The Gift of Being Heard

I’m in Omaha, Nebraska as I write this during Gallup’s Strength Summit. This is a gathering of likeminded folks who utilize Gallup’s Clifton StrengthsFinders in coaching, facilitation and self-discovery. I am taking an Advanced CliftonStrengths Coaching course to help hone my coaching skills. Yesterday, we spent part of the class talking about Reflective Listening, and I think it’s a skill we all can use to better our relationships and to connect on a more meaningful level with the people in our lives.

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I think that being heard is an art that is being dissolved by our hyper connectivity. Our brains are hijacked by screen time and the constant checking of our phones, that we rarely take the time to connect. I think in my coaching practice that the main reason people seek my coaching is to be truly heard. To connect. To feel understood. It seems so simple, yet most of us go through the day without being heard and, in turn, rarely create the space to truly listen to someone else.

Here are the secrets to give the gift of being heard:

Technology Free Zone:  Turn off your phone. Stow it away. Pack your laptop up. Perhaps go outside and take a walk with whomever you would like to listen to. The minute you pick up your phone or check your iWatch, that is telling the other person that there is “a notification that is more important than you.” As written by Melissa Dahl for The Cut, “Recent research has also found that the presence of a cellphone — again, even if no one uses or even touches it— weakens our ability to connect with other people, especially when we’re trying to discuss something meaningful. When you’re trying to concentrate, on work or on the person you’re with, it’s best to put the phone away.” So, unless you are waiting for a call from the Lottery Commission, turn off your technology to truly listen.

Listening with your answer running: This is called Level One listening. You are listening, mostly to wait for your partner to take a breath so that you can jump in and respond. A really poor example of this was a study outlined by Julie Spitzer for Hospital Review, “On average, patients have 11 seconds to explain the reasons for their visit before physicians interrupt, according to a recent study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.” I had a long standing habit for interrupting, I know it’s a difficult habit to break. If you let go of your response and let your partner talk freely, they will be more forthcoming as they won’t feel as though they have to rush. Let go of the answer. Be present.

Listening for content: This is called Level Two listening. This is focused listening. You are paying attention to details. As a coach, I am noting the use of particular words, especially the repeating of the same word. So, it might look like, “Joe, I’ve heard you say ‘move forward’ six times since we started talking. What would help you do that?” I’ve had my coach, Tammi Wheeler, tell me how many times I’ve spoken a word and I feel deeply heard. When someone is counting how many times you’ve said a particular word, I know that we are connected and that I am being understood. It helps me realize connections and patterns that I wouldn’t be able to do on my own. Listen for content.

Listen with all your senses: This is called Global Listening. You might think that this can only happen in person but being that I coach most of my clients on the phone, it’s amazing what you can “hear”–whether it be an energy shift or drop in the voice. I’ve asked, “Did you just sit up straight? I felt an energy shift.” When you use all your senses, you feel deeply connected and, outside of discovery and curiosity, all agendas are dropped. I am fully present to whomever I am listening to. I can hear my daughter say, “Yeah, I’m going to look for a new job.” But I will point out that I don’t hear any energy around that and not hold any judgement around it. I don’t want my coachee to feel obligated toward action unless they are committed. When you listen with all your senses, you’ll know when someone is committed to action because you will feel it.

Be comfortable with silence: I think this comes with age or maybe hundreds of hours of training. I still remember during my first training certification over a decade ago, the instructor told us to be comfortable with silence. I had a need to fill in the gap with my voice. During my MBTI training, the facilitator told us to count to twenty seconds after asking a question. TWENTY SECONDS?!? That’s an eternity when you are standing in front of a room as a new trainer. When you get comfortable with silence and let the conversation lapse a few times, you realize it gives space. It makes you present. I remember my boyfriend, Roy, commenting on how I was comfortable with silence. That has been a decade in the making and I am happy to report that it makes space for being present. Work on getting comfortable with silence.

The most important take away is that this all takes time and practice. Don’t expect to be able to hit on all cylinders right away. We are all just works-in-progress along a continuum of mastery. It’s such an important gift and if you think about it…it’s completely free. The only cost is your attention, presence and time. Who needs to be the recipient of your listening skills?

My Father’s Greatest Challenges

My father is turning 94 in few weeks and I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting with him on the phone in the past few months. He has had a life well lived but there have been many challenges along the way. He wrote a book back in the 1991 called A Personal and Documented History of the Noice Family. This has been a treasure trove of information and has helped me fill in information that may not be as accessible to his aging gray matter. I can see now, as I read parts of the book, that he has created a thumbnail sketch of a pivot point in his current memory bank but the book contains most of the details. For one thing, the book says that he had 52 mailing addresses by the age of 30. That is pretty remarkable for someone who is not an army brat. Heck, that’s remarkable for anyone and creates an understanding of why my dad has always been open to meeting new people and having new experiences.

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My father on the Adventure the summer following Hurricane Edna.

Over the last year, he has recounted the three most challenging events in his life. When he tells me a story twenty plus times in the matter of a few months, it seems to me it’s important to share it with others. This is much like his 30-year teaching career, where he repeated the same lecture seven times a day and in sharing, I can impart some of his wisdom and personal history.

Here were my father’s three greatest challenges:

Mobilgas Tanker Crash – In 1944, during WWII, my father was a Merchant Marine on the 1914 gas tanker, Mobilgas headed from Bayonne, NJ to the Pacific.  My father worked as the lone steward for the tanker and had to pump water by hand on the aging ship. As my father wrote, “We couldn’t leave the ship after Aruba because an undermanned crew were threatening to jump ship in Panama.” They set off for the widest part of the Pacific and paralleled the Equator for 9000 miles. After loading up various air craft carriers and Navy tankers with fuel, they left the Admiralty Islands and headed south to retrace their route back home. No running lights were allowed during wartime so there was no warning when they struck another tanker going north with oil for other ships in the fleet. There was a terrific crash and the men were thrown from their bunks. The result of the crash was that the Mobilgas had lost 50 feet of its bow but miraculously it was still afloat, and no sparks lit the fumes from the tanker.

All the dry docks in Australia, New Zealand and the US west coast were busy repairing Allied warships so they were ordered to head back, minus the bow, via the Pacific, Panama Canal, Caribbean and Atlantic to Norfolk, VA for repairs. Incredibly, the ocean remained placid, even off Cape Hatteras, and they arrived safely in Norfolk after a 38-day 12,000-mile journey. My father left the Merchant Marines with his duffel bag and $1,500 in savings after the harrowing journey. As I read the details of this often-told story, I can imagine this had a powerful impact on my father. He has never been one to value material items or been superficial. He has frequently said how lucky he is. I have to agree that surviving a 12,000-mile trip without a bow on an oil tanker is pretty darn lucky.

Hurricane Edna – In early fall of 1954, my father was invited to sail as a guest of the Adventure, which was 119-foot Gloucester Grand Banks Schooner, sailing out of Rockland on the Maine coast. At the time, my father was a boarding school teacher and had the summers off. The owner of the boat was co-teacher, Newt, and he let my father sail for free, if he helped. The boat was set up to take 50 passengers on week long excursions in Penobscot Bay. My father, with no sailing experience, was on the boat for one day when hurricane warnings came up. Newt took the passengers to shore and my dad volunteered to stay on the boat with two deck hands and the cook. They were planning to anchor the boat near a breakwater and several other ships anchored in the bay. As my father wrote, “Having no motor, we put three anchors out including a 1200 pounder. Slanting rain from the SE increased in strength and hurricane winds rose in pitch, screeching on our nerves for 24 hours till its full 100 mile an hour fury hit the next afternoon. When the eye went south of us, its winds shifted NE and then N, and our anchors began dragging.” In twenty-foot waves, they dragged past the harbor opening towards the rocky shore. They saw a large coast guard cutter shooting messenger lines towards them but due to the high waves, no one was able to grab the line. The cutter gave up and left.

In that moment, my father at age 29, assumed he would never see 30. As they crept closer to the rocks, the cook panicked, and Newt tied him down to his bunk so he wouldn’t unnerve the rest of the crew. The two Maine deckhands started planning to jump ship. Newt told my father to tie himself to the main mast if the ship started to hit the rocks. He wrote, “With an empty feeling turning to edgy, wondering if being scared would turn to panic, I suddenly saw a smaller coast guard boat nearby and begin to shoot monkey fists (this is a particular nautical knot) at us again. I almost caught one but missed. On the next shot, Newt risked his life high on the bow stay – catching the tag end of the line before it fell into the breakers a few yards away. I’ll never forget how we clawed in the heavier tow line and worked it aft so the cutter could pull us to safety.” Newt hired him for the following summer, which brought about a lifelong love of sailing. As I have often written, my father is one of the most unflappable, patient people I know. It is so rare for him to ever raise his voice. On the Adventure, he stared death in the face and kept his wits to survive.

Quebec Province – In 1966, my father was the waterfront director for Camp DeWitt on Lake Winnipesauke in New Hampshire. By then, he was married to my mother and the father of three children. The camp director, Don, asked my father and one of the counselors, Chip, to take a group of teenaged campers on a wilderness fishing trip to the Chibougamau Reservation in Canada some 280 miles north of Quebec City. They had a Crow Indian guide and set off into uncharted, unmapped streams and rivers of Quebec. As my father wrote, “Once, caught by a savage thunderstorm on a shallow creek surrounded by impenetrable brush, our canoes filled up and we stood in a foot of water. With lightening crashing all around us, and the youngest boy’s teeth chattering in my canoe, I wondered what would happen if lightning found our highly conductive aluminum canoes. We managed to cross a white-capped lake and tie down for the night before a roaring gale descended upon us for the rest of the night.” As he tells the story, he always reflects on being responsible for the boys. My dad has always been selfless and this story illustrates how his number one concern was for the kids.

As I read this, I realize that maybe my dad should have stayed away from boats! It seems ironic that being on the water is what he loves and that is where his most monumental challenges occurred. It shows me that while challenges are life-defining, my father was always able to take away a lesson and he learned more about himself and what he was made of. We all have pivot points and challenges in our life, but the most important thing is to share what you’ve learned with others. What have your challenges taught you?

The Lingo of Hiking the Appalachian Trail

My boyfriend, Roy, started his trek on the Appalachian Trail on March 19th, 2019. Leading up to his 2192-mile, 5-7-month journey, I read books and Roy educated me on the various aspects of hiking the trail. There is a lot of terminology around thru hiking; it has its own language or lingo. So, I’m using this post to educate those new to thru hiking or for those who are just curious. I know there are many of you out there who would never dare to spend one night without running water or a comfy bed. I remember an executive who famously told me that staying at a Hampton Inn was as close to camping as he would ever get.

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Roy on top of McAfee Knob, about 713.6 miles northbound on the Appalachian Trail

 

Here is some of the lingo associated with hiking the Appalachian Trail:

  1. AT – This is the way most hikers refer to the trail, which starts at Springer Mountain, Georgia and ends at Mount Katahdin, Maine.
  2. Thru Hike – From a technical, pure point of view (i.e. Roy’s), this is successfully hiking Springer Mountain to Mount Katahdin continuously from start to finish within the same year and without gaps. Roy attempted his first thru hike in 2015 and ended it at mile 531 due to medical issues. In order to have completed that thru hike, he would have had to return to the trail and finished within 2015.
  3. NOBO – This is a Northbound hiker on the AT. This means starting at Springer mountain and heading north. About 90% of hikers head north bound, which makes for more company on the trail and generally starting in March or April after most of the snow is gone.
  4. SOBO – This is a Southbound hiker on the AT. This means starting at Mount Katahdin and heading south. About 10% of hikers head south bound and they head out in May or June. Southbound is difficult because there is less support on the trail, especially in Maine, so less opportunities to resupply.
  5. Trail Legs – Getting your trail legs means that you can hike for longer stretches and through tougher terrain after several weeks on the trail. Most thru hikers start slow with eight to ten miles a day and, after they have their trail legs, will hike from fifteen to twenty-five miles a day.
  6. Hiker Hunger – I have actually witnessed this in person. When a hiker like Roy is on the trail, they are burning upwards of 4,000 to 6,000 calories a day. Roy can sit down and eat two whole entrees at a restaurant and finish off half of mine for good measure. I’m not sure he is ever full.
  7. Trail Angels – These are people who help hikers out. It might be a hostel owner near the trail or someone who has attempted or succeeded on their thru hike. It is amazing the amount of people that have either given Roy a ride, paid for his hotel room or meal, or given him free food. It’s one of the greatest things about the trail: Trail Angels generously support those trying to complete the hike and many remain anonymous.
  8. Trail Magic – As I write this, Roy has been on the trail for 2 and a half months and I believe he has averaged trail magic at least once every two or three days. This might be a cooler stocked with sodas, water, or free protein or granola bars. There are some Trail Angels that set up camp and cook breakfast or burgers for those hiking through.
  9. White Blaze – This is the marking on the trail that indicates the official route of the AT.
  10. Blue Blaze – This is the marking on the trail to a scenic overlook, mountain top or easier bypass around a difficult section of the trail. For a purest like Roy, blue blazing is to be avoided.
  11. Yellow Blaze – This is the term for someone who has some other transportation besides hiking to complete the trail. This is obviously something Roy would not consider doing. He might get a ride into town, but he is brought back to where he got off to continue his hike.
  12. Pink Blaze – This term is for hikers who find romance on the trail, which sometimes affects forward progress. So if Joe and Suzy are pink blazing, they may stay in a town longer than anticipated.
  13. Zero – To take a zero is to not hike any miles that day. Usually, this is done in a town at a hostel or hotel. For Roy, he likes to take a zero about once a week to recuperate and resupply.
  14. Nero – This is to hike part of a day and to rest a portion of the day. So, a nero might be when you hike three miles into town and then stay at a hostel. Or it might be to hike to a spot like Fontana Dam and spend the rest of the day relaxing.
  15. Trail Town – There are many towns that the trail actually goes through, like Damascus, Virginia, or that are an easy mile walk from the trail. These towns are geared toward thru-hikers and frequently have deals for hikers like laundries, all-you-can-eat pizza places, outfitters and hostels who let you camp nearby and use their showers.
  16. Bubble – The bubble is the group of hikers that are in the same portion of the trail. For Roy, this meant that many shelters at the beginning of the trail would have up to 40 people camping there. The bubble can take over a trail town or shelter and make it inconvenient to camp or find resources, like rides or hotel rooms.
  17. Flip Flop – This term is used when a hiker stops part of the way and then gets a ride to another section. This can happen because of illness, family obligations, or not being able to get to Katahdin by October 15th (when Baxter State Park closes). So, the classic flip-flop is to NOBO to Harper’s Ferry and then get a ride to Katahdin and hike SOBO to Harper’s Ferry, thereby finishing the trail.
  18. Bear Bagging – This is putting your food in a bag and stringing it over a tree branch to keep it away from bears and your camp site (and you). Many shelters have bear steel cables, which help in keeping the food away from bears. There are also bear canisters, which are heavy, but also keep bears away from your food.
  19. Gram Weenies – These are hikers who use ultra-light gear and watch “every gram”. There are folks on the trail who only carry 10 pounds in gear, as opposed to the 30 pounds that Roy is carrying.
  20. Slack Packing – This is where normally, during a difficult section with lots of rock scrambles, that Trail Angels or hostel owners will take care of your gear and you aren’t responsible for carrying your pack for that section. Of course, Roy has not done this so far.
  21. AWOL Guide – This is a guidebook issued each year with the entire trail, highlighting services, elevations, water and shelter locations along the trial. Each year, it is published for NOBO and SOBO.
  22. Gut Hook – This is an app with similar information as AWOL, but it can pinpoint your location on the trail, although you must have a connection to see that.
  23. Trail Name – Hikers are given names along the trail like Green Giant, Dixie, AWOL and Tiger Lily. It must be given by another hiker or a past thru-hiker. Roy is not a fan of this practice so “Curmudgeon” has been hinted at as his trail name but hasn’t stuck.
  24. Section Hiker – These are hikers who are only doing a section of the trail, which might be a day hike to a popular spot like Max Patch or Clingman’s dome, overnight for the weekend or a weeklong hike.
  25. The Green Tunnel – Unfortunately, most of the trail is in a green tunnel of trees. Scenic overlooks and pastures are few and far between. The upside is that sunscreen isn’t as important, but it can get monotonous.

This is just a partial guide to all the language/lingo associated with hiking the AT and there are many sayings that go along the trail as well. I was stressing out about the amount of rain that Roy had to hike through in the prior few days and he said, “No Rain, No Pain, No Maine.” Regardless, I am so proud of his tenacity and effort in taking on such a daunting task. It’s inspiring.

The Power of the Lean

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I saw this painting in the Denver Art Museum by Jordan Casteel and I found it thought-provoking. This child leaning on perhaps his father, or maybe an uncle or brother, as the subway door admonishes him to not lean on the door. This child is finding safety and connection in a world that seems to be full of warnings and admonishments. To keep to yourself; to go it alone. To be a juggernaut of strength. Don’t let your guard down. Do not lean on door.

There is power in the lean. The lean is the connection between parent and child. The lean is depending on someone that is tested. The lean is the faith that someone is there for you. The lean is the vulnerability to trust. The lean is depending on someone through the bumps and curves that the subway car of life will take. The lean says that I trust you and know that you are there for me.

Here is how to use the power of the lean:

Acceptance

When my marriage came to an end two years ago, I was determined to go it alone. To be the juggernaut of strength. To never permit another person into my circle of trust. I wanted to keep my guard up to prevent any future pain. As you might expect, this is a lonely place. As Kaye Ramos wrote for Mission.org, “Money will temporarily make us happy, but without anyone to share it with, we will end up feeling empty. You can hustle all day if you want. But when you lay down at night, all those material gains will not embrace and console you.” I needed to accept the power of the lean. That leaning on someone else whether it was a friend, family or my boyfriend, Roy, opened me to the possibility for a new path. A new way forward.

Rest

I have been hypervigilant that someone was trying to pull the rug out from under me. Someone else would take advantage of me. The paranoia that everyone was out to get me. Waiting for the other shoe to drop. As Ramos writes, “Your mind and body cannot accommodate peak performance all the time. You are a human, not a machine. Give yourself the rest it deserves. When you rest, you come out even better and stronger with a more refreshing outlook on life.” Leaning on someone else provides that rest. To let go of the walls of hypervigilance. I see that child in the painting resting against that man. I need to rest and lean in just like him.

Vulnerable

Leaning is about being vulnerable. Brene Brown wrote, “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” I needed to quit running from my story that everyone around me was untrustworthy. I needed to risk and open up to vulnerability. Lean into vulnerability.

Distractions

There are so many distractions keeping me from the lean. I can get wrapped up in my social media feed, my inbox, and all the warnings and regulations in the world. The “do not lean on door” of everyday life. Think about all the admonishments you get every day. Buckle your seat belt, your tire pressure, your gas level, your bank account level, your credit card limit, your payment due date, your alarm clock, your phone battery level, your project due date, your door locks, your garbage pick up date, your gym membership, your child’s birthday, and on and on and on. It can feel like just being here in the moment might take the entire train off the tracks. Distractions can lead you away from leaning in. From being in the moment with another human being. Lean in to someone else regardless of the distractions.

Connection is what life is all about. There is always risk that you might get burned. That someone isn’t worth your kindness or trust. I think it’s worth the gamble. To lean into someone else, whether it be a friend, a love interest or long-lost family member is to be alive. To show up and be here now. Is there someone you need to lean on?

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?