The Norm

When my son was a baby, there was a woman in my Mommy/Baby group whose daughter was tiny. Her (white) doctor told her to butter all of her daughter’s food so that she would gain weight, since she was below the low end of the charts for normal weight for babies. The thing is, the mom and dad were both of Asian descent, and were small adults. The scale of “normal” was made for white people of northern European descent. Her baby was totally normal for who she was, and didn’t need any extra butter in her diet.

Being off the scale in the other direction causes problems too. I knew a (black) child who was much larger than other kids his age. Everyone thought he was much older than he was, and assumed he must be slow or stupid or immature. But we expect much different behavior from a 5 year old than from an 8 year old! If a 5 year old looks like he’s 8, we treat him differently and expect different things from him. He was always feeling inadequate and being treated as stupid, just because he was big for his age.

It’s so easy to assume that our own experience is “The Norm.” For example, I’ve only been pulled over by the police twice, and both times it was for something wrong with my car (a light out next to my license plate; tail lights that weren’t hooked up after brake work). So it’s easy to assume that most people don’t get pulled over very often. But some people get pulled over a lot. Is it because they are bad drivers? It’s easy for me to assume that, but it’s not necessarily true. I’ve taked to people who get pulled over for “driving while Black.” Not for speeding, or getting into accidents, or for missing brake lights, but for their skin color.

We teach our children in Kindergarten to have empathy for other people. Just because it doesn’t hurt you to bite your friend, doesn’t mean your friend likes getting bitten. It hurts physically and emotionally to get bitten, doesn’t it? Does that mean we need to bite every kid to show them how it feels? Probably not the best solution. Better to teach kids to understand that other people feel things that we don’t feel – and that they don’t feel what we feel – and that we need to listen to each other to find out what is going on inside another person.

When we don’t learn that very well, we start making harmful assumptions. If I only got pulled over twice in 30 years of driving, and this other person got pulled over ten times this year, that must mean she’s a bad driver, right? Not necessarily. But we need to listen to the people who say they have a different experience than we do, and believe them.

Likewise, a rich white person who assumes that they are the norm, and that everyone starts from a place of power and comfort, can only assume that if someone is poor and miserable then they did something to deserve that. They made poor decisions or were somehow bad people. After all, aren’t I doing okay? And isn’t everyone just like me?

First image on Google for “norm”

It takes imagination to picture yourself in someone else’s shoes. It takes reading books about other people’s experiences, and watching movies, and seeing art, and talking to other people. It means knowing other people! Mixing with people of different backgrounds and heritages, and really listening to them. It means giving up one’s own certainty that we know how things really are, to hear how they are for someone else.

My son has a book called “The Only One Club.” The child in the book is the only Jewish kid in the whole class, and feels isolated and weird. The whole class figures out, over time, that every kid has something about them that only they have – the only one with all his adult teeth, the only one with divorced parents, the only one with a twin, etc. I like this book because it normalizes being not part of the norm.

It is so much easier for the people on the outside to see the differences. The poor person says hey, it’s not so easy for me to get child care, or afford college. The black person says hey, I get pulled over a lot more than whites do. The gay person says hey, I can’t marry the person I love. The people who are rich, and white, and straight, and Christian, don’t see how they skew everything until it’s pointed out to them. Heck, even white women aren’t seen as the norm – medical research on things like heart attacks is mostly done on men, so women’s symptoms aren’t always recognized. The people doing the research assume the norm is who they are, and don’t always account for the differences between people.

This is one reason representation is so very important. When the people running the government, and Hollywood, and the police, and the schools, and the doctors, all look the same, they tend to assume they are the norm and anyone outside the norm is bad. But what if they’re just small, or big, or female, or dark, or light, or whatever, and that’s normal for them? When there’s more representation, more norms are seen, and more norms are tolerated and understood, and more people are accepted as who they are. This is why I saw Black Panther on opening weekend – I’m white, but I want to see black super heroes. I want to see Asian, and Hispanic, and African, and European, and Pacific Islander, and Native American super heroes. I want to see Jewish, and Muslim, and Christian, and Atheist, and Agnostic, and Buddhist, and Hindu people in government, schools, hospitals, police, and movies. I want people to see that there is no one thing that is NORMAL.

There are still ways I don’t see how I skew things to fit myself. I feel embarrassed and stupid when I see how I contribute to keeping the status quo. I’m not saying it will be easy to convince those in charge that they are wrong or unfair. It is difficult for anyone to admit they are wrong, and even more so for people with fragile or inflated egos. I think though that the more visible all the differences are, the more we see #metoo and #blacklivesmatter, the more our culture will expand to allow for all of us. Doctors will learn different heart attack symptoms, and stop telling Asian moms to butter all their baby’s food. Police will stop focusing on skin color when more skin colors are represented on the force. Women will be accepted into traditionally male jobs when we see women in the movies doing all these jobs. We can elect non-Christian officials and not see our country eaten up in the flames of Hell. The more it happens, the more it can happen, and the better all our lives become.

What You Focus On, Grows

I wrote this quote when I realized how different exercise feels to me when I focus on the pain in my muscles, the pain in my lungs, the feeling of inadequacy, and the feeling of punishment, versus when I focus on the joy of being alive, the air flow through my lungs, the feeling of growing strength, and the feeling of gratitude for all the parts of me that work. Do I focus on the pain, or do I focus on the fun?

There’s a Native American idea that goes something like this:

A grandfather is telling his grandson that inside every person there are two wolves. One wolf represents the fear, pain, resentment, and anger a person feels. This wolf thrives on putting others down, holding grudges, being defensive, and hurting others. The other wolf represents the love, joy, gratitude, and compassion a person feels. This wolf thrives on giving to others, remembering kindnesses, having compassion for people’s pain, and lifting each other up. These two wolves battle each other inside all of us. The boy asks his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?” The grandfather replies, “The one you feed.”

It’s interesting to me that modern neuroscience is reinforcing these ancient beliefs. I had this conversation with my son recently:

Him: Mommy, I wish I could erase some of my memories from my mind.

Me: Do you want to know what scientists say about memories? They say that memories exist in our brains because we think of them over and over. The more we think of them, the stronger the neural connections there are, and the faster and easier it is to remember them. We can’t get rid of these connections, but we can make other connections stronger than the ones we want to forget. We know from asking people not to think of pink elephants that when we try not to think of something all we can think about is that thing. We’re both thinking of pink elephants now! But if we think of something else, something we like, we can make that thought stronger than the memory you don’t want to have, and the memory will fade.

Him: Great! I’m going to think about Minecraft!

Do you see the shadow, or do you see the sun?

Do you focus on the pain, or do you focus on the fun?

The moment is the same; your attention chooses one.

What do you choose?

The Myths Around Self Care

Advertisers would like you to think that self care means buying bath salts or scented candles. Or maybe buying a cruise, or a vacation to play golf. I’m not saying these things can’t be ways to take care of oneself, but I’m stating that these are not the only, or even the most important, ways to take care of oneself.

I certainly think it can be lovely to take the time to unwind in a scented bath with scented candles and music or a book from Audible playing. When my muscles are all sore and I need to find a way to let them let go, a hot bath can be just the thing. I don’t, however, think this a daily need.

Self care means, at least to me, that I get exercise every day. That I eat nutritious food at least some of the time, drink enough water, get enough sleep. That I schedule in shopping at the farmer’s market, and cooking for the family. Self care is listening to my body and resting when I need to rest, being active when I need to move, speaking my truth when I need to be heard, and shutting up when I need to listen.

This type of self care isn’t very sexy, although advertisers are trying to find ways to make money off of healthy food and exercise and water, too.

And then, my mentor Jesse from Thrive Academy (see Thrive) said something that really struck me. You know those things you do that waste time every day? The things you do when you don’t wanna do what you need to do? Apparently, it can be self care to schedule some of that in, too.

What he actually said was something more along the lines of this: When you are out of alignment, not doing your work, not showing up as your best self, what do you give yourself permission to do? Do you get to stay in bed all day? Read trashy novels? Watch Netflix and eat popcorn? What if that payoff makes it extra hard to show up as your best self, because you want that guilty pleasure so much? If you can schedule some of that into your day, it will reduce the thrill of the forbidden and give you some of what you crave. That makes your day more fun, and helps you be more aligned.

For me, bubble bath is fun but I live in a drought-ravaged state, so I don’t want to indulge too often. But I love to read. I always reach a place, either late afternoon, or in the evening, when I just can’t think in a business way any more. I used to feel terribly guilty about not continuing to plow ahead. This ended up looking like sitting in front of my computer reading Facebook, or occasionally reading an email, or like overeating while I berated myself for not having the energy I needed. Now, I can sit and enjoy reading a book for a while, knowing I’m doing what I need to do to support myself, using my scheduled self-care time, and not feeling guilty at all.

Do you know how much energy guilt takes?

I’d like to challenge you to try this for a week. Instead of feeling guilty for what you’re not doing, give yourself permission to take a break and do something you want to do for a while. Something that lets you rest, or gives you energy. See if you can feel smug for using your self-care time well, rather than guilty for not working harder. And see if you get more or less done this way. Are you afraid you’ll never get back to work if you ever take a break? You might find your work is easier and you’re more rested if you take the time to rest!

And then let me know how it goes. I’d like to add this into my group program and I’d love some feedback from all of you!

Alignment

Comic character wearing a business suit by anarres

Comic character wearing a business suit By

Do you ever worry about how you come across to people? People say things like “you never have a second chance to make a first impression” and I worry that people will judge me on how I look. Do I need to dress more professionally? Is it acceptable to have purple hair? Will anyone take me seriously if I look young?

Then there’s the other side of the coin. If I don’t have purple hair, am I being true to my creative and bold self? I am young, and I have valuable knowledge and experience to share, can I hold both of these things at the same time? I am gay/bi/trans/queer/straight ally/asexual/poly – what happens to my identity and personal sense of integrity if I hide that?

All of these sides are valid. People want to do business with professionals, and so we do need to look the part enough to inspire confidence in others. And people want to do business with people who are genuine, and so we need to be true enough to ourselves to show our integrity. This can be a difficult line to walk.

Fortunately, when you work with the same people over time, you don’t have to hit the exact right line every day. You can be more on one side or the other from day to day, and the over all impression will still have you looking both professional and aligned. It’s harder when you are meeting someone for the first time, and you want to show all these sides at once.

I am coming more and more to believe that being aligned with oneself is more important than fitting a cultural norm. When I try to fit in the way I think I’m supposed to, I can do it, and sometimes even get a thrill from knowing I dressed exactly right for the occasion. Still, the relief I feel when I stop trying to fit in to someone else’s space and instead create a Talia shaped space is palpable. Everything seems to flow a bit better. The things that seemed so difficult suddenly seem easier and more enjoyable.

For an example – I have decided to start holding seminars and group programs that are just what I want them to be, not things that are designed to catch the eye of corporate bigwigs. If I am found by corporations that’s not a bad thing, I still want to work with corporate teams, but I desperately want to help people stand up for themselves and find their own personal courage and strength. I don’t need to wait until a corporation hires me to help individuals speak up in their lives.

I am looking for workshop space in the SF Bay Area to hold half-day seminars for 10-20 people at a time. I’d love to start a group program this spring, if I can get enough people who are interested. How would your life change if you didn’t feel afraid to be yourself at work? How would your life feel different if you had the courage to say what you really think? The world needs your voice, and I would love to help you strengthen yours.

Seminar Flyer 01

What the Business World can Learn from the Black Panther

So many super hero movies make the bad guy very evil, and the good guy very good, so there’s no question of who you should root for. I thought the movie Black Panther (yes, there will be spoilers, so if you haven’t seen it yet, you might want to wait to read this) did a great job of making the bad guy very understandable.

I’m going to digress for a moment so no spoilers will show up in the beginning of this article. I was reading some Dale Carnegie (How to Win Friends & Influence People, originally published in 1936) the other day, and his very first chapter is about how people we consider the bad guys consider themselves good guys. Apparently a then-famous bad guy called “Two Gun” Crowley shot a police officer for asking for his drivers license, but Crowley wrote in a letter “Under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one – one that would do nobody any harm.” Carnegie’s point is that no one blames themselves, no one sees themselves as the bad guy. Crowley thought he was defending himself, even though to the rest of the world his actions looked reprehensible.

Likewise, Erik Killmonger in Black Panther believed he was doing the right thing. There is no question that there are Black people across the world being treated poorly. He believed that having better weapons would allow these oppressed people to rise up and destroy their oppressors, allowing them to be fully free. In fact, everyone loves a story of how the oppressed win freedom from the mean bullies in power – look at Star Wars. Everyone believes they are Luke Skywalker, no one thinks they are Darth Vader.

The thing is, how you do a thing matters. Giving people freedom is an important goal. Doing it in a way that kills people is not ideal. Killmonger wants to fight partly because his father was killed when he was a child – but now he’s lost his humanity. He is fighting because his heart was broken, but he’s willing to kill his girlfriend, his allies, his cousin, anyone standing in the way of his goal. In fact, it looks like he would end up as a dictator, rather than providing people more freedom.

The thing is, Killmonger wasn’t entirely wrong. He was right that there are people who need help, that he could help. He was right that Wakanda was standing by and doing nothing, even though they had resources available to help.

What would have happened if T’Challa dug in his heels and said it’s my way or no way? There could have been a victory, but it would have been hollow. It would have been two strong forces fighting to see who was mightier, with many more dead, and with no heart, no humanity left. But that’s not how the story ended. Instead, the king realized there was validity to his opponent’s views, and there was a way to incorporate Killmonger’s desire to help his people with T’Challa’s desire to protect his people. This was a much more satisfactory ending, because the promise was that many more people would be helped without killing others, and in the end heart and humanity matter as ways to be in the world.

That brings me to business. You knew I was going to get here eventually, right? I see many people in business trying to defend their ideas, unwilling to admit that their opponents might have some good ideas too. What happens? People nurse grudges, like Erik Killmonger, until they are strong enough to fight back. Or, people work against the goals of their organizations, like Okoye was helping the women escape from their captors in the beginning of the movie. (According to Gallup, 17% of American workers are working against their employers’ interests.) And instead of coming up with the best ideas, people fight for their way until there’s no one left to fight.

T’Challa had to change what his father had done, and his father before him, for generations – he had to open Wakanda to the rest of the world. This was not a popular choice. But it allowed him to accommodate the desires of Okoye, and Killmonger, and others who felt Wakanda wasn’t doing enough to help other Black people around the world. He had to be willing to stand for his belief that leading with heart was as important as protecting the country his ancestors had founded and kept safe from the world – and he did it because he knew they were strong enough to protect themselves should anyone want to take over. It wasn’t only heart, and it wasn’t only muscle, it was a combination using the best of both.

Do you as a leader listen to your people? Do you listen to your heart? Do you always do what has always been done, or are you willing to hear new ways? Can you be flexible and humble enough to incorporate new ideas into your own? I see T’Challa as a hero, not for being able to fight and survive, but for being able to find a path that can give everyone what they really want – a way to help the people who need help while staying whole themselves.

I haven’t given myself a plug lately – if you need help listening to your people, please contact me. I can help you be a hero too, without bloodshed and without revolution. I don’t have a heart shaped herb, but I do have tools that can incorporate all of your peoples’ good ideas, which leads to happier, more productive people, and better ideas to bring into the world.

Expectations

Expectations mess me up over and over again. Expectations based on insecurity (I won’t have any fun at that party, no one will talk to me) and on confidence (Of course they’ll hire me, I have everything they’re looking for and more). Then – surprise, surprise! – I have fun talking to people at the party, and don’t get the job.

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Some expectations are pretty valid, and don’t get challenged often – things like the ground under my feet is solid. Here in California we occasionally get an earthquake to remind us this isn’t always so, but generally it’s true.

Other expectations are wildly arbitrary. I don’t feel like I’m my age, ever. But what is 15, 21, or 40 supposed to feel like? It’s entirely subjective and/or based on cultural ideas that don’t really consider the individual.

Expectations between people are responsible for untold amounts of trouble. I expect you to be prompt, and assume you’re lazy or irresponsible if you’re late. You expect me to be thorough, and assume I’m incompetent if I just scan the surface. So many of these expectations are unspoken, and often unconscious, assumptions of how things are or should be, and when things aren’t that way, we get in trouble.

(Today is Valentine’s Day, and boy is it loaded with expectations! Not even going there. But wow, is it hard to live up to the perfect holiday.)

I’d love to be able to say I totally take things as they are, but I don’t. I try to. I try to recognize when something is my expectation, or the culture’s expectation, and then focus on what is really in front of me. But the truth is, I want things to be a certain way, and I get huffy when they don’t go that way. Eventually I can accept that I didn’t get the job, or that traffic is just bad today and that’s why you’re late, but it takes a while of raging against how the world is.

I guess that makes me human. I’d like to be better than that. Sometimes I am. And sometimes I get tripped up on something I just didn’t see coming, and it pisses me off.

What expectations have you had recently, that didn’t come true? How did you handle it? And what do you expect your partner to do on Valentine’s Day?

Defense

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My husband came into my office the other day looking grim, and I immediately got defensive. As far as I knew I hadn’t done anything that would upset him, I had no indication that he was looking upset because of me, but I automatically told myself a story that he was upset with me, and that I needed to defend myself.

Sometimes, when I feel the need to defend myself, I go on the offensive and attack first. Sometimes I withdraw into myself. Either way, it’s difficult to be curious and open. I think I know what I will hear, and I don’t want to hear it, so I’m shut down and angry. I feel like I’m under attack and need to defend my borders.

These stories we tell ourselves get us in trouble, not just at home, but also at work. People at work may feel that if someone questions one of their ideas then they are questioning their worthiness to exist, so they defend their ideas to the death. Or maybe they’re afraid that if someone shoots down their idea that will mean they will be injured somehow so they don’t bring up their ideas at all.

All of this is normal human behavior. I don’t want anyone to think it’s wrong or bad to want to defend oneself. I want everyone to feel safe sharing their ideas. And – it’s very helpful to notice when the automatic reflex of defensiveness goes into play, so that we can ask ourselves different questions or tell ourselves different stories.

With my husband, I’ve learned over the years that my instinctive responses are often way out of sync with what’s going on for him. My fears are based in childhood stories, and almost never play out in my adult life. So I make space to ask what’s going on, while telling my defenses how much I appreciate that they are there, and to please wait in the wings for me to call on them if and when I might need them. It turned out that he was upset about an email he had gotten, and it had absolutely nothing to do with me. I was able to give him support, and he left considerably happier.

So what can you do when someone else gets defensive? Certainly, if you are the one getting defensive, you can notice, as I’ve learned to do, and put off the heavy walls until you’re certain they’re needed. But if it’s someone else, how can you help them listen?

Short term: Back off. Let them know you don’t mean to step on their toes. Acknowledge them for their insight, bravery, loyalty, or whatever else you see in them. Admit to any aggression you may have (inadvertently) brought to the encounter. Ask to talk about it later, when people are feeling more even-keeled.

Long term: Model openness. Talk about when you feel defensive and why. Ask how you come across to others, and try to be less aggressive. It is very powerful to be publicly vulnerable, and it gives others permission to talk about what is going on for them.

We don’t need more people in the world who look like they never make mistakes and never feel bad. We need more people who show up with all their humanness and flaws, and show how to move forward anyway. It’s more honest, it fosters more open communication, and allows others to show up more fully as well.