Archive for September 2009

It’s Okay to Do It Wrong

September 28, 2009

I got an email a few months back from a woman on my ezine list who shared a great saying that she loves – “If it’s worth doing, it’s even worth doing wrong.” I laughed out loud when I got it and have been thinking about it ever since. What a great message. A little different than the idea many of us have been told, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” While I actually agree with both of these statements, being okay with doing things “wrong” is something that would make a difference in most of our lives in a profound way.

Many of us, myself included, get so obsessed with doing things “right,” or at the very least not doing anything that could be perceived as “wrong,” we organize much of what we say and do to avoid ever being “wrong.” While this makes sense and is quite normal, think of how much of our power we give away to our fear of doing something wrong or looking “bad” in the eyes of “them” (whomever “they” may be).

There are so many things I have not said or done in my life, personally and professionally, because I was worried I might do it “wrong.” Even right now in my life as I consider my next book idea, think about some new stuff I want to try in my business, and even as I interact with my wife and my girls, my fear of being or doing something “wrong” shows up all the time.

What if we were able to make peace with this and let go of our attachment to always doing things “right.” The concept of “right vs. wrong” is one that creates a great deal of stress in our lives and relationships to begin with. But, think of the freedom, peace, and power that would be available to us if we didn’t avoid being wrong so much.

We’ve all done lots of things “wrong” in our life and in the process of our mistakes and failures, we’ve learned so many important lessons and been able to gain skill, awareness, and insight necessary to take us to the next level of development.

Our baby girl, Annarose, who is now 13 months old is teaching us a wonderful lesson about this as she learns to walk. She has taken some steps, but is not quite “walking” yet. When she does take some steps and falls down, she is fine, doesn’t seem bothered by it, and simply keeps going. She clearly isn’t worried that she is doing something “wrong.” Imagine if you and I had to learn how to walk now in our lives. We’d probably make a few attempts, but after falling down and feeling embarrassed a couple of times, we’d quit, give up, and decide, “You know what, maybe I’m just not cut out for this walking thing after all.”

We’ve all had this experience in our lives, many times (in addition to learning how to walk, assuming we are fortunate enough to have that ability). Thank goodness we have some capacity to do things wrong and be okay with it. Failing doesn’t make us a failure. Making mistakes doesn’t mean we’re a mistake. If we could make peace with failure, mistakes, and outright doing and saying things “wrong,” we’d be empowered to take more risks, speak our truth, and go for what we truly want in life with a real sense of passion and joy, and a lot less fear and anxiety.

This is all much easier said than done for me and most people I know. Here are three specific things we can do to expand and enhance our capacity to do things “wrong” in a conscious and healthy way:

– Take inventory. Look in your life, your relationships, and your work right now and see where you’re holding yourself back because you’re worried about doing or saying something “wrong.” Make an honest assessment of where your fear of doing it “wrong” is getting in your way.

– Admit your real fear. What is it that you are really scared of? What are you worried that you will lose if you do or say something that might be considered “wrong?” See if you can get underneath the superficial fears and dig down into the real stuff. The more willing you are to be honest and vulnerable, the more likely you are to break free (with this and anything else in life).

– Seek out support and accountability. Reach out to some of the people in your life who you trust and are close to – ask them to support you and hold you accountable to go for it. We all need people around us to have our back and kick is the behind when necessary – with love, honesty, and kindness. Let people know where you’re stuck, what you are scared of, what your ultimate goal or intention is (in regards to one or more of these places where you’re worried about doing something “wrong”). Having this support and accountability is what we all need to push past our limits and step outside of our comfort zones.

When we’re willing to be honest about where we get stuck, express our real fears and feelings, and get the support we need from those around us – we absolutely can expand our capacity for doing things “wrong,” which in turn will give us the freedom and confidence to do, say, and go for the things that matter most to us in life! Doing this is the foundation for living a life of authenticity, appreciation, and, fulfillment.

Remember to be kind to yourself in this process, and also to ask yourself the important and inspiring question that Robert H. Schuller made famous, “What would you do if you knew you could not fail?” Go for it! And, even if you end up doing it “wrong,” it’s okay.

Where is your fear of being or doing something “wrong” holding you back in your life? Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, and more on my blog below.

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Let’s Tell the Truth about Lying

September 21, 2009

When you hear the word “lie” what comes to mind?

“Lie” is a pretty harsh word that most of us have strong reactions to.  I’ve been thinking a lot about lying recently especially since Congressman Joe Wilson yelled out “You lie” to President Obama a few weeks ago when the President was speaking to a joint session of Congress and to the nation about health care reform.

It has been fascinating to watch the reactions and commentary in the media, as well as to listen to people talk about this.  Of course, so much of the reaction to this specific situation is politically motivated and based on our political views (or if we pay much attention to politics at all), our reactions may vary quite a bit.

From a personal perspective, however, I find it interesting that so many of us seem to have such strong reactions to people lying or being accused of lying, when all of us lie ourselves.  Does President Obama lie? Of course.  Does Joe Wilson lie?  Yes.  Do all politicians lie?  Absolutely.  But so do you, so do I, so do all of us.

While most of us don’t go around in life intentionally deceiving people, falsifying information, or blatantly making up stuff that isn’t true (although sometimes we do), on a daily basis you and I often say and do things that aren’t 100% honest, we withhold information, and we aren’t real with the people around us about some pretty important things (i.e. we lie).

I had a funny example of this a few months ago when my book, Be Yourself, Everyone Else is Already Taken, first came out.  I was at a local Barnes and Noble and decided to pick up a copy of my own book and purchase it.  Yes, I know, this may seem a little self absorbed, narcissist, and odd – but I wanted to “help and cause” the first week that the book was out.  Because I was feeling a little awkward and insecure about doing this, I decided that I would just tell the person at the counter that I was, in fact, the author of this book and was buying it myself because I was excited that it had just come out.

As I got to the front of the line and put the book down on the counter, the woman looked at me and said, “Wow, we’ve been selling a lot of these today.”  That made me happy to hear and got my ego all excited.  Then she asked me a question I wasn’t expecting her to ask, “Did you see this guy on TV or something?”  I had done a few local TV interviews that week, so her question wasn’t all that strange, but for some reason it befuddled me a bit.  I responded by saying, “Um, no, well, he’s a local author; I just want to support him.”  As this came out of my mouth, I remember thinking to myself, “What was that?”  I couldn’t believe what I had just said.  And, then it hit me, “Oh my God, I wrote a book on authenticity and just lied to this woman at Barnes and Noble.”  I was so flustered by the whole thing, all I could manage to do was to pay for the book and rush out of the store.  The irony of this was too funny, albeit a little sad and embarrassing.

This is often how it happens for us.  In the heat of the moment of life, we say and do things that aren’t true to “save face,” not embarrass ourselves, or because we don’t want to upset or offend other people.  Oftentimes we justify our own lying (and don’t even call it that or relate to it that way), deciding that it is better for us and other people that we not really tell the truth.  Usually, even our most “thoughtful” justifications for not telling the truth are simply a smokescreen for the fact that we’re not willing to deal with the consequences of what we think (or worry) the other person’s reaction might be.

While I am not advocating that we say every single thing we think at every single moment we think it, there is a great deal of power and freedom available for us when we’re able to tell the truth in life, even to be able to tell the truth about the fact we sometimes lie.

It’s not as much a matter of lying being “bad” and telling the truth being “good,” it’s more an issue of impact.  When we lie or withhold from the people around us, we end up hurting them and ourselves way more than when we tell the truth – even if the truth we have to speak may be upsetting for the person to hear initially.  Most conflicts and issues in our relationships and with the people around us don’t stem from people being “brutally honest” with one another, they stem from us not being willing to tell the truth.

Lying is a part of our “shadow” and is not something many of us like to look at, deal with, or take responsibility for.  However, as we’re able to start recognizing and owning our lies, we allow ourselves to be more real, free, and open to our authentic selves and to relationships filled with truth, trust, and respect.

Here are a few things to think about and practice as it relates to lying:

  • Take inventory. Notice some of the situations and relationships in your life where you aren’t telling the truth.  Where are you withholding important information, opinions, feelings, and more?  Where are you not being straight-forward and upfront about what is true for you?  See if you can get in touch with this, without judging yourself for it.  In other words, tell the truth about where you’re lying, but do so with some empathy.
  • Understand. Ask yourself why you’re not telling the truth in these situations; not from a judgmental perspective, but from a place of vulnerability and curiosity.  What are you afraid of?  What do you think would happen if you did admit, own up to, or confess how you really felt?  Get in touch with these justifications, as well as the impact on you and the other people involved.  The more deeply you can understand your reasons and can experience the cost, the more likely you are to create positive change.
  • Address. What are you willing to do to deal with these situations and relationships?  You don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to of course.  But, if there are important places in your life where you aren’t telling the truth (which is the case for almost all of us), you are giving away some of your precious power and attention by not telling the truth.  See if you can challenge yourself to address these situations, own up to what’s been going on, and tell the truth (even if you’re scared).  This is not easy stuff, but when we’re willing to deal with things directly we’re always more empowered than when we avoid, deny, or deceive ourselves and others.

Have a lot of compassion for yourself as you look at, understand, and address this stuff – it can be dicey and uncomfortable.  And, when we’re willing to tell the whole truth, first and foremost to ourselves, and then to the people around us, we can tap into the power of the famous saying, “the truth will set you free.”

Also, remember to not take yourself or any of these situations in your life too seriously.  As Emily Sailors of the Indigo Girls reminds us in her wonderful quote, “You have to laugh at yourself, because you’d cry your eyes out if you didn’t.”  Have fun and be real – you’re not a “bad” person because you lie, you’re just human, like me and everyone else.  Being able to acknowledge our lies and do something about them can be one of the greatest ways for us to deepen our ability to be real, honest, and open in life.

Where in your life are you lying right now? What can you do to tell the truth about this and deal with it in a more honest way? Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, and more on my blog below.

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Speak Your Truth

September 15, 2009

Speaking up and speaking your truth is an essential aspect of living a life of passion, fulfillment, and authenticity. However, for many of us, myself included, it is much easier to talk about speaking our truth than it is to actually do it.

I was talking to my friend Greg a few months ago and he told me a poignant and powerful story about speaking his truth. He was in a grocery store and saw a woman yelling at her kids in a cruel way.

He walked over to the woman and said, “Excuse me, would you please treat those children with kindness and love.” She looked at him and said, “Mind your own business, these are my kids.” Greg replied by saying, “If you were doing this in your living room, it would be just your business, but you’re doing it here in front of me. I’m standing over here with my heart aching for these children as I hear you speak to them like that – so I decided to come over and say something to you about it.”

The woman then told him to stick it up his “you-know-what,” grabbed her kids, and rushed out to the parking lot to drive away. Greg then said to me, “Mike, I don’t know if I did the right thing or the wrong thing. My legs were shaking as I talked to her. I was so scared, upset, and emotional.”

“But,” Greg said, “I tell you what – when I walked away I noticed something interesting, I wasn’t blaming anyone. Normally I wouldn’t have said anything and I would’ve blamed myself for not speaking up, the woman for treating her kids like that, or our culture for creating the environment where things like that happen and no one does anything about it. However, since I spoke up I was at peace and not wasting any time or energy blaming anyone. I have no idea if what I said made an impact on that woman, but I don’t have to live with her, I have to live with myself.”

I sat there stunned when I heard Greg tell me this story. I said to him, “Wow, that was bold. I’m not sure I would’ve had the courage to say that to her, but I’m glad you did.”

What if we had the courage to speak up like that in all areas of life – our work, our relationships, our family, with people in public, and in general. Imagine the freedom and power we would possess. This is not at all about getting in people’s faces and challenging them, although sometimes it might take that form.

An important distinction for us to remember is the difference between our “opinions” and our “truth.” We all have opinions; lots of them (have you noticed). Many of us think our opinions are actually facts; they’re not! There’s nothing wrong with having and expressing our opinions. However, many of our opinions are filled with righteous judgment and an arrogant sense that we’re “right” and those who don’t agree with us are “wrong.”

Our “truth” runs much deeper than any of our opinions. Truth is about how we feel and what is real for us. Truth is not about being right, it’s about expressing what we think and feel in an authentic, vulnerable, and transparent way.

For example, I might have an opinion that you are rude. I’m entitled to this opinion and I may even have specific evidence of times you have done things that I think are rude. There may also be other people who agree with me that you’re rude. However, this opinion will probably not help our relationship, bring us closer, or have us be in honest conversations with each other.

My “truth,” however, might be that when you’re around me I get scared because I worry you might say something that will hurt my feelings. Or, I get angry because I don’t like some of the things you say and do. In other words, I sometimes don’t feel safe or comfortable around you.

This distinction is not just about semantics or words, it is total shift in perspective and context. When we let go of being “right” about our opinions and take responsibility for our expereince, we can speak our truth from a much deeper and more authentic place. Speaking this deeper truth will not only liberate us, but it has the potential to make a difference for others and bring us closer together with them.

How do we enhance and deepen our capacity to speak our truth with kindness, love, and authenticity? There are lots of things we can do to accomplish this – here are three to think about:

– Stop managing other people’s feelings. I know this one well myself, as I can be the king of trying to manage other people’s feelings. It’s arrogant, manipulative, and somewhat ridiculous to think we have the power to manage other people’s emotions. We also use it as a cop-out not to really speak our truth. We can be aware of and mindful of other people and how they might feel (so we don’t end up being mean and hurtful on purpose), but when we let go of taking care of others in a condescending way, it frees us and them up to be grown-ups and have adult conversations, which sometimes can get a little sticky or tense when we’re speaking our truth.

– Be real, not right. This is huge when it comes to speaking our truth. I wrote a whole article about this a few months ago (click here for that one). When we focus on winning or being right, we no longer can access the deepest places within our heart, which is where our real truth comes from. When we let go of our attachment to the outcome of a conversation, what the other person thinks, and our erroneous obsession with always having to be right, we give ourselves the opportunity to get real. Being vulnerable and transparent are the key elements of speaking our truth, not dominating the conversation and the person (or people) we’re talking to.

– Practice. Like anything and everything else in life – the best way for us to get better, deepen our capacity, and grow is to practice. In this case as we’re talking about speaking our truth, it’s not about “role playing” per se (although if that helps give you the courage to have a difficult conversation, go for it), it is about speaking up and stepping out into your life with your truth. Will you mess it up? Of course! Will you say the wrong things sometimes? Yes. Will people get upset, offended, or defensive at times? Absolutely. This is not about being perfect, it is about being yourself and speaking authentically.

Have empathy and compassion with yourself as you practice – this is not easy for most of us. And, even for those of us who have really worked to expand our capacity to speak our truth and have had many experiences of doing it in a powerful way, remember that each situation is always new and different. And, in certain areas of life (or with specific people), speaking up can be incredibly scary and challenging for us. Even if your legs shake, your voice quivers, or your heart races (all of which usually happen when we get real and vulnerable) – take a deep breath, dig down for the courage you have within you, and be willing to speak your truth. When we do this, we can watch our relationships and lives literally transform.

Where in your life are you not speaking your truth and what are you willing to do about that? Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, and more just below.

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The Magic and Mystery of Death

September 9, 2009

In the past week and a half, two important people in my life have suddenly passed away – my friend Kevin Carlberg (the brother of my girlfriend from college) and Gail Cohen (my dad’s first wife and my half-sister Rachel’s mom). These deaths have been shocking, sad, and painful for me. And, in the midst of my sadness I’ve once again been reminded of the mystery and magic that I often experience when someone close to me dies.

I find death so mysterious because it doesn’t make much rational sense and often seems so random and unfair. I also find it frustrating that we don’t do a very good job in our culture of talking about, dealing with, or embracing death. It’s seen by most of us as a universally “bad” thing – awful, tragic, painful, hard, and negative in most cases. While all of these things can be and often are true for us about death, especially when the person who dies is someone we love and care about and/or happens to be someone we consider “too young to die” (Kevin was just 32 years old), there is so much more to it than just this.

As I’ve also experienced this past week and a half and at many other times in my life, there can be a great deal of magic, beauty, and joy that comes from death. Due to the fact that we often avoid it, don’t want to talk about it, or would rather not deal with it (unless we are forced to do so) – we miss out on the magical and positive aspects of death and in doing so we aren’t able to live our lives as deeply and with as much freedom as we could if we embraced death more fully.

Why we avoid dealing with death

There are many reasons we avoid dealing with or even talking about death. From what I’ve seen and experienced, here are some of the main reasons:

  • It can be very painful, sad, and scary
  • We often aren’t taught or encouraged to really deal with it – just to simply follow the “rules” and rituals of our family, religion, or community in order to get through it
  • We don’t know what to say, how to react, and don’t want to upset people
  • It can be overwhelming for many of us to consider our own death, or the deaths of those close to us
  • We aren’t comfortable experiencing or expressing some of the intense emotions that show up for us around death
  • Our culture is so obsessed with youth, beauty, and production (in a superficial sense), death is seen as the ultimate “failure” – the complete absence of beauty, health, and productivity
  • It challenges us to question life, reality, and our core beliefs at the deepest level

For these and many other reasons, death is one of the biggest “taboo” subjects in our culture and remains in the “darkness” of our own lives on a personal level. Sadly, not dealing with, talking about, or facing death in a real way creates a deep level of disconnection, fear, and a lack of authenticity in our lives and relationships.

The magic of death

What if we embraced death, talked about it, or shared our thoughts, feelings, questions, concerns, and more about it with the people around us? While for some of us this may seem uncomfortable, undesirable, or even a little weird – think how liberating it would be and is when we’re willing to face death directly.

One of the highlights of my life was being in the room with my father and holding his hand when he took his last breath. It was incredibly sad, but at the same time deeply intimate, personal, and beautiful. He was there when I came into the world and I got to be there when he left. And, by facing death in a direct way – we can learn so much about life and ourselves, as I did when my dad died when I was twenty seven years old. As one of my mentors said to me years ago, “Mike, if you live your life each day more aware of your own death, you will live very differently.” This is true for all of us.

There are so many beautiful lessons that death teaches us, even in the midst of the pain, loss, confusion, anger, fear and more. When we’re willing to embrace death and remember that everyone and everything in physical form will eventually die, we’re reminded to:

  • Appreciate ourselves, each other, and life – RIGHT NOW
  • Let go of our attachment to other people’s opinions, our obsession with appearances, and our self consciousness about many aspects of our lives
  • Connect to others in a deep, profound, intimate, and vulnerable way
  • Speak up, go for what we truly want, and live in the present moment
  • Be grateful for what we have and for life as it is, not “someday” when things work out perfectly (which never happens anyway)

Death can be one of the greatest teachers for us in life – but not if we spend most of our time avoiding it because it can be painful, scary and uncomfortable. Take a moment right now to think about some of the important people who have died in your life. What did you learn from them both through their life and their death? What gifts have you been given in the form of tragedy in your life? How could embracing death more fully impact your life in a positive and important way?

As we consider these and other questions about death, it’s obvious that the answers aren’t simple and easy…neither is life. However, when we’re willing to engage, embrace, and deal with death (and life) with a true sense of empathy, passion, and authenticity – we’re able to not only “make it,” but to actually learn, grow, and thrive – regardless of the circumstances and even in the face of death.

How do you feel about death and relate to it in your own life? Share your thoughts, action ideas, insights, and more below.

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