Category Archives: Appreciation

DAWA, Coronavirus, and Normal

 

Denial.

Anger.

Withdrawal.

Acceptance.

I first learned about these stages of grief when Grandma Anne died (over 30 years ago).  My cousin, who was a newly minted police officer at the time, described how he received training on this model in the police academy.

I remember thinking how simple it all sounded, and I was relieved to know I had a model to follow.  What I didn’t know at the time is that this simple model is anything but simple.

Models provide a basis for understanding a concept or an idea…and that’s helpful.  Models make the complex seem simple.  But models rarely capture the layers of detail or the often-gut-wrenching processes they describe.

Today, the DAWA model is a bit outdated.  Additional “stages” have been added over the years to the original model.  Stages like shock, bargaining, depression, and testing are layered into discussions of the grieving process nowadays.

How does all of this relate to the Coronavirus?

Thanks to Coronavirus, we are suddenly sharing a grief experience with every person on the planet, at the same time.  Every single one of us has lost something extremely important because of Coronavirus.

The normal that we knew, the normal that we understood, the normal that we took for granted…died over the last 30-60 days.  If you could ask all 6 billion-plus people on Earth when, exactly, normal died, their answers would vary by a few days or few weeks.  But nobody would deny that their normal is gone.

When we grieve or face a major crisis in our lives, we come together with others, we gather closer to the people we love, we comfort each other with hugs and shared laughter.  We cry together.  We cook together.  We share meals.  We share stories about what we’ve lost.  We might go to an inspirational concert and hold hands while we sway and sing along with tears streaming down our faces.

We love to be with people, even if we describe ourselves as introverts or “not a people person.”

Unfortunately, that part of normal has also died (at least for a while).

While it doesn’t look like it (because our beloved normal is gone), we are all grieving.  Every one of us.

Make no mistake about it.  Something we loved, something we treasure, and something we counted on has died.  We are grieving our loss, even as events unfold in front of us that may make things worse before they get better.

We probably don’t think we have time right now to grieve.  But, we’re each somewhere on the DAWA continuum of denial, anger, withdrawal, or acceptance.  In fact, we’re bouncing around on that continuum today.

We’ve lost our normal, and we’re being forced to live in a new normal.  This new normal will probably give way to yet another new normal a few months from now.  None of us know what any of this will look like.  That mystery is an unfortunate part of our new normal (as crazy as it may sound).

It’s normal to be in denial.  It’s normal to be angry.  It’s normal to withdraw or try to escape.  It’s also normal, and necessary, to find acceptance.

Acceptance doesn’t mean giving up.  It means that the energy we’ve been using to fight the new normal can be channeled toward making the best of what’s in front of us.

Sure, we all miss our beloved normal from the past.  We’d prefer to have our old normal back in our lives.  But we must find a way to accept, to allow ourselves to rest, and let go of our longing.

The good news is that we’ve each had normal die before.  We’ve had to adjust to new normals throughout our life and we’re generally pretty good at it:

  • Moving from one school to another and making new friends
  • Graduating high school or college
  • Starting our first “real” job
  • Leaving our first job
  • Starting our second job
  • Meeting the person of our dreams that we plan to spend the rest of our life with
  • Divorcing that person
  • Experiencing the death of a loved one
  • Becoming a parent (or a grandparent)
  • Starting your own business
  • Selling that business
  • Losing a house and everything we own in a fire
  • The knee injury that forced you to stop playing your favorite game
  • Having your house destroyed in a tornado

These are all examples of events in our lives that require us to let go of the old normal and embrace the new normal.  Sometimes the new normal is because of something amazingly good, and other times it’s caused by something amazingly bad.

I’m not sure I’ve reached the acceptance stage in my own grieving process.  I tell myself that I’m there, but I know it’s not always true.  As I work through the process and prepare myself for what lies ahead, I like to keep this list of ideas in mind:

  • Take things one day at a time
  • Prayer is your instant connection to someone who loves you completely
  • Celebrate your victories, no matter how small
  • Give yourself a break
  • Be grateful and enjoy what you have
  • Forgive yourself for not knowing exactly what to do (none of us know, which is true a lot more than we’d like to admit)
  • Only allow yourself to worry about the future for a few minutes each day and move on. I’d say to stop worrying completely since worrying is a non-productive use of energy, but I know it’s not possible to eliminate it completely.
  • Check-in once each day for the news on Coronavirus, and what the latest government directions are (social distancing, masks or no masks, etc.). By now, you know the symptoms, what you’re supposed to be doing to prevent the spread, and what you’re supposed to do if you or someone close to you become symptomatic.  The rest is probably not super useful, and you can catch-up on all of it during your once-a-day check in.
  • Be kind to others. Your kindness will go a long way and may lead to more kindness in your “downstream.”  Even a smile to a stranger letting them know we’re all in this together is helpful.  By the way, your eyes show your smile, even if your mask doesn’t.
  • Realize that you are grieving, and so is everyone else. We will each have good days and bad days in our grief journey.
  • Take time to gather with your friends and family members by phone, video conference, or even a nice email note.  These are your people.  Embrace them remotely.

We are living through future history.  The events happening around us and to us today will be discussed, debated, and written about for decades to come.  Our lives are forever changed, and the changes are continuing to unfold.

We can use our energy to reach back to the past with all that we have, searching for the normal that’s gone.

Or, we can channel our energy to reach toward the future, creating the best possible new normal for ourselves and our loved ones.

While I grieve for the past, I choose to reach for the future.

Photo by Mike Labrum on Unsplash

Serve others first…

Tim Ferriss asks a question of most of his podcast guests:

“If you had a billboard that millions of people would see every day, what would you put on that billboard?”

Tim’s guests have given answers ranging from the comedic to the serious.  Some have talked about a cause that is their passion, or an inspirational passage they’d like people to see.

Each time I hear the question, I come up with the same three words:

Serve others first.

Serving others first means:

  • taking others’ needs and desires into account before our own
  • looking out for their best interest first
  • our decisions are more thoroughly considered because we’ll be taking time to think about how our decisions impact others
  • trying to make someone else’s job easier and more rewarding
  • showing someone gratitude for the work they’re doing
  • minding our manners (as my mom used to say when I was a kid)
  • listening to, and respecting others (even if we disagree with them)
  • looking for ways to improve a situation rather than making things worse
  • being the first to forgive.

It’s easy to focus on our own interests and challenges first.  It’s easy to think everything happening in the world is directed toward us, personally.  This “me first” mindset is hard-wired into our DNA…our DNA is selfish about 99.99% of the time.

The tougher path?

It’s the one that leads to serving others first.  It goes against our wiring, which takes significant effort.

None of us will be perfect on this path.  We’ll stumble, and we may even wander a bit.  But, we can be a blessing for others along our journey, and that’s what we should be seeking.

The good news is that following this path gets easier with practice.

Photo by Adrià Crehuet Cano on Unsplash

 

What a Wonderful World

Sadness can find us with little or no effort…sometimes on a daily basis.

I see trees of green,
red roses too.
I see them bloom,
for me and you.
And I think to myself,
what a wonderful world.

Sadness, defined as anything that’s the opposite of joy:

Emotional pain

Feelings of disadvantage

Loss

Despair

Grief

Anger

Helplessness

Disappointment

Sorrow

Frustration

Guilt

I see skies of blue,
And clouds of white.
The bright blessed day,
The dark sacred night.
And I think to myself,
What a wonderful world

Oddly, we sometimes seek out sadness for our own purposes.  Maybe we need an excuse for not being the person we know we can be.  Maybe we find comfort in burdening others with our pain.

The colors of the rainbow,
So pretty in the sky.
Are also on the faces,
Of people going by,
I see friends shaking hands.
Saying, “How do you do?”
They’re really saying,
“I love you”.

When sadness in its many forms pays a visit, we have two fundamental questions to ask ourselves:

  • What will we allow inside?
  • How long will we allow it to stay?

It’s easy to say that we get to decide.  That doesn’t mean it’s easy to kick sadness out once it arrives for a visit.

I hear babies cry,
I watch them grow,
They’ll learn much more,
Than I’ll ever know.

What to do?  Here’s a list that I have to remind myself of from time to time:

  • Tune your mind to find joy in the simple things
  • Seek out and cherish love in your life
  • Offer forgiveness to yourself and others
  • Share your time and attention with others
  • Seek opportunities to serve others first
  • Observe life with a sense of awe and gratitude.

Joy won’t find us the way sadness can.  Joy only shows itself when we take action to greet it warmly with open arms and outstretched hands.

And I think to myself,
What a wonderful world.

Yes, I think to myself,
What a wonderful world.

Oh Yeah.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

The Value of Goodwill

How much is your goodwill worth?

The accounting definition of goodwill describes it as the established reputation of a business, quantifiable by taking the fair market value of the tangible assets of a company, subtracting that amount from the full purchase price, blah, blah, blah.

The accounting definition is important, but the goodwill I’m interested in is your personal goodwill, which is measured with the answers to these questions (in no particular order):

  • Do you have a personal reputation as a good person?
  • Are you a person who can be trusted?
  • Are you reliable?
  • Do you work with others based on honesty and integrity first, above all else?
  • When people describe you to others, do they do so fondly or derisively?
  • Are you a person who people want to be around?
  • Do you repel people, or gather people?
  • Do you have a track record of acting fairly in all situations?
  • Do you serve others first?
  • When the proverbial chips are down and everything is going wrong, can others rely on you to rise above the chaos, identify root causes, and get to work solving the problems?
  • Are you known as the person who runs from trouble?
  • Are you the one who looks to blame rather than solve?

The answers to these questions will matter more to your long-term success than any college degree or career accomplishment you may achieve.

Your actions and attitudes will show people your answers more vividly than anything you say.

It’s easy to say words like honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, or empathy.  The real test is how you act and what you choose to do, whether or not other people are watching.

Show me a team of people who don’t value their own personal goodwill or that of their teammates, and I’ll show you a team that fails 99 times out of 100.

The most important choices you’ll make in life are the ones that either add value to, or take value away from your personal goodwill.

Choose wisely.  Your happiness and success depend on it.

Photo by Jukan Tateisi on Unsplash

That’s all great. But, what does your customer think?

  • “We had an awesome meeting yesterday. We finalized our growth plans for next year.  We’ll be presenting them to the CFO next week.”
  • “That conference was amazing. The speakers really hit the nail on the head about what’s coming in our industry.”
  • “We finished all the employee reviews before the deadline. We start every year with this fire drill!  I’m glad that’s behind us!”
  • “This new software update will finally fix our scheduling problems.”
  • “The year-end financials are done, and our tax filing is happening on time this year.”
  • “Our new branding colors are excellent. They really pop on our mobile app!”
  • “The holiday party committee met, and we’ve got our recommendations for the venue and party theme this year. When can we meet to finalize the plans so we can put money down on the venue?”

What do all of these have in common?

They’re all statements I’ve heard, or said, during my professional career.  I could’ve rattled off 30 more sentences just like these.  All would have represented important activities, milestones, discoveries, inventions, process improvements, or events within the companies I’ve managed (or owned).

But, none of them represented what our customers think.  The customer, in this case, is the person or company that’s paying us for our products and services.

None of the sentences describe us communicating directly with our customers or our prospective customers.

None of them focus on why our customers use our products and services.

None provide a greater understanding of how our customers relate to us.

None help us understand how important we are (or aren’t) in their life.

Are we just a faceless machine that delivers something our customer needs at this moment?  Are we merely a utility to them?

If we disappeared tomorrow, would they miss us?

Do they know who we are as a company?  Do they know anything about our values?  Do we know what our values are at this company?

Do they care about our branding colors, or that we’re having a nice holiday party this year?  Probably not.

Even when we fail to ask, our customers have powerful ways to tell us how we’re doing:

  • When they continue paying us, we know that they value what we’re doing today. They haven’t found anyone else who does it better, cheaper, or both.  They haven’t found anyone that they think cares more about them than we do.  We’ve won today.
  • When they call or write to complain or ask for something new and improved, we can infer that they care enough to ask. They trust that we’ll listen.  Our response lets them know whether their trust is well-placed, or not.

Winning today is nice.  Winning tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year is far more important when it comes to customers.

While we take care of all the tasks associated with keeping our organization afloat, it’s easy to forget why our organization exists in the first place:  to serve our customers and attract new ones.

The customer is the only reason we exist.

Something to keep in mind the next time you put off calling your customer back until after you’ve finalized your company’s holiday party plans.

P.S.  This riff about customers applies to our internal customers as well.  After all, our internal customers are often the ones who deliver service to our external customers.  If we fail to serve our internal customers, you can easily guess what’s going to happen to our external customers.

 

Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

Happiness and Butterflies

“Happiness is like a butterfly: the more you chase it, the more it will evade you, but if you notice the other things around you, it will gently come and sit on your shoulder.” -Henry David Thoreau

I saw a butterfly today while working outside.  I didn’t pay much attention and continued doing my work.

For the next 2-3 minutes, that butterfly kept flitting by and finally landed on my shoulder (only for a few seconds before taking off and flying away).

Then, tonight I randomly saw this quote about happiness and butterflies from Thoreau.

I remember thinking how grateful I was to have that little butterfly land on me earlier today. I’m pretty sure everything else on my mind drifted away for that one quiet moment.

Happiness had gently come to sit on my shoulder.

Happiness is always within reach.  If only we take the time to notice it with gratitude.

Today, I needed a reminder and I’m grateful that little butterfly was there to oblige.

Photo by Stefany Andrade on Unsplash

 

Time for a Lens Change?

Way back in junior high (in the last century), I learned about photography with 35mm SLR cameras.  These were the “real thing.”  They were a far cry from the cheap Instamatics that everyone I knew used at the time.

We learned about shutter speeds, f-stops, light meters, focus points, passive and active lighting, shadows, framing, composition, film types, and lenses.

Did we want to capture the action close-up, or in the distance?  Blur the action, or stop it?  Shadow the subject, or light it?  Black and white, or color?  Grainy or smooth?  Focus on the foreground or the background?  Capture the subject from the left, or right?

It didn’t matter if we were photographing a mountain, a flower, a person, or a can of tomatoes.  Using all the tools at our disposal, we controlled what happened in each photo.

Don’t even get me started on developing film in a darkroom.  We learned about that too.  More ways to control the image that appears in the photo.  For younger readers, darkrooms are the place where the exposed film was transformed into photos.  Using various methods, we could edit an image like you can today in your phone’s photo editor or Photoshop.

The main lesson about all this wasn’t the tools and techniques of photography. It was the realization that the camera was only a tool to capture a moment.  That moment, with all its beauty, drama, imperfections, and emotions.

More specifically, the camera captures a feeling that comes from the image and our memory of that feeling.  The image is merely a pathway to our feelings about the subject.

We capture moments and feelings every day.  Usually without a camera.  We control how these moments and feelings appear on the canvas that matters the most.  In our heart and in our mind.

If the world seems to be against you, and all you see is ugliness and despair, that’s probably because of the way you’re choosing to see the world.

If everything is amazing and perfect, that’s also a result of the way you’re choosing to see the world.

Neither view is 100% accurate.  Reality has its ups and downs.  We face challenges and triumphs, victories and defeats, every day.

The key is to understand that we have way more to do with the way these moments are captured and interpreted than anyone or anything in our world.

We control our settings.  We control our lenses.  We choose where we focus.

Ultimately, we choose how to frame our moments.  Not the other way around.

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

Why the 90-Day Rule is So Powerful

With the advent of the internet, and then smartphones, we’re able to access the outside world on-demand from just about anywhere.  The flipside is that the outside world can access each of us just as easily.

Friends and colleagues can send us an email or text at any time.  They can use a selection of apps to “ping” us from across the world with information, photos, articles, or project status updates.

And, although rare these days, people can even call us on our smartphone…trust me, it still happens.

In all these instances, the expectation is that we’ll be fully accessible, and ready to respond immediately to any and all issues, questions, or opportunities that come our way.

An immediate-response, immediate-judgment, immediate-decision-making model of interaction is the new norm.  We train our brains to quickly scan complex situations with the goal of rendering snap decisions that we can provide as part of our response(s).

There’s just one problem:  creating this speedy-response capability eliminates the one thing that many decisions (especially complex and long-term decisions) require:  TIME

Time and space are exactly what we need to make our most effective decisions.

Time to absorb information at our own pace.

Time to immerse ourselves in a new situation before being forced to judge it or make decisions about it.

Consider the person who gets a new job.  This new job is going to be amazing.  It’s what they want to do, and it pays a lot more than their last job.

It’s normal to visualize all the ways to be successful in the new job.  It’s normal to think of how to spend the new-found money.

It’s also normal that once the work starts, the new job won’t be as amazing as it seemed.  After the first week, the job and the people at the new job may seem like a nightmare.

Or, the new job is as amazing as it appeared and the people are awesome.  But the work is highly technical and challenging.  Doubts can creep in about whether it’s a good skill set fit.

The truth is, in the first week (even the first month) of new things like jobs, relationships, or workout routines, we don’t know enough to judge.  We may think we know.  We don’t.

This is where the power of the “90-Day Rule” shows itself.  What is the 90-Day Rule?  It’s something I made up that says for the next 90 days, I’ll immerse myself in the new thing (job, workout routine, etc.) without any preconceived judgment, without any pressure to decide, and without any thoughts about alternatives.

If I’ve decided to do this new thing (after days, weeks, months, sometimes years of contemplation), I’m going to give it at least 90 days before judging it.

In the new job example, consider how freeing a 90-day moratorium on judgment will be.  You’re not judging the new people.  You’re not judging the new company.  You’re not judging your ability to perform in the new job.  You’re not even judging the commute.

No judgments means you can focus on what it takes to be as successful as possible in the new job.  All the energy you would have focused on making judgments and other distracting decisions is channeled fully into the most valuable tasks.

What about all that new money you’re earning at this new job?  What if you give yourself 90 days before spending it on all that new stuff?  Have a nice dinner to celebrate the start, and then wait 90 days.  You’ll have plenty of time to spend all this new money on the 91st day.  What’s your hurry?

When was the last time you gave anything 90 minutes before passing judgment?  It’s time to give important decisions at least 90 days before passing judgment.

You’ve decided on this course of action.  Let it play out.  Give it room.  Let it breathe.  See where it goes.

Give yourself the power of time.

Photo by Ümit Bulut on Unsplash

 

The Reasons We Quit…

Are usually not the real reasons.

Sure, we’ll have our story about how someone or something created the untenable situation that pushed us to quit.

We can talk about how continuing would have been a waste of our time and energy.

We can even describe how the emotional toll was so great that we needed to make the change before some type of permanent damage occurred.

All these reasons contain elements of truth.  But, not the whole truth.

The whole truth lies in the balance of authority and responsibility.

Authority and responsibility live on opposite sides of life’s biggest equation.  When we perceive that the authority we have matches up with the responsibility we’re carrying, we feel balanced.  Satisfied.

But, get them out of whack, and our dissatisfaction begins to climb.  Left unattended, the dissatisfaction we feel (subconsciously at first) will begin to overtake our patience.  The cascade toward departure begins.

A world where we have ultimate authority and no responsibility would be nice.  The “power” to do whatever we want without any ownership of the outcomes.  Of course, this is a fantasy world.

Having authority over anything means having responsibility.

The key is the balance.

So, back to the quit or don’t quit decision:

If we stay the course, we’ll be forced to take ownership.  We’ll need to assume authority and expend a ton of emotional energy.  We can’t blame the “other.”  When we decide not to quit, we’re deciding that it’s okay to be responsible for making the situation a success (however that gets defined in our heads).

Quitting is the easy way out of this “authority-responsibility” conundrum.  It requires a lot less energy and eliminates our risk of failure.  It doesn’t matter that the act of quitting may be an admission of failure in the first place.  That’s just a sunk cost.  The key is how much emotional energy we’ll have to expend in the future.

Why does any of this matter?  We aren’t planning to quit any time soon.  It’s not in our nature.

True, but what about everyone around you?  What about the people who report to you?  What about your teammates?  What about your friends?

It turns out they’re working through this same authority-responsibility equation in their own lives.

And guess who has both the authority and responsibility to help them with balancing their equation.

You.

 

Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash

Anything You Write…

“Anything you write can be fixed, except for the pristine perfection of the blank page.” –Neil Gaiman

Our future is the ultimate blank page.  The cursor blinks patiently, endlessly.  Waiting for us to write something.

That cursor doesn’t care what we’ve written in the past.  It doesn’t really care what we’ll write in the future.  Still it blinks…waiting.

Writers sometimes talk about writer’s block.  The intimidating view of a blank page that beckons them to write something…anything.

I agree with Seth Godin, that there’s no such thing as writer’s block.  Rather, there’s fear that what I’m writing won’t be as perfect as I want it to be.  It won’t be accepted by my readers.  It may be shunned, castigated, or otherwise flamed by someone I don’t even know.

So, my lizard brain protects me by making sure I don’t write a thing.

The same is true in life.  What we write into our life today may not be perfect.  It may not make sense to anyone.  It may be wrong.

That’s okay.  As Mr. Gaiman says, we can fix it.

Today’s page will be written, whether we do the writing or not.

What will you write today?

 

Photo Credit:  Bob’s computer screen before and after writing this post