One Small Action
Last weekend my family and I were enjoying breakfast at one of our favorite local restaurants. It was Christmas Eve morning. The restaurant was full of people in a festive mood, enjoying each other’s company. As we finished, our waitress approached the table. Our bill had been paid by an anonymous patron whose Christmas tradition was to pay for another table’s meal. We were so surprised, saying “thank you” didn’t seem adequate. We called our waitress and her manager back over and told her we wanted to pay it forward. We left her with the cash equivalent of our bill, to pay for someone else’s meal. After my husband posted the story on Facebook, the manager later commented the gesture had continued throughout the day and was paid forward many times over. We were all touched by this beautiful example of kindness, caring and compassion. It is also a powerful example of how the initial action of one person set into motion a chain of events that brought joy to so many. Chances are that person has no idea the ultimate impact their gesture had - how beautiful is that?
Five years ago, I decided I was going to write a parenting book. I knew nothing about writing a book. I had read a lot of books, I was a parent and I had a unique perspective, so I felt I was qualified (being naïve was a blessing). I wrote casually for about six weeks before I sent my first few chapters to my three best girlfriends. I’ve known these ladies since we were kids, so I figured they wouldn’t hold back in giving me honest feedback. They didn’t respond immediately. The next time we were all together, I asked them point blank and assured them I could handle it. They didn’t dislike it, but one said the concepts and activities within “seem like a lot of work.” Not the response I was expecting, but I was not discouraged. I knew these concepts were important, but I certainly didn’t want it to seem like “work”. I kept the book on the shelf for a couple months as I tried to figure out the next best action. Then one day after work I was at happy hour with a colleague. She was talking about starting a blog. She had all the details planned out, but while listening to her, I knew she would never follow through with it. As I drove home, I realized I could take pieces of my book and convert them into small blog posts. I knew I could spend a lot of time researching different platforms, names and designs, but I didn’t want to end up like my colleague, so I pushed myself to set it all up within 24 hours. One blog turned into two and then three. I spent an hour, maybe two a week, with a goal of writing around 600 words a post. These small, weekly actions all added up to the picture above - 220 pages and over 125,000 words - more than enough for an easy-to-read book for parents that won’t seem like a lot of work.
Often, we think we need to do something big to make a difference. We make resolutions to lose weight, cut out caffeine or sugar, exercise, quit smoking/drinking, get a new job, save more money or spend more time with family/friends and in the end, we don’t follow through. We try to do too much too fast. When we get off course for a day or two or three, we think all is lost and stop all together. When it comes to action, bigger is not always better. One small action of buying a stranger breakfast, leads to a handful of others doing the same. One small action of writing one blog a week, can lead to a book. Break it down. Keep it small. Most of all, go easy on yourself. Celebrate the small victories and they will add up to more than you ever imagined.
The 3 Wise E's
The holidays are a wonderful time. A time to gather together with family and friends. A time to eat good, comforting food. A time to show people you care by exchanging gifts. A time when we put our busy schedules on pause and slow down just a little bit. No one would disagree with anything I’ve said so far, these are accepted truths about what the holidays “mean”. I could spend today’s blog examining each of these meanings and breaking them down, but instead I’m going to talk about The Three Wise E’s.
Chances are you haven’t heard of The Three Wise E’s even though they’ve been a party of your holidays for years. Like the three wise men the Three Wise E’s show up unexpectedly, the difference is they show up in the weeks ahead of the Christmas instead of the week after. The Three Wise E’s bring their own unique “gifts”, whether you want them or not. Have you figured out who these Three Wise E’s are?
The first to arrive is Expectation. Unknowingly we invite Expectation into our holiday season the first time we ask our children “what do you want for Christmas?” That simple question amps up the anticipation and sets the stage for what will, or will not, arrive under the tree. Expectation determines when we should decorate and how things should be arranged throughout the house. It follows us around as we shop for the perfect gift. In the beginning it’s a motivator to getting you into the Christmas Spirit. The closer you get to the holiday, the more crowded your house gets as other’s Expectations show up to join in the preparation. The closer you get to the holiday the less helpful Expectation is. They end up sitting on the couch, barking orders, assuming you are going to do everything they ask. Many times, we are so wrapped up in things we blindly follow Expectation, never questioning it, just racing to meet its needs.
On the heels of Expectation, arrives Effort. Effort is kind of like your trainer in the gym that keeps “motivating” you to do one more, one more, one more. We can’t say no to Expectation, so it’s up to Effort to run the race of trying to get it all done in time – the traditional meals, baking the treats, wrapping the gifts and coordinating the outfits so the pictures will turn out just so. Effort can physically exhaust you, why do you think so many people get sick around the holidays? But at the same time, Effort is the piece that is on display, so we are motivated to keep going. When the holiday arrives, whether they realize it or not, everyone will judge your Effort (or lack thereof). We strive to put forth our best Effort to meet everyone else’s Expectations.
At this point, you may think these first two don’t really qualify as “wise” as they add stress and take away joy from the holiday season. However, if we know they are coming, you can avoid the drama Expectation and Effort bring. It’s also never to late to keep them in check. Review what you have on your to do list right now - how are Expectation and Effort weighing in on what you want to do vs. what you feel you need to do?
The last to arrive is the also most unassuming and arguably the most wise. When you finally slow down, get quiet and look around, you realize Enough has been by your side the whole time. The gifts you have, wrapped or unwrapped, are Enough. There will be Enough food, chairs, plates and glasses and the gatherings you attend are Enough. We have never lived in a time of such abundance, yet had such a desire and craving for more. Before all the gifts, food and celebration, we already have Enough. It’s so easy for us to get swept up in the holiday season that we forget that one simple truth, we have Enough. We are Enough. There is Enough to go around. There will always be areas where you want to improve, but where you are right now, and what you have right now, is Enough. Life is abundant and there are too few reminders of that every day. When you really get quiet and look around, you will see that you have so much more than Enough.
‘Tis the season for parties, lights, music, presents and….book reports. Before you can enjoy the fun and celebration of the holiday season, you must work for it. This year for us, that means writing a book report. When you are 9, it’s hard to understand how important writing will be in your life. The prevalence of email throughout professional and personal lives makes it critical to learn how to express your thoughts and ideas using words on a page. For many of us, we have been doing it for so long it is second nature. It’s easy to forget how difficult it is to summarize your thoughts chronologically and concisely when you have never done it before. (Some might say they know adults who still haven’t mastered this skill. We all know at least one person who sends the rambling emails that go on forever without really making a point, but I digress.)
Like many parents, I want to jump in and edit the book report to make it sound better. This week, we tried something new. We typed out every sentence that came to mind about the book, characters, story and plot. Then I had him read the sentences out loud. By hearing the words it’s easier to see what sounds “wrong” and to self-editing, updating and improving without any help from mom. After that, we ended up with some simple, basic sentences (which of course is totally normal). As we were talking about those sentences, I said “What can we do to muscle these up? How can we make them stronger?” The idea of the sentences lifting weights to make them stronger ended up being the perfect analogy. It gave us something to laugh about as we envisioned the size of the weights a sentence would have to lift to look buff. It also provided the motivation and sense of challenge to work a little harder to write the best sentence possible. The book report was turned in yesterday. This weekend we have to finish the poster and after that we will be home free to getting into the holiday spirit.
In the spirit of book reports, I thought I would recap a couple of the books I’ve read this year. These would make great gifts, or would be great to cuddle up with and read over the holidays.
The Wisdom of Sundays: Life-Changing Insights from Super Soul Conversations, Oprah Winfrey
It’s no surprise I love this book. It is a compilation of hundreds of interviews with authors and thought-leaders on topics like forgiveness, intention, gratitude, love and connection. You can open to any page and read something that will encourage you and make you think.
How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success, Julie Lythcott-Haims
I was lucky enough to meet Julie this year at Dr. Shefali’s Evolve conference and she did not disappoint. Her book is a no nonsense wake-up call to parents to stop hovering and start empowering our kids. I’ve quoted her in the blog a couple of times: Learning is Messy and Are We Being too Safe?, but there is so much more wisdom in the pages of this book that I haven’t have a chance to share.
Present over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living, Shauna Niequist
On the outside, Shauna Niequist had it all, a successful career, a supportive husband and a wonderful family, but on the inside, she was exhausted and drained. This book is an honest account how Shauna stopped the busyness by asking for help, reevaluating what was important and rebuilding her life around what mattered most.
In addition to reading some great books, I also participated in a yearlong, online class led by Dr. Shefali Tsabary called The Year of the Awakened Heart. When I first became a parent, I often wondered why there wasn’t a class to help people figure out how to be a “good parent”? How do I know if I am doing this right? I started reading books for answers, but that only got me so far. So this year, I tried something new and took a 52-week online class with Dr. Shefali (Oprah’s Parenting Expert). The weekly class discussions, followed by the student conversations in the private Facebook group, created an environment unlike any other. We not only learned from the lectures, but we learned from each other. It has been a fantastic experience. If you are interested, Dr. Shefali has a new class for 2018 called The Year of Manifestation. In this year’s class she will have a monthly theme where she will deep dive on topics such as marriage, money and food. Full details can be found by following this link and clicking on the course for details. I have already signed up, if you have any questions, please reach out! It is going to be a great class and may be just what you are looking for to make your 2018 New Year’s Resolutions a reality.
If have questions about Dr. Shefali’s class, The Year of Manifestation, feel free reach out to me on Facebook or send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joy Challenge 2017
Many of you know that “joy” is my thing. For those of you who are newer to the blog I’ll give you a quick recap. Four years ago, there was a commercial with a montage of kids squealing in delight while opening presents. The pure joy and excitement on their faces inspired me to write a blog post about how easy it is for children to find joy and how difficult it can for busy parents. A couple years later, I was in a busy store, impatiently waiting to pay for gifts when I was thought, what happened to the joy in the holidays? This is supposed to be fun! That year I issued the joy challenge to all my readers. Whenever you see the word joy, pause and take a deep breath. Remind yourself of the joy of this season and let all the stress fall away. I also encouraged readers to take pictures of the joy they found and post them on Facebook.
Since that post, I have been literally surrounded by joy, from books to coffee mugs, gift cards to sweaters. I am reminded of joy every day and it serves as a constant reminder for me, which is great because it can slip away so easily. For example, you’re a store and you see joy. You take a picture, post it and float out of the store feeling joyful. You get in your car and as you are backing out, a car swoops behind you nearly taking your bumper with them. You jam on your brakes narrowly avoiding an accident and mutter under your breath. You drive off, your heart still racing, annoyed with what could have happened and just like that the joy bubble is popped, you’re back in frustration and rage, leaving joy in the dust.
Of course, it is not possible to stay in joy 24/7. Life happens, but, how can we get back to joy? Here are just a few ways to get back to joy when you are having a particularly challenging day:
It’s hard to believe we only have two weeks until Christmas! (And if that sentence causes you to break out into a cold sweat, then you may want to keep the list above handy, so you can go back and reference it 😊.) My challenge to you is to keep your eyes open and look for joy. Take a picture and post it on your social media, as a reminder to you and your friends and family, the joy of this season.
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As we made our annual Thanksgiving drive from Phoenix to Los Angeles, I noticed the Call Boxes along the side of the road. To be honest, I was a little surprised to see them, I figured cell phones would have replaced the need for them. But lo and behold, if you look for them, the signs and yellow boxes are still there - whether there is a working phone inside the box, remains to be seen. Thankfully I didn’t have to stop and find out.
It’s interesting to think about how forms of communication have changed in a relatively short amount of time. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, the CB radio was revolutionary, allowing long distance drivers the ability to communicate. Today cell phones and GPS/satellite technology have overtaken the practical need for a CB radio (even though many drivers still use them).
When I was in fourth grade, we each had a pen pal. We would write letters in class, address the envelopes, drop them in the mail and wait for weeks for a return letter to arrive. Today, within seconds, students can video conference into a virtual classroom with other students half way around the world.
I was hired for my first job out of college after replying to a Classified Ad in the Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times. A couple years later that job sent me to Europe while the University of Arizona was playing in the NCAAA “March Madness” Tournament. Email and the internet were still relatively new, and connections were inconsistent and expensive. So, every morning I would go to the front desk of the hotel where a fax from my dad was waiting with the news article recapping what happened in the game the day before. These examples make me feel ancient, like I lived in the dark ages, but it really wasn’t that long ago!
Technology has been moving at a rapid pace over the last 20-30 years. I doubt any of us still have rabbit ears on our televisions or rotary phones attached to the wall. It’s hard to remember a time when smart phones, computers and cable/satellite television weren’t a part of our lives. We’ve adapted seamlessly because this new technology offered easier and faster ways to communicate and connect with others. The words and the feelings were the same, but the ways we did it, the forms we used, changed.
This trip down memory lane is fun, but what’s my point and how does it relate to parenting? It’s two-fold. The first point is that in reflecting on how things were when I was growing up, it’s blatantly obvious how drastically things have changed. Our kids have a completely different frame of reference. My daughter was mortified one day when I suggested she call her friend on the phone instead of text her – “Why would I do that?!?” (Naturally I thought a phone was for talking, oh how much I have to learn.) We have to accept the fact that our kids will look at us funny when we tell them how exciting it was to receive a letter in the mail from a friend. (Really, how slow and boring is that in their eyes today?) Conceptually we all know this is true, but it’s so easy to forget this is all they’ve ever known. They are the on-demand generation where everything they want, or need, is a couple clicks away. They will never see things the way we do, similarly we will never fully relate to their perspective either, and that’s ok. Knowing our perspectives will always be different is an important thing to remember.
All of this talk about changing technology also made me think about how much we have to continue to grow and change with our kids. We spend a lot of time in the first years of life with our kids teaching them how to communicate – we listen to their cries and teach them sign language. Eventually we teach them words, sentences and how to carry on conversations. At that point many of us assume we’re done, once they know the words, then the rest is just talking, right? Not quite. Like the introduction of new technology, we must adapt our communication style to our kids as they get older. It might be cute to use sign language the word for “more” or “all done” when they are ten, but you’re not going to fully understand how hungry they are. Your communication style must continue to grow along with them. If you want ideas on how to do that, I compiled the best tips and tools on how to continue communicating effectively with your kids and reinforce your relationship, in my online course, Communicating through Connection. (And if you purchase this weekend, you’ll save $50 and pay only $47.)
Sometimes we get stuck because the “old ways” of communicating still work, you can still stop on the side of the road and make a call from a call box, but is it the most effective and efficient way to get help? Are your ways of communicating with your toddler, still working with your school ager? Communicating with our kids is ever evolving and ever changing, but if you can stay in tune and attuned to them, you will continue to build upon your relationship for years to come.
If have questions about the class, feel free reach out to me on Facebook or send me an email email@example.com. Follow this link to get the special price or enter JOY1750 at check-out.
I started writing this blog because I wanted to have deeper conversations beyond "How are you?", "Busy", with other parents. Over the years I've shared personal stories, articles, authors and topics to facilitate conversations with parents about the joys and the challenges of parenting.