Four Decisions: Family Isolation



This post is another contribution to my four part series I have titled The Four Decisions Theory. In a previous blog post, I have described how there are four major decisions in life that create the foundation of who and where we are. These choices play a critical role in not only where we are presently, but also the direction of our future paths.

By using hindsight to reflect upon these choices, it is easier to see what went right and what went wrong. It is very important for everyone to take time and reflect on their own major life events in order to recognize similar opportunities as they arise, or to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

Isolation from my Family:

The next life decision that was critical in the development of who I am was isolating myself from my family. As I mentioned in my first decision: Flunking out of College, not all choices in life can be quickly categorized as positive or negative. After many years of reflection, I have assessed this event as an amazingly positive experience in my life.

Without divulging too many family details, this isolation from my family was after I had a major fight with my Mother and Father. I had learned of some family secrets that had been kept from me, and I got to the point that I could not stand the negativity that had encapsulated my family throughout my life.

I had been belittled, mistreated, and could not take this volatile environment any longer. There was always a sharp edge in the interactions between my father, and myself and following his saying, “it’s my way or the highway,” I chose the latter. This freedom came with a steep price. My mother, who I have always been close with, sided with my father and I did not talk to her for over three years as well.

It was a difficult time in my life. I found myself barely scraping by from paycheck to paycheck, and soon became an expert in maximizing the culinary capabilities of instant mashed potatoes and top ramen. I moved into an apartment with my best friend who was also going through family issues, and began self-repairing my emotional and psychological self.

Oh the ENDLESS Possibilities!

Oh the ENDLESS Possibilities!

When I look back at this time in my life, I kept waiting and dreaming of simpler times in which I could put more than $10 worth of gas into my car, or pay all of my bills in the same month. What I failed to realize was that this was the easiest time of my life. When you have nothing, you having nothing to lose, and for once I could dream big without judgment. Although I had nothing of material value, I was rich in so many other ways.

I surrounded myself with people who cared about me, and were supportive in what I did. Our saying during this time was, “family is what you make it,” and we created the family we wish we had growing up. We all shared our major holidays together, and even though I missed my family, I was able to grow mentally and emotionally stronger, and became more resilient and independent.

Avoiding Antagonists

What I learned:

I learned that I was stronger, smarter, and more talented than I had ever been given credit for. I realized that I was able to set and achieve my own goals without the help of my family, and realized the importance of surrounding myself with positive and supportive people.

I also grew a backbone, my self-esteem greatly improved, and I refused to be treated poorly by anyone, including my family. If I was not going to be appreciated for who I am, and what I can do, I can always improve my situation. Life is short, and we are often better than how people treat us.

I credit this one decision for my success, more than the other three. It helped me to develop diligence and persistence when approaching problems, realize my self-worth, and refuse to let people treat me poorly.

Was this lesson worth trading three years of interactions with my entire family? In the end, YES it was. This decision becomes more and more invaluable as life continues to challenge me as an MBA Student, Teacher, Husband, and father.

I look back to these times with great satisfaction when reflecting on how far I have come, and I get excited for future challenges.

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When Weakness Becomes Strength


Through mindfulness I’ve been better at more accurately analyzing my behavior, perceptions, and thought processes. I had these thoughts while trying to write about leadership. To my surprise, my perceptions changed, and I was able to see what I once thought was a weakness in my leadership style, as strength.

Who was your best leader? What was it about them that made them worthy to follow? I asked this question to myself today and it took quite a while for me to think who my best leader was, and even still I could not reach a consensus.

Assessing and Improving Your Leadership Skills

Instead, what popped into my head were specific leadership strengths that each person had. Certain leaders in my past had completely opposite ways of motivating me. Some of my favorite bosses would motivate me with praise, while others would motivate me by doubting my abilities, and even others would model the expectation and lead by doing.

As this cyclone of leadership memories engulfed my mind, one thing became clearer: there are many ways to be a leader. I see this in my 5th grade team each and every day. We all skin our cats in very different ways, and even though we all have our own unique styles, we are all very effective. Each member of the team has unique backgrounds and experiences, and that has shaped our own excellent leadership styles.

I still find even this slightly perplexing. It’s easier to analyze things when there is one exact formula, but when it comes to leadership there are so many variables to factor in! If there is no standard way to gain leadership skills, how do you know if you’re being a good leader?

What's the formula for effective leadership?  I hope it's not this complicated.

What’s the formula for effective leadership? I hope it’s not this complicated.

At first I thought this was a weakness for me. At times I do not know what makes me a good leader. I am constantly analyzing my behavior, decisions, and interactions with others. I am also very observant of other leaders (both effective and ineffective) and continuously using their behaviors as lessons to adjust my own leadership style. I thought a good leader should always know what they are doing at every moment, stick to their technique and be consistent. Shouldn’t a good leader be confident in their style and not critique it?

When I’m most critical of my leadership style is when things are going smoothly. When my leadership style flows seamlessly is when I get the most analytical and observant. Why is it going well? What am I doing right? How can I make it better? I felt this was a weakness in the sense that I should just go with the flow and let it happen naturally. It took great self-reflection to realize that this continual goal for improvement is what is making me a better leader.

I have to once again credit mindfulness for this self-assessment and improvement in my life. My “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude is slowly changing in all facets of my life. It’s okay to strive to be better in all we do, and even if things are going well, it can get better. My perceptions of situations are getting clearer and more accurate, and I’m able to use what I see to make the appropriate decisions and adjustments. It really is an amazing feeling when the bigger picture comes into focus clearer than ever before.

Mindful Leadership: A new way to sustain effective leadership

I strongly suggest that you try mindfulness meditation and see what it can do for you on both a personal and professional level. It has provided a deeper level of thoughts and clarity than I thought possible. Create some space in your life, and see what happens.

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Empathic Listening

Empathic Listening

Empathic Listening

As I begin to write this post, I realize it is very ironic that I am tackling the topic of listening. I used to be a horrible listener, and even now it is an area in which I still need much improvement. In fact, me writing a blog post about listening makes almost as much sense as an atheist writing a sermon.

It takes all of my effort and focus to be a good listener, I am easily distracted, or I feel I am too big of a hurry to stop and listen to those around me. Sometimes I am so self-centered that I am only waiting for whoever is talking to be quiet so I can hijack the conversation to a more favorable topic.

Through my mindfulness practice, I’ve been better at seeing my deficiencies and I am improving in these areas. My biggest obstacles have always been patience, and listening. Mindfulness meditation always gives me an opportunity to reflect on which areas of my life I need to improve upon. I feel I have become a better listener both at work and at home by using the practice of empathic listening.

Empathic listening is a form of listening and responding to another person that helps to build mutual understanding and trust. During communication you are actively attempting to understand the other person’s point of view, and taking in their information without judgment. The listener must be attentive, interested, and alert during the conversation, and provide feedback to let the speaker know that you are actively listening.

Prior to mindfulness, and attempting empathic listening, I was very quick to write off new ideas or concerns of others. It was very difficult for me to take their thoughts and feelings into consideration about a topic before I would come up with my own judgment. This would especially happen if I did not like the person on a personal level. They could make the greatest point, have a spectacular idea, or even cure cancer, and I would disregard what they would say based on my inflexible opinions. One of mindfulness’ key components it to be non-judging of the stimuli around you. To focus on the information and data at hand rather than let emotions get in the way. As my instructor would say, “It’s not good, it’s not bad, it just is.”

Being as minimally judgmental as possible is invaluable as a leader. A leader must be able to take in all information, favorable or unfavorable, and use it to make the best decision for all parties involved. Empathic listening helps to create a positive environment where ideas can be shared freely without fear.

Madelyn Burley-Allen in her book, THE FORGOTTEN SKILL lists these guidelines to be a more effective and empathetic listener:

1. Be attentive. Be interested. Be alert and not distracted. Create a positive atmosphere through nonverbal behavior.

2. Be a sounding boardallow the speaker to bounce ideas and feelings off you while assuming a nonjudgmental, non-critical manner.

3. Don’t ask a lot of questions. They can give the impression you are “grilling” the speaker.

4. Act like a mirrorreflect back what you think the speaker is saying and feeling.

5. Don’t discount the speaker’s feelings by using stock phrases like “It’s not that bad,” or “You’ll feel better tomorrow.”
6. Indicate you are listening by providing brief, noncommittal acknowledging responses, e.g., “Uh-huh,” “I see,” “Tell me more,” or even simple head nods.

7. Follow good listening “ground rules:”
a. Don’t interrupt.
b. Don’t change the subject or move in a new direction.
c. Don’t rehearse in your own head.
d. Don’t interrogate.

In my own experience, many of my coworkers are afraid of speaking to our administrator for fear that they will be ignored or chastised for their thoughts and ideas. There have been several instances when employees have been treated very harshly when attempting to bring up new ideas or strategies to our leadership teams. By receiving this consistent negative response, most employees feel underappreciated and refuse to go above and beyond their job descriptions, and withhold great ideas or information that could lead to great improvements for our school.

An effective leader sees their employees and coworkers around them as valuable resources, and should value their thoughts, concerns and opinions. By utilizing empathic listening you can be a more effective listener and leader to those around you. This will inspire your employees and coworkers to go above and beyond the call of duty and take extra pride in their work.

Listening truly is a forgotten skill, and like all skills, it must be practiced thoroughly to master. Try empathic listening today, and begin reaping rewards from the trusting relationships you build with those around you.

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Celebrate Your Imperfection

I'm perfectly imperfect

I’m perfectly imperfect

I think one of the most difficult parts when starting the practice of mindfulness is the quest to be perfect. After sitting and doing your meditations you expect immediate results. I was (and still am) rather impatient and anything short of the light shining from heaven upon me was unsatisfactory. I kept waiting to see the amazing results that I was promised from the several many books and articles I read: space, patience, and a clearer understanding of the problems around you? I bought into it quicker than Jack was sold his magic beans.

It’s really not surprising. All of us have been spoiled in this information age, and we all want our needs met five minutes before we even know what our needs are. Mindfulness is a process, and it requires a lot of practice and patience as you begin. Like anything in life, the more you put into it, the more you will get out of it.

Click here for tips to help make a habit of mindfulness meditation.

Although I did see some results rather quickly, I became easily frustrated when I would have the same mindless moments I did before my meditations. I would lose my temper, say things I wish I hadn’t, and was rather impulsive during stressful times. I would fall into these same negative coping routines I had been plagued by for years. I expected to be perfect, and to deal with every situation the appropriate way, every single time. I mean what good is a strategy if it doesn’t work every single time?

(Or so I thought.)

When it comes to mindfulness you will never be perfect. Although your ability to create space to deal with the stress in your life will improve as you continue your mediations, you will relapse into moments of mindlessness. To this day I will react to things without giving them proper thought. I still occasionally blurt out things at inappropriate times that I wish I could take back. I will lose my temper, over think things until my head aches, and have depressed days where nothing goes right.

But even though these things are still going to happen, now that I have been using my mindfulness strategies, they have been happening considerably less often. Prior to mindfulness I would have many consecutive days of pessimism and helplessness, now these miserable moments only last an hour, or only minutes. I am mentally stronger by practicing mindfulness, and it takes very serious problems to rattle my focus.

It is our imperfections that make us stronger, and by being able to reflect on the moments in which I don’t react as I properly should, I can better prepare myself for when it happens again in the future. Before I would ignore my weaknesses, and just see it as a fixed personality trait. Now I see it as an area for improvement.

These imperfections make us unique, and are good reminders that the best strategy for surviving the demands of the daily grind is flexibility. You will never be perfect, but you can be better, and you will continue to improve as you create more mindful space.

In the comment box below, I would like you to feel free to share the biggest area of your personality that needs improvement. Is it lack of organization, impatience, negativity, helplessness, anger, frustration, or some thing else? What have you done to improve in this area? Was it successful or are you still struggling?