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Complaining

- by Carolyn Bergen

Could be worse. Not sure how, but it could be. Quote by Eeyore. Poster by Bergen andASsociates Counseliing in winnipeg

Complaining costs a soul…and being mindful of complaining can change your life.

The world conspired to have me think on complaining this last week. Dahlia Kurtz suggested a week ago that we talk about "complaining" for our weekly radio chat this week. She suggested an article to springboard off: I went 21 days Without Complaining and It Changed My Life. Only the day before, a buddy of mine emailed the same article to me to let me know about an experiment he decided to engage in.

The article outlined a practice--a thought experiment--first suggested byWill Bowen, a Kansas city minister:

Will designed a solution in the form of a simple purple bracelet, which he offered to his congregation with a challenge: go 21 days without complaining. Each time one of them complained, they had to switch the bracelet to their other wrist and start again from day 0. It was simple but effective metacognitive awareness training.

The idea was premised on the knowledge that word choice determined thought choice, which determines emotions and actions.

Think of it this way…imagine your brain as a series of roads…some are regular roads, some are superhighways, and some are dirt paths. Habits become formed when roads are used repeatedly…and as with all traffic…when roads are heavily used, the system adds extra lanes and reinforces them to withstand heavy traffic. Other roads, as they are used less become over grown, develop cracks with weeds growing up through them, and the shoulders began to disappear…the less the road is used, the more it deteriorates, and so it is used even less.

The idea is that complaining puts our brains into negative space. Most of us, if we are conscious about our complaining/gossiping/criticizing, we'd be surprised at how negative we are in our thoughts. By switching the band from one wrist to another when we complain, we become aware of our negativity…and as mindfulness is increased, we quickly move to being able to proactively choose to not complain and therefore, be in a more neutral or constructive space.

So…my buddy has been giving me updates…He would be quite quick to say he is generally a "cup half empty" kinda guy. He had to switch the band three times in the first several hours as he noticed himself muttering under his breath about lousy parking and poor driving of other drivers while on the road. However, when he began work later that day…and corporate culture is a great place to exchange complaining banter with colleagues about how lousy the company is, about how other staff are lousy at their jobs, and to complain about family with each other. He noticed that he was able to stop himself several times at work from engaging in this sort of conversation.

Several days in, he was choosing not to complain in heavy traffic anymore as he was catching himself begin to go down that road, and he would choose not to criticize others' driving. To his surprise (he is a cynical sort)…he found that his time in the car was more pleasant when he chose not to be grumpy on the drive. 

He is recognizing the value of the thought experiment and is now playing with ideas to remain authentically engaged in live without complaining. To be incessantly cheerful about all of life would be foolish and ignorant. Life has challenges, and to not recognize difficulties and hurts would be ignorant and potentially dangerous.

So…some ideas to curb complaining:

1. Don't sweat the small stuff: 

I tried this experiment too. Shortly after beginning it, I happened to pass by a cute house that had an "open house" sign on it…and I had some time and interest and stopped by just as it was starting. I noticed the real estate agent parked right in front of the house to take open house signs out of the trunk. And I immediately thought to myself, "How rude for the host to take the best parking spot. It's bad for business to not leave it open for a buyer, and just inconsiderate for those who want to come see." Busted…I switched wrists 20 minutes after I started. 

But seriously, what's the big deal? What's the damage involved in this act? What business is it of mine where the agent would park? This was me having a negative opinion about something that was quite inconsequential…why let myself get affected by something that doesn't involve me, and is so minor?

2. Practice empathy:

Think about the last time that you acted in a way, that if another was watching, they would say you acted like a jerk. Maybe you went through a very yellow light, or were impatient standing in line…or even cut ahead in line. Now think about what was happening that created the context for that behaviour.

There are jerks in this world. Absolutely. But they are relatively rare.

Generally, when people do something that looks rude or nasty or hurtful. there is a reason behind it…we may just not be aware. A boss is harsh and demanding…but can an employee know how the boss is getting pressured from his/her boss to produce "or else"? Someone that cuts you off in traffic…maybe they are late for daycare pickup…and we know how kids can be when a parent is late. I was upset about the service a company was providing to us, and I wrote a letter of concern…only to find out that a critical piece of the work was being done by someone who had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.  Quote by Plato, Poster by Bergen and Associates in Winnipeg


3. Be aware of the suffering of humanity

The temptation of complaining is to believe that we are uniquely suffering by the injustices of the world, which has complaining "make sense". 

By being aware of how others may also have to deal with hassles, it feels a little less lonely to struggle. By being aware of how others may only just wish to have your hassles, it helps to provide a context that creates for gratitude rather than complaint. Dirty laundry means there are clothes to wear, an empty gas tank means there is a car, and fellow employees who avoid work that trickles down to your desk unfair means there is a paycheck coming in.

This Eeyore-type buddy of mine was facing some distasteful tasks at work this week…and on Monday he was grumbling to himself about having to carry out these tasks. Later on Monday, he became aware of a tragedy at a neighbouring worksite where there was a workplace fatality. He texted me Monday evening, suddenly profoundly grateful that he was alive to be in a position to carry out the distasteful tasks. 

4. Be creative and playful with a sense of fun

Situations can be grumped about…or giggled at. There can be a "other side of the coin" perspective that can be lost if the focus is solely on being critical. For example, you may be upset that you end up having to do the company presentation to the clients--but it may put you in a position to be noticed and considered for the next promotion.

My Eeyore buddy is finding himself quite the jokester…he texted me this week that the annual, dull and dry safety seminar that he needed to attend all day set him up for a fantastic night's sleep. He texted this with a wink, and a specific note that he had found a way to be candid about his experience without complaining about it. 

I don't think it was lost on him tho, that he was joking about something that he would have ordinarily snarled about…and that his perspective had authentically changed.

5. Be constructive

Tim Ferriss, the author of the article I referred to earlier, found that if he noticed something and found a way to be positive and constructive about it…finding a strategy for improvement or some other way to have it be productive to think about and comment on, it reformed the complaint into awareness and more precise thinking that was helpful.

He gives an example:

Complaint: "John can be such an a**hole. Totally uncalled for."

instead becomes:

Constructive: "John was a bit of muppet in there, wasn't he? I suppose I'll just send the e-mails directly to Mary in engineering for the next two weeks to get buy-in, then he'll have to agree."

The idea is to reframe complaints as opportunities to find better strategies. It moves a person from being victim to being proactive.

6. Be aware of the cost of complaining

resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping the it will kill your enemy.  Quote by Nelson Mandela. Bergen and Associates Counselling poster

I think complaining is first cousins with resentment. Who really suffers with complaining?

The complainer.

Complaining puts your head into negative space in an unproductive way. When done with friends and co-workers, it may create connection…but it's not a positive one.

Put an elastic band around your wrist…Switch it every time you whine, complain, criticize or gossip. Be mindful of the need to switch…and challenge yourself to see if you can avoid switching the band…and notice what happens when the superhighways of complaints gradually turn into dirt roads.

Will Bowen has given out almost 6 million bracelets of folks who found the challenge worthwhile. 

Wanna change your life? You in?


comments 

Hump Day Nudge: Shake the Dust

- by Carolyn Bergen

Quote by Anis Mojgani: So when the world knocks at your front door, clutch the knob and open on up, running forward into its widespread greeting arms with your hands before you, fingertips trembling though they may be.  Poster by Bergen and Associates


This stirs my soul in the way only exquisite poetry can. It pulls tears in unknowing, curious, only half understood ways with it's pulls and turns. 

It somehow challenges me to grab life, to reach out hard, and run forward bravely…knowing many other also reach out terrified but brave…opening up to all life has to offer.



Shake the dust, huh?

For those of you who feel like it's time to shake it up in your life…clean up those dust bunnies in your life that fear has you avoiding, enter some areas of your life that have been collecting dust and need some brave revitalization, or you've been letting the dust settle on you rather than forging forward hard…consider The Daring Way™ August 13-15, Wed afternoon-Friday morning. We'd love to have you join us so contact us to express your interest, and ask your questions!


FAQ's about Adult Bullying

- by Carolyn Bergen

Bullying sucks, at any age.

Bullying hurts…the irony being that the bullies in the schoolyard are often the ones being bullied in another arena. They feel hurt and powerless…and so exert power over another to push away the helplessness.

Those that are bullied are often hesitant to disclose to others that they are bullied…no matter what the age. The reason why bullying works is cuz there is a little part of the bullied that believe the messages of the bully…that they are fat or a fraidy-cat or dumb or worthless and they do "deserve it".

You are not alone.

Enjoy the beauty, feel the understanding, cry with those who are hurt:


To this day, those who have been bullied are affected.

To this day, those who felt vulnerable to the names and labels that hurt more than sticks and stone remain vulnerable to those names and labels that are more sophisticated and layered and nuanced as adults…but no less subversive to one's sense of value.

What is adult bullying?

Sarcasm, yelling, name-calling, threats, intimidation, withdrawal of love, physical attacks. When someone threatens your emotional or physical wellbeing, or tears your character down--rips apart who you are…that is bullying.

Critique addresses behaviour. Bullying attacks the person.

Feedback is phrased carefully. Bullying is dumped carelessly.

Real relationships cross boundaries, but are open to feedback, circling back and apologizing…and then doing things differently. Bullying says, "you're being too sensitive", "stop being hurt, it's no big deal", "because I don't see the problem, it's not a problem"

When you feel like you are made to feel small, weak and powerless in the relationships--that is a bullying relationship.

Are the nasty bosses, or the drunk buffoon at the bar the adult bullies in our lives?

Yes, they are. People in a position of power--a supervisor at work, your landlord, your banker…they can be fullies.

But parents can be bullies to their adult children. Adult children can be bullies to their parents. Spouses can be bullies to their partners. Friends can be bullies to friends.

When close relationships have bullying elements, it can be subtle and insidious and difficult to name and change…which makes those close relationships of bullying pretty darn tricky.

How does bullying work?

Bullies seek (consciously or unconsciously) to have the person feel vulnerable, weak and powerless. That's when bullying works most effectively to control the other. Each incident of bullying demonstrates to the bully that it works to exert power over that person.

Without intending to, each time a victim acquiesces to the bully, it is a message saying that the bullying is worthwhile and effective and worth continuing.

Those in close relationship with a bully often feel like they are taking the path of least resistance, or avoiding a fuss, or "keeping the peace" by giving in. What this is actually doing is reinforcing the behaviour. Bullies know that if they keep at it, you will give in. By smoothing things over, and giving the bully what s/he wants, a victims increases the intensity of the bullying.

Carolyn, are you blaming the victim? 

No. I'm not.

To be clear, it is never OK in everyday relationships to hurt another, belittle them, take away their power or self esteem or sense of well being by intimidation or coercion. Tantrums or manipulation or threats don't have a place in relationships. Even on your bad days, you don't deserve that. Nobody does.

However, I remember going to a workshop many years ago where the leader said, "There are three kinds of kids on the playground. The bullies, the victims, and everybody else…most people are in the 'everybody else' category". The workshop leader went on to point out that a bully may go up to an "everybody else" person and say, "you're ugly and fat" and throw spitballs at the person.

An "everybody else" person will respond to the name calling with something like: "That's rude, dude. Stop it. So not cool." and turn back to spend time with their friends. Bullying doesn't work on a lot of people cuz they simply won't buy it. 

And the bully will move on to try somebody else…cuz it's no fun trying to bully somebody who doesn't do their part by playing the victim.

The "everybody else's" may be intimidated by a landlord or a boss, and may have to be subjected to some unfair treatment…but inside, they won't really be bullied…because they will know, at the core of their being, that this is unfair, and they don't deserve it.

And that's the key. Deserving it.

When there is a small part of you that believes the nastiness…that you believe you deserve the names, the criticism, the abuse…then you allow it.

So what do I do with the bully in my life?

First…look after yourself. Typically, a bully seeks to isolate his/her victim. Don't let that happen.

Share your story with someone you believe in and you trust. Risk telling stories you are embarrassed or ashamed or humiliated about…letting the other person know it's hard. Have them speak truth into your life. 

You need to hold onto who you are--to be emboldened and empowered in yourself to engage with the bully from a position of feeling strong…of knowing you are worth being treated well.

This will help you know that you have more power than you realize. You can say "no". You can walk away. You can choose not to engage in a dance you know isn't going anywhere. You can protect yourself from something that is gonna get ugly.

Sometimes that takes advance planning. Sometimes it takes bringing other people in as witnesses, or doing things via email so it can be documented. 

Almost always it's terrifying.

And generally, the bully doesn't like being stood up to. Things can get worse for a while, as s/he tries harder to bully you into submission…that's when it gets really hard--until the bully knows you mean business and you won't be backing down.

You need support to help you stay calm, stay in the space of what's true, and work towards a solution, rather than escalating a problem. Bullying a bully rarely works.

Any last piece of advice?

One simple, but complex line: 

You teach people how to treat you.

Talk to friends. Watch videos. Read books. Get counselling. Invest in developing strategies that will have people understand how to relate to you. 

This is not easy, and often those who are bullied as adults were trained to be bullied because they were bullied as children…when someone approaches them in an intimidating way, they are very naturally intimidated.

Know that it's not easy, but it is do-able--to learn that you are worth more than that, to know that you can make decisions not to put up with that crap…and to have the bully understand that the old patterns simply aren't going to work anymore.

Teach people to treat you respectfully…know that you are worth it!

We teach other people how to treat us. Poster by Bergen and Associates in Winnipeg, a therapy clinic

Hump Day Nudge: You don't have to try

- by Carolyn Bergen

Watching and listening and gazing into the eyes of the women in this video chokes me…it narrows my throat, and tears well up…I feel a knot when I swallow. Somehow this video says something deep and profound and wonderful and beautiful…

Don't a lot of us try hard to be who we think others want us to be?

Don't a lot of us decide we need a certain image and try hard to fit that image?

Don't a lot of us look around and try to be like the others?

Colbie Caillet reminds us that we don't have to try so hard.

you don

It is true that some in this world will judge you on how you fit in, how you conform, and if your lipstick matches your shoes.

The question is if you will choose to listen and put weight on that critique.

When you show up in life as yourself…to live fully and authentically…that's something that is priceless. Just getting up…showing up and being fully alive…and knowing you are accepted and valued by those who matter in your life…that releases you from trying so hard.

And frees you to embrace your life.


Life Opportunity #5: Deciding for Joy

- by Carolyn Bergen

recently spoke to a group of young adults (and their teachers/family/friends) at their high school graduation. I've written beforeabout Bronnie Ware's The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying. These themes are also echoed within the walls of our therapy offices at Bergen and Associates every day, and whispered to each other in The Daring Way™ groups that I offer regularly. And I thought to myself…"What if, instead of uttering these regrets on their death beds decades from now, these students would be able to proactively address these concerns as opportunities starting now, at the beginning of their adult lives. What if, they--and maybe others too--would shape their lives so as to avoid these end-of-life regrets?" So…I gave my take on each of the 5 regrets turned 5 opportunities. Join us to consider proactively living the life that aligns with the one you want to live? A 5 part series, from the talk, adjusted for a wider audience. With thanx to Bronnie Ware

Opportunity #5: Deciding for Joy

Bronnie Ware's client expressed this in their last days: "I wish that I had let myself be happier." 

The world is a great place, but also an uncertain and scary place.  No grades are guaranteed, no love is certain to last forever, no loved one is safe from any harm always.  If you live in this world, particularly if you live bravely and boldly, you will experience failure, rejection, and hurt


The temptation for us all is to prepare ourselves for those inevitable disappointments in life by beating vulnerability to the punch.  It can seem easier to live in state of general disappointment than to avoid the thundering crash of falling into being deeply disappointed.

 

So:

  • a guy can think, “There’s no point in asking her out, she’ll probably say no anyway.” 
  • a student can think, “I won’t do well on this test, so I won’t even try studying.” 
  • a woman can decide: "Why apply for the promotion? I'm not gonna get it anyways"
  • a family can determine: "We probably won't have the money for vacation. Or the weather will be bad. Or someone will be sick. Or it will be a lot of work. Let's not go anywhere (even though we'd love to)"
This is rehearsing tragedy: Parents, you know that moment when your son/daughter is a few minutes late coming home and you start wondering what songs should be sung at his funeral? I don't think I'm the only one. (And when I gave my talk at the graduation, there was nervous laughter--there were many in the crowd that were so busted.)

Have you ever sabotaged plans for something good in order to protect yourself, in case it doesn't turn out? 


There can be a carefulness to not get too happy so we won’t become too disappointed—that is known as foreboding joy…a way to reduce the uncertainty of life by expecting it to go badly, or not even letting ourselves try so it doesn’t have a chance.



While foreboding joy protects us from disappointment, it also shields us from the thrills and delights of throwing ourselves into an experience and riding the wave of life for all its worth. 

 

And when there are times of disappointment, and there always are, not only does foreboding joy not actually protect us from the pain, it doesn’t allow us to develop reserves that give us what we need to make it through difficult times.

 

Research says that the antidote to foreboding joy is gratitude. 


We can soften into joy with using gratitude, rather than staying hard in anticipation of fear. 

One of the most assuring lines and oft repeated lines in the Christian Bible is, “Do not be afraid.”…a sort of soothing lullaby line throughout Scripture. I firmly believe that we are at our most brave when we are also scared, that we show courage even while we feel terror.

Its easy to see the problems in life - the hurdles and the fears…but thanksgiving reminds us of another way of seeing.  Some of you will take Intro to Psychology this fall, and in your text you will see this picture:

 Silhouette of men and goblets found on comments section of a website with no copyright notice on it.  Optical illusion…perspective is important.

What do you see?  Do some of you see a goblet? Some of you see two faces? Usually our eyes are immediately drawn to one of those first.  But if you give yourself a minute, you can probably see both.

Shift…from seeing the goblet to the silhouettes and back again.  Thats what gratitude does…it reminds us of goodness and generosity and beauty and kindness even in the middle of an uncertain or difficult situation. 

Studies have shown over and over and over again, that keeping a daily gratitude journal listing 3-5 things that you are grateful for will increase your level of happiness by 25%. Being grateful changes the neurochemistry of your brain. Gratitude reminds us of the whole picture in ways that help us stay present with the world and engage with it from a place of worthiness.

Living with gratitude, living authentically…all of it, requires courage. 

Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can

Writer/activist Maya Angelou, who died in May, said that courage is the most important virtue, because without it, no other virtue can be practiced consistently. 

Live fully alive…listen to your inner voice, align your behavior to your values, notice the things that are important to you.  Pay attention. Draw on your courage to dare bravely…do and say important things even though they are terrifying and there is no guarantee of success. Fail magnificently. Let the knowledge of love and the connection you have with others, provide you with a bedrock of courage.

Ted Geddert quoted Buechner on his closing slide at TEDx Manitoba last month. I love the whole quote…here is a portion:

 The grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn


For a window into the other regrets/opportunities, check the "5 opportunity" series…Opportunity #1: To be AuthenticOpportunity #2: To work wellOpportunity #3: To express your feelings, and Opportunity #4 Have Good Friends. Share with your friends!


Life Opportunity #4: Have good friends

- by Carolyn Bergen

recently spoke to a group of young adults (and their teachers/family/friends) at their high school graduation. I've written beforeabout Bronnie Ware's The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying. These themes are also echoed within the walls of our therapy offices at Bergen and Associates every day, and whispered to each other in The Daring Way™ groups that I offer regularly. And I thought to myself…"What if, instead of uttering these regrets on their death beds decades from now, these students would be able to proactively address these concerns as opportunities starting now, at the beginning of their adult lives. What if, they--and maybe others too--would shape their lives so as to avoid these end-of-life regrets?" So…I gave my take on each of the 5 regrets turned 5 opportunities. Join us to consider proactively living the life that aligns with the one you want to live? A 5 part series, from the talk, adjusted for a wider audience. With thanx to Bronnie Ware


Opportunity #4: Staying meaningfully connected with friends 


Bronnie Ware's cadre of those dying people who shared with her said very clearly that, "I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends."

 

Without connection with others, there is suffering.  

Always.

 

Many students who graduated last month said goodbye to the people who they hung out with all year…and it is probably hard for many to imagine that when summer is over, the gang won’t be collecting back at school.  Solid friendships were developed.…people that 20 years from now you can say you knew way back in the day--you will reminisce about the water balloons, the pranks, the victories, and the laughs..Kids have wild fun with friends in high school--crazy and fun stuff, singing in dramas and choirs, played on the court and against each other, and working on dissecting animals, making spaghetti bridges or building catapults for school physics projects.

 

Some students have struggled with relationships in high school…and for many, the important life long relationships will start in the years after high school. The campaign, "It gets better" is not some PR hype…for all sorts of kids it's true. High school relationships are brutal…and the meaningful friendships start in adulthood.

 

Friendships…solid, long lasting ones are life preservers for when the storms of life knock you off your moorings. 

 

For the last 10 years, I have meet with a friend on Thursday mornings for an hour or so at Starbucks…there are times when she’s away on vacation, or I have a presentation, and so we’ll cancel for a week or two here and there, but then, without confirming, we just both know to show up the next week.  


We have this standing commitment to be there for each other.

 

M is a friend who knows me well enough to challenge me when I’m having trouble seeing something I need to see. She tells me of how much she believes in me when I don’t always believe in myself.  M has earned the right to speak into my life, and she’s earned my trust for me to share authentically with her.  I like to think I do the same for her.

 

Years ago, our family was moving.  I was exhausted, burnt out, and overwhelmed with all of what was going on in my life. M came over to my house one evening to help me as I was trying to get the place ready to sell. 


And you know how each house has one of those closets that you just always make sure the door is closed? I couldn’t face that closet, I was just done…and she said something like, “Wouldn’t it be nice to wake up tomorrow knowing that we got 15 minutes worth of work done here? Let’s plow into it.” And don’t you know that when I went to bed that night, it was done…it had only taken 2 people 20 minutes to power through. 


M helped me do something that I wouldn’t have been able to do on my own, without judgment or criticism or patronizing…she is a “mat bearer friend”.

 

In the Christian Bible's New Testament, there is a story of a man couldn't walk. He desperately wants to get to hear and see Jesus, the Healer, but has no way of getting himself near. His buddies carry him up to the roof, cut through the mud and branches that beam the ceiling and they let him down through the roof on a mat to Jesus so he can be healed.

 

Imagine, looking up and getting plaster in your eye! And then having the ceiling start to rain down …and they see the man on a mat coming through. 


I am moved when I think of the caring of these buddies, who trouble themselves to implement this wild plan--they create property damage because they care about their friend and his healing.  How vulnerable the man on the mat must have felt at that moment, in the middle of this crazy plan--being let down by his friends holding the ropes!  But he chose to lean into the discomfort of trusting his friends and went for it.

 

We all need “mat bearer friends” in our lives

  • People who will carry us toward healing when we can’t get there on our own. 
  • Folks that can remind us of who we are when we forget. 
  • Friends who encourage, cajole, and pour kindness on us in hard times.
  • People who love us enough to give us hard messages out of caring; 
  • Those who have earned the right to hear the stories that we need to tell.

 

Friedrich Buechner said:

 

What we hunger for perhaps more than anything else is to be known in our full humanness, and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else. It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are . . . because otherwise we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing. It is important to tell our secrets too because it makes it easier . . . for other people to tell us a secret or two of their own . . .


What we hunger for, perhaps more than anything else, is to be known in our full humanness and yet that is often just what we also fear more than anything else. It is important to tell at least from time to time the secret of who we truly and fully are…Quote by Frederick Buechner.  Poster by Bergen and Associates. 


Nurture friendships in your life. A mat has 4 corners…I don’t know how many people lowered the fellow to Jesus in the New Testament narrative…but I like to think that we each need about 4 mat bearing friends with whom we can share a secret and who will remind us of our value. 


Perhaps they will privilege us with a secret or two of their own.


And we know there is no greater honour than to be a mat bearer friend…that is something no one will ever regret.



For a window into the other regrets/opportunities, check the "5 opportunity" series…Opportunity #1: To be AuthenticOpportunity #2: To work wellOpportunity #3: To express your feelings.


Life Opportunity #3: Express your feelings

- by Carolyn Bergen

I recently spoke to a group of young adults (and their teachers/family/friends) at their high school graduation. I've written beforeabout Bronnie Ware's The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying. These themes are also echoed within the walls of our therapy offices at Bergen and Associates every day, and whispered to each other in The Daring Way™ groups that I offer regularly. And I thought to myself…"What if, instead of uttering these regrets on their death beds decades from now, these students would be able to proactively address these concerns as opportunities starting now, at the beginning of their adult lives. What if, they--and maybe others too--would shape their lives so as to avoid these end-of-life regrets?" So…I gave my take on each of the 5 regrets turned 5 opportunities. Join us to consider proactively living the life that aligns with the one you want to live? A 5 part series, from the talk, adjusted for a wider audience. With thanx to Bronnie Ware


Opportunity #3: Express your feelings 

The dying express their regret this way: "I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings".


I asked my Junior Tribe Member if he would be OK with me being the speaker on his graduation night.  And he was very supportive and agreed to it, with one instruction/plea to this therapist mama: “Please don’t talk about feelings”.  I tried to respect his wishes, I did…but this was one of the 5 themes these dying people said…it’s their idea, not mine. Can't. help. it.

(and I am a therapist after all, right?)

 

 A lot of people listen to music when they exercise…I listen to TED talks - short talks by brilliant thinkers and artists…that are “ideas worth sharing”. So when there was a TEDx event in Winnipeg recently, I was thrilled to be there. (Actually, I was beyond thrilled…I'm an unapologetic TED geek--and this was a bucket list event for me.)

 

The highlight for me was a talk by Ted Geddert.  Ted and his wife Carrie graduated from the same high school the same year I did.  


Simply, Ted stole the show at TEDx.

Ted Geddert was a speaker at TEDx Manitoba June 2014, letting us know his idea worth sharing


Ted is the head of an innovative building company—an idea worth sharing. But his talk wasn’t about his business.  Instead, Ted shared his heart…he talked about the experience of his dad and son dying on the same day, and about “sharing and caring for pain”.


Ted Geddert at TEDx Manitoba June 2014 sharing his idea worth sharing…Sharing and caring for pain

 

Ted let us in on the playlist of songs of that time of his life. He gutted himself as he shared about the soul wrenching agony of losing his son, Samuel and the heart affirming actions of a supportive community


Ted Geddert at TEDx Manitoba June 2014 singing about the death of his son


He sang parts of songs along with his son, Aaron…to illustrate the power of music in grieving and healing and living and working back to joy. 


Ted Geddert, at TEDx Manitoba June 2014 singing with his heart on his sleeve



It was beautiful. It was touching. It was powerful. 


Ted Geddert at TEDx Manitoba 2014 sharing his heart of the agony of his son


  • It touched our hearts as we heard of the lostness that happens when a son dies. 
  • It captured our hearts when he spoke about all the love they had yet to give and expanded their family with two daughters who needed a family. 
  • It melted our hearts when we saw picture after picture of family and friends glorying in being together on the toboggan hill, on the water, in the water, around the fire, eating together.
 

The word courage comes from the Latin word, “cour”, meaning heart.  The original meaning of the word courage was “to tell the story of your whole heart”. 


Cour=Heart in Latin.  The original meaning of courage was to tell the story of your whole heart. Poster by Bergen and ASsociates in Winnipeg



As I said earlier, vulnerability is often seen as weakness…maybe especially so for guys, who so often hide their feelings. But in fact, the ability to be vulnerable is the greatest measure of courage


Ted Geddert showed raw couragehe shared his story.  

Up front, he openly said, “I can’t sing very well.” And I asked him after…I don’t think you sang in concert choir in high school, did you?  And he said, “Nope, I auditioned, and they wouldn’t take me.  They were desperate for male singers, but I didn’t make it.” And now he sang in front of a group of powerful Winnipeggers…sharing of what it is like to lose a son. 


He told me he was lousy at memorizing, but he went up without any notes. That was vulnerable…and not one person would have said it was weak.  His name was trending on Twitter that day, as the buzz circulated about how he was authentic in ways that touched and moved all who listened in the theatre that day. We were mesmerized.


There will be many who will tell you to suck it up, hide your feelings and carry on. 

Culture will try to tell you that you shouldn’t have certain feelings, that some feelings are wrong or inappropriate or embarrassing…the culture we live in, especially if you’re a guy, may tell you not to have any feelings at all.


Sharing your feelings--saying,"I love you","I

Acknowledging and expressing feelings is being vulnerable. 


And what the dying wished they had done more of...


Saying, “I love you”, telling someone they matter to you, telling someone that you’re feeling misunderstood, terror at an exam…all of that is hard and requires courage to express…but holding in unexpressed feelings is hard too, and carries with it its own costs. 


Expressing what’s going on inside of you connects you to others, which brings us to Life Opportunity #4…check back in a couple of days!




Check here for Opportunity #1 and here for Opportunity #2, and here for Opportunity #4


Life Opportunity #2: Work Well

- by Carolyn Bergen

I recently spoke to a group of young adults (and their teachers/family/friends) at their high school graduation. I've written before about Bronnie Ware's The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying. These themes are also echoed within the walls of our therapy offices at Bergen and Associates every day, and whispered to each other in The Daring Way™ groups that I offer regularly. And I thought to myself…"What if, instead of uttering these regrets on their death beds decades from now, these students would be able to proactively address these concerns as opportunities starting now, at the beginning of their adult lives. What if, they--and maybe others too--would shape their lives so as to avoid these end-of-life regrets?" So…I gave my take on each of the 5 regrets turned 5 opportunities. Join us to consider proactively living the life that aligns with the one you want to live? A 5 part series, from the talk, adjusted for a wider audience. With thanx to Bronnie Ware


Opportunity #2

I will choose to place priority on relationships. I will work hard for the right reasons.

In Bronnie Ware's book, the expressed regret is: "I wished I hadn't worked so hard."


Every person struggles with the deeply held fear that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.  So we invest in a search for  worthiness in different ways.

 

Exhaustion has become something to brag about in our culture, as we work to prove our value by our performance in our employment, our volunteer pursuits, by how clean we keep our house, by how perfect our term papers are. 


Let go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self worth.  Quote by Brene Brown. Poster by Bergen and Associates Counselling in Winnipeg


Many of us believe that if we look perfect enough, act perfect enough, do perfect enough work, then we’ll feel worthy of love and belonging. But when it doesn’t work, rather than figuring out that this strategy to feeling loved doesn’t work, we work harder to be more perfect…and the very thing that’s designed to help us, wears us down and wears us out.

 

We all run the danger of working too hard, spending too much, or partying too hard to impress our friends as ways to prove our value. We forget that our value is not determined by what we do, but rather by who we are.

 

Working as a way to prove one's worth, which so many do (completely unconsciously, by the way) is counterfeit. It looks like it might work…but it doesn't.


The folks that say, "I wish I hadn't worked so hard" are realizing that connections and meaningful relationships are how they will evaluate the quality of their lives. 

Being accepted and valued for who we are, and engaging with others with joy, laughter, tears, and real dialogue that is meaningful and life-giving is what gives mean and purpose to life.

Do work hard.

…but work hard from a position of healthy striving...

…because to work hard feels good. Work hard because you choose to, as a matter of integrity, from a place of aligning with your values internally, rather than working hard to get external validation from others that you are “good enough”. 

Work hard because it feels good to bring home a hard earned dollar at the end of the day to provide for yourself and your family, because your efforts make a difference in the world. The bread is baked, the fires are extinguished, the furniture is created, the cathedral is built.

Work hard for your shift…and then go home and don't work, but beBe with your family, your friends, your community.

Dare to have the audacity to know that you have worth beyond measure, and let that shape your work life.



**Check out Opportunity #1, and come back for Opportunities #3-5 :)


Life Opportunity #1: Authenticity

- by Carolyn Bergen

I recently spoke to a group of young adults (and their teachers/family/friends) at their high school graduation. I've written before about Bronnie Ware's The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying. The themes of the dying are echoed within the walls of our therapy offices at Bergen and Associates every day, and whispered to each other in The Daring Way™ groups that I offer regularly. And I thought to myself…"What if, instead of uttering these regrets on their death beds decades from now, these students would be able to proactively address these concerns as opportunities starting now, at the beginning of their adult lives. What if, they--and maybe others too--would shape their lives so as to avoid these end-of-life regrets?" So…I gave my take on each of the 5 regrets turned 5 opportunities. Join us to consider proactively living the life that aligns with the one you want to live? A 5 part series, from the talk, adjusted for a wider audience. With thanx to Bronnie Ware...

Opportunity #1:

I want the courage to live the life true to myself, not the life others expect of me.

Physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, research has proven over and over that we need each other.  We live longer, fight infection better, sleep better, work and concentrate better when we have meaningful connections. Connection is what we are created for.

 

The relationships that we have with our friends and family are so vital and meaningful to life, we end up often doing whatever it takes to have connection…and in our rush and desperate need to belong...the danger is that we can can settle for “fitting in”…Wear certain clothes, listen to certain music, talk to certain people. Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted.

 

Belonging, on the other hand, doesn't require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are. Belonging is being accepted for who we are, without masks, without sucking up and without pretending.


"Fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be to be accepted.  Belonging, on the other hand, doesn

 

Living life true to yourself is a call to authenticity. To be fully and truly seen—to be authentic requires courage.  Authenticity is be terrifying…but true belonging only happens when we present our imperfect selves to the world. That requires vulnerability.  Have you noticed that vulnerability is often the first thing we look for in others, but the last thing we want others to see in us? Brené Brown's research clearly shows that vulnerability is the birthplace of love, joy, empathy, and creativity


Vulnerability is the key to being true to yourself.

 

Some of you, as students, have dared to be courageous and vulnerable by performing at a talent show, or playing on a team, or walking across the lunch room to sit with someone who sits alone, or daring to study really hard for a test even though you may still do poorly. Some of you, as readers, have dared to be courageous and vulnerable by saying, "Can we talk?", by applying for that job, by calling up a struggling friend, by putting on a bathing suit to show up on a beach. Sometimes it would be so much easier to not be vulnerable, to not try, and say you didn’t really care anyways, but you didn’t.  


You. Showed. Up.


When you do something hard that is important--it feels vulnerable--and to still do it, even at the risk of ridicule or judgment or failure…that’s brave.

 

Graduation, is a night to celebrate and look ahead. But I also know that for some of you, your high school years were hard…depression, feeling that others judged you, just wanting to "not be you", wishing to disappear, being bullied.  High school can be a brutal place for some students. It is not easy to be authentic in high school (or at your first job, or your current job, or your marriage--take your pick, dear readers). For some of you, showing up each day to be in a position to graduate…that alone was brave.  It took courage. 


"Showing up" as authentically you (quivering and shaking inside even) is courage.


High school graduation gives you a fresh start, in a new environment.  The expectations, social rules, the whole environment changes. You will have a new chance to be accepted for who you are post-highschool. There are many people in this room who had difficulties in high school and found a sense of community at school/work/church in adulthood. Generally, it's not automatic--communities of authenticity are deliberately created--developed over time.


It's not easy, but persevere--co-create a community with others where you don't have to "fit in"…where you each "belong".


Find a community--even if it is a small one--where you authentically belong. Don't seek to belong or fit in with everybody. Belong to the ones who matter to you, and learn that not everyone's opinion has a right to inform your life. You don't have to win over the haters or the snobs or the ones who judge. You might be aware that they hate, snob, or judge as a means of fitting in themselves…they need our kindness…but you don't need their inauthentic acceptance, eh?


Live the life you know you were meant to live.

*I invite you back for opportunities 2-5. :)



Owning my story

- by Carolyn Bergen

Last week I was the speaker at my Junior Tribe Member's high school graduation ceremony. It is tradition to ask a parent to speak at the school's grad ceremony and I was tickled, thrilled and honoured to be asked.  Many of the other accomplished, competent parents could have been asked…and they phoned me.

I wanted to do right by my JTM, and so this speech took a little extra "putting together" time. A friend, M, mentioned her daughter had spent some time practicing her speech, given at a University of Manitoba convocation with T, M's daughter-in-law, and H's sister in law (you with me, on this family thing?). T is an actor and has taken classes on this stuff…and she's a natural teacher. T offered to review my presentation with me. Would I like to spend some time with her?

Heck, yeah!

I do a fair bit of public speaking and have never reviewed my style with a pro. Why wouldn't I want to learn something from her--that would likely benefit me far beyond the grad speech. There are two kinds of public speaking I do--

  1. workshops/classes/seminars where I have a general idea what I will say and I speak very conversationally off the top of my head--and 
  2. formal--scripted--in front of large audiences with a specified time limit. 
The latter is something I'm still working on…and T was gonna help me. The former I can do…it's often with students (generally younger than myself), or with women's groups, or smaller audiences where I can engage very personally. The formal stuff…with a broad range of listeners (which I would assume would include very intelligent and accomplished folk)--still intimidates me.

I presented my speech to T as I would that night. I spoke clearly and slowly, engaging in eye contact, and using my hands in a way I thought made sense to gesture appropriately. I thought I had done fairly well.

Then I sat down for feedback, and she asked me a question that has rung in my head regularly since: 

Why does your voice drop off in volume and pitch at the end of most paragraphs?

I had no idea what she was talking about.

She had me start my speech again, and stopped me when I did it: "See there. Right there. You said, 'Connection is why we're here'" and she imitated me. 

She was right, I could hear that is how I said it. Her hand showed a downward arc as she said it.

Then she invited me: "How about pushing the sentence through, right to the end, with energy?" And she said, "Connection is why we're here." with an even tone, and her hand moved straight out from her body, parallel to the floor the whole time…indicating a straightforward connection.

So…I tried it. I imitated her: "Connection is why we're here." 

I could feel it. I could feel what happened in my body when my voice stayed steady and confident and bold until the end. And I didn't like it.

I told her what I was feeling, in my gut: "I can't keep my voice steady until the end of the line. If I do, then I will sound over confident--cocky. I will be pushy…and that last thing I want to be seen is, is as 'bossy'. I don't want others to think I'm bossy."

And T says to me, "Carolyn, you have good material. And you are passionate about it…I mean, why would you choose to say this, if you weren't passionate about it and believed in your content? So…own it, make me believe that you believe in it. Stay confident and passionate about your material."

And I says to her, "T, you don't get it. I don't want to be pushy. I don't want to make people think like I do. I don't want to ram it down their throats. I don't want to be seen as arrogant…and if I stay confident, won't they think I'm arrogant or pretentious or full of myself?"

And T says to me, "No, Carolyn, if you confidently present your content, then people will know you believe in your content. That's all."

And suddenly the route to learning how to speak more effectively in public took a sharp right turn into my soul…with stuff bubbling up I didn't know about.

And it was then I realized I was listening to those inner voices that women have, the ones that tell us to be gentle, and nice (don't we just hate that word--nice--and yet spend our lives shooting for it anyway?). 

We remember that boys can be confident, but when the same thing is seen in girls, it isn't seen as "confident", but rather, "bossy"…and no one wants to be bossy. (The campaign "ban bossy" has been roundly criticized, but I get Sheryl Sandberg's campaign. Deep in my bones--I. Get. It.)

A flood of memories gushed in…memories that are inconvenient, that I'd rather were irrelevant at this point in my life. Times when assertiveness was criticized and I was encouraged to dial it down; noticing that it was more often than not, the boys who got chosen to speak; noticing that my ideas were barely acknowledged at committee meetings…unless I strategically gave them to a guy beforehand. If I decided that my idea was important in itself, and who got the credit was secondary--and he presented it, then it was received with much more weight and significance.

Then I remembered this video:

T. reminded me that when they asked me to speak, it was because they wanted the audience to hear what I have to say

They wanted to hear what I had to say…DUH!

I wrote my speech. I believed in its content. It was about authenticity, living bravely according to one's values, living without regret, vulnerability…it was about courage. If I was going to own what I wrote…I needed to own all of it..and let people know I believed in it. I didn't need to non-verbally apologize. I didn't need to back off, and speak tentatively or hesitantly in order to be well received. 

I realized that what I was struggling with was owning it. I needed to own my story…not to hint at it, invite others to consider it, suggest that I might dare to have one…but OWN MY STORY. 

Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we will ever do.  Quote by Brene Brown, The Daring Way ™

Now guys…you may not get this, but there's this double standard we women live with. Emotionally mature people are confident, assertive, and capable. But emotionally mature women are seen as soft, gentle, and able to lean on others. Do you get it? To be an mature person and a mature women is contradictory…and my speech delivery was getting unconsciously squished between being a person and a woman.

And I recognized it as a shame issue…unconsciously, my voice was making me into who I thought I needed to be to be accepted by the community--the teachers/parents/family of the school. I wanted to be seen as someone worthy of love and belonging…and I had a fear I wasn't even aware of that if I owned my story, I would be judged.

Even to me, the issue of

So…I practiced "staying strong" until the end of each sentence, until I finished each thought. I practiced "owning" what I was saying, and not softening my message to be more acceptable. I practiced drawing on courage, trusting what I believed in, and staying vulnerable.

It's ironic when a woman is more vulnerable by working to stay confident, isn't it? 

It felt safer, less vulnerable, when soft and slightly tentative.

As always, courage is best drawn on in community, and T provided community for me that day. She and I practiced for another, using the hand gesture--about staying strong and loyal to the material… rather than distancing myself from it subtly in tone.

I didn't deliver my speech perfectly on graduation night…but then I've worked on being less of a perfectionist lately. But more often than not, I could hear myself take the risk at the end of each thought, trusting myself to speak out without a non-verbal apology. It was a little uncomfortable…change always is, isn't it? But then, so is vulnerability, and T had given me the space to explore it and lean into that discomfort. 

Photo of Carolyn Bergen at high school grad speech.

(Photo courtesy of Ebonie Klassen Photography)

And it worked. What I said was well received. Folks were kind and gave me such positive feedback…even some grads approached me and told me they liked what I had to say...

…and who really expects the grads to hear a word anybody says before they get their diploma? 


For a window into what I said, check the "5 opportunity" series…Opportunity #1: To be Authentic, Opportunity #2: To work well, Opportunity #3: To express your feelings, Opportunity #4 and 5 coming soon...


Older posts »

Blog ~ A Thoughtful Look at Life

July 31, 2014

Shake the dust…you gotta see this.

FAQ's about adult bullying. Do what you can from your end to stop being a victim.

Women…You don't have to try so hard. What a radical, freeing, wild thought? Watch the video and live the concept?

A 5 part series…the 5 OPPORTUNITIES that the dying will challenge the living to grab and squeeze/



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