My Protective Nerve

It was 11 days after my third birthday when my parents brought my brother home from the hospital. I don’t remember much but I know I wasn’t too fond of him at first. My parents got divorced when he was two and I was five. I assumed the role as more protective big sister immediately. Whether we knew it or not, we navigated the newness of our lives together. We fought often; to many, we probably didn’t look like we cared about each other at all. Yet, I knew early on my job was to protect him, despite him being bigger than me for the last 15 years. I can mess with my brother, but no one else can.

Fast forward a decade plus, our babies showed up to change our worlds forever. D.J. assumed the role as big brother naturally and I felt the pang of my protective nerve growing tenfold. They’re spoiled and they know it. There’s nothing in the world I wouldn’t do for all three of them. Have I crossed a line? Probably! Do I care? A little and now that everyone’s older, I’m able to communicate that to them. They get it, they’re grateful and truth is, we all protect each other. 

As you can see, I am fiercely protective of the people I care for. It started with D.J., heightened with Samantha and Antonio and now as a manager, it’s exploded a little. 

I see part of my role as manager to protect my team from unnecessary stress, to filter only relevant information to them and to play defense for them. I invade personal space sometimes to make sure everyone’s taking care of themselves. I wear this protective nerve of mine like a cape, proudly on display. If you come within a mile of me, you know this is how I roll. 

Time and time again though, it’s become a challenge to manage because…

  1. I get so obsessed with protecting someone from themselves that I essentially forget to take care of myself in the process. While I’ve made great progress here, there are still times that I end up so emotionally depleted that I can’t help anyone. 
  2. At work, I dodge bullets for my team. Sometimes that’s necessary. Other times it prevents team members from stepping up and experiencing a challenge themselves. Also, I’m not an actual superhero, no one gets through it alone. I’m learning when and what to delegate to others.

I’ve noticed this protective nerve more and more lately. Maybe it’s because I’m managing more people or maybe I’m just more conscious of it. Either way, it’s good awareness to have. When something hits my protective nerve, I’ve started to: 

  1. Hit the pause button and think about why I’m reacting this way. Why did this specific situation hit the protective nerve? What about this is the same or different from other situations I’ve worked through in the past? Pausing before reacting is usually the smartest move for me AND I’ve learned that I need to communicate this pause to everyone involved so they know what’s going on.
  2. Then, I articulate why I reacted a certain way. Depending on the situation, I call it out immediately, almost like “Tag, you’re it!” In other instances, I’ll wait until the situation is defused to explain. Regardless of if it happens in a personal or professional context, I always ask myself and others, how could I have handled the situation differently and/or more effectively.

Being protective comes natural to me. Often, it proves to be helpful and people respect me for it. As with anything else, awareness is key. When in doubt, I blame my parents for making me the oldest 😉 I’m kidding! I’m exactly who I need to be.

Twenty Nine, So Fine

September is my favorite time of the year: Football is back, the weather is not too hot, not too cold and it’s my birthday month. Like my mother raised me to do, I celebrate all month! Dinners, champagne, cake, presents, I love it all AND I adore having all of my people sitting around the same table.

I like to reflect each year around my birthday – to think about how much I’ve grown and challenged myself in the last year and to wonder about all that’s to come in the upcoming year. This year, I’d also like to celebrate.

Me, in my element, celebrating my promotion day 😉

Twenty-eight was great in almost every way possible. So many highs, incredible moments imprinted forever in my mind. Those moments did not come without struggle. I’m proud of how I’ve grown this year and stretched myself, both literally and figuratively, in ways I didn’t know were possible. There are two specific things I’ll share that I’m celebrating this year.

  • Being brave: I never considered myself brave or someone who takes risks. I’ve rewritten the definition of brave for myself so that it emcompasses thinks like being authentic regardless of the situation, having the confidence to respectfully disagree with leadership at work, saying yes to something I know nothing about and the list continues. I can almost see myself shifting my own mindset about bravery as certain words come (or don’t come) out of my mouth. It’s kind of an outer body experience, one that I’m learning to observe carefully so that I remember what being brave feels like. I’m building my being brave muscle memory so that when I get scared (because I will), I’ll remember how good being brave felt.
  • Knowing what I need and not being afraid (or anxious) to ask for it: When I was fussy as a baby, my mother would take me outside to calm me down. She called it “bye bye, outside.” Twenty something years later and it still works. When I’m stressed, anxious or fustrated, I take myself outside to breathe fully and stare at the clouds. When I’m emotionally drained, I know my safe places to fall so I can recharge without any judgement. It takes practice and patience to listen to your inner voice and discern what you need. Every situation is different but staying true to what you know and clearly articulating it will serve you well.

While I’m excited for my final year in my twenties, it’s all filled with much anticipation. For me, my twenties were a decade with lots of evolution and some painful realities that come with growing up. While I’m thankful for all of them, I also don’t mind wishing them well and seeing them go. Given that, my intention for twenty-nine (or twenty-fine) is to slow down, experience every moment, good or bad and have the confidence to know I’ll come out stronger on the other side.

The Mess We’re Making

I shake my head a lot at current events. There are things happening in this world that don’t make sense to me. Many of these happenings I can’t and won’t ever understand. Yet, they still make me wonder and cause me angst.

I’m sure the world has experienced this before. However, in my almost 30 years of existence, this is my first, front row seat to it. The world I see is very black or white, both figuratively and literally. Whether it be race, gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, political affiliation and list continues, we don’t want to listen to each other, let alone respect each other.

It all seems very one-sided: I’m right because I’m _________. You’re wrong because you’re _________. When people hear someone identify as ______, they make a world of assumptions. A personal example: I am Catholic, I go to Mass on Sundays, don’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent and pray often. I’ve experienced sharing this and others making an almost immediate assumption that I believe a whole swirl of ideas that I don’t personally agree with. Before I can even share this, I was dismissed. This person doesn’t know a thing about me, my faith or what I believe and don’t believe.

Now multiply that by the 327 million Americans walking around like this. No wonder we have these types of problems on our hands. We all do it, it’s part of our wiring as humans. The trick is to cultivate an awareness around what you’re doing, which ultimately means slowing down to participate in dialogue. When was the last time you have a constructive (not necessary positive) conversation with someone whose identity is different (and maybe you don’t agree with it) than yours? Make that your mission over this holiday weekend.

I’m surrounded by extraordinary individuals, whose experiences are much different than mine. I personally feel like that counts for something and still feel like there are more perspectives out there for me to learn about (there always will be). I also know that if I didn’t take the time to get to know these life-changing humans, I would have dismissed them because we’re more different than alike or because they once said something that I didn’t agree with. I’m shaking my own head as I type.

These issues are complex and deep rooted. I’m not suggesting that

  1. I understand all of the dimensions to these challenges
  2. I’m an expert – just a woman sharing her perspective
  3. I’ve gotten it right – believe me, writing this was a serious reflection about times when I got this so, so wrong. Can’t get stuck there.
  4. talking to each out and listening more will fix everything. But to quote Michelle Obama, “it’s hard to hate up close.”

I don’t have a nice, neat, bulleted list on what to do next. Stay curious – ask questions, start conversations and be open/responsive when people engage with you. Try new things because you’ll likely meet people who aren’t like you. If you want to see a change in this world, start by looking within and then accept that for change to occur, you’ll need to be uncomfortable.

Woman Up, Man Down?

The world we live in is one of conflicting viewpoints, mixed messages from the media/pop culture and the ability to share your opinion broadly without hesitation in seconds. This creates the perfect storm of disagreement all over, both virtually and in person, which could complicate how we as women choose to use our voices.

Within this world, women are rising, for a multitude of reasons. One reason is the solidarity the #MeToo movement has created. While not part of that community, I can see its power. Women who were abused are standing on each other’s shoulders to hold their male abusers accountable. Their bravery is inspiring, their tenacity empowering.

There is no doubt in my mind that there are bad men out there. Ones who abuse, denounce and berate women at every opportunity. Those men must be held accountable. For certain, that’s not all men. As women, for us to make that generalization, one I hear in lots of places, from song lyrics to conference calls to presidential debates, is ultimately doing us a disservice.

Being pro woman does not mean you have to be anti men.

There are 33 female CEOs leading Fortune 500 companies this year (2019). While that is a record high, it’s certainly not where we want to be. So tell me, what play do you call here? Engage men differently to achieve success or minimize their existence altogether? We’re not going to change the landscape of leadership alone. We will need our brothers as allies to support our journeys.

It’s complicated, creating this dialogue, especially considering we live in such a polarizing environment. I’d offer taking a look internally at your own perspective would be the logical first step. Here’s a few ideas I plan to try as I wrap up my summer and head into my busy fall season.

  1. Review my personal board of directors. How can I engage more male perspectives and in which areas of my career/life would those be helpful? What current relationships could I leverage to build out these new relationships?
  2. Leveling up my personal vibrations by surrounding myself with positive influences, whether that be people, media outlets (there are still a few!), brands, businesses, etc. Negativity and hate perpetuate stereotypes and generalizations I don’t want to waste my energy on.
  3. Challenges assumptions – my own and other people’s. You can sing ‘You Don’t Own Me’ at the top of your lungs and then pull up your dating app to engage in productive (fingers crossed) conversations. It doesn’t have to be one way or another. Developing meaningful relationships with men – in any context – doesn’t mean you’re handing in your ‘Who Run the World? Girls’ card.
  4. In every situation, stay open and base your opinions on facts, not the story you’re telling yourself. This is the hardest one for me. I have to unwind stories I’ve told myself about men, especially when it comes to dating. It’s a dance, one that I’m now more conscious of so I can see when I’m making excuses for my conditioned behavior.

None of this is easy. Give yourself a level of grace as you carefully unwind these twisted stories that potentially aren’t serving you. More on that later this month too!

Astericking Ourselves

I play co-ed softball every Wednesday night. Of course, there are more men than women playing. More often than not, the girls play the “easier” positions and bat further down in the lineup. I suppose that fine if it’s based on ability. Game after game, I watch the men walk confidently, making plays and cheering all of their teammates on. They believe the women can play…it’s the ladies who consistently downplay their abilities.

For most of the games, I play catcher, which means I interact with the batters. While there are outliers, the majority of the female hitters get into the box and immediately doubt themselves. “I’ll feel better once I hit the ball pass the pitcher…” “I just want to make contact, I don’t care if I make an out.” I promise you these are direct quotes. It takes all my energy to not to say something! Like I mentioned in my last post, what we think is what we become. I wish these women would believe in their abilities just an ounce more…

My co-ed softball league is one small example. I’ve seen this play out on a bigger stage, like on a panel at a conference. I watched many successful women with meaningful careers asterisk themselves in front of hundreds of OTHER WOMEN who PAID to be there. Let me share some examples from the panel and elsewhere:

  • “I’m sorry if I’m talking to much about XYZ experience..” She said this to a room full of people who PAID to hear about THESE EXACT EXPERIENCES.
  • “I’m sorry we’re having so much fun up here..” Because fun is a bad thing? Especially between two bad ass women? *Insert eye roll*
  • In the subject line of an email: “Notes + Next Steps (sorry this email is so long)..” Wait, you’re apologizing for giving us information we need for the project? Can we all see how crazy this is?!

As women, we asterick ourselves and apologize for everything: Doing our jobs, living our best lives, working hard. I don’t want to hear an I’m sorry from another woman unless she ate my lunch out of the office fridge or murdered someone. Here’s what happens when we continue to “a word” all over ourselves.

  • Our credibility goes out the window. Think about it written out. Would you put an * saying this isn’t really my experience, I didn’t really work hard for this on your resume? I bet not.
  • By saying sorry all the time, when we actually need to apologize (it happens!), the words have lost their meaning. It’s like the boy who cried wolf.
  • By using the “when I” phrase, we’re letting life pass us by. I’ll do this when I’m [skinner, smarter, etc.]. Will you? Why not try it today? Sure, you should train for a 5K if you’re not a runner. We let fear paralyze us into inaction.

The silver lining with astericking and apologetics is that we’re not alone. I personally believe it’s how the majority of women are wired. What that gives us is a community of women who can generate awareness and help each other rise above the fear and insecurity. At work, ask for feedback from someone you trust. Before you blurt out an apology, pause to reflect on what you’re apologizing for. Did you hurt someone? Were you intentionally unkind? You don’t need to dim your light so others can shine. We can all shine together! And anyone who thinks otherwise isn’t worth your energy.

Believe me, I don’t get this right everyday. I still have to hold back from apologizing for being my extroverted, outgoing self. With awareness and a top notch girl gang who holds me accountable, I’m making progress. Come join me and put the apologizing behind you.

The Universe Has Your Back

Change your thoughts, change your life. You’ve probably heard this before. Simple right? Think positive, be positive, life is good, immaright? If only it was that easy.

Earlier this week, I attended One Day of Greatness with Jack Canfield. Look him up! The man has a loads of best selling books, including all of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. If you’re like me, you marked up the Chicken Soup books up with highlights and post-its. This day, however, was focused on gaining clarity about your personal vision and goal by accessing tools to develop the powerful habits needed for success.

I could write a novel about all of the wisdom Jack shared at this one day conference. Instead, I want to focus on my biggest takeaway: The universe has your back. I use the term universe; feel free to replace that with whatever works for you. Jack walked us through several exercises that showed how when you change your thoughts you can in fact change your reality. Said another way, when you put positive energy into the universe, the universe will return it tenfold.

How? That’s the million dollar question. Its sounds so simple, yet we’ve been programmed to plan ahead, assess the risk and create options b,c,d and e for when option a doesn’t work. What if option a was the only option? Scary and uncomfortable? ABSOLUTELY! Worth it? How will you know if you don’t try?

Your mind/brain is a muscle, which means you need to exercise it. You can’t pay someone else to do your mental push-ups. Here are a few ideas Jack shared with us to build your mind muscle:

  • Take 100% responsibility for your life. This doesn’t mean self judge when things don’t go the way you want. It means own it, acknowledge it and move forward.
  • Events + Response = Outcome. Act as if. If you want something different, you have to change your responses and outlook. Meditations and visualizations can be useful here – start small, a few minutes a day – with simply creating a picture of what you want in your mind.
  • Success is a team sport. No one gets anywhere alone. When you’re faced with a challenge, start by evaluating your network and asking who can help you. Within that network, review who’s included regularly and make sure you’re surrounding yourself with the best, most positive people you can find.
  • Play whack-a-mole with your limiting beliefs. Again, no self-judgement. Everyone has limiting beliefs that were typically formed during ages three through eight. Acknowledging and even writing down what’s holding you back helps to remove the perceived power they falsely hold.

If you ever have the opportunity to see Jack Canfield live, I’d highly recommend attending. My hope is that something above resonates and you’ll give it a try. Remember, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting the different results. Happy manifesting!

Upskilling Season

I’ve mentioned in other posts that I’m currently working on my co-active coaching credential. Phase one was attending five three-day in person classes. Now during certification, I meet weekly for 90 minutes with my pod for 25 weeks straight. There’s homework, I’m actively coaching no less than five clients and have individual supervision. It’s amazingly powerful and some days overwhelming. Yet, I know it’s 100% what I’m designed to do.

I’ve been calling certification upskilling season because I will finish and this season will be over. I struggle at times to see the big picture and have to remind myself that sacrifices now will be worth it tenfold later. When you’re in the middle of the marathon, it can be hard to see the finish line.

During this season, I’ve been careful about what to say yes to personally and professionally as I only have so much capacity. So when my friend invited me to the Women in Non-profit Leadership Conference, I was hesitant. I wasn’t sure how the content would be applicable and wondered if it was worth six hours of my time, a precious commodity.

After some debate, my curiosity beat out my uncertainty and spending time with a friend wouldn’t suck either. I showed up as my authentic self, all in, ready to learn and boy did I. Here are a few of the highlights that I would have missed if I didn’t consciously choose to embrace upskilling season.

  • The first keynote, Sue Fulton shared that there’s no excuse for not planning for success; it’s typically harder to manage in non-profits that failure
  • During the fundraising strategies panel, the resounding message was the brand of a company/campaign must align to its mission.
  • The most impact session for me was the breakout about building a diverse board, led by Sulaiman Rahman. So much so that I have to share two takeaways (among many): 1) What ideas are being passed down that need to be challenged? 2) You can disagree with an idea but that doesn’t mean you disagree with the person. The picture above was also shared in the session…still thinking about it.
  • The Building Coalitions and Partnerships panel over lunch featured Diane Cornman-Levy from Women’s Way, who highlighted that when you invest in women, you then invest in the community. Can I get an amen for that?!
  • We ended the day with Deesha Dyer, who I definitely have a girl crush one! She was so relatable and shared tons of great nuggets. She talked about her experience of working for the Obamas and how they expected more from her than she thought she was capable of. It struck me that we all need mentors like that and should mentor that way too.

I’m definitely in upskilling season right now, where I’m trying to absorb as much as possible to become a more well rounded coach, professional and person. This season is more intense and requires more focus than being naturally curious and wanting to learn. My experience at WINPL shows that saying yes to the right upskilling will always serve me (and you) well.

Powerless

You can take care of yourself. You can check on your people. You cannot force anyone to get the help he or she might need.

When you suffer from a mental illness, it’s like a fog that cannot be lifted. You can’t see the way out. Or sometimes, you can see the way out but it’s too daunting to rise above. Nothing in the world can motivate you. While I’m not a trained mental health professional, I can attest firsthand that no one can pull me out of my current state. It’s entirely up to me.

I’ve learned over time through trial and error what to say to people, how to talk about what I’m experiencing and how to rise above my anxiety. It can happen in hours or can take weeks – every instance is different. While you can’t see it or perhaps even notice it, I know its always there. You don’t need to treat me differently, however I do appreciate a general awareness.

And this is the situation when you’re diagnosed and openly talking about it.

Imagine seeing someone you love so sick that they don’t know they need help. This is often the case with addicts. Because they are debilitated by the disease, they are unwilling to seek treatment. So what do you do?

For starters, we’re not mental health professionals so we can’t and shouldn’t walk around diagnosing people. Instead, we can:

  • Remove any judgement we have about the person or his/her situation. Because the truth is we don’t know what’s going on inside his/her mind, heart, soul, etc.
  • Be open and receptive if/when the person reaches out. Try to make the time to connect with them and take their concerns seriously. Listen, hold space and do not preach.
  • Pray and if that’s not your thing, send positive vibes out into the universe for that person. I firmly believe in the power of pray or good vibe sending. It can make a difference while bringing a sense of peace to a tumultuous situation.
  • Keep taking care of yourself. Yes, I’m saying it again because it’s that important. Running yourself ragged worrying about someone who isn’t ready to accept help isn’t going to help. It’s actually going to make the situation much worse. If you need to, talk to someone about what you’re experiencing as the loved one or caregiver of someone with a mental illness. Support groups are another resource that could offer perspective on a pretty shitty situation.

Honestly, it sucks being powerless and unable to help those you care most about. Talking about it and setting boundaries helps and yet, there will still be times when it sucks. I’m giving you full permission to hate on it, let it suck, whatever. But, you cannot stay in the suck. Remember you can only control your reaction to the situation. Choose that reaction wisely.

I hope this month’s posts gave you some insight into my views on mental health. It’s only by continuing the conversation that we can remove the stigma.

Showing Up…Uninvited

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” – Fred Rogers

I always want to be the person helping and have been since I was a kid. My role as big sister lends itself to my helpful nature as well. I like adding value and if I can make someone’s life easier in the process, win-win.

I’m also intuitive and an empath (they usually go together), which makes me sense things before they happen. I have a weird ability? to think I know what people need before they say it. Handy at times, detrimental at others. It’s only through reflection, discernment of my own intuition and detachment that I’ve learned to manage my helpful, somewhat fixing ways. There can, in fact, be too much of a good thing 😉

Couple last week’s post with my ‘I know what you need, allow me to help you’ attitude and you can imagine the predicaments I’ve gotten myself into. Yet, there are times when invading personal space and challenging others’ perspective is necessary. How do I know? It’s a feeling, one that I’ve learned is different from my own desire to serve. When it’s about the other person, I feel it in my gut versus feeling it in my heart when it’s about me. I’ve practiced cultivating this awareness with lots of silence and creating open, honest relationships, where people keep me in check. Thank God for them!

I still get anxious at times when I know I need to invade personal space. Fear of the unknown or an adverse reaction is real! I also know my friends, the ride or die tribe, want honesty, want challenge, want help. They want me in their corner for the good, the bad, the messy and the chaotic. A few ways I’ve learned to show up:

  • Invading personal space is not just for anyone. This holding a mirror up for another person to see themselves is recommended for relationships built on a strong foundation of trust and understanding.
  • Timing is everything! The middle of the work day isn’t always convenient. As the invader (ha!), it’s important to ask permission…is now a good time to talk about ________? Do you want my opinion or an opportunity to vent without judgement? How can I help you in this moment? Receivers of the invasion must be honest and share their true feelings, not what they think their friend wants to hear.
  • Typically, when you’re checking in on someone or calling them out on their shit (both are important), there will be emotion. Don’t let that freak you out. Our strong friends usually have the strongest emotions. Let them release, be their soft place to fall.
  • Trust your intuition. You know what your person/people need. Sometimes it’s a hug, sometimes it’s simply your presence, sometimes it’s driving meatballs to their kid while they’re traveling. Go with how you feel, not what you think. My go-to question is: How am I serving this person in this moment? It helps me to tap into that gut place of knowing.
  • Above all else, no one is broken, you’re not fixing anyone or anything. Pain and suffering are part of the human condition. A cornerstone of my coaching program (CTI) is holding people naturally creative, resourceful and whole. When you look at this kind of situation from the NCRW perspective, you’re showing up to hold space, not put pieces back together.

One of the promises of friendship (or any relationship really), is to be there no matter what, especially when your friend isn’t 100%. Everyone needs someone looking out for them. How and what you do is different for each relationship, in each situation. Don’t be afraid to show up unapologetically, without hesitation or preconceived notions.

Kelly Clarkson’s new song Broken and Beautiful sums it up perfectly. While I’m not in love with the word broken, I do think the verses tell the story of what most of us need.

Check on your Strong Friends

When you describe someone as strong, what do you mean? There are different representations of physical strength: Running a marathon, push-ups or burpees (my least favorite exercise), hitting any number of yoga poses, childbirth, the list continues.

What about mental and emotional toughness? Not as easy to identify, right? Perhaps it’s someone with a level of resilience, the friend who’s been dealt a series of less than optimal hands and still shows up with a smile. They’re the friend who always figures it out. When you ask if they’re okay, they’ll reassure you with an “of course” or “yep, all good.”

Very nonchalant and never wanting to draw attention to themselves, our strong friends are often our soft places to fall. They’re our first phone calls for the good and the bad moments life throws at us. Because they can handle it. They always have, they always will, right?

Until they don’t. Until our strong friends are so depleted they can’t function. I’ve watched my strong friends lose themselves and I myself have experienced this. Here’s the thing, were all strong in our own way. Strong isn’t a one size fits all adjective. And as the song goes, we all need somebody to lean on.

We’re not supposed to do life alone. I, for one, know I don’t want to do life without my tribe. Asking friends for help (not misusing or disrespecting boundaries) is part of the human condition. Thank God for that! Imagine how terrible life would be if there weren’t other people involved!

Together, we need to redefine strong. Strong is being vulnerable, showing the full range of emotions, not just the ones that are comfortable. Strong is articulating what you need, even if you’re not sure what exactly that is. It’s showing up as you are, perfectly created, for the moments of pain, grief, anxiety, addiction and sadness.

Check on your strong friends. Better yet, check on your tribe. You will not and should not have the answers. That’s not the point. You are there to invade personal space and remind your people they’re not alone in this ever winding journey called life.

How do you invade their personal space without pissing anyone off? Check back next week for some ways to start.

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