Appreciating Illness

Photo by Tracy Dekalb

As soon as the holiday break started, I got sick. This is not unusual for me. I remember this happening when I was in college. I would come home after finals and sleep seemingly endlessly for days before I felt fully recovered. Even now that I have a job that I love and don’t have the stress of finals, I still experience a similar letdown in my body when I get vacation time.

I am impatient with myself when I get sick. Over the holiday break, I insisted that I keep exercising and pushing myself. The result was that my sickness lasted for most of the break and, although I finally started to recover just before the new year, the cold came back in full force my first full week back at work.

The hardest part for me about being sick is my internal voice beating myself up for not doing more. Some of my reaction to being sick is related to how I view myself. I pride myself in how busy I am and how much I can get done. When I am not busy and checking things off my to-do list, I feel guilty and worried that others will be disappointed in me.

Another thing about being sick is that I feel less capable. It scares me when I can’t remember words and names, which honestly has been something I have struggled with for years. However, when I am sick, I feel inadequate and worried.

I also have the expectation that if I am purpose-driven and taking care of myself, I shouldn’t get sick at all. This belief is silly since sickness is just part of being alive. It means that I have been viewing being sick as a sign of failure of my body and spirit.

So instead of fighting being sick like I did over the break, this week I decided to be very intentional about how I responded. I tried to listen to my body. I didn’t exercise all week. I slept more, read a couple of novels, and did very little extra. I also spent a lot of effort to understand and rewrite my stories about sickness.

As I took the time to really unpack my thinking, I realized that many of my negative feelings about illness come from watching my mother succumb to MS. When my mother was diagnosed with the disease in her mid-forties, she went to bed for the next seventeen years. My Type-A mother who ran our neighborhood changed completely and was unrecognizable to me and my sisters. I was so angry with her for giving in that I have been fiercely fighting any sign of illness in myself. What I realize now is that it was her reaction to the disease, not the disease itself that was so distressing to me as her daughter.

That insight alone was worth a lingering cold.

I am feeling better and am intensely appreciative of the miraculous ability of my body to heal itself. The next time that I get sick, I hope to remember that the downtime will help my body repair itself and that my reaction to the illness will be an opportunity to better understand and become the person I aspire to be.

What has been your experience with illness?  How has it contributed to your growth as a person and leader?

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?

 

See Stress as an Opportunity for Growth

Photo by Christian Kortum (CC2.0 License)

As part of my transition to Philadelphia, my husband and I just bought a house. I love the house because it is in the trees and every time that I drive into the neighborhood, it feels peaceful and like I am coming home.

Last week, I moved from my rental in the city out to the house in the suburbs. It is something that I have been looking forward to for months.

The transition has been more stressful than I anticipated.

After spending a year and a half sleeping through the constant noise of the city, I couldn’t get to sleep the first night. It was so quiet. The unfamiliar sounds in the new house sounded so loud against the absolute stillness. I finally feel asleep around 3am and woke up exhausted. In my anxiety to catch the train, I smashed my hand in my back door as I was rushing out of the house and was bleeding as I figured out how to pay for parking at the train station. When I got to campus, I realized that I left my cell phone at the house.

After work, I stopped at the hardware store on the way home. I successfully navigated to the store without my phone directing my every turn. Getting home though was not as easy and I ended up driving in circles as I tried to figure out the winding roads and rely on landmarks. When I finally got home, I spent several minutes searching for my house keys because I was tired and flustered.

That was the short description of the first day in my new home. I’m still adapting as every small task requires focus to complete. I have to establish a whole new set of patterns and habits. In addition, there are constant irritants of things not working as I expect them.

Through the stress, I have been asking myself what lesson I am going to learn from what is happening. That focus on growth has shifted my thought process. I have been observing how I am reacting and the stories I am telling myself. I have been able to stop myself from going to blame and anger and frustration.

I was able to fully put this principle into practice on my latest incident in the new house. I was quite pleased with myself for figuring out why the garage door openers had no power until I realized that I had locked myself out of the house. After assessing my predicament, I determined that I would be able to get into one of the doors by removing the hinges from inside the garage, but I didn’t have any tools. So in my stocking feet, I walked next door to introduce myself to my new neighbors and asked for help. Fortunately, my new neighbor had the tools I needed and was also kind enough to come over to help me break back into my house. I was able to laugh about it even as it was happening, realizing that it was a memorable way to introduce myself into the neighborhood.

Through all of this, I have had an overwhelming sense of gratitude that I am still able to learn and change. Growth requires putting yourself outside of your comfort zone. Recognizing the stress that comes with change as a growth opportunity has been helpful for me. My challenge to you this week is to ask yourself what you are going to learn the next time you feel stress.

Changing Lives through Tech Training

Jamal receives his diploma upon graduating from the Temple Tech for Philly program.
Photography By: Marissa Weekes Mason

Earlier this month, I attended a graduation of 14 adults who completed the first step in the Project Home/Temple Tech for Philly joint program designed to give people, in the neighborhoods that surround Temple, marketable technical skills so they can change their lives for the better.

Project HOME is a Philadelphia non-profit organization empowering individuals to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness through affordable housing, employment, health care, and education. Temple University started as a night school in the Baptist Temple as a way to improve the economic situations of the laborers in the surrounding Philadelphia neighborhood. That story is core to the purpose of Temple; to find and polish the “acres of diamonds” that are in our backyard. I came to Temple because that purpose resonates strongly with me.

The idea for the program sprouted over a year ago when we met with the Project HOME IT team to discuss whether there was any need for some of the refurbished computers from Temple for Project HOME residents. As we talked about their needs, it became clear that we couldn’t put computers into the neighborhood unless there were trained technicians who could service them. It also became clear that teaching marketable job skills would have a much larger impact than distributing computers.

Erich Smith from Project HOME and Jonathan Latko from Temple took the idea and ran with it. They designed the Tech for Philly program to give participants concrete technical skills and experience. The first step is 10 weeks of intensive study learning how to configure, support, and repair Windows computers. The second step is passing the CompTIA A+ certification exam. For participants who successfully complete the first two steps, the final step in the program is an internship at Temple to get hands-on experience and training. Project HOME provides the connection into the community, facilities, and funds to pay the participants for their time. Temple provides the equipment, instructors, and internship opportunities.

The first graduating class from the Temple Tech for Philly program. Photography By: Cindy Leavitt

A lot of thought and effort went into recruiting and selecting participants who had the aptitude and desire to learn. The program requires incredible commitment from the participants.

I volunteered to co-teach two classes on networking. My co-instructor and I struggled about how to cover all the concepts that the participants were expected to know in the few hours in class. Other instructors said that they had the same struggle. This meant that much of the learning was left to the participants outside of the class time. In addition to lots of reading, the participants got to practice what they learned on computers they built for themselves using refurbished parts from the Temple computer recycling program.

The sense of accomplishment and joy was inspiring to watch as the participants received their diplomas. They had worked so hard and were proud of themselves. An especially touching moment was when the graduates presented a computer they had built to the lab manager as a thank you for the many hours he spent helping them learn.

Without exception, everyone from Temple and Project HOME who had attended the first meeting came up to me at the graduation to marvel at the outcome of that initial outreach. And the instructors talked about how much they enjoyed seeing the intense desire to learn from the participants and how meaningful it was for them to be part of their journey.

When we are involved in transformational learning, whether as a student, teacher, or organizer, it changes our lives for the better. It gives me great satisfaction to be a small part of this program.

How can you be part of transformational learning in the coming year?

 

Waking Up to the Power of Intention and Contribution

It has been over a year since I became the CIO at Temple University and it has been an incredible year of self-growth as well as positive change in the organization. The Wiser Way program that we created has a been a big part of the culture change to empower and develop leaders at all levels.

Subash Reddy Karra just finished the Wiser Way program and described the personal effect that the program has had on him in this way, “Before I was always focused on what kept me up at night. Now I am focused on what gets me up in the morning.” He also described how the first exercise of crafting a mission statement initially felt like a joke. That mission statement is now guiding his daily habits and improving  his life as he lives more intentionally.

I have had several meaningful interactions with Subash recently as he reached out to me to express gratitude for the effect that I have had on him personally. One of the new habits he has established as a result of the program was sending a personal gratitude letter at the end of each month. I was the lucky recipient of his letter this month. On Thanksgiving morning, he sent a beautiful letter that lifted me up so much. Here is an excerpt:

“Thank you for putting in place changes that are always empowering employees like me (professionally/personally) and stretching me to dream bigger things to accomplish that I could never have thought of in the past.

The work you do not only impacts CS employees but also Temple University and we can only hope that the impact you make creates a chain reaction in others to do the same. Thank you so much for letting me be part of that experience with you. If you ever need an example of people coming around to the power of intention and contribution, please count me as one more example.”

We continued the conversation during the final Wiser Way session. Subash talked about several changes that he made in his personal life as a result of the program. He returned to regular yoga practice and instituted planning rituals to establish personal and professional goals. He indicated how the flexible work policies that we established allowed him to make these foundational changes in his life. He described himself as moving from a zombie state to waking up.

As I listened to Subash relate his gratitude and the extent of his personal change, I was astonished. Subash has always been a valuable and productive leader on our team. The culture we are creating is unleashing more of his incredible potential and he is feeling so much more joy and energy.

Subash’s journey is inspiring to me and gives me the courage to continue my work of developing positive leaders and organizations. That is what gets me out of bed every morning!

I would love to hear your personal transformation stories. How have you applied the tools and concepts from the Wiser Way training?

 

Practicing Vulnerability as a Leader

Photo by Gerd Altmann

I saw Brené Brown speak at the Philadelphia Conference for Women and was truly inspired. Brené’s work has been very important to me personally and is an integral part of “A Wiser Way” leadership program that we have developed at Temple. The week before I saw Brené speak in person, I taught a couple of Wiser Way sessions that introduced Brene’s “Power of Vulnerability” TED talk. As part of each session, I shared a painful personal story. I was nervous about sharing my story, because I was afraid that I would get emotional and cry. That has happened in a couple of instances to me in a work setting before and I have been mortified because I have labeled it as unprofessional.

However, I was introducing the concept of vulnerability and how important that was in being a courageous leader to the group. I felt that it was important to practice what I was preaching. I also wanted to demonstrate what it looked like to step outside of your comfort zone and sharing a painful personal story was outside of mine.

So, I practiced over and over before the class until I was able to relate my story without crying when I was at home. However, when I shared my story with the group, I got emotional and cried a little. To be fair, this is genetic. I cry during all Hallmark commercials and Disney movies when a parent predictably dies.

The difference for me this time was that instead of feeling mortified for crying at work, I was okay with it. This allowed me to regain control of my emotions and continue with my story during the session. I had relabeled being authentic and vulnerable as being courageous rather than unprofessional.

That label made a huge difference in how I experienced that moment and how I felt after. I was relieved to have gotten through the presentation, but I wasn’t embarrassed or feeling overly exposed after the class. In fact, I felt supported as several people came up after class to thank me for sharing my story. And I felt very honored when many of the participants shared their personal stories with me.

Lyndsey Karp sent me this note after attending the session. “I’ve heard the Brené Brown video you shared before and been to a number of vulnerability workshops, but yours was especially impactful because of the personal story you shared. I personally struggle with vulnerability and it’s a difficult subject to cover especially in the workplace where it’s tempting to remain professional and closed off. Watching you share so openly was something I won’t soon forget. Your courage showed me that being open and honest with your peers doesn’t have to take away from your success as a woman in business. I’m determined to reach my goals in my career and learned from you that sometimes being vulnerable can actually help with that mission where I always worry it will hurt. I wanted to let you know that the experience resonated with me and to say thank you.”

Being vulnerable at work isn’t comfortable, but it has been empowering for me. As I have practiced being vulnerable and authentic, my confidence in my leadership ability and effectiveness have both increased. More importantly, it is creating a safe environment for others to practice being vulnerable, authentic, and creative. It is a lot of fun and very rewarding to work in that kind of space.

My challenge to you this week is to step out of your comfort zone and practice being vulnerable. I hope you will discover that being your authentic self is liberating and increases your effectiveness.

Examining Self-Doubt

We had our first Wiser Way book club and we talked about “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. It is a powerful, enjoyable, and thought-provoking book. As part of the discussion, we talked about the habit loops in our lives.

One of the participants talked about how he had a habit of self-doubt. I asked him to explain what he meant by that. He said that when he completes a piece of technical work that he confidently feels is done well, he has found that if he can have a bit of self-doubt, he is curious enough to recheck his work and has been able to find and correct errors.

This comment has stuck with me because I have defined self-doubt as bad and something to be avoided.

My definition of self-doubt is rooted in shame. It is when my inner voice starts saying, “Who do you think you are? You are not going to be able to do that. You are going to look like a fool!” For many years, it was my mental habit when I have felt challenged or exposed.

The difference in these two definitions of self-doubt is that one is grounded in humility and the other in humiliation. Humiliation leads to lashing out, blaming others or yourself, and limits your effectiveness.

One of the points in the book is that you cannot eliminate a habit, but you can replace it with another one. So, I have been working for several years to replace my habit of negative self-talk with openness and curiosity. This is similar to how my colleague described his habit of humble self-doubt. It means being open to learning and examining your assumptions.

When I am at my best, I have replaced that old script with a new one. It says something like, “I am not sure how this is going to turn out, but it will be fun to experiment. This is an opportunity to make a positive difference for others. What am I going to learn from this?”

The problem is that my old negative self-doubt habit crops up from time to time. I have found it in spades this summer around writing this blog. It has taken some time for me to recognize and replace the old mental habit. To do that, the most important driver for me is my belief that I have an obligation to help others be courageous leaders, which means I need to lead by example and be honest about how things are going. When I allow myself to be authentic and vulnerable, it not only is more effective, it is a lot more fun.

So, my challenge to you this week is to examine your mental habits related to self-doubt. Are they supporting you becoming the person you want to be?

Slow Down When the Ride Gets Rough

Photo by Andrés Nieto Porras  https://www.flickr.com/photos/anieto2k/ Creative Commons 2.0 License

 

My recent car problems have highlighted how the energy you bring to an interaction affects the outcome. I am not a complete Pollyanna as my story will show. Things do not always go as planned, but our reaction to unexpected bumps makes all of the difference in how our story unfolds.

I had an appointment one rainy morning, so I rushed to my car and was shocked when it didn’t start. After rescheduling my appointment, I settled in to wait for the AAA service to come and jump start my car. After my initial frustration, I felt grateful that it happened on a day where I had the time to take care of it. The service guys were terrific and helpful. It turned out to be the starter and not the battery, but the technician pumped up one of my tires that was low and called for a tow truck. The tow truck driver was able to get the car started by hitting the starter (who knew that would work?) and I drove down to the dealership thinking the car would be under warranty.

It wasn’t.

The 3-year warranty had ended a couple of weeks earlier. The service center agent was apologetic as he called to give me the news and the price of repair. He told me that he had talked with his manager and they had requested an exception from Honda corporate and was told that it wouldn’t be covered. I wasn’t angry or even annoyed. This is a change for me. In the past, I would have been outraged and been aggressive in pushing to get the repair covered. Instead I felt like it would work out. I told him to go ahead with the repair because I needed the car.

When he called to tell me it was ready, I asked him nicely to document the steps that he and his manager had taken so that I could write to corporate Honda and let them know that I was dissatisfied. I have loved my Honda Accord and we are a Honda family. The last five cars we have purchased as a family have been Hondas. I felt that it would be a compelling story for my appeal.

The manager called a couple of hours later to tell me that the repair had been covered. I was elated and felt great about how I had interacted with all of the people who were involved. I saw how the positive energy I felt had translated into a positive outcome. If the story ended there, it would be great, but more bumps were ahead.

After driving the car home, the electronic locks on the door were not working and neither was the fob. Since leaving my car unlocked didn’t seem like a good idea in the city, I manually locked the door and shut it. Just to make sure I could get into the car again, I tried to unlock it with the physical key and couldn’t get into the car. This is the point in the story where my old behaviors kicked in.

I was furious!

I kicked into panic and action mode. I angrily called the dealership, told them it was their fault, and asked what they could do for me. They suggested calling a locksmith. I googled to see if others had experienced this. I called my husband to complain. I started to try to figure out when I was going to have the time to fix this problem, which made me even more panicked and angry.

Then I stopped myself and took a deep breath to stop the freight train of thoughts. After composing myself, I walked back out to the car to experiment. I was curious about why my physical key wouldn’t open the door when it would open the trunk. When I was calm, instead of panicked, I was able to notice that the key unlocked the door in the opposite direction than I was expecting. Instead of turning the key away from the edge of the door to unlock it, you turned the key toward the edge of the door. This is completely opposite of how most keys work.

My anger and frustration had blown a relatively small problem into an enormous problem. I lost my capacity to be curious and open to assessing the problem. And I was spreading my negativity and anger to others, which made them less likely to be able or willing to help.

I called back the dealership, apologized for panicking, and made an appointment that was convenient for me to get the problem fixed. The dealership fixed the blown fuse that was causing the problem and I drove the car for a week without any issues.

The next week, my sister came into town to help me look at houses and I took the day off. We went out to start our day and my car wouldn’t start again. I was frustrated, but not angry. I knew that we had resources to do what we wanted to do that day. We Ubered to our house-hunting appointment and had the real estate agent drive us around. We had a great time and a fabulous lunch before heading home.

After we got back, I started the process of getting my car towed back to the dealership. Ironically, I had to reschedule the appointment I missed on the first day of my car woes for late that afternoon. I wasn’t too worried because I had a couple of hours before I needed to leave. However, when the tow truck wasn’t there in the promised time slot, I was getting worried about making my appointment.

At this point, my sister asked me why I wasn’t angry, saying that she would be furious in my shoes. I was able to tell her I knew personally that getting angry made things worse and left me less able to think. My recent experience confirmed that things worked out when I was able to put positive energy out during stressful situations.

I called AAA to request that my sister, who is not on my membership, wait for the tow truck, while I went to my appointment. When I told the agent my sister’s name, she exclaimed in delight that she had a sister with the same first and last name! After that, it was easy to get the exception made and my sister had a enjoyable interaction with the tow truck driver when he got there.

My car was fixed again by the Honda dealership. It turned out to be a faulty wire in the new starter. My car has been working well for a couple of weeks. I find myself feeling grateful every time it starts.

So now, when I find by blood boiling, I remind myself of how sure I was that I was locked out of my car and take the time to calm myself to get to a place where I can be curious and open to exploring other solutions with the belief that things will work out.

My experience is that things do work out in seemingly miraculous ways. My challenge is for you to replace your anger with the positive belief that things will work out this week and see what happens.

 

Nurturing the Courage to Lead

Some of the feedback that I have received from my team is that my leadership style is so different than what they were used to that they were unsure about how to act. Someone told me that his experience was that every time he raised his head to present an idea, it was like “whack a mole” and so he learned to just keep his head down.

That is a powerful and painful story!

So, when I came in and said that I expected everyone to be a leader, I can understand why people were skeptical and hesitant to act.

To give individuals the skills and confidence to be effective and courageous leaders and shift their stories and the culture, I worked with Eric Brunner and Towanda Record in our HR Professional Development team to co-create a “A Wiser Way” leadership seminar series. The seven sessions cover the following topics.

  • Aligning to Purpose
  • Rewriting Our Stories
  • Understanding Self and Others – DISC
  • Crucial Conversations
  • Why to Reality – Power of Habits
  • Storytelling/Improv
  • Now What?

The first cohort of participants just completed the training.

The training wasn’t mandatory and a few people dropped out or didn’t attend all the sessions. Around 70 of the original 85 people were in the final sessions and gave us very direct feedback about what they appreciated and what they wanted to see changed in the training.

The feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

The most vocal promoters of “A Wiser Way” are the participants who were the most skeptical coming into the training. The change and growth has been amazing to watch.

I sat back with great appreciation as one of the participants went on for several minutes when I asked her to explain what she got from the training to a visitor. She talked about how she had learned to have positive crucial conversations in a different way after decades of being in a leadership position and how it wasn’t hard and much more effective. She realized that she had been avoiding interaction with several peers. After the training, she had the skills, an empowering story, and the confidence to engage in a different way. She collaboratively engaged her peers and reported that she felt great about the interactions that she had been avoiding for months.

That is a powerful and energizing story!

“A Wiser Way” is an experiment and the culture is shifting already. We will give 150 more people the opportunity to go through the training by the end of this year. I am very interested to see what happens as more and more individuals shift their story from expecting to be whacked down to being courageous and confident leaders.

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.