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In the past few weeks I’ve had multiple experiences – first a trickle, then a steady daily stream – that’ve revealed a heartbreakingly common theme of being human. Many Readers are familiar with the thought experiment that shows the Law of Attraction at work:  holding an image in your mind during a normal day (a butterfly, for example) and noticing how many times you see images, or the real thing, from sun-up until sundown. It’s pretty remarkable – if you can maintain playful focus on whatever you decide you want to ‘see’.

The thought experiment I’ve been living recently first started (maybe 3 weeks ago) when a dozen or so of my colleagues were tasked with choosing teams for a project. Anyone could start the process of choosing – it began, and ended via email. But as those who were anxious to pick competent and capable friends began sending out Invites, others were left unchosen.  Memories from grade school athletics:  the unsparingly-cruel team captains selecting the best, or most skilled, players so as to avoid getting stuck with ‘losers’.

If you were in the small group of misfits no captain wanted (as I was, in most sports competitions), the lesson was unmistakable and painfully poignant:  no one wants you. In my colleague-teaming situation, this played out (via groupmail) in a very public way:  who was invited to join, and who was left asking to join. Yes, we’re all adults and this is Life, but still; it didn’t feel good. After all, we all want and need to be well-regarded; to be chosen; to be Liked.

In the 26 August “New Yorker” magazine, there’s an article titled “Trouble in Paradise” by Andrew Marantz. The piece focuses on the Tech industry’s efforts to confront its ‘demons’, in terms of its perceived (and fact-based) lack of ethics. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Apple and several others are being called-out for tactics that are now collectively referred to as “Human Downgrading:  …a reduction of human capacity…and human sensitivities” (p. 63).

There’s a ton of ‘psychology’, as it turns out, behind what these platforms do, and how they do it, in their quest for more and more presence in our lives. Turns out (many Readers might already know this), for example, an individual (not a Think Tank) came up with the idea of the ‘Like’ button. The button’s designed to gather data about our preferences, but also feeds our dopamine-hungry bodies in the same way that video games do:  by zapping our receptors with alternating challenges, rewards, defeats and punishments.

But what happens when we put ourselves ‘out there’, in the arena of social scrutiny, and we are not chosen? Or, we don’t get the number of ‘Likes’ we want and think we deserve? Studies are now showing that we grow panicky and anxious, sad and even despondent. Combatting the Awful Truth of the phrase “If It’s Not Insta, It Didn’t Happen”, Instagram in Canada has removed the ‘Like’ button entirely from its application, knowing full well what this means to the company’s bottom-line.

So after my “teambuilding” (a deliberate oxymoron, here) experience, I continued to encounter friends and family members who were feeling invisible, neglected, unloved and even shamed in their experiences and relationships. I’m not trying to imply that all of these outcomes are the result of being “on” Social Media, or, Under the Influence of Social Media, but the New Yorker article presents pretty compelling evidence of a connection. The Tech Giants (the humans running this industry) themselves seem to be in growing realization that much of their money-making relies on promoting and maintaining human emotions such as apprehension, uncertainty, insecurity and a sense of inclusion or exclusion.

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Who are these people Liking and Following us, and why does this even matter so much? What might Likes and Follows be a substitute for? I note the symbolism of a simple ‘button’, like Roman Emperors of ancient times:  “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” as to whether or not a gladiator’s life should be spared. Wait – did you think that ‘Thumbs-Up’ was invented by Tech? (smiley emoji)

Talking with a friend this morning, I asked her how her job was going. She’s a psychiatric nurse at a residential facility for troubled kids. You might assume that she has both good, and bad days in this role; you’d be correct – as she freely admits. As with other people-serving professions, there’s huge potential for burnout in her job. Nevertheless, each time we chat, she says “I’m so lucky !” My friend explains:  she never dreads going to work; and, unlike some of her colleagues, ‘Fridays’ aren’t the Finish lines of end of the week exhaustion. My friend’s ‘luck’, according to her, was entering a career that’s consistently satisfying and motivating – even on bad days.

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For many people I know, work’s just a part of Adulting. My own peer group didn’t give it much thought after high school. They went to college, or, they went to work. They took jobs that were offered. More than a few of them ‘ended up’ in careers not remotely connected to their college majors. Others entered a family business, while still others took minimum wage jobs right out of high school and relied on promotions over the years. They married, had families, got divorced, sent kids off to college, planned for retirement. In the midst of all that, I can’t recall ever discussing, or being taught about the need for Passion and Purpose.

Growing up when I did, I’m sure that my parents and grandparents probably would have laughed me right out of the room if I’d suggested I needed time to contemplate my Life Purpose. Moving out of my family home after high school, while I was still only 17, I took a part time job while I went to community college. I lived on a meager salary, and on my deceased mother’s Social Security (until I turned 18 and was cut-off). So busy trying to survive and make something of myself, I still didn’t have the luxury of thinking about Passion and Purpose. And yet, I got the schooling and the career that I, too, feel “lucky” to have had. How did this happen?

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As I’ve grown older, clarity around Passion and Purpose has made me realize that anyone can discover both, and everyone deserves to discover both. How often do we ask ourselves, especially as Life grows more complicated and demanding, What do I feel most passionately about? How often do we then give ourselves permission to do, and be whatever that is ? Alana Fairchild (one of many practitioners who’ve interpreted the teachings of the poet Rumi) believes that each person on our planet has her, his, or their unique “soul-light”. She writes, “Every light holds its own beauty, and every light has a particular task to fulfill. We’re given a built-in reminder of this. That reminder is our Passion.”

Honoring ourselves, honoring and trusting what our instincts tell us about our true natures is the path to discovering our Passion. Our Passion, in turn, leads us to the Purpose (or task) we’re meant to fulfill here on planet Earth. One doesn’t need to believe in or rely upon a deity or higher power to discover Passion while writing poetry, playing music, sculpting, dancing, photography, painting, teaching, building, helping a child, animal or an elderly person. The list of passionate pursuits is as endless as there are humans on the earth. Fairchild continues, “We may be fearful that with  (following our) Passion there are no guarantees of success, or that we may even be throwing away a stable life to pursue our Passion.” 

It might be true that pursuing one’s Passion, one’s dream of How Life Can Be, can feel risky at first. Some might seek Passion through a hobby that becomes a livelihood; others might keep that “day job” and allow passion a part-time existence another way. But Passion and Purpose are what’s really behind the “luck” so many of us feel in our daily work lives. What better way to greet each and every morning? It all starts with finding meaning in your own beating heart; loving your heart for its life-giving energy. Accepting that your life has incalculable meaning in, to, and for the World. What stirs you? Do that. Be that. Start right now…

(more…)

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More than a few people who study the subconscious mind have concluded that our dreams represent either fears or desires. Lately, my own dreams have felt like the massive, corner-to-corner ‘housecleaning’ I always say I’m going to do twice a year. My subconscious has returned to The Past. Specifically, how I used to feel, think and act ‘in love’, before I actually knew who I was. Why am I now dreaming about how I used to behave in relationship? I suppose, as I think about adventures that lie ahead of me, I fear  that I’ll forget crucial lessons I’ve learned over the years, and am therefore doomed to make the same mistakes.

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How hard is it – when we want and need Love in our lives – when we’d so much rather be part of a couple than alone – to not “settle” for less than we deserve? We hear and read that word (settle) a lot; we know what it means. It’s never a good ‘look’, from others’ perspectives. When it comes to romance and Love, we’d rather gossip (I’ve seen and heard this, even at weddings) about the person who’s “definitely settling!” than think we could ever ‘betray’ our own hearts.

What does “settling” mean? Not too long ago a friend told me he was getting (re) married. I surprised myself, still optimistic and romantic, after all these years: “You’re in love – how wonderful!” Not, as it turns out. He was feeling his age, tired of living alone, wanting a companion in his big house, and – of course – hoping for “regular sex”. As it turned out, his fiancé was in the same ‘boat’. So they married. And are already struggling to adapt to one another’s personalities.

I totally understand why people enter into and stay in relationships (even complicating things further, with marriage). Whether it’s romantic love, erotic love, platonic love, companion love, or any other variation of Love. I don’t judge them. But the dream I had last night (yes, back to the whole point of this Post) showed me that my own heart demands something more. In the dream (totally reflecting real life, some years back), I was in a Love Relationship; sort of a long-distance thing. We’d been together for some five years and I was wearing a beautiful diamond engagement ring, but in my heart I knew that I would never marry this man.

In last night’s dream, we stood holding each other in a loving embrace. He was whispering sweet words and talking about the future. I was ‘in my head’, not feeling it at all. (There had been, over the trips and visits to one another’s cities, strong indications of his substance abuse and mental health issues, and many deep dive conversations.) His words were all about our ‘road ahead’. I kept quiet, a total coward, not wanting to leave his arms just yet.

The thing about dreams:  I always seem to wake up from this ‘movie’ in my head when it’s either just getting really good, or, when my heart tells my subconscious, “That’s enough of that!” Last night I woke up before I had to say anything negative to my lover. The dream was a total flashback, a psychic “do-over” scenario with a question waiting at the end for me, when I woke up:  “Here’s this guy, so perfect for you in so many ways; except for the substance abuse and really concerning mental health issues. Are you going to “settle” when your heart is screaming ‘Run for the door!?’ ”

In Love, how do we know, for certain and for sure, what our non-negotiables and deal-breakers are? How can we be sure that we know, understand and accept what we’re ‘in for’ in a committed relationship, and not feel like we’re making excuses for not receiving what we really want and need? Rhetorical question, right? Because we  know that each one of us asking these questions has to look deeply into our own hearts, eyes wide open, stripping away any romantic fantasy or feelings of desperation before the decision’s made. Real Happiness and joyfulness  is always a better option than bargaining-away our deepest needs and even values. Whatever that ‘Happiness’ means…it’s worth holding on to, waking or dreaming.

Organizational Psychology consultants and coaches don’t have an exclusive ‘lock’ on what makes individuals and groups successful in a work setting. OPs learn and train in a variety of disciplines, including systems theory and the huge and complex field of individual and group psychology. Their conclusions and ultimate practices are evidence-based:  what appears to be effective, according to research and evaluation.

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The concerns of most companies still revolve around The Bottom Line (profits), incorporating emergent needs such as  sustainability and global reach into the mix. Consultants and coaches (those who’re formally trained, by the way, not the Life Coach you might see advertising on YouTube) can analyze and create detailed recommendations relative to every aspect of an organization’s goals. But the human psychology behind success remains, at its core, really pretty simple. The research is clear:  people who are Happy generally feel and experience ‘success’ in their pursuits (personal or work related).  But people who may think of themselves as ‘successful’, or who may be regarded as such by others, are not always Happy. Readers may be thinking, Who Cares? Stay with me…

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The need to feel Happy is a fundamentally-human condition. It’s almost autonomic, in that we go about pursuing Happiness almost without thinking about it.  It’s certainly tied to Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:  being happy for some might be as basic as a full belly and safe place to sleep; or, it might be the Corner Office and a boost in an already-six-figure income. Organizational Psychology researchers, however, have reason (and research to back it up) to believe that Happiness has slightly less to do with external conditions or outcomes and much more to do with our internal wellbeing.

If our basic needs for food, shelter, safety, and a sense of belongingness (there’s Maslow again) have been assured, Happiness – the pursuit of it – takes a very interesting turn. According to extensive research, three conclusions emerge:  1) Happiness begins in the human heart; 2) Happiness is not overly influenced by such factors as genetics or random events; and 3) Happiness appears to have a set-point, for the majority of people.

There’s very good news for those of us that struggle with negative emotions from time to time. Happiness, the kind I’m talking about here, is in large part the ability to balance positive and negative feelings or emotions. Going overboard in either direction isn’t helpful. Furthermore, negative emotions, as it turns out, actually strengthen happiness by providing contrast (again, as long as we don’t allow ourselves to get ‘stuck’ in gloom).

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One of the recent areas of Happiness study (targeting stress-related absenteesim) is Work-Life Balance. ‘Balance’ is unique to each individual. It’s something we strive for alone, in that we alone feel and understand our needs, our abilities and our limits, and our desires and aversions. The balance we achieve is up to us:  we flourish in it, or we suffer the adverse effects of neglecting our Inner World (mind, body, spirit). Short bursts of success (e.g., a winning lottery ticket) stimulate our happiness receptors, but are short-lived spikes).

Interestingly, the sense of inner balance that is the foundation of Happiness, turns out to have a “set-point”. A researcher by the name of Ed Diener developed a series of national (in the U.S.) and international studies of tens of thousands of people engaged in a wide variety of professions. Diener found that genuine Happiness is a sense of “subjective well-being”, not a response to external factors. Not only this, but, as we learn and grow through life’s experiences, Diener discovered that we encounter our own Happiness set-point:  the stage at which we often say to ourselves, “It’s time for a new experience (and new challenges)”.

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So if deep and long-lasting Happiness is really more about our internal well-being, and so much less about The Chase (fill in the blank:  job, money, material possessions, relationships), then what’s to do? There’s no one-size-fits-all answer, since each and every one of us is engaged in our own Balancing Act. What I know for sure is that we can help one another along the way.  Heartfelt gestures, kind words of encouragement, and whatever version of Namaste (The Divine in Me Recognizes and Honors the Divine in You) suits our belief system grace both the giver and the receiver.

The first time I went to Italy I was just a young girl. I was still in what some writers call the “colt” (filly, I guess) stage:  all long arms and legs, awkwardly trying to coordinate them into graceful movement, with utter self-consciousness. But not really caring how I looked, when it came right down to it. So I was beyond surprised when a group of Italian boys came in pursuit. My parents and I were in Venice, in search of the famous Bridge of Sighs (my father’s map-reading leading us deep into shaded, narrow streets, nowhere near the canal). Their calls to me were in Italian, of course, but the lilt of their voices communicated their approval of my appearance, and then some. The pack of four or five young men followed directly behind us, chattering loudly. One of them suddenly dashed forward, even though I was walking between both of my parents, and pinched me.  He let out a loud “Whoop!!” and sprinted away like a cricket, as my startled parents watched. The young men all then went off in another direction, laughing and talking. I was delighted. For days.

One of the things I enjoy and appreciate – as a single woman traveling abroad – is the way that men generally allow their appreciation of the female form to be completely obvious. A woman can be walking with another man and still get an admiring (if not burning with desire) look. It’s usually playful, not a ‘stalker’ type of attention. But it’s the openness, the frankness of the look that I admire. “Yes. I am looking at you because I want to, and I want you to know this, because you are looking so good.” (I’ve actually had French men say variations of this line to me; I express gratitude, and life goes on.) It’s all part of a more enlightened, in my opinion, view of sexuality that literally puts ‘sex’ into just about everything. Normale.

In California, it’s a different story. Perhaps it’s mostly in our bigger cities here, but I’ve felt it in smaller ones also. In general, there’s a practiced indifference that both men and women struggle to perfect, no matter how attracted they might be to someone. Now, I’m not talking about the bar-scene; or places where people go to hook-up. And I can only speak as a straight female, in my experience with straight men. But it’s really pretty funny (and ironic) how much effort goes into the precisely-measured response; the studied nonchalance; as though looking too hard or too long might give away Important Personal Secrets and compromise any relationship from the get-go. I’ve seen both men and women do this. I’ve learned how to do it. It’s part of a universal language, here in the Golden State. Usually, it’s pure fun. Sometimes it’s kind of pitiful.

Summertime temperatures being what they are, today I decided to make a dash to my neighborhood grocery store for some melon. As I moved through the produce section (totally jammed with people, typical for a weekend), I was aware of a very tall person moving toward me, though my eyes were scanning the fruit for freshness. Call it my long-standing situational awareness: I’m not expecting anyone to hit on me – I just don’t want to be hit or run over with a cart (as a woman did to the heel of one of my better pair of flats, recently). I looked up as the man approached me, met his eyes, and caught his as they looked down at the fourth finger on my left hand, which was bare. I felt him circle around behind me. ‘Whatever’, was my first thought, and kept going in my fruit prowl.

A very few minutes later I happened to look up once more (I can usually feel ‘eyes’ on me – again, self-protection instincts). The same man was standing about three feet away, next to a pyramid of peaches. As I looked up, his eyes searched mine. He didn’t smile, he just looked, and kept looking at me. A handsome face. A sad face. Light olive skin and very brown eyes. A little gray in his hair. But in a split- second I realized that the very imposing woman directly in front of my cart was apparently The Wife. Ah. So… were his eyes saying, “Help Me” ?

She was casual chic, all in black; a tasteful summer cashmere something-or-other around her back and shoulders. Her hair was thick, glossy and also black, pulled into a stylish pony. I could only see the side of her face: a large silver hoop, a strong jawline and a jet brow. As my eyes left her ensemble, the woman’s voice, directed at the man who’d been staring at me (did she notice, I don’t think so), cracked like a very loud whip. “Not those!” (his hand was suspended over a bag of cherries at that moment). “I told you I didn’t want those!” Oh my, I thought. Scolded loudly, in a crowded produce isle, for choosing Bing over Ranier.  Hell – I felt cowed. I edged away to avoid hearing any more. As I turned back briefly, the woman’s face was in a deep scowl. In fairness, maybe the husband’s a total jerk and he deserved this treatment. But it didn’t feel that way. It felt bleak. His look wasn’t just Help Me; it was, I Can’t Seem to Help Myself.

Sometimes when I’m feeling a little wistful about my solitude  ( In-Between-Men,  as they say), I’m also quick to send my Gratitude to the Universe that I don’t have to eye-ball silent signals of Please: Just Smile at Me, in the grocery store. I’m thankful that I’ve gained the wisdom that would never allow me to stay in a relationship without passion, honor and respect. I’m also grateful that I have the understanding, if not the total ability (yet), to be candid in my appreciation of a potential love interest. Today, I’ve decided:  Be it among the cherries, or somewhere else, I’m going to let my eyes linger when they feel like it. I am not going to pretend indifference, but fully take-in an interesting-looking (hopefully single) man. If he clocks me doing this, so much the better. I think I might even give him a little “Whoop!!” See what happens.