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?

How We Drive

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I was in slow and go traffic today, thinking about how to drive. I like to go slowly enough to keep a steady pace for as long as I can before having to slow or stop. The person behind me looked like he might have been from the go-as-fast-as-you-can school, which involves a lot of stopping and starting. He seemed frustrated with my slow and steady approach, and I felt stressed out by his tailgating.

Both approaches have validity. People who tailgate might arrive a bit ahead. It might feel like they’re doing more to get where they want to go. They are using every bit of speed available to them. But that approach is also sort of jolting. There’s a lot of sudden stops, desperate acceleration, then dramatic braking. People who go slow and steady miss a lot of the jerkiness. There’s a feeling of spaciousness and ease, even in difficult traffic. But there has to be trust as well that the space in front will stay open, that opportunists won’t leap in front and make you slam on the brakes anyway, only now you’re several car lengths back.

There are things in my life I do in the jerky start and stop way. I pick up new craft projects, rush forward, spend money, get supplies, and then stop. Everything takes up space and gathers dust as my enthusiasm ebbs and dies. Sometimes I pick it up again, sometimes I don’t.

I don’t like the physical feeling of sudden starts and stops. I like the smoother approach to driving because it feels better. But it’s not good for the competitive part of me. I sometimes measure my progress compared to that person with the new license plate in that lane, or the person in the blue car in the other lane. I don’t want to let them in because I want to get there first. But when I can relax and see that it’s actually to everyone’s advantage to allow people to change lanes with enough room, so no one has to slam on brakes and risk hitting anyone, and we can all feel like we are on the road together so let’s make it as easy as possible, then I slow down and allow space.

I can’t help but think that other things are like that in life. That competition gives us a narrow and jerky view of the world. That making space for everyone makes everything feel more spacious. I like to think that I’m helping to calm traffic, so there’s fewer jams, when I’m taking up a lot of space between cars. But even if that’s not true, it’s an approach that just feels right to me.

I’d be interested to hear from the go fast people – what feels right to you about that? I’m sure there’s benefits I’m not thinking of since it’s not my natural style. There should be room enough for all of us on the roads, and all driving styles.

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.

Having Something To Say

I recently was interviewed for two audio programs and a TV program. The TV program hasn’t been aired yet, but both radio programs have been, so I thought I’d share them with you.

I was interviewed most recently by Linda Patten on her radio show on Voice America. Here is the link:

Voice America

She was a great interviewer! Really made me feel comfortable, like I was just talking to her over coffee, instead of to millions of listeners. She told me I was a great interviewee, with my answers on point, not too long, and leading easily to the next question. So enjoy our conversation!

A few months ago I was interviewed by Francesca Anastasi for her Succeed Against The Odds podcast. This was also a lot of fun, she asked great questions and I hope you find our conversation interesting.

You can listen from the web page: pod cast
or on ITunes: itunes

The TV segment hasn’t aired yet, but keep an eye on Channel 29 on Mondays at 8 pm. Dr. Georgiana has a show on relationships, and had me on for my perspective. I’ll keep you posted for when it is released!

I’m going to speak tomorrow to a Rotary club in my area, too. This group actually said yes when I asked if I could speak there, before even asking what I’d speak about! I imagine it’s difficult to find interesting speakers every single week.

I find that having a single message that I speak about is helpful. I can approach it from many different angles – making more money in business, having better relationships at home, being more innovative, decreasing turnover, making better decisions, bringing play into the workplace, etc. – but in the end, it’s all about getting every voice heard. That is at the core of everything I speak about. Everyone needs to be heard. Organizations benefit when they are. Relationships benefit. We can use play and creativity to help get everyone heard. But the core message is getting everyone heard.

What is your core message? If you could tell the world one thing, what would it be? If you could give your younger self some advice based on your life experience, what would you tell yourself? What do you have to say?

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.

The Problem With The Golden Rule

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This is a good rule for things like murder, rape, theft, big things like that. But what about how people relate to each other in smaller ways?

Are you familiar with Chapman’s Five Love Languages? (5LoveLanguages) His premise is that there are five ways people tend to relate, and that we all have preferences among these. They are: Words of Affirmation; Receiving Gifts; Acts of Service; Quality Time; Physical Touch.

When someone whose main love language is receiving gifts falls in love with someone whose main love language is acts of service, they can have trouble. She showers him with gifts, which he doesn’t care about, because she is doing unto him what she wants him to do unto her. He takes out the garbage because he loves her, which she doesn’t see as anything special since it has to be taken out anyway. Until they are aware of the language the other one is speaking, doing unto others is just annoying them. Why are you spending money on gifts I don’t need? Why are you fixing my dishwasher when we could be snuggling?

As a general rule, I like the Wiccan motto the best: First, do no harm, then, do what you will. Perhaps because I’m Jewish and there are rules about everything – how to eat, when to wash your hands, what to say, how to pray, etc. – I like the simplicity of this. If studying Torah is what I want to do, great, and if it’s not, then as long as I’m not hurting anyone by not studying it, I’m free to go dance, or make things, or whatever makes me happy.

Do no harm is actually fairly difficult to manage. It makes me see things in a different perspective. Instead of “how would I like to be treated in this situation” I ask “will this hurt anyone?” It can become a complex question. Will it hurt them physically? Will it hurt their feelings? If I talk about it first, will it hurt their feelings less? Will it hurt their income if I say bad things about their business? Will it hurt the earth if I throw away plastic bottles instead of recycling them? It makes me aware of the consequences of my actions, and that even actions that I don’t intend to be hurtful can be.

In this week before a new year comes around again, it’s a good time to think about what motto we will use for ourselves in the coming year. Will you treat people the way you want to be treated? Even if it’s not what they want? Or is the idea of ‘do no harm’ what the ‘do unto others’ people actually mean? For myself, I’m going to attempt to do no harm, and also attempt to figure out what it is I want. The ‘do what you will’ part isn’t always easy, either.

So. It’s The Holidays.

As fun as the holiday season is, it’s also stressful. Meeting new people at holiday parties, dealing with family, travel…

I was thinking recently about Amy Cuddy’s work (Amy’s TED talk) about how our actions shape our emotions. She quotes research about job interviews where the interviewee either took power poses or normal poses for two minutes before the interview, and the ones that stood or sat in power poses did better on the interviews. Apparently, how we hold our bodies affects the hormones we create, which affects how courageous, outgoing, and confident we are.

It occurred to me today that dealing with family at the holidays can be as stressful as going on a job interview. I remember when I was in my twenties and even my thirties feeling like I reverted to a child whenever I went back to my parents’ house. With so many years of accumulated power dynamics, it was easy to fall back into those patterns when I was back in those walls.

Putting the pieces together, it seems to me that standing in a power pose for two minutes before talking to your parents, or in-laws, or that uncle, or whoever is difficult for you, could change those power dynamics significantly. Of course, this is only one piece of the complex web of relationship, and changing the stories in our heads, the words we use, the attitudes we hold, the subjects we are willing to discuss, the boundaries we keep, and so forth, will also be part of the picture. Still, having a way to give ourselves a boost of confidence going into difficult conversations seems like a very good thing.

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What is a power pose? It’s a way of holding the body that takes up more space, that looks confident, and that signals dominance. (It may be important to do this privately, in the bathroom or a back bedroom.) For example, you could stand with your legs apart and your arms above your head and apart. Think of someone who just won a race, for example. Or, try putting your hands on your hips and your head up, like Wonder Woman. Or if you’re sitting, spread out, put your arms on the chairs next to you, or stand up and lean on the table in front of you. Think of any alpha male you know, and imitate what he does.

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Two minutes is all it takes for a new confidence at the holiday party, or with your judgmental in-laws. Let me know how it goes!