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The Secret to Happiness? Five Minutes of (Self-Love) Zen at a Time…

13 Aug

I never thought I’d say this but I am closer to a “permanent state of happy” than I’ve ever been before.  Yet, to look at my life objectively, I’ve got less of the material trappings than I’ve ever had in the past and my type-A personality is no longer governed by titles or financial goals.  The journey to happy has been a conscious one – and along the way I’ve gleaned a few nuggets of wisdom from others that led me to where I am today.

survival

I’d like to share them with you in the hopes that no matter where life led you in the past, and whatever is planned for tomorrow, you CAN experience moments of happy zen today.  (Even if the rest of your day is stressed beyond belief!)   But first…

A little about me

Today I earn less money and have a less stable financial future than ever before, I’m middle-aged (and the youngest I will ever be again!);  I likely won’t retire until I’m 80 (given that I find sustainable income soon); I have many stressed out friends (because of their kids and unemployment); and I’m divorced without a love/”partner” relationship.  YET (this is the good part!) on 99% of my days, I’m blissfully happy. And you can be too!

It wasn’t always that way:  I started off in my early 20’s as a young go-getter – an engineering graduate, a career-minded mother of two  with a husband in school, and multiple roles: mother, wife, daughter, friend, employer, breadwinner, maid, cook, PTA member, entrepreneur, co-worker, confidante, volunteer, role-model, sister, motivator, pet owner… I was busy, needed, loved by others, in demand, and yet something was missing.

In the midst of constant crisis (goes with being a mom and everything else) and feeling out of control, I neglected “ME.”

When things got overwhelming from the demands of others on me, I tried harder to please others and became more and more unhappy.  Self-love was something I was never taught – and the self-help books that said “take care of yourself and go take a bath” just didn’t make sense.

I WAS happy in my role as mother to two wonderful kids and my career was taking off (software consulting), but I seldom felt satisfied being me.  When it felt like the world was caving in with demands, school work, dinners, clients, employees, soccer games, family engagements, I often envied those who had the time to breathe and smell the flowers.  Here I was SuperWoman – in good health and physically fit, but there were times when I had no idea how I was going to survive the stress of it all.  I was everything to everyone and every moment of my time was spoken for by others (children, husband, clients, co-workers, employees, family, friends, acquaintances, etc.)

When I laid my head on my pillow at night and my husband wanted to be amorous, my head was already trying to find solutions to tackle the mounting to-do list only a sleepy 8 hours away.  In my dreams I was alive, but realistically I was fast asleep as far as life and loving ME.

As life progressed, the real me virtually disappeared – my (now ex-) husband continually had to be right (obsessively so) and my intuition died; my son became a violent (towards me) teenager; my business declined; and my daughter moved to NYC – I had become a Stepford Wife and the real me was gone from my personal life.

By spring of 2006, I was divorced (financially and emotionally devastated); lonely (I didn’t have any personal non-mutual friends aside from business); alone (my son was in Colorado at holistic wilderness camp); challenged in business (the nature of consulting); and essentially asleep.

What I didn’t realize then was that “While I was busy in life TAKING CARE OF THE WORLD, NO ONE (not even me) WAS TAKING CARE OF ME!”  When you are taught to take care of the world one person at a time, you really have no idea how to take care of yourself!  The cost of putting everyone else first was almost my life. At that point, I WOKE UP to the fact that even I didn’t love me!

walking

What I’ve Learned that Might Help You…

  • Although self-love is instinctive, it is systematically programmed out of us from birth.  We are taught (especially as females) to put others before ourselves – and that pleasing others is more unselfish.  What I’ve learned: Self love IS the KEY!  You have to put on your own mask first!  The airlines have it right by saying: “Put on your own mask first before assisting others” – I found out the hard way that if you sacrifice yourself in the service of others, no one takes care of you!
  • Learning self-care and self-love is (for many of us) is a new skill that can be mastered over time. After a lifetime of putting others first (what’s in it FROM ME?) I’m awakening to the realization that I matter!  (I.e., what’s in it FOR ME?)
  • The key to finding happiness comes with five minutes of self-love (my definition of “zen”) at a time

Five minutes of (Self-Love) Zen at a time…

  • Give yourself the gift of the present to get reacquainted with the real you:  set aside five minutes (at a time) anywhere that you can be alone in relative silence (even if this is a restroom stall).  Once you’ve turned off distractions (your cell phone, tablet, blackberry, pager…) – tell yourself how much you love YOU (this might seem hokey, but bear with me).  Make sure you use words such as “I love you – you deserve to be loved – you are a wonderful, kind, giving, genuine person.  Pretend that you are your child, a best friend, a lover and use words that you would use for them.  (Note that you may not want to say this aloud in a restroom stall – you might get attention that you really don’t want!);
  • Be kind – think about five things that you do well (this sometimes takes practice) and remind yourself of this. These can be little things such as “you know better than anyone how to see the good in others”, “you are imaginative and creative”;
  • Be playful – consider one or two things that make you smile (or if it’s not happening in the present, something that made you smile in the past) and thank yourself for being able to smile!;
  • Be giving – imagine surrounding yourself with the warmest, most embracing, most genuine bear hug you can possibly give – filled with appreciation and love;
  • Be ruthless and protective: when your inner critic tries to interfere in YOUR five minutes – tell them this is your time and tell them to “shut up and butt out”;
  • Be conscious – take in the air around you and breathe – thanking your heart for beating and allowing you to transform the air into oxygen that your body needs;
  • Be optimistic – tell yourself that you are a survivor (you are!) who deserves the best things in life no matter what is happening around you outside of this five minutes. Make sure you tell yourself the same wondrous things you’d say to a best friend you are encouraging;
  • Close your eyes and imagine the warmth of a newborn swaddled and cuddled in the arms of the most loving parent – give yourself this gift even if you’ve never experienced it for yourself. Become the loving parent (for five minutes at a time) to your true inner self;
  • Be proud of yourself:  too often we seek acceptance and approval from others when we really need it from within – tell yourself how proud you are that you’ve made it this far in life!  That’s an accomplishment in itself and a privilege that you are alive!;
  • One foot forward at a time: all you need to do no matter where you are at in life is to put one foot forward at a time – a marathon is won by many small steps – and you CAN take one step forward no matter what’s going on in your life. Just one step – a baby step is admirable!;
  • Remind yourself of your value:  you deserve happiness, peace, tranquility, love, and time for you.

five minutes five steps

For me, the many, many five minute sessions of self-love zen are becoming second nature.  It’s really been crucial to me learning to take care of myself and overcome the tendency to put everyone else first. (Forty plus years of self-neglect takes time and energy to overcome!)

It is so much easier to face (and conquer) the challenges of everyday life (finances, lack of work, unemployment, disrespectful people, acquaintances who I thought were friends, family, disappointments, etc.) when I know that I have at least 3 main supporters in my life:  Me, Myself and I – and that I can rely on them to come to my rescue with Five Minutes of Self-Love Zen throughout the day.

Wishing you a wonderful day!

p.s., if you got ANYTHING out of this post – please let me know. Comments (good, bad, ugly, amusing) are welcome!

Carol

Doubters anonymous…

9 Jun

When our word isn’t dissipated by doubt, the power of our word is even stronger.
– don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the power of Doubt, maybe it’s because I am learning that I am the only one who can ever make myself happy, and the pain of a narcissistic long-term relationship is moving further away.

Today, I realize that I am a whole, complete and perfect (okay, two out of three isn’t bad!) person who can do anything I set my dreams on (with confidence!), who deserves love and gives much to the world.

It wasn’t always like that, I lived with Doubt (I constantly questioned whether I was good enough, smart enough, lovable…) – all due to my own misgivings and “healthy doses of doubt and gentle correction” heaped on by those around me.  I was addicted to doubt!

“Doubt” used to be a frequent companion,

a hanger-on’er who came into my life in early childhood and who crept around making sure I would stop myself before trying new or challenging things.  (Somehow I managed to keep doubt at bay in my business, all the while he wreaked havoc in my personal life!)

I know that Doubt has emerged in great force in this economy – he plays increasingly larger parts in the lives of others I know – and these are good, solid, inspiring people who deserve success and great things.  Yet, Doubt has moved in taking up the real estate that Confidence deserves to own. 

(Aside:  as a recovering Doubt-addict, I know that instilling confidence and supporting others is an important step in their own Doubt-recovery!  Inspire confidence in others through the power of your (positive!) words.)

Get Past a Doubt-filled Past!

I know that in my past, “Doubt” was seldom alone – he was usually cheered on by a crowd who agreed that I would screw up whatever I might think to try. Doubt (and his supporters) never liked me for who I am, and that’s why I need to steer clear of him!

“Doubt” loved being best friends with my (harsh) inner critic, my parents, and my spouse – they would take turns playing “you need to change this” and “who do you think you are?”   “Doubt” crept around like he didn’t belong (he never did) but when he partnered with others, it was downright insidious. He was like a storm cloud always threatening rain!

In nature, we have the power of water and wind to erode, in people we allow doubt to sculpt us into wisps of  people immobilized with holes that doubt inflicts.   I believe that doubt is an addiction – that if it is left unchecked can render one addicted and damaged.

“We are born to do wonderful, innovative, passionate things with our life, and to live a happy life! We are born to be confident and find our way!  We are born to be surrounded by sunshine – it is our (confidence-inspired) destiny!” – Carol Dekkers

Doubt pours down on those possibilities and leaves us unmotivated, tired, and uninspired.  Some days it might seem like the sun will never come out.

If I can be a Doubt-Survivor, so can you!

I’ve overcome my doubt addiction through conscious work, and by neutralizing the negative doubt-mongering (but well-intentioned) people in my life (some I have de-friended entirely!)

While yesterday had room for Doubt, my future does not!  The work involved realizing that I was living without integrity – that is, I was saying things to myself that I would never say to a best friend. While I didn’t do a formal 12 step doubt-removal program,  Today I can proudly announce that I am in doubt recovery!

While we cannot control the seeds of doubt that others try to plant in our fertile minds, we can banish them from our mind’s garden – and nurture positive, inspiring affirmations that in time, will remove the power of doubt.  Confidence renders “Doubt” speechless.

You are intended to be… great!  So go out today and get started – you don’t have a heartbeat to wait.

Have a great week!

Carol

p.s., Send me a note if you’d like to know more about how I overcame doubt… it’s a journey of self-discovery and self-love!

Books, books, and more books…

25 Apr

Are you like me and love books?

I didn’t realize how many books I owned until I started to clean out my bookshelves because I anticipate a move later this year.  So far, I’ve donated over 100 hardcover books to Friends of the Library (a non-profit resale endeavor) and have another 100 ready to go.  And I won’t be finished donating even then (and I’ll still have at least as many books on my shelves!)

I have always loved books.

There is something special about turning high quality pages that a Kindle just cannot capture.  Most commonly, my books are positive and forward thinking books non-fiction, and as I take each one down from its shelf and consider whether to keep it or donate it, I often remember where and when I purchased it.

For some of the books, the keep or give decision is easy – my grown children outgrew my need for parenting books. For others, the decision is not so easy – such as the books on gardening that I haven’t cracked open for years, but which topic remains an interest.  Cookbooks are similar – I used to love cooking, but my interests waned for a number of reasons, and now that I live a single life, I don’t find joy in cooking solo (aside from the fact that recipes are often for larger quantities than one.)

Did you know that close to a million books are published annually by the top 10 book writing nations? 

The USA is first, followed by England, each with over 250,000 books published yearly. That’s a lot of original thought and intellectual capital being expended every year!  And for me, it only takes a few well written words to convince me that there are new ideas everyday!

Books have been a faithful companion on my life’s journey.  Unlike the internet, where anyone with a mouse can add their opinion everywhere, authors take care to craft their message for their audience.  And on more than one occasion, I have wondered just how an author could have known my life because their messages felt like they especially crafted for me.  Melody Beattie, Patricia Evans, Cheri Huber, don Miguel Ruiz and others were such authors for me.  Shared experiences reassure me that my perceptions and ideas are as sound as I know they are!

What is your experience with books?  Do you like reading online (such as with a Kindle) or do you prefer the old-fashioned low-tech books?  What would your life be like without books?

Have a good week!

Carol

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Dear Daughter, lessons from a female engineer (part 1)

21 Jan

It is amazing how life turns out… who would have guessed that growing up as the oldest of five children in Alberta, Canada that I would find myself today as a middle-aged, divorced mother of two adult children, in Florida and reinventing my career to set up the financial independence I dream of.  Even though I have spent my career in male-dominated industries, I am most proud of my children, who are living happy, healthy, and independent lives as 20’somethings in Brooklyn NY and St. Petersburg, FL.

worldMy life so far has been nothing short of extraordinary – I have enjoyed a great career as a professional speaker, author, engineer, and IT expert with two passports (US and Canadian) bulging with international stamps.  I love to travel and it has been a joy to share international and domestic business trips with my children. Over the years, they have been to Brazil, Australia, Holland, Germany, South Africa, Ireland, and India in their travels. There are so many places I still want to visit – and I hope to share future travel with family and friends. I have co-authored books with experts in Finland, Germany, the US and Australia, none of which has given me financial freedom (a 2% royalty from one book and none from the others), but provided me with great experiences.  I married too young, and moved directly from my parents’ home at 22 (it was expected in my family to live at home during college) and into a marriage.  Twenty three years and three degrees (his) later, I find myself happily divorced, but with encumbrances of a hefty refinanced mortgage, real estate downturns, medical bills, unemployment and disillusionment.  Nonetheless, today I am much more fortunate and grateful than many others around me – I have optimism, good health, and a vision of the future that includes a fully booked keynote presentation calendar for years to come. I am learning that there are many things more important than money (even though money pays bills!)

I grew up in an era when women did not go into Engineering, let alone Mechanical Engineering, and in my class of 65 ME’s at the University of Calgary, I was one of five female graduates.  I keep early lessons from growing up in Canada, relocating to the US, competing in a male-dominated field, and figuring out what life and love really is all about.  I am grateful to learn something new every day…

I read a blog yesterday by Jean Hsu on the Experience of Being a Female Software Engineer, and I realized that the more things change (technology and advances), the more they stay the same.  It made me realize that maybe you and other young women could learn from what I went through, and maybe avoid some of the missteps I made.  Hindsight is 20/20 and even though my daughter’s passion is English and Poetry, and not technology, I hold out hope that she will gain a nugget of insight somewhere in my words.

So, here goes, Dear Daughter (part 1)

Dear Daughter,

I remember growing up and wanting a daughter like you and a son like your brother, with a fairytale nuclear family, but life just does not turn out exactly as we plan.  While your father and I were not the right life partners for each other, we were together for your formative years and I hope you know that there was love – at least from my side.

I admire your strength and I envy your youth – you have an entire wonderful career and love life road out in front of you as it should be.  I remember the altruism and zest that I had at your age and I wish you all the excitement and great experiences that life can hold.

Here are a few things I have learned along the way that I hope may help you:

  • Take care of yourself first – you are the only you that will ever be. Nurture your feelings and respect your intuition because they are keys to the real you.  I taught you to take care of others first as I was taught, but if you do this, you will end up losing yourself in the process. After taking care of everyone for so many years, I found out late that no matter how much I gave to others, I was empty inside because I was not taking care of me.  It is not selfish it is good self-care.  As they say in the airlines, put on your oxygen mask first before helping others. In this way, you will survive so that you can then help others.  You deserve a great, long life.
  • Never allow anyone to impede your dreams. Safeguard your dreams from negligent, but well-meaning others who do not share your journey or passion in life.  Your dreams are yours not theirs, and no matter how much they might purport to know what is best for your life (including me) – follow your heart and your dreams.
  • Life is not fair, but you still can achieve greatness. It is still an inequitable world out there. Growing up in a male preferential family (Boys have to run out and play, girls do dishes and cook), I faced many obstacles based on gender. However, it is only a barrier if you let it be. You will face many men and women alike who will tell you that you cannot do this or that, but as long as what you are doing is not illegal or immoral, you have every right to take your place in any profession  regardless of your gender (construction, engineering, etc) – go for it!  Do not waste even one precious heartbeat on anyone who does not make a difference in your life – even if they get in your face!
  • Never make anyone a priority for who you are only an option. This was a quote on Facebook from a self-professed dating expert and while it pertains specifically to dating, it applies to all relationships.  You can avoid toxic friendships, work relationships, and heartbreak when you keep this point in focus.  If you are not good enough to be a priority in someone’s life, they should not be occupying a place of preference in yours.
  • Opportunity may come disguised as hard work or a gift horse. When I graduated from engineering school in the 1980’s, I had a few job offers extended solely because I was a female engineer.  The big oil companies needed to hire women and fast track us into management, so they made outrageously generous offers to us.  At the time, my ethics (and the influence of peers) were too high – so high in fact, that the mere suggestion that I would be perceived as getting the job immorally (people would invent rumors involving indiscretions for any female given perceived “unfair” advantage) prevented me from taking such jobs.  What a mistake! Those jobs might have given me a gender preference and put me ahead for the first few months, but I have faced far more discrimination from being female throughout my career since then.  I should have taken the opportunities at the time with a genuine thank you for the leg up.
  • Fall in love with yourself first. Self-love and self-esteem are two things you can never have too much of.  When you are healthy and happy with the person you are, you can give love freely and unconditionally to another.  With the amount of negative influence and reinforcement in western society, it takes at least a couple of independent living years to discover and accept who you really are.  Only now am I discovering and unconditionally accepting the true me, and it is a pleasant surprise. It was naïve of me to think that anyone else could love me as unconditionally as I deserve to love myself.
  • You are always worth it! You are unique, complete and perfect just the way you are. You do not have to change for someone else.  If you want to change, do it for you because it is you who must live with the changed you no matter what.   If someone wants you to be someone else (to please them) they do not deserve you.
  • You deserve to be loved unconditionally. You will find that if you wait for the right person it is worth more than if you settle for the first person you fall in love with. Red flags include having to couch your words (in fear of another’s response), unwillingness to do things alone, having to give up your friends in favor of theirs.  Life is too short to be with someone who does not love you for you.
  • Smile – a lot. A smile is the most inexpensive and powerful thing you can give to a stranger or friend.  You never know who will be affected positively by this simple random act of kindness.
  • Always be yourself. If you spend your life being someone else, you are depriving the world of the wonderful you.
  • Keep your girlfriends for life. Life can be lonely when things are tough.  There is no substitute for empathetic girlfriends who accept you just the way you are.  Your friends will outlast boyfriends and husbands. Never take them for granted or ditch them for a “boy” — they deserve your respect and will always be there when the boy is long gone.
  • Pursue your passion. A coach told me just this week to keep two things in mind for your career:

1. Choose a profession where you like the people in it (if you don’t trust lawyers, don’t become one); and

2. Choose an industry that has money to pay you.

He recommended that I get out of the business now, because only #1 is true.  The IT field has great people, but with rare exceptions they do not pay their conference speakers.  I have a choice to leave the business (I am not making enough money) or stay and go broke.  I love to speak to large audiences and would happily represent a company on a speaking or conference circuit, but my current business model is not working.  It is never too late to reinvent yourself.

Pursue your dreams, be yourself, and never be afraid to feel what you feel.  The present is the best gift you can ever give yourself, and is only rivaled by the joy that you have brought to my life.

I love you,

Mom

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