watch), the cameras never stay on the competitors after the last run is skied for me to see how the athletes who did not make the podium or better yet who were pushed off the podium in the last run react to not getting a medal but still acknowledge that they did pretty darn well. Some athletes who get interviewed have trained themselves in the mindset that their effort is only worth it if they get a medal at the end. Some even focus only on gold and nothing else is acceptable. I am just an objective spectator who used to ski race (which means I know what the competitive aspect feels like even though I do not know what it is like to ski at 90mph down an ice rink in South Korea) but my personal mindset is if I ended up, say, in the top ten in an Olympic event, I would think that that is pretty darn cool! I would blast that all over social media. As a matter of fact, I may lose a medal somewhere or stress every night when I go to bed that it would get stolen. 

I have trophies from athletic exploits growing up but they are simply that: trophies. I would be disappointed if they were lost or stolen because I am an extremely sentimental person, but I would soon understand that they are simply representations of something I experienced and I do not need to hold on to the object in order to remember the achievement. Similarly, I gave away some shirts and sweaters a few days ago that I remember loving when I wore them and guess what? I am already over it. They are just fabric. 

I have thought in the past and currently think a lot about my sense of achievement with regard to starting and owning businesses like I have. I started wanting to own my own company way back in high school without a clue in the world a) how to start anything and b) what the heck it would be about. But that did not matter. I knew that was a goal. And the seed only grew.

So when I started The Tailored Quill in 2015 and I had multiple clients paying me for services before I even had a name, logo, or website, I of course saw it as an achievement. I had finally done it. I had created a business that I could call my own and I was immediately making profit. But what happened next? The same thing that happens after Shaun White wins a gold medal at the Olympics. New work begins. I had to provide what the clients asked for. I cannot rest on my laurels because then my enterprises will not survive. I can learn form my achievements just as I can learn from my failures and keep going. When I officially launched a crowdfunding campaign and blasted out announcement emails, I said "Okay, that is cool" because I achieved the learning experience of building those two campaigns, which I had never previously needed to know how to do. And that is the extent of that achievement because I then had to build the rest of the business. It is not like that automatically garnered me a hundred paying clients or meant that I could retire. On the contrary, that hardly caused a ripple. My brain made the mental note of the achievement but I knew I could not spend the rest of the day drinking champagne saying "that email campaign was so sexy. I have earned the day off."

Definitions of success have to be subjective but so many people and entrepreneurs listen to the objective societal definitions of it. You know, millions of dollars, big house, nice car, the latest clothes. 'merican Dream! I sort of fell prey to those ideals for a while until I realized that I have absolutely zero interest in living in a ginormous mansion. As soon as I was able to ground my goals and interests in contrast to those of society, new goals for myself and my companies were dramatically different. Achievement is no longer assigned to a monumental accomplishment but instead takes the form of teeny tiny things. 

For example, I bought a cardboard box and packaging tape at the post office this morning. There was no line (which is a miracle in itself), the box is the perfect size, and the tape does not get all bunched up and stuck on itself. The post office should get a gold medal for that because it started my day off so nicely and smoothly and it even got me stoked to tackle the other tedious items on my to-do list today. 

I have learned that achievement of the tiniest things make the biggest difference to me. I do not need to have a multi-billion dollar business on my own and I also do not want to deal with all of the staff members that a multi-billion dollar business would require. Instead, testing out a new social media strategy yesterday for the fun of it was a win. Feeling confident and comfortable expressing myself over this platform every week is a victory. Maintaining two businesses that have been profitable since both of their inceptions is my gold medal.

In reality, achievement is recognizing that for which you are grateful. I am grateful that my businesses are profitable but I am not bragging about it as though it means I have attained enlightenment over all other business people in the world. I am thankful that I was taught the new social media strategy and that it is something I can comfortably sit down and put into action. Gratitude moves you forward. 

There is an awesome scene in the military film Jarhead in which a couple soldiers are talking animatedly about the video game level that one of them is about to beat and another soldier flatly chimes in "You know what happens when you beat that game? Nothing. You start over." Humorous buzzkill but he has a point. I can be excited when I beat a level in Candy Crush but all that means is that I move on to the next level, the next challenge. I am grateful for the skills, knowledge, and strategy I used to beat that level, though. 

Achievement is what you make it, so here is your homework:

  1. Rewrite your to-do list, but this time double check to see if any tasks could be broken down to even smaller chunks that are more easily achieved. Make sure your goals are realistic for the time and resources you have available. 
  2. Define success for yourself. Whether a casual brainstorm or a formal statement, getting something down on paper that does not appease society or your mom or your overzealous business partner will feel oh so good. What is success to YOU? A bulleted list of long term goals is just as acceptable as a fantasy paragraph about where you want to live. You will not be graded.

Start thinking about what achievement looks like in your daily lives. That way, you can be like me and say "huh, that was cool" when you learn something new and cross your unique personally realistic goals off of your list every day. I am grateful to you for reading this post and I count that as an achievement. No medal necessary. 

Valentine's Day Is Over: How To Start Planning For Next Year

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If you somehow did not hear, yesterday was Valentine's Day (If you are in a relationship and did not know that, let this be your harsh reminder). I am an old-fashioned romantic who put so much more emphasis on Valentine's Day back in high school and college. I loved making the valentines, adding a note, and attaching a sweet treat for the apple of my eye to savor. During a relationship in college, though, I learned that the day itself does not need to be a monumental event like some couples build it up to be, but at its core instead an opportunity to remind someone you care about why you appreciate them. Sure, little gifts can be given, but ones that relate to your connection in some way or inside jokes are best, and simplicity is key. 

Valentine's Day is treated so differently couple to couple. I know many women (sorry ladies) who anticipate it all year and many men (sorry ladies again) who abhor the holiday and dread the moment when they have to remember which colored roses are her favorite (white, obviously). I also know couples who do not put any emphasis on it and maybe borderline resent the holiday for the over-commercialized onus that it prophesies. Netflix & Chill becomes a weapon of their rebellion instead of the activity that concludes the holiday celebration. And then I know couples who are downright realistic about it...and damned adorable as a result. Take my sister and brother-in-law, for example. She is working, is soon to have a baby, had to take their dog to the vet for goopy eye problems, and was overall aware of their energy because yesterday was Wednesday, so they treated themselves to Chipotle and will have a more special night of appreciation tomorrow when the week is officially done (Ummm Chipotle on a holiday, though? Yes, please...). Though it sounds sort of common sense, what sets them apart is the fact that they already express their appreciation for each other every single day and cherish spending time together. Tomorrow will simply be the opportunity to slow down, go silent, and remember even more so why it is nice to be in each other's company. 

As I said in the beginning, simplicity is key. If you are in tune on a daily basis with what you appreciate about another person (or in tune with what you appreciate about being single, if you are not otherwise spoken for) and make an effort to show it, then every day will be Valentine's Day. American society loves holidays and Valentine's Day is just another victim of consumerism. Let us be real, I do not think St. Valentine sat in his prison cell thinking "I'm so excited that my legacy is to inspire millions of men in a couple thousand years to realize it's Valentine's Day day-of and panic-run to CVS to find the best card and heart-shaped box of chocolates."

On the contrary, St. Valentine was sending secret notes to his beloved from a prison cell awaiting his EXECUTION so it is a bit of a conflicting narrative when we ask our elementary school-aged youth to make mailboxes and fold a little Spiderman card that says "Slinging Love Your Way!" to give to their crushes. In my mind, it is instead a bit of an omen. Sure, forbidden love and absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder are phrases in our modern vocab, but he had a MUCH more significant need to say the words in his cards than a guy does today who has only been dating someone he met on Tinder for three weeks and who is panicking because he does not know what she expects from him on the 14th.

Despite the holiday's intense origin and the way America wants us to rejoice as if "it's all good!", one thing we can learn from St. Valentine is his simplicity. I have not read any of the letters he wrote, but I will bet a lot of rose pedals that he did not waste words. They were secret letters that were only for his woman to see. I am sure they were not just 140 characters, but I bet they were more succinct than a marketing E-book too.

Just be specific. Take John Mayer's advice and say what you need to say.  A while back I wrote a post about how saying more  actually ultimately says less and being straightforward and concise with your words more clearly gets your point across as well as boosts your confidence in advocating for yourself. And when do you have a ton of pressure to be vulnerable and say what is on your mind? When you have feelings for someone and the thought of them disrupts your daily functioning...in a good way. 

Then last week we discussed how verbal language is still so limited in its ability to convey what you see in your mind and feel in your body, which is why even those with a broad vocabulary still cannot fully describe an experience with words. Enter the Love Languages: 

  1. Words of Affirmation
  2. Acts of Service
  3. Receiving gifts
  4. Quality time
  5. Physical touch

No pun intended, but I love these because it gives us options. All of our personalities present differently so we all express appreciation and love differently. Animals do not have the same verbal language as us but they still have multiple love languages. When a horse drapes its head over an other's, when tigers rub their foreheads together, and - my favorite - when elephants wrap their trunks together like we hold hands. The beautiful thing about the love languages is that we do not have to choose just one.  We choose and use what is natural and authentic to us based on the love story that we want to express.

The whole goal of my business is to promote people's authenticity in their professional endeavors but also in their relationships and communication. I talk about authenticity a lot because I see it as the ultimate goal. If you are not advocating for yourself the way that you want to, you feel the disparity. If you are telling yourself that you are horrible at a certain skill but your numbers look great and you get a promotion, you feel the disconnect. If you perceive an expectation to express your feelings to someone in a way that is uncomfortable, you feel scared instead of exhilarated. For me, I know that my love languages are in the order of:

  1. Quality time
  2. Physical touch
  3. Words of Affirmation
  4. Acts of Service
  5. Receiving gifts

Quality time with my significant other where there is physical touch and unwasted words is my authenticity. That is not to say that Service and Gifts are not important in my relationship, but they are not a priority for appreciation to be expressed and they are not the most aligned modes of expression. Think about what your order might be. Then think about whether it has changed over the years, maybe even within one relationship. Remember, my authentic place in high school and college was focused on gifts and words of affirmation. 

Now that the holiday passed and Target stores can put all Valentine's Day related paraphernalia on 75% super sale, reflect on how you faced the day yesterday. Did you communicate with a loved one in a way that was reassuring and kind? Did you feel pressure to buy things or do things that did not feel authentic to you? Or did you let the day pass knowing that you and your beau will celebrate it when you can in the best, most aligned way that you can? 

No matter how you answered those questions, for future reference and your future narrative satisfaction:

  1. Be true to yourself
  2. Do not overcomplicate your gestures
  3. Say what you need to say

Thanks, John Mayer.

Just A Friendly Neighborhood Reminder To Do Something Your Body Should Do Automatically

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Let us stay on this whole mindfulness thing for a bit because I literally had to remind myself to take a breath earlier today. Like consciously speak to myself in my own head to chill for a hot second and deeply breathe in. Let us all take a second for a breather. In fact, let us take this whole week as a breather. Let us just chill. Holidays are over, resolutions are "adjusted", and it is somehow actually February. Remember a month ago when people were fighting each other for pasta on the shelves at Whole Foods? Let us all just chill for a second. We need it. 

Last week I was 1. in a different country and 2. amongst tall mountains. I prepared some work things to bring with me that did not require a lot of time or, more importantly, brain power and attention to start working on in case the trip got boring (really, Taylor??), such as content design and product development brainstorming. Did I look at it once last week? Nope. Sure didn't. Not for lack of trying, though. I definitely thought about the tasks a few times but when it came down to reaching into my bag and cracking open the notebook, my hands did not move. The week also 3. involved physical activity on those mountains, so my physical fatigue and the mental shift that I was so totally in a different culture somewhere else on the globe kept my hands to my side and my mind on the present. I am lucky to be able to change the channel in my brain and be wherever I am on most vacations in the past, but there are some in which I simply cannot do it. And it is painful. One trip last year I could tell on the plane ride out that I was not going to be able to tune out the world I was temporarily leaving and, unfortunately, I turned out to be correct. 

Life moves. Whether it is "too fast" or "way too fast" is subjective, but nothing ever stops. Molecules are always in chaos, air and weather are always in flux, waves and nature are eternally restless. Sharks have to keep moving in order to breathe. Translation: if they stop moving, they die. WHAT? Ironically, so many humans - particularly Americans - act like sharks. If they slow down, they will die. If they stop what they are doing, they will fail. UGH, it is exhausting. I am exhausted just thinking about it while I write about it. The sad part is that we all know that it is unhealthy. Sure, some people "thrive" off of a fast-paced lifestyle or are most productive under pressure, but that does not mean that their hearts and blood pressures enjoy it. I have always lived a very busy life with days and weeks jam-packed with everything I can fit in, mostly related to work. Go me! I am super hard-working, but none of that matters if I do not know how to slow down.

It took me until junior year of college to learn how energy should be prioritized and allocated in life in order to remain a healthier version of myself, and I have continued to practice that allocation ever since in the big, bad, real world. That is why I am entitled enough to help people with a) slowing down to breathe and b) figuring out how best to allocate their energy in their work, relationships, and everyday life. You are never done practicing how to slow down, but the practicing becomes easier. And you do not have to do it alone. 

Where I was last week was an isolated bubble. A remote microcosm that forces you with limited WiFi and perilous roads to stop moving and surrender. No one is watching, do not be scared. At night, stars glistened over the mountain peaks and I all but fell to my knees and cried in surrender. Instead of the dramatic display that that would have produced, I chose instead to take good, long, full breaths of the brisk mountain air. It was all I could do, and it is exactly what I needed. Fast forward to today when I had to consciously remind myself to take that same kind of revitalizing breath. Yeah, I am not in the mountains of another continent, but slowing down is possible here too. So no matter how "fast" you feel your life is right now, remember that that is okay as long as you know how to stop and take a deep breath. 

Do it right now (please). I dare you.

No matter what you are doing right now, you could use a deep breath. If you are self-conscious about it, this is me giving you permission. If you are scared, this is me offering support. If slowing down makes you cry, there is no shame in meditating in a bathroom stall. If you are embarrassed that you have to set a reminder in your phone or on your Apple watch to take a deep breath, just know that I am going to go tell myself to take another deep breath in just a couple minutes. 

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.

Why Meditation Is So Darn Difficult But So Darn Helpful

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In a couple days, I am going on vacation. Somewhere NOT awesome, I promise you. Definitely not out of the country and definitely NOT unplugged from my computer. There is NO REASON WHATSOEVER for you to be jealous. 

Now that that is cleared up, yes, vacation. This silly eight letter word that we all have heard but rarely get to experience firsthand. It refers to some kind of "break" or "free time", but those are things that us millennials and millennial-esque individuals (you know who you are) have never even heard of. The only break and free time we know is when we break a bone playing a sport and have free time when we are not allowed to practice. And think about THAT negative association... Along the same lines, "rest" is like the snow leopard of physical wellbeing. It is rare, blends in with your surroundings, and when you finally see it, it disappears almost as quickly as it had appeared. But it is so damn beautiful. "Why hide?!?!?!" you want to ask it. "Why will you not stick around for me to enjoy you?"

Unfortunately the answer is that we do not know how best to take advantage of rest when the opportunity arrives. I will be the first to admit, it is really difficult. Even sitting for a whole afternoon binging Netflix sometimes is not the full rest that you want. Sometimes I feel just as unrested after lying on the couch in the very same position watching a whole season of House of Cards. Why, though? I did not move for so many hours! 

The other option for "full rest" is napping, but napping is like the tylenol of physical wellbeing. Everyone's dosage will be different. If I nap for 22 minutes, I feel good but come on, I never nap for 22 minutes. No, I end up napping for an hour and wake up feeling like my brain stayed on the pillow and my body became a baby giraffe taking its first steps. 

So how do we actually rest? 

A dear friend of mine has been meditating hard for almost thirty years and now gives lectures on how meditation affects and promotes a healthy mindset. In his talks, he discusses how meditation is actually an extremely active activity (redundant, yes, but YOLO) instead of the common assumption that everything stops, slows down, or shuts off when you meditate. Your physical movements slow down, yes, but you do not shut off your brain. On the contrary, you slow your body down in order to open your mind up and let it explode however it wants to. Then do nothing. Just watch the thoughts. Sounds simple but you know it is difficult if you have ever tried it. 

Meditation is interesting in this way because it has become such a trendy topic in mindfulness and yoga has become the be-all-end-all cure for everything. But meditation is super hard! Watching all of your crazy thoughts while trying to focus on the sound of your breathing or the 3 hour YouTube video of a mountain stream is a lot of work! It makes sense that so many people will not even try to meditate because it does not sound restful at all. 

I meditated quite a bit back in high school and some in college before I created my own Mobile Meditation that I would use on the go when I am in the car. I got into a good habit in high school and even got to that point where I actively saw the black glittery void that I was breathing into (it was pretty cool) and my Mobile Meditation became the appropriate dosage for my post-college lifestyle. I recently got back into it at home and, even though I am not yet seeing the void as I did in high school, I am able to feel the separation between my body / breath and my thoughts. It is a little trippy, yes, but you have to be open to it. I have learned that my brain is so in need of that unloading because of all the stimuli it filters every day that it busts the door down when I close my eyes and take the first breath. I have to be okay with that. I have to remember that it is the same thing as a muscle getting the toxins and stress massaged out of it at the spa. It is active and sometimes painful but will feel good afterward. 

I often feel like the meditation was all over the place or "did not work", but then I notice that my breathing is much smoother and my head feels lighter regardless of the onslaught of thoughts it just endured. 

Just like you, I am going to keep experimenting with what is most restful for me. When I am on the long plane flight that is DEFINITELY NOT GOING OVERSEAS, I am going to try to meditate, nap, and watch movies and we will see which one is most restful. I wonder what is most helpful for you. What do you like to do to "rest"? And does it actually help? Since you have already given up on your New Year's resolutions, what can you recommit to trying in order to help yourself rest and recuperate?

Why The Holiday Is The Perfect Time To Hire Me, Part One: Holiday Dinners

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Christmas is four days away, which means that Christmas Eve dinner with the family is only three away. Here is the skinny: whether you celebrate Christmas with a huge family and a huge meal, celebrate Hanukkah for eight separate days of family time, you do not see your family for the holidays but attend a lot of friends' holiday parties, or stay at home by yourself mixing eggnog and Maker's Mark and watching the Grinch on repeat, emotions, self-esteem, and self-talk play important roles in the holidays. You cannot avoid them. I spent New Year's Eve all by myself last year, intentionally thinking "2016 was a drag. I am going to relax, treat myself to dinner and a nightcap, and watch the ball drop" and, even though that is exactly what I did and it was wonderful, holy cannoli did the thought "is this going to be forever?" slip into my head and spark some worry.

I enjoy alone time but I am also confident that it would be quite challenging for my personality to maintain it for a long time. On the flip side, I enjoy spending time with my family but I can feel overwhelmed around the holidays easily with all the bodies and voices and schedule demands. 

If you have followed along for the past few weeks, I have written about topics of personal narrative that relate directly to navigating "the most wonderful time of the year". Today's post is the first of two that will explain why this is the perfect time of year to give me a call.

Let us run through a typical holiday reunion dinner of a friend we will name Brian:

Brian drives to it in his quarter zip sweater and corduroys. He has not seen his family or his distant cousins in a long time and he feels a ping of excitement about showing up like a celebrity that everyone has waited for. He also feels some apprehension because of the absurd amount of social energy he will have to muster for chit chatting all night long about whatever the fam wants to bring up, especially that uncle who "hates to bring up politics again" but always brings up politics again. He slaps on a huge smile and hug everyone in the room with the same greeting, sighs as he stands amongst the group, fields a couple questions, and then he is ushered toward the cocktails. As soon as a drink is poured, conversations continue as they were and he stands and waits to hear in which one he could participate.

Then it hits him. He is just one of the crowd again. The ping of excitement dims and the apprehension from the car waves at him from the inside. He wonders what to talk about, if he should ask a question, if he really cares about the discussion your dad and brother are having about Bitcoin, if he should sit down and see what mom put on the TV as background noise, or if that would seem antisocial having just gotten there. And then he notices that his cousins have children, and he considers his own relationship status. 

At dinner time, he notices that mom took the liberty of assigning seats and he learns that he will sit next to his sister's eight year old son who does not know how to use a fork or communicate without a cell phone screen lighting up the lenses of his huge glasses. Brian wonders why he deserved this. He just got home. Why couldn't he be allowed to sit next to his own siblings at least? He takes another swig of wine.

He eats too much probably to fill the emotional space the experience has thus far created. Now he thinks about the last time he worked out and how his sister runs so much more often than he does. An easy enough task, considering she mentioned her marathon training progress no less than seven times since you got there. He feels a huge surge of anger and jealousy, and then irritation that he is so jealous. When she asks if he has run recently, he struggles to push that massive amount of anger back down into his stomach with a scoop of mashed potatoes and says "Oh, some" when really he wants to ask the arrogant fitness freak for advice and support around getting into a healthy running habit. 

Then the extended family leaves because of the little ones and he sloths over to the couch like Jabba the Hutt and mindlessly listens to his dad while wishing his mom had asked him more about his life throughout the evening. He goes to bed thinking that they do not care about him as much. 

SOUND FUN?? More importantly, does any of this sound familiar?

On the surface, every one is functionally happy but everyone is emotionally reacting to their many unique triggers underneath. Like all feelings, happiness is a mobile occurrence. It can be fleeting. It may last for a while but cannot stick around for too long. Some kind of trigger reminds you of something frustrating, reminds you of your fatigue, something you forgot to do at work, or an off-hand comment from your cousin. Triggers cause a reaction that is yet another temporary feeling state. The quality of a feeling never remains the same within you. It ebbs and flows, grows and dwindles. Your behavioral response, however, can get cemented the more it is repeated. 

New awareness of these triggers and emotional-behavioral reactions can foster a healthy sense of contentment instead of sharp spikes into myriad emotions and unpredictability.

This is where I come in.

The situation I described is wrought with triggers: memories of past holiday dinners, disappearing in the crowd, your assigned seat, your sister's tone of voice, your parents' perceived ignorance. None of these are intentionally presented to hurt Brian's feelings but Brian reacts with hurt feelings. 

Negative self-talk and judgments that Brian believes to be true come next. The belief and the emotions combine to create a narrative in Brian's mind about how he relates to those around him and the world at large. In my example, Brian's narrative is quite discouraging based on limiting beliefs that his family does not care about him. As a result, the narrative will likely show itself in how he behaves and interacts with his family during the rest of the vacation. 

Fun fact: my greatest strength is organizing people's emotion and thought patterns. I either make it visual, such as drawing out cycles of behaviors that always feed the initial trigger and keep the person spinning in the same la la land of frustrating interactions, or I make it a written timeline that links triggers, emotions, behaviors, and responses into a chronological order as a narrative. Either way, I record it external of the person's brain.

Therein lies the magic. I do not fill gaps for people. I do not put words in their mouth. Instead, I take the words that they share with me and I organize them into something comprehensible. And let me tell you, being shown your behavior patterns and why you feel stuck in life or work or love is mind-blowing. I have done it for myself many times. Sometimes it is scary too because it makes it too real. But that is why I am there for methodical support: Because at that point they have a choice to either take that new awareness and roll with it on their own to make change or stick with me and learn how to apply the new awareness to concrete situations in their lives.

Take Brian's triggers and imagine those same triggers in a work setting, out on a date, or in every day interactions with strangers (or myself when stuck in traffic). Take a second to imagine how much more productive and respectful and healthy those situations could be with a little more nonjudgmental awareness and insight.

What I speak about regarding personal branding is exemplified in Brian's reactions, both verbal and nonverbal. I can picture his body language as pretty mopey by the end of the night even if his face is still trying to hide his feelings, not to mention his curt verbal responses. I may spend a lot of time with a client on one particular interaction or dynamic in order to examine what stories a client's body language, facial expressions, self-talk, and verbal expression may tell. Often, the stories you express in one situation are very similar, if not the same, in most other situations so learning about your storytelling in one situation will draw awareness to and improve your storytelling in any situation. 

As we all finish up our work and plan for our respective holiday celebrations, consider for a second your own triggering situations. Does your mind immediately identify them?

Does it take a second or do you automatically know what has been frustrating you?  

What change would you like to make in those situations, if you were able to?

Better yet, what change is in your control?

And lastly, what triggering moments can you predict in your own life this holiday season?

How will you prepare yourself for them?

TRIGGERED! How To Reverse-Engineer Your Reactivity

In the business world, triggers are what companies like Facebook and Instagram exploit in us to tailor content toward our interests and habits to keep us using their platforms. Triggers can also code for something negative, such as when someone or something pisses you off. 

Personally, a MASSIVE trigger for me is traffic and drivers who I identify as dumb. Anger to 1000 in half a second flat. Triggers are called triggers because they cause something to happen. Think about the trigger of a gun. It causes a major reaction. But the trigger is just a trigger. It is not positive or negative itself. Even though the trigger is the first step of causing the gun to shoot a bullet, the trigger itself can't be labeled as positive or negative even if the bullet does something we would deem negative. We assign the emotional meaning to the trigger event. We say whether it is good or bad. When Facebook or Instagram exploit mental triggers to get us to continue using their platform, whether or not it is a bad thing is subjective. 

I bring this up because last week I mentioned the dreaded experience of seeing family over the holidays and the difficulty therein about communication. Family triggers all of us in one way or another. So many kinds of strong reactions engrained in us since we started developing consciousness just simmer under the surface as a holiday draws nearer, ready to lash back at any comment.

"Hey, can you pass me the stuffing?"

"OH, YOU WOULD ASK ME TO DO THAT!"

It happens at work as well. I am guilty of not liking a certain coworker and so I let rage boil up in me when he / she literally says anything. Whether at home or at work, the problem is that our interpretation of the triggering event dramatically affects the relationship downstream between the two parties as well as your relationship with yourself. When I get angry at traffic, it feels natural to blame every driver around me. It is not their fault, though. In fact, I am equally to blame because I joined all of them in driving that main road at that moment during rush hour. But I still feel anger. Then the interpretation of every other driver's idiocy cements itself into a mindset I adopt whenever I get into the car, which puts me on edge and may potentially make me feel a lingering tension when I get to my destination. If the destination is a social event, that tension may then affect my countenance and sociability with other people and thus relationships are damaged.

Think about someone or something that really stokes that rage fire in you. Coworker? Ex love interest? Starbucks barista? What do they do that you would call the trigger? Keep in mind, their behavior isn't positive or negative. We label it as such. So, why does that super specific trigger cause such a reaction in you? Do other things elicit that same level of reaction?

Our reactions to triggers can be very different. For instance, the anger I feel well up in traffic is very different than the frustration I have felt when my siblings have pushed my buttons in the past. I do not think my siblings are dumb and should consider retaking a driving test like I do for the people I encounter in traffic, but things they have said or done in the past have triggered me to react with anger. Except for some occasions, the truth that is frustrating for many to accept is the fact that those who trigger you are not - at least most of the time - doing so on purpose. Maybe the way someone talks makes them really happy but sounds like nails on a chalkboard to you. That person unfortunately cannot be blamed for your reaction. It is how they talk. 

What to do about this hard truth is even harder. It is a form of radical acceptance. It is okay to feel angry and be triggered, but it is not okay to let it ruin the rest of your day or extensively affect your life going forward. That is completely on you. In my example, I do not want my current and potential social connections to be negatively impacted just because another driver did not use their turn signal, so I have to work backwards. Like in the design world, it is a matter of starting with the end in mind. 

If I want my relationships to be spared the flares of my previous anger, I must somehow check that anger in the car and leave it there. To do that, I must reword the story that my anger narrates.

That way, "Every driver in the entire world is an absolute waste of space" changes to "Wow, there is a lot of traffic right now. I bet I am not the only one stressed out."

Now that the story has changed about the situation, I understand that I am not actually angry that a ton of other people chose to go out driving right when I did, but instead that I get angry when something stops me from getting somewhere. My anger is no longer generalized to blame all others, but instead it is connected to something very personal about me.

See what I did there? It is a simple process of reverse engineering. By starting with my preferred outcome in mind, I was able to bring awareness to what was actually pissing me off in the moment and thus created a new choice when I get angry at traffic in the future. I still get angry at traffic, but I am much better able now to remind myself why and leave it at that. Radical acceptance. 

I help clients with this quite often, actually, especially in their daily work life and in networking situations. Reactivity is RAMPANT. It becomes so patterned and rigid that it is very difficult to break. It becomes a reflex. Think about it for yourself. If you are going to see family for the holidays, I bet you can probably predict how you might react to each member regardless of what they say or do. Write that down. Start the process. I am not telling you to ever change the emotion because the emotion is not a bad thing. How you behave in response to the emotion can be. So as you think about your holiday triggers, ask yourself: "what is the outcome that I want?" and go from there. 

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. 

STOP AND SMELL THE TRYPTOPHAN: Gratitude for Every Connection

I attended Thanksgiving a few years ago at my sister's husband's family's home in Colorado with their close family and friends. In that household, it is a tradition to cook unbelievably delicious food, let everyone fill up a plate, sit down and smell the miraculous tryptophan and all of its filling companions, and then carpet sweep the group by asking everyone to take turns sharing something for which they are thankful. A group of, like, twenty people. Cruel and unusual does not cut it. 

Yes this was a compliment of my in-laws' culinary magic wrapped up in a massive complaint for having to stare at it in front of me with hands seemingly tied behind me. That aside, when it was my turn, I brought the house down expressing gratitude simply for connections, because it was through my sister I met her husband and through her husband I met his family and was lucky to be invited to that Thanksgiving meal, where I met other nice people and reconnected with old friends whom I met years prior through my brother. After all, it was by another of my sister's connections that provided me the opportunity to get a job in Colorado in the first place. 

Everything is about connections. If we are unable to recognize what we are connected to, we will not be able to express gratitude for it. People may be grateful for a loved one, a house over their heads, or a strong WiFi signal, all because they recognize the value of its presence. They admit their connection to it. 

I was lucky enough to attend a college student leadership event last week that featured keynote speakers, panelists, and flash-talk presenters from many fields related to innovation, entrepreneurship, and professional development who, through their very different specific lenses, distilled professional success to one single factor: building relationships. Making connections. Authentic networking. Whether for seniors who are starting to make specific connections in the job world or for freshman learning how to play the long game of fostering relationships that will pay off in a number of years, making connections is gold. 

There is not an effective alternative. Business, school, social relationships, everything is about connection. We are yet another community-based species in whose DNA it is imprinted to band together, find a tribe, and protect one another in that tribe against the harshness of the world. Sure, the whole survival-of-the-fittest competitive element of our DNA seeps through the cracks (Thanks, Darwin), but our need for connection is strong and everything and everyone around us continually feeds that impulse. 

I was relieved to learn in my own entrepreneurial journey that the best kind of marketing for my sort of business is networking because I enjoy networking and having conversations with people. I help clients with authentic storytelling and personal branding, and my work is a direct reflection of the importance of my own authenticity. I love what I do and the story I tell about my work and my business is authentic because I am uncomfortable with trying to present some kind of thin sales pitch just to lure someone toward my company. There are so many people who do not know that they need assistance like I provide, and that is FINE. It would never be my place to convince them in that moment that they do. That is why my own slice of our evolutionary connection habit is so strong. The authentic relationship is mutually beneficial. I learn something from everyone's stories, whether they become clients or not, and so I will never not benefit from the connections I am so lucky to form. 

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I will always be grateful for being taught the value of connection, how to honor it in my work, and how to continue seeking it in a healthy and humble way. I hope that you all may take a second this weekend to think of the connections you have made and are currently making and how beautifully they contribute to the dynamic Thanksgiving dinner of life. 

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.

ALL WE HAVE ARE STORIES: how our life paths have a lot to do with the stories we tell

I first connected with a friend in California who travels to new parts of the world apparently every week (FOMO much?) when I stumbled upon her beautiful Instagram account a couple years ago. Above her contact info, the only words were "We are just visitors, all we have are stories" - words that I totally fell in love with and about which I had to cold-message her.

Every day when I am not immersed in a client session or in restful solitude at home, I am constantly thinking about the overwhelming chaos of human movement. Strangers walking, driving, bussing, stuffing themselves into trains, they all have their own reason for being right there in that exact moment. People driving in traffic are distracted by their unique thoughts and emotions at that time when they nearly hit the car in front of them at a light or they are frustrated enough by their own unique triggers that they express themselves by honking at a pedestrian. 

You know what I see? I see stories. I see thousands of storybooks walking, driving, passing by every day. It overwhelms me because I am equally entranced by my ability to help people tell their stories and daunted by the sheer number of stories out there. So I take a deep breath and remember the quote: All we have are stories, and that is okay.  

It is so true. That is all it is. We are filled with stories and experiences and events and images that have affected the evolution of our personalities. That is great that we acknowledge what makes us unique, but then we have to share those stories in order to learn what to do with it. We build communities through stories, we make friends through them, find love through them. We start religions and businesses because of stories. 

In college, I took a 99% worthless anthropology class that consisted of three months of my professor bragging about her own research, but the 1% value I pulled from the semester was learning for the first time about Ethnography, which is defined as the scientific discipline that "describes the customs of individual peoples and cultures."  A powerfully broad concept I pulled from this section of the class was the way that ethnography studies how history is simply a process of storytelling. In the beginning of civilization in the middle east, tribal elders would gather round a campfire and tell their life stories and the stories of their tribe to the youth in order for the youth to know the significance of their own lives. Even the point of school is to catch us up on what has already happened or that others have learned. 

Stories are all that we have to offer one another. Explaining something at work, telling your spouse about your day, teaching your child how to wipe for the first time are all stories based on stories we have heard and expressed in ways that we have learned to express them. 

This is also true of stories we tell ourselves. You say you rock at cooking, you hate your job, you love your family first above all else, but what do these stories say about your personality? Why are these stories that you tell yourself? And how do they affect your daily life?

If we are only made up of stories, then we are extremely sensitive to them. Emotions underly the stories we tell ourselves. As soon as the stories become verbalized, they are then made real-er and presented to the world for feedback. The way that others react to those stories then close the feedback loop and affect the way we feel about ourselves in the world, new emotions are created, and the cycle starts again. 

Pick a story for yourself that you notice keeps replaying in your head and in conversations. For a lot of people, it is that they hate their job. Whatever that story is that you come up with, how do people react to it? If you keep telling the story and do nothing about it, what does that mean about your life right now? How can you adjust the wording of that story? Or do you not want to change the story?

Every story that comprises us has served a purpose and precedes the many more stories that have come and are still to come. Perhaps you are content with the stories you are telling, good or bad, but all I am saying is think not what your stories can do for you but instead what you can do for them. 

MY CELL PHONE DIED FOR TWO HOURS: Here is what happened.

My cell phone died for two hours. A hush falls over the crowd. "What could he do?!" One person whispers. "How did he survive??" Another one cries. 

My cell phone was officially pronounced dead at 11:30am, when I was leaving central Massachusetts after having met a client. I had used my phone's GPS to get there, but now that was not an option. Here's the thing: I knew parts of the town really well, but not where I was that morning, so I figured I would be able find some familiar landmark and orient from there. I drove down Main Street for a bit but nothing looked familiar. Cue the dramatic, low-tone background music.

Self awareness step one: I knew what turn I had made to get to the library, and the name of the street off of which I turned to get on to that street. So I backtracked. Luckily I have a very strong visual memory and was able to get back to Route 2. From there I knew exactly how to get home. Smooth sailing, right?

Not right. I shall thicken the plot by mentioning that my left front tire had been slowly leaking air for the better part of a week but I had not been able to get an appointment at the shop. Usually the pressure lives at 37psi, but that day it was down to 21. I probably could have made it home safely, but I did not want to push it. I knew where there was gas station and so I made my plan. I still had two hours before I had to meet another client, so I casually counted my quarters and slid them into the air machine. I awkwardly squatted there holding the tube handle tightly on the valve and saw the meter reading that the pressure was increasing. Solid.

The one catch was, the tire was flattening before my eyes. My car reading said it was down to 6psi. Confusion and panic ensue. I think "okay something must be wrong with either the machine or my tire. I'll call AAA and my client and let them know what is going on." Oh wait, I do not have a cell phone. Panic fire rises. 

I then resolve to try the air again, thinking if I re-screwed one portion of the handle that that may make some kind of difference.

Nope. 3psi.

$2.50 and a faulty air machine later, I have a flat tire. And no cell phone. It is like that time you go on a field trip in middle school to a place you know will have an epic snack bar and you realize that you left your wallet at school. You try to play it cool and you know you will still be able to participate in the activities, but secretly you are crying your eyes out on the inside and worry that you are going to starve.

Self awareness step 2: Plan B is the thing people are most afraid of. Asking another human being for help - in this case, to use a phone. But that is the thing. It took me a solid minute through the panic and dread to remember that I have the social skill to ask the station attendant if I could use the station phone - or even his cell phone - to call AAA. I am glad that I reminded myself of that skill, but I do not enjoy how long it took for me in the moment to remember that I possessed it. I do not spend anywhere near as much time on my cell phone than peers and friends do, but it is still a necessary appendage to my tripod of keys-phone-wallet that I compulsively "must" have on me every day. 

Let us just say that the station attendant - whose name will remain confidential but rhymes with Jean and starts with a D - was less than empathetic about my situation. And when I say less than empathetic, I mean he said "Yeah I don't know. Others have complained about that too. I can't do anything about it" so bluntly back to my explanation that my dumbfoundedness overcame my ability to plainly suggest that a sign be put on the machine or that a phone call be made for repairs. I made the mistake of asking for his brilliance to advise what I do, and he so eloquently stated "I don't know. It's a separate company and I'm the only one here so I cant't do anything about it" in such a curt, defensive way that it made it sound like I was the one who flattened his tire and now I was convincing him to give me a Slim Jim for free. 

I do not get angry often. Well, okay I get irritated often but I very rarely show it. I am thankful, however, in this instance that my irritation came through in the form of a facial expression that Jean-with-a-D was actually able to perceive, because by the grace of his own kindness he told me that the building next door was an auto shop and maybe they could fill up my tire. 

There was all this panic and anger and shock and confusion swirling in a barrel inside of me, not so much to overflow, but just to keep my brain kind of awestruck at the situation. Imagine how sexy I felt driving one mile an hour fifty yards in a car whose front end I could feel was slanted toward the ground and whose tire gasped as it flopped through one dilapidated rotation at a time.

Thank goodness the auto shop attendants were angels from heaven and the nicest guys in the world. They mentioned I had not been the only one who had come by and they filled my tire in two seconds.

At that point I had forgotten that I had not had a cell phone. I had not needed it. The timing was such that I could still make it back home and even stop for lunch before meeting my next client. My phone sat lifeless and dark in the front seat as I drove. Humorously, now that the panic and confusion had subsided, I thought "hey this would be a good time to give my mom a call. I haven't talked to her in a while." Smack my head. I even thought of a couple people I needed to reply to via text (voice dictation of course). Smack my head. We are so programmed to think that the phone is available and we can do anything we need on it right away at anytime. Even after all the horror-story material of the Reverse Air Machine, my brain still had not learned that my phone was dead and could not be used. It impulsively still thought it could be used right then. 

If you can believe it, I even stopped to pick up lunch without my cell phone - "whaaaaaaaat, another half hour you intentionally cut yourself off from the world?!" Yup, a conscious choice. Because my cell phone is not the world from which I am being cut off. The world can still be accessed without a phone. Short of manually walking into the airport and asking the human behind the desk to give me a ticket to the world, the grocery store in which I bought lunch was filled with a world of people with whom I could connect or from whom I could ask for support if needed. 

Sure, my back pocket felt significantly lighter, but I survived. 

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.