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Category Archives: Self-Awareness

My Left Ear (a story in two parts): Part 1

Part One: The Story of What Happened

In June 2017, a few days before the national SHRM conference in New Orleans, I noticed that my ears felt kind of clogged, particularly my left ear. I’d had allergies so I wasn’t particularly worried. Then, later in the day, my left ear kind of went dead. As in…couldn’t hear anything at all. I thought my phone was broken because I couldn’t hear the ring tone when I held it up to my ear. Still, I wasn’t worried because I figured it was congestion. I’d just take some Sudafed and use some Swim-Ear to dry it out.

The next morning, I still had no hearing in that ear.

Knowing I was getting on a plane in less than 48 hours (and knowing how PAINFUL it is to fly with a clogged ear), I went to Urgent Care to see what was up. The doctor there took a look up my nose and in my ears and said it was most likely congestion as he didn’t see any infection. Told me to take Sudafed and use nose drops for a couple of days and it would clear up.

Those of you who saw me at SHRM17 knew I couldn’t hear you if you sat on my left side. I suspect a few of you took advantage of that (bless your evil little hearts). By the end of the conference, I was starting to get some hearing back, so I was confident the doctor had been right and I’d be hearing again in no time.

A “lend me your ears” joke. I regret nothing.

Not so much.

Six weeks later, my hearing hadn’t really improved in that ear and I was starting to get tinnitus (not really a ringing – more like what you hear when you hold a seashell to your ear). I went to an ENT (ear-nose-throat) specialist who informed me it wasn’t congestion; rather, I was one of the lucky folks who experience sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL). This was most likely caused by a deep inner ear infection I didn’t even know I had that damaged my cochlea. Even better…it turns out that had the doctor at Urgent Care recognized it, he could have given me steroids that would have given me about a 70% chance of getting my hearing back. As it stood, it was too late to do anything. The ENT said this with such remorse, I had to tell her it was going to be okay.

That first hearing test showed my right ear was fine. But my left ear was down to 75% word recognition.

I was told to give it a few months to see how it stabilized, then get retested. Oh, and I got to get an MRI because in a few cases (not many, but you want to be careful) some people (hardly anyone, but still) turn out to have a benign tumor growing in their ear bones (really, this hardly ever happens, but let’s just be sure).

No tumor. Nothing structurally wrong.

At the time of my second hearing test, I’d developed pulsatile tinnitus (so imagine hearing your heartbeat in your ear REALLY LOUDLY only it sounds squishy). Oh, and my left ear’s word recognition rating went down to around 35% – meaning it can’t really recognize any words at all, and most frequencies are right out.

Because of the pulsatile tinnitus, I was sent to get a CT-scan with contrast because sometimes (not that often, but you want to check) pulsatile tinnitus is caused by a vascular issue, like a growing aneurysm (don’t be worried…but schedule it soon), so it’s good to check these things.

Thankfully, the CT-scan showed no problems. And the technology is wicked cool, but I couldn’t have my eyes open because apparently it would have made them not work anymore. Which is a bummer, because I really wanted to see how it worked. This lack of underlying cause means 1) I’m in the 30% of people for whom there IS no cause of pulsatile tinnitus, and 2) I may never get rid of it. Or it will come and go.

Having been medically cleared of weird ear things, I made an appointment to be fitted for hearing aids.

I’m 43, by the way.

In case you’re wondering, yes – it does kind of suck to be told you have permanent hearing loss. It sucks even more when you did what you’re supposed to do and went to the doctor right away, just to not be given the right treatment. But I’m not mad about that because I was very congested and have had blocked ears my whole life, and the doctor went with the diagnosis that was the most likely scenario (when you hear hooves, think horses, not zebras). It could have had a better outcome, but wasn’t guaranteed. Besides, I can’t do anything about it now, so what’s the point? And my right ear is still at 100%.

I was mostly worried because I’m a singer. And you really need to be able to hear the people around you (and yourself) to be able to sing properly. Luckily, it didn’t impact me TOO much – I just noticed I had to listen differently. I’m sure it impacted my pitch a bit, but no one threw anything at me, so I’m calling it a win.

I do notice that in crowded areas, or in a group discussion, it’s hard to follow anything going on across the way or from my left side. This causes me to pull back in group settings even more than I normally would because it’s just too tiring to try and follow everything that’s being said. I figured if someone REALLY needs me to respond, they’ll repeat themselves.

I’m not writing about hearing aids just yet, because this happened in 2017. Hearing aids are expensive and I need my flex spending account to kick in so I can go buy said hearing aids. I need 2 because just amplifying sound in my left ear would be useless (I’d hear mush LOUDER, which seems pointless). So I will have a receiver in my left ear that will transmit sound from that side to a hearing aid in my right ear, which will interpret the sound as though it’s coming from my left. HOW COOL IS THAT??? Hearing aid technology has come a long way. And I’m hopeful it will help the tinnitus. Basically, tinnitus is a result of your brain freaking out that it can’t hear something from an ear anymore, so it creates fake sound to trick itself into thinking the ear is working. It’s like phantom pain from a missing limb. Our brains are so freaking weird.

Next up: Part Two – What I learned.

 
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Posted by on January 8, 2018 in Authenticity, Self-Awareness

 

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Too much crazy

Today, another person I respect and adore decided to take a hiatus from social media. This is something like the third or fourth person (that I know of) in the last 6 months.

There are a lot of reasons people take time off from social media. Some want to spend more time with family. Others realize it’s keeping them from doing what they love (reading books, painting, overthrowing governments, etc.). And one very special person claims quitting Facebook it has helped him learn to move 10 lbs objects with his mind. (He’s totally lying – he’s only managed 4 lbs, and that’s being generous.)

The most common reason I’ve heard lately, however, is that there is just too much crazy.

People can’t seem to be civil anymore. The 24/7 news cycle has turned every little thing into an “event.” And many wake up in dread over what may or may not have been tweeted overnight.

They might have a point. There are numerous studies suggesting that quitting Facebook – even for just one week – has benefits. Middle school students may be particularly susceptible to issues with social media, with online bullying becoming a real danger for kids as young as 10. They’ve even come up with a new term – bullycide – for when a child takes his/her own life because of bullying. It’s heartbreaking.

I’ve contemplated taking a break. I haven’t because most of the people I know I communicate with online (#introvert). But I have cut back. And I find myself avoiding crazy as much as possible – it’s too exhausting. Not everything needs to be an argument, and not every post needs a dissenting opinion.

I think the way people are interacting online right now is a mix of opportunity and motive. Online comments lend anonymity and distance and accountability is almost nonexistent. And as for motive? There are a lot of people out there who have either felt they never had a voice and then found it, or have always had a voice and think everyone needs to hear it.

It’s unfortunate – we’re like kids who broke the expensive toy because we couldn’t respect it. Or because we played with it too much and it fell apart. I worry because I see how we interact online bleeding over into our real world interactions, and it’s getting ugly. I also worry because all the noise can block out all the good that the internet can enable.

I hope the crazy calms down. I hope those who are struggling with memories and feelings that the relentless news cycle brings are able to find peace. I hope we find a way to talk instead of yell.

I hope we keep finding funny cat videos to share online. (Thug Cat is THE BEST.)

I hope we find ways to remind each other that the world is a beautiful place and that people are worth saving.

If you need a break, take it. But please come back.

We need you.

 

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2017 in Context, Personal Development, Self-Awareness

 

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Gratitude – it might be enough

I am attending the WorkHuman conference in Phoenix, AZ this week. This is the third year in a row I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of this conference, and I like it because its focus is less on “how to” and more on “why.” The conference organizers try to find speakers and keynotes who align with the message of rewards, recognition, and living one’s authentic self – a phrase a few years ago I would have snorted at. Actually…I do still kind of snort because the word is overused, but in today’s world of social media with increasing pressure to put on a good public life while struggling in private, I think the message is valid.

In yesterday’s opening session on the big stage, we watched a Q&A with Chaz Bono, a transgendered individual who knew from an early age he didn’t fit the female body he was born into. His story is rather well documented – being the child of celebrities must have compounded the challenges of dealing with these feelings of “different” – and he was open about the challenges he faced with substance abuse. Chaz shared he was 13 years clean and sober, an impressive accomplishment for anyone.

Chaz has refocused his efforts to make a living as an actor (including a secret project he can’t talk about…mysterious!) but continues to use his celebrity to support people (including kids) who are going through the emotions of transitioning and to help them understand they are not alone.

There were a lot of powerful messages in Chaz Bono’s Q&A, but one stood out to me. He was telling the story of going through his journey to sobriety and shared the advice a mentor gave him. The key to sobriety and not relapsing, this person said, was GRATITUDE. Be grateful for what you have, and you won’t dare relapse.

Now, not all of us struggle with substance abuse. But we are human beings who go through life with one burden or another. We may wallow in self pity. We may think life isn’t fair. We may dream about the next big thing without paying attention to what we have RIGHT NOW.

All of this got me thinking…am I grateful? Do I practice gratitude?

If I’m honest with myself, I would say…sort of. I do have a tendency to dwell on things. As an affirmed introvert, I internalize a lot of things, turning it over and over in my mind, wearing out my thoughts like a well-handled piece of paper. This can be an addictive way to live – stress and anxiety can be comforting because there is little accountability to act on things. And it’s easier to be stressed and anxious when you think you don’t deserve what you have.

On the other hand, I do step back from time to time and recognize that I am incredibly fortunate. I have a well-paying job. I have an amazing husband. I live in a beautiful state. I have the flexibility to make daily choices that millions don’t. So I recognize those things and AM grateful.

I just don’t say it out loud very much.

Therefore, my takeaway from Day One of WorkHuman is to be more vocal about my gratitude; to tell those around me I’m grateful for their presence; to vocalize to those who are struggling that sometimes the ability to draw breath is enough to be grateful for today…and we can figure out the rest tomorrow.

 
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Posted by on May 31, 2017 in Self-Awareness, Uncategorized

 

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Your zipper is down

May you always have someone in your life who will tell you your zipper is down.

May you have a friend who lets you know there’s cilantro stuck between your teeth.

May you have a significant other who tells you when you are overreacting.

May you have an archenemy who makes you smarter.

May that same archenemy be willing to team up with you against a common foe as needed.

May you have a boss who is brave enough to tell you to stop it, you’re making an idiot of yourself. 

May you have a best friend who gets it when you just text “Blergh.”

May you have a pet who loves you unconditionally…but totally leaves the room when you start yelling at the TV, because who’s got time for that?

May you have a health care provider who reminds you to take care of yourself.

May you have a teacher in your life whom you remember for the best of reasons.

May you have parents whose phone calls you sort of avoid because seriously, you don’t need to talk to me EVERY 3 hours, do you?

May you have all these things and more because it means you’re not alone. It means there are people out there who care enough to point out your faults. There is someone out there who wants to make sure you’re on the right path.

And if you have that, it means you have an obligation to be that person to someone else.

Because everyone needs at least one person who cares enough to tell you that your zipper is down.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2017 in Authenticity, Self-Awareness

 

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“I love me” – a lesson for leaders

At a recent work function, an employee was recognized for her tenure with the organization.

She was introduced, presented with her plaque, and applauded for her service. And then she gave a small speech.

The speech was very much her personality – heartfelt, spontaneous, funny, endearing. But one part stood out over all others.

She began the section by thanking those who helped her in her career. She acknowledged all the support and mentoring she received from those around her. She then talked about all she was able to accomplish, comparing herself to a butterfly. And then she paused, realized how much she was going on and on about herself, giggled, and said, “I love me.”

The crowd laughed. They loved it. It was so “her.”

She laughed along a little bit, then got serious and said, “It took me a long time to be able to say that.”


Imagine being brave enough to stand in front of a room of your peers – and your leadership team – and say those words.

How would your organization react? I mean, really….what would the people in the room say if this happened at your organization?

Would they be supportive? Would they applaud? Or would they politely clap while giving each other knowing glances that this is clearly a “career limiting move”?

For all our humanity in the workplace, we actually kind of suck at dealing with heartfelt emotion. When someone expresses gratitude earnestly in public, it makes us uncomfortable. Why is that? Have we really decided that people AREN’T people that we should pretend we have no emotions? I hate drama as much as the next person, but I also recognize that people bring different parts of their lives to work. Some folks look forward to work as a place to leave the chaos of their life behind. Some people enjoy work for the relationships they’ve developed. Some people overshare (we didn’t need to see videos of your knee surgery, but thanks!). Some people never share at all (it seems like there’s that one person who no one really knows, and it turns out they have something like 12 kids and were in a movie once).

The point is, we as leaders have done a poor job setting a good example about what is an is not okay in the workplace in terms of emotions. Someone probably cried in a VPs office once and it freaked him/her out, and the next thing you know, all the “how to succeed in business” articles started defining professionalism as “no emotion.” That message of “stoicism = strength = success” has been perpetuated for years.

But then came Emotional Intelligence and suddenly we’re all supposed to care about our feelings, and worse than that…THE FEELINGS OF OTHERS. Good lord. We are not equipped for that – especially leaders. We’ve worked hard to HIDE emotions, and promote those who do the same. So what happened? Some leaders went WAY too far the other way, and were all about sharing and caring and wearing their emotions on their sleeves. Which, frankly, makes a LOT of people uncomfortable. And again, emotion became something to make fun of.

We need to find balance, people. We need to find a way for people to BE people without BEING all over the other people who don’t like to BE in public. Leaders have a chance to connect with their people, and help their people connect with other people – in a completely appropriate and professionally supportive way. No, we don’t have to be in each others’ weddings – but recognize some people might. We don’t have to go out to happy hour with our coworkers – but there are a lot of people who do. The best way to promote balance is to watch and learn from people who are successful, but are also unafraid to show emotion. They cry, they vent, they laugh uncontrollably at cat videos. But they still get shit done and they still command respect from those around them.

Back to our story….


After the employee being honored finished her speech, she received a standing ovation. And it reinforced everything that’s good about being yourself at work. About acknowledging the mistakes you made during your career. About being grateful to those who helped you along the way. About the pain of growing up. And about the satisfaction of kicking butt at your job for a long time.

This is a person who had leaders who believed in her. Who pushed her when it looked like she needed pushing. Who encouraged her when she needed encouraging. Who supported her humor, her intelligence, her sass, and her abilities. In short, this is a person who had leaders who allowed her to discover who she was – someone who could finally say, “I love me.”

Leaders – if you can have ONE employee be able to say that, then you have done your job. You have helped someone realize their potential. You enabled instead of dictated. You got the hell out of the way and watched someone flourish because of what was inside them.

Here endeth the lesson.

 

 

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2017 in Authenticity, Coaching, Self-Awareness

 

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Always Be Curious (with apologies to Glengarry Glen Ross)

As you probably know, I have a day job. Yes, I actually work in human resources. For a real company and everything!

But I’m also fortunate enough to have the opportunity to speak at a handful of conferences and other events throughout the year. I enjoy doing this – it’s a great chance for me to visit other states and talk to fellow HR professionals about the struggles they’re facing and to share my experiences in the hopes we all walk away with a fresh perspective and some new ideas to try.

Well, that’s the idea, anyway.

The reality is that not everyone attends a conference with the intent to learn. Some are there just for the recertification credits. Some are there to hang out with their HR friends and hit the expo floor. Some are there to finally get a few days away from the kids so they can watch some RHONJ in peace, dammit! It’s not necessarily what the conference planners intended, but honestly, they’re pretty happy if people pay, show up, give the keynotes some attention, and fill out the feedback forms.

Speakers have a love/hate relationship with feedback forms. We do want to hear from our audience – we want to get better, we want to know what was meaningful to you, we want to hear that we’ve changed your life because you finally understand the new overtime regulations. (Okay, that last one was a bit tongue in cheek.) But seriously…we want some sort of validation that the time we spent building the presentation, practicing, traveling to the conference, and delivering the content was useful for someone. And most comments are very kind. You get the random comment about room temperature (sorry, we can’t control that) or the fact that someone doesn’t like the color of your dress (which is why I usually wear pants), but for the most part, it’s good feedback.

For the most part.abc

Inevitably, no matter what presentation I deliver or at what conference, there is at least ONE person who writes the comment: “I didn’t learn anything new.”

Really? Not a single thing? At all?

Listen, as a speaker, I’m usually a tough audience. Speakers end up seeing a lot of different sessions with different types of presenters, so you can get a little jaded. I admit it. But I walk into every session with the intent of taking away at least ONE thing I’ve learned from that person. Hell, if nothing else, I learned their name and what they do for a living.

But not this person. This person just says, “I didn’t learn anything new.”

This depresses me. Not because I worked hard to do research to include a lot of value-added data (which I always do), or because I shared my experiences in other orgs in hopes it helps (which I also do). It depresses me because a comment like that indicates that this person is not curious. They walk into every situation assuming they know everything and that there is nothing that anyone could possibly teach them.

Who wants to live life like that?

BE CURIOUS. Be open to new ideas and new experiences. Be open to new data. Be open to the fact that your carefully crafted world view might not be 100% accurate.

I’m not asking you to agree with everything you hear. In fact, I want you to question it, challenge it. That shows me you are thinking about it and are curious about how it ties into what you’re currently doing. It shows me you’ve internalized the idea and are considering it and may decide to reject it. At least you cared enough to hate it instead of dismissing it as “nothing new.”

So this is my challenge to you from now until the end of the year. Instead of dismissing something outright, think about it. Question it. Be curious about it. You might actually learn something new.

God forbid.

 

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Help is not a four-letter word

The more I see articles about how busy we all are or stressed we are or upset we are, and how it’s become some sort of weird badge of honor, the more I’m convinced Americans (because I live and work here) have a core problem.

We don’t know how to ask for help.

We like to think we are a resilient bunch, forged by the wilderness, every person for him/herself. We don’t need the support of others – we’re independent, dammit! After all, we left Europe because we wanted to do things OUR way. We fought the British because they wouldn’t recognize our rights to representation, so screw them! We’ll declare ourselves sovereign.Then we fought, scratched and hornswaggled (that’s a fancy way of saying tricked or lied) our way to the West Coast. There’s that “can do” attitude!

You hear it whenever people proclaim with pride they are “self-made.” You sense it when people keep it quiet that they’ve relied on public assistance or the kindness of strangers. And you see it when confused kids don’t raise their hands in school to ask a question.

It’s very bizarre to me, because while we ARE a nation of independent go-getters with a can-do attitude who like to pretend they can do everything themselves; we are also a nation of incredibly community-minded folks who band together to help those in need. Don’t believe me? Check out GoFundMe or CaringBridge and marvel at the capacity of humans to want to help others. But that makes us feel better because we’re OFFERING help, not really ASKING for it. I mean, look at how many of those sites are set up by someone other than the person who needs the help.

When you look around our society right now, it’s clear there are those who need help. It might be because of the floods in Baton Rouge (just because it stopped raining doesn’t mean their need is gone); maybe recent events have shaken them and they don’t know how to talk about it; maybe their water heater went out and they just can’t afford a replacement; maybe they deal with violence in their own home; maybe they suffer from depressionhelp

Take a look at the people you work next to every day. Do you know what they are dealing with? Would you know how to help them if they asked? Would they even ask? Now take a look at yourself. Chances are, you’re dealing with something. It could be as serious a cancer scare. Or it could be as simple as feeling overwhelmed by projects. Would YOU ask a coworker for help?

There are so many reasons we refuse to ask – ego, fear of losing credibility at work, cultural concerns about appearing weak, worried about putting others in an uncomfortable situation, honest belief that we can “handle it.” While these all feel valid in the moment, the reality is that none of them will kill you. It might make you and others feel awkward for a couple minutes, but that will pass.

If you work with people you think need to ask for help but don’t seem to be willing to do it, try one of the following techniques:

  • Ask for help first: I know, right?! So flipping obvious. And yet we don’t do it. This is especially powerful for leaders because it makes you vulnerable and proves to the team that asking for help is TOTALLY OKAY. In fact, it’s encouraged.
  • Shut up and listen: Your coworkers might be asking for help without saying the actual words. Maybe their complaints about being tired or stressed have increased. Maybe they’ve dropped some hints about deadlines. Pay attention to changes in how they talk and act.
  • Don’t make it about you: We LOVE to share stories about our own problems. We do it for (mostly) altruistic reasons; we’re trying to show “we’ve been there.” Guess what – they don’t care. Unless they point blank ask you if you’ve been in the same situation, don’t start talking about how tough it was when you had a hangnail, so you TOTALLY get why open heart surgery would be scary.
  • Specifically offer to help: Some people just aren’t going to ask for help. They think it’s somehow rude. Offer to help a very specific step in the process. “I can print out those reports and deliver them to the project team.” “I’ll go to this meeting and that will give you time to catch up on emails.” “How about I bring your family some dinner this Thursday so you can run to the hospital and see your grandfather?” This keeps the person from getting overwhelmed and keeps them from feeling like they’re putting you out because YOU offered.
  • Respect their wishes: Demonstrate your willingness to help through action, not words. If someone approaches you, give them your attention. If someone looks upset, just stay by them. If they say they want to be alone or don’t want to talk about it, tell them it’s okay…but you’re just down the hall if they need you. Everyone processes things differently – give them room to do that. But…
  • Don’t believe them when they say “I’m fine,” and they obviously aren’t: People in the midst of crisis may be in denial. If you see someone who is really struggling (disheveled appearance, changes in behavior), reach out. Take them to lunch. Let them know they are not alone…and they don’t have to be.

You can be independent, feisty, sassy, brilliant, powerful, successful…and still ask for help. You can be confused, frustrated, out of your depth, upset, angry, exasperated…and still OFFER help. That’s the beauty of being a human being. We are a walking contradiction. We are complicated. We are a mess. We are amazing.

We can all ask for help. We can all offer help.

You just have to do it.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and then allows you to learn something new. ~ Barack Obama

 

 

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2016 in Personal Development, Self-Awareness, Teamwork

 

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