Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Silent Wheel

Everyone knows that ‘the squeaky wheel gets the grease.’ In other words, the one that complains the loudest or causes the most grief gets the attention and, often, the results. In school, it’s the biggest disciplinary problems that get the special programs; it’s the most disruptive students that get attention in class. In the world of retail, it’s the loudest complainer in the restaurant or store that is immediately catered to. The angry customer is the one who will get the refunds and the extra perks. In the home environment, it is often the most difficult child who receives the most attention.

My question is, what about the wheels that don’t squeak? What about the kids who come to school (sometimes against great odds) who want to learn, who avoid getting in trouble and see  value in education? What about the customer who makes their concerns known without bothering to raise a big stink about it? What happens to the ‘good’ siblings who aren’t always in crisis mode or creating emergency situations? Who really cares for these silent bystanders who seem to be penalized for NOT causing problems?

I think, on a certain level, these people who play by the rules are caught in a thankless trap. On the one hand, the assumption is that since they aren’t complaining that they don’t need help. To take that a step further, they don’t need the encouragement, support or attention that their squeaky counterpart needs.

On the other hand, the other assumption is that these people will take care of themselves. Things will somehow work out for them. They will be okay. They don’t need any extra help or encouragement. 

First of all, everyone needs support and encouragement. When people who play by the rules consistently see all of the attention paid and support given to the rule breakers, the question then becomes, why bother to play by the rules. This is especially true with children and adolescents. What is the benefit for doing the right thing when the wrong thing is rewarded with time, attention, encouragement and support? 

There are countless programs aimed at ‘at-risk’ kids and I’m not saying there isn’t a need for such programs. What I am saying is where are the programs for the C and B students who come to school every day, who pay attention, who do their homework. What lesson are we teaching these kids who want to do the right thing?

I have seen many situations where the siblings who manage to finish school, maintain jobs and start families hardly get any acknowledgement for their efforts; while they watch in helpless frustration, their parents continually run to the aid of the sibling who stays in legal, financial and relationship trouble. Does that sibling need extra help? Certainly, he does. However, those other siblings deserve some time, encouragement and attention as well.

In the most extreme situations, the silent wheel has to start squeaking to finally get the attention they crave. And to me, that is extremely desperate and sad. The silent wheel shouldn’t have to engage in squeaky negative behavior to get some attention.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Ignorance Is Not Bliss

Right now, I'm dealing with a health concern. It isn't life-threatening but it is something I am taking care of. It's something I should have taken care of at least a year ago.

Physically, I had several odd things happening. I just shrugged them off and kept moving. When, in conversation, I mentioned one 'symptom' to a friend, her red flag went up immediately. She urged me to get it checked out. I shrugged it off as 'just getting older'. Yet, several other things started creeping up, none of them seemed related to me, none of them seriously, mostly just annoying.

When I went in for my annual check-up I mentioned them to my doctor. Her reaction was more like my friend's than mine. Her expression and the questions that followed showed me that it wasn't nothing and it certainly wasn't aging. She told me what she thought it was and assured me it was something that could be taken care of without surgery or anything major ... but it was definitely something.

In fact, when I left, I didn't go straight home, I went down to the lab to get blood drawn ... a lot of blood for a lot of tests that she ordered. As a person who's been healthy all of her life, it was a little intimidating.

A few weeks later, I went back for my results. It wasn't what my doctor thought I had but it was something else. Still something treatable and actually not as bad as what she initially thought it was. I'd have to take medicine and they'd have to monitor my blood periodically to make sure the medicine was working but I was okay.

Yet, while waiting for the results, I had some time to think, and if I'm being honest, to worry. However, the one comforting thought I had was that no matter what knowing is better than not knowing. Whatever it was, knowing would let me have the facts. I could formulate a plan of action. I could do something about whatever it was.

Knowing is better than wondering, suspecting or just sweeping it under the rug. Ignorance wasn't bliss, it was silly. It was annoying. It left me with questions. Now, I have answers and, more than that, I have a plan. I know what I need to do. I have control and direction ... things I could never have if I had continued to live in ignorance and walk around in darkness.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Crayons and Coloring Books

I have a pack of 64 Crayola Crayons. You know, the ones you wanted as a kid with the sharpener in the back. I haven't had them since childhood. In fact, I bought them recently, along with a few coloring books. No, I wasn't planning on babysitting or entertaining guests with young children. I brought them for me.

It might seem strange but there is a method to my madness. When I'm feeling stressed or overwhelmed, I pull out my coloring book and I color. It relaxes me.

I remember speaking to a psychologist once who told me that she recommended for her patients to reach back into their youths and reconnect with an old past time or hobby. I thought about what I liked to do and while somethings seemed a little far-fetched for an adult - climbing trees, playing tag or four square -somethings were definitely doable.

Coloring was one. Word puzzles were another. I found several books of word games and honestly, it was like reconnecting with an old friend. It was relaxing. It was fun. It was oddly therapeutic. Both coloring and word games were also cheap!!! LOL! It can be a nice alternative to costly retail therapy or pound-packing emotional eating.

Surprisingly, a key component to relieving stress was locked away, a secret of my youth. I wonder what other good things I've managed to lock away back there or just forget?

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Battle: Need vs. Want

As I’ve mentioned in this blog many times before, most of my adult life, I have grappled with a serious spending problem. Part of that problem arose from the fact that I had a hard time distinguishing between what I needed and what I wanted.

I was very good at blurring the line between the two. If I really wanted something, I could convince myself that I didn’t just want it but I truly needed it. Of course, I needed that specific pair of black shoes because the almost identical pair I had were practically worn out (actually they had a scuff mark). The books and CDs I bought were necessary because they were on sale and I wouldn’t get that deal later. I needed to make that purchase now while it was practical.

I could do the same thing about weight loss. If my body was craving something then on some level my body must need it. Besides, I had worked out that day, right?

When I lost my job, the definition between needs and wants went from being some blurry, nebulous concept to something that was in stark and clear focus. I didn’t need that extra pair of shoes because it was extra and extra wasn’t a need, it was a want.

I stopped thinking in terms of what I ‘deserved’ and began thinking about what I could afford. Sure, it was frustrating because the things I couldn’t afford were things I felt I truly did deserve but I really couldn’t afford them and what I could afford became the priority.

As I began to apply this concept to my money and my purchases, I also started applying it to other areas of my life.

  • I didn’t need a slice of red velvet cake, I wanted it and I could do without it.
  • I didn’t need a new computer, I needed to take better care and do some maintenance on the one I had.
  • I didn’t need to visit my friends in another city, I wanted to see them but for now, I could make more of an attempt to call and email them more often.

When I could afford something I wanted, I realized that I put a lot more thought into it. My decisions were no longer based on an emotional reaction or an impulse. Sure, occasionally, I do act emotionally or impulsively but those instances are becoming a lot less frequent. They are definitely not habitual or routine anymore.

I’ve learned that in many cases my wants can wait.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Relationship … that’s the thing

When I say relationship, I’m not talking about romantic, familial or even friendship, I’m talking business today. I know people who love to network. They attend lots of networking functions with lots of ‘networking professionals’. I have attended a few of those events and decided that ‘networking’ wasn't a prudent use of my time … at least the way it is currently done.

Basically, it goes like this. You attend a ‘networking function’ … half of which are happy hours that are labeled ‘networking.’ You make sure you have a stack of your business cards and normally, you have a goal to give out XX number of your cards.

As you approach people, you patiently wait until they are done giving their introduction, so that you can give yours and at the end you can exchange cards. Now, you are one person closer to your goal. This goes on all night and at the end of the evening, you have a stack of cards. That was some successful networking!

If you have a newsletter or engage in any email marketing, you will quickly add all of these people to your list. Otherwise, you will friend them on Facebook and blast them with every event you are having. I’ve actually unfriended people who were absolutely relentless in blasting me, sometimes several times a day, with their information. 

I’ve tried unsuccessfully to try to connect with many of these people after the event by sending them an email and trying to initiate a real conversation and make a real connection, without much success, so I stopped attending these functions.

What I do now is more personal. If I come across a blog, a speaker or a professional I am interested in, I contact them directly and start a conversation. Without the pressure of collecting business cards, it works much better. When I come across something that might be interesting to that person I send it to them. If they are local, I invite them to lunch or to coffee. I actually get to know them and allow them to get to know me. 

There is an old saying in sales that people buy from people they like. I think that is true. I also think it’s true for networking. People refer people they like. So give people the chance to know you, that is the only way they can ever like you. 

A business card, no matter how beautiful will never convey who you are and what you are about.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Using Your Powers for Good

Children, especially young children, live in a world of imagination. A little girl can imagine herself a princess of a magical fairy tale kingdom. She can also imagine herself chased through a dark forest with a big scary monster hiding behind every tree.

As we grow into adulthood, we put the magical fantasies away and becomes immersed in the real world - a world of characterized by problems and challenges.Yet, imagination is still there working quietly behind the scenes. Since life is often hard and challenging, our imaginations often follow suite. We imagine ourselves stuck in the same unfulfilled job or relationship. We imagine our minor health crisis turning into a major one. We imagine ourselves drowning in debt and a paycheck away from poverty.

We need to begin to harness the power of imagination for good and that starts with trading in negative images for more positive ones. The next time you find yourself in the midst of the negative imagining, try changing it to a more positive one. See yourself happy in a new job or relationship. Picture yourself healthy and happy. Imagine a life with your debt decreasing and your savings increasing.

When you imagine these things, get happy. Motivational speaker and author Anthony Robbins says that feeling intensify your thoughts and helps them stick. So when you think about your success, allow yourself to get excited about it.

Finally, when you take a step in the right direction - sticking to your diet, putting your resume on Careerbuilder or exercising - get excited about taking a step in the right direction. Imagine yourself doing it again and again. Imagine yourself paying off that bill or completing an even more challenging workout. Start imagining yourself succeeding and then you'll truly start to believe in your success. Start believing in your success and you'll begin to act in ways that will make you more successful. Before you know it, you will have turned your dream into a reality.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Shoe Shopping, Life Lessons

Over the weekend, I went shoe shopping. I know that sounds like fun for most women but, I have a confession to make. As much as I love, love, love shopping for clothes (or home wares, or groceries or just about anything), I hate shoe shopping. I really do!

Yet, there I was trying on shoes. I found a cute pair and tried them on. They were a little loose. But, still, they were so cute! Maybe I could get used to them. I mean they weren’t that bad. And, did I mention, they were cute!

But I had to admit that it just wasn’t a good fit. So, I didn’t get them.

I wonder, though, how many things we have in our lives that truly aren’t a good fit. A job, a relationship, friendships? Are we settling for them because they are good enough or because we are afraid we won’t find anything better?

Changing the not-so-good-fit things in our lives starts with a bit of truth. We have to first admit that it isn’t a good fit. It’s too loose or too wide. It’s too small and it hurts. Maybe we’ve had them a while and what was once a great shoe is now wore and ragged.

Maybe you’ve outgrown the job. Maybe the relationship is confining or you’ve realized you can’t make it work. Maybe you are just tired of being sick and tired. Whatever the case, the truth is that it doesn’t fit.

Next, you have to be bold enough to make a change. In my case, I was at the register when I decided not to buy the shoes. As I looked at the shoe box, I saw the size, 8 ½ wide. I’m not a wide. It was the confirmation I needed. I was there, with my credit card ready to be swiped and I said “No thanks.”

You have to be bold enough to gather the requisite information and make your decision. Of course, changing your life isn’t nearly as easy as deciding not to buy a pair of shoes. But you need to start gathering the information you need to confirm your decision.

So I walked out of the store shoeless. I know there will be another pair of shoes with a perfect fit but I don’t have them now. I’m okay with that. In some instances, I could walk right into another store and found the shoes I wanted. In other cases, it will take more time.

When you make a change in your life, it could take some time before you find your perfect fit and you have to be okay with that (the exception is a job, do not leave a job until you have another one!). However, when you do take the leap of faith, make sure your next shoe, job, relationship has a great fit!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Work-Life Balance? Maybe.

Lately, I’ve had to work a ridiculous number of hours at my day job to complete a major project. It’s really got me thinking about this concept called work-life balance. Since the past six weeks have been decidedly unbalanced, I think this is a great time to cover this concept and the three things I have realized.

1.      Being out of balance sometimes is part of being in balance. In other words, balance isn't perfection. It isn’t a perfectly divided pie. It’s part of life and life is messy and never symmetrical. For six weeks, my work took precedence and that was fine for me because there was an end date. At other times, my family and my health have taken precedence. That’s fine too as long as I’m dealing with a temporary situation and not a permanent life change.

2.      As soon as possible, reestablish old routines. I routinely get up at 5:00 AM, go upstairs and work out. I follow that up with prayer and meditation and then head back downstairs to get ready for work. I love this routine. It keeps me focused, sane and on track. However, being at work by 6:00 AM made this impossible. However, as soon as possible, I got back to it. My body and mind thank me for it.

3.      Do what you can, nothing more, maybe a bit less. While I was burning the morning and midnight oils, my blogging took a back seat. I spend weekends on the sofa instead of running a long list of errands and tasks. I realized that I could only do so much, so I accepted that. I was too tired and frazzled to do everything I had been doing. Working out in the evening would have been nice, but frankly, I didn't have the energy. Instead, I tried to focus on not eating too much junk. That much I could do.

The moral of the story is life happens. Part of being balanced is being flexible and realizing that what balance looks like will change from day-to-day. And that is okay. There will be times when one area takes a lion’s share of your time. Do what you can with the rest. But start by being gracious and realistic enough to recognize your limits and your limitations.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Without a Safety Net

No one wants to see anyone fall or fail. The very definition of family and friends involves supporting one another and helping each other get through the hard times. Yet, there are some times when the best thing we can do as a friend or family member is to remove the safety net of support and let someone fall.

When our help no longer helps, we are approaching that time. Your loved one could be dealing with addiction. They could be facing the consequences of some questionable decisions. They could just have a history of selfish behaviors that suck the life out of everyone around them.

We need to let our loved one face the consequences of their choices and behavior. When we play the role of the clean-up crew - mopping up messes and fixing what's broken - we remove the accountability from the person who's made the mess in the first place. We allow them to believe that their situation isn't as as bad as it really is. 

Removing support can, ironically, be the most supportive thing you can do. It allows the person to get a true, unvarnished look at themselves and their situation. However, removing support is not the same as removing love. When you love someone you want the best for them; you want to see them happy. Unfortunately, sometimes we need to let the other person go through the worst so they can get to the best.

At the same time you are removing support, you also want to be sure that you are seeking support - the support of family and friends who can be there for you during this difficult time. These are the people who will reaffirm your decision to love toughly when you have your doubts. They will be there with a shoulder to cry on or an ear to listen. Having these people in your corner is essential.

Ultimately, we all have only one life to live and that is ours. We can't live for someone else, take their pain or right their wrongs. When you have done all you can do several times over, you have to let that person go. Hopefully, they will come back.