Right smack in the middle of the table In the Coach Room at work sits a stuffed gray elephant. His eyes have fallen off, so they’re held on with a paperclip attached to his left ear, which was the only implement of connectivity we could find.
He’s the Elephant in the Room, and I’m awfully fond of him. He’s there for a reason. He reminds us — whether we’re in a meeting of coaches (think “Coaches of the Round Table”) or sitting solo with a client — of this wisdom:
DO NOT SHY AWAY FROM HARD TOPICS AND STARK TRUTHS
Hard topics. Things like difficult situations, behavior, conflicts, sorrows, truth, regrets, sickness, death. Even joys and celebrations can be hard topics. These are things we’d like to pretend don’t exist, that are invisible.
Our elephant, even with his tenuously connected sight, gives us the shake we need to be courageous, to show up for one another, to hold each other accountable, and to help our clients move forward with purpose. Not a new person comes into the room who doesn’t pick him up and smile, and ask exactly why he commands the center spot.
I’m grateful for this elephant in the room whose sole purpose, it seems, is to remind us to be real and to be brave and willing to bring to the table what sits there, in plain sight, just waiting to be acknowledged, understood, and dealt with.
Then there’s the cow in the Zen garden. But that’s a whole other story…
I hear myself say the words and I cringe a bit. What I mean is this: “don’t stress if you have less than the team to the right or left of you. Whatever you have is enough.” So why don’t I just say that? Instead, I pull out the “perfect” word. Sigh.
I think it’s because the illusion of perfection has been woven into our society and beaten into our heads. If you don’t believe it, just look at any doctored, air-brushed photograph in any fashion magazine. We’re spoon fed images that are impossibly unrealistic. We’re encouraged to wear this, color our hair like that, use makeup A, B, or C to hide flaws, and pay big bucks for surgery to mask the normal, natural signs that show the world (and ourselves): oh-my-God-we’re-aging! We have breakdowns when life isn’t what we picture in our heads. We divorce spouses because they aren’t quite perfect enough for us. We wait for our perfect match, our soul mate.
What Lamott said toward the end illustrated perfectly (yeah, there’s that word again) the problem. She’s in the process of explaining how she became obsessed with needing a neck lift, so she visited a prominent cosmetic surgeon. The surgeon’s words go like this:
“‘See, if we do this [mini-necklift], it makes your face crease up, so that’s why people get the mini-face lift when they get the necklift…. And then if you get the mini facelift, it makes your eyes so much more wrinkled and … the thing is, Anne, you have such expressive eyes.’
“He told me the thing that this culture is so starved for and lacking — he told me the truth.”
Perfect. Absolutely perfect. I’m grateful for such down-to-earth wisdom, and the realization that we all — ALL — sometimes fall for the illusion of perfection.
Sometimes there’s a fine line between complaining and rejoicing, and it all boils down to perspective — how you choose to see the situation or the object. Like this rose, for instance. My parents cultivated roses, and I know for a fact those gorgeous flowers could puncture a thumb if you weren’t careful, and sometimes even when you were. I never heard either one of them complaining about those thorns, though. I always saw their smile of pleasure at the flowers that capped the stems.
My parents were a great model, then, for perspective — for finding what’s worth appreciating, even when there was something sharp that might bear complaint. The difference? My choice. What mom and dad and their lifelong enjoyment of roses taught me is that I can choose to find what’s worth celebrating or focus on what’s negative.
I have to say, I’m feeling awfully grateful for the lesson of my parents’ rose garden. It opened up a lifelong drive to find options, see silver linings, and to dwell on what’s positive, right, and good rather than stumble through what’s negative, wrong, and bad.
After all, if I focus on those sharp little thorns, I reduce the awe-inspiring beauty of the rose. But if I consider the protection those thorns afford to the rosebush, which allows that beauty to blossom and thrive, I can be grateful. Even when they puncture my thumb.
My friend Jane re-posted a Huffpost blog today: “What Not To Wear After Age 50: The Final Say” by Michelle Combs (“blogger, mother, wife, drinker of tequila”).
Hilarious, of course, but also quite insightful. Among other things, she says, women after 50 shouldn’t wear:
- The weight of the world
- Shame and regret
- Rose-colored glasses
Not a bad list. Not a bad list at all. But what really caught my fancy was the fifth “don’t” on her list: “Too many hats.” Wrapped up in her humor was simple truth. She writes,
When you wear too many hats, it’s easy to forget which hat you’re wearing. For instance, are you wearing the “no nonsense corporate” hat when you meant to wear your “quirky and kicked back” hat?
You know what? That resonated with me. I recognized myself there. I’ve been wearing the “life is all serious and stuff” brand of hats pretty much all the time these days – and I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all, because what I’m missing is the “fun and games” hat. And the really cool “laugh a lot” hat, not to mention my “loosen up and relax into the moment” hat.
I know it’s a holdover from the past year of going through major life stress. (You know what I mean: building a house, trying to sell one, kicking around money, future goals, dealing with less than welcoming people, and other weighty things. You could point out that it harbors a bit of the weight of the world, too, but I’d appreciate if you turned a blind eye toward that piece because I already get it.)
Fact is, I’ve become accustomed to wearing too many of those serious hats and not enough of a variety. When I keep hearing Charlie mention that I didn’t get that he was joking (for the umpteenth time), or I realize (too late), that I’ve gone all analytical when fun would have been a better choice … well, I know I’ve slipped into hat realm.
I don’t want to do that any more. So today, I’m grateful for Ms. Combs’ humorous blog, and her deceptively simple way of drilling down to what’s essential … for women over 50 as well as those who haven’t gotten there yet.
Driving along slickening streets amid traffic snarled by snowfall, it’s easy to watch nature with lenses turned dark with discontent. It’s inconvenient, it’s dangerous, it’s getting old. But this afternoon I was lucky to be gazing out the window as a dozen deer made their way into the field where buckets of corn awaited, as they do every evening. From yearlings to seasoned adults, they came, the yearlings leaping and playing and kicking up snow, the adults a little more sedate. Their heavy, dark coats stood out against the pristine white of the falling snow. And just like that, I’m handed a lesson in being grateful for what is, no matter if it’s rain or snow, sunshine or clouds, 8 degrees cold or 72 degrees warm. So I’m grateful, tonight, for having eyes and wits to not only see but to be willing to consider there is beauty in everything, even snowfall when a sniff of spring would be welcome.
So, I’m making breakfast sandwiches for Charlie for the week. I have them — all 8 of them — assembled with the exception of the last two scrambled egg patties. (Pampered Chef has this marvelous stoneware creation that makes this whole process quick and easy. Yay.)
I’m reaching into the microwave, removing the (hot!) stoneware, when my mind registers an unexpected thump behind me. Out of the corner of my eye I see Data standing at the edge of the kitchen, in his mouth a biscuit … with the sausage patty. Gulp. There goes the biscuit top. My mom voice, apparently, slathers on the guilt, and never have I seen a truer depiction of the “hangdog” look. He will not meet my eyes. He slinks over to the other side of the room, lies down, and averts his eyes.
I briefly (briefly, mind you!) consider trying to salvage the rest of the biscuit and the meat but realize that’s a bad culinary idea. Instead, I call him over. He obeys, belly to the ground, lies down, and continues looking everywhere but at me or the evidence on the carpet. He might as well be Sgt. Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes: “I see nothing. Nothing!”
I snap his photo and then let him eat the rest of it. So much for punishment. But the whole thing makes me think about guilt, and the needless worry it generates about what might result. Data, who’s quickly back in the moment, isn’t worried about the future. There’s no guilt over the past. What’s done is done. He did something wrong, acknowledged it (thanks to the Mom Voice), and displayed contrition. What more can I exact from him? SHOULD I exact from him?
I’m grateful for Data’s guilt episode, because it reinforces something that’s been teasing its way through my brain.
It’s the same with us, you and I. How long do we make others suffer — do we suffer — for something that happened in the past? It may have been true once, but it’s no longer true. Now it’s just a story.
It’s the same with the future. If you think about it, the future never really arrives. When it gets here, it’s the present, always the present. Worrying about it simply steals joy in the moment — which is, of course, all we really have.
I say acknowledge errors and accept responsibility, express regret, ask for forgiveness, repent, make restitution (amends) — whatever your language of apology may be. And for others who have asked the same of you and who are still important to your life? Let it all go. Give that gift to yourself.
Return to the moment. Data did. He’s sleeping happily on the floor at my feet, dreaming of sausage biscuits, no doubt.