Unplugging so your team can as well


Photo by Cindy Leavitt – Lake Michigan at sunset near Grand Haven

This last holiday weekend was the first time in months that I unplugged from work and relaxed. I really needed it and felt that my team needed the downtime as well. I even took Friday afternoon off to get a head start.  

Just before I signed off on Friday, I got what seemed like an urgent email, which I should have planned on because it so consistently happens on Friday afternoons. Instead of forwarding the message to my team, I asked when a response was needed. When the answer was the day after the holiday, I arranged with the requestor and my boss to communicate the request to the team after the holiday.

Then I threw myself into the weekend, like I normally throw myself into work. I read three books, cleaned the deck, baked cookies, hiked with the family and listened to albums picked by family members. 

I have to explain about the albums. In an effort to connect with my family through this pandemic, we have started a quarantine family night. We meet every other week over Zoom to talk about a shared experience. We decide on what the shared experience will be and have two weeks to complete whatever we decide to do before we meet to talk about it.  So far, we have read a book, watched a series of movies and listened to albums that each family member selected. The music albums were the most fun. The variety was vast, ranging from rap to country to classical. Yesterday, we met to talk about the albums. Each person chose their favorite song from their selected album and explained why they loved it so much. After we listened to the favorite song, everyone talked about their reaction to the album. We had great discussions and all did not like all of the music but were able to disagree, have a ton of fun, and create shared experiences.

The long weekend gave me a chance to recharge and deeply connect with my family. I am grateful that I got it and that my boss supported me taking the time. Because of that, I was able to pass on that gift to my team.

My question for you to think about this week is: How good are you at unplugging so that your team can as well?  

Give Yourself Permission


One of the nicest things about the holiday break is that you can take time off and not have emails and work pile up while you are out of the office. So many of my colleagues talk about how much they appreciate having this pause at the end of the year.

All of my kids and their significant others were able to come to our house for Christmas this year. My husband and I decided that our gift to our family was a shared experience. We did a quick road trip to New York City where we watched the Harry Potter plays, walked all over the city, and ate some amazing food. Then we settled in at home, playing board games, solving puzzles and enjoying being with each other. We had so much fun. 

For me, it was an exercise in being in the moment and really relaxing into the joy of having my family around me. I noticed that a few times during the break, I started to get upset as I worried about a specific concern about one of our kids. Each time that happened, I was able to catch myself and stop. I knew that my ability to stay out of worry and cherish the person in front of me was key to making the vacation positive for our entire family.

Our time together was everything that I hoped it would be. It was wonderful.

My return to work has been hard. Since starting back at work, falling asleep has been difficult, which is unusual for me. I have been lying in bed, ruminating about a number of things and feeling anxious that I am not able to sleep. This means that it is difficult to get out of bed in the morning. I find myself choosing to turn off my alarm instead of getting up to head to the gym. The combination of lack of sleep and exercise has left me feeling exhausted and unfocused.

As I was lying in bed this morning, after ignoring my alarm for the second time, I found myself mentally berating myself for my lack of discipline.

When I realized what I was doing, I was able to stop. 

I chose to enjoy that moment, instead of trying to figure out what was wrong with me for not wanting to get up. I reveled in my warm bed, knowing it was my work from home day and I could use my commute time to sleep in. This was my gift to myself. 

I felt so much better after that small shift in mindset. 

One of the most transformational lessons that I have learned in my leadership journey is the power of our own stories. The question I always ask is “What story am I telling myself?” When I take the time to do this and investigate, I find that most of my stories are not true. I fundamentally believe that everyone is doing the best that they can and my job as a leader is to create an environment where everyone thrives. This means that I need to stay out of judgement and blame in order to look for ways to improve the situation. Extending that philosophy to myself is what I have been working on for many years.

I know that my ability to stay out of worry and cherish myself and the person in front of me is key to making the positive transformation happen. Doing this requires stamina, energy, focus and consistency. Sometimes I get tired and need to give myself permission to rest.

How do you rest physically, socially and mentally? How do you find respite from your recurring worries?

Be kinder than necessary

Picture of sad girl with Plato quote, "Be kind to everyone you meet for everyone is fighting a hard fight."n
Original image by Axel here, www.flickr.com/photos/zaxl4/99863335

I caught a nasty cold that laid me out for the entire weekend and continues to linger as I head into the week. The cold has sapped my energy and left me too much time for rumination and limited ability to do the things that bring me joy, like exercising and connecting with friends and family.

In my leadership class last week, we talked about the optimal positivity ratio where most people, relationships and teams thrive. It turns out that in order to thrive, you need to experience between 3-6 positive emotions for every negative emotion. Being ill has reinforced to me how critical it is to have that same level of positivity personally and how easily it can be lost.

When I am feeling well, my days start with exercise at the Y with supportive workout buddies and meditation with my husband before I head to work. As I drive, I listen to an engrossing novel or uplifting business audio book, or just sing along to some of my favorite songs. Those habits before I get to work help me to arrive filled with positive energy.

This has not been possible in the past week and the absence of these positive rituals combined with my illness has left me tired and down. 

Whenever I get ill, I am reminded of my mother. Multiple sclerosis (MS) took my mother’s energy, mobility, and personality. The cost on the rest of our family was high, especially for my father and youngest brother and sister who cared for her for 15 years while she was bed-ridden. For many years, I was really angry with my mother for not fighting her disease. My compassion for my mother has grown over the years as I have faced my own challenges. But when I am knocked down by a simple cold, I am reminded that I have not really gone through anything close to what she experienced with her MS.

Most of what another person is dealing with is hidden and unknowable to us. So when we are dealing with others at work or home, the mantra, “Be kinder than necessary” is wise. It will help to increase the positivity ratio for both you and the person receiving your kindness. 

Today happens to be World Kindness Day. My challenge to you this week is to increase the positivity ratio in your life and workplace with small acts of kindness.

What do you love about yourself?

One of the reasons that I like yoga is that it combines movement and meditation and often the instructors can open my mind along with my body. This definitely happened for me this week. I just started a new yoga series on my Gaia app called Every Day Yoga.  At the end of one of the sessions, the instructor encouraged me to reflect on what I loved about myself as I started my day.

The challenge startled me. I realized that it was hard for me to do. I could immediately identify what I didn’t like about myself.  The middle age ring around my hips was at the top of the list. As I pondered my reaction, I realized that I did not even let myself ask the question because I thought it was arrogant to contemplate what I loved about myself.

I took the challenge seriously and answered the question. I described what I liked about myself as if I were talking about a friend. This was something that I had never even tried before. It only took a couple of minutes, but it changed my entire outlook for the day. I felt a deep sense of joy and satisfaction as I openly acknowledged what I love about myself.

I know that I am often my harshest critic. Research shows that the highest functioning teams praise each other 5.6 times more often than they criticize each other. It seems that for each of us to function at our highest level, that ratio should also apply to our internal voice. Given how hard this small thought exercise was for me, I realized that I do not give myself that level of positive reinforcement.

What is your reaction when you ask yourself what you love about yourself?


Why forgiveness is important at work

CC2.0 – Photo by BK – https://www.flickr.com/photos/pictoquotes/22339160723

I have been studying about forgiveness lately and thinking about the role that it has in the workplace. Many of the books that I have been reading are about forgiving major acts of violence or hatred. My experience is that work is filled with a series of minor irritations that hurt our feelings and violate our sense of justice. When we dwell on these irritations, we get stuck in a negative space, which is why forgiveness is important.

“Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is a constant attitude.” – Martin Luther King

Early in my career, I was a systems engineer providing technical consulting to prospective customers who were considering purchasing my company’s software. During one memorable interaction, an engineer at a customer site was condescending and quite rude to me. As I left that appointment, I was upset and angry. I did not want to take that feeling home with me although as replayed the interaction, my feelings of outrage increased rather than diminished. It was a profound spiritual experience for me when I felt those feelings of anger and frustration melt away and be replaced by peace as I a made the conscious effort to let it go and forgive.

I see lots of opportunities for forgiveness at work:

  • Stop repeating the negative stories about a person, group, or system.
  • Stop complaining about not getting credit for work you did.
  • Stop obsessing about whether you said the right thing in your last meeting or how you could have done something better.

Let it go.

Energy is our most precious resource. An attitude of forgiveness at work allows us to stop sapping our energy with negative feelings and frees us from the past so we can focus on the present.

I loved this definition of forgiveness that Oprah Winfrey recounted hearing from a guest on her show.

Forgiveness is “giving up the hope that the past could have been any different. Letting go of a past that we thought we wanted.”

Forgiving doesn’t mean that others treating us poorly is right or that we don’t speak our truth about what happened with that person. It does mean that we stop focusing on what “should have been different” that holds us as a prisoner. Forgiveness is not for the person who wronged us, it is for ourselves and our own well-being. To extend forgiveness is to find freedom.

My challenge for you this week is to look at where you are holding on to a desire for the past to be different and practice forgiving and see how liberating it is. I would love to hear your stories about how you have been able to forgive.



Overcoming Procrastination and Anxiety

Photo by Unsplash - http://preview.tinyurl.com/hzcg5ov
Photo by Unsplash – http://preview.tinyurl.com/hzcg5ov

On Monday mornings, I write down things I need to do that week to advance my strategic initiatives and relationships. This usually helps me focus on important tasks and stay on track.  However, that was not the case the last couple of weeks. I committed to writing a short article for the Faculty Herald, feeling it was very strategic to communicate with the faculty. Despite putting the article on my list of things to do, I didn’t write it.

When I agreed to write the article, we did not agree to a specific due date. Yet when the faculty editor contacted me about the article, I was embarrassed because I had not started it. To hold myself accountable, I gave him a date when he could expect the article. However, I then found myself procrastinating with every possible task instead of writing the article and also feeling quite anxious.

Coming to Temple has energized me, and I have been working with a sense of freedom and joy. So feeling anxious was both a surprise and unpleasant. In fact, writing about how I felt brings back the feeling, which is a deep sickening gut clenching that my family calls the “melting liver” syndrome.

Knowing that I didn’t want to remain anxious, I spent time reflecting to determine where the anxiety was coming from. I identified several sources, including concerns about my children, missing my family, and obligations in caring for my ailing mother-in-law. However, my ego was also showing up in full force as I experienced the fear of looking bad and feeling inadequate, which made me avoid writing the article.

To shift away from anxiety and procrastination, I reached out to my husband and we talked at length about what was driving the anxiety which helped a lot. It was a very safe and supportive conversation and we were able to come up with a plan to care for my mother-in-law.

Then, I dived into writing in a quiet and focused setting and didn’t let myself stop until I had a first draft. I slept on it and then did a second draft before I asked for review help. Fortunately, I have a talented communications person who is a terrific editor and she pitched in to give support and suggestions.

I also made sure that I continued daily meditation and exercise. I reached out to my family and reconnected and I went forward knowing that I would feel better as I propelled into action and met my commitment.

The article was completed and submitted to the editor by the due date. My anxiety has lifted, which is wonderful: freedom and joy have returned.

Anxiety cannot be avoided and often concerns from one part of your life spill into other parts of your life. If you are feeling anxious or procrastinating, take time to examine what is fueling the feeling, ask for help, and make an action plan.

Surviving Suicide

Last Saturday, I attended the memorial service for my youngest sister, Colette, She was 36 years old and has two beautiful daughters. After battling depression and borderline personality disorder for decades, she finally succumbed to her illness and committed suicide. It is tragic that she was in so much pain. My intention with this blog is to help ease the suffering of anyone who has experienced the devastation of suicide.

My husband, Mark, spoke at Colette’s service and I am sharing his remarks with his permission.

“I did not know Colette well. I met her only once on the occasion of her father’s death. Yet, I feel called to speak today because Colette’s daughters and I now share a common experience: loss of a parent to suicide. My father committed suicide when I was eleven years old.

To her daughters, I say: Your mother’s death is NOT your fault. And to everyone here I say: Colette’s death is not your fault. Guilt troubles all survivors of suicide. We all ask: “What could I have done differently?” We all tell ourselves: “I should have done more,” We think: I should have been a better friend, or sister or brother or daughter.

You did not kill Colette. Colette was mentally ill, and her illness killed her. Sadly, she is not alone. More the 40,000 people take their own lives each year in the United States. For perspective, that’s more people than die in auto accidents. In fact, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the US.

I tell you all what I know firsthand: it is very difficult to be with someone who is mentally ill. And still more difficult for a child. My father’s behavior was erratic: he would fly into a rage for reasons I was too young to understand. He wanted to be with me at times and would seem interested in what I was doing, but then was suddenly critical and/or dismissive. While I wanted what all children and really what all of us want: to be cherished and loved and nurtured, I learned my father’s ability to love and nurture were limited by his illness as I understand Colette’s were as well.

As a child, for me that meant not wanting to be around my father and wishing that my father would die in a car accident. When he killed himself, I felt relief that he was gone and guilt because I wished it. The thinking of child is magical, but wishing something whatever it might be does NOT make it so.

I say to you, her daughters, that if you wished not to be with your mother or whatever you may have wished or thought about your mother: You did not kill her. Wishes and thoughts do not kill: Your mother death is not your fault.

I am deeply sad for you and for Colette: Colette will not be there to help you into your wedding dress or to see your joy as you take your vows. She will not be there when you have your first child to reassure and help you. While I trust others will be there for you at those times, and that you will have loving and productive lives, I am deeply sad that Colette will not share in your lives. We will miss her in ways we cannot yet understand.

Suicide differs from other deaths because of the feelings and questions it engenders in us. Along with guilt you may feel anger: “How could Colette have done this, how could she leave me, and why did she do this”. Or relief: “At least now it’s over and I will not have to deal with Colette any more”. Or the big one for me: why would God let something like this happen? Harder still, you may feel shame and a sense you should not talk about what happened because of the stigma that attaches to suicide.

Why did Colette kill herself? Why does anyone kill themselves? My answer is to end the pain. People with mental illness often suffer overwhelming despair that the rest of find difficult to fathom. Mental illness is different than other diseases because it affects a person’s feelings and abilities to think and process information. It interferes with relationships and makes them hard to sustain. As a result those who suffer mental illness that does not respond to treatment feel pain, worthlessness, and isolation that grows with time like snow building on the mountain in winter that in one unstable moment collapses in an avalanche.

Mental illness is a hard disease to understand and really we still know very little about it. There was no way, for example, to see inside Colette’s mind to see what was wrong. If she had died of cancer we’d know whether it was breast cancer or liver cancer for example via an MRI or CAT scan we could have actually seen the tumors in her body.

Yet even if we know something about mental illness, we may find ourselves very angry with Colette. I was angry with my father for committing suicide. For me and perhaps for you, suicide violates a sense of what is right. While we fight to live and thrive, we may see our loved one’s suicide as giving up or giving-in or even as murder by their own hand. We feel angry and we want justice as we might for any murderer. But justice in the usual sense cannot be found: the murderer is dead. We are left alone as if standing by the side of the road and watching the cars go by with anger and hurt with no one to direct it towards.

God may likely be the next target of this anger: How can a good God who loves us let this happen? Colette needed you, my father needed you and where were you? For Colette, my father, for all suicides and really for all tragic deaths that occur where is God?

As a child I had no answer. As an adult I still do not understand God’s purposes in Colette’s suicide or my father’s or many other things that occur. But I say today to everyone here: I believe that God was with Colette and is with her now. If you are angry towards God, be angry. God can handle your anger. Share the anger, share yourself with God, seek God’s love and to know God’s will, endeavor in all that is happened to heal, to remain open, to wonder, to love, and to be loved. God wants that for you and God wanted that for Colette.

I will end my talk with this: Accept and allow your feelings and questions. Understand that what you feel about Colette’s death will not be the same as your sisters’ or your brothers’ feelings. Support each other, talk with each other about, and work to find answers to your questions. Give yourselves the time to grieve and to walk a path to recovery and forgiveness of yourselves and Colette: let today be one step along that path.”

My challenge for you this week is to talk with someone who has been affected by suicide. There is still a stigma around suicide that elicits shame and one way to stop the shame is to share our experiences and understand that we are not alone.