Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Scariest Demon We Invite Into Our Lives

It’s nearly Halloween and the stores are filled with ghoulish d├ęcor. On a recent outing my little granddaughter, Rosannah, discovered some holiday decorations packed more trick than treat. Rosannah is nearly two years old and quite fearless. She runs through the house with her hands in the air, scales the couch and her high chair with the speed of a mountain goat, and follows the family’s Rottweilers through the doggy door, with no worry of being trampled.

However, my plucky, little granddaughter’s bravery melted like a candy bar when she encountered a cackling witch at the local hardware store. Rosannah buried her head into her mother’s shoulder and whimpered, “no, no.” When she looked up, she saw another display – a werewolf. She smiled at the item and said, “doggy?” Then the eyes of the beast turned red. This elicited another whimpering “no, no” and she buried her dimpled face into her mother’s shoulder once again. Even something as innocuous as a skull on a glass elicits a quick retreat.

I’m not sure why the symbol of a skull is so frightening to Rosannah. It makes me wonder if there could be universal phobias that are buried deep within our collective consciousness. I read somewhere that snakes are feared in many cultures – including those areas that have never seen one of the slithering reptiles.

Other phobias are not so universal. For instance, my friend, Michele, has a 36-year-daughter who is afraid of dryer lint. I reminded her of this quirky habit. I assumed she had outgrown it. Nope. If her husband wanted a divorce he could chase her around the house with the lint, much like how her brother used to do when they were kids. But, like I said, the man wants to remain happily married so he takes care of the lint disposal. My normally logical sister, Diane, gets squeamish touching balls of cotton. I always felt I had a sense of power over her as I would valiantly pull the wad of the white padding from bottles of aspirin. Recently I reminded her of this childhood fear. Well, guess what? She still won’t touch the cotton balls.

The point is, there are many things that strike fear into the hearts of humankind. However, there is one demon that, unlike dryer lint, has caused tremendous harm, but holds free reign in society – negativity.

These pessimistic messages take various forms – news reports, gossip, complaints, lack of gratitude, judgmental thoughts, as well as stinging criticism of ourselves and others. Unfortunately, negativity has become so pervasive that many of us accept it as a normal part of life. This is especially true because we are bombarded with negative news 24/7. The reality is there are many more happy incidents in a day, but no journalist is going to lead the 5 o’clock news with a story of good cheer. As the old adage goes, “if it bleeds, it leads.”

As dismal as this may seem, the good news is we still have a choice on whether or not we are going to allow negativity to stain our lives. There is no law that says we have to watch depressing news. We should not feel compelled to listen to others say disparaging things about others. And we should never repeat gossip…period.

Living a happy life is not that difficult. Even in the most depressing situations there are things to be grateful for. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Every morning I recite several things that I appreciate in my life before I get out of bed. This only takes a few seconds, but it creates an attitude of gratitude that I try to embrace throughout the day.

For those who have a little more trouble adopting a positive attitude, there are little tricks you can perform to shift into an attitude of gratitude. I outline several in the upcoming book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within. I’m also happy to provide customized advice to those who email me through my blog.

In the meantime, you can always adopt an adult version of Rosannah’s technique when confronted with negative messages. It’s the same thing we teach children who are tempted to take drugs. Turn away and just say no.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Kick “But” Subtitles Out On Their Fannies

I enjoy writing titles and headlines for stories. Sometimes I come up with a twist on an old saying. For example, Doctor, Heal Thyself, became Dentist, Heal Thy Finances. I used this when I wrote a press release promoting a workshop for The Schuster Center for Professional Development. Patriotic Beauty was used to highlight free services for military families during the week of the 4th of July. More recently I used the phrase “Snazzy Jazz” in a headline about a free jazz concert.

Creating headlines and titles can be fun. But when I was listening to a little video clip from Carol Look, the author who wrote, Attracting Abundance with EFT, she talked about subtitles in another way. She mentioned that we have our own title for what we want, but we negate the message with a destructive subtitle. For example, we might think, “I’d love to go back to school!” But then the sneaky subtitle comes in. Maybe it’s, “But I’m too old.” Or maybe “But, I’m not smart enough.”

A lot of these subtitles begin with “but”. It’s no wonder it is only one letter short of the word “butt”, as that is exactly where it kicks you. Not to mention any hopes you may have for success. The word “but” can be a crappy communication tool as well. “I love you…but…” Not many good things follow but. It is a turd of a word. I try to use the word “and” instead, and turn the negative phrase I am considering to something more positive.

Here’s another example. Instead of saying, “I love you, but your nagging drives me insane.” Try, “I love you, and when you appreciate the little things I do for you I realize how lucky I am.” You come up with your own examples.

However, let’s return to the subject of subtitles.

For many years I was the queen of negative, self subtitles. I blamed my lack of success on my husband, children, being a middle child…you name it. Guess what? I divorced the husband, the two kids have moved away and married. Furthermore, no one can tell by looking at me that I’m a middle child. The old excuses were running out. Of course I could always come up with new ones.

Luckily, I had an epiphany. I was at a luncheon and the guest speaker was Mae Jemison, the first female, African American, astronaut. She was such a dynamic speaker that I waited to get autographed posters for my two girls (both teenagers at the time).

I can’t remember the exact words but it went something like this:

Me: You are so inspirational. I’m going to tell my daughters about what you had to say so they can have the confidence to pursue their dreams.
Mae: What about you? Why should you limit the message to your daughters? Isn’t there a dream you would like to achieve?

This really hit close to home. When I heard what Ms. Jemison had to say, I was applying it all to my young daughters. It was as if I had given up on myself. And I had. It was a low point in my life. I was divorced, working at a job that paid the bills, but was not suited for my personality. I felt trapped.

Worst of all, I stopped writing. Part of my writing paralysis was I felt I didn’t have the time to pursue it. Another excuse was I was sick of rejections from agents, publishers and magazine editors. Another reason was I doubted my ability and thought I wasn’t good enough to do the very thing that made me feel alive. The result was I was miserable. For two years I felt like a part of me had died. Instead of “The Day the Music Died” it became “The Time the Writer Died.”

To make a long story short, I did start writing again. However, even though I had been published in magazines and newspapers, I created a lousy subtitle for myself. People would ask what I did for a living. I would tell them, “I’m a writer.” Usually folks would ask me what type of writing I did (at that time no one knew what a public relations person did). However, I needed business, so I did tell them about my PR firm, then I would tell them my real love was writing romantic comedy screenplays. People’s eyes usually would light up with this statement. Who doesn’t enjoy a witty, romantic comedy? Then I’d follow up with my subtitle, “But I haven’t sold a script yet.”

I could have told them about the stories, or the awards, or any number of things. Instead, I chose to use my lousy subtitle, “But I haven’t sold anything yet.”

So this week’s advice is to either stifle the rotten subtitle, or create a positive one. Also, before you use the word “but” see if you are kicking yourself when you use it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Mighty Phoenix Mercury Inspires Courage in Daily Life

I am a happy fan. My favorite team, the Phoenix Mercury, recently won the Women’s National Basketball Association title. As I watched the games, I was mostly caught up in the excitement of cheering for the home team. But the following day, I thought about how these gifted athletes provided a lesson in winning on and off the court.

Each Mercury player is extremely talented. But any sports fan knows that individual talent is not what wins team championships. You must be able to work together as a highly tuned unit. I watched in awe as the Mercury ran, passed and took shots with the elegance of a tightly choreographed Broadway production.

That is not to say that everything is pretty. These gals were knocked on their butts, took elbows to the face, only to charge forward and muscle their way to the hoop to make shots, grab rebounds, or block shots by their worthy opponents, the Indiana Fever.

I don’t know all the injuries that took place, but I know for sure that Penny Taylor was playing with a broken finger and had a tooth knocked loose in an earlier game. Cappie Poindexter was whacked in the eye and had to leave the game because she couldn’t see. Fortunately, Cappie had no severe optical damage and she returned with a vengeance, knocking in important buckets at crucial times, in spite of a swollen black eye. Diana Taurasi always plays like it’s the last minute of her life. I don’t know what injuries she sustained, but the way she attacks the game, I’m sure returns home with more than her fair share of cuts and bruises.

As I was taking a walk the day after the championship, I thought about how the game mirrored life. These gals were knocked down, beaten up, and yet they kept on driving forward. They didn’t let losses, pain, the possibility of significant injury or any other factor deter them from their goal. When I saw Cappie Poindexter return to the court, I actually winced. I thought about her eye and all those flying elbows. I was really concerned about her welfare. And then, as if she could read my thoughts, she answered by swishing a basket with nothing but net.

The point is, we all face hardships. And we all will be knocked on our butts from time to time. We can boldly move ahead, tip toe with caution, or cower in a corner. The choice is ours. But winners, whether on or off the court, are not timid about living.

To bring this back to a personal level, as I was thinking about the game, and what I was going to write about it, I passed a neighbor and her dog. We exchanged “Good mornings” without breaking stride. I passed the woman on her left (the dog was on her right), then her German Shepherd turned around and bit me on my thigh.

This was quite a shock to me as I did not stop to pet the dog, I was in a good, not fearful mood, and I didn’t do anything to provoke an attack. I informed the woman her dog had just bitten me. I quickly learned the dog was up to date on her shots, had never bitten anyone before. Lucky me. If I were going to be the first for something I would prefer something less painful.

Anyway, the owner, a nurse, told me how to care for the wound and I left. I suppose I should have collected her name and phone number, but I was more concerned about taking care of the business at hand. Fortunately, everything is fine. It was more of a bruise than a puncture, my tetanus shot is up to date, and I’m going to be fine.

But the next day I didn’t want to go for a walk.

Then I thought about the Phoenix Mercury. What if Penny Taylor, who knocked in 14 points in the final game, decided to sit the game out and nurse her wounds? What would have happened if Cappie Poindexter decided to go shopping to find a pair of sunglasses to hide her shiner instead of courageously racking up 24 points? Who could have predicted the outcome if Diana Taurasi said, “enough is enough” and headed for the hot tub instead of driving to the basket?

And I’d be neglect in my duties if I didn’t mention the outstanding contributions of the entire roster of DeWanna Bonner, Temeka Johnson, Nicole Ohlde, Brooke Smith, Tangela Smith, Le’Coe Willingham and Ketia Swanier.

It is easy to be optimistic when everything is going great. The true strength of one’s character is how one reacts to adversity. One of my favorite lines from the movie, “A League of Their Own” when baseball star, Dottie Hinson, wants to quit the team.

Jimmy Dugan: Shit, Dottie, if you want to go back to Oregon and make a hundred babies, great, I'm in no position to tell anyone how to live. But sneaking out like this, quitting, you'll regret it for the rest of your life. Baseball is what gets inside you. It's what lights you up, you can't deny that.
Dottie Hinson: It just got too hard.
Jimmy Dugan: It's supposed to be hard! If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.

We all may wish for an easy life, but if we think back to the things that we are the most proud of, it is not the easy wins, it’s the times where we struggled and won that bring us the most satisfaction.

In my book, Erase Negativity and Embrace the Magic Within, I interviewed men and women who overcame adversity and chose a more optimistic life. They could have given up, but they didn’t. So unless I want to be a hypocrite, I need to practice what I preach, or write about. I’m going to end this story now and go look for my shoes. It’s time to take a walk.