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?

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

Strengths

How would you grow more – by taking what you’re good at, and getting better, or by taking what you’re bad at, and trying to get better? I may have given it away by that word “trying.” The truth is, we can grow from decent, to good, to excellent, to extraordinary in the things aligned with our strengths, but we will never get more than adequate in the things that are not.

I found the book Now, Discover Your Strengths years ago, but never took the strengths-finder test. I unearthed it recently, and have been re-reading it. I took the on-line test as well. According to the Clifton Strengths Finder, my top five strengths are Input, Empathy, Connectedness, Maximizer, and Communication. I’m not sure that Input and Maximizer are my top traits, but I would include Inclusiveness to the list, and maybe Relator.

Not surprisingly, my strengths all focus around connecting to other people. I feel what they feel, make them feel welcome, and find ways to talk to all sorts of people. It’s why I want to do LEGO® SERIOUS PLAY® to help groups be more connected and understand each other better. It’s why I want to start a community focused on play and creativity and acceptance of oneself and others. I feel more alive, more focused, more creative, more joyful, and more worthwhile when I’m in relationship with another person.

This also explains why data entry is so deadly boring for me. I can muscle through some things that I need to do in isolation and that are boring, but after a while I can’t any more. Unless I can carry on a conversation with someone else also doing the boring work, I hate it.

I think our society is much more focused on “fixing” peoples’ weaknesses than on strengthening their strengths. When I was looking at schools for my 2e son, I found that public schools can help him in the places he’s behind, but can do nothing for the places he’s ahead. (It’s the nature of 2e kids to be asynchronous in their development, so he’s both ahead and behind.) You know what this would do to him? It would make him feel inadequate, stupid, unwanted, and broken. I have him at a school that focuses on strengths instead of weaknesses, and he feels smart, capable, wanted, and creative. He’s excited to learn, capable of finding ways to cope when he’s bored (mostly – he’s 11, after all), and wants to share what he knows with others. Would he feel all that if he were in an environment telling him that he should be able to write better by now, why doesn’t he know his times tables by heart, he can’t go out to recess until he focuses and finishes that assignment?

Likewise at work, will you get the best from your employees if you tell them they need to get better at the things that are difficult for them, and shame them for not doing better? It’s much more likely that they will be thrilled when you acknowledge them for the things they do well, and that they will be delighted to grow and thrive in those areas. You will get way more engagement, agreement, and productivity from people who get to work in their genius zones.

It seems like a lot of us don’t value the things we do well, because they come so easily to us. It’s like a thing can’t have any value if we don’t work hard to get it. Besides, if I can do it so easily, can’t everyone? We don’t seem to realize that no one else does it just like us, and that most people don’t do it at all.

It can be difficult to uncover what it is that we do well and easily, especially if we think it doesn’t matter or can’t be turned into a paying occupation. I took a class some years ago by the authors of Inside Job: 8 Secrets to Loving Your Work and Thriving and they said something very similar. They helped me figure out that play and creativity, and bringing people together, are things I do anyway, regardless of where I am, so if I can get paid for that it will be much easier than other jobs would be.

So today, I challenge you to notice something that you do easily and well. What do you do as easily as breathing? Look at your family and co-workers. What strengths do they have? Acknowledge someone for what they innately bring to the table. And help them play to their strengths.

Archetypes

I was on a group mentoring call talking about archetypes as a way of thinking about an issue. The archetypes in this case were: Warrior; Sovereign; Shaman; Lover. I thought this was an interesting tool to use.

Image result for archetypes

 

I started out thinking about how these archetypes functioned in my life in the realm of exercise. The Warrior part of me wants to exercise to be strong; the Sovereign wants me to be healthy; the Shaman enjoys my walks because I can commune with nature, watch the sun rise, listen to the birds, talk to trees, and feed my spiritual aspect; the Lover enjoys the feeling of being healthy and the joy of movement. When I only worked out of the first two, I didn’t exercise much, since it felt like punishment. ‘I must exercise to be healthy but it doesn’t feel good so I want to avoid it.’ It was only when I found the ways that it felt good that I started doing it every day.

My husband is an artist. He needs to draw and paint to feel joy and contentment. So when he spends all his time in his office using Photoshop, he doesn’t feel like he’s working super hard and struggling, he’s doing what he loves. I have looked at him on the computer for hours during the day, and then going back after dinner, and felt entirely inadequate. I can’t focus on my computer that long! But for me, computer time is much more on the side of doing what I should, not what I love. I find joy elsewhere. So it’s not a fair comparison.

I think it’s interesting to apply these archetypes to work, too. Is there a place in your work where you feel joy, or pleasure? Is there a time when you feel connection to something larger? Or is it all about getting ahead and working harder? I think there is a place for a strong warrior and sovereign, so that the right things get worked on, and the work is focused and intent. But if there is no lightness, no connection with something larger, then it feels more like punishment than a cause to work for.

This may explain part of the Gallup numbers saying that only 33% of American workers are fully engaged at work. If work is punishment, I’d want to leave early too! When I have to spend hours working on things I don’t enjoy, I’m not working at my greatest potential, I’m less likely to have the energy to help others, and I want to stop as soon as possible.

So here is the million dollar question – how can you help your employees find pleasure, connection, meaning, and joy from their work?

I’m reading a book about finding your strengths, so I may have more to say in next week’s blog. However, for today, I need to say – it depends. It depends on the things that light up your employees. It depends on what they enjoy, and where they look for meaning. But I can give you a few generalities:

  1. Explain the Why. When you tell someone to make 100 phone calls a day, they might rebel. But if you talk about the goals of the organization, and how this effort can help reach the goals, they may be more inclined to put in extra effort and time. Knowing how each person’s part plays into the bigger picture can help people feel like they are creating something bigger than themselves, which can be inspiring.

  2. Listen to the People on the Front Lines. Just as they say no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy, the people who are implementing your plan are the first ones to see how and where it doesn’t work. You need to know this! Also, they need to be heard. So pay attention! People won’t keep speaking up if you don’t listen the first time.

  3. Build Up Your Team. Make sure people know each other, and feel comfortable around each other. Make sure your team knows how to support each other, how to help each other, and that everyone has everyone’s back. Make sure people feel comfortable showing up as their full selves. If someone doesn’t feel welcomed, they won’t put out any extra effort for the group.

In other words, find ways to engage all the archetypes. Help people feel connected, feel wanted, feel part of something they can be proud of. Otherwise, all you get is minimal effort from one part of your workers.

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?

Do Be Do Be Do

I’ve been thinking about my post regarding letting your freak flag fly, in relation to the rash of inappropriate behavior being reported between men and women. I don’t want people to misconstrue my post as condoning putting your hands where they don’t belong just because it’s part of who you believe yourself to be.

I think it’s very important to be true to yourself – and I think it’s very important to treat other people with respect. It’s not acceptable to do things that hurt other people or make them uncomfortable. But what happens when who you are makes other people uncomfortable?

Sometimes, just being who you are will affect others. Maybe you’re a big, tattooed, hair-dyed, biker type. No matter how respectful you are of others, people may not believe you are the accountant, or trust you with their money.

I personally like it when my preconceptions are turned upside down. I was at a bank once and discovered that the banker did Muay Thai kickboxing. Some people expect only the bank guards to know kickboxing, not the bankers themselves! But it was fun to me to learn something about what he did outside of work – and it explained the bruises.

Some people find it very upsetting to have their expectations turned upside down. It can be comforting to be able to predict the world around us. It can make us feel like we know the inside scoop on how the world works. So when someone comes along who doesn’t clearly look male or female, it throws us off. What we think we know, and count on to give us confidence and clarity, is suddenly wrong. It can feel like the rug has been pulled out from under our feet – or worse, that there’s no floor at all.

The trouble is that people don’t always cope with their own discomfort, they sometimes try to change others to fit their preferred mold. Someone is anxious about gay people? Then there better not be any gay people in their office, or bank, or wherever they go. If their banker shows up with signs of gender bending, they want to fight or flee.

In my opinion, this sort of discomfort is something that the person feeling it needs to cope with. The world will not always conform to your own desires, and learning how to be flexible is important.

The other sort of discomfort, where someone does something to someone else, is not acceptable. Having someone make suggestive comments to you, or touch you, or get between you and the exit, or threaten to hurt you, are all examples of someone making you uncomfortable through action, not through who they are. In these cases, it’s not the job of the person who is uncomfortable to just cope. It’s the job of the aggressor to treat others with respect.

Here’s a cheat sheet to help you understand the difference:

I’m uncomfortable because of:

Who you are ———- My problem

What you do ———— Your problem

Or, even more succinctly:

 Do – You, Be – Me

Hopefully this will help you the next time someone tells you that you are the one who needs to cope with his leering.