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How do you start your day?

Hi Research has shown that the busiest, most successful leaders in the world don’t dive straight into work; they begin with a self-care routine to get themselves grounded.

Even when my body was in such bad shape I couldn’t leave my bedroom most of my days began with meditation, prayer, and whatever exercise/movement I was capable of doing. Most days (nope not perfect) I read the Bible and sit in silent meditation, which centers me and calms erratic bouncing thoughts. I stretch and build muscle. For a long time, making the bed was a serious form of exercise! As I grow in strength and my energy improves I’m able to do a little more every day.

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Lead with Love

lead with love

Have you ever considered how selfish the phrase, “Be my Valentine” sounds? It’s all about what’s in it for you.

The very best Valentines cost nothing – love, gentleness, kindness, humility, meekness (a word more like tolerance in modern culture), and patience.

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Shingles Hells

I thought I was so smart! Before getting a kidney transplant I researched vaccines that I needed. I discovered that the shingles vaccine recommended for everyone over age 60 is a live vaccine and not allowed after transplant. It took some convincing, but my insurance agreed to pay for the vaccine for a 48 year old. Woohoo! I got the shingles vaccine and proceeded to transplant feeling both safer and smarter.

Fast forward 10 months…. Turns out I don’t know everything. The shingles vaccine (known as zoster) while important is still only 51% effective and less so in immune compromised people such as organ transplant recipients – like me. After 4 days of brutal rib and back pain I woke up Monday morning with a garish rash wrapping in a wide swath around my ribs on the right side from spine to sternum. 24 hours later the tell-tale blisters were forming.

Fortunately I had a doctors appointment scheduled anyway – because I always have a doctors appointment scheduled somewhere – and I got started on antiviral medication, extra pain pills and lidocaine patches. My bedroom looks like a pharmacy! But I’ve got it under control and once again I felt smart. For a brief period.

After 24 hours of aggressively managing pain with pharmaceuticals and chocolate, I finally read the directions on the prescription lidocaine patches out of curiosity. I mean, how complicated could it be? Peel off the backing and stick the patch to your skin….’Do not use for more than 12 hours in a 24 hour period.’ Huh.

Husband: “How long have you been wearing the patches?”

Me: “24 hours. I’ve been in hellish pain!”

Husband: “Yeah, getting too much lidocaine in your system is bad.”

Me: “Why? Does it make you go numb inside?”

Husband stares blankly…..

It turns out that too much lidocaine absorbed through the skin can be fatal. I can just see the obituary now – she died from a sticker. I’m seriously rethinking feeling smart.

Maybe you’ve felt pretty smart sometimes. Maybe you’ve had your pride knocked down a peg or two. Much like shingles, it hurts. How we react makes all the difference. As long as we don’t get angry and defensive, these humbling lessons provide opportunities to add useful knowledge and humorous anecdotes to our toolkit. You never know when those tools could be a lifesaver for someone else. Wishing you many lessons and a full toolkit.

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Think like a Kid Watching Clouds

photo credit: http://bit.ly/1POObcF

I recently read in an Inc. Magazine article, “The average person rarely considers how ordinary things can be made better or improved–those with the entrepreneurial spirit can’t help themselves.”

I’m laughing, remembering when I envisioned how a portable x-ray machine could be re-made to look like a cartoon snail or how institutional vertical blinds could be transformed into swaying 18th-century dancers. I can’t help myself; the world is full of potential for whimsical improvement! This sort of creative, entrepreneurial spirit is badly needed by many organizations and individuals struggling to push progress.

Thinking creatively means allowing your mind to connect seemingly unrelated dots. Do you remember watching clouds as a kid and seeing shapes? “That one looks like an elephant!” As adults, most people lose the ability to see something for anything except what we know it to be. That limitation clogs thinking and stalls “creative problem solving.” What problem are you wrestling with, unable to see new solutions for?

To build your creative thinking ability you have to make it a part of your daily habits like brushing your teeth and putting on underwear (please tell me you do that!). Try starting with this simple doodling game for exercising creative muscle: Grab a pencil and paper. Close your eyes and scribble randomly. If you’re the type who needs structure then set a timer for 1 minute. Open your eyes. Look at your ‘art’ and write down all the different things that you see in the picture. This may require some big leaps of imagination! Making these “cloud shape” type comparisons is known as metaphorical thinking, a critical component of creativity.

Now push the paper aside and do something else. Later in the day grab the paper and look again. Turn it different ways in front of you. Hold it at a distance. Try tilting it at different angles. What else do you see this time? Creativity requires resting the brain. It’s an incubation period where neurons continue to make connections in the background while your frontal lobe works on tasks at hand.

Remember lazy summer days laying in the grass watching clouds? You were relaxed, unhurried, and playful – not at all stressed, busy, and corporate. Counter-intuitively, to dream up creative solutions to big problems, grown-ups need to pretend they’re just kids watching clouds.

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Shower with Attention

I get in the shower and do my usual shampoo, condition, soap, etc. I don’t think about what I’m doing; I think about conflicts scrambling through my head, or what I’m going to eat, or what I’m going to write on Facebook, or anything that has nothing to do with showering. Then something snaps me back….

Surgery. I’ve had a lot of experience being snapped back to a focus on the present moment. Let me be clear, pain sucks. It could be surgical pain, death of a loved one, or corporate politics. But if you pay attention you’ll find that pain, and all the activity around it, pulls your focus sharply into the present moment. It teaches us something very important about living right now. So back to showering….

Today, 48 hours after my latest surgery, I remove the firmly taped gauze dressing to see what will become my newest scar. “Not bad!” I think. The bathroom is starting to steam as I step into hot water cascading from an extra wide showerhead. I’m instantly reminded of each glorious, difficult, joyful shower that I’ve had since March 1, 2014. You may not remember any particular shower of the last two years, but I do. After 118 days hospitalized in less than 2 years, including 20+ surgeries, showers have become a precious achievement for me.

Today, I revel in the hot water cascading over my head still throbbing from anesthesia. I wash my hair twice, only because it feels amazing. Tension softens across my swollen left hip, held together with thread and bloodied steri-strips, as hot water and soap bubbles gently soothe the assaulted area. I step out onto a knobby cotton mat and dry off with a large, soft towel.

Ordinary things, little things, possess great value. The same goes for people. When we give the present moment, and all that it contains, our undivided attention we find magic. This applies most of all to our interactions with people, especially those who seem ordinary and possibly inconsequential. During my lengthy hospital stays my favorite people were those who mopped the floors and emptied the trash, unsung heroes all. I showered them with attention and in return my room was always immaculate. Where are the unsung heroes in your world? Is it the cashier at a convenience store? Or the receptionist in your office? If someone seems unimportant, shower them with attention! Magic happens when we recognize value in ordinary places.

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Expect Delayes (yep)

I was certain my brother would be my kidney donor. Even though we didn’t yet have a surgery date we assumed it would move forward. He tested as a good match; it was just up to the surgeons to review. We cleared our calendars and prepared for hospitalization. I told at least a couple of dozen people that I would likely get a kidney transplant in August. I turned down work opportunities.

And then, my brother uncharacteristically showed up at my house in the middle of his workday. I just knew. We went to Jamba Juice and everything seemed happy until we were sitting on my deck in the sunshine and he said he had bad news. After months of tests and jumping through hoops the surgeon called Matt yesterday to say they aren’t comfortable with the level of risk associated with putting his kidney in my body. We’re unclear why. The problem could be my damaged anatomy or the complications of his multiple renal arteries – both of which we had been forewarned about. Mostly likely it’s a combination. We’re waiting for more information.

Meanwhile I’m trying to get my head around this disappointment. Before meeting up with my brother I was at a Toastmasters meeting sharing my ‘Living 5 Rules’. I assumed I would miss next week’s meeting because I would get a call saying we were moving forward with the transplant. I already knew that an Operating Room was available. On the way home road construction blocked my usual route. A large warning sign blinked – “EXPECT DELAYES” spelled just like that. I laughed while thinking, “Apparently there was a delay in 5th grade English!” All together I felt very smart.

I came home to learn that I should expect delays. Life is like that. We think we have all the answers. We’ve worked out the plan in our heads and scoff at the warning signs. We are so smart. But that doesn’t change the need to be flexible and EXPECT DELAYES – while keeping a sense of humor.

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The Price is Right

What is your life worth?

To the medical community the price for my life last year was $2.3 million. The cash register continues to ring regularly.

Money isn’t all that has been paid. The price for my LIFE was a deeply costly sacrifice on many fronts….

  • Over $54,000 from 440 donors.
  • My once strong and capable body.
  • My formerly easily agile mind.
  • A successful and much loved career.
  • A house that I designed and now can’t live in longterm.
  • Friendships that were damaged, destroyed or at minimum affected.
  • My family’s plans both financially and experientially.
  • Our sense of security.
  • My dignity
  • My dreams

It’s a sobering, even depressing list that I wrote during my lowest point emotionally. It helped me draw one critical conclusion. Many people have sacrificed greatly and paid a heavy price. For what? ME. How can I not also see a spiritual parallel? A tremendous price has been paid to save ME.

Now I can shrivel up in a corner, feeing sorry for myself. Or I can boldly embrace that I am worthy of such a steep price and then ACT LIKE IT. Only then can I turn the enormous investment into compounded value for others.

My ‘problems’ aren’t worse than yours. Just more dramatic. Make your own list. What sacrifices have you and others made so that you can contribute to the world? That is really what it’s about. You and I have been helped along so that we can CONTRIBUTE. The world needs what only you can uniquely bring and you can be sure a price has been paid. Know that and ACT LIKE IT. No matter how steep the cost, your contribution ensures the price is right.

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The Miracle of Presence

How many times have you sat with someone and although they are right there with you and have said nothing you can feel the detachment? Perhaps you said or thought, “You are a million miles away.”

How often have you been having a conversation with someone but their head is on a swivel. Your brain is screaming “I’m right here!” but they aren’t right there, even though it’s to you that they are speaking. They’re looking for the next opportunity or a bigger fish or an excuse to escape this uncomfortable conversation. Conventions and trade shows are particularly rife with this lack of presence.

And then there’s this…. Have you been alone in the quiet and even then unable to feel ‘present’? Your mind is a million miles away and the uncomfortable conversation you can’t escape is the chatter of your own conflicted thoughts. Read more

Reaching Through the Pain

photo credit: Render’s Photography

Every day I wake up hurting. I start my day with the eye opening reminder that this is real. It wasn’t a bad dream. I don’t think it’s different than any other kind of pain though. The loss of a loved one or a job or a dream. Pain is all around.

For me, it’s both physical and emotional. And I am so very tired. All the time. Hurting is a lonely feeling. For everyone. We hunker down alone and wait to heal. Then we wonder why we feel so alone even when surrounded by people.

Pain is an egocentric experience. It causes us to focus inward instead of reaching out around us. But I know, the more I reach out to people, even if it’s just a smile, the less lonely I feel in my experience of pain. It isn’t that others understand or that I even expect them to. It’s that I’m simply less egocentric when I reach out.

Rule #1: It’s Not About You. Not even when you’re suffering.

Rule #2: You Have to Actually Care.

I am reminded that I created those rules at a time years ago when I was suffering a different kind of drama. I had to perform shows when all I wanted to do was stay curled up in my trailer crying. But the show must go on, especially when my livelihood depended on getting out of the trailer with a smile. So I wiped my tears, looked in the mirror, and chanted those first two rules. Then I opened the door, faced my audience and boldly embraced the rules. I did that day after day and began to see how consistently I felt better, less in pain, by practicing a compassionate outward directed focus. As a bonus the shows benefitted greatly!

Years later I am still needing constant reminders of this simple lesson. Reaching out with a compassionate heart won’t cure the pain, but it’s the best medicine for the loneliness of suffering.