December’s Atlantic Monthly had a fascinating article about childhood development called The Science of Success http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200912/dobbs-orchid-gene. It was long, but the gist of it was that scientists, having long studied the negative effects of difficult children for the potential costs to society, have begun to ask why nature would continue to produce children with these genes. The study provides a fascinating perspective. It suggests that 80% of our society has a normal genetic makeup. These are the dandelions, who can grow pretty much anywhere, and who as a group create a stable society. Then, about 20% have a more fragile genetic constitution and are in the difficult child group. These are orchids. In a bad environment, they will grow up troubled and/or unstable. But in a good environment, they will thrive like an orchid in a hothouse. In fact, not only will they thrive but they can often be credited for a brilliance that leads to major innovation and positive forward change in our society.
What a wonderful light of hope for parents who have an ADD or otherwise difficult child? But, what does it mean for those of us who likely fall into the 80%? America is the land of the American Dream. The, “You can be anything you want to be!” and Rugged Individualist mythology. Here’s my perspective. What a relief. To me it means that we can stop spending so much time and energy trying to become the next Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or Bruce Springstein and just be ourselves. But it also means a different kind of work. Really taking a look at yourself and being yourself every day is hard work when we’ve spent so much time just reacting to others’ agendas. Think about what this would mean in your life.
This Christmas we headed to Vermont for a week of skiing. I bundled up and set my sights on the mountain, my only agenda to have fun. I fell in the snow teaching my daughter how to ski, we were delighted and a little scared (mostly her) on the chair lift, and we giggled all the way down as she skied in between my legs. On my own I skied as fast and hard as I could on the steep hills, softly and gently on some easier ones, and jelly-like on the moguls.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines recreation as “The process or means of refreshing or entertaining oneself” or, “A pleasurable activity.” I like the part about refreshing oneself, but I like even better the definition just above on the page: Re-create, “Create or produce over again.” Coaches use the Wheel of Life a lot. In it is one section titled Fun and Recreation. The truth is that recreation is not optional. We need it. It’s also not something that we can reason ourselves out of. Coaches also come from the perspective that people being coached are extremely resourceful. When we are given the space to play, rest and have fun, we re-create ourselves and replenish our resources. What a great way to increase productivity!
Last evening at a dinner party, a friend suggested I check out Obama’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech. Having now watched it, I am struck again by the power of president Obama’s eloquence. More than a pretty turn of phrase, eloquence is such an important tool to opening us to possibility. The Oxford Encyclopedic English Dictionary defines it as “fluent and effective use of language.” The effective use of language allows us to articulate, to define perspectives, and to communicate without judgement. In college I read a lot of the romantic authors and can remember that for them, nature presented a beauty beyond words. But I find it sad to give up on words to really express ourselves. To me, communication is at the heart of being ourselves, building relationships, and finding intimacy. It is key to the evolution in relationships between individuals, groups, and for Obama, countries.
What often gets in the way of good communication is the voices of others — parents, teachers, bosses, media, who inadvertently clip our wings. It can be tough to express ourselves openly when we are afraid of being judged or are afraid that our words might have an unintended impact. In coaching, articulation, listening, effective definitions of perspectives, and open communication are key to individuals’ forward movement. When someone feels truly heard, it turns out that they have the resources to answer their own challenges. And when, as with president Obama, a person’s eloquence truly opens up discourse, the possibilities are endless.
This weekend my three year old daughter got a ‘big girl bed’. She’d been anticipating it for weeks, and got in it with her new birthday doll and a huge smile, totally rejecting the baby she’s had for the last year. Of course my emotions were mixed. Alongside my happiness at her joy, I thought, “She’s not a baby any more!”
This week I promised myself I’d find something other to write about than Tiger Woods. Nevertheless, I find myself thinking about it. Specifically, I am intrigued by the notion that women today have to wear so many hats. Many of us, Like Tiger’s wife Elin, are raised to be ‘good girls’. Presentable, sophisticated, good wives, good mothers. Today we find that we also have to be, and I say this euphemistically, an exotic and wild girl.
There are times as a Life Coach when you are your own best case study. Personally, I know that I tend towards being overly ambitious. Knowing that, I thought I’d had a good plan for the months following the birth of our second child. Get lots of babysitter help, take the summer off. Still, within a few weeks I wanted to get back to my clients. I love my work, and missed it. All the while, my sister was telling me, “Slow down. The first six months of having two kids is a total blur.” Now that my son is officially at the six month mark, I realize that she was right. All of a sudden, things are so much easier. The same effort yields more results, I am more focused, less tired. And I anticipate that there will be other corners down the road. The lesson here is to listen and trust. Nature has a way that it works, and sometimes the message of, “Just Do It!” won’t get you ahead any faster. Trust your heart, trust your body, trust yourself. You’ll know when the time is right, and that to me is living organically.
Is it me, or is The Good Wife with Julianna Margulies the new Sex In The City? Maybe it’s because I’ve gone from single girl in NYC to married with children, but for me this show has hit a nerve.
Originally posted 10/13/09
This past June I experienced one of the less pleasant milestones of parenting: Having my perfect child evaluated. It was the end of the scholastic year at the daycare, and I was told that next year they would be keeping an eye out for how her leadership skills would develop.
Leadership? She’s two and a half! After a request for clarification, I learned that in groups, some children tend to decide on the activity and others follow along. Mine appears to be one of the group, not the boss. Fair enough. I can see how knowing this might help understand my child and give her the space to be herself.
Now I am long since over my initial discomfort. Still, I’ve thought a lot about this. There are so many factors making childhood different today than in the 60’s or 70’s. Among them is our society’s need for metrics. We want everything measurable. We want to know with certainty what is likely to happen. And when we don’t like how it’s looking, we adjust. The parents push for it, and the administrators respond, ‘adding value’ so that everyone feels safe.
The problem is that this constant measurement, evaluation and adjustment eventually creates young adults who are like spheres, with all of the rough edges smoothed away. And after so many years of pleasing parents and teachers, these adults often lose their ability to figure out what they want. Worse, by ignoring impulses towards things that are different from the norm, they stifle their creativity. It leaves so many feeling unhappy and not knowing why. How safe is that?
It’s a tough question. For me, I will give my little girl the space to be herself. If that means easy, considerate and diplomatic, so be it. Our society needs that too.
Originally posted 9/30/09
Two weeks ago Guy Trebay wrote an article in the New York Times Style section about the designer Murakami. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/20/fashion/20diary.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=guy%20trebay&st=cse It’s a very tongue-in-cheek look at the affectations of trendy design world characters and how silly they can be. In fact, it’s a modern day telling of The Emperor’s New Clothes.
Reading the article, my reflections might have ended with a knowing laugh. It’s easy to point at some people and comfort ourselves — after all, we aren’t ridiculous. But, how many of us are driven by our own ‘new clothes’? Maybe it’s the new car, a resume-worthy job, the right husband, the child who says a sweet ‘thank you’ to everyone. It’s tricky…many of these things are “good for us.” So why is it that when we get them, we still don’t feel happy?
The problems arise when we reference the outside world — parents, teachers, bosses, media — without checking in with our own values. Something may be great, but not for us, or not at the right time. Going ahead in spite of a conflicted inner voice tramples our values. That leaves us unhappy.
Like diet and exercise, knowing the values that make us happy day in and day out takes a lot of work. It’s not something we decide once and stay with for the rest of our lives. It takes discipline, awareness and occasional updating. But in this version, the nakedness is welcome.
Originally posted 9/19/09
What working mom wasn’t fascinated by Kim Clijsters’ beating Venus Williams last weekend? As for me, I said, “YES!” with such a feeling of vindication. Having felt guilty for a year and a half as a working mom in corporate America, it was so validating to see that a new mom can actually defy everyone’s expectations.
Later, I read an article in the New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/15/nyregion/15bigcity.html?_r=1 that offered a very different perspective, and reminded me of one of the quiet battles that women face in corporate America today…the singles versus the marrieds. It’s hard for married women not to get frustrated at being sidelined once they have kids, considering that their newfound focus and efficiency makes them highly effective in the workplace. On the other hand, single women often get stuck cleaning up after the marrieds are gone for the day. After all, not everything important at work happens between nine and five.
How is it that after all the efforts made so that women can do and have whatever they want, we are still struggling to find our right balance? For me, it is in the power of focus. It doesn’t matter that Kim Clijsters had a child, or that Venus Williams hasn’t. What matters is that Kim Clijsters saw what she wanted and went after it. As a top seeded tennis player having a child, I can only imagine the gremlins in her head…”You’ll never get back in shape….You’ll never be on top again…”
Dreams don’t come true all at once; it’s a process. When we move forward with our dreams in spite of gremlins, each small victory along the way empowers us and propels us forward. Each small success convinces us that we are on the right track and brings us closer to being our most authentic self. From that place, it’s easy to live and let live; to be OK with others’ having the things they have, and to support them in pursuit of their own dreams. We all gotta be ourselves.