Fighting is Easy (Love is Hard)

With tension towards violence elevated on a national level today, we thought it apropos to publish Andrea’s Fighting is Easy (Love is Hard) article that she originally wrote in April 2014 as a blogger for The Spirited Woman.

By Andrea Chilcote

When the same lessons show up say, three or even four times in a row, I listen. The lessons this week point to one principle: we are all connected. If you doubt that, just pay attention to the influence you have on other people – and vice versa.

After a day of travel in which I seemed to either transform potentially difficult situations into positive ones, or nearly jeopardized my on-time agenda simply because of my own negative energy about the situation, I paused to take it in. I had felt a little off since leaving the house Tuesday morning, sensing heightened emotions whenever I was in contact with other people. Was I picking up on their state of being, or transferring my own to them?

I asked my friend Debbie if she was experiencing something similar. Here’s what she said:

“What affects one affects everyone. When you recognize that you are not in alignment, or are in a state of resistance – you have physical pain, emotional stress or not so good experiences – simply correct course and head back to a state of love. As we reflect love out, it will be reflected back.”

Fighting is easy. Being right, being the victim and being burdened is easy. Rising up is hard. Love is hard – but it’s so worth it.

Okay, I got it. The message was one of those “simple not easy” ones. Then I had a conversation with a colleague that went something like this:

“I get so frustrated with myself about everything – mistakes I make or needs I know I have but don’t make time or space for. And then the more frustrated I get, the more paralyzed I become. I tell myself how bad it is, and then of course it becomes so.”

She sounded like she was fighting with herself. Immediately, I thought about my travel lessons. I had begun to “fight” with the Avis clerk about who was right, and the conversation spiraled downward. I stopped in the middle, and focused on being compassionate – loving even – in the moment. I got my car, and was on my way.

I suggested to my colleague that she consider giving up the fight and instead treat herself with compassion. It seemed to me that she – and none of us really – have the luxury of negativity. Even though it’s the easy way.

Then, as if to confirm my premise, a book review arrived this morning via email with this excerpt from The Nonviolence Handbook by Michael Nagler. The subject line was “Violence is the Easier Path.”

“Nonviolence is not the recourse of the weak but actually calls for an uncommon kind of strength; it is not a refraining from something but the engaging of a positive force.”

Stress Test

shutterstock_152705120

by Andrea Chilcote

 

The following is a recount of an event that took place over a year ago. It seems like an appropriate message as this week closes.

Every now and then, I get a simple stress test. I had one last night.

It was 1:45 a.m., late enough that I was finally in a dream state, yet sufficiently early enough to not be disturbed by thoughts of unfinished to-do’s or the bottle of water I finished before bed. Delicious, deep sleep.

Then suddenly – lights, pulsing beeps, and a repeated, recorded announcement: “Proceed to an exit. Leave the building now.”

I sat up in my hotel bed and looked around. No smoke, no smell. For a brief moment I considered ignoring the warning – a misguided, sleep-induced idea of course – and then I heard doors opening and closing in the hall. I would join the others who must be more aware of what was happening than me.

What to wear? What to take?

I located a sweater and pulled it on over my pajama top, more for decency than warmth. Next I found my room key (didn’t they always say to take your key in the event of a fire?) and my phone, and exited, joining many other guests on the parking lot. I was on the first floor, so my trip to a side door exit was a short one.

Understandably, no one spoke to one another. We all found separate places to stand or sit. I chose a corner curb, but not after envying many who had brought along their rental car keys and entered their cars, making a nap a possibility.

Why had I not brought my car keys? And my wallet? I briefly considered the hassle of having my wallet burned in the potential fire, a scenario that seemed unlikely given that there were no signs of anything amiss. It was a lovely evening – quiet and warm – and a catastrophe was not in the offing.

About the time the sirens came roaring in, I was becoming annoyed. Who or what caused this interruption of my sleep? As I often do when things outside my control create stress, I had a conversation with myself. “You’re only making it worse. It is what it is. You’ll surely get some sleep before the alarm goes off.” And perhaps the most significant advice I had for myself: “Look around you. No one else is getting agitated. Just chill.”

“Why,” I wondered, “do I still sweat the small stuff?”

Soon enough, an official fire department vehicle drove through the parking lot, telling us it was safe to return to our rooms. While I wanted to know what had happened, sleep was more compelling.

Back in bed, I struggled to relax, stressed over the fact that my own alarm was set to go off in just a few hours.

At about 3 a.m., once I had finally gone back to sleep, the event repeated itself. This time I dressed, and took my wallet and car key. I would have gone immediately to my car had I not been stopped mid-trip by other guests returning at the advice of the staff. The alarms were quieted. I went back to bed again.

I’m guessing I got 90 minutes of sleep after that, for a total of four or five hours. It was certainly not a crisis, and I knew I would be able to (and did) function just fine the next day.

Why do I let these irritating yet small things annoy me?

When I checked out of the hotel this morning, the front desk manager was apologizing profusely to the man in front of me. “No problem,” he said with a smile. “It happens.”

I relaxed and tried to model this man’s equanimity. While I probably fooled the manager, I still felt annoyed.

Many hours later, I’ve let it go – of course. What I haven’t (completely) let go of is the question of why I compound stress by worrying about that which is out of my control.

Do you ever waste precious time and energy thinking and feeling violated by unintentional inconveniences? I do, too often. I’m going to memorize and practice the other guest’s line: “No problem – it happens.” I’ll let you know how it goes.

Gravitas

Maya Angelou

A wax figure of Maya Angelou seen on display at Madame Tussauds on December 6, 2013 in New York City.

I’ve been hearing the word “gravitas” a lot lately. Gravitas – poise under pressure, strength of character, self-esteem, confidence. It’s described as hard to define but visible to the naked eye. And, there’s debate about whether it can be learned or if it’s just part of the package – (or not).

Often I work with people to build what’s called in my world “executive presence.” And according to author Sylvia Ann Hewlett and research by the Center for Talent Innovation, the biggest contributor to mastering executive presence is developing gravitas.

In my experience, a key part of the equation is that word confidence. Yet we’ve all known people whose seeming over-confidence was a turn-off. So what’s the relationship between presence  (executive or otherwise) and confidence?

Confidence might be a prerequisite for external presence, the thing that attracts and influences others. Is that surprising? Let’s look at what destroys our ability to show up, focus on the matter at hand, listen and respond.

  • We are not present when we worry. Worry is almost always a condition of projecting the past onto the future, or simply making up stories of what the future might hold. Presence means we embody “now,” confident that the past has passed, and the future holds promise – within our creative control.
  • We are not externally present when we’re feeling negative emotions. People who have strong external presence can fluidly move from an emotional state to an objective state. The stamina to step outside and look in surely requires the confidence to trust what we might see.
  • We are not present when we are focused solely on ourselves, unless we happen to be alone and without any other inputs. It takes confidence to face whatever inputs show up.

In a post on The Spirited Woman, Pam Hale wrote a beautiful tribute to Maya Angelou. This woman embodied the word gravitas.

Can we learn to muster more of it? Oh yes, if Angelou could, we simply must.


This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a blogger. Enjoy it!

 

Inspired

Andrea Chilcote, Erik's HopeThink about something you do that inspires you, something for which you feel such passion that you never tire of it. Time seems to pass without notice.

Does that inspirational activity come to mind easily? Is it what you’re doing right now (or at least right before you began reading this post?) Is it your work? Your hobby? Your longing?

I’ve been thinking about inspiration a lot in the past few days, as I’ve prepared for an overdue vacation. I definitely am inspired by my work – oh, I don’t mean to imply every day is bliss, but the work itself is something I pursue with passion. And I can tell when I need a break, because I begin to get impatient and cynical, and the feelings start showing up, ever so slightly, in my day-to-day communication.

Writing is part of my work, a part I love. And one of the symptoms that appears when I need a break is a lack of inspiration for writing. So odd – that which usually energizes me becomes a drain. It’s not that I don’t want to write. It’s more that the things I hold precious get lost in the sea of demands and to-do’s.

Just this week I saw a LinkedIn post entitled “What if you’re not passionate about anything?” I rolled my eyes and read no further. But seriously, I thought a lot about it. “How can that be?” I felt a sense of compassion for whoever wrote the statement, and wondered if lack of passion was an indication something else was at play.

One meaning of the word “inspire” is inhale, or breathe in. How interesting that taking a breath, literally or metaphorically in the form of a vacation, serves to engage. Regardless of the sense of mission or passion felt, we simply cannot give of ourselves without taking in. I think it’s a rule of our humanness.

So back to my earlier question, does the source of your inspiration come to mind easily? Or do you need a breath (or several) to gather the mojo or light the fire? I’ll be rekindling mine by the sea. Perhaps I’ll see you there.


This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a blogger. Enjoy it!

Do You Coach or Give Advice?

Andrea ChilcoteBy Andrea Chilcote

I don’t mean “Are you a coach?” – though some of you might be, in your role at work as a manager, in a sports context, or perhaps as a professional. What I’m asking is, when someone needs help, do you provide coaching – or do you advise, give feedback, solve others’ problems for them, criticize, or judge – with the intent of being helpful?

As a professional coach and also one who teaches others to do so, I give a lot of thought to what coaching is and isn’t. And I think the world needs more coaches and fewer critics; more empowerment to think on our own, and less advice.

Think of an example in your own life – as a parent, as a friend or as a leader. When presented with a situation in which someone needs help,

  • Do you ask enough questions to fully understand the situation – or do you already know what you think is going on and what they should do?
  • Do you listen objectively to understand, or do you listen with a biased ear, one that either agrees or disagrees?
  • Do you encourage them to identify strategies and solutions, or do you simply give advice?

And one final question, has anyone ever made a significant change because you told them they should?

In my work, the purpose of coaching is to affect change – create movement and shifts in people’s perceptions, viewpoints and behaviors. And I’m betting that’s the goal of the situation you just thought of. It’s all about change, subtle or substantial.

People change when the factors that create their experience change.  In order to do change a person’s experience, we have to:

  1.  Understand the current situation from their perspective.
  2. Clearly define their desired future or result.
  3. Understand what it will take to get to the result.

The process I described takes time and patience. It takes dialogue. And it requires a mindset of objectivity (a willingness to suspend our own biases), and positive intent.

In my experience, it works with teenagers, significant others, friends and team members. Here’s a simple version:

  • First ask:  “What’s going on? What’s causing this situation? What’s the impact?”
  • Then ask:  “What do you want? And (important!) – What will having that do for you?”
  • Finally, ask: “What will it take to get to the result? What are you willing to commit to?”

Do you want to help another change? Try empowering him/her to help their self.


This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a blogger. Enjoy it!

The Difference Dilemma

Andrea Chilcote, Erik's HopeWe all know the value of different perspectives and different styles, whether we’re seeking counsel from a close friend or are in need of fresh approaches to problem-solving.

You’ve probably experienced the difficulty that different styles, preferences or personalities can cause, even in the most solid of relationships.

One of my trusted and valued colleagues has a very different thinking and communication style than mine. And, our differences are what I value most about her. I couldn’t (and wouldn’t want to) do the detailed, precise and consistent work she does. And my guess is that she wouldn’t want to live in my world of ambiguity and constant change. The quality that comes from our collaboration depends upon both of our unique strengths. Sounds like paradise, right?

The trouble with stylistic differences is that we all not only have distinct modes of behavior, but we also have unique and often unconscious needs for how others behave in relation to us. When these needs go unmet, or we experience inputs counter to our needs, we risk a phenomenon called “stress behavior.”

I wrote about stress behavior in my post last year, when my “buttons” were being pushed by changes imposed on me. (I love change, but I’ll initiate it myself, thank you very much). This week, my buttons got triggered by a different need, one that followed my inability to respond appropriately to the colleague mentioned here. It was the perfect recipe for an ongoing downward spiral, something that, according to the Urban Dictionary, starts out bad and just gets worse and worse.

My colleague, whom I’ll call Julia, was experiencing a frustrating situation, one that had been lingering too long. She needed my help. My natural reflex is to approach issues in a pragmatic, objective manner. When faced with a problem, I have a bias for action – action to solve the problem. Many people – some of you as well as Julia – have a need to be heard and understood before accepting help. If you’re more like me and that sounds foreign to you, just consider someone in your own life who has that need. Chances are, you’ve offered well meaning (and sound) advice, and yet have found that the other person only seemed to escalate her feelings. To you, perhaps, she seemed unable to detach from the problem long enough to find a logical solution.

In our situation, my unwillingness to acknowledge Julia’s reality only caused the situation to worsen. My stress behavior ignited her stress behavior, and very quickly we were speaking different languages. Hers was to convey detailed accounts of the problem (which I actually needed to understand) and mine was to blow through the details in an effort to make forward progress.

Fortunately, our mutual respect prevailed that day and we got back in sync quickly. But the lesson was loud and clear. The only path to effective collaboration of any kind is awareness and acknowledgment of one another’s needs. Those seemingly subtle needs that arise from personality or style have a loud voice under stress.

You don’t have to be an expert in human behavior to put this lesson into practice. You only have to be willing to stop, observe and respond. When you find yourself at an impasse, there’s a simple way to break the logjam. Listen … acknowledge … align. Then, state what you need. Don’t be surprised when you get it.


This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a blogger. Enjoy it!

Lessons Learned

Andrea Chilcote, Erik's Hope

Has this week held any challenges for you?  Read more, as Andrea shares lessons learned and her thankfulness for grace.

by Andrea Chilcote

Gratitude is a subject I have written of many times before. It never gets old. Today I am grateful for lessons learned.

In this week that held many challenges for many people in my life (and I’m betting some of yours too) – illness, strife, imbalance – I am thankful for the grace around me. That grace surrounds all of us.

For most of the week, I had the privilege of working with a diverse group in a unique experience designed to create personal insights, which led to personal transformation. (And just so you know, it was not always comfortable, tidy or easy).

No one had any idea of what the experience would bring before it began. They didn’t know what would appear before them next.

And that begs a question, what happened to you this week? What tested your mettle? What triggered your survival instincts? And, what triggered your ingrained patterns of behavior that might not serve you today?

Today, I am personally grateful for the full range of experiences I have collected in my life. (That is not easy to admit). Each has transformed what follows.

Do you seek transformation? If you experienced difficulty in the last several days, ask yourself these two questions:

  • For what is this experience a metaphor in my life?
  • What can I release that is no longer relevant?

We are either on this earth to grow in consciousness and reap the rewards of doing so, or it is a random existence in which some get lucky and others get by.

I’m betting on growth, over the lottery. How about you?


This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a blogger. Enjoy it!

The Myth of Balance

Andrea Chilcote

This week, join Andrea, as she shares some perspective on the idea of “balance” and “what matters most” in life.

by Andrea Chilcote

Remember when we used to talk about balanced lives, especially work-life “balance?” Well, perhaps we still do, even though most would admit the idea of “balance” is really an ideal, even a myth. For me, a life well lived consists of constant prioritization of what matters in the moment.

I’m planning for a workshop I’ve led many times, though not so much in recent years. (Wondering why not, and why now?) It’s called “What Matters Most,” and its purpose is to identify and examine core values. At the same time, the week has consisted of talking to people who lead very full lives – yet still they say they seek “balance.”

The demands for our time and the need for our service are never-ending. We know the way to be in charge of our destiny is to declare what’s important, what matters most (what we value), and then prioritize. A simple concept, not easy in practice.

Personally, I seek to constantly prioritize the things that are most important, and this does not always produce “balance.” While I am certainly not perfect in my practice, I seek to invest my time in ways that feed my goals or my soul. It’s a moment-by-moment choice that builds a habit – a habit that gets tested when the big decisions come along.

Before you say yes or move forward on some task, request or chore, ask yourself these questions:

  • Does it give you a sense of joy, fulfillment or accomplishment?
  • Do you feel satisfied that you left someone in a better place (without manipulation or control)?
  • Are you doing or giving out of pure love?
  • Is the value of your service greater than its cost?
  • Is this the highest and best contribution you can be making at this time?

If you answer “yes,” perhaps balance is irrelevant. If you answer “no,” your personal balance, that of giving and receiving or sowing and harvesting, may need consideration.

That’s a balance I seek to strike.

_____

This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a blogger. Enjoy it!

 

What I Carry

Andrea ChilcoteThe final part of my “carry” series.

by Andrea Chilcote

John, (I’ll call you that to maintain anonymity) – this post is in response to your question, the one I never answered.

Once again, I wrote about “the way I carry things.” After reading my post, you asked: “Is it the way you’re carrying things, or what you’re carrying?”

Well, John, that’s another matter entirely. And it’s taken me this long to respond because I have spent the last two weeks considering what I’m carrying.

The load is staggering.

All day, I’ve pondered whether this is a topic worthy of a blog post – that is, something that connects and informs the women and men who follow it. And tonight I’m typing these words because I believe with every fabric of my being that we all carry burdens that could be lightened. That is, if we dare.

Sometimes when I write these posts, I feel I could go on and on, telling story after story to illustrate the theme. Time is usually the limiting factor. This one is different. If I tell you of my burdens, it will be like showing you the boxes in my attic or closet that should have been sent to Goodwill long ago.

“Why are you holding onto them, Andrea?” you might say.

And I would answer, “Because they feel like a part of me.”

My dear friend Dita shared a clutter management tool with me recently. She said that if your home or office feels cluttered, set a goal to give away or throw away five items per day – items of any size or importance. If you bring new things in, you must add the quantity to the original five and eliminate the sum.

Wow. I’ve been practicing this (albeit not perfectly), and it’s hard. The favorite socks (with holes) and the comfortable chair (that would cost more to repair than replace) come to mind. There have been some magic moments, though, like the times I’ve released (to the desert wind) ashes of beloved dogs who have passed.

For me, it’s even harder to release thoughts than things. Worrisome thoughts take space in our minds just like old clothes in our closets. They take space in our hearts like the ashes of canine friends who must be set free.

My short two-week assessment of “the things I carry” has informed me that while it’s very productive to release the physical items that don’t serve me, the mental load is even more daunting. I’m working on it though.

We all carry physical, mental, emotional and spiritual burdens. And, we rationalize them as needed life companions. I’m reconsidering that rationalization. Will you join me?

Carry Series:


This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a blogger. Enjoy it!

The Way I Carry Things – Part Deux

Andrea ChilcoteAnother part of my “carry” series…

by Andrea Chilcote

I’ve never liked errands, and do-overs are especially annoying. So I was determined to complete the task of returning a gallon of mismatched paint to Home Depot quickly and efficiently.

As I carried the nearly-full bucket across the parking lot, I wondered when they stopped using a plastic sleeve on the wire handle. This might have changed in the 80’s and I never noticed, but it felt like the thin strip of metal, ready to pierce my hand, was a design flaw. By the time I reached the door, I had enough. I lifted the can to my midsection, cradling it in my arms. Relief.

Halfway between the front door and the paint department, I noticed a strange, sickening sensation. My clothes felt wet from my torso to my right foot. Slowing my pace, I looked down cautiously. Not only was yellow-orange paint running down my body and dripping onto my (new) shoes, I had left a long trail of the same on the floor of the store.

I stopped in my tracks. Even a slight movement would create more of a mess. Almost immediately, a Home Depot associate approached and handed me a small roll of paper towels. The look on my face must have suggested they would hardly do the job, because he said with a smile, “Those are for you. We’ll take care of the floor.” Kindly, he added: “It happens all the time.” I doubt that’s true, but it was nice of him to say.

Apologizing profusely, I began mopping up my shirt and pants. Then, I noticed my shoes – my new shoes! I asked where the restroom was and sprinted there, trying to make it before the paint began to dry.

As I was washing my shoes in the sink, another cheerful and kind employee approached me. She said they had free t-shirts at the contractor’s desk, and would be happy to give me one. I thanked her, but by this time the paint had nearly dried and my shirt was wearable, though ruined. And I had things to do.

By now you might be wondering why the paint can lid was loose. I can only say it must not have been shut tightly when last used (by a painter, not me), though of course I should have checked it. But the bigger question is why I carried a paint can tipped on its side like a baby doll. The way I carry things has been a subject of much examination of late, and highlighted in my January post.. “Here we go again,” I thought, as I sheepishly made my way back to the scene of the incident.

Workers had set up large barricades so that customers didn’t accidentally step in the wet paint. Once again, I apologized and offered to help, but they assured me they had the proper people and materials for this kind of job. I retrieved my can and made my way to the paint counter to accomplish my original purpose.

It turns out the task of trying to match my custom color was going to be a lengthy one. I had originally allotted 30 minutes for the entire errand prior to a conference call, but my delay used that and more. I told the paint associate I would check back, dialed into my call, and began wandering about the store.

With only a portion of my attention on the call, I began to notice things I needed. Soon, my arms were loaded. Another friendly associate approached me and asked if he could get me a cart. (There was probably an alert out to watch for a woman with paint stained clothes who carried things poorly).

“A cart! Yes, that would be kind of you,” I exclaimed, as if he had the most brilliant and original idea. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to mute my call, and now the entire group knew I was shopping. A minor faux pas given this particular call, but it was the second embarrassing moment that hour.

And then it dawned on me. A readily available shopping cart would have been an ideal device for carrying that can of paint into the store, just like an easily obtained backpack would have eased my significant load during a trek through an Atlanta blizzard in January.

What is wrong with me?

Readers of my posts know I have a life-long pursuit of presence, the ability to make the most of the moment at hand. And for at least the last five years, that practice has extended to a present awareness of my body – everything from how I stand and sit, to what nutrition or amount of rest I need.

I suppose I’m still “practicing,” because this morning I hauled my very heavy suitcase/computer case up a small set of stairs. After I had lugged it, I examined why I had not simply disconnected the two pieces, balancing one in each hand. The answer was the same as it was for the backpack and the shopping cart. Time. In an attempt to save seconds or minutes, I risk harm to my body.

A dear friend is suffering from a serious back injury, presumably the result of pushing through activities despite the warning signs of milder, chronic pain. I’m sobered by the realization that in my own haste, I too could potentially do harm.

Mindless speed, or deliberate action – it’s a choice to consider.

Carry Series:


This post appeared originally on The Spirited Woman where Andrea is a blogger. Enjoy it!