From Awareness

Dear Facebook: Time Out

After the election, a funny thing happened on my way to the Facebook forum (for the millionth time): I declared I was taking some time off. And then I ended up on the front page of USA Today instead.

I didn’t plan to announce my resolve to shut down beyond my little sphere of connections. But now that it’s part of the record, I want provide an update for anyone out there who might, at some moment of weariness, be thinking about shutting down their Facebook, or Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram or any other channel.

Here it is: I can still feel my pulse. And I think it’s actually stronger than before the FB blackout.

I was up the entire night of the election. As I reckoned with my disbelief and shock, the S vortex consuming my energy seemed simultaneously to inject just enough back into me to keep me posting and reading even after the new day dawned and life was, supposedly, resuming.

My kids, bless them, like most of their peers, continued to inhabit the world of physical objects, immediate needs, school, comfort and play. As they have many times in recent months, they pulled me back to an awareness of what’s essential. Although I’ll confess that it took several days within the vortex before I realized how far away from their reality my mind had wandered.

Look, it’s not lost on me that something momentous happened a few weeks ago. And I feel I’m just as responsible as everyone else is to make a difference and participate in society. But I realized something was wrong when, night after night, I put my kids to bed and then spent the rest of my conscious minutes wrapped up in my own comforter, tapping and swiping on my phone. I have business to drum up, people to actually see, in three dimensions, and children to raise. What the hell was I doing here until all hours of the a.m.?

So I posted my blackout declaration and figured that was that. Until the next morning at least: that’s when a friend in PR called — she’d seen my sign-off post — and connected me to a reporter on the path of a story about, well, what I’d just done.

Finding my picture on the front page of a national newspaper was a nice perk (Ha! One plug I didn’t have to make on my own!). But it reminded me that elections, causes large and small, and gossip all present seemingly legitimate reasons to take one’s eye off the proverbial ball. The one you can not afford to lose sight of when you and only you are charged with hitting that ball back out into the world. The bottom line is, you have to stay focused on your responsibility to others and your day-to-day business. One only has so much capacity. Your attention only spans a limited distance. How you spend your time is a matter of choice and it needs to be aligned with your true priorities. For me, time I spend on Facebook is time I now do not have to offer my business, my children, and my personal self care.

As for Facebook, I’m just staying quiet for now. Likely, it’s quiet before a new storm, but if and when that storm erupts, I hope I will feel a bit more fortified to fight it, with refreshed energy and my priorities back in order.

People Skills and the Art of Asking for Help

If you’re in one of those life patches where nothing is green and the riverbeds are parched you might live by simple, if unpleasant proposition: ask for help until you don’t need it anymore.

But even at wit’s end we need our wits about us. Because the human response to beseeching isn’t uniform: maybe we’re all alike when we feel vulnerable, but when we’re facing vulnerable people, we’re a little more diverse.

I’ve been studying this of late and here’s what I’ve learned: people-reading skills are really important when you’re asking for help.

Some of us really can’t handle vulnerability. I don’t assume something’s wrong when people can’t hack it: most of them are caring, understanding and inclined to do the right thing. But when another person implores or just asks, straight up, “can we talk? Life’s rough right now,” they freeze.

I think that’s a reflection of the culture at large. Collaboration is all the rage, but we’re taught to link to people with strength, confidence, and a winning track record. An open-book approach clashes with established exchange protocols: ‘How are you? I’m great. Yeah, me too!’ But throw in, ‘Well, actually I need work, and fast’, and the protocol is dropped. An exchange we could have in our sleep just got complicated.

It’s pretty simple identifying a negative reaction after you’ve effectively shut the other person down. The trick is to gauge what type of reaction you’re likely to receive if you lead with an ask.

You should be aware of the time of day, the context of the meeting, the other person’s appearance, anything that might help you figure how receptive she might be to candor. Mainly, though, it comes down to temperament. Lots of us want order in our lives. If you suspect your ask will disrupt order, it might make more sense to fake it ‘til ya make it.

But some people appreciate honesty, and are ready to listen. Those folks might, conversely, be turned off if you try convincing them you’re doing great before you reveal that well, actually, there are a few problems. In these cases, you might detect that they take things slower, weigh your words before responding, and resist glib overstatements. Generally, these people appreciate nuance. While accepting that you’re overall a steady, industrious person, they might recognize you’re on rocky terrain and offer help (or at least advice) before you can even ask.

If you’re meeting for the first time, it might be trial and error until you come to trust your instincts. I’ve shared my belief in abundance many times, and that approach might be the best. For every person that recoils from your vulnerable outreach, there will be one — the right one — who is eager to connect. And the connection is what sells.

But you might feel safer and wiser keeping up appearances until you’ve seen real evidence that you’ve found someone who can handle authenticity.

The connection is what sells. And even when times are tough, you likely have many helping hands around you. Stay strong and keep sharp. There’s an art to practice here and an opportunity to hone your intuition.

The Sound of Great Advice

I’ve found that advice is easiest to absorb when I am wide open and at my most emotionally vulnerable. In fact, I’ll bet the ‘quality’ of the advice I’ve received over the years has been in direct proportion to my ability to hear and not deflect it.

There’s risk involved, of course. Most people aren’t ready for the honest answer when they lob out a cheerful ‘how are you?’ You can end up feeling worse when you reveal genuine stress or fear and then realize you’ve just made the other person’s day a little uncomfortable.

Besides, most of us want to project strength and confidence. In my work, I’m often telling people how to pump themselves up, crack open the can of Superwoman jump-juice and believe in what they can do. It’s good advice, and I stand by it.

It’s just that some days, the only way through is confessing to the pain because there’s so much of it. Even in public, as I recently discovered.

It’s not the end-of-day depletion I worry about. That’s to be “expected” as a single earner, mother of two small children, in NYC. It’s the days I wake up depleted that are the hardest for me. When, I’m facing the whole day with a genuine question about how I will get through, that’s when I’m alarmed.

Most of us cope by relying on a mantra, or a rote activity. I make lists. The more overwhelming the wave is, the longer the list. Usually this keeps me sane and the day structured: bank deposits, permissions slips, phone calls to return, stats to confirm. I just keep checking the boxes.

But some days I realize there’s no way in hell I’m going to remember everything on this lifeline — er — list. And in the worst case, this truth occurs to me when I’m somewhere I can’t do a single thing to alter it, even in some pointless symbolic way.

If only MTA buses could use despair as an alternative fuel. The long waits on cold street corners, the wheezy, halting pace, crowding and the lack of smiles can make a bad day feel like the end of the world.

On my last crosstown trip, I was wound up so tightly I almost forgot to breathe. My list had spun out of control. I realized I was past my limit when a few random tears turned into the ugliest cry I remember having beyond the safety of home. I was just too exhausted to fight back the sadness. I knew people were watching, but I was about one breath away from being helpless to do anything about it.

So you can’t say, strictly, that I asked for the advice of the disheveled man in the wheelchair next to me. Apparently though, he knew genuine distress when he saw it, and didn’t turn away.

“It will be OK,” he said kindly.

There was no need for me to explain. “I hope so,” I replied. “It’s just a hard day today.”

“There’s always light at the end of the tunnel. Life isn’t always peaches and cream, but it does get better. Stay strong and have faith. Keep going. Don’t stop.”

I sensed he often strung these old phrases together. Clearly not in the best of circumstances himself, I guessed he relied on his mantra like I rely on my lists.

On another day, I might have heard a string of platitudes. But in that vulnerable moment I could take his words to heart. Faith, indeed. That day I showed up for a lot of people and for myself, thanks to the kindness of a stranger and the right words I could actually hear at the exact right moment.

Don’t Let Your Age

Recently I went to lunch with a charming woman who was seeking my entrepreneurial advice (and perhaps my business) while trading on her long experience as a marketing executive. On paper, it seemed to be a nice quid pro quo.

She chose the restaurant. In midtown Manhattan, there are still a few relics of 1960s fashionable dining. We met in one of these, chatted in the midst of a few other patrons, all of whom might first have stopped in here as young Mad Men wives in 1963.

My lunch date knew a lot. She also was candid about what she didn’t know, including social media, Google and a few other game changers. She was downright cheerful staying so out of step with the times. Now, what advice did I have about working with the young folks?

Well, a little. Starting with the scientific reality of a little switch in the brain that turns the voices of old(er) people into white noise. Unless this woman wanted to market exclusively to the AARP, she had a fundamental problem.

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