Thursday, December 31, 2009

Thank you, 2009! Welcome, 2010!

Thank you readers
The blog has flourished this year in a way unexpected by me when I started our little initiative in February. Your consistent support, readership, comments, enthusiasm and excitement about our joint effort have crafted this blog into what it is today. So thank you for helping to create a friendly place to openly explore thoughtful, inspirational and diverse thoughts and ideas!

Thank you Authors!
This blog would not be what it is today if it were not for the wonderful input of the 2009 authors Mark Tuomenoksa, Jeannene Christie, Kathy DeCastro, Julie Sando, Mark Kaufman, Rita Gendelman, Joy Vigh Strand, Faith Clarke, Barbara Balla, Chris Kisling, Brian Ellis and Paul Bos. I am so grateful to have been able to read and share your inspirational thoughts through this blog. Everyone of you has expanded yourself by exploring new horizons thought your writing and I wish for you the drive and initiative to do new things and expand yourself in unique ways for a long time to come. I love that we together are creating a future of creativity and color and unexpected developments, all without knowing where we are going exactly.

Thank You Growth Opportunities
I hope you will join me in this gratitude towards all the growth opportunities we created this year. Every experience was special and one to celebrate. Thank you my friends, family, readers and any one else I met this year for your love and support. Thank you for your criticism and authenticity. Thank you for the moments of in-authenticity, lies, mis-communication and discomfort we created together. You have been an inspiration. You have helped me grow and I hope you have given yourself a same kind of experience. I also want to express my gratitude for all other internal and external factors that gave inspiration to craft myself in unique new ways in 2009.

What happened in 2009
When I started the blog, my idea was to write one or two blog articles a week and then post some small thoughtful things at other times, to help you be inspired. But it became clear that the readers of this blog wanted something more than just little quotes. You readers love provocative thoughtful articles that you can digest over time. You want to read things that start discussions and create new options for your thought processes. That's what got us to where we are today. Daily inspirational material that piled up with such speed that we even decided to create a book out of it called Adventures in Happiness.

We have had a consistent growth in our readership over 2009, and 65% of our readers this year has been coming back for more and more and more... Wow, this is amazing!

Our growth has been noticed by Google, whose analytic statistics say that your readership has grown to what Google calls "an established blog site".

According to Google, we now have readers in more than 90 countries. Our biggest readership is in Australia, Canada, Denmark, France, India, Poland, Sweden, Netherlands, Russia, Ukraine, United Kingdom and the United States. It's so wonderful to see that people are so inspired to come back over and over, even when the English language might be a challenge. Google tells us that a lot of you use the wonderful services of Google Translate to make sure you get the nuances of the written articles. Who would have expected that we would have a regular reader in Kingston, Jamaica or in the Ukraine? I never imagined that we would be writing to you regular readers in Lahore and Karachi, Pakistan. How wonderful!

All our readers, I want to thank you once more for making 2009 a truly fun and inspirational year.

What is happening in 2010?
I believe we will be going strong in 2010. We have a great team, and we are planning to do lots of new things in the New Year. We will go on providing you with daily articles, and we will start new initiatives.

What do you want?
This blog was created with you in our minds, and while creating our 2010 plans, we would love to hear what your wants are. Why do you come to this site? What do you like? What would you like to see different? How are you going to participate?

Here some of the ways in which I can help shape the blog for 2010.
  1. Give us feedback below this post, or by sending an email to iris@lifetransitioncounselor.com, so we can use your input in our 2010 plans.
  2. Come to the site regularly, read the articles and participate in our discussions by commenting on the articles.
  3. Write articles yourself. Even if you can only commit to one or two articles in 2010, pick one or more dates and send me a New Year’s email (iris@lifetransitioncounselor.com) with your intention and the dates. I would love to help you get your thoughts and ideas into an article.
  4. Tell us what you like to read. Do you have a favorite writer that you would like to see more articles from? Do you like specific topics?
  5. Invite your friends to read this blog too! This way you can expand the materials found in these articles and help you create a inspirational group of supportive people around you with whom you can discuss new ideas.
  6. Do you have ideas for initiatives for this blog and want to help put these ideas in place. I would love to hear from you.

Happy New Year Everyone!

I wish you an active, creative, participative happy and healthy 2010.

With love and excitement,

Iris

P.S. for the people in the Great Barrington, Massachusetts area: our band No Room For Jello is performing tomorrow January 1, from 5 to 8 PM at the Fuel Coffee Shop in Great Barrington. Please drop in if you want to start the new year with some music...

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Stuck

We've been having so much fun over the past week with this right-brain/left-brain stuff. As Sree pointed out, all this is just a model; it's not how we operate, it's just a way of thinking about how we operate. Still, models can prove quite useful in facilitating insight as long as we don't start making them true.

Over the past couple of days, I've run into several people who have been enjoying this little exploration and who particularly related to some of Iris' right-brained experiences: her sense of being overwhelmed... her feeling she's not good enough... her not knowing what to do next... her feeling stuck and unable to get started... and so on.

The Right-Brained Mark Kaufman
Last night as Kat and I were talking about all this right-brain/left-brain stuff, we talked about our friend Mark Kaufman. Kat remarked that the place where Mark seems to get stuck is when he tries to analyze things before acting.

I said, "Wait, Mark doesn't do analysis. He simply moves with how he's feeling. He's definitely right-brained on that front."

Kat pointed out that Mark spends a lot of time not doing because he's thinking about what to do and wanting to get it right.

So, then it occurred to me that it's not about Mark doing right brain in lieu of left brain. Mark does do left brain; he's just not very good at it. Once he starts analyzing, it's kind of like my dad driving a car; his accident-to-drive ratio exceeds one.

The Left-Brained Musician
Then I thought about our friend Scott who recently joined No Room for Jello playing trumpet and bass. Scott is a left-brain guy. He wants all the music written down so that he can practice and learn it. He wants to know the form to all the songs. He likes everything to be structured and predictable. He can experience true panic if he is left to the wiles of his right-brain.

He's not good at right-brained music.

In the end, there's no such thing as people who are either right-brained or left-brained by nature. We all operate on a spectrum that moves from structured, epistemological thought to unstructured, ontological thought. Each of is operates at different points on that spectrum depending on our situation.

So, if you find yourself stuck, the question is not one of whether or not you're right-brained or left. The question is one of knowing your strengths and weaknesses, building on your strengths and shoring up our weaknesses.

Step One: Know your strengths and your weaknesses
Knowing what you're good at and what you're not so good at is an important part of growth and change. Sounds easy, right? Unfortunately, oftentimes we downplay our strengths and pump up our chests about areas in which we're actually fairly weak. I believe this is largely due to how we have come to understand concepts such as humility and pride.

In his book, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis presents many aspects of Christianity from the perspective of a senior demon (Screwtape) instructing a junior demon (Wormwood) in the art of tempting and enslaving a soul (the patient). In chapter XIV, Screwtape provides Wormwood guidance on the use of humility.
You must therefore conceal from the patient the true end of Humility... Fix in his mind the idea that humility consists in trying to believe [his] talents to be less valuable than he believes them to be. . . By this method thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools.

And since what they are trying to believe may, in some cases, be manifest nonsense, they cannot succeed in believing it and we have the chance of keeping their minds endlessly revolving on themselves in an effort to achieve the impossible.

The Enemy [God] wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favor that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbor's talents--or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall.
So, accurately assess your strengths and weaknesses from the perspective of a dis-interested observer. Your strengths and weakness don't mean anything about you.

Step Two: In the moment, lean on your strengths
An accurate assessment of your strengths and weaknesses can provide immediate benefit in getting unstuck. Tight and difficult situations are not the best ones in which to try to shore up your weaknesses. Instead, those are the times to rely on your strengths.

If you're really bad at analysis, and you're in a crisis, stop trying to think your way through it and go with your gut. Or ask for help from someone who is good at analysis.

If you're strong at analysis, forget your gut and go with your left-brained analytical side.

For example, if you're lost in the middle of nowhere and about to run out of gas, lean on your strengths. If you're good with maps and analysis, then forget about your intuition getting you there. Stop the car, pull out the map, and figure out where to go. If you can't read a map to save your life, then stop looking at the map hoping that the answer will pop out of it. Relax your breathing and get in touch with your sense of where you are and what to do.

Step Three: Over the long haul, shore up your weaknesses
Now here's the tricky part. Over time, as we lean on our strengths, the disparity between our strengths and weaknesses grows, reinforcing the belief that we simply can't do whatever it is we're not good at. In particular, if your strengths are bringing you success, then it can be difficult to shore up your weaknesses.

Shawshanked by Your Strengths
In many instances, this can lead to institutionalization of sorts. For example, I know many people with whom I've worked in large corporations, who would not know what to do with themselves if they were to leave the company they're with, let alone the corporate environment generally. They've been Shawshanked by their strengths, a kind of corporate evolutionary process, a survival of the fittest. In this case, fit has to do with the strengths required to deal with the idiosyncrasies of the specific company. The development of these strengths typically implies the non-development of strengths in areas not required to succeed within that company.

The result is someone who is immanently qualified in their company's environment, but only that environment. This works, as long as you never need to function anywhere else.

This phenomenon is not limited to corporations. Over time, as we lean on our strengths we begin to straight-jacket ourselves into a specific lifestyle and environment.

The key to avoiding this kind of self-imposed institutionalization is to shore up your weaknesses before you need them as strengths.

Transform Weaknesses to Strengths
Based on your list from step one, identify the weaknesses that would best serve you as strengths. For the moment, forget about general categories such as analysis or intuition; instead, look at specific examples.

Rather than considering your general capacity to make decisions, look at how long it takes you to order from a menu and work on improving your menu-to-ordering time.

If you're bad at analysis (easy to spot, you get stuck trying to figure out what to do), then grab one of your kids math books and start working through story problems with him or her. (You can ask him or her for help. It will be fun!)

Can't read a map, then start using a map to get to places that you already know how to get to. Lack a sense of direction, then start taking random drives based on your intuition at times that you don't have to be anywhere (just keep a GPS or cell phone with you).

Rounding Out Your Life
For most of us, it takes a life changing catalytic experience to force us to build strengths in areas where we are weak. However, knowing that weaknesses are just strengths that we haven't yet developed can change how we approach them. Transforming our weaknesses into strengths because we've decided to can open opportunities that we never would have experienced otherwise.

So, what's your greatest strength? How do you rely on it? What weakness have you created as a result of relying on that strength? Would you like to change that?

Have a strong Tuesday!

Monday, December 28, 2009

I haven't seen Barbados - yet!

In the 90's I was a big fan of Tori Amos. For the ones who don't know Tori Amos, one of her big hits was a song called "Me and a gun". It was a song about how she was raped in the rear of a car, and for her writing the song was a way to get out of being a victim of what had happened. The line I remember most from the song was "But I haven't seen Barbados, so I must get out of this".

I didn't know where Barbados was - and for some reason I didn't look it up. I imagined that it was a tropical island somewhere in the pacific. I pictured beautiful beaches, palm trees and sun; the sea turquoise blue and the wind soft. Thinking of this picture of the island I could feel the warm sand between my toes as I walked towards the sea...

I decided that I wanted to go to Barbados. I imagined that going to Barbados was "out of my reach"; something that I would never be rich able to do. So I didn't even look it up. For a long time I didn't realize that it was in the Caribbean and not in the pacific!

Time passed and so did the music. I moved on to listened to Heather Nova, Joni Mitchell, Suzanne Vega, Lisa Ekdahl. There are so many women singing angry songs about how they used to be victims, and I loved all of them!

Last year I met my old pen pal. When we were teenagers we wrote long letters to each other about what happened in our lives. Mostly about the boys we were in love with but too afraid to approach, or about how our parents had been so unfair. This was long before I became a fan of Tori Amos.

It turns out that my old pen pal never heard about Tori Amos, but guess what: she did live a few years at Barbados. To her Barbados is also a dream: she loves the beaches, the people, the music, the nature, and she has some great memories of Barbados. Now we are dreaming of Barbados together!

She wants to go back and I want to go for the first time. And this time I'm actually determined: I will go! Why? Because I'm prepared to die! Not that I'm ill or have any reason to believe that I will die anytime in the near future, but I have come to a place in my life, where I feel happy and I feel that there is nothing more that I need in my life. There are things that I want, and I'm perfectly happy pursuing what I want.



Writing this I am wondering about the difference between wanting to go and wanting to go back. I used to have a lot of things I wanted to go back to: being fit, being married (not to the same man though), having a house, being a manager, being with old friends...



Now I don't want to go back. I still want to be fit, but I'm going towards being fit. Not in the same way as I used to do it, but in a way which works for me. I want to see Barbados, and I'm closer now: I know where it is. And I have more knowledge: I've seen pictures, learned about the seasons and when to go...



I wonder how often we hold dreams without knowing how to find them at the map. I have done dialogues with people who say they want to "work with people", but they do not seem to know what that actually means to them. One example was a man who worked as a manager, but who didn't believe that motivating his employees was part of "working with people".

So how clear are you about your motivations? If you have an addiction, do you know why? Do you know what you'll miss if you let go of it? Do you know what you want to get instead? Do you want to be happier? What does it mean? What are you doing to get there?
Can you describe the details of how to get there? Can you draw a picture of how it looks once you've reached your destination?

I believe that going to Barbados will mean that I don't have anything I have to get through before I can start living my life. I don't have to be thinner, fitter or happier. I can live my life right now! I can go to Barbados first thing in the New Year.

Do you wanna join me?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Please Ignore this Message

Our minds are wondrous instruments, and mine is quite amazing I must say! Over the years I have started to understand so much more about myself and how I function, but there is still so much more to learn and discover. My beautiful mind inspires me to figure out and understand more about why and what I think in each moment, and what external and internal experiences are influencing my thought processes.

If you read my article from the other day about feeling overwhelmed, you know that I discovered, that my feelings of being overwhelmed seem to appear after I haven't taken the best care of my physical body. When my body is trying to get the poisons out that I fed it by eating pizza or lasagna, or when my body is processing the extra amount of sugars or cheese I ate during my excessive celebrations of life, my brain responds by having less enthusiasm to tackle other projects at the same time.

Having been in this state of going in and out of physical detox during the last two weeks, I have had lots of opportunities to use myself as a study object and to wonder about the miraculously interesting thought processes I had and the actions I took (or not!). I have concluded that my intoxication creates the perfect environment to function from my right brain, which brings excitement and challenges!

A Chance to Observe
The other day I had dinner with Mark, Kat and Alexander (see Teflon's article "In A Word"). I felt like I was in the middle of a Broadway play where the two multiple-personality-identities (Iris Left Brain and Iris Right Brain) were trying to discuss life's pleasantries at the kitchen table with Kat and me as the audience. I finally had a chance to observe extreme examples of the two personalities that seem to be me. Two personalities, both with very different qualities and seated in a different belief systems with different worldviews, talking with one another at the same table.

OK, just for clarification, I do not believe I am more than one person. Still, I clearly act and respond differently in different moments. Over the past few days, I have been exploring the possibility that it has to do with which side of my brain I'm most using in that moment.


Iris Left Brain

Iris Left Brain is always active, always has a thousand ideas, is always looking for new things to do and explore, and is never bored. She adapts easily to new situations. Iris Left Brain loves a challenge to create new things. She figures things out quickly and can articulate her solutions clearly and concisely. For Iris Left Brain, everything is structured and clear. She easily makes sense of her world and is content with activities that she undertakes.

Iris Left Brain also gets depressed and uncomfortable when having to wait or being passive. Iris Left brain is independent-minded and stubborn, but with that comes stability and reliability.

Iris Right Brain
Iris Right Brain is creative and writes beautiful songs in minutes; she may then dismiss those songs as awful a few minutes later. Iris Right Brain can open her computer to look up something specific on the Internet and then spend hours browsing who knows what. She finds the journey more important and satisfying than getting things done quickly. This Iris goes with the flow, dislikes planning, is disorganized and gets overwhelmed with too many things on her plate.

Iris Right Brain wants to hear that she is loved and wants (needs?) to be supported. She is insecure, jealous and unpredictable. For her, the world just one big experience and difficult to explain. Not being able to find the right words, Iris Right Brain is often quiet.

Right and Left Collide

I sing and play djembe with No Room for Jello, a band that regularly performs here in the Berkshires. Playing drums and performing with a band is not something I had done before 2009, so I decided to jump in and do it. This was the perfect opportunity for Iris Left Brain who believes that practice is fun and makes you better. She is very satisfied with the results so far and loves the time she spends creating music.

The other night, some of Iris' No Room for Jello band mates performed with beautiful young singer who was simply amazing. The music was wonderful! Iris Right Brain, who believes that singing is a gift from god and not something that you simply develop, thought to herself, "Wow, this singer is really good. What I do is crap! My band mates are too nice to tell me that I am S**T. Who am I kidding? I should quit singing and do something else instead!"

Iris Right Brain felt ashamed for insanely thinking that she could reach for the moon. She just wanted to quit.

Left Brain/Right Brain Research

Over the past week, as I've processed this experience, I flipped back and forth from Iris Right Brain to Iris Left Brain (including all the opposed behaviors and feelings) depending on my blood sugar and other factors (yet to be determined). So I started looking up information on this left-/right-brain phenomenon.

If you find this interesting, I recommend that you read an article on www.viewzone.com. It explains how each side of our brains processes stimuli differently and how you can tell which side is the dominant one. The link for the page is http://www.viewzone.com/bicam.html.

Left and Right as Partners
Most of you know my love for attitudinal dialogues. In effect, dialogues are a way of letting your logical, structured left brain help your creative, unstructured right brain process emotions and feelings. The exercise is wonderful at clearing your mind and it really works for me... unless, that is, if I am so far into my right brain that I completely resist any help from my left. The feelings and emotions are so "big" that I don't want to let them go!

Mark and I were playing with hypotheses about why our right and left brains process emotions so differently.

One of them is that my right brain seems to process everything as it comes. If I feel something, then I associate it with whatever is happening in that moment. For example, the other night, I was feeling insecure and uncomfortable while hearing this wonderful music. My right brain puts two and two together and gets, "I feel like crap because I can't sing!" It then proceeds to make this bigger and bigger and bigger.

On the other hand, my left brain, being nicely structured, doesn't depend on everything occurring at once. I can feel insecure and uncomfortable while hearing this wonderful music and think, "Wow, look how having eaten all this terrible food over the past week is making me feel upset and jealous of this really great singer, rather than feeling inspired!"

For my right brain, it's all scrambled information; it feels big and overwhelming. For my left, it's all structured and feels, well, structured.

The whole concept is a very interesting and new to me. For now, I have at least come up with a temporary solution. When I feel overwhelmed by these constant and completely opposite messages I'm sending myself, I simply tell myself: "Please ignore." or "Skip please!"

Then, I get myself something to eat and drink, or I do a workout. Then, when I'm ready, I can take time explore what's happening and take action on the outcome.

I hope you like these explorations. If not: Please ignore. Skip please!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Everything I Know is Wrong



Lately I've been looking at a few things in my life and resetting my ideas about what I should do about them. Two sterling examples come to mind.

We have been running a part-time home-based relationship program for my son, Andy (12 years old) for about two years now. Prior to that I spent about two years moaning and gnashing my teeth and complaining to anyone who would listen that I can't help my son because I split his time with his mom (my ex) and she insists that he go to school, so I can't run a full time home program for him.

(For those of you who read Teflon's blog about miracles you may recognize this as a prime example of obsessing about what I can't do as a way of totally blocking the way for what I can do.)

Well, I'm happy to say that I got over that and started a genuine part-time relationship based  home program for Andy with the help dedicated, loving and wonderful people at a known organization.

Then, a few weeks ago, I realized that although I was running a program for my son that was doing him a lot of good, I could do so much more for him if I kicked up the intensity of our effort from creating a good program for Andy, creating an exciting, outstanding, no-holds barred race to the moon aimed at Andy living a whole, beautiful and blessed life of his own choosing.

I quickly realized that if I were to create this in the shortest time possible, I needed help, and for the first time I seriously considered seeking help from a company that I have helped to found, Relate to Autism. I spoke to Kat (RTA President and Director of Programs) with the idea of asking her if she could recommend someone to me that I could hire to work intensively with me to look at all aspects of our existing program, set us up and at the same time train me how to set up, run and maintain my program and develop my team to perform at peak level in the playroom.

I was overjoyed when she told me that she would take on the job herself and we moved to discussing how soon we could get started. We are currently in the process and I find that, although I possess the knowledge to effectively manage people (Thanks, Dad, for 15 years in your companies grooming to take over one day ) I don't do what I know (which means I don't really KNOW it).

Also, I have been so immersed in my own private struggle to assume proactive leadership of Andy's program that I have spent far too little time on the meat of the program, i.e. what can we do with Andy in the playroom to help him develop as fast and as far as he is able to. I often would talk others about our program with Andy and remark that, actually, it is the adults in the room who are the limiting factor on Andy's progress. I have yet to see any of us challenge him to grow and have him be unresponsive or unwilling to take on the challenge. In fact he stretches himself well and readily, the problem is coming up with what to invite him to do next. I also realized that the way I had been running my program, it was more important to me that I be the one who recovers Andy than that he recover.

Time for me to recalibrate my thinking

I am beginning to appreciate my true talent for ignoring the obvious. Part and parcel of that is religiously avoiding asking myself obvious questions, like "If most of your time is spent trying to figure out how you can run Andy's program, how much time are you actually spending trying to figure out what Andy needs?"

And most of all, I have reassessed my conviction that I have to be the one to figure all this out. I am willing to call in outside help without feeling that I have somehow abdicated leadership of Andy's program. I have simple gone from being an under-equipped and ineffective leader to one who is in the process of implementing constructive and much needed change with the help of qualified people. Change which will re-focus our efforts to where they can do the most good for Andy.

Remember that I said TWO examples??
Okay, thanks for staying with me. Who knows, maybe I can give Mark a run for his money!

The other example that comes to mind is my long standing (and often sitting) battle with obesity. While I have lost a few hundred pounds in my life, I bounce around a lot (no pun intended).

Some time ago Mark started teasing me that if he were my diet doctor (i have one) the last thing he would want to do is advertise the fact that I'm his patient. Initially I took umbrage at these playful, albeit sincere, remarks. I felt that such criticism was unjustified since, when I actually did follow my doctor's program I lost weight well and quickly. Then I began to realize that my weight management skills were much like my people management skills. Although I know what to do, I don't KNOW what to do.

Shortly thereafter I was in the playroom with my friend Tristan, a 14 year-old young man who is on the verge of emerging altogether from his history of autism and whom I sincerely and gratefully refer to as MY personal volunteer even though I volunteer in his playroom once a week. Tristan observes a special diet to nourish and sustain himself in the best way possible given the qualities of his digestive system.


This diet has been laid out in a book by a Dr. Douglass N. Graham entitled "The 80/10/10 Diet". It is essentially a raw foods regime that maintains that the optimum food mix for the human animal is 80% carbohydrates 9mostly from fruit), 10% protein and 10% fat. I won't go into the details of the program here but heartily recommend that you buy the book and check it out if you are interested.

Since I play with Tristan on Mondays from 12 to 2 pm, I always get to see him eat his lunch, which consists of large quantities of fresh fruit such as 10 bananas at a sitting or 3 or 4 sugar baby watermelons. I have often flirted with the idea of trying this myself and Tristan and I have had many a discussion where he has proved to be a knowledgeable and enthusiastic proponent of Dr. Graham's ideas.

On the heels of my decision to shake things up in our home program, I finally decided last Monday that maybe a change would suit me well on this front as well. On Tuesday I went out and bought bulk quantities of various fresh fruits and have been reading the book and enjoying what I like to call "The Gorilla Diet". I don't know if Dr. Graham is right or if I'm just enjoying the adventure and novelty of attacking an old problem with new tools, but I'm certainly feeling great and having a good time of it.

Well, what can I say? It has been liberating and invigorating to let in the idea that my best efforts may just be wrong anyway. An old friend of mine used to say "looks like it's time for a 180 degree mid-course correction" (RIP, Andy) and I always loved the way that he said that, even if you do a complete turnaround, you're still on course.

How about you? Any long overdue U-turns in your future? Is your future now?

Love Always,

Mark

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Christmas Miracle

T'was the night before Thanksgiving, just a few weeks ago. Iris and I sat in the kitchen awaiting the arrival of our dear friend Mark Kaufman who had planned on leaving Brooklyn at noon or so and arriving in the Berkshires by three. Throughout the afternoon Mark had phoned to let us know that he hadn't left yet. More specifically, around one or so he was still in bed, and so on.

Now, at 8:00 PM, Mark called to let us know that he had picked up the lox and bagels, but felt too tired to drive to the Berkshires. He would be coming up in the morning along with a Thanksgiving breakfast straight from Brooklyn. Astutely, Iris asked Mark, "At what time do plan on being here. I'd like to know so that I can prepare everything else."

Mark announced, "I'm going to roll out of bed at 5:30AM and get on the road by 6:00. I should be at your place by 8:30."

The next morning, as we opened our eyes to greet the day, Iris rolled over, looked me in the eye and asked, "Should we start cooking or should we plan on Mark actually getting here?"

What Do You Think Happened?
If I were a man who played the odds, the answer would be simple, but instead I said, "Let's wait and see."

At 8:30AM I looked out the window and what to my wandering eyes should appear, but a battered old minivan with a somewhat more than little old driver. Mark walked proudly into the house with a side of lox and a bagful of fresh bagels exactly when he had said he would.

As we began preparing everything else, the phone rang. It was Kat. In response to my little story of Mark's trip to the Berkshires, she pronounced, "It's a Thanksgiving miracle!"

This morning is Christmas. As Iris and I stirred in bed, I started thinking about miracles. What makes something a miracle? Why and how do miracles happen? How can you create a miracle?

I decided that a miracle is simply an occurrence that you would hope for, but would never expect: a desired outcome that goes beyond reason and probability.

That being the case, if I wanted to create more miracles in my life, how would I go about it?


Step 1: Identify Your Miracle

The starting place would be identifying those things in my life that I truly desire, but consider improbable or even impossible. It could be finding a partner who is just right for me. It might be recovering my child from Autism. It might be becoming physically fit. It might be becoming and artist or musician. Whatever it is, miracles start with identifying what it is we truly desire, but consider to be out of reach.

Step 2: Envision Your Miracle
OK, if you know what it is you want for your miracle, the next step is to envision it. The best way to build a vision is to make it as vivid and real as possible, and to do it in a concrete way. For example, don't simply hold it in your mind, but instead, tell someone your vision, write it down, paint a picture of it. Whatever way you can make your vision as real and vivid and concrete as possible, do that.

Also, don't hold back in your vision. Nothing is off limits. If you want to play music, imagine playing in the world's best venue with the entire band and a crowd of adoring fans. If you want to recover your child from Autism, imagine him walking down the aisle at his wedding arm-in-arm with his bride and surrounded by all his friends. Make your vision big and unlimited.

Step 3: Big Vision, Small Steps
Step 3 is both the easiest and the most difficult. When it comes to creating miracles, we tend to gravitate to the parts that we can't figure out or don't have the capacity for. If your miracle is running a marathon, you might jump to running a mile every day. If your miracle is playing music, you might go to a club to hear a great performer and overwhelm yourself with their skills and your inability to play as well. If your miracle is a child who can relate to others, you might jump to getting him to speak or behave well with peers.

The problem is that it's so easy to overwhelm ourselves with the things that we can't do, that we miss the things that we can do. Further, it's usually the case that we can't do the things that we can't do simply because we haven't done the things that we can.

So, if your goal is running a marathon, perhaps the best first step is simply to become more active in any way that feels good. Perhaps just walking to the store instead of driving.

If your goal is playing guitar, perhaps the best first step is to, well, buy a guitar.

If your goal is a child who can fully relate to world around him, perhaps the best place to start is with the things in his world to which he does relate.

The reason that these first steps are so hard is that we often tell ourselves that they're too small, that they're insignificant, that we'll never get there at that rate. We judge the things we can do thereby eclipsing the things we can't.

In the end, big miracles rest on a foundation of thousands of tiny mico-miracles each of which stretches us and our situations just a bit further. Great miracle makers no that there is no such thing as an insignificant step.

Happy Christmas!
Christmas being a time for miracles and all, it might be a great time to start your next one. As you gather with family and friends, share what you would like to see as your next miracle. Paint your visions for one another and make them big! You might even take a first step with a micro miracle or two.

From the intergalactic headquarters of the Belief Makers Blog, I wish you the humble beginnings of many future Christmas miracles.

Merry Christmas

... a Merry Christmas


Thursday, December 24, 2009

In a Word

Last night we had dinner with two of sweetest people on the planet, Kat and Alexander.

One of the things I love about Alexander and Kat as a couple is that they defy the stereo-typical gender-biased role models of right- and left-brainededenss. On the one hand, Kat is the left-brained, logical, epistemologically-oriented partner and Alexander is the right-brained, emotive, ontologically-oriented partner.

Communicating Economically
Kat and I work together all the time. The nature of our work and the rate at which we're working requires us to communicate clearly, efficiently and effectively; otherwise, we end up not actually accomplishing what we meant to accomplish or taking a lot longer to do so than would have been necessary. When we talk, we try to use words precisely and will often stop each other if we're uncertain of what the other meant by a specific word.

Alexander and I don't work together, but see each other frequently in the coffee shop or when the four of us get together for fun. The nature of our communication is completely different. Nonetheless, as we talk, I interact with Alexander in a manner similar to how I interact with Kat. I'll interrupt him when he uses a word that I don't understand or which doesn't make sense to me in the context of what he's saying.

Whereas the model works really well when talking with Kat, it doesn't work at all when talking with Alexander. The frequency and duration of my interruptions tends to make it difficult to maintain a conversational thread. Last night was no exception, so around midnight I began pondering the whole situation to see how I could do better, and then around five this morning, I picked up where I left off.

As I pondered, I came up with some realizations about myself, about Alexander and about how I relate to the world around me.

Words Matter
First, I delight in words. I enjoy exploring the subtle semantic differences between this one and that. I love translating abstract concepts into concise, precisely articulated descriptions that make the concepts clear and accessible. I have a deep appreciation for their power to communicate and to move people. I work diligently to gain mastery of their use.

Second, I believe that many of the challenges that we face today can be directly tied to sloppy use of words. I'm pretty sure that I've had this belief for a long time, but it really surfaced for me over the last eight hours or so.

One of the things that's great about computer languages (formal languages) is that, in order to work, they suffer no ambiguity. Everything you write in software must be precise and represent exactly what you intend because the computer has no capacity to interpret what you meant; it can only do what you said.

On the other hand, human languages (natural languages) tend towards ambiguity. This is not so much an artifact of the languages themselves, but of how we humans use language. Whereas with a computer, the writer has no choice but to be precise, with humans we often count on the capacity of the listener to interpret our meaning. So, we get sloppy.

This not only poses challenges in interpersonal relationships, but also in any systems that we build. For example, consider our legal systems and the volume of laws that we create. In some cases, the laws are created to accommodate situations that are truly new. More often, they're created to close a loophole created by an ambiguous statement; one that can be interpreted differently than intended.

I believe that the proliferation of bloated bureaucratic systems can be traced back to poor command of and the subsequent breakdown of language.

Third, for me, speaking is a skill not unlike playing music. It's not something that you just do or don't do. It's something that you can practice and develop. As you get better at it, you can hang out with other practitioners and jam. You can get better and better and better and enjoy it more deeply and meaningfully as you do.

Words Are Worthless
So, as I pondered why I was being so ineffective at communicating with Alexander, it occurred to me that my beliefs about and experience of words were getting in the way. I also realized that this phenomenon was not limited to my speaking with Alexander.

First, I now realize that people often select words based on how they sound which may or may not have anything to do with what they mean. For example, last night Alexander used the word exponential to describe the rate at which a specific phenomenon was growing. I paused to ask him if he actually meant exponential or if he meant a high rate of linear or multiplicative growth. Alexander replied that he meant exponential-linear growth.

Exponential-linear being an oxymoron, I pressed on for clarity and specificity that didn't actually exist. Now, a few hours later, I realize that by exponential, Alexander simply meant really fast and increasingly faster which in the context of the conversation was good enough. Precision wasn't important and it occurs to me that, in the vernacular, Alexander's definition is probably what most people mean when they say exponential.

Second, I now realize that, due to my bias for words, I often miss that people aren't speaking in order to convey a concept, but instead are speaking simply to emote or to convey a feeling or experience. It's not about clarity and accuracy of the communication, but instead, about projecting experience through sound.

Since I have this bias towards understanding exactly what it is that the other person is saying, I totally miss that they're not actually trying to say anything. The words are being put into space to express how they feel or what they experienced. A quantitative word might be used simply to convey the general magnitude or the importance of an experience, but not a specific value.

Third, I have such a strong bias towards understanding things that I've gotten to the point where I can't fathom not wanting to understand things. I've also intimately associated understanding something with being able to clearly articulate it. To me, saying that you understand something but just can't explain it indicates that you actually don't understand it. I've made this definitional.

This morning I've concluded that this may not be the best MO when communicating with people who say, "I understand it, I just can't explain it."

What I Learned
In the end, my desire to communicate clearly and specifically and my deeply rooted beliefs about how to do that, can be completely limit my capacity to communicate.

It occurs to me that this may be a phenomenon that we can experience as practitioners of any discipline. Doctors, due to their dedication and experience in medicine may miss options and opportunities to heal. Lawyers may miss opportunities to create legal systems that work. On and on...

Anyway, that's what's on my mind. Not sure if I communicated that well, but I feel better.

Thanks for listening.

Teflon

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Taking a moment to breathe

written by Julie Sando

It seems as though stress levels can be higher around the holidays. This surely is the case around my family. There are deadlines we set ourselves up for, expectations to make sure we do all the things we want to do, etc.

This is why I am making sure I take a moment many times a day to check in and make sure I'm staying calm.

Sometimes I take a bathroom break when I don't actually need to use the restroom for anything other than a safe quiet space! I also have been using red lights along the way to crazy shopping malls to check in with myself - red lights remind me to STOP and make sure my personal engines are running smoothly. Sometimes I'm not aware of how tightly wound I can be until I take those breaks that have now started to seem to come to me... Lights turning red at just the right time (when I start to feel irritated). Instead of getting more tightly wound when those red lights happen that I would typically see as an obstacle to making my self imposed deadlines, I decide that the Universe is giving me a break in my day to recenter myself.

I wish you all Happy an Calm Holidays!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Overwhelmed

The other day I tried to set up an appointment with a friend who answered that she would rather meet in January because she was doing overwhelmed right now. We agreed that we will get together in the New Year, but her comment tickled something in my brain and I have been thinking about the concept of being overwhelmed since.

This time of the year a lot of us are doing overwhelmed. I recognize in myself that, over the past two weeks, I have been giving myself the feeling of being a bit overwhelmed; this is really funny because the last two weeks are really not that much different than the previous eight weeks. So what happened?

Beliefs, beliefs, beliefs...
Looking at the concept of overwhelmedness, I started to realize that I have beliefs about being overwhelmed. For example: when overwhelmed, it is good to take a break and to get some good sleep. And this one: doing new things is sometimes overwhelming! Another example is: if you don't take a break once in a while you will overwhelm yourself.

I also carry the belief that you do overwhelmed once in a while; it is something that is here and then gone the next moment, not something that persists like depression.

The Cycle of Being Overwhelmed
Then I started thinking, "hey what does it actually mean to be overwhelmed?"

For me it means that I need a break. However, needing to take a break doesn't tell me what it is that I need to take a break from. Nonetheless, instead of questioning what it is that I need a break from, my response is to simply take a break.

After a good night sleep, my being overwhelmed disappears for a while. Then, somewhere, I start doing overwhelmed again! So I repeat the whole cycle.

After a while, if one night of sleep doesn't work anymore, I might decide that two nights will do. After a while, if two nights doesn't do, then a week.

Of course, I'm doing all this because I feel overwhelmed. In the end, I have no clue as to whether or not the cause of my being overwhelmed is lack of sleep; I haven't been specific. Further, while working on my sleep (to get rid of this feeling of overwhelmedness) , I am not doing the things I normally would be doing. My regular activities are piling up, which is kinda, well... overwhelming!

There are Always Signals
Saturday (which is normally the one day I do not work), I scheduled different work things to do. In the afternoon, I scheduled phone calls that I had been delaying a bit because of some intense intestinal pains I had resulting from food I had eaten earlier in the week. I was bouncing around trying to find a way to get myself comfortable enough to do the calls. Mark said, "Why don't you take a hot bath and see if the warm water helps your intestines to relax. You can make the calls later today?"

Within half an hour of Mark's suggestion, I surrendered myself and went into the bath. While my muscles relaxed, the intestinal pains mostly disappeared and I gave myself over to the moment of relaxation and reflection. Later in the day, I made my phone calls with pleasure and I felt great! I was focused and enthusiastic.
What I Learned
I do overwhelmed when my body is uncomfortable. My body gets uncomfortable when I haven't been working out or when I eat things that are not digested well by my system. I have been traveling lately and when traveling, I often eat whatever is around instead of taking care of my body! I also don't work out.

So, now I realize that my being overwhelmed has nothing to do with the amount of sleep I have, but everything to do with a healthy diet and regular workout.

Knowing why I do overwhelmed is really useful. Instead of hauling water to the sea (getting more sleep when I already have enough), I can start focusing on the real causes of my being overwhelmed. Way more useful.

Stop Doing Overwhelmed!
I believe that for everyone there are simple solutions that can help us to get ourselves back to a comfortable place. I suggest that instead of doing overwhelmed and taking a break from everything, it is more useful to:
  1. Ask yourself what specifically makes you uncomfortable
  2. For each answer, determine the best solution.
  3. Do not accept "I don't know" or "I am too overwhelmed" or "I need more sleep" as a solution.
  4. Put those solutions in place immediately
  5. Take action to take care of yourself

I am looking forward to hearing the insights you have when you look at why you are doing overwhelmed...

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Magic of Christmas

I love Christmas. I love everything about Christmas. Baking cookies, buying gifts, decorating the tree, watching Frosty the Snowman for the hundredth time and most of all, spending time with the people I love. I love how the beautiful lights decorating homes sparkle in the snow and throw magic into the air for everyone to grab. How many of you are grabbing some of that magic this year?

The sparkle of Christmas lights has always been magic for me. Late last night as I drove home from a weekend of baking cookies at Mom's with Aly snoring peacefully in the back seat, there was magic all around me. It started as mom, Aly, and I experienced the most amazing sunset I have ever seen. Ribbons of blue, purple, orange and pink, wrapped around the snow covered hills as we watched in awe from the picture window. As the sun set, lights of magic began to sparkle brightly everywhere. I drove home surrounded in magic and began to cry tears of joy as I thought about all the love I have in my life. I created an experience for myself while I drove that included sights, sounds and smells from Christmases past with particular memories of my grandparents. This will be the first Christmas that all my grandparents will be celebrating with us only in spirit. I could taste the peanut butter rice crispie treats covered in chocolate that I only ate once a year at my Meme's house and I could feel the velour of the outfits my grandmother loved to wear. Even now as I write this blog, I can hear french Chritmas carol's playing ever so softly in the background of family chatter.

As I pulled into our street, the magic exploded as the lights Dave put on our new home that hadn't been working lit up the entire neighborhood. As I walked into the house, I was greeted by David who was happily singing Frosty the Snowman. As we went to bed, David said "goodnight, I love you" and the magic continued. For a child who we were told may never speak, he spoke words of magic last night. Love and happiness to all of you this holiday season. Enjoy the magic in your lives!
Love, Kathy

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Benevolent Misanthropes

Another really fun discussion I had with my dad over Thanksgiving had to do with the importance of people's motivations and integrity. The subject of our discussion was a friend (or former friend depending on your perspective) whom I considered to be a great teacher and someone from whom the planet had benefited significantly, but whose personal dealings with people and business ethics leave something to be desired from my perspective.

My dad had decided that the latter canceled the former, i.e., you can't be a great thus-and-such and simultaneously be ill-intended, or unethical, or lacking in integrity, or self-justified, etc. For my dad, a person's motivations are paramount. Therefore, the teacher, whom even my dad had once lauded, was now not even a good teacher, nor was he ever.

And we were off and running.

What Do I Care?
My response to my dad was that I wasn't particularly concerned about a person's motivations, or ethics or integrity, only their actions, and particularly, the results those actions yielded. Of particular annoyance to my dad was the fact that I was only concerned about the actions and results insofar as they were directly experienced by or directly affected me. I find that forming an opinion about someone based on hearsay is almost always a losing proposition. I also prefer not to take offense for actions directed at me, let alone for those directed at someone else.

In the end, if someone offered to paint my house, I would consider the quality and reliability of her work and the price. I wouldn't really be concerned about the quality or reliability of her as a person. Nor would I be particularly concerned about the quality of the work she had done for others. Just what she would do for me.

Weighing the Evidence
Now you may say at this point, "Wait! Doesn't the quality of the work done before provide a strong indication of the what I might expect!"

And the answer would be, "Yes, and no."

Previous actions can indeed provide a strong indication of what a person might do in the future, but they're not a guarantee. Further, deciding what a person will do in the future based exclusively on what they've done in the past with others completely discounts your own impact on the situation. So, just because a person previously performed poorly doesn't mandate that they're a hopeless cause. It may just require a little better management on your part.

Motivation as a Causal Factor
My dad wasn't buying any of it. So, I said, what if we were to find out that Einstein had been an immoral, philandering, self-gratifying bastard? Would you toss out relativity as a concept? What if Newton had been an axe-murderer? Would you give up on gravity?

My dad's response was, "If Einstein had been completely ill-intended and immoral, he couldn't have conceived of relativity."

Hmmm... Interesting point. My dad had implied a causal (not casual) relationship between intention and performance: well-intended and moral people with integrity perform better than ill-intended and immoral people.

One could certainly site the current state of world finance as an example of the performance benefits of ill-intended people. The political world is ripe with illustrations of the effects of people whose primary concern is re-election.

My dad's theory certainly appears to have merit. By extension, one might suggest that quality and performance are inversely proportional to degree of ill-intention, i.e., the more ill-intended the person, the less capable the person. (We didn't go the other way as my dad could site many well-intended people who can't do crap.)

God Bless that Bastard Einstein
"OK", I said, "Let's go with that! Let's say that Einstein, being a misanthropic creep, never had the capacity to conceive of relativity? What if he actually stole the idea from someone else and then marketed it better? In fact, what if Einstein's misanthropy blinded him to science, but enabled him as a shameless self-promoter? Then, what do you do with relativity?"

"On the flip side, what if the guy who actually did come up with relativity were so unconcerned about recognition, that, having conceived of it, he wrote it in his notebook, placed it on a shelf and moved on to the next interesting problem? Perhaps none of us would ever have heard: e=mc2? "

"In this case, we could be thankful for both Einstein and the other guy. Then we could view that bastard Einstein's misanthropic self-promotion as a valuable quality that had no relevance to the concept of relativity, yet benefited us all."

This is the point in the conversation where Mark K usually says, "Is Iris around?"

My dad simply said that he didn't want to talk about this anymore.

Loving Shameless Self-promoters
Of course, we never really know another person's motivations and intentions. (With all the questions I ask people, I often wonder if people know their own motivations and intentions.) All we have in the end is our experience of another's actions and we can deem them as beneficial and useful... or not. Someone might be a completely self-aggrandizing, misanthropic cretin who doesn't give a hoot about anyone but himself, and still be helpful to me.

Further, although we're taught over and again that we can predict someone's future behaviors based on their past behaviors, we'd be in a pretty sorry state if that were always the case. None of us would ever change. Perhaps this is the reason so many of us move on in life (to new situations and new people) before making significant changes in ourselves. We simply can't overcome the inertia of other people's beliefs about us, so we find other people who will believe in us.

Finally, when we imbue our heroes with extraordinary moral character or competence in other areas of expertise, we set them up for a fall.

What About You?
What do you think? Can someone be simultaneously ill-intended or "lacking in character" and great at something else? Can they be creeps with others and still be wonderful with you? If so, what do you do with them? How do you navigate the apparent contradiction?

Are there people in your life whom you've written off due to past performance? Perhaps you've never voiced it as such, but you simply expect less from them than from others? Have you (subtly or explicitly) been written off? Have you written yourself off?

Do you imbue great teachers, leaders, friends, family members, celebrities with other characteristics and strengths that may have nothing to do with who they are? What are you satisfying in yourself by doing so?

Would love to know what you guys think!

Happy Sunday!
Teflon

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Letting go

My boyfriend and I went Christmas shopping. It was the second time we went shopping for Christmas presents and both times we ended up with loads of stuff for us, along with some for our loved ones. We love to treat ourselves!

When we went into a very cute shop with home decoration things in it, I saw a fridge magnet saying, "Let go!"

I produced an anxious feeling in my tummy, as this is not something that has been easy for me to do. My inner thoughts screamed, "Letting go means being totally out of control, and I have to control everything to feel safe!"

So I thought this would be perfect for me. I would buy the magnet and put it on the fridge to remind me many times during the day when I am at home.

Floating Happy Bubble
After meeting my magnet, I started thinking about letting go. Out of experience and observation I know that we tend to believe that if they would let go of our beliefs that are keeping us in line (our drive to succeed, our commitments, our worries and anxiety, our wanting to be in control, our unhappiness), we would end up floating happy bubbles doing nothing at all.

How amazing that we are scared to be happy because we believe that we wouldn't do anything.

Everything Seems Easy When You’re Happy
I also thought of the times when I feel truly happy. In spite of beliefs that I need to hang on tightly to motivate myself, at those times I am totally motivated to do things and everything seems easier. I am joyful, my day is more colorful, I have amazing interaction with the people around me, I can focus better and I can inspire the ones around me to also choose happiness.

Dying from Happiness
Letting go my unhappiness producing beliefs was difficult for a long time because I believed that if I were happy I would die. Over time I created proof that disproves this belief. I have been happy many times, I have let loads of beliefs go and I am definitely still here!

I realize that I also believed that life is a school where I have to complete different tasks and when I will be done I will leave school. The goal is to graduate and get home to God. To graduate, I can't be happy (see my belief above); I need to be unhappy to live and learn my lessons and do my tests. Isn't it amazing what stuff we can make up about life. Does it really have to be this complicated or can we live simply happily?

Happy People are Weird!
Sometimes I believe that if I were happy all the time, I would be such a weird person that nobody would love me or want to be with me. I would just not fit in. But actually, since becoming more and more happy, I am finding more people who are on the same path and I am able to share my experiences with them. We are so good at scaring ourselves into unhappiness!

Letting Go of Expectations Works
Expectations are another area for me where I often practice letting go. In my job working with autistic children, I expect so much from the children I work with, but well... they don’t always do it.

Ok, ok, I am just joking! My work is the place where expectations are left outside the door. This creates an amazing environment for the children that helps them blossom into wonderful flowers in the smoothest ways. When we start expecting, we start pushing or pulling and the other person tends to get stubborn or push back. And this is so true outside of the playroom, too.

Letting Go is Magic!
Magic happens when we let go! It is so amazing, many times almost in the instant we relax and say goodbye to our expectations, the other person does what we want him/her to do, immediately. Once a dad was telling us a story of his child not wanting to wear clothes. He and his wife were working with him to encourage him to wear clothes for a long time, but he just did not want to do it. One night they decided to be OK with their son not wearing clothes and the next morning he got dressed!

Isn’t that amazing? We work ourselves up, get unhappy to get others to do things, and the easiest and most pleasant way is actually when we feel relaxed and trust that it will all work out the best way.

The bonus is that we can be happy the whole time, before it works out, after it works out, and even if it doesn't work out!

So, let go... let go... let gooooo...

Friday, December 18, 2009

Who Shall I Be Today?

Who are you? Although appealing, I'm not asking from an existential perspective, but instead from the perspective of the people around you, the people in your life.

Now the question probably has many answers based on the perspective of the observer. Your partner... your parents... your children... your coworkers... your boss... your neighbors... your band-mates... your fellow worshipers... the guy that sells you coffee in the morning... would all likely answer at least a bit differently, or perhaps, quite differently.

And then again, maybe not.

The Office Holiday Party
This time of year, many of us get to participate in a wonderfully rich experience called the office holiday party. The office holiday party is wonderful because it provides an opportunity to get to know people in ways that they might not otherwise be known. People tend to relax a bit, drink a bit and let down their hair, so to speak.

Many office parties include "significant others" which can serve as the pyscho-social equivalent of a sub-atomic particle-collider. It's amazing how different the perspectives of coworkers can be from those of a life partner. In an office holiday, you often get to see what happens when two strongly formed perspectives intersect at the same point.

The other night, I was invited to a holiday party for one of the companies with which I consult. Although it was a spouse-free party, it still was really fun to get to talk to people and ask them questions in an environment where they seemed more amenable to actually answering them, not just politely nodding and moving on, or responding with an I-don't-know. On Wednesday night, people were really thinking about and considering what they were saying.

It was delicious. I learned more about people in the space of just a couple of hours than I'd learned in twelve months. In many cases, I walked out with a completely different perspective than I'd walked in with. People who typically seemed a bit standoffish and distant, were open and engaging. People who normally seemed all-about-business, displayed deep interest in a variety of activities that had nothing to do with business. Managers who had appeared arbitrary and disconnected in their decisions, showed a deep sense of caring about what they were doing and the people who worked for them.

As Iris and I drove home yesterday, I thought about the disparity between the people I saw at the party and the people whom I would normally see in the office. I liked the people at the party much better. It's not that the people in the office are not likable; it's just that they don't even compare to the people who were at the party.

How Many People Can I Be?
Back in 2002, I participated in my first personal growth program. It was focused on authenticity in relationships.

For me, the program was not about lying or not lying, it was not about obfuscation or openness; it was about being consistent inside and out, and being exactly who you are independent of the situation.

By 2001, I was a least twenty different people depending on the situation. I had an almost chameleon-like capacity to morph myself to suit myself to the circumstances. I had founded an Internet security company raising $53M in venture capital over 18 months. I had a whole persona that went with doing business. Even that had different versions depending on whether I was working with the money guys, or the marketing guys, or the sales guys or the technical guys.

I had another persona for home where my kids were getting to their late teens and early twenties. And I had yet others for my parents, one for each. (People could tell when I was talking on the phone with my mom who was from South Carolina because I suddenly spoke southern; my dad doesn't speak southern). I had started racing mountain bikes with a bunch of people who were down-to-earth working-stiffs; so I had a totally-not-a-suit personality.

I can remember lamenting to myself, "I wish there were someone in my life with whom I could just be myself!"

Radical Convergence
Radical Authenticity helped me to change all that; and it wasn't a slow drawn-out process. A couple of weeks ago at Thanksgiving, my daughter Eila who now seems quite pleased with the transformation recalled thinking that I had been brainwashed or joined a cult; I had gone away for the week one person, and had come back someone completely different. Of course, the different person was just me.

Some people didn't know what to make of me. Some really liked who I was. Others really didn't. I loved it.

It was so much easier to be one person than twenty; so much less work; so much more fun.

I became more curious about people, who they were and why they were. I started asking the obvious questions that people often avoid regardless of circumstances. If someone seemed upset, whether it was at dinner or in a business meeting (where others might be ignoring their manner), I would ask them about it. I became the same person whether talking to an executive or junior staff member, whether talking to a scholar or a drop-out, whether talking to a client or a supplier, whether talking with my kids or my dad (my mom had passed away by then).

At a significant-other-friendly holiday gathering a few years ago, Rich Jerry, one of the software guys I was working with, leaned over to Iris and asked, "Is he really like this all the time?"

Iris responded, "Yeah. All the time."

He then asked, "So, when Mark tells me that he really wants to hear what I think, he really means it?"

Iris replied, "Yup!"

How Many People Are You?
So, how does this all work for you? Are you one person, consistent inside and out, independent of circumstances? Or, are you different things to different people?

If you are different things to different people, who are you? With whom? Why? How's it working for you? Do you resonate with the chameleon's lament of wishing you could just be yourself?

As we dive into the midst of this holiday season, whether it's an office holiday party or a family gathering, who are you going to be? Will you morph yourself into the person everyone expects? Or will you let go of all that?

To be clear, being consistent inside and out regardless of situation can be habit forming and not everyone will cheer you on. But in the end, the people who do cheer you on will mean it.

Who will you be today?