Oh, The Humanity! [30 Day Writing Challenge, Day 26]

I have this friend who is always reminding me that I’m human. I know this to be true, and I’m grateful that it is.

Oh, The Humanity!

But I don’t always love it when she says that. Sometimes, what I hear her say when she says that is: watch your perfectionism, it’s getting out of hand. But other times, I hear her say: it’s ok to slack off. It actually makes me feel better when you don’t go quite so hard.

So sometimes, I listen to her and appreciate her for the intervention. And other times, I leave that comment – you’re human – right where it comes from.

At the root of this disconnect is the truth that she and I have fundamentally different ideas of what being human is and what being human means.

Real talk: one can never 100% know what someone else thinks or feels. But as I perceive it, she thinks it to be human means to be irrevocably flawed, imperfect and, sure, to try to get better all the time, but also flawed and imperfect.

I think that to be human is to be a child of God, is to be an heir in the lineage of perfection. Does this mean that I expect or want to be perfect? Definitely not. But it does mean that I hold myself to a spirit of excellence at all times, that I push myself at times others would give me a big old hall pass to take a breather, and that I have bold expectations that grace and supernatural forces will take my intentions and my actions to a level closer to perfection than I ever could have taken them under my own steam.

I learned that my work is to every day, be more and more unapologetic and bold about claiming my inheritance as a child of God. My inheritance is everything. Yours is, too. We just forget sometimes. And my work is also to every day, more and more, approach my own flaws and humanity with ease, compassion and humor, while still working constantly to elevate who I am and how I am to a standard befitting of a child of God.

Maybe our difference of opinion is simply a matter of the conclusions we reach from the same st of facts. We both agree that to be human is to be flawed. But she feels that our flaws let us off the hook, and make it silly to set super strict standards for ourselves. I see it differently: our flaws simply create the landscape for us to experience growth and healing and to act out our craving for the divine, trying to edge ever closer to the supernatural from right here, on this ball of dirt we call ours.

Last night, I went down an Internet poetry rabbit hole. Of all Internet rabbit holes, I recommend this one, perhaps, the most. I came across this beautiful short poem called Romanesque arches, which touched on precisely this issue of being human, and being proud of it.

Romanesque arches

by Tomas Tranströmer, translated by Robert Bly

Tourists have crowded into the half-dark of the enormous Romanesque church.

Vault opening behind vault and no perspective.

A few candle flames flickered.

An angel whose face I couldn’t see embraced me

and his whisper went all through my body:

Don’t be ashamed to be a human beingbe proud!

Inside you one vault after another opens endlessly.

You’ll never be complete, and that’s as it should be.

Tears blinded me

as we were herded out into the fiercely sunlit piazza,

together with Mr and Mrs Jones, Herr Tanaka and Signora Sabatini—

within each of them vault after vault opened endlessly.

P.S.: I issued a 30 Day Writing Challenge for Conscious Leaders a few weeks back, and over 150 brilliant souls signed up! I decided to take the Challenge right along with them, and it’s been a profound journey for many of us. Most people are journaling or free-writing every day, privately. I wrote this post on Day 26 of the Challenge. I’ll be doing another writing Challenge in January; click here to get on the list for the January Challenge.

Today, in the Neighborhood Poetry Box. . . [30 Day Writing Challenge, Day 25]

Maybe two years back now, I was walking Aiko and Miko in the hills up the street from my house. One corner house we pass every day had a new addition, a well-built wooden version of a real estate flyer box, nailed securely to a tree in the front yard. There was a bright pink post-it note on it that read:

Today, in the Neighborhood Poetry Box. . . [30 Day Writing Challenge, Day 25]

Neighborhood Poetry Box: Take a poem, or leave one!

For the last two years, that box has always been full of print-outs of poems.

I rarely take them. But I always read them, and I occasionally take a snapshot of the ones that really resonate. They’re often seasonal, or relevant. They’re always sweet, probably sweetened in my mind by the idea that my neighbors are going out of their way to keep the box full.

Once, sometime last year, the tiny, vibrant, white-haired Asian woman who lives at the house was in the yard when I walked by. The girls and I stopped to thank her for investing the time and effort to turn such a lovely idea into reality, and to let her know that we read it everyday. She was so excited, so thrilled, that the box has become part of our daily routine.

This afternoon, we walked by the Neighborhood Poetry Box, and found this poem inside:

Children, everybody.
Here’s what to do during war:
In a time of destruction,
create something.
A poem.
A parade.
A community.
A school.
A vow.
A moral principle.
One peaceful moment.

It’s common that the poems in the box are attributed to their authors with a note at the bottom. This one, however, was signed in handwritten script—Maxine H. Kingston—and then attributed to a work titled The Fifth Book of Peace.

I took a photo of it. And later sent it to a friend. Because I think this is what we’re doing right now. We’re in a time of chaos, and we’re creating something. We’re creating lots of things. We’re creating bonds and love and moments. We’re writing and writing and writing. We’re committing. We’re building community at a level of depth I’ve never before witnessed firsthand. We’re creating farms and schools and movements and moments.

There’s something about the elegance and sparsity of this poem that I especially loved. I mean substantively, it was for us and about us. Obviously. But it didn’t seek to explain why or how or to make a case for what’s to be done in times like these. It was simple instruction.

Loving instruction, from someone senior to us: Children. Here’s what to do.

When I sent my sweetheart the photo of the poem, I again noticed the signature. I was inspired to Google the name, Maxine H. Kingston, and what a treat I found when I did. Maxine Hong Kingston is my lovely, tiny, neighbor, the proprietress of the poetry box! I read a few profiles of her incredible history, life and career, which started with her 1976 publication of The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. Over the years, this book alone has sold over 1.3 million copies.

A lauded UC Berkeley professor (now Emeritus) and White House humanities medal awardee, she’s spent the last few decades in peace activism, and was once notably arrested with another literary giant, Alice Walker, for protesting the Bush Administration’s plans to invade Iraq. Ms. Hong lived here 25 years ago, when the Oakland Hills fires swept through these streets through which I now walk the girls, and her home was burned to the ground, along with the manuscript of what was to be the Fourth Book of Peace. (In Chinese legend, the first three books of peace are said to have held the secrets to ending all war and, as such, to have been burned by the powers then in charge.)

So I’ve just ordered the Fifth Book of Peace. And soon, I’ll reach out to my neighbor to thank her again. But this time, it won’t just be for the poetry box.

P.S.: I issued a 30 Day Writing Challenge for Conscious Leaders a few weeks back, and over 150 brilliant souls signed up! I decided to take the Challenge right along with them, and it’s been a profound journey for many of us. Most people are journaling or free-writing every day, privately. I wrote this post on Day 25 of the Challenge. I’ll be doing another writing Challenge in January; click here to get on the list for the January Challenge.

You Are a Verb(??): Deepak, Decoded [30 Day Writing Challenge, Day 24]

In the US, it’s Thanksgiving today. And while I know this year has been trying for so many, I can’t help but be intensely thankful for so, so many things. I’m grateful that I was born when, where and to whom I was born. I’m grateful to know God up close and personal. I’m grateful for my extraordinary friends, the life I’ve led, my son, the incredible healing I’ve had, and for the incredible thoughtfulness of the lovely gent I’m seeing these days.

You Are a Verb(??): Deepak, Decoded

I’m a little under the weather, which always makes me a bit existential. So I’m even more acutely grateful than normal, today, for the extraordinary health of every cell in my body. I’m grateful that God has prospered and protected me, all the days of my life, and I’m grateful for what’s ahead.

And OH!, I can almost not convey with words the extent of my gratitude for the experiences I’ve had. Travel, work, life, love: you name it. I’ve cycled the islands of Croatia, boxed with the Muslim boys of Brussels, worked to bring healthy food to people who’d otherwise not have had access and executive-ed a Silicon Valley startup, all the way to acquisition. Unbelievable.

The teachers I’ve had along the way have unlocked a lot of my capacity to live into—and revel in—these experiences. Most of the celebrity teachers I’ve had, I’ve learned from via their books or online work. But in the last 8 weeks I’ve had the honor and privilege to be in the same room as a number of those people I’ve learned from, from afar; people like Deepak Chopra, Anne Lamott, Brené Brown and Marina Abramović , each the undisputed best at what they do.

Brené changed my life, Anne cracked me entirely up and Marina opened my eyes. But Deepak? The thing is, Deepak and I go way back. Perhaps the first personal growth or “wizlit” book I ever read, besides the Bible, was his book Quantum Healing, which I read when I was about 14. I had several of terminally ill relatives I was watching experience their illnesses, and some of the ideas he suggested rocked my world, in that context. The idea that the cells of our bodies renew entirely ever 7 years, for one. The idea that there is a literal, proven connection between our mental state and the health of our bodies, for another.

These concepts were not just revolutionary to me because I was a child; they were quite revolutionary in the world at large, in 1989. And they were certainly revolutionary in the setting of my childhood, good old Bakersfield, California.

I found these ideas deeply exciting and comforting, at the same time. They felt like a gift, like an endowment of a new level of understanding of how our bodies heal, and a new sense of control over my own body and my own health outcomes, something that had previously seemed so mysterious and opaque it was almost terrifying, given the stakes.

I recently attended a Deepak lecture in San Francisco. Sometimes, I’m intentionally negligent at documenting these things on social media, mostly when I decide to stay all the way present in the moment, where I am. I did manage to post this photo and somewhat cryptic caption to Facebook, though:


This post was met with two, really different reactions. The people I know who have done a lot of workshops and personal growth work in the East-meets-West realm, their reaction was something like this:










Translation: PREACH, Deepak.

But the other people in my world, many of them thinking, wisdom-pursuing people themselves, had a slightly different reaction. It looked more like this:









So I thought I’d break it down a little bit, because these principles are eye-opening and mindset-shifting. 

First, Part A: “There is no such thing as a thing. Nouns are a convention of language. Everything is activity.”

At a scientific level, smaller than our cells, really at the level of atoms, nothing is an actual, solid, fixed thing. Even the wood of the table before you consists of trillions of atoms in constant motion, moving so fast that we perceive them as solid. Places are in constant flux, too. Climate change is one example, but just one. A map of the world 5,000 years ago would be nearly unrecognizable, and the pace of change is actually witnessable even ore easily when you look at places like Venice or the coast of Malibu.

The only constant is change. This is even more true with our bodies, where cells are constantly dying so that new ones can be born. And even more true when we look at the landscapes of our lives, who we are, with whom we co-exist, what we do, and how we operate.

My pal Deepak was just saying that this idea that we have about nouns, that there are people, places or things that are constant, is just a linguistic hack we use to help simplify the world and the way we talk about it. But really, we’re all—everything is—a verb. We are in constant motion, constantly in action, at every level of being. There’s something peaceful about acknowledging that. It helps begin to un-click the attachment we can have to the way things are, which can often be at crossroads with the inevitable flow and motion of life.

Part B is related: You: Born this day. Dead this day. Birth and death every day in between.

The cells of our eyes regenerate every 48 hours. Colon cells renew every 4 days. Our livers? Every 6 weeks.

On one level, Deepak was saying that we are literally dying and being born, at a cellular level, literally every single day of our lives.

But the more esoteric elements of our being are also dying and being born continually. Our traumas and hopes. Our fears and memories. Our daily routines and life partners, our housemates and what we do. Our identities: literally, how we see ourselves and who we are in this life we live. All of these things are extremely malleable. They change all the time, but we often feel at mercy to their incessant change, terrorized by time. When we decide to accept this change, learn about them and be intentional about how we operate vis-a-vis this constant death and birth, things get very fun and possibilities begin to unlock that we never might have seen when we were fighting the flow.

Mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn once said that “You can’t fight the waves. But you can learn to surf.” That’s what I think Deepak was ultimately saying a few weeks back, when I saw him speak. That the waves of life are constant activity and constant change. Learn to surf them, and you’re in business: the business of an intentional, joyful, well life.

P.S.: I issued a 30 Day Writing Challenge for Conscious Leaders a few weeks back, and over 150 brilliant souls signed up! I decided to take the Challenge right along with them, and it’s been a profound journey for many of us. Most people are journaling or free-writing every day, privately. I wrote this post on Day 24 of the Challenge. I’ll be doing another writing Challenge in January; click here to get on the list for the January Challenge.


The Four Agreements That Break Through Fear and Restore Your Energy [30 Day Writing Challenge, Day 23]

I love this term I learned from Dr. Henry Cloud: decathexis. I’d never heard it anywhere before, and have never heard it since, but it’s a powerful concept that is now a part of the way I experience life.

The Four Agreements That Break Through Fear and Restore Your Energy

Cathexis is the injection, the investment, of your time, energy, money or other resources into a relationship, a project, or an initiative. Into anything, really. 

Decathexis is that recoup, that reclamation, that restoration of that time, energy, money or resources that comes back to you when you withdraw your attention from a project or relationship, when you reprioritize it, or when you flat-out quit it entirely.

I’ve written before about how, when I want to work on a big project or prioritize something in my life, I use decathexis as a tool for finding the energy, time or money I need. I get intentional about what I can stop doing, stop it, feel the swoosh of detaches restoring the resources back to me, then I intentionally apply them to the other things I want to focus on. 

But in this season of my life, I’m very aware that detaches is not just for projects and people. It happens with beliefs, too. The beliefs that come from fear are generally very, very energy-depleting. The love-based beliefs, on the other hand, are very energizing. Even when they require you to expend a lot of energy and to take a lot of action, the beliefs and the resulting actions tend to churn up more energy than they require. The energy around love-based beliefs is self-renewing.

Many of our cultural beliefs, family beliefs and even self-talk beliefs are driven by fear. A wise man named don Miguel Ruiz has crafted a set of Four Agreements that help us break fear-based beliefs and, in the process, tap into incredible stores of energy, joy and enthusiasm for each other and for life. 

The First Agreement is to be impeccable with your word. That means to do what you say you will do, but much more importantly, it means to respect the power of your words, to create life or death and destruction. Once you realize how powerful your word is, the First Agreement means to only use your words in the direction of love, for yourself and for others. 

don Ruiz says this Agreement is the most important one, and the hardest to follow. If you can practice it consistently, though, it has the power to break the spells and dramas that the lies of fear and culture create around our lives. 

The Second Agreement is to never make assumptions. I think “never” is extreme, as the Four Agreements are aspirational, and require constant, lifelong practice. So many interpersonal dramas arise from our assumptions about what the other person meant, or what must be going on in their heads or their minds. The Second Agreement is a mandate to practice clear communication, never guessing at what someone else thinks and, instead, asking as many questions as we need to, in every situation, in order to have as clear a communication as possible.

Awhile back, I came to believe that it’s my own job in this life, first and foremost, to attend to and manage my own feelings and life. I can never 100% know what someone else thinks and feels. And vice versa. My job is to manage my own feelings and beliefs, and to get and stay clear on the sort of person I want to be in this life. Then, my job is to act in ways I believe will lift the people in my life up without feeling responsible or trying to control what any other being, human or canine, thinks, feels or does. 

The Third Agreement is to take nothing personally; nothing. But the principle here requires first that you understand this: nothing anyone else does is about you. Ever. We are all living our own dreams based on our own history and our own Agreements, internal and external. However, usually when someone expresses a nice opinion of us, we get elated. And when they criticize us, we get upset. A stunning share of human drama arises when we allow others’ opinions of us to determine how we feel. 

The final, and Fourth, Agreement is simple: to always do your best. The upshot of this one is that making the commitment to do your best, in every situation, is the single most powerful way to eliminate regret in your life, another fear-based, energy-zapping emotion. It’s also essential to eliminating another source of drama: comparing yourself to others. Key to realizing the benefits of this Agreement is accepting the reality that your best will change from day to day. Your best when you’re sick, for example, is likely to be very different from your best when you’re in fine mettle.

Today is a case in point for me, for the power of the Fourth Agreement. I’ve committed to publishing every day for 30 days, so I am. I haven’t stockpiled any posts or cheated in any other way; every post I’m publishing this 30 days is a post I wrote on the day I published it. But today is the very, very rare day that I’m actually sick. Burn-ey sore throat, doctor’s visit, the whole nine. So this post won’t be the post in which I share my richest examples and insights around the Four Agreements. What I’m doing actually is noticing the contrast between how I feel today and how I feel the vast majority of the time, and being grateful for that contrast. But I am also doing my best for today, and posting this post is that best, for today.

Tomorrow will be a whole new day. And my best then will be a different best.

P.S.: I issued a 30 Day Writing Challenge for Conscious Leaders a few weeks back, and over 150 brilliant souls signed up! I decided to take the Challenge right along with them, and it’s been a profound journey for many of us. Most people are journaling or free-writing every day, privately. I wrote this post on Day 23 of the Challenge. I’ll be doing another writing Challenge in January; click here to get on the list for the January Challenge.

Life Grows. . . And Then Contracts, So It Can Grow Some More [30 Day Writing Challenge, Day 22]

I started this writing challenge thinking I’d spend a lot of time cracking myself open, pulling out the blood and guts and carcasses of my old traumas, mucking them out publicly. I felt like I needed to do this to be more vulnerable and transparent about my journey, as so much of it has only ever been revealed in a relatively polished, “After” picture sort of way.

Life Grows. . . And Then Contracts, So It Can Grow Some More

So I went there. And for the first few days, I spent a lot of time revealing old messes in a way that I thought would replicate the resonance, relatability and uplifting connectedness I’d experienced in one-on-one conversations about these subjects.

But then, naturally, I noticed my posts evolving in the direction my spirit and mind have over the last few years. I just wanted to write from my experience. And my experience is driven by this super woo-woo, cosmic principle that goes like this: “That was then, this is now.” My now experience is incredibly fun and delicious. It’s not a perfect life, in terms of circumstances, but it’s perfectly beautiful to live. And I’ve discovered how to let life unfold easily, and how to be in and savor the delectable moments and experiences of it with love and joy, even when things aren’t going the way I thought they would, because I know things are all working out for me.

So my posts naturally veered into that tone, the tone of my current life and experience.

I was talking with my coach about this this morning, just expressing how many things I worked on, nose-to-grindstone, for so many years were not the right things. And how so many of the best things in my life have been the things that came with ease, sometimes with effort and other times not, but they weren’t the hard things, was my point. And how I’ve learned to see “hard” as a flag that the thing is probably not the right thing. And how I’ve learned to even be grateful for that “hard” as guidance, and as necessary.

And she reminded me about science. About how contraction is necessary for expansion: think of your heart, as it beats. All your muscles, really, and how they work. About how our bodies contract in order to give birth to our young.

Even a seed must crack open and die in order for a seedling to emerge.

This is a brilliant principle, if you can catch and apply it to your world. There are really two premises built into what she was saying here which, if you accept them as true, can change the ease with which you experience life, eliminate fear and shift your experience from depleting to constantly, continually energizing:

  1. That life grows, grows and expands, always. Things grow, markets grow, people do, too.
  2. That contraction is required for expansion to occur.

If you accept both these premises, you can find incredible peace and energy in their combined meaning. Things will grow and expand, and generally in an upwards direction. But some contraction must happen, at seasons, between seasons of growth. If your investment accounts were looking down in 2008, but you’ve held onto them, you’re in good shape with those same investments now, in 2016.

This principle means you can be a reasonable, wise adult and take a peaceful, long-term view of your life. It means you can focus on setting a conscious, general idea of what you want to be about and create in your life, and then have a lot more ease and expectation and patience and peace as you do your work and see what options show up. It means you can say no to things without fear. It means you can release the depletion that results from being constantly worked up and wound up over The Drama of the Day and instead make it the Sport of the Day, and handle it like an expert, infinite game player.

This principle means you can sit rooted and grounded in your clarity and confidence that things are working out. And it means you’ll make better decisions, take the risks involved in being a fearless, wise communicator and experience life more abundantly, as a result.

Contraction must happen for expansion to occur. Science says so. Spirit does, too.

At Home for The Holidays? Here’s How to Survive Your Parents [30 Day Writing Challenge, Day 21]

A teacher of mine once said that the advice we give others is actually the advice we most need ourselves.

From Fraught to Freedom: Advice on Having Truly Happy Holidays

This is always in the back of my mind when I share what I’ve learned or what I think with people who’ve asked for my advice. I try to think of it as though I am my own, amazing, free advisor, but that the sport of the day is to figure out which of my own issues the advice I’m giving at any given moment might apply to. And almost always, life presents me with a rich opportunity to apply it. 

The other day, I was doing the four-hour drive to see my parents, in Bakersfield. My family celebrates Thanksgiving a week in advance of the actual holiday, so I get to miss traffic and a few other folks and their spouses always get to see both sides of their families.  

While I was driving, a young relative of mine called, and we caught up while I was driving. She shared that she had a lot of anger with her parents for preparing her for a post-college world that no longer rewards education the way it once did, and for constantly pestering her about working several (great) part-job jobs, versus getting a “real” job and staying at it until pension-time, the way they did.

I shared with her from my experience as offspring that I think the issue is generational, and that it’s certainly not limited to her parents. My parents, too, worked the same jobs for 30 years, and have looked at my own career path with equal parts concern and awe. For their parents, success was just making ends meet. For her parents and mine, success was having a “good” job, ideally with a governmental entity or a large corporation, and staying at it long enough to get a pension. One of her parents and one of mine had actually made it to college, later in life, and managed to elevate beyond their own expectations, at their “good jobs”.

The incremental increase our parents hoped and worked to real-ize for us was that we would go to college and get great jobs, but ideally still with a government entity or big company, and ideally still with a pension. They simply could not have foreseen, I told her, the Great Recession and the devaluation of a basic college degree. They could not have foreseen that their daughters, she and I both, would go on to get master’s and doctorate level degrees, and then pursue something other than the traditional career path from those degrees. They could not have foreseen—and still don’t understand—the massive disruptions to what a “good job” is that have been driven by Silicon Valley, the Internet, the death of the pension and the gig economy.

She expressed frustration that her mother wouldn’t stop criticizing her path, even after she told her Mom in no uncertain terms that she wouldn’t choose a career like her mother’s, even if she did have the choice. To that, I told her that she should feel free to express herself, but also should know that her mother is not in a position to share her mental frames for “good job”. I told her that trying to control others’ behavior or allowing it to dictate our own emotional states is a losing battle. And I shared with her that she has lots of choices for how to handle this that she might find much more emotionally satisfying, including expressing her POV, minus the anger and vitriol, without the expectation that her mother will change her behavior. And also including just no longer having that same tired old script of a conversation with her mother.

I told her the developmental stage of disindividuation is only successful when we see and feel those boundaries, the distinctness of what we want and are as separate from what are parents want and are. I told her from that perspective, the system has worked, in her case. And in mine.

In fairness to her Mom, I told her I know from experience as a parent just how hard it is to stop giving unsolicited life advice to your children based on your own mental frames. Even when your own thinking no longer applies to your kids or their peers. I told her parents do this because we are concerned for our kids, and want the best for them and, because the only ways we can see the situation from is through our own lenses, our own mental frames, for what is good and right.

Shortly after she and I hung up, I pulled into my mother’s driveway. “Ah, so,” I thought. “Here’s the part where I’m going to have a bunch of ‘rich opportunities’ to take the advice I gave Henrietta (names/changed/protect/innocent/etc).”

But you know, a funny thing happened. Maybe because I was thinking this advice was really well-timed for myself, or maybe because that conversation with Henrietta had put me into parental compassion mode, my parents didn’t get to me on this trip. There were tiny seeds that could have caused friction, but I dealt with them in a bold, decisive way. I dealt with them with clarity, honesty and no expectation in the moment, based on what seemed right.

My Dad said some things I disagreed with, and I told him so, but gently and without any expectation that he would change. I explained why I disagreed and shared my own experiences that were the basis for my disagreement. I added a little dose of humor, without self-deprecation, just to lighten the mood. He respected my opinion and even agreed with me.

My Mother refused to do some things I’d have liked her to. And I just let it go, instantly. Her “important” and mine don’t have to be the same. When someone asked me about it later, I’d actually forgotten the incident had even happened.

I had some conversations that should have been challenging with my Dad, but approached them thinking about the advice I gave Henrietta. I didn’t just hit him with my opinion. I shared my appreciation for his journey and his sacrifices, and shared with him my 10,000 foot view of the situation, offering him the clarity of an outsider’s perspective. I asked him to have a little more compassion and generosity with himself in a hard situation, and encouraged him to make some choices that don’t jive with his mental frames for “good” and won’t be popular but are the right thing to do. I told him I’d back him up. And he could hear me.

This time, it was real that the advice I’d given was the advice I needed. But there was something bigger than this principle at work here. Something in the energetics of having released the desire to change the situation, of having accepted and allowed my parents to be who they are and need to be, and of remembering how many times wise adult Tara has made great choices in terms of engaging in non-mission-critical battles with my parents actually shifted the whole atmosphere around these relationships. It defused it entirely. People behaved better, way better, that normal.

And that felt good. It actually felt great.

Call me woo-woo if you want to, but during Thanksgiving, there was a moment when some of my relatives were getting into some stressful, turbulent, conversational topics. It was cranking up to be one of those conversations that gets gossipy and outraged, but goes nowhere. I dreaded it, because it would either suck me in or put me in a position to have to figure out how to be the wise adult Tara in the conversation. But a funny thing happened. Just at that moment, my 4-year-old cousin Bella popped up. She basically flew at me with open arms, yelling “COUSIN TARA!!!!!!” She marveled at how my hair was braided like her hair, and how we were basically the same because she’s 4 and I’m 41. We took a selfie. She asked me (to my horror) if I had Snapchat. She grabbed my phone and started voice searching for songs to dance to on YouTube. She insisted that we dance. She said “Let’s dance!” and I looked over at the crazy conversation people, looked back at her, and said “Ok! Let’s dance!” And so we danced.

Finally she yelled out—no joke, ya’ll—“I LOVE CHALLENGES!” Challenges, of all things. I almost said, “Hey, that’s my shtick!”, but I thought better of getting into that with a four year old. So instead, we made a whole bunch of videos of her “show,” wherein she introduces herself and tells viewers all about the “Princess Book Challenge” or the “Gymnastics Challenge.”

By the time she was done, and released me from my service (!), the crazy conversation I’d dreaded dealing with was naturally breaking up. It was over, and I didn’t have to engage or break it up. It was as though the decision to accept, allow and change my own behavior vs. trying to manage anyone else’s had gone ahead of me and paved the path for that trip with ease and calm, at least in my experience of the trip.

I share this in hopes that it reaches you before your own Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s or other holiday family gathering that might normally make you crazy. I dare you to try on this new possibility, the possibility of extending compassion and acceptance to the hard nuts to crack, in advance. There’s a very real possibility that doing so might shift the entire atmosphere from fraught to freedom.

P.S.: I issued a 30 Day Writing Challenge for Conscious Leaders a few weeks back, and over 150 brilliant souls signed up! I decided to take the Challenge right along with them, and it’s been a profound journey for many of us. Most people are journaling or free-writing every day, privately. I wrote this post on Day 21 of the Challenge. I’ll be doing another writing Challenge in January; click here to get on the list for the January Challenge.

Commandrix-in-Chief: Who I Would Appoint to My Cabinet [30 Day Writing Challenge, Day 20]

I’ve long bragged about my incredible talent at selecting friends. When I make a new friend, it’s a very common factual scenario for me to invite them to a gathering of my friends, a dinner or a trip, introduce them to my people, and then just wait for the inevitable text message once the gathering is over: “these people are incredible”.

Commandrix-in-Chief: Who I Would Appoint to My Cabinet

And they are. Brilliant, incredibly funny, caring and gorgeous, to boot. A panel of my best girlfriends could definitely resolve several of the world’s most pressing crises, if they weren’t busy building businesses and empires and families and children, and beautiful, impactful careers and lives of their own. But they are. So for now, we keep our own counsel.

As I’ve noticed all the headlines about the President-Elect’s likely Cabinet, I had occasion to think about which people I would put in which positions, if I were the Commandrix-in-Chief. And I didn’t have to imagine too hard; I see myself in the position of ultimate leadership over my life, and many of my would-be Cabinet members already play roles of trusted advisor and influencer.

Here’s what my Cabinet might look like, if I were in charge. Rather, since I actually am in charge of my world, here’s what the current incarnation of my life advisory council looks like. Let’s start with Jesus as My Hero and best friend, my model and the co-heir of my divine inheritance. 

Now, for my earthly Cabinet members:

Vice President and Head of GIFs, Emojis, Daily Experience Processing and Other Critical Communications: Rebecca Silliman

Chief of Staff and Head of Relentless Prioritization: Jen Lauricella

Joint Heads of the Department of Healing and Dot-Connecting: Joanne Davis and Jacqueline Fodor

Secretary of Soul: My coach, Monisha Chandanani; Honorary Secretaries of Soul: Charlotte Kasl, Julia Cameron, Byron Katie, Louise Hay, Serena Williams and Esther Hicks

Secretary of Inspiration and Resilience: Jacqui Morgan

Joint Heads of the Department of Smarts, Emotional Intelligence and The Relentless Search for Truth: Ann van Gelder, Brandi Newell and [Honorary] Henry Cloud

Secretary of Groundedness and Insight: Ciel Patenaude

Secretary of Perspective and Spa Days: Felicia Bradley

Joint Heads of the Department of Holistic Health and Fitness: Bianca diGiulio (my acupuncturist/doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine), Bryan Ausinheiler (my physical therapist and personal trainer) and Jeremy Christopher Gillespie (my indoor cycling and Instagram sage)

Secretary of Carbs and Thoughtful Questions: Neha Gahjwani

Joint Heads of Warmth and Unconditional Love: Aiko Marie and Sumiko Nelson

Head of GSD: Tierra Wilson

[Emeritus] Head of Education: Beth Rienzi, PhD (RIP)

Honorary Head of Department of Nutrition: Michael Pollan

These are obviously not traditional Cabinet roles. But they are the roles and areas that matter so much, to me.

Who might be in your Cabinet, in which roles, if you were in the position to assign them? Oh, and plot twist: you are.

Excellence vs. Perfectionism: Notes on How to Play the Sport of the Day [30 Day Writing Challenge, Day 19]

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.” ~Anne Lamott, in Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.

Excellence vs. Perfectionism: Notes on How to Play the Sport of the Day

I’ve written before about the time Serena Williams messed me up. It wasn’t intentional. In fact, she had no idea that she was involved. One day I watched a video of her working out. I think it might have been this video. The day after I watched it, I was in the gym, at a performance boot camp. Kettle bell swings, box jumps and battling ropes, all of my favorite things. The thing is, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror, and once my braids were swinging around, there was a moment in which I met my own eye in the mirror and thought: I can go just as hard as Serena. So I went harder, and harder, and had an incredible workout. Pushed way past what I’d normally do. 

It was fantastic.

Until the next day. And the day after. And the day after that. Days later, I was still so sore that I couldn’t even rotate my trunk enough to look over my shoulder and parallel park. Thanks, Serena. 

I love this story, though, because it surfaces the difference between excellence and perfectionism. 

Perfect is the enemy of done. 

Perfect, in fact, is not real. Perfect is the enemy, period. 

Perfectionism is rigid, hard and creates shame most of the time, because almost all of the time, we will fall short of perfect. 

But excellence? Excellence is doing your best. Excellence is about pushing to the limits of your capacity, and then growing capacity. But excellence is not hard or rigid. It’s juicy and energized. It’s fun. 

In sport, we know that our minds give up and will tell us to stop way before our muscles are tapped out. And knowing this allows us to push harder, to know that our capacity is greater than it might feel like it is, when we’re in the midst of a crunch. 

In sport, we know that, ultimately, it’s all just a game. The stakes are not life and death. But we still take the game seriously. We train, we visualize, we practice and we pour ourselves into the game. But we have fun, too. We play the game, we don’t work it or grind it or dread it. 

We also know that one way to help keep our minds in the game, and to override the message to stop, is to see inspiring others, to hear and watch their stories, or even to hear them cheer us on. Excellence happens when others coach, inspire or keep us accountable. Perfectionism is often self-imposed, and often isolating. Excellence connects us. 

Excellence is inspired. One of my heroes is Daniel from the Bible, who was favored because of his devotion to God and also because “an excellent spirit was within him”. Inspiration means to be animated by the spirit of something, to literally breathe in a spirit. Daniel’s spirit of excellence emboldened him to hold himself to different, higher standards, with discipline and leadership, than the culture and community in which he lived, without critiquing or judging anyone else. Excellence is inspired and inspiring, and it keeps you running your own race, minding your own business, and being your best. 

Excellence was my workout, at crazy next levels, inspired by one of my other heroes, Serena. It was fun, exciting, juicy and alive in the moment. Years afterwards, I recall that workout as one of my favorites ever. (Side note: this was my #1 Favorite Workout Of All Time.)

Because excellence is about you doing your best, as I’ve matured, I’ve also realized that excellence involves all the self-care, nourishing and beauty that helps me operate at peak whatever I’m focused on: peak performance, peak prosperity, peak fun, peak joy, peak fun. Excellence requires knowing that “your best” will be different on different days. That it—that I—will ebb and flow. It requires rest. I developed and received more and more of my spirit of excellence when I learned that there are different seasons for different sorts of work: seasons for envisioning, for sowing, for cultivating and for harvesting, in every single area of life. Perfectionism drives us relentlessly to go harder, harder, harder. Excellence pulls out our long-term best, inspires us to build a beautiful vision, but with grace and with even some ease and softness around the journey it’ll take to get there, and the daily, weekly, monthly ebb and flow in the power, force and direction of our efforts to build it. 

In The Untethered Soul, Michael Singer coaches us through the process of learning to rewire our natural tendency to tense up and harden around emotional pain. When we learn to soften and allow it to pass through us, and allow past hurts and pain to come up and burn out, we gradually dissolve our touchy subjects, resolve unfinished business, and live into a place of freedom from emotional triggers and thorns. We learn to be unconditional in our love for life, love for people, exuberance and general joy. 

But being able to exist in a state of grounded exuberance, regardless of your external conditions, does not mean that you don’t address problems or challenges when they come up. Singer says that when you get untethered, instead, the challenges and issues that inevitably arise in your life don’t read as problems. They read as the sport of the day. Your sport of the day, your game for the day, becomes how to have that challenging conversation with an employee, or how to deal with the trouble your kid is stirring (/raises hand).

For me, the sport of the day is often how to translate my gut intuition into conversations and interactions that open new possibilities for transformation in my clients’ businesses, within their teams, or even with their customers.

The sport of the day is not always to fix or change conditions, and it’s never to fix or change other people. The game is how to be who you want to be and live into what you want to create, which sometimes requires being responsive to current realities without getting entangled or stuck in them. 

I’ve grown over time to go from seeing my past dysfunctional patterns are cringeworthy problems I wish I’d never had to seeing them as the sport of the day. So now, for example, when someone close to me starts stirring up drama, I note my wobble between enabling them and abandoning them, and I spot the opportunity as a treasure to play a new, lighter game: the game of finding that middle path for how we relate today. 

And I know—I’ve discovered—that the sport of the day, and my energy for playing it, is fresh and new every single day. You’re not bound or limited by the game you played yesterday anymore than the matches she’s lost have stopped Serena from soaring to victory the next day, or even later the same day. She’s no joke. And neither are yo.  

We don’t play the sport of the day with perfection, or with perfectionism. Because, at the risk of belaboring the point, perfect is not real. We can play it with excellence, though. And we can have fun doing it. When you learn to play the sport of the day and to play it with excellence, it’s so much fun that you’ll never want to go back to the time when perfect was your aim, even if you are too sore to parallel park the next day.  

P.S.: I issued a 30 Day Writing Challenge for Conscious Leaders a few weeks back, and over 150 brilliant souls signed up! I decided to take the Challenge right along with them, and it’s been a profound journey for many of us. Most people are journaling or free-writing every day, privately. But I wrote this post on Day 19 of the Challenge. I’ll be doing another writing Challenge in January; click here to get on the list for the January Challenge.

Parents Are People, Too (Even Yours) [30 Day Writing Challenge, Day 18]

I once was trying to advocate to a friend that she should experiment with puppy parenting before she tried on a human kidlet. Puppies can be left at home alone, from day one, I argued. They’re generally already walking before you bring them home. Oh! And you can potty train them in a couple of weeks, I went on; my son was almost three before he got it together. 

Parents Are People, Too (Even Yours)

Human children rely upon their parents, with life or death stakes, for a really, really long time, compared with other mammals. Years. 

And maybe it’s precisely because we once relied on them for life and death. Or because in the earliest stages of our nervous systems’ wiring process, if they neglect us (regardless of why), it feels like we’ll die, and if they smother us, it feels like we’ll suffocate. And so those feelings linger and transfer over to other relationships, well into adulthood.

Maybe it’s that. Or some combination. Jung had some ideas. Freud did, too. 

Because of all of these things and some I’ve omitted, we give our parents a very outsized character role in the narrative of our lives. We attribute our traits to them, good and bad, silly and grave. We ascribe our relationship dynamics, bad habits and unhealthy food fetishes to them, too. And even if we’re not the type to blame them for our life’s story arc, per se, we still talk about the things they said to us one time or a million times, the dynamics of their own love relationship(s), and the way they felt and talked about their bodies, our bodies, our smarts and their hopes, dreams and disappointments in us as pivotal moments in defining who we are and how we live.

When we start the work of trying to heal our lives, and resolve unfinished childhood business, we often remark on these things. We spot these moments, and we may realize how our feelings of smothering or abandonment are still playing out, 50 years later, in every relationship. This might all be very fair and true. But also, we often do this analysis thinking of the people who spawned us, raised us or failed us as Our Parents, an archetype that looms so large in our minds that we have collectively assigned completely impossible standards to their behavior. 

A wise man I was talking with a few days ago told me how he, too, had felt so much vicarious pain when he evaluated his parents’ lives and some of what he judged to be their dysfunctional patterns of relating. He was clear that his own approach to relationships had largely been defined by trying to avoid doing what his parents did. He told me how, on the way home from the holidays one year, he had a flash of insight: that his parents were just regular people. 

That they didn’t have any special magic or supernatural ability to somehow be better at relationships than every other person he knows just by virtue of the fact that they were His Parents. 

That they had actually had very understandable, valid to them at the time, reasons for making the choices they’d made, throughout their lifetimes. 

Somehow, recasting his parents from that role into the roles of regular person #1 and regular person #2—flawed and beautiful and wounded like all of the rest of us—made him feel much more ease, softness and compassion toward his parents, from that moment on. 

When they weren’t being held to a mythical, capital P “Parent” standard, they were just people, doing the best they could with what they had and where they’d been. What he said reminded me of something I read once which I interpreted to this effect: if we are able to do personal growth work, read self-help books, attend workshops and be conscious livers of life, our parents were good-enough. Full-stop. Is every parent good enough? No. Plenty of people had parenting or other traumas that prevent them from being able to live what we think of as a conscious life. 

But most of ours were. Even a lot of the really bad ones. Seriously, even some of the abusive ones, including parents like mine who operated out of fear and love, giving my brother and I some incredible opportunities, making extraordinary sacrifices, and also inflicting all sorts of damage. They were good enough.

When I learned about the concept of the Good Enough Parent was when I realized that our parents are people, too. And they have their own emotional wounds. And their parents did, too. And that all human beings leave childhood with wounds from their parents, as a result. And most importantly, that it’s possible and even probably healthy to hold in the same space a compassion for my younger self and her wounds and hurts and the sense that my parents were actually doing the best they could with what they had, wounds included. 

To think of your parents, flaws and all, abuses and all, irresponsibilities and all, as Good Enough does not mean you ignore, deny, repress, sublimate or otherwise sweep your very real history under the rug or submerge it below a happy-all-the-time veneer. It doesn’t mean you forget or revise history. 

It doesn’t mean they never hurt us, and it certainly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t spend some time healing and integrating historical hurts. It doesn’t mean you don’t get to stop cycles, stop bad behavior or draw boundaries with them now. It doesn’t even mean that you shouldn’t or can’t talk things through with your parents. Or flat-out confront them, in some cases. Whether and when to do this is an individual decision. For me confrontation and rehashing has mostly been helpful when self-expression (vs. expecting an apology, or changing your parents) is the sole objective of the conversation. 

But the concept of the Good Enough Parent does suggest one very powerful takeaway: that nothing in our parentage is indelibly harming. I know this is a very difficult concept for some of us. It was once for me. But at some point I realized that in holding onto this belief or habitual thought that I’d been broken in some way by my parents, I was really just arguing for my limitations, holding fast to the belief that my life had to be hard in some way, no matter how joyful and delightful it was actually inclined to be.

So, now, I stand behind this statement, even if you disagree. If you can read this—if you are reading this—then your parents were Good Enough. And if you had Good Enough Parents, there’s no emotional wound beyond healing, no trigger we can’t pull out, or dissolve. Acknowledging the hurts of the past. And seek, aggressively, to heal them. But at the same time, acknowledge that enough went right in your upbringing that your childhood challenges were preparations, possibly painful ones, but preparation nonetheless, for your greatness at whatever you were put here to do.

P.S.: I issued a 30 Day Writing Challenge for Conscious Leaders a few weeks back, and over 150 brilliant souls signed up! I decided to take the Challenge right along with them, and it’s been a profound journey for many of us. Most people are journaling or free-writing every day, privately. But I wrote this post on Day 18 of the Challenge. I’ll be doing another writing Challenge in January; click here to get on the list for the January Challenge.

Why Challenges Work to Trigger Breakthroughs, Spark Growth and Build Habits aka How Challenges Change Lives, Part II [30 Day Writing Challenge, Day 17]

Here are my thoughts on why Challenges work:

Why Challenges Work to Trigger Breakthroughs, Spark Growth and Build Habits aka How Challenges Change Lives, Part II

1.They hold space for new things in your otherwise-crowded world/life/calendar/day/mind. Life is very, very full before you try to add in a new habit or project. Formulating your aspirations into Challenges holds a new space in your mind and your calendar for the things you want to do. It also forces you to prioritize, and decide what you won’t be doing for that time frame. That allows for decathexis to happen, where you recoup the time, energy or money you were spending on something less important so you can flow that toward your new habit or project or way of being.  

Challenges also usually involve some level of tracking and accountability, and are often also (naturally or formally) social, all of which increase the probability of your actually doing the activity at hand compared with the likelihood you’d do it without the Challenge.

2. They build momentum and habits by focusing your energy on actions you can control, vs. outcomes that are outsized or out of your control. Challenges set you up to experience significant momentum and progress toward a project or change that matters to you. If you want to write a book, setting a Challenge that says you’ll write for 2 hours a day will automatically trigger some progress and mental momentum, because you know that if you just do that over and over again, for six months, chances are very good you’ll have at least a rough draft in place when you’re done.

3. They chunk big transformations down into doable daily practices. I love to make lots of big life changes at once, but the data shows that massive behavior changes just don’t stick for most people. A Challenge to cut out sugar and alcohol for 30 days is vastly more likely to create lasting change than a nebulous “Lose 50 pounds” goal. Instead of “write a book,” Challenge yourself to write something—anything—every day for 30 days, and watch what happens.

4. They create a standard and provide structure. Without the rules of a Challenge, your goals can be structureless and just hard to put a mental frame around. It’s the difference between “start doing kettlebell swings” and “do 10,000 swings in the month of June.” Having some standard to get to, whether it’s a word count you’ll write or just a number of days for which you’ll do a thing, sparks that tiniest bit of competitiveness and energy.

5. But that standard is personal. You are the boss of yourself in a Challenge. Whether you create it yourself or you take on a Challenge someone else is running, you decided to take it on. And you have infinite authority to tweak the terms of a Challenge in order to make it work for you. You can start it a week later than everyone else. You can do it for 10 days instead of 30. You can do 3 days/week instead of 7. Or you can do 7 instead of 3. A Challenge is a competition, but it’s only between you and you.

If you experience fear at the prospect of certain Challenges, I would give you two pieces of advice. One: You should do it. That fear is a sign you’re onto something. Things will get very interesting if you proceed. Two: Take the Challenge, but be gentle and easy with yourself. There’s no extra credit for perfection. You already did yourself a big mazel by taking the first step. Don’t turn the tone of this experience from growth to self-critique, harshness or perfectionism.

6. The flexibility of the standards makes Challenges fun.  From philosopher James Carse:

“There are at least two kinds of games: finite and infinite. A finite game is a game that has fixed rules and boundaries, that is played for the purpose of winning and thereby ending the game.

An infinite game has no fixed rules or boundaries. In an infinite game you play with the boundaries and the purpose is to continue the game.

Finite players are serious; infinite gamers are playful.” 

In a Challenge, you get to choose whether to be finite or infinite. (Hint: choose infinite.)

7. They are hard, fast and fun. Have you ever taken a Bikram yoga class? They’re fond of pushing people to hold hard postures with the encouragement that “you can do anything for 30 seconds!” I feel that way about Challenges. Even when they’re super hard, they are also generally fast. You can do anything for 30 days. Or 90 days. Or even 6 months.

The fact that you go into a Challenge knowing the time frame is finite often allows you to tap into those deep stores of energy and discipline that are hard to access when you’re more vaguely trying to build a new habit or practice. And the fact that you know you’ll have made significant progress by the end of the Challenge, if you go hard enough, allows you to tap into even deeper internal resources.

And you always have the option of continuing the practice, or some portion of it, after the Challenge is over. But having an upfront start and stop date just makes it easier to wrap your head around doing something hard for that time frame, versus telling yourself you have to start a new thing and do it For All The Days Of Your Life.

8. Challenges leave successful transformation in their wake, regardless of whether you have a technically “perfect score” . The first time I did a writing Challenge, I wrote for maybe 12 of the 30 days. And honestly, I was happy I did that much, and saw it as 12 days more than I’d written the month before. During that 12 days, I also made a ton of progress in getting clear on a book project I wanted to work on, and some big business decisions I needed to make.

Two months later, I came back around and wrote every day for 6 months. And I still have a near-religious daily writing practice, plus the confidence to tap into the creative flow I know I have access to anytime I have a major book project or writing project I want to bust out.

To my mind, that initial writing Challenge was an extremely successful Challenge, even though I did less than half of what I’d signed on to do.

When you do what you committed to do during a Challenge, you’ll leave the Challenge feeling tired, and stretched but also expanded, because you’ve proven to yourself that you can do things harder or more consistently than you ever have before. But even when you don’t have a “perfect” Challenge, you’ll often find success in the form of personal breakthroughs, a-ha moments, momentum, new habits, mindset shifts, emotional healing or even just lots of words on the Page you didn’t have on the Page before.

More from James Carse: “You can do what you do seriously, because you must do it, because you must survive to the end, and you are afraid of dying or failing or other consequences. Or, you can do everything you do playfully, always knowing you have a choice, having no need to survive the way you are, allowing every element of the play to transform you, taking pleasure in every surprise you meet. Those are the differences between finite and infinite players.” Challenges position your personal growth, habits and your life, really, as infinite play; they position you as the infinite player, and real healing and progress as the prize. Game on.

P.S.: I issued a 30 Day Writing Challenge for Conscious Leaders a few weeks back, and over 150 brilliant souls signed up! I decided to take the Challenge right along with them, and it’s been a profound journey for many of us. Most people are journaling or free-writing every day, privately. But I wrote this post on Day 17 of the Challenge. I’ll be doing another writing Challenge in January; click here to get on the list for the January Challenge.