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Archive for March 2009

Why Worry So Much? Life is Way Too Fragile.

I have lost four former colleagues in four months, ages 48, 49, 59 and 63.  I am shocked every time I am reminded how fragile life is, even though I first learned that lesson in 1992 when, one day, my mother was a healthy 66-year-old an the next, she was paralyzed for life by a stroke.

Every one of these friends lived shorter lives that were larger than most. Their passings were tragic, yet somewhat poetic because they touched so many other people and tried so hard to make the world a better place. All of them succeeded. All were real characters who I was very lucky to know.

I have so many conversations with people worried about the economy and their jobs and the future and this and that and…

While I don’t minimize their worries — or my own — I have to wonder if we are wasting good life by obsessing about things we can’t control. We should be laughing more than worrying. Life is fragile. We aren’t here forever.

It’s Not What You Know, But Who… And HOW.

How Far Can You Go?

How far can you walk?

A coupla miles? Five? Ten?

What if someone offered you a thousand dollars to go twice as far? Could you do it? Would you try?

Okay, what if someone offered you a million dollars to go, say, the distance of a marathon — 26.22 miles? Could you walk that?

I could. For a million bucks, I feel certain I could even run it — even though I have had two knee surgeries and can only run a few miles right now. For two million dollars, I bet I could run 50.

The question isn’t really how far you can go. It’s how long can you last. And I think that, when we have

to do something, we can do it if we make up our minds to just keep moving forward.

This is really that marathon moment where you can either push youself beyond your limits to get the success you want, or sit on the sidelines because you believe it is impossible. I hear from so many people who are getting so discouraged by the economy that they just leave the course. They are tired and convinced that any extra effort is simply an exercise in futility. The go into survival mode and do the math to figure out exactly how many dollars they need to make their bills — then come up with a plan to get that amount of money. That takes them out of the running.

If you hang in long enough, you will look around and see that your competition has vanished. Most people don’t have the stomach for adversity, so they try hard to find a safe place where they can be comfortable while sitting out the storm. Move forward one step at a time. Push through the backdraft. It is uncomfortable. It is unsettling. It is painful. But, persevere. You can still finish this race and get the t-shirt.

Love hurts.

One of the most vibrant women I know is sitting in a remote airport on the other side of the country, waiting for her flight back to sanity. This is a turning point in a two-year relationship with a great guy who has a very, very dark side.

Her boyrfriend can be entertaining and warm and all good things a handsome boyfriend can be. I’ve had so much fun with him.

But there is that dark side. He wasn’t physically violent with her — but the violence was emotional. His need for control mandated he isolate her from others and extinguish her free spirit. It required that she be at his side every day, all day — even if he would not speak a single word to her for weeks at a time. He resented her desire to have time with her friends. He resented her going anywhere without him — even if it was only for a few minutes or hours.

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I have to be careful writing this because they may work things out. I just want her to be happy — and whole. Many of us have stayed in relationships for too long, clinging to what’s good instead of opening our eyes to the reality that what is bad is really bad, and it won’t change.

I want to write about this because I am constantly running across people who linger in destructive relationships because they don’t have the courage to do what my friend is doing. But, what could be worse than sacrificing your “self”?

I am so proud of her for having the courage to leave today, because he started showing remorse and today was supposed to be the day they left on a fabulous, expense-paid trip to Hawaii. She’s been on the road with him for several weeks, and much of that time has been lost to his silent-treatment. Even if Hawaii were honeymoon perfect, she would know what always simmers deep inside of him. Despite his urging to give it another shot, she still had a faint flicker of “self” burning within her and she knew that she had to come home now, before he extinguished everything inside of her.

I know her pain. So do her friends. She is so beloved that her “pod” includes six of the most incredible women I know –some of the best friends I have. The minute she put out the call that she was in pain, they rallied like I have never seen friends rally. Two will make the long drive to pick her up at the airport tonight — at 1 a.m. All of us will converge at her home this weekend for a party and bonfire where we will celebrate her spirit and fuly bring her back into the light of who she is. I am quite certain that the support and love she will get from her friends will outshine any trip to Hawaii.

We only want what is best for her. If that relationship is what will make her happy, so be it. But no one should be forced to sacrifice one bit of soul for another. If you relate to this at all, remember the lesson. If someone expects you to sacrifice your “self” for love, it ain’t love.

Fawn Germer is the best-selling author of five books and one of the nation’s most sought-after leadership speakers.

About Stuff.

Last month, my dear friend Jayne abruptly quit her job and hired a company to catalog, price and sell everything she owns at an estate sale so she can move across country to be with her daughter and grandchildren. It was an “Everything Must Go” moment, because what did not sell was going straight to Goodwill. Everything.

The day before the sale, I walked through her home and was amazed that everything from lamps to old school notebooks to knives and forks had a pricetag. When it was over, all of her “stuff” was worth $1,700, of which she kept $1,100. All that stuff. Eleven hundred dollars. Right now, work crews are painting and recarpeting her townhouse, and she is going to unload that, too, instead of holding out until the market rebounds. Note here that a house is also part of your “stuff.”

I have watched this woman work in one of the most stress-filled work-environments I have ever seen. Her accounting job demanded workaholism. When we’d talk on the phone, she was exhausted and gasping for breath because of too many cigarettes and not enough sleep. I have long thought that job would kill her.

But, the moment came when she realized she was here in Florida and the people she loved and needed to be near were all in California. Her daughter’s home has a spare apartment in the back. She’s wanted there.

Her things were here. Isn’t it interesting to see how hard we work to have a place to put our things?

Jayne’s “Great Unloading” stands as one of the most empowering acts I have ever witnessed because she let go of the “things” she was supposed to have in order to live a comfortable life and suddenly, she was free. “Stuff” anchored her to her rut. It anchors all of us.

The notion of leaving my stuff behind hit me when I was in my early 20s and moving out of my first apartment. Everything I owned was boxed up and I looked at the tower of cardboard cartons and thought, “I could walk away from all of this stuff and never miss any of it.” Instead of learning from that revelation, I kept amassing more stuff. I scan the room around me now and see so much stuff that I don’t need.  I need this house just so that my stuff has a home.

So many people are so frantic about having the money to hang onto what they have. Maybe the lesson from Jayne is that we are hanging onto the wrong things. If we let go of our belongings and grab onto what really matters in life, we can have so much more while needing so much less. If you suddenly don’t need the big house, its contents, the big electric bill, the big water bill for the big yard… what do you need? Not much.

It’s only stuff.

Not this.

One of the best writers I have ever worked with sent me a note asking me for my thoughts on a freelance story he is writing. He capped it off with this personal aside: “Did I tell you that I’m going to start work as a dishwasher in a fancy French restaurant here on April Fool’s Day?”

I thought he was joking, but when I wrote back to ask, he said, “I’ve done the math and I can pay the mortgage working for $9 an hour. That work will always be there and it gives me something to do and maybe I’ll get a story out of it.”

The fact that the trail has led David to the sink of a fancy French restaurant is both shocking and depressing to me. He’s 61 years old. He deserves the world — not this. But when he gets to the other side of the experience — which he will do — he will know so much about his own fortitude and strength.

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You can either use adversity to beat you down or grow you up. The universe is trying to teach us all a big lesson, and this is our growth moment. We may have thought we knew what it meant to be resilient, tenacious and persistent, but now we are being forced to prove it.

More than anything, we are learning about the greater dimensions of faith. We’ve lost a great deal of faith in the system and many of our leaders, but this is a time we can gain faith in what matters most: each other and our spiritual connection. Crisis can bring us together or pull us apart. Our greatest growth comes when we are forced to operate in our discomfort zones.

Obviously, David deserves so much more than this. But, who will he be when he gets through it to the other side of this experience? Does he have faith that it will all work out? Does he know that he is loved and supported and will not endure this crucible moment alone?

My guess is that, if anyone can adapt to something like this, it will be him. And, he will probably emerge from the experience with a bestseller that will wind up with a movie where he is played by the scraggly, bearded, ZZ Top version of Brad Pitt. At least, that’s what I am hoping.

It’s hard to know now why things are unfolding the way they are, but ultimately, there is meaning in the challenge. Whether you spend time as a writer-turned-dishwasher or dishwasher-turned-writer, you are defining who you are in human terms. It’s no longer about the title on your resume, but the grit in your spirit. That can’t be a bad thing.

Hang in there. Someday, it will all make sense. Be brave, be bold.

Get Your Head Back In The Game…

On Sunday, I received a call from a woman who is days away from certain layoff. We’d talked a few weeks ago and, already, her attitude had sunk from determined and hopeful to defeated and frantic. I want to share the conversation because it is relevant to others who are struggling in today’s job market.

Her: I’m looking around and nobody is finding anything and everybody is a short time away from bottoming out and we’re all pushing 50 and none of us is going to get a job and…

Fawn: This is especially hard because so many of your friends are going through the same thing. I hate to say it, but you have to minimize your exposure to the other people you know who are struggling. Their worries are pulling you down. If you can’t compartmentalize it, then you have got to cut it off. You and I are sensitive people and when people we love are in pain, we feel it and carry it. You’ve really sunk in the last month and it is because you see what everyone else is going through and it is making you lose hope for yourself. You have to control it.

But I don’t have long before I bottom out. All of my money is tied up in this house. If I don’t sell it within the month…

Fawn: Get your brain out of that negativity loop. It’s not going to help you. If you don’t sell your house, what will happen? You’ll survive. Even if you wind up going into foreclosure, you will survive. You will never  be eating out of a garbage can. You know you will always, always be all right. You have to know in your gut that it will all work out because then, it will all work out.

I don’t know how to stop it.

Give yourself 30 minutes a day for worry. That is it. Pick your time. It can be from 3 to 3:30 in the afternoon. Or 11 to 11:30 in the morning. Or, whenever. But, that is it. No more worry than that.

I am tired of the rejection. I sit for interviews for jobs that should be mine — I am perfectly qualified AND I know the people, so I am networked the way I need to be networked. But, I don’t get the jobs.

Fawn: It takes time. The first thing you have to understand is that you don’t get a job just because it seems like you are destined to get it. Or that you are the most qualified. I’ve applied for things that had my name all over them and I didn’t even get the interview. You are getting interviews. That is fantastic. Sooner or later, the right thing will come to you.

The mistake I see others making is that they work like hell to get their resumes out there the first month, then they get frustrated and only send packets out when they hear of something. You have to treat this like a full-time job. That means you send out at least 10 inquiries a day. Every single day. And remember that most of the jobs worth having are not being advertised. Managers don’t want to sift through a thousand resumes, so they are asking friends and colleagues who they know who is available. That means you now have to focus on networking more than ever.

Her: I can’t stand the rejection.

Fawn: It is a terrible market, but you have to remember that the more you apply for, the greater your odds. You have got to be out there — everywhere — and something will work. It is doing this every day, for months, until you blast through. But, you have to know that you will blast through because, you manifest what you think. If you think you’ll spend the next year or two suffering, you will spend the next year or two suffering.

I’ve got some fiction-writing clients who I coach professionally and I tell them that they can’t whine about how mean the publishing business is until they’ve got 100 rejections under their belts. It’s kind of like paying your dues. You are doing that now. Just keep persevering.

I feel terrible.

Fawn: Are you exercising?

I haven’t been, but I am going to today.

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Fawn: That is the single most important thing you must do, without fail. You have to let your body work to help you. If you take care of it, it will take care of you. Your pheromones will make you feel better, and that lift will keep you going. If you are not exercising 30 minutes every single day, you MUST. It is a non-negotiable.

Fawn Germer is the best-selling author of five books. She is one of the nation’s most sought-after professional speakers on leadership, performance and success.

My Friend Needs Depends.

Bertie and I have been friends for 19 years, so her visit to my home in Florida was something I was quite excited about. Then again…

See, Bertie is 15 years older than I am, and through her, I get a glimpse of what is ahead for me. I suffered through her hot flashes when she was perimenopausal. But that taught me what my perimenopausal years would be like.

Imagine my horror yesterday day as we prepared to leave for the beach.

“Would you like to use the bathroom before we go?” I asked.

“No,” she said matter-of-factly. “I sneezed in the car on the way here and peed in my pants.” It was spoken as she’s made this public proclamation before.

She wants me to note here that she did change her clothes, and I am grateful for that.

The 19 years we have known each other have passed in a flash. In just another flash, I’ll be 15 years older. Her age.

Then again, I don’t fear the future because I may grow up to be like Bertie.

She is younger now than when she was years ago. Wiser. More sure of herself. Her relationship with her husband is 30 years solid now and she is blossoming with him and with herself in the first year of her early retirement. She has so many dimensions now.

We have traveled many, many miles together. I watch Bertie and I am not afraid of what is yet to come.

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As long as I don’t sneeze.

Sliding into Workaholism

I have never understood the workaholic mindset, and now that I have slid into it, I am even more bewildered.

I haven’t lived this life since I was a 23-year-old, fresh-out-of-college newspaper reporter working an 80-hour week on a series. One night, a friend stopped by the newsroom to pick something up.

“Why am I still here?” I asked.

“Because your life is meaningless and this is all you have,” she laughed.

Days later, when I turned in my timecard, Joyce Duarte, the assistant to the managing editor, took one look at the hours I’d worked and asked, “Gosh, Fawn. Is it worth it?”

I knew it wasn’t. That was the last time I drove myself that hard. If I worked overtime, I took comp time instead of cash. Always. Time was worth more than money.

Imagine my surprise when I went to bed last night and realized that I am right where I was all those years ago. I am working too long and too hard. I have a purpose! I have a new book coming out! We are setting up multiple websites as part of a new marketing strategy! I am learning the insanity of Web 2.0 and I am trying (and failing) to keep up with e-mail! Isn’t that exciting?

No! For those of you who come to my website looking for the daily dose of optimism, hang with me. It is coming.

It is coming because I am having an awakening.

If you are working so hard that you aren’t living a full and meaningful life, you are not living. It doesn’t matter what you do to drive your success — you are not successfully living because work is not enough. It isn’t. It’s a challenging part of your life, but it is not your life. Not if you are getting the deluxe tour.

I only get to live once. You only get to live once.

I don’t know about you, but I am going for a very long bike ride. What are you going to do to live right now?

Fawn Germer is the best-selling author of four books. Her fifth book, Finding the UP in the Downturn, will be released in April. She travels internationally as a keynote speaker who works with organizations and companies that want more courageous and creative performance.

I found that island…

I’ve been threatening to go to an island to unplug from my computer — which I did over the weekend.

My friends and I wound up paddling our kayaks out to an island that is literally right down the street from me. I live three houses up from the water in Clearwater, Fla. and I never go to that little island — even though it is only a five-minute kayak paddle away.

Five minutes is a million miles when you are desperate to get away from your computer. I’ve never been one to go over the ledge into workaholism, but recently, I slipped into that abyss. I’ve got a book coming out and major marketing for my speaking business. This is the first time I have been so consumed by my work, and I don’t like what it has done to me.

I needed that island. I loaded my camping gear and six friends and I paddled out there before landing on what would be “our” island for that moment in time. We cooked over the fire, made s’mores and told stories. My phone was off and packed away. I never even touched it. But, I did notice some very strange behavior on my friend Cindy’s part when I saw her thumbs moving rapidly. She was texting. On an island! Then, Jen’s cell phone rang. Yikes. Are we that bad that we can’t shut the world out for a few hours?

I didn’t want to come back to the pile of work I had waiting for me. But, I learned something very, very good.

I have my own, personal paradise. It is  just five minutes away.

And I can go there to just “be.”

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