Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Critical Eye

Over the course of my life, it is mind boggling to think of how much television I’ve watched. And I don’t think that is a bad thing. In my career and in my personal life, I’ve found television to be a strong unifier. I’ve used it create connections and to break the ice with people.

If I had kids, I wouldn’t be one of those parents who never let their kids watch television. I have fond memories of everything from Conjunction Junction to The Love Boat to What’s Happening. But times have changed.

When I was growing up, there were a handful of channels to choose from. Cable came along and gave us more choices but even that was nothing compared to what kids have to choose from today. With television standards becoming more and more lax in regards to language, sexuality and violence, it’s important that parents take an occasional look at what their children are watching. But this is the real world and the truth is that parents can’t always be there to police the television, or the computer for that matter. So it is just as important, if not more so, for adults (parents and others) to teach kids to look at what they watch, as well as what they listen to and read on the Internet, with a critical and questioning eye. In fact, all of us, adults as well as kids, could benefit from that.

Take one of the most popular trends in television today: reality TV. Many of these shows promote a lifestyle or a set of values that is misleading at best and dangerous at worst. Shows like Survivor and The Apprentice reward people for being manipulative and calculating while shows like MTV’s Sweet Sixteen and The Hills promote lavish lifestyles that even the stars often can’t afford.

The average American earns $885 a week (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). Working as a paid intern, as the girls on The Hills do, you’d be lucky to make that much. Yet, they often spend more than that on the handbag they carry in one episode.

The stars of My Sweet Sixteen routinely spend over six-figures on a party. As the sons and daughters of singers, actors and rappers, they can afford that kind of opulence; but most of the kids watching can’t.

As I said, banning television, or music or the Internet, is not a realistic option in today’s society nor do I think it’s a good idea. However, I do think that these kinds of shows give you a great opportunity to engage in some realistic talk with your kids.

Let them know how many hours an average intern making $10 an hour would have to work to afford a $500 pair of sunglasses, not to mention up to $2,000 a month for rent and a car payment of over $600.

When that Survivor or Apprentice contestant gets rewarded for double-crossing his opponent, it might be a good time to talk about the consequences for unethical behavior in the real world.
When people on television fall casually in bed with one another, let them know that African-Americans are disproportionately affected by HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Remind them that there are consequences involved in all of your actions.

You can’t always be with your kids but the knowledge you give them will stick with them even when you can’t.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Navigating Through the Negative

On the path to success, you will encounter naysayers, doubters and people who will try to shoot you down. They will offer unconstructive criticism. They will question your commitment or your abilities. They may even actively try to sabotage you. But it’s not what they do that matters, it’s what you do that will make the difference.

When this happens to you – and it will if you are trying to do something different from others around you, it pays to ask yourself a couple of questions.

Is there anything positive I can take from this situation? This question is particularly useful in the face of unjust or unfair criticism. Just because it is unjust or unfair doesn’t mean that there can’t be a nugget of truth in it. Look for that nugget. If you find one, great. If not, keep your head up and keep going.

Is this worth a response? When it comes to criticism and comments from close family and friends and even those who aren’t close to us, our knee-jerk reaction is to defend ourselves, our choices and our actions. But is that always the best way to go? When it comes to people who are dead-set in their ways and beliefs, is it worth it to defend your position? Is defending yourself really the best use of your time, your energy and emotion?

Is there away to avoid this situation in the future? Consider putting some distance between you and this person. If they are family or close friends, you might not be able to do this or even want to, however, you don’t necessarily have to share your dreams and your progress with them. If it is an acquaintance, do you have to interact with this person at all. Finally, consider having a discussion with this person at a later time – once emotions have cooled and some time has passed.

Here is a case in point: I recently had what turned out to be a very contentious phone call with a business associate. It became clear after almost 10 minutes that we simply weren’t going to come to a consensus on the matter. When we ended the call, I felt we were done - agree to disagree and go our own ways. The next morning I received an email from him. He reiterated his points and accused me of not being committed to my career as a coach.

My knee-jerk reaction was to rattle off an email in the same condescending tone that he took with me. But I put some thought into it first.

Is there anything positive I can take from this situation? I read his email and there were one or two things that he mentioned that I could be doing to further my business.

Is it worth a response: This is a man I haven’t had contact with in over six months. He’s criticizing me with no knowledge of anything I’ve been doing during that time. Secondly, the only purpose of the email, from my perspective, was to engage me in a dialogue that was not going to be productive or positive. I decided not to respond to that email.

Is there away to avoid this situation in the future? Certainly. I set up a rule so that any emails from him automatically go to my junk folder. I also deleted him as a contact from Linked In.

Had I gone with the knee jerk reaction and responded with a catty email, I could have easily seen a back-and-forth that got increasingly nastier and nastier. Feelings would have been hurt, egos bruised. Emailing and getting emotionally would have taken a lot of time, wasted a lot of emotional energy and taken my focus off of the work that I needed to do. I decided that it simply wasn’t worth

It’s your dream. It’s your life. It’s yours to enjoy and it’s also yours to defend.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Weakness as Strength

How we define terms makes a difference. Anthony Robbins once shared a story about a man at one of his retreats who felt like a failure. This man was a CEO, making millions a year and living a life that would seem enviable to most. Yet, his definition of success was so specific and so rigid that since he hadn’t attained every aspect of it, he felt like a failure. Instead of enjoying all that he had, he spent most of his time agonizing over what he didn’t have.

Like many of us struggle with definitions of success and failure, I want to talk about another pair of related words that people have trouble defining, strength and weakness. How we define those two words can have a huge impact on others like success and love.

If we were to play word association with the word strength, you’d probably come up with words and phrases like: independent, powerful, getting things done, emotionally solid, in control, a leader. Likewise, a word like weakness would conger up images like: dependent, cracks under pressure, needing lots of help, becoming a burden, overly emotional, a follower.

But to me being strong is a little more complicated than that. Sometimes strength is admitting that you need help or that you have a weakness (or issue) that needs to be addressed. How many people do you know who have sacrificed marriages, relationships with children, employment opportunities or maybe even their health (physical or mental) because their definition of strength said that being strong meant that you never needed help?

Well, is it strong to watch relationships crumble, and opportunities dry up? Is it strong to watch your health deteriorate when you had in your control the ability to seek and get help? Is it strong to watch the people you love walk away because you can’t show vulnerability? I maintain that seeking help from others, acknowledging weakness and sometimes showing emotion and laying your cards on the table are the strongest things you can do.

I had a friend in college, who I believe could have benefited from professional help. She came from an impoverished and emotionally abusive background and that upbringing colored all of her relationships and decisions. She attracted the wrong men. Her feelings of inadequacy forced her to drop out of college. Her inappropriate reactions at work cost her several jobs. Yet to her, getting help was tantamount to admitting failure and showing weakness. How much stronger could she have been, how different could her life have been if she had shown true strength and sought the help she needed?

Sometimes strength is being that solid leader, but strength is also knowing when to be a follower and knowing when to ask for assistance.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Gift of Goodbye

At church the other day, the pastor mentioned something he called, The Gift of Goodbye. Basically, some people do you a favor by leaving. I had never thought about it that way but it’s true.

Some people, and some situations, do us a favor by saying goodbye. It might be painful at first but later, after time has begun its healing, we see that the goodbye really was a gift. When we see how things turned out, we can wipe our brow and feel satisfied that we dodged a bullet.

However, sometimes I think that we need to initiate the goodbye. Even if it’s a gift we give ourselves, it’s still a gift. I once had a friend who dragged me into a lot of negative situations. And when I looked at our relationship, I realized that it was overwhelmingly more negative than positive. Yet, I remained her friend, and a close friend at that, out of loyalty and because it seemed like “the right thing to do.”

Finally, after one more serious incident, I’d had enough. I initiated the goodbye. It felt good. One day, months later, my father asked me how this friend was doing. I told him I didn’t know and that I had ended the relationship.

He told me, in so many words, that I was wrong for doing what I did. I explained however, that I didn’t end our friendship out of anger or spite and that I didn’t hold on to any feelings of bitterness or anger. Simply put, we were different people with different priorities and different ways of communicating and handling problems. I wished her nothing but the best but the best thing for me was to initiate the goodbye.

Knowing when to let go and mustering up the strength to do it is a critical skill that we all need to develop. It's not about giving up easily or throwing in the towel. It is about knowing when enough is enough. It is about recognizing when it's difficult or detrimental for something to continue.

It takes knowing yourself. It takes courage. It takes maturity.

The gift of goodbye is one of the best gifts we can receive and sometimes give.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dress Rehearsals

There is some truth to the saying that there is no dress rehearsal for life. This is the Big Show. However, there are some times where we can have an opportunity for a dress rehearsal.

There are some situations that are completely unexpected: a car accident, a heart attack, receiving life-changing news from a close family member. Still there are others that we think we can plan for but still have a lot of unexpected twists and turns … marriage, divorce, birth of a child, a new job.

There are some situations, though, where we can reasonably expect certain actions and conversations and for those we can prepare. We can have a dress rehearsal.

As the holidays approach, many of us will be going home for a visit or having family come to us. Family is almost always complicated. An overly critical parent, the sister who loves to laud her success over your head, dealing with your cousin’s precocious kids, we can prepare for those events by rehearsing in our heads how we will respond.

We can think about what we can say when the inevitable critical comment comes or the cutting snide remark. We can figure out who are allies will be or we can plan for a graceful exit.

Maybe it’s something simpler, like staying on your diet at the office party or at dinner with friends. Think about what you plan to eat or what you will say to the happy host who will insist that you have dessert.

A little pre-planning, or thinking things through, can make the actual event go a lot more smoothly.

Take advantage of the dress rehearsal and make your actual performance that much better.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Stepping Out Of Your Own Way

As a coach, as things happen, I always look for the lessons in everything that happens. Releasing my eBook, has shown me a lot! One important lesson I’ve learned is that in some cases, I’m my own biggest obstacle.

I have submitted press releases electronically all over the country. The procedure is to submit the release and then follow-up with a phone call. The phone call is the part I dread. I’m not a big procrastinator but there are a few things I tend to put off and this was one of them.

What’s the big deal? I don’t know but when I think of pitch calls, I think of the person on the other end thinking of me as some sort of telemarketer – and you know how people treat telemarketers. So before I even pick up the phone I have vivid visions of rude producers and guest contacts. I see in my mind people hanging up on me or just showing a stunning level of disinterest.

Plus, I had some rather big names on my list, and when I thought about calling those big national shows, I got intimidated. Who am I to sit on a stage that has been littered with celebrities and household names?

There was little doubt on that Monday morning before I started making my calls that I was in the wrong frame of mind. If I was going to start out feeling defeated, then what was the point. So I thought about it some more and actually came up with some answers to my own self-defeating questions.

What if people are rude? It’s a possibility but it’s the job of the producer to find good content for their shows, so most of the people will probably hear me out. Besides, if one is rude that doesn’t mean all of them will be. The rude people will be in the minority.

Who am I? I’m Karyn Beach and I have a great, quality program that I’m offering that will truly help people save time and reduce stress. People need to hear about this!

Why should I be a guest on a big-time national show? I’m passionate about my product and because when I’ve done television and radio in the past and done very well as a guest.

After I thought about it, I wasn’t thrilled about making the calls but I was in a much better mindset about it. I was ready.

And do you know what? That day, I didn’t encounter any rude callers. In fact, I mostly got voicemails, but the people I did speak with were open and receptive. By the end, I was actually having a bit of fun!

Coming up with answers to your most negative questions and rebuttals to your most defeating comments can make a huge difference in how you approach your obstacles and overcome them.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Climb

For me, hiking is like a form of active meditation. When I lived in Maryland, I found a park with a trail that I loved. It was 5 miles long and winded down around the Patapsco River.

At first, I would only do the first part of the trail, but one day I decided to go the whole 5 miles. I made my way down by the river. It was beautiful, quiet and scenic. There were very few people on the trail, so as I walked, I really had time to enjoy the peacefulness of just being in nature.

Well, as with most guided trails, every once in a while you come to a tree with a marker, my marker on this trail was just a white stripe on a tree. When you see a tree with two stripes, it’s a sign that the path is changing directions, a quick glance to the left or the right will reveal another tree with a single white stripe that you follow to continue on your trail.

So I’m about 4 miles in. The river is to my right. To my left, the woods gave way to a hill, as I walk, I notice the hill on my left is getting steeper and steeper. In fact, I can see the deer prints on the steep hill where deer appear to have slid partially down the hill.

I said to myself, “Thank goodness, I don’t have to go up there.” Well, about 100 feet later, I come across the dreaded double stripe; I could not go any further on this trail. To my right is the water. Can’t go that way. The only possible way I can go is left, up the hill. Slowly I turn to my left and there, midway up the steep, deep, hill, there it is – the lone stripe letting me know that THIS is the way I have to go. I said to myself, “Oh, s**t.” It wasn’t easy but finally I made it to the top grabbing on to trees, branches and occasionally thick tree roots along the way. At the top, as I had several times on the climb up, I had to stop and catch my breath. The good part is that once I got to the top, the hike was almost over.

I continued to walk this path about once a week and I truly enjoyed it. But from that day on, whenever I got about halfway through I began dreading the climb up what I affectionately called Oh S**t Hill. Each time I walked the trail, I had that miserable climb in the back of my head and each time I struggled to make it to the top.

One day, all of that changed. Midway though the walk, I got a nagging pain in my thigh. I tried to walk it off but couldn’t. At one point, I wanted to turn around and go back but I was so far along that it would have taken me even longer to go back the way I’d come.

On this day, when I saw my old friend OSH, I didn’t look at it with dread. This time, I looked at it with relief. This time, that hill didn’t represent a difficult challenge; it represented the only thing standing between me and the end of that trail. I took a deep breath and started to climb. I climbed harder and faster than I ever had before and as I reached the top, I realized I hadn’t even lost my breath. I was back at my car in about 10 minutes.

The hill hadn’t changed. I hadn’t changed. But, what it represented in my mind did, and that made all the difference. The hill stopped being an obstacle. It stopped being a problem. It actually became something I looked forward to.

Changing the way that hill looked to me made all of the difference.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Get Some Satisfaction

The latest news reports say that the recession is over. While that may be true on paper and in theory, it’s another story in our everyday reality. Lately, I’ve had a number of clients and friends who are extremely disappointed in their current employment situation. Some are lay-off survivors who have endured pay cuts or pay freezes, the loss of work friends and a marked increase in workload. A few have found work but due to the lack of available positions took jobs making significantly less than what they were accustomed to or doing work that pays the bills but doesn’t really appeal to them.

The average worker works over 8 hours a day and commutes about 50 minutes a day. Add to that the time spent getting ready for work, decompressing from work and preparing for the next day of work, you see that the majority of the work week is spent at work or in work-related activities. We see our coworkers more than we see our children, significant others and friends.

Basically, we spent too much time at work to be miserable. And workplace misery rarely stays at the office. It makes the commute home with us and we end up snapping at the kids, arguing with the spouse and pushing away from the friends. It’s a vicious cycle. But how do we stop it?

Lay-off survivors and underemployed professionals hear the recession mantra all the time, “Be lucky that you have a job.” “At least you are working.” There is some truth to that but in and of itself it is rarely enough to get us through the day.

So what can we do take those lemons and make a satisfying lemonade?

Scavenger Hunt: As a kid, scavenger hunts were fun. We looked everywhere for hidden goodies and secret treasures. Do the same at work. Looking at your work tasks, look for a few tasks in your workday that you enjoy and can look forward to. Focus on those and not on the things you dread.

Don’t Dwell in Hell: Speaking of things you dread, try not to focus on those. Keep work in perspective. It’s something you do, it’s not who you are. This isn’t the 1950’s, you won’t be working in one place for 50 years and then retiring to a pension and a gold watch. The job you are in now is a bridge to something better. Success at your current job will pave the way for success at the next one.

Break on your Breaks: Working though your breaks on a regular basis is a recipe for burnout. Get away from your desk, office or cubicle for those 10 to 15 minutes. Use at least have of your lunch break to do something crazy like … eat lunch. Mentally, you need that time away. By taking just that 10 minutes to take a short walk, get a cup of coffee or a glass of water or just to talk to your work buddy about Hell’s Kitchen, you will return to your work with a stronger focus and a more relaxed demeanor.

Use Your Rearview: As you pull out of the parking lot at the end of the day, glance a couple times in your rearview mirror. Watch as your workplace fades into the background. The background is exactly where your workplace belongs at the end of the day. Don’t take your work woes home with you. Use your commute time to refocus on home. Even if you will have to take work home with you, put some space and time between the end of work and doing your work at home.

Change Your Attitude: Obviously an attitude of gratitude, being grateful to have a job, will only get you so far. Have an attitude of excellence with a clear focus on the future. If you want out of your current job, then master it. Do the absolute best you can. Concentrate on giving the best service to your customers, your coworkers and your boss. Focus on doing the best you can has clear benefits for them but there are also clear benefits for you. Taking your focus off the negative and on what you can do puts you in control and improves your attitude. It’s the definition of a win-win.

Finally, keep your chin up. This too shall pass … and when it does you will find yourself in a much better place.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

When Bootylicious Wasn't

Back in the spring, I was asked to participate in a project about women and self-esteem. Each woman was asked to contribute a short essay about her experiences grappling with her own self-esteem. Since this is an issue I'm very passionate about, I didn't hesitate to share my story. I felt, with today's blog (see above), this was the perfect time to share this piece.

Growing up I was 'lucky.' I was smart and funny and had the privilege of going to a great school. Of course, for years, I was the only black girl in my class - a drop of chocolate in a sea of vanilla. I stuck out. And matters only got worse around the 7th grade when I could add curves to the growing list of things that made me different from my classmates.

Hips . butt . thickness . blackness. It belonged to me and me alone in the Class of 86. It was hard not to feel self-conscious. I didn't get that same look in my Jorache jeans. And my curves didn't suit Calvin Klein very well either.

While no one commented to me directly, it was hard not to feel a little out of place when my petite classmates complained about being 'fat' and the horrors of having a 'big butt'. Frankly, I didn't see any butt when I looked at them . But when I turned around it was a different story.
I tried to starve myself throughout high school. I actually wanted to be anorexic. I hated the fact that not eating made me sick. If only I could lose that butt!

Over two decades later, after years of agony, I have finally come to a place of not only self-acceptance but self-love. My curves are mine and I wouldn't trade them for anything. And what's funny is that fashion has finally caught up with me. Bootylicious is a good thing now. Women actually pay to get tanned and to get their lips plumped.

And the other day, I experienced the ultimate victory when I saw a product I'll never need . butt-padded panties for the booty-impaired.

The curvy girl gets the last laugh.