Archives for Relationships

Animal Mentors

Help Me Make Amazing Happen (A Service Dog for FuMing Cutts)

You probably noticed the last name - FuMing Cutts - yup, we are related. :-)

FuMing, or we like to call him "Ming" for short, is my youngest nephew. But along with hope, intelligence, strength, courage and the love of his new forever family, Ming brought with him trauma.

He brought remembered grief for his birth mom who abandoned him when he was one day old (likely because she couldn't afford the many surgeries his cleft palate would in time require).

He brought PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) from the many months when he basically starved because no one at the orphanage knew how to properly feed a cleft palate baby.

And he brought fear from all those moments before he came into our family when he didn't know if he would belong to anyone, anywhere, ever. 
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Celebrity Mentors

How to Know You are Brave

One of my favorite songs of all time is Sara Bareilles' song "Brave."

In the song, she sings "I wanna see you be brave."

The first time I ever heard her sing that line, I thought, "Me too."

I hadn't ever really thought of myself as brave before, but I liked the idea of "me" as a brave person.

And one day, as I listened (for the umpteen jillionth time) to her sing, "Show me how big your brave is," I decided, "Okay, I will!"

The song was released in April 2013, and it is now January 2016.

I am happy to report I've been brave lots of times since then.

But until I recently began reading Elizabeth Gilbert's new book, "Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear," I still wasn't really grasping how unusual "being brave" really is - for me or anyone.

In the chapter titled "The Fear You Need and the Fear You Don't Need," Gilbert shares:

Bravery means doing something scary. Fearlessness means not even understanding what the word scary means. 
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Animal Mentors

Mentors with Feathers

Approximately three years ago, I went to Cape Cod with my folks for our annual getaway.

While I was gone, I started to miss my parrot, Pearl, very badly.

I was already writing his blog, Love & Feathers, so I started re-reading past posts to see if that would help ease the ache.

It just got worse.

Then I started looking through the photos I've taken of him over the years. Right about that point I realized I had several thousand photos of Pearl - more than every other type of photo I've ever taken (from the moment I was born or when they first invented the camera, take your pick) combined.

Since reading old blog posts and looking at old pictures wasn't helping, my next attempt focused on writing.

In years past, I have often journaled - either through physically writing in a journal or (more frequently) writing songs. So I began to journal out some of my favorite stories about my life with Pearl.

This helped.

It helped me not just feel closer to Pearl on the inside while we were so far apart on the outside, but it also helped me feel less anxious about his approaching double-digit  birthday and how I might cope once he and I are separated by more than just geography.

So I kept writing....and writing. 
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A Sure Fire Way to Win Your Own Self-Respect

Character — the willingness to accept responsibility for one's own life — is the source from which self-respect springs. -Joan Didion

I will confess I know little about Joan Didion (although from what I read on Wikipedia just now, it seems there is much worth getting to know).

But when I found the quote (above) in another book I've been reading, her words instantly captivated me.

I thought - "Aha! 'Accept responsibility for one's own life.' Yes, yes, yes - that is what feels so much better about my life today! I have accepted responsibility for my own life at last, which is why I can now feel so much respect for myself!"

Although I would imagine "accepting responsibility for your life" and "self-respect" will means something slightly different to each of us - depending on what our specific vulnerabilities and strengths may be.

For me personally, it means I no longer automatically look around for someone else - a mentor, a coach, a boss, a parent, a peer, a significant other - to handle my problems and recognize my successes.

It means that, while I may seek out a mentor's insights or input, I now get to have the last word in any decision on my personal table.

It means I now trust myself to be enough to handle whatever my life brings me on any given day.

Most importantly (for me at least), it means I am now the one in my life who is most invested in my own health and happiness.

I have more to lose - and more to gain - through how wisely and well I navigate each moment of my life than any other being on this planet.

This means I care more than anyone else what happens to me....and I also "man up" to stick up for myself when needed (whether there is anyone else around willing to do it or not).
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The “Aha” Moment & Other Honest Lies We Tell Ourselves

A few weeks ago I wrote about my experiences with reading Brene Brown's new book, "Rising Strong."

...or at least those experiences that related to reading the first 30 pages or so.

I have now read another 40 pages and have again had to hit "pause" to process.

Speaking of processing....did you know our brain gives us a hit of dopamine (a neurotransmitter and pretty much the best drug ever created) every time we successfully complete a puzzle?

The puzzle could be a Sudoku page, a crossword puzzle, a game of Hangman...or even a story we tell ourselves.

It could be an "Aha moment" - when all the pieces fit or the dots connect and what didn't make any sense at all is now suddenly, wonderfully clear.....

And did you know that, in these moments and flooded as they are with feel-good dopamine, our brains don't care if we solved the puzzle/rescued the stick figure/interpreted the signs correctly.

They just care that another puzzle is complete so they can get their drug-of-choice reward.

What this means, according to Brown, is that we can and probably do tell ourselves incorrect stories and have inaccurate "Aha moments" all the time.

Brown refers to a neurologist named Robert Burton as the source of this newfound knowledge, sharing this from his work in "Rising Strong:"

Stories are patterns. The brain recognizes the familiar beginning-middle-end structure of a story and rewards us for clearing up the ambiguity. Unfortunately, we don't need to be accurate, just certain. 
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When Change Changes You

Suddenly it seems like everywhere I go online I'm reading about an app called Slack.

Apparently it is like Twitter + Facebook for office types.

Slack's goal - according to its CEO at least - is to eliminate email.

But his underlying goal is to get back to his family and his herd of alpacas (small furry camels, basically) by eliminating work...or at least some of it.

Stewart Butterfield, Slack's CEO, did exactly that after selling his first creation, Flickr, to Yahoo for an alleged $25 million.

But then he quickly came back...with Slack.

In a recent interview, Butterfield had this to share about why he feels it is important to reduce the time we spend working:

I think that we're as a species not quite equipped to deal with the power of this stuff just in the same way we weren't quite equipped to deal with infinite free calories. This is how people end up with diabetes...we will now have the cognitive emotional diabetes of over interacting with people who aren't physically present.

Butterfield thinks Slack can help with the tendency we seem to have to overwork ourselves, or (in some cases, most notably Japan's Karoshi) literally work ourselves to death.

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How I Found Happiness

I used to chase happiness like a fiend.

I would run after different experiences - goals, achievements - quite sure that once I caught up to them, happiness would at last be at my beck and call.

This is when I learned happiness is a very fast runner.

So then I would try to sneak up on, "if I don't care to little or too much but just enough" won't see me coming and I can catch it.

Turns out happiness is related to owls - they both have 360 degree vision and exceptionally keen hearing.

Finally I decided to sit still, very quietly, until happiness forgot I was there, let down its guard, and crept close.

This, surprisingly, worked better than either of the other two strategies.

After reading a short post in Time magazine's Wellness section, I think I know why.

Apparently, for Americans, the pursuit of happiness is inexorably linked to achieving individual goals.

This is a very big contrast to how other cultures (happier cultures!) view happiness - as a social phenomenon that happens most readily when it is shared.

But our individualistic society puts the sole responsibility for catching and restraining happiness squarely on each of our respective shoulders - a heavy burden indeed.

Brett Ford, the author of the study Time references in their post, says that for this very reason, what we Americans tend to end up with instead of happiness is a life full of neutrality.

We're not really sad....not really happy....just kind of in between, existing.

Personally, in a world fueled by Facebook posts full of ridiculously happy people doing amazing happiness-producing things, I find it reassuring to know that behind the scenes, no one is really that happy all the time. 


I also like what Ford tells Time reporter Mandy Oaklander:

A happy life doesn't consist of happy moments every moment of the day.

Double whew.

So back to why I now understand why letting happiness come to me works better than chasing it down or pouncing on it. 
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I Love My Body…Except When I Don’t

Recently I was chatting with a recovery friend about body acceptance.

All of a sudden it hit me.

Body acceptance is one thing.

Body love - body enjoyment - well, this is quite another.

For example, most days these days I am filled to the brim with body acceptance.

I also feel reliable amounts of body gratitude and appreciation (especially after my 2011 surgery, when I experienced just how much I rely on my healthy body to do just about everything).

But body love - well, this is still a work-in-progress.

I suppose I could even say that my relationship with my body is still evolving. We've gotten to the mutual respect thing - but the raw throw-the-doors-wide-open "I love you with my whole heart and nothing less!" stage is yet ahead.

Of course, I'm not complaining....precisely.

After spending nearly three decades immersed in all things body hate, body revulsion, body disownment, finally experiencing body acceptance is pretty great.

But still, I aspire to more. Much more. 
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Mentoring Book Reviews

Living Life in Three Acts

Recently I began reading Brene Brown's new book, Rising Strong.

I haven't gotten very far, though.

This is because it only took a few pages before I realized (yet again) how much she knows that I do not.

For instance, did you know there are three acts in every story?

This includes Hollywood movies, literary classics, our daily life and all the rest.

Here is a basic summary of each act:

Act 1 - The main character of the story is offered a chance to go on an adventure, solve a problem, learn a lesson, et al. They waffle for a bit, then accept.
Act 2 - The main character looks for all the easy ways to get from A to Z, discovers none of those ways are available and hits rock bottom.
Act 3 - The main character finally tackles the hard way and (depending on the plot line) succeeds or doesn't.

So here is the thing.

I've always been aware of Act 1 - new beginnings and all that.

And Act 3 is hard to miss, seeing as how it is often full of fanfare and finality.

But Act 2....honestly, I guess I've always just categorized it as the "sh** happens" phase. 
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Where Adult Friendships Go to Die

This has been a year of transitions. Or changes. Or losses.

Or simply choices, depending on how you look at it.

Several years ago, I had a really big "aha moment." It wasn't the kind I really wanted but I definitely needed it.

This aha moment happened when I read a quote about how I would become most like the people I kept closest to me. So then I couldn't resist taking a look at my close circle.

To my horror, I discovered I did not want to become like some of these folks. And every time from then on I grew more and more aware of our dissonance whenever we would hang out together.

This was a hard period for me. But it wasn't as hard as what came next.

In the past two years, I took hold of the "friendship reins" in my own life for the first time ever. This was significant for a couple of reasons:

In the past, I pretty much just was friends with anyone who seemed to want to be friends with me.
This was because I thought I wasn't very good "friends material" and I always thought I was lucky anyone wanted to be my friend.

By taking charge of my friendship life, I became more discerning and deliberate about qualities I looked for in a potential friend.

I actually made a list of desirable qualities - these same qualities being the ones I hoped to develop in myself.

Positive and optimistic.
Smart and witty.
Engaged in their own life and the world.
Open-minded and accepting ("live and let live").
A good conversationalist and also a good listener.
Curious and fun-loving.
Compassionate and caring.
Respectful with good "social radar."
Able to open up and share without getting stuck in a rut of constant complaining (this is a big one for me!) or allowing me to do the same (which speaks to having a basically positive and optimistic nature underneath life's hard moments).
Supportive and loving and willing to be supported and loved.

There were more qualities on the list too, but these were the big ones.

I also expanded my concept of who qualified as a "friend."

For instance - I included my parents. My mom and dad are two of my best friends in the world today. I also decided pets qualified - my parrot, Pearl, and my tortoise, Malti, are my daily life sidekicks and I can't imagine life without them.

But some of my friendships hit the skids around this same time because they didn't fit most or any of the criteria on my list.

Some of my longest-running friendships felt the impact most deeply, while some of my newer friendships experienced cardiac arrest in fits and spurts as I woke up to behaviors and experiences that just didn't feel like anything I wanted to be a part of going forward.

This hurt. A lot. It still hurts.

This week I discovered a lovely little blog named Peaceful Dumpling.

A few of the posts focused specifically on what the poster called "adult friendships" - making them, ending them and all that can transpire in between. One particular post, titled "On Breaking Up With Friends," caught my attention.

In this post, the blogger talks about how jarring it can be to realize the old cliche, "boyfriends come and go, but friends are forever," may not hold water in every case.

(Interestingly, today my boyfriend is one of my best friends, although he didn't used to be - we've had some rough years together (and not together).)

But not all of my friendships have weathered the journey from "then" to "now" so well as ours has.

The blogger also talks about navigating "end of friendship" challenges, such as when only one friend wants to "break up" and the other wants the friendship to continue. 
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