Don't get me wrong. I LOVE traveling with my husband. He's the best travel companion. We gave our relationship the ultimate test with an early-on ski trip together (and I had never skied prior!) that led to an engagement a year later and it set the stage for a life full of travel adventures as a couple.
I have always traveled. Apparently, my astrological chart confirms I was born to travel. And that I have. This rolling stone gathers no moss, for sure.
I inherited this from my father. He encouraged me to try out for one of two spots for fourth graders to go on a school trip to Costa Rica (which was still a third world country back in 1976 by the way). I had to learn Spanish, had to demonstrate I was not a picky eater and that I would respectfully follow directions. I was selected and off I went at age 10 without my parents.
Later, Dad gladly paid to send me on a trip across the pond to sing with my school choir in Cathedrals all across Europe.
He surprised me with a spontaneous trip to Germany to meet my family tree that was quite an adventure. Autobahn and all.
Before you come to the conclusion my family was wealthy I will stop you right there. We were not wealthy. Not at all. The thing is, my father believed in ensuring that my siblings and I experienced the world beyond whatever town we lived in. For that I am grateful...
Traveling with others can be a lot of fun. But there is something about going it alone... Traveling solo is good for the soul.
After my first marriage ended officially in 2004 I pulled money from savings and traveled to Thailand on a personal retreat. It was a 30 hour journey from Atlanta to Los Angeles t0 Tai Pai to Bangkhok to Koh Samui. I spent 9 days in the land of 10,000 smiles. My heart was healed and my life changed. Something about going all the way to Thailand all by myself was transformational. Once there, I met up with a small group and a teacher with whom I meditated, ate delicious meals and explored together. But it was the getting there and the returning, sitting in airports on layovers by myself that gave me time and space to contemplate my life at a very deep level.
Over the past 11 years I have traveled solo to the Oregon Coast, Sedona, Texas, Kansas, North Carolina, Alabama, Florida and Tennessee for various workshops and retreats. This year I decided to take another solo trip without any particular agenda. This time to Southern California. With all of my travel I'd never been to Southern California so I went. All by myself. No set agenda. It was my mini Eat-Pray-Love experience.
I actually had booked the ticket with intention of attending a retreat someone was hosting but the retreat ended up not being a fit for me so I decided to create my own solo retreat. Life changing decision.
I slept when I felt like sleeping often hitting the hay by 8:00 pm. I meditated with the rising sun, watched the waves roll in at the coast. I did a lot of people- watching and explored the streets of various neighborhoods in San Diego, Los Angeles and all up and down the coast between. I ate all of my meals (except one) alone. And I loved every minute.
While in LA I scheduled a private session with one of my mentors who lives there and I attended a 3 hour spiritual workshop with a teacher I've been wanting to meet in person. Other than that, I was all on my own. And it was lovely.
After a lifetime of raising children, caring for clients, attending to the needs of others, it's high-time for solo time.
When on your own, there's no agenda and no schedule other than the one you create for yourself. I highly recommend it.
But don't be surprised if being solo feels foreign at first. Give yourself some time to work through the discomfort of the unfamiliar and you will get to the other side and feel the freedom.
My final evening of my Southern Cali trip I was having a nice dinner at the bar in the hotel watching the football game and enjoying hearing the laughter and conversations around me. A woman came up to me and said, "How can you just sit here all alone?" I smiled and said, "It is glorious. You should try it!"
I returned home to Atlanta with a clearer mind, lots of inspiration, a collection of amazing photos, and a renewed energy. My soul was fed. And I will do this again. Regularly.
Humans are wired to want, need, crave authentic connection. Yet, it it is sorely lacking in today's society. These hand-held devices are drawing everyone's focus down to a screen rather than having face-to-face connection. There is no arguing with the fact that we all need to look up from our phones and tablets and have a real eye-t0-eye conversation with the people around us.
And there is that pitfall of using social media to present some false front of the perfect life. That's an entirely additional article I will write another day.
But here's the thing... Social media is too often the baby thrown out with the bath water.
And I am on a mission to teach therapists, coaches, healers and other heart-based business owners that authentic relationships are the bedrock for good business as well as to encourage my clients to utilize this powerful tool in a way that enhances life.
How did I become an expert on this matter? By making bone-head mistakes along the way. Trial and error. Oh... how I have erred. I have made every mistake in the book and have learned along the way what to do and what not to do. So, now I'm sharing my tried and true conclusions.
Like any tool, it should be handled mindfully and utilized in very particular ways for optimal results. If the result we are seeking is real relationships, there are specific tips to heed.
Here are some potent DOs and DON'Ts :
- DON'T fall into to the social media time-suck. Set your timer and spend only a designated amount of time each morning and each evening on social media utilizing the following tips for how to efficiently utilize social media to connect with others.
- DO share, tag, and thank. Scroll through your feed (FB, Twitter, Instagram, Google+) and look for truly inspiring articles, memes, quotes posted by other people and click the share button, tag the person who originally posted thanking them.
- DON'T over-share others' content. Don't share more than 2 items within 30 minutes. Shoot for 4 - 6 shares over the course of a day max.
- DON'T over-share your personal stuff. Once/week share something from your personal life - a photo of your daughter receiving her award or a cute pic of you and your hubby celebrating an anniversary but don't over-do it. Your personal social media page/timeline/profile is not the place to document your deepest fears, your daily schedule, your every pondering.
- DO comment with sincerity, kindness and encouragement. Make a point to comment on posts made by others in your feed. Find something sincere and kind to say about what they have posted. If they are sharing they are having a hard time look for an encouraging word to offer.
- DON'T be saccharine-sweet. The goal here is for people to know you've read (heard and seen) what they are sharing and that you are interested and you care. Don't over-do the sentiment.
- DON'T stir the political pot. You know what they say about opinions? Everybody has one but not everyone wants to see yours. If the goal here is to enhance authentic connection, social media is not the place to share your political position unless you want to clean out your friends-n-followers list to only be people who agree with you. If you feel led from the depths of your soul to bravely post political, by all means go for it. But just understand you may get blocked by a few people.
- DO use private messaging. Private messaging people to follow up on something they posted to connect more personally can be a wonderful way to strike up a conversation 1:1. Keep it real, keep it brief and be helpful... maybe offer some support or just tell them how much you appreciate something they've done/offered.
- DON'T use private messaging to hound or push. Private messaging should be used judiciously and respectfully but never to push what you're selling or to bug people. Don't overuse it or you'll bug people.
- DON'T post to promote too often. This is a slippery slope. A sticky wicket. We want to be able to utilize social media to share with others the services, programs and products we have to offer and market our businesses but it must be done in a way that maintains the integrity of our relationships. Be very careful about only posting when you're promoting or you will turn off more people than you can count. I made this mistake earlier on. It was an innocent mistake but a mistake none-the-less. Let your friends promote your stuff and keep your social media interactions for authentic connection.
- DO allow social media to lead to voice to voice or face to face connection. Ultimately, authentic relationships must go beyond the keyboard and screen. Invite social media friends to give you a call, jump on Skype, meet for coffee. I have developed life-long friendships and very meaningful business relationships with people I've "met" on social media.
It stands to reason that as we grow professionally there is often an opportunity to grow personally. And as we grow in our personal lives, the shape of our professional work can often shift and change.
What happens when the two worlds run into each other?
You become friends with someone you have worked with professionally over the past year. In the beginning the friendship is sharing coffee together, commiserating over common frustrations, offering supportive insight to one another. You refer clients to one another for your respective business services. You feel excited because finally you have a friend who really understands who you are as a professional and you feel you can trust her. Prior to this your two worlds have been fairly separate.
Believing you have a new friend you can really trust, you let your professional persona relax. And so does she. You decide you can trust her and you share with her in confidence a struggle you've been having with a common colleague. You allow yourself to be vulnerable. She responds with support and you feel safe. You share more. Then it's her turn. You listen to her vent and provide supportive suggestions. This goes back and forth a few times.
Then the tide turns.
As you share more and more you begin to see aspects of each other that begin to feel a bit uncomfortable for both of you. You noticed some subtle raw edges in her comments and perhaps she sees the same in yours.
One day, when you were very busy with your clients, she blows up at you angrily accusing you of not being a real friend because you didn't respond to her texts as quickly as she needed or expected.
She then proceeds to accuse you of being insincere and tw0-faced.
You feel shocked and attacked. At this point you could allow yourself to angrily retaliate. You could explain the reason for not responding... but instead you decide to retreat. You walk away without saying anything in response because you are just shocked and confused.
The thing is, she comes from a family that yelled and screamed at one another as a normal course of working through things. For her this was normal between people who care about each other. For you it felt like nothing short of personal attack and in your world is not the way people who care about each other behave.
After a few days, you decide to reach out to discuss things calmly but it's too late. In her mind your retreat was an unforgivable insult and her part of this was just the way people who care about each other express themselves honestly.
The greater trouble here is that you and she are still colleagues. You have to find a way to grow from this and preserve your professional status.
You have stepped into an opportunity to grow both personally and professionally. Here are some practical steps you can take in this scenario:
- Own your part of the conflict. Offer a sincere apology for your piece without any comments that are attacking or defensive. Don't expect her to respond as you hope. Just do it so you will know you have done all you can do.
- Leave some breathing room. Space and time are the great salve. Come back to it after you've both had a chance to sit with it.
- Be clear about the roles you and others play in your life. Too much cross-over between personal and professional is exactly what led you to this awkward situation as it is.
- Be discerning as to whom you share your dirty laundry. Everyone has dirty laundry so there is no need for shameful hiding rather be very selective. And maybe don't dump out the whole basket all at once.
- Ask yourself how this experience can help you expand in your ability to feel compassion for self and others. Try to see things from her perspective. Understand there is a root-reason for all behavior and look for the soft-spot.
- Find ways to support her professionally even if the personal friendship has been damaged.
- Be kind, polite and respectful no matter what. Even if you never discuss what happened and you never grab coffee together again, aim for opportunities to show her you are still a good person and a reliable professional.
- Avoid talking to others about what happened. The last thing you want as a professional is to be seen as a gossip. If you need to process aloud, find one long-trusted confidante, a therapist, a spiritual mentor or a private coach. Otherwise, zip the lip.
- Look for ways this experience can help you grow as a professional. Perhaps there is a silver lining of divine wisdom here that will lead you to develop a new program, training or write a great blog article.
- Take it to the meditation cushion. This is a golden opportunity for personal growth. Ask yourself what parts of yourself have been illuminated by this experience that you otherwise were overlooking. Practice introspection and personal responsibility minus self criticism and harsh judgment.
There is time and space to keep separate our professional and personal paths in life but there are times when they cross. As sticky as it might get, it is a wonderful opportunity for growth all the way around.
For those of us who naturally "have a lot of words," (a.k.a. motor-mouths, chatty-cathys,) this can be a very important lesson in life. I know it has been for me.
For anyone who has ever been in couples counseling and for those of us who have graduate degrees in clinical psychology or counseling, the idea of "active listening" is just a concept until practiced and honed.
I can remember as a teen and young adult, the feeling of clamoring to respond, get my point across, express my opinion so much so that I missed half of what the other person was saying. I see it with clients when I am providing relationship counseling. I understand the sensation of compulsion to be heard, to express.
I have found there is even greater value in being the holder of space, marveling at the power of the space between words.
Learning how to listen deeply and hold space for another person is possibly one of the most profound experiences of this human life. It requires practice to rewire the brain to be ready to talk less and listen more.
Here are some tips for developing this deeper listening practice:
- Make a decision to set aside your own agenda and really listen to what someone is expressing. Be conscious with your mindset first.
- Envision creating a big bubble of space around you and the person to whom you are listening. Deem this bubble of awareness sacred space. Allow it to assist you in staying focused.
- Put away your phone, tablet, computer or any other distractions.
- Face the person, turning your chest and face toward the person you are with.
- Breathe. While they are speaking consciously breathe and allow yourself to just be as you take in what they are saying.
- Watch their face and body as they talk. Sometimes this tells you more than their words.
- Suspend all judging thoughts and temptation to analyze, respond, react. You will notice these thoughts bubble up. Just send them to the side and stay present.
- Be a compassionate witness. Allow yourself to feel what they seem to be feeling. Allow your heart to be open. Stay soft as you watch and listen.
- When they finish expressing. Take a deep breath and nod gently acknowledging without words that you hear this person. Let there be silence. Don't rush in to respond.
- Take a few more moments to notice how it feels to just listen and hold the space.
- When time and space has been held, ease into responding with softness and affirmation of what you hear them expressing. It's not about whether you agree with what this person has said. It's about you being present and just listening.
EXTRA CHALLENGE: Set aside one day to focus on being the listener and the holder of space all day and set aside the need to talk or express. This will help you to really begin strengthening your deep listening muscle.
Each week on Monday nights, all three of my children, sometimes their friends, my husband and I gather for dinner at our home.
My sons (now nearly 19 and 22) actually live together n their own little house near the college they both attend. I am fortunate that they live only 10 miles away and can still make it for dinner each week. Our daughter has just a few years left here at home with us before she flies from the nest.
My role as mother to these three kids has changed significantly this past year as two of them are now adults and the third is maturing with lightning speed.
I have noticed that many of my clients who have young adult children are struggling with knowing how to parent at this stage in life. I've come to an important realization.
Here are some typical questions parents of young adults have:
- Should I check on him? I haven't heard from him in days?
- She's homesick at college. Should I go bring her home or encourage her to hang in there?
- There's a letter in the mail from his college bursar's office saying he has a balance due. Do I take care of it for him or let him handle it?
- She's telling me she wants to get a tattoo. She's 19. Do I share my objection or respect that it's her body and her choice?
It's tricky business figuring out when to step in and when to hang back. After 18+ years of protecting, guiding, enforcing rules it can be difficult to discern.
Go easy on yourself. This is a learning curve and a time of change for you and for your young adult child. Your role has changed and it's going to be an adjustment phase.
Keep your eye on the prize. The end goal of parenting your young adult children is to preserve the relationship so they will come to you when and if they really need you.
There are some particular behaviors parents often fall into which can throw you off the coure of your end goal.
Sticky Behaviors to Avoid:
- talking more than listening
- meddling in their business - invading their privacy
- being overly protective
- rushing to rescue without need
- showering them with money and gifts
Let's get more specific... Here are some how-to's in avoiding particular behaviors when parenting young adult children.
- Extend invitations. Your young adult child will be more positively responsive if you invite them with no pressure, no guilt trips, no strings. The days of dictating where they go, what they do have passed.
- No more tracking. It is no longer your job to police your young adult child's every move. It's time to release the need to know where she is and what she's doing at all times. She has a right and a need to have her own private life now.
- Groove a connection. Invite your young adult child to agree on a day and time once each week you can either see each other or speak on the phone.
- Two ears one mouth. Work to become an active listener with focus on really listening rather than talking at your child. Ask him about his activities, his classes, his friends, his views on life. Ask in a way that indicates you are truly interested. Be cautious though to avoid sounding like an inquisition. Refrain from telling them too much about yourself and your views It's normal for young adults to be focused on themselves as they are growing into adulthood. Your role is to love and support.
- Let go of the lecture. Ask permission to share your experience and ideas. If you see her aimed at a path that you know is not in her best interest, ask if she is willing to hear some words of wisdom from her old mom/dad. Offer her an alternative view point. Try to avoid sounding like a know-it-all. She will shut down if you do.
- Fools rush in. When the day comes that you get an emotional call from your young adult kid, prepare to listen with compassion and refrain from rushing in to solve and rescue. If it's not a life or death matter, your role is to simply support him with using his executive functioning skills. You are a guide for him not the judge. Help him see his options and encourage him by saying, "You've got a good head on your shoulders. I know you'll get through this. What are some options for how you might deal with this situation?"
- Material things and money are not the solution. Let's face it: we all love to see our kids happy and in the short term, having extra spending money or gifts yields a happy feeling for you and your kid. Unfortunately, this will likely cause more problems down the road if this is your go-to solution. She needs to learn to budget her money. She needs to learn to value things and resources by having to work for them. Gifts will mean more if they are given less frequently after they've had the experience of toiling a bit.
- Adult Status. "You are an adult now." This sentence encourages, empowers and helps your kid to feel seen and respected as the young adult they are. This phrase should be used often. It's disarming when they seem defensive and effective for helping him to feel you are not trying to run his life. He will be more likely to listen to what you have to say knowing you acknowledge he's not a little kid anymore.
This is one of those pivotal points in mid-life. You brought this child into the world. You raised her protected her and now she's out on her own.
But she still needs you. Even if she doesn't yet realize and appreciate this.
She's on your insurance plan, your cell phone plan, and even though she thinks she knows it all, there will be times she will need your love and guidance.
In order to preserve your relationship so that your young adult child will come to you when he really needs you, avoid those sticky behaviors and just make yourself available for when she wants to connect.
Sometimes significant events cause us to stop and do it all differently. As I stand here in mid-life in the wake of observing the reality that my parents are aging, I choose to steep in the wisdom life has handed me rather than the vain, tail-chasing pursuit of any level of perfection.
There is something about seeing our aging parents and recognizing this is yet another hallmark of midlife.
I received a text from my sister last Thursday afternoon:
"Mom has fallen in the kitchen and hurt her left leg/hip. Ambulance is transporting her now. Will keep you posted."
We found out later that evening she had broken her left femur and had to have emergency surgery that night.
I traveled to the hospital and a few days later to their home in Alabama to do what I could to help. My mom is not one to complain for the sake of complaining and she is quite tenacious. She had muscle spasms through the night and needed help getting to the bathroom. I got up with her several times and was happy to be there to help her.
We got her into a recliner in the den during the day and her feet were cold so I sat on the floor to put her socks on. She smiled and said, "Well now isn't this an interesting turn. How many times in your life did I put your socks on for you?"
I get choked up even as I write that. It is a turn. All the years when I was a little girl she helped me get my socks and shoes on. It is yet another pivot-point I stand on here at age 48.
I look in one direction and see my baby boys now ages 21 and 18 and my precious little girl now taller than I and so mature at age 15. I look in the other direction and see my mother who will never be able to power-walk with me again and my father who is hobbling around more than ever, seeming more like an old man than the jubilant daddy I recall.
So, what do we do now? Here are some advising conclusions I have come to...
- Accept that indeed we are all living and we are all dying. Both living and dying are a process. Which will you choose to focus on? the living or the dying? I choose to focus on the living and make the very most of every day.
- Release the striving for perfection and reap the wisdom Life hands us at every turn. Spend your energy steeping in what you know, what you have learned rather than trying to reach some pinnacle of ultimate accomplishment
- Schedule time to call, write and go visit your parents while they are still here on Earth regularly.
- When you do spend time with your parents, let the time be focused on them unless they want to hear about you and your kids, etc. Reminisce with them. Remember out loud the good times. Ask them to tell you about their favorite memories. Ask them what you can do for them while you are there. Actively love them no matter how strained your relationship may have been in the past.
- Don't give up your own life to care for your parents. Share the duty with siblings, neighbors, friends, home health care. I have worked with clients who go from their whole life being about raising kids to caring for aging parents. There has to be a balance. Do your part for certain, but make sure you have a life of your own that you are living.
- If you don't have a will, living will and/or trust set up, now is the time. Wake up call. There IS an expiration date on each and every body and we are all going to be graduating from the physical body so get your legal stuff in order. While you're at it, be sure to talk to your parents about all this stuff. It may be difficult but it's important to get such business clear so you can all rest easy.
- Catch up on your I LOVE YOU's. Contact other family members and friends and tell them how much they mean to you.
- Stop fretting about those extra pounds you're carrying or those laugh lines or crepey skin. Life is now. Yes we are in mid-life. Sure there are a lot of natural skin care products, teas and practices to slow the aging process and feel more alive body, mind and spirit... but it's healthy to accept that you are aging and it's time to focus on the joy of every day instead of dreading what is to come.
It's difficult to see your parents aging. But it's a phase of our lives we can accept and work with gracefully. For me, seeing my parents through this difficult experience caused me to pause and let go of some things while embracing life as it is right now. I choose to focus on the LIVING rather than the DYING.
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