The Blog

The other day I was contemplating how uncertain our financial future is. You know, like Darrell and I have been doing for the past twenty years or so.

I’d like to think we’re getting smarter, that the risks we’ve been taking are about to pay off in a way that will reassure us beyond any doubt we were smart to take them -- but who knows?

Not me.

It’s either going to work or it isn’t, I decided. Why not adopt a sunnier outlook in the meantime? Instead of worrying, why not give thanks for a story that isn’t boring? What could that possibly hurt?

Sold.

Not that anyone will know the difference. I’m pretty obnoxiously upbeat as it is. The proof was on Twitter recently: “When kids grow up, they hear their parent’s voice in their subconscious. Make sure it’s positive.” I felt not one twinge of anxiety when I read that, not one tiny bit of panic I’d failed Katie somehow.

Which is really something -- because if there was a way to feel guilty about something, I’d find it!

If there’s a better tale of redemption than this one, I hope you’ll let me know.

That will be all.

“Hope depends upon taking care that we have at least two alternatives,” my friend Dick Bolles says, “in every situation we find ourselves, and with every task confronting us.”

I’ll second that notion and raise you one, Dick.

A good attitude depends on remembering there’s always a choice. Maybe you’re not in the mood to call what you “have to do” something you “get to do.” But at least do yourself the favor of remembering it’s your choice to honor the commitment.

Keeping promises feels good. Building a reputation as someone who does feels great. Do what you say you’re going to do when you said you were going to do it -- and watch your stock soar with your boss, your family, and your friends.

Don’t forget the promises you make to yourself, either.

Here’s how I decide whether to book someone as a guest on the talk show. Can I learn something? And does the person have an energy that’s infectious?

I’ll keep having Rich Gallagher on the program until I learn to embrace the way he handles criticism. I’ll keep having him on the show beyond that, to be sure -- but I’m most eager to adopt this most enchanting aspect of his personality.

When someone criticizes him he says, “No kidding!” or whatever. And then something along the lines of, “You think that’s bad? You should’ve seen me the last time. I really sucked.” The wording is probably different every time -- Rich isn’t one for reading from a script, another reason I admire him so much -- but the message is always the same: “I agree.”

Rich isn’t a pushover. Sometimes he’s criticized by people whose motives are not, shall we say, entirely pure. But he’s smart enough to find the pebble of truth in a beach full of things that aren’t true. He pounces on that and turns it on his challenger in a way I’d pay good money to see.

Rich says he learned this technique from Feeling Good author David Burns. Find something you agree with. Something, anything. Focus on that. You can ease into your perspective later once the person you’re talking with feels heard. Defend yourself too soon and watch the exchange unravel.

The most interesting thing about agreeing with someone who’s attacking you is how quickly it disables that person. I’d cite personal experience, but I don’t really have any. I’ve found it difficult, when someone takes a shot, to be gracious.

I hate that! I hate that my feathers are visibly ruffled and that things are awkward for even a moment.

I love how quickly I settle down, remember to thank people for telling me the truth, and -- when I realize just how much they’ve helped -- thank them again and again.

But in the moment? That’s really hard.

I’m determined to master it, though. It seems like a more effective way to be with people. The best part? It’s playful.

We take ourselves so seriously sometimes. There’s a lot to be said, I think, for weaving more whimsy into our lives.

Do you let people be?
October 25, 2014

If I had my life to live over again, I’d probably do it the same way. I don’t have much in the way of regret. I’d like to think I’m like Katie in that respect. “I put everything in the win column,” she says, “because it’s a learning experience.”

If forced at gunpoint to go back and live my life over again a different way, this is the change I’d most like to make. I’d let people be.

I used to think I couldn’t stand it when people were mad. They weren’t even necessarily mad at me. But when they went looking for a place to put that anger it was as if I had a sign on my forehead that said, “Pick me!”

When you love someone and he’s angry, I thought, you step up. You fix it. Which is some kind of pressure to put on yourself. And it only makes people more angry, as it turns out. It’s as if they don’t have a right to their feelings.

So the new me, the different me, would know she could handle people being mad. She’d politely ask if there was anything she could do to help, but also politely excuse herself if there wasn’t.

The second change I’d most like to make? I’d realize much earlier that having everyone like you is a mathematical impossibility -- if only because people disagree with each other. More importantly, I wouldn’t have lobbied for acceptance from people I don’t enjoy being with. All it gets you is more time with people you don’t like. Duh.

I’m not running for mayor. I wish I would’ve realized it earlier. And I wonder if anyone’s packed more wisdom into a sentence than Julien Smith did with this little gem: “When people don’t like you, nothing actually happens.”

In their book, Heart-Centered Leadership, Susan Steinbrecher and Joel Bennett pose what I think is an irresistible question: “When was the last time you really listened to someone when it was difficult for you to do so?”

I haven’t had a scrap with anyone since I pondered those words, but I think I’ll proceed with more grace for having done that.

But who knows? I’ve heard dozens if not hundreds of references to Stephen Covey’s wisdom on this point: “Seek first to understand.” And still I’ve bumbled my way through one difficult conversation after another.

I know one thing. I’ll strive for more emotional evenness from here on out. Darrell and I recently witnessed an hour-long screaming and crying fit from a gentleman in a café, of all places, who was worried he wasn’t going to get his money back from someone he’d loaned it to -- someone who was about to go to prison. The man had every reason to be upset, from what we could hear -- and we could hear a lot. But the way he presented it was so distracting you just wanted to get as far away from him as possible.

If your reasons are sound, they’ll keep. Keep yourself firmly planted in the other guy’s shoes until and unless you’re sure you have anything worthwhile to add to his perspective. Even then, pretend you’re watching yourself in a movie. Are you proud of that person?

I haven’t always been, but I can do better.

You know I’ll keep you posted!

As gifts go, this was a doozy. Way, way, way more than we could afford -- depending on how you look at it -- and quite the statement, regardless.

Some people we knew were in trouble. We were surprised to be on the list of those from whom they’d accept help, if only because they’ve practically made a career out of telling us we work too hard and are going about our lives the wrong way.

We put those feelings aside and did the right thing. We stepped up.

You can guess where this was going. Nowhere. They heard we’d stepped up. They told us that. And?

Nothing. That was it. They found out we’d pitched in. Next subject!

Maybe you’ve heard the suggestion to do the right thing because it’s the right thing, not for a gold star or a certificate of appreciation or even a quick “thank you.”

I didn’t expect this gift to change things between us. Even if it was possible to buy someone’s affection, Darrell and I decided, why would you want to?

But it was a good reminder to do things for the right reasons. I’d never really been tested before, not like this.

We passed. The reward was in the doing. Maybe that’s why they call it the present.

The most difficult thing about giving up junk food was coming to terms with how little else there is to eat. If you go with my definition, which is admittedly pretty strict, I think your heart will sink at how little is left. A quick walk through the grocery store, looking at this can or that box, confirms it: “Junk. Junk. Junk. Junk.”

The best thing about giving up junk food is how I feel without artificial sweeteners and God knows what else running through my system.

Clear.

I’d never known that feeling before. I often wonder what I could’ve accomplished had I realized it sooner.

Every day reinforces one heck of a life-changing decision. I feel younger every day.

And sure, it gets a little boring sometimes.

Is it worth it?

Are you kidding?