Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

How Do You Balance Self-Care With Compassion?

I’m still working my way through the September crunch. Do you get this in your life too? With the summer over, and school starting for the kids, there are schedule disruptions as we try to piece together the kids schedules. when I was in corporate, summer ended and everyone realized they had to make the Q3 numbers all at once. I know traffic here has exploded too as everyone comes back online. Yesterday, I felt overwhelmed. Today, I’m looking to find the good in all this stuff.
Ok, I admit it – being overwhelmed by scheduling extra-curricular activities for my kids seems very much a first world problem, and not a particularly big one at that. In a time when the world is in a refugee crisis, #blacklivesmatter, and Muslim teen Ahmed Mohamed is arrested for bringing a homemade clock to school, should this trivial stuff even register? It should, and I’ll get to why in a moment.
First I want to comment on what happened with Ahmed. He is an inventive 14 year old 9th grader, who brought a clock to school, assembled with circuit boards and chunks of metal, to his Texas High School. The school panicked, thought it was a bomb, called the police, and escorted him out of the building in handcuffs. Shamefully, even after they learned it was not a bomb, he was suspended, and admonished for bringing something dangerous to school. This was abysmal treatment of a young creative mind, and fortunately he was not physically harmed. This negative situation opened the door to something amazing: people noticed, and acted.
First, there was outrage on social media as ordinary people spoke out. Soon, Ahmed was invited to
  • the White House to meet the President
  • Google’s science fair
  • Facebook, Twitter, and Box by their CEOs
Suddenly, Ahmed has amazing opportunities because people took action when something bad happened. Each person said to him or herself, “What can I do to make this better?” Collectively, they did a lot.
The Syrian refugee crisis is another opportunity to do good. Here again, some people are stepping up, donating money or opening their homes to help people in need.  I have come to believe that the bigger the crisis, the larger the opportunity to do good. If you would like to donate to help Syrian refugees, Google is matching individual donations. Click here if you’d like to donate.
But what about the garden variety day-to-day crisis, like the September crunch? It is tempting to focus our giving and kindness on “those truly in need.” Yet each of us has needs as well. They may seem trivial compared to the life or death situations faced by millions around the world, but they are the problems we are confronted with. Until we take care of ourselves, we cannot properly care for others.
The same formulation can apply to the trivial: What good can I see in this situation, and what action can I take to make a difference? Today I’m remembering how fortunate to live in an area with such choices for kids growing up. And, it is an opportunity to think about what is truly important to me. Where can I cut back for a few weeks until the schedule settles into a routine? Where can I add some exercise or stress relieving activities? How can I incorporate them into my life on an ongoing basis? If I am getting stressed, is it just me, or do the kids feel it too, and if so, perhaps they have too much on their plates.
And the action I’m taking? The Dr. Who marathon of course!
Tell me what you think. Do you feel the September crunch? How do you balance self-care with compassion?

Can You Stay Calm When Your Buttons Are Pushed?

Can you stay calm when your buttons are pushed?

Can you stay calm when your buttons are pushed?

I’m writing this week from the Frankfurt Airport, on my way home from a long weekend in Basel Switzerland with my wife. I really needed this weekend away, as I’ve been pretty wiped out by the push to finish the book, and the follow on sinus infection.

Just before I left, my Mussar practice shifted to Equanimity, which is also known as “Calmness of the Soul.” My initial thought was – perfect, some rest and relaxation, just what I need to restore my Equanimity. As is often the case with Mussar, the truth is a bit more complicated.

Most people can relax and become/maintain calm when everything is perfect. When we’re rested and our needs are taken care of, it is very easy to keep your cool. Retreating to a quiet place for a weekend to meditate doesn’t really help in the day to day. For example, many times when I was in the working world, I’d return from a vacation refreshed and renewed, which lasted for about 90 minutes. By the second or third email/phone call of substance, my stress was pegged again. While vacation is important for rest and renewal, it is not the same thing as building “Calmness of the Soul.”

This week, I’ve been looking at stress points as opportunities to practice Equanimity. This awareness in itself has been transformative. For example, one morning I woke up early and decided to meditate. There was a loud noise from the other room that was trying to bother me. I say trying because I said to myself, ” This is a test. Can you continue the meditation with that constant irritant?” It took an extra level of concentration, but I was able to do it. I think the secret was that I primed myself to look for opportunities to stay calm when normally I would become irritated.

I’m curious to see how things develop for over the remainder of the month. Often I start strong, but get tired trying to maintain Equanimity.

What has your experience been? Can You Stay Calm When Your Buttons Are Pushed?

Is It Easier For You to Identify Your Leadership Strengths or Weaknesses?

is it easier for you to identify your leadership strengths or weaknesses?I’ve come across an interesting dilemma. My Mussar studies this month focus on leadership. Rabbi Avi Fertig teaches that Leadership is not a single soul trait, but the result of multiple soul traits working together. He suggests a reflective exercise to examine three examples I demonstrated good leadership, and three where I did not. For each case, I am to identify two soul traits. By examining the whole, I can then select  two soul traits where I am strong wrt leadership, and two where I am weak. It is very easy for me to look and see where I have made mistakes, and to point to the soul trait imbalances that contributed. It is much harder for me to focus on the strengths. Why is that? Is this just me, or is it hard for you to recognize your strengths as well?

 

True self-reflection is never easy of course. We can identify surface issues, but getting to the deeper root cause is harder. For example, what soul traits of mine helped me be an effective leader for An Afternoon of Mussar a few months ago? On the surface, I might say Order, because I called meetings regularly, had agendas, and the day was well organized. However, I relied on others to teach me how to write agendas and plan the details. Underneath Order, I was practicing Responsibility, in that I was taking accountability for the outcome; and Compassion, in that I made time to check in on the welfare of the people on the team. Order then, was merely an outcome from my work in these other areas.
Ok, that felt good. For some reason it has been hard for me to do what I just wrote about in the above paragraph. Although it seems simple, I’ve been blocked for days from doing that analysis. What was so hard for me about looking at my good qualities? I’ve done this enough to know that something is there. Once in my class, I asked everyone to do a quick self-evaluation. One of the students freaked out and got anxious. I didn’t push it further at the time, but it stuck with me. A strong reaction is a red flag that there is some soul work to be done.
What has your experience been? Is it easier for you to identify your leadership strengths or weaknesses?
If you want to learn more about Mussar, visit my other website Americanmussar.com

The Spiritual Side of Going to the Bathroom

spiritual side of going to the bathroom

Don’t float your ears

I had an interesting experience recently with one of my study partners. We were reading a 15th century Rabbinic text about the Mussar soul trait Enthusiasm, and the author wrote the following:

“One must be especially zealous not to delay evacuation, both defecation and urination, even one moment”

This sentence was amidst the discussion about rushing to do good, and working to remain positive even in the face of difficult situations. HMMM
Like many such teachings, at first it seems a bit out there. But then I remembered that when I get very focused on my work, I delay using the bathroom, sometimes until it is quite urgent. Later, my daughter told me about a Tumbler post saying “To all my followers, stop holding your pee for so long.” Then I remember countless times when I was in corporate of people saying “I was so busy I haven’t had time to use the bathroom all day.” More than once a woman I knew would run out of the room when it was time for a bio break.
What is so important that we can’t take a two minute break for personal relief? We have a duty to take care of ourselves. It is also counterproductive to wait. I admit it, more than once I’ve been on a phone call when I really have to use the loo. It is distracting. It is hard to be my best self when I really have to take a leak. When  we don’t take time to take care of our basic needs, how much harder it will be to get to the gym, eat right, sleep, and all of these other more time consuming and less convenient ways of self care.
What do you think? Is there a spiritual side to going to the bathroom? Should we rush to use the bathroom as soon as we have to go? I can’t see myself going there (no pun intended.) But, I will try to be more mindful about my bodily needs, and take care of them in a timely way.
If you are interested, you can read the original text from Orchot Tzaddikim, The Fifteenth Gate: The Gate of Zeal here. It is on the bottom of the second page.

Do Looks Matter For Success?

Busting Your Corporate Idol - the new cover

Busting Your Corporate Idol – the new cover

Do Looks Matter for Success? When it comes to my book, I think they do.

I’m excited because for the first time, my book has hit the top ten on Amazon in the Work-Life Balance category. What has changed? The cover and the keywords.
I’m putting my money on the cover as making the big difference. At a writers workshop last year, Jack Canfield, author of Chicken Soup for the Soul, did an exercise where he showed that people were having a negative emotional reaction to my old cover. Everyone loves my author picture, so I decided to create a cover with that picture. And BOOM – I’ve sold many more books in March than I did for much of last year.
It’s just one more indication that looks matter – a lot. Jack Canfield did something called muscle testing. He had someone hold their arm out, and he pushed down on it with them resisting. Then he showed them the cover, and it became easier to push down the arm. Why? When the subconscious is disturbed, our muscles get weaker. The theory is that people saw the cover, and just didn’t feel right in some way, which made it less likely for them to buy.
This is another flavor of unconscious bias, the phenomenon where we are biased against something and we don’t realize it. Unconscious bias has been shown in attitudes towards women and minorities. For example, when auditions for symphony orchestras are conducted where the musician is behind a screen, more women are hired, showing that there was an unconscious bias against female musicians.
So what are we to do to counteract our own unconscious bias? Mussar teaches us to look for the Soul Trait that is out of balance, and then to find an action to move back towards balance. Currently, I am practicing Honor, and I suspect that could help. Honor is about how we treat other people. Some of the traditional practices for cultivating Honor include:
  • Greeting everyone you meet before they greet you.
  • Holding doors for others
  • Smiling at everyone you pass
These small steps each make an imprint on the Soul. When it comes to unconscious bias, the key is to focus on consistently executing the practice with everyone. In a diverse environment, I will be honoring people from many backgrounds. I’ll be on the lookout for any hesitation on my part with particular people that could indicate some unconscious bias. With the heightened awareness, I can act to override the hesitation, which will actually begin to eliminate the bias from the subconscious.
Whether or not you believe in unconscious bias, give one of these practices a try for a week. You’ll may be surprised at how it will make you feel.
What do you think? Do you believe in unconscious bias?
See the latest ranking of Busting Your Corporate Idol on Amazon.