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/

 

 

 

 

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.

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

 

 

 

 

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.

What I learned about Business from a Fish

I once worked for a government agency as an intern running errands, delivering mail and typing letters and reports.

I was given projects by many and faced each assignment with energy and a “can-do” attitude. This approach ended up getting me into trouble because I was told it intimated some of the introverted old-timers who didn’t appreciate my spunk.  My supervisor told me to “stop being so happy” and work more slowly.

Stunned, I told one of the women I had befriended about my situation and she promised to show me the ropes.  She kept an interesting fish she had named Gerald in a fish bowl on her desk. She asked me to be in charge of feeding Gerald and keeping his little tank clean.

After classes, I headed to work and straight to my coworkers office to check on Gerald. I dropped fish treats into the bowl and would sometimes stick my pinky finger in to see if I could trick him into thinking it was a treat.  He would eat the treats and then suck on my finger. It became our ritual.

After several weeks, Gerald began to recognize me and would swim quickly back and forth in his tank when I entered my coworker’s cubicle.  Once when my coworker was out of the office, I taught Gerald to play hide and go seek.

I crouched down on my hands and knees and sneaked into my co-worker’s office to reach Gerald’s tank before he noticed.  I popped up in front of his bowl and surprised him. When he saw me, his swim pace quickened. I gave him treats and then stuck my pinky finger in the tank as a kind of human-to-fish acknowledgment of his keen observations.

Leaving her cubicle, I would peak around the corner to see if he was still swimming fast. He wasn’t. Sometimes he’d catch me looking back and as a sort of fish-to-human acknowledgment, make a quick lap to let me know he got it.

I entertained myself for hours by keeping company with the fish and cracked myself up at the absurdity of working slowly to cater to others insecurities.

Several weeks later, one particular commander who had been uncomfortable with my earlier energy asked me to assist with a “special” project perfect for somebody with spunk.

He had been saving newspapers that mentioned certain military projects and he wanted me to copy articles onto standard sized paper.  He was adamant each article contained the headline, reporter’s name, and name and date of the newspaper. He wanted each story to fit on one page so it was easier for him to read.

I attacked this project as if it were critical to national security. I stood at the copy machine for hours and manipulated the newspapers to fit the panel.  I experimented with the “shrink-to-reduce-size” options and fiddled with the paper input and hoped-like-heck the orientation would come out correct. It took me weeks and hundreds of dead trees to get everything perfect, but I became the master of media manipulation, all in name of becoming student-aid extraordinaire.  I had a vision of turning this commander into one of my biggest fans.

When I completed the project, I gave it to the Commander’s secretary with a handwritten note thanking him for the opportunity to make his life easier. I went back to my regular assignments and back to taking great care of Gerald.

The Commander never acknowledged the project and didn’t become my biggest fan, but he later gave me another “great” opportunity that surprisingly shifted the course of my career.  Gerald, on the other hand, let me know daily that my actions made a difference in his world.

I left that job with an important reminder to acknowledge and appreciate people who approach their jobs with spunk. Through my experience with that agency, I learned that people’s issues with spunk have nothing to do with spunk, or with me.  Their issues are about them. I learned that the words “thank you” are the two most powerful words in business and I learned that every contribution, regardless of how large or small, is a gift to the organization.

Later I learned that appreciation and acceptance are Powerful Perspectives – those qualities that begin with awareness and move upward toward love.

 

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Lessons of an Ordinary Life

I tend to think of my childhood as something I survived. It’s not to say my parents didn’t do their best, but unlike my siblings, I wasn’t born with obvious natural gifts, and I struggled to understand where I fit in.

My oldest sister, Tiffany, was highly intelligent and walked well before her first birthday. She took to reading early and consumed books whole.  She had a great memory and her energy seemed to flow best through the pages of books.  This gift served her well in school where she earned straight A’s with what seemed like little effort.

My sister Mardy was the family comedienne.  She was dramatic, quick-witted and a master at repeating jokes. She was a social butterfly and once won a look-alike contest for her physical resemblance to Reba McIntyre.  She could also captivate a room, Chelsea Handler-style. She was also born with outstanding rhythm and style and rivaled Prince with creative dance moves and attire. I still think she has a future in Hollywood.

Leslie was my parent’s undisputed favorite.  She was easy going and pleasant and didn’t inherit the drama-queen gene.  She had more athletic talent and intelligence than her three older sisters combined. She was confident and comfortable in her skin and could have conversations with teachers and coaches as easily as her classmates. If my sisters or I muttered or thought about using words like stupid or gay, my mom would wash our mouths out with soap.  If we talked back to our dad, we could expect the wrath of the Incredible Hulk. Leslie could throw a fit of profanity at my parents and they would embrace it as family entertainment. My sister’s and I still call her the golden child.

The youngest of this tribe was the only boy, my brother Timothy.  He was born with soft, focused, intense energy and was nicknamed TR.  We thought of him as a real-life doll and took turns dressing him up in little clothes.  Our mother announced that having a boy meant the end of the babies in our family, and I think we secretly appreciated TR for ending the streak. When he entered kindergarten, he politely, but firmly, changed his name from TR to Tim. He excelled in sports and had inherited the linear mind of my father, giving him an edge in math and engineering.  When he was thirteen, he scored so high on the ACT that he was invited to attend a military academy near Chicago.  The rules and curfews that applied to his older siblings didn’t apply to him and his full name has yet to be used in our house. In fact, we tease him and call him “baby boy” because he still has our mother wrapped around his little finger.

I was the second born and arrived six weeks early. I was a pigeon-legged preemie and needed leg braces and special shoes to learn to walk. My parents thought I had special needs because I didn’t speak until I was three. When I finally talked, I muttered the phrase, “more Jell-O please.”  I may have been a late bloomer, but at least I was polite and continue to enjoy talking. When I was six, I was in a terrible bike accident that changed the shape of my face and jaw, giving me a different appearance than my similar-looking siblings.  School didn’t come easy and I was told I would never be the student my sister was.  It was said to alleviate the pressure of living up to my sister’s academic accomplishments, but my mind translated it to mean I would never be as smart.  I played sports, but wasn’t the superstar my siblings were, and I was more comfortable standing on my head than on my feet.  I couldn’t tell a good joke to save my soul and a nun at my high school told me I should have a back-up skill because she couldn’t see my future writing career.

I rebelled through most of my late teens and early twenties, meandered through my mid-to-late twenties, and attempted to conform in my early-to-mid-thirties, all the while searching for my gifts and a place to fit in and feel normal.

It wasn’t until my life hit a dead-end that I decided to take the time to reflect on the values and messages shaping my life.

I went searching for the truth and realized that being different was my natural gift.  I didn’t know it then, but my quest for normal is what makes me normal.  The older I get, the more I understand that the quest is what life is all about.  I’ve also learned that fitting in is over-rated and comparing your life to others is futile.

I’ve learned spontaneity and unpredictability keep life interesting and I’ve learned a child-like perspective is creative and healthy.

I’ve learned the gifts of my childhood were rich and have learned judgment of self and others destroys the here and now.  I’ve learned life is a series of ordinary moments and to remove the word “should” and honor “what is.”

I’ve learned that Powerful Perspectives turn the ordinary into the extraordinary and begin with awareness and move upward toward acceptance and love.

The Kitchen Table Club

Contrary to what Disney or the storybook fairytales would have you believe, I’ve come to realize that most human relationships are not destined for forever.  I am not a pessimist and I don’t like to think of anyone as a lost cause, but sometimes taking a stand and walking away from a relationship that no longer empowers you is as difficult as choosing the familiar, yet uninspiring routine.

I was reminded of this kind of courage as I sat around a kitchen table drinking wine with women who were finding their way through life’s challenges; some of which they had chosen; some of which had chosen them.

Their stories were unique, but the principles of learning to trust another were commonplace. One of the women shared stories of betrayal and mixed messages of hope for reconciliation.  Another struggled with the exhilaration and exhaustion of entering the dating world; and the third wrestled with the guilt of her decision and the impact it had on her family.

My heart ached from missing important time with my son. He was with his father when I called to say goodnight. I learned another woman was reading him a goodnight story.  The thought she had the honor and privilege of holding my son and tucking him into bed nearly ripped my heart in two. I had prepared myself for this woman’s existence in my ex’s life, but hadn’t considered her role in my son’s; a reality I would be forced to reconcile from that moment forward.

Over the course of many months, this group gathered at various kitchen tables when the weight of the burden was too heavy to carry alone.  The kitchen table became the place where we shared our sorrows and encouraged each other to continue moving forward.  I don’t mean to make it sound like a man bashing pity party, because believe me when I say it was not. We challenged each other when the wallowing became more evident than the strength and we cried together when the loneliness and responsibilities overwhelmed. We discussed what it meant to maintain our power and debated when it became clear we were selling ourselves short.

At the time, those friendships were the most important people in my life. But like the marriages that ended to bring us together in that place, the relationships that formed around the kitchen table were never meant to be forever. Our informal meetings were intended to reveal the mystery of who we were becoming while we safely shed the skin of who we had been.

One by one, we found our new normal and the kitchen table club was no longer. My mind wanders back to those days and the lessons I learned and think that when we allow something to end as effortlessly as it began, we give it wings and set it free. Life and relationships are continually changing, and as long as we trust ourselves to recognize an ending as simply a new beginning, we live in a state of power instead of fear. We relinquish control and expectation and therefore dwell in the moment of now. We begin to see things as they are, instead of how we want them to be and we learn that we have access to everything we need. These gifts may be wrapped in unusual packages, but the ways of Divine are not ours to know.

The gifts of acceptance and awareness are Powerful Perspectives I learned from the kitchen table club, with gratitude and love.

Flight of the Bumblebee

When my son was 8-years-old, we turned off the television and spent the hour before bedtime journaling and reading together.  We each had a journal and our own box of colored pencils. 

In our journals we could doodle or draw, practice letters; write stories, or paste quotes or pictures. The journal was our place for processing our ideas or thoughts and the only rule we had was that there were no mistakes.

No matter what we wrote or drew in our journal was simply perfect. It would not be judged or labeled, only appreciated and accepted. There were days when I would scribble a picture of a funnel cloud to capture the energy of my day. Other days, I wrote about the meaning of life, drafted a poem, or drew a palm tree or flower. Whatever we put in our journal, we agreed it was “simply perfect.”

One night, my son spent a great deal of time on a picture of a garden filled with colorful flowers, bright sunshine and puffy clouds floating in the blue sky. It was meticulous and beautiful and he was proud of his work.

When he went to put the finishing touches on the page, his black pencil slipped and he made a squiggly slash mark across half the page.

Tears welled up in Cameron’s eyes because he thought the picture was ruined. He had worked so hard on the picture it nearly broke my heart. Then I pointed out to him that it was a “no mistakes” journal and reminded him that everything that happened was simply perfect.  I asked him to look at how the black squiggly line might make his picture better.

As he sat and cried and resisted this experiment, I bit my lip to hold myself back from speaking or suggesting ways to “fix” the picture.

I continued to journal, my lip nearly bloody as I forced myself to allow Cameron to solve his own dilemma. What happened next is a moment that has shaped our relationship and led him to powerful perspectives.  He released the judgment of his work, experienced a new view, and enjoyed a moment of personal empowerment.

He grabbed a black and yellow pencil and added a tiny yellow and black body bumblee with wings to the end of the scribble.

His face was now filled with pride and his body language proud and upright as he shared how the black slash across the page became the flight of the bumblebee.  My son thought the addition made the original more creative; his mistake made his picture better.  The greatest gift of that evening was watching my son work through his own emotion without the overlay of my thinking.  Had I fixed it for him, it would have reinforced that the picture was not good if it was not “perfect.” 

My son and I use the flight of the bumblebee philosophy in other areas of our lives to remind ourselves that there are no mistakes, only opportunities to make our pictures better.

Powerful Perspectives are those qualities that begin with awareness and move toward acceptance and love.

Ten Throws

When I was eight years old, my parents signed me up for city league softball.  We practiced twice a week and played Tuesday night games.  My dad was the assistant coach and it turned out I had inherited his athletic genes.  I had a strong right arm, great hand-eye coordination and quickly took to the bat.

The faster the pitch, the further the ball would sail. My base running, however, was painfully slow.   Many of my “home run” hits turned into singles or doubles because of my lack-of-speed.  My mother tried to focus on the strength of my bat, but I would overhear her talking to other parents about my slow motion run.

My teammates compared me to a cartoon character attempting to run through Acme glue. During one game, I was on second base when cleanup Lori hit a home run and literally walked the bases to touch home plate inches behind me. Deep down, I was embarrassed by my slow speed and compensated with my defensive performance on the field.

I was competitive and hated to lose. I wanted to be where the action was. In this league, it was infield. I played third because I was one of the few who could make the throw to first. I eventually moved to short to cover more ground. I did this by diving, not by running.

When I was ten, my dad moved me to a more competitive league. We would scrimmage local teams during the week, and traveled to tournaments in St. Louis, Chicago, Memphis and Des Moines to play teams from all over the country.

My dad was one of the coaches and generally headed up practices. We always arrived early to set out gear, run bases and get my arm warmed up.  When my teammates arrived, he drilled us on the fundamentals and pushed us to run until we nearly puked.  He was like an Army sergeant and goofing around was banned from the field. This was serious business and he would scream and hit line drives at our heads to keep us on our toes.

For fear I wouldn’t have enough energy to excel, my dad wouldn’t allow me to swim or bike the days I had a game.  Softball became my life.  My summers were no longer about having fun and hanging out with my friends. I missed slumber parties and swimming parties because I was busy traveling with my team. I didn’t take gymnastics during the summer because my time was spent at the ball diamonds.

At tournaments, my father would argue with the umpires on pitches and yell at us from his third base post to “look alive.”  If we were on-deck and didn’t have a practice bat in-hand before the batter in front got to the plate, we would run bases after the game as punishment.

I could see parent’s reactions and after a while, could sense my teammates aggravation with my father’s intensity. I wasn’t invited to ride with other kids to tournaments and we didn’t go out for pizza with the team. No longer was the game about the team camaraderie or the spirit of the sport, it was about winning and advancing to the regional and national tournaments.

Each year, my dad took me to get a new glove and spent weeks breaking it in.  My dad would massage oil into it to soften it up and he made me sleep with it wrapped up tight under my mattress to get it to fit like a glove. My dad’s intensity increased with every season and I was becoming bitter by the imbalance in my life. I resented the stupid, strict schedule and was ashamed of my dad’s temper. I began to lose focus and care less and less about playing. I wasn’t giving my best and it showed up on offense.

We were facing faster pitchers and I was striking out more than I was hitting. I was playing outfield and hating every minute of every game.

Sensing this, my father did what every good father would do – drill me with more softball practice.  One evening in the ally behind our house, my dad made me play catch. The drill was to throw ten consecutive throws into his glove, without making him move an inch to catch it.  If I got nine perfect throws and number ten was too high or low, we began again at one.  My shoulder was on fire from exhaustion and my head and heart were on fire from spite.  I could taste the bile coming up from my stomach and my veins popped with hatred. The more he made me throw, the more pissed off I became.  When the streetlights turned on, I realized the only way out was to get ten in a row, without error.

In my mind, I pictured each ball aimed perfectly for his head, fantasizing he would miss and be knocked unconscious. Even with my arm throbbing, the speed of my throws increased as I attempted to sting his hand.  Unfortunately, that never happened and I eventually threw ten perfect throws. Instead of feeling a sense of satisfaction, I felt defeated and powerless.  In bed that evening, I prayed for lightening to strike our house and kill my dad.

The next summer, I refused to play softball.  I wouldn’t play catch with my dad and spent my time swimming and biking with friends.  In the evening, though, I was forced to go to the ball diamonds and watch my younger sister’s team play.  As much as I enjoyed my freedom, I realized I missed the sport.

I went back to the city league and played for my friend’s father’s team. I shined on the field and at the end of the season, won MVP, but still wasn’t invited to the team pizza party. I later found out it was because the coach didn’t want more sideline advice from my father. Regardless of my potential and desire to play, I chose never to play competitive softball again.

Years later painful memories emerged as I watched my son play baseball for a maniacal parent who volunteered to coach.  I watched with anger as he stripped the fun from the game by drilling the boys with practice and discipline. I verbalized my discontent and nearly pulled Cameron from the team. Instead, I made it an opportunity to demonstrate to my son what it means to commit to a team and respect authority, even when it wasn’t pleasant.  As the season progressed, I had several conversations with the coach about his technique and strategy and learned what fired him up. As it turned out, he sincerely thought he was doing the right thing, regardless of the obvious misdirection.  My son had a terrific season and eventually earned the team’s sportsmanship award for his kind-hearted ways, but that’s another story.

I realized my reaction to the coach’s intensity was triggered by the unexpressed anger and frustration of my youth. I began to examine the experiences of my youth from a detached emotional state and with some help, re-shaped my stories and moved from discontent to acceptance for the coach’s involvement in my life, albeit unbalanced.

Most importantly, I forgave my father and found I appreciated his intensity and perfectionism; attributes he has clearly passed to his children. I realized I am no different than my dad, and for this I am learning to be grateful.  The same intensity that drove him to coach, was the same intensity that drove me to quit.

We’ve both mellowed some and approach life with sensitivity, but I’ve come to appreciate our passionate ways. We are never halfway about anything and that has served us well.  Some will never understand or relate to it, but others connect to the stories in a deep and meaningful way.  Love or hate it, we are driven to push beyond where we’ve been, whatever that looks like for us. My dad did the best he knew; and I’ve done the best I know, and through those experiences, my life has taken shape. By accepting, forgiving and loving him, I accept, forgive and love me.

Forgiveness, Acceptance and Love are Powerful Perspectives — qualities that begin with awareness and move toward love.

Seeking Balance Upside Down

When I was young, I spent as much of my time upside down as I did right side up.   My family would often find me standing on my head, legs propped against the kitchen refrigerator, or leaning against the closet door in my bedroom.  I even read the childhood tale about Tikki Tikki Tembo while standing on my head. And I didn’t walk down the sidewalk like a typical kid, I would cartwheel or somersault. True to my gene pool, I had a ton of energy coursing through my body.  I don’t know why my mother chose to enroll me in gymnastics instead of therapy, but perhaps learning to flip flop and somersault with grace served the same purpose.

Years later I told this story to an Occupational Therapist friend who works with kids. She told me she teaches kids with nervous energy to press the crown of their head firmly with the palms of their hands until they felt calmer. She says it helps kids become aware of their bodies and find the balance they seek.  In technical terms, it apparently tricks the nervous system by suppressing the energy.  I didn’t know it then, but flipping upside down was my body’s natural way of seeking balance.

Seeking balance is the universal way. The giant blue characters in the movie Avatar best demonstrate this when they were preparing for battle against their greedy enemies.  The main character and former marine now Na’vi, Jake Sully, is found by the protagonist and native Neytiri sitting at the base of “the great tree spirit” seeking wisdom and praying for miracles of strength to defend against the attack.  Neytiri informs Jake that Great Spirit does not take sides, she simply seeks balance.

In today’s earth terms, balance is represented by contrasts. We know light because of darkness, we understand faith because of fear and we understand calm because of chaos.

As I sift through facebook and blogs, posts are riddled with fear and frustration by the on-going political debate between private and public sector benefits and opinions about what is just and fair. Posts from private sector folks remind us they pay a higher portion of benefits and pensions than their counterparts in the public sector. Educators respond by sharing how they feel about the lack of fairness in Governor Walker’s all-or-nothing proposal. There are myriad imbalances that could be pointed out on each side of the soil, but the contrasts reminded me of the universal principle of balance and the wisdom of Neytiri.

The universe does not take sides, it simply seeks balance.  Where that balance rests is not clear to me, but perhaps it would help to take a deep breath and apply pressure to the crowns of our heads.

Balance and awareness are the foundational principles of the Powerful Perspectives System of Change. To learn more, become a fan on facebook, or attend a sampler session on Saturday, February 26 at the River Falls High School.  Sessions will explore the Powerful Perspectives and how they help you learn to Love the Skin You’re In.  Sessions are 50 minutes and begin at 9 a.m., 10 a.m. and 11 a.m.  Register at RFlearns.org