Social Validation and The Inauthentic Brag: Humblebrag

I scrolled through my social media feed and stopped to read what I thought was a positive post. It began with “feeling blessed” but the content that followed made it clear that this person was struggling and having a tough time with life. Truth is, it sounded rough. I could relate to the frustration, but what I didn’t understand were the blessings this person referred to because none of those were mentioned. Worse, people commented on the grief with responses such as, “I survived something as horrible or far worse than what you’re going through, so you can make it, too. Hang in there. #bestrong.”

Other posts included:

“Only I can rock a $700 handbag and $100 t-shirt and still manage to look homeless;”

or

“I did this great giving and selfless thing for people way less fortunate than me, and was humbled to hear how much I changed the other person’s life.” I don’t need the thanks, it just felt so good to give, #karma. #blessed”

By design, social media is intended to be social, but is it always honest?

With the exception of the “blessings”, it turns out there is a term for these types of posts. It’s called the humblebrag. Harris Wittels, stand-up comic and writer for the television show Parks and Recreation, has coined this term and calls these kinds of posts ‘false humility’.

The urban dictionary defines the humblebrag as a brag shrouded in a transparent form of humility.

From the, “It’s not a brag, I’m just complaining” humble brag to the, “this isn’t a brag I’m just being self-deprecating” humble brag, the number of offenders is limitless. These offences are all captured on Wittels’ Twitter handle, @humblebrag, an account that has quickly amassed an enormous following.

Whatever it’s being called, I understand the resistance to brag as well as the longing to be socially validated. I grew up in the Catholic Church where we studied the seven virtues that taught us to be “good” people. One of those virtues is to be humble over being prideful. Maybe a humblebrag, although misguided, is the result of attempting to be both validated and humble.

What I don’t understand is the motivation to be inauthentic instead of proud; or the hunger to be validated for pretending to be something we are not. The humblebrag is one example; the “blessings” is another. They have different approaches and content; but similar intentions. They are saying one thing, but feeling another.

Webster’s dictionary defines proud and pride in the same context, but there is a distinct difference. It may not always be obvious, but you know it when you see it. 

Discerning between them depends on a deep-rooted understanding of what is motivating the content of the post.

Being prideful is a “high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority; whereas being proud is: “someone or something cherished, valued, or enjoyed.”

Elementary school may have taught me to be humble, but adulthood has taught me to embrace the powerful. By powerful, I don’t mean title, money, stature or fame, but the kind of power that makes being human awesome.

There is nothing powerful about being inauthentic or expecting to be validated by others. True power comes from knowing who you are, what you stand for and what difference that makes to the world.

Being human isn’t always glamorous or easy; nor is it always a struggle.

Humblebrags, one-sided views or positive posts that are diluted in half-truths suggest your hiding something or pretending to be something you’re not. Truth, not fake humility, makes you trustworthy, powerful – and more interesting than the images you’ve posted about your generosity or success. Life is not one-sided and sharing a struggle allows us to help celebrate a success.

The range of experience and perspectives is what makes connections meaningful — in life and on social media. Share the moments that make you laugh, cry or think. Share photos of your family gatherings or your exotic travels. Share your thoughts on politics or politicians. Ask for prayers. Ask for opinions. Share your joy and success. Be proud. Avoid being prideful. Share your struggle. Be REAL.

But please do so AUTHENTICALLY because those are the moments that make life worth sharing.

When I began to write on this topic, I did so from a place of judgment and irritation that stemmed from social media offenses, some of which can be found on this fabulous story about posts that should cease. But as I worked through this article, I’ve come to believe that the world – and the world of social media — has the potential to be a better place. It begins with self-awareness and moves upward toward higher energies of acceptance, gratitude and love.

Consider the following tips:

Become Self-Aware

  • What is motivating me to publish this thought or image? Is it to boast or brag? Am I seeking approval? Is it to draw attention to myself or my success? Or is it to honor my success and share an interesting and powerful moment with friends? Will my response to this person’s struggle be helpful, or am I simply drawing attention to myself?
  • Is my post authentic? Is it staged or is it an image that captures what is real and important in my life?
  • How often do my posts brag or self-promote? Bragging and self- promotion should be a small percentage of what you post.

Consider your Audience

  • Who is the post targeted to? Think about who is reading your posts and how they might react. If your social media posts are typically about your business, consider starting another page for those messages. If your posts are painfully personal or inappropriate for your entire audience, send an email or private message to those in a position to help you.

What Difference or Impact Will Your Message Make?

  • In 2 years, will this post hold the same importance it does today? Will it alter the way my audience may see me forever or is it the same post and pose as the previous 100 posts?
  • Is the post kind and compassionate or filled with hatred, envy or rage?
  • Can I survive reading one more humblebrag or political post? Will the serial humblebragger ever change? Let’s face it, some people will never stop. So delete them, or take it for what it’s worth – an entertaining ramble. But, the fact that someone named the phenomenon makes it fun for everyone. So sit back and laugh.

 Please share your favorite humblebrag in the comments section. Or better yet, create your own humblebrag by using this humblebrag generator: http://www.dontbesomodest.com/

 

 

 

 

What you wish for

I sat by my fireplace and meditated on my financial health for the upcoming new year.  My goals were to honor my financial commitments, take care of my young son, and have the ability to save a specific amount of money. I also wanted this to happen by doing what I loved to do. The amount I wished to save was a stretch, but not necessarily what I would call a miracle. I wrote my goal in the form of an intention into my journal, clearly specified the amount, gave thanks to the universe for it being so, and went about the business of my life.

As a single mother, my priority was to be present for my young son and build a business that could sustain us through the highs and lows.  My goal to be self-employed was important because I felt it would allow me to do what I was born to do while also being flexible enough for my son’s needs. I couldn’t visualize how a commute would work for my family situation and I didn’t spy many classified ads in my small-town paper seeking my specialized skills.

Six months passed and business was steady, but my financial obligations were such that I wasn’t making progress in the savings department. I didn’t give it too much thought until the day I was asked to submit a proposal to a larger company seeking my services. I interviewed the primary contacts to learn more about their project needs.  One of the interviews didn’t go as well as anticipated and I found myself put off by the energy of the potential client. That didn’t stop me from submitting the proposal but it did prompt me to increase my hourly rate.

I was selected as the vendor, but had mixed emotions about accepting the project. I contemplated the pros and cons and found myself frozen inside of the decision. I feared that the negative person would put a damper on my work and perhaps hinder the outcome of the project. On the other hand, the income would provide a financial cushion. The ego was motivated by money, but my spirit was motivated by contribution. I didn’t want to make a work decision based solely on financial gain. Confounded, I turned to meditation.

It was in the quiet of that time when an overwhelming sense of calm came over me. It was then that a small voice inside my head whispered to “approach your work as if working for the Divine and not for man.”

I decided to accept the contract and approach it with an open heart rather than a judgmental one. With contract signed and deposit it in hand, I realized that the project income would allow me to exceed my savings expectation by exactly $100. I giggled at this because it became clear to me that the Divine had a sense of humor; as if it to say, “perhaps you should have taken a bigger leap because I am able to do so much more. I make miracles happen every day.”

That project became one of the benchmarks of my career — in more ways than one. The person I had judged as “difficult” became a respected colleague who taught me more than they could ever know; and the outcome led me to become a certified life coach — a role that brings joy and purpose to my life nearly every day.

I carry the lessons of that project with me and every year make a “wish list” that far exceeds what my mind can justify or rationalize. I get into trouble when I attempt to control how, but they typically come true, particularly when I let go and “let them happen” in ways that will surprise me.

I write this message today to remind you to dream big and believe in the power of your intentions and wishes. Approach the year and your life with powerful perspectives and trust me when I say that what you want can and will come true. Not in the timeframe or necessarily in the package you expect, but what your heart desires will arrive and it will be powerful.

For tips to help your new year’s resolution stick, read more here: http://www.vibranthealthclinics.com/resolutions/

Strength of Spider Webs

When my five-year-old old son woke up that morning, he insisted I call him Peter Parker.  It was the time in his young life when he was mesmerized by the adventures of Spiderman so I assumed his request was made because he was fantasizing about being a superhero.   During breakfast, I forgot about his morph and accidentally called him Cameron. He refused to respond or make eye contact. When I asked Peter Parker to take his empty oatmeal bowl to the sink, he smiled, stood and proceeded to the kitchen.

When he arrived at school, he announced to his kindergarten teacher and class that he wanted to be called Peter Parker.  The kids giggled and honored his request. Mrs. Larsen agreed, but told him he needed to morph back into himself that afternoon before the kindergarten concert.

Parents filled the bleachers in the gym that had become the makeshift auditorium. The music teacher had arranged a variety of noise-makers on the gym floor and was preparing to showcase the songs the small voices had been practicing all year. The kindergartners stood single-file in the hallway waiting to make their grand entrance.

I could see my son at the front of the line. He appeared to be distracted as the music teacher gave the signal to enter.  As the kids began their march into the gym, my son dropped to his hands and knees and began to slink across the floor in Spiderman-like fashion, accentuating each arm movement with his fingers spread as if they were webbed.  From the bleachers I could hear the snickers from the kindergartners behind him.  When he got to the spot on the line where he was supposed to stand, he turned on all fours, raised his forearm, put his fingers into position and began to shoot imaginary webs in the direction of the bleachers.  Some of the parents began to whisper and glance my way to watch my reaction. As his parent, I was half mortified, half entertained by the unfolding drama. I was mortified only because I wanted my son to be the kind of child who respects the wishes of his teacher; and entertained because it was hilarious.

He sang the songs he remembered, sat quietly when some of the students stepped out front to use the noise-makers; but mostly looked around and kept watch for potential bad guys. When the concert ended, the students were free to go with their parents. Cameron walked over and I sensed he was still in Peter Parker mode.  We gathered up his back pack and headed for home.

For the next few days, he answered only to the name of Peter, but in the evening, I insisted I would only read a nighttime story to Cameron.  We eventually returned to our normal and the episode faded without mention.

Years later I asked my son if he remembered the Spiderman concert and he finally shared his thoughts.  The kindergarten concert was the first time he would have performed in front of a large group and he said he had been terrified. To manage his fear leading up to the show, he morphed into the brave Peter Parker.  When he saw the large crowd of parents, his fears heightened and he needed the superhero to conquer it. He shot a magic web every time he felt like he wanted to cry.

He has since learned that stage fright is normal and that there is nothing to fear.  In fact, he’s extremely comfortable talking to crowds and has a way of cracking himself up.

Thinking about it now, I believe his plan was brilliant. The size of the fear relegated the size of the tool.  If he were slightly scared, he needed only to morph.  If the fear hit him in the face unexpectedly, it called for superhero powers. Each time the fear reared its head, he summoned a magical web.

Recently, I was asked to speak to a crowd.  As I prepared for my introduction, I thought of my son’s courageous superhero and started to smile. I didn’t morph into Peter Parker, or drop to the floor like Spiderman, but I was able to muster the appropriate amount of courage it took to conquer my fear.

I think the key is to find the fear-fighting tool that feels right to you. Maybe it’s a superhero, or perhaps it’s a ritual, rock or lucky charm.  All I know is that fear is like those parents in the bleachers.  They can paralyze us with fear, or teach us to create miraculous webs.

 

Forgiveness Found in Unusual Places

Walking into the dental office that morning was more difficult than running a marathon.  My palms were wet with sweat, my legs felt heavy as lead, and my breathing was quick and strained.  As I reached for the door, I braced myself for the smell of anesthesia and the sound of drills grinding teeth. The thought sent a wave of nausea over me.  The next steps were blurred as I entered the waiting room and approached the registration desk.  I was greeted by warm, smiling faces who immediately escorted me to the chair of impending doom. They knew I was “one of those patients.”

I was slightly dazed as the assistant secured the dental bib around my neck and asked if I wanted headphones. We agreed the noise would help drown out the sound of the drill.

As the chair reclined, my body tightened as if life-sustaining oxygen was being squeezed out of my lungs by a boa constrictor. Regardless of the nitrous oxide being pumped through my body through a small masked funnel across my face, my anxiety level was at an all-time high.  Inhaling deeply, I attempted to relax my mind and my muscles to endure a routine dental procedure.

Without warning, my sobbing began.  When the assistant left me to gather my thoughts, I scolded myself and questioned why I was reacting like a child.  As the nitrous drunkenness took hold, memories flooded my brain.  I was under the lights of an ER strapped to a table.

I was six years old and my mom and dad had scheduled a night out, leaving us with a high school-aged neighbor girl.  My parents had given us specific instructions to stay in the house and obey the sitter, but the weather was warm and I was aching to be outside. I lied to the sitter and convinced her to let me go for a bike ride.

My bike was sweet. It sported a yellow banana seat, chopper-style handlebars and glittered string confetti hanging from the handles. My dad added reflective lights to the spokes and mounted a fancy orange flag on the end of a white stick to the back of my seat.  When I peddled fast, the flag would whip in the wind and make a whistling sound.  I pretended to be Evil Knievel soaring across Grand Canyon when I jumped curbs. I felt daring and free.

The alley behind our house had a storm water run-off drain that was covered by a metal grate with bars about two inches apart.  I had cycled past it a dozen times before, but that day I decided to ride over the top of it going top speed.

Unfortunately, the tires on my bike were smaller than the distance between the bars on the grate and when my front tire hit the grate, it slide between the bars and locked up.  The intertia continued to propel me forward and threw me onto the concrete.  With my hands on the bars, I landed directly on my face. Then I blacked out.

When I regained consciousness, I was in a frightening room with bright lights, muffled voices, white coats, and the realization that I couldn’t move my arms.  They had been strapped down to a table so the doctors and nurses could do their work.  My mom stood nearby watching them stitch me up. Beyond the physical wounds, my heart hurt the worst. I told myself I was a terrible, horrible, awful kid for having ruined my parent’s night out. I thought the accident was God’s way of punishing me for lying to the sitter.

I didn’t realize it then, but that moment shifted my entire existence. I had appointments with doctors and weekly appointments with the dentist. Not only was each visit a reminder of my offense, but the accident also changed the shape of my mouth and jaw.  My smile was never the same.  I once resembled my sisters, but was never again confused as a twin or triplet when we went out.  I felt like an outsider in my own family.

In the dental chair that day, I realized why I was subconsciously – and consciously — terrified by the dental chair. It wasn’t the smells or the sounds, while still unpleasant, it was the reminder of the negative messages I told myself as a six year old.

After my appointment, I stopped at a state park and gave those messages back to the universe.  Odd as it sounds, I forgave the little girl for being human and adventurous and thanked her for being courageous in a frightening place.  The little girl with the broken mouth and face was finally at peace. I put her to rest inside my heart.

Driving home that day, I questioned how many other negative messages I had inadvertently carried into adulthood and decided to recycle them, too. I chose to re-shape my belief system and dwell from a place of power.

When we operate from a place of awareness and pay attention to the messages of our soul, it gives us an opportunity to dwell in possibility and live in a Powerful Perspective.

To learn more about the Powerful Perspectives coaching process, or schedule an introductory coaching appointment, kindly email: SamanthaBluhm@icloud.com

Crayon Stained Stories

My favorite slacks were a well-worn pair of khaki capri’s purchased on sale at the Gap. They were casual and comfortable and often became my default weekend-wear.

One weekend when my son and I enjoyed breakfast at a greasy spoon, the black crayon he used to play tic, tac, toe ended up in his pocket, and eventually found its way into my dryer.  In the heat, it melted into chunks of black gunk.  The lovely black glue adhered itself to every piece of clothing in that load, including my favorite khaki capri’s.

When I discovered my khakis covered with melted black crayon, I had a melt down of my own.  I threw an adult-sized temper tantrum and yelled at Cameron for being irresponsible and spoiled. I stomped around the house, carried on about the tragedy and ranted about how impossible it would be to replace them.

Cameron apologized for the crayon, but I was too upset to notice his grief and regret until his sobbing jolted me back to reality. I saw the reflection of my rage in his eyes and realized how my words were impacting his world.  I felt awful. I scooped him up, hugged him, and apologized for being mean spirited.  I asked him to forgive me for my temper.  I was still upset, but promised to find another way to express my anger. We agreed to look for a solution together.

We scrubbed, soaked, bleached and purchased every creative concoction that promised to remove challenging stains, but nothing worked. Every failed attempt sunk Cameron’s hopes and sparked guilt for my human, but horrible reaction.  When we exhausted our resources, we acknowledged defeat.  My favorite pants had become black-wax khakis and were destined for the dump.

With the heart and wisdom of a child, Cameron timidly told me he liked my khakis better covered with black gunk. He thought they made them look interesting and unique. He’s a sweetheart optimist, but I recognized it was his attempt to make everything ok and realized the distinctive flair of our hand-made pants provided a unique opportunity for me to be a better mom.

Later that week I volunteered at Cameron’s school and showed up in his classroom wearing black-wax pants. When I walked in, Cameron noticed my pants and instantly smiled his precious smile. Later I overheard him whisper to his buddies that my outfit was unique and hand-made. He said they made me look pretty. I secretly celebrated our crayon-stained story had a better ending than its beginning.

A regrettable reaction gave me the opportunity to create a new and powerful perspective with my son.  I don’t wear them anymore, but I’ve kept the crayon-stained pants to remind me that some things are more important than pants and story endings can be re-written.

Letting Go

The buzz of the alarm jolted me to life at 4:30 a.m. Barely awake and aching from the previous day’s workout, I debated with myself to roll over and go back to sleep, or get out of bed to meet my friends at the running track.

Against my body’s wishes, I shoved off the warm blankets, got out of bed and walked toward the bathroom. I splashed cold water on my face, looked into the mirror, and asked myself what the heck I was doing. This was the kind of morning where the will to succeed outweighed the desire to give in.

Along with two other friends, I was following a training plan for an upcoming 10-mile race and that day’s workout called for mile repeats. A mile was four laps around the track and the goal was to run a mile at top speed, take a minute to recover, and then do it again. On the first lap of mile 4, I noticed on one side of the track was the full moon and the other side was the rising sun and in between were magnificent stars. It was a spectacular feeling of smallness that momentarily distracted me from my effort and made the other three laps zip past. When we finished our run, we cooled down, stretched and went our separate ways.

We would meet four or five times a week to vary our distance and speed and keep each other on course. More than once I gave thanks for the team waiting at the Y; and begrudgingly became accustomed to the 4:30 alarm. I wasn’t always pleasant and admit to cussing them out when they suggested we get up at 4:15 to run long before work. That was the day I discovered my threshold. With the encouragement of my partners, though, I pushed through and later felt gratification for mustering the strength.

Our runs weren’t just about running. We spent hours together and crazy as it might sound, it became my Prozac. We honored each other with the promise that what was said on the run, stayed on the run. We vented about work and mourned painful loss. We shared stories about mutual friends and chatted about weather, moon phases and shooting stars. We shared stories of our kids and observations of the insanity we call humanity. But mostly we celebrated each other’s success, regardless of how large or small.

It was during those runs when I felt most alive. I felt I had purpose and control over one area of my life.

We trained for several months and never missed a scheduled run. We tapered our distances, rested and felt confident for our big day. We traveled as a team to the race and joined others who were running for the cause. The temperatures that morning were cool enough for long sleeves at lineup, but warm enough for short sleeves after mile one. It was overcast, but clearing, and I was feeling well prepared to meet my goal. I had hydrated and slept well and had my favorite pre-race meal the night before. I was shoulder to shoulder with 2500 women who were all pushing beyond from where they had come. The national anthem brought tears to my eyes and life in that moment, was perfect and complete.

The horn sounded and the sea of runners moved across the timing mats in waves. For the first mile, I weaved through the crowd, hoping to clear a path. Miles 2 and 3 went by in a blur and I started to get in my groove. Somewhere between miles 5 and 6 I realized that I was off my pace and my heart began to sink. I continued forward and at mile 8, forsaking modern day miracles, I knew I wouldn’t make my goal.

Every finish line has its story and it is powerful every time. More often than not, the finish line represents victory, but on that day, it represented defeat. I replayed each mile, wondering where I had gone wrong, and with each reiteration I cursed myself more. I had no good reason and it didn’t add up. I had nothing and nobody to blame but the day. I felt disillusioned and wondered why I tried.

The finish line haunted me and the miniscule five minutes defined who I was. I had lost my perspective and was focused on the result. My energy had gone into my training; something I thought I could control. As it turns out, I have no control at all.

I’ve come to realize that Powerful Perspectives are not about control; they’re about letting go. And not just finish times, regret, sorrow or loss. It’s about experiencing and embracing what’s in front of us that matters the most. Yes, goals are important and they help us define success, but the power is in the journey, not the finish line at all.

An Extraordinary Pumpkin

With each skin cream treatment, the pink blemish on the side of my face appeared to sizzle like eggs frying in bacon grease.  The center of the blemish turned brown, rimmed in swollen auburn and orange rings. The blemish was a form of skin cancer and was being treated with cream, instead of surgical removal. The removal process involved five days of treatments for six weeks.  Halfway through the regimen, what was a tolerable light pink blemish had become a hideous fried scab the size of a cigar burn.

I consider myself healthier than average and take care of what I’ve been given, but it seemed to be vain to be focused on physical appearances that morning.  As I prepared to make my way out the door, I was not my typical life-coach self. I was feeling ugly and self-conscious and my hair had been styled to hide my swollen face.

Feeling sorry for myself, I inched through the morning and avoided as many people as possible.

At lunch, I took a hike along a beautiful nature trail and found a bench over-looking the city. I sat and let the hot tears of shame come. Between sobs, I pleaded with the universe to give me a sign and help me make sense of my life.

When I had exhausted the tears and gathered my emotions, I walked with my head-down and crunched the fall leaves beneath my feet.  On the path a few feet away, I noticed an oak leaf glimmering with the stunning colors of autumn — burnt orange, auburn and brown.

As I admired the rich colors and breathed in the crisp air, it occurred to me the colors in the leaf were similar to the patch on my face and I began to cry again. This time the tears cleansed and helped me realize that beauty comes in all shapes, sizes and colors. I carried the leaf to the end of the path and released it to the wind as I thanked it for its message.

Later that evening as I finished up dinner dishes, I got a call from  a client who owned 40 acres of land north of town.  His love of the land and gardening led him to plant strawberries, rows of sweet corn, melons, cucumbers and pumpkins.

This client has become a dear friend and had kept my son and I stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables all summer; including more sweet corn than a family can eat in a year.  We were so blessed by the abundance coming from his generous and prosperous green thumb.

This call was to inform me he had another surprise for us and asked if he could drop it off at our house.

Moments later he showed up and handed me a mammoth 50 lb. plus pumpkin with an over-sized handle.  The pumpkin seeds, he said, were genetically engineered to produce an extra large stem to hold the weight of the pumpkin. He thought this pumpkin would be good for Cameron.

Then he handed over one of the most unusual and special gifts I’ve ever been privileged to receive. It was a 30 lb. pumpkin that had unusual markings in the skin that read “Samantha, Happy Halloween!”  When I asked  how “the pumpkin grew those words,” he told me the following story:

“Before I planted the seeds in April, I blessed them.  In June when the pumpkins turned green, I took a sharp nail and carved gently into the skin of the pumpkin. As the pumpkin continued to grow, it healed itself and scabbed over, leaving a  small reminder of the wound sustained earlier in the season. The scab is a sign of the pumpkin’s endurance and strength.”

As he finished his story, I stood in awed silence for the timing of the pumpkin delivery and the magnificence of this marvelous gift.  The tears that came for the third time that day were now healing tears of gratitude.

My client and friend had scratched the skin of that pumpkin months ago to produce a magical pumpkin for the Halloween season.  He would have had no idea back in June that my skin would be wounded and scabbing in much the same way that day.

This gift was more than a remarkable pumpkin, it was a miracle and the sign I needed to renew my trust and faith in the universe.

My skin, ego and scars were no longer the focus of my day. My attitude instantly turned to Powerful Perspectives of awareness, appreciation and love of a particular pumpkin and precious act of a friend.

Each fall when the pumpkins arrive, I stop and give thanks for the special gift of friendship — and the power of signs and miracles.

When we look for miracles, they find us and make us aware of their power to heal and bring us to a better place.

What may be an ordinary pumpkin, becomes extraordinary in an instant.

The Fish Will Tell You How to Fish Them

I signed up for the fly-fishing-for-women course through the local B&B because I needed to escape my everyday existence and learn something new. I had been drawn to the running trails near the Kinnickinnic, but had never stepped foot in the water.  Often times I found myself near the river, hypnotized by the sound of rushing water, and mesmerized by the beauty and rhythm of a fly fisherman’s technique.  I watched with fascination as the line was ripped from the water when the fisherman had one on.  Without fail, the fisherman displayed compassion for the fish and respect for the stream.  I lost myself in the scene and I allowed my worries to be carried away by the current.  The river was a magical place and I wanted to learn more about its depth.

I arrived at the class in a bright pink, short-sleeved top and khaki shorts, with a borrowed rod and reel.  I had a great little pack of flies that had been a birthday gift from a friend cinched around my waist.  I had spied this look on a pro while walking near the Rush River one day and boldly and ignorantly thought fly-fishing was about the flies and the gear. I learned later that day there was more to the sport than what met the eye.

The instructor was a fly fishing expert who worked for Cabellas and had fished streams all over the world.  She was dressed in waders and a fancy fly-fishing vest with lots of fishing gadgets hanging from the pockets and zippers.  She had a net hanging from her waist and under her vest she wore a pale green shirt with the sleeves rolled up to a three quarter length on her arm.  She wore a baseball cap that sported several interesting flies hooked to the bill.  She had a soft voice and an even temperament and her love and passion for the great outdoors was contagious.  I liked her instantly.

After a brief lesson on threading line and tying flies, she took us to nearby baseball fields and demonstrated the principles of the cast.  We practiced the snap of the line until she was satisfied none of us would hook another’s eyeball.

As we made our way to the bank of the river, she showed us how to carry our rods without breaking or snagging the tip.  As we sat and geared up, she explained the temperature and flow of the water, the speed of the current, and how and where the fish would sit.  She talked about the wisdom of the fish and how they can detect imbalances in their environment.  She told me my shirt was “too loud” to be natural and the fish would feel threatened by the color.  She handed me one of her soft blue fishing shirts that blended well with the sky.  Strangely, I felt more at peace, too.  She was almost poetic when she spoke of the natural balance and perfect ecological harmony that made the sport possible.

One by one she guided our slippery steps over rocks and set us up in the stream.  She told us exactly where to cast to catch a fish. Even with athletic genes, I found it to be a significant challenge to get the line to go exactly where I wanted it to go. It took finesse and patience, both of which I lacked at that particular moment in time.   I cast and dragged the line; cast and dragged the line.  Each time the snap of my line got louder and more forced and more times than not, would snag a tree branch or rock.  No trout hit my line and I was convinced it was due to the wrong kind of fly.

Sensing my frustration, the instructor waded her way over to my spot.  She secured her footing, grabbed my line, then reached down and picked up a fist-sized rock.  She flipped it over and pointed to the tiny creatures clutching the rock.

“See those little bugs?” she asked me.  They constantly change, but those are the bugs that are hatching naturally at this exact moment in this stream. That’s the size and kind of fly you want to use,” she said with a slow, soft voice.

“You see, Samantha, the fish will tell you how to fish them. You just need to slow down enough to look around and listen.”

I walked away from that day with a respect for the sport and a new appreciation for the stream and the perfection of nature. I didn’t catch a fish, but the lesson has never left me.  The fish will tell you how to fish them.

My son is not a fish, but I find this lesson to be true in parenting, as well.  He’s like a little wise trout that can detect harsh imbalances in his environment.  That may sound strange, but I believe it’s my job as his mother to create harmony in our environment, and protect him from harsh threats, whatever that looks like for him. Sometimes it’s a bully; other times it’s a school project or extracurricular deadline; but sometimes it’s the simple pressures of our fast-paced American life.

Like one-of-a-kind trout, children are unique and precious and require a place where they feel safe and can be their natural selves.  They may not use words or bugs under rocks, but if you slow down, look around, and listen, I guarantee, they’ll communicate what they need.

The fish will tell you how to fish them. And so it is with the children. They will tell you how to parent them.

 

Watch for my new e-book available September 1, 2011, titled, How I’m not Winning Mother of the Year: 8 Powerful Perspectives for Parents.  To reserve your copy, kindly contact me at Samantha@powerfulperspectives.net

 

 

 

 

Parenting the Precious

Maggie was born with cerebral palsy and would never walk, talk, feed or dress herself. Her parents were told she’d be lucky to live past the age of two.

Maggie grew and was nurtured by an incredibly strong, courageous and beautiful mother and grandmother who never complained about the circumstances of Maggie’s life. They loved her and treated her as they would any child. They shared stories of her victories and progress and they bragged like any proud parent or grandparent would. The condition of Maggie’s body was secondary to the condition of her soul.  They saw Maggie for the love she brought to their lives.

She communicated with her family in a way they understood and brought a sense of celebration to every single day.  When she turned three she was transported by a wheel chair to make it easier for her mom to move her around. As fate would have it, Maggie defied the odds and continued to thrive.

At age five, Maggie started kindergarten. She was the same age as my son. They went to the same school and attended many of the same school functions. I got to know Maggie’s mom on a friendly basis.  While I watched Cameron play with his friends or race from game-to-game at the school carnival, Maggie’s mom wiped drool from her face and fed her from a spoon. Maggie would give her mom a sideways smile.

In the time I spent dropping off my son at the playground and waving goodbye, Maggie’s mom would face weather conditions and curbside snow to haul the wheel chair out of her van.  As I zipped past, Maggie would be strapped into the chair and her mom would be carrying her backpack and supplies into the school to meet the special assistant.

Maggie’s mom always waved and smiled.  I rushed to my next thing, giving silent thanks for my son’s perfect health.

In the third grade, Maggie’s body began shutting down and she was admitted to the hospital. Her schoolmates rallied around her and sent personalized cards.  They created a poster the length of the hallway and each student and faculty member signed a get-well greeting.  They collected hugs for Maggie in the form of monetary donations and they hoped she would return to school quickly.  From home, my son and I would check Maggie’s caring bridge website and send good vibes for healing and peace.  We looked forward to the day she would return to school. Maggie’s Spirit was stronger than her body and later that spring, she passed away.

On the last day of school, I saw Maggie’s mom in the hallway and my eyes filled with tears of compassion.  I hugged her and told her I was sorry for her loss.  Her response was gracious and bold. “I didn’t expect her to live past the age of two,” she said. “I was blessed by every moment, every day.  I had the privilege of spending an extra 7 years with my angel.”

I thought about our children’s paths and how different our experiences had been. Maggie’s mom and I had been pregnant at the same time and given birth a few weeks apart. While I was busy rushing off and giving thanks for perfect health, Maggie’s mom was giving thanks for the blessing of another day.  While I watched with sympathy as she wiped Maggie’s drool from her face, Maggie’s mom was happy for one more moment with her child.

I began to question why I was comparing my relationship with Cameron to her relationship with Maggie and determined that in my sympathy, I was judging; in my gratitude for perfect health, I was judging; and in my compassion for her loss, I was judging.

She was happy simply living in the moment and being with her child.

I wondered if I were truly the lucky one for having a son with perfect health, or was she the lucky one for having a child whose presence was a constant reminder of precious time and small joys? Was I genuinely “compassionate” for her loss, or was I thinking her burden had been lifted?

I don’t have the answers, but I suspect we were both lucky, and both right.  I’ve come to believe that any time we compare, we judge.  Because when we compare, something must be right, and therefore something must be wrong.  I’ve come to realize that the universe doesn’t make mistakes and nothing is ever wrong, just different. Anytime we think something “should be” we judge and dishonor “what is.”

Inside of awareness are gratitude and forgiveness and the Powerful Perspectives that teach us self-love.

Transforming Darkness into Light

We met at a function that called for business casual conversation.  He worked the room like a professional, making small talk and thoughtful introductions to colleagues.  It was clear to me this wasn’t his first networking event.

His hazel eyes were intense and deep, but I can’t say I was attracted to him at first glance. In fact, my first vibe was one of mistrust and deceit.  It wasn’t until he emailed me several weeks later that I was able to get a better read.  His energy, via email, was softer, kinder and inquisitive. He had read my work on-line and was curious which rivers I had fly-fished, a hobby he also enjoyed. I responded to his inquiry with an intrigue of my own and thus began a journey of discovery.

Hundreds of emails and several months later, we met for lunch. We talked about the industry, but other motivations took over and the conversation became more personal.  No longer did I see a man motivated by greed and power; but instead saw him for his soul.  He was a global thinker with big energy and I admired his perspectives on people, politics and process.  His life experiences vastly differed from my own, but he listened with intent when I spoke of my truth and history.  He loved good stories and reveled in the drama that was my specialty.

We found reasons to contact each other on a regular basis and our friendship and connection deepened.  We met for coffee, shared stories of our adventures, stole moments throughout our day and spoke of the desire for more time alone.  I lost track of time and space when we were together and basked in the first and last communication of each day. I found myself magnetized to a man who didn’t make sense to my mind, but seemed to make sense to my heart.

Our relationship had several factors working against us including what we valued, the trajectory of our careers, and our significant age difference. But because my heart was experiencing bliss, my mind dismissed my doubt. I broke my own relationship rules and made excuses to friends for reasons he said he was unavailable to meet.  What he called code names, I called flirtatious fun. When he didn’t respond to messages I sent while he was traveling, I chalked it up to him seeking adventure.

When I wasn’t a priority when he returned, I refused to believe it had anything to do with me.  Sadly, I ignored the glaring red flags.

It wasn’t one big thing, but a compilation of several small things that led me to face the reality that where I was headed wasn’t a shared path. It took tremendous courage to ask the questions I knew the answers to, but with resolve and support from friends, I found the strength to speak my truth and seek his.

I can’t explain why the obvious was surprising to me, but I found his truth difficult to reconcile with my own. Perhaps I was hoping he would see how his words had not aligned with his previous actions and intentions.  Or maybe in my fantasy world, I was hoping to be swept away by his sudden awareness of our potential possibility.

That didn’t happen and over the course of the following weeks, I found myself feeling used and misled. I went to a dark place of hatred and regret and wallowed in the self-pity of stupidity for many moons.

I took time to vent, then took the time to heal.  As a storyteller and believer in all things mystical, I wanted to believe in Disney’s depiction of the “once upon a time tales.” I now believe that true love is much more than fictional fantasy.  Love is what motivates the heart; logic is what motivates the mind. Relationships are a balance of both and call for an “and” to be successful. Dismissing one for the other is operating from a place of “or” that will eventually self-correct.

Balance is the natural consequence of time and nature, and if we wait long enough, anything can realize its potential. It wasn’t until a new relationship entered my world when I recognized my role in the former.

Odd as it may sound, through the heartbreak of other’s participation in my path, I transformed my relationship with self.  I’ve learned to follow my heart, but also trust my head. I’ve learned to stop expecting others to live up to their potential and instead accept them as they are and hope they see their own potential.  I’ve learned not to make somebody a priority when they only make me an option.

I’ve learned that transformation and powerful perspectives are not typically found through the everyday mundane. It’s inside of fear or love where the greatest possibilities exist.  These experiences give us strength, enrich our lives, and gain us access to wisdom only found in sadness and grief.

I wish I could say that life is meant to be joyful, but the truth is, I have no idea what is meant to be. I only have the power to recognize what is, and that is enough.  Inside of “what is” exists the power to create the potential of what will be.