Sunday, April 26, 2009

how can I help you?

Has this ever happened to you: the phone rings and it's your friend, crying her eyes out over a guy. And you want to help, but you don't know what to say. Or maybe it's your boyfriend and his boss is doing that thing again that he just hates. Is it better to listen? Or should you chime in?

Lately, one of my best friends has been very depressed. And I don't mean just bummed out or "down," I mean depressed. Lots of crying, lots of tough issues causing her unbearable amounts of pain. And when she calls, I don't even worry about what to say. I'm not stressed out. Eight years ago, though, she was in a similar depression (albeit one less severe and with fewer mitigating circumstances), and at the time, it completely overwhelmed me. She would call, upset, and I wouldn't know what to say or do, and it would make me feel guilty, angry, frustrated, and, really, like a bad friend.

Since then, I've learned five very important words that have saved my sanity (and, arguably, my friendship): how can I help you? Because I want to help, she wants me to help, and yet, trying to read her mind to figure out how to help, and then come up with exactly the right thing to do is exhausting. (I imagine it's like teaching a pig to sing.)

By asking her how I can help, it not only takes the pressure off of me to make things better (or rather, takes the imaginary pressure off of me, since she's not actually doing anything but calling me) but, more importantly, it puts the responsibility for feeling better squarely on her. She has to identify what it is that would make her feel better and then accept it from me when I offer it.

This has worked enormously well for us. And I find I can carry it over into business, too. When my boss comes in with a complaint about so-and-so or a co-worker just can't stand her neighbor, I ask, "how can I help?" (or alternately, "what are you going to do about it?") Because complaining and whining, while it sometime feels good, doesn't solve anything.

"How can I help" shows others that you care about them without bulldozing them with advice they didn't ask for. It keeps you from having to guess what's broken and how best to fix it. And it cuts to the heart of the issue -- getting someone the support he or she needs, without any of our extra crap that they don't need.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

faith, fate, and effort

Why do things happen the way they do?

I have no idea. Not surprisingly, though, I have some thoughts. (Three, specifically.)

1. Faith
I was in a conversation this weekend with two friends about faith. One is very devout (to the extent of saving her virginity for her husband) and the other was asking her about how her faith shows up in her every day life; how she translates stories from the Bible that are centuries old to have meaning in our very modern world. And my devout friend said that, while she has had an upbringing full of sermons that do a lot of that translation for her, she just has faith. She believes in something for which there is no proof.

Because I've read it somewhere (and now can't remember where) I offered the idea that we all have faith, we just sometimes have faith in the wrong things. Like if you believe you're going to fail, you have faith, it's just not in your own success. And one of the benefits of believing in a mythology (which can be anything -- organized religion, psychology, self-help books, your own personal faith, etc.) is that you are provided with a positive shape for things to take. And this model, this shape to aim for, is one part of what makes things happen.

It puts you in a mindset that opens doors, breaks down barriers, and allows the things that are meant for you to enter into your life. (That's not to say that things that aren't meant for you don't enter as well, but I'm not interested in exploring that road right now.) For me, faith in a benevolent universe, in my own strength and power, and faith that the Great Narrator is enriching my character... these all help me keep moving.

2. Fate
I watched the second to last disc of Felicity (a J.J. Abrams series that I love like too much chocolate) and, oddly enough, the episodes were all about fate. Three times in two episodes, someone said to Felicity, "if it was meant to be, it'll happen." And while it's a very passive approach to the future and the way things happen, I believe there is some validity to having a fate-filled mindset.

This approach I apply mainly to the things in my life I can't control. Like boys. I strongly believe that there is someone out there for me, and I make effort (see below) to discover him, but it will happen only when it's supposed to happen. I can't force it. I can only be responsible and ready for whenever that time comes.

I'm not 100% clear on the idea of fate. It's tied up in both faith and effort, but also very clearly aligned with the wherever-you-go-there-you-are idea. That your fate is what plays itself out in the end -- that you can't know it in advance. I like the idea that my story is being written as I live it, and if there is an author, then he/she knows where my character's arc is supposed to go, and I just face the complexities that are going to shape me into that character. My fate, my destiny, is to be Me. Whoever that is.

3. Effort
For me, this is the easiest of the many ways to make things happen. What I am in charge of in my life, I make every effort to be completely responsible for.

I wanted very much to be an actor, for example, and I made the effort to lay all the groundwork and be responsible for my own career. Then I had faith that I would be a success (although, in hindsight, I'm not sure I thoroughly developed that faith), and if it's what I was fated for, it would have happened.

It didn't. Now, I'm not blaming Big Bad Fate for my not having had the acting career I wanted. I could certainly go back and try again, this time with a little more faith or a little more effort, or I can look at what I learned by giving it up and start all over by making more effort in another direction.

Wherever I go, there I am. And I'm always me. And I make the effort to have the faith that my fate is aligned with my desires.

Or at least I'm trying.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Is this the Kate I want to be?

My clients are extremely wise.

One of them said the other day that if a doctor prescribed her medication to make her life better, she would take it on a regular schedule and be very diligent about it. "I'm good about that kind of stuff," she said, and showed me her stash of new vitamins. But making the small changes in behavior that she believes (and I would argue, knows) will make her life better? Well, that's a whole lot harder.

Because that means making change. Turning your life upside down and getting into some unfamiliar -- and uncomfortable situations, all because you have the faith that making these changes is worth it.

So how do you motivate someone -- yourself -- to make those little changes? Where's the Magic Door to Faith? Yeah... I don't know.

What I do know, though, is that when I ask myself, at every opportunity, "Is this the Kate I want to be?" I make choices that serve me better.

Tonight, for example, I had a sink full of dishes, a half-exploded suitcase leaking clean clothes, and a National Disaster Area in my office. And, not so surprisingly, I found myself lying on the couch. With the remote in my hand, index finger poised over the play button on the DVR, I asked myself, "is this the Kate I want to be? Do I want to be the Kate who puts things off, plans to do them later, and then never really gets to them? The Kate who regrets not cleaning up after herself when she has the time -- but has seen every episode of Without A Trace even though she doesn't even really like that series? Or do I want to be a different Kate?"

Needless to say, the dishes are done, the clothes are folded and put away, and my office is, well, FEMA-approved. I even managed to find time to write a post.

Because this is the Kate I want to be. And there's not a pill in the world that can help me be her. I just have to be responsible, see my opportunities to make change, and choose behaviors that help me become the Kate I want to be.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Feel good!

I find the tone of Time Out New York tends to be fairly juvenile and petty (which, of course, doesn't mean I don't read it), but last week they ran an article about "easy things you can do to improve your mood now," and I thought the idea was worth sharing.

They list different places to breathe, connect, refuel, "remind yourself there's beauty within darkness" (i.e., cemeteries), reach out to a higher power (churches) and sweat out the stress.

You can read their article here. I'd love to know where you go, though.