The Visible Cracks of a Digital Life

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I’m always taken a back by the bi-polar posts of many on social media. One moment you see someone posting bible verses and words of encouragement; the next is an unflattering post or comment that can best be described as a thinly-veiled attack on another.

Why are we so determined to let our inner aggressions and unresolved issues take center stage online?

I’ll be the first to admit that I, too, can be guilty of “acting without thinking,” when I carelessly use my Facebook page or Twitter account. It can be easy to fire off a quick comment that may make sense in the moment that, in hindsight, was better left unsaid. Whatever temporary satisfaction we think we are gaining is quickly overshadowed by the reality of true self’s conscience. Even the edits or quick deletes do not undo the damage of our actions.

Sadly, those “immediate gratification” remarks reveal the true color of our heart and provide a window to the cracks and pockmarks in need of repair. They show the hurt, the ignorance and the suffering of our soul. They are the tell-tale signs of an imperfect life.

Living unfiltered in today’s digital world is becoming more and more of a norm. It is not a case of right vs. wrong; it is the evidence of the amplified reach of today’s electronically social world. Like it or not, the same cracks and pockmarks so loudly evident in the everlasting reach of the Internet are not new. Those hurts, wounds and lack of knowing have long-lived in mans’ hearts and in the relationships we have with others.

What differs today is how permanent and viral our actions have become.

Judging others by their cracks is wrong. Using the one-dimensional words or actions of others to decide the status of their heart or the true emotions they feel is a sin. I pray forgiveness for all who piously decide the worthiness of another by the digital personification we have ascribed to them.

When was the last time you actually spoke to the ones you judge? That old classmate who is too afraid to share the struggles and challenges they silently battle? You know that friend, the one who carefully shares their joys and faith, yet shields the reality of the pained existence they live. Do you pick up the phone to call when you see those cracks emerge, or do you continue to judge and gossip?

Shame on all of us who hide behind the seemingly protective shield of the Internet. Whether we live a digital persona that is conflict with our inner self, or are simply too afraid to challenge our own erroneous thinking by reaching out to those – we call friends – who are clearly hurting, we are slowly eroding our civil society. It is fundamentally wrong to judge others, based on their carefully crafted-posts and the ignorant comments of others.

As we approach this season of gratitude and Thanksgiving, I pray you will look deeply at the relationships you have with others. Examine your heart for the cracks and pockmarks you are so carefully trying to hide and set about repairing them. Build real friendships and relationships with the people in your life, not the shallow and impersonal versions you will find online.

Life is ugly. It has cracks and warts. Some wounds run deep and wide. But ignoring them – sometimes out loud and poorly – will neither bring joy nor repair.

Dancing in the Rain

Screen Shot 2014-11-10 at 5.58.57 AMThere is no better metaphor for gratitude and outrageously blessed living than to dance in the rain. The idea that the storms and challenges of life are reason to stop living is nonsense. Living is finding the purpose to the storm, the solution to the challenge and the motivation to kick off your shoes when the rain is pouring and just dance with glee!

When I awoke on my wedding day, after weeks of carefully watching the long-term weather forecasters predict a high chance of rain, I breathed a sigh of relief. I heard not a sound. Unfortunately, the intensity of the rain falling outside created its own white noise effect, masking the reality that awaited. It rained harder on my wedding day than I could have imagined and the plans for a beautiful outdoor reception hung in danger.

We proceeded with our morning of preparation. I remember walking down the sidewalk of my hometown, from the bed & breakfast reception venue to the hair salon; a parade of perfectly coiffed and manicured ladies dodging puddles and huddled under massive umbrellas. We laughed and celebrated the day, knowing nothing could dampen the joy in our hearts.

The downpour stopped at 3:00, the staff of the venue literally wet-vacced the lawn to prepare the celebration and by 7:00 p.m., when we arrived from the ceremony, a beautiful night awaited us. The post-rain skies were magnificent and the air was crisp and clean with the heady scents of the summer gardens. Yes, that night we danced and danced.

That rainy wedding day was a life lesson to my groom and I. We have seen many a storm in our fifteen years together. Some have lasted for years and threatened to undermine the very foundation under our feet. Bitter cold winds have taught us to huddle closer. We have clung together as raging rivers swirled at our feet, giving thanks in the aftermath. We’ve looked around at the destruction of life events in our wake, thankful for each other and for the miracle of the garbage in our lives that washed away in the storms’ waters.

Dancing in the rain is a choice. It is not always easy and the music is often better suited to a clumsy box-step than a fiery tango. But regardless of the situation or the intensity of the storms that rage, listen for the music and dance. Open your heart to the gentle strains that tug at your heart. Listen to the rhythm and take caution to align your steps to the beat of life you feel. Take time to grab the hand of the one you love and don’t let go; you will need their guidance as your move forward together.

Storms will come. Trash and debris will threaten your very existence. But don’t give in to the storm’s current. Listen, instead, for the sweet music that will guide your steps and lift your heart. Yes, in the midst of the storm, dance. Just dance!

When Profits Matter More Than People

This time of year, many of usB1ONxCNCAAEOiUw turn our attention to the holiday gatherings and traditions that will soon fill our days. There is no holiday I love more than Thanksgiving, a time where the traditions of family, time-tested recipes and togetherness take center stage. I love that this is a day where we are to set aside the worries and demands of the season and just surround ourselves with those we love and remember our blessings.

It saddens me that the spirit of “getting” has encroached on this most special holiday, with more and more retailers putting profits ahead of people and asking their associates to work Thanksgiving for their “Gray Thursday” and “Black Friday” sales. No, you won’t find me standing in line for great bargains to treat myself, or others.

Instead, I offer my kudo’s (and my 2014 holiday spending) to the retailers who stand firm on their decision to set aside Thanksgiving as a day to remain closed to enable their associates time with family and friends honoring the traditions of Thanks and Giving. Thanks for the loved ones who support them in their career endeavors, and realizing that no holiday incentive can replace the memories and love that is shared around the family table. The giving of our time and attention is worth more than any bargain you will find on store shelves.

Kudo’s to Costco, Barnes & Noble, Sam’s Club, Home Depot, Nordstrom, TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, DSW, Pier 1 Imports, Burlington Coat Factory, Crate and Barrel, Petco, Radioshack, GameStop, Patagonia, REI, Dillard’s, Jo-Ann Fabrics & Crafts, and American Girl for being the leading retailers who chose to put their people ahead of holiday sales. Costco said its employees

deserve the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with their families”

and I couldn’t agree more. I applaud these retailers, and those who join them, in protecting a day of American thankfulness.

There will be plenty of time in the days that follow to spend money on the latest technology and fashion trends that will land under holiday trees in December. Undoubtedly, most of those “most have” bargains will end up returned, unused or unappreciated. Your and my time – and money – is worth so much more!images

For me, I’ve got a date with my sister and mother for a long overdue Scrabble game, a late-night Turkey and Stuffing sandwich to add to my already satisfied appetite and lots of love, laughter and memory making to do with with ones I hold dearest.

If you have the ability to choose people, thankfulness and gratitude over profits and material possessions, take a stand this Thanksgiving and reward those retailers who choose as Ace Hardware does, saying

“Some things are more important than money.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Life Moguls

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Hit the slopes of happiness loaded down by the baggage of life and I’ll lay money you will wipeout often. Life moguls, those darn obstacles we must all navigate with finesse, cannot be avoided.

Fill your pack with the weight of anger, jealousy, bitterness and the like, and your great run will be detoured often. The more you stop to judge, criticize and treat others with disrespect, the harder the descent into the valley.

Successfully navigating life’s moguls is a skill we must all learn. Just like on the ski slopes, we have to focus not on those horrible mountains before us, but on the paths in between. If all we can see is one obstacle after another, it will be a harrowing run.

Rather, when we ignore the gossip, the withheld mercy and unforgiveness others have built in our way, we can find our way to the valley.

Do not allow the moguls others have erected in your path to deter you. Those mountains are the monuments of discontent others have built; they are not yours to conquer or dismantle.

See through the moguls of life and focus on the path at your feet. In the journey to an outrageously wonderful life, nothing else matters.

What Matters Most

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My favorite college professor, who was the Chair of the College’s Business Communications program, always reinforced her “one truth” that our credibility matters most. As she led and taught her Public Relations and Advertising students, she often reminded us:

No matter what you do, never forget your credibility is your only asset. Lose that and you’ve lost everything.
–Nancy Wahonick

We all have our truths. Those simple, but defining beliefs that are the essence of what we stand for, believe in; they are what remains of us when all else is stripped away.

Who are you? What is your one truth? When you are stripped bare of life’s trappings, what remains?

None of us can pursue an outrageously wonderful life without knowing who we are. If you don’t know what your core beliefs and truths are, do the work to figure it out.

Once you define the core of you, the path forward is forever illuminated.

Belonging Versus Fitting In

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 6.01.16 AMThere’s something really magical about you.  Yes, Y-O-U! The world really, desperately, needs that special something that only you can give. It is your uniquely special reason for being and never – ever, please! – let anyone tell you that you need to hide it. If the people you’re around cannot appreciate what makes you YOU, then you are hanging around the wrong folks.

We’ve all been in situations where we so desperately wanted to fit in. In school, we tried to dress like the popular girls so that they’d see us as one of them. We cut our hair like everyone else, listened to music we weren’t crazy about, tried to tell stories and jokes that sounded like the stories and jokes others told. But in the midst of all that, we stuffed our own self in a box. We were so desperate to fit in that it seemingly didn’t matter.

But it does matter.

We all need to have a place where not only belong, but where we truly fit in. Where we are free to display our quirky, amazing selves. Where we can laugh, sing and embrace our miraculously wonderful individualism. Where our personalities shine and we are surrounded with unconditional love and acceptance. When we are immersed in that world, we are who God intended and that sense of belonging empowers us and brings us peace and contentment.

In her book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown shares the difference between fitting in and belonging. Created by a list of eighth graders, the wisdom is profound:

  • Belonging is being somewhere you want to be, and they want you. Fitting in is being somewhere you really want to be, but they don’t care one way or the other.
  • Belonging is being accepted for you. Fitting in is being accepted for being like everyone else.
  • I get to be me if I belong, I have to be like you to fit in.

As parents, we must do everything we can to cultivate a home where I children feel like they belong. Where we embrace their talents – as different from ours as they may be – and celebrate their uniqueness. Yes, it is hard to set aside the hopes and dreams we’ve built in our minds to embrace the ones God has set upon our children’s hearts. But to not do so would be setting our own children aside; empathy and acceptance give them a sense of belonging.

As leaders, we build loyalty and a culture of performance when we are able to accept the talents and uniqueness of our team and peers. Everyone will bring their own brand of skills and opinions to the team; as a leader, we must ensure each is respected and heard. When the people we lead know they are respected and their individual ideas are welcome, teams will flourish. Be the leader that creates a culture of openness and mutual respect.

Not fitting in is a miserable existence. I’ve worked in jobs and had relationships where I felt like I compromised much of my sense of self to fit in. Trust me when I say the price of admission is not worth the ride. Life is too short – and the blessings available too many – to willingly accept the compromises necessary to fit in. Choosing to fit in is a conscious decision. Making the decision to find a place where you belong takes courage and bravery. But do it! For when you find that place where you truly belong, you will find the very best of yourself come alive.

The outrageously wonderful life flourishes where we know we belong. Don’t stop until you find it!

Time: What Matters Most

“If I could save time in a bottle…”

“I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then…”

“If I could turn back time…”

Recognize the lyrics? Funny, it seems the most memorable songs of my youth all share the common theme of time and the desire to have more of it. Like it or not, we all get the same amount to spend, save or squander each day. Your allotment of 24 hours is yours to use; it very well could be the most valuable possession you have.

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When it comes to parenting, it is — without argue — the most important gift we can share with our children. No, we do not give them time. Rather, the wise parent shares it.

As the youngest of four children, time was very precious in my parents’ home. I arrived two weeks before my oldest sibling’s fourth birthday. With an infant, two toddlers and an emerging preschooler, my parents must have prayed daily for even an extra 10 minutes!

In the hustle and bustle of our busy family, I learned the important lessons of how time equals love early and often.

From my earliest memory, my Mom worked out of necessity. It took a lot for a young family to provide for their children. Her work as a bank teller provided a meager supplemental income and offer reliable hours that worked around available school and childcare. Her organized and efficient ways opened the door to lots of togetherness and family time.

When our schooling years were busiest, Mom quit her job to stay home. Money was tight, but we rarely felt like we were “doing without” and the love that filled our days outweighed any material sacrifices we made.

Mine was the house where neighbor kids gathered to play, impromptu games took shape often and sleepovers were the norm. My Mom was a room mother, a PTA leader and always had time to stop her work and help a friend in need. Her time, it seemed, had no boundary.

Dinner was promptly at 5:00, with all of us seated and ready to share the events of our day. Dad was a stickler for clean hands and shirts, and no one left the table early. Family dinner was our anchor for most of my formative years and is a practice my own family religiously adheres to. Nothing beats the time we share around the dinner table.

In this day, I cannot stop time or turn it back and recycle the many hours I have wasted. I am away from home on business often, and accept that my “away” time makes me largely unavailable to my own family. I try feverishly not to waste the moments I have.

I work hardest when I am away, to minimize the work left to be done when I am home. I am fortunate to have weekday help that enables me to not be weighed down by domestic responsibilities that would burden my weekends. I do not squander the gift of time on activities that do not include my family, knowing each moment we have together is priceless.

I believe in a life/work balance; with my priority on the life part. Yes, I am proud to admit I work to live, I do not live to work. I define myself by the happiness and quality of life my family shares. To do it any other way would make me a fraud and a failure.

Time is love. It is not to be wasted or thrown away carelessly. Well spent, it will enrich your life and those of the ones you hold most dear.

While I, too, may never stop wishing I had a tad more time, I am blessed with plenty. I just need to spend it on what matters most.

How are you spending your time?

Old Dog and New Tricks

848401f3a7d5328e7676797dd0bda3cfDo it again. Do it again. Do it again…

For the past few weeks, that’s what the voice in my head has been saying. Sometimes it comes as gentle encouragement, “hey, that time was pretty good, but let’s do it one more time to get it just right” and other times, I hear “Seriously? You still can’t get it?  Come on, let’s go through it again.” Yes, this old dog has been busy trying to learn a new trick and, in the end, look like she’s been doing it forever.

Deep down, it is unrealistic. No one can put on a pair of skis for the first time and hit the slopes like Bode Miller. That’s nuts! To believe I can test drive a new skill with the finesse of a master is a silly expectation I’ve hung on myself. But come hell or high water, I am going practice, practice, practice until I get it!

I have to admit, it has been a while since I had to get serious about learning something new that really mattered. Enter a new role and new responsibilities, and I am a student once again. In the process of challenging myself to learn a new tool well enough to demo it like a pro, I’ve been humbled, enlightened and positively challenged.

The lessons that have emerged are ones I believe are worth sharing…

You Are Your Own Worse Critic. The self-imposed pressure I am putting on myself to be a master is silly. No one honestly expects me to have the same skills and finesse of others who have finely honed theirs over years of experience. Be kind to yourself and speak encouragement to yourself, for the knowledge will come.

Ask Questions. I have asked more questions, despite how silly some of them sound to me, in the last few weeks than I feel like I have ever asked in my life. I remind myself that the only stupid question is the one I am afraid to ask, so I am learning to check my ego at the door and let others share their experience and insight. In the long run, I am getting to the goal more quickly and really developing a strong sense of insight on the ways in which I can leverage and deploy the capabilities of my team in new ways.

Be Open to New Approaches. I am a skilled presenter and love to get up in front of the room and dazzle the audience. I’ve been fortunate to use this skill often and love the energy and rhythm I can bring to a meeting. My style is uniquely mine. As I interject myself into new situations, I must be open to the ways of others and give reason for them to be accepting of my ways; owning that the latter comes as others see the entirety of what I contribute. Earning the trust of others happens best when I accept their approach while I am adapting my own. The right for change comes with time and experience.

Be Hungry to Learn. As frustrating as it feels at times, I am loving the challenge learning brings. I like to push myself to try new skills and open myself up to the knowledge that awaits. I have to make it fun for myself and reward myself in simple ways as I progress along the curve. Having that inner hunger to try new things and grow is critical and must be fed.

Practice. Practice. Practice. Nothing can replace the experience that practice brings. Hour after hour, I have worked to hone and tighten my skills. I have recorded myself and others, made pages of copious notes and pushed myself toward improvement. In the end, these efforts will pay off handsomely. There is no substitute for focused practice.  None.

This old dog has lots of life left! It is exhilarating — and humbling — to know I have to start at square one and learn new skills. I am grateful for the willing instruction of others and am leaning in to absorb all I can quickly. I am giving myself permission to start at the level of being “good” and not “great,” for the latter will come with time.

In this season, I am learning in more ways than I can count. And I love it!