Label Me a Fool

I recently had a very enriching conversation with my friend/coworker about the current culture in America. We discussed Donald Trump’s narcissistic behavior, reductionist undertones within the English language, and the left/right Republican/Democrat divide.

To an ease dropper, our conversation might have felt scattered and disconnected, but I sensed a pattern emerge in our exploration of the American culture—I believe that we have a dominating urge to label, blame and shame people rather than systems and ideologies.

It all starts with our tendency to quickly label people. We claim that a person is a lier, racist, bigot, sexist, feminist, fascist, liberal, conservative, narcissist ect as if their character is always in line with their given label. Some labels are more clearly defined and distributed than others. For example, if you are convicted of even one felony, you become labeled by the court system as a felon. If you tell a lie, you are a lier. It seems simple and straightforward, right? If only that were the case.

Most of our definitions for the labels we throw around are very limiting. For example, a common usage of the word “sexist” refers to a man who objectifies and demeans women. But the term is actually much more complex than that including attitudes about power between the sexes. And this is just one example. So, without going into too much more detail about personal biases and mental models, we can at least agree that human judgement is very flawed. Now couple our human error with today’s environment and we’ve got a culture of insecure people on high alert.

Today, we are less tolerant, have more to lose (our reputations) and have way more ammo (labels) to throw at each other. Actually to say we are all on high alert is definitely an understatement.

And, we aren’t just shaming each other with our labels, we are shaming ourselves. Many times, we claim events that happened to us as a part of our personhood or our identity. For example, if you don’t finish school, you might call yourself a “dropout”. So, rather than owning our life events and embracing them as a part of our story, we often fall victim to them and we label ourselves with shaming language.

I am learning that when we reduce our lives to labels, we become our own worst enemies. We owe more to ourselves and to each other. We need to think bigger about what it means to be human. Let’s explore when is it beneficial to use labels and when it’s not.

Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!
— Dr. Seuss

Scarcity vs Truth

Scarcity mindset is running rampant in our society right now.

The evidence is everywhere. Social movements like Black Lives Matter and MeToo are uniting communities who share common stories of oppression. These movements have helped people come together to stand for something not against something or someone. Unfortunately, many people are reacting to these stories as though they represent an attack. Instead of listening, they are reacting out of fear.

The scarcity mindset is a flawed perception which creates narratives of “not enough”. So, if you act to claim power, you must be trying to take it away from me because there is not enough power for all of us. If your voice gets louder, it could drown out mine. If you claim a seat at the table, where will I sit?

There are many unintended consequences that emerge from this underlying belief that there is only so much (or so little) to go around. One example I find particularly disturbing is when someone acts courageously to share their personal truth, their story, and their words become twisted to portray an attack on someone else.

When someone’s truth becomes weaponized, there is reason for deep concern.

The scarcity mindset and fear of the unknown has always existed, it just feels a little different now. Maybe our unknowns have recently evolved. With information readily available to us, maybe we have gone from what we don’t know is scary and potentially a threat to WHO we don’t know is scary and potentially a threat. Both of these unknowns are a factor, yet there is a noticeable shift. Could it have something to do with knowing all the political, economic and celebrity stories, but not our own next door neighbor’s?

One thing I know is that our stories and personal truths are sacred. They help us define who we are and where we belong. They cannot be weaponized. They cannot become leverage for the privileged. It is our duty to protect each other’s stories. Because your story is mine.

“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.” - Desmond Tutu

Self-Care

We all have a responsibility to take care of ourselves, and it is our job to determine what is best for ourselves.

At times, it is necessary to ask for help, but you should not wait for others give you what you need.

You can have the freedom to say what you mean and mean what you say. It helps us to be honest with ourselves and others, so that what we want and need is identified and can be communicated clearly.

Self-care is NOT self-indulgence. It is not selfishness. It is learning to love the person we are responsible for taking care of, ourselves.

What is Personal Mastery?

Peter Senge describes personal mastery as "the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively".

I love this definition of personal mastery. I also love Peter Senge. 

As a writer, I think of personal mastery as finding my voice, finding my passions and sharing those with the world. And, what I think I have failed to realize until recently is that "mastery" is all about the journey, not the destination. It's not about becoming an expert because I will always have more to learn, and so for me, it's the word "personal" that feels more important.

Our attention is a powerful force. Where and how we direct our attention is important. I have found that the longer I keep my eyes and attention on my own homework (my own life), the less appealing it is for me to wonder off into distraction land, where I start comparing my life to other's and I start believing that everyone else's life is better, more interesting, more successful, happier, or more glamorous. Distraction land sucks and it is more accessible than ever before because most of our lives are out in the open on social media. This means we have to constantly work harder and harder to wrangle in and regain control of our attention so we can purposefully redirect it.

I am realizing that this is MY journey of personal mastery. I need to continue to look inward and pay attention to what really matters to me, so that I can focus on my values and align my life with them.

William James, the father of psychology in America said, "The education of attention would be an education par excellence."

 

 

 

Blurred Lines

The lines between work and personal mastery are blurring so much. Project based work allows us to build personal and professional portfolios simultaneously, and it's feels as though it's getting more and more difficult to find where one ends and the other begins.  

More and more I am realizing that the leaders and innovators who really stand out are the ones who always find different ways of coupling their passions and their life experiences into professional skills and vice versa. It's a magical alignment which provides so much joy and fulfillment. And I believe that the happiness found in true passion and purpose is ultimately what drives success. 

And isn’t this how it should be? Shouldn't we all be seeking fulfillment and letting our experiences open the doors to our success?

I find this merging of personal and professional worlds very exciting! Then again, I am one of those lucky people who love what they do. But, what I find most promising is that we have the power, now more than ever, to really define and direct where we go and what we do. 

You Can (& Will) Figure It Out

Be confident in your ability to figure sh*% out. Determination and confidence can take you a long way. 

Be humble enough to admit that you don't know, but eager enough to figure it out. Your ignorance has agency, but so does your character.

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.
— Attributed to Mark Twain

It's admirable to admit you don't know what you don't know, because the truth is we all don't. What matters is what happens next. Do you throw your hands up in the air and resign? Do you find someone else to do it? Or, do you figure it out, through whatever means you can? 

Lean on your network. Learn from others, and let others learn from you. 

Take initiative. Grab the reigns. Go for it! 

We live in a day and age where information is readily available. If you have internet access, you have information at your fingertips 24/7. So, why do you worry about not knowing how to do something? 

Case and point.

My Burden Is A Privileged One

My burden is a privileged one

But that doesn't mean it can't be undone.

They say that knowledge is power,

Then why does it feel like a delicate flower?

The more I dig, the more I am aware,

The more I realize it isn't fair.

I look at the evidence like a detective

It puts my life into perspective

Land of the free, home of the brave

Yet the world wonders why we don't learn to behave

The clean air we breathe, the food we waste, 

The places we go everyday with haste

We fill the air with carbon, and ignore the facts we call jargon

But it all comes with a price

Scratch my head, infested with lice

They say our planet is fine, sign here on the dotted line

Don't believe all the lies because money talks in the land of flies

It's time to stay awake and realize what's at stake

Don't stand by and pretend it's all fake

Everyday there's a choice, and I choose to use my voice

My burden is a privileged one

But that doesn't mean they have won.

- Haley Campbell-Gross 

Women’s March Austin, TX  January 21st 2017

Women’s March Austin, TX January 21st 2017

Learning to Surf

Not long ago, I became a mom to a beautiful little boy named Jack. He is almost a year old now, and looking back, I realized that this past year has been the most wonderful and challenging year of my life. 

It has been wonderfully rewarding and challenging because my life was forever changed. For me, having my first baby was like jumping into a pool of cold water. It was a bit shocking at first, and then I swam around for a while and began to feel less distressed by my new state of being.

I understand that becoming a parent is a life-altering event for anyone, I just equate my experience to jumping into a cold pool because, before my son, my life was very calm. I had been with my partner for 9 years and we both hated conflict, so there were rarely any bumps in the road (mostly because we swerved to avoid them). We were coasting along. It was smooth sailing. And, I think I got a little too attached to that feeling of stillness. 

A new baby in the house felt chaotic and I struggled to let go of my desire for peace and quiet. My home-life felt out of control, because all of a sudden, it was louder and messier and busier. My inner control-freak was twitching and itching for stillness again. But then I remembered....   

“You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf” 
― Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation In Everyday Life

 

The Grass is Greener Where You Water It

I love the saying "the grass is greener where you water it" because it's so true and such a great metaphor for relationships. 

Recently, I have been in a bit of a slum. I have been easily agitated and cut-off from my relationship with my husband because of stress and frustration. And, when I get emotionally destructive, I often go inside myself more instead of reaching out for help. Sometimes I get angry that my husband is not doing the reaching out for me. I wait for him to see and care about my problems and I get mad when he doesn't. I feel resentful that he is not doing or saying the right things to help me. I mean, doesn't he know me well enough by now to know what to say? 

Pause, and reflect. "The grass is greener where you water it". To me, this quote means taking responsibility for your own happiness, and this can be applied to your happiness in a relationship.

It makes no sense for me to stand in my front yard on a hot summer day and yell at my grass for turning brown when I haven't watered it in weeks. Getting mad at my grass doesn't change the fact that it's turning brown, in fact, I'm making it suffer by neglecting it. I am realizing, I can't expect to get what I need out of a relationship when I'm not giving it my attention and affection. The grass in my yard will not magically decide to water itself and grow because I am mad at it and I shouldn't expect it to. 

Relationships are hard work. You have to maintain them with loving attention and affection, even when you don't feel like it. Correction–especially when you don't feel like it. Relationships go through seasons. You can't tend to them at your convenience or just when you feel like it. There will be hot summer days and cold nights which influence how you will need to tend to your partner. 

If you are looking for happiness in your relationship, the answer is connection and self-responsibility.

 

 

 

Are We All Control Freaks?

The other day I was talking with Eileen, one of the founders of Axeos Performance Institute, which is an organization that helps professionals manage stress.  Eileen told me about a breathing test that they often perform on their clients to determine if they are "belly breathing" or "chest breathing". She explained that belly breathing is stress reducing and engages the diaphragm and the diaphragm massages other internal organs in the abdomen. It's a replenishing and healthy way to breathe. But apparently, many people breathe from their chest and take more shallow breaths. 

So I asked Eileen why this is so common. Why are we doing something that is so natural to life so wrong? 

She said that people often alter their breathing as a way to gain control. So for example, someone who struggles with authority figures might hold their breath or take more shallow breaths when encountering a police officer in order to internalize the feeling of control. Another reason many people do not breathe from their belly is because they want to keep their belly firm and activated so they can maintain a more pleasing image. 

But when we control our breathing, we restrict our breathing. We are also less likely to feel relaxed throughout the day. When we internalize our desire to control our external environment, we create anxiety and frustration within ourselves.

"Many of us have been trying to keep the whole world in orbit with sheer and forceful application of mental energy. What happens if we let go, if we stop trying to keep the world orbiting and just let it whirl? It'll keep right on whirling. It'll stay right on track with no help from us. And we'll be free and relaxed enough to enjoy our place on it." Beattie, The Language of Letting Go

  

 

 

The Waiting Game

I have noticed that many people, including myself, struggle to wait for what they want. We want what we want and we want it now, or as close to now as possible.

We are given so many chances to show patience, but many of us resent the opportunities which put our patience to the test. We don't tolerate waiting very well, and sadly, we feel we shouldn't have to tolerate it at all.

We resent others for making us wait longer than we feel is acceptable. We get restless and frustrated when things don't happen on our terms. But, why?

I think our growing impatience stems from a combination of cultural and societal influences. We live in a capitalist society driven by consumerism, and consuming has become a major part of our culture, We can literally think of anything we want, and with the click of a button we can have it (money limitations aside). Our wants are more accessible than ever. 

But, I believe that if we aren't willing to wait for what we want, then we don't want it bad enough.   

In fact, I have been testing this theory. I will shop online occasionally and leave items in my shopping cart for a couple of days. I tell myself that if I'm still thinking about that item days later, I can buy it. And a lot of the time I don't. It's a small act to practice patience, but I am learning and getting better at recognizing my impulsiveness. 

Most of our wants are impulses. And, I could argue that people are becoming more and more impulsive in general. It's no wonder we suck at waiting.

"The people who are most successful at living and loving are those who can learn to wait successfully. Not many people enjoy waiting or learning patience. Yet, waiting can be a powerful tool that will help us accomplish much good." - Beattie, The Language of Letting Go

 

Life Goals

I think it's funny when people say 'I want to change the world', as if it's their life's calling.

Maybe it really is their calling. I don't doubt that any one person has the ability to change the world. Even though I can be cynical at times, I still believe in the power of people.

Maybe it's just a problem with the phrase itself and how each person defines "changing" the world. Something as small as a smile could change a person's day and the ripple out effect could potentially change the world. I get it. It's supposed to be the ultimate aspiration for our lives.

But, why is it that so many of us want to change the world, but not ourselves?

Is it because we want the recognition? Or, is it a problem with values?

Do we not put enough value on personal mastery?

What would you think if you asked someone about their aspirations and they responded with something like: "I just want to be the best version of myself I can be. I want to have more patience. Listen more and talk less. I want to be more accepting and grateful."?

Do we have to make compelling, externalized goals for ourselves like "changing the world" in order for others to take us seriously?

 

 

Here and Now

I am striving to be more present in my life. Because, for some reason, no matter where I am or what I'm doing, my mind keeps placing me somewhere else. And this somewhere else is usually 10 to 20 steps ahead of where I am.

While getting ready for work, my mind is already in my car driving away. While driving, my mind is already at my desk thinking about tasks and emails. While leaving work, my mind is already home cooking dinner. My mind is always running away from me, and I'm allowing this to happen.

But, I am learning that mindfulness comes with practice. The more you force yourself to slow down and be present, the easier it becomes.

Learning to quiet your mind is challenging, but a quiet mind isn't necessarily the goal. I have found that just redirecting my thoughts allows my mind to remain "busy" but with thoughts that keep me in the present moment. As an example, I was taking a shower this morning and my mind ran away from me again, but once I recognized the rambling thoughts in my head, I started to redirect my thinking. I thought about the hot water on my skin and the smell of the soap. I stopped to appreciate the moment.

Today's mindfulness practice: Redirect "busy" thoughts to thoughts of gratitude and appreciation. Appreciate the moment!

 

The Beginning

Here is my first blog. New beginnings can be scary and intimidating. Doubts always start to flood into your mind when you start something new and unfamiliar. 

What if people don't like what I have to say? 
What if no one cares? 
What if I say something dumb or self-incriminating?

I am a constant victim of self-doubt. 

But, the good news is, I can change. And, you can change. We just have to want it bad enough. Whatever "it" may be. 


It's funny I am typing this self pep-talk right now, because the 2016 Olympics are on this week and I have heard this cheesy 'you can accomplish anything you set your mind to' line over and over again. And honestly, it's lost it's meaning. 


The problem lies in the words; because they are just that. Words lose their meaning without action. You can say 'I love you' until your mouth turns blue, but unless you prove it through action, your words are meaningless. 


I would always tell people 'I love to write. I want to be a writer.' But for some reason, I let my self-doubt get in the way, and my words started to lose their meaning (which is never good for a writer).  


So, step aside self-doubt! This is me wanting to be a writer, and actually writing!