SEEING RAINBOWS

April 2021

 

A bit over a month ago, my husband David had surgery to remove a cataract from his right eye. After the procedure, he came home and said he was seeing things in technicolor. He wasn’t high from pain meds (my brave guy was wide awake for the procedure). What he was seeing was vivid color for the first time in years. The surgery literally replaced the cloudy lens that turned his vibrant world into shades of grey and left him with a completely new view. Within hours post-procedure, I saw him marvel at the colors of the trees and remark with amazement that the house across the street was tan rather than grey. For the next couple of days, he looked through his right eye while blocking the left and vice-versa, marveling at the difference between the two views. I listened with wonder as he described everything that appeared so much brighter and more saturated than anything he remembered.

It was as though he was seeing the world for the first time.

* * *

A couple of weeks after his surgery, we found ourselves back in New York City, our second home and a place we sorely missed during our shelter-in-place year. New York is still playing it safe: the streets are emptier than usual, restaurants are different, and many stores are still closed. But there is a buzz that is inherent in a big city. It felt particularly alive as the colors of spring coincided with an increasingly vaccinated population who were, like David, seeing the world with fresh eyes.

What’s more, most of the people we encountered felt metamorphosed, coming out of their cocoons, stretching their wings, and greeting their familiar world not only with a big, post-vaccination exhale but with a reminder of the joy that freedom brings and the warmth that can come from being near other human beings. We noted how strangers who would have walked by each other on the streets actually nodded or winked behind their masks. Servers were happier, cashiers chattier, and pedestrians more aware of making room for others walking nearby. It was as though they were seeing each other in a new way.

This visit completely reminded me of what it felt like as New York City reopened after the terrors of 9/11. When the dust cleared, and we were told it was safe to return to our work and our homes, New Yorkers realized how much they had taken for granted before the terrorist threats, and we treated each other with an enhanced level of reverence, kindness, and sensitivity. I remember strangers letting working mothers join them at the front of the line that wrapped around the Christopher Street Path Station so that they could get home in time to tuck their kids in bed. I remember tourists being escorted to the building they were seeking, rather than becoming prey to pick-pockets or con-artists. I remember the grace on the subway trains when riders actually noticed each other and made room on the seats for the elderly or sick or those who just looked like they needed a rest.

It is now two weeks after our trip, and we are back in the Bay. A few days ago, David had a cataract removed from his other eye. Yes – there were still the technicolor rainbows as the light streamed in, but after a few days, his eyes had adjusted to their own normal. I asked him whether the world looked different, and he said he actually couldn’t remember what they looked like just a month or so before when his entire world was lost behind a cloud of grey.

Will we quickly forget the grey as we step out into a new normal?

* * *

We forget the things we missed once we have them again. We forget the new priorities we set for ourselves without the incentive of longing. We don’t waste time on introspection when we are running again at full pace.

I worry that we will forget all that this isolation has taught us when we head into post-COVID life. In a relatively short time, we will be back in offices, bars, and stadiums. We will hug our loved ones and fly to see them, and take vacations as we have always done. But, how quickly will we forget the simple joy of outdoor walks or dinners with friends? How many days until we stop checking in on neighbors or lovingly calling family members that we haven’t seen for a while. Will we dial back on the FaceTime chats, the Zoom connections, and the bonding with those in our own homes? Will we stop appreciating all of the workers, providers, and service people who got us through?

This year and a half of isolation will fade in memory as David’s recollection of his pre-surgery eyesight has already done.

Does it have to?

* * *

This moment of returning can also be a moment of reckoning; a moment to make amends for the behaviors we fall into when we aren’t forced to re-frame.

There is no reason that a return to normal can’t include incorporating some of the simple acts that helped us all feel connected and seen even now that we can begin to see each other in person. This is an opportunity to make a permanent commitment to remember what it felt like to have the limitations and clouded lenses and to hold onto the skills we built that allowed us to substitute vivid color of being out in the world for the vivid feelings of interconnectedness and interdependence when we were distanced.

Let’s make a pact never to forget.

  • Never forget that we found new ways to connect and to keep those bonds strong
  • Never forget that we saw the value in small acts of kindness, and to keep up with those small acts long after the obvious need has passed
  • Never forget that when our own worlds are bright again, there are still so many people who are locked in isolation that we can now relate to and that we can see them with compassion and empathy

* * *

How will you keep this moment alive?

Share it Small:  Make a pact with a friend to remind each other of the things you are happiest to return to, as well as to hold on to the experiences that you don’t want to forget. Return to that pact every now and then to see how you are doing and work together to recommit to treasuring freedom without forgetting the lessons learned in isolation.

Share it Big:  Live life out loud. By being open about your gratitude and channeling it into the work you do, the relationships you have, and all of the people you choose to meet with love, you will be the change you wish to see.

Share it with Me: We all learn from each other. If you have had a revelation, a breakthrough, an insight, or a triumph, we can learn from you so please tell me about it here! I’m collecting stories of these cascades of good for ongoing community building and to track The Parlay Effect in action. I would love nothing better than to hear how you lifted, were lifted, or observed something in others that made you feel good and recognize your own power.

STRONG WOMAN TO STRONG WOMAN

March 2021

 

I’ve had many “mom talks” over the years, exchanging ideas with friends and family and trying to figure out how to do it well. Recently, in preparation for an upcoming Bring a Friend podcast, Tina Knowles Lawson and I had a chat about raising strong daughters. It was phenomenal to share experiences with someone at her level of prominence, and I felt reassured to know that some of the moments I’ve faced were also true for a woman I so highly admire. The conversation about motherhood continued with Jessica Oliveira-Haddad, another inspirational guest who was just beginning to think about how she would best raise her soon-to-be-born child. Vicky Tsai, Founder of the Tatcha skincare brand gave birth to her daughter on the same day she launched her company.

These conversations were grounding for each of us because they made us feel a little less alone as we navigate the fine line between being strong women ourselves and raising daughters who are equally strong. We also noted how impossible it is to anticipate how we will feel in each phase of motherhood, and universally agreed that you can’t really know how you’ll feel until you’re deep in it.

While many people talk about parenting challenges, these conversations felt especially intimate because we dove deep into the “mother-daughter dynamic” and noted that it’s rare for “strong mothers” to anticipate the complexity of raising strong daughters, and how our relationships evolve as we move through life. There are inherent dances, adjustments, and hurt feelings.

There are shifts of female power, breaking of hierarchies and the birth of new ones.

* * *

In the first few years of motherhood, learning to be a mom means a shift away from prioritization of self and practicing how to put your children’s needs first. That’s not to say (in the words of Cleo Wade) that we choose motherhood OVER personhood. But motherhood necessitates mastering basic nurturing and it quickly evolves to finding a balance between caring for their falls, encouraging them to get up and try again, and making sure you have enough fuel in your own tank to keep everyone going. In these early days, mothers (and fathers) are inherently the givers, the teachers and the foundation, with our own needs becoming secondary out of necessity. While overwhelming at first, that “sacrifice of self” becomes a core part of our definition and the process of “giving without thought of return” is an important muscle to build.

As our daughters grow, the focus shifts from nurturing them to empowering them: making sure that they feel the freedom to safely try, experiment and fail without the judgment of societal norms and expectations and without the fear of disappointing us with something that isn’t perfect. At that adolescent stage, the role of parenting still revolves around them, but transitions from teaching to listening and from protecting to encouraging. We gain strength from beginning to let go: holding the proverbial door open as they push away and lovingly welcoming them back when they need a safe haven. We have to be strong in order to let them try things themselves instead of doing things for them, and they become strong by being given the power to make age-appropriate (and sometimes age-inappropriate) decisions for themselves.

As girls grow into women and live with other strong females, the “power” in the house is not always collaborative. This is where the comparisons between women often emerge. Mothers walk a precarious line between modeling strength while not being so strong that we overpower them. We try to show that we can be moms, wives, daughters, employees, leaders and volunteers without setting unattainable Superwoman standards of achievement. We allow ourselves to be increasingly transparent and vulnerable, yet not so vulnerable that our role as “household stabilizer” is suspect.

In essence, as they come into adulthood, we try to artfully tame our reach so we don’t block out their light.

Simultaneously, our daughters flex their own muscles, and create self-definitions not just based on their unique interests and skills, but also based on qualities that other women in their female circles do not have. Each woman, whether sister or friend, carves out space for individuality, freedom and differentiation from the other. In these pivotal coming-of-age years, growing into strong women is often a study in how to stand out and be unique, including how to carve out an authentic and unique space — including a space that is different from our mothers.

For those of us who have tried to be our very best selves, our daughters’ autonomy can feel like a painful rejection after a lifetime of care. It’s a new and necessary evolutionary relationship phase for them, and another growth-moment for us as well. Instead of moms being brave while we let our daughters grow, they begin to assert their strength by letting us go.

They are not “letting us go” from their lives, of course.

But they are appropriately creating their own cadence, priorities, families and boundaries. By necessity, we are no longer central. Instead of asking for direction, they tell us about decisions. Instead of asking for help, they tell us not to provide input. They are now strong and independent, just as we had wanted them to be. But is it what we had wanted for ourselves?

This is maybe the hardest phase yet for us moms. At least it’s the hardest phase for me thus far. To have successfully raised independent and capable daughters, we should be flying high. It’s what we set out to do. Yet their independence and strength mean that they don’t need us or want us to behave in the ways that we are used to, and that can feel like a rejection, a dismissal and a diminishment. Instead of being a frame for how to move through life, we become the frame for how they want to do things differently than we did.

It’s important during this time to create new chapters for ourselves as our daughters do the same. We have more time to pursue passions, to re-activate activities that had taken the back seat during the hands-on years, and to dream about our next life chapter.

* * *

Our personal growth doesn’t end when their adulthood begins: ours begins again.

The phase of mutual growth is awesome. As two generations of women, we become stronger side by side, shining light, sharing wisdom and holding space for each other. These days allow for the development of deep roots, the blossoming of our own fruit, and the spreading of seeds for generations to come.

This is where I am now. So happy to be in sync with the other strong women around me, and so glad to be finding pieces of myself that had been neglected for so long.

What will come next? Since you can’t know what the next phase feels like until you’re in it, I’m guessing… and worrying. Will it be that one day in the not too distant future, the circle of life will meet itself, and our strong daughters will become the nurturers of us? On one hand, it will be fabulous to know that the women we cared for will now care for us. On the other hand, no strong mother wants to lose her ability to care for herself or to become dependent. It will take a whole new form of strength to receive and accept care.

Mary Oliver wrote, “To live in this world, you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.”

Raising strong daughters feels like life-breathing: a cycle of holding close and letting go, of exchanging air and seeing the world through each others’ eyes. It’s through the synergy of grown women that we set the stage for future generations to hold tight to their autonomy, to keep the maternal bonds eternally connected while creating a legacy for the women who will follow us through the world. I feel blessed to be in that powerful cycle and am practicing my exhale.

* * *

What are your experiences in the cycle of life? Whatever they are, you are probably not alone.

Share it Small: Talking about the unexpected phases of motherhood and parenting is the first step in gaining support and finding people who can commiserate, connect and collaborate. When you express your concerns, feelings, hopes and challenges with the people around you, chances are you will both feel relieved and more connected.

Share it Big: Break the cycle of pretend perfection and share your challenges on a broader level. Whether it’s a discussion in the workplace about the balance of being a working parent, or on social media where the tendency is to only highlight the glowing, gushing moments, being real will set the stage for others to do the same.

Share it with Me: We all learn from each other. If you have had a revelation, a break-through, an insight, or a triumph, we can learn from you so please tell me about it here! I’m collecting stories of these cascades of good for ongoing community building and to track The Parlay Effect in action. I would love nothing better than to hear how you lifted, were lifted, or observed something in others that made you feel good and recognize your own power.

THE SCENT OF A COOKIE

February 2021

The other day, I took a bite of a homemade chocolate cookie with powdered sugar sprinkled on top. It was no ordinary cookie. In one bite I tasted not only the cookie but my childhood.

I could see myself with my mother and my grandmother, rolling chilled chocolate balls in our sticky palms, and then tossing each one lovingly in a bowl filled with powdered sugar. While baking, chocolate vapor filled the house, and through the oven glass, I could see the powdered sugar splitting into cracks as the chocolate expanded underneath. The cookies were still warm when we ate them, and the moment was warmer still.

I’m amazed when senses trigger memories.

The smell of microwaved broccoli with cheese sauce still returns me to my pregnant (nauseated) self, the sound of a crackling fire puts me right back on the beach at Useless Bay where our family spent childhood summers. The sight of a seashore pulls me to search for shells and agates as I did for years with my mom and sisters.

How will the smells, sights and sounds of this current moment show up over the years to come?

  • Will the sound of a ringing doorbell immediately cause us to salivate and expect to see the Uber Eats delivery driver?
  • Will the sight of people in masks trigger fear, or cause us to cherish the memory that masks were the reason we learned to smile with our eyes?
  • Will the smell of a t-shirt worn for the third day in a row be sweeter because we remember the time we could wear it thrice… or because we’ll never do that again?

* * *

Don’t get me wrong: I’m as ready as everyone else to move back to more normalcy. I can’t wait to be able to hug again, to invite strangers into my home and to eavesdrop on the conversations of couples sitting next to us at the crowded restaurant.

But I also know that this time is worth savoring. I’m savoring mine because this has been the moment when I gained clarity about who my dearest friends really are.

In this year of hiding, my truest friends were perpetually seeking.

I could feel them looking out for me through their texts, and I could read love between the email lines. Even when they didn’t say it out loud, I could hear affection during our phone calls. I could see that they were thinking of me through the little surprise they left at my door and in the pages of a favorite book that they forwarded to me in the mail. A couple of them even sent me love-filled, hand-written letters. They made it obvious that I was in their thoughts, and I hope I conveyed to them that they are whom I would choose to be with whenever I could.

I have learned over the years that when the going gets tough, the best, deepest, truest friendships rise to the top. I will remember this time as a moment that happened.

It will be no future surprise to look back and see that it was during this time of both isolation and love that my closest friendships were formed or cemented. In fact, two of my dearest friends and I used this moment to extend our connections into something broader — something that could spread beyond our inner circle and hopefully give others a bit of what we get from each other.

This is the moment when Bring a Friend was born.

Bring a Friend is a podcast created with the intention of sharing catalytic moments and authentic experiences to a broader circle. A way for everyone to feel the love that comes from beginning to truly know someone else’s truth, and to care.

I hope you’ll take a moment to think about who has risen to the top for you when the going got tough. Those are the memories worth savoring, connections worth treasuring and friendships that are palpable.

What a wonderful way to be reminded that when we were alone, we weren’t really alone at all.

* * *

Who rose to the top for you?

Share it Small: Has this past year given you clarity about who you’d prefer to spend your time with? Can you see where the love is coming from? If so, tell them, and make a concerted effort to continue the love-fest even when the pace of your life returns to a more familiar rhythm.

If you don’t know how to start, try using a fun prompt like one of these:

  • I love you more than hot ramen soup delivered on a rainy afternoon.
  • I’d rather chat with you than binge-watch an entire season of Schitt’s Creek.
  • You make me feel like I look good, even in yesterday’s sweatpants

Share it Big: It lifts everyone to hear about moments of caring, and feelings of being seen. In fact, as we gleaned from the research for The Parlay Effect, people hearing stories about moments of connection, generosity and kindness (all expressions of love) began replicating those behaviors themselves. How about starting your own cascade of love by living your moments out loud for others to witness and build from?

Share it with Me: We all learn from each other. If you have had a revelation, a break-through, an insight, or a triumph, we can learn from you so please tell me about it here! I’m collecting stories of these cascades of good for ongoing community building and to track The Parlay Effect in action. I would love nothing better than to hear how you lifted, were lifted, or observed something in others that made you feel good and recognize your own power.

BOILING OR LEAPING?

February 2021

Have you heard about throwing a frog into boiling water?

The story goes that the frog will immediately jump out of a boiling pot, but if you put it into cool water and slowly turn up the heat, it won’t notice and will boil to death.

That was me and my aching back.

Having had degenerative discs for over 20 years, I’m used to my back hurting. I can barely remember a day when it didn’t hurt. In fact, I have had three ablations, numerous epidurals, and daily stretching and strengthening to keep it in check.

Lately, when the proverbial heat got turned up and the pain got worse, I chalked it up to a preexisting condition, aging, and the stress of the moment.

I accepted increasing pain as something I just had to live with.

But after about six weeks of sciatic agony that reverberated down to my calves, I realized I was nearly at my own boiling point.

I had expected the MRI to show degeneration and stenosis. It did. But I hadn’t expected the MD to find a cyst filling with fluid and literally butting up against my spinal column and nerves. That explained the dramatic increase in pain.

Two days later, that cyst was drained.

When I woke up the morning after the procedure, I could have sworn I’d dropped 20 pounds or suddenly developed the ability to fly. I felt light and agile. I could breathe fully. I could walk or even jump around the room. And I did! It was a Benjamin Button moment.

But, these moments of relief are not ends in themselves. They are moments for context and new beginnings.

They mark the time for us to open doors to move forward again. They are moments to remind us about our greatest potential when we are operating at full steam.
Of course, in my rejuvenated state, I went out the next day and played better golf than I’ve played in years.

But, as you might guess, I’m not really talking about my back pain.

* * *

While watching the inauguration this week, I sensed a similar sense of relief and movement – but this time on a national level. I felt physically able to breathe again and was energized by the lessening of the pain that many of us have been feeling about our country’s internal strife and discord.

For me, the inauguration felt like a weight had been lifted and that we had regained a communal sense of pride. I sensed renewed energy, hope and potential to be reunited.

I realized that over the past few months, we had all become frogs in danger of being slowly cooked together.

These moments of context are windows to jump out of the pot and to make leaps beyond the boundaries established by yesterday’s suffering.

Yes. My back is still “disintegrating.” That hasn’t changed.

Yes. As a nation, we are still wounded, and those wounds will take some time to heal.

But the pain which felt ever-present over the past few months has been reduced a bit – just in these first few days. Many of us can now see the potential for a future that we had feared could never be reclaimed.

It feels like a moment to take great frog-leaps forward.

We’ll do it by using this renewed sense of possibility to treasure the moments of light, to take advantage of countless opportunities for connection, and to unleash the potential in each of us to change the things we care about most.

If we are all watching out for each other when moments of pain creep back in, we will know the warning signs, and be able to nurse the wounds for each other, and turn down the heat together.

We are our sister’s keeper.

In the wise words of Amanda Gorman:

There is always light,
If only we are willing to see it.
If only we are brave enough to be it.

* * *

How will you channel this new chapter?

Share it Small: Make a pledge to yourself to initiate good. Pledges and commitments keep us self-aware and checked-in. They are a perfect reminder of our personal commitment and our broad-reaching connection, and the potential of what each of us can accomplish when we focus on it.

Share it Big: Commit to making progress on a more public platform. Lead by example and tell people why you are doing it. Shut down divisiveness by giving it no place in your life. Help heal old wounds by taking responsibility for your piece. Speak up for people you don’t totally agree with and find common ground. Each step we take is one step closer to each other, and often the steps we take are replicated by those who are watching.

Share it with Me: We all learn from each other. If you have had a revelation, a break-through, an insight, or a triumph, we can learn from you so please tell me about it here! I’m collecting stories of these cascades of good for ongoing community building and to track The Parlay Effect in action. I would love nothing better than to hear how you lifted, were lifted, or observed something in others that made you feel good and recognize your own power.

LIAR, LIAR. PANTS ON FIRE

January 2021

My sisters and I often talk about our childhood and how certain experiences shaped us to be who we are.

But when I recall the moments that were pivotal for me and how they influenced my view of myself or my world, Rachel and Suzy often don’t know what I’m talking about. They remember events very differently or maybe don’t remember them at all. That’s because they were my moments, not theirs.

Lately, these conversations have led me to wonder about how each of us will recall the past year. Not just how my sisters and I will remember it, but how we will remember it as a society.

Like most people, I crave clarity, agreement and a shared view of events. I’d love for us to have memories that allow us to connect through common experiences and allow us to plan for the next time we face monumental challenges.

But I’m worried we won’t find common ground because our memories and truths are shaped by many variables and are made even more complex because we subconsciously write and rewrite those experiences over time.

* * *

Scientists say that our brains update memories to make them more relevant and useful for us, even if the re-written story is not a true representation of the past. In fact, we rewrite our memories so many times that things that we would recall with complete clarity and conviction may never have never happened… or at least not in the way we remember.

We are not liars.

In fact, the subconscious re-writing of memories is a way we maintain our mental health. We do it by “imagery rescripting” or editing negative memories to create more meaningful or happy ones. Imagery rescripting helps us feel more in control and less despairing.

As long as our own recollections aren’t imposed on the healing memories that serve other people, why not use these natural coping mechanisms to self-soothe and move forward?

The key question though, is whether we really can self-soothe while also coming back together with others who don’t see the world as we do. We’re so fragmented right now.

My daughter Ciara is a therapist. She says that in her world there is a practice called, “Both, And”

“Both, And” is a way to validate your truth, someone else’s truth, and to agree that there is more. 

* * *

No one’s narrative and recollection of a story is necessarily truer than another, and the more we search for right and wrong, the less connected we become.

It’s the “AND” that keeps us together. 

In fact, we grow not because we share the same story, the same perspective, or the same goals, but because there IS more yet to come, and together we can create and find those connected experiences.

My aspiration for 2021, therefore, is for more ANDs. More mutual acceptance and more opportunity to craft experiences that we can share. More times that we chose to allow for our own truth and to allow for others’ truths too.

And, in the words of Mary Oliver:

Someone I loved
Once gave me
A box full of
Darkness

It took me years
To understand
That this, too,
Was a gift.

* * *

Do you have some experiences where finding an “and” was meaningful for you?

Share it Small: Tell someone who allowed space for your truth that the acceptance mattered. It sounds like a small thing but the positive feedback will encourage both of you to find more “ANDs” moving forward.

Share it Big: Help start an “AND movement” by being open and vocal about accepting others’ experiences and views as valid, even if you disagree. It’ll open up conversations AND so much more.

Share it with Me: We all learn from each other. If you have had a revelation, a break-through, an insight, or a triumph, we can learn from you so please tell me about it here! I’m collecting stories of these cascades of good for ongoing community building and to track The Parlay Effect in action. I would love nothing better than to hear how you lifted, were lifted, or observed something in others that made you feel good and recognize your own power.

REMEMBERING TO EXHALE

December 2020

I have a Sunday morning ritual of taking a virtual stretch class. It’s not my most physically taxing workout, but when I take time to stretch the muscles that I build during the rest of the week it seems to make the hard days easier.

This past Sunday was no different, except that very early into the class, the instructor said that we were going to ‘integrate controlled breathing” into our practice.

I had just woken up from yet another sleepless night. I was feeling stressed out of my mind, sick of the constraints around me and on the verge of tears. And she was talking to me about… breathing?

I practically hyperventilated then and there. My breath seems to have become so shallow lately. Like a physical and emotional gasp for air.

* * *

A few minutes later, she asked us to take in a long breath through the nose, pause for four seconds, exhale for four seconds (again through the nose) and pause again. All of this while doing squats at a rotated angle from my perch on a foam roller.

Throughout the next hour, she had us integrate breathing into the physical work we were doing. And do you know what?

I realized that the focus on breathing was doing more for me than the physical portion of the class. How did she know that I had been spending months holding my breath?

As I inhaled slowly and exhaled fully, I was discovering the power of the pause. The simplicity of silence. The leverage that comes from letting go.

* * *

Since then, I’ve been thinking about other ways to extend that breathing – the self-awareness of burdens and anxieties I’ve internalized in other aspects of my life, and letting them go too.

Obviously, I’ve got to think about breathing more often. Because taking more conscious breaths for myself will also make me stronger in the things I do for others.

Specifically, I want to regain strength for the things I like most: appreciating, supporting, connecting and lifting other people. I feel like I have been falling short on doing those things lately, probably because I was short on oxygen myself.

So, let me start breathing again by saying this. If I haven’t been there for you in my usual way, I’m sorry.

It took me a while, but now I understand that before I can be there for you, I need to be there for me. I used to think that was selfish, and now I understand that self-care is crucial to building inner strength.

* * *

As we head into a new year, with a vaccine on the horizon and a rekindling of hope for the world, I’m making a resolution. I’m going to do a better job at self care. For me, it will start with breathing.

In Japan, people practice Shirin-yoku – the art of “forest-bathing” or immersing one’s self in nature in order to breathe and find their center. In Norway, they seek Friluftsliv, or “free air life” – another version of relaxing in nature. And in Turkey, there is a practice of Keyif, which doesn’t focus on the outdoors, but emphasizes quiet relaxation and living in the moment. While I can’t travel the globe to try those techniques directly, I’m going to go there in my mind.

I also know that there are so many ways to breathe starting at home. I’ve been living in Hawaii for the bulk of the past 9 months, and here, they practice Ho’oponopono.

Ho’oponopono is a Hawaiian healing technique that literally means “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.” It’s about the idea of being doubly right. Being right with yourself and being right with others.

Ho’oponopono feels like the perfect way to enter into a new year, beginning with self-care and self-forgiveness. I have no doubt it will blossom into opportunities to become more external in our focus and to reclaim opportunities to see, feel and lift each other.

Let’s start now.

Before you forward this email to someone else who might need to breathe, take a minute for yourself.

Inhale deeply.

Exhale fully.

Inhale again, even more slowly.

Exhale again, loudly and completely.

It’s time to begin again.

* * *

Share it Small: My guess is that most of us have been forgetting to breathe or feeling too tired to care for ourselves at the level we need. Let’s change that. Take five minutes to breathe at least three times a day. Inhale the thoughts of what you’d like more of in your life. Exhale and release the “shoulds” and “didn’ts” and “musts” that make you feel bad.

Share it Big: Are there other people you care about who may be struggling to breathe too? Please forward this email to them and maybe even offer to breathe with them via phone or with synchronized watches. It’ll be a great way to practice self-care with a friend.

Share it with Me: We all learn from each other. If you have had a revelation, a break-through, an insight, or a triumph, we can learn from you so please tell me about it here! I’m collecting stories of these cascades of good for ongoing community building and to track The Parlay Effect in action. I would love nothing better than to hear how you lifted, were lifted, or observed something in others that made you feel good and recognize your own power.

LAUGHING OR CRYING OUT LOUD

November 2020

I’ve been avoiding the things that scare me. 

Living on Kauai for the majority of the coronavirus epidemic, I’ve been in an isolated safe place with barely a sign of disease. I’ve steered clear of most of the media hype, and aside from activist initiatives, voting and supporting causes I believe in, I’ve not been sucked into the spinning media vortex. I haven’t felt “safe” but I’ve certainly felt safer, and know how lucky I am to be in that position.

But the other night, as the full blue moon was soon to rise on Halloween eve in the throws of Mercury Retrograde, I couldn’t hide from a new series of events that caused me to freak out.

On my afternoon beach walk, I ran smack into a glassy-eyed hippie holding a hand-made fishing pole with a large squirming eeldangling on the line. He had pulled it out of the waters where I often swim. The eel’s mouth opened and shut like one of Ursula the Sea Witch’s henchmen as the creature writhed. I quickly reversed course and fled back home, questioning whether I’d even have the courage to swim again.

That evening, with the sky eerily lit by the full moon over the Pacific, I left family movie night in the living room to use the bathroom. Sitting with my bathing suit around my ankles, a large roof ratlept from behind the garbage can and ran across my feet to the other side of the little bathroom. I shut the toilet, jumped on top, and like one of the scenes from a ‘50’s movie, screamed for help. No one heard me because they all had Jurassic Park blasting on the TV. Finally, I hopped off the can, shot out of the bathroom and slammed the door behind me, My heart pounded in my chest. 

David promised to get up first thing and put a trap in the bathroom. After 20 minutes of tossing and turning in bed, I drifted off to sleep.

I woke to find that someone had accidentally opened the door to the bathroom and the rat was gone –obviously somewhere else in the house. I had no choice but to grab the vacuum, clean up the droppings, and hope that the rodent had found its way back outside. But before I got to the poop, I first had to suck up one of the large and gushy stinging centipedes that inhabit the island (and sometimes our home). Those things are creepy too. 

I eased the vacuum into the bathroom, making sure I cleaned everything in view. Just as the vacuum head hit the corner area by the garbage can, the rat leapt out of the trash and ran straight at me again. I barely had time to step back and slam the door again.

I needed to calm the fuck down.

So I went downstairs to log into a pilates class with my dear friend Elizabeth Larkam. She has a calm voice and a wry sense of humor. I knew she would help me recover my center. But the minute I stepped into the room to unfurl my mat, a huge palm-sized spider was waiting on the floor between me and my session. I had no choice but to use my trusty yoga block to usher that furry six-legged visitor to another life.

Hopefully you are laughing along with me here. I don’t usually get bothered by things like this.   

*  *  * 

Most of us are on edge in some way. 

Despite the fact that we wear masks and distance and sanitize, there is so much that is unexpected and that we haven’t faced before, and so many eye-opening realities that we have been avoiding for so long. 

My usual coping mechanism is to put things in perspective. To compartmentalize. But the stress is so overwhelming that I’m not doing too well. Long-term optimism (“this too shall pass”) feels like an elusive hope with the virus spiking, social dilemmas that remain unresolved, and the prospect of an unresolved election. 

So as we ease into this very non-traditional version of Thanksgiving, I’m reframing my avoidance into gratitude:

My parents were here visiting me and despite being well into their 80’s, they are still sharp, curious and active. Our kids are not only safe, but making smart decisions, thriving as adults, and lovingly checking in with us. I have dear friends who I can’t visit in person, but who are a Zoom-call, a phone call or a text away. Their voices and messages get me through. I share Parlay House not only with the best business partner I could imagine, but with 7,000 connected women who lift each other and share their full selves. I have a partner who loves me so much that he’ll get up early and successfully trap my rat.

So as you enter into this next season, where so much will change and so much will remain the same, I suggest that when you feel the need for grounding, that the people you love and the families you have make you feel a little less afraid. Because even in this swirling, turbulent time, we are in it together and stronger when we can share (and laugh through) this crazy moment in our shared history.

Now about that wasp in our living room… 

*  *  * 

Do you have secrets for finding joy or humor in the chaos?

Share it Small: Pass along your recipe for laughter to someone who needs it most. I found that telling my friends about my Halloween filled with nature’s “monsters” made us both laugh. That was good medicine. Also, come up with a self-care plan because sometimes laughing isn’t enough.

Share it Big: Did you have a funny disaster? Post it. Shout it. Put it on a t-shirt. Find a way to let strangers know that crazy stuff is happening for you too, and that you’re laughing through it even when your heart is pounding. Elaine Jones, one of my dear friends and role models says, “We have too much privilege to feel discouraged.” So I’m going to laugh my way through it and take action when I can.

Share it with Me: We all learn from each other. If you have had a revelation, a break-through, an insight, or a triumph, we can learn from you so please tell me about it here! I’m collecting stories of these cascades of good for ongoing community building and to track The Parlay Effect in action. I would love nothing better than to hear how you lifted, were lifted, or observed something in others that made you feel good and recognize your own power. 

 

INSPIRATION VS ICON

October 2020

I’m going to say something that might rustle your feathers. 

We’ve got to be careful about the pedestal we’re placing under Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

I know that sounds sacrilegious but let me tell you what I mean.

I admire RBG. She was a true agent of change, an advocate for women’s rights, and a real fighter who helped move women a step closer towards the equality we deserve. There’s no denying those amazing accomplishments and I’d be the first to agree that women across the nation have all benefited from her activism and action. 

But I worry about elevating people we admire from human to divine. For many of us who can make human-scale change, our efforts will likely feel small and potentially irrelevant when compared with someone who holds a near-godly stature. 

*  *  * 

Hero-worship can motivate, but it also can also cause paralyzing detachment

Remembering that Justice Ginsburg was human and thus imperfect is crucial. While she was an advocate for female equality, she only had one black clerk during her entire tenure on the Supreme Court. I call this out, not to disparage the crucial work she did, but because understanding her humanity gives all of us who are our own toughest critics permission to try to make the change we wish to see, and to know that we can make progress even if we do it imperfectly.

I’ve made the mistake of placing people on pedestals before, and when I did so, I lost my own voice in the process. I remember going to an event where Stacey Abrams was the speaker to a very small group of us. If I’d seen her as another strong woman rather than as someone I idolized, I might have been able to connect with her through a real conversation. But when I got close to her, I literally froze. My brain shut down, my heart sped up and I missed the opportunity to learn and to share my mission and advocacy. My inner voice was saying, “she is so smart, so brave, and so relentless, anything I’ll say will seem light and uninformed.” I blushed, shook her hand and fled the event.

I was so disappointed in myself, feeling like I missed a chance, and I was embarrassed that I felt I didn’t have anything meaningful to say. I’ve replayed that missed moment over and over in my head to try to figure out what I’d say if I got a second chance.  

*  *  * 

Instead of idolizing each other, let’s humanize each other.

At a recent Parlay from Away event,Kim Newton, a transformational leader took us through her process of transitioning her huge corporate career into the next chapter as an artist and entrepreneur. Kim’s strategy for figuring out the next steps in her own journey began with compiling a list of the people she admired and reaching out to them to hear their advice and wisdom. One of those people was Carla Harris, Vice Chairman at Morgan Stanley and arguably one of the most successful women in finance. 

Kim had the courage to reach out to this accomplished stranger because she viewed her not as an idol, but as someone she could learn from. And while Carla didn’t know Kim, she responded immediately to Kim’s email inquiry, and the 30 minutes they spent together had a profound impact on Kim’s future trajectory. That discussion would never have happened if Kim had placed Carla on an untouchable pedestal that blocked their ability to relate on a human level. 

*  *  * 

From “What can I get from you?” to “What can I learn from you?”.

When I replay that Stacey Abrams moment in my head, I’ve decided that if I feel I have nothing meaningful to say, I’m going to follow Kim’s advice and use that moment as a time to learn. Asking a question is another way to begin a dialogue between humans, and the truth is that we can all learn from each other. Since we each have things to teach and each have things to learn, it doesn’t matter who starts by speaking and who starts by listening as long as we exchange with each other on a human level.

When I look back on the incredible legacy of RBG, I honor her. Not as an icon, but as a fellow traveler whose path blazed the way for many of us to follow, and whose example opened the possibility that each of us has the ability to leave our own gorgeous footprints for the next generation. 

*  *  * 

Have you learned from someone unexpected?

Share it Small: If you benefited directly or indirectly from someone else’s wisdom, regardless of their “status,” drop them a note and let them know! If there is someone you admire greatly, instead of placing them on a pedestal, drop them a note. Who knows what kind of human-scale exchange may get sparked? 

Share it Big: Let’s start a movement to reduce the emphasis on fame and our expectations of perfection. It’s when seeing each other in our humanity that we can truly break down barriers. How about taking a few minutes each day to be open to those around you about your aspirations (they may be able to give you a boost) and your imperfections (it’ll make you much more approachable and give others a way to relate to your humanity).  Start to write down or journal a list of people you admire so you can remember to find a way to connect to them and share your perspective.

Share it with Me: We all learn from each other. If you have had a revelation, a break-through, an insight, or a triumph, we can learn from you so please tell me about it here! I’m collecting stories of these cascades of good for ongoing community building and to track The Parlay Effectin action. I would love nothing better than to hear how you lifted, were lifted, or observed something in others that made you feel good and recognize your own power.

TEARING OFF MY REAR VIEW MIRROR

September 2020

Hindsight is 2020.

What does that mean to you? 

I never thought I’d be saying, it means, “I’m sick and tired of 2020 and want it to just go away. I want to put it in my hindsight. Behind me. In the past. Finito.” Like Jo Dee Messina’s lyrics: 

Bye Bye love
I’ll catch you later
Got a left foot down on my accelerator
And the rear view mirror torn off
ain’t never lookin’ back 
and that’s a fact

Is there anyone who doesn’t want to shut the door on this year and move to something better? Between deadly viruses, continued violence against People of Color, unrelenting fires, hurricanes, economic hardship, forced isolation and the end of the life we knew it, there’s a lot to move past.

There is also a lot to move toward. In fact, when we let the past define us and the present confine us, the obstacles blind us. 

I want to see my way into a better place.

In the “perfect clarity” gleaned from my 2020 experience thus far, I’m using the rest of this year as motivation to move. My move isn’t physical – it’s mental.  

*  *  * 

I’m shifting my focus from hindsight to foresight, and I’m doing it by gaining clarity on three things:  vision, values and volition. 

  • Vision will help me be really specific about what I want my future to look like 
  • Values will be the measuring stick for my choices and a reminder of my priorities 
  • Volition will be my ability to make it happen 

*  *  * 

This focus on foresight has worked for me before.

In the financial crisis of 2008-2010, I found myself being ousted from my last CEO job, battling a health crisis and facing an empty nest. While I could have wallowed in what was done to me and what I lost, I decided to move past my personal year from hell and to visualize the best possible new reality. 

The first thing I did was to think about what I did well and what fired me up. Entrepreneurial leadership was something I couldn’t get enough of. Creativity and fashion were signatures for me, and an important part of my self-expression. And philanthropy, beginning with my efforts to help support a school in Uganda*, had more recently captured my heart. The idea of being part of a movement to make lives better for others became soul-sustaining. 

In 2010, what potential new career opportunity contained all of those elements for me? 

Tom’s Shoes. 

Tom’s was one of the first sustainable fashion brands that had philanthropy as a core part of its business model. It was growing like gangbusters, fashion-forward and provided a win-win outcome for buyers and for recipients of its shoe donations. Wearing Tom’s shoes was a statement about the wearer’s commitment to giving back.

I told everyone I knew that I wanted to be the “Chief Shoe Giver of Tom’s Shoes.” It was my way of putting a new stake in the ground, declaring my intentions and asking for help. 

When you say something out loud and say it often enough, people tend to think of you when that thing (or something like that thing) comes along.

Still, I was shocked when my dear friend Thomas Tighe (who runs Relief International) called me to say, “Anne, you won’t believe the job listing that came across my desk this morning.” 

Sure enough, Blake Mycoskie, the Founder of Tom’s Shoes, was looking for someone to help him run his company. 

*  *  *  

Wouldn’t it be perfect if I said I got that job and started my next life chapter? 

Yes, it would, but that’s not what happened. 

What DID happen is that while I was telling everyone about the perfect job for me and hoping to get leads, I had developed such a strong vision, such clarity on my values and such volition to make a difference that I had already started finding another outlet for my entrepreneurship, creativity and service. Before I learned about the job opportunity at Tom’s, I had given birth to Parlay House. Glinda would have said, “The power was always within you, my dear.”

What turned out to be “perfect” for me was not that specific job, but gaining the clarity and conviction to bring something new to life that benefitted me as well as my community.

As you close the door on 2020, where will you be moving?

I see these next three months as a perfect time to put firm stakes in the ground about our individual and collective vision, values and volition. 

Visualizing a better personal future may help shift the balance to contain more of the initiatives that resonate and feel fulfilling. It might also give us clarity about what we can let go of and leave in the hindsight of 2020.

I hope you’re with me in ripping off those rearview mirrors, leaving 2020 in the dust and moving on to opportunities we have only begun to envision.

*  *  * 

What are your 2020 Headlines? 

Share it Small: As you gain clarity, write your own headlines rather than relying on the old news.  “Woman Single-Handedly Gets 10 Friends to Vote” and “You’re Never Too Old To Start Something New” are ways to validate your thinking and remind you that these positive small steps are actually big news. 

Share it Big: Tell five people you don’t know well what your headlines are. Share them publicly as a way of saying, “Help me and hold me accountable.” I can’t think of much that is more empowering than talking about how we are putting stakes in the ground and helping shape both our individual and collaborative destiny.

Share it with Me: We all learn from each other. If you have had a revelation, a break-through, an insight, or a triumph, we can learn from you so please tell me about it here! I’m collecting stories of these cascades of good for ongoing community building and to track The Parlay Effect in action. I would love nothing better than to hear how you lifted, were lifted, or observed something in others that made you feel good and recognize your own power.

*I continue to be in awe of the work being done by the iHUG Foundation. 

DIRTY DISHES

August 2020

 

Oh. My. God. Will you stop leaving your dirty dishes in the sink when the dishwasher is right there? Or if the dishwasher is clean, how about unloading it?

Sound familiar?

I feel like I’m negotiating more than ever before. Living in shared households and confined spaces creates real stress on all of us. 

According to our recent Parlay House speaker, Wharton Professor Mori Taheripour, successful negotiations can be maximized when we shift from an aggression mindset to conversations that include empathy, curiosity and human connection. When we see each other as allies and venture to understand each other’s needs, it often results in win-win outcomes.

She asked each of us to consider our own personal non-negotiables and to understand what our partner/business associate/kids’ non-negotiables might be as well. It’s likely that when we understand what will make each of us the happiest, we’ll realize that we aren’t really fighting over the same piece at all… and we all can get more of what we want. 

*  *  * 

What do dirty dishes really mean?

For me, the compromises are easiest when I have clarity about my emotions. With blood running hot these days, I might react to something small because I haven’t acknowledged that underlying my reaction is something that has deeper meaning to me. 

In my exclamations above, I’m not really upset about coffee cups, bar-ware or the salad bowl. I’m actually reacting to a life-long feeling that my needs, my time and my privacy often feel secondary to those I love. 

I understand that many of my feelings are part of a self-fulfilling prophecy triggered by me: I tend to show love through acts of service to others. Through nurturing. I like loving and giving and doing, so a lot of my choices put others first. Then, when I’m not thought of, I feel resentful and hurt.

When I react about the dishes, I’m really asking whether the dishes in the sink means you are not thinking about me. 

Dishes mean dishes, not love.

For my dish-leavers, I know there is no offense intended! Their heads are probably in a different place or their eyes don’t hone in on dishes in the sink like they have some deep meaning. 

But I’ll bet that when I tell them dishes are a sign I’m not being thought of, the people in my life are likely to make that sink shine. They want to make me feel loved in the same way I show my love to them, and they’ll see what dishes mean to me. 

*  *  * 

The onus is on me to make sense of my big reaction to a small thing.

I’m also hoping that opening up about my feelings and needs will open space for them to tell me what THEY need too. Because they are probably wrestling with things that seem small but feel big in the same way I am.

The more I know about their “big small things,” the more I can shape my behavior to make them feel seen as well as loved. We’ll need to negotiate less and can move forward with real needs being met for us both.

Small changes that begin from within (self-awareness) and are then expressed in loving ways that are about needs rather than criticism will increase the likelihood of win-win outcomes for us all. 

*  *  * 

How will you Parlay personal needs into mutual wins?

Share it Small: Take your time with this one. Unless your reaction to my insights is, “OMG, yes, it’s not about the dishes!” think about the things that are really bugging you and what that might really be about. If it’s really about the dishes, tell your peeps that doing a few dishes is a small thing for them but a big thing for you. If the underlying stimulus for the dish drama is about something bigger (as mine was), get clarity about that for yourself and then find gentle ways to let others into those feelings. Chances are, when they know about you, they’ll feel more connected and find ways to support you.

Share it Big: As I finished the first draft of this a couple of days ago, my good friend Carla Vernon happened to post something about her own frustrations with her dish-filled sink on social media. It was not a glamour post — it was a tongue-in-cheek expression of how, in the days of SIP, the little things are getting to her. Her post made me feel less alone (and it made me smile about our shared experience).

What can you share with others that sounds “small” but feels big? Chances are, by talking about your imperfections, frustrations and challenges, you’ll make people in your world feel a little less alone. And that will go a long way into reducing negotiations and increasing understanding for all.

Share it with Me: We all learn from each other. If you have had a revelation, a break-through, an insight, or a triumph, we can learn from you so please tell me about it here! I’m collecting stories of these cascades of good for ongoing community building and to trackThe Parlay Effect in action. I would love nothing better than to hear how you lifted, were lifted, or observed something in others that made you feel good and recognize your own power.