Friday, March 25, 2016

I Don't Belong Here

A few days ago, a dream of mine came true. After over a year of planning, conversations, preparation and dreaming, I was finally holding the first leadership workshop under my own company. I sat in the room, with a small group of people, all of whom had paid to be there for six weeks, two and a half hours each week, fifteen hours in total, and I was the person they were all looking to as the leader. And then as I started talking, all I could think about was that I should not be there, that I did not belong there, that I would say something and everyone in the room would know I was a fraud. I was in a moment of my dreams and I felt like an impostor.

This was not the first time this type of thing happened, and over the years I thought it was just me. I thought I was the only one waiting for the phone call, the email, the knock on the door when someone would tell me the gig was up and I had been found out and it was over. When I would stumble over a word or felt things weren’t going exactly as I had planned, that tape would loop and I found myself having what I can only describe as an internal panic attack while on the outside I was trying to remain calm and confident. I left the workshop feeling relieved it was over, but also asking myself what the hell I was thinking when I thought this would all be a good idea. Who did I think I was, anyway? I felt like a fugitive from the fraud police.

In the past, I would have let it eat at me. I would have spent the time between the last workshop and the one next week, repeating that dialogue and chipping away at whatever confidence I had that would let me walk into the next one. This time, I am doing it a bit different.

I don’t believe that absolutely everything happens for a reason, but I do believe that some things do and I also believe that some people come into our lives at moment we need them, and whether they stay or are just passing through in a matter of moments, they can change everything.

A few weeks ago, I was having lunch with a friend of mine, Nyla, a dynamic woman with the kind of presence that ignites a room just by being there. We were talking and she said something that immediately resonated. She also speaks and holds workshops and she told me that so many times, just before giving a talk, she was all set to go out and be her complete and authentic self, but then suddenly sent her representative in her place. I immediately knew what she meant. It can be very difficult and intimidating to just be ourselves. It is something I struggle with when I am in front of people and expected to be an expert on something or feel I have to keep people entertained. When doing leadership work I feel it even more. If I am authentic and let everyone see how vulnerable I feel, will anyone take me seriously? But if I am not authentic, then who am I in that moment?

About a week ago, I was at an event my company organized where Punam Mathur, a vibrant and respected business person spoke. A few days later she phoned me and suddenly, I was having a mini coaching session. She asked me “When was the last time you failed so badly that you never recovered?” The answer, of course, is never. She asked me if I knew what “FEAR” stood for and when I replied that I did not, she told me it stands for False Evidence Appearing Real. I don’t know if that is something she came up with or got from someone or somewhere else, but it resonated with me and when I am in those moments of feeling fear, I remind myself of this.

Around the same time, another friend of mine introduced me to the work of Amy Cuddy. I watched her TED talk and then dove into her book “Presence.” One of the things she talks about is impostor syndrome or impostorism, the term I prefer. I was stunned to discover that not only does it affect around 70% of people, a number I believe to actually be higher based on conversations I have been having, it reaches across professions, academic achievements, accolades, awards, cultures, genders and pretty much every aspect of life. It is a topic that I am becoming increasingly passionate about.

I love working in leadership, holding classes and workshops, watching people blossom and grow while I myself learn and change as I go on the journey with them. I have realized that we can never reach our full leadership potential – or any potential, for that matter, if we are operating from that belief that we are a fraud and we don’t belong where we are, and people on our team are operating from the same belief and fear, then how can we possibly achieve that level of greatness we are striving for?

I decided to try the advice that Amy Cudder gives in her TED talk. There is a lot of research done by her and others around the idea that body posture affects our confidence and stress. I watched the talk and while I was inspired and intrigued, I immediately thought “Seriously? Body posture can change my thinking and mood?” I did her experiment one morning when I was feeling particularly vulnerable and emotionally homeless. And I was two hours from standing in front of a group of people for a training. While I wanted to believe something so simple could work, I knew there was no way it would. I took her advice and did my little experiment to prove her wrong.

Her advice is basically this: Change your posture in certain ways for two minutes. One of the ways she talks about resembles the typical superhero pose; standing tall, shoulders back, chest out, chin up and hands on hips. The media has since named this “The Wonder Woman Pose.” I live in a house full of superhero comics, and figures and had infinite examples of inspiration for this type of pose, but the idea of a Wonder Woman pose struck me as funny and so I went with it. I went into the bathroom and closed the door. If I was going to stand like Wonder Woman for two minutes, I was going to do it in private!

In less than a minute, I felt myself smiling a bit. I could feel my confidence increase and my stress lessen. This is all backed up by science. Adopting a power pose for just two minutes, increases testosterone, which elevates confidence and decreases cortisol, which is responsible for stress.

From now on, I will do my poses. In private, of course. And not only that, but now in my leadership workshops, I am going to share this knowledge in the first class, so that anyone going through those feelings of not belonging, being a fraud and therefore, not being fully present and standing in their own path to success, can hopefully move it aside just long enough to connect a bit more.

And over time, that feeling of “I don’t belong here” will diminish and just maybe, vanish. Would love to hear your comments on this.  

Friday, December 18, 2015

A Different View

Life with Jack means seeing things through his eyes. It is sometimes easy for John and I to forget that he has gone through so much in his life, many things we will probably never know about. That means that Jack sees things differently than a lot of other children his age. John and I were confronted with that about two weeks ago. He loves music and so I decided to take my old iPhone and fill it up with music so he can have it in his room. John and I asked him to go upstairs to play or read and he didn’t want to. There is a bit of a landing/walkway at the top of the stairs and he looked over and started to protest and ask why he had to be upstairs. I finally told him I was working on a surprise. My nephews love when I use that word because they know something really cool is coming. It is also a tactic I used in case my original plans didn’t work out, we could go to Plan B without anyone being disappointed or having a clue about what was going on.

Instead of the excited reaction I get from my nephews, Jack got all upset. We had him come down and asked what was going on. He asked why everything had to be a surprise and I told him the truth. I told him I wanted to do something nice for him and I wanted to see him happy and excited. He then said something along the lines of “Oh, like the surprise I got when they took me away from my family.” It had not occurred to us that a word we thought meant all sorts of great things was not a good word for him. Now, when we have an idea, we ask him if he wants to know or if he wants a surprise and we let it be his choice. So far, he hasn’t chosen for the surprise, but I feel that he is getting there.

We were also shocked by his lack of wanting a Christmas tree or lights in the house. We were going to get a small one and decorate, but he wanted nothing to do with it. He likes them in other places, and at other houses, but not in his home. Instead, he picked out a few small sticky window gels that he put up and a tiny green tree with a bit of snow he wanted in his room and that has been the extent of our holiday decorations. He also doesn’t seem all that excited about Christmas other than saying “I want that” every time a cool toy comes on TV.

We can only speculate about what he is feeling. When we ask him what he really wants for Christmas, he only says he wants a family and it makes me both super happy that we are on that track and it breaks my heart that any child should have to have that as their Christmas wish.

We are now one month into the six months we need to foster before we can adopt him. I really wasn’t sure how it would be to have a new person come into our lives. I look at him and I don’t see someone else’s child, I see my son. He calls us “dad” here and there, but not with any regularity. He mentioned yesterday that he was almost adopted before and I can imagine he is keeping is guard up just in case. The only thing that scares me about the whole adoption process is that fact that so much happens that is out of our control. There are so many people looking at him, at us, at everything. It’s all going well and we anticipate it staying that way. He is more relaxed and confident as time goes on, I think he will be relieved, as will we, when the day comes to sign the papers and make our family official.

I really hope it all happens before next Christmas, so he can use his Christmas wish for something other than a family. 

Friday, December 11, 2015

Three Weeks With Jack

Three weeks ago today, we met Jack and brought him home. I can’t think of a time I have been more nervous, scared, excited and happy. So many questions. What type of personality did he have? Would we like him? Would he like us? Would we get along? Would our lives fill up with drama and fights and power-struggles? Would he be mean to the dogs? Would he throw things and break them? Would he bond with us?

A week or so before we met, we had been given a three or four paragraph write-up on him. Every child in need of placement has one and they are very generic, talking about if they like movies, comic books, have siblings and there is always a cute picture of them attached.  Minutes before meeting him, we were given a bit more information which we have since decided to disregard.

All children in the foster system have a file that follows them wherever they go. We had been told that he has huge meltdowns when it comes time to get ready for school or take a bath. A few days in, I noticed his socks didn’t really fit his feet. We looked into it further and discovered that a lot of his clothes were too small. We went to Old Navy and while we guided him, we let him pick out all his own clothes. We think it was probably the first time in his life he has been able to have a say in what he wears. We have not had a single issue with him getting ready other than the fact that he looks outside, sees the sun shining and wants to wear shorts even though the temperature is in the thirties and forties. But still, not a single getting ready for school meltdown.

Bath time is also a non-issue. He wanted to toys to play with and we said yes. The only issue is his lack of affection for soap, but we get around that with a bubble bath.

A few days ago, I took him for a haircut and he started to get upset until I told him he could get whatever haircut he wanted. He immediately cheered up and decided he wanted a Mohawk (really, a faux-hawk) and when he was done getting his hair cut, he was beaming his toothless smile and you would have thought he just discovered he had super hero powers.

He has lived in places where he couldn’t just go in the kitchen or get a drink of water when he wanted. We have rules of what he can have, but he can pretty much help himself. As he feels safer and his confidence grows, he is opening up more and is more relaxed and willing to play on his own.
John and I decided early on to give Jack a clean slate. We don’t care about his earlier behavior. In the situations he has lived in, I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t act out. We didn’t tell him we had given him a clean slate, but we never bring up past events the way some of his previous caregivers have. It was great for John and I to let his past go so that we could let go of the expectation of something “bad” happening and not have that energy around him or in the family.  Yes, there are little issues, like not wanting to do homework, but everything we see is average seven year-old behavior. My nephews did the same thing. Friends of mine with children the same age have all the same issues.  

When John and I were going through the process of getting licensed and talking about being parents, one of our main priorities was to create an environment where our child would feel safe and have the confidence to become whoever they were meant to be and wanted to be. We have been giving him back control over parts of his life. We listen to his opinion. Sometimes he gets what he wants, sometimes he doesn’t. We constantly reiterate that we are a team and everyone has to do their part, and while we can’t always get what we want, we can all get what we want sometimes. Watching the changes in Jack, some subtle and some not so subtle, has been amazing. The energy and love Jack has brought to our lives is beyond anything I ever imagined. 

Friday, November 27, 2015

And Then There Was Jack

It has been a week since we met Jack and our lives have been turned upside-down, inside-out, pushed sideways and ties into knots, all in the best possible way. He has filled up an emptiness I didn’t realize was there. Yes, I wanted to be a dad, but I really didn’t expect it to be like this. It’s one of those things that now that I am in it, I don’t even remember what I expected. The house is filled with laugher, tickles, Legos, Lincoln Logs, books, batman socks and the occasional whines of “Why do I have to eat THAT?”

We have three boxers and the youngest one, Mia, adopted him the moment he walked in the door. Even when my nephews would stay the night, Mia never slept upstairs with them the entire night. That all changed when Hack came home. Mia sleeps with him, cuddles with him and spends her day playing with him and making him laugh. She has always been the dog that most takes on someone’s emotions and John are I are both really hoping that her bond with Jack will help him adjust and work through all the things we know are coming.

Right after I had the stroke in Tanzania, Ulco bought me a stuffed penguin when he went to South Africa. In those days when I was angry and afraid, I took a lot of comfort cuddling with that penguin when I was alone. On his first evening here, Jack saw it in the closet and asked if he could play with it. Since then, we have built a penguin habitat, he has named her Rosey and he takes her everywhere. It is so great to see how he takes care of her. I told him the story of how she took care of me when I was sad and scared and that made him smile.

Yestrday I took Jack to Valley of Fire and taught him how to use my old camera. We went on a couple of hikes but instead of being in Valley of Fire, we were on Mars and instead of a car, we had a spaceship. Right now, he is upstairs with my nephews in a fort we just built, playing with action figures and having a great time. He is really coming out of his shell and it is great to see.

We know he has a lot to deal with. He has been through a lot and dealt with more than any 7 year old should ever have to. The thought of it all is more than intimidating, but this week has really given me faith that we can make a difference in his life. He has certainly made a difference in ours.

There was a time when we were getting so frustrated with the process of being matched with the right child and jack really is the perfect one for us. His personality is a great mix of John’s and mine. He does some of the same things we used to do when we were young. It really makes me smile to hear him singing to himself and it is such an honor getting to know him. I really hope that this works out to be our forever family.