Great experiences don’t always feel great

Yes Changes Everything!January 15, 2009

Shortly after takeoff, US Airways Flight 1549 loses power in both engines. In what aviators call a “bird strike,” a flock of geese flying straight into the plane’s propellers has disabled them instantly.

In the cockpit, Captain Sully Sullenberger quickly realizes it would be impossible to reach any airport, meaning a crash landing is his only option. Drawing on 42 years of aviation experience, he steers the plane — a giant jetliner called and Airbus — into the Hudson River, gliding to a safe landing that spares the lives of 155 passengers and crew members.

Afterward, Sully remembered the moment when it felt like all was lost, how having “zero thrust coming out of those engines was shocking — the silence.”

More recently, Sully said about that day: “For 42 years, I’d been making small, regular deposits in a bank account of experience, education, and training. And on January 15, the balance was sufficient that I could make a very large withdrawal.”

“I realized,” he said, “that everything in my life up until then had prepared me for that moment.”

And he meant everything: his family, schooling, experience as a glider pilot and instructor, military service, civil service…everything.

A big waste of time?

I spent years as a communications consultant to large corporations, supporting my kids and my employees.

That whole time, the idea for Blossie’s Books was alive and kicking in every cell of my body. But no matter how I felt, I had to keep being the “corporate tiger.” Too many people were depending on me. No way I could stop consulting to write books.

Beautiful someone, until I listened to that interview with Sully, honestly, I’d often slip into regret (maybe even a little self-pity 😊) for the years I spent serving the corporate world.

Maybe it was all a big waste of time?

We can all do this — spend time regretting our past, something I can relate to not only on a work level, but on a personal level too, having lived through the enormous pain of infidelity and divorce.

But what Sully said kind of makes that impossible…

“I realized that everything in my life up until then had prepared me for that moment.”

Nothing is wasted

Most of us will never experience a moment like Flight 1549, but there’s a bigger message here: the idea that for any given moment, our past, our experiences (good and bad), our histories and skills, have prepared us.

Nothing is ever wasted.

So now I can look at my past through a new lens:

My corporate experience (as unhappy as it was) gave me insights into the pressures employees are under so I can write books about good ways to handle those pressures.

Years as a consultant enabled me to understand the pressures of entrepreneurship and the challenges of being a good manager. They made me a better communicator — or at least one who tries harder!

Infidelity and living through a painful divorce gave me a level of empathy for people going through the agony of rejection. (It also made me fiercely loyal in my relationships because I know what betrayal feels like.)

Good questions

Looking through this new lens, we can all make a list like this. Some questions to help:

  • “What were some of the tough experiences from my past?”
  • “How have these experiences made me a stronger person? How have they made me smarter?”
  • “Who do I have more empathy for because of these experiences?”

In the end, beautiful someone, I’ve realized, my heart to yours: Not every great experience feels great while it’s happening to us. But they’re all important to becoming who we’re meant to be.

Yes doesn’t have to scream—it’s that powerful

 

There is this amazing story about the day John Lennon and Yoko Ono met: in the Fall of 1966, Yoko was in London for an art exhibition. Already an accomplished avant-garde artist, Yoko was displaying her works at the Indica Gallery as part of an exhibition called Unfinished Paintings and Objects.

John visited the gallery the day before the show was scheduled to open. He was skeptical about the displays, and the artist herself, who greeted him with a card that read, literally, “Breathe.”

A ladder and telescope

One piece got his attention, though: Yoko had placed a ladder that led up to a canvas on the ceiling on which some tiny type appeared. John had to climb the ladder and look through a small telescope to see what it said.

You might’ve expected the word to be “love” or “hope,” but as John stood there squinting through the magnifying glass on top of that small ladder, he could see that the word was “Yes.”

I heard this story a long time ago, and I never forgot it. What does it say about me (maybe about you too 😊) that this story would be so intriguing in the sense of being unique, memorable, thought-provoking?

What is it about yes that might matter so much?

Yoko’s message

Sometimes I play a game with myself (maybe not a game, more like a spiritual exercise): I ask myself if I knew my life would soon be over, what would be the one or two or 20 things I’d be most mad I didn’t accomplish?

Thinking about that list, I ask myself: “Am I making those things, or that one thing, a priority in my life? Am I saying yes to it and concentrating my best energy there?”

It’s a great reality check: am I saying yes to the right things in my life? The things that really matter to me and the people I love? Or (more likely when I check-in like this), am I cluttering up my life with a bunch of urgent stuff — the in-my-face unavoidable deadlines of life, the errands I have to run, appointments I need to keep, deadlines I can’t avoid — and not focusing on the goals that aren’t urgent but definitely important? My beautiful, amazing, super-critical-to-me goals and bucket list?

Like this:

Urgent Important
Get to work on time Plan my next career move
Pay bills Create a savings plan
Fix a cavity Get teeth cleaned
Make dinner Plan and buy a week of healthy groceries

The reason I love this reality check is that, like Yoko, I’m learning that what I say yes to is incredibly important, an idea I think her piece was signaling by making yes small and hard to see.

Yes doesn’t have to scream — it’s that powerful.

“The infinite capacity of hope”

Hi Beautiful Someone,

Sorry for the long post, but I really wanted to share this excerpt from my new book, Yes Changes Everything! Please enjoy, and let me know what you think!

Yes Changes Everything!

What do you know about Helen Keller? Probably that she was blind and deaf and lived a long and influential life. Me too. But it was only after coming across one of my favorite Helen Keller quotes on optimism that I started to look closer at her life and realize how truly remarkable she was.

Helen Keller was born a healthy baby in 1880 on a farm near Tuscumbia, Alabama. At six months, she began to talk and at 12 months to walk. Before age 2, however, an illness — later they would speculate scarlet fever or meningitis — had taken Helen’s ability to see and hear. She would live in darkness and silence for the rest of her life.

“She knows! She knows!”

Helen grew up in a loving home, but her family didn’t know how best to take care of her, so they let her run free and be wild.

As she grew, her inability to see or hear must have become very frustrating. And the wild and unusual behavior that was cute and acceptable in a baby and a toddler was totally unmanageable in an older child. By age six, she was prone to screaming, tantrums, and rages. People began to say that institutionalizing her was the only solution. But Helen’s parents were determined to do all they could and find options for her.

Eventually, they found the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston. It was there, through Alexander Graham Bell (yes, that one, inventor of the telephone), that they were put in touch with the woman who became one of the most dedicated teachers of all time: Annie Sullivan.

Annie worked tirelessly with Helen to enable her to make connections between objects she could feel and letters of the alphabet that Annie would draw into the palm of her hand.

The Miracle Worker

If you’ve seen the movie The Miracle Worker, you’ll remember the scene at the water pump where Annie holds a seven-year-old Helen’s hand under the spray, yelling, “It has a name!” and spells W-A-T-E-R into the little girl’s hand. This is the moment when, slowly and with great difficulty, Helen says, “wa-wa.”

Everything happens then in the space of a few minutes as Helen runs from the pump to the ground to the trees to the porch steps and demands to have them spelled into her hand. “Mrs. Keller! Mrs. Keller!” Annie screams, “She knows! She knows!” By the end of that day, in the fashion of hand-spelling, Helen had learned more than 30 words.

The infinite capacity of hope

From that moment, Helen Keller’s world opened. She attended the Horace Mann School for the Deaf in Boston, then the Wright-Humason School for the Deaf in New York City. She worked for decades to learn how to read Braille as well as how to communicate through touch-lip reading, typing, and finger-spelling. She was a formidable opponent as a chess player. She attended Radcliffe College where she proved to be a brilliant and extremely hard-working student, graduating with honors in 1904 and becoming the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor’s degree.

Helen Keller became an author, completing her first book, The Story of My Life, in 1905. Others would follow, including The World I Live In, Out of the Dark, The Song of the Stone Wall, The Open Door, and Optimism. Helen had a heart for activism, voicing her views on social and political issues such as women’s suffrage, pacifism, labor rights, and anti-militarism.

She worked tirelessly on behalf of people living with disabilities, traveling around the world and even testifying before Congress about the needs of the blind. In 1920, she helped found the powerful and influential American Civil Liberties Union. She received honorary doctoral degrees from five renowned universities around the world, and in 1963 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The secret of the stars

I love the story of Helen Keller’s life and her amazing breakthroughs and contributions. Even more amazing: late in her life, she lamented in an interview that one of her only regrets was that she had not been able to learn to speak properly — her speech was halting and incoherent because she had heard so little of the spoken word before her illness. If she had learned to speak clearly, she said, she could have helped more people. “How much more good could I have done if I had acquired normal speech?” she said through her teacher. “But out of this sorrowful experience, I understand more fully all human strivings, thwarted ambitions, and the infinite capacity of hope.” What a poignant example of transforming incredible hardship into lasting good!

All this is a backdrop for one of my all-time favorite quotes about optimism that sparked such an interest in the story of Helen Keller from none other than Helen herself:

“No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.”

Experiences that challenge us change us

I always feel sorry for lottery winners or people who have inherited great wealth — I really do — because without the financial and professional challenges and yes, struggles of life, they are more prone to depression. They feel weak because their spiritual and intellectual muscles aren’t facing the resistance they need to get strong. They’re often scared and maybe defensive because their guts aren’t being tested, and they don’t have confidence in how they’d react if they were. They haven’t had the joy of seeing themselves rise to new challenges.

It’s just impossible to underestimate the incredible importance of meaningful work and life challenges and experiences.

We don’t want everything handed to us

Think of the stories of young performers or movie stars who’ve made tons of money before they’re even 25 years old and therefore “don’t have to work a day in their lives”: too many of them fall into deep depression and even self-destructive habits. There’s a reason for this, and I don’t think that we need to have a lot of psychological science or case studies to know what it is. As humans, we crave challenge. It makes us feel alive and strong and capable and confident. Without it, our souls and self-esteem truly suffer.

We actually, in truth, in our hearts don’t want to have everything handed to us. It doesn’t make us feel valuable or strong or capable or confident. It can even be crippling. We need to prove to ourselves how strong we are, what were made of. How powerful, able to run back into the metaphorical flames and phoenix out of them again and again.

This has to be one of the reasons that when we face tough times in our lives, so many of us say the same thing: “At least I got to go to work,” and “I feel so much better when I’m at work. It lets me focus on something other than what I’m going through,” and “I don’t know what I would do without my job/profession/kids/business to focus on.”

We need enterprise; we need work. It makes us strong. It gives us resilience.

Tough experience is a gift

This is why challenging experiences, growth and confidence all go hand-in-hand. It’s why I tell my kids that not every experience that’s good for us feels good when it’s happening. Not liking camp, being embarrassed when they lose a game, the first day of…anything, being corrected by a coach or teacher…all these and more are making them stronger, more resilient, and smarter, in ways that positive experiences just can’t. Tough experiences are a life-long gift because we remember them long afterward. Whether that helps us not repeat a mistake, stay away from certain types of people, turn down job offers that aren’t right for us, or anything else we learned about “the hard way.”

When we embrace this, we can say yes to tough experiences and bumpy roads and tough climbs that we know will activate our minds and muscles. These challenges make us excited to get up in the morning and face the day, with energy flowing through us, electrifying every corner of our bodies. We feel focused and alive, resourceful and creative.

Oh yes we do.

Trust your intuition

Why don’t we trust our intuition?

Sometimes, a choice may seem right, all the intellectual facts support going ahead with it…

  • He/she says all the right things.
  • The job in Chicago has great benefits, good opportunity for advancement, and the company is willing to pay for relocation.
  • The apartment we want to buy is close to work, spacious, and available for the right price.

Still, for some reason, we hesitate.

There’s the temptation to say, “What is wrong with me — this is so perfect!” But beautiful someone, when we hesitate, there’s a reason. Something is going on intuitively that we need to trust and pay attention to.

The stomach never lies

You know how we tell our kids that if they ever feel uncomfortable in a situation — afraid, queasy, weirded out in any way — they must trust that feeling and walk away, or say no, or call us, or all three? Lately with my own kids I’ve started to shorthand it: “Listen to your gut — it never lies.” And it’s true that our brains sometimes rationalize, “reason” things out, or make excuses, but our stomachs can’t. Which is why when our guts are talking to us, they are telling the truth.

Our intuition is a form of genius, something Albert Einstein once called “a sacred gift.” I’ve seriously got to put trusting my gut high on the list of lessons I wish I’d gotten much earlier in my life. Specifically, to know that when my stomach is twisting, or just giving me that feeling of yech, it’s talking to me, and this purity of communication, its simplicity, its wordlessness, its inability to make excuses, is often so much smarter than I am in my head.

Head and heart

We have both head and heart (intellect and intuition) because we’re supposed to use both in our decision making.

Our intuition, our Spidey senses, our gut feelings, our deepest memories imprinted on the hippocampus during times of great stress — none of these communicates to us rationally through cognition, through conscious thoughts and words. And yet each is incredibly valuable for making choices that lead to an awesome life — a healthy, whole, and sane one.

Sometimes, we need to just let the stomach win.

When we wobble, we grow!

…from my next book, Yes Changes Everything! Coming in May 2020!

“You’ve got to sing like you don’t need the money,
Love like you’ll never get hurt;
You’ve got to dance like nobody’s watchin’
It’s gotta come from the heart if you want it to work.”

These are lyrics from the song, “Come from the Heart” by Susanna Clark and Richard Leigh. I love them! They help me relax my grip on whatever I’m trying to do and ditch the illusion of ever being perfect at it (…and *exhale*).

Yes Changes Everything!

Perfection is just someone’s opinion anyway. The perfect cake, song, beer, or whatever is in the eye of the beholder. We may think a song is perfect, but to someone else, it’s just noise. A beer may be out of this world to us—just perfection—but someone else may think it’s awful. That means a perfect home, city, restaurant, or night out doesn’t exist. It’s not objective and real like the chair I’m sitting on or the candle burning next to me or Blossie curled up on my lap as I write this.

The perfect whatever

When we buy into the illusion that perfection is possible, we also get a whole lot of frustration and staying in place. Because perfection isn’t a thing, so we end up exhausted, running after air, or worse, staying frozen in place because we think we haven’t got the talent or connections or money we need to go after the perfect whatever.

What we really need when we go after something new is heart, energy, and passion. Things that don’t take talent or connections or money but lead us to the amazing goodness that’s hiding in plain sight, even if it’s a little dinged up or dusty or smaller than we’d thought.

Let’s wobble without fear

Something else we also need: to be okay outside our comfort zones, outside our safe, familiar space in an area where things get…wobbly. Where lines are thin and crooked. Where we stumble and fall. Where we’ve said yes to something for the first time, and we’re not good at it. It feels wobbly and weird, and it will come out tilted in the beginning—far from perfect.

But you know what, beautiful someone? Not only is wobbly okay, it’s great because when we wobble, we have to figure out what to do to steady ourselves. When things feel weird, we have to learn how to make them feel…unweird. When our cake, crocheted llama, or row of garden basil comes out gnarled and curly, we have to figure out how to straighten it out and in the process, learn a whole lot about what doesn’t work. When we wobble, we grow.

So let’s wobble, and let’s not be afraid.

Like nobody’s watching

And while we wobble, let’s turn off the noise—whether that’s opinions or articles or “experts” or headlines. Let’s tell them to shush. We’re trying to grow here. We can’t be distracted by every click that comes our way.

And hey, beautiful someone, see you outside our comfort zones where we sing like we don’t need the money and dance like nobody’s watching.

“Failure”: A brand new view

When we find ourselves in tough situations, they become less frustrating, less likely to make us label ourselves a failure or some other negative thing if we decide we’re going to look at them as a sign that we’re growing and doing it all on purpose.

Instead of allowing tough situations to bring us down, we’re making them work for us.

It’s like: “At the time, it was just awful. But in hindsight, facing that [layoff/fight/awful person/ridiculous job] was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Real people/their stories:

  • “I really don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t go through my divorce. At the time, it was terrible, but having to deal with John cheating on me woke me up to just how strong I am and how much being able to trust someone really means to me.”
  • “I look around my shop and think, ‘Look what I would have missed out on if I hadn’t gotten fired and instead stayed in that awful job?’ I am so deliriously happy now.”
  • “When Jill quit at the worst possible time for my business, I couldn’t deny it any more: I was a terrible manager. Once I could see the price I was paying for not having a clue how to manage people, I grew up about it—read a few books, took some courses, and most of all, changed how I acted. Then, I added more people, and my business finally started to take off.”
  • “After Sara told a bunch of people that I wasn’t qualified to teach, I learned never to accept that kind of behavior from someone. I let it go that one time, and I know the consequences. I’ll be ready if there’s ever a next time.”
  • “I know now to trust my gut instinct when it comes to the people I meet. I went ahead and bought a car from someone who gave me a seriously bad vibe, and it came back to bite me. Cost me thousands and a night stranded on the highway in a snowstorm. Never again am I gonna let somebody I don’t trust talk me into something. If my instincts are telling me no, I don’t do it. End of story.”

In the end, these people saw a tough situation as a stepping stone. And here’s what’s really amazing: the experiences they had were bad (and sometimes really bad), and it would be naïve and just too “Suzy Sunshine” to pretend otherwise.

So I’m not trying to make light of our tough times, but there’s a secret weapon here: when we choose to see situations this way—as a stepping stone rather than a stumbling block—we automatically come out in a good place. We take the hit, but we don’t stay down. We deliberately CHOOSE to see a situation as a learning experience, not a defeat, embarrassment, waste of energy, or any other type of loss or closed door.

Unstoppable, that’s what we are.

Who are your sandpaper people?

We’ve all got our own sandpaper people. These are the family members, neighbors, and coworkers who test our patience, demand more from us than we’re willing to give, or just generally make us crazy.

Be grateful for them, beautiful someone! Honestly, their abrasive behavior is smoothing out our own rough edges and sharpening our dull ones.

  • If you’re super-restless and impatient, having to deal with people who run at a slower pace smooths out that impulsive edge on you.
  • If you’re a laid back, wait-and-see type person surrounded by an army of Type As at work, your own (overly?) relaxed approach to work is being energized as you keep pace with these people.
  • If you’re kind of emotional, being around people who are always calm may make you crazy, but it will also stop the freight train of feelings and impulses that can drag you all over the place.
  • If you’re a loner, friends who force you to go out are opening up your network, your mind, maybe even your world.
  • People who disagree with us make us think.
  • People whose values or beliefs differ from ours teach us tolerance, respect…or spiritual detachment as we learn to “live and let live.”

Our sandpaper people are making us try new things, think in new says, get exposed to new ideas and people, witness our own strength, and see ourselves with new potential.

Smarter and stronger

This is all preparation for your dream come true. In fact, sandpaper people are pretty much needed for progress. Every time an edge on us gets sanded down, every time a dull spot in our lives—something in need of polishing up—gets “buffed” by a sandpaper person, we’re getting wiser and more patient. We’re broadening our perspective and our horizons. We’re seeing things in new ways and thinking about them with a different perspective.

And I know it’s hard to believe it when it’s happening to us, but those sandpaper people—even the incredibly annoying ones—are lifting us to new heights, making us better at listening, building our patience, and strengthening our resolve to reach our dream come true…all in ways no other type of experience could. Every time they knock us off course or distract us or generally irritate us, we have to do the work to get back on track.

Again, even though we may not like it when it’s happening, this is all making us smarter and stronger. We don’t grow in the good times. Our growth spurts come through tough times, through adversity.

And sandpaper people = adversity.

Big time.

Fresh ideas

I asked some friends what they learned from the sandpaper people in their lives. Listen to a few:

  • “My last boss was such a bad manager, but I had to learn to work for her without going out of my mind. So I did. Today, I could totally work for anyone. Thanks to her, I have tons more patience and self-control. And it takes a lot to get me upset at work. No one could ever be as bad a manager as she was, and I survived. I can handle anything now.”
  • “I treat my friends really well because I’ve lived through some seriously bad situations with friends. I learned the hard way just how important love and loyalty really are.”
  • “I finally figured out what my grandmother meant when she said, ‘Smooth mountains give you nothing to grip onto as you climb.’ Definitely true, I don’t grow when everyone in my life is making things easy for me.”

Instead of seeing sandpaper people as just plain annoying, try to look at them as a growth spurt in the making, a chance to learn something really important and see new potential in yourself. Remember this especially when they make you want to scream. That’s a huge leap forward straight in the direction of your dream come true.