Leadership styles from the classroom, boardroom to the White House…

26 Aug

Teachers ARE leaders! Leaders of their classroom in so many ways, ways people are realizing in the midst of the pandemic. Teachers know there are ‘good’ leadership styles – and ‘bad’ styles.

‘Bad’ teacher leadership would be the ‘talk and chalk’ method.

Who wants to pay attention to a leader – or a teacher who talks and doesn’t engage?

And then there’s the ‘good’ leader teacher:

The teacher/leader who fully engages, listens, encourages talk and sharing. Real progress in learning and living requires analyzing and discussion.

As schools – and this new US Presidential election season kick off, it’s time to recognize that leadership is leadership regardless of whether it’s in the classroom, boardroom, or world conference room, OR the White House.

The US needs a leader like Joe Biden who encourages discussion, listens to the experts, and promotes sharing – not just telling people opinions.

What about in your boardroom? How do people get things done? Create a sharing environment by asking questions and allowing time to gather information, discussing facts and playing with options. Provide lots of time for LISTENING.

LISTENING is the most important leadership skill after all – the most important life communication skill!

Time for leadership: VOTE on November 3rd!

Got Conflict? Ask what would Joe do – not what Donald would…

18 Aug

Since the beginning of the Trump presidency, I’ve thought about how his ‘communication style’ is all about ‘my way or the highway’ and creating win-lose situations: with him winning all the time btw.

Trump is a bully, turning everything into a competition so as not to lose. Fear, the fear NOT to lose is a big-time motivation to ‘attack’. Like all bullies, Trump calls those who disagree names and puts them down: he may not say ‘U suck’, but he calls people losers. Why??? It gets us no-where.

Biden on the other hand is one to say: Life’s NOT a competition – everyone can win. AND the big thing now is the USA MUST win. As Kamala Harris said ‘we are fighting for the soul of our country’. Creating WIN’s is the way to save a soul for us as individuals – and as a country.

A conflict is like being on a seesaw with the bully holding his ‘opponent’ or ‘prey’ in the air. Below you can see a bully as a parasite/virus – attacking with words. ESPECIALLY against the truth.

Creating a win-win, in nature is called mutualism. In our Human Nature world a win-win is simple IF we LISTEN, ask question, respect. That’s the Joe Biden way.

Let’s create a win-win for us as individuals and the country. Let’s communicate like Joe. Here are a few simple steps to try in our own lives:

  • SMILE! Easily the simplest thing to do – currently challenging in our masked for safety world. Even smiling at someone behind your mask changes the way you think though. As customer service workers know since a mirror is there for them to smile into. Besides, you want to practice smiling for when we can finally unmask again. Notice Biden and Harris smile – a lot – and are sincere!
  • LISTEN: what is the other person saying? Is there truth there?
  • DECIDE: what do you want? Do you want to win at any cost? Do you want to attack? Or do you just want your own needs met while also protecting the other person? It’s a hard decision.
  • LISTEN: yup, it’s that important I’m saying it twice. Listen to the words in your own head and if YOU are ready to pounce back. Don’t.
  • LISTEN: another time to what the other person is saying: are THEY attacking you? Realize it’s about them – not about you. Let them vent since again, it’s NOT about you.
  • STAY SILENT: this is so, so hard! If you go on the attack the bully LOVES this. It’s fuel for them. So DON’T fuel them!
  • ASK: what do YOU want from this ‘interaction’ – to yourself since a bully in the throes of an attack probably can’t listen.
  • CHOOSE: an action that will allow you to get what you need which may be walking away. Reminding both of you that you can both win.
  • OPEN: communication and ask the ‘insulter’ what they want, what will make them happy.
  • APOLOGIZE: saying ‘I’m sorry’ is one of the most powerful things you can say to someone. ‘I’m sorry’ when you’ve made mistakes (which we all have). ‘I’m Sorry you’re feeling that way’ when someone else accuses. It may feel strange to say ‘I’m sorry’ when the mistake is not yours – remember it is about how the other person is feeling.
  • REALIZE: that just by asking you may change the conflict into a conversation – or NOT.
  • ACCEPT: that bullies have a deep rooted fear inside that will drive them into conflict.
  • CREATE: relationships YOU feel are healthy. Surround yourself with mutualism, with those who support you and want you to win.

The USA has become a partisan playground where everyone is vying for position on the seesaw. Time to get off it and decide what is the healthiest way to address disagreements: Like Trump? OR like Biden? How do you want your kids to communicate? What kind of world do you want to live in.

Create win-wins! Over then next few weeks it’ll be good for all to watch, listen, learn from how the future potential leaders of the USA communicate. And for each of us to decide if we want the White House occupied by a bully (Trump) OR filled with the promise of win-wins (Biden).

Most of all VOTE! And wear a mask when you’re around others!

VOTE! As Michelle Obama said, ‘Vote like your life depends on it!’. It does in oh so many ways.

Be Kind: LISTEN

28 Oct

“There’s no bread or milk” my neighbor complained as we waited for the elevator in our Brooklyn building the morning after Hurricane Sandy hit. My first (and  second) reaction was disbelief – after all people less than a mile from us were flooded out, everything lost thanks to the Atlantic’s surge through Coney Island on it’s way to Manhattan. I’m sure I made sympathetic sounds while shaking my head. (Much) later though I realized that all those people sloshing through basements in their own disbelief might have made the same complaint the day before.

“Be Kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

After all, our focus is always on the battle we’re currently engaged in. And that makes sense. We need all our energy to conquer our detractors each and every day. But are we so focused on our own battles we can’t also have kindness and empathy for others? I wonder about this more and more in the age of social media where we have to work so hard to get others attention.

“Be Kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

I’ve always loved this quote (which I’ve seen attributed to Philo, Plato and even Socrates) as a way to keep empathy for others front and center. It’s a hard thing to do, since, well, we’re fighting our own battles and seem to need all our sympathy for ourselves. I realized this again when I broke my wrist this past year.

Having wrist surgery seems to be as common as getting a filling these days. Lucky for me though I’d gone six decades without a broken bone. That said you’re probably not feeling loads of sympathy for me, but if it helps, it happened in Ukraine where I was a Peace Corps Volunteer and about a week before I was scheduled to leave. And I had to travel in a cast that felt as heavy as my suitcase.

Jet-lagged, I arrived in the states simultaneously trying to find an orthopedic surgeon and feed my hunger for sympathy. The doctor I found, the sympathy, well…

I heard about others’ ordeals with broken wrists, some having spent a year with a broken bone, cancer, and more. Each person’s story was more tragic than the next. And certainly worthy of more sympathy than my own tiny broken bone. Each person battled getting ready for work with their arm in a cast, getting to work or to chemo, and more. True, my temporary disability left me feeling grateful that mine was indeed temporary, and yet, I also began feeling invisible and inconsequential, broken a bit physically and emotionally. I wasn’t battling a serious brokenness, but it was still a disability. When I cast aside my emotions I realized:

People desperately needed to be heard and to share their won battles: past and present. I began to wonder how much I’d listened to them during their fights. I felt sad realizing I probably hadn’t been as kind as I could have.  So there I was: sad I’d been unkind and miserable I couldn’t zip up my own coat (or pants for that matter).

I kept coming back to the same big THING: Listening! Really giving someone enough attention to say what’s on their mind and responding to it. Listening has become my complaint ‘cry’ of the year or rather the lack of listening. I don’t go on Facebook often, though it seems so many people are sharing verbal ‘posts’ about their current battles and victories and rewarded with likes and comments. If I’d shared my wrist progress on social media would I have gotten more ‘kindness’? Or is listening and two way conversations following rhinos into extinction? (other things that might become extinct in 2020)

Just the other other day I shared a thought with a housemate who responded with a totally unrelated digression. When I pointed out he obviously hadn’t listened he sang Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Sound of Silence’: ‘People hearing without listening…’

Funny (but not really), this song written so many years ago is a reminder that while fashion changes, we as people, don’t change nearly as fast. OR, maybe this is just our human nature?

Optimistically, I think we humans have a superpower: the potential for change. We change habitat by moving across the street or world (which I do often).  Sadly, we are changing the habitat (our environmental crisis being the case in point).  And of course we can and do change our phenotype: the way we look and present ourselves to the world.

Changing behavior though is really hard – really, really, hard – and this is the time of year to do just that. Change to heal our ‘brokenness’ is the basis of the Jewish New Year and specifically on Yom Kippur. For this new year, I want to change – to be kinder. To listen. Really listen. To myself and to others.

To all I apologize, and, if I haven’t said it before: “Tell me more.” I’ll listen and support you in all your battles large and small.

Don’t waste my time: 3 steps to avoid conflict

4 Mar

What triggers set you off?

Admittedly, I’m unsure of my specific plans to sell my apartment, but when a potential realtor said, ‘I don’t want to waste my time’, my communication skills went the way of affordable middle-class housing in NYC (non-existent).

www.talkingdollarsandcents.net.  Hey I'm selling a studio apartment and all my worldly possessions!

www.talkingdollarsandcents.net. Hey I’m selling a studio apartment and all my worldly possessions!

So I thought about triggers.  Triggers that get pulled and explode in either conflict and/or nasty feelings.  We all have them: those intangible minefields, verbal or nonverbal (tone of voice or ‘scrunched’ faces) that upset our equilibrium about how we feel about ourselves, our lives, and the world we live in.

So why did the flippant comment of this realtor bug me so much and what did it remind me of ‘fighting words’?

Current emotional residence:  Conflict is always about what is going on inside.  Selling my external/physical residence feels freeing, but as my next step is uncertain, internally I’m emotionally fragile.    The stress of ‘when’ to sell was heightened as my uncertainty met with her impatience.

Expectations:  It is wrong, but I still expect to be treated with some semblance of kindness, goodwill, compassion by others – especially in a situation where I am the customer and will make her money.   A little empathy goes a long way I always think to reminding me I am in a ‘human’ relationship.

Communication style differences:  Yes, I know different people focus on different things.  I focus on relationships whether it is in selling my apartment or going to the dentist.   In a busy city in our modern 24/7 life it a reminder  others favor tasks and getting things done over a warm fuzzy relationship shouldn’t surprise me – and yet…  And while I ultimately want a task focused realtor, this realtor’s task approach left me feeling like I do when the ‘F’ train suddenly goes express leaving me in the freezing cold on an outdoor subway platform.

Needless to say, I let this realtor know I wouldn’t list with her.  Her verbal comments and nonverbal tone made me feel like my sell was ‘pocket change’ which it is, but still….  I recommended I would have preferred a ‘let’s see if this will work for both of us’ approach.

www.featurepics.com  The math equation we all have memorized!

www.featurepics.com The math equation we all have memorized!

Time is money and it always has been.    As a consultant, I’ve spent months patiently calling potential clients to discuss their needs.  Sometimes its paid off, quite often not.  Is there anything more valuable than money?  I suppose that is up to each of us to decide.  Like I said, I focus on relationships.  Granted, one reason why I am selling a VERY low commission apartment!

So as l ditch my cheap little apartment, not only don’t I want my time wasted – more importantly I don’t want my good nature destroyed.  So here is my 3 step reminder to myself (and any potential realtor or substitute realtor for any person of potential conflict) to prevent conflict and make a sell:

1.  Compassion:  Realize when someone is seeking ‘help’ they are (likely) feeling vulnerable.  Compassion like empathy goes a long way.  I know it’s so last century, but ‘be nice’.

https://www.kindsnacks.com/store#All-KIND-Products.  Healthy snacks earn a profit with the message to do kind things for others

https://www.kindsnacks.com/store#All-KIND-Products. Healthy snacks earn a profit with the message to do kind things for others and (basically be nice)

2. Expectations:  (see above) and: I don’t know my potential clients expectations (hell, as a seller in this situation I barely know mine!).  This is a reminder to compassionately ask:  what are your expectations for working with me?  It’s not meant to be an end to negotiations, only a good beginning.  And a good first step to ensure no-one’s time is wasted.

3.  Connect with style:  (see above) and: remember we all have different styles and ways to go about doing the same things.  This is why we are always grousing about partners, significant others, and friends.  In reality no-one does things the way we do.  So my most important reminder:  LISTEN to what someone is asking/telling to understand what the other person needs.  A simple:  ‘tell me more’ goes a long way to not wasting time on either end.

Wishing you ‘easy sells’  and interactions filled with connection, calm, and compassionate!

3 Steps to Hitting the “ReStart” for 2014

3 Mar

We’re well into 2014: are you still focused on those resolutions to achieve your best?

I’ve been wondering why so many resolutions go unfulfilled each year.  Fortunately I have lots of data:  my own actions and inactions.  Each year  I start with the best of intentions, yet, forget to clear out the “old junk” which initially created the “problem” to begin with.   I realized I  reboot (restarting a computer program with or without turning off the power), when I need to restart (a “platinum” reboot shutting everything down before turning back on refreshed) my internal programming each year.

www.daimanuel.com Check out this great post!

www.daimanuel.com Check out this great post!

So thanks to three January “in-box” prompts (below), I’ve restarted my 2014 (and life) thinking since I’m planning a platinum life reboot.

1.  Are you asking the right question?  This question but not the sender’s identity stuck with me.  Hmmm, were my resolutions (and me) stuck because I ask wrong questions?   (Spoiler alert:  Yup!)  Wrestling with my major move’s next step, I’ve been asking:  what will I do to find new clients and earn a living (a usual resolution and necessity to be sure).   Yet I realized I’ve asked this over and over while finding myself duck taped to inaction.  Why?  Because quite simply, this isn’t my right question.   Turns out my right restart question is harder and scarier: “what will I do with my life that will make my heart sing and allow me to feel like “me”?    Once asked, I had to stop and listen to my answer.   YEA!  Kinda…  I realized it’s time for me to do something really, really different with my life and the great skills I have.

 2.  ‘What would you do if you weren’t afraid?‘  Prompted agent Rachelle Garner rachelle@thewordstudio.com.   Geeze… tackling my ‘right’ question requires ousting that fear I unconsciously flaunt like a favorite bauble.    During the Jewish New Year I saw beneath my fear.  And guess what I found?  SHAME!  Shame in the guise of concrete overshoes has weighed me down making it easy to drag my feet and stay dormant.  Shame of having lost myself and all I had left behind.  (And turning into a dog chasing his tail type of thing.)  The thing about shame is, it’s embarrassing to admit to myself and others because it is so…  Well you know – like Brene Brown says, it is an unspoken epidemic.  This is powerful stuff:  Brene Brown http://www.oprah.com/oprahs-lifeclass/Brene-Brown-on-the-3-Things-You-Can-Do-to-Stop-a-Shame-Spiral-Video  and her TED talk http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_listening_to_shame.html.

3.  De-clutter:  This prompt comes from just about everywhere.    I know I’m not alone in loving my stuff – Chachkes, jewelry, scarves, jackets, books, papers, you name it- even though I constantly talk and write about living luxuriously on less.   My answer to what do I de-clutter?   Everything:  stuff, people, ideas – everything that feeds fear (and my shame) and keeps me dormant.    Honestly though, the idea of de-cluttering is overwhelming even when I’m not buying more.  And this stuff I love is part of who I am – how I define myself and share that identity with the world.  If I don’t have it, then who am I?  (And I’d guess why must of us don’t de-clutter) But the right question is:  Will divesting ‘stuff’ free me – and my shame – to live the life I want now?   My right answer: YES!!  So after years of holding on, I’m moving on by getting rid of almost all my beautiful clutter.  Let me know if you’re in NYC and need an apartment, or antique furniture!

Brene Brown urges us to share shame to move forward.  Good advice. By sharing, I’m shedding mine along with my earthly antique possessions and antiquated beliefs about what I should be doing.  My ‘ball’ is in motion and I’m waiting impatiently to receive word about my next step.  I’m excited and scared but my load is free(er) of clutter.

What about you?  Are you living and doing what you really want?  Start and share your own journey,  by personalizing these prompts:

  1. What’s your right question????
  2. What’s hiding beneath your fear keeping you stuck?
  3. What can you de-clutter from your life to free you (emotionally and physically)?

I’ll share my progress and plan once I receive word.  Share what you’re up to also.  Let’s make 2014 a real step forward in our life’s journey.

5 Steps to Celebrate a Conflict-free (Shopping) Holiday

2 Dec

Is (holiday shopping) credit card debt the kiss of death under the mistletoe?

Do your finances spin out of control while shopping for 8 nights of Chanukah gifts?

Money stress is as normal as holiday lights twinkling before Halloween these days.  A recent LearnVest post discussed couple conflict about over-indulgent holiday spending – and debt.   I started thinking about present’ expectations and how the anticipation of those wrapped packages uncover surprising presence about gifting and celebration.  Especially since I have more good cheer than money these days.

As Black Friday started before the Thanksgivannukah Turkey is cleared from the table this year, I wondered: How special are gifts these days?  While I’m not quite old enough to have received an orange or (more likely) a lump of coal for Chanukah, I remember when shopping the day after Thanksgiving was a rare and special occasion.  In fact, every gift was a BIG DEAL “back in that day” because shopping and “the biggest sale of the season” wasn’t a weekly occurrence.  Back then we walked in parks – not malls.  It’s impossible to turn back time (though I’d love an eye cream that delivers on that promise), but environmentally and economically it makes sense to rethink how and what we spend and consume.  Seems to me celebration should focus on keeping bank balances in the black, while maintaining green, to prevent seeing red credit card bills.

So I thought I’d share my financial gift: 5 steps to work through and talk about money – by yourself, with your partner, or your whole family.

1.  Write out a plan and check it twice (to make sure it will really work for you).  Start and end with how much you can – or want to spend to stay festive.  Most of all be honest with yourself, family, partner, and friends.  If you don’t have money to spend, tell them what’s important to you and why (i.e. not going into debt or spending money you don’t have).  Come up with a list of fun and FREE things to do.   When you find yourself beginning 2014 with a balanced budget and sanity, be sure to write a thank you note to friends and family who helped you celebrate in a financially and emotionally balanced way.

2.  Ho-ho-hmmmm….:  Does your current level of glitz equal fun or frustrating?  Define your meaningful glitz by writing down what you love and not so much about holiday ‘celebrations’ and gifting.  For each, identify what you give and what you get emotionally and monetarily.  Is there a pattern about your spending of good cheer and money?    I love getting little things that are hand-made – what about you?

3.  Gelt:  got it or not…  Gelt, wrapped chocolate coins gambled during a Chanukah game of drivel may be symbolic and insightful about what pot you’re throwing money into.  I used to LOVE buying (what I thought) was the perfect gift – but that was when I spent gelt like I ate chocolate – freely.  Now gifting is laden with guilt over gelt:  how do I explain the low-level glitz to the niece who has everything and whispers in my ear:  “what did you buy me?  Bring me a gift next time.”?    If a relationship is defined by the cost of a gift, is it really a relationship?  Honestly assess your gelt –  and check your guilt at the door: do NOT apologize – spend only what you can afford.

4.  Reframe spending traditions….  Extended family celebration’s at Thanksgiving have filled me with amusement and horror as “the kids” rip off wrapping paper without thanks and seemingly without meaning.   I like my friend Kevin’s family gifting tradition:   Everyone is assigned one person to gift.  On Christmas Day, after the lutefisk, they line up, holding received presents, opening them one by one , starting with 80 year-old Grandma.  Somehow the kids wait till everyone else’s gift had been oohed and aahhed over till they open their own.  Start your own meaningful gifting tradition – or borrow or adapt from these 8 families http://www.learnvest.com/2013/11/8-ways-to-give-holiday-gifts/?gallery=731&pid=#pid-8472_aint-0.  A few years ago I started gifting my nieces with a donation in their name to a charity or cause of their choice.  It hasn’t won me any popularity contests, but I hope it helps them understand the meaning of giving.

4.  Experience the love by spending on experiences, not “stuff”.  Years ago I convinced friends to forego gifts for doing something together.  Sure we might have planned these outings anyway, but they feel so much more special because they force us to be present to celebrate.  I don’t miss the gifts, but I would absolutely miss spending quality time together.  What special outings can you plan that would feel luxurious on the cheap?

5.  Share gratitude.  I don’t know about you but even though I don’t give to get thanks, I love being thanked.  For me, it is a show of love, of gratefulness for the relationship more than the “stuff” given.  If you’re like me and wonder if thank you notes are as endangered as polar bears, give others (especially young people) a gift that will last a lifetime:  a reminder to write thank you notes (or at least thank you texts).  After all, where will they learn if we don’t teach?  And what can be more meaningful and gratifying than being thanked for an act of kindness, time spent together, or a token of friendship?  Now that I’m writing this, I think this might be the place to start your planning with your partner or family.  Most of all, share self-gratitude – try writing yourself a thank you note for being a good soul.

Here’s wishing you a financially balanced and emotionally fulfilling holiday season.  And thank you for reading  – and  hopefully sharing these ideas with those you love.

For Peace: “Practice Friendship with your Enemies” the Adaptive Leadership Way

14 Nov

It’s those lessons people want to teach- but you can’t hear – because the lessons you’ll learn are based on the solutions you’ve earned – working it through your way, based on your problem and situation.

No matter how well-intentioned:  you just can’t tell people what to do…

As a self-anointed financial yenta and communication coach, my seemingly brilliant solutions can’t be dictated or adopted, but rather (personally) adapted.  The key to solving problems is engaging people and “developing their capacity to solve their own problems”.  That’s adaptive leadership.

Imagine: thirst for blood, leading to a blood drive, leading to best baklava bake-offs.

Ron Heifetz, Harvard’s Adaptive Leadership maven shared (NPR’s Nov.  11, 2013  “lessons in Leadership:  It’s not about you (it’s about them) how reframing leadership as problem-solving did just that in the long-standing conflict between Greeks and Turks.  Heifetz and George Papandreou, Greece’s then Foreign Minister  realized  you can’t just tell people to stop hating each other – it has to come from within.

m6840119_763x260-give-blood

Papandreou extended the olive branch by helping Turkey apply for EU membership.  But that’s not personal enough.  In 1999, Turks helped save Greeks after an earthquake, a month later, it was Greeks donating blood for Turk victims.  It was like “friends helping friends”.  It was emotional catharsis.

In recent decades it became evident that emotional needs are often at the core of the conflict and have to be addressed in order to resolve the conflict, how adaptive leadership connects with Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa post-Apartheid, and in Rwanda’s (controversial) Gacaca courts where the Hutu’s and Tutsi’s victims and perpetrators came face to face to discuss atrocities.

Emotions and connection:  “Practice friendship with your enemies”, NYC artist De La Vega’s saying .

Or so it seems to me – leadership, problem-solving, and managing conflict is personal – it’s all about people tuning their individual radio stations to WIIFM:  What’s in it for me, and realizing to get my needs met, I need you (to care or at least look out for me).  It’s easy to see how adaptive leadership can be a powerful approach when improving a performance problem in the workplace or financial challenges in a family.

I heard this NPR story two days after the anniversary of the (official) start of the Holocaust:  November 9, 1938, Kristallnacht or the “Night of broken glass” when Nazi’s took to Berlin streets breaking Jewish storefront windows and burning synagogues.  I started wondering how this approach could be used before neighbor started killing neighbor (Rwanda), or any genocide erupts.

josephine www.rwandanstories.org

“Whoever confessed would see their penalty reduced, because you cannot confess and remain the same. Confessing is something that changes people.”
Josephine, www.rwandanstories.org

After all, the Holocaust began years before Kristallnacht’s broken glass with Nazi youth breaking legs, souls, and lives in the early 1930’s.   After time, research and stories shared, it’s easy (of course) to have an “ah-ha” moment that a modified adaptive leadership approach ala Papandreou and the Turks/Greeks could have stopped Hitler.  Imagine small group facilitations between Jews and Germans talking about needs and emotions…

Naive?  Sure.  But after the “Never Again” Holocaust, genocides continue to happen – again.   Even now, there is rising anti-Semitism across Europe, in places where there are more ghosts than living souls (and yes, Jewish communities are growing across Eastern Europe).   All the more reason I say to have those who “hate” share a coffee with those who are “hated” and actually talk.  Talk about emotions, concerns, fears – those personal things that make us human – and vulnerable.  It’s a chance for people to share their identity and be heard which is astonishingly powerful.  It’s a chance to build empathy and walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

Connection can cure conflict.  Don’t you think laughter can save a life as powerfully as blood?

Anyway, I’m free to facilitate and help people share stories.  Call me.  Better yet, tweet me (@katz_communicat) – let’s start a revolution.  One conversation at a time!

Lose those last five: Weighty writing words from Mari

7 Nov

Writing about losing those last five pounds is my greatest work of fiction – and you know I’m much more into the ‘serious’ non-fiction stuff.

To begin with, that five has doubled this last year – I only wish my portfolio was as ambitious.  I’d like to pull the ‘that’s middle-aged’ thing as a reason.  Maybe it is.  Of course it could also be tied to the usual suspects:  eating too much chocolate while sitting at this very same computer.

My reality is projected in a pair of pants.  Beautiful black wool work pants, circa 1992.  I’ve dubbed them my ‘conscience’ pants.  On bright days, they accentuate my waist.  On not good days, these same pants ask:  Is that a giant muffin around your waist, or have you just been too happy to see chocolate?  It’s why when I’ve seen ‘backfat’ grafittied around my Brooklyn neighborhood, I look guilty.

The good news: I have no need to wear these pants these days.  The bad news: I have no need to wear these pants.  I have way too much time to whittle away at that ‘good for me’ organic chocolate.  And my “conscience pants”?  Out of sight, out of fit.

Idling through my closet is a bit like antiquing – so many beautiful things carrying their own bit of history and memories.  A few months ago, my “conscience pants” whispered:  ‘choose me’.    Filled with anger and dejection (obviously), they tried to choke my waist.

It was a battle, but I wrestled them off and back into the closet.  Write on, right?

Just when I needed it, along came Mari’McCarthy’s  28 day  weight loss journaling challenge.

With all that diet advice out there,  why do some of us continue to carry that inner tube around our middles?  Is it for safety in case we get lost at sea?  Metaphors aside…

Pen, paper, and  Mari’s guidance, I set out to discover why that weight has merged with a part of me, and, how to let it go.  While Mari’s journal is filled with lots of things we’ve all heard before, what’s great is how she pulls it together, with time for reflection.  Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • Focus on internal “weights”, how I want to feel, and more importantly WHY.  As I make steps to change my life I need to be my best me.  I want to be fit and strong, bounding up stairs and lightening my conscience  by sitting comfortably in those lonely, yet lovely black wool pants.
  • Then there’s the chance to think about negative body – image self-talk, and identify the voice behind those critical words.   Thanks Mom!    I realize it’s really time to turn off the volume.
  • Mari has me journaling about what I eat, and more importantly, how I am feeling at the time.  I eat healthy most of the time.  So when does most become not so much?  Recording my eating patterns has given me some food for thought:  My irregular life leads to irregular eating habits (ok, knew this).  Glaringly apparent was how light I ate when the sun was up, but by the time I get home late(r) and famished, I ate accordingly.  I now eat heavily before I leave home, carry apples and nuts to keep me sated.  My healthy diet was filled with veggies, but lacking protein.  Adding beans, tofu or ground turkey which I rarely ate is filling me up: the good way.
  • Every emotion whets my appetite (no surprise there!).  While I reach for chocolate when I’m feeling (fill in the blank), I now recognize it’s a habit.  It’s not what my body wants because I keep eating (and writing), but without feeling satisfied.  I’ve started filling my sugar tooth with spoonfuls of vegetable bean and tofu stew (much yummier than it sounds), or toast and peanut butter.  Journaling reminds me to go to sleep not eat when I come home tired, angry or lonely.

How am I doing on Day 14 of 28?  My “conscience pants” tell me they’re almost ready to leave the house muffin-free and my feet aren’t dragging up the subway stairs.  I’m reframing more than my body self-talk – I’m reframing what I eat and when, going for a sandwich rather than a “snack”, feeding my hunger for real stuff.

Because it’s real stuff that will get me where I want to go, wherever my next journey takes me.  

Flash to Fallow: Falls 5 Financial Lessons

4 Oct

This post originally appeared on blogher’s ‘Diary of a Single Professional Woman’

Nature is rich – in resources – just like I want to be.

I often say ‘Everything I need to know about the economy and life I learned from Mother Nature’.   As fall sends nature’s flash into fallow (or dormancy), it’s the perfect time to learn from her (save, spend, grow) sustainability plan.   After all, she’s been around a long time – so what does she know that we don’t?  And more importantly what can we learn so we spring open along with the crocuses come April?   Here’s my simplistic, and metaphoric thoughts on ‘environmental economics’ to kick around with the leaves.

seedling

Fall may feel like an end rather than a start – look out the window and nature looks like it is dying.  Ha!  Mother Nature is transitioning from her extroverted spring/summer flash to a well-deserved introverted fall/winter recovery time.  Her withdrawal of energy allows time to reflect, rejuvenate, and save for spring’s big bloom roll-out.

Shorter days likely darken our mood.  Especially as color leaves our external environment.   Green, in particular colors our thoughts – and the U.S. dollar or greenback, that universal currency.  Simply:

Lush, rich, life = Green

Green = Money

Green = Nature

Nature = Resources

Resources = Money

Money = Nature

Nature = Resources = Life

Yet, when it comes to linking the economy with the environment, it seems we are colorblind, too often living in the red.  I think we need to ask: which resources are needed for life?

For a brief period of time, I thought it was a ‘red handbag’.  As you’ve read,  it was a temporary want.  Sure, I love ‘stuff’ that makes my apartment home.  But honestly, I don’t need it – I just want it.   The only resources any of us really need for life are oxygen, water, and food.  Resources only nature can provide

(contrary to ingredient lists on many packaged foods.)

I say our challenge is working with Mother Nature for our needs while satisfying our human nature with our wants.

It’s asking:  What Would Mother Nature Do (WWMND) for economic success?   She’d say begin with her 5 steps.

1.  Balance:    Mother Nature has obviously spent plenty of time on a playground seesaw.  She understands the need to maintain balance even while going up and down.   She uses what she has – while saving a little for the future.    Mother Nature foregoes debt, once her bottom line turns from green to red, she catapults into endangerment/extinction.

Lesson:   We may become morally, emotionally, financially bankrupt overusing resources, causing our internal peace (balance) to become extinct.  Live under your means to keep your personal seesaw going.   Debt drives your energy, emotions, finances and goodwill into the red.  And remember: There is no plastic – no credit cards – found in nature.

Maintaining balance, like on a see-saw can seem like child's play.

Maintaining balance, like on a see-saw can seem like child’s play.

2.  Save:   Mother Nature saves everything including those piles of leaves in your yard.   This is not hoarding.  She reduces those dead leaves/blooms by recycling (decomposers de-clutter causing decaying leaves to smell like a frat house bathroom on a Sunday morning) and reusing (notice those leaves are gone by spring – broken up and back into the soil like using old clothes to make a quilt).  All this saving leads to new blooms – and a reminder that the future is no predictor of the past.

Lesson:  use what you have to grow your future – like with an IRA.    And don’t bother raking those leaves in your yard!

3.  Spew seeds:  Seeds are nature’s C.D.’s (certificates of deposit), little packets of possibility to ensure future growth.   They even sound similar!   Seeds, like C.D.’s only open at the right time, in the right place, and the right conditions – and they are supported by all those unused seeds and leaves that ‘die’.  There are even special seeds that open during a forest fire to ensure that tree species survival.  Kinda like emergency C.D.’s/funds.  

Lesson:  save for emergencies as well as the future – though the stock market provides better returns than C.D.’s.

Nobody would touch this funky burr-covered seed till it was already  open (like all CD's should be!)

Nobody would touch this funky burr-covered seed till it was already open (like all CD’s should be!)

4.  Diversification: The healthiest forest and gardens are filled with diverse trees that play host to lots of different bugs, and are called home by lots of birds.   Having only one species like Dutch Elm (on decorative paths) found one ‘sick’ tree caused them all to die.

Lesson:  Diversification of your holdings maintains balance and growth so even if your ‘Dutch Elm’-like stock tanks/dies, other stock species survive.

5.  Be sustainable:  Mother Nature thrives because everything she has is used and supports everything else, even though it may seem to be in conflict.

Lesson:  Invest in things that feed your future.  Material things that overwhelm you and end up in landfills throw you off-balance and leave nothing to decompose – unlike the leaves left in your yard that will decompose to nurture spewed seeds.  Experiential investments always leave you with seeds or kernels of thought and growth.

Part of the Coney Island boardwalk by the NY Aquarium

Part of the Coney Island boardwalk by the NY Aquarium

Keep following Mother Nature’s 5 lessons through all the seasons:

  • This holiday season, stay green and out of the red by matching  spending with your values (https://communicationessentials.wordpress.com/values-activity/) and keep you growing.
  • Make every day is your special Valentine’s Day by making black the new red.  Love yourself by loving your finances and living under your means to live fully in the future.

And really, just one more thing to think about:  We may say money is the root of all evil, and, resources are the cause for conflicts personally and globally...

Meanwhile, what steps will you take to support your spring blooms?

The Red Handbag’s 5 stepping stones to ‘there’

24 Sep

I was introduced to the fabulous term ‘financial meddler’ on LearnVest.com.    Mostly because that’s ME.  Though I prefer to be called a  financial Yenta:  I meddle in your finances (I also take friends bra shopping), telling you what you should or shouldn’t spend.   Or more like, why and how you should save.

Last month, I had great fun ‘Yenta-ing’ into your closet, urging you to search for your own ‘red handbag’ (https://communicationessentials.wordpress.com/2013/08/20/6-steps-to-com…-to-retirement).   Uncovering those somewhat pricey, forgotten, items huddling in your closet and are horrified to find.

Did you look?  Think of it as your own early Halloween scary house exploration.

What extra money is lurking in your closet?  Like this Pottery Barn jan-o-lantern?

What extra money is lurking in your closet? Like this Pottery Barn jan-o-lantern?

Are you working toward saving your $1000 to open (or contribute to) your Roth IRA?   My friend J. was ‘Yenta-ed’ into saving $80 last month for her existing fund.  How are you doing?

Not convinced?  

Look at all those 60+ folks who don’t have the funds to retire – even if they want to.   Sadly, they had no financial Yenta.   And btw, while I’ve suffered through embarrassing explanations of  why a red handbag is my iPhone screen saver, my credit card is now gathering dust and I’ve saved $50.

Fall is the perfect time to begin saving.  Nature is spewing seeds for spring blooms.  We can invest money for retirement blooms.

So read and take action as I walk you through  (last month’s) 5 steps to get from ‘here’ to retirement ‘there’:

1.  Create a long-term dream:  Let’s face it, the only reason to save for an unknown future is because your dream is more enticing than that ‘red handbag’.   Hopefully you love what you do now (if not, you are due for a change).   The next phase of your life should be equally thrilling.  Let  your imagination go wild as you play over fantasies about ‘what you would do if…’.     I plan on running a middle-aged hostel in Eastern Europe;  my friend M. wants to retire to Central America to use the Spanish she’s been learning for the last ten years;  G. and A. have moved to be close to their grandkids.   Create that vision, then tell people about it.  Talking makes it real.  When they ask how you will fund your dream, proudly tell them about your Roth.
2.  Identify your values fulfilled by your long-term dream:  As a Yenta, I can tell you your values direct every aspect your life from finances to love.  If you haven’t identified them, do it NOW! https://communicationessentials.wordpress.com/values-activity.   Here’s why your values must match your dream: without interest in saving –  no interest will accrue to make that dream come true.  And accrued interest, aka compounded interest is how saving helps your money grow.
3.  How much will it cost?  Let’s assume a lot.  Keep in mind:  Starting when you’re 25 and saving $5500/year at 6% interest you could save approximately $902,000.    (Check out LearnVest.com to learn more about compounded interest – which grows beanstalks like magic beans)   If you don’t have that much, if you’re older, that’s no excuse to not save.  Do what you can.   But do it NOW to get you on your way.   For my dream, even if I can’t own my hostel, I confidently have the financial freedom to manage one.
4.  Get to ‘there’ starting with YOUR red handbag:  No excuses.  There’s money in your budget somewhere.  Take an afternoon and go through your closet, your bank and credit card statements.  Stay focused on that long-term dream and what you want.  Get rid of ‘crap’ literally and figuratively.  And find yourself a financial Yenta to put her hands on her hips and ruthlessly support your saving.

5.  Open (or contribute) an account:  Remember you have till April 15th.  $1000 will open an account with Vanguard, Fidelity, and T.Rowe Price, or a local bank.  I admit to liking a brick and mortar place.  Remember you can always change where you keep your money so don’t get hung up on finding the perfect place now.  Some banks or brokerage houses will offer money to open an IRA as tax day approaches.  (Take it – why not!)   After you’ve saved it gets easier:  Write your check for the $1000;  Walk into the bank or brokerage house (i.e. Fidelity);   Fill out a form and hand over the check;  If you don’t know which fund to invest your money, ask to speak with someone and in ten minutes they will advise you.

It’s that easy to get to ‘there’ from here.  If it still feels overwhelming, start saving anyway.  And I’m always available to be your financial Yenta!

Dream big!  Many say life gets even better in your 60’s.  I’m looking forward to the experience and want you to join me!

What’s your dream?