One by one—but as a singular collective group—we’ve tipped “normal.” For the first time since such data has been tracked, there are more single than married adults in the US. That “I’m the only one” feeling you had walking into your first post-divorce school meeting? No longer valid.
What does this mean? I’ll leave the ramifications of changing lifestyle choices and spending priorities to the economists, but this statistical verification that we are getting better at leaving legal unions than creating them reveals disjointed and turbulent times—where we can easily connect from an Internet-cloaked distance and yet live alone in a crowd of neighbors.
This isn’t really about marriage. It is instead, a vision of our growing disconnection—where “busy” has become the standard response to “How are you?” and slow-cooked conversations have become a luxury meal. With so many fast-flying opportunities, we’ve applied efficiency beyond its “intended use,” compressing relationships to fit available calendar windows instead of creating the space to grow them well. Mobility, efficient living and a lessened focus on fundamental connection skills has left many of us as unconnected islands—more archipelago than community.
An unfortunate career or financial choice, divorce, death, chronic illness… all of these can breed isolation and start a secluding spiral. From childhood “time outs” to penally-administered solitary confinement, isolation is a clear communication of “unacceptable.” For connection-craving creatures such as us, isolation grows loneliness, and lonely people often make desperate choices to fill the unwelcome emotional space—grabbing at unhealthy behaviors to pull their heads above water, no matter how they may ultimately harm themselves or others. From the quiet individual tragedy of an unfulfilled life to the headline-generating disenfranchisement of a generation, lack of connection leaves too many with no lifelines to support, correction and perspective with which to find their way back.
Our new “normal must include purposeful connection—born of proactive kindness and intentional interactions. Rather than networking resources, we need to connect people. Not gathering them as knots to be used in our own ascent but rather, weaving them—one to another—into society’s fabric. This is how we will harness hope, create vision and channel volatile energy into forward momentum…because the difference-making handout will never come from a government or political entity. It will be the one we stretch out to the lonely one in need of a friend.
Date Like A Grownup: Anecdotes, Admissions of Guilt & Advice Between Friends
Resolutions for Building a Bigger Life
Psst…It’s About Connection.
A bigger life. No, this isn’t a reference to carbo-loading before your next triathlon. Nor is it a call to upsize your house, number of dependents or credit card bill. Towards the end of holiday grazing season, it’s easy to focus on dress sizes over life sizes. But a bigger life, one that is rich in connection, will enable traction on long term goals such as legacy-building and dream achievement, creating credible paths to fulfillment and success.
People generally trek into one of two camps as January approaches: either methodically listing their New Year’s resolutions or categorically shaking their heads at such unmeasured optimism. But the majority of us will at least pause for a brief moment of reflection as we cross the border into a new year. For it’s a marker. A roadside sign that shows how far we’ve traveled and how far we’ve yet to go.
Every other “put your best foot forward” article is going to tell you to set goals for your health, finances and career —which is great advice. So do that. But consider that most of these laudable choices will be more effectively achieved with a powerful interpersonal support system.
So pause and measure. How connected are you? Forget the obligatory work comrades, neighbors with whom you have a nodding acquaintance and those sideline parents who are more of a “familiar face” than functional friend. Consider whom you interact with as opposed to those you stand or sit alongside. A life webbed with strong interpersonal connections holds more opportunities and is worthy of your time and effort to build. If you have a lengthy list of “should call” and “should do lunch” names buried under good intentions —it’s grow time.
Who has the time? None of us. And yet making strong connections will actually save time in the long run. Your more fully developed network will provide you with recommendations for mechanics, accountants and new hires. It will be your backup when you have a sick child or no way to pick up your dog from the kennel. Your network will be both your sounding board and your fan club. Admit it. You need this. So it is well worth devoting calendar space to some connection time.
Choose Your Connections.
If all your friends work in HR or have matching company logo coffee mugs, you need to diversify your friendships. This is like having a team of quarterbacks. Who’s going to catch the ball? Surround yourself with women with varied careers and pursuits. You aren’t going to learn anything new from a high-heeled clone of yourself. And if you don’t know how to throw a decent dinner party —and hang out with similarly stunted friends— you aren’t going to eat very well on the weekends. Seek passion, conviction and commitment. Encircle yourself with accomplished or motivated-to-accomplish women. Energy sparks energy, so look for inner momentum. Solid positive connections will create bridges to anywhere you want to go.
Keep Your Eye on the Glass Ball.
Juggling too much? That sounds about normal. Brian Dyson, CEO of Coca-Cola Enterprises, once described multi-tasked living as a process of keeping rubber and glass balls in the air. While our tasks will differ, prioritizing our families requires that we designate them as one of the glass “do not drop” balls. Redesigning your kitchen is a rubber ball that will bounce. You may even be able to double dribble some of your lower priority social connections as well. But bubble-wrap your spouse/significant other and children and keep an attentive eye on that ball.
One terrific strategy for creating connection time is to incorporate another tangent goal. You plan to hit the ground running in January? Literally? Then seek out a running buddy. But don’t stop there. Regular gym workouts with weight work will make the difference between getting older and aging gracefully, and may actually hold the process at bay for a while. Do your weight sets with a female friend to build in accountability and connection. Split the cost of a trainer and you’re making a more economical financial choice as well —all while growing a relationship with a like-minded friend.
Phone calls don’t count unless they’re punctuated by actual face-to-face communication. Choosing to create time for someone establishes esteem for both the individual and the relationship. Value your friendships, old and new, by scheduling regular coffees, lunches or happy hours. Aim to create at least two one-on-one friend spaces in each calendar week. And be open to spontaneous opportunities. Maintain growth by seeking out potential friends and business contacts and following through with at least an initial coffee. A certain number of relationships will fade through job, life or location changes —so continue planting seeds to maintain a continuous season of connection.
Grow Group Gigs.
Growing your connections can be as easy as setting up a regular, open-to-all happy hour meeting. Encourage friends to bring friends to multiply new mutually beneficial links. This low pressure, two-hour commitment will allow you to sift through “contacts” to choose “connections.” And by encouraging an inclusive atmosphere in which all are invited to invite, you create an infinity pool of professional and social possibilities.
Maintain an Inflow.
Yawn. Yes, sometimes. But it is difficult to grow a diverse network from an insulated workspace where time constraints force most of us to focus more on culling the flow into inbox, voicemail and calendar than on expanding our sources. Filtering is a necessity, but closing off the stream will eventually dry up the pond, so aim to schedule regular business/ social networking events. Remember that you don’t have to score a direct association at an event for it to be construed a success. Contacts have contacts (who have contacts) who could become a connection.
Be the Mentor.
Remember those early job interviews when you agonized over resume wording and sending the right message via your choice of pumps? There are women —on this very day— laying out conservative earrings and practicing a firm-gripped handshake and friendly greeting for tomorrow morning. Help them. You’ve earned your confidence. Share it with another. What’s in it for you? Connection to someone who will birth new ideas and improve what you’ve begun. And chances are quite good that you will learn something in the teaching of another.
Resist Connect-the-Dot Thinking.
It’s tempting to view connection as a connect-the-dot sort of endeavor, achieved by working a room with a fistful of business cards augmented by quick phone call “check-ins” between appointments to fan the flame of friendships. But it can —and should— be so much more. Instead of doing the time saving, quick tie knot —”Here’s my card. Let’s connect on LinkedIn”— focus on weaving connection into the fabric of your life. People themselves are the discoveries that lead to innovative ideas and solutions. Your key connections, male and female, will provide valuable support, provide affirmation, spark ideas and help you along the path to being your best self. Having reliable connections —ones you can occasionally lean on and, often, laugh with— is that valuable extra layer that will enable you to weather personal and professional squalls with dignity, grace and assurance. Building a bigger life through connection will perpetuate a better one.
I Was A Gym Class Wallflower
It’s Never Too Late to Add Fitness to Your Life.
It’s true. Pressed against the cafeteria wall, hoping to camouflage my lack of athletic experience and skill as blasé disinterest—that was me. This surprises all those who missed my mandatory sixth grade gymnastics routine—heavy on dramatic spins and arm flourishes that did little to hide the fact that my abilities were limited to somersaults, ballet-style cartwheels and half of a back walk-over. As I recall it, half of my three minute routine was spent ineffectively attempting to kick my way out of a backbend—riveting humiliation back when “Reality TV” required nothing more than a video player outside the school cafeteria during the high traffic lunch hour.
I’m a fairly fit well over-40ish woman now, but the truth is, I sort of stumbled into personal fitness.
My first foray into team sports came my senior year of high school. Lacrosse. How good was I? Good enough to be my coach’s gift to an opposing team when they were short a couple of players for our game. My team won—that is, the team I arrived with, not the team I guest-played for, but I chose to call it a victory. And it was. I’d shown up and put my feet on the field.
I began running towards the end of college, primarily for the opportunity it provided my friends and me to pass a local fraternity on a regular basis. Running didn’t require great amounts of coordination (right left, right left…I could do that), and once I got past the whole “do I look silly” question, I found I enjoyed it.
The running habit stuck. My folks didn’t really know what to make of it when I returned home for summer break. We’d hiked and biked in the course of our travels, but with a regular exercise routine, I’d now swung far out of “normal” for my family. I kept at it anyways, because I was already noticing some remarkable benefits: less stress, more confidence, focused “thinking time”—and best of all, my “skinny” body now had runner’s legs.
Above the waist, however, I had the same willowy rag doll physique I’d always had. It lacked a certain something, but I just didn’t know what. Yet…
Years later, after prolonged manual labor on a landscaping project followed by an unfortunate stint on crutches, a neighbor commented favorably on my muscular “definition.” I confess that I had no idea what she meant. I looked in the mirror that evening, however, and discovered that I’d somehow grown baby arm muscles. I made an instant connection between my recent increases in strength and energy and decided to keep them.
Worth noting: These new muscles were “born” in my very late 30s making them younger than my three children! In the beginning, it was as simple as incorporating a few push-ups and crunches into my mornings. I advanced to trying pull-ups and chin-ups at playgrounds while playing with my kids. My method was simply to try and do at least as much as I did the last time. Nothing set in stone, but it became another positive habit to build upon. Eventually, I added free weights and began looking at how to further improve—rather than simply maintain, my accidental fitness. My “stumble” into physical fitness had taken me to a good place, and I was hooked.
That’s it! I use a gym now and find that the variety helps me keep my work-outs fresh and interesting. I lack the time for perfection but surge ahead on the theory that something is always better than nothing at all. I view my gym and outdoor running time as 1) my best investments in my future health, and 2) a sure way to keep positive about the present!
So, when a young lady stopped me at the gym a few months ago to ask what I did and if she was too late, I smiled. I told her that she was so far ahead of me already and gave her the basics of my routine along with a couple words of encouragement.
We’re all made so differently, and the same regimens will look completely different on the bodies of two different women. But, we can all do something to maximize what we’ve been given. And most importantly, it’s more fun to be out on the gym floor instead of leaning against a padded wall (or sitting on a sofa).
Take if from a former gym class wallflower.
Originally published by Her Fitness Hut.
Strategies for Stress
Float or Plant Your Feet
She sighed heavily and leaned into a splayed stack of junk mail on my kitchen countertop. “I can’t.” The words drifted wearily —in a flat line with no inflection.
The past months —years really— had included law suits, mental health issues, family division, death and a steady deadening of her marriage. She was taking in more nicotine than calories, and the constant stress had etched a pattern of pain across her attractive features, drawing the edges of her mouth into a perpetual frown.
“I just can’t.”
“You have to. When did you last see your doctor?”
She shrugged. “Need to, I know.” She coughed again. All ninety pounds of her. “My arm has been getting numb again.”
I felt angry. Sad. “You have to. For your little girls.”
But we both knew a doctor visit was unlikely to land on her schedule. Acting proactively required energy she could no longer access. She had been worn down to “reaction” mode —and it would take a small emergency.
“You’re getting buffeted by all this. The constant stress is like treading water in a choppy ocean. You have to either float over it all or find a place you can plant your feet.”
She looked at me. Defeated. “I can’t.”
“You have a choice.”
When you’re out of breath, it’s far easier to react to your environment than actively change it. And yet, often, we have to move to access the oxygen essential to fueling our future.
Stress —often a juxtaposition of expectation versus reality— is a given. None of us can predict the acts of others, circumstance, or even our own future feelings. But how we react to stress… that’s a choice. We can dog-paddle, tread water and gulp for air. We can float over it for a while —ignoring what isn’t truly critical. We can —at some point— stroke our way to where we can plant our feet and begin a redesign.
Choosing to choose is what move us from being observers of what happens in our life to actively participating in the direction it will take.
Floating (temporarily) can be a good choice. Planting your feet can be an excellent choice. Reacting to situations like a fishing bobber or swimmer treading water will exhaust, consume and deplete.
It’s Not About the Muscles
7 Benefits of the Fitness Lifestyle
Not entirely, at least. I admit a tendency toward sleeveless that adds extra value to those triceps extensions, but for me, regular gym workouts and trail running are simply the most effective way to maintain forward momentum before normal aging can create drag.
Yep, I’m over fifty—and have the college-aged kids and shredded AARP mailings to prove it. But, I’m in prime shape, physically and mentally, thanks to my daily fitness appointment with myself.
The proven benefits—protection against myriad diseases and depression—would be plenty of motivation to get me moving, but I’ve found other immediately tangible ones that enhance my resolve with almost instant positive rewards. Besides and beyond the ability to fit into last year’s jeans, here’s what I value about my fitness lifestyle:
Improved focus. Mental block? There’s nothing like a little cardio to get the blood flowing and creative thoughts gelling again. Shifting gears on a bike or at the gym allows the brain to reset and blaze in new directions. Some of my best stuff gets written in my head when I’m a couple of miles into a trail run—and having to remember what I’ve “written” until I get back to my laptop is compelling incentive to focus well and completely.
Social network. As a solo entrepreneurial type whose daily interactions may or may not include a greeting to the UPS guy, it’s essential I build in daily social connection. Many of my gym buddies have become outside-the-gym friends. “Networking”—or as I prefer to term it “relationship building”—is a lifestyle choice, not a 9 to 5 business card exchange. It happens at the grocery, in parking lots and over weight sets. And it works. My previously unemployed best friend landed his current “right fit” job via a fortuitous gym encounter. Your results may vary…but the results will be real and valuable.
Affirmation. Want to generate some good self-talk? Watch yourself improve your stamina on the elliptical machine or increase your bench press over a couple of weeks. And you will be amongst other like-minded folks who might throw a “nice job” at you when you drop down from the pull up bar. Not ready for all of that quite yet? Simply joining a fitness class will provide instant commiserating comrades—a sweat drenched, endorphin-rich connection that is as genuine as you’re willing to be and on a regular schedule.
Daily discipline. Discipline begets discipline. It’s a muscle just like that newly budding bicep, and exercising it in one area of your life will help you to use it in others as well. Want to be more decisive and action-oriented at work? Join into the disciplined mentality of prioritizing daily fitness. It’s a transferable membership.
Guaranteed “good.” There will be days when you lose clients, patience, car keys and perspective—days when you swim against the current and grimly note that the view isn’t changing all that much. Without a channel, free flowing adrenaline—our natural “fight or flight” response—will drain productivity. So when negatives are on virtual assault, fight back by planting a guaranteed “good” into the day. A workout qualifies—at the very least; it’s time away from stewing, losing it or succumbing to food cravings that have nothing to do with hunger.
Turns back time. Getting serious about a fitness commitment will change your life. Faithfully setting—and keeping—regular workout appointments with yourself carries a guaranteed ROI. Actively creating muscle and maintaining body health will mark you as younger than your counterparts who don’t—and physical vitality and strength brings youthful vigor to mental health as well. Here’s my own firsthand report: For the past ten years even as my children grow older, I am most definitely growing younger. Through multiple deaths and a divorce—traumas that often show up as additional pounds on a body and lines on a face—regular exercise has been a stabilizing, rejuvenating force. Simply stated, it works—from the inside out.
Inspiration for others. Life lives larger when we look beyond ourselves. Some of my best workouts have been the ones that help launch others onto a path toward physical fitness—older women with lapsed or newly awakened motivation, younger ones recognizing that “thin” is not the same as “healthy.” When ankle reconstruction forced me into eight plus weeks on crutches, I remained a gym regular. Many confided that the sight of me doing pull-ups with a leg cast obliterated their own mental excuses and sparked motivation. Those revelations imbued my temporary setback with meaning beyond my own body’s healing.
Powering Change Through Proactive Kindness:
Because the Little Things Aren’t.
We esteem it in colleagues, prize it in friendships and teach it to our children. Kindness. It’s a tick up from mere politeness or tact. It’s more than a social grace or nurtured civility. It is intentional but without expectation: the measured response to a harried co-worker; the averted eye from another’s embarrassment. It’s a smile, a nod, an acknowledgement. A “good job” or a “well done!” It warms a moment and may elicit a smile.
But it can be even more…
Michael Puett of Harvard University teaches the wildly popular “Classical Chinese Ethical and Political Theory,” a course centered around the premise that small actions—and behaving kindly—will lead to a more fulfilling life and a better world. He boldly promises, “This course will change your life.” And students say that it does.
Kindness as a reflexive response is laudable. But kindness as an action can be life changing. Proactive kindness reaches out in unassuming ways to unsuspecting targets. It may be stealthy upon approach but is crystal clear in intention.
It encourages. Once the conveyor belt is loaded and any archaic paper coupons have changed hands, there’s no real need to converse with the grocery checkout clerk unless the asparagus rings high. But to merely stand there flipping through smart phone news updates or scanning the bargain candy is a wasted opportunity. Yes, there may be nothing bankable in this for you, but it will hold value. Stay with me…
Engage for a moment. He may not be receptive, and that’s fine—he’s working. But moving beyond the rudimentary exchange creates openings for connection. I’ve heard stories of betrayal, longing and aspiration in checkout lines, offered a few words of encouragement and then heard the shopper behind me carry on the conversation as I wheeled off with my receipt.
Most recently, there was a solitary man at a networking event. 60ish; newly unemployed. Feeling like a fish out of water, lacking the legs to venture onto new terrain. I sat next to him as he forked a salad, and we talked about the difficulty of attending an event where you know no one. The challenge of looking for work after fifteen years with a company you expected to retire from. A great guy planted in unfamiliar territory—warm, conversational, intelligent. He emailed me the next day: “After our conversation I felt more at ease…. Thank you for your kindness.” I’d seen him in conversation as I scooted home to feed my son—and hoped. Reading his email, I flat-out floated.
Helping someone rev out of a rut will impact more than that single life. It will bring possibility to the entire web within their reach. It’s a minimal expenditure of energy that can catalyze infinite potentials for the world in which your children and grandchildren will live.
It inspires. Sometimes people don’t recognize their own possibilities. Sometimes an alternate, more accurate perspective is but a pivot away. People hide hopes within themselves without even noting their quiet burial. Illuminating these gifts, spotlighting these latent talents or passions can direct steps toward a better life path.
I’d reconnected with my high school friend Brenda via Facebook. We amped our reunion to the next level over glasses of wine. And then, when I needed a photographer, I knew…
“Me?” Brenda had no grasp of her own talent, but I’d seen her Facebook portrait photos. She was working in a law office, indulging her love of photography on the side.
“Yes, you!” I described what I’d seen—her gift for capturing personality and emotion—and that she was my absolute first choice to shoot my book cover.
Would she have launched so deeply into her passion absent my affirmation? I hope so. Like to think so. Spotlighting the best in others is so “Brenda.” I only know that identifying her talent—calling it out for her to see—seemed to energize her and nudge her towards tackling numerous life challenges. I like to think my request was a puff of wind that prodded her to raise her sail.
As we weaved through an hour of traffic to watch our sons compete in a nine-minute race, my friend Danielle described a recent encounter. Two strangers were running the steps at the dam near our homes. Danielle had encouraged them as she neared her twentieth circuit, and they were, no doubt, curious about the friendly brunette with boundless energy. In the conversation that followed, she shared her fifteen pound weight loss and love of running, encouraging them in their initial foray into fitness. Eventually, one of the women asked for a photo—a selfie of the two of them—”because you are my inspiration!”
The truth is…this nameless woman inspired Danielle. My friend’s proactive kindness—a simple “you go girl” to a stranger had opened a connection that also gave Danielle a glimpse of herself in better lighting. “I don’t know her name, but she wanted a picture of the two of us. Together.” Realizing that she was an inspiration to another has actually inspired Danielle to simply continue being Danielle…reaching out to strangers without expectation—but with the intention of extending kindness.
Which kind of proves my point that…
Proactive kindness changes things. Looking for opportunities to be proactively kind pulls you into the moment. These intentional interactions integrate our separate cocoon-ish thoughts with present circumstance. Proactive kindness creates an alertness to those around us and a sense of purpose within the previously mundane. It will energize an ordinary morning at the gym and ease the pain of a seemingly aimless meeting because it is never wasted and has life beyond its point of action.
And frequently, like Danielle, we are the recipients of our own proffered gift. Acknowledging the value in another and witnessing the impact of this affirmation will, most often, feel so crazy good, it will spur us even further in the quest to be kind.
Originally published on LinkedIn.
Image Credit: By krzyboy2o/Wikimedia Commons | “Milkshake Anyone?” under Creative Commons
Donating Dreams and Gifts of Life:
Organ Donation is the Ultimate Act of Altruism
I’m a future organ donor. The emblem is affixed to my driver’s license, and I’ve discussed my intentions with family and friends. Can’t say that I’m keeping the mileage down—my parts will be well-worn by the time anyone gets them. But the section of my brain that remembers where I’ve parked my car? Barely used at all…
Two bone grafts and a ligament graft to my right ankle in 2012 shifted the idea of tissue and organ donation from the hypothetical to something very personal. A life changing gift of such magnitude that, as I crested 14,000 foot Handies Peak in Colorado seven months later, I cried.
Given the nature of my bone grafts, it is likely that grieving parents made the selfless choice to enable my ankle reconstruction as they grappled with the erasure of the ordinary dreams we all cherish for our children. Benevolent strangers retained the capacity to care for unknown others in the midst of heartbreak, changing my future, and potentially, the lives of fifty others per the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Encoded donor family contact information from my hospital folder provided an easy avenue to express my thanks. But it wasn’t… Easy, that is. Time and again over the weeks following my surgery, I typed out the beginnings of personal notes, only to hit “delete” as I envisioned actual families, torn by irreplaceable loss, reading my words. Imagined faces, but as real to me as the healed ankle on my own body.
They didn’t save my life, but the donations saved my active lifestyle—something of inestimable value to me. “Thank you.” “I’m sorry.” I lingered over words that would link to a critical chapter in a shortened life—and matter more than any book or article I’ll ever write.
Eventually I found them—imperfect, but genuine, and sent my message-in-a-bottle thank you, wishing that hearts healed as easily as bodies.
And I checked my donor status. I was fairly certain my decision had been formalized but was compelled to confirm. “Organ donor.” There it was: a tiny red heart at the bottom right corner of my driver’s license. I verified details on my state’s website and printed my registration.
Thinking ahead to your own death isn’t pleasant, but planning for organ donation is the ultimate act of altruism. Take the time to make your intention official. Please search for the “organ donor” website in your country. Here’s a link to the U.S. organ donor website: http://organdonor.gov/becomingdonor/stateregistries.html. Your choice will be life changing.