Monthly Archives: May 2013

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.

Poetry, Art and the Real You

Vicky Edmonds is a writer and an advocate for the power of poetry to bring our deepest truths to the surface of our lives. In 2003 she conducted a writing workshop during the afterschool program at Thorndyke Elementary School called Writes of Passage. Anthony Manago, a third grader at the time, wrote this poem from the prompt “If I was a work of art…”

If I was a work of art
I would be a picture of the wind
blowing fast.
The wind, sort of light blue,
really hard and strong.
I would be blowing away
from hatred,
blowing toward love.
When people see the picture
they would know
I was going the right direction
instead of the wrong one.

Now, ten years later, Anthony is a freshman on an athletic scholarship to Trinity Lutheran College and studying to be an athletic trainer. Though he hasn’t written another poem, he has excelled as a track and field athlete. His coach Matt Koenigs says “He’s been fantastic to have on the team–he brings a great work ethic and a wonderful attitude with him to practice every day.”

Isn’t it cool that a young boy who described himself as a picture of the wind is now actually running as fast as the wind? And it sounds like he is still moving in the right direction.

This prompt is a great tool, and you don’t have to be in a writing workshop to use it. The purpose is to understand and articulate something that has meaning in your life, so why not start your next staff meeting with a quick check-in question that asks, “If you were a work of art, what would you be?” and get to know each other a little better. Or plan ahead and have everyone draw a picture or cut out something that answers the question.

Second Innocence

We tend to associate innocence with childhood, when we naturally see the world as full of possibility; we are spontaneous, forgiving, creative and fully engaged in the moment. Then as we age our innocence is replaced by experience, and we come to see the world as it really is. As long as we operate, though, on the assumption that innocence is a stage on the way to experience, we fail to grasp the extent to which our loss of innocence shapes our experience of the world. John Izzo, in his book Second Innocence: Rediscovering Joy and Wonder calls us to reclaim our trust and faith in the world. This “second innocence” does not deny what we know, but is a choice we make in light of what we know.

Since our loss of innocence is generally a move toward a bit of cynicism, we might find ourselves struggling to engage deeply in the possibilities life offers. There is a tension, after all, between engaging and holding back. Can I fully love after I have been betrayed? Can I work enthusiastically after having once been fired? Can I claim a life of integrity after having bent the rules?

Believe it or not, innocence has a place in learning to lead. It is a childish hope to want everyone on board and always happy, but it is a childlike quality to maintain faith in other people and continue to encourage and empower those who are working with you. And, eventually, the tension of what you want in your work team or department and the reality of the “now,” brings feelings of discouragement. It’s a normal experience in the evolution of a leader, and it can be a portal to renewal and deeper insight if approached with the open heart of second innocence.

Since second innocence is a choice, you have to ask yourself some questions. Can I live a life of wonder when my spouse isn’t perfect, I’ve been hurt by my friends, and I’ve disappointed myself and others by the choices that I’ve made? The answer is “yes,” according to Izzo, who reminds us that life is not so much about where you are going, but about being where you are. I choose to engage right here, right now. How about you?

New Year’s Resolutions

This is the second quarter of 2013, and I thought it was time to check up on our New Year’s resolutions. “You can’t be serious,” you might say, “I made those resolutions months ago,” and I would respond, “I know, and that’s why I asked! How is it going?”

Did you know that 45% of Americans usually make a resolution for the new year, but only 8% achieve the goal they set for themselves? According to SmartBrain.com here are the top five resolutions made for 2012:

1. Lose weight
2. Get organized
3. Spend less, save more
4. Enjoy life to the fullest
5. Stay fit and healthy

Do any of those look familiar to you? They do to me! John Tierney, who wrote Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, says that unfortunately, when it comes to resolutions, we begin with “the best of intentions but the worst of strategies.” I can relate to that. In fact, the truth is, I don’t make resolutions any more because I never kept them. When I read Tierny’s strategies I felt a little better about that decision, since he suggests that you not start on January 1st. You are more successful when you own the start date by choosing a time that you are ready to begin.

You know the basic tips for meeting a goal: make it simple, make it measurable, visualize yourself at the finish line, don’t depend on “feeling like it,” journal, get a partner or support group, use affirmations instead of negative self-talk, and so on. Here is a favorite of mine:

Believe in the promises you make to yourself. If you had a friend who kept making promises she never kept, you would soon discount what she had to say. So, if you make resolutions, or set goals, and then consistently abandon them, you will come to distrust your own words. Here is a suggestion: train your subconscious brain to believe you mean what you say. Make a To-Do List every morning, and list the simple things that you already do. Drink a glass of water, read your email, drive the kids to school. The point is to have the frequent experience of writing something down and then actually doing it. The size of the task doesn’t matter.

Your To-Do List is a promise to yourself, and every time you check something off, you’re reinforcing the idea that if you say it, you will do it. Soon, you will be adding bigger things to your list. Begin when you’re ready, and let us know how it’s going.