Strengths Based Living

This week, I have been exploring the strengths based work of Marcus Buckingham. Marcus is a career coach; and he believes that we are taught to focus on the wrong things from a very young age, which leads to unhappy and unfulfilling careers. Instead of learning to identify our own unique strengths, we are taught to seek external input from teachers and bosses on weaknesses to improve.

A strength is something that only you alone can pin point and a weakness requires external validation. A strength is a specific activity that fills you with joy and energy. It is sustaining and you lose track of time when it is underway. You look forward to the opportunity to do it every time.

This is different than something you excel at. You can be really good at an activity, but if it does not provide you with the things listed above, it is not a strength. This is why only you can truly identify your own strengths, as no one else can tell you how it makes you feel to do it. A weakness, conversely, is something that you will never excel at; with focused effort, it will be improved to mediocre status, at best. 

If you do not learn to identify your own strengths, it will land you in a job that is not well suited, as you will follow a path laid out by others. This can result in feeling drained, dejected and depleted when you show up to work every day. 

Oprah invited Marcus to lead a career intervention with group of professional women on her show. The free, step-by-step workshop is available online. I have done the work and and I found it to be incredibly helpful and insightful. He breaks out all of the steps of how to discover your own unique strengths and demonstrates how to tangibly action them. It is a wonderful resource and I hope you enjoy it too.

https://www.oprah.com/money/marcus-buckinghams-career-intervention

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I See You

Lately, I have been taking notice of a habit. As I walk down the street, I tend to look down at the sidewalk, rather than up at the world around me. I focus my gaze five to ten feet ahead, as I move towards my destination. My comfort zone is to keep my eyes lowered and my focus inward.

I recently decided to test out a small experiment. Rather than looking down, I have been intentionally looking up at every person that passes me. If it feels safe, I offer them a smile. This pushes the limits of my comfort, as it brings me into direct contact with strangers.

The vast majority of people do not meet my gaze. Some people look down or straight ahead into the distance. Some are busy talking with their friends. Others are intently focused on their cell phones.

Once and a while, however, I am successful. There is a simple but powerful moment of connection. Our eyes meet and I silently think to myself: “I see you. I acknowledge you. I honour you.” It often results in their face lighting up as we pass one another.

Although it is easy to dismiss the importance of small acts of kindness, you never know their true impact. That moment could offer a glimmer of hope to someone experiencing a difficult day, reminding them that they are not alone. It may inspire them to pass kindness onto the next person they encounter: generating a ripple effect of love. Whatever its impact, I am enjoying the practice of bringing myself into the moment, and taking the opportunity to connect with others along the way.

Boundaries of Love

When I was little, I was taught that love is defined through sacrifice and service. You give everything to others and meet their needs first. You agree to any request that is made of you (unless it is unsafe or dangerous). You do not put yourself first, as tending to your own needs is inherently selfish.

As I lived the first part of my life following these rules, I gave without limits. I said yes when I meant no. I tried to be the “perfect” friend, daughter, wife and colleague by being accommodating, generous and helpful. I gave and I gave and I gave; and it led me to a place of resentment, exhaustion and burn-out. I was an empty shell and I had nothing left.

Over the last few years, I have been exploring the importance of establishing healthy boundaries. A boundary is most simply defined as what is ok and what is not ok for me. It is about understanding where I end and you begin. It is not about building walls or creating separation from other people; it is simply about establishing and maintaining respect.

As Dr. Brené Brown discovered through her decades of research, people with the strongest boundaries are the most compassionate: as true generosity cannot exist without them. When they say yes, it is a true yes. When they say no, it is a true no. In considering a request, Brené asks herself: “What boundaries need to be in place for me to stay in my integrity and make the most generous assumptions about you?” Empathy is not feeling for somebody it is feeling with them. Empathy offered, along with boundaries, is infinite and sustaining. If you have done your work, and set clear boundaries, you can tread water forever.

Not sure if you have weak boundaries? Here are a few of the tell-tale signs: sharing too much too soon; feeling responsible for other peoples happiness; possessing an inability to say no for fear of rejection and abandonment; having a weak sense of identity; basing how you feel about yourself on how others treat you; feeling disempowered and allowing others to make decisions for you. This can lead to feeling of total powerless and a victim mentality. A red flag for crossing your boundary is using the word “should”. For example, “I should let my sister borrow my car, as my dad expects me to.”  

There are two kinds of boundaries:

Physical: Protecting your body and your sense of personal space.

Emotional: Protecting your self-esteem and your ability to separate your feelings from another person’s feelings. An emotional boundary allows you to be impacted by other peoples thoughts, feelings, actions, while still maintaining your own unique beliefs, behaviours and sense of responsibility. 

The process of learning to set a boundary is iterative. You do not master it in one day. It takes time, patience and practice. It also requires a lot of courage. It is scary to say no. In our society, we are encouraged to worry about what other people think of us and we generally want everyone to like us. This mind set, however, comes with a hefty price.

To set a boundary, state it clearly, calmly and with with as few words as possible. Do not justify your response or apologize. You do not need to convince anyone of anything. It is important to remember that you are not responsible for how the other person reacts to you setting a boundary. Acknowledge their feelings but do not take them on. Brené Brown suggests choosing a mantra. She personally uses: “Choose discomfort over resentment.” A mantra reminds you that you are making a choice that is critical for you well-being – even if it it not easy. 

As I practice setting boundaries more and more in my own life, I am getting clearer on what I can give, while still remaining in my integrity. This feels really good. Learning to set boundaries is truly an act of love: both for myself and others. It is not easy work but it is important. I am committed to practicing this new skill set so I can continue to give with my whole heart for many years to come.

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Dr. Terri Cole provides guidance for setting personal and emotional boundaries.

Finding My Centre

Woman Sitting On The Rock And Meditating In Yoga Pose. Back View

“The centre of the energetic body is recognized in various healing sciences and traditions. In the Chinese Qigong it is known as Dantian, the Japanese name is Hara, and in the Sufi tradition, the Kath.

The location of the Dantian is in the lower belly, just below the navel, sitting a few centimetres below the skin’s surface as an orb of organized energy. In modern society, so many of us are constantly flooded with expectations and emotions. We have lost the ancient wisdom of living from our true centre: where peace and calm exist, rooted in our inner wisdom and knowingness. When we operate from this place, we are grounded, patient and free of anxiety.

Next time you meditate or find yourself in a highly emotional or anxious state, close your eyes and focus on your Dantian. Breathe into it. Hold it in your mind. Feel to coming home to your true nature. You are here. You are enough.”

~ Zach Bush, M.D.

I have recently started to notice a deeply ingrained pattern. When I am faced with a challenging situation, I lose my grounding and I look outwards for the answers. What resource can I consult? What expert or trusted friend can give me advice? How can I confirm that my actions are the right ones? There is a lack of trust and deep feelings of fear that arise within me.

The other day, as I struggled with some difficult issues, I sought advice from a friend. Rather than offering me a solution to my problem, however, she counselled me to stop looking outwards and to start turning inwards. She wisely reminded no one can direct me on path except myself. Her guidance was to re-connect with my inner knowing. To seek the guidance of the quiet, steady core of myself that represents the integrated whole: the Dantian. She assured me that if you are still and you listen, it will show you the way.

Our society encourages action. We are told, from an early age, to be productive and efficient. The idea of sitting in stillness to seek answers from within is counter intuitive to this social conditioning. My instinct is always to “do something” but it is this frenetic doing that feeds into a feeling of groundlessness. Often, the most important thing to “do” is to stop and reflect: to create space for the solution to present itself. As I have been testing out this approach, I have been surprised at the answers that naturally arise from within. It is empowering to discover that I often know what to do in my body before I do in my mind.

Here is an exercise that I have been testing out recently to connect with my Dantian:

First, find a quiet space. Sit and close your eyes. Breathe deeply. Feel your hips on the chair. Settle them in. Imagine strong roots running down from your spine and hips into the ground: creating a solid, flowing connection with the earth.

Allow for any negative or fearful emotions to run from your body down into the rich, dark soil. Release all tension and anxiety. Feel it being received and absorbed. Breathe and sit quietly.

Now imagine the nourishing energy of the earth running back up these roots and into your body. Feel the loving, positive energy fill your whole being. Feel it centre and radiate in the space beneath your navel. Hold it there lightly. Breathe and sit quietly.

When it feels right, ask your inner wisdom the answer to your question. Listen and be still. Be patient and wait for the answer to present itself to you.

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Tiny Steps to Transformation

martha beck

My inner perfectionist tells me that if I cannot fully commit to doing something, it is not worth doing it at all. If I want to learn French, I need to move to a French-speaking country; or if I want to be a writer, I need to quit my job and write full time. This story is very restrictive and limiting, as there is a low to zero chance that I can be successful. I cannot simply drop everything to focus on my passions without suffering serious consequences. And so…I do nothing. Nothing at all. My interests sit on a shelf for another year, waiting for the time and circumstances to be perfect, and the result is soul destroying.

There are life affirming interests and pursuits that call us from our deepest core. We are called to do them, as they give us joy and meaning. They reflect our unique reason for being here; and if they are not realized, in some form, it is like walking around with a blindfold on. I want to take my blindfold off, so I can fully engage in my life, and live a truly fulfilling existence.

Martha Beck is a best-selling author, life coach, and speaker who specializes in helping individuals and groups achieve greater levels of personal and professional success. She holds three degrees, a BA, MA and PhD from Harvard University. In addition to authoring several books, Beck is a columnist for O, The Oprah Magazine. Although Martha is a very accomplished woman, she has faced a lot of adversity along the way. This includes grappling with serious health issues, raising a child with Down Syndrome, and breaking ties with her Mormon community. In order to continue moving forward, despite facing many obstacles, Martha uses a technique called Turtle Steps.

Turtle Steps are tiny, easy steps that you take towards reaching a goal. To create a Turtle Step, you identify your end goal, break it up into steps, and then cut each step into half. Continue cutting it into half until each step is so easy that you could do it in your sleep. Start with the taking the first easy Turtle Step. Continue onto the next one. And the next. Follow the step immediately with a reward of some kind. If you repeat the same behavior-plus-reward for four consecutive days, the behaviour starts to become a habit, and you will be able to sustain it with very little effort. This will eventually help you to accomplish your vision.

This approach strongly aligns with the work of James Clear and his recent book Atomic Habits. A habit is a behaviour that has been performed enough times to be done without thought; and daily habits are an embodiment of your identify. Every action you take is a vote for the person you want to become. The more votes you cast, the more likely you are to become that person. For example, if you make your bed every day, you are embodying the persona of a tidy person or if you read a page a day, you are embodying the persona of a reader. Once you believe in a certain identify, your daily actions start to naturally align with this belief.

We often overestimate what we can accomplish in a day and underestimate what we can achieve in a lifetime. James encourages you to focus on getting 1% better every day, rather than on making one big change. Habits can easily be overlooked, both good and bad. The difference between studying a language for five minutes a day or not, or choosing to eat a salad instead of a burger, seem like nothing in the moment. It is only when these habits compound over two, five, or ten years that you see the full impact of the 1% choices, for the better or worse. If you can start to internalize this concept, it will help you to see the importance of your daily actions.

The key is to make the change as easy as possible. James outlines this concept through his two minute rule. What can you do to initiate the habit? How do you automate the beginning of the new behaviour? He advises you to take your goal and scale it way down (e.g. if you want to become fit, commit to doing five push ups, every day for thirty days). Think of it as a gateway action or an entrance ramp. He argues that to establish a new habit, you must first master the art of showing up. A habit has to be firmly in place before it can be improved. Until you become the person who shows up every day, there is nothing to optimize. Once you fully believe in the new identity, you can upgrade and improve from there. James also advises never to miss twice. Missing once is a mistake. Missing twice is the start of a new habit; and habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.

Although the skeptic in me finds it difficult to believe that Turtle Steps or the Two Minute Rule are going to get help me achieve my goals, I know for a fact that I am not achieving anything by waiting for the circumstances to be perfect for full throttle engagement. I recently committed to five minutes of French practice every day by using the DuoLingo app on my phone. I have successfully accomplished my goal for the past ten days and it feels great. I have also made the commitment to sit down at my computer every morning for ten minutes and do nothing but write. If I can automate the habit of showing up at my desk, I can then focus on the effortful activity of writing once I am here. Although it is far from my dream of publishing a book, it puts me on the path to realizing that goal; and, more importantly, I am starting to identify myself as a writer. This is nourishing for my soul and worth its weight in gold.

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Learning to Parent Myself

Woman Makes Heart With Hands In Sunset. Healthy People  Lifestyl

Ninety percent of the time, I consider myself to be a pretty decent parent. I care deeply about my child and I enjoy her company. I help her with homework and participate in school field trips. We talk about the world and make each other laugh. We go on adventures and enjoy each other’s company.

The other ten percent of the time, I feel like a failure. I raise my voice and lose my temper. I am short with her when I should be patient. I say things that I should not. I am the worst version of myself. It is not that I think I should be a perfect parent but I do want to be kind one; and ten percent of bad behaviour feels like it cancels out the ninety percent of good.

When I am calm and centered, I encourage my daughter to take deep breaths when she is angry. I remind her that just because she is mad, she is not allowed to be mean. I bring her in close and hug her when she is misbehaving. Why is it so hard to follow my own good advice, in the heat of the moment?

It is amazing to me how easy it is to be an unfiltered version of yourself with those that you love most. To explode when you are angry or to say all of the things that come to mind with wild abandon. We feel safe together, so we let it all hang out; rather than showing the restraint we do with those who are not in our inner circle.

In paying attention to these moments, I notice that it most often occurs when I am tired, stressed or overloaded. There is no opportunity for me to stop and pause when I am running dry; as there is nothing left in my reserve tank. I am realizing that in order to be a better parent to my daughter, I need to start being a better parent to myself: offering up attention, love and care, rather than judgment and frustration.

As an independent parent, it can be difficult to find time to rest and decompress. Life is busy and there are many moving parts. It is hard to slow down. If I do not make space for myself on a daily basis, however, the fragile balance tips. Over the last little while, I have been testing out some strategies for better managing the stresses of daily life:

  1. Movement:The first thing that helps is a commitment to regular exercise. I need to move my body every day. It can be as simple as taking a walk at lunch or a free online yoga class at home (doyogawithme.com). Movement in any form is medicine: for the mind and body.
  2. Meditation:A regular practice of meditation is a good tool. Sitting still and paying attention to my breath for ten minutes a day, first thing in the morning, gives me an anchor in the moments when I later feel ungrounded. Deep, belly breaths really help to take the edge off of a difficult situation.
  3. Rest: My daughter and I spend a lot of time together and I cherish it; I am also realizing it is essential that I have time to rest and to be alone. I aim to get her into bed early each evening; both so she can rest after a long day and I am left with a pocket of time to myself. After she is asleep, I can take a hot bath, watch a show or read a book. I also like to go to bed early myself, as it is essential for my energy levels and overall well-being.
  4. Reflection: When I am not at my best, I often regret the things that come out of my mouth. In the moments of frustration or anger that arise, I am working to create a small space between the emotion and myself: to pull back and reflect. Who do I want to be in this moment? How do I want my child to remember it? Does this behaviour feed connection or separation? Although it is difficult, it really helps to shift the dynamic.

I feel fortunate that there is an opportunity, each and every day, to start new and recommit to being a better parent, partner and friend. Love is amazingly resilient, forgiving and patient; but is also needs to be fed a steady diet of kindness, tenderness and joy.

An important first step is to start by acting as a parent to myself: to make sure that I am fed, cared for and rested. To give myself time for things that fill me up and build my capacity to pause in those difficult and challenging moments. If I do not, and I allow myself to run on empty, I am guaranteed to tip over into the dreaded ten percent.

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This article was written for the June 2019 edition of Island Parent Magazine.

Vacation Now

Traveler Girl Walking On Tropical Beach In Sunset. Vintage Photo

I love to go on vacation. After a few days of decompressing, I switch off and relax. I sleep. I read books. I laugh. I eat good food. I spend time with the people that I love. The sole focus of the day is enjoying the next meal or activity. There are no chores or obligations. There is a quality of light and spaciousness. It is fantastic and I cherish the experience.

When I return to “real” life, I often feel like I am on a hamster wheel. I go to work. I come home. I cook. I clean. I care for my daughter. I grocery shop. I run the laundry. I chip away on the never ending “to do” list (which seems to always be getting longer). I squeeze in time for friends and family. I catch my breath. Rinse and repeat.

I was speaking with a colleague recently about his long weekend. We swapped stories about how we spent our time. I shared how I had pulled apart my garage and reorganized it. He told me how he spent time being still. Still? I asked him for more details; and he shared how he schedules time in each week to be alone. No obligations. No activity. Just rest and stillness. I was intrigued.

He explained that the key to success is to schedule it in like any other activity and then fiercely protect it. It is easy for other obligations to feel more important; but when you are drained and exhausted, there is nothing left to give. Making time to rest is ultimately a gift to those you love (and yes, he does have a young child, and he is an independent parent, so time is precious).

I have been thinking a lot about his advice and my lack of ability to slow down during my “regular” life. Why can I do this for myself during a vacation and not as an ongoing practice? I realized that there is no real good reason except habit and commitment. It does not need to be a full afternoon or long period of time to be valuable and nourishing. A half an hour, here and there, is a good place to start; and it feels much more manageable.

I am going to start scheduling in “stillness” time in each week and see how I do. I will give myself some rules, such as no phone or computer. I will focus on activities that are quiet and introspective, such as reading, walking, listening to podcasts, knitting or zen colouring: all things that I really enjoy. My ultimate goal will be to cultivate a regular practice of rest and spaciousness, so I can bring this into my daily life, rather than waiting until I crash on vacation to restore and replenish.

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The Power of Words

krysenclark

I came across a statement this week from Krystin Clark via social media: “I am not a single mother. I am an independent parent.” It stopped me in my tracks. As a woman who has defined myself as a single parent for the past three years, I was struck by this reframe. It is subtle yet powerful.

Self-definitions have a significant impact on well-being and state of mind. To identify as a single mother brings up images of vulnerability and fragility. A lone woman facing the world with her child. To identify as an independent parent is a statement of strength and assurance. It says: “I can do this on my own. I can stand on my own two feet.”

This pivot has caused me to stop and think about other ways I am limiting myself through self-definitions and self-talk. What are the stories that I assume to be true? How can I create space for something else? Words are either powerful tools or weapons, depending on the context; and they must be used with care. It is important reflect upon them regularly or we run the risk of boxing ourselves into a corner without even realizing it.

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marie.png

Fear of the Unknown

Royal Self

To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
go,
to let it go.

Mary Oliver – In Blackwater Woods

I am currently in the middle of another period of great personal upheaval in my life. Family members are aging and unwell; relationships and situations that once felt strong, solid and unshakable are shifting and moving. Life is looking me squarely in the eye and saying: “Nothing remains the same.”

My natural inclination is to resist change. My tendency is to choose the familiar over the unfamiliar. I like to create systems, map things out and control my environment through order. This false sense of security works for me until the ground shakes and throws me off balance: revealing that everything is fluid and ever shifting. I am slowly realizing that my resistance is at the core of my discomfort: making a very difficult situation even harder to navigate.

The human brain is not comfortable with the unknown. It likes to create stories and imagine what will happen next, rather than sit in the vast and open discomfort of unknowing. The stories we create do not protect us from what is to come; they only result in generating unnecessary worry and anxiety. 99.9% of the time, what we imagine will happen is not anything close to what ends up taking place.

Almost 2600 years ago, the Buddha uncovered the root of human suffering; and he outlined his discovery in the four noble truths. Here is a brief summary of them, as summarized from this article by Ronald Alexander, and his book Wise Mind, Open Mind:

1st Noble Truth: In life, there is suffering, because of the impermanent nature of things.

Humans have developed great capacity for denying a simple truth: nothing stays the same. Even if we do everything “right” and exercise every precaution, we will still face unexpected loss. It is important to learn to let go, and try to create space for what is actually unfolding, however uncomfortable.

2nd Noble Truth: Suffering is due to attachments and expectations, to grasping and clinging.

Clinging to the past, or avoiding the process of grief or acceptance, creates suffering. Grasping for a future set of circumstances identical to the past holds you back from discovering what better roads lie ahead, outside of your sight. The desire to backtrack or reconstruct will likely result in your walking around in circles, lost in the dark woods, instead of peering around corners to find new paths. When we can completely let go and stop struggling against the reality of the current moment, it allows us to embrace the groundlessness of our situation, and relax into its dynamic quality.

3rd Noble Truth: It is possible to end suffering by giving up attachments (clinging) and expectations (grasping).

There is no such thing as a permanent sense of happiness. We must broaden our definition of what we need in order to be happy; this includes letting go of habits of clinging and grasping to the past and expectations for the future, as well as the need to control external circumstances.

4th Noble Truth: The way to end suffering due to clinging and grasping is through balance and living in the present.

It is important to balance a thirst for something better with an acceptance of what is taking place, right here, right now. Balance allows you to live in the present moment and trust that your acceptance will clear the way of confusion and distractions: showing you how to move forward into happiness again. The paradox of change is until you can accept what is, you cannot move into what might be.

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There is much to be said about the power of gratitude. It helps to focus the mind on the tiny, beautiful things unfolding in front of you, rather than to allow it to jump into the unknown. Lately, when my thoughts start to rush ahead, I make a conscious effort to bring myself back to the present moment, and to really notice what is around me: the sound of birds calling outside of my window; the beauty of my sleeping child’s face; the enjoyment of walking my dog. I remind myself what I am grateful for in my life and what is working well. It does not take the fear away but it does help to anchor me in a groundless situation.

The one guarantee in this life is change. I cannot influence or control this reality; but I can determine my reaction to it. If I can begin to allow for the discomfort of not knowing what the future holds, it creates space for me to be present in the current moment. This opens up the possibility of discovering solutions and a path forward. Putting one foot in front of the other, I trust that this difficult period will eventually end, as everything eventually does; and I will emerge out the other side, back into the light.

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Joy & Vulnerability

Freedom woman with open arms silhouette in sunrise against sun f

As I have written about in previous posts, I love the work of Dr. Brené Brown. I recently watched her new special “The Call to Courage” on Netflix and it is a great reflection of the her decades of research on shame and vulnerability and the path to living a whole-hearted life. I highly recommend that you check it out.

In watching the show, I was reintroduced to a concept that I have been thinking about all week. I would like to share with you, as it really resonated with me:

When we lose our tolerance for vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding.

When experiencing overwhelming feelings of love, we are at our most vulnerable; and it can trigger a dress rehearsal for tragedy. Brené outlines the example of a parent standing over his/her sleeping child. In that moment, the parent is filled with deep joy, followed by feelings of terror that something will happen to take the child away from him/her.

Worrying about things that have not happened does not protect us from pain. These thoughts only prevent us from truly experiencing the beauty of the moment before us. The next time you are worrying about “what ifs”, Brené suggests that you follow it with an acknowledgement that: “I am feeling vulnerable.” This creates space from the worry and brings you back into the present moment: revealing it to be a thought, not reality.

She encourages cultivating a regular practice of gratitude, as the most grateful people are the most joyful. When fear is triggered by joy, she suggests making a conscious effort to remember the things you are grateful for: then speak your gratitude or capture it in a journal.

Lastly, she outlines how to appreciate the ordinary moments. In a culture of scarcity, we are taught to seek the extraordinary; this leads us to miss out on the beauty of the ordinary moments unfolding before us on a regular basis. Take note of the small things that you appreciate about your family, work and friends: the fresh smell of your child’s hair after a bath; laughter at the family dinner table; the enjoyment of a cup of coffee first thing in the morning. It is these things that help us to connect with joy on a regular basis, appreciate the present moment, and lean into the discomfort of not knowing the future.

The good news is that joy, collected over time, fuels resilience—ensuring we will have reservoirs of emotional strength when hard things do happen; and the remedy for fear is gratitude.

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Is it true, kind or necessary?

Little Girl Closed Her Eyes, Praying Outdoors, Hands Folded In P

My ten-year old daughter is facing friendship issues more regularly these days. Kids who have been in school together since kindergarten are forming groups and leaving one other out. They are telling tales and talking about each another behind their backs. Although considered to be “normal” adolescent behaviour, it is not ok. Little girls can be mean if left to their own devices and it is important for us to guide them.

I have been talking with my daughter lately about the fact that we cannot control other people’s actions but we can control our own. She finds this very frustrating, as she wants the world to be “fair”. I explain that her integrity is grounded in her own choices of words, actions and people. Nothing else. The rest is out of our hands.

In working through this issue with my child, I am reminded of the parable of three gates:

In ancient Greece, Socrates was visited by an acquaintance. Eager to share some gossip, the man asked if Socrates would like to hear a story that he had just heard about their friend. Socrates replied that before the man spoke, he needed to pass through the three gates.

The first gate, he explained, is truth. “Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to say is true?” The man shook his head. “Well, I heard about it from the butcher who heard it from a client, and …”

Socrates cut him off. “You do not know for certain that it is true, then. Is what you want to say something good or kind?” Again, the man shook his head. “Well…not really. If our friend heard about it he would be very upset…”

Socrates lifted his hand to stop the man speaking. “So you are not certain that what you want to say is true and it is not good or kind. One gate still remains. Is this information useful or necessary to me?”  A little defeated, the man replied, “No, not really.”

“Well, then,” Socrates said, “If what you want to say is neither true, nor good or kind, nor useful or necessary, please don’t say anything at all.”

I have always liked this parable as it underscores the importance of being mindful about what comes out of your mouth before you speak. Too often words flow out and information is shared without thinking about the consequences. This is how people get hurt.

Although I cannot protect my daughter from friendship drama, I can support her as she navigates her path through it. Is it true? Is it kind? Is it helpful? Keep coming back to these three questions, my love. They will help to guide you through. They will move you away from the friends who gossip and towards the ones who choose kindness and integrity. These are one who will love you unconditionally, treat you with respect, and celebrate your unique and beautiful self. These are the friends that matter.

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