On Leadership

Naomi posed a question in her comment to my stat post that I’ve asked myself a few times, too. Why do I hold myself back from being a leader – and underneath that question is, of course, what does “being a leader” mean to me?

I’ve tried in the past to figure it out, but I’ve never tried to puzzle it out through writing, so this is an attempt to do that and it may get sort of long and sloppy (you’ve been warned).

I started off this question by thinking: who do I think of when I think of the word “leader”?

The first person that came to mind is pretty random.

William Wallace. Not the REAL William Wallace (I have no idea what his story is), but William Wallace as portrayed by Mel Gibson in the movie “Braveheart.”

So: Mel Gibson. That’s who I think is the epitome of a leader (lol).

Seriously, though, I asked myself, why would that be who comes to mind? What is it about William Wallace, as portrayed in Braveheart, that makes me think “leader”?

The first thing I thought of was that William Wallace, despite becoming the leader of Scotland’s fight to obtain independence from England, was never separate from the people he was fighting for. He was one of them. He suffered, as they had. He didn’t dress different, he didn’t assume any special position in battle — he was down there with the rest of them, risking his life, fighting alongside them.

He also was of course brave, hence the name of the movie, and he was very passionate about his cause. The cause, in fact, is what made him a leader – he basically shifted to 100% responsibility and decided that he was going to become the cause of the cause. He didn’t say to himself “I’m the best fighter,” or “I’m the most inspiring person here.” Instead, by becoming the cause of the cause, he naturally became its leader.

What’s interesting though about choosing Wallace is that things do not end well for him. While it’s true the cause he fought for came to fruition (Scotland won its independence from England), prior to that, Wallace was publicly beheaded, screaming “freedom” as his final word. The cause made him a leader – but the cause also killed him.

He’s not alone. Leaders get killed, literally and metaphorically, all the time.

Which got me thinking about the limiting beliefs I have around leadership, and my judgments and beliefs about people I perceive as leaders.

Limiting Belief 1: Leaders get killed. Jesus got crucified, for Christ’s sake (see what I did there?).

I believe that happens any time someone steps up as a leader. Not always literally, but, when you put yourself out there like that – you get criticized. Often harshly, often by people who are coming at you from bad come-froms. They feel envious, they feel threatened, they want to attack you for putting yourself out there because they’re too afraid to do it themselves and are resentful.

Brene Brown actually talks a lot about how viciously she was attacked after her initial wildly successful Ted Talk. That led her to write her second book, “Daring Greatly,” which was about the difference between the critic – who stays safe in the stands – and the “man in the arena,” the one who is out there risking. She said that one of the things she decided for herself was that she would no longer take criticism from the people in the stands – she would only listen to others who were in the arena with her.

It’s a nice theory, but the people in the stands can be relentless, never stopping until they finally tear you down. And what happens when you look around and realize you’re the only one in the arena? If there are others with you, great, but, how often does that occur? Let’s face it: most people are in the stands.  [Insert Jimmy’s two cents here:  “What about LP?  What about PSPLife?  In those cases, isn’t it the case that everyone is in the arena with you?”  Yes, I suppose so.]

But to get back to who I think of when I think “leader,” I thought to myself, William Wallace is pretty far off – he’s basically fictional, for one, living a life that is incredibly different from the life I live. Can I think of anyone closer?

The first person who came to mind when I did that was Katia. She and I went to high school together. She went on to found the company “Birchbox,” and she now has a net worth of over $1 billion.  I’ve mentioned her before.  It’s not easy being in the same high school class as someone like that (lol).

I thought of Katia not only now, but in middle school and high school too. She was very popular—extraverted, beautiful, charismatic, always willing to put herself out there. In high school I was very critical of “popular” people. I saw them as incredibly inauthentic – they had to be, to keep up their image and keep their friends. Katia was different, though – she was popular because of who she really was, and if the next day everyone decided they couldn’t stand her, I think Katia would’ve gone on being Katia.

I didn’t know her very well—we had several classes together, but I’m not sure we ever even spoke directly, at least not often enough for me to recall it. I knew her now husband much better, we were on the Speech and Debate team together (lol — if you were wondering, I was not popular).

If you asked what do I think of Katia’s life – knowing only what I know – I would say, it’s incredibly impressive. Some kid from El Paso, Texas founding an international billion dollar company is, by any measure, remarkable. She’s without question a leader – to entrepreneurs, to women. She’s also a mother – of twin boys. She is someone who “has it all.”  It would seem I don’t have any negative impression of her or her life.

However, the truth is, I’ve often thought that her life seems sort of isolating. She and her husband don’t actually seem to be surrounded by that many friends. They also don’t seem to spend a lot of time together. I have a similar reaction to my friend David, who I also went to high school with and who became a multi-millionaire after founding a major media company (which he sold a couple of years ago). When I saw David years later in New York, he embraced me like one of his most trusted friends, even though in high school, we were at each other’s throat every day.  I later got the impression that David did not feel he a had a lot of people around him he could trust – as a result, anyone he knew from “before” (i.e., from El Paso) he gave instant credibility to. His fiancé, for example, is a girl he knew since middle school.

I think though it’s important to note that I don’t actually know much at all about these people’s lives; I’m simply assuming that they are isolated. It may not be true at all.

Limiting Belief 2: Leadership is isolating.

I think of David’s fiancé –the one he met in middle school in El Paso — as a leader too.   She got herself into the political world in New York. She now has become the first Asian-American representative of Chinatown (it was in the news for a while).

What struck me about her after she got elected is that she posts a lot online – and on more than one occasion, I thought to myself, she is being way too free and casual with what she’s saying. She’s a politician now. You can’t do that. She also wears bold red lipstick all the time (which looks lovely on her) — you certainly can’t do THAT.

Limiting Belief 3: Leadership is restrictive.

Back to me, though, what is my personal experience of being a leader?

A couple of things came to mind when I asked myself that question, and they were not things that I expected to come to mind.

In my junior and senior years of high school, I was in the “Advanced Placement” classes. We had an English teacher in that program who was revered at my school; everyone loved him, everyone wanted to be loved by him. He didn’t know I existed, because I was quiet and hung back – until he gave us an assignment to write a 5-page piece with a nostalgic tone (I think I’ve written about this before, because it was such an impactful moment for me and I still haven’t fully dissected why). Katia, by the way, was in this class, as was her future husband.

After the teacher had graded everyone’s papers, he read the three best pieces – he said the first two (one of which was Katia’s husband’s) were really great, but the third “blew me away.” It was mine. I had written about my horse, Platinum, but what the piece was really about was a realization that my childhood was ending. I recall that it exhibited a wisdom and an angst that was beyond my years (even I was surprised by it after I wrote it). I wish I still had it; I wonder what I would think of it now.

In any event, he read my piece aloud to the class, and I couldn’t handle it. I was, truly, elated. It was one of the best moments of my life (as I write that I’m thinking, wow, that sounds a little pathetic) – and one of the most excruciating. I put my head down on the desk and could not look at anyone.

After this assignment, he told us we would be doing a group project that would have a huge impact on our grades for the year – and that he would be choosing the three who had written the best pieces to be captains, meaning I was one.

This is where it gets interesting. When I became a captain, I totally shifted. I didn’t want to be “better” than everyone — but no, that’s not quite accurate.  Really, I didn’t want to be “different” from everyone. I was desperate to get back in the crowd. As a result, I was very casual as a group captain – most of our group meetings became social, lots of joking around, led by me. I used it as a chance to make friends, really, and I ignored doing well on the assignment completely.

We got a B. I never got Bs. I was very jarred by it, and pretty angry at myself afterwards.  It felt like a squandered opportunity.

This story makes me think of a moment even further back in time, in first grade. My reading and writing skills were two levels above the kids in my class. It was because I had been reading and writing a lot already at home, wanting to keep up with my older sister, and also desperate to read as soon as I could because my father paid much more attention to his books than to us.

My teacher did not know what to do with me. She began teaching me separately from everyone else, giving me an entirely different book and different assignments. I hated it. It made me cry. When she pressured my parents to have me skip a grade, I lost it; I had a complete meltdown. I was already tiny for my grade. If I went up one, I would look ridiculous. More than that, though, I just wanted to be like everyone else! Please, let me just be like everyone else.

Again, I think this wasn’t really distress about having a higher level of skill than everyone else, it was more about being different – not belonging.  Or maybe, standing out.  I really didn’t want to stand out.

That brings me to my most powerful limiting belief about leadership.

Limiting Belief 4: Leaders stand out/do not belong.  

This “not belonging” belief runs deep for me, and I’m not sure I fully understand it.

It’s been a lifetime narrative, starting with my family. At some point, I knew I was an unplanned second child. The family was “supposed” to be just my parents and my sister, and I felt like that was reinforced by their words and actions again and again (this was something I imagined; I do not think, looking back, that they actually or deliberately tried to make me feel this way).

This led to a belief that “I do not belong,” which led to me trying to “be right” about that my whole life. I didn’t walk at my high school graduation, for example, nor did I go to a Texas college, like everyone else. I went to Hawaii.  I got married at 19.  I worked at Hooters.  I ended up doing a lot of things that were not in the script, on purpose.

But then, I wonder, is it true that I became comfortable with not belonging, and started to do things to cause it to happen in order to “be right”?  That’s what I’ve thought, after doing the work, but I’m not sure that’s entirely accurate.

I’ll tell you why.

When Jimmy and I were in Flight Club (Red Elephant’s program), we did a workshop with Belanie DeShong, who has this theory about “core filters.”  Belanie says “core filters” are limiting beliefs we develop as children that are very powerful, more so than every-day limiting beliefs (several of which are usually piled on top of, and concealing, the underlying core filter).

Using Belanie’s theory to explore “I don’t belong” yields an interesting result.

Belanie would tell me “I don’t belong” is not a core filter; that’s a limiting belief covering up the true core filter. She would try to get underneath it by asking: “what sort of person doesn’t belong?”

The first answer that comes to mind is a leper. Lepers do not belong. Lepers have to live in separate colonies – that’s the degree to which they do not belong. They are repulsive, diseased, and it’s not something they can change; it’s not who they are, but what.  It’s immutable.

She would then work with me to see what the exact belief is under “I don’t belong.” Is it that “I’m a leper?” Probably not. There’s probably a word underneath “leper” that goes to the heart of it, maybe one that describes a leper – “I am repulsive,” or maybe simply, “I am ugly.”

My sister used to call me “ugly” all the time, and I remember feeling especially stung by it, even though I knew it was just a juvenile thing older sisters say to their younger sisters. She would say it to me a lot, too, because she could tell it stung.  Looking back, it might have stung because I made up that that was the reason I was the outlier in my family, the one who was not supposed to be there.  I came out of the womb a leper, and they were like:  “What the heck is this thing and why is it here?  I guess we’re stuck with it.”

So, here’s where Belaie’s work offers a different perspective from the work. Belanie says it’s not that we go through life trying to “be right” about our core filters. In fact, the opposite is true.   We spend our whole lives trying to prove we are NOT whatever the core filter is. In this case, she would ask, “what have you done in your life prove you belong,” or, “what have you done in your life to cover up that you are ugly?”

Well, a lot.  Look at my examples above. Once I got appointed a group “captain” by the universally beloved English teacher, I shrunk myself down – in order to fit in. Before that, in first grade, I gave up an opportunity to skip a grade because I just wanted to belong.

But then, is it about “belonging”? If I think about it, what goes on in my head is a little different. It’s not: “belong at all costs!” It’s more: “don’t stand out at all costs!”

What bothered me about being the group captain and skipping a grade had more to do with standing out than it did with a desperate need to be “part of” (though I’m sure that has to be a component of it).

So, that begs the question: what is it about standing out that scares me so much?

And that takes me right back to what’s underneath “I don’t belong”: the belief that “I’m ugly.”

The main problem with leadership for me is that you are exposed. I remember in Red Elephant they would talk about that a lot, since Red Elephant is a program where the whole point is to start speaking on stages. They’d say, when you’re on the stage, you’re fully exposed. There is no hiding. People will see who you really are.

For me, it’s been a lifetime effort to not stand out, not get up on the stage – because if I do that, everyone will see who I really am: ugly, a leper. And then, if people see that, they will tell me to go off and live in a colony somewhere, away from everyone, “we don’t want you here.”

That means anything that makes me stand out — any talent, any unique quality — becomes dangerous for me.  It becomes something I have to hide.

This belief doesn’t make sense, I know. I could write down lists of evidence that disprove it, and yet, it doesn’t make a difference.  I could try to disprove it all day, talk about how ridiculous it is, hear other people tell me how ridiculous it is, and nothing would change.  I would still believe I’m ugly.

This is the thing about limiting beliefs from childhood – they don’t really make much sense, but you’re stuck with them. As Belanie says, they just are, they’re a part of you – the same as your arm, or your leg, or your nose.

That’s why Belanie’s theory is that the only way to be free of a core filter is to become willing to BE whatever that belief is (since you cannot rid yourself of it, all you can do is lessen the power it holds over you). In this case, if my above self-therapy is accurate, I would have to become willing to be exposed as ugly.

I do feel resistance as I think about that – i.e., I feel like I’m not willing to be ugly.  Certainly not in front of a crowd.

The next step would be to say, out loud to other people: “My name is Kyla and what I want you to know about me is that I am ugly.”  That’s way easier said then done.

The final step is to understand that “I am ugly” only because I say so – because I said so to myself back when I was a child. In other words, the final step is to realize it’s a fiction, it’s not true, it’s just something you told yourself one day and it stuck and there’s no rhyme or reason to it at all.

If you do these things, Belanie says you’re free of the core filter — it’s lost its power over you.

So, putting the pieces together (and I know this probably got hard to follow for anyone who is not me), my most powerful limiting belief about leadership is:  When I am a leader, I am exposed, and everyone will discover I am ugly.

I feel as if all of this may have raised more questions than answers for me. I will say at the outset of writing this, I would not have thought that underneath my reluctance to be a leader is “I am ugly” (or something along those lines; I still don’t know if I got the word right, and Belanie stresses that you must find the exact word that, for you, captures the core filter).

In any event, you can imagine how, if that’s my thought process, of course I would recoil from leadership.  Can you imagine going through that every time you step up to be a leader?  I mean, when I do step up as a leader, it’s pretty unnerving and difficult. I’m basically out there cringing, waiting for everyone to realize I’m a leper.

Well, this was distressing. Thanks a lot, Naomi (lol).

Really, though, if all of this is accurate – does awareness of it help? Probably yes, especially if I go back in time and think about the prices I’ve paid fighting the “exposure” of leadership.

Advanced is one place where I paid prices. I joined an Advanced group I didn’t do Basic with (I skipped to the next class).  As a result, no one knew me, and the first day when Kathy said “find the person in the room you have the most resistance to,” I had five people standing in front of me. The main reason they felt resistance to me was because I was new (so they had instantly made up a bunch of stuff about me based on pretty much nothing), but for me, I had this panic moment: you’re standing out.

Even so, in the beginning, on that first day, I remember fighting through it (almost defiantly) and not holding back when it came to giving others feedback.

Then we did the feedback arc, and I paid for it (that’s how it felt). One person called me a “bully.” Another called me a “dark person.” Those are the words I remember, because they’re the ones that stung.

The message I got from that was this: you tried to put yourself out there as a leader, and your ugly inner core got exposed. It’s time to run back to shelter.

While I got a lot out of Advanced, I know I did not get nearly as much as I could have if I hadn’t reigned myself in after that and run back into the crowd. I didn’t give anyone feedback anymore; I hardly said anything at all. I became an observer, for the most part. I behaved the same way in LP, unless I felt like I was in control (that’s a whole other blog post). When the coaches and Gloria were in the room, though, it was too risky; they might put me on the hot seat and expose me (and for most of LP, they were in the room).

It’s interesting thinking about this now, because I think I actually may have had a meaningful breakthrough this cycle on this front.  As the “integrity buddy,” I took a leadership position this cycle (at least that is how I saw it).  As you guys know, one of the first pieces of feedback I gave in that role was to Raul, and several people did not like it or take it well (including him). In fact, someone called me a “bully” (how perfect is the Universe that that particular word was used?).

I say that not to play victim, all of the feedback was fair, but more to take a look at what I went through when that happened.

I had a hard time with it, honestly (in private).  I got defensive. I thought to myself, forget this role, if this is the shit I have to put up with. As if I want to spend extra time and energy holding other people accountable rather than just focusing on my own goals. I had a strong urge, too, to kind of check out after that, “reign myself in,” get out of the spotlight – my (subconscious) thought was, they’re beginning to “discover” your “ugly” core and they’re going to tell you that you don’t belong here.

That probably sounds silly, but it did come up for me.

I shifted, though, because I am so relentlessly determined to get to where I need to get for my family.  I opened myself to the feedback, reminded myself it was just information – not the truth – and that I needed to consider it and see if it resonated.  As a result, I made some adjustments the next time I addressed someone who had missed a blog post, and I think they were helpful.

But, the one thing I decided not to change was holding firm in my stand for the group to be in integrity. That meant that I would continue giving feedback, and risk that it might hit people the wrong way. They would react however they were going to react, maybe I would learn something from their reactions (maybe not), but I wasn’t going to give up and retreat back into the crowd. Not this time.

It’s a small thing, but I do think it’s a breakthrough of a sort.

Still, I had to go through a lot to get there.  I’d really like to not have to do that, it’s taxing.

In the end, I think this is a pretty important area for me to focus on to be able to truly move forward, and to move up a level in my leadership capacity (which I am committed to doing). So, I’m going to take some time and think about the other prices I’ve paid in my life for retreating back into the crowd. I can’t afford this anymore. It has to change.

So, now, a sincere thank you to Naomi for the push (lol).

 

Arrival

When the boys were very small — before they could make eye contact or smile or do anything other than eat and poop and cry — we were on our counselor’s couch, and I was a sloppy tearful mess.

Jimmy was struggling to connect to the boys. He couldn’t shake feeling like he needed some kind of sign of appreciation from them, some recognition that he was their father and that he was breaking his back trying to do everything for them.

Every time he would get annoyed with them — sigh heavily when he was feeding them, drift through a succession of mornings and nights in a closed, disconnected state — I got upset.

I didn’t get angry with him so much as it made me feel very sad.

I tried to articulate why to our counselor.

My maternity leave is limited, I told her. I have these three months to get to feel what it’s like to be with them full time, and that’s it. It hurts me deeply knowing all Jimmy wants to do is fast-forward through this time, like he can’t wait for it to be over. This is our life, what we planned for and dreamed of. Wishing any part of it to be over, or to “just get through it,” is very, very far from how I want things to be.

I don’t tell this story to throw Jimmy under the bus; he had what is not an uncommon struggle early on, trying to connect to two little beings who couldn’t really connect back in the way one might envision. When Jimmy realized he had this issue, he didn’t ignore it or hide it. He brought it to the surface, despite being ashamed of it.  He faced it head on and did the work to get through it. That’s why he’s an amazing father–not because he’s perfect, but because he’s committed.

I tell this story for a different reason, as a vehicle to explore something that’s been coming up for me lately.

My major goal is all about the future. The bright, golden future. It’s about looking forward with certainty and optimism.

As a result, you could say that, right now, I’m living more in the future than I am in the present.

The other day, for example, Jimmy’s cousin (his age) stopped by randomly with her daughter (not my age, but closer to my age than his cousin is). She expected to find Jimmy at home, but he was out golfing. It was a Thursday. I was at home because my boss had told me not to come in the day after we had that successful mediation.

Confession: I am sort of clueless when it comes to Jimmy’s family. They are very traditional. A young career woman seems to baffle them; a young super ambitious career woman who is the provider in her family and married to their older cousin even more so. I think they can’t quite get their heads around it.

Anyway, she was taken aback that Jimmy was gone and she was left with me instead. She asked me about the new job, in a struggle to make conversation, and I found myself excitedly babbling in response to her otherwise simple question (which she intended only as a pleasantry before making her escape). I told her about the mediation, and how our settlement was tens of millions of dollars, and how our firm’s fee would be one-third of that — and that while right now I’m only a salaried attorney, I was going to be a partner soon, and so soon I’d be receiving a piece of a giant fee like that. I didn’t say it to brag, I said it because with my major goal, my mind is always on it–I’m always striving to stand in that place of optimism and certainty.

She nodded along impatiently with a somewhat condescending look (or what I interpreted to be a somewhat condescending look). She looked at me like I was some silly high school girl jabbering on about a pipe dream as if it were real in a desperate attempt to feel important.

I realized that, from her perspective, I probably sounded a little ridiculous. Jimmy had devoted his life to being an alcohol counselor; he is a heart-centered person who never prioritized money. While I’m an attorney, they know we’ve needed financial help on several occasions — with our wedding, with staying at the house for deeply discounted rent, with my maternity leave. My salary is good, but as a sole provider for a family of four in New York, not so much. Yet there I was, essentially telling her we would soon be millionaires.

She didn’t at all believe me.

I realized after she left that I didn’t need her to believe me, and shouldn’t expect her to. She doesn’t know how powerful my stance is. She doesn’t get that it’s inevitable. That it already happened. She doesn’t know my mind, my abilities, my talent, my resolve. It is for me to believe, without evidence — not her, not anyone else. The second I need someone else to believe is the second my certainty has faltered.

And you know, maybe it has a little. Maybe her reaction and my perception of it was honest feedback for me — i.e., less a result of the prejudices I perceive her to have, and more a result of my own doubt creeping in.

For example, toward the end of my maternity leave, and before I started my job search, we met with a financial planner at our house (a good friend of Jimmy’s). He walked us through an analysis he prepared based on my current income. I stopped him halfway through.

“You’re going to have to redo this,” I told him. “I’m about to get a new job that pays more.”

You can imagine how, watching me sitting there in my sweat pants with Brodie squirming on my lap after having not worked for two and a half months, he may have received my statement with a little skepticism. But my tone was so certain — and the conviction behind it so strong — that it literally knocked him back in his chair. He looked over at Jimmy and said: “Wow. Man, I bet it’s nice for you to hear her say something like that.”

He believed me. There was no option not to, because he could tell that, for me, it had already happened.

Perhaps that level conviction was missing in my conversation with Jimmy’s cousin — my mind with its nagging worries is continually trying to draw me in, and there are still too many moments in which it succeeds — but consider this post a redeclaration of my conviction now.

All of this has led to two thoughts that I’m still sort of ruminating about.

The first is that, the truth is, I understand that I can’t guarantee that the future I envision will happen. I know there are many things outside of my control. I know life can smite you when you least expect it. I know what I’m declaring is unreasonable. I know I may not fully understand how much it will take to get there. But, I also know that if I stand in this place — believing with complete certainty that this future I see is inevitable — then it or something like it just became a hell of a lot more likely to actually happen. So that’s where I’m committed to standing, no matter what. For me, it already happened. You can’t tell me something isn’t possible when it already happened.

The second thought I had is one that has been percolating in the back of my mind for a while.

Even without my golden future, lately, I feel more and more like I’ve already arrived at the life I want — with what I have right now.

That Thursday afternoon after Jimmy’s cousin left, I woke up the boys from their afternoon naps and placed them on the mat in the living room while the pre-summer sun streamed in through the open windows. I got on the floor and played with them and sang them a song or two. Then Jimmy got home, energized from his golf game. We left the boys with grandma and went out to dinner by the water and talked and stayed for coffee and dessert.

All Jimmy ever wanted was a family, and children, and enough time and money to play golf once in a while. All I ever wanted was a place to belong, my own tribe.

We have it.

I don’t really need anything else. I never dreamed of a yacht or a private jet. Neither did Jimmy. He wants his own training center. We want to own a nice, comfortable home down south. I dream of my palomino horse, and going for Sunday rides in the cool morning air, maybe towing the boys along with me on little ponies every once in a while.

But the things we wanted at our core — we have.

Is this feeling a result of what we have, or a shift in our relationship to it?

In other words, if someone else had what I have now, would they be dissatisfied? Would they say wow, you’re stuck out on Long Island in a small little suburban house? That stinks. Your husband is a lot older than you and stays home while you work — that’s kind of hard, no? And you have two boys? Man. Aside from being way too much work, too bad you didn’t have a girl and a boy, right? And your job seems okay, but, White Plains? Has anyone ever even heard of that firm? It sounds a little squirrelly. And it’s been how long since you’ve had a nice vacation somewhere exotic or bought yourself an expensive outfit just because?

The above thoughts come to mind because I’ve had them. I’ve had them when I was in a much different — and much worse — headspace (absent the thoughts about my new job, I shifted before then).

Now, I can’t imagine being anything but grateful for our cute little house, our yard and our porch, my mother-in-law next door to help us with the twins and bake us yummy things that smell delicious, my two gorgeous boys, my wonderfully attentive husband, my renegade-like job that gives me my time with my family and a chance to make real money (and some purpose, suing greedy corporations and banks who committed fraud thinking they’d get away with it for large sums of money).

I got to this state by getting present to actual, deep gratitude for my life exactly as it is.

So, to return to where I started this post, any time we talk to other parents, they get tears in their eyes telling us about how nostalgic they are for the stage we’re in now. That stage when they’re so impossibly small, but developing in new ways each day. That stage when you and your partner are in the trenches together, up all night, feeding, burping, changing — loving, laughing, crying, tip-toeing and shushing to let the other rest, expanding, growing, living.

What I wanted for us, crying on that couch, was exactly this. I didn’t want our lives to be different. I didn’t want to fast forward past the harder stages, to when the boys are 2, or 5, or 10, or 18, or to when we have more money or more things. Instead, I wanted our relationship with the here and now to change. I wanted us to get that our life as a family is happening now, and that we already have everything we want, in spades. I wanted us to get that we’ll miss these times one day — even their challenges — and maybe if we drink them in fully right now we’ll miss them a little less later on.

So here’s a question. For the first time in a long time, I truly feel like I’ve already arrived at the life I want — yet I am more driven than ever.

Doesn’t it seem like the opposite would be true? If I find myself fully satisfied with the present, why dream of the far off golden future? Why relentlessly pursue it? And yet my stance for our future is firmer than ever.

Somehow, these things go hand in hand — i.e., the more I enjoy my present life the firmer my belief in our future becomes — and I think the reason why may be the law of attraction.

When you raise your vibration, and your relationship to what you already have shifts to one of sincere gratitude, you open new pathways to what is available in the future. It’s a weird phenomenon, but I feel it happening.

At the ropes course in LP, I was determined to grab the trapeze, even though I’m a complete weenie about physical challenges. I decided that from the ground. Steve asked me, on the ground, what I intended to do. How far did I intend to go? I told him — just him, I didn’t loudly announce it, I didn’t declare it to our team — that I was going to grab the bar. And I did grab it.

On the way up — with a foot of snow on the ground, and my legs shaking on that wobbly pole — Jimmy yelled: “Don’t forget to enjoy it.”

And as he said that, I did. I enjoyed that I somehow stumbled my way into AdvancedEd, a program off the beaten path. That I was on some high ropes course I never, ever would have done in my alternate life. That the snow was on the ground, that the sun was in the trees, that my heart was racing, that my body was filled with life — that my future husband was down below, cheering me on. I enjoyed, too, making the leap, and feeling the bar in my hands even before my fingers closed around it.

With my major goal, I already feel the bar in my hands, standing here on the ground. That’s how focused on it I am. But we’re not going to forget to enjoy our journey there, because our life is right now.

I think that both are not only possible, but necessary; one begets the other.

To close out this post, I’m going to share here below the exact moment I made this mindset shift, to having arrived–which for me is a mixture of both gratitude for the present and certainty of my desired future. I wrote it down in my Notes on my iPhone (where I write everything). I don’t remember precisely when; I vaguely recall it being during one of those nights when I realized sleep was not going to happen because Brodie was wide awake and excitedly talking up a storm (promoter). Here it is:
—————————————
March 23, 2017

Brodie’s default is smiling.

Mine? Worry. My thoughts when I go to bed: worry. My thoughts when I wake up: worry.

No more.

I’m going to bed filling my head with images of the life I want, that I am determined to create for myself and my family. I’m waking up with gratitude for the amazing things coming my way.

This is not an exercise in dreaming. F*ck dreaming. I am going to make these things happen. They are inevitable. I will not squander my powers of visualization and manifestation on worry anymore.

This is the line in the sand. There is no ceremony, no one to witness it, nothing that would outwardly mark this moment as significant, and yet, it is perhaps the most significant moment of the year.

I’m crossing the line. No more hoping, dreaming, wanting, no — I am, instead, going to shut up and do it.
—————————————

I f*cking meant it.

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The Red Ball

I set the baseline for my minor singing goal, I figured I’d set the baseline for my major goal too because airport security lines.

I recently read “The Secret.” When you have babies, you strangely end up with an abundance of time — because you no longer sleep. “Falling asleep” and “waking up” aren’t things anymore. Wakefulness and sleep blend together until you enter an alternate universe where there is no longer any such thing as either.

ANYWAY, for those that haven’t read it, “the secret” is the law of attraction. Stated simply, the law of attraction says whatever you devote your focus to is what will show up in your life. This can work for you – or against you. For many of us, especially those who have not done any self-awareness work, it is the latter.

My major goal is all about having this law work FOR me. I think a lot. I have a very vivid imagination, too, I always have. Unfortunately, I often use this power for Evil (to myself, not others). I read news stories about tragedies and instantly visualize them, only the strangers in these stories are suddenly replaced by me and people I know. I envision negative scenarios often. I worry, based on nothing factual–but rather on images and scenarios my mind concocts that have never happened.

So, reading “The Secret,” I was reminded of the damage I do to myself and my life by allowing this to continue. I was also reminded of how powerful I am — and how I could so easily redirect my thoughts, energy and imagination toward manifesting the things I actually want for myself and my family.

“The Secret” also showed me that the trouble for me – up until now – has not only been using my imagination counterproductively, but also believing in limits.

Jimmy celebrated 27 years of sobriety recently. We brought the boys to his anniversary AA meeting on Long Island, filled with people he’s known that long. He wheeled the boys up to the podium with him when he gave his anniversary speech. After he spoke, his sponsor took the mic and said: “I’ve known Jimmy his entire sobriety. His whole life, he’s wanted nothing more than to be a husband and father. As time went on, it seemed as if he had missed the boat. But then, there he is–and there they are.”

He then compared Jimmy’s story to the story of Sarah and Abraham in the Bible. God promised them a child, but Sarah was barren and only growing older. She nonetheless miraculously gave birth at 80 years old. (This comparison may sound insulting, and at the time I thought it was sort of funny for that reason — the truth is Jimmy having a family even after it seemed like it was too late is a direct result of his committed action, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think such committed action doesn’t end up generating a little magic).

I’m not a religious person, and I’m not sure how I feel about “miracles,” but the message of the story resonates: anything is possible. Not in a cliche way, but in a real way.

Mountains move. We see it all the time. There are countless stories that prove this. We can look to our own lives and easily find stories that prove this. To have a different belief – that there are limits on what can occur, and how fast – is not the truth, and stymies what is possible.

When I met him, Jimmy was turning 50 and had no family. As a result, his biggest fear was ending up alone. Less than three years later, the twins and I appeared (not in that order). (It’s a little weird, being the product of someone else’s manifestation; my ego doesn’t like it. But, what can you do?)

Back to ME though. There’s a chapter in “The Secret” that asks you to play with manifesting. Come up with something simple, like a cup of coffee. See it, feel it in your hands, smell it, feel the experience of drinking it – and see if it doesn’t “magically” appear.

I chose to manifest something common, but a little less so than a cup of coffee. A red ball. It was bright red, and fit exactly in the palm of my hand. It was made out of softer, spongey material, but it was firm, and could bounce. I saw it, I felt it in my hand. I focused on it so hard that I fully expected to see it sitting in the backyard, or for Jimmy to walk through the door with it saying he’d found it somewhere and for some reason felt compelled to pick it up. None of these things happened, though.

When I began my job search, I told Jimmy about the red ball. I told him I could feel I was in the flow with beginning this job search; I had been visualizing daily about our future, laser focused on manifesting it now. Not in 15 years, or 10 years – in 5 years or less. I told him I knew the job I got would be an important component of making this happen. Then I told him about the exercise from the book, and how I had chosen to manifest a palm-sized red ball. I told him when the red ball appears, that’s when I’ll know that it’s all possible.

It was very soon after that that I went on my first interview for a new job. It was in White Plains. I have been a diehard Manhattanite for eight years – to now be living on Long Island and then even consider a job in White Plains is very far outside the script.

Before I got the offer from the White Plains place, I also interviewed with a Long Island firm. The Long Island firm was a safer bet all around. Close. Good pay. Work I already knew how to do well. Steady, consistent.

But it was unlikely to get me to my big vision. I won’t go into it, but as an attorney, as you get more senior (I now have 10 years of experience; how did that happen?), there comes a time when you have to make choice about what the punchline of your career is going to be (else you lose control over it) — I am at that point. There was, therefore, very little analyzing of this decision on my part. Talking it over with Jimmy, the choice was clear. Even he saw that it was, in listening to how I spoke of the White Plains opportunity. The Boca Raton component only confirmed it. I had asked the Universe for a warm place to escape to during the winter — my future boss is in Boca Raton as often as he’s not (meaning he wouldn’t blink an eye if I decided to work out of the Florida office for a month in the winter).

So I took the White Plains job, and I gave notice to my current boss, only a week and a half after returning from maternity leave. Jimmy and I had planned for my job search to take months, the rest of 2017. It took massive action — but in terms of time, it took less than two weeks. That’s what clarity, and urgency, gets you.

In my last weeks at my job, I went to CVS a few times, and some grocery stores, just running errands. Every time, I glanced down the toy aisle, looking for my red ball. There were blue ones and green ones and rainbow ones and big red ones made of plastic but no palm-sized red spongey ball.

Then it was my last day of work.

Funny aside — my sister quit her job of 7 years (as an IP attorney for a large publicly traded company) at the same time as me (she’s moving from Boston to LA to be an attorney for Hulu, which thankfully is not publicly traded, else there would be significant potential for my new firm to sue her company at some point). We had the same last day of work, and the same start date of May 8 (I ended up starting May 1 to go to Florida and meet the rest of my new firm, but I still officially start in NY on May 8).

For my last weekend of “freedom,” Jimmy and I decided to do some fun things. One thing we did was take the boys to the Sayville Springfest, which is an outdoor fair at a local park.

I’ll cut to the chase. There was a Walgreens tent at the fair. They were selling “red noses.” There were large boxes of them, all bunched together. “Let’s get four,” Jimmy said, “for us and the boys.” I said no, because “red nose” day was a ways away and even though it’s for charity I thought it was kind of hokey – I wasn’t totally sure I wanted to play along.

Later, we went to dinner locally. Since we weren’t taking the boys (Jimmy’s mom had agreed to watch them for a couple hours), we took Jimmy’s smaller sedan rather than the SUV.

Sitting on Jimmy’s dashboard by the steering wheel was a single palm-sized red ball, wrapped in plastic.

I did a double-take.

“What is that?” I asked him.

“Oh,” he said. “It’s a red nose. I had gotten one just for myself a few days ago, they were selling them at the checkout counter.”

So, it wasn’t a ball — but it had sure as hell looked like one. Jimmy handed it to me. It fit perfectly in my palm. I peeled back the plastic but already knew before I touched the material: soft and spongey, but firm. It could bounce.

“This is my red ball,” I told him.

“Oh wow,” he said. “Maybe.”

If we had gotten the red noses at the fair, I don’t think I would’ve seen the one on Jimmy’s dashboard as a red ball. I think I would’ve seen it as a red nose.

I could throw it back, and tell the Universe this isn’t what I had in mind – but how often does the thing we sought to manifest appear, with every essential feature we asked for, but it nonetheless still looks quite different from what we envisioned?

I finished unwrapping the ball and placed it back on the dashboard, where it will remain, as I’m using that car to commute to White Plains. A key component of my major goal is setting myself up to be reminded of my vision every day – and also that it’s possible.

Marie and I used to debate about “signs.” She insisted they exist. I said I don’t think so; I think they’re a product of a brain looking for confirmation of something it wants to believe.

Does it matter if “signs” are real? Not really. I have decided to believe the things I previously viewed as “not in the cards” for me and my family are in fact headed our way — by believing that, it instantly becomes more likely, and in my mind, inevitable. It can be an unnerving stance to hold, though; every few minutes my nerd/ego says: “Are you kidding? What makes you think you have what it takes for any of this? And what makes you think this world, which is full of hate and tragedy, will give it to you?”

That’s why I need the red ball.

Negative Self-Talk

I’m really guilty of it this cycle.

This cycle I’ve called myself irritable, anti-social, whiney, negative, and heavy, among other things.

Those are just things I’ve written.

I’ve also called myself (internally): brutal, weak, selfish, mean, lazy, petty, unkind.

I’m sure there’s more, that’s just what comes to mind.

This all came to light because my mom complained about Jimmy’s family, and it was this great liberating moment for me.

Disclaimer: Jimmy’s family is great. This isn’t about them. But sometimes when I fail to be as connected with them as he wants me to be, I disproportionately blame myself and my perceived shortcomings.

So first, a word on me and my mom.  How I have it is that my mom is nothing like me.

Everyone loves my mom. Her popularity ratings are high. She was prom queen in high school.

I was on the debate team in high school. I had no friends by the end (I ate lunch alone in my car), hated everyone, and defiantly refused to walk at my high school graduation (unthinkable to my mom, all of it).

Anyone who meets my mom loves her. Not like a polite “oh your mom seems really nice,” but “your mom is AWESOME.” “She is the BEST.” Etc. And they say it with their eyes all lit up.

Why is this a problem? Well it isn’t really, except inevitably right after they express how stupendous my mom is (and they always do it in a way that makes it seem like they really want me to GET just how amazing she is), they give me the LOOK. The look that says, with part pity, part accusation and part confusion: what happened to you? Why aren’t you more like her?

And: could you maybe try to be more like her…?

A high school boyfriend actually asked me that once. Any time he’d call our house, my mom would answer first, and they’d talk for 10 minutes or so before she’d hand the phone to me (before cell phones, kids). Then one day he straight up asked me if maybe I could be more like my mom with him…?

What’s so special about my mom? I don’t know. She makes eye contact and smiles at people a lot. She touches your arm when she talks to you. She’s very animated, with big hand gestures and exaggerated facial expressions. She uses your name often. She makes lots of little jokes and leans in close when she does, like just the two of you are in on it. She draws people in.

I feel about 100% confident in saying that all of you would like her more than me if you met her, and even secretly wish you could maybe trade me in for her. Forget that she didn’t, and won’t, do LP–you’d be willing to make an exception, just for her.

I admire my mom for having this quality about her, and I feel a sense of pride when people tell me how great she is–it’s just the LOOK that happens afterward that gets under my skin sometimes.

What happened to you? Why aren’t you more like her?

Still, to say we’re polar opposites is not actually true. I’m silly, imaginative and unfiltered like my mom, but I usually share that side of myself mainly with Jimmy. I guess that’s part of why our relationship means so damn much to me. I mean most people love their spouse, but the way I view our relationship seems to go above and beyond the norm. It’s REALLY important to me, because if he’s not around, it’s like that part of my personality that I only share with him — that part of me — doesn’t exist. But this is another can of worms.

To get back to the point, after the shower, predictably, Jimmy’s sisters and everyone were like OMG we LOVE your mom. And then? They gave me the LOOK.

Which prompted my negative self-talk. You’re awkward, you’re weird, you’re antisocial, people don’t get you, people don’t like you, you’re not fit for public consumption.

But then today came the liberating moment.

My mom was like, I have to be honest, I had a hard time with Jimmy’s family. It was like this army of Long Island women coming at me, insisting they help me set up the food the second they arrived without waiting for a response. They literally took utensils out of my hands, she said. And then the comments, on everything, without hesitation, including free-wheeling speculation about the babies and how they’d look and whether they’d be healthy — and then the comments on your body, on Jimmy being the caretaker for the babies, etc. And then they were so LOUD, she said, it was overwhelming. I don’t know how you do this all the time, she told me. You seem to let it all just roll off.

I was like, wait, what? You mean you think they’re kind of too much? And that I handled it well? And that I wasn’t being antisocial and weird and closed off?

She was like, no, seriously, they are really overwhelming. You held it together very well, considering.

YES. VINDICATED. You guys LOVE my mom? Well, guess WHAT, she doesn’t particularly CARE for you (HAHAHAHA<–evil laughter).

Okay, I took it too far there. But it did bring to light, not for the first time, that I am too harsh on myself. I have a lot of negative self-talk going on, and I say it really definitively, like it’s the Truth.

“Kyla is antisocial,” etc., like it’s a fact.

I’m not sure any of those adjectives I listed above are a fact, though.

As my buddies pointed out, maybe I’m not whiney and irritable–maybe I’m just really pregnant and in my first pregnancy that happens to be twins while juggling a full work schedule and it isn’t exactly a walk in the park.

Maybe I’m not antisocial–I’ve shown up to the things I’ve been up for, setting boundaries with how much I want to interact because I’m appropriately focused on getting my family through this transition more than anything else.

And I’m not negative, I just know people often think I am because I don’t shy away from expressing uncomfortable thoughts. I kind of embrace them. So it’s more like an apology or a disclaimer because I worry about how people will receive it, since I know many would rather shove all those thoughts under the rug. I’m in fact pretty stubbornly idealistic and optimistic.

As for brutal and mean, it’s a hard line for me to figure out; I’ve given some very direct feedback lately, starting with ALP4, regarding people dropping the ball on the legacy commitment we made. I talk with Jimmy about this a lot–I could be “compassionate,” but doesn’t that just enable people to keep showing up as less than their best? They all did the work. They all made the commitment. I’m still figuring feedback out, though, so jury’s out on this one, but my forays into it do not come from a place of cruelty (and don’t warrant the self-imposed labels “brutal” and “mean,” nor has anyone said that)–they come from wanting to hold people high and knowing they’re capable of it, which is what I want people to do for me (however much I may really hate it in the moment).

Anyway the cycle is over and I likely won’t join the next because I’m about to be overwhelmed, but either way next on the goal list (starting now) is less negative self-talk!

Brothers

“Brothers” was the word — from one of my good friends upon learning our babies’ sexes — that finally got me to feel the emotional impact of the news.

Not two boys, but brothers.

Ironically, it also was the word the doctor used when he slipped. “Brothers.”

We didn’t feel it then, though. Jimmy was still attached to having it be the way he wanted it: a surprise. I was still attached to that too, not wanting him to be let down. In the end, his attachment to the surprise was probably a little stubborn — it’s the Aries in him — but yesterday as we organized all the little clothes people had given us, it was clear he had let it go.

As for me, I am over the loss of the “surprise,” but still swinging between excitement and fear.

On the one hand, I can’t wait to see their special relationship develop. It’s different when your sibling is the same sex. I know the sister side of that; I’m excited to both watch and nurture what it means to be brothers.

I also feel we’ve been given an important responsibility, raising two men — and I think we’re uniquely up for that challenge. Jimmy’s breed of masculinity, while assertive and strong, has a powerful undercurrent of empathy and humility. I’ve always seen him as a leader of men. As for me, I’m not quite sure what it will look like or what qualities of mine will come up the forefront–obviously instilling respect for women is important to me–but beyond that, I couldn’t say. Still, something about it feels right.

Even so, as I confessed to my buddies last night, I have a fair amount of fear about it. I know nothing of little boys. I didn’t have a brother and I otherwise just haven’t been around them much–I’m not at all sure what to expect, and after already feeling really inexperienced with babies in general, knowing my babies are boys only amplifies those insecurities.

At the root of it too is that I’m pretty sexist toward men. Think of a really sexist man — Trump, maybe? — then flip it around, and that’s me. And by that I mean that I have a hard time having empathy for the male experience and having faith in men in general (to do anything). For most of my life I didn’t think men had feelings–my father certainly never showed any (and still doesn’t). I also have never thought of men as particularly strong, maybe because my father’s reaction to anything emotionally challenging was to run away. It’s amazing I’ve had long, intimate relationships with men considering how powerful some of these beliefs are. I have never been able to see myself in a man–except for maybe during the Choice Line exercise in Basic. Otherwise, historically, I’ve thought of them as foreign (and morally inferior) creatures who are slaves to their egos (and sex drives).

What about Jimmy, you might ask. Well, he’s “different.” (That’s how I have it.) He would have had to have been, in order for me to “pick” him. The rest of you? You’re all the same. Including my father, but he doesn’t help his case by consistently (half) joking about how “society went downhill when women got the vote.”

As I mentioned to my buddies, this is probably why it’s perfect that I’ve been given two boys. I can’t not have empathy for them–they’re my babies. And now I will become intimately familiar with all of the challenges boys uniquely face over the course of their lives. I’m sure every single belief I have about boys and men will end up getting rattled.

The challenge will be that I will probably have my boys as “different,” too. Dangerous, because how will I react if and when they do something “all men” do? Like when Jimmy makes a “man” comment sometimes, or does a “man” thing, and I react with hurt, shock and anger (he’s supposed to be different). (This is a little off-topic, but my personal catch 22 with men is I have a fetish for traditionally masculine men–that means I am attracted to men who show up in the traditional gender role of “man” while also holding it against them.)

I know all of this is getting ahead of myself. I need to just get through the labor and delivery and learning how to care for two newborns and not trouble myself so much with thinking ahead to how we will raise them.

But in some ways, I can’t help it. Now that I know the sexes, that’s what’s been coming up–excitement, fear, curiosity.

And writers’ block. What do I say to two future men? Emily encouraged me to not get stuck on thinking the message has to be different, just because they’re boys–but then she had a good point that if I do end up making it different, maybe I will start to understand what it means to me a little more.

Either way, it seems the key is to push through the block–write anyway, see what comes up. So that’s my plan for the week.

Congratulations On Not Getting Fat

I’ve gotten lots of comments like that over the course of my pregnancy.

Why do they bother me so?  I know people mean them as a compliment, as reassurance even, knowing that pregnant women may start to feel insecure about how their body looks/is changing.

“You’re all belly!”  “Oh good, it looks like you will bounce back right away!”  “You’re lucky, you’re having a ‘basketball’ pregnancy!”  “It’s so nice your face didn’t get fat!”  “Your body looks the same except for your belly!  Congrats!”  And then the doctor:  “Congratulations on no stretch marks so far.  Impressive.”

These comments have been bothering me for months, whether from men or women, but why?  Would I prefer people saying:  “Wow, you really blimped up.”  Or saying nothing, leaving me to potentially wonder if I look really different?

I don’t at all think anyone has any ill intention behind these comments, don’t get me wrong, but I guess I view them (subconsciously) sexist.

It’s sort of like, Heaven forbid the pregnancy alter, or “ruin,” my appearance — because as a woman, wouldn’t that be devastating?  What would I have, if I didn’t have that?

A law degree, my character and personality, my two babies, etc. — yeah, okay, but those things are just add-ons.  What really matters as a woman is how you look, everyone knows that–and you didn’t get fat!  What an accomplishment!  No stretch marks?  You can still wear a bikini!  (Otherwise, forget it, no one wants to see that.)

And what of the women who do get “fat”?  What comments or private judgments do they have to deal with?  The thought of it is slightly infuriating to me.

I guess in the end I’d prefer:  “You look beautiful” or “radiant” or “great.”  Then stop talking.  Is there really a need to say anything else?

Luckily Jimmy gets it right–that’s all he ever says.  He doesn’t applaud my lack of weight gain in my extremities, he never mentions my weight at all–except to make sure I’m on target for having healthy babies and a healthy labor.

To be fair, I’ve always tended to my appearance.  I’ve always cared about it.  When I was in my early 20s (and married at the time to a man who was dying to be a father), part of why having children scared me so much was the fear that my body would get “ruined.” And as much as I dislike my appearance being assessed in general (by both men and women), and as much as it makes me mad that all women are burdened with that bullshit, I’ve sought to capitalize on it, too.  So if I’m being honest, I’ve got a rather ingrained superficial side.

I guess now that I’m older — and seeing things from another angle — I wish pregnancy at least could be off-limits from all that.  I don’t want to be compared to how other pregnant women look; it makes me sad.  We all get to be beautiful, and perfect, and applauded for our pregnant state, because we’re all doing something miraculous.  Don’t cheapen it with your judgments and comments and assessments of the pregnant body.

And it isn’t really much of an accomplishment, not gaining weight all over my body.  I couldn’t tell you why that happened; probably just genetics (same with the stretch marks).  Sure I didn’t go crazy eating 10 Big Macs a day, but, I stopped working out months ago.  I’ve also been eating my share of Chick Fil A sandwiches and Oreos and cake and mac n cheese and Italian food.  Regardless of weight distribution during the pregnancy, I will have a fair amount of work to do to get back to a good state of health after delivery.

Anyway, just a random rant, brought to you by:  swollen feet.  They make me irritable.