Meaningful Connections

I don’t know what I was thinking when I chose “networking” as a competency to develop this year for my job. Did I set myself up for failure? An unabashed introvert, I am not good at networking. Talking to strangers at a business conference makes me uncomfortable. I do not have the gift of gab. Connecting with people for the selfish purpose of getting ahead professionally is not attractive to me.

My company offers free LinkedIn courses so I watched a video on Creating Personal Connections, taught by John Ullmen, PhD. Ullmen began by describing personal connections as the flow of energy between people. He said that being uncomfortable is not a bad thing. It can help to reframe social anxiety as excitement. Connecting with others is an opportunity to make things better, to shine your light on others.

Ullmen gave advice on what to think, how to feel, and what to do before an interaction. First, observe your thoughts. Send silent positive intent to the other person, which will set the stage for rapport. Go into the interaction with curiosity about the other person. Your goal is learn how you are connected. Although we may appear unconnected to others on the surface, we can connect to others on the deep.

Secondly, choose in advance how you are going to feel about the person. Make the choice to like them. Perhaps they remind you of someone you really like.

Finally, prepare yourself physically for the interaction. Pay attention to your body language. Smile and adjust your posture.

It is customary when greeting another person to ask: how are you? Ullmen says to avoid the generic “I’m fine” response. Instead, respond genuinely (not by sharing your aches and pains). Share something meaningful that happened to you in the last 24 hours. Use two sentences to respond. “I’m great. I just heard a good story about…”

Ullmen also suggested syncing up your conversation with the other person. At the moment you begin a conversation, the other person has something on their mind. Try to align yourself with them.

Ullmen recommended using the E.M.P.A.T.H.Y.® approach to communicating, based on an acronym developed by Helen Reiss. (To learn more, watch her Power of Empathy TEDTalk.)

Eye contact – I see you
Muscles of facial expression
Posture – conveys connection
Affect – expressed emotion
Tone of voice
Hearing the whole person, keeping your curiosity open
Your response to the feelings of others (align yourself)

Ullmen also suggested that you create personal connections by learning about the other person’s strengths, goals, and interests (SGI’s). Ask what they like to do outside of work. Share more of yourself by talking about things that are personally meaningful. What are you thankful for? Share a treasured memory.

Ullmen approached networking from an angle that is much more appealing to me. I enjoy deep, meaningful conversations. I like getting to know other people. So I’m going to stop thinking of networking as necessary but distasteful and focus on making meaningful connections.

How am I? I’m great. Today a talkative little boy at church hugged me and said I love you.

Living the Hygge Life

I used to use the WordPress daily word prompts to generate blogging ideas but whoever was posting the word prompts stopped doing it. Today I thought to myself, what if I were to choose the 37th word from an article in the newspaper (since there are 37 days left to write this year)? On my first try, I landed on the word “said” but that’s too common. So I tried again and landed on the word “hygge” in an article about gift ideas. That one grabbed my attention.

What is hygge? Google translates it from Danish to English as “fun” but fun doesn’t come close to defining it. According to the Visit Denmark website, “hygge means creating a warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with good people.” Oxford Dictionaries, which named hygge its 2016 word of the year, defines hygge as “A quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture).”

Evidently, hygge is a trendy thing that I missed out on, which isn’t surprising because I’m not the trendy type. If I were, I would have known that the Scandinavian hygge lifestyle is taking the world by storm!

I am also really bad at pronouncing unfamiliar words. Hygge is pronounced hoo-gah. I just can’t see the ‘y’ as an ‘oo.”

A year-end 2016 article by The New Yorker, titled The Year of Hygge, the Danish Obsession with Getting Cozy seems to place the blame for the obsession with hygge on Denmark. But hygge has evidently become a marketing obsession that is driving some Scandinavians crazy. You can’t buy hygge but the U.K and the U.S. have used the concept of hygge as an excuse to sell something. 

Perhaps Scandinavians are obsessed with hygge in the same way that Americans are obsessed with freedom. The Danes have learned to enjoy the simple things in life. Intimate conversations. Turning down the lights and turning off the noise. Simplicity. Minimalism. Less is more.

Meik Wiking, the guy who wrote The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets of Happy Living, says that hygge has been called “socializing for introverts.” Give me Cozy says that hygge has been called “the introverts answer to a good time.”

My cat gets the meaning of hygge. Find a warm, quiet place to chill out and relax. I didn’t know it before today, but I’m living the hygge life.

Dear Younger Me

A couple of months ago, my childhood pen pal found me on Facebook. We got together for lunch to catch up on forty years of life. Lori gave me letters that I had written to her from 1974-1976 when we would have been in the sixth through eighth grades. You wouldn’t know it from my letters, but those were tumultuous times.

Coincidentally, my sixth grade teacher wrote me a message on Facebook saying I should share a blog post I wrote about the sixth grade to show kids that time has a way of taking care of things. The world is much different than it was when I was a kid, but kids still face many of the same challenges. Sometimes I hear adults say that they would like to be a kid again. I wouldn’t want to relive my childhood unless I could do it armed with the life experience I have now. What would the adult me tell the child me if she could?


Dear Younger Me:

I usually start out my letters with “I am fine. How are you?” I won’t ask how you are because I already know. I’m writing to let you know that although you have a bumpy road ahead of you, you will come out of it pretty much unscathed. Someday you’ll even be able to look back on these years without a feeling of angst.

If you feel like you don’t fit in right now, you are not alone. Shy people like you aren’t popular. You aren’t cool. You won’t be a star athlete; you won’t even have the opportunity to try out for the team. That’s okay. It is not unusual to feel like a misfit in school – look at all the movies that have been written about this! Yet kids who feel like misfits still grow up to be amazing, successful, functional adults.

Speaking of fitting in, I have to warn you that people are determined to force square pegs to fit in round holes even though there are slots that fit square pegs perfectly. People will try to change you into something that you are not. They already tell you to speak up, to be more social. It’s not working, is it? They have been calling you bashful and shy since you were knee-high to a grasshopper. The labels tell you that you are different; that you are not what you’re supposed to be. All it does is make you feel like there is something wrong with you. There isn’t.

Someday, you will find your tribe. You’ll discover that there are millions of people like you. Introverts are awesome! You’ll find a job that makes the most of your strengths. But in the meantime, you’ll have to put up with the pressure to conform to the “extrovert ideal.” You’ll have to participate in activities that were designed for extroverts – things that fill you with dread and anxiety. It won’t be easy but you have to get out of your comfort zone once in a while. Facing your fears will make you even stronger!

I know that you are embarrassed and ashamed of being poor. Things are also a bit crazy at home. Take a walk in someone else’s shoes. You’re not the only one from a “broken” home. Unless you see the bruises, you don’t know what another child is going through. Count your blessings. 

You already know that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But you have let a few snobby people convince you that your worth is determined by social status – how much money your parents have, the clothes you wear. They are wrong! (I’m going to let you in on a secret: you’ll be able to afford nice things when you grow up but you won’t even want them.)

The hardships you face today will teach you an invaluable lesson. Your worth is defined by the content of your character. Period. So be honest. Be reliable. Always do your best. Go the extra mile. Treat other people the way you want to be treated. You will regret a lot of things in your life, but you will never regret being kind.

There’s one more thing I want to bring up before I close. Your mom. Over the next few years, she’s going to frustrate the heck out of you. You won’t understand her choices. You’ll spend years trying to understand why she does the things she does. You don’t realize how young she is and how much weight she has on her shoulders. The only thing you need to know is this: she loves you and she’s doing the best she can. Give her a big hug for me, okay?

Your friend always,

Cathy

P.S. U-R 2-Nice 2-B 4-gotten

My sixth grade teacher is right. Time changes things. Forty-three years ago, I would not have shared what I write with strangers. In one of my letters, I wrote about something upsetting that happened in Reading class. My teacher asked me for all of the stories I had written. She had a committee of my peers read them to select one to put in the newspaper. I was mad because I didn’t want my stories to be published! I was very self-conscious and hated being the center of attention.

Time certainly changed my perspective on the struggles of my childhood. They say that adversity builds character. Perseverance. Determination. Empathy. If I could go back and relive my childhood, would I be willing to trade some measure of adversity for some measure of character building? No, I wouldn’t. Painful memories fade. The lessons you learn in a “hard knock life” last forever.

Free to be real

via Daily Prompt: Authentic

When I saw that the word authentic was the daily prompt word today, it immediately brought to mind my New Year’s resolution. On December 29, 2017, I published a post called “Free to be real” on another blog. This is what I wrote about being authentic four months ago:

A few months ago, after my brother-in-law Greg passed away, I played dress-up with his granddaughter, Macy. My sister Amy took a picture of us. I thought about sharing the photo on social media at the time because it captured a fun moment but I didn’t because I don’t like the way I look. When I jut out my chin, an unconscious gesture, I accentuate the strong jaws I inherited from my paternal grandfather. Today, I’m willing to share the goofy photo because life is teaching me that I’d rather be flawed and real than perfect and fake – both inside and out.

I have always been reserved, holding back from expressing myself freely. It’s a protective instinct. I have to really, really trust that I am safe with people to let my hair down. Although I am more comfortable expressing myself by writing, I still censor myself too much. I filter out what I don’t want other people to see, holding back what I really think. I control what I say or do, especially to avoid criticism. When I censor myself, I conform to the expectations of others instead of sharing my unique perspective. Sometimes I keep my thoughts to myself because what I have to say might offend or turn off one friend or another. Not appropriate for atheists. Not appropriate for Evangelicals. Too boring. Too weird. Too much navel-gazing.

Censoring myself to avoid disappointing or offending or boring others is not extending the same grace to myself that I would to someone else. I don’t expect or want other people to be a cookie-cutter version of me so why should I try to be like anyone else? Self-censorship isn’t being real and authentic. By editing out parts of me, I present an incomplete image, just as in keeping an unflattering photo to myself, I hid my playful side. 

I will never be perfect and that’s okay

Like everyone else, I have a public personality or persona. My persona is the social facade that reflects the role I play in life. It is the image people expect me to uphold, the image I present to meet the demands of my environment or the situation I am in. My persona is the way I want other people to see me. 

The persona is a mask disguising the real self. It often represents an idealized image or role. Some of us have a professional buttoned-down persona, others want to be seen as the life of the party, others maintain a facade of toughness, and still others resist being typecast. Your reputation is based on the impression people have of you, so in that sense, image is everything.

When the persona is false, based on pretending to be something you’re not, image is nothing. Pretending to know everything when no one does. Pretending to have a perfect life when no one does. Basing your image on things that are superficial – like money or the way you look. That kind of image is meaningless. We may fool a few people with a false persona but perceptive people see through the act whether we want them to or not. 

Spiritually speaking, people who put a lot of effort into protecting and maintaining a chosen persona have a lot more inner work to do to face the truth about themselves. In Falling Upward, Richard Rohr wrote that you should be really careful about any idealized role or image because they are hard to live up to and can trap you in a “lifelong delusion.”

I have to admit that I do have an idealized image. She is a Nice Person, a Good Person, like my grandma. I want to be seen as kind, gentle, and considerate – the kind of person who doesn’t step on toes or make anyone feel bad. I want the world to see me as someone who is never angry and never says anything bad about anyone else. The real me falls far short of my ideal.

I’ve always been turned off by people who are pretentious, fake, phony, or hypocritical. I’d rather be around people who admit that they don’t have all the answers, that they don’t do everything right, that they don’t always look good. I’d rather be that kind of person myself.

I have learned that my idealized self is not worth protecting because 1) it isn’t achievable and 2) although I will never be perfectly good, God loves me anyway. Francesca Battistelli’s song, Free to Be Me, sums it up well:

When I was just a girl I thought I had it figured out. My life would turn out right, and I’d make it here somehow. But things don’t always come that easy and sometime I would doubt.

‘Cause I got a couple dents in my fender. Got a couple rips in my jeans. Try to fit the pieces together but perfection is my enemy. On my own I’m so clumsy but on Your shoulders I can see, I’m free to be me.

I have nothing to prove. I’m free to be the real me.

I knew when I resolved to be the real me four months ago, that it was not without risk. There is the risk of not being accepted. There is the risk of looking stupid. There is the risk of disappointing others and even disappointing yourself. Being authentic is worth the risk.