What are you singing? Is that Thriller?

Me: What are you singing? Is that Thriller?
Jim: No, Rob and Big.
Me: The TV show? Oh, the best friend song?
Jim: No. Wait – Rob and Big sing that song? That’s them?
Me: What’s them?
Jim: Is it Robin Big?
Me: Who? Wait. Are you talking about Robin Thicke…?

There’s something deliciously entertaining about the confusion of a simple miscommunication.

I work in communications, and while amusing at times, it can be a mixed bag. On one hand, it’s wonderful to refine the art of interpersonal relationships–a privilege even–to connect people to information, dispel fears and enlighten.

On the other hand, it’s distressing to be aware of how the subtlest words and gestures can derail a well thought-out message. And when you have to share really hard news, things that take an emotional toll on you, that’s not comfortable for anyone. You know when a dog cringes and howls at a noise you can’t even hear? Well, I have canine-esque hearing for run-on sentences and misleading information.  I couldn’t stop editing the world around me if I tried, and my standards for how people should talk to one another are a pipe dream.

Communications is more than what first meets the eye. My interpretation of an email, a news broadcast or even a menu doesn’t stop at its words; it expands to consider why things are presented a certain way, who a message is intended for and the author’s intent.

Most people don’t dedicate their careers to improving the exchange of words and ideas, this I know. Even so, I often find myself questioning the outcomes of situations, and what could’ve happened if things were presented differently or heard another way. Even considering how we listen–whether to understand or to reply–makes a world of difference.

To communicate effectively, you must think beyond your words and what you’re trying to say, and instead look at what you’d like to achieve. What path, tools and structure will ultimately get you to your end goal? It’s not about stating what you feel or explaining what you want; it’s about creating an environment where information and thoughts can be shared and received openly.

It’s not easy. Ahem, IT IS NOT EASY. But when it works, man–it’s pure goodness. It’s what makes my mojo go. A remarkable thing happens when connections are made and results achieved, simply by altering how information and feelings are presented.

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There’s nothing unusual or spectacular about tonight.

I’ve been staring at a blank screen on and off for about 45 minutes. I don’t know what to write.

I want to write something really special and moving. I want to feel the emotional release that comes with finally articulating tough thoughts into words and sending them out into the universe.

But I don’t know what to write.

When this kind of writer’s block happened in elementary school, teachers instructed the class to simply look at our surroundings and write whatever we saw. To use all our senses to “paint a picture with our words.”

Begrudgingly, we’d glance around and begin jotting down descriptions of the walls, the chalkboard (*pre dry-erase) and our classmates. It was always a surprise to suddenly realize I’d created a page of thoughts by observing the simplest things around me.

Right now, I’m sitting in my favorite spot on the couch, right in the middle. From this vantage point I can survey the entire room and I have easy access to my phone, kindle and water bottle. I’m wearing black pajama pants emblazoned with white skulls and crossbones and pink hearts, and an old, blue t-shirt. The house smells amazing; a mixture of the chocolate chip cookies I just made on an impulse and the pasta we had for dinner. Diners, Drive-ins and Dives is on TV and the dogs are passed out on the floor, exhausted from the heat. Jim just concluded an awful battle with his finance homework and now is commenting, “I want that,” to the food featured on the show. My house is comfortably messy – the clean laundry likely won’t find a home until the end of the week, and the empty dog food bag will blend in as part of the furniture until we eventually give in and take it out. Despite the fact that I cleaned this weekend, there’s dog hair and dust everywhere, but only to the extent that things appear ‘lived-in,’ we have not reached hoarder status.

An evening that seems completely routine is full of the details that make my life mine. There’s nothing unusual or spectacular about tonight, but I love the calm sense of having a routine that is ours alone.

As I get older, it’s no longer big events or even holidays I look forward to with the same enthusiasm as years before. It’s the hours and days that feel completely typical that leave me most content. That’s when I can recognize what feels like home.

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Marry someone you love

Marry someone you love, because sometimes you’ll travel around the world and spend 3o consecutive hours sitting next to each other on planes, taxis and boats. You will be cranky and dirty and largely delusional. Without patience and the right chemistry, the risk of bludgeoning each other to death increases significantly.

At home, we’re somehow always busy, always occupied. We work, volunteer, run errands and participate in more activities than a day camper. Needless to say, it’s a big change to our routine to travel to unfamiliar territory and spend 24 hours a day together. Outside of bathroom breaks, we were rarely more than five feet apart for two weeks.

It’s a give-and-take, really, traveling with one’s spouse.

I sunscreen your back, you sunscreen mine…I withdraw money from the foreign ATM when you forget your PIN, you choose not to comment when I buy alarming amounts of clothing and shoes…I accidentally order food I don’t like; you trade with me without being asked.

I love my husband and I love traveling with him; we’ve been to all different parts of the world together. Do we sometimes lose our cool and snap at each other, or have temporary lapses in conversation? Yeah. Because we’re human. But fortunately, those are fleeting moments within a great adventure.

Marry someone you love, because he will let you have the window seat and still get up every hour when you have to pee.

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“People generally see themselves as kind, friendly and honest.”

If you have a few minutes, check out this article.

It digs into research on peculiar aspects of human behavior. Namely, that most of us believe ourselves to be generous, but when presented with opportunities to give back, we don’t always embrace them.

“Most people, in fact, think of themselves as generous. In self-assessment studies, people generally see themselves as kind, friendly and honest, too. We imagine that these traits are a set of enduring attributes that sum up who we really are. But in truth, we’re more like chameleons who instinctively and unintentionally change how we behave based on our surroundings.”

I’d be lying if I said generosity always comes naturally. I struggle with it sometimes. Because…money is tight, or I’m tired, or I’d simply rather not give of myself when I already feel like I’m holding on by a thread. What I’m learning though, is that it always feels good to give, even in the smallest doses, even when it’s inconvenient. The goodness goosebumps are worth more than the dollars or time you relinquished.

So there’s that. And then this morning, I watched this video. And I cried…oh, I cried. I was drenched in tears, but also in hopefulness, and reminded of the difference every person can make if we give a little more.

I mean, it’s hard not to feel capable of conquering the world when you learn what people have overcome with the help of others. I see news stories every week that make me think, “Shit. I could never go on if that happened to me. I’d quit…I’d die.”

But these people, these stories, they don’t quit and they don’t die. They carry on, often through the selfless work and donations of others. I don’t know if it’s strength or grace or blind faith, but it’s remarkable the way the human spirit unites us to move past our darkest days. But what if the momentum of goodness and generosity slowed, what would happen?

“In one study, social psychologists placed paper fliers on 139 cars in a large hospital parking lot and watched to see what the car owners would do with them. When drivers emerged from the hospital to find a parking lot littered with scattered fliers, candy wrappers and coffee cups (arranged by the researchers, of course), nearly half of them removed the fliers from their cars and left them on the ground. In contrast, when the researchers swept the parking lot clean before the drivers returned, only 1 in 10 dropped the flier. Unwittingly, the drivers adopted the behavior that seemed most appropriate given their understanding of the area’s prevailing norms.”

This was exactly the reminder I needed that I have to give more, and…I have to talk about it more, educate the “prevailing norms” of others.

Here’s the thing though, I don’t think it’s generosity we lack: I think more often it’s motivation. Which is nuts. When I stopped weeping over my Macbook from this morning’s emotional video, I found it surprisingly easy to give without spending a lot of money. (Or leaving my couch.) (Or showering.)

I gave money to my friend’s fundraising page for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Foundation. She’s running 26 miles, I can forgo a trip to Target.

I called Nordstrom and got them to donate a pair of dress pants and alterations to Leroy, the gentleman featured in the video. It took four minutes.

I found an extra birthday card and addressed it to Candace. That took 48 cents and about two minutes.

I know I’m preachy about this, but if I can proselytize others about anything, let it be giving.

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