My best and oldest friend, Nancy, makes these elegant ikebanas. They are a form of meditation and invite us to contemplation. Wishing all of you a good holiday and some moments of quiet to help you prepare for the New Year.
That’s no easy thing, is it? Believing we are enough just as we are. With what we have. Without someone else telling us how wonderful we are. Here’s what made me think of this.
I had an incredible fall. I was asked to speak to diverse groups, from an insurance association to library groups to assisted living professionals. Topics included stopping burnout, presentation skills, lessons from an unlikely therapy dog, and included a workshop on customer service. Then I got to go back to my college and give a presentation for English Majors: “What You Have, Where It Will Take You.”
I was preparing, researching, creating PowerPoint presentations, rehearsing and finally getting myself to the conferences and giving the talks. It was exciting and exhausting. I was running on super drive. And then, the engagements stopped and my phone was silent, and I told myself that this was good–that I needed to recover. (In the middle of all this I caught a virus and lost my voice–just to add to the drama.)
But after a few weeks, I was hungry for affirmation. I wanted someone to call me up and ask me to speak. I wanted to fill my calendar. I wanted someone from the outside to do the work I needed to do on the inside. That made me stop. As a flaming extrovert I like noise and excitement and affirmation, but I also know I can’t depend on it. So in this busy holiday season, in this time when the afternoons are dark by 4PM, when it’s getting colder, I’m watching, waiting, seeing what happens if I don’t need all that busyness.
My new dog, Rudy (a puppy nine months old), has the right idea. Stretch out on the couch. Take it easy. Enjoy walks in the brisk air. Pay attention. And he too likes to be told, “Good dog,” but I think he knows it even when the house is quiet and all you can hear is the cat snoring.
(Top image courtesy of Adobe Images.)
As we approach the holiday season, I thought a little poetry might be a good gift. A way to pause, breathe, slow down. Here are a few lines from Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet, translated by Coleman Barks. This is the last stanza of a poem titled “A Bowl.”
“The universe and the light of the stars come through me.
I am the crescent moon put up
over the gate to the festival.”
(Image courtesy of Adobe images)
It’s taken five months, but at last, all three of our pets are getting along beautifully. Henry the cat–who thinks he’s a dog–was fine with the new puppy, Rudy–the black lab mix. But Bella, my wonderful therapy dog who is now going on 11, was not at all sure this was a good idea. She was territorial. Upset. And we saw a lot of snarling. But now, she plays with Rudy, still has senior privileges, and has discovered that it’s kind of fun to have another dog in the house.
This got me thinking about office politics and change. Yesterday I was speaking with the head of sales at one of my publishers, and after 26 years she’s had two bosses in the past month and her company is being acquired. I tried to lighten her mood by suggesting she read the book I wrote that they published: “The Essential Job Interview Handbook.” She laughed, but I could hear sadness and shock that the world she had been part of for so long, was coming to an end.
We can read statistics about the number of jobs and careers we’re all likely to have, but that doesn’t lessen the hurt. You’ve built something, been part of something, and now it’s gone. Chances are you aren’t the only one affected. And you know people who have gone through this before at other companies. Like my wonderful cat and two dogs, share the dish. Help each other. Acknowledge that this is a rough time, but take one small action every day to move forward. That could be updating your resume, making a networking call, or starting a list of organizations that interest you.
Today I’m flying to Chicago to give a talk at my college: “The English Major: What You Have, Where It Could Take You.” Like my message to the students, remember that you have choices, that few careers follow a straight line, and that you’ll be surprised by what comes next as long as you put in the effort. Share the dish.
Sometimes we learn things from proximity. In the past few weeks I’ve been on the road–out to Lancaster, PA for a wonderful conference of the Pennsylvania Assisted Living Association with my dog, Bella, and then back in Connecticut for a session on customer service for library professionals. As I was thinking about it, the two have a lot in common.
Here’s the easy similarities: both categories involve non-stop requests at work, both deal with deep issues that affect our communities such as poverty, disabilities, aging, etc., and of course both are at the heart of our communities.
Here are a few things from each session that might be helpful to everyone.
- Nonverbal support is powerful (this is one of the many reasons why therapy dogs are so effective)
- Information opens doors
- You can’t fake patience or kindness
- You must take good care of yourself if you’re going to be effective in caring for others
- “No” is a wonderful word–just be careful how you say it
- Humor is really important, too. There’s something about these two dogs that cracks me up!
- Take advantage of your co-workers. They may be better at something that you’re struggling with. Team up and learn from each other.
- Use mini-breaks to refresh yourself and regain perspective.
It was a long ride home after the conference in Lancaster. Bella didn’t mind–she slept for the six hours. It’s a tough job being a dog!
How bad could it be? San Diego, the Del Coronado hotel, and an international group of life insurance professionals. Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of speaking to this group on two topics: How to Stop Burnout, and Presentation Skills. As I stood on the stage in the Crown Room–underneath an impressive crown–I felt so lucky to be there and grateful for what I learned from this audience.
Some of the issues that were leading to burnout included: trouble sleeping, feeling tired and sometimes afraid, losing weight, feeling overwhelmed and lacking in confidence. As we went through strategies to lessen burnout, individuals choose to exercise, keep a sense of humor, listen to music, learn how to turn work off, and to team up with others so that they weren’t facing work challenges alone.
For the afternoon breakout session, “Stand Out Every Time You Talk”, we practiced solid eye contact, and how gestures make your ideas come alive. Everyone had a chance to see themselves using gestures to describe, differentiate and emphasize key points. We talked about how to run an effective Q&A session, and what to do if the audience tunes out or is distracted.
Lastly, it was a magical place. I had never given much thought or attention to palm trees, but I fell in love with their variety, elegance, and delicate fronds dancing in the wind. The place itself–with flowers everywhere–was an amazing burnout buster. I hope everyone went home energized and ready to use their new connections and knowledge to have their best year ever.
Lucky me, I got to go on a Viking River Cruise up the Danube River, starting in Budapest and ending in Passau, Germany. What amazed me was how the river affected everything. First thing in the morning I’d open my curtains and see it flowing by. We ate breakfast looking at the gray-green water swirling around us (sorry, but the Danube isn’t blue) and at the other ships going by. We got off the boat and did walking and bus tours, but then, happily came back to our boat. And at night, as I was falling asleep, I could feel the force of the river as we cruised.
One night I had trouble sleeping so I got up and opened the curtains. I gasped as I was faced with total blackness. My poor husband thought I’d hurt myself, but when I burst out laughing he realized I was okay. We were in a lock and were so close to the walls, I could touch them. And then, as if by magic, in the morning, we were at a new port.
It was always there. It sustained busy boat traffic and was lined by parks, forests, old churches and castles in the surrounding hills. It never stopped moving but invited me to stillness. I loved being up on the top deck, just watching. As it rushed by on its way to the Black Sea, its simple lesson was be here now. Discover. Enjoy.
Maybe you’ve heard this wonderful Polish expression before, but I just came upon on and love it! It is the best advice for those of us who like to solve problems. Who are compassionate. Okay, even maybe a little bossy. Every time I say it aloud, I laugh, which we all know is the best medicine. But the great thing about this phrase is that it helps me step back and make a choice–get involved, not get involved? It helps me remember that I’m not running things. It puts me in my right place. And if I were going to get a tattoo, which I’m not, I would have these words imprinted on my arm, or running up my leg. If I were a composer, I’d turn it into a song. So, being just me, I’ll share it with you. I hope
it makes you giggle and helps you through your day.
I was reading an article recently about mood boosters, and one of the suggestions–familiar to all my stop burnout buddies–is to practice gratitude. But when the dog pees on the floor, you have a problem paying a bill, your children act up, work piles on more work, how can you be grateful? How can you get yourself out of a really bad mood?
This made me realize that each of us has a happiness recipe–something or some things that lift our spirits, make us laugh, give us perspective. One friend of mine uses humor, and her laughter muscle is so well developed, that she can laugh at almost everything. I find that being outside, taking a walk or zipping around on my bike, makes me feel better. Not 100% better, but less likely to snap. For others it’s giving back, and for still others it might be writing in a journal or painting a picture or taking some amazing photos.
Challenge: take five minutes today, no matter how busy the day is, to think about your happiness recipe. When you look at all the burnout busters, we know the things that help, whether it’s exercise, wine, time with grandchildren, giving back. The trick is to give yourself the time, the gift of turning yourself around. Ready for the challenge? Can you take a swim after work, or go the park for a picnic with your kids? Have a clear image of what works for you. Here’s mine–floating in the water with my twin grandsons!
I love all the seasons, but being a bit of a speed freak, summer is a good season for me as it slows me down. I’m content to sit outside and enjoy the warmth, listen to the birds, mess about in the garden. It’s exciting to harvest the first vegetables, and this year, thanks to a lot of rain, my roses are amazing. Summer is also a nostalgic time for me as I remember my childhood summers: long days of swimming, playing with my cousins and brother and sister, eating outside, going barefoot, hanging my legs over the side of my father’s boat as we explored the Connecticut River.
One of the lessons I’ve learned from summer is that slowing down doesn’t mean dropping out. In fact, taking time can allow the things that are most important to surface. For example, yesterday I had an endless of list of things to do to continue promoting my book, but because I wasn’t in a rush, because I sat outside and thought about what really matters to me, I decided that those things could wait. And instead I worked on a new book–one for children–called “Bella and the Cat Who Thought He Was A Dog.” And this story, came from an amazing thing my childhood cat did when one of our dogs was attacked by a neighbor’s dog. He rushed into the fray, scratching and biting the other dog, until he fled howling.
Where it goes is anyone’s guess, but it felt good to complete it and submit it to my publisher. As I told a classroom of high school seniors a few months back, there are many ways to give yourself the gift of time. One habit I’ve taught myself, is to arrive for appointments about ten minutes early. I know, I can already hear you thinking to yourselves–That’s crazy. I can barely make it on time! The challenge I gave the seniors was to do it for a week–get to school ten minutes early. And then notice how the day goes. Notice how your relationships change. Be aware how kindness blossoms when you’re not in a rush. It’s summer. Take a deep breath and enjoy it.