Category Archives: Gratitude

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Today, the DAWA model is a bit outdated.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

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

My Leadership Prayer

God, please grant me,

The faith and judgment to make sound decisions, and

The courage to change those decisions when they’re wrong.

The everlasting hope that, together, our organization can and will be successful.

The fortitude to seek continuous improvement in everything we do.

 

Integrity and a just heart to do the right thing, even when no one is looking.

A charitable approach to my employees, my customers and my competitors.

The ability to focus on the vital few while ignoring the distracting many, and

The prudence to deploy our limited capital wisely.

 

Oh, loving God,

Allow me to work from a place of humility, forsaking my prideful thoughts.

Help me look to others for motivation, not as a source of jealous envy.

Give me the self-control to reject greed, striving for what is needed and nothing more.

Show me that the trappings and status of my position are temporary and undeserved.

 

Always remind me that my life’s mission is to serve others before myself,

Helping my organization grow by focusing on the growth of every team member.

Remind me to provide life-giving feedback and questions that encourage rather than belittle,

To view mistakes and failures as opportunities for learning and improvement.

Help me understand that all of us are smarter and more creative than one of us.

 

Give me the strength and endurance to persevere through times of trouble.

Give me the vision to see beyond today,

To always strive for a better tomorrow.

Help me to become a positive example for others in my thoughts, in my words, and in my actions.

I invite You into each and every minute of my life.

Grant me the peace that comes from Your eternal and infinite love, now and forever.

Amen

 

Photo by David Monje on Unsplash

 

Desire and Appreciation

“…people are programmed to desire, not to appreciate.” –Matt Ridley

Imagine if we had the ability to appreciate as much as we desire.

Imagine if the things we appreciated were all that we desire.

We might not get as much accomplished, but we’d probably be a little happier.  Maybe, a little more content.

As infants, we’re 99.99% desire.  It’s the only way we can survive, connect, learn, and thrive.

As we grow, our desires get more advanced.  We visualize, fantasize, dream, and hope.  We talk about the things we’re going to do, the places we’ll see, the people we’ll meet, the mountains we’ll climb.

In all of this, there’s little time for appreciation.  We don’t have time to reflect.  We’re too busy fulfilling our dreams, finding the next challenge, quenching our desire.

When was the last time you purposely spent time appreciating your life and the people you love?

When was the last time you purposely spent time appreciating yourself and the positive impact you have on the world?

Maybe it’s time.

Desire, with all its motivation and energy, is critical to our success.

But appreciation brings meaning to that success.  It makes our success (however we define it) matter.

Photo by ian dooley on Unsplash

Grandma’s Hot Chocolate

There’s something special about grandma’s hot chocolate.

It doesn’t matter that she boils water and pours in the envelope of instant powder like the rest of us.

It’s what she does while the water’s boiling.  The questions she asks while stirring-in the powder.  The way she stops stirring to listen to your answers.

Grandmas have that way of listening, even to the stuff we’re not saying.

It’s the way she adds the right amount of milk to “thicken it up a bit.”  Nobody else gets it exactly right like grandma.  She knows just the way you like it.  In fact, she’s the only one who does.

It’s counting out the right number of baby marshmallows.  Enough to sweeten things, but not so many that they get in the way.

It’s the way she squeezes your shoulder as she places the cup on your placemat.

It’s the way she sits to enjoy it with you.

That first sip is such a treat.  Is it the taste of the chocolate, or seeing grandma’s warm smile across the table that makes it so good?

It doesn’t matter.  Your loving journey to the bottom of this cup of wonder is just beginning.

Funny how the simplest things in life are transformed when they’re mixed with grandma’s love.

A love she teaches us to bring to the simple things in our own lives each and every day.

Photo by Salome Alexa on Unsplash

Overcoming the Weed-Out

They’re called weed-out classes.  The classes in every major designed to weed-out the pretenders, the students who can’t hack it, the ones who just don’t have what it takes.

They usually come around the third year…just when you think you’re pretty good at this stuff, and after you’ve committed two-plus years of your life to this major.

There were a couple of doozies in my major, Computer Information Systems.  But, none compared to CIS 324—Database Programming.  On the first day of class, Dr. Stumpf said he wouldn’t be surprised if we’d be in the computer lab 40-60 hours per week, just to complete the four main programming projects.  We’d also have a mid-term and a final that covered all the database theory we were supposed to be learning while completing the projects.

To make things tougher, each project picked up where the last one left off.  So, if you stumbled on the first project, you were setting yourself up for a potentially unrecoverable torture test in the second, third, and fourth projects.

It didn’t matter that you had other classes, or that you had a life that included working 30-40 hours per week.  This was CIS 324.  The weed-out class.

There were 26 of us in class that first day.  I remember the number because two people wanted to add the class, and Dr. Stumpf was concerned because we only had 24 chairs in the classroom.  That wouldn’t be a problem for long.

Five weeks and two projects later, there were 18 of us in class.  The others had dropped.

Seven weeks and three projects later, we were down to 11.  This was long before Survivor, but students voted themselves off the island nearly every week.

Dr. Stumpf took it all in stride.  This type of attrition was normal.  The students who didn’t make it would try again next quarter, or they’d re-evaluate their choice of major and never be back.

In the tenth week as we handed-in our last project and prepared to take the final exam, there were only 9 of us.  By now, we knew each other well.  We had spent many hours together in one of the computer labs (this was a bit before the days when you could use your PC to connect remotely).  We were in every class, pulling for each other.

We were part of this small band of students about to make it through Dr. Stumpf’s CIS 324 class.

Looking back at those ten weeks, I don’t remember much detail about the projects.  I remember the long nights in the computer lab, the endless diagrams, and lines of code.  There was an amazing vending machine just outside the lab that dispensed ice cream bars for 30 cents apiece.  I lived on ice cream bars and Mountain Dew that quarter.

I remember coming to each class, especially on the days our projects were due, wondering who’d be there and who’d be gone.  I remember Dr. Stumpf congratulating each of us when we handed in our final exams on the last day of class.

Since CIS 324, I’ve faced lots of “weed-out” tests, whether I knew it or not.  I’ve taken on projects that were way over my head.  I’ve asked myself to deliver “the impossible” more than a few times.

Were these real-life weed-out situations harder than my CIS 324 experience?  Definitely.  And, many lasted a lot longer than ten weeks.

But, the experience of overcoming my first weed-out test made it easier to pass the next one.  And, passing the second weed-out made it easier to pass the third.

Overcoming all these weed-out tests had five things in common:

  1. If I focused on the ultimate and final deliverable on the first day, I would have given up. The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.  It’s the same with overwhelming challenges.  Break them down to their next indicated step and take that step with confidence and an open mind. That will lead to the next step…
  1. It’s easy to feel alone in these weed-out tests. But, I was never alone, even when it felt that way.  I found allies, sounding boards, mentors, people willing to join my cause, people I could trust.  These people made all the difference.
  1. Related to the above: Never forget the people who helped when you needed it most.  Make sure they know how grateful you are for their help.  Be there for them.  They’re facing weed-out tests of their own and can use your help.
  1. No matter how unique you think your weed-out situation is, it isn’t. Someone else has probably faced a similar challenge and lived to tell about it.  Take the time to review what others have learned and apply it to the test you’re facing.
  1. Don’t let your success on this test go to your head. Sure, it’s a great achievement.  Have a nice dinner to celebrate.  Enjoy the accomplishment.  But, stay humble.  Humility is the foundation for overcoming your next big, scary weed-out test.

Friedrich Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.”

When we take the time to temper that strength with humility, we’re preparing ourselves to take on the next weed-out challenge that’s surely coming our way.

Photo by Jonny Caspari on Unsplash

 

Never Hit on 13!

“Son, I’d just stay on that if I were you.  Your job is to make the dealer bust.  We’re countin’ on you to get this right.”

My new “mentor” spoke with a confidence borne of the many decades of experience showing on his weathered face.

I didn’t realize it, but the open seat I filled at the Blackjack table was the third-base seat.  That meant I was the last player to get cards before the dealer.

He continued, since he must have figured this young fella sitting next to him could use some more of his wisdom.  He could tell this was my first time playing Blackjack in Vegas.  “If the dealer has a six or less, you make sure she gets the 10 card that’s sittin’ in that shoe.  Do you realize how many 10 cards there are in that thing?  Each one is a bust card for her.”

I hadn’t thought of it that way until he mentioned it.  There are a ton of 10 cards in each deck…16 to be exact.  And, if you add in the 8’s and 9’s, which are also bust cards for the dealer if she has a 14 or higher, that’s 24 cards out of 52 that are bust cards (nearly half).

I couldn’t believe I should stay on 13.  The dealer was showing a 2 of clubs.

Two people had already hit and busted.  My mentor’s wife stayed with her 18.  My mentor stayed with his 20.  Now all eyes were on me and my 13.

My $5 chip wasn’t the only money at risk.  My mentor and his wife each had $25 chips up and they were counting on me to make the right choice.

Sure, there’s a bunch of 10 cards in there, but there’s also a bunch of non-10 cards.  And, the dealer may have a 9 facing down, so that’s 11.  A sure path to 21 and a rousing defeat for everyone at the table.

13 seemed a long way from 21 and not a very powerful way to win.  It sure would be great if I drew a 7 or an 8 and could defend against the dealer’s next hit card.

What to do?

My new mentor could sense my quandary.  He could see that this newbie had no idea how this game was played.  “Son, remember your job. Make her bust.”

I decided to stay on my 13.  The dealer turned over her down card.  It was a King.  She had 12.  She hit and pulled a 10.  Bust!

“Are you gonna let that $10 ride?  Seems like you have the hang of that seat.  Time to see what it can do for ya.”

Another decision.  I looked at the other players and saw them putting up their new chips.  My mentor and his wife were letting their $50 ride.

I left my chips up and waited for my cards.  This time, the cards were in my favor and I had 20.  My mentor had 12, and his wife had 17.  The dealer was showing a 6.

“Looks like I’m in the third-base seat for this hand, since you’ve got a 20,” he said as he motioned that he’d be staying.  I followed suit and stayed with my 20.

The dealer turned over her down card to reveal a Queen.  She had 16 and was required to hit.  Another Queen showed up.  Dealer bust, again!

This “13 strategy” was showing some strength.

“Are you gonna let that ride again?”

Feeling a bit more comfortable with my situation, it was an easy decision to let my $20 ride for the next hand.  Mr. Mentor and his wife let their $100 ride.  They were on a roll!

This was more than I’d ever bet in Vegas.  A whole $20!  And my new friends each had $100 on the line!  I could feel my heartbeat racing as the cards were dealt.

My mentor’s wife received a pair of Aces. My mentor had 17.  I had 12.  The dealer was showing a 4.  This was a perfect setup for my new-found strategy.

The first two players each hit on their hands and received low cards.  Both were still in and stayed.  My mentor’s wife split her Aces and placed a new $100 chip on the table.  The next card was an 8.  She stayed with that hand.  Her other Ace received a 10.  Blackjack!  The dealer paid her $150 in chips for that hand and moved on to Mr. Mentor.  He stayed with his 17.

It was all up to me.  That’s when things went sideways.

I started obsessing on the number 7.  What if I stay and the dealer pulls a 7 out of the shoe?  That would give her 21 (this all assumes that her down card is a 10, of course).  If she gets a 21, she’d beat me and everyone else at the table.

But, if I got that 7, I’d have 19 and be sitting pretty against whatever she had.

Somehow, in the heat of that moment, I forgot about holding on 13 (or 12) if the dealer is showing a 6 or less.  I just knew that the next card was a 7.  That 7 was mine to take and I’d be saving the entire table from oblivion.

“Hit me!”

The dealer slid the card from the shoe.  The world started moving in slow-motion.  She slid the card over to my hand and turned it over.  It was a 10!  I busted.  There went my $20!

It gets worse.

The dealer turned over her down card to reveal a King.  She had 14 and was required to hit.  You guessed it.  That 7 card came up for her.  She now had 21.

I had snatched defeat from the jaws of victory for myself and my fellow players.  That 10 that I took should have busted the dealer, but it busted me and then everyone else at the table.

Ashamed, I looked at my fellow players, shaking my head and saying I was sorry for blowing it for them.  Here was a group of strangers I’d only met a few minutes earlier and I’d let each of them down.

My mentor didn’t miss a beat.  He tossed another $25 chip on the table and said, “Those cards don’t care about you.  They don’t get nervous.  They don’t care what happens.  They play by their rules and that’s it.  You knew your rules and ignored them…and that’s how this casino was built.  You’re not the only one who forgets his rules when it matters most.”

I learned the importance of knowing my rules and playing by them.  Every time.  In every situation.

I don’t go to Vegas often.  Whenever I go, I find time to play Blackjack, always from the third-base seat.

 

Note:  The preceding may or may not have happened exactly as described.  Either way, the lesson is clear.  Rules matter…especially your rules.  Know your rules before you play.  Play by your rules when you play.  Don’t lose sight of your rules when things get rough or when things look hopeless.  If you stay true to your rules, you’ll win far more often than you lose.

Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash