Archive for the ‘Clarity’ Category

I sent my sister an article from the New York Times (yes, my NYT tag keeps getting bigger!) by Ruth Starkman about her experience reading college applications at U.C. Berkeley.  I sent it partly because our children will soon be applying for college.  I also sent it because I feel like it exposes the gross side of the college admissions process, or really any application process.  In other words:  playing the game.  I find both comfort and discomfort in what Starkman writes, although the first feeling was definitely discomfort.

First and foremost, the process is confusingly subjective, despite all the objective criteria I was trained to examine.

Fortunately, that authentic voice articulated itself abundantly. Many essays lucidly expressed a sense of self and character — no small task in a sea of applicants. Less happily, many betrayed the handiwork of pricey application packagers, whose cloying, pompous style was instantly detectable, as were canny attempts to catch some sympathy with a personal story of generalized misery. The torrent of woe could make a reader numb: not another student suffering from parents’ divorce, a learning difference, a rare disease, even dandruff!

In my note to my sister, I wrote that the article stressed me out.  She wisely wrote back that it shows that you might as well just be yourself.  Oh yeah…that’s what I keep telling my clients.

Then she sent me another NYT article…a transcript of a commencement speech by the writer, George Saunders, to Syracuse University students.  It was the perfect antidote.  Real.  Hopeful.  Putting kindness at the top of the list of goals.  A good perspective for everyone…graduating from college or at any stage of life.

It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.

It may be facile, but that’s what I like.  It boils it down to something easy to grasp.  Be kinder.  To others, and I would argue, to yourself.

I have the pleasure of working with several 20-something-year-olds right now and one thing I see again and again is how hard they are on themselves.  There are so many internal and external voices telling them they should be further, better, happier.  They say how old they’re getting.  I have to laugh because I know I felt the same way but from where I’m sitting they are so young!  Again, Saunders has a lovely way of expressing this pressure to succeed.

Still, accomplishment is unreliable.  “Succeeding,” whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there’s the very real danger that “succeeding” will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended.

That’s where balance comes in.  Succeeding is great and we all want to feel productive, but that success will feel so much better if the big questions are not ignored.  And, that’s exactly what I see processes like college applications and complete focus on career potentially doing…crushing the big questions.  There’s not much room for kindness in those processes.  What are the big questions?  They present themselves on their own time…it’s a matter of being willing to see them.  In the meantime,

So, quick, end-of-speech advice: Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up.  Speed it along.  Start right now.



For the past six weeks, I have been taking a course called “A Beginner’s Guide to Irrationality.”  There is something about the title that immediately captured my attention.  I am so often baffled by the things human beings do.  Things that are seemingly irrational and counter-intuitive.  The course put a lot of that into context and explained some interesting things.  I kept meaning to write about different topics the course covered: lying, choices, motivation, and on and on, but here I am after finishing the last week of video lectures and writing about Emotion.

coursera course participants(As an aside, I took the course through Coursera, an online education site that allows you to sign up for courses taught by professors at major universities for free!  My course was taught by a Duke University professor of Behavioral Economics and Psychology, Dan Ariely, and I have to say I was impressed by the content and enjoyed it a lot.  In addition to the material, it was a fascinating process noticing my I-Need-to-Do-Well self coming forward, feeling great joy (well, maybe not great joy, but definitely some level of joy or validation) from getting 100% on the first quiz, and then deciding not to take any more quizzes, not do the reading and not to write the paper.  I was determined to go into a learning environment that could be purely about enjoyment/learning and not about performance.  I was shocked, but not surprised how hard it was.  The thing that helped me let go and try it this way was this graphic on the course webpage showing where the more than 30K participants are from…yes, 30 thousand people!  10K in the U.S., 51 in Nigeria, 51 in Kazakhstan, 287 in Czech Republic and on and on.  I am but a drop in the bucket and no one cares how much I do or do not participate.  Freedom from everyone but myself!)

So, back to emotions.  The professor starts his first lecture of the unit on emotions explaining that emotions are really our core, our most ancient self.  Yes, we know that, even if we often forget it.  His two following points about emotions are not surprising either:

  • When they arise, they take over
  • They are more short-lived than we think

That brought up a few thoughts for me.

When they arise, they take over:  Yes, makes sense.  Crimes of passion, unsafe sex, freaking out in a disaster.  Logic out.  It also makes sense that they are more short-lived than we think they will be.  Apparently, studies show that people always assume that emotional states will last longer than they end up lasting.  Like in a divorce…people predict they will be miserable for a long time, but turns out that feeling goes away faster than they thought.  Or, in a new love.  People predict the great feelings will last for a long time, but they also fade out fairly quickly.  It’s kind of like we go back to our set-point.  That place where we usually hover.  (This New York Times article about happiness looks at that idea of a set point.  If you read it, ignore the researcher’s comment about life coaches being light weight!  We’re not trying to be academic and precise.  We’re trying to support individuals in an authentic and yes, imperfect way.)

That all makes sense to me up to a point.  I think while the actual emotions probably do fade more quickly than we think, I feel like many of us are left with something else: a shadow emotion or something like that.  An emotion that may not be active, but that is there influencing how we live our lives.  And that shadow emotion can stay with us for a long long time and dictate how we live our lives.  What I’m curious about is whether it is an emotion that didn’t get fully expressed and that’s why it stays or is it that the memory of the intensity of the emotion is so strong that on some deep level we will do anything not to experience it again.  Maybe it depends.  Maybe it’s something else.

What I do know is that is that feels like many of us are ruled by our deepest most primal emotions to one degree or another.  Not the ones that are flaring up now, but these shadow emotions that stand in the way.  They’re so deep and core that often we don’t even really know what they are, which makes them harder to deal with.

The thing that really strikes me here, and I think bares repeating is how powerful emotions are.  How in a non-emotional state we can and would make a whole series of decisions about certain things, while in an emotional state that all goes out the window and we make completely different decisions.  But are we ever is a completely non-emotional state?  I suppose that is the deeper question.

I had a moment of clarity a few months ago about a decision, and it gave me a new sense of calm.  The cool thing is that my gut had already given me this information and told me what to do.  But I couldn’t explain it…and I like to be able to understand and articulate the choices I make.

The background is that I joined Facebook a few years ago…for a day.  After a few friend requests, my mental alarm sounded…GET OFF!!!  So I did.  There were lots of reasons not to get off, not the least of which is all the flack I get from friends for not being on Facebook.  But my gut won out.  I deflected all the “shoulds” coming my way, but not without a little doubt about my decision.  No, not doubt, but instead a lack of clarity.

So, here’s what I realized (and let’s be clear…this is not a rant against Facebook or people who use it):  I need and want a certain type of connection with people and when I don’t get it, I feel frustrated.  This is about me and my expectations, but I live with me so I have to take those into account.

Despite not being on Facebook, a few people have “found” me in other ways on the internet.  I’m always surprised when someone reaches out and I get that rush of being sought.  So I sit down and write a long email catching them up on me and asking questions about them.  And then almost always, I don’t hear back.  Never again.  That deflates me and in the end the whole exchange seems pointless. I realize that is not true for everyone, but I kind of go on the assumption that if someone is reaching out they are ready to engage.  And despite the fact that I know many (most) people are not like me in that way, I can’t reset my expectations and feelings.

And that’s why the culture of Facebook is not for me.  It lets people get snippets of information and share their own snippets, but from my perspective there is no real connection.  I imagine myself with a list of “friends” and all I would see is missed connections.  I know that’s just me.  For some people that list represents real connection.  Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert.  Maybe it’s just my personality.  For better or worse I want what for me feels like a real connection and dialogue.  Even if it’s infrequent.

It’s funny because I get a lot of comments about not being on Facebook and some people see it as me withholding or not wanting to get involved, but it’s actually quite the opposite.  I want to dive in and be involved.  I don’t want to view it all from a safe distance.  Facebook would overwhelm me and I would always feel like I was not responding to people’s comments, photos, etc.  Again, totally about me.  My husband, who has tried again and again to get me on Facebook, is perfectly happy with the setup.  As are millions of others.

But I can’t believe it’s a good fit for everyone.  I have had clients and friends tell me how much it stresses them out and yet how much time they spend on it.

So, why write this now?*  Partly because I got tired of going over it again and again in my head (clearly this is something I want to communicate).  And then I read a piece by Jonathan Franzen in the NY Times and it has a similar underlying theme…or at least that’s how I read it.  (Click here to read the article.)

Ever since my moment of clarity, I don’t feel cornered or pushed to try Facebook and that is freeing in a social media world.  Right now, it’s not for me.  That might change.  I’m open to that.

* The truth is that this is a pretty old post that I had saved as a draft and worked on off and on for months.  Not sure why I didn’t publish it.  But yesterday I read another NYT article that clinched the deal.  The article, Don’t Tell Me, I Don’t Want to Know by Pamela Paul, resonated with me and even made me feel a little bit proud that I listened to my gut and stayed off Facebook.

It’s that time of year.  The end of one and the beginning of a new one.  The time when many people size up where they are and think about where they want to be.  I wrote last year about how I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions.  Or, at least, that they aren’t for me.  They seem to set people up for failure and that’s not a good way to start a new year…or a good feeling to have at the end of January when you realize you’ve not followed through with your resolution/s.  Then you have 11 months to bemoan that and feel bad.

This year I am thinking about the new year in a different way.  I’m looking ahead at the year to come in a broader way and trying to come up with a metaphor or vision for how I want my year to be or how I want to be as a person.  2011 was all about resettling in San Francisco and getting my older son set up in high school.  We’re resettled and he’s settled.

As I sit here in a funny massage chair in a cottage in Maui’s upcountry, I’m trying to imagine where I want to be (mostly mentally) at this time next year.  Later today we’ll go to the top of Haleakala, the volcano on Maui.  I think I’ll find inspiration up there.  Maybe next year will be about climbing peaks…physical and metaphorical.  Maybe 2011 was the year of the burrowing rabbit and 2012 will be the year of the mountain goat or the bald eagle.  I’m not sure, but I like the idea of looking at it in this broad sense.  Then I can ask myself during the year whether I am staying true to that vision.  Even if I don’t get to the top of many peaks…am I trying?  Am I moving forward?

What is your vision for 2012?

May 2012 be all that you want it to be.

I just read another article from The Atlantic that has my mind buzzing.  So much to think about!  On so many levels I don’t even know where to begin.  But I want to share it.  Right now.

I assume the article by Lori Gottlieb, “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy” is mostly aimed at parents, but since we are all children to someone and deal with other human beings in our lives, I think it’s a great read for anyone.

Where do I fit into this?  How was I raised?  What am I doing?  What makes me happy? How are those around me doing things?  What is my reaction to how others do it?  What about the things that society encourages/discourages?  What is society?

My biggest take-away, is, Wow, I need to do some thinking about myself as a parent, as a coach to my clients and as a person. What is your reaction?