Amanda Cade

Worth It! (Things to try, read, watch, hear, and discuss)

Solo happyYesterday was Independence Day here in the United States. I celebrated independently by staying home and being independent of any risk of exposing myself to the coronavirus.

So while I was having my personal Independence Day celebration (after watching Independence Day, because come on, you have to, and not watching the sequel because once was enough, thank you), I decided to reflect on my personal independence. This list contains some things that go back years, some that I decided on during the lockdown, and a few that I added just yesterday while I was thinking about this subject.

So, in no particular order, I hereby declare (or redeclare) my independence from:

  • One-sided friendships
  • FOMO (fear of missing out)
  • Apologizing for having an opinion
  • Uncomfortable shoes
  • Explaining why I’m single and childless (because that does not mean there’s something wrong with me)
  • Letting other people take credit for my work
  • Worrying about what my neighbors think (within reason)
  • Being afraid to try new things
  • Mascara
  • Fad diets
  • All nighters (because seriously, I’m too old for that)
  • Decaf

And believe me, I don’t miss them.

Fireworks

How about you?

By this point, most of the world has spent some time under stay at home orders, and many people (myself included) are still staying at home even though restrictions have been lifted. There are also speculations here in the United States that there may be more stay at home orders in the future (but that’s another topic entirely). A few days ago, I had a conversation with a friend about what life is going to look like in the future, speculating on that hoped-for time when we have a vaccine and people are able to move about and interact in ways that closely resemble life before.

That conversation led to a discussion of how the extreme situation of being locked down had led both of us to realize some important things about our lives, and how we wanted to make sure that we incorporated them into that future “new normal”. Today, I’d like to propose that we could all use a little reflection about personal takeaways.

I want to start with two things to consider, and there are a few more coming next week.

Connections

video chatI think that being in isolation made a lot of us realize how much we value seeing and interacting with others. I’ve made strong efforts to stay connected to friends, family, and coworkers, and look forward to the time when I can see and spend time with them. However, I’ve also come to understand that I wasn’t fully taking advantage of these opportunities before. During lockdown, I was able to strengthen relationships that had been falling by the wayside, because I’ve been distracted by other things and haven’t put time and energy into staying in touch. I had gotten into the habit of declining a lot of social invitations because I was focused on work, and hadn’t really noticed that I was losing touch with some people. Lockdown gave me the time to reach out, but I know, upon reflection, that I can make the time moving forward, and I plan to do that.

I think that this experience has given all of us the chance to think about the people and activities that are really important to us, and to commit to prioritizing them in the future.

Work/Life Balance

overworkedI’ve mentioned many times that I love my job, and I generally don’t mind my 55-70 hour work weeks (yes, 55 hours really is how much time I work in a typical week, and there’s usually at least one week a month where I hit the 60-70 range). However, for a variety of reasons the fact that we’re all working from home has ended up cutting down on the work time. I’ve been working 40-45 hours pretty consistently these past few months, and I’ve discovered that as much as I like to work, I also like having more free time. Many of my coworkers have talked about appreciating the surprising shift we’ve experienced. On the other hand, I’ve talked to a lot of people whose work hours have increased because of working from home. It’s really dependent on the industry, the specific job, and the actions of leadership.

There are starting to be some indications from my job that expectations and workload are going to increase soon, and I’ve realized that (somewhat surprisingly), I’m not 100% ok with that. I haven’t yet figured out what I’m going to do about that, but I’m doing some serious thinking and analysis (I might post about that in the future) about what I’ve suddenly decided is a problem.

So that’s the second thing I believe it would be good for everyone to consider. And if you aren’t currently employed (retired, family caregiver, etc.), I’d still suggest evaluating your commitments and regular activities. If you don’t want to go back to the old model, now is the time to think about how to make changes.

Thought Bubble

What has lockdown taught you about your own life and priorities? What are other things to consider?

Happy Father’s Day! Last year, I shared a story about the lessons my dad taught us through home remodeling and vacation planning (you can find that post here). This year, I wanted to share two very important things he learned during a significant portion of his life (long before I was born), that he has taught us through his example.

Take steps to change your life

Fork in the RoadMy father describes his teenage self as “a complete and total screw up”. My mother says that he’s being too hard on himself, but does agree that he was lacking direction and engaging in some risky behavior (which they still, to this day, describe only as “drinking and other things”). He recognized that he wasn’t happy with where he was or where he saw himself going, but wasn’t sure what to do about it. When he began saying that out loud, his stepmother (who Dad has always said was one of the most significant positive influences in his life) suggested that he consider enlisting in the military. He did, and, as he puts it, “the Army trained the screw up out of me”. After he was discharged, he returned home with an entirely different attitude, work ethic, and vision for his future. Happily, that vision included my mother, who had been a casual friend when he left, because after three years of exchanging letters while he was deployed, he was pretty sure that he wanted to marry her.

For Dad, the takeaway is that you need to look for, take advantage of, and apply yourself to opportunities to improve your circumstances or make yourself happier. He’s an amazing sounding board when any of us need to evaluate our situation, and 110% supportive of decisions we make, as long as they’re carefully considered. Dad helped me figure out I needed to change my major. He also helped me make the decision to go to graduate school. He convinced me not to buy a house when I desperately wanted to, because waiting a few more years would make a huge difference in my financial situation. He has always set an example by continuously learning new things and being willing to work hard and take the long view in order to achieve.

Be supportive

I don’t know a lot of details about Dad’s actual service, because he doesn’t like to talk about it. I know his rank, where he served, and that he was decorated several times, but I don’t know what he did to earn those medals, or any specific details of his experience. Although he credits the Army with turning his life around, he never considered making it a career, and I think that’s because of the things he doesn’t discuss. What he does talk about, freely, is what the Army taught him: discipline, work ethic, pride, organization, and leadership. He focuses on the support he received from the military, and on the support of his stepmother and my mother. The second message of Dad’s story is that people who believed in him and were there for him were critical in his journey to become the man he wanted to be.

Support HandsThe man he became is incredibly supportive of others. He’s always ready to listen, to problem solve, to roll up his sleeves, or to give financial help. He helped us navigate the overwhelming task of applying for college admissions and scholarships, learning on the job because my sister Audrey was the first person on either side of my family to go to college. He matched us dollar for dollar when we were saving for our first cars. On three separate occasions, one of his siblings moved into our house when they needed help getting back on their feet. He still insists on cutting my grass, even though he’s in his seventies and I am perfectly capable of doing it myself. As far as Dad is concerned, the people you care about are part of your team, and teams work together.

father's day

Who are your role models? What have you learned from them?

In the past few weeks, I’ve written two posts focused on communication: Smart People Who Disagree With You and Talking to People You Disagree With. Both posts have touched on the importance of listening, which is critical not just in disagreements, but in any kind of communication.

Today, I want to dig a little deeper into listening and offer you three key focus points to help you be more effective.

Message

thinkingThe other night I heard a politician I strongly dislike say something I completely agreed with. My first thought was, “Ugh. I can’t believe I’m agreeing with this person.” My second thought was, “Clearly this person doesn’t  mean that. They’re just saying it for political purposes.” Luckily, my third thought was, “What the heck is wrong with me?” Our knee jerk reaction to a disliked messenger is to immediately dislike, disregard, or disbelieve the message. In the same way, we tend to respond positively to a message shared by someone we like, admire, or respect.

Don’t get me wrong: the source is important. Credibility and context matter. However, we always have to make sure we hear and evaluate the actual message by focusing first on what they’re actually saying. Otherwise, we’re a disservice to the speaker and to ourselves. My current boss, who I adore, can (and sometimes does) have a bad idea, and a previous supervisor, who I disliked intensely, had a fair number of good ideas. During his tenure the importance of listening to the message was critical for me, because several times my complicated feelings about him as a person came very close to negatively impacting my job performance.

Meaning

ConfusedPeople often speak in shorthand, catchphrases, and buzzwords. That isn’t inherently a bad thing, as it can quickly and easily convey a complex idea. However, as a listener it’s important to make sure that you understand exactly what is behind the slogan, soundbite, or jargon. For example, this post by the Newman Group explains how easily corporate buzzwords can be misunderstood during job interviews. I’ve also seen situations where people waste a lot of time because they have different understandings of what they’re being asked to do. Thinking about the meaning is also important if you’re following politics and current events. During the COVID pandemic, for example, there have been a lot of misunderstandings about the specific meaning of terms like “flattening the curve”, “waves” versus “peaks”, and so on.

With any message, but especially with shorthand messages, you need to ask yourself two questions. First, does it have a universal meaning you understand? Second, are you sure that meaning is the same thing the speaker is trying to convey? Slogans and titles are great conversational shorthand, if everyone is clear on what they mean. If you aren’t 100% sure, dig a little deeper, through asking questions or doing a little bit of research.

Mindset

mindsetA big part of effective listening is how you approach it. Hearing is passive, but listening is active, and it starts with your attitude. The way you mentally frame what you’re doing makes a huge difference in how effective you’ll be. If all you’re looking for is something that will confirm your existing beliefs, give you something to be angry about, or give you something to mock, you aren’t going to be able to fully consider the message or the meaning. Set objectives for yourself, be mindful of those objectives, and hold yourself accountable. Here’s the attitude I try to maintain while listening:

I want to learn. I want to understand. I want to make the best decisions. I am open to all possible outcomes.

Depending on the situation, I might add to those goals, or tweak them a little, but that general focus helps me stay engaged, clearly understand, and thoughtfully evaluate what I’m hearing.

success

Are there challenges you face in communication, or strategies you use for effective listening? Let me know in the comments!

Three weeks ago, I wrote this post about the importance of seeking out and considering multiple perspectives. At the time, I was thinking about the pandemic, the reopening debate, the culture wars surrounding masks and social distancing, and dissension about economic policies and social inequalities. After writing the post, I remarked to a friend that it felt like it had never been more difficult to navigate conversations outside our echo chambers. I had no idea that it was about to get so much harder.

The death of George Floyd has led to widespread protests, which have led to widespread debate and a variety of other reactions. Sadly, the discussions I’m seeing, reading about, and participating in have become even more polarized, with many people even less willing to listen to each other and consider alternate perspectives.

I’ve believed for a long time that it’s critical to engage in serious, respectful conversations with people who disagree with us, which is why I wrote that first post. The events of the past few months, and especially the past few weeks, have strongly reinforced that feeling. I also acknowledge that it’s hard, and can be uncomfortable.

So today I’m offering a few suggestions to make it easier:

1. Discuss Conversational Ground Rules

video chatEarlier this week, I had a two hour conversation with my friend Brad, who, as I explained in that previous post, is a very smart man who disagrees with me on almost everything. After discussing a wide range of topics, we began to talk about what made our conversations possible. Specifically, why have always been able to air contrasting opinions without offending each other or shouting each other down? I posited that some of it is because of our enduring friendship, and Brad responded by saying he doubted our friendship would have endured if we hadn’t figured out, a long time ago, how to navigate the conversations. We avoided the “chicken and egg” debate, and instead focused unpacking the unspoken rules and attitudes we bring to the table. To summarize:

  • We accept that each other’s viewpoints are valid and worth respecting, even if we don’t see things the same way.
  • We take turns and avoid interrupting each other.
  • We ask questions and make an effort to fully understand each other’s ideas.
  • We are cognizant of each other’s feelings, and offer empathy and support.
  • We’re careful about the words we use, both out loud and in our own minds. For example, we say “Why do you?” instead of “How could you?”, because we’re looking to understand rather than to judge.
  • We discuss “inconvenient” facts rather than ignoring them.
  • We are open to changing our minds.

So I asked myself if the unstated rules that Brad and I follow could become stated expectations in other conversations.  What would happen if we started these conversations by saying something like, “I do want to talk about this, but before we do I was wondering if we could try to agree on how we’re going to talk about it. I don’t want us to be angry with each other or walk away from the conversation without considering both sides.”

I tried it a few days later when a relative with whom I often strike sparks brought up the topic of the protests. We did take the time to set some expectations, and it did improve the discussion and the way we felt afterwards. I’m not suggesting it was a miracle cure, but we both believed, afterwards, that setting ground rules was beneficial.

2. Listen

ListenIn The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey, habit #5 is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. No matter the situation, we should avoid dominating a conversation, because it usually has a negative impact on how we are perceived and how we build and maintain relationships. In a disagreement, it’s especially important to listen, with an open mind, to what someone else has to say. 

How to Communicate, by Matthew McKay, Martha Davis, and Patrick Fanning, contains a wealth of great advice and information, and the very first chapter is on listening. Part of the chapter focuses on twelve common blocks to effective listening, including feeling the need to be right, seeking an argument, and mentally rehearsing your response while someone else is speaking. It’s important to be aware of these behaviors and actively work to avoid them.

3. Remember that middle ground exists

Steam EarsWe live in a complex world full of complex situations, but too often our discourse completely ignores nuance. Moreover, we often try to categorize each other. The attitude of “If you think or support this you have to think or support this other thing” is illogical, dangerous, and disrespectful. This attitude pops up in a lot of situations, and has been especially pervasive during recent events. I’ve heard so many people argue that if you support the protesters or anything they stand for, you have to accept and embrace riots and looting, and if you support the police or worry about law and order, you have to accept and embrace abuse of power. However, forced polarization is not only untrue, but also unproductive. Applying this standard to others makes it difficult to have productive conversations, and applying it yourself makes it hard to have an open mind.

4. Commit to learning to be more effective

I want to acknowledge once more that communication skills and effective disagreements don’t come easy. I’ve been studying and practicing communication skills for most of my life (from competitive debate to my graduate studies to everyday situations), and I often feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface. However, the more we learn, and the more we try, the more we improve.

In October of 2018, three time World Schools Debate champion Julia Dhar discussed this same topic, and her fifteen minute TED talk is a wonderful resource that I promise will be worth your time and attention.

Let’s not avoid these conversations, but instead seek to have them, and to have them effectively.

need to talk 2

Be safe, be well, and please share your thoughts in the comments.

This week, the United States passed 100,000 deaths from Covid-19. Shocking videos ignited tensions across the country, leading to questions about policy, justice, and race relations. Scenes of protests, both peaceful and violent, have dominated the news.

On a personal note, for the first time since March I physically entered the building where I work, because even though I’m still working remotely, there were things I needed to take care of and items I needed to bring home. Moving through the mostly empty building, waving and calling out greetings to the few others present, was a completely surreal experience.

For today’s post I planned to write, apolitically, about this week of emotional overload, but I just don’t think I’m up to the task. Instead, I’d like to share this David Knopfler song, which encapsulates a lot of what I’m feeling:

As always, I welcome your thoughts, and would love to know what’s happening in your lives and how you’re feeling. Be well.

are you ok

Here in the United States, tomorrow is Memorial Day, when we honor those who gave their lives in war. It is a sobering, and important, opportunity for reflection on sacrifice and gratitude.

army-burial-cemetery-cross-262271

And while we prepare to mourn those losses, there are also unprecedented losses in another struggle. This morning, The New York Times printed the names of 1000 people who have died from COVID-19. The entire front page, and two additional pages, were devoted to the names and brief details of their lives.

Screenshot 2020-05-24 at 8.05.28 AM

I’ve been reading the list throughout the morning, and it is a very emotional experience.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “memorial” as “serving to preserve remembrance”. Today, I find myself in a memorial attitude, focusing on remembering the tragic loss of life in both history and the present moment. I am also cognizant of the fact that losses in conflict and disease are not limited to my home country, but affect the entire world.

The need for remembrance is not an issue of nationality or politics, but a fundamental part of what makes us human. I hope that we all devote some time to reflection and memorial.

cry

Stay safe. Be well. Take care of yourselves and each other.

The other day, I had a great conversation with my friend Brad, who I’ve known for going on thirty years. Brad is one of my favorite people, and also happens to be one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. Since high school, we’ve routinely engaged in discussions about political and social issues, and 90% of the time, we disagree. You see, while neither of us are “far right” or “far left”, we’re about the same distance from the center, but on opposite sides. 

ListenIf you’re wondering whether I’m the right-leaning or left-leaning person in my conversations with Brad, I’m afraid that’s not a question I’m going to answer. When I started this blog, I decided that I wasn’t going to talk politics. Maybe that will change someday, but today is not that day. What I want to talk about today isn’t my opinions on political or social issues, but rather some thoughts on political and social discourse. The point I’m hoping to make is that there’s a benefit to considering messages (conversational and otherwise) from people who don’t share your views.

Here in the United States, in addition to all of the other stressors involved in COVID-19, the crisis has intensified the already polarized nature of news media, social media, and culture wars. And it’s never been easier to stay in your echo chamber, because not only can we choose to limit our news programs, Twitter feeds, etc. based on our existing opinions, but we’re also much more constrained in terms of the people we encounter and speak with in our day to day lives.

All this makes me think about something Aaron Sorkin wrote (several times, because of his tendency to reuse dialogue): 

Smart People Who Disagree With You

This past October, John Baldoni published an article in Forbes where he addressed this very topic. He explains that listening to opposing viewpoints, with an open mind, allows us to examine our own beliefs, seek common ground, and work towards solutions. Personally, I believe that the first step to bringing people together is to confront the things that have kept us divided.

news flashI watch CNN and Fox News. I read National Review and The New York Times. In forming my opinions, I consider information, and analysis, from a variety of perspectives, and once those opinions are formed, I do my best to stay open to changing them. I cherish my conversations with Brad, not only because he’s a dear friend, but also because they help me examine and refine what I believe. Sometimes, despite our drastically different leanings, one of us changes the other’s mind. No matter what, we both walk away from those conversations better informed, more thoughtful, and more engaged.

There’s a lot to unpack here, and I’m planning to return to this topic soon. For now, I’d like to encourage you to seek out a variety of viewpoints and perspectives, whether it’s in the media or in your social and family circles. I firmly believe that what we need right now is an informed, open-minded public, and an elevated level of discourse. We can all choose to be part of that.

Let's Discuss 2

 

Last year, I wrote a Mother’s Day post that highlighted some of the most important things I’ve learned from my mom. It’s one of my favorite posts, and if you haven’t read it (or want to revisit it), you can click here.

This year, I’d like to add two more important lessons that I’ve learned from my mom’s incredible example:

Cherish your memories

My mother has never been a daily journaler, but she has always made a point of writing during significant events. Every year, she writes on family birthdays, major holidays, during vacations, and so on. She chronicles the highs and lows of life, and frequently revisits her entries, both for reminder and reflection. She bought me my very first diary when I was a child, and I credit her influence not only for my daily journal, which is one of the most important elements of my life, but also for my dedication to this blog.

Memories 2Mom has also been a huge collector of photographs, and-perhaps even more importantly-a huge organizer of photographs. Not only has she always made sure someone was taking pictures of important events and moments, but she unfailingly ensures that those visual memories are quickly and easily accessible. When we were young, every roll of film was promptly developed, and as technology moved forward, every memory card or cloud upload has been carefully inspected, with the best/most important images curated and assigned. Mom has shelves full of albums, so that if I suddenly want to see my fifth grade science fair project, for example, I know exactly where to look. She’s also embraced technology, with thematic digital photo frames and online collections. A few years ago, I had a small mention in a local newspaper, and Mom happily presented me with a laminated copy of the article, just in case I’d missed it (and of course, she had her own copy, which she hung on the refrigerator for two weeks before placing it in a scrapbook). My own collection of photographs is very important to me, and I’m glad that she helped me develop the right habits early in life.

Foster connections

Not bad how are youAs I mentioned in last year’s post, Mom has always encouraged togetherness. Being unable to get together during the pandemic hasn’t slowed her down at all when it comes to making sure we stay connected. She speaks to every member of our family on a daily basis, and if we haven’t talked to each other recently, she gives an update. This actually isn’t a new thing-Mom has always been the hub of our family communication, but it’s become even more noticeable, and appreciated, right now. And she hasn’t stopped with just family. She asks about, and shares, what’s going on with everyone’s friends and coworkers. She even contacts them directly to see how they’re doing. When I recently received a text from a friend saying, “It was so great to hear from your mom”, it really drove home how amazing she is. Her example continues to inspire me to be better about communicating with and supporting the people in my life.

Mother's Day 2020

I’ve been at home for about six weeks now, and while the state of Missouri is easing restrictions this week, the St. Louis stay at home order is still in effect until at least mid May. My employer intends for us to continue working from home for the foreseeable future, and I’m grateful we’re in a position to make that work. As some areas are beginning to slowly reopen, there’s a lot of talk about “getting back to normal” or “the new normal”, but the truth is that we’re a long way from feeling any level of stability. 

We value a feeling of normalcy because it helps give us a sense of control and purpose and keeps us from being in a constant state of fight, flight, or freeze. Being in crisis mode exhausts our minds and bodies and negatively affects our immune system (see this post for more on that). However, these days we have a lot of extra hurdles.

Instead of focusing on things getting back to normal, now is a time to recognize that there’s still a long road ahead of us, and that our focus should be on creating a feeling of normalcy and stability, so we’re able to cope with the challenges. Here are some things to try:

1. Evaluate your routine.

do with your lifeRoutines and schedules provide us with a sense of stability, security, structure, and control. From the beginning, experts have urged us to establish schedules, follow old patterns, limit our pajama time, etc. I’ve talked to a lot of people recently who say that they started well, but their routines have been breaking down as more time passes. Now is a good time to reflect on your current practices, and see if you need to adjust what you’re doing on a daily basis, or recommit to things you’ve let slide (and I want to urge you again to maintain a consistent sleep schedule). If your situation is changing, such as returning to work or beginning to resume other activities, this is definitely the time to think about how you’re going to adjust your daily life.

2. Take time to process your emotions.

how ya feelingEmotions help us recognize our wants and needs, and it’s important to do emotional check ins, especially since we’ve all been under consistent pressure. Covid has brought a unique wave of stress, anxiety, depression, and grief. What are your emotions and body telling you? As I pointed out last week, it’s important to validate your feelings. Take time out to process your emotions, and to practice coping skills.

3. Monitor your information intake.

news flashYou can choose how you receive and consume information about the outbreak. Start by really assessing how much information is good for you, because that varies widely from person to person. My father is one of those people who gets calmer the more he knows, so watching the news is actually a stress reliever for him. My sister Audrey, on the other hand, has found it difficult to emotionally process a lot of what’s happening, so she avoids the news and relies on others to summarize the important information for her. Find the level that’s comfortable for you, and stay there. You might consider stepping away from social media and TV for a period of time or limiting your daily intake. Also, I encourage you to seek out a balanced perspective, especially if you live in the United States, where the pandemic has become sadly politicized.

4. Utilize self care practices and coping skills.

self care 2.0Self care is always important, but right now it’s imperative. Make a list of things that give you peace, stimulate creativity, provide escape, feed your spirit and offer healing. Pursue your hobbies. Employ coping skills that help keep your mindset positive and calm, such as thanking yourself, forgiving yourself, or making a gratitude list. This can be a great opportunity to develop stronger coping skills and new healthy habits.

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How are you handling things at this point?