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- The second time is a charm! Sorry for Techno glitch, but Perspective Is Priceless
The living room carpet squished beneath my bare feet. “Bill, come quick. We have a slab leak!” Having experienced this 11 years ago, I knew some of the drama that would ensue. Leak detection truck. Environmental team looking for lead and asbestos. Dry wall punctured in the walls, mirrors taken down, carpet ripped up and heavy-duty industrial fans grinding the air in headache proportions. I canceled virtual programs and halted possible trips. What would insurance pay? When might this nightmare end? “STOP RIGHT THERE,” my mind shouted. “PUT THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE!” Ahhhh, yes. We do have a roof over our head. No one is missing. And despite living in California earthquake territory, it is nothing—nothing at all—compared to the tragedy playing out in Syria and Turkey. I’m ashamed my initial “woe-is-me” internal voice blathered first. In fact, I want to atone for my selfishness. Charity Navigator guides me to the best agencies serving this humanitarian disaster. Perspective. What an eye-opener.
- The Wisdom of a Dark Sky
Death Valley, CA. The name alone sent shivers up my spine when my husband suggested that we create a family reunion there. How wrong I was. Shivers turned to open-mouthed amazement and awe. I’ll let the curious Google the fascinating history of this huge 1.8-million-acre desert that boasts the only true oasis in North America, the lowest point below sea level on the continent, and the only International Dark Sky Park in California. And most certainly a geology of faults, rocks, salt flats, and volcanic ash created breathtaking sculptures in the mountains rising on either side of the desert floor. But it was the night sky that rocked my soul. Studded with constellations I had only read about, almost blinded by massive stars like Sirius, Beetlejuice, the Milky Way, and Ursa Major, I wanted to fall to my knees in thanksgiving. How insignificant we are in this vast universe and yet we often act as if we are the masters of all. Civilizations have come and gone before this magnificent planetary display and yet, we often pretend that climate change is not real and that we can treat this fragile planet with disdain. Wow. Did I go to bed that night humbled and grateful! I pondered over the fact that I’ve ignored the night sky because my ambient light keeps me from seeing the wonders. Makes me wonder what else I might be missing with too much “light”. Your thoughts?
- Do You Trip Down Memory Lane?
Yes. I tripped. On my January retreat, I brought with me 350 pages of a journal I had kept years ago. It was when Julie Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, recommended that we write morning pages for a year. Geez, since I am so good about following instructions, I did just that. Some pages made me grimace as I recalled an event or some less-than-brilliant statement I made. Other pages made me realize that I had not outgrown some less-than-productive behavior. You could say I tripped. Then again other pages made me smile as I remembered special clients, dear friends, family outings. It was a slog going thru all the pages. In the end, I remembered, rejoiced, regretted and then—threw them all away. That was then. This is now. Amen.
- The Insidious Side of Burnout—and Seven Fixes
Most people have heard about the symptoms of burnout including: Extreme exhaustion. Irritability. Disinterest. Over-indulging in everything from food to alcohol. Lack of concentration. A feeling of hopelessness. Burnout takes time to develop and may look a little different for everyone. But what if there are more subtle clues that it’s time for self-care? Consider these other potential signs of burnout: Work haunts your dreams. Nightmares might be about drowning in “something”, being chased by an authority figure, or being in a room without a door! Bad habits become worse. Perhaps you’re biting your nails more, eating lots of chocolate or—as one client said, she started pulling out her eyelashes. (Ouch!) Sleep is hard to come by. From restlessness to an inability to fall asleep, from finding it impossible to get out of bed to wandering the house at night, you’re aware that these patterns are not normal. If you are recognizing these and other symptoms in your life, it’s time for immediate measures. First: Write down everything that you are noticing, feeling, and doing in your life that seems to be very unlike the “before burnout” you. Second: Add a star to the things that appear to be in your control, and which are external prompts. For example, where have you over-committed by saying “yes” too much? What food or substances can be eliminated from your diet (chocolate, fast food, alcohol, etc.)? Third: Have a candid conversation with your manager, your partner, your family. Be very clear what you are asking for and where you intend to draw the line. In many cases, a manager has no idea how much is being asked of you. In fact, the more competent you are, the manager may think your workload is easy. Our self-image often keeps us back from holding up our hands and saying “stop”. A partner might not know what you are experiencing and thus doesn’t know how to help. Fourth: Seek counseling. Whether a therapist or trained counselor, talking about these symptoms opens the opportunity to verbalize as well as internalize what is happening. Fifth: Exercise. As trite as this might sound, our body is the engine that drives our locomotive. Aerobic exercise—of ANY intensity—benefits our brain, muscles, and heart. Research shows people who exercise first thing in the morning are more likely to keep it up rather than those who wait until later in the day. Sixth: Create a sleep routine. Specifically, stop using all electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime. Yes—no email or text messages. Generate a no-call time span on your phone. I set mine so that no calls or texts (except for family) can come in between 7pm and 5am. Seventh: Start small. Maybe it’s with exercise. Maybe it’s with calling a halt to too many work/home demands. Give up perfection, too. Remember, when God created the world—biblically speaking—God pronounced it good not perfect. Good enough is a great mantra. Lastly, if confusion and career direction still swirl, it might be that I can help you clarify your purpose and core values. With clarity comes consistency and control. ©2023, The Resiliency Group. Eileen McDargh is an award winning author, professional speaker, coach and consultant. To learn more about burnout read her book “Burnout to Breakthrough: Building Resilience to Refuel, Recharge, and Reclaim What Matters.” You can also sign-up for her newsletter The Resiliency Report.
- Discomfort Offers Insights—I Retreated From My Retreat
If you have followed my posts, you know that I was excited to have a 3-day retreat in early January. Ever since my beloved retreat center in Montecito, CA was destroyed five years ago in a tragic mudslide that killed 23 people, I have been looking. Ironically, I arrived at the new retreat center on the very day when—once again—Montecito was forced to evacuate because of the torrential rain and mud slides! With a prayer in my heart for the current situation in Montecito, I drove up to the retreat center. Turns out I was the only one there. Groups don’t start arriving until the middle of January. Only one person was in the office and some housekeepers were on the property. No food would be served. Thankfully I had a tiny ice chest with some cheese, hardboiled eggs, and 2 pre-packaged salads. Food was the least of my discomforts. The room was dark with little light. I could see neither sunrise nor sunset. It took the second day for me to find where I could walk to be in nature, to breathe fresh air, to say hello to a few dogs on leashes. The chairs and rock-hard pillow in my sleeping room made it hard for me to read and write with the journals I had brought. The silence was deafening. Not a bird. Not a human voice. I left a day early with a headache that lasted for almost 3 days. But it was exactly what I needed to begin this new year: a realization of what matters in time and space. First: I require light: natural light and lamp light. I am an “in the light” person. Second: Nature renews me. I need the space to be outside to renew. Third: There’s no place like home. The latter realization might be the most important. Instead of going away on retreat, my task for this year is to craft a retreat in my own surroundings. It means discipline from computer and phone. It means stifling the urge to clean and organize. Have you created a retreat “at home”? What works for you? I’m always open to advice.
- The Value of Screw-Ups for Leaders: Teachable Moments
Let’s be clear here. I am not talking about those major errors that result in loss of life, property, or implode an organization (think Enron). Rather, I believe that resilient leaders are a result of growing through and acknowledging personal errors in judgment and knowing how to assist others in finding the teachable moments through the mistakes. Too often, organizations and individuals play the blame game. Finding a “fall guy or gal” never allows any forward momentum. Consider Southwest Airlines and the massive disruption caused by literally a “perfect storm”. The disruption pointed to technology that was outdated, a manual process for re-ordering crew, and an inability to handle the tremendous influx of baggage. In this article, you get a sense that Southwest Leaders are owning the failures and working hard to make things right for passengers and crew. There are HUGE teachable moments here that—if handled correctly—can bring Southwest back to its reputation as a customer-focused, caring airline. I think we will all be watching.
- Be Yourself
Every year you make a resolution to change yourself. This year, make a resolution to BE yourself. - Unknown My hairdresser Kelly has been telling me for YEARS that my silver roots are the most beautiful she has ever seen. “You’d be stunning,” she insists. Huh? No! Silver will make me look old! I’m strong. Healthy. A runner. And I am being selected to speak from my videos and my website…all of which have me with my brown hair! Sigh. So on Jan 23, 2023 I agreed that we can START the process. What is fascinating is that Kelly would eventually lose money if all she had to do was cut my hair. Why would she do that? Answer: because she cares more about her clients than she does about her income. And trust me, living in So. California requires plenty of income. Makes me ask myself—and all my readers—am I, are you taking, actions that benefit others? I’ll keep you posted.
- Shine A Light In 2023
As we begin a new year, we close off months of many lights: Christmas lights, Hannukah candles, Kwanzaa Kinara or Diwali, the Hindu Festival of Lights. Regardless of religious affiliation, the metaphor of light strongly dispels the darkness of hatred, despair, fear, and blindness. The latter “blindness” is not about physical sight but rather being blind to the potential of good in oneself and others. I am going to use the following quote as my daily meditation moving into 2023. Care to join me? “I believe that each of us carries a bit of inner brightness, something entirely unique and individual. A flame that’s worth protecting. When we are able to recognize our own light, we become empowered to use it. When we learn to foster what’s unique in the people around us, we become better able to build compassionate communities and make meaningful change.” – Michelle Obama
- My Holiday Message From An Amaryllis
Every Christmas for the past few years, my brothers have sent me a pot with at least 2 amaryllis bulbs. The pots are beautiful but I see no flowers. I follow the instructions: Water. Place in full sun. Wait. And wait and wait. Sometime around December 25, strong green shoots begin to appear. What had looked like nothing, within weeks, will become huge stalks with massive flowers. I water. I let them bathe in the sun. It takes about 2 months for the blossoms to shrink and die. In times past, I have thrown out the bulbs and recycled the pots. But last year I did research and found that I was to cut back the foliage and place the pot in a dark place (like the garage) and ignore it for months! This week, I have brought the pot inside, planted the dried looking blubs in new soil, watered them, and placed in full sun. Will I get flowers? Who knows. However, the cycle of this amazing plant is a great life lesson for me. Perhaps for you too. In order to flower, we too might need to hunker down, take a break, and wait. This time of year, life might look rather dark. So, I will wait. And wait. And wait. Faith and patience. As poet Rabindranath Tagore penned, “Faith is a bird that sings when the dawn is still dark.” Happy New Year!
- Keep Your Fingers Crossed! I Might Have Found My Retreat Center
For 21 years, I have gone away for a silent retreat to a beautiful old home on the property of Casa De Maria in the tiny town of Montecito. I’d hike four miles up to the ridge line of the Santa Ynez Mountains. I’d sit at my bedroom desk and write and read. In fact, two of my books were started or completed on retreat. I live in the world of speaking and coaching so finding personal silence has been critical. I was scheduled to be there on January 10, 2018. Tragically, a devastating mudslide tore down the mountain on January 9, destroying 100 homes, and killing 23 people. To date, Casa De Maria remains closed. The two subsequent years, I tried to find another place. Alas, nothing quite fit my needs. COVID hit and everyone went on self-imposed retreat. Finally, this year, January 3-6, I’ll try the Mary & Joseph Center in Palos Verdes. Keep your fingers crossed. In the meantime, may I invite all my dear readers to consider carving out some quiet space. Ditch the cell phones and laptop. Just be. Just listen. Until later…
- ACT III Wisdom for Modern Elders
Chalk this up to my “shoulder season”. I am on a learning journey to discover how to be a modern elder and understand what I am called to do in this ACT III of my life. After all, there are more years behind me than in front. Are you there too? I will NOT go “quietly into the good night”. I’m reading books, attending classes, writing, journaling and storyboarding. In due time, I’ll craft a conversation for those of you who wish to join. We’ll be a cohort of companions—being both teachers and students for each other. Chip Conley, author of Wisdom@Work gave us a word” “mentern”. We will be both mentors and interns. Consider the words of Martin Buber: “Elders become advocates for the young but they’re rewarded in return. The teacher helps the disciples find themselves and in hours of desolation, the disciples help their teacher find himself again.” As I discover more, I will share more. Right now, my task is to turn fear into curiosity. I challenge myself to do AT LEAST one thing I have never done before each month. And there is so much: from doing a Neighbor-to-Neighbor outreach for the elections to singing two of my song parodies before an audience. Consider the words of William Maxwell in his book, “The Letters of Sylvia Townsend Warner” “I found one remedy and that is to undertake something difficult, something new to re-root myself in my own true faculties… for in such moments, life is not just a thing one wears, it is a thing that one does and is.” If you are interested in joining me in the Act III conversations e-mail me at email@example.com.
- Raising a Resilient Generation
Today’s digital, diverse, and dispersed economy requires a workforce with many different personal qualities: curiosity, empathy, imagination, purpose, motivation, peacemaking, and especially resilience. But someone’s first day on the job is a late start for developing these qualities. The British have a saying: “The Battle of Waterloo was won on the fields of Eton.” In other words, today’s leadership and success began years before, in schools. (Ignore for a moment Eton’s highly privileged status as an exclusive boarding school founded by Henry VI in 1440.) If we want a resilient workforce in the future, we need to start raising a resilient generation in schools and families and communities. The bad news is, we’re currently going in the wrong direction. At the end of 2021, all sorts of alarm bells went off about youth mental health. The U.S. Surgeon General issued a youth mental health alert. The Children’s Hospital Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics also, independent of and prior to the Surgeon General, issued similar alarms about youth mental health. This crisis was building long before the pandemic, too. Do the math and that means we’re now starting to graduate cohorts from high school whose education, their workforce preparation, has been stunted for years. Just as we offer school breakfasts and lunches so hungry kids can focus on learning, so too must we support kids who are angry, anxious, depressed, lonely, fearful, or self-doubting so they can learn with a clear head and a full heart. Fortunately, there’s a way to get back on track for raising a resilient generation. There’s already a well-established and proven approach to teaching all those important skills like empathy and motivation and resilience. Educators call it Social-Emotional Learning or SEL. Educators know the term SEL, but most parents and businesses don’t. The Surgeon General’s report specifically called for expanding SEL programs as part of a “whole of society” response to the youth mental health crisis. Currently, about 25 percent of schools offer some sort of systematic or comprehensive approach to SEL. Our society’s all-hands-on-deck response must include businesses, as well. Business is a major way that we solve problems. There is great opportunity in solving great problems, as well. But more than that, it is in business’s self-interest to help kids go from mental health crisis to curious, empathetic, imaginative, motivated, and resilient. It’s how they’ll get the future workforce that they need. Business answered a similar call to action starting around 2010. At the time, technology was rapidly accelerating. Everyone realized that we didn’t have a workforce that was fully literate in science, technology, engineering, and math. Educators call these the STEM subjects. In the past dozen years, business has invested more than $1 billion in supporting STEM programs in schools and communities. STEM is now a household word. Local news shows have regular segments promoting STEM education. Businesses now enjoy a broader STEM labor pool, including more women and people of color, plus more STEM-literate customers for their products. We need exactly this sort of business response to support raising a resilient generation. Businesses, parents, teachers, all of us need to support a STEM education movement for the heart—Social-Emotional Learning. About the Author Matthew Spaur is a marketing, strategic communications, and IT consultant with more than 20 years experience spanning many industries including enterprise software, education, HR, energy, and publishing. In many of these roles, he's focused on public sector and infrastructure opportunities. He's also the author of the memoir Making a Small Fortune and an audiobook narrator. Matthew earned an MBA from the University of Nevada, Reno and an MFA in Writing from Eastern Washington University.