February 2009

“I Don’t Know” and “I Need Help” are important admissions to make. Now here is #3 of our six-part series…

I Don’t Understand

“Yearn to understand first and to be understood second.” – Beca Lewis

Years ago I worked for a division of Marriott in the customer service department. Our offices sat above a large warehouse and trucks delivered dry and frozen goods to Marriott hotels and other clients (such as Outback Steakhouse) throughout the Bay Area. Vendors were always vying for our attention, and as a result, one day we received a visit from Douwe Egbert and the entire customer service department was taken down to their fancy van to sip coffee and listen to their presentation.

As I sipped my coffee, liberally dosed with creamer and sugar, the representative kept using the term ‘liquid coffee’ over and over as he described his product offering. No one said anything and I just sat there confused until about the third or fourth repetition of the phrase. Finally I couldn’t stand the confusion any longer and I raised my hand. He stopped in the middle of his spiel and said, “Yes?”

Feeling rather dense I asked, “I’m sorry, but you keep saying ‘liquid coffee’. Coffee in this form IS liquid, so I’m a little confused.”

The rep, bless his soul, looked surprised and rather sheepish. He thanked me for my question and commented that he was very happy I had spoken up. He then explained that he had been using a term that described a process that Douwe Egbert had been a leader in developing. They (Douwe Egbert) distill a condensed extract of coffee, keep it free of air or other agents that cause the bitter aftertaste in coffee, and re-constitute it with hot water for a fresh tasting coffee, that lasts longer and stores easily. But they were so used to the product, so used to using those suave terms like ‘liquid coffee’ that until I asked my question, this rep had been telling large groups of clients the same thing over and over. How many of them had not bothered to ask for fear of looking stupid?

Later, several of my co-workers came to me individually and thanked me for asking the question. Each and every one of them admitted that they too had not known what he was talking about, but they had been too embarrassed to ask. It made me wonder just how many of us don’t ask questions, don’t put ourselves out there, for fear of looking ‘dumb’ or ‘asking a stupid question’. How many of us, when given instructions by our boss to do something just nod and then go away and stall on a project, because we don’t know how to do it, but don’t want to appear ignorant by telling the boss we need help?

I am convinced this world would be a far better place if we welcomed individuals to ask questions and reveal our ignorance – our growth as individuals and the knowledge we would gain would far outstrip the momentary embarrassment of not knowing.

Coming next week…“I’m Afraid”


So last week I talked about Noah St. John’s book and the section on Afformations. I began putting my “I Wants” into the form of questions that assumed the outcome.

“I want to lose weight and feel better about my body” became “How is it that I have lost the extra weight and feel better about my body?”

Even now it sounds dorky.

But you know what isn’t dorky?

Getting on the scales and finding out that I’ve lost three pounds in one week – that’s not dorky at all!

I’ve done it by upping my exercise (15-25 minutes EVERY day on the treadmill and working with hand weights at the same time), logging what I eat on MyFoodDiary.com and staying within the proscribed limits, and just making smarter food choices in general.

On Monday I was speaking with my coach – most coaches have their own coaches since we recognize the value it brings to our own lives – and she noted my goal to lose 9 pounds by the end of March. She asked if I thought it was a reasonable goal and I snorted, “NO!” That was before I had checked my weight on the scales obviously. Now I look at the 9 pound goal and think, “Oh yeah, I can do that!”

So that’s my little win for the week. How about yours?

I was in the middle of getting my daily morning reading in when the memory struck…

In 1988 I was pregnant with my first child, my daughter Danielle who is now grown and off at college in California. I was just a month shy of 18 and due for my first ultrasound. I was excited, I planned on finding out if we were expecting a girl or a boy. The nurse ushered me into the room and I gave my medical card to the doctor – it was issued by the state since I didn’t have any medical insurance – and he had me lay down. When he turned on the monitor I craned my neck to see the image, but he turned it away from my line of sight and said nothing, ignoring me completely.

I was young, inexperienced, and I was unused to asserting myself in anything. I did not get to see my baby on the screen, I received no printed images, and I would end up not knowing I was carrying a girl until the day she was born.

He said nothing, just moved the sensor around over my jelly-slicked belly and then handed me something to wipe it off with and said, “You can go now.”

“May I have my medical card back?”

He didn’t even look at the countertop. “I gave it back to you already.”

“Umm, no sir, you didn’t.”

He looked over at me then, down his nose in a very deprecating manner, “Yes I did, Missie, have you looked in your purse?”

I knew he hadn’t handed it back, but I searched my purse obediently, seething inside. “Sir, I don’t have it and I really need that card.”

He finally deigned to look on the countertop, moved a couple of papers and found it. He handed it to me and said, while patting me on the head like a dog, “Good girl, that’s what you get for being persistent!”

Yes, I was seventeen years old.

Yes, I was pregnant and unmarried and, for the moment, on state medical aid.

But that didn’t make me stupid or undeserving of basic respect on his part.

In the two decades that have followed I have thought of him a handful of times and wondered how many other young women he treated in this way and how they felt. I have also wondered what he saw when he looked at me – did he imagine that I would have a pack of babies, all on welfare, in a few more years?

In the end, I would raise my daughter with little or no help from the state or others. She was my responsibility and also (most of the time) my joy. Twenty years later she is on the dean’s list and working hard towards a degree in anthropology. I believe that I raised an intelligent, hard-working, deep-thinking young woman despite the odds and despite the opinions of many others just like that doctor.

None of us are immune to assumptions. I still wince at the memories of some of my own assumptions.

One in particular really bugs me. About ten years ago I cut in front of someone on the highway and she began to follow me, gesturing wildly and pointing. A mile went by, then another, and another – she continued to gesture and I began to feel quite defensive. Geez, lady, I know I cut in front of you but damn, get over it! I employed the use of the middle finger and kept driving.

She continued to follow and point and finally, as the traffic opened up and she pulled to my right side (SEVEN miles later) she pointed to a part of my car and mouthed very clearly “Your tire is FLAT!” The look on her face was what stuck with me…she was clearly pissed at me, but she still wanted me to know I was in danger and that I needed to pay attention to the car and get it taken care of. I pulled in to the nearest service station and they gaped at me when I told them I had driven nearly ten miles on it and not realized how flat it was. By then the wheel was bent.

I had assumed that the woman was pissed off at best, and at worst, well, I am embarrassed to admit that I feared her negative response was due in no small part to the color of my skin. She was black, I was white. To admit that is painful – I don’t like to think that I made an assumption based on the color of someone’s skin – but I believe I did and so it needs to be said.

You have probably heard the saying, “When you assume, you make an ass of ‘u’ and ‘me.'”

I was wrong. I assumed the wrong intentions from that woman just as the doctor assumed I was some dumb ignorant welfare mom.

I challenge you to question some of your assumptions in this week. Ask yourself, “Is what I believe accurate? Is it fair? Could there be exceptions? Could my beliefs actually be assumptions?”

Challenge your assumptions. Clear out the biases and half-truths you hold about others and even about yourself. Imagine how beautiful the world could be without the ugliness of assumptions.

Last week I introduced the first of “Six Phrases You Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Say” – here is #2…

I Need Help

“Refusing to ask for help when you need it is refusing someone the chance to be helpful.” – Ric Ocasek

Women’s lib was in full swing during my childhood and teen years. I was captivated by it. While one of my grandmothers still towed the party line from the 1950s – “Grow up, get married, have babies” I was also hearing, “You don’t need a man. A woman is strong, she is capable, she can do anything!” One of my first jobs as a teenager was in a mail distribution warehouse. When I ran out of supplies I would go into the warehouse to get a new box. My supervisor would tell me, “You don’t need to do that. I’ll get it for you.” It was old-fashioned and sweet. I took pride in not taking him up on his offer and continue to lug my own boxes around.

I have remained independent ever since – and it has served me well most of the time. Independence, providing yourself with what you need without anyone else’s help is invaluable. But another important trait includes knowing when to ask for help. During a particularly trying time in my life, about fifteen years back, I learned to ask for and accept help. The help I received in response kept me from starving. It help gave me a bed to sleep in and pots to cook in and even food to put in those pots…quite literally.

I have been stopped as I walked to the bus stop and handed a coat for my daughter to wear when she didn’t have one. I have been handed a $5 bill, even a ten or a twenty, and asked to simply pay it forward to someone else when the opportunity presented itself.

You don’t have to be down and out to ask for help. You don’t have to feel desperate or out of options. You may need help clarifying a point made in class, or you may need to ask for additional training to truly understand your job or a project you have been assigned. Presenting others with the opportunity to help builds your character and experience just as much as it does theirs.

Next week…“I Don’t Understand”

Don’t worry, I will be back soon with a new post on the “Six Phrases You Shouldn’t Be Afraid to Say” – actually they are already scheduled to appear each Friday.

But today I have some thoughts I want to share with you about a very interesting book and the ideas and thoughts it has given me as I work my way through it. The book is by Noah St. John, “The Secret Code of Success” and I’m rather impressed so far.

I just finished Chapter 4: Afformations® (no, that isn’t a typo) in which he takes you through several steps. I will use one of my own issues as an example.

I’m overweight. Technically speaking, I’m considered obese. I would settle for being just overweight or having 10-15 extra pounds – instead I have more like FIFTY extra pounds.

So a typical goal would to say “I want to lose weight and not be obese.”

A typical affirmation would be to write and post and read out loud each day, “I will weigh fifty pounds less and fit into a size 10 again!” What Noah suggests is that our brains read those words and think, “Yeah, right, I’m a total loser (and not in the good way)!”

He suggests that affirmations don’t work whereas Afformations® do. A typical example of an Afformations® in this case would be, “How is it that I have lost fifty pounds and am now much healthier?” He points out that it is the question we focus on, not a statement of fact. That we as humans seek to find answers to the questions, most often questions we ask ourselves. By changing our questions, we change our lives.

“Why can’t I lose this weight?” or “Why do I commit to exercising and then never do it?” are both questions, but they are negative and start us down the negative path. By instead asking, “Why is it that I have lost fifty pounds?” we have changed the question to a  positive one and our minds begin to react by coming up with answers we already know will work to solve the problem.

If I haven’t explained this well enough, read the book, it’s well worth it.

As for me, I’ve already begun the process. I sat down and made a list of all the things I want. One of them was that I wanted to lose weight and feel more comfortable in my body. I also added that I would like to be out of pain (my back and neck often hurt) and be more flexible. I then re-wrote the goals into the form of Afformations®.

Why is that I am so healthy and a healthy weight? Why is it that I longer suffer back pain and am more flexible?

Last night before I went to bed I set out my workout clothes and shoes. I put them where I could easily find them (I wake up early and don’t like to turn on lights and disturb my husband’s sleep) and despite my reluctance, got up and dressed and went down to the basement. I didn’t ask a lot of my body…just 15 minutes at 2.5mph. I had a couple of hand weights and I remembered to stretch before and afterward. In some aspects that was the most difficult part, I had no idea just how inflexible I had become! Yes, I counted every minute and every second and wished that I had a tv show to watch. I’ll probably listen to the radio on my iPod next time to help pass the time. I’m also going back to MyFoodDiary.com and logging my weight and what I eat.

We’ll see how it goes. My first objective is to establish a routine – fifteen minutes a day, every day. After that is accomplished and the habit is formed I’ll expand (walk faster, walk longer). I hope to also check in and write about my progress as I go.

Check out his book, write your own Afformations® today and keep at it. Asking yourself those positive questions will change your attitude from one of despair and frustration with yourself to one of excitement and goals!

“Whatever you do, you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe your critics are right.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

When something trips you up and lays you out flat on the floor, how do you react? When you screw up, insert your foot in your mouth and say or do the absolutely wrong thing – what do you do next?

We have many unspoken taboos in our society. We don’t like to think about them or admit them – after all, we’re an enlightened society, free of old-fashioned stereotypes and values, right? We’re progressive, self-confident and we are proud to be individuals. It is hard to admit our self-imposed restrictions get in the way of our own learning and growth, but get in the way they do. The following phrases are considered “no-no’s” because in today’s society it is still considered a weakness to let others see your confusion or fallibility. When someone asks a “stupid” question we snigger quietly to ourselves and are thankful that we know the answer, that we didn’t make that mistake, that we are the strong ones.

But knowledge and growth cannot be attained without questions and mistakes. Being afraid to ask the tough questions or to reveal our ignorance or fallibility is actually a weakness. It inhibits our growth and retards the learning process. Finding the nerve to say each one of these six phrases will open up the world of possibility, educate you, and encourage others to follow your lead. Say them and stand proud, don’t let anyone put you down or ridicule you – remember you are the brave one for speaking up and you will gain the most from the experience.

When others say them to you, respond in kind by respecting their questions and recognizing their quest for the answers is a marvelous strength to be nurtured and encouraged.

I Don’t Know

“The true test of character is not how much we know how to do, but how we behave when we don’t know what to do.” – John Holt

Just like many others, I was initially afraid to show my ‘ignorance’ and did my best to put forward the appearance of ‘knowing it all.’ That all changed when I was faced with huge challenges in a new job. The office underwent a computer upgrade to a new operating system and there were several new programs to learn and reports to edit ‘just so.’

For the first time in my life I found myself uttering, “I don’t know how to do that yet. Let me work on this for a while and let’s see if I can’t figure out how to make it better.” It also turned me on to how freeing saying those three words could be. I didn’t look stupid or lacking. In addition, my supervisors and co-workers were impressed with how quickly I learned the new programs and could then help them with their own program questions.

It isn’t easy to say those words. Practice them alone by yourself if it seems impossible at first. I found that the more I said them, the easier they became. I learned to push my pride aside, realizing it was hindering and not helping, and to cheerfully admit to ignorance while immediately professing my willingness to find that particular answer.

I found that doors opened where I had believed there were only walls. Over the years I had many people compliment me on my adaptability and positive attitude in each position I was in. And it all started with “I don’t know!”

Coming next week…Phrase #2 – I Need Help

In the next few weeks I will be including excerpts from my book in progress. I would appreciate any thoughts or comments on how these posts affect you. Here is the first excerpt – from the chapter “Believe In Yourself.”

Put Down the Baggage and No One Gets Hurt

Let’s face it; we all have emotional baggage to some degree. You haven’t gotten this far in life without some kind of hurt. Eventually, as we travel along the path of life we will get hit by something big…early in life, late in life, often repeatedly along the way. It will knock us to the ground, hurt us beyond all possible measure, and we will sit and cry, get up and fight, or crawl away wounded and in shock.

It could be anything, being molested, having a partner leave you, losing a loved one, getting hurt in a car crash, or losing a job you loved. The unifying factor is this, it gives you a load of baggage to deal with, and it takes a while to get over. How long of a while? Some people never get over it while others just get up, shake themselves off and manage to continue on with their lives.

I’ve got baggage too. Sad and pitiful details aside, it is enough to say that my baggage is often there, sitting at my feet, just waiting for me to trip over it.

But that’s just it. Our mental baggage is quiet; it’s kind of sneaky like that. You can have it and no one ever really notices, unless you direct their attention to it and say, “Look, I’ve got baggage.” With the exception of airports, people don’t usually come up to you and ask, “Do you have baggage?”

My point is that nearly every one of us has it, to some degree or another. We have it; it’s there, waiting patiently by our sides, silent and calm. It doesn’t really need attention; you don’t have to feed it or water it, or pet it or put it to bed. And if you are really lucky, you can step onto a plane and fly away and leave it behind, because we sure would be a lot lighter without it.

The most annoying thing about baggage is the person who it is attached to, the one who has it in hand and wants to share it with the world. The person who comes into a room, opens up her baggage and displays it for all to see. “See my baggage? See. See!” she parades it in front of you, forcing you to look. Then walks in again, and again, and AGAIN to the same room and same people and continues to say, “See my baggage? I have baggage. See it, see it? Come, look at my baggage!”

So you have baggage. Great. Good for you. Join the crowd. Everyone reading this, raise your hand if you’ve had at least one lousy thing happen to you in your life and now look around. Yup, everyone’s got their hands up and, look, everyone here has baggage sitting at their feet.

So now…decide.

“Decide what?” you might ask.

Decide to put the baggage down. Move past it.

It took me a long time to realize that moving past my pain wasn’t a betrayal. Instead, it was a cold, hard fact of life. I had to move past it in order to overcome my slavery to it. I had to continue with my life, not live in the past. I had to make new and better memories, despite my conflicting wishes to either curl up and die or slay my enemies.

Moving past your baggage doesn’t necessarily mean that you will ever get rid of it. Moving on is sort of like taking the stairs up while our baggage takes the elevator down.

So if you’ve got baggage, and you probably do…make a decision. If you decide to hug your baggage close and you aren’t ready to let it go…that’s fine. But be aware of it; realize that you are bound to it, manacled if you will, as long as you hold it so close. As long as your arms are full of emotional baggage, nothing else can enter them. Not love, not hope, not better memories. Allow yourself to believe that there will be a time when you can set it down on the floor again. And when that day comes, I hope you will set it down, and walk away, or maybe even run at full-tilt and get on that airplane and fly away, baggage-free.

I hope you choose to let it go. Not because it isn’t important, or irrelevant, or too painful – not for any of those reasons. Let the emotional baggage go because it has enslaved you. And enslavement cannot help us, it can only hurt. I’m not suggesting you forget, or that you never speak of your hurts, that would be counter-productive. But take your experiences and realize that, no matter how awful, they occurred in the past. Your job now is to live, to grow, to mature, and to enjoy your life. And you can’t do that with arms so full of baggage. So…set it down for a while…okay?