Which masks are you wearing?

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Halloween is one of my very favorite holidays! For as far back as I can remember, I have loved the idea of dressing up as something I am not. Clown, pirate, gypsy, hobo, lamb, cowgirl, vampire – even a spider. I loved it so much that long after my parents put a stop to my trick or treating, I still dressed up on Halloween.

In high school I would dress up and walk around scaring the little kids (not necessarily admirable but very fun). In college I made sure that I attended as many costume parties as I could. When I became a fully-grown adult (notice that I didn’t say mature adult), I began to host murder parties. Once I got married, I convinced my husband that he needed to dress up and be a part of my costume adventure, too.

The little trick or treaters in my neighborhood count on dropping by our house to see who we are dressed up as every year. I don’t just put on different clothes; I use wigs, makeup and change the way I speak for a night. I do my best to fully become the part I am playing. For one night I get to pretend!

But, wait, how much of that is pretending? Don’t we all have different characters inside of us that are just waiting for an invitation to show up and take center stage? You must admit that there is a big difference between the times when the clown shows up to lead the meeting as compared to the lamb. The clown is there to keep things light and make people laugh when things are tense. The lamb on the other hand is there to create a warm, fuzzy feeling where people feel safe and at peace.

I think the spider uses her magic to create a sticky web and gets everyone all wrapped up in what she wants. The vampire simply sucks the energy and positivity out of everyone. I bet we have all been trapped in a room with a vampire!

The older I get the more I have come to realize that I don’t need a costume to bring out a different part of myself. There are many voices and personalities inside of me that have a role to play when the time is right. As we watch Halloween come and go this year, I challenge you to consider the characters you use.

Which parts of you are on stage too much? Which parts of you have been hiding and need to show up? Which are the voices that you love best and which ones show up that you want to lock in the basement? It seems like a good time to take a look at the characters at play in our lives. Some you may decide to wear more often, and some may go right back in the closet!

More Than a Date on the Calendar

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Many people are disappointed when the anticipated changes in their lives don’t bring immediate, easy, lasting happiness. Think of these changes that most of us look forward to:

  • Marriage

  • New house

  • New job

  • Baby

  • Retirement

  • New puppy

  • New exercise or weight loss program

What we don’t understand, or forget about, is that all of the items here can be given a date on the calendar, but the internal, personal adaptation doesn’t happen in one day. It may not happen in a week or a month or even a year, but then again it might happen quickly.

Transition is the internal adaptation to an external change, and that process is different for every person. Some people adapt quickly. Others pretend that nothing has changed but struggle to let go of the way things were. Yet others figure out that the change is more than they had bargained for and they bail on the idea.

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Wiliam Bridges (1980) was the first to put a name to this difference between the external event and the internal transition journey we must go through as we move from status quo to status new!

I have spent 25 years observing, navigating, facilitating, initiating and studying change and transition. The result of those 25 years is a tool I have created to help others navigate these transitions more successfully. I don’t want this to be a commercial for the Transitions Journey Deck; but I do want to share a few things I know about change and transition that may help you in your life whether you purchase one of my decks or not. I know:

  1. We can miss or grieve things we didn’t like.

  2. Things will most likely get more difficult before they get easier.

  3. No change occurs in isolation; this one change affects other parts of your life.

  4. Other people in your life may not be supportive of your change.

  5. Every change has invisible ropes tying you to the old ways.

  6. We have limited information at the beginning of any change.

  7. Transitions present our greatest opportunity to learn about ourselves.

  8. Most of the challenges we will encounter are emotional, not necessarily logical.

  9. Every change involves something we must let go of if we are going to fully commit to the new.

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The bottom line is that transition is a personal journey and at the outset of any change we have limited information, which informs how we feel about things and the choices we make. As we come to understand more of what is involved in a change, we are often surprised by our reaction and what can feel like resistance to a change that we thought was going to be great or easy of fun. Instead we are often frustrated, exhausted and unsure of what is making the change so hard.

These are the best times to learn about ourselves, our beliefs, our values, and to explore key relationships. In short, a transition is a terrible learning opportunity to waste.

 
 

After 25 years of deep involvement in the transitions of individuals, families, teams and organizations, as well as in my own life, I know that my Transitions Journey Deck can change the way you approach changes in your life.

Click here to learn more about the deck.  

Below the Surface of Change

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Do you ever feel like your boat is sinking and you can’t understand how something seemingly insignificant could have such a huge impact?

Welcome to CHANGE!

I recently had two iceberg moments that were poignant reminders of how change really works.

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Nearly two years ago, a friend passed away – suddenly. Our church affiliation had us working together for several years. While we weren’t close friends, we shared many powerful experiences and I knew I would miss him.

More than missing him, I was filled with sadness for his wife. She was completely unprepared for his sudden departure and it has been heartbreaking to watch her go through this grieving process. I would say that his death was the chunk of ice about the waterline. I saw it – I felt it – I expected to be sad for a time. I knew that I would do whatever I could to be a good friend to his wife and be there for her in whatever way I could.

However, I have been surprised many times by the tears that seem to come from nowhere. His favorite children’s hymn was ‘I’m trying to be like Jesus’ and I can’t sing more than a few notes of that song without choking on tears. He used props when he taught the little kids a Sunday School lesson. One of those lessons was about the wise man building his house upon the rock and every child got to pick a rock from his basket. At his funeral, everyone in attendance could take one of those rocks home with them. That rock sits on my desk and I oftentimes look at the rock, and I have this overwhelming sadness well up inside of me.

A few weeks ago, I decided to try and look beneath the waterline. What was really going on down there that was causing me such grief? When this friend died, so did the opportunities to do more work together. There would be no more of those deep conversations I thoroughly enjoyed. I wouldn’t get any more phone calls asking me to provide insights about an individual or a situation. I realized in that moment, that my grieving was about much more than his actual death. It was the death of a relationship and a loss of times together that couldn’t be replaced.

In some ways, it was wonderful to pause and look deeply at what his death symbolized. The change was on the surface and I could see it, but the parts that I valued and the experiences I was grieving were buried deep.

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The second change I recently experienced was having a friend move. Again, it’s not somebody I see every day or even every week, but he is someone that I have felt close to since the moment I met him. For very good reasons, he and his family have moved several states away. There had been several weeks between the time I heard the news and when I finally saw him at church. We passed each other in the hall and when he said, “I need to talk with you about this move,” I burst into tears and told him that I couldn’t handle it right then.

Every time I thought about it over the next few weeks, I would start to cry. Again, I was puzzled by the extreme emotional response I was having. After a tearful night (and no, this wasn’t hormones at work) I chose to go beneath the waterline and ask myself what was really going on here. That was when I realized that this change in my life was symbolic to me of how time was passing and how many things that brought joy, fulfillment and meaning to my life were going away.

It was a reminder that I have less of those times in front of me than I had in the past. His moving brought up all the other relationships and situations that have changed. William Bridges says that every change has elements of transition within it and if we don’t take the time to acknowledge and work through those in the moment, that they will stack up in our transitional attic and one day, when we least expect it, all of those changes that we hurriedly passed through will come crashing down on us. At those times, we will be surprised by the BIG reactions to seemingly SMALL things.

Thus, the small chunk of ice above the waterline that punches a hole in the side of our boat which slowly allows water to leak in over time until we feel like we’re sinking.

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Moral of this story? We should look more closely at each change in our life and take time to notice what lies beneath the surface.

Some Wounds Take a Long Time to Heal…

 
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Two years ago, we tore out our 15-year-old landscaping and replaced it with some plants that I really loved. One of my favorites is this little Gold Lace Juniper. 

We have two of these plants side by side in our front yard and in July I noticed that one looked great and one looked like it was dying. When the “plant lady” came for a landscaping walk through, I learned a lesson about my little plant that applies to humans as well.

 
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She said that the winter had been pretty rough on plants. There wasn’t enough snow cover to really protect them from the harsh elements. So, this lovely plant had been wounded due to lack of protection, and the sad news is that it could take up to five years for it to heal and look healthy again.

I hoped she would tell me of some product I could put on it or some other action I could take to accelerate the healing.  The answer is NOTHING but time would help!

So, what human lesson can we learn from this sad landscaping story?  I offer 3 ways that the plant story has a personal message for us.

  1. Protection is important.  What do we do to protect ourselves from being destroyed or deeply hurt?  Life inherently is going to hand us some challenges and trials that feel as if they destroy a part of us.  We can’t protect ourselves from everything, but we can at least give some attention to the situations we put ourselves in that could cause personal damage.
  2. Not everyone is affected the same way. These two plants grew up side by side and shared the exact same weather conditions as well as the same lack of protection; yet, one of them continued to grow and one was deeply damaged. Humans are the same! Two people can be in the same situation and be affected very differently. We should never assume that our experience in a situation is the same as anyone else’s.
  3. On the occasion that life (and by life, this includes another human being) hands us a hard blow, we may not be able to bounce right back. The actual healing may take quite some time. As someone who has inflicted emotional damage to another person, I know that I have tried apologizing, sending flowers, bringing chocolate, writing notes, and several other methods to accelerate the healing.  Guess what?  Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes the only thing that can truly heal is to let time pass so that the other person can find their own way to grow through the challenge. 

I’m not sure what you might want to take from this story, but at the very least, I hope you pause long enough to consider the idea that we can’t protect ourselves or those we love from all types of damaging elements. And, when someone is hurting, they might need to heal in their own way. Also, just because it will take time doesn’t mean that you stop caring and letting them know that if there was anything you could do to help – you would!

What Bamboo Can Teach You!

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Have you ever given up on something that you really wanted, because you got tired of trying?  I have! I have given up on sports, games, books, foods, piano music, and relationships – just to name a few. The things I list are all things that were important to me, but the results were just taking too long.

I tend to focus on the end game – the outcomes – the results. Not only do I have my eyes on the finish line, but I want it to come quickly.  Deep inside (maybe not that deep) I have a timer that is always running. I don’t intentionally set the timer; it just happens for me.

I wonder how many kinds of cheese I might enjoy if I hadn’t expected to fall in love with the flavor on my first bite. I wonder how many piano compositions I might have mastered if I had kept practicing them instead of giving up. Actually, I wonder if any of my kids would play piano today if I hadn’t gotten tired of the complaining and the wrong notes and hung in there longer. If I look back in my career, I can think of leaders that gave up on a member of their team because they weren’t “getting it.” What about the person you invited to join you and your friends and they said no?  Might they be your friend today if you had reached out a few more times?

I can’t go back in time, and neither can you, but we can each have a different perspective moving forward if we choose to. Let me share something I heard at church last Sunday that I think can apply to many of the situations we find ourselves in. It is the story of the bamboo tree.

If you want to grow a Chinese Bamboo tree, you plant a seed and you water it. You water it faithfully and give it the proper nutrition for a year and what do you get?  NOTHING! No sign of life coming through the soil. But, you have faith, so you take care of it for another year with water and soil nutrients.  Again – NOTHING!   You do this for 4 years, and then over a 90 day period a bamboo tree grows before your very eyes. A Chinese Bamboo tree can grow 80 feet in 6 weeks. But, did the tree really grow 80 feet in 6 weeks after lying dormant for 4 years?  Or was growth happening and you just couldn’t see it? Was the little tree growing a support system underground?  Did it take nearly 5 years to create a strong foundation that could support exponential growth? The answer is obvious. The tree didn’t grow 80 feet in 6 weeks – it grew 80 feet in 5 years. 

I love this story as I consider the people and things in my life AND in myself that need patience, perseverance and a strong foundation. I think that we never know how close we are to the growth spurt we desperately want! So,, what in your life might you want to stick with just a bit longer?

What is the MAGIC NUMBER?

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This is not the type of magic number that you bet on; I will let someone else write about that. This is the magic number that serves as a threshold. Something magical (not necessarily good magic) happens when this number shows up in your life. While we are all familiar with the phrase “bad luck comes in threes” and many people buy into that belief, I have come to notice that the magic number really varies for people and for situations. Here are just a few that I have stumbled upon in the last few weeks. I’m curious if you have any numbers that represent a threshold of sorts. The number that has goodness or badness on the other side of it …

4 is the magic number for an introverted client of mine.  He is at ease and comfortable in a group that has less than 4 people in it. As soon as there are 4 people that he doesn’t really know, he begins to withdraw. Once he knows people, the number is no longer 4 and if there are only 3 “strangers”, he is fine.

5 is a magic number for many of my Jazzercise students.  Most of them feel at least psychologically better at 1 or 2 workouts per week. Some notice a change in weight or fitness level at 3 or 4 workouts per week. But, something magical tends to happen when they cross the threshold to 5 workouts per week.  Fitness level is very noticeable, and if they are someone that is trying to lose weight, the pounds begin to melt away.

3 is the magic number for me when it comes to how many treats I can have without losing control.  Keebler EL Fudgesticks are my #1 weakness and if I can limit myself to 2 cookies, I can stop. If I eat 3, I end up eating 6 or 8 or half of the box. The same is true with potato chips. There used to be a Lay’s potato chip commercial that said “I bet you can’t each just 1.” I totally can eat just 1. I can even eat only 2.  But, if I shove in that 3rd chip, I end up grabbing a handful and munching my way into the bag.

6 seems to be the magic number for most teams I work with. Team dynamics, team processes, collaboration, etc. all seem to go pretty well and work is easier when there are 5 or less people in a team. When the 6th person joins, something happens and the communication often begins to break down.

7 seems to be a popular magic number for sleep.  If people get more than 7, it’s okay, but less than 7 and they are not their best selves.

30 is our magic number for date night. If my hubby and I go more than 30 days without a night that is just for us – no family, no friends, no work, no church – we start to feel a disconnect that is palpable.

4 is the magic number for how many pounds I am over my ideal weight. I can live with 1, 2 or 3, but at 4# suddenly none of my clothes fit. I don’t even need the scale, but if I do step on it when I feel a little heavy, it almost always is 4#.

9 days away from home is the magic number for myself and many others I know who travel. 9 days feel like a long time, but I am still able to focus on the work or the vacation. At 10 days, my focus shifts to what I am missing instead of where I am. My bed doesn’t feel as good, the food doesn’t taste as good, alone time isn’t restful, I notice all the little things that are irritating to me about wherever I am.  I guess that may be why they say “absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

If you are open to it, I’d love to have you share your magic number. What is the threshold you cross where things feel very RIGHT or very WRONG?

Remember "it's in there"

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Do you ever find yourself…

Buried in self-doubt?

Entertaining the idea of throwing in the towel?

Convincing yourself that you can’t do it?

Telling yourself to quit trying because you will never be any good at it?

Those were my thoughts on the golf course a week ago. I have invested time, money, and energy into golf lessons. I make regular trips to the driving range. I even practice putting in my office. What is the point if I am not going to get any better?  

Just as I was thinking that this might be my last 9 holes, I smacked a 150 yard shot with my hybrid club.  It was a thing of beauty, and it felt as good as it looked. My friend turned to me and uttered 3 really important words. “It’s in there”…

No one else hit that shot – it was me. Somewhere inside me is a person that knows how to hit a golf ball really well.  Perhaps if I spent more time reminding myself that “it’s in there” instead of beating myself up for not being able to get it right all the time, that part of me that knows how to do it (whatever it is) would show up more often.

I know it’s a simple thing, but I can’t tell you how many times over the last week I have reminded myself that “it’s in there” and my job is to believe that. Now only is it in me, but it’s in other people too. What would happen if we encouraged each other to believe in ourselves instead of getting sucked into a tailspin of negative thoughts and giving voice to the critic that only serves to drag us, and everyone around us, into a black hole?

“It’s in there” doesn’t mean I’m going to get it right all the time. It does mean that I send a different message to myself. I send a message that I am looking for the part of me that knows I can do “it” whatever it is, and that feels really good.  Remind yourself of that the next time you feel like quitting!

You have a right to be 'there' ...

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I'm not sure at what point in my life I decided that my voice mattered, my perspective was worthwhile and that I had a right to be "there". Maybe it's genetic because my Dad always believed his voice needed to be heard; whether it was standing up and sharing a contrary opinion in a community gathering or writing a letter to the editor. He assumed that his voice mattered. He was a simple man - no college degree, no privileged background, no title or status. Yet, I never saw my father question his 'right to be there' - wherever he was.  I'm not here to say that his perspective was always welcomed or agreed with, nor was he free from ridicule.  That didn't stop him.

So, maybe it's my DNA that has me ignore the majority, the titles, the gender, the years of experience - whatever might be perceived as a reason that my perspective doesn't matter. Whatever it is, I am grateful for it! 

I work with several people who sit quietly, burying their perspectives and hiding their voice because they don't feel their voice would be heard or honored or needed. Those are examples of what we call limiting beliefs. Our brain doesn't know the difference between real and pretend - truth and story. So, if you tell yourself that no one would listen to you or that you don't deserve to be in the conversation, then your brain (which informs the rest of you) believes that story and acts accordingly. 

Is it really as simple as changing your story?  Actually, it is!  Your perspective is always valuable. Where you might get stuck is when the decision made doesn't align with your perspective. You need to learn to let go of that part of the equation. Say what you need to say and then let it go.  Your bit of information or opinion or perspective matters and at the very least you have been courageous and shared your voice.

So, find your voice, disconnect from the story that it doesn't matter, stand up straight and speak.  The more you do it, the easier it gets. The more you do it, the more that people around you realize that have something to say. Saying something adds value!

It Doesn't Take Much

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In a day and age when we all have more things on our to-do list than we can possibly get to in a day, it can be easy to be completed focused on our to-do list and miss the things that are not part of the “agenda” for the day. Lately, I have been struck by the profound impact we can have by stopping to check in with people. I can’t tell you how many times in the last month I have had people say, “Thanks so much for asking!”  Sometimes it’s in person – sometimes it’s a text or a voice message – doesn’t make any difference what form the check in takes, people simply appreciate it when another person remembers something about them and asks about it.

It’s also taking to time to notice the little things.  A haircut, new glasses, a cool shirt, a smile that lights up the room, twinkly eyes, great question asking ability, an easy presence … those are just a few of the things that I have noticed about people lately. I make a point to share what I notice with them and I watch people light up.

I think that anything we can do to lift another person or brighten their day makes our day a little better!  It truly doesn’t take much to make a difference!

Breaking Trail ... Who Knew?

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It’s April 15th in Minnesota and I am surrounded by people who are completely disgusted with this late spring blizzard. I’m not sure if it’s my generally optimistic nature or my love of winter that has me excited about the storm. Whatever it is, I couldn’t wait to get dressed in my best winter gear, grab the girls and hit the trail. Apparently, no one else felt the same excitement,  as our streets and neighborhood have been incredibly quiet the last 48 hours.

We were the first ones on the walking path through the park this morning. The snow was about a foot deep and there were no footsteps to follow in. It was us forging the trail and it was a slog! I understand the combination of exhilaration and exhaustion. I couldn’t help but think about what it’s like to be the first … to try anything. The first to share a new idea. The first to bring a product to market. The first to go to college in your family. The first person to say no!   No matter what the “it” is, being first takes strength, persistence, vision, and support!

The wind was blowing with gusto from the south for half of our walk and it provided another type of resistance.Who knew that snowflakes hitting your eyeballs at 40 mph could hurt? There was never a time on our walk when it was easy, but we kept pushing (and pulling) ahead, determined to make it all the way around the park regardless of how hard it was.

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When we got to street crossings there were snowbanks that were 3 feet high and we had to get beyond them in order to keep moving forward. The girls got over the banks much easier than I did because they have 4 legs and I only have 2. At each bank or drift, I watched them push off on their back legs and bounce up and over.  Meanwhile, I struggled with my 2 legs because I had to walk through it; I didn't have legs to push off and legs to land on.  I thought about why work is so much easier with a team. My dogs have a 4 person team and my team  has only 2 to work with.

As the leader of the team, I did have to keep us moving ahead. There were times that members of my team were distracted. Critter smells, debris blowing around, another spot to pee on and there is always the temptation to play with each other.  All of these presented chances to get off track. Just like in real life, there were times when I was pulling- leading the way, and others when I was being dragged along. How grateful I was to be on this journey with others.

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When we walked in the front door all we wanted to do was flop down on the front room floor and take a nap.  The voices in my head were sending conflicting messages:  "You have lots to do. Take off your snow gear and get busy." and ”That was really hard work. You could have skipped the walk this morning, but you persevered. It's okay that you take a rest and savor the experience."  I chose to rest and savor the moment.  It was from that rest that the idea for this blog came. Had I jumped right into work, I would have moved on and missed these reflections.

I am so grateful that I continue to receive lessons/ thoughts/ insights from my daily life. I hope you make the time for your own reflections as you move through the day-to-day.

p.s. These are not pictures of my own dogs, but they are a close resemblance. I could not handle a camera and 2 Siberian Huskies and a snowstorm!