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Finding Wisdom in The Wild

There is an idea in Buddhism that says essentially, “the universe gives you everything you need.” So, if there is a lesson you need to learn – no problem, the universe has you covered and will present a situation for you to learn it.  If there is something you need to appreciate – not an issue, the universe will create an opportunity for you to feel appreciation.

This Buddhist concept popped into my head repeatedly during the three days I spent camping in the Ocala National Forest over the New Year.  While I very much enjoy camping, it also is really hard.  Every single thing you do takes so much longer – no easily accessible running water and only lantern light.  No matter what you try – no shoes in the tent – the dirt invades and there is no real keeping clean – immediately after you shower your three-year-old he trips over a tree stump and lands knees and palms into the ground.  Further, the woods possess some sort of magical power that makes my bladder perpetually full, endlessly unrelieved and no real restroom within 100 feet.

Throughout it all I was reminded, “Alexa, the universe is giving you everything you need, exactly as you need it, right now.”  It is possible that what I was meant to learn was obvious and I know it certainly wasn’t complicated, but somehow these simple truths never stick.

With everything taking so long and being so inconvenient I was forced to be patient.  There is no rushing through all that dishwashing by hand three times a day. Only focus and deep concentration got that job done.   No email to check, text to write, phone call to answer just me and soap-water-scrub-water- repeat.

Oh! and that dirt – it sure did force me to let go of any illusion of perfection, of our carefully packed belongings being orderly and the precious children being nice and tidy, well cared for. I was liberated from all that frantic, desperate, obsessive, grasping for control and order.  Finally, perhaps cliché, but there is nothing as glorious as a pristine night sky totally and fully uncorrupted by the suburban light pollution to which I have grown so accustomed as to render it unnoticeable.  You have to see the brightness of those stars first-hand, nothing but in-person bearing witness will do.  It will stir you and move you and fill you to the brink with gratitude for being alive. So, I must express my gratitude to the open air, portable toilet stationed outside our tent to which I made about 10 trips HOURLY.  Thank you, good ole’ ‘Luggable Loo.’

When I was young, my grandma found delight in wrapping paper.  She would ooh and aah over the vibrant colors and fold it away in a perfect square for later enjoyment. I didn’t understand.  I thought her making a fuss over paper silly.   Knowing the teenaged me, I rolled my eyes.  Yet, there I was at the dish washing station marveling at the delicate lace patterns the soap made on the side of the green camping cups – sometimes reminiscent of ocean spray, others unique like fingerprints, at times mimicking abstract cloud animals. The universe gave me that too – visiting hours with grandma’s ghost and the best superpower of them all, wonder over a small and easily overlooked miracle.  A pretty good survival skill in these days of more, more, more.

The universe gave me all these party favors at my New Year’s Eve celebration in the woods.  Thus, despite the obscene amount of gear crammed back into my mini-van, I returned to suburbia lighter, less burdened and more uplifted.

I had planned on writing my New Year’s musings well-before we departed for Alexander Springs. However, despite thinking and thinking I never came up with anything worth saying.  Eventually, I surrendered deciding, “There will be other new years and time for messages then.”  Yet, 7 hours, 5 minutes, and 10 seconds away from 2019 I found myself writing this note standing at my food storage container desk, my ankles bug bitten, my feet covered in campsite dust and the universe doing what it does best – providing me with exactly what I needed.  As I enter the new year, I hope I finally can remember this truth, but no matter, the universe will continue doing what it always has done for you and me both.


Cheers to a year filled with what you need!

Plan A Didn’t Work Out, Get Over It

Successful people are adaptable. Research shows that in terms of the competencies one needs to be successful, adaptability is up there with self-confidence, emotional self-control, and inspirational leadership.

Yet, so many of us dedicate significant amounts of time and energy to planning. And then when our plans don’t work out (as so often happens) we dedicate significant amounts of emotion to being irritated, frustrated, bent out of shape, and placing blame.

So, on one hand we have the critical importance of being adaptable and on the other we have our natural tendency to be totally inflexible. This is a problem – a problem I know intimately.

Like most other important business lessons, I was reminded of the futility of planning at the hands of my children. On Friday morning, I went to my kids’ school to volunteer in the classroom. I had confirmed the date and time with the teacher days in advance. I had reviewed with her the materials I needed to bring and the treats I was going to share with the children. I looked over my papers the night before and set my alarm early the morning of. I arrived at school just as I had planned, excited about my morning with the children.

With smile wide, I ran smack into the other mom who had also volunteered to be in the classroom that morning. She had confirmed the date and time with the teacher days in advance. She had reviewed with the teacher the materials she needed to bring and the treats she was going to share with the children. She had looked over her papers the night before and set her alarm early the morning of. She arrived at school just as she had planned, excited about her morning with the children.

Then in an instant our well-orchestrated plans crumbled. There was a miscommunication. The teacher only needed one volunteer and now she had two. The other mom was superfluous. I was a duplicate. We were both very annoyed and disappointed. Our morning had been shattered. One of us would surely be sent home or left standing in the corner while the other performed the morning’s duties. While I can’t speak for her, I wasn’t just annoyed and disappointed, I was angry too.

Neither one of us was particularly adaptable in that movement and because of that neither one of us could figure out a solution. Luckily, the school receptionist, on the other hand, was a study in flexibility and with clear and unemotional thinking rearranged us so that two moms became better than one. She split the class up, sent me to one room with class A, sent the other mom to another room to class B and midway through the morning had us switch rooms so that we could spend time with the other class.

It was a lovely morning and the reshuffle worked out perfectly. I walked out of school thinking how the morning had turned out so much better than I could have planned.

And so often that is how life is. Plan A is average. It frequently doesn’t work out because life is messy and humans are imperfect and in the scheme of the cosmos we are just ants who have very little control over anything. The real shame isn’t that Plan A falls apart it’s that we waste time mourning it and don’t shift to Plan B. And, if we let it, in most cases, Plan B is better.

The Most Successful People Have Courage

My daughter is brave.  Not because she talks a big game, but because she takes courageous action.  Last night she auditioned for a musical.  She took the stage, sang for strangers, and attempted a dance she didn’t know (poor thing doesnt even take dance lessons).  I wouldn’t have done what she did when I was 10 and I likely would not do it now.   She is a wonder and an inspiration.

Most of us are cowards.  We play it safe – speak up only when we know the answer, follow the rules, resort to the tried-and-true, elect the sure thing, follow the masses.  We are terrified to do the thing that makes us vulnerable, singles us out, exposes us to risk.  We avoid failure and shun embarrassment.

Playing it safe, is so…well, safe.  It is predictable and gets moderate results.  We avoid disaster, but we also avoid doing anything of real importance.  Don’t pat yourself on the back for sitting on the sidelines, for being a critic.  Anyone can do that!

Do something risky.  That is how you change the world, that is how you innovate, that is how you matter.  Do something courageous and then take your bow.

Two Distinctions Worth Making

One.  Saying, “I am sorry” is not the same thing as saying “I am wrong” or “I am at fault” or “I am to blame.”  I am sorry that this thing happened or that my email made you feel this way is different than saying I did this thing and I am at fault or that my email was out or line or incorrect.  When to take responsibility is and the benefits of this approach are topics for another post.  The point here is simple – “I am sorry” is not an admission of guilt.  So, maybe it is something you could say more often.  Those three words make a big impact and go a long way towards connecting with more people (clients, managers, subordinates) having more of an impact.

Two.  Trying to understand someone else’s point of view is different than agreeing with them.  We engage in conversations with the wrong mindset.  We listen for disagreement, check for accuracy, and look for windows to rebut.  This approach doesn’t move us forward – it isn’t profitable and doesn’t lead to innovation.  It is more effective to strap on your seatbelt and to make a mental declaration that you are in it for the long haul.  Decide to be in the conversation until you can see the other persons point of view.  Commit to understanding their perspective and to continuing the dialogue until you appreciate where they are coming from.  Respond with “I really hear what you are saying.”  This is not synonymous with “I agree with your approach.”  You lose nothing and create the opportunity for connection and collaboration down the road.


Walking the Talk

As they say on Game of Thrones, “Words are wind.”  People say all sorts of things, but then do something different.  People say all the right things and then do exactly what they say they don’t want to do.  People who want to change their behavior revert to old habits and do the most comfortable thing when confronted with an opportunity to try a new approach.

They say they want to be less judgmental, but when given the opportunity to be empathetic they evaluate instead.  They say they want to take a risk, but when presented with the chance to try something new, they opt for the safe road.  People say they want to be more nurturing, kind, open-minded, hard-working, responsible, inspirational – the list goes on, but then chose to be distant, punitive, narrow-minded, efficient, non accountable, and route.

The next time you are confronted with a choice do what feels the most unnatural, makes you the most uncomfortable, and seems totally wrong.  Whatever your gut tells you to do, do the other thing. That is how we change behavior.  When we do something different, we get a different result.  Don’t expect to to enhance your life (to have deeper relationships, reach greater levels of success, to leave a lasting and meaningful mark) by doing the same old thing time and time again.

In Business Having the Whip Hand is Easy

Everyone talks about how competitive the marketplace is now.  It is not enough to be technically good at what you do, to stay ahead you need something more.  It is not enough to network, you must be on social media as well.  It is not enough to provide good customer service, you need a marketing strategy to make the grade.  Organizations are busy hiring consultants and coaches – they are focusing on mindfulness and mediation.  The big players in our economy – Amazon, Apple, Google are using metric to measure the effectiveness of their teams and the ROI of their professional development efforts.

That is all well and good.  Naturally, I believe strongly in the benefits of professional development programs and the efficacy of coaching.  But really getting ahead, beating out the completion is easier than all of that.  In many instances the good old-fashioned stuff is still best – making a phone call, maintaining eye contact, mastering the art of conversation, listening when someone is talking (hopefully you know by now that listening is a skill and is much different from simply being quiet).

I was at a dinner last night where 50% of the adults at the dinner table were on their phones.  This is nothing new.  We have all seen the viral internet pictures of groups of people staring at their screens and the news articles about how Millennials don’t know how to communicate.  I am not the first one to notice this.

But seeing it for the umpteenth time brought it home and helped me connect the dots between how I am and why people respond to me, open up and look to me for guidance.  Since I am good at relating with people I am often accused of reading minds.  And usually I laugh it off.  I take my ability of knowing what the person is thinking before they say it, finishing sentences, and understanding their feelings for granted.  It comes easy to me.  But when I think about it more critically it is clear that it’s not actually a talent, it is a skill.  I do some pretty easy and obvious things when dealing with people who help me understand them and makes them feel understood, cared about and motivates them to work with me instead of the next guy.

I don’t multitask, I am laser focused on what they are saying (not drifting away with the thoughts of my own mind), I look into their eyes, I watch their body language.  People know I am right there with them and that they are my first priority.

Am I special?  Nope.  Can you do these things too and get more clients, provide better customer service, boost profits and beat out your competition.  Yep.

Will you do it?  I don’t know the answer to that one, but I hope you do.  It is much  more cost-effective than spending money on initiatives that you really dont need.