Benson Noice Junior The Great

This is the title of a book my son, whose name is taken after his grandfather, wrote about his beloved grandfather at the age of 11. I recently discovered the hard-cover illustrated book amongst some other treasures like my Master’s thesis, my brother’s journal of our cross-country trailer trip in the late 60’s and a book of poetry I wrote in high school. I read Benson’s masterpiece to my dad over the phone last week and choked through the tears as I realized how much my son idealizes his grandfather. As I reflect on my father’s life, I realize what a tremendous gift my father has been to his students, his friends and his family.

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Benson Robles and his grandfather Benson Noice Jr. (the great)

These are the reasons that Benson Noice Junior is so great:

Perseverance

My dad is the oldest of three kids and was born in 1925. Being born in 1925 means that the depression had a long-standing impact on him and his family. His father, Benson Noice Sr., left the family after the stock market crash of 1929. Imagine being my grandmother with three kids ages under the age of 5 as my grandfather took off. The impact is that my father has always been very self-reliant. He ended up moving 28 times by the time he graduated college. My father hitchhiked, survived on donuts and milk and spent the night on the Staten Island Ferry as a young adult. All of these hardships are in line with his oft quoted motto “toughen you up for life.” Dad had a tough life especially in the first 30 years, and the result shows up in his perseverance.

Teacher

My dad taught eighth grade history for over 30 years. In my hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, I can remember running into his former students at the mall, school district picnics and at the grocery store. At the time, I would be mortified that people would come up to him and thank him for being a great teacher. There were several men who saw my dad as their mentor. He would meet them either as students or counselors at a boy’s camp where he was the waterfront director. I can remember them either writing or phoning or making the pilgrimage to our house in Wilmington to see their teacher and mentor. As a kid, I was jealous of the attention my father garnered. I can remember hearing him talk extensively about history or economics or politics late at night as I feigned sleep in the bedroom above the living room. Now I can see what an impact he had on these young men and all the students that went through his classroom.

Memory

Considering my father is almost 94, he has an incredible memory. He may not know what he had for lunch or what television show he is watching, but he can still tell you practically anything about the Civil War, the American Revolution and World History. Does he know when Napoleon was born without using Google? Yep. Can he discuss with me the importance of the siege during the Civil War as he did on the phone yesterday? Yep. Can he reflect on George Washington’s merits as a President and how King George couldn’t understand why Washington would relinquish power after 8 years as president? This is amazing to me that he can have a conversation with a neophyte like myself amid his breaths from his oxygen tube to carry on a complex conversation on a subject that is near and dear to him. This conversation, by the way, was brought on by my reading of a book he recommended by Ron Chernow called Grant. I was never a history fan as a kid, or even adult, but over the last ten years, I believe my father’s love of history has infected me or maybe I just wanted to tap into his treasure trove of historic memories; extend the conversation with him.

Unconditional Love

This is my father’s greatest gift and very few possess it. As I have reminisced with him recently and I asked him what he learned from his mother, he said “unconditional love”. My dad was never a good student or at least that his what he professes. He didn’t marry until he was 30. I can imagine that moving from college to college and not settling down, probably caused my grandmother some heartburn as well as ache. But he said he always knew she loved him. Well, as I sit here, I know I caused my father a fair share of pain over my lifetime between being a rebellious teen ager, an impulsive young adult, and a single mom on the brink of financial ruin. My father always has been there for me. Without fail. He has been there for my children including uprooting my mother to move from Northern California to North Carolina so that he could sit in cold and windy football games on a Friday night, drive for hours to Marching Band competitions or walk two miles to my daughter’s graduation from Duke. I know that I haven’t committed a felony or been a high school drop out but I sorely tested both of my parents. My dad recently received a cell phone. Yes, my dad learned how to use a cell phone at age 93. I am so amazed when I see his number flash on my phone and know that somehow, he figured out (with the immeasurable help of my brother Rick and my mom) how to dial my phone. He reaches out to connect from Albuquerque, New Mexico to make sure I’m OK and let me know that he’s OK and to maybe impart a history lesson or two. Benson Noice Jr. is unconditional love.

If you measure a life by the impact you’ve had on others, my father has had a very rich life. He has spread his knowledge through countless students, campers and proteges. He was a stable, patient father who rarely raised his voice and only became passionate during debates with my older brothers around the dinner table. He was courageous to serve in the Merchant Marines during WWII and in the Army during the Korean War. He was a phenomenal chess player, writer and sailor. I would bet my life that there is not a single person who wasn’t better off for meeting such a generous, patient, humble man. Benson Noice Jr. the Great is my father and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

My 5:45 AM Walk at The Bellagio

If you have never stayed at a hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, you wouldn’t know that there is never a coffee maker in your room. No microwave. No refrigerator, except for the one full of booze that senses if you lift something for 10 seconds so that they may charge you for it. The resort is trying to entice you into the casino or their shops or their stores or their restaurants. The Bellagio is no different. I was there for a conference a few weeks back and had to venture out to try and find a place to satisfy by caffeine fix at 5:45 AM. Since I live on the east coast, this felt more like 8:45 AM and I was way past due for my morning cup of joe.

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These are my observations on my 5:45 AM walk:

Half a mile

I clocked my walk to the Starbucks that opened at 6 AM on the very farthest end of The Bellagio, and it was a full half mile from my hotel room. The sheer size of this immense resort is startling. I could walk a half mile there and a half mile back and barely retrace the same steps. There had to be at least fifteen restaurants, ten bars and thirty or more shops on the way as well. The resort is like a small city and if it weren’t for the signs along the way, I could have easily been lost amongst the labyrinth of slot machines, craps and blackjack tables. Between the conference space and casino, I never left the resort for three whole days and I clocked over 4 miles a day.

Maintenance

On that Thursday morning there were more employees than customers out and about in The Bellagio. There were at least fifty employees polishing floors, fixing light fixtures, yanking out what seemed like acres of tulips and organizing floral arrangements around the resort. I was flabbergasted by the entire crew, hard at work, maintaining this immense resort. As I walked back with my coffee, there was a small dump truck, full of flowers from The Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, backing up on the marble floors of the resort. I had a renewed appreciation of all the work that goes into maintaining the stunning flower arrangements and shiny polished floors of a world-renowned resort.

No crowds

On a typical afternoon at The Bellagio, there are throngs of people viewing the famous fountains outside and the conservatory inside. It is a major attraction in Las Vegas. At 5:45 AM? There are one or two folks at slot machines, diehard blackjack players at one table and the hapless drunk leaning on his friends as they head to the parking garage. The music throbs, the machines clang, and yet, there is barely an audience to observe it. There are the running and walking enthusiasts headed out to take their morning run with their earbuds and running shoes.

Facts

The Bellagio is 21 years old and employs 8,000 employees for 3,950 rooms. There are basically 2 employees for each room in the resort. But they have an impressive 20,000 guests each day who walk through the conservatory, which is maintained by a team of 125. Their famous fountains are manned by a team of 30 and it has 35 different fountain shows set to different music that is piped into the entire first floor of the resort. The lake that houses the fountain show is 8 acres. It’s been featured in several movies, including Oceans Eleven.

It’s remarkable that The Bellagio continues to look flawless, even after twenty years of continuous operation. Once I witnessed the enormous team that it takes to make that happen, I have a renewed appreciation for all those workers who rose at 4 AM to make sure the experience was awe-inspiring for all. Maybe I had to walk a half mile for coffee so that I could appreciate the folks that make it all happen. It is a level of service that is exemplary.

4 Steps to Act As IF

 

To act As If is to invite or attract what you want into your life. It is a basic tenant of the Law of Attraction. As I headed home from New Bern, North Carolina driving in the rain, I initially became tense behind the wheel and was afraid I was going to hydroplane. I decided that I needed to act as if I would arrive safely at home and to let go of the tension. I imagined that the rain would slow, and I focused on the book I was listening to. The rain didn’t stop immediately, the car didn’t drive itself but once I relaxed into the feeling that I was a safe driver and could handle this, the rain subsided, the car handled beautifully, and I was home. I think that the initial stress and tension had me caught up in fear. When I relaxed and acted as if I was almost home and that the driving was easy, I eased into my goal of arriving safely at home.

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It’s not just about positive thoughts. It’s also about positive action. I needed to slow down my car regardless of the truck bearing down behind me. I remember consciously relaxing my hands on the wheel from a vice grip to gentle navigation. I envisioned driving down my driveway safely at home. Most of the work is between the ears, but some of it can be body posture and a smile on your face. All of it is an inside game.

Four easy steps to act As If:

Actor

Imagine that you are Daniel Day-Lewis or Christian Bale preparing for a role. Acting as if requires acting; getting into the role. If you are a successful millionaire, how do you act? If you are a Vice President instead of a director, how do you act? If you are Daniel Day-Lewis performing as Abraham Lincoln, you keep your American accent all day and sign your text “Yours, A.” If you are a drug addict like Christian Bale in The Fighter, you lose 50 pounds and run for 4 hours a day. I have to say when I saw that movie, I remembered thinking, where did they find drug addict to play this part? I had no idea it was Bale. Method actors are famous for taking on the role off-set. They live and breathe it. If you are going to be that millionaire or own that seaside house, you’re going to need to act the part.

As Leeor Alexandra writes for Living Lovelee, “Act accordingly. If you would like to be rich, act rich by spending happily and generously. This is something you might have to practice, especially if you are short on cash. So many of us dread spending even a dollar, and we pay for things reluctantly and with regret. That is the quickest way to become even poorer.” I pay bills the minute they show up and do it with a smile. And, remarkably, money keeps showing up. Act the part and it will be so.

Feel

Take a look at past history and conjure up the feelings and emotions you are looking for. If it’s a new relationship, think back to the first months with your first love and how you felt. The joy, the smile, the giddiness, the wonder of the world. This will attract the same. As written on the Wisdom Post, “If driving a new car makes you feel like a ‘success’, find out an example that you have felt this same feeling before. Take note and be conscious every time when you feel this feeling of ‘success’ every day. Focus on how this feeling has already been attracted to you and continued to come to you on a daily basis. The key is to feel your root emotion in order to feel as if you already have it. As you project more of this emotion, your desire will draw closer to you.”

I have focused on a feeling of being carefree and full of abundance. I am careful not to get caught up in other’s sense of lacking. I don’t hold resentment if I pick up the check or need to help my son with a plane ticket. I feel into the abundance and sense of generosity. I’m not saying I never backslide; I am a work in progress. I regroup and see that I am infinite and can handle anything coming my way. Feel into it.

Speak

Your words are what you manifest. If you say to yourself you are fat, you will be fat. If you say to yourself that you are slim and healthy, you will be slim and healthy. Speak it so it will be so. I lived a long time from a sense of lack. I would tell my kids that we didn’t have enough money for new soccer cleats, a new clarinet or a Vera Bradley bag. I spoke the language of lack and therefore it was so. When I see a large bill now, I say to myself, “I always have money coming in.” It’s amazing how new clients and money are constantly showing up.

As Alexandra wrote, “Watch the way you speak about yourself and your life – if it doesn’t align with the reality you desire, you have to change it. And change it on the spot. Also, take notice of how you react to things people say as well as to every day occurrences. Make sure to only speak and react in the way that you would speak and react once you have manifested your desire. That is how to act as if you already have it.” Speak the language of what you want to attract.

Look

I think of that song, “You’ve got the look.” I plan on hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail with my boyfriend, Roy, this summer. I have the trail runners, the convertible pants and the quick dry shirt. I wear it on the weekends when I walk in my neighborhood. I may only be at 150 feet above sea level and not at 4,000 feet, but I look the part. It helps me feel the part. If you want to be a yoga instructor, buy the yoga pants. If you want to be a Chief People Officer, wear the suit as if you were born into it. If you want that motorcycle, buy the leather jacket and helmet.

As Alexandra wrote, “If you look the way you want, you will raise your vibration and speed the creation process along even more. Look the part is the equivalent of: ‘Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.’ Find clothes that fit the life you’re creating and make you feel amazing.” I know when I lost a bunch of weight after getting sober, I eliminated anything in my closet that didn’t fit my new lifestyle. No more loose clothes or things that didn’t make me feel great. As Marie Kondo says, “Does it spark joy?” If it doesn’t spark joy or align with what I desire, it’s gone.

It all comes down to belief and aligning with what you truly want. I originally titled this “4 Easy Steps to Act As If,” but the truth of the matter is that it’s not easy. I have to keep coming back to it. It’s easy to slide back into a sense of lack. I must stay vigilant to stay the course, but over time, it’s all coming into alignment. What do you want to attract into your life?

Enjoy Life in the Present

That sounds so easy. To be present in the moment, to not be dragging up the past or calculating the future. To be here right now. I have to say that this is much easier when you see it in someone else. A good friend and I reconnected in the last six months. It was a painful story of divorce, the “other woman” and too much alcohol. It seemed like a mirror that the universe had planned for me. It was my life on replay from two years ago. I can feel her pain, her uncertainty and her search for something concrete to land on. Her grasping for hope and certainty. It is the searching and grasping that causes all the frustration. It’s like being in the deep end of pool and not being able to find your footing. All she really has to do is grab the edge of the pool.

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This is what Pema Chodron calls Shenpa. The urge. The trigger. The frantic grasping and spinning up all that is unpleasant. I think we can all go down that road. I bet it’s easier to rattle off everything that is wrong with your life rather than everything that’s right. If you really think about it, the list of all that is right is a LOT longer than what is wrong. It’s just that we focus on what is wrong and then dwell on it for minutes, hours, days and weeks. He left me. He left me. He left me. Which turns into I am unworthy. I am unworthy. I am unworthy. The secret to it all is to come back to the present. It doesn’t happen overnight. Heck, it doesn’t happen in a month. But I am here to tell you, it happens when you come back to yourself and be present right now.

Here is how to enjoy the present:

Perfection

Let go of it. Perfection that is. It can’t be 75 clear and sunny every day of the year. Your hair won’t be perfect. Your weight. Your run. Your project. Your blog post. Your spelling. Your grammar. Your lunch. Your left knee. The moment doesn’t need to be perfect to be in it. The lighting, the temperature, the sound, the chair, the body, the thoughts, are all as they should be. Right now. Nothing needs to change to be able to be present. As my boyfriend Roy has said while he’s currently hiking the Appalachian Trail for over 2,000 miles, “Embrace the Suck.” It will rain. It will be too hot. It will be too cold. It’s all just window dressing on the moment. It doesn’t have to be perfect to enjoy the present.

Enough

This moment right now is enough. No more, no less. As Lori Deschene wrote for Uplift, “It’s true—tomorrow may not look the same as today, no matter how much you try to control it. A relationship might end. You might have to move. You’ll deal with those moments when they come. All you need right now is to appreciate and enjoy what you have.” Odds are the good far outweigh the bad even when you feel it’s all falling apart. There is more than enough right now in the present moment.

Complete

You and I are complete right now. A relationship, a car, a dog, a family member, a degree, a house — none of them define you. You are fluid. As Deschene wrote, “Define yourself in terms that can withstand change. Defining yourself by possessions, roles, and relationships breeds attachment, because loss entails losing not just what you have, but also who you are.” You are complete right not regardless of the promotion, the partner, or the trip to Aruba. When you are complete and acknowledge it, you can enjoy the present.

Friend

Be your own best friend. I think of the year after my husband left. I spent a lot of time just finding me. I had spent a lot of time and energy wrapped up in what made him happy rather than my own happiness. I needed to be my own best friend and to treat myself as my own best friend. I learned that I didn’t need to have company to be present and enjoy the moment right now. As Deschene wrote, “It will be harder to let people go when necessary if you depend on them for your sense of worth. Believe you’re worthy whether someone else tells you or not. This way, you relate to people, not just how they make you feel about yourself.” Be your own best friend to be present.

Now

In the year after he left, I kept shoulding myself. I should have left earlier, I should have tried harder, I should have known, I should have married David instead. All that shoulding kept me in the past, instead of the present. I have to say that getting sober makes now a lot clearer without any haze. Go for a walk. Call your mom. Send a text to your son. Sign up for a class. Volunteer at the soup kitchen. Let go of the past and be here right now. Make it count.

Through

Pain and fear and love, they must all be experienced. We can’t numb it out and try and circumvent it. Well, we can but it just makes it linger and hurt a lot more. Feel the pain, the sorrow, the joy. Where do you feel it? The pit of your stomach, the tightness in your shoulders, in the base of your throat. I have spent a lot of my life trying to escape feelings, to dampen it down, to be the dispassionate professional, as well as to be the rock-solid mother, daughter and wife. All of this avoidance just prolonged the pain. Be a human and feel the feels. Feel the present moment by going through instead of around.

My coach, Tammi Wheeler, recommended a book called Transitions by William Bridges when I was first separated. He talks about three stages of transition: endings, the neutral zone and the new beginning. I feel like I was in the neutral zone for practically eighteen months. I could not find my footing and I wasn’t sure where I was headed. I see my friend in this neutral zone as she navigates her new normal. The secret for me was to enjoy life right now in the present moment, neutral zone or not. What stops you from being in the present moment?

5 Surprises About Parisians

The recent fire at Notre Dame compelled me to repost a blog from a few years back. I found Paris and the Parisians to be magical. I wrote a post about reconnecting with my college roommates in Paris as well. Here is what I wrote in March of 2016:

As I write this, I have finished my first two days in Paris on my own. Paris is beautiful and enchanting. I encountered many interesting surprises around almost every corner. I had no idea it would take 45 minutes to get from Charles De Gaulle airport to my hotel. The traffic as you approach the city at 10 in the morning on a Thursday was just crazy. It felt like there was only one way into the city; kind of like everyone in New Jersey trying to get into Manhattan through the Holland tunnel. I was also taken aback by all the graffiti. I’ve thought that the French have it all figured out since Americans don’t seem to. But, alas, we all have our downfalls.

 

The best part of the trip in was my taxi driver. He kept calling me “my lady.” We had a lovely conversation about his parents immigrating from Cambodia and how much he loves Paris. He explained the good neighborhoods from the bad and constantly complimented me on any French I attempted to speak. I was kind of hoping I could keep him for a few days as my guide. This young man was so polite and open, I had no idea what else was in store for me. Can’t I just keep him? Is he the friendliest person I will meet in Paris? Who else is going to call me “my lady”…. like ever?

 

Turns out that Paris revealed these surprises to me:

 

  1. Parisians are gracious. I had a friend advise me before I came to make sure I said “Bon jour” and “Merci.” Parisians are not a fan of the abrupt American. When I arrived at my hotel, two gentlemen opened the door saying, “Beinvenue Madame, bon jour!” with smiling faces. I think every employee in that lobby said “Bon jour, Madame!” You might be thinking, “Well, Cathy, isn’t this a hotel, shouldn’t they be that gracious?” The thing is every brasserie, cafe, shop and museum was the same tune. The sweet lyrical: “Bon jour, Madame.” The Parisians graciousness made me feel welcome and humbled me.

 

  1. Parisians have a slower pace. One of my guides during a walking tour of Montmartre explained that if you purchase an espresso at a cafe, you had the right to the table for the entire day. He wanted us to understand this in case some server tried to brush us off. This slower, you have all day, take a moment to be in the moment attitude was a big adjustment. I still ate my food too fast (especially when dining alone). I’m sure they thought I was an American Speedy Gonzales. This is in juxtaposition to say Manhattan or San Francisco when every minute counts in a race to get through the day. Savor the moment.

 

  1. Many Parisians are animated. On the drive in from the airport, there had been an accident and there in THE MIDDLE of the highway, the two men on opposites ends of the collision were boisterously yelling at each other waving their arms madly. Quite the theatrics. When the woman who was the concierge for the apartment we leased was showing us the place, she didn’t speak English. We didn’t speak French. The language barrier was crossed as she pantomimed how the locks worked, the door to the balcony, and all the various attributes of the apartment. It was hysterical. She bantered on in French stopping to ask “Oui?”…as we echoed back “Oui. Oui.” Enjoy the theatrics; they will often get you through what you need to know

 

  1. Parisians love their city. Parisian pride is even more fierce after the threat to Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. Recent terrorist attacks on their own and their neighbor’s soil have fueled that fire. This kind of pride – Parisian Pride – doesn’t develop overnight. Several guides and drivers I met were incredibly proud of their neighborhood, whether it was Montmartre or Rive Gauche. I had the impression that every Parisian felt as if Paris was the center of the universe. It certainly is the center of theirs. The thing is, after 8 days in Paris, I was beginning to think the same thing. Where else can you experience world-class food, wine, art, history and music? ? When I first arrived, I took pictures from every street corner because it was so beautiful and remarkable. Pretty soon, I had WAY too many pictures of rambling cobblestone streets. Every corner, every niche of Paris has something unique to offer. It’s okay to capture the moment even if you have to edit it later.

 

  1. Parisians are passionate. I’m talking the essence of passion, the pureness of passion. I mean passionate about their interests and what there is to love about life I went on a walking tour of Montmartre and the guide was enlivened and passionate about Montmartre and the artists who lived there (i.e. Van Gough, Renoir, Monet, Picasso….). I went on a cheese tasting in a cheese cave from the 1600’s and our guide was passionate about French cheese. There are over 2,000 types of cheeses made in France, and this guy knew each one, the distinctions between them AND could combine a wine and cheese so that you thought you were eating cauliflower or grapefruit. My friends and I took a cooking class and our instructor was beyond passionate about the food of Paris. He knew the history of the dish, its origins, its modern adaptations, and had sourced every product to identify organic and GMO-free. He orchestrated 8 novice cooks to create an amazing three-course lunch in a matter of 4 hours. The passion of all these Parisians was contagious.

 

Paris has been on my bucket list for over 30 years. Ever since my 7th grade French class. It was an amazing vacation and the thing I learned is that it’s the residents I will remember most. The Parisians themselves are the heart of the experience.

Let Go or Be Dragged

A profound Zen proverb. My incredibly insightful friend Janine said this to me on the phone a few weeks ago. I was struggling. My father’s health continues to falter in what seems like a ceaseless spiral. My boyfriend, Roy, commenced his epic thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail several weeks ago. A Rotary friend is suffering from ALS. A close friend’s mother passed away. When we talk about Letting Go for many, it is the letting go of the past. Or it is the letting go of regret, pain and rumination. I feel like I need to let go of control. I think back some 25 years ago when I had a leash on a 100-pound Labrador and a 45-pound Siberian Husky, and a dreaded cat showed up in our path. The dogs took off with me behind. I struggled. I tugged. I strained. But upon coming up to an enormous pond of water, I relinquished and let go. I was at the edge of being dragged, so I finally let go.

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Lest you be dragged, here are my thoughts on letting go:

  • Clairvoyant.  You and I are not Carnac the Magnificent or The Amazing Kreskin. I was catastrophizing my dad’s recent move to a higher care unit. Oh, my goodness, he’ll be alone. He’ll fall and be all by himself. He will think we all abandoned him. I was sure that Roy was going to fall and break something or freeze to death in his tent in the middle of the Smoky Mountains. I decided that my son would never be able to fly back to the United States safely from Nicaragua. Thus far, this is all unfounded. It was all a waste of energy and caused me needless pain. I cannot predict the future. Neither can you. Let it go or be dragged.

 

  • Path.  Stick to your own path and I’ll stick to mine. On the Appalachian Trail, this is called Hike Your Own Hike. Do you want to sleep under a tarp, in a shelter, in a hammock or a tent? It’s your choice. It’s your path. Don’t worry about someone else’s path. If Roy wants to hike through the rain, stop in a local town for a day, or muscle through a fifteen-mile day, it’s his hike either way. His path. My willing him forward will not change the path he is on. There was one day last week where I could see a rain cloud sitting over the mountains where Roy was hiking. I had the misguided belief that if I kept refreshing the radar, that the rain would move. It didn’t. Let go or be dragged.

 

  • Reframe.  I have several pictures that my children drew or painted some ten plus years ago. They were nice, but unframed. Pieces of paper with chalk and paint. Then I framed them all. They were much improved. And all it took was a new frame. I thought about this when my father was in the middle of his move to the assisted living section. I recalled how happy he was when he was hospitalized a few months earlier. He enjoyed the food, no commitments and being cared for. I put that frame around his move. I figured he’ll actually be more comfortable and the tension on my parents’ relationship will ease. Sure enough, that is what happened. Look at your struggle in a different light. Let go or be dragged.

 

  • Connect.  I was initially ashamed of my suffering. This changed dramatically when I connected with others. This might be a therapist, a coach, family or a friend. It’s incredibly powerful to have someone reflect back on your pain or struggle. That someone to hold a safe space to “feel the feels.” You are not alone. There is someone out there who wants to listen, pick up the phone or send a text or make an appointment.  I am fortunate to have many people in my life including friends, family, and a coach. It’s amazing to connect with many people. My son, Benson doesn’t sugar coat, my daughter, Natalie holds a safe space, my friend Janine is a gentle, virtual hug and Roy provides an invaluable perspective from a caregiver’s stance. There are countless others. Connect with your network, it’s bigger than you think. Let go or be dragged.

 

  • Control.  It is truly amazing what little control we have in life. Who knew I couldn’t control the weather over the Appalachians or my dad’s failing health? The only person I can control is myself. My response. Heck, I can’t even control my body to a great degree. This is the Dichotomy of Control as written by the stoic Epictetus: “Some things are within our power, while others are not. Within our power are opinion, motivation, desire, aversion, and, in a word, whatever is of our own doing; not within our power are our body, our property, reputation, office, and, in a word, whatever is not of our own doing.” This feels like the precursor of the Serenity Prayer. It takes me back to the dogs pulling me perilously toward that pond. I could not control them. It was outside my power. Let go or be dragged.

 

Frequently, while being dragged, the scars that appear on the inside are not apparent, even with scrapped knees and soaked clothes. Oh, the weight of worry that we carry around. The preoccupation with predicting the outcome. When we let go, we can notice that we are alright, right now. What’s dragging you around?

The Woman at Gate B4 at Hartsfield International

My son, Benson, and I arrived at our connecting gate to Raleigh-Durham. We were about an hour and 15 minutes early for our connection and sat down next to each other pretty close to the gate for our final leg home after spending Thanksgiving in Seattle. Benson settled into his iPhone and I sat skimming Facebook. Then a woman in a wheelchair was placed next to my seat. The wheelchair agent looked at the woman and said, “Are you all set?” The woman in the wheelchair was silent. The wheelchair agent looked at me with an expression of Well, I guess that’s it and left.

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About 5 minutes later, the woman in the wheelchair started speaking in Spanish. I wasn’t sure who she was talking to but there was no one around responding. I spoke up and asked, “¿Hables ingles?” (Do you speak English?). She replied: “No” and asked where the wheelchair agent was. I responded in Spanish that she had left. The woman then explained that she could not see. So there I am, sitting at gate B4 next to a blind, Spanish-speaking woman in a wheelchair. I felt, at that moment, that I was the only one in the world responsible for this woman and that I needed to make sure she got where she intended to go.

Here are my lessons from that experience:

Language.  It’s been over a decade since I had to speak Spanish on a regular basis as the Human Resource Director for a Mission Foods tortilla manufacturing plant. My Spanish is rusty. It did not matter. I had enough to figure out that she didn’t speak English, she could not see and that she was headed to Raleigh-Durham. I think it’s easy to get caught up in the perfection of speaking another language, reminding yourself to use the correct tense and the proper form of “you” (tu is more familiar and usted is more formal). It didn’t matter. Language is language, and any form of communication was better than what the rest of the folks sitting at the gate could provide. I know if I was in Miami, I could have found someone to help me out. But messy and imperfect or not, we were able to communicate. Use the language you have right now and quit worrying about whether or not it’s perfect.

Information.  It was important to relay basic information like what time it was, what time the plane would leave, and where it was headed. I was glad that she was at least headed to Raleigh-Durham. I wasn’t sure what I would do if she was at the wrong gate. I kept updating her with the time and what was going on at the gate. As soon as the gate agent was there, I walked up to her to let her know that: A. This woman did not speak English and, B. She was blind. This was important information and the gate agent thanked me. She said that it was not indicated on her ticket at all which would have helped everyone to make sure she got where she wanted to go. Be sure to relay important information.

Connect.  The extent of my airport Spanish was exhausted in about 2 minutes. So, I decided to ask where she was from, where she was headed, and what it was for. Turns out, she was headed to Burlington, NC and lives in Veracruz, Mexico. She was headed to Raleigh-Durham to meet her brother, her niece and her sister. They were coming from various parts of the United States for a reunion. Her journey had taken her from Veracruz to Mexico City to Atlanta. Now she was hoping to make it to Raleigh-Durham to meet her family. I was astounded that she had traveled so far all by herself. I was glad that I connected to her story. If I had not spoken Spanish, I would have thought she was a crazy woman, because it’s not necessarily obvious when someone is blind. She didn’t acknowledge people because she couldn’t see them. Take the time to connect.

Responsible.  As soon as they started boarding the plane, the gate agent came over and took the woman in the wheelchair onto the plane. I was relieved that she was on the plane. I never saw her when I boarded later and never saw her get off. I saw several wheelchair agents by the airplane door with various names written on paper as I exited but I had never asked her name. I felt responsible for her. How would I know if she met up with her family or not? I cannot tell you how relieved I was when I got to baggage claim and I saw her surrounded by family as we all waited for our bags. It’s amazing how we can feel responsible for something completely out of our control. I wasn’t that woman’s daughter or sister. I was just another human who happened to speak Spanish.

I can’t tell you how happy I am that this had a happy ending. I’m sure she would have made it to Raleigh-Durham without my help but it felt so gratifying to be a part of the end result. It also made me appreciate that we don’t always know if someone is disabled or doesn’t speak the same language. It’s so easy to jump to conclusions and not investigate further. I’m glad I did.

Is It Time to Recharge Your Battery?

I heard a speaker at a conference recently say that we were more concerned with the battery charge on our cell phones than on our own personal battery. Truth! I have been battling the battery on my cell phone for the last month or so. My cell’s battery charge was evaporating at an alarming rate so that I ended up practically keeping my phone plugged in about 70% of the day for fear it would end up in the dreaded “red zone”. In my obsession of my phone’s battery, I rarely thought about my own battery. What was I doing to recharge my own personal battery? Turns out my cell phone was more important than my own personal battery.

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I didn’t end up in the hospital or fall off the wagon with my sobriety, thank goodness. I did end up getting emotionally scattered or as I said to my coach “splattered”. Splattered isn’t good. I started to feel pulled in a hundred directions, much like when twenty apps are open at the same time. Go ahead, check your phone right now. How many apps do you currently have open? If it’s more than two, you are likely splattered the same as I was. I discovered that I can reevaluate and reconnect my charger cable to get my battery charged again.

Here’s how to recharge your battery:

Ghost your phone

I recently read #DoNotDisturb How I Ghosted My Cell Phone to Take Back My Life by Jedediah Bila. She had some really good ideas. Some of them I had already incorporated into my life. I’ve taken off the notifications for social media and email. When you load a new app say no to notifications. I used to carry my phone everywhere. Meetings, cafeteria, bathroom, kitchen, living room, office; everywhere. I’ve started to rethink this. I’ve started leaving my phone in my purse even at home. I also have put my phone in a holder in my car so that it shows me directions but it’s not easy or practical to look up messages. I have to say, I am more relaxed when I’m not constantly checking for new email or social media connections. Start small. Maybe it’s turning off notifications, leaving your phone for one meeting on your desk or leaving it on the counter, starting at 7 PM at home.

Big Change

I recently read The Little Book of Big Change by Amy Johnson. She claims no matter what your bad habit is, you can overcome it through the rewiring of your brain. I found this enlightening. The urge in your head is not you. You need to step back and look at the urge for what it is. An urge is nothing but a neuropathway that can be restructured and rebuilt. It’s like the path to your mailbox that is worn from all the times you have walked there. The key is to start a new route. I’ve recently tried this. I used to have coffee first thing in the morning.  For the last month or so, I’ve been drinking a glass of water and putting off coffee for 30 minutes. Sounds simple, huh? It’s not. I need to recognize that my autopilot lizard brain (primitive brain) is so used to that coffee first thing in the morning that I need to acknowledge it, see that it’s just an urge, and that I’m trying to set up a new path towards a glass of water instead. The end result is that I feel better and I’m less likely to have a headache from being dehydrated from 9 plus hours of no water. Again, start small. I figured a glass of water was easier than quitting smoking (I did that many years ago but it was tough!). Start with the low hanging fruit and it will give you confidence that you can pull off something bigger.

 

Sleep

Sleeping is not glamorous. In fact, it sounds downright boring. A friend of mine recommended an app called Pillow. I have an iWatch and now I wear it in bed and it tracks my sleep. Granted this is another “app” and you need to make sure you have turned off your notifications on your iWatch so you aren’t getting derailed by notifications. In the beginning, I was getting low numbers like 66% on my quality of sleep. It measures how long it took to fall asleep and the percentage of time in light, deep and REM sleep. I don’t know how the watch does it but I am so excited to report I got over 8 and a half hours of sleep last night and 88% quality! I feel terrific and my battery is fully charged. I’ve always been a proponent for sleep but I never thought I could get over 8 hours of sleep; especially restful sleep. As the old adage goes, “What gets measured, gets done” seems to apply. Measuring my sleep has helped me keep it a priority. Recharge your battery through sleep.

Get moving

I walk from terminal to terminal when traveling at the airport. I take the stairs even when I am on the 21st floor of a hotel (Truth!). I do a strength workout three times a week. I absolutely feel it when I don’t get my exercise or at least get moving. My preference is to get outside if at all possible. I recently had two days of eight hour plus driving in a car. I felt my energy diminish. My battery was lagging. I needed to get moving again. Being cooped up in a car for an entire day had me dragging and needing to rehabilitate. I feel like I need to make sure I get a few miles in a walk either by stopping during the car trip or getting on a hotel treadmill first thing in the morning. Nothing recharges a battery better than getting your heart pumping.

Phone a friend

This is the greatest recharge of them all for me. Connecting with friends and family turns my battery to 100% in minutes. My daughter called me out of the blue yesterday. My parents called the day before. My boyfriend called from the middle of the Georgia mountains last night on his Appalachian Trail thru hike. You don’t need to be in the same room with someone to reconnect and recharge. There are many negatives to my obsession with my phone, but the upside is being able to actually use it as a phone and reconnect with the folks I love. If there is a way for me to be less splattered, it’s about connection. Phone a friend and recharge.

If you have been on a plane, you know they advise you to put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others. No one else knows my battery level. It’s up to me. Is it time to recharge your battery?

Quit the Sorry Habit

I have been over apologizing for the last month or so. I’ve been apologizing so much that I think I might even apologize for the weather or the stock market at this point. I have had both my daughter, Natalie, and my boyfriend, Roy, admonish me for saying “sorry” wayyyyyy too much. I was on the phone with Natalie last week and she flat out said, “Stop saying sorry.” To which I responded, of course, “Sorry.” As I sit here and reflect on my sorry-a-thon over the last few weeks, I think it’s directly attributable to  my dad’s health being in decline and I’m coming to grips with it all. This has caused me to cry and, in turn, apologize for crying. I’ve been feeling the feels and it’s hard being in that space for me.

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The other cause for my sorry-paloza is my feeling of being overwhelmed or, perhaps, it really is feeling a lack of control. As I sit here writing, I am at the top of Amicalola Falls in northern Georgia, waiting for Roy to start his epic through-hike of the Appalachian Trail for five to six months (2190 miles…EPIC!). Anything that has not gone as planned has caused me to apologize. The coffee is cold, the hotel room is full of lady bugs, I can’t find a pen, I can’t find a signal for my GPS app — you name it, I’ve apologized for it. My best friend is headed out on the trail for the foreseeable future, my dad is declining faster than I want and, did I mention, my son is in Nicaragua. Perhaps all the apologizing is to make me feel like I’m in control or my life is not out of control. As if I am responsible, but I cannot be responsible for any of it. All my sorry-ing is about me believing I am in control, when I really just need to let go.

Here are some tips on how to let go of the Sorry Habit:

Acknowledge

First, you have to acknowledge you’ve got a problem with over-apologizing. I’m lucky that I have Natalie and Roy to point it out. There are plenty of people out there who would not bother to point out that you are over-apologizing. I grant you, it is annoying to be around an over-apologizer, but it also creates an illusion to the receiver of the apology that they are not responsible. “Hmmm, I wonder where Cathy is so that she can apologize for this report not being complete or the temperature of the room being too cold.” I think back to my last apologizing spree and it was all around the reconstruction of my home after Hurricane Matthew. There wasn’t a cabinet, paint color or plumbing delay that I didn’t apologize for. It’s like any habit. You have to notice it first or have someone point it out. Acknowledging is the first step. You can’t try and fix what you are not aware of.

Thank You

This is the fastest way to turn an apology into gratitude and let the receiver feel appreciated. In the case of crying to Natalie, I could say, “Thank you for listening,” instead of “I’m sorry I’m crying.” The thank you lands so much better than the apology. Instead of “I’m sorry for being late,” it’s “Thank you for waiting.” As Anisa Horton wrote for Fast Company, “The rationale between replacing ‘sorry’ with ‘thank you,’ is that by apologizing, she started the interaction in a negative tone, causing her to feel like she needed to spend the rest of the conversation ‘recovering from [her] faux pas.’” On the other hand, saying “Thank you” allowed her to recover from her blunder more quickly. Sorry leaves you in a negative space. A diminished space. Thank you creates a positive instead.

Solution

I’ve heard this advice for any problem you bring to your boss. If you bring a problem, bring a solution or two as well. Instead of, “I’m sorry the report isn’t complete,” instead say, “The report is incomplete, I can turn it in today incomplete or wait to have it to the committee with the West region’s numbers on Friday.” I apologized to Roy yesterday for not having a pen on me. I could have said, “I have a pen in my purse if you can wait until we are back in the hotel room.” No need for an apology; provide a solution instead.

Silence

Accept silence. Be with silence. You don’t need to fill the space in a conversation with an apology. Giving space for silence helps me remember to “not apologize.” Take a breath. As Horton wrote, “Sometimes, the best thing is not to say anything at all. A good example of this is in a negotiation–where those with the tendency to over-apologize might start an argument with, ‘Sorry, but – ,’ unintentionally diminishing their power. Training yourself to pause and allow some silence is a much more effective tool, even if it feels uncomfortable.” The rub for me is the feeling of discomfort. I think the space, the silence or the pause makes the difference between reacting and responding. My apologizing is a reaction, instead of a response. Embrace the silence.

My unapologizing is a work in progress. I am not perfect and never will be. The biggest insight for me is that my sorry-ing is related to my lack of control. The only thing I have control over is me and saying sorry is not creating any more control in my world. If anything, it is diminishing my sense of wellbeing. I feel weakened by my constant falling on the sword. Do you over-apologize?

Crying is good for you

Some of the best memories from my childhood in Wilmington, Delaware are of my dad rocking me in our black rocking chair while I cried. I guess I was about 5 years old and being the youngest and only girl, I may have caused a few of the outbursts by pushing my brother Rick or driving him to crazyland. Or, I may have just been plain melodramatic, which sent me to that magical rocking chair with my dad quietly soothing me. Until recently, I feel like he was the only one who let me cry. It’s taboo in our culture to cry. I think we all have those moments where we stifle down the tears and keep a stiff upper lip. I remember the first time I was terminated from a job, as I focused solely on holding back the tears. I have no idea what was said in that meeting, I just remember valiantly “holding it together.”

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Crying is frowned upon for either gender, although it seems boys are pressured to not cry more than girls (I don’t remember seeing my brothers in that magical rocking chair). Crying is a sign that you can’t control your emotions; that you are weak or, perhaps, a loose cannon. Well, it turns out that crying is actually good for you.

Here are the reasons it is good to cry:

Toxins. Crying is a toxin removal system. It’s like a dump truck taking the garbage out. According to neuroscientist Dr. William H. Frey II, PhD, “Crying actually removes toxins from the body. Tears help humans eliminate chemicals like cortisol that build up during emotional stress and can wreak havoc on the body.” Who doesn’t want to do a cortisol dump occasionally? You don’t need medication or self-medication (in the form of alcohol or drugs) to eliminate the toxins. Just sit down and have a good cry. It’s a natural body cleanse without any side effects (except for puffy eyes).

Blood pressure. It lowers your blood pressure. I think of it like a release valve on a pressure cooker. Let the steam go. Release it by having a good cry. As cited by Marlo Sollitto, “Crying has been found to lower blood pressure and pulse rate immediately following therapy sessions during which patients cried and vented. High blood pressure can damage your heart and blood vessels and contribute to stroke, heart failure and even dementia.” Crying can be good for your health.

Stress. It’s no surprise that since it can remove toxins and lower blood pressure, crying can also reduce stress. “Chronic stress can increase the risk of heart attack, damage certain areas of the brain, contribute to digestive issues like ulcers, and cause tension headaches and migraines, among other health issues. Humans ability to cry has survival value,” Frey emphasizes. Since I gave up alcohol over a year ago, it’s been easier for me to cry and I have to say my blood pressure has never been better. I know this is anecdotal but any means to reduce your stress is important.

Relationships. It can help your relationships. This seems counter intuitive. How can crying help your relationships? As Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD wrote for WebMD, “Remember, the ability to feel comforted by others is wired into us from birth. So why not turn to it when you are struggling? Your loved ones can be a wonderful source of strength when you are feeling overwhelmed. They can help calm and comfort you, renewing your ability to think clearly and fully engage in life.” When I received some bad news a few weeks ago, my boyfriend Roy offered for me to cry on his shoulder. This is the first time in decades that someone offered for me to cry on their shoulder. It not only strengthened our relationship but it helped build trust. Crying can build relationships.

ThroughRichie Norton said, “To escape fear, you have to go through it, not around it.” I can remember in my Neuroleadership Coaching training that most of us are just skimming through life and not actually allowing feeling. Coaching, therapy or just a close relationship can set up a safe place to feel. It’s difficult to get past pain or fear without feeling it. We end up numbing out pain through food, alcohol and drugs, instead of being in the moment of hurt. Think about labeling the feeling to really accept it. Like tightness in my throat, clenching in my belly and tears running down my face…this is what rejection feels like. Acknowledge your pain or fear. Label it. Understand what it is doing to your body and where you are feeling it. Go through it and not around. Crying does that for me.

It’s amazing that we all seem to try and hold back one of our bodies natural reactions to alleviate our pain. Crying is cathartic and helpful. Be present with it and let it happen. Maybe you need a good cry.