|I should have "looked inside" more.|
Saturday, May 20, 2017
A little over two years ago, I started my Old School Journaling Blog. It provided me with a creative outlet to share my thoughts and stories…life lessons I picked up along the way as we all do.
I also used this blog to share my first book, a collection of letters, stories, and poetry that, once cobbled together, became a timeline of my early childhood and adulthood.
After having published my first book, Following the Path of the Dinosaurs; A Childhood Saved
I believed I’d slayed all my monsters and was on a path to being a more
confident and healthy individual. I’d
clearly identified first, how I’d followed the steps of my parents and their
behaviors (Following the Path of the Dinosaurs), figured out why I made the
choices I had in the past (Lingering Footprints), and finally moved past all
these dysfunctions and turned behaviors from my childhood into more positive
and healthier choices in the future (Beyond the Ice Age).
I still like the three-part analogy and see it as completely relevant in moving forward. But events and circumstances that have occurred since 2015 has led me to re-examine whether or not I am indeed, in that golden place of having survived and moved past the Ice Age so to speak and into a brighter and sunnier future. My conclusion is that I have not and that I am still stuck somewhere between the “Lingering Footprints” of my childhood and family and just short of being free and among the living, “Beyond the Ice Age.”
If you haven’t read the book, some of this won’t make sense (if you’d like to read it, here’s a link to Amazon to purchase J https://www.amazon.com/Following-Path-Dinosaurs-Childhood-Extinction/dp/1512243795/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1495281988&sr=8-1&keywords=mary+niehaus+ralles ).
Writing the story of my childhood had a much bigger impact than I first imagined. It wasn’t until later, that I realized that purging my soul had set yet another catalyst into motion. A catalyst that would force me to examine my life once again, reminding me that I was still on a journey and that my learning was incomplete…stymied and stalled.
I have talked about ignorance before, willingly admitting that there are often areas I simply don’t know anything about and I’m still seeking to learn. There are times in my life where I have welcomed the opportunity to learn and others, when it was too painful and difficult…and I resisted, preferring to hide my head in the sand rather than face any new truths that might challenge the grounding I thought I’d found. Awakenings and enlightenment seldom come quietly. You don’t go to bed one evening and awake with a new wisdom and strength you didn’t have the day before. No, in my experience, enlightenment is a by-product of a very difficult path or journey. And more often than not, the journey contains a high degree of uncertainty, with constantly changing variables. Variables that require you to react and respond faster than you’re comfortable with, leaving you in active peril of choosing too quickly or relying upon incomplete facts or assumptions that could result in…that could result in…hell, who am I kidding? We are all in that same environment. It’s called “life” and it’s completely unpredictable. If we’re lucky, our internal compass is well developed and we’ve had a solid foundation in growing up and learning how to make healthy choices. We’ve learned by observation in the first family we came into life with. We know what is right and wrong based upon how that family unit operated. We know how to feel about ourselves, and others because we were taught from an early age what appropriate behaviors and boundaries were.
But here’s the thing…there will always be variations to our reality and norm. Because every family unit grew up in a different reality, operating with a different set of rules. And that’s not all bad. It brings diversity and growth into future families and relationships. It helps us to give and get empathy and understanding. And it enables growth for future relationships.
But what happens to those of us who may not have been quite so “lucky” in experiencing a charmed life in childhood? What about those of us, who grew up thinking our reality was safe and normal, only to learn later that everything we grew up believing to be true…was not necessarily healthy? What happens when we wake up and realize that we were conditioned to operate in a reality and norm that was built on a foundation of dysfunction…a set of rules that perhaps helps us reach survivor status as adults, but prevents us from re-establishing rules that fit for us now in a healthier environment, where we have a chance to not just merely exist and survive, but to thrive with brilliance.
I want to thrive with brilliance. I want to leave fear behind and find excitement when I look at unlimited possibilities…instead of feeling paralyzed in fear of making the wrong choices. I may still want to hide. I know I will still be afraid. But I won’t be so afraid that I stay standing still at this single point in time. My life is evolving rapidly, with significant changes happening in virtually every corner of my life. I am leaning heavily on the wonderful truth that we all suffer from; the affliction of being human. I know there is no perfection to be had. Even still, I have to believe we all have the opportunity to thrive brilliantly if we keep putting one foot in front of the other…even at times when we don’t know where we will ultimately end up.
I think I’ve just written the introduction to a sequel. As with everything else I’ve shared, I invite you to join me on this journey as well. I’m taking that first step and I can assure you, I have no idea where it will lead me. I have a few guides on this path, including a few new books I’ve read. I’ll share as I go. And this time, I hope to move a little further beyond the “Ice Age.”
Monday, May 1, 2017
I’ve been working on my 100 day plan, which, so far, has included attending two of the recent Ted Cinema Experiences, where I was able to watch some of the 2017 Ted Talks live from my local theater.
This year’s theme was about the future, spanning topics from data security to artificial intelligence to alternate energies and how we, as individuals, will need to help shape and envision how we get there.
One of the things I’ve always loved about Ted Talks is that the topic is rarely the real story, and the true inspiration begins when we meet ordinary people, often facing seemingly insurmountable challenges, who go on to make extraordinary things happen.
I have “met” some of my favorite thought leaders via video links on Facebook (Brené Brown and most recently Tim Ferriss). There is always some irresistible hook that draws me in and makes me hungry for more knowledge, more insights, more connection and a deeper level of understanding. The kind of stimulation and perspective that commands my attention and jumps ahead and past all the other social media competing for my stream of consciousness.
And in having engaged in an almost daily practice of seeking out Ted Talks online to re-charge my battery and re-engage, I’ve also made a few observations for advertisers and content creators:
· It’s very difficult to compete with real people.
· It’s impossible to win against authenticity (so keep it real).
· The best content is a two-way conversation that invites dialogue.
· Sharing a story online means letting go of the belief that you are the only one holding the pen and you may not get to write the ending.
· Some of the best stories have surprise endings and catch us off guard long enough to open our minds and consider more…as an advertiser or content creator, this is a privilege we share and an opportunity to do more (so do more!).
Jumping back into the real world, I am reminded that those same thought leaders whose ideas have risen up and bubbled over…began just as simply as you and I and others from every walk of life.
And my current gait and pace in walking through life right now has reached an optimal speed that has enabled me to meet other thought leaders, who may never reach a Ted stage.
The first I met last week, while waiting on a friend for lunch. He looked to be in his mid-twenties and seemed quite happy with life. It’s funny how willing people are to make a connection and share when you are living outside your own bubble and with an openness to simply caring about someone else’s existence.
In the time it took for my friend to arrive, I learned that this young man was quite happy with his job waiting tables. He had previously worked at another food chain and had been trying for months to get a job at this establishment…a “mom and pop” type restaurant that had been around for about 70 years. He talked happily about how every time he’d come in, he knew all the people behind the counter and how he persisted in asking a friend to make introductions and help him get a job there. He said that after having finally landed the job, he loved the work and people and that his workday always flew by. He seemed to be personally vested in the history of the place and proud to be a part of it. He went on to say that he got really lucky and that this was the best job he’d ever had.
All that in ten minutes! Imagine what we might learn if we listened more … during our every day encounters, in our workplace, and with our employees. Employee loyalty is golden and intrinsically tied to productivity and general job satisfaction. That would be my observation from a strategic business perspective. But I’m operating on a deeper level these days…and my observations had more to do with enjoying a finite point in time where I have the luxury of expanding out beyond my own circumstances for a better understanding of others. And importantly, a better appreciation for the moments I’m living in and a chance to be even more thankful for the journey I’m on…and hoping to be half as lucky as this person I’d just met, in landing a job that brings personal satisfaction and happiness.
My second encounter was with a young girl, who I met while waiting for an appointment. She was sitting cross-legged on the floor, surrounded by several plastic containers of beads and jewelry making paraphernalia. I couldn’t resist asking her about her crafts and she started talking happily about how she was making items to sell at a church fashion show later that day. She showed me several of the pieces she’d finished, each one carefully placed in a zip lock baggie and priced with a post it note. I was so impressed with how confident and outgoing she was and immediately thought of Sheryl Sandberg and Lean In…seeing this young girl as one of our future female leaders and entrepreneurs. Her youthful determination and creative spirit was like a breath of fresh air.
She also had a super cute pair of dangly earrings I had to have and I gave her a few suggestions for how she might market her creations online. But again, as with the waiter earlier in the week, I again found myself getting way more than I gave in this encounter as well.
I think every time we meet someone, we have an opportunity to learn. I think that we all have life topics that are only part of our story…and even without a microphone or stage, we can inspire each other every day…if we take the time to listen.
Tuesday, April 11, 2017
As I have begun my journey of self-discovery, I started by examining patterns of places and things I’ve seen before. I immersed myself in repeating history over and over again (translation: I have watched marathon re-runs of Friends, Grey’s Anatomy, and CSI).
Realizing there was only so much to be gained in laughing at Chandler or lamenting with Meredith, around week two of my enlightenment phase, I moved on to Ted Talks. I’ve always found them to be inspirational and they have always seemed to help put me into the right frame of mind when I was seeking a higher order of meaning for my life.
I’ve had a great deal of change happen in an incredibly short amount of time. I find myself facing multiple decision points and suddenly with more time than I’ve had in the past to reconsider my direction in life and where I’ll go next. There is something to be said for a frantic schedule, no work life balance, and no time to consider the meaning of life…because once you stop and stand still…once you hear the deafening silence that gets you to that solitary path of self discovery, you find that you have moved too far out of the norm and can’t reset and join the ranks again without a close examination of your life…at the point you find yourself in the present and where you want to be in the future.
Anyone who tells you how important it is to figure out what you want out of life and what makes you happy…ask them if they’ve already completed this task because I can assure you that it’s not an easy path to take and I’d argue (with great passion) that at first glance, there is no obvious value in such a bloodletting of thoughts and emotions.
There is this thing that greets me every morning when I wake up. As soon as I open my eyes and realize a new morning is creeping in, the prickling sensation of anxiety immediately begins to wash all over my body and I try to close my eyes tightly and shut out a new day, wishing that my journey to higher learning could disappear and that all things that once felt familiar would return or that the new familiar was already in place and I wasn’t still facing so much change.
I feel like I am spinning my wheels, stuck in the mud and I can’t get enough traction to break free. No matter how much momentum I start or how hard I push, the energy I put forth is wasted and I am continually exhausting myself…I am burning myself out before taking a single step in the direction of what I consider to be my new path.
It's a struggle to consider my future and make decisions about tomorrow when I am searching for meaning right now. My sense of urgency is mostly self-imposed. I have the gift of time and an opportunity to take a pause and reflect on everything.
But I’ve never considered a stopping point in my life any more than I’ve thought about where I started as an adult and in carving out my life. I always just kept going…somehow found a way, often without giving a lot of thought to why I made the decisions I made along the way. The goal was always to survive, not necessarily thrive. From the start, I think I was on a different place on the pyramid of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I see that as a signal of success and progress in knowing where I am now… seeking the very pinnacle of that pyramid … self-actualization.
I’ve often heard that ignorance is bliss. I’ve never had the luxury of that particular joy…or maybe I did and wasn’t even aware at the time. There’s an oxymoron in itself, right? How would you know? I’d argue you know when you reach that tricky place where you can’t unknow. And right now, I find myself in the middle of that place. Which means there is no turning back. I have to move forward with my newfound knowledge and find a way to accept my new normal. And in this state, I am feeling a greater responsibility to myself in truly pursuing that self-actualization.
One of the very first things I have realized about myself is that there is something I require regardless of what path I take forward; I need faith.
It’s been absent in my life as of late. And after a lot of free falling, I see now that it would have been easier to just let go. I should have spent less time and energy fighting and resisting, trying to control everything. Sure, it feels better when you believe you are in control…until it doesn’t. Until you realize that being stubborn and refusing to wield doesn’t make you strong…it makes you stupid. You remain ignorant and can’t learn from anything.
Once you begin to learn, you realize the only real control exists in the individual choices you make in how you handle all the uncontrollable occurrences surrounding you in life. Admitting that you need to let go is not an admission of defeat or failure. It’s a state of enlightenment and higher level of awareness.
I’m beginning to realize that my bounce…my Mary Poppins-like disposition…well, it appears to be closely tied to that faith. For the past 50 years, regardless of the struggles I faced, that optimism has always served me well. Sure, there have been disappointments and surprises along the way. But everything has always turned out exactly as it was supposed to, regardless of whether or not it happened in the way or order I expected it to. And at the very top of those “hierarchy of needs,” I’ll appreciate that distinction as I go forward. I still work for me J
Saturday, April 1, 2017
Typically, as a business leader new to an organization, you come in and assess the current business environment, find opportunities for improvement, and begin to envision a strategy to make step changes for future success.
The average number of days to see initial impact and results is around 100 days…though I’d argue there is no magic number for making a difference. That milestone simply provides a platform for new leaders to step away from the fire hose long enough to come up for air and give a thumps up as an indication that they’re still up for the challenge (translation: “fake it until you make it”).
|Last Day Happy Hour|
For me, I find myself working with a much wider and completely blank canvas. I am no longer constricted by a specific role or position. I am no longer shackled by the parameters for which one would usually work within at a company.
After 19 years of waking to the familiar expectations of a single organization, this morning I awoke to complete freedom. I could choose to do a post mortem analysis, but one of my commitments to myself is that I not waste another second on anything that no longer holds personal value to me. And in this instance, there is little doubt in my mind as to how I arrived at this conclusion and decision to move on. And there is no value in looking back. I’ve already celebrated every milestone, lived every victory, and enjoyed every success firsthand.
Beginning today, I work for me. I’m not suggesting that I’m embarking on a new business venture, though I am not leaving that off my blank canvas as a future possibility. No, what I’m saying is that for the first time, I am in a position to take a step back and consider exactly what it is I want to be doing with my next fifteen to twenty years in the way of a career. And when I say, “I work for me,” I mean that while I am ready, willing, and able to deliver great results for the company of my choosing…at the end of the day, my objectives have shifted. My work ethic commands nothing short of my full focus and attention. But my personal journey has now intersected with my professional journey and from this point forward, I will either need a role that feeds my soul for the areas that touch me the most or the role will need to align with my expertise and ability to deliver great results, thus enabling me to work towards future goals that feed my soul and keep my heart and mind alive.
In short, I’ll work for a company so long as it works for me too. I accept the transactional nature of employment and changing business needs. And if a company can’t inspire me to be my very best, those changing business needs flow in both directions.
Over the next 100 days, I’ll be closely examining what the work looks like and my strategy for success. I’m carving out my own vision this time, and once I’m clear on that landscape, I’ll have a better idea of the kind of company and people I want to surround myself with.
Now if you’ll excuse me, there is a fire hose I need to get back to. One thing I know for sure…once you begin a journey of this proportion, there is no turning back. I will be overwhelmed, afraid, and at times, even remorseful for having set upon this journey. I will wish I could pull a Dorothy and spin back to Kansas with some rocking red shoes. But I know that the only guarantee I have now (and spoiler alert…this applies to everyone at any point in life) is that there are no guarantees about anything. Because just as quickly as I put a plan to paper and pen, the variables change and I immediately need to adjust to changing road conditions and accommodate the areas I can’t change.
I consider this time in my life to be an awakening of sorts. And I challenge you to similarly take stock in life, and think about your own awakening. I’m not saying go to extremes and make a complete u-turn on life…but when you don’t pause on where you’re headed, sometimes you miss the chance to change course and direction. It’s still taking shape for me, but a recurring theme in my own awakening has been that all the materialistic things I’ve spent years collecting and surrounding myself with have lost their appeal. The days when I struggled to pay bills in my youth were actually the days when I was more sure of myself and confident in my ability to do whatever I wanted to do with life. I believed it was as simple as setting my mind towards something and making it happen. And in most instances, that proved out as being correct and exactly what was required.
There is a risk-averse mindset that creeps in as we get older, taking with it our early hopes and dreams. I’m guilty of it and I’m now trying to reset the way I think about life and my approach to everything. Don’t get me wrong. I fight anxiety on a daily basis, worrying about absolutely everything. But my observations over the course of my lifetime have proven to me time and time again that I always learned and benefited the most from the times in my life when I faced the biggest challenges or uncertain futures. And I’m still swinging and ready for the next round. More to come…