What’s On Your Summer Reading List?

It’s summer!! Well, it’s not official for another few weeks but hey, if my AC is running, the pools are open, and the backyard smells of barbecue, it’s summer in my book. And, speaking of books, summer is the time when we enjoy diving into a real good read while we lounge and sip a cool pina colada…mmm.

The laziness of summer makes me crave light foods and light reading. Though I have a growing list of books to read, I have been searching for just the right summer read and I think I found it.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand is the book for me. I know, I know, a story about World War II does not sound like light reading at all. I am not one to seek out books about war and suffering but, when I watched an interview with Mr. Louis Zamperini, on whose life the book is based, I was hooked. I realized that what I want from this summer’s read is inspiration.

During World War II, Louis Zamperini was captured by Japanese soldiers, tortured, starved, threatened and mistreated. When he returned home he suffered from horrible nightmares and from Post-Traumatic Stress. Yet, he said, when he forgave his torturers is when the nightmares went away – he has not any since. The footage of him returning to Japan to shake the hands with Japanese soldiers was impactful and that’s when I decided this was a story I had to read. But, there is another reason why I really wanted to read this book. The author, Laura Hillenbrand who interviewed Mr. Zamperini extensively and researched for the book for seven years, never met him in person during that entire time. By the way, Laura Hillenbrand came across Mr. Zamperini’s story when she was doing research for her book, Seabiscuit. The reason she had not visited Mr. Zamperini was because she suffers from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), a condition that can devastate your life. Wow, what an inspiration! I was moved when Mr. Zamperini tells the story that when he found out about her condition, he sent her one of his Purple Heart medals, saying that she was more deserving because his suffering was short compared to the constant siege of suffering she lives with. How their lives have intertwined so that they may offer each other support and admiration is more evidence of how the universe conspires to get us what we need, just when we need it.

I think of all the times that I have feared being broken. During break-ups and through disappointment and betrayal, was when I truly believed I would fall apart into many pieces. How many times have I felt that I could not meet the challenge or survive the turmoil. Yet, life gives us examples of how resilient and strong we truly are. I am excited to read about this amazing and inspiring human being and support the work of an equally inspiring author.

What’s on your summer reading list?

Much Love,

 

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One More Thing About Good Leaders

Good leaders, like other humans, have flaws (GASP!) that can ultimately derail their careers

A lot has been said about leaders. Good leaders are inspirational, fearless, visionary, ethical, exemplary, servant, tireless. We know that good leaders surround themselves with competent people and they don’t know everything yet can make everything happen. Leaders share a lot of good qualities. But, leaders are not the superheroes they are purported to be. They, like other humans, have flaws (GASP!) that can ultimately derail their careers.

Today I wanted to write about the leaders I have been privileged to know but with an honest assessment of their qualities and their flaws. Collectively, these leaders are a bouquet of personalities – some are like exotic flowers bursting with color, and others like an unassuming spray of baby’s breath. But all have taught me important lessons about leadership. These are not their real names.

Ernie was a leader who taught me a lot about leadership. He was confident, fearless and he really stood by his team. As a team leader, he was demanding but willing to take the time to teach and guide you through the project. His communications style was direct and clear so there was never any doubt about what he expected from us. And, he expected excellence. What I admired most about Ernie was that he was willing to provide every opportunity for me and others to be seen and recognized by upper management for the work that we did. Ernie could be harsh at times and was quick to lose his temper. He had earned a reputation for his lack of control when there was a disagreement or a dispute. Ernie was passionate and dedicated to his work and his team. He had many good leadership qualities and for me he was a great leader.  Ernie was driven by quality and he made me feel challenged, appreciated, and part of a team with a single objective, to do our best.

Lucia was the opposite of Ernie. If I had a word to describe Lucia it would be consistent. Lucia was driven by her desire to help people in need and she diligently and consistently sought resources for others wherever she went. She was a visionary. Though she led a small team, the challenges she took on were huge because her vision was gigantic. What I admired most about Lucia was her ability to build relationships with people from different backgrounds. It was incredible to watch her meet someone new and within one meeting, the relationship would flourish into a friendship of mutual admiration. Lucia, like Ernie, was passionate and dedicated. But her approach was more like a diplomat’s. She was always graceful, complimentary, yet Lucia was singularly focused on her vision. Her focus was so singular that she failed to see pitfalls at times. I am grateful for Lucia because she made me feel like I was part of something big.

Sarah was a tough leader. She set high expectations and would not hold back any criticism. I was instantly afraid of her and impressed by her at the same time. She was outspoken and quick to set the tone and the pace for how things were going to go. One-on-one, Sarah would open up and let you see her heart. She took an interest in you and would give you advice, if you needed it. I believe that Sarah was driven by her desire to change people’s lives and to duplicate her success for those who were willing to be her student. Unfortunately, that left out a number of people on her team.  For Sarah, it was her way or no way. I admired Sarah because she took the time to coach and champion people. She gave me great advice.

From these great people I learned that leaders do not always see their flaws. Good leaders like these will get us to challenge ourselves, to feel like we’re part of something big, to feel like we can do anything, because they have our backs. But, in their blind spot may be an uncontrollable passion, a brick tunnel focus on their vision, or a fierce loyalty to their own way of thinking. Ernie did not see that he was seen by management as a bull in a china shop. Lucia did not see that some relationships required less attention and others greater care. Sarah did not see that her management style created rivaling sides on the same team.

Leadership must be accompanied by a healthy dose of humility and an acute awareness of our fallibility. After stepping down as a leader in my organization I was disappointed to see that my strength in maintaining a positive and team-oriented office culture had also been my weakness. I failed to see reporting conflicts and the competing subgroups that were created due our management culture. Lessons from my flaws, and of others, can only prepare me to do it better next time.

Much Love,

 

 

 

A Depression Epidemic

Many people “live” with depression. I read somewhere that 1 in 5 people will suffer from depression in their lifetime. But, I actually believe that number is too low. Depression is a horrible disease. People who are severely depressed lose interest in life and are not able to find joy in the things they once enjoyed. Depressed people could be in the middle of a party and feel totally alone. Worst of all, people who are depressed may not be able to seek treatment. First, because they don’t have the energy to do it, second because depression makes them want to sink deeper into isolation and darkness, and third, because it’s still taboo to talk about feeling blue.  Not being able to fully participate in life is not living which is why I think depression and mental illness need our attention. And, I think that depression leads to and is masked by other illnesses. I bet that in many cases of obesity, alcoholism, or addiction, depression is a root cause that has not been properly diagnosed or treated.

If someone in your family suffers from depression it affects you too. I know this first hand because depression has affected a close member of my family. Not fully understanding the disease at first I would become frustrated and angry because our expectation is for people to just snap out of it or use positive thinking to change their mood. But, I learned that it doesn’t work that way because depression is a disease that requires treatment, like diabetes or heart disease. The most important thing we can do for someone who is depressed is to listen, remind them that life is not as bad as they think, and encourage them to seek help. It is not easy because depressed people have a negative outlook that can affect our own mood. Patience and compassion will be your best tools to help you help them.

Depression affects all of us at one time or another. I have felt depressed at times when my emotional balance was altered by something sad or unexpected. I became depressed when I had to put down my 14-year-old kitty. That was a really difficult thing to do and I felt the loss of my pet very deeply. I also felt depressed when I was in a minor car accident. I felt extremely unlucky and I kept evaluating the accident and thinking about what I could have done differently to avoid it. But, in a couple of days after these incidents I was able to regain my emotional balance and was able to cope with my emotions.

All of us have experienced a loss or some event that has made us feel depressed for a little while. But, we are able to cope much better when we feel a state of normalcy has been restored in our lives. Getting back to our routine speeds up the healing process. But, since 2008, we have suffered job losses, loss of income, loss of homes, loss of future earnings. Our society has been under a constant barrage of emotional disturbances that have affected our sense of wellness. People may have been able to cope with the first year of uncertainty because they still had a job, or had savings in the bank, or had family who could support them. But as the period of economic uncertainty continues, and people are dealing with more losses, I believe we may be in the middle of a depression epidemic.

We are not feeling secure about the future and that affects our ability to spring back from emotional imbalance. I want to raise awareness about the signs of depression because more people may be suffering from severe depression because of the prolonged period of uncertainty and lack of normalcy. Sadly, due to loss of health insurance or income, people have also lost access to treatment and this only exacerbates the problem.

Severe depression can lead to suicide. Recently a 77-year old man took his own life in front of the Greek Parliament building. The suicide note cited financial troubles. His death adds to the sharp rise in suicides in that country between 2010 and 2011, after the Greek recession started. According to a CDC report, in the U.S., between 2008 and 2009, 8.3 million adults reported having serious thoughts about suicide in the past year (http://www.health.am/psy/more/us-sees-highest-suicide/). A six-year analysis in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that most of the increase in suicide rates has been driven by a rise in suicide among peoples aged 40 to 64.

The National Institutes of Mental Health website has information about depression and how to recognize its symptoms (www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression). The information below is from their website:

Signs and symptoms include:

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty”      feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once      pleasurable, including sex
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and      making decisions
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive      sleeping
  • Overeating, or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive      problems that do not ease even with treatment.

Where can I go for help?

If you are unsure where to go for help, ask your family doctor. Others who can help are listed below.

Mental Health Resources

  • Mental health specialists, such as psychiatrists,      psychologists, social workers, or mental health counselors
  • Health maintenance organizations
  • Community mental health centers
  • Hospital psychiatry departments and outpatient      clinics
  • Mental health programs at universities or medical      schools
  • State hospital outpatient clinics
  • Family services, social agencies, or clergy
  • Peer support groups
  • Private clinics and facilities
  • Employee assistance programs
  • Local medical and/or psychiatric societies
  • You can also check the phone book under “mental      health,” “health,” “social services,”      “hotlines,” or “physicians” for phone numbers and      addresses. An emergency room doctor also can provide temporary help and      can tell you where and how to get further help.

Much Love,

 

R U Happy?

I was taking a casual afternoon stroll with a girlfriend, when out of the blue she asked me: Are you happy? Such a simple question really, but one that created an internal turmoil of endless inquiries.

About what? Am I happy right now this minute? am I happy with how my life has turned out? Am I happy with my decisions? Am I happy with my work? in my relationships?

I needed to know what aspect of my life she was referring to.

But, in the milliseconds of silence that transpired when the words left her mouth, entered my ears and triggered my brain frenzy, I realized that she wasn’t asking specifics. She basically wanted to know if I were to place all of the elements of my life in a big gigantic bowl and gave them a good toss, would I come out with a Happy salad? This new nugget of information went back for further processing.

Happy? Like, do I feel 100 percent satisfied with my life? Is my life exactly how I want it? Have I realized all of my dreams? Am I feeling happy right now…hmm, I’m not happy with how much weight I gained during vacation, oh, but that’s too trivial, do I have to feel happy all of the time to claim that I am happy?

Feeling like taking too much longer to respond would indicate that I was unhappy, I responded. It depends.

Good one! This throws the ball back to her court. She now has to modify her question and this gives me more time to think about my response.

But, she was silent, waiting for me to continue. DRATS!

In typical fashion, I blundered through a response that covered most areas of my life. Yes, I am happy with having my own business, but I would like to figure out how to grow it; Yes,  I am happy with my body, but I would still like to lose another ten pounds; Yes, I am happy with my marriage but I would like us to have better communications. Our conversation trailed off into other topics until our time together came to an end. But, the question and my answers haunted me later in the day. How could I claim I was happy if I appended so many buts?

That evening as I tried to get to sleep, again I pondered, am I happy? I certainly wasn’t happy with how I had answered the question. Could part of the problem be that we liberally use the word happy, without any real relevance to how we’re really feeling?  In my response to my friend’s question I had attached characteristics to feeling happy that don’t fit.  Happiness is not a state that is measurable, like is, say, being pregnant. Yes, you’re either pregnant or not, but being 5 weeks pregnant is quite different from being 25 weeks pregnant. Happiness doesn’t work that way. I mean, when I see someone I really like, I am not 40 percent happy to see them.

I have felt happy many times and I like having those moments, especially when they come on unexpectedly. I feel happy when my husband reaches for my hand as we walk into Lowe’s, or I feel happy when my kitty curls up with me to take a nap, I feel happy when I hear the birds singing from my kitchen window, I feel happy when my friends wish me Happy Birthday on Facebook. When I am happy I feel light, peaceful, and nothing else matters.  But, I don’t feel this way all of the time.

Happiness, I noticed, came in gushes of delight.  Happiness happens in-the-moment and if we’re not watching we can miss it altogether. For example, if we dwell on the things that have not happened yet, like wishing for one day to be married, or getting promoted, or meeting a financial goal, we will miss happiness. If we dwell in the past, pining over the things that didn’t work out, we will also miss feeling happy. Happiness is ours to pick, every day, like a field of flowers. By being in-the-moment, noticing the people, places, and circumstances that give us that gush of delight we can pick happiness for ourselves. And, the more we stay in the moment, the more happy moments we can claim.

I am happy. I pray that you are too.

Much Love,