All posts in Uncategorized

Just listen

Do you remember grabbing your mother’s face as a child — between hands plastered with Elmer’s Glue and graham cracker crumbs — and demanding that she listen?

If you weren’t gutsy enough to grab her face, maybe you poked her or chanted “Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom” until she tilted the phone away from her mouth and directed a finger-on-lips, hand-on-hip shhhh! your way.

If you were lucky enough to have a mom like mine, the obnoxious chanting and sticky pleading eventually won you something you couldn’t fully appreciate then and you crave now: someone who will listen.

Being a working, single-twenty-something girl means I accumulate a significant number of random, hilarious, frustrating stories — all in one day. Perhaps this baffling mix of emotional events has more to do with my gender than my age, come to think of it.

Anyway, I often drag trials and triumphs home with me. Were I a 5-year-old toting home embarrassment and excitement in my Lisa Frank backpack, my mom would meet me at the bustop, shoo the worries away with a juicebox and revel in my joy. But, now, as an adult, I carry a laptop bag stuffed with the day’s events back to a often-empty home.

When I open the door, no one is waiting with a snack and an embrace that says, “I’m your devoted listener. I will spend the next 30 minutes soaking up everything you say. Crunch on those Ritz Crackers and spill your guts.”

My lack of a full-time listener has made me incredibly aware of just how much I value anyone who offers an interested ear: “How are you doing?” “What happened last night?” “How did that go?”

These questions melt my heart. They may induce inexplicable crying. But to the person who is kind enough to brave the salty rapids, fear not. These are tears of joy.

I believe we all long for someone who will make eye-contact with us while we share our stories. We want to know that we don’t have to be the sole keepers of aches, dreams, stumbles and accomplishments. The simple utterance of an event, emotion or fear can put everything back into perspective.

By simply being present, the listener has the ability to validate, comfort and inspire.

So here’s the moral of today’s cracker-covered post (Graham and Ritz, in case you missed them): Take a minute to listen to someone today — even if you can’t do it face-to-face. Make a phone call, send a text or walk across the street and offer your undivided attention to someone. Anyone.

What you hear probably won’t change your life, but it may change theirs.

‘Take chances. Make mistakes. Get messy.’

Please tell me you know who Ms. Frizzle is.

You must remember the star of that popular PBS show, “The Magic School Bus.” She’s the wonderfully wacky woman with the electric-orange hair and outfits covered in spaceships, dinosaurs or test tubes — tipping viewers off to each episode’s educational, yet undeniably entertaining, topic.

You’re nodding your head and smiling now, right? OK, good. (If you’re feeling befuddled, do a quick Wikipedia search and then scoot back on over here.)

Ms. Frizzle had quite a few catchy quotes during her time on air (1994-1997, according to Wikipedia), but this is my favorite:

Last week, I had an experience at work that made me think of these words of wisdom from the Frizz.

I’ve been moved into a new role, which I love, but which is also waging a war my indecisiveness. As I fretted over one of the major decisions I’m facing and wondered aloud to my manager about whom else I should talk to before making a ruling, he cut me short.

He asked me what I wanted to do. He said getting other opinions was unnecessary. He said this one was my call.

As if I wasn’t feeling uneasy as it was, he threw the final punch:

“You need to feel empowered and be willing to make mistakes. In fact, I want you to make mistakes.”

Um, what?

Yes. You read that right. Bless this man for knowing how deeply my perfectionistic tendencies run and for forcing me to confront them.

He’s not saying that he wants me to do anything obviously absurd, but he does want me to get out of my own head and take a chance — and probably get messy. (Someone hand me the Clorox wipes, preferably the lemon-scented kind.)

I am, as I well know, my own worst enemy when it comes to my creativity. Some days, I hear artistic tendencies banging at my brain’s front door, but if the result of letting them in is unpredictable, I tend to let them sulk outside.

Well, today, I took my manager’s advice to heart, and I took a chance. I hope it doesn’t end up being a mistake, but, for the first time in a long time, someone has told me that he won’t think any less of me if I mess up, and I’m going to embrace that with unbelievably grateful arms.

What chances would you take if you believed that making mistakes is actually an essential step in developing your creativity and achieving success?

(As further evidence that I work in a wonderfully innovative and accepting environment, here’s a video clip from “Meet the Robinsons” that our CEO has shown in many meetings. Here’s to taking chances!)

Stop hitting yourself

My 7- and 10-year-old brothers are at the perfect age to appreciate random humor.

Jokes that rival the ridiculousness of Laffy Taffy riddle wrappers are their favorite. They also enjoy anything that’s likely to annoy the other. Remember the “stop hitting yourself” game? Yep. That’s the stuff.

That particular activity gets old quickly — or maybe I’m just getting old. Either way, after about 1.3 seconds of a younger sibling grabbing my hand and telling me to stop hitting myself, I play the “Please stop” card.

In our family, joking and roughhousing are OK until some says, “Please stop.” The rule is that when those magic words are uttered, the perpetrator (usually the younger sibling) has to let up on the victim (usually an older sibling).

It’s a tactic that works surprisingly well. We’re careful about how often we say “Please stop,” but we’ve all learned to respect it when it’s used.

Thinking about the hitting yourself game and “Please stop” yesterday got me thinking about how frequently I beat up on myself — especially emotionally — and how I need to learn to tell my overly analytical mind to “Please stop.”

Do you feel this way, too? Do you fall into the trap of comparing and critiquing? I can’t stand just a moment of the hitting yourself game with my siblings, but, sometimes, I play it all day long with myself:

“Her hair is longer than mine.”

“He makes more money than me.”

“Her metabolism is faster than mine.”

“His Facebook status is wittier than mine.”

“She is married to a GQ model, has a Banana Republic-ad-worthy baby, lives in a home-show house and looks stellar in red skinny jeans. Her life is perfect.”

(Sorry, I got a little carried away on that last one. )

I’m trying to make an effort these days to stop the negative self-talk. I’ve found a few helpful ways of reminding myself to “Please stop.” Here’s one:

I keep this picture of my brother and I on the mirror in my bedroom. It’s a reminder of a time when I genuinely liked myself. I wasn’t worried about how I looked in a swimming suit or whether my pigtails were Pinterest worthy. I had dreams of being a ballet dancer and believed I could achieve them. Family, friends, strawberry gardens, afternoons at the beach and bicycle streamers were my main concerns.

When I get down on myself, this is the girl I try to go back to.

She reminds me to get excited about the small things and stop worrying about what I can’t control. At 5-years-old, she’s often much wiser than me. And when she says, “Please stop,” I try to listen.

How to make decisions

I’m incredibly indecisive.

“I don’t care.”

“Where do you want to go?”

“I’m not picky. You choose.”

Sometimes these evasive approaches work. I apologize to the dates, friends, family members and hairstylists who’ve had to accept responsibility for restaurants, movies, weekend plans and highlight colors.

I struggle with simple choices like this, and I honestly don’t mind if someone else wants to have a say in the Cheesecake Factory vs. Applebee’s or “Iron Man” vs. “Monster’s Inc.” debates. They don’t have a significant impact on my satisfaction in life. Being indecisive in these areas hasn’t hurt me much over the years. (A big “thank you” to everyone who has made this true — especially the hairstylists.)

However, recently I’ve been faced with decisions that can’t be conveniently squeezed into the “I don’t care” category because when it comes to questions about school, housing, career and other monumental matters, I do care.

When I run up against choices like these, I force my indecisiveness to take a back seat — or at least make it scoot over to the passenger side. I care (perhaps too much, as I was recently told) about people, places, dreams and goals. I want to make a difference. I want to progress. I want to be in the right place at the right time. I want to be successful.

Call me crazy, but I think all these things are possible.

There are plenty of important factors to consider when making big decisions, but I wanted to share one piece of advice that I’ve relied on recently and that you might find helpful, too.

From the Pulitzer-Prize-winning Anna Quindlen:

Forget the clock, money, expectations and inevitable risks for a second. Forget the world’s definition of success. Close your eyes and get in tune with what makes you tick.

How does the decision you’re about to make feel in your soul?