Wednesday, April 23, 2008

If you don't think your energy influences others, read this

A couple of weeks ago my three year old daughter had two of the biggest tantrums of her life. Perhaps they would be better categorized as melt-downs. Whatever we call it doesn't really matter; if you are a parent, you know what I am talking about. If you are not a parent, imagine high-pitched screams, clenching of fists, repeated yelling of "NO!", lots and lots of tears, kicking legs and flailing arms. You get the picture?

The point is not really about the tantrums, but rather about the timing of the tantrums--which just so happened to occur the night before and the morning of an important speaking gig I had with a large, well-known company. Not only was it an important speaking gig, but it was my first one with them and so there was the added pressure of making a really good first impression.

My daughter is a very happy, usually good-natured child. She has an occasional melt-down when she is hungry, over-tired, or as I've come to realize more often, has different expectations then what is or isn't going to happen (hey, that sounds like me!). So when she does have a melt-down it tends to throw my husband and I off because they don't happen very often. Sometimes we don't know whether to cry because she's so over the top and bringing her down from the ledge is an emotional and physical endeavor we just haven't been training for or to laugh because she's so over the top and, excuse me, can someone please tell us when the devil traded places with our sweet little girl?

But on these particular days I was stressed out.

Bill was across the country for a business trip. On the day he left for the trip I discovered a rodent of some sort had decided to use one of our kitchen drawers as a nest. The landlord had not gotten back to me and the exterminator had also failed to return my phone call. I was feeling under the weather and trying not to think about the fact that I had a horrible sore throat the day before I was being paid to speak. And on top of all of that, I still hadn't decided what I was going to do for my workshop the next day.

Husband out of town + rodent nesting in kitchen + no foreseeable male coming to the rescue (this is where my feminist streak left my body) + important talk + confusion over what I would be saying for important talk + threat of sore throat impacting important talk + need to get to important talk by 8:15 a.m. in the city + no help to get child out the door in the morning + a failure on my part to communicate to child that we would need to get out door in the morning = mommy being a big ball of stressed energy = child being a little ball of stressed energy.

My big ball of stressed energy was not mine to enjoy alone. For along the way this energy disseminated throughout our house and before I could even see what was happening my daughter was expressing her stress in the only way she knew how--two back-to-back tantrums that nearly made me call and cancel the very important speaking gig.

What did I learn:
  • That it's helpful to have a good, local exterminator's number on hand in case you ever need it. It took me multiple phone calls to find one, but when I did, I immediately felt my stress level go down.
  • How important it is to prepare children for things that are not part of their routine. My daughter is hardly ever woken up in the morning. We head off to day care once she wakes up on her own and leisurely gets ready for the day. Communicating with her the night before about the plan for the morning probably would have changed everything.
  • To trust myself when it comes to preparing for a talk or workshop I am leading. Part of why I was so stressed and unsure what I was going to do until the last minute is because I allowed a comment from another speaker to unnerve me, which I then began to question my focus.
  • That sometimes what seems like a simple physical ailment is really a rather simple emotional or mental ailment. As a dear friend pointed out when I shared with her my concerns around my throat and the talk, her question to me was, "what are you afraid of saying?" Once I determined that I needed to just say want I wanted to say, my sore throat was gone.
  • How I handle my life directly impacts those around me. I may be thinking that not talking about something that is stressing me out protects my children, but that is simply not true. My attitude, focus, perspective and energy is shared with those around me, whether I say the words or not. Making choices that decrease my own stress means that I am making choices to lessen the by-product stress to my loved ones.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Pay Yourself First

I have lived my life caring more about what others want and will think then caring about what I really, really want. In fact, the act of simply turning inward and answering the question, “What do you want?” still feels new and a bit awkward, even though I’ve been practicing on some level for a number of years now. But the more I do it, the more I realize how good it feels and the simpler it makes life.

I could analyze forward and backward why I have a need to please and put others needs and desires (often times assumed needs or desires on my part) above my own, but does it really matter? What really matters is that I have the awareness and with that awareness I can see different choices and take different actions.

Who we are at our core is a person—actually a soul—who knows who we are, what we stand for, what we enjoy and who loves living life fully as a way of uncovering more and more preferences along the way. However, even before we are born we are taught about all that limits us. Our parents have their own fears, expectations and beliefs that are laid out for us to absorb as our own. Over time (and it doesn’t take that long) the pure, limitless core that we are is layered with other people’s crap. From society, the media, our teachers, our parents and friends we are told how the world works and how we are expected to operate in that world. And at the same time we are told, “Be yourself. Be unique.” What conflicting things we are told…

I can remember having a conversation with my mother when I was probably in high school or early college about the difference between being ‘self-less’ and ‘self-ish’. I had been told by one parent that being ‘self-less’ “like Jesus Christ” was what we were to do. I had been shown, by the other parent, that being ‘self-ish’ (as in, do what you want to do and makes you happy) was acceptable.

Didn’t I just get done saying why I had a need to please didn’t matter? Well, it doesn’t really matter, but I share the earlier point to highlight just one of the many ways I received conflicting information while growing up.

And here’s the reason I am writing this post. You’ve heard the concept of “paying yourself first” when it comes to finances, right? The idea is that when you get paid, you should first put money towards your own needs and desires before you pay everyone else you owe.

How about ‘paying yourself first’ in all areas of your life? There are definitely times you need to give to others. If your kid is sick, they need you no matter what. If there is a crisis or tragedy in your family or community, you may feel strongly compelled to put others needs before your own. But what about the little, rather insignificant moments in your life?

When my husband asks where I want to go to dinner, can I stop in that moment and really allow myself to have and speak a preference? If I want to go out with some girlfriends for a drink, but am concerned about leaving my husband on his own with the kids, can I push beyond that concern and still do what I want to do? If someone invites me to something that I really don’t have an interest in doing, can I simply and respectfully decline instead of operating from a place of obligation or ‘shoulds’? If I know I want to go to the gym because I’ll feel better afterwards, can I put that desire ahead of going to the park right then with the family?

Can I first check in with myself, in any situation or moment, and ask “what do you really want?” before asking everyone else?

I still hear the words, “you are being self-ish” in the back of head with each of these simple situations, but at my core I know that ‘paying myself first’ means I’ll have more to give to others along the way.

I know myself too well to know that I’ll always care (at least just a little bit) what others think and will probably often take others needs and wants into consideration. However, my commitment and gift to myself is to not put those needs and wants of others always above my own.

What about you?