Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Fear Factor

I have a friend who works for one of the Big Three Automakers. We talked recently and she told me about the paralyzing fear that many of her co-workers have. Many of them have been with the company for decades and they don’t know what to do. With all that’s going on fear is a natural reaction but my friend told me that many of her co-workers have let fear consume them to the point where it has paralyzed them.

They are scared to look for something else because in many cases, this has been what they’ve known for so long that they are scared to take a chance somewhere else. At the same time, they are scared to stay where they are and they live throughout each day with the painful anxiety that comes while they wait for the axe to fall.

Another friend of mine is with a company that is downsizing. Yet, she’s scared to even look for something else. She knows her lack of a degree will prevent anyone from hiring her. So she stays put, not even exploring any other options. She hopes the 16 weeks of severance she thinks she’ll get will be enough.

None of us are immune from the power of fear. A few months ago, I made a very short-sighted financial move. The thing is; I knew it was a bad idea. But I was so scared of not doing anything and I felt I had to do something, so I made the move and continue to pay for the consequences months later.

Fear can be a debilitating, nerve-wrecking, soul-churning experience. What if’s snowball each one pessimistically worse than the one before it. It’s a quote that I’ve used before, “95% of the things we fear never come to pass.” Yet, the feeling of fear, the emotion of it, can be so strong that logical thinking is the first casualty of that snowball as it gains speed careening down that hill.

Granted, these are fearful times. Recession. Job losses and the threat of more job losses, the housing market, the stock market, there are real and legitimate things to fear. Yet we (me too) cannot let those fears get the better of us. So what can we do?

  1. Get It Out. Confide in a good friend. Someone who can calm you do and point out the things that aren’t so bad. Maybe someone who can also help you sort through your options.
  2. Look Up. Focus on the positive. A few months ago, I started keeping a gratitude journal. At the end of everyday, I write down things that occurred during that day that I am thankful and grateful for and appreciative of. Curiously, when I was in the midst of my own panic, I didn’t journal on those days. I wonder if I had, would changed my perspective enough to stop me from making the mistake I made.
  3. Do something proactive and productive. My friend’s lack of a degree will prevent several companies from taking a serious look at her. But she’s got an impressive work history and a lot of companies can look past the degree to what she’s done and give her a chance. She won’t know that until she tries though.
  4. Calm down. Pray. Talk to a friend. Do yoga. Take a walk. Cry. Do something to release some of that fearful emotion. You might not get rid of all of it but you might be able to take it down to a manageable level.

These are fearful times, indeed. But they weren't always so stressful and frustrating and they won't always be stressful and frustrating. As a friend told me, the only way to get through it is to go through it. So let's be kind to ourselves and support one another as we navigate our ways through these rough waters.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Extreme Self-Care: When You Look Good ...

This is the sixth in a ten part series called, Extreme Self-Care: It’s Not Selfish!

It’s called The Lipstick Effect. Basically, in tough economic times, when they can’t afford life’s more expensive luxuries, women turn to lipstick to feel good. This phenomenon can be traced as far back as The Great Depression. And, after 9/11, lipstick sales shot up. The Lipstick Effect is also felt with women recovering from catastrophic illnesses. As they begin to feel better, one of the first things they reach for is that trusty tube of lipstick.

Incredibly, almost instinctively, we recognize that feeling better is linked to looking better. Even if you prefer a natural look at slather your lips with Chapstick instead of lipstick, no one can deny the pick-me-up that comes with a favorite outfit, a good haircut or a whiff of a favorite scent.

Whether its jeans and a pair of sneakers, a sexy pair of heels and a pencil skirt or a favorite floral dress for summer, slipping into something that makes you feel good is an essential part of caring for yourself.

Looking your best is a boost for your confidence and can give you a better outlook on life.
You don’t have to be a shopaholic or break the bank to look good. Go through your closet and find your favorite outfits and accessories. Make periodic visits to your hairstylist. Invest in a good conditioner, shampoos and products you can use between visits. You don’t have to get manicures and pedicures on a weekly basis. Learn to buff and paint your own nails and get a Ped-Egg to make your feet stay in shape between visits.

And smile. It’s your best accessory! The act of smiling is an automatic mood enhancer.

Friday, June 26, 2009


I grew up with Michael Jackson. I remember watching the Jackson 5 cartoon on Sunday morning, singing Rockin’ Robin and ABC with my cousins. One of the first albums I ever bought was Off the Wall. And, of course, there is Thriller.

A few months ago, my friend Cindy stopped and the movie 13 Going on 30 was on. Jennifer Garner’s character, who went from 13 to 30 overnight, needed to get a boring party started. In the movie’s most memorable scene, she gets the DJ to play Thriller and then stands in the middle of the dance floor by herself and begins to do those legendary zombie moves. The whole crowd joins in.

Cindy (who’s about 6 years younger than me) balked. She said, “Like all of those people would remember that dance.” Without saying a word, I got up and did it with them, that is how influential that dance, that video and that album are to people my age. Yes, Cindy, we do know it. We still know it!!

I remember loving MTV but never seeing any black artist’s videos. It was Michael Jackson who broke that color barrier with the iconic Billie Jean video. I could go on — the Motown 25 performance (that introduced the moonwalk), the Bad and Beat It videos, the one glove, the fact that boys with jheri curls and Thriller jackets were once thought to be good catches, all part of my best memories.

I still love the Jackson 5, Off the Wall, Thriller and even most of the work he did through the 90’s (Man in the Mirror, Remember the Time, Keep it in the Closet to name a few). Unfortunately, I had to watch with horror as his golden image was tarnished by an eerie physical transformation; increasingly bizarre behaviors (remember the oxygen chamber, Bubbles the Chimp and the shear nuttiness that was Neverland), and worse of all, the allegations of sexual abuse and unsettling sleeping arrangements with young boys.

When I was 15, my mother died. As she succumbed to a multitude of diabetic complications, I watched her become weak and frail, a shadow of the dynamic woman who raised me. Yet I choose to remember her as the strong, intelligent and vibrant force that she was for the majority of her life. And so it will be with Michael. I will remember the wonderful memories that he will always be a part of and when I think of him, I will smile.

Farrah Fawcett also died yesterday. As a child of the 70’s almost every boy I knew had that poster of her in the red swimsuit. But she really came to life for me, as Jill one of the original Charlie’s Angels. She will always be a part of one of my fondest Christmas memories. I will never forget running down the stairs and seeing my Charlie’s Angels action figures. LOL!

Farrah reinvented herself in the 80’s courtesy of the television movie, The Burning Bed. She showed that she was more than a pretty face (and incredible hair), she could act too. In this last year of her life, she reinvented herself again as one of the many courageous faces of cancer. She gave us all a gritty and unflinching glimpse into her fight against this disease. Beautiful, bold and brave is how I will remember her.

Is It Worth It?

Now I don’t normally comment on current events in my blog but the scandal involving South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford as well as some disturbing statistics I’d heard about infidelity got me thinking. According to one study almost half of married men and a third of married women admit to being unfaithful. So, I have to ask, “Is it really worth it?”

In Governor Sanford’s case, he has lost a lot and the damage that he’s done to his career (and most likely his marriage) is beyond repair. Here is a man who many thought could be the 2012 Republican nominee for president. He’s governor of a state in addition to being a husband and a father.

He disappears for five days leaving the highest office in the state vacant. He lies about his whereabouts, leaves the country and spends five days in Argentina breaking up with his mistress. His marriage is in shambles, his children will be affected, he’s already resigned his position as the head of the South Carolina Republican Party and is no longer a contender in the 2012 presidential race.

So, was it worth it?

Maybe it was. Maybe Sanford didn’t want to be the Republican Party’s golden boy. Maybe he didn’t want to be married. Maybe he didn’t even want to be governor. If he was looking for a way out — a way off the speeding train that was his career — then he got it. And one can argue that it was worth it.

However, if he thought he could juggle a wife, a mistress, running a state, being courted for a run at the presidency and not be adversely affected, then he was wrong. So wrong.

The stakes are unusually high for Sanford, but a lot of people gamble with their lives, their marriages, their children’s lives, their reputations and sometimes even their jobs when they make the series of choices that lead to infidelity. So I ask again, is it worth it?

And it isn’t just infidelity. People gamble every day when they make the series of choices that lead to embezzlement, tax evasion, drunk driving, plagiarism, and the consequences can be very high. Yet, if we take a minute and really consider what will happen after the initial thrill is gone, when you look at the possible outcomes (a lot more negative than positive), is it worth it?

Is the short-term pleasure worth the long-term pain? Is it really worth it?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tomorrow is Friday!

Time to Get Into some Fun!

Hopefully, where you are it will be nice and warm and sunny but even if it’s raining, do something for the sole enjoyment of it.
  • Go to the beach.
  • Walk at a park.
  • Play paintball.
  • Run through the sprinklers with the kids.
  • Run through the sprinklers if you don’t have kids!
  • Invite some friends over.
  • Take in that movie you’ve been wanting to see.
  • Play with the dog.
  • Take a dip in the pool.
  • Pop in your favorite CD or turn up your IPod and dance around the house like a fool.
  • Better yet, dance outside like a fool and entertain your neighbors.
  • Karaoke.
  • Read a trashy novel.
  • Eat a big, gooey hot fudge sundae.
  • Drive up to the mountains.
  • Take a relaxing drive – anywhere.
  • Barbeque.
  • Go to the farmers market.
  • Find a shady tree and fall asleep under it.
  • Wear a funky hat.
  • Catch some fire flies.
  • Have a water balloon fight.
  • Put on something sexy and wash your car.
  • Find a drive in movie theatre, go with your S.O and get frisky in the car.
  • Have lunch outside with your BFFs.
  • Have a romantic picnic .
  • Buy some cool new sunglasses.
  • Get a department store makeover.
  • Give yourself a makeover.
  • Enjoy a cool fruity drink.
  • Dance outside under the stars.
  • Sing loudly with the car radio.
Whatever you do, do it! And do it with Wild Abandon!!! Have FUN!!!!!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Extreme Self Care: With the Kiddies

This is the fifth in a ten part series called, Extreme Self-Care: It’s Not Selfish!

Kids often make it difficult to take the time for self-care. Something as simple as curling up with a book or taking a bath becomes a lot more difficult when the little ones are involved. Yet, it’s even more important to take time for yourself when you are a parent. When you take time to rest and rejuvenate, you are less likely to snap at kids and more able to enjoy them. You just need to be a little more creative about it.

First of all, make good use of your downtime. If you have an hour to kill while your daughter is in dance class, take a short walk or have a favorite book or magazine in the car that you enjoy. Slip out after class starts and then slip back in before it’s over. You can have a nice half hour to yourself.

Again use that babysitting barter arrangement to get an evening alone. Have a friend with kids have your kids for an evening or a sleep over once a month and you take their kids once a month to give them a break.

As your kids get older, you can explain the need for some down time to them and strike a deal. Negotiate. You want to take a relaxing bath. Let them know that this is an excellent time for them to do their homework. When you are done, you will review their work and then they can have some time to play their favorite video game or watch their favorite DVD. However, if you have to cut your bath short, or they don’t do their work, all bets are off.

If you have older kids who are able to watch younger siblings, give them the responsibility for watching their little brothers and sisters in exchange for a reward of some sort.

Taking time for yourself is also a good exercise to model for your children. It shows and teaches them the importance of balance. Kids need to see that while their interests and needs are important, it’s equally important to recognize and respect the needs, space and time of others.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Got Questions????

Whether you realize it or not, you are in constant conversation with yourself – no not in a crazy-hallucinating-talking-to-a-little-purple-imaginary-troll-inside-your-head sort of way; but in a constant internal monologue sort of way. And like any conversation, you are constantly asking and answering questions.

What kind of day would you be having if you were asking yourself questions like these?

  • Why can’t it be Saturday?
  • How come there is always so much traffic?
  • I'm so tired. Will I really have the energy to work out after work?
  • How did she manage to get the promotion?
  • Why aren’t there any decent restaurants around here?
  • How come I never meet any decent men?
You get the picture.

Whatever you ask, your mind will work on coming up with the answers. Basically, the questions we ask, determine the answers we get.

If we want different responses, we need to ask different questions.

Ask "Why do I always attract losers?” Your mind will come up with answers. "Because you are a loser magnet." "Because all of the good ones are taken." "Because you should have married your ex." Now, don't those answers make you feel good!
If you asked, instead, "What can I do to meet more quality men (or women)?" you automatically put yourself into a more positive and proactive mode. You will automatically start coming up with answers to your questions.
"Maybe I should take that class." "I could start attending those networking meetings." "So-And-So knows a little bit of everybody, maybe she could introduce me to someone." Now, how do those answers make you feel.

Try it.
Instead of ... "How come I'm always broke?"
Try "What can I do to start spending less money."
Don't ask, "How did I get stuck in this crappy job?"
Ask, "What is it that I really want to do?"
Want to make a real difference in your life, start by replacing your puny and pathetic questions with positive and powerful ones!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Extreme Self-Care: Self-Care on a Budget

This is the fourth in a ten part series called, Extreme Self-Care: It’s Not Selfish!

In this economy, times are tight. People are losing jobs and desperately trying to hold on to what they’ve got. As belts tighten, a lot of life’s luxuries are the first things to go. But as we’ve discussed, self-care isn’t a luxury but a necessity.

So what can we do to continue to take care of ourselves when money is a big issue? Here are some things to consider.

Find Free Resources: Like books? Bypass Borders and head for the local library. Libraries also have DVDs, CDs and Books On Tape available for free or at low cost. Make use of the public park to walk and take the kids outside to play. Most cities offer free concerts and the like, check the newspapers to find those free summer festivities. Most museums also have free evenings or at least offer discounts on certain nights.

You Can Still Eat Out: You might not be eating at Ruth Chris or McCormick and Schmick but that doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy an evening out. Look for restaurants where kids eat free. For instance, here in Charlotte, McAllister’s Deli offers a 'kids eat free' evening every Tuesday night. Also take time to find some nice local hideaways.

Use Coupons: You use them for groceries but you can also find coupons for local restaurants and even amusement parks.

Be Creative: Can’t afford the spa? Invite a friend over and do your own nails and facials. Spend a romantic evening in and cook a nice meal together. Have a game night. Get your partner to give you a massage.

Barter for Babysitting: Can’t afford a sitter? Find a friend and offer to care for their children one evening if they will do the same for you. Use your childless friends too, offer to do something for them in return for watching your kids for an evening.

The point is that while you can cut corners, cutting out your self-care is not an option. You can still take time for you without taking a big bite out of your budget!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Want to Be Blessed? Be a Blessing!

We spend our days praying, planning and plotting to get what we want. We know how much it would cost to break even, how much weight we want to lose, the kind of mate we are looking for, or if you have a mate, what he or she needs to do to ‘make you happy’. A lot of people live out of the “This is what I want/need/expect” paradigm. But sometimes we need to change it up a bit.

Instead of focusing on the blessings we want, we need to find a way to be a blessing to someone else. In other words, we need to get out of the Me Zone and travel into the worlds of We or even You. I’m not talking about a lifetime of martyrdom and self-sacrifice, but I am saying when possible, be a blessing to someone else and you in turn will be blessed.

You may be blessed with a few moments free of worry. When you are busy helping someone else, you become too preoccupied to worry about your problems – at least temporarily. When you help someone else, you can also be blessed with the satisfaction that comes with being able to solve a problem. While talking to a friend a few weeks ago, she expressed a desire to start blogging but didn’t know how to start. Right there, while we were on the phone, I helped her set up a blog. For me, hers was an easy problem to solve. I was online anyway and it just took me a few minutes. The excitement and gratitude she felt gave me a nice little boost too.

Being a blessing to someone helps you sow seeds of success. When you reach out to others in their time of need, you increase the likelihood that they might be there for you in your time of need. Now, this is interesting because it’s not always tit-for-tat. Just because you helped Jill doesn’t mean that Jill will appreciate it or want to reciprocate it, and if she doesn’t that’s fine. But if, when you can, you help Jill, Jack, Jerry and Jen, more often than not, one (if not more) of them will come through for you when you need it.

Be a blessing and you will be surprised at how often you are blessed!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Extreme Self-Care: Self-Care Isn’t Selfish

This is the third in a ten part series called, Extreme Self-Care: It’s Not Selfish!

We, especially women, but men too, spend a lot of time focusing on taking care of others. We want to be there for the kids, for family, for spouses, for work and co-workers, for social obligations, even for pets! We feel good and valuable when we are there for others; yet, we often feel guilty when we are there just for ourselves.

We feel bad if we take time for ourselves or indulge in something we enjoy. We feel guilty if we take a moment to rest. On the one hand, we live in such a fast-paced society that we feel that we always have to be doing something. We can’t even just drive anymore without being on the phone, checking email on our Blackberrys or watching DVD’s! On the other hand, we put so much value on being there for others that it feels odd, almost wrong, for doing something for ourselves.

We like to be martyrs. We like to sacrifice and give to others. We consider it a badge of honor to give until we hurt. We think it’s a privilege to work ourselves senseless. But neither one is good for us in the long run.

We need to make time for rest and renewal on a regular basis. Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits for Highly Effective People calls it Sharpening the Saw. He gives the example of a man sawing a log. If the saw is dull, it could take over a half hour to saw the log. However, if that man took just 5 minutes to sharpen the saw first, that same log can be cut in 10 minutes. You can be more effective if you just take a little time to sharpen the saw.

You are that saw. When you take time for yourself: to read, to rest, to enjoy a bubble bath, have lunch with friends, to get a massage, watch a favorite movie, you are sharpening your saw. Taking time for yourself makes you less stressed, less susceptible to illness, more patient and more focused. Everyone around you benefits when you take care of you.

My friend Tee planned a great weekend for her and an old friend who was coming to town for a visit. Together, they went to the spa and got manicures, pedicures, massages and facials She’d been manied and pedied and massaged before but this was her first facial and she loved it. Tee was amazed at how relaxing that facial was!

It was a revelation for her. She realized it had been two years since her last massage. She realized that she didn’t have to wait until a vacation or a visit from an old friend to treat herself. She didn’t need a reason to feel that good. She has vowed to make the facial a regular part of her routine. In fact, she plans on looking for other ways to indulge and relax. Like the old ad says, she’s “worth it!”

Think of how relaxed and focused and energized you feel after a good vacation. Why have that feeling just once a year? Make a list of affordable and available things you can do to relax and sharpen your saw. And then do them. Take that walk in the park, enjoy that hot bath, make a lunch date with your favorite girlfriends, have a date night, curl up with a good book, get your hair done.

If you still feel that caring for yourself is selfish, look at it this way. Taking care of yourself makes it easier for you to care for others. Self-care is one of the most selfless things you can do.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Lose the Assumptions

You know that I am all about losing the excuses, but losing the assumptions is equally as important. Assumptions, like excuses, keep us firmly tethered to where we are right now. They affect our ideas of who we are and who we can be at a very basic level.

Some of our assumptions are based on ‘fact’ or past events. You can assume that your procrastinating boss will have you working late, and maybe even over the weekend, to complete the project on time. You can assume that your drama queen best friend will freak out when you tell her that you’ll be out of town for her birthday.

Yet, there are a number of assumptions we take for granted and those are the most dangerous kind. You might assume that:
You can’t find a job in this economy.
Your options are dramatically limited because of your race/gender/orientation.
You’re not attractive or thin enough to find love.
Your economic circumstances can’t or won’t change.

Like excuses, assumptions have you defeated even before you’ve started running the race. I have a friend who stays in a thankless job with no upward mobility and no real financial mobility (she’s at the top of her pay grade) because assumes that her lack of a four-year degree will keep her from getting another job. She doesn’t know this to be true. She hasn’t looked for work since she got her current job six years ago; so she really doesn’t know if it’s true. Hence, it’s an assumption.

I know several women right around 40, who look at the statistics and automatically assume that they will never marry. So they don’t even try to date – al possibility based on an assumption.

Other assumptions keep us from seeing the truth. I know one person who assumes that he is consistently passed over for a promotion because of his race. By accepting that assumption as truth and not looking for more objective criteria, he doesn’t see how his attitude and work ethic are impacting him more than his race is. The irony is that in his mind, his assumption is correct, because the end result seems to ‘prove’ him right.

Take an honest look at what you are assuming and you’ll find that your assumptions usually aren’t based in truth. They are just ‘excuses’ that keep you from taking chances. They encourage you to play it safe, and safe rarely leads to success.

What assumptions do you need to lose?

Monday, June 1, 2009

Extreme Self-Care: Stating Your Needs

This is the second in a ten part series called, Extreme Self-Care: It’s Not Selfish!

No matter how long or how well someone knows you, even if they can, at times, can finish your sentences, incredibly, you cannot assume they know what you want or what you need. If you want it or if you need it, you are going to have to tell them. With words. Words that come out of your mouth.

We waste a lot of time, get a ton of signals crossed and nurse a lot of unnecessary wounds because we don’t tell people what we need. We expect them to know and then we get upset when they don’t.

The husband doesn’t know how tired you are and how much you just need a little break. Your friend doesn’t know that you are tired of going to the mall every weekend and would like to do something different. Your kid doesn’t know that you would like to spend a weekend without any of her friend’s sleeping over.

Most people aren’t good at picking up clues. They ignore the dramatic sighs or think that that scowl on your face has anything to do with them. The little flip comment you made went straight over their heads. Let me be clear: no one knows what you want unless you tell them. If you need to make an assumption, then assume that they don’t know what you want.

Last week, we talked about setting boundaries, stating your needs is another way of doing that same thing. When stating your needs, do so in a calm and direct manner. “Honey, it would be great if you could give me a little down time so I can transition from work to home. 15 minutes of alone time would be great. I can go into the den and you and the kids can have the rest of the house.” When in doubt, give more detail. Just saying ‘a little bit of downtime’ leaves too much room for erroneous interpretation.

Be direct. Be detailed. Be clear. Don’t wait until you are on the verge of a breakdown to state your needs. Once you start doing this, you will immediately see the benefits. It works at work as well as it does at home. If you need help with a project, ask. You might just get it. If you need clarification or additional time, make your needs known. When you suffer in silence, you suffer.

Even God said, “Ask and you shall receive.” If you don’t think I know what I’m talking about, take it from the Big Guy. The squeaky wheel gets the oil. So start squeaking!