The Blog

Need a boost of empathy?
September 20, 2018

Have you ever visited someone’s tiny house that was crammed with so much of what appears to be junk you felt like you couldn’t breathe?

rosesIt isn’t junk to him, of course. “What’s difficult to come by is difficult to part with,” Darrell says.

Isn’t that a great point? It reminded me what an attorney told me once, that the smaller the amount of money the more fiercely people cling to it.

You never know what someone’s been through to get where he is, and it’s never a bad move to replace judgment with curiosity.

Do you empathize too much?
September 19, 2018

The Windy City Nanny, Florence Ann Romano, struggled with math and science as a youngster. Her dad wanted to help her feel better so he said, “I’m bad at those, too.”

Can you imagine a more well-intentioned statement?

It didn’t make Florence Ann feel better, though. It made her feel defeated.

Someday, she says, she plans a different approach with her own children if they find those subjects difficult. She’ll say something like, “I had the same challenge when I was in school. This is what helped. Do you think it would help you?” Or whatever. Anything to suggest -- indeed, promise -- there’s more to come on the subject(s).

So you haven’t mastered everything yet. So what?

“Yet” is a magic word. Just ask Mindset author Carol Dweck!

What’s your essence?
September 18, 2018

“Anxious mothers have anxious babies,” a doctor once told a friend of the family many years ago. I was only a kid, but I remember feeling bad for that mom. “As if that’s going to make her less anxious,” I thought.

There are probably as many ways to have shared the same sentiment as there are mothers, but I’m partial to something like this: “Are you getting plenty of breaks? Is there anyone who could watch the baby while you take a nap or go on a walk? Make sure you’re taking good care of yourself. The baby will pick up on that.”

Babies are like horses, aren’t they? There’s no faking it with them. They pick up on even subtle shifts in energy.

Katie has my spunk -- oh, does she ever -- and she has such a relaxed way of dispensing it, one way her friends say she’s like Darrell. As a baby she got almost equal time alone with each of her parents, and what a gift. Apparently!

When Katie was a baby, Darrell and I took her with us when we interviewed people for a cable-access television show. And before Darrell pressed the red button on the camera to start recording, I’d gently ask Kate if she was going to be a quiet baby for those few minutes.

Did you catch that? I asked if she was going to be “quiet” as opposed to “good.”

Being loud doesn’t mean you’re bad. Unless you’re a grownup, and you’re sitting right behind us during The Book of Mormon and you’re talking so loudly I have to shame you out of that not once but three times. But you know what I mean.

Words have weight, a friend pointed out. What are you saddling your sweethearts with?

garden for the blogThe woman I told you about in my last post, who was struggling -- not much, just a little -- with something at work, was really gracious about my offer to help. “I am curious about what you have to say,” she wrote in part.

The thing was, I had no idea.

My plan wasn’t to dispense wisdom. It was to listen. It was possible I’d have something to offer, but I never count my chickens.

Think of the best advice you’ve ever gotten. I’d lay odds it came from you! Someone was likely sitting across the table or the room from you, encouraging you to talk more -- to get it all out. And suddenly, because you felt safe, you said it out loud. What you already knew, but were afraid to admit.

You can’t exchange a solution for a problem the way you give the street vendor five bucks for a panini. That’s why conversation is sacred. You meander this way and that, linger on the pauses, and relish the expressiveness on someone’s face just before she realizes what she’s always known. It isn’t a transaction. It’s a dance. The dividends are endless if you’re willing to engage.

Working is one of the most dangerous forms of procrastination. It’s easier to justify than other forms, one reason it’s dangerous.

The same can be said for helping. Shortly before I wrote this post I had the urge to help someone else with her work. I offered to talk with her about it.

She didn’t reply right away, which gave me time to reflect on that offer and why it had been so important to extend it. “Not your circus,” a little voice inside my head whispered. “Not your monkeys.”

I congratulated myself on the creativity when it came to avoiding my own work! Then I gave myself permission to fix the rest of the world after I’d spiffed up my little corner of it.

Then I got back to that.

What pays off?
September 11, 2018

You have at least another hour of work you’d like to finish, but you’re honest about your limits. So you go to bed when you know you should. You wake up rested. Your energy stays high all day, you accomplish so much more than if you’d been dragging, and you’re more fun to be around.

There’s something that bothers you about a colleague and you hesitate to address it. You do it anyway, because you know if you don’t it’ll get worse. Then it’ll get worse again, because the person will wonder why you waited so long to bring it up. If there’s anything more embarrassing than walking around with spinach in your teeth, after all, it’s thinking no one cared enough about you to point that out.

You feel vaguely guilty about taking the lunch hour you’ve been allotted and using it to go on a hard run, with time to shower before you get back to your desk. But in that time you solved not one but three work problems that were giving you fits. What were you feeling guilty about again?

Your energy’s the most precious resource you have. Take good care of yourself, attend to the difficult conversations, and watch it soar.

What helps?
September 10, 2018

When Katie was little we never tried to talk her out of being sad. We never told her not to cry. Well, Darrell did once! He came around quickly, though.

When you suggest people “calm down” or “smile” or “buck up” they have a new problem. They were sad, and now they’re ashamed.

Sometimes the only way to feel better is to let yourself feel even worse. Practice on yourself. You’ll see how effective it is.

Be religious about it with your children. They’ll learn to trust themselves.

Afford the person you’re married to that courtesy. Collectively we’d save -- what? -- a million billion dollars (or so!) in therapy.