Yearly Archives: 2013

New Eyes

We can get pretty attached to what we perceive as reality, even when presented with evidence to the contrary. I view the world this way because it is this way. To a great extent, that worldview will determine what I’m capable of seeing, and as a result, how I show up and behave in my life.

Say, for example, that I’m really intent on having apples, and I walk through life with my hands open for apples. Many times I’m going to get oranges or bananas from life instead (you know how that works, right?) and I’m so disappointed that I don’t have apples that I can’t really see what’s wonderful about figs. Pomegranates. Blueberries.

When I was a troop leader I always wished for the world’s best co-leader. I’d try to recruit my friends. I wanted someone who would see the world the same way that I saw it. Well, you can guess the end of that story. I got star fruit and kiwis, but no apples.

So here is the lesson. When we can get away from our worldview for a few minutes, we might empty ourselves long enough for new ideas, new perceptions, or new possibilities to enter our minds. If my world is divided into two categories: “apple” and “not apple,” then I miss so much.

Why not look for small, frequent opportunities to empty your mind and be open for something new? It might be right there in front of you- something that is equally real and valuable that you just never considered before. Marcel Proust, a French novelist in the late 1800s said it like this:

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

Have you ever experienced “new eyes?” We’d love to hear the story.

Why Did You Do That?

I’m more likely to think about the meaning of Memorial Day, as opposed to Labor Day, but mostly those holidays exist as bookends to June, July and August. A three day introduction to the summer and a three day wrap up, usually with a sale on school supplies and computers. Even though my adult schedule doesn’t look much different in the summer, I still hear James Taylor in the background singing “Summers Here” when the neighborhood kids get out of school. Who doesn’t love to kick back a little?

The truth is we spend most of our year on the move, conjugating the verbs: to do, to want and to have. But what about to be? Is that relegated to a week’s vacation in the summer? (I’m not even sure, frankly, that one week is enough time to be… it takes a few days to slow down, sleep in and linger over morning coffee. You know, talk to the person in the rocking chair beside you).

But it’s September now, summer is over, and I want to talk about to do.

I know we are all busy, but if someone asked you “Why are you doing this?” what would you say? The “this” can be anything; in fact sometimes it is simply a situation that emerged in which “this” had to be done and somehow you ended up doing it. But if our actions are perpetually dictated by factors external to ourselves, we end up living reactive lives. Action is simply reaction when it does not come from a sense of who we are and what we want to do, but instead is an anxious reading of how others define us and of what the world demands.

When you get a moment, see if you can define yourself apart from what you do. Then do a little math and figure out what percent of your actions are intentional and authentic, and what percent are what you need to do to hold a job, make a living, satisfy the expectations of others, fill your time, or to evade the fact that you don’t know what else to do.

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What about Us?

If you think about it, the mission of our organization is pretty huge. Amazing, but huge. We want to build girls of courage, confidence and character, and that is no small thing. And then, we want them to go out there and make the world a better place. That isn’t a task they finish by the time they age out of the Ambassador program. It’s more like a philosophy to live by, a way of being in the world that shapes their whole life.

What about the women who work and volunteer with our organization? You realize we have to ask ourselves; Are we living courageously? Are we confident? Are we known for our character?

In what ways am I making the world a better place?

We ask girls to learn by making their own decisions, acting on those decisions, and engaging others in the task. Isn’t that what we mean by girl led, learning by doing and cooperative learning? When that process applies to us grown-up girls it’s not uncommon to hear all the reasons why we don’t have the time, money, energy, or support to learn the things we’d like to learn. Or the things we need to learn. Sometimes those stories are shared with others, and sometimes they remain quietly unexamined.

I think there is a link between our commitment to learning and our capacity for risk-taking. If I don’t value the process of learning, and fixate instead on effectiveness or measurable results, I’m less likely to step out with courage or confidence. I’m less likely to risk the necessary failure which happens along a lifetime of developing character. When outcomes are the measure of my being in this world, I will want to control them, and that will limit me to predictable arenas where I know I can succeed. I will only “learn” by doing what I am reasonably sure I can successfully do- the things that yield instantly visible results. But I’m afraid that if we don’t pay attention, we will wake up one morning and realize that we’ve missed the larger, long term character building in our own lives that is needed to make the world a better place.

And the truth is, it’s a much more authentic process to facilitate a girl’s journey when I’m aware of my own journey. We want to model the process of learning, so that our leadership experience validates the program model we use. So that it inspires young women. So that our support is real. So that we’re truly doing our part to make this world a better place.

¡ Poco a Poco !

I just spent ten days in Guatemala working with a small school in a squatter community. There are many adventures on this annual trip, as American volunteers step with me into a new culture and the experience of shanty town living. There is a particular adjustment that is hard for us to make, and I see the struggle every summer with every group. The struggle stems from our cultural preference for efficiency and task completion when we set out to work. We have a plan. So we go to Guatemala to serve, and by golly, we are going to serve according to our plan. The intentionality is certainly good, but that American worldview doesn’t fit neatly into the Guatemalan context. Let me give you an example.

Tourism folks market Guatemala as the Land of Eternal Spring, with warm days and cool nights all year long. May through November is the rainy season, which doesn’t affect the temperature, but makes for a wet afternoon almost every day of our visit. So the construction plan needs to yield to the rainfall. Did I mention the arrival of materials? There isn’t a Home Depot down the street and only one person at the little school has a car. Concrete, paint and drywall comes on a truck. Eventually. So the clash between expectation and reality is often difficult when volunteers plan to work for four days, and really want to work eight hours on all of those four days. At dusk we often have a conversation with the locals that ends a smile and the phrase poco a poco.

“Little by little,” they say, which is as much a philosophy of life as an expression used to ease frustration. In a country with little infrastructure, corrupt government and extreme poverty, poco a poco invites an appreciation for each day’s effort, because any progress is good progress. That is a different perspective from our fast-paced, results oriented view of a good day. But I have come to learn than recognizing progress, at any level, helps to cultivate a sense of gratitude and relieve the tension of struggling with reality. Stress, after all, is mostly a perspective that whatever is happening is not good, or should be different. And in a different culture, or context, it is easier to see how little control we really have over reality.

I can’t help but wonder if the practice of a poco a poco mentality might be the best souvenir that anyone brings back from a visit to our little squatter community.

Truthful Living

The Quaker tradition offers time-tested suggestions for fostering truthful living. They include these four: (1) Listen “for the truth in the words of others,” (2) Speak the truth as you understand it with “cordiality, kindness, and love,” (3) Avoid “gossip, tale bearing, breaking confidences, or the disparagement of others,” and (4) Resist “temptations to falsehood, coercion, and abuse.” I’m not a Quaker, but I believe that adopting these suggestions would transform the communication patterns of our families and work places.

The idea of truthful living is more than truth in relation to speech; it includes good listening skills. Listening is noticing and appreciating the truth being spoken by others. It’s hard to hear the truth, sometimes, when we’re caught up in the behavior of the speaker, or the emotion attached to the message.  But listening is at the heart of wisdom and discernment.

Another detail that struck me in these suggestions is the awareness that I speak the truth as I understand it. Which means my perception, my interpretation, my analysis of the subject. When I know I’m simply speaking from my view of things, there is room for various forms of feedback, which in turn expands my understanding.

I looked up “disparagement” for you: it means speaking of another in a way that belittles or discredits them. We might just call that sarcasm or making a little fun. But is that truthful living?

Telling the truth doesn’t mean saying everything we think, of course. There is ample room in a truthful life for the silence of discretion, keeping of confidences, and the little pleasantries that keep social interactions flowing along. And words ring more true, and are heard more easily, when they are congruent with the life of the person who is speaking. You know that’s true.

Families or organizations that are concerned about truthfulness will be attentive to patterns of life together that influence truthful living. How do you model truthfulness as a parent? As a supervisor? As a CEO? What structures are in place to help us keep short accounts among ourselves? Where do we allow ourselves freedom to ask one another hard questions about important dimensions of our lives? What do we do that helps us learn to tell “tactful truths instead of reassuring lies?” Lots to think about.

Human Resources

I wonder if we might be experiencing a resource crisis. We hear on the news about the depletion of natural resources, but I’m thinking more in terms of human resources, and the crisis is the under-use of our talents and gifts.

Not that we don’t work hard or do a good job. Often people are proficient- really good- at something they are doing, but they don’t care much about it. We just do the work that needs to be done and wait for the weekend.

Other folks so enjoy what they are doing that they couldn’t imagine doing anything else. An hour of work feels like 5 minutes, because they have managed to connect who they are with what they are doing. The work resonates with them and is a source of energy, not an activity that steadily drains away energy like a dripping water faucet.

So, how do you connect who you are with what you do? I think human resources are similar to natural resources, in that they are often buried. So first, you must uncover them since they aren’t generally lying around on the surface. Or, maybe you already know your talents, but you don’t maximize them.  It’s hard to know when you take something for granted. The reason it’s hard to know is that you are taking it for granted.

But perhaps you haven’t done much inner mining, and you aren’t clear on the gifts you have to give. You default to familiar routine while those resources, those jewels, stay hidden below the surface.

John Gardner was an American author and social reformer who once said thattrue happiness involves the full use of one’s power and talents.”  I’m all for true happiness! It seems to me the first step is to uncover your talents and then begin looking for conditions or opportunities in which to use them powerfully. Or at least use them. The world is waiting for you to be you.

Every Day is a Good Day

“Every day is a good day for George,” says Margo. He walks out the front door of his house with a spring in his step like some kind of cartoon character. She should know- she lives with him. I wonder if he just wakes up that way, feeling like it’s gonna be a good day. I’ve woken up close to 20,000 times myself, and I can probably count on my fingers the mornings that I’ve skipped and whistled my way out the door. In fact this morning (#19,472) I walked outside and said to myself, “Good night, how can it be this hot this early in the morning!?”

If I had the attitude that every day was a good day, I would need to embrace the reality of the actual day, just as it is, and live through it in a way that makes it feel “good.” I tend to live through the “to-do” list on my calendar, and my day passes by as I check off the little boxes. That feels good, for sure, but what if I missed something because it wasn’t on my list? What if my focus wasn’t so much on the goal but on the journey, and I traveled along believing that it was a good day. What if I did that every day?

I’ve been through enough days to know that some are filled with inspiration and passion that wells up in my chest and brings tears to my eyes, and others are frustrating and unfair and confusing. Most of them, to be honest, are just kind of normal; not too exciting and not too bad, just going along doing my work and checking off those little boxes. I guess the only common denominator that could make each one a “good” day would be my attitude. I’d probably need to make that decision before I got very far from my pillow in the morning, and on some days, every few hours along the way.

When I was in college I wrote down this quote: Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, savor you, bless you before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow.

Mary Jean Irion wrote that in her book Yes, World: A Mosaic of Meditation, and I have always loved it. George actually lives it. I’d like to do a better job of deciding that every day is a good day, just as it is. These people, just as they are. This particular place, just as I experience it. If George could talk, he’d probably say I just make everything way too complicated. How about a little less ego and a little more love? So I’m deciding that today, this very normal day, is indeed a good day.

Nothing

I was wondering today if I could write a blog about nothing. Sort of like a Seinfeld episode, which makes me laugh even though I know the entire series is about nothing. But if I keep coming back, watching old reruns (the parking garage, the junior mint, the soup Nazi) there must be something there. What is funny about nothing?

That makes me wonder, what exactly is nothing? Seinfeld is about life in a community of friends. Just the daily stuff. Maybe the daily stuff is nothing. My daily stuff sure seems like nothing. Nothing exciting, nothing special, nothing to write home about.  So, what would I write home about?

I don’t own anything new and shiny, but I bought groceries today. I’m not lounging in a house perched on the cliffs of Santorini, overlooking the Aegean Sea, but I stayed warm and dry last night under my roof during a torrential storm. No one has asked for my expert opinion today, nor have they knocked on my door for an autograph. Turns out I’m not all that. Nothing special there.

But what about how the afternoon sun is lighting up the underside of a million leaves on the Pin Oak tree outside my window? How about the comforting sound of a snoring beagle, sprawled out on the hardwood floor by my feet? Then there is the life-sustaining aroma of coffee in my bluebird mug. The bluebird mug was a gift from my dear friend Evelyn. I think about her every morning while I hold it, waiting in eager anticipation by the expresso machine. I remember her generosity and I’m thankful for her friendship. Is that nothing? I think that must be something.

Perhaps “something” and “nothing” are just words with relative values. I have food in the cupboard, a roof over my head and coffee in my mug. A hound dog.  Just being here is something.  I guess what is important is that I share my daily stuff with someone else, and our collective daily stuff is what we know as “life.” Life in a community. Yes, there is something there.

Troop 40072, Year 1

Our final meeting for 2012-2013 year! We had the whole group — 14 Daisies, Brownies, and Juniors together. We started off by writing notes of support to our sister Girl Scouts in Oklahoma, who just experienced a devastating tornado.

We also discussed the things we liked about this year, what we didn’t like as much, and what we’d like to do next year. Then we celebrated! One of the Daisies’ mom brought a cake! Thank you Nycole! Another made cupcakes for the girls to decorate — one of our favorite things to do. Thank you Kathy!

While we all were sad it was over, we all learned a lot this year. The girls said they would really miss their troop. I will miss them too!

My learning curve has been exceptionally steep and now I really feel ready for next year. That said, I think I’ll really need a co-leader next fall and I’m not sure I’ll find one.

Tell me: Have you had trouble finding a co-leader? How did you find one? What did you do if you couldn’t find one? 

It’s All Love

Have you ever had that dream, the one where you come home and someone else has dinner ready?

Or the version where someone pops their head in your office and says, “I’m getting some coffee, would you like a second cup?” Or even better, they say, “I just came from Starbucks and I picked up a half-caff, low foam, skinny grande latte, since I know it’s about that time of day for ya…” and they plunk down that nectar of the gods right there on your desk. Now that’s my love language! Acts of service, Gary Chapman called it, in the book he wrote back in the 1970s called The Five Love Languages. Acts of Service is one of my love languages, followed closely, or in conjunction, with Quality Time. I’ve apparently spent quality time with that person in my dream, since they knew my Starbucks order! The other languages are Receiving Gifts, Words of Affirmation and Physical Touch. Gifts are fine, and you can’t really argue with a good hug, but when I hear “You did a good job,” I think to myself, “Well, that’s nice.” As in, “Whatever.”

Affirmation though, goes a long way with my friend Lynn. She knows she likes it. It’s more than encouragement; it’s a statement of truth, a confirmation. It makes her feel good. I know that’s true because I recently thanked her for being a friend and I could see her absorb what I was saying. Literally, I could see it in her eyes and the way her shoulders relaxed. She took it in and tucked it away for a time when that memory would provide needed energy and acknowledgment.

So, I am thinking about these love languages, and how everyone has different preferences. It occurred to me that I tend to engage with other people in the ways that make the most sense to me, according to my preferences. I serve a lot. I spend time with people. I do like to give little gifts, and I think I’m pretty affectionate, but I don’t think about speaking words of affirmation to other folks. It’s been a long time since I read that book, so it was a good reminder to find out how to connect in ways that are meaningful to the other person.

And then I had this “ah-ha” moment. It goes both ways. If I’m paying attention, I can also recognize that when someone speaks to me with words of affirmation, they are doing that because it makes sense to them, and even though it isn’t my favorite I can appreciate their effort. Connecting is about both of us. Sometimes I get my love language, and sometimes I get yours. But it’s all love.