Expectations, schmecpectations

Last week, a woman named Sarah Buckley Friedberg posted a long list of advice from society to working moms that quickly went viral on Facebook. Here is just a subset:

  • Go back to work 6-8 weeks after having the baby.

  • Keep your mind on work.

  • Make sure to break the glass ceiling and excel at your job- you can do anything a man can do!

  • Also breastfeed for at least a year. So take 2-3 pumping breaks a day at work, but don't let it throw you off your game or let you lose your focus.

  • Also, lose that baby weight and get back in shape, as quickly and as gracefully as possible.

  • Maintain a clean, Pinterest-worthy house.

  • Be fun. Be firm. Read books. Have dance parties.

  • Ensure the kids are learning to swim, play an instrument, read, ride a bike, be a good human being, eat vegetables, wear sunscreen, drink enough water, say please and thank you.

  • Most parents are volunteering at least once during the year, would you like to come make a craft with the kids?

  • Date your spouse! It's important to keep your relationship alive and fresh.

  • Oh hey you should have a hobby too. It's important to have "you time".

  • Also be well read, keep up with the latest pop culture and tv shows, and keep an eye on politics

  • Make sure to have friends. Social time is SO important.

  • Self care though. SO important.

  • Get off your phone, turn off the TV, and enjoy your life. Enjoy your kids. THESE ARE THE GOOD TIMES make sure to love every minute of life.

Taken individually, a lot of these things can sound appealing and worth striving for. But put them together, and they become a set of impossible expectations that can easily leave working moms feeling overwhelmed and not enough.

This is not just about working moms, though.

My 14-year-old could make a similar list of the contradictory expectations we place on students and teenagers.

My husband could make a similar list of the impossible standards we use to judge men, husbands, and fathers.

And I bet you could make a similar list for yourself, too: All the ways that society says you "should" be, the yardsticks you're measured by, the ridiculous expectations for how you are supposed to look, think and behave.

What are some of the contradictory standards and expectations that you've experienced based on your own demographics?

More importantly, how do you prevent those societal messages from bossing you around and making you feel bad? How do you remember that you are fully free to be you, no matter what?

Don't call it vulnerability; call it leadership

Today’s blog post was inspired by this video from Center for Joyful Business founder Laura West, in which she beautifully articulates what it means to reach out to others with LovingKindness. It is what she teaches business owners to do with their networks, and it is what I hope to inspire people to do through my own work, too.

There was one thing in her video that didn’t sit right with me, though, which is that she seemed to keep emphasizing how vulnerable LovingKindness is. To open your heart and not know what you’re going to get back. To be the first one to say that you care.

Of course, all of that can feel vulnerable. But is that really the part of kindness and generosity that I want to emphasize? Not if I want to encourage those behaviors!

According to the dictionary, to be vulnerable is to be “susceptible to physical or emotional attack or harm.” Can you imagine if, when we sent soldiers to war, the primary narrative we offered them was about how vulnerable they were going to be? That would be nuts!

Instead of calling it vulnerable to reach out with love and care, what if we called it leadership? To be willing to go first in standing for who and what matters to you. To put yourself out there, even when there’s no guarantee that others will follow. To risk your personal comfort in service to something bigger.

Changing the language doesn’t take the vulnerability away, but it can encourage a person to make a powerful choice in the face of it. And isn’t that the goal?

Don't give me research; give me hope

As I do more work with businesses, helping bring more kindness and connection into the workplace, a number of people have suggested that I should put together an information sheet with research that would convince leaders that positive work environments lead to more business success.

It's a reasonable suggestion, and so a few weeks ago I decided I would work on it.... Only I found that I couldn't muster the energy to do it. 

Upon reflection, I realized why, and recorded this 5-minute video about it. Basically, I had no interest in proving why workplace culture matters, because I don't actually think that's in question. I think we already know that it leads to better outcomes to be surrounded by gratitude, generosity and goodwill than resentment, cynicism and blame.

What we doubt is that it's actually possible

"Sure, that company has a great culture," we might say, "but it would never work here." Or we think it would be way too costly an investment, or require a rare and special kind of leader. It's all too easy to make those kinds of claims, come up with evidence to support them -- and then not even try.

That is a shame, because positive change is entirely possible, and can be led by the simplest of interventions.

The hardest part may simply be to recognize that that's the case.

What do you think? Does that ring true for you? What is the culture like in your business or organization? If it's not yet fully where you would like it to be, what do you think it would take to improve it?

I’d love to read your comments below, or contact me if you’d like to talk in more depth. I am willing to be stumped, but it is my firm belief that there is always something you can do to make a positive difference, if you want to.

It's time to own it

Earlier this month, I had an important and somewhat startling new realization: I'm actually enjoying being an entrepreneur.

I like being committed to something I care about.

I like learning that there are things I can provide that people would be happy to spend money on.

I like that it's totally up to me to decide what's important, what I'm going to try next, and what I'm going to say "no" to.

I like noticing the natural cycle of ups and downs, and not making it mean that something is wrong.

I like what it feels like to keep going.

Tomorrow, I will be heading to a day-long retreat for "creative visionaries," where I'll be working on an implementation guide for leaders who want to build intentional acts of kindness into their business operations. I'm both nervous and excited -- which I think means I'm on the right track. 

What is coming up for you that you are nervous/excited about? What new identity are you ready to step into? Share below so I and others can cheer you on!

Card-writing advice for businesses

Lately I've been helping clients think about how to integrate card-sending into their business processes, as a way of building and sustaining relationships with customers.

At a time when so much communicating is done electronically, getting a personal card in your actual mailbox is a special treat, and I love helping people brainstorm who they could reach out to, and what they might say.

One of the tools I often recommend is SendOutCards, which will print and mail custom cards on your behalf, without your having to go to the post office. It makes card-sending quick and easy, and allows you to do things that you can't easily do in a typical handwritten card, like add photos from your phone or computer. Very cool!

SendOutCards also has features that can help automate the card-sending process, like pre-scheduling cards to go out at specific times and sending the same card to multiple people at once. Which also is very cool -- but I'm learning to caution people about. It's all too easy to get excited about efficiencies of scale, and lose the personal touch that makes card-sending powerful in the first place.

As a customer, you know there is a huge difference between getting a card because you know you're on someone's mailing list, and getting a card that was sent specifically to you because someone was thinking about you. And when created with the right mindset, those personalized cards are a gift to the sender as well: not just another item on the "to do" list, but an expression of kindness and gratitude that is inherently satisfying.

So my advice for anyone considering integrating card-sending into their business strategy is this: start small and personal, one card at a time. Heck, you can start right now! Think of someone who has had a significant positive impact on your business, and send them a quick thank you. (If you don't have a card and stamp handy, create a free SendOutCards account and use that.)

When you're done, I'd love to hear what it was like, and what questions it raised for you. Either comment below or contact me if you'd like to set up a time to talk.

Finally, if you know others who might be interested in this approach, please share it! Our world is aching for more kindness right now, and there is so much we can do to help.

I am grateful to have you on board.

The gift of a recipe

For the last few weeks, my family has been experimenting with a no white sugar/no white flour diet, to see if it makes a noticeable difference for our well-being.

It's been a bit of a challenge with my sweet tooth, but it's led to a nice expansion of my repertoire of desserts. :) 

This Healthy Peanut Butter Cups recipe is one we recently discovered that everyone loves. It takes just 5 ingredients (peanut butter, coconut oil, maple syrup, cocoa powder and vanilla) and 15 minutes, and tastes absolutely decadent.

It is my gift to you this week.

I'm reminded of the time, a few years ago, when I met an older man in town who carried copies of his late wife's favorite recipes around with him, so that he could give them to people he met who liked to cook. It was such a sweet gesture, and a reminder of the many simple gifts that we each have to offer.

Do you have a recipe that you especially love and would like to share? Or a quote, or a song, or something else that makes you smile? Share it below, so it can make someone else smile, too.

It's never too late to say no

A few months ago I was asked to take on a new volunteer position. It felt good to be reached out to, but I was pretty clear I didn't want to do it. So I said no thanks.

However, the person doing the outreach was persistent. She explained how it would be perfect for me, that it was a wonderful group, how I could make meaningful contributions, and that it wouldn't be as much work as I feared. Plus, they really wanted me!

I caved.

How bad could it be? It really wasn't a huge commitment, and I didn't want to disappoint the group, I told myself. But it was absolutely the wrong choice.

In general, I know myself to be a positive, engaged, and creative person, but I could muster none of those things with this group. At meetings, I was distracted, critical, and unhelpful, and it was nearly impossible to motivate myself to do the things I said I would do.

All of this felt terrible to me, and I imagine it didn't feel good to anyone else, either. So earlier this week I swallowed my embarrassment, called the leader, and resigned. I think it was a relief to both of us.

Not very long ago, I would have scoffed at this choice. A commitment is a commitment, I would have said, and would have worked hard to adjust my attitude and accommodate the situation. Slogging through and making the best of it would have earned me a badge of honor in my own eyes: evidence of my commitment to learning and growth.

Now, though, that seems silly. There are a million paths to learning and growth, and they do not require unnecessary suffering. I'd even argue that unnecessary suffering is a distraction from that learning.

I guess it would be one thing if I were miserable in everything I did -- that'd be a great reason to take a look at my mindset more globally -- but that wasn't the case here at all. At this point, there are so many things I'm doing that excite and motivate me that when something doesn't, it really stands out, and is important to pay attention to. 

I feel like there are so many lessons to gain from this relatively short experience: trusting my gut, being willing to disappoint people, honoring other people's "no", having the courage to change my mind, and recognizing that saying yes when I really want to say no isn't kind to anyone.

What are your takeaways, either from this or from similar experiences in your own life? Comments always welcome!

Why I hate them

If you hate someone, why do you hate them?

Is it because they are mean, or irresponsible, or self-centered, or hypocritical?

Or is it that you don't like how you feel when you're around them?

Lately I've been using this inquiry with the anger, hatred and resentment that shows up in my own life, and I think it's really powerful.

When I focus on what's wrong with other people, I suffer. Because really, I hate how lonely and disempowering it feels to hate people. I don’t even like holding grudges.

When I focus on what's going on inside of me, though, I learn something. I have a chance to extend some compassion toward my feelings of helplessness, uncertainty, despair, or whatever it happens to be.

Once I've done that, hating the other person doesn't seem necessary any more.

The anger wasn't really about them, anyway.

I haven't yet found a single situation where this shift in focus hasn't helped, if I'm willing to muster it.

Is it helpful to you? What else would you add?

Shower wisdom

I absolutely love my morning shower: the comforting ritual, the relaxing warmth, and the way my mind is free to wander to new ideas and insights.

This morning, what came to me was this bit of wisdom: "If you were meant to live someone else's life, you would have been born someone else."

Prior to the shower, I was in quite a funk, focusing on all sorts of life circumstances I wished were different, feeling resentful, discouraged, and afraid. So the words were just perfect.

I love the idea that, whatever struggles I happen to be facing, they are my struggles. My experiences to live through. My challenges to learn from.

They are part of the richness of my life, just as much as the joys and triumphs. And I am the one who gets to choose what they mean, and how to handle them. 

It's so easy to look outside of myself for clues as to how life is "supposed" to look and feel, but it's not very helpful. Look to others for inspiration? Sure. But it's my life to figure out.

There is so much power and freedom in that realization.

I love that I don't have to figure it out all at once. And that whatever I do figure out can change. And that what you and I figure out for ourselves can look very different and still be perfect.

What is something you've realized for yourself recently? When and how did you realize it? Do you get good insights in the shower too?