The Apology

Art by Donna Estabrooks

“I didn’t mean it when I said I hope the cable in the elevator snaps when you step on board.”

~ Christine Lavin

Thaaaat’s not an apology.

I am not proud to say that I was 29 years old before I discovered I didn’t know how to make a proper apology.

I cannot tell you how I managed to get to that age with such a profound gap in something that’s not just a social grace, but a…you know, as I write this, the phrase that comes to me is “divine grace.”

Dateline 1989: The Canadian Embassy in Washington DC had just opened the doors of its new building at 501 Pennsylvania Avenue NW. It was an exciting new destination, and our guests were thrilled by an invitation to any event we hosted there.

You’ve probably hosted more than a few events in your life. Whether you’re putting together a wedding reception, a political fundraiser, or a birthday party for the eight year old who’s allowed to have eight guests, it’s a LOT of work. 

So throw on an overlay of doing an event representing a foreign country in a brand new building where the staff is still working out the standard operating procedures for… well, honestly, absolutely everything from security and parking and name tags and microphones and lighting and program, and catering and wait staff, and some of the innards of the building still aren’t working quite the way they’re supposed to yet.

Anyone running an event was gliding and smiling on the surface and paddling like hell under the water all night.

I was an officer in a unit called the Trade Commissioner Service. We hosted many events to bring together people with the aim of encouraging international business and trade relations between Canada and the United States. Our guests enjoyed the events not just because of the stunning building and the prestige of the Embassy, but also because we worked hard on the guest list and on making introductions among our guests.

Officers were often asked to suggest appropriate guests for event invitation lists. If enough of one’s contacts accepted the invitation, the officer who had suggested those guests was also invited to attend the event as part of the supporting cast. When I was in that support role, I’d often roam the room introducing people who I knew but who didn’t know each other and had good reason to meet.

During one of those conversations at an event a colleague had organized, a guest complimented me on the reception. Still agog with the thrill of being part of the event myself, the words that came out of my mouth were, “Maureen did the bulk of the work.”


The next day, word got back to me that Maureen was utterly furious.

I was baffled. What was wrong?

As far as she was concerned, I had lied to a guest and taken credit for the event she had organized.

I was dumbfounded. That wasn’t what I meant at all. But my intention wasn’t even remotely important.

What mattered was how my words made her feel.

I had no sense that my responsibility was to be accountable for the effect, not the intention, of my words on someone else.

So I kept saying, “I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings,” and she just kept right on being furious.

The relationship never healed, for want of a single word.

All I was missing was a single word…and the profound understanding of what it would have meant had I know enough to use it.

Instead, I bumbled my way through decades of mis-steps and squirming out of accountability for all kinds of things, not really knowing what I was doing or saying wrong, nor how to make it right. 

Remember when you were a little kid, and a parent would tell you the words to say to apologize but none of them made any sense? You just repeated a pattern of words until the grown up was satisfied or gave up in exasperation? It felt like that.

“And I’m sorry for all the nasty things I said about your mother even though we both know they’re true…”

~ Christine Lavin

I never felt like I knew how the parts fit together for many years, even when I was completely ready and willing to own my sh*t.

Far too late came the day that I learned not only how to make a proper apology — that there is a WAY — but also that an apology was part and parcel of accountability, one of the seven elements of TRUST that is the foundation of healthy relationships. Thank you, professors Brene Brown and Harriet Lerner.

The critical elements are apology, accountability , and amends.

The syntax is:

“I’m sorry THAT…” (not “I’m sorry if…”).

When I use the word “that” it means I take accountability. I own my mistake.

Then I think hard about what some meaningful options might be, some starting point, that I can offer to make amends. I make that offer. And then I make good.

If you and I have built trust, then you accept my apology, and allow me to make amends.

An apology is more than a social grace. A full apology, fully accepted, also confers the divine grace of forgiveness.

I sure wish I’d known then what I know now.

Now YOU know.

This is one of the most useful skills I have ever learned.

I need it a LOT.

Somewhere, someplace, I still have amends to make to Maureen Flynn. And I owe her a debt of thanks for showing me how much hurt I was going to keep causing, to others and to myself, until I understood what was wrong and how to fix it.

Oh, and just in case you want to know what an apology really, really isn’t, listen to Christine Lavin NOT apologize.

Listen to the whole song, titled This song is called “Regretting what I said to you when you called me at 11:00 on Friday morning to tell me that 1:00 Friday afternoon you were gonna leave your office, go downstairs, hail a cab, to go out to the airport, to catch a plane, to go skiing in the Alps for two weeks. Not that I wanted to go with you; I wasn’t able to leave town, I’m not a very good skier, I couldn’t expect you to pay my way, but after going out with you for three years, I don’t like surprises. (And it’s subtitled “A Musical Apology”. In this song, I attempt to take back everything I said while standing in a phone booth at the corner of 49th and 3rd)

We’ve Only Just Begun

If you’re old enough, you recognize the blog post title as the hit song recorded by Karen Carpenter and written by Paul Williams and Roger Nichols.

I wonder idly, on the evening of my 33rd wedding anniversary, how many millions of couples danced to that for their first dance.

The cover photo is me and my Dad just a few minutes after I got married. He had a lot to teach me, and so much more that I was too oblivious to learn while he was alive and I think about a lot now, especially about kindness and empathy, and taking the time to listen.

How often do we begin again?

If we’re wise, at least every day, if not many times a day.

I met my friend Glen Bullard when I was working at the Canadian Embassy. He was there long before I arrived in 1988, and he was there long after, retiring just a couple of years ago. He was a latecomer to Facebook: he only set up an account as he was getting ready to retire, urged on by people who told him it’d be a good was to stay in touch with people.

Over the last few days, he’s been posting selections from his archive of thousands of pictures taken over nearly five decades. Seeing the pictures, and the people, from that part of my life opened up a lot of emotions that I realized I had stuffed under a trapdoor for nearly twenty years.

In the days before photos became primarily digital, these albums of 15 years of my own life, lived largely at or centered on the Embassy are filled with pictures that are all too frequently missing his face but are replete with his work and his skill, his generosity, and his patience.

He was one of hundreds of people who wrote kind words in a farewell album that Helen Getka compiled for me when I left the Embassy in 2003.

Glen had many titles over the years, but was always at the helm of managing the facilities and resources of the building for the literally hundreds of events my team and I worked on between 1988 and 2003 to introduce thousands of people to each other, and open what they later told me were life-changing chapters in their lives.

At the same time I was musing about that this morning, I was still reverberating with echoes from a book my friend Emily Harman recommended to me called Positive Intelligence.

As the old emotions and new emotional intelligence crashed into each other, I felt walloped by waves of realization of how much I didn’t know while I was there. 

I was extremely un-self-aware, and was a fizzling pinwheel of all kinds difficult traits that I now realize made me really challenging to get along with, particularly as I repeatedly put output ahead of everything else. The system rewarded that. But it was hard on everyone around me.

I will always be grateful for the loving kindness and generosity of hundreds of colleagues I worked with there over the years, particularly on the many, many, times, on matters large and small, that despite good intentions, I got stuff wrong or got the words wrong, and hurt people’s feelings or trampled their plans or words or ideas (or all three along with their spirits). They gave me the chance to apologize and work together to find a way forward.

There was so much I didn’t know I didn’t know about life and people (and how to be a better person) that I needed to learn.

I am grateful to all of the friends including but not limited to Marianne Haslund Rude Lynda Watson Astrid Pregel Chantal Briere Betsy Chaly Pauline Walsh Denis Comeau Natalie Cornell Mike Flaherty Richard Malloy Manuel Ellenbogen Bob Rutherford Anna Gibbs Christine Briscoe Carl Hartill David Devine David Plunkett who helped me grow up during those years, had faith in me, and gave me second and third chances as I rumbled and bumbled my way through, and eventually even learned how to make a proper apology (a skill I needed a lot and one I wish I had learned a lot sooner, and a story that deserves to stand on its own).

I have always loved to travel. I’m also not an inspired researcher. For many years, I’d be more likely to go someplace and then look up afterwhere where I’d been, and realized how much I’d missed.

I’m 61 years old.

On the journey into emotional intelligence, I feel like I’m just beginning.

There’s so much I wish I’d known when I was in a position to have been so much better a person to the people around me. 

But I have the chance to be that person now.

Time Trials

Time management. How many courses have I taken, books have I read, journals have I abandoned, apps litter my phone, and it still eludes me?

Tick, tock.

When do we start to hear it? And why?

When we’re little kids, five minutes feels like almost a lifetime. Five years is a lifetime.

As my average weekday kicks over past 3:15, then 4:05, then the 4:30 I promised myself it was time to wrap up, and at 5:07 I’m officially calling the last seven minutes my conversation with my colleague in Oregon “social” in order to be able to claim that I finished the day by 5.

Right now, a specific clock is ticking: I’m giving myself just 25 minutes to write this post, and five minutes to find the pretty picture that goes with it, and get it posted.


I spend a lot of my day talking to business owners, and nearly every one of them agrees that time is one our most precious resources. Many of my decisions, and theirs, are driven by the answer to the question, “What’s the best use of my time right now?”

I am blessed with a creative mind, burgeoning curiosity, and a bounty of natural energy. That typically means I have many thousands more ideas than I can do anything with. I try to write down the ones that are the most insistent, and trust that the others that are truly worthwhile will keep jostling for attention until they end up on what I’ve tricked my idea generator into thinking is The List.

Except that I don’t have just one list. NoooOOOOoo…. There are stickies, and a desk blotter, and three journals. Then there’s the big monster Zoho calendar, which doesn’t talk consistently to the Outlook calendar that people’s evites land on when I accept them, the daybook I copy things into (why I do that in ink is anybody’s guess; it takes a whiteout strip dispenser to clean it up to reflect reality) to see the blocks of TIME that are actually available to DO anything that’s not an appointment or meeting.

Those are usually skinny little fragments.

I’m familiar with maaaaaany concepts of time management and organization. Ohhh, I have a shelf full of books, and hundreds of hours of coaching time behind me. Did I mention I love stationery and paper and lovely quality pens and pencils? And automated systems to check things off? I still have open accounts with Nozbe and Asana and one other one with pretty colors that I forget what is, and I know there’s another app on my phone that generates packing lists for travel and makes helpful suggestions based on seasons and destinations.

One of my morning walking partners — a communications specialist with the National Guard — says she wrestles the same flood of to do’s as she moves through her week.

When we were talking about it on the trail today, she observed, “If I’m not keeping track, and checking off my AM list and my PM list, and the things in between, I feel unmoored, kind of ungrounded.”

I’m glad I’m not alone.

If I block off the daily time for journaling, and fitness, and tai chi practice, and meditation, and writing my own personal blog (challenge of the month) and editing Simon’s daily sports blog (a continuing mission), and if I actually scheduled in time for meals instead of gobbling and snacking, and then the scheduled client sessions, and the weekly team and coaching calls, and the presentations and public speaking for lead generation, the social media sharing and video to support all that, the conversations with new and sustaining partners to help each other… and then put some constraints on all that like “Calls start no earlier than 8:30, and formal day ends at 5 except on Fridays, when I’m done at noon,”

There’s not much time left for the professional creative “deep work” that is truly sustaining. All too often I find I’ve backed myself into a corner where I haven’t left myself enough time to bask in the work I love to do most.

And I consistently underestimate by about 200% how long it takes me to do anything.

I woke up this morning despairing just a bit that this is my life right now. This is what my life looks like optimized for pandemic. No flying. No teaching climbing. No climbing. No traveling. Squeezing in social conversations with friends and family that I book with the same precision as I stack up my work day.

If pandemic ended tomorrow, I’d be at a loss to figure out where to find the time to find the time to restructure how I manage my time.

“It’s not ending tomorrow,” JJ said helpfully.

We finished listening to the 6 am news and it seems he’s right.

AND…hey, I’m vertical, breathing, and on the right side of the grass. The bar for accomplishment, and the threshold for gratitude, is low these days.

Wish I knew how to tame the time tangle. I think all I can do is take it apart one thread at a time.

Remember I said the clock is ticking? Timer just went off.

Gotta find the pretty picture, and that’s all the time this gets today.

What does it take?

Maybe it’s not about managing time but changing my relationship with how I feel about it.

Stay tuned.

Skywalking To My Wedding

So today, just a sweet story from 33 years ago to the minute.

On February 1st, 1988, I started my job at the Canadian Embassy in Washington DC. I had really no sooner arrived than I left again: months before I’d won the job, JJ and I had planned to be wed in Toronto on Saturday, February 13th. 

Nothing as minor as a new job in a foreign country was going to get in the way of that. On Thursday the 11th, after a surprise chocolate cake send-off from my brand new colleagues, my about-to-be husband and I headed for the airport.

Now that I think about it, none of this (the travel saga, not the wedding) would have happened if I hadn’t learned to fly.

The way international air travel was set up in those days, before Canada-US preclearance and the Open Skies Accord, most people who wanted to fly from Washington DC to Toronto would have taken a nonstop from Dulles International Airport (40 minutes’ drive from DC in no traffic and nice weather) right to Malton (Toronto Pearson.) 

Except that I didn’t want our trip to begin or end at either of those airports.

First, and less important, the oh-so-convenient National Airport (DCA) is located a mere ten minute drive from where we were living. It was, and still is, exactly as its name suggests: a domestic airport, not an international one. In those days before preclearance, passengers departing DCA for a destination in Canada had to stop and, if need be, change planes so that the final leg of the flight leaving the U.S. departed from an international airport.

Second, and more important, for reasons of sentiment, economy, and nominal convenience, I wanted to arrive into Toronto Island (now “City Centre”) Airport, on the shore of Lake Ontario right below the CN Tower. Toronto’s big international airport (also a solid 40 minute drive from downtown even in decent weather, and traffic was almost always bad on top of that).

Between 1986 and 1988, a short-lived air service operated a small fleet of DeHavilland Twin Otters — 19-seat turbo-prop aircraft — between Toronto Island and Buffalo, Rochester, and Newark. But the best part was the price: just $29 one way, instead of about $350 if you went from Pearson to Buffalo.

And the sentimental part? Well, Toronto Island was my favorite airport because I had just learned to fly there. I had friends among the pilots at the flight school as well as various Skywalker aircrew, whom JJ and I had gotten to know as we’d flown back and forth to visit each other over the past year. It was…our home airport.

I’d spent a lot of time wandering around Buffalo International Airport while waiting to change planes. It had become kind of a no-mans-land: my body had left Toronto, and my brain was already in Washington. But, for what it’s worth, it remains to this day the only airport I’ve ever seen that featured an entire trophy case dedicated to the prowess of its ground crew in emergency airport snow clearing. Buffalo routinely gets socked with weather the locals call “lake effect.” In the winter, that means prevailing westerly winds whistle by, suck up tons of water from Lake Ontario, chill down once they hit the shore…and dump the snow on Buffalo.

We didn’t pay much attention to the forecast before we left DCA. We took off in the afternoon sunlight in a nice big shiny USAir jet. When we landed in Buffalo to change planes, we saw the Skywalker pilots saunter off to play pinball while waiting for departure time. They seemed unconcerned by anything. All was well.

Nine passengers boarded and sat wherever we liked. The Twin Otter had single seats along the left side of the aisle, and pairs on the right. In the days before 9/11, access to the flight deck was wide open for all to see. JJ and I sat together in the two seats right up at the front, leaning forward watching all the flight operations as we took off into the night.   

The flight was rough. Rockityrockityrock. We hadn’t paid much attention to a massive winter storm that had been pushing its way eastward for a couple of days, and now we were in the thick of it. This plane had “de-icing boots”, so that if the leading edge of the wings got covered in ice (very bad for airplanes that want to stay airborne), the pilots could activate inflatable strips that would break up the ice. That night, they needed them. Every time the pilots cycled the de-icing boots, we could hear and feel the broken ice hitting the fuselage. Bam, bam, bam.

I could see the pilots changing their communication radio frequencies. I looked at JJ and shook my head. 

A few minutes later, the copilot came back to talk to the passengers, and explained the situation:

“So, the weather at Toronto Island is below minimums: it’s not safe to land there. We can either go to Pearson, or divert to Hamilton. What do you want to do?”

The passengers took a vote, and we all decided we’d prefer to end up in Toronto, even if it was the other airport.

The co-pilot belted back in and then turned from the cockpit and looked behind into the cabin and yelled to me, “Would you pass me my approach plates?”

His flight bag was just in front of my knees. I knew what he needed: the instructions for landing at a different airport than he’d planned. I dug through the bag and handed them to him.

Approach plates look like this: detailed instructions for a precision approach to land a plane on a specific runway at a specific airport with specific equipment under specific conditions…and what to do if you miss the landing.

I’m now following the COM frequencies intently.  

Rockityrockityrock. BAM. BAM. BAM.

I look at JJ and shake my head again as the plane banks left. That’s definitely not part of the original flight plan.

Now the pilot comes back to talk to us all.

“Well, folks, there’s a big stack of planes in a holding pattern over Pearson, and we don’t have enough reserve fuel to be able to fly long enough to be able to land, so I’m sorry, we have to go back to Buffalo.”

The passengers, while not happy about the change in destination, are happy to have decent odds of landing safely at any destination at this point. Just as we literally tighten our belts, the pilot turns around again and looks at me and asks,

“Is your name Judy?”

I nod.

“Your dad says you should call home when you get to Buffalo.”

I guess one nice thing about knowing the people who run the Fixed Base Operation at the Island is that your family can pass messages to the flight deck. 

We landed safely. Our group of nine grateful and slightly grumpy passengers trudged out of the terminal to the pickup lanes and looked at each other through the near-horizontal snow. Now what? 

We had one thing in common: a single destination.

Sitting right in front of us, a white stretch limousine was idling. One of us had the inspiration to chat with the driver. Turns out he’d been waiting to pick up passengers who were clearly not going to be arriving from Chicago any time soon.

How would he like to do a nice long trip, with a big fat tip, to Toronto?

Everyone’s day got a little brighter.

We piled in.

After a brief stop at the nearest drive-thru McDonalds, we were on our way in the ideal ride for a blizzard: a long heavy vehicle with snow tires that was very good at going in straight lines.

And that was how we arrived, fashionably late but in high style, in Toronto to be married.

Skywalker is no more; flights ended a few months after that, in April of 1988. They lasted just long enough to get me married.

My name is still Judy, even though nobody flies with paper approach plates anymore, and passengers don’t get to watch flight operations. It still snows in Buffalo.

We are still married, and still flying in every sense of the word to destinations we never even imagined possible. Life is good.

Learning To Hang On Loosely

There’s only one thing I know for sure when I look at my calendar at the beginning of the week: It’s going to change.

That’s even more true in pandemic.

Between tech failures, bandwidth limitations, family crises, double-booking, the crush of events, the press of proposals, surgery, last-minute recollections of car pool duty, and let’s not forget chronic exhaustion, I need to be ready to roll with what happens in other people’s lives.

I go back to the idea that the Universe is a lot smarter than I am.

It knows, in a way that I don’t, when I’ve tried to jam too much stuff into a week. 

That’s when clients call in sick and have to reschedule, or stayed a week longer on the road and have to move their sessions.

I often struggle to respond generously — especially when I have created goals for myself, and decided that I need to be firm in how I manage the finite resources of my time. One school of thought dictates, “I must set boundaries with other people: define those boundaries firmly for myself, declare them clearly to others, and defend them — tell someone when they break that boundary and that it’s not okay to do that.”

I put a clause in my clients’ contracts: they can reschedule one session at no charge, and then they’ll pay me a rescheduling fee of $500 for every schedule change after that.

I have a hard time telling a client that, yes, they can move their session, and then reminding them that they’ve agreed to pay that rescheduling fee. 

When is it better for me to be generous, and when do I truly need to hold the boundary? Generosity and Boundaries are both on the list of seven elements that Brene Brown presents (in her works Rising Strong, and Dare To Lead, among others) as fundamental to developing and sustaining trust in relationships. Until right now, I hadn’t considered how often they push up against each other for me. 

When I decide to make an exception to a boundary, am I letting myself down? Am I weakening the foundation of trust with that client by showing them that I don’t really mean it when I declare a boundary?

Or is it both practical and compassionate to agree to reschedule a meeting (particularly when it’s one of a set of multiple meetings that all need to move) at no charge because someone feels sick? If they’re sick, they can’t concentrate on doing the work we had planned together, and my commitment to them is not just to deliver my services but also to help them get the result that they can only achieve when they do the work.

That’s different from, “Hey, we decided to take the kids on vacation at the last minute, so we have to move the session.” 

The former is a time for compassion and understanding. How would I want to be treated if I were sick? The latter situation, I am making a note for another day, is one where I will charge the cancellation fee.

The client who stayed out on a road trip a week longer? Two considerations: first, he’s out MEETING FEDERAL BUYERS. He’s getting an extra week of live practice in all the skills I’ve been teaching him, using all the techniques of relationship development and lead generation detective work, that will help him be even more successful. He can’t do a session with me if he’s out concentrating on meeting buyers. His buyer will only be in that place or at that event that week. It was in our mutual interest to reschedule the session, and his results are likely to be even stronger as a result.

And…this is the same client who took extra time to have a testimonial conversation with one of my prospects who’s thinking of working with me. Did I close more business as a result? No, not yet, but the prospect got a firsthand realistic idea of my client’s experience in working with me, and what it takes to be successful. So not only is that prospect more likely to become a client when the time is right, but they are more likely to be set up for success when they do. And this is the client who’s thinking of extending their engagement with me once the basic program is done. 

I invested in building the relationship.

But here’s the funny thing that happens when my appointments shift: it always works out better, because suddenly I get two things that are precious: first, an opening of time that was otherwise booked. I never have any trouble filling that time. I usually have a ten item list jostling for dibs on which one is the right size to fit into that slot with high hopes of getting finished.

And, second, when someone reschedules a sales call, I make the effort and activate my generosity circuits. Yes, it’s an effort to not get my socks in a twist and think, “ohhh, they’re putting me off. They just don’t want to say no.” I’m almost as glad to talk to someone for five minutes and find a better time on their calendar, for when they’ve got their new sales team in place, or have finished the big proposal and can clear the time to work with me, as I am when someone tells me, “No, this program isn’t right for me,” or  “We don’t have the resources to work with you right now,” or “the Federal market isn’t a high enough priority for us.” 

I’m happy to get a clear “no” because it means they have clarity about their own way forward.

I’d far rather reschedule, or even get a “no, thanks,” than to have someone just fail to show up for a call and not tell me why

I take issue with the school of thought that one closes the sale by pressing someone to define their objections clearly, and then addressing and removing each obstacle.

People do business with people they trust. 

I truly believe that people say yes when they have confidence that by engaging me, they will be on track to get the result, and the experience, that they want. If the conversations we had didn’t give them that positive sense, then no amount of argument is going to change that. I would rather receive a straight-up no, early, with grace than hear, “Don’t call me; I’ll call you.” I’m not going to claim the title of Queen of Follow up, but I do take a lot of notes during thousands of conversations. Sometimes, someone will come back to me TEN YEARS after we meet, and be ready to engage. And my notes tell me a lot about the journey they’ve been on between then and now.

Somebody else might say, “Hey, if they’re not ready, let ‘em go. There are more people to talk to.”  That’s true, too.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was from a counselor. We were talking about how anxious I was feeling about…probably this same issue, sales and prospecting and my business. 

“I get that you need to stay focused,” she said. “But what if you could just hang on loosely?”

Hanging on loosely is not only less stressful. It makes it easier to let go of the things that aren’t really worth the effort to hang onto, the things and people and experiences that belong to someone else.

Generosity University

Generosity University: Enrollment Open To All Who Hear The Invitation

The Universe is a generous place, and it’s a lot smarter than I am.

It communicates through intuition.

I have a stubborn streak. It serves me well when I direct its attention to the abundance of positive and amazing, wonderful and worthwhile, experiences and people in my life. However, if I’m not paying attention, that stubborn streak gets hijacked by ancient voices and lights me up with fear and negativity in service of one of my biggest bêtes noires: scarcity.

To be generous takes courage and faith in “enough”: that I have enough, that there is enough, especially money and time. And that I am enough: wise enough, smart enough, savvy enough, thoughtful enough, kind enough.

The stubborn streak, on its dark days, tramples generosity with a thunderous stampede that can almost drown out the seemingly delicate, ethereal, voice of intuition.


I had an interesting conversation today. 

Sometimes people who “meet” me online, who hear or see me speak at one of the dozens of broadcasts I give all year long, write and ask to set up a phone call. They have questions, and those conversations are the start of relationships that can turn into a professional engagement (or, in sales terms, a lead that converts to a sale; a person who decides to engage me and become a client).

Once upon a time, I talked to people answering their questions about Federal contracts all day long. When I worked at the Embassy, I did just that. I took every call, and answered all the questions, and the days I loved most were the ones where someone would say, “Wow, I never expected to get such great service from my government!”


And I got paid for that.

That was one of the very best parts of public service: the SERVICE part. The fact that I got paid as well as appreciated to be someone’s superhero surprise of the day was even better.

It was an endless delight: to be useful, and valued, and financially compensated for that without having to sell anything.

Running my own business…not so much.

One of the things I learned (over and over and over, and so I share this with anyone who is thinking how great it would be to run a consulting business) is that, as a solo consultant, the amount of time one spends doing non-revenue-generating stuff is absolutely staggering. Sure, maybe you get paid a couple hundred bucks an hour, but most weeks nowhere near the forty or fifty or sixty hours a week you’re working involve getting paid for that time.

Remember I talked about stubborn? I’m sure there were a lot of ways I could have figured out some alternative ways to actually run a business — to break out of what Michael Gerber describes as “The E-Myth” a lot sooner that I have. Such is life.

When one’s business is small (as mine is), time is the most scarce resource. As one of my favorite business profs used to say, “There’s only 24 hours in the day, and you’ve gotta eat and you’ve gotta sleep.” (I’ll save for another day my musing on comparison as the thief of joy as I muse at what creates the wildly varying differences among what each of billions of individual humans accomplish with those same 24 hours.)

So when I’m speaking for free (and I do a lot of that), I’m doing lead generation. There are easily a dozen ways that someone who hears me speak can get in touch with me and ask to have a conversation. I spend some of my time having those conversations. But there are only so many hours in the day. Who’s worth having a conversation with?

I’ve got gaps in what marketers call my “product ladder”. In one kind of business model, one has a set of related offerings for people at different stages of need, and different price points. That way, someone who likes you and needs your expertise but can’t afford your big program, can solve some of their problems, get a little bit of help, with a smaller offering that will help them along their way, and keep them engaged and connected with you perhaps until they CAN afford a bigger program.

Thing is, it can take almost as much of a sales person’s time to sell an inexpensive program as it does to sell an expensive one. There is calculus somewhere about the economics of sales calls, but in a world where time is finite, it’s easy for the roaring chorus in my head to remind me, “You can’t talk to just everybody. Not everybody is a prospect. Qualified prospects are worthy of your time. Other people should get the politely-drafted reply that goes something like, “Based on your application, it appears that your company is not in a position to invest in my program right now. However, you might to look into my book, Amazon #1 Bestseller “Government Contracts Made Easier…(or whatever other more self-serve offer or download I have that they can click and buy)”. 

I almost turned down someone’s request for a meeting because the meeting application email he’d sent me suggested that his company seemed too small and at too early a stage to become a client.

But…really, how important is fifteen minutes of my life, if I might make a difference for somebody, get them on the right track… who am I to be so important? (I put down a footnote that that voice sounds a whole lot like Brene Brown’s “Who do you think you are?” voice, and that’s a problem I’ll have to tackle another day).

I am often reminded that I got to find my way to where I am today because so many people have been kind to me, and given me 15 minutes or an hour or more of their time at critical points in my life. Famous people, former ambassadors, international public servants, just because I wrote and asked. When I was considering a career in the foreign service, I will always remember being bowled over by the response I got when I wrote to Stephen Lewis, at the time Canada’s Ambassador to the United Nations. I wrote to him and he replied, “You ask so many questions that I could not possibly do them justice in a letter. Please call me at my home in New York so we can speak.”

And I did, and we did.

I’m neither rich nor famous, but I have the same capacity to be generous to others, to people I barely know, as those people did who had never heard of me..

To spend 15 minutes of my life just being kind to someone is its own gift — given and received. Even (as happens usually) when someone isn’t a prospect, it feels almost as good as writing a thank you note to just give someone a little lift and encouragement, especially when it’s my last call at the end of the day.

So I decided to take the call. In fact, I was kind of embarrassed about how I got started, because I had been cleaning up my sales and prospect backlog and forgot about the time and then had a call that went long so I was actually late for the call I had promised to this fellow. That was unintentionally rude on my part — not the experience I want anyone to have with me. I was grateful for his graciousness at my tardiness. 

I made the mistake of heading into the call by telling him that I was glad to talk to him and answer his questions, but I was really sorry that I really didn’t have anything to offer him besides my book and maybe some webinars he could pick up from a partner who re-sells recordings of some of my classes,

 I asked him what was on his mind. He said he’d learned a lot from last week’s session I had given about Simplified Acquisition, and wanted to know if I could tell him how to build relationships that could turn into simplified acquisitions.

 The downside is that that’s not a question you can answer in 10 minutes. In fact, it’s something I spent 25 years avoiding, and then everything about the last six years on the path to mastering, and it’s now at the very core of the things I teach my clients. I just haven’t figured out how to teach it fast or in a quick download.

Nobody has.

The end of the day can also be a time when I can feel tired and depleted. I had just gotten the email from my bookkeeper about bills coming due next week, and was confused about where the money was coming from to pay them (it was there somewhere but my scarcity circuits had gotten triggered).

That left me wrestling with feelings of despair that I tried to keep out of my voice as I explained to him that I was embarrassed to have only have one offer — an eight-week private consulting program that I had already started to make the assumption would represent a major or even untenable investment for a company his size. I almost plunged into just making an introduction to my training partner who has a different program and lower price point but covers the same principles of Federal sales for her clients as well as when she teaches for mine. 

But I slowed down and started asking a few more questions. And discovered that even though the company is small, he and two other people are handling sales and business development for the Federal market. That’s often a more important criterion to qualify a client than how big the company is. 

I noticed I was rushing, and the tug of intuition slowed me down for long enough to be generous again, to stop making assumptions about the person I was just getting to know.

In the end, he did ask for a proposal. The person he wanted to connect with was… me. I will see what happens next week. 

A story for another day: how I spent 25 years avoiding everything to do with sales, only to find myself slammed face-first into my fears so hard that I shattered them forever.

I will tell you this: the day you truly understand what sales is (and what it’s not), you have a lifetime enrollment in Generosity University. 

It’s a credential that’s recognized everywhere. 

Where The Light Gets In

Japanese ceramic artists have a form known as kintsugi. That’s what the top image is.

Beautiful, broken, or a bit of both?

I think it’s stunning.

Kintsugi (金継ぎ, “golden joinery”), also known as kintsukuroi (金繕い, “golden repair”),[1] is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum, a method similar to the maki-e technique.[2][3][4] As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise.[5]

~ Wikipedia

Today has been a long day, and I knew it would end past my general day-end-plan when I began. Sometimes that’s what it takes to reach people, and it’s different to plan it than to let my day dribble off into nothingness.

Many artists and actors experiment with improvisational techniques or experiences as a way to loosen up and discover things, expand their range of performance.

I scheduled two back-to-back broadcasts (because if I have to do makeup, I might as well get the most of it): I did one with Justin Muscolino of up-and-coming TweezzleTV, an innovative format for trainers to share expertise.

That was the opportunity that these two shows provided me: I was willing to trade off my end-of-day limit in order to have the chance to stretch my performance envelope, my comfort and control zone, and show up as more vulnerable, as more deeply authentic…and less scripted, with the possibility of making mistakes live as well as talking about the hard and painful experiences of making mistakes at different points on my journey of discovery, personal and professional.

Brene Brown writes about how hard it is for us to connect with each other when we show up all “armored up.” As humans, our deepest needs include the need to connect with each other. And that’s only possible when we have the courage to wade into the wide murky zone of vulnerability. I’ve come to realize I can expect to struggle pretty much every time as I try to figure out how to show up professionally but open; willing to share my life and my mistakes and my lessons learned. I hope against hope to not over-share in a way that causes people to back away rather than feel closer to me, or leads people to question my judgement or credibility, but to seem courageous enough to show people that we have struggles in common. 

It used to be that I’d give lots of cheerful, tactic-packed how-to presentations, and people never really followed up, really wanted to get to know me, or, despite all my technical expertise, felt they could relate to me. I didn’t open up enough to them to show that I had been where they are, that I had had a hard time learning these things, that they ever really wanted to begin to trust me…which is fundamental to not only sales, but also to everything to do with any relationship.

That’s why the opportunity for more “authenticity practice” is strongly aligned with my focus and priorities right now. To be in integrity, I need to walk my talk. I can’t extol the virtues of being vulnerable if I don’t do it myself and show people what it looks like and sounds like, and what it feels like to be in the presence of someone who’s practicing that.

Because our broken parts are where the light gets in. Our imperfections leave open the places for people to connect with us — not to fill in the gap to repair us, but to open a space for someone to peek in, to see what we’re made of, to notice what we have in common, to feel not-alone. And every so often to offer a place where new pieces fit together that never would have found each other, to create new things and experiences of extraordinary beauty that were only possible because first something opened, came apart, or even broke.

Justin just wanted me to talk about me, and my story. His team will be editing the 90 minutes we recorded, and breaking that into about six small episodes. I’m not sure how it will turn out, but it’ll be a mix of some of my technical expertise and some of my lessons-learned moments along the way. The challenge here was to go relatively unscripted, pay attention to where intuition took the conversation, and not just talk without letting my generous host ask questions. 

I have been struggling for many years with a gap in my service offerings, and it just might be that collaborating with Jason, in breaking both myself and my expertise into more vulnerable, digestible, pieces, just might offer the chance to fill that gap. We’ll see.

Breaking down to try something different just might be where the light gets in.

Justin told me there was nothing I needed to teach, no presentation I needed to make. He said that his community would just like to get to know me. It was a lovely reminder of the value each of us has as human beings, that we are worthy simply for who we are, completely apart from our expertise, from what we DO. 

The second show was the second of a six-episode live 90-minute session series I’m doing with Eric Coffie, host of the GovCon Giants podcast and YouTube Live Mastermind.

With Eric, our conversations are similarly unscripted, though we agreed on a theme for each week (and I admit that I caved in the last seven minutes of the session because I really really wanted some visuals to drive home the easy model of how to use checklists to prepare for a meeting that’s so good that your prospect wants to invite you back). 

I love responding to the live chat, to the questions from the YouTube chat and engaging those who show up in active discussion, challenging them to take action, explore, be brave, admit their struggles and discover solutions. But this show also stretched me in another way. I wanted to offer a different perspective, a shift in the theme or emphasis, that the audience was absorbing from the host’s strong social media message. His show attracts many business owners who are at an early stage of Federal contracting and often have very small businesses. Owners of very small businesses can, and do, have big dreams. I had noticed that his language about “big contracts”, and “big wins for small business,” attracted hundreds of followers. 

Language about big contracts can get people pretty excited about working with an energetic speaker or expert they can relate to.

I don’t have an offering right now, other than my book and workbook (Amazon #1 Bestseller Government Contracts Made Easier (Second Edition))  for the large numbers of very small businesses who might love to get my expertise. I have an insatiable desire to be of service, even if I can’t be paid for it, to people who just might make better decisions if they have a “light bulb moment” listening to a talk I give. My business lets me make that difference in the world. 

I also wanted to inspire and encourage them, even though they might not be ready to be my clients, even if they did business with my host instead of me, by sharing some of my failures and struggles that I know so many of the listeners also have: fear of selling, fear of rejection, fear of sales, mistakes in conversations that mean didn’t get the business, failure to recognize small signs of progress that would have encouraged me if only I’d seen them. At the very least, I wanted them to not only have hope, but discover some small practical steps that would help them a little.  

While I live to make a difference in the world, I don’t always expect to be paid for that. It’s nice when it works out that way, but I believe that the Universe is a fundamentally generous place, and pays attention when we do the right things for the right reasons.

One of my achievements tonight was to encourage one of my hosts to share not jut the stories of his big multi-million-dollar wins, but to reach back and remember all the small steps, the small wins, even the winning moments that had no monetary value at all, that led to the multimillion dollar wins. I wanted his audience to get the message, from his stories and mine, that the road to success is long and takes staying power and commitment. 

It was sneaky, I admit. But I hope that people who showed up with stars in their eyes left feeling that their feet were more firmly grounded in reality rather than being at risk for their hopes being dashed.

Another one of my achievements was to show up in the full beauty of being an imperfect human.

I think that was the best of all.

This imperfect human really needs a hot bath and a good night’s sleep. I hope you get one, too.

Why Self-Care Comes First

Anyone who’s traveled by air has heard this pre-flight announcement: 

In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will automatically appear in front of you. To start the flow of oxygen, pull the mask towards you. Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally. Although the bag does not inflate, oxygen is flowing to the mask. If you are travelling with a child or someone who requires assistance, secure your mask on first, and then assist the other person. 

When it comes to oxygen, flight attendants don’t get a lot of arguments.

So why is it so hard to treat self care the same way?

In my conversations this weekend with friends and family, pandemic was a big topic. “Is everybody healthy? How are you doing? What are things like where you are?”

Once we had the basic check-ins covered, two themes came up over and over: first, how pandemic has cast into stark relief all places our social safety net needs repair. Who is vulnerable? How easily people can fall through the cracks and get left behind, become homeless, and — especially our elderly — even die of loneliness. How differently governments around the world are providing leadership and financial support, and how much (or how little) difference that support is making for our friends and loved ones. 

We’ve seen incredible examples of human creativity in adapting and responding to life-changing circumstances in just about every aspect of the basic systems in our societies that support life and living: health care, communications, work, exercise, travel, supply chain, groceries, education.  

On the other hand, I can’t imagine what the phrase “doing the best we can” means for anyone whose profession is in food service, restaurants, entertainment or the arts. Sure, I’ve read news stories of artists forming creative performance bubbles, and dancers improvising ways to keep their strength and artistic edge. Olympic athletes must be going through an incredibly anxious time right now, trying to guess at whether or how the postponed 2020 games will happen in Tokyo this summer.

I’ve struggled to adapt many routine aspects of my life, with mixed success. What people see most of is my visual “game” on zoom and social: I’ve got a ring light kit and a great LIVE multicoloured backdrop (none of those wonky pseudo green screens for me!) that accessorizes with anything I wear. I’ve upped my lipstick game, patted down the shine, and found earrings that don’t dangle when I get animated while I talk. I went through three iterations of mics and earphones and audio mixer boxes to get as close as I could to professional “FM” quality sound for any broadcast I do. 

The online experiences I create for my audiences and clients are high-engagement. You’re not going to get death-by-powerpoint from me, nosiree bob! If you’ve asked me to speak for your group or lead a lesson, or work with your team, you’d better be ready to show up fully present, ready to work, think, speak up, be challenged, and take action.  

And I was “on” about six hours a day, four or five days a week, between internal team meetings across three times zones as well as client service and a heavy schedule of, in essence, promotional free teaching gigs for lead generation.

Slowly but surely, my lights were dimmer every day. Even before pandemic, when I’d finish giving a 90-minute webinar, I was wiped. I felt like I’d fallen off a cliff, and the event producers rarely called up afterward to say, “atta girl.” More often, I also took 15 or 20 minutes as soon as I got “offstage” to thank and give “soft landing” time to my guest and co-hosts, and let them feel appreciated so they didn’t have the crash.

Ever see a professional speaker, entertainer, or performer when they’re offstage after the gig is done? Like, after they’re out of the official backstage gladhanding bubble? They mostly don’t have a lot left. You wouldn’t expect them to. If you paid for the ticket, you expect them to give you all they’ve got, and then you both go home.

Ever thought about how it must feel to be a Broadway performer, with eight shows a week including matinees and evening performances? Ever thought about how carefully they have to manage their bodies and their personal energy and emotional resilience to be able to put it all out there for the audience in three hour chunks? And how much time they spend rehearsing, fine tuning, training, fixing the little stuff that breaks? And how much support they have from the crew and the house, all the people we as the audience rarely see, to put on that top quality performance night after night, day after day? And then there’s Monday: many Broadway shows go “dark” on Monday nights so that performers and crew can have a day of rest.

And yet here we are in pandemic, coming up on our one year anniversary next month of A Year At The Improv. Most of us started out as solo acts or cobbled together the best cast and crew and equipment we could. There was no script. We made it up as we went along; kept the bits that worked, threw out the stuff that didn’t. Nobody gave us “dark” days off if we weren’t savvy enough to take them ourselves.

Especially health care professionals, teachers, parents, and care-givers. They had virtually none of the preparation or training or supporting cast or massage or rehearsal or makeup or coaching that even the understudy feline in the Iowa production of CATS was getting  (up until March 9th of 2020). The utter urgency of absolutely every day is as oppressive as we let it be. 

The grind has been relentless, and many of us are only now acknowledging how depleted we are, and regrouping for whatever lies ahead.

Which takes me to the second topic that comes up if the conversation goes on long enough: “How are you really doing?” 

My answers are very much like my friends’: learning, later rather than sooner, the vital importance of treating work as something that needs limits rather than a perfect anesthetic to numb emotions that otherwise overwhelm. Not sleeping well, with no rational explanation other than the lurking presence of an invisible virus that’s killed nearly half a million people in the country where I live and is waiting for me if I don’t watch out. Whole body, whole spirit, fatigue. 

In late March of 2020, the place my husband and I usually visit for a week in the summer notified us that they were closing for the rest of the season, and our vacation would need to be rescheduled. We look forward to that trip for a full four months every year. In the early days of pandemic, that was the loss that hit me especially hard: the reality of losing a week of deep downtime and reconnection with my partner.  

I wrote to my friend Robert about feeling ashamed at grieving a lost vacation when thousand of other people were losing the livelihoods and incomes and  lives of family and friends.

“Why shame?” he wrote back. A pleasure is a good, and loss of a good is a proper cause for grief.” He comforted me with the encouragement to think of others’ losses not so much as “more worthy” of grief, but harder to deal with and needing more support.

It’s been easier to push aside and ignore the effects of grief compounded for the loss of a thousand small normal pleasures with a constant refrain of, “gosh, my situation is easy compared with so-and-so who’s lost family and friends and their job, and their marriage, and their graduation, and couldn’t be there for the birth of their grandchild or the funeral of their aunt…”


This has to stop.

I need to remember, every day, to put on the mask that’s going to feed me the vital emotional oxygen of self care and self compassion. I need to have faith that, just like that aircraft’s oxygen mask, even if the bag doesn’t seem to inflate, the oxygen is flowing. 

What’s in my mix of self care is almost certainly very different from yours. And it might change from one day or week to the next.  

Today, my mix included journaling, a sweaty, high-intensity TRX workout, conversations with friends and family, creative projects in editing and graphic production, and the pleasure of sorting through a couple thousand images I’d taken since 2019 of places including a Pacific ocean beach, Icelandic landscapes, underseas in the Cayman islands, Athens and the cliffs of Kalymnos, a ton of architecture and art and urban oases and parks and rivers and creeks… and, strangely enough, about 150 memes related to compassion and resilience! It was as if a little subroutine in my mind was storing these up so I’d have them for… well, now, actually.

The mix also includes self-compassion and a dollop of gentleness for the stuff on list that I didn’t get done this weekend: tai chi practice. Meditation. A batch of thank you notes. A shipment of mugs. 

It includes taking a moment to remember the best advice my dad ever gave me: “Be very kind to yourself.”

I hope you’re making sure to breathe deeply every day from your supply of self-care and self-compassion. Whether or not you believe it’s doing much good, that’s why it’s called a practice. Keep on breathing, and so will I, so we can both thrive and be there for the others in our lives who need us.

Pandemic Love Languages

This is to pick up on a theme I brushed past in my post, Beating Chronic Pandemic Micro-Trauma: the broader question of how we find resilience in the face of layer upon layer of stress that each day paints on top of us like a fresh coat of varnish, leaving us just a little heavier, a little more distant from everything around us, and a little less able to breathe.

One thing that gets us through pandemic is love.

Dr Gary Chapman writes about five “love languages” (ways to express or receive love): Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Physical Gifts, Quality Time, and Physical Touch. I’ve found the concept it adapts to many kinds of situations and relationships among people, but I’ve been thinking about it again over the last few days.

We’ve got social media; we’ve got zoom; we’ve got couriers; we’ve got email; we’ve got wi-fi; we’ve got voice-over-IP; we’ve got old-fashioned phone. We’ve never had more ways to…be disconnected from each other.

And yet…I’m so grateful for all the shining moments over the past ten months when my family and I have found our way through.

I miss my family. They are all in Canada, where I was born. I’ve had some sharp, painful moments of missing them over the past year. The first family pandemic zoom call to celebrate my brother Dave’s birthday left me feeling bleak: there were so many emotions that none of us talked about. 

I remember a feeling of gut punch the moment I heard on the radio in May that the Canadian border was closed indefinitely: that was the moment I knew beyond a doubt that I would not be going home for Christmas. 

I’m grateful for a chat thread my brother Dave set up in March. We four adult siblings and my mom exchanged more candid communication in the first ten days than we had in the previous ten years. Words of affirmation, for sure.

One of my pandemic heroes is Matt, the guy who owns the UPS Store on Duke Street, about three and a half miles from my house. He’s been my shipping lifeline to my family. Sometime in April, I did a little bit of baking and put together packages of cookies — maybe one or two per person (but they were really good cookies; who wouldn’t like something called “Fudge Ecstasies”?). The shipping must have cost over $150 for ingredients that were worth no more than $15. I left the UPS store and I cried as I walked home. 

Weeks later, my brother Lorne told me how much he appreciated the package as well as my effort to make and get it there, out of all proportion to the monetary value of the shipment on the customs declaration.

Trying to find time and emotional space for phone conversations has been challenging, and still is. We’ve all had a lot of days when “on camera” was the last place we wanted to be. So even showing up for that zoom or face time was love as quality time.

Sometimes we send and receive things. I’ve come to realize that the gifts of imperfection include the imperfection of gifts: when we give with the deepest of heartfelt intention in the full faith that our receivers will receive with that same spirit.

Really early on, bringing groceries to the most at-risk people in our bubble, an act of service, was as basic an act of love as one might imagine.

I would send my sibs and nieces and nephews a random package for no particular reason. 

I find gift-giving — when the gifts are physical items — challenging, probably because my perfectionist self wants every gift I give to be the perfect thing that someone has always wanted. 

My sister is very good at finding amazing gifts that I love – offbeat sweaters and scarves and socks — even when I say I don’t need things.

I sent a vial of my very favorite natural-good-for-you moisturizing lip gloss to the niece who I later discovered to be a resolute non-wearer of makeup.  I hope she felt loved when she got it. My nephew understood my intention in including him on the gift tag for the coffeemaker I sent their household even though he doesn’t drink coffee. My sister sent me a picture of their family holding the handmade ceramic mugs I sent them. My sister in law sent me a t-shirt with Canada-US graphics on it. I sent my brother’s family pictures of the travel diary they sent me. I’ve sent my brother two shipments of the most intense coffee I could find by mail order…simply because I know that’s something that sustains him (and if he’s sustained, that’s gotta make the whole household just a little cheerier).

Pandemic gifts have many forms that aren’t physical, too. 

My Baltimore partner and I have given each other the gift of quality time on our Friday afternoon forest walks.

Many friends also gave me the gifts of quality time or acts of service, with technical assistance, generosity, and patience when I was at my wits’ end.

To ease the stress of building business in a pandemic, I took the time and money to produce a monthly free event for my professional community: a discussion group to help them build their skills in human communication.

I spent time mentally pouting (and a lot more time feeling guilty about feeling selfish) about rearranging my own plans and inconveniencing two other people to meet my sister’s eleventh-hour request to host the online family party for my niece Fiona’s high school graduation…and I didn’t even send a gift. Argh. After everyone logged off, I cried for half an hour. I felt devastated for Fiona, sitting on the couch in the living room in her prom gown beside her proud and loving parents watching a shared-screen video from the link that the school had sent the families to play that night. Life wasn’t supposed to be that way.

I didn’t even manage to send a gift — wasn’t that what family does for graduations? Maybe I could look at my gift as being an act of service that created quality time: hosting the zoom that brought everybody together.  

In January, my brother asked me if I might edit my nephew Simon’s newest project: a near-daily sports blog. I was happy to do it, expecting nothing in return. What I’ve gotten has been precious: not only the chance to see a young writer bloom, and the experience of deeper connection with my nephew, on text and by phone, but also the inspiration to break out of a stall and start to write again for myself and for you.

Then there’s the love language that’s in especially short supply.

Last week, I ran across some images I’d taken in February of 2020. I had gone to New Jersey to see the debut of a friend’s off-Broadway play. I had strolled among hundreds of people enjoying huge animated sculptures at a brilliant festival of lights to honor the Lunar New Year. Looking at the images, I was taken aback by how vivid the images were, as well as my memories of the feelings, of those moments. I guess I had locked away the recollections, to say nothing of the feelings, of these everyday experiences that were about to become so coveted.

So much was about to happen, and I had no idea. None of us did. What might we have done differently to savour those moments if we’d known what was coming?

On that chat a couple days ago, I shared this meme, and you can see what my bro wrote back.

I had myself a little moment, there. I didn’t know he felt that way. It meant the world to me to know. 

What new dialects of love languages has pandemic brought to your life?

Beating Chronic Pandemic Micro-Trauma

What’s Chronic Pandemic Micro-Trauma?

Disclaimer: I’m not a mental health professional, a psychologist, or a specialist in traumatic disorders.  I’m a human who feels things, reads things, notices things, and thinks about stuff. My happy place is the primordial ooze of the creative process, making non-linear connections and wondering why things are and how things work.

We’re coming up on a whole year of pandemic. 

Way back in April of 2020, I noticed both that I was just more tired, for no reason I could figure, and that I was also working and working and working super long hours. Sound familiar?

As the months went on, psychologists and mental health professionals observed that one common response to the shock and stress of pandemic was to numb our feelings by overworking. Millions of people who were in jobs that they could do from home upended their regular work life and went through multiple iterations of adapting to Life Unexpected. The shift to work-from-home — for those of us fortunate enough to be able to do that — was hard and disruptive for dozens of reasons. If you’re like me, you tried a lot, failed a bunch, learned more, and are still figuring out how to make the best of it.

I have a LOT of thoughts about the pandemic work-from-home experience, and I’ll share those another day: what’s temporary, and what I think is gone forever, what will be forever changed, and what will come back (whether in its original form, or evolved) as things open up again.

I have a bad habit of developing theories — even good ones — telling other people about them, and not actually taking my own advice. 

Here’s the theory I had and the advice I didn’t take. Remember I said I’m a person who has for most of my life placed a high value on productivity? The more you can get done, smarter and more worthy you must be? I want to say right up front that that’s not really a great way to look at either myself or other people in my life, and I’m working on changing that (the list of stuff I’m working on is long).

Pandemic represents layers and layers of stress, whether we realize it or just pretend it’s not happening. That stress kicks the stuffing out of us, and it lives in our bodies (see The Body Keeps The Score for more on that). So if we are treating ourselves compassionately — because we are not machines; if we keep pushing through, we break — the only way we can sustain ourselves is to dial back our expectations of what we can accomplish in a day by, say, about 30%.

Then, the same thing is happening to everybody around us. That means we need to have extra emotional bandwidth, conversation time, empathy, for everyone we’re talking to. We have to be more open to hear about what is going on for them, to routinely ask the question, “First of all, how ARE you?” and to genuinely care about the answer. We have to allow for all kinds of things to derail our schedules and plans because people we work with are having Things Happen to them, their friends and loved ones, because of pandemic, and we have to take care of each other because that’s what our responsibility is to each other as humans.

And so we also need to dial back that productivity expectation by another, say, 30%.

Nice theory. Lots of people like it! 

But this is part of what I call Chronic Pandemic Micro Trauma, and it takes a lot of self care and awareness and mindfulness and self compassion to address.

Me, I pushed through and pushed through, interrupted by erratic mid-day meltdowns and 4 AM ugly crying jags…until last fall, when I had to face the fact that, by noon on Fridays, I was cooked. 

I knew something had to change when I spend five hours trying to write a four item to do list. 

Not do the list. Just WRITE the list.

NEW PLAN: Since October, I’ve shut the office at noon.

I have lunch.

And in the weeks I’m in Baltimore, my bubble mate and I go for a hike. 

We never end up walking more than two or three miles because we keep stopping to take pictures. We get completely immersed in the beauty of the natural world and bring back images to savor and share.

It’s been life affirming.

What do YOU do that gets you through?