Sending cards to strangers

Every day last week, I sent a card to a stranger, prompted by the 12 Days of Love-Letter Writing project at moreloveletters.com. Each day they email me a few paragraphs about a person who has been nominated to receive a love letter bundle, and an address where I can send my card.

Life is so busy these days, but I look forward to writing these letters. It is an invitation to let go of my self-centeredness, expand my circle of concern, and be reminded of the good inside of me -- inside of all of us.

It's also a good indicator of my own well-being, because I find that it is only actually enjoyable when I'm at peace with my own life and self. When I'm not, it feels like a "should" and drains my energy. So I've been doing more to take care of my needs this past week, to help me write from a place of authentic joy.

I'm wondering: Does this letter-writing activity appeal to you, too? Why or why not? What other small, intentional acts of kindness would bring you joy to do several days in a row?

I found a great boss... and she isn't me!

This week I began a seasonal job at a local toy store. My first retail position ever.

Leading up to my first day, I was nervous. In particular, I was afraid of my employer getting mad at me for making mistakes, and shaming me for not learning fast enough. But it hasn't been like that at all.

The store owner and shift supervisors have been nothing but patient and kind. They give clear directions, are generous in answering questions, and don't expect me to know things that I have no reason to know. Even as a newbie, it is satisfying to know that my presence there makes a difference, and that it is appreciated. 

When I think about my earlier fears, I suspect that they say more about my current inner world than external reality. The imagined employer who is anxious, mean and impatient? Honestly, that's been me lately, as I've tried to manage myself in trying to make a living.

Rather than drawing on the wise part of me that could create compassionate space for sifting through all my questions about entrepreneurship, paid work and career, I've been letting my insecurities boss me around with their unreasonable expectations, inconsistent demands, and perpetual dissatisfaction.

It wasn't until I started this new job, working for someone perfectly lovely and reasonable, that I even recognized how bad my current inner "employer" is, and how miserable I've been working for her. 

My new holiday job will have its own challenges, I'm sure, but I look forward to working in an environment of kindness, and soaking in the lessons for my life.

The extra cash won't hurt, either. :)

Prepare for Thanksgiving success

Around this time a couple of years ago, I led a workshop on successfully navigating family gatherings during the holidays.

One of the biggest takeaways was the importance of preparing ahead of time.

How do you want to feel during the gathering? What do you want to contribute? What do you want to avoid?

Maybe there's an activity or conversation topic you want to find a way to introduce. Or a conversation you need to have with someone prior to the gathering. Or a shift in perspective available that would help you enjoy yourself more. Or an exit strategy to prepare.

There are always things you can do to set yourself up for success, but if you don't think about it until the family has arrived and everyone has already started falling into their typical roles and patterns, your influence will be limited.

What are you going to do to make this the best Thanksgiving it can be?

I would love to hear your plans, and anything else you've learned about family gatherings that has been helpful to you.

The apple doesn't fall far from the tree

My dad has been a peace activist for decades. When I was a kid, he ordered peace-themed bumperstickers by the thousands and give them away on weekends from a card table at the side of the road. He still does this, actually.

He uses it as an opportunity to talk to people about the kind of future he wants for his children and grandchildren: one in which the planet is responsibly cared for, and war is no longer accepted as a way to resolve conflicts.

I remember him engaging with everyone who stopped, inviting them to receive his monthly (snail mail!) newsletter, and offering to attach their new stickers before they drove away. He also made a big cooler of lemonade, and purchased a day's worth of normally-off-limits snacks to eat, which made me like coming with him. My math-oriented brain also liked taking inventory to see how many of which messages people took, and counting up the donations he received in his donation box. :)

I've been thinking about my dad this week as I prepare my next big order of Connection Cards, deciding which messages I should add and remove, what designs to change, and how many to purchase of each. I like thinking about the kinds of messages I want to hear more often, and that I have a simple, low-cost way to help people share them.

This weekend I will be visiting my parents, meaning that I will have access to Dad's current collection of bumperstickers, many of which are pictured here. If they speak to you and you'd like one, let me know and I will hook you up.

Also, if you have an idea for a new Connection Card that I don't yet have, or a particular color or design request, now would be a great time to suggest it. Just leave a comment below.

I look forward to sharing the new messages with you soon. Maybe someday I’ll even put them on bumperstickers!

It is okay to change your mind

Last night I decided I wasn't going to write a blog post this week.

I had stayed up crazy late the night before, preparing for my Generosity in Business workshop, and I was tired. And even though I've been incredibly proud of my commitment to this weekly communication, what I really wanted to do with my evening was drink tea, write in my journal, and reflect on my day.

So I did.

Not long ago, it would have scared me to miss a week. Like breaking a diet, or skipping the gym, one missed blog post could easily snowball into another, and another, and it would be hard to start back up again. That can feel awful.

But one thing I realized last night is that my bigger commitment, to be a voice for generosity and joy and goodness, isn't going anywhere. At this point, I'm confident that it would be there even if I stopped writing each week. So maybe it's safe to loosen my grip on this practice and see what else might be possible.

Maybe there is something else I could be doing with my time that would be even more worthwhile. Maybe there are more effective and efficient ways to communicate. Maybe it would be nice to be available to my family again on Thursday nights!

It was freeing to feel like I had that choice, and to recognize that a change would be okay. 

And yet here I am, writing a blog after all. Why? Because what I found in that space of freedom was that I wanted to.

I like sharing my life and my thoughts. I like what it feels like to be connected to all of you, and curious about you, and to want good things for you. And that gets reinforced every time I write.

Will I keep doing this every week? Who knows. But for now, I'm grateful for the opportunity.

Overcoming my fear of food drives

At my church, there are donation bins for the local food pantry that we are invited to contribute to each week, but I’ve hardly ever done it.

Over the years, I've made up different reasons to justify my lack of participation -- it isn't my "thing," I don't want to spend the extra money, I help in other ways, etc. -- but underneath that have felt guilty and judged myself for being stingy. This week I realized that I've had a hidden belief operating that not donating to things like this makes me a bad, greedy person.

This belief -- and the guilt and self-judgment associated with it -- has been so unpleasant that, for years, it has made me want to avoid thinking about food drives altogether. Which has led me to avoid donating, leading to even more guilt and avoidance, and creating a self-perpetuating loop.

Seeing it clearly now, the belief is ridiculous and no longer holds sway: How could my standing as a decent human being possibly come down to this one behavior? But when it was unseen and unexamined, just running on auto-pilot in the background, it was powerful.

Ever since recognizing what was going on, I've been much kinder and more charitable toward myself around food drives, and have been enjoying the possibility that I could actually find a way to participate that feels good. To donate not because I think I *should* donate -- thus making it all about me -- but to donate from that place of generosity and goodwill toward my fellow human beings that is inherently satisfying. 

It's funny to me -- although perhaps not surprising -- that even though my whole business is about helping people practice authentic kindness, there was this huge blind spot in my own life that kept me from doing that. It just goes to show that I'm human, I suppose. I'm confident that most of you can relate. :)

Do you have any of your own stories about uncovering hidden beliefs or blind spots? If so, I'd love to hear them.

In the meantime, I'll be at the grocery store stocking up on extra pasta sauce and peanut butter.

What has life taught you?

I love it when people ask me a question, and are really interested in what I have to say. It gives me an opportunity to experience what's true for me now, and come up with things that I may never have articulated before.

This week such a question came from my dad, who asked: What is something important about life that you've had to learn for yourself? He and some friends are putting together a book that compiles many different people's answers.

Here are some that I came up with:

  • I am the only person responsible for my life and choices

  • It doesn't feel good to hurt people or wish them harm (myself included)

  • My well-being is a gift to others (as well as to me)

  • At the core of me is divine, loving awareness

  • Fighting reality is always a losing battle

Part of me reads this list and thinks it sounds like just so many tired words. No different than the motivational quotes that I'm inundated with on my Facebook feed. And as mere words, I guess they are boring.

But to me, they aren't just words. Each one has stories and meaning attached, and a sense of visceral knowing that they are true. Not in a way that I would try to logically prove, but that is nevertheless very important to my life.

I'm not sure if would have ever learned these things just by reading someone else's words, but it sure is fun to try to put my experience into words after the fact.

It's also fun for me to hear other people's words, and then learn the stories and experiences behind them.

To that end, what are some of your answers to my dad's question?

What important things about life have you had to learn for yourself? This could be "old wisdom" that you were told as a kid but didn't understand at first, or things you were never told at all, but stumbled upon later in life. How and when did you learn these things?

We both look forward to hearing.

Ingredients for joyful, engaged work

This week I've been working with a local childcare center on ways to strengthen the sense of teamwork and engagement among staff, and create an atmosphere of joy and generosity. 

For leaders who want to create that kind of workplace dynamic, I suggest three important ingredients:

  1. Be kind and generous with your employees.

  2.  Help your employees be kind and generous with each other.

  3.  Join forces with your employees to be kind and generous toward your clients and customers. 

Ingredient #2 is especially interesting to me because I think the structural ways that leaders can support good relationships among employees are often overlooked. We tend to assume that if we put a group of people together, they should just get along. But in practice, it's a lot more complicated than that!

It takes more than standard social politeness to create the kind of trusting relationships that bring out everyone's best, and safeguard a group from the inevitable stresses of life and work. It takes people knowing and appreciating each other as full human beings, with unique gifts to offer and unique limitations to be sensitive to.

How to support that will be different in different settings, but it's worth thinking about:

  • What meeting practices could you incorporate that would allow a little more humanness to show through?

  • What could you do to make it safe for people to ask for help without fear of judgment?

  • What systems or resources could you provide people that would make it easy for them to acknowledge and appreciate each other? 

  • What performance review criteria might you add to reinforce that relationships are a priority?

In your own work experience, how have you been supported in building and maintaining great relationships with colleagues? When the relationships haven’t been so great, what was missing that might have helped?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Generosity Without Burnout

I think a lot about how to help people (including myself!) cultivate authentic generosity in their lives and businesses. From my perspective, this skill is the key to easeful relationships, effective teams, and personal happiness. However, the word “generosity” often gets associated with self-sacrifice and burnout — which is not good for our happiness or relationships. This week’s blog post is from my friend Julia, whose thoughts about “generosity without burnout” I was interested in. I hope you find her perspective valuable!

Generosity sounds like an amazing thing. Almost every person you ask will tell you they want to be generous “someday,” when they can afford the time, money, effort, etc. But could we start practicing generosity right now, without waiting?  My answer is... perhaps. 

When I consider being generous, I usually ask myself a pretty simple question: What distinguishes an act of care or kindness towards someone from an act that is generous?  I personally consider something or someone generous when they are willing to give something that they value without being reimbursed in equal measure. For example, we don’t think of stores that sell their goods for a fair price as particularly generous; we think of them as getting a fair exchange. Even in business, when someone offers a free introduction or a free promotional item, it still doesn’t feel generous – at least not to me - as this is a calculated marketing strategy and isn’t necessarily indicative of the spirit of giving.

So to me, generosity is really about going beyond self-benefit and genuinely caring about something that may or may not bring immediate benefits through an exchange. 

There is, however, a very real and beautiful benefit that does happen as a result of being generous, and it is hard to measure: it is the benefit of feeling like you are a good person. It is sort of a way to pat yourself on the back and say, “Today you did well in life, be proud of yourself.” And that feeling, in my experience, generates more of itself by attracting good things to an already “good vibration.” Simple: If I walk around smiling, there is a better chance someone will smile back. However, if I walk around looking somber and cranky, the possibility of getting a friendly, “Hey, I see you, here is a smile for you” goes down exponentially.

The problem with practicing generosity for its benefit is a pretty strange one – I find that generosity is a bit addicting, and sometimes I can get into the spirit of it and not notice the burnout.   

My solution to the generosity burnout question is pretty straightforward: Generosity needs to be inclusive.  Put simply: Don’t forget to include yourself! When we try to be generous with others, but forget to be generous with ourselves, the burnout is inevitable. So I suggest a simple, but powerful shift of perspective: Give yourself the feeling most people get from being generous ahead of time. Generously assign yourself the label of a great person, pat yourself on the back, and ask yourself what it is that you want and decide that you deserve it.  And once that preliminary step is done, go ahead and have fun being generous. You won’t need the benefits, since you already took care of them! I call it “generosity planning.” The fastest way to become generous is to honestly assess your own needs and take care of them. Once that is done, generosity is really a natural human trait.  Happy, self-satisfied and loving people can’t help themselves – they are just naturally generous!

So before you get on the self-sacrificial train of inauthentic generosity, make sure to create trust in yourself and do whatever you need to do to make sure you know what makes you happy!  And then... generously share!

Julia Fishman
Lic Avatar® Master
508 665 8325
www.TheAvatarCourse.com

Are they deadlines, or lifelines?

Lately I have been contemplating how I relate to self-imposed deadlines.

It seems to me that the reason to set deadlines is to ensure that I will actually do things that I want to do, rather than waste time and put them off.

But oftentimes when I have a deadline, it ends up becoming harder to focus on the activity at hand, because I get anxious and preoccupied with whether or not I'm going to get it done in time.

I may still finish, but worrying about it takes the fun and joy out of something I was once excited to do and sort of defeats the purpose.

Getting rid of deadlines altogether isn't the solution, because that leads to a lot of meandering and distraction when there really are things I want to do that feel important to me.

So what is the answer?

A friend recently suggested to me that instead of thinking about them as deadlines (connoting fear of death!), I could think about them as lifelines that help me stay tethered to, and acting on, the things that bring me life.

It's a subtle shift in perspective, but I like it. It helps me lean into what I want rather than try to prevent what I'm afraid of.

This weekend I have a deadline to finish doing some deep work around my business, getting very clear about the clients I most want to serve, and how. I'm enjoying thinking about this work as a lifeline, leading me into my next phase of growth.

What about you? Do you have deadlines looming in your life that instill more fear than excitement at the moment? Or something important that you've been resisting attaching a deadline to at all? If so, does the "lifeline" perspective help? What other ways have you found to make deadlines your friend? I’d love to hear your thoughts!