Little Celebrations

Is it good for you to celebrate a personal accomplishment? What if the accomplishment is nothing profound? What if the accomplishment is the simple act of being consistent? Would you judge someone if you knew their celebration was for something that seemed pretty trivial? It seems to me that celebrating one of life’s accomplishments almost feels like a form of bragging, calling attention to yourself.

But I am going to do it anyhow. And I will try to explain why it is important.

I am celebrating a little bit today.  This is my 300th blog post.  That means I have been posting once a week for nearly six years! I believe it is important to stop and celebrate occasionally. My blog is not a “best-seller”. I doubt is has a profound impact on people’s lives. It rarely reaches 100 people in a week. Some of the posts are pretty good, a few are my favorites and a lot of them don’t quite meet my original goals for them. But I get joy from doing them. I love the challenge of new ideas. Writing is fun for me. Coming up with something new to say is not easy. Putting my own ideas, or my spin on other’s ideas, is work. So a long, consistent performance deserves a celebration.

Hooray for me

In her post (https://www.forbes.com/sites/catescottcampbell/2017/02/28/the-key-to-creative-growth-celebrate-and-then-celebrate-some-more/#4d8dbd1d4782), Cate Scott Campbell challenges us:

“The problem, of course, is that this lack of celebrating success has put me at major risk of ignoring the big and small triumphs of creative growth—the triumphs that remind us of how far we’ve come, how courageous we’ve been, and how, even when it got bleak, we kept on.”

This little celebration of mine got me thinking. For most of us, we are our own biggest critics. We are really good at pointing out what we didn’t do, what we failed to accomplish, what we are not as good as others at doing. The idea to pause and reflect is not something we generally do. We know the job might not be done. We might feel there is a long way to go. Perhaps we have decided that we really have not accomplished anything. But that negative thinking doesn’t get us anywhere, does it? Why not try a different approach?

There are some really great benefits to celebrating. Research suggests that if you frequently mark off or celebrate mental milestones, life feels as if it slows down and takes on more meaning. The act of rewarding yourself feels good. It helps us to keep moving. Sometimes the celebration simply allows us to realize what we have done and motivates us to move forward.

You might not be a person who likes public displays of celebration. Perhaps you prefer not to bring attention to your accomplishments? Here is an alternative. I really like the idea in the post noted above suggesting a “jar of reflection”. Simply put a jar in your office or kitchen with a number of papers beside it. When you accomplish something, write it down and put it in the jar. At the end of the year, read everything you put in the jar. Your own personal celebration.

Okay, I am done celebrating. Back to work!

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Hoarder?

I was talking with someone who is a counselor and a coach the other day. She mentioned how she deals with a lot of people that are “hoarders”. Those are the people who cannot discard anything. They hold onto all kinds of items – books, old gifts, newspapers, recipes, clothing. For them, getting rid of anything is bad. Unfortunately for many of them, the physical mess created by all of the hoarded items has negative consequences in many parts of their lives.

The idea of a hoarder got much more interesting when we started thinking about hoarders of a different nature. These were the people who hoard or hold onto emotions. Those emotions might be old feelings, dreams, slights, frustrations or failures. They might be a time when “everything was great”. Whatever they are, they remain, somewhere in the person’s conscious or unconscious. And just like physical items, these hoarded emotions get in the way of moving forward.

Perhaps you have been around a person who always seems to have a sad story to tell. They reminisce about some event or some encounter. Their existence is so cluttered by the images of the past that they cannot see anything in front of them. It is really not healthy. Nor is it productive. Another is the person who can’t let go of a time (real or imagined that way) when everything was right with the world. They constantly look back at that hoarded image of “perfection”, never to move forward.

I understand it is “hard to let go”. We can always convince ourselves there is a great reason for holding onto something (“I’ll hold onto that old shirt from the 70’s in case I need something for a Halloween party” or “I am going to keep that drawing my son made for me in third grade because it reminds me of him”). We can say that someone else might eventually need the item (“I will hold onto these 1000 wire hangers because someone will need them for cooking marshmallows over a fire or a teacher might want them for a class craft project”). We might even think we will use it – next week.

In the end, the mess becomes a reason for INACTION.

When you start to think about hoarding old feelings, the same situation occurs. A “pile” of emotions hides reality. Holding onto something that is of no use masks something of real potential. Good ideas, a call to action or a chance for a new beginning don’t see the light of day. The dream of using one of our passions in life is lost behind a stack of emotions telling us “why not”. Even something as simple as taking a long-desired dream vacation stands at the bottom of a pile of emotions. Or any of these items get overwhelmed by the size of the hoarded pile.

“I’ve got too much on my plate right now.”  “I am too busy”

We hear people talking about being too busy all the time. Stop for a minute and think about that. Might their be some hoarding going on? Holding onto too many things. Agreeing to do one more item. Not saying “no” to a new request (even though they are “too busy”) because they want to be helpful or put others in front of themselves.

How might we stop being emotion hoarders?

I think it is the same idea as a hoarder of physical items. First, take a moment to do an inventory.

Start with one part of your life, just like you might start with one room of your house. Perhaps you write down all of the emotions associated with one phase of your life. For example, when you think of work, what emotions come forward? What past emotions do you associate with work? Do you find yourself saying “if only so-and-so was not around?” Do you assign blame to others? Envy? Wish for some past job situation? Harbor ill feelings about some person?

Can you discard some emotional time wasters? Is there someone you can finally express those long-held emotions to that can help you release them? Who are some people that are peripheral to your life, but clutter up your judgement or your ability to move forward? How about throwing away a lingering emotion from some battle long forgotten? Is there something you can stop doing?

And then just take action. Stop being an emotional hoarder. See what free space opens up for you.

People are Complicated

“People are complicated”.  You might respond to that with a slap of the head and “Duh, you think so?” comment. Most of us would agree that people are very hard to figure out sometimes. So why is it that we rarely treat them that way?

I just finished reading the book, Being Richard Nixon by Evan Thomas. For people of a certain age, Nixon is remembered for Watergate and for being the only President of the United States to resign while in office. By those measures he was a failure.  Most historians would agree.

In reading the book, I have learned more of the complexities of the man. He opened up China and began arms control with the Soviet Union.  Yet he conducted secret bombing raids in Cambodia and Laos.  He won election to the highest office in the land, yet was very socially awkward and had a hard time with crowds.  He was a loving husband and father. But he was often painfully unaware of the slights he did to his wife in public. In other words, he was complicated and human.

So that got me thinking.  Don’t we all often characterize someone, or a group of people, solely based on simplistic thinking? Aren’t we inclined to simplify our views of others, even though we KNOW people are complicated?

We love to simplify people; Yet we all know people are complicated

Here is an example for a group.I hear it all the time from people who characterize “Milennials”. They are spoiled. Milennials are disloyal to companies.  They are hard to have as employees because they don’t want to work hard or want time off or want to be promoted immediately. Is a whole generation REALLY that simple to characterize?

This “simplified” thinking came to roost for me the other day.  I was in a meeting and one person really dominated the conversation with her sad tale of woe. She was unhappy. Her life was dominated by caring for her mother. She never got married so she did not have a family to help her out. She lost her job. Her life had little meaning because she “had to” take care of her mother. Despite some helpful comments and suggestions from the rest of the attendees, she batted them away because she “had” to take care of her mom. After a while, I kinda shut down. I decided this is not a person I would like to be around because of her negativity. Even though, on the surface, she fits the circumstances of someone who I would normally work with in my coaching practice, I decided – based on one brief encounter – that I would “never” work with her. Wow, that is decisive.

Decisive – or failing to understand the complexities of people?

Upon reflection, I realize I do not know much of the woman’s story. Why did she come to the meeting, if not to get some guidance? (I guess I could say she came to share her misery with others). Was there some reason she and I were brought together for the same meeting? Perhaps she would work much better in a one-on-one setting. Maybe upon building awareness of her situation, she could make small, tentative steps forward. Sometimes it takes a little time and effort to peel back the layers to get to the root cause. But once that happens, progress has an opportunity. Aren’t I trained to do that? (the answer is yes).

I realize it was more convenient to make a decision immediately.  I had “enough” facts.  Or did I?

That brings me back to Nixon. Understanding his complexity does not make him a better President. It does not mean his time in office hurt America moving forward. It is not an apology, an excuse for the results of his actions – distrust in government, a country torn. But it does require me to be honest with myself. How did someone with those flaws get elected as a Congressman, a Senator, a Vice President and a President? There had to be some other sides to consider. In other words, complexity.

Much like the lady I was in the meeting with, do you find yourself simplifying people?  Might it not be a good course of action to reconsider? I often have said that everyone we run into is a role model for us in some way. A role model does not mean someone we have to emulate. A role model can be as simple as an “example”. Being reminded that people are more complex than we first might think? Sounds like a “good example” to me.

It is ironic, that after I wrote the first draft of this post, I ran into the following quote from Richard Branson: “It is foolish to judge everybody the same without taking into account their individual strengths and weaknesses”. In other words, we are all complicated, so take time to think beyond the surface before coming to final judgment.

“Change is Constant”

In a post by Bruce Kasanoff, he wrote the following: “When people say, “Change is the only constant,” it implies that change is something that happens to us, something out of our control. In fact, that is only partially true.”  He makes the point that we get to choose how we react and deal with change.

I really like that thought.  Change may happen all of the time. But our reaction to change, or preparedness for change, our readiness for change is not necessarily something out of our control. For example:

  • We choose our attitude. We choose our outlook
  • We choose whether we take action or not.  We choose how we react to changing circumstances
  • We get to decide how, and if, we want to allow outside events to influence us or not
  • We get to choose our work
  • We choose who are our friends
  • We get to choose whether we are friendly to a stranger, or any person we meet
  • We get to choose when we are grateful or not
  • We get to choose if we want to be open, honest, authentic, present
  • We choose how we want to spend our days. And our nights
  • We have a much greater ability to change than we believe

All of those statement are in our control.  We choose whether we want to anticipate and prepare for change. Or allow change to be inevitable.  And while change will be present in each situation, it does not have to be negative change or change that is imposed on us.

The phrase “Change is Constant” just means that change will be present. There are outside forces – the weather, politics, other people’s attitudes – we cannot control. Those elements will drive change – that is the “change is constant” part.  But it is only one part of the equation.

Ever notice how some days are really bad? The sky seems gray. Nothing goes as planned. Work is a chore. The commute is bad. The boss stinks. Customers are grumpy. No one smiles. How much of that is our choice of attitude or outlook?

Here is the mathematical definition of the word “constant”: “a constant is unknown but assumed to have a fixed value”. A fixed value. Sounds kinda inevitable. Guess what? Life is not pure math. Remember all of you that said “I hate math”?  So why use a math definition when you think about change? Change does not have to be “assumed to have a fixed value”.  To keep my math metaphor going, “change is variable”. You decide how it applies to you. It is never fixed.

Change is variable – not constant

So that hypothetical gray day? How about making it a little lighter? I am going to allow some driver in front of me, so their commute might be a little better. Perhaps if I greet some stranger at work it will lighten their day for a moment. That grumpy customer, or my boss, I am going to let them be them, and I will be me.  Why let them change me?