Splitting hairs

MF2-2201I work in a building full of office suites, and everyone on the same floor shares a restroom. Frequently, I cross paths there with a woman from a neighboring company, and she almost always comments on my hair–its thickness, the cut, the color. This woman always makes me feel good about a feature that normally gives me a lot of headaches (yeah, I did that on purpose), especially when I’ve never seen her anything but perfectly coiffed.

Until today.

I walked into the restroom, where she stood in front of the mirror with her head bent down. She popped up like a shot when I said hello and immediately began apologizing. I didn’t understand what was going on. I thought she had just been brushing her hair, but she was super embarrassed and said as much.

It turns out that my office neighbor wears a wig. When I walked into the bathroom, she had just put it back on and was adjusting its fit. She told me how several years ago she had experienced a period of extreme stress and lost much of her hair. Of course, the hair loss added to her stress and contributed to this vicious cycle. Eventually she bought a wig to relieve herself of at least that worry.

We had a nice chat, in which I told her I had no idea her beautiful ‘do was actually a wig. (I really didn’t.) When I finally walked back to my office, I couldn’t help thinking that there was a lesson in this. I could never figure out why this lady seemed so fascinated with my hair when hers was always perfect. Now I know that the story ran much deeper.

What a great reminder that things aren’t always what they seem. Everyone has a story, and it’s probably not the one we imagine from the outside looking in.

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Behavior modification

I’m actually kind of shocked that no one mentioned that the same lessons I want to teach my daughter, noted last week in my post Best behavior, would be just as valuable to my maba_pleasebemindful_signson. In fact, I was kicking myself for not acknowledging this in my post, because it’s 100% true. In any case, something had me thinking about my daughter that day and how girls need strong role models, and well, I won’t bore you with the rest. Just know that I desperately want my son to benefit equally from those lessons.

Which brings me to today’s musings. I had a conversation a couple of days ago with a friend, who shared with me her escalating frustration with her ex. The guy lives a couple of hours away, so they meet in the middle to pick up/drop off their son for visitation. It seems that lately, Mr. Ex has been getting quite handsy with my friend.

She told me that it started with Mr. Ex grabbing her backside while she was buckling her school-aged son into his car seat. She ignored it, but she noticed that her son was positioned to see everything.

The next time, Mr. Ex got bolder. He made the same grabbing move, but this time on the front side–if you know what I mean. My friend swatted his hand away and silently swallowed her indignation. Once again, she tried to ignore it.

I asked her why she didn’t tell him to keep his hands to himself (read: to get the he** away from her). She gave me an answer about not wanting her son to see his mom and dad fighting or to see his dad in a bad light or some such.

Back. The. Truck. Up.

I couldn’t stop myself from blurting, So you want your son to think that it’s okay to touch women inappropriately and without their permission? You want him to think it’s no big deal for a married man to grope a woman who is not his wife? You want him to grow up thinking this behavior is perfectly normal?

My friend stopped for a second and blinked. She hadn’t thought of it that way at all. She hadn’t realized that her lack of response was also teaching him a lesson.

My friend is a contemplative woman; she been on a constant journey of self-examination for the past several years. I know she has been chewing on this since our conversation, and I’m pretty sure she’ll handle similar circumstances much differently from now on–for her son’s sake, if not her own.

As I thought about her situation, it just reinforced my conviction about sending messages with our behavior. What we don’t do can be just as powerful as what we do.

Be mindful, always.

PS. In case you were wondering, my friend gave me permission to share her story here. 

Best behavior

Mothering a daughter is hard, especially a strong-willed, independent-thinking, highly emotional daughter. And most especially the teenage variety of said daughter. She’s smart and funny and caring and I generally love being around her, but it’s still challenging.

I try to be conscious of my actions. After all, she’s been watching me for the past sixteen years and I’m her role model whether I like it or not. On my good days and bad days, she’s taking it all in.

She’s a big part of the reason I walked away from a long-term job with a fair amount of responsibility a few years ago. I wanted her to see how important it is to pursue fulfillment over a fat paycheck.

And I certainly thought about what she would learn if I didn’t end an unhealthy dating relationship not long ago. I wanted her to see how important it is to stand up for oneself and to walk away from situations that may steal one’s self-respect.

It’s also crazy important to me that she sees me interact amicably with her father and her stepmother. She needs to know–to see–the positive effects of releasing grudges and moving forward, that sometimes you can love someone (your kids!) so much that you work through things for their benefit, even when it’s hard.

I want my daughter to absorb my actions and not just hear my words.

Doesn’t that all sound great and honorable? Unfortunately, I’m only thinking consciously about this stuff about ten percent of the time. The other ninety percent, I forget to be intentional and I’m just…me. Whyohwhyohwhyohwhy is it so hard for me to remember that she’s watching everything, not just the lessons I’ve identified?

I can handle a full-blown crisis like a pro, but insult my intelligence, stomp on my pride, or hit me with a steady stream of attitude and all bets are off. Let’s just say my lackluster everyday frustration management skills might be a little more visible than I’d like. That’s not the best scenario for a mom with an already outspoken, highly emotional pair of teenage eyes on her.

I also tend to think out loud, so I go down a lot of rabbit holes before I end up on the right track. know I’m just working through an idea before I take (what I hope to be) rational action, but what does she think as she observes my process?

You’d get bored and I’d get embarrassed if I continued laying out my everyday faux pas. My point is that unfortunately, we don’t get to pick and choose which lessons our kids learn from us. While I’m happy with some of the big things, this light bulb moment has helped me realize that I need to be equally diligent about the little things, too.

The best I can hope now is that someday she’ll look back and realize that in addition to being a mom and a role model, I’m also human.

Land of the free

Scene_at_the_Signing_of_the_Constitution_of_the_United_States

The internet is blowing up with Colin Kaepernick’s recent decision to remain seated during the playing of the national anthem.

What a jerk, people say. If he doesn’t like it here, he should leave, they say.

Well, my friends, that same flag you’re protecting—and the Constitution it represents—gives him the right to show his displeasure. Just as it gives you the right to protest his behavior.

I’m not saying I agree with his decision. In fact, I was sad to see it. I’ve always stood for The Star Spangled Banner, even though there are many things going on in this country that break the heart my hand is covering. Still, if I would choose to sit in quiet protest, I have a right to do that.

Both my grandfathers and my father fought for this country. They didn’t just serve, they fought. With guns and grenades and bombs. They placed themselves in mortal danger and were even wounded doing so, and I love them all the more for it. And yes, I hope all our citizens respect that kind of service and honor their commitment to perpetuating the liberties we all enjoy.

Including the liberty to express one’s opinion.

Like Colin Kaepernick.

Think about it, folks. This country was founded on the right to speak out. In fact, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights (the first amendment of which is the one we’re discussing here) represent a fundamental protest against government. Our freedom of speech exists today because a bunch of powdered-haired (white) dudes went rogue and told their rulers they didn’t like what was going on.

It’s not important whether you agree with CK. It’s not important whether he’s right or wrong or whether you think he is. What IS important is that, like it or not, our founding fathers and every soldier who followed fought for this guy’s right to sit down during the national anthem.

If we tell this guy he can’t express himself, what are people going to be able to tell YOU you can’t do or say?

Which means you can continue to protest, just like he can continue to sit. The same First Amendment supports you both. Think about it.

Burn, baby, burn

Fire flames isolated on white background

Every day (mostly), I write a quote on the dry erase board that hangs on the door to my office. Some are inspirational, some are motivational, some are snarky, and some are just downright funny. Each one of them speaks to me in its own way, and some of them stick with me longer than others. I’m still chewing on Tuesday’s maxim.

Don’t set yourself on fire to keep others warm.

I was feeling a little snarky when I found that one, and it seemed to fit my mood pretty well. I didn’t give it much thought as I scribbled it onto my board, but two days later, I can’t stop thinking about it. Each time I turn it over in my head, I think of it differently.

I had someone in particular in mind when I selected that quote, and my initial reaction was, Darned straight. That person doesn’t deserve my consternation. (Okay, my actual thoughts were a little more colorful, but you get the point.) Once the steam started dissipating, the mental revolutions commenced.

First revolution: Don’t get all jacked up for someone else’s cause. Yeah, I’ll buy that. I’ve got to buy in all on my own or it doesn’t really matter. I don’t want to be a lemming.*

Second revolution: Don’t ruin yourself trying to fix someone else’s problems. Sounds good to me. It’s not that I don’t care, but I’ll be no good to anyone if I break myself in the process.

Third revolution: Don’t sacrifice yourself to help others. Hmm. A little self denial for someone else’s benefit never hurt anyone. In fact, I would argue that in many cases, it builds character–and it’s the right thing to do.

Well, crap.

I wanted to nurse my irritation, not untangle it. I wanted to wallow in the darkness, not see myself illuminated in the mud. Sure, it doesn’t make sense in the long run to wind up so depleted that I can’t help anyone, but how often does that really happen? Putting my needs (read: wants) aside to help someone else is a noble endeavor. It’s the difference between being focused on the bigger picture and being self-centered.

Here’s the caveat, though.

Every fire needs fuel. If you don’t feed it, eventually it will burn out.

So those times when I feel snarky and just, well, done? Those are signals that I need to pull back, take care of myself, and re-energize. Refuel. Find my zen. Untangle the knots. Maybe even dump the lost causes. Whatever you want to call it, it doesn’t mean quitting–it means taking a break to get healthy and strong so I can get back at it. Someone once told me, The wounded can’t carry the stretcher. It doesn’t mean we don’t need stretcher-bearers; rather, we need stretcher-bearers who won’t drop the darned thing.

And that leads me to the fourth revolution:  It’s not about NOT setting yourself on fire. It’s about not letting fire consume you. Do good. Take care of yourself. Do more good.

Don’t burn out; burn bright.

*Side note on lemmings: be careful when you follow the masses. Sometimes the ‘m’ is silent.

Mother-Teresa-Quotes-Do-Your-Best-Anyway-1

When I grow up

208247_5887814934_3245_nWhat do you want to be when you grow up?

How many times were you asked that question as a child? How many times have you asked it? Do you know the answer?

It’s a tough question, mostly because we feel limited by the labels in some mythic index of occupations. Besides that, things change. Technology changes. Society changes. Needs change. People change. Very few people carry that same dream forward and can actually present a business card bearing the label they casually (or passionately, in some cases) spouted.

I don’t know a single kid who would have said, I want to be an insurance salesperson! But I do know people who sell insurance–and even reinsurance–who absolutely love their jobs. They love helping people feel secure and protecting their assets.

I don’t know a single kid who would have said, I want to be a be a logistics manager! But I do know logistics managers who find tremendous satisfaction in putting together intricate delivery plans to ensure that their customers have what they need, when they need it. They love knowing that their work keeps factories running.

I don’t know a single kid who would have said, I want to be a customer service rep! But I do know plenty of customer service reps who become energized by helping people get what they need. They love solving problems, fulfilling orders, and making connections.

*Cut to real life.*

One of my friends is looking for a job. His life path has removed him from the corporate frenzy for several years, and now he’s looking to rejoin the fray. When we talked about this, I found myself asking, What do you want to do? Of course, I was looking for a label to slap on his forehead so I could drop him into a category. Then I’d know which direction to point him.

He didn’t give me a clear answer, probably because he didn’t have one. Instead, our conversation digressed into the verbal pinpricks we like to inflict on each other. Slightly annoyed, I finally said, “You need to find a way to get paid for exasperating people.”

Boom.

I thought I had landed a jab and we’d move on. Then I started thinking about it. What if he could find a way to get paid for exasperating people? I concocted a plan and pitched it to him:

You could totally sell it. Call yourself a change agent and get hired for short-term gigs by companies that are having a hard time changing “the way they’ve always done it.” Your entire job would be to sit in meetings and be contrary. Force people to think differently by answering your pain-in-the-a$$ questions.

Maybe it sounds like a crazy idea, but I know lots of companies who could use this kind of thing. (And if you label yourself a consultant, they might even buy it.)

Anyway, that got me thinking about how we limit ourselves with labels. Crazy ideas like this don’t come from trying to fit someone in a box–and we need more crazy ideas so we can come up with some good ones in the process. We have to think bigger than labels.

Instead of asking what someone wants to be, maybe the better questions are What do you like to do? What problems do you want to solve? What is your passion? It might be hard to give that destination a name, but I’ll bet you find the journey more fulfilling.

When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life. (Attributed to John Lennon)

Take care

Aunt Gladys circa 1972When I was very small, my great-great aunt went to live with my grandmother. Aunt Gladys (unconventionally pronounced  GLAY-dus) would follow my brother and me around and we didn’t mind a bit because she never hesitated to join our games. She played with us unhesitatingly until the dark cloud of her dementia overshadowed the sunny side of her personality.

And that’s why she lived with my grandmother. Grandma was her caretaker–at least, that’s what we would have called her then. She fed Aunt Gladys and bathed her and tucked her in bed at night. Grandma kept AG safe and made sure she knew she was loved. She took care of Aunt Gladys.

Taking care. That term sounds so…detached.

It says nothing of the emotion my grandmother’s actions carried, the love and devotion that washed Aunt Gladys’s face or the tender care that removed obstacles so she wouldn’t fall. It ignores the sacrifice of unexpectedly rearranging a household to make sure a loved one won’t suffer alone in her time of need, or of stretching a threadbare budget to make room for one more.

Sounds a lot more like giving than taking to me.

Perhaps that’s why, somewhere along the way, we’ve embraced a shift in terminology. People we once called caretakers have become caregivers. Technically, both words carry the same meaning, but at least for me, the former screams duty while the latter emanates devotion.

I love how our vernacular keeps evolving to perfect itself. It amazes me how one little word–or portion of a word–makes all the difference to its meaning. And even if you give it little thought, your choice affects the perception of your listener.

Words matter; always choose wisely.