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Posts tagged ‘connection’

Cucumbers + Gladiolas

The cottage is made up of four rooms — a kitchen, a living space, a bedroom, and a bathroom — all tiny, adding up to a mere 400 feet or so.  Flanked by forest green paneling and narrow white beams, the space appears fragile but represents resilience.  It looks as if one of the many fierce Midwestern thunderstorms that rage each summer could destroy it in one mighty gust, but it has withstood hundreds….maybe thousands of them of the years. Read more

How To Talk to…People

A beautiful essay that was written a few years ago has been making rounds on the Internet again lately.  If you haven’t read it, it’s worth taking a few minutes right now: How to Talk to Little Girls.  As someone who was once a little girl myself and is now an adoring mother of my own little girl, this essay strikes a very personal chord.  The big message is this — the topics we bring up, the questions we ask, and the little things we notice about every little girl we interact with contribute to the way she sees the world around her…and her place in it.  Our words and actions send signals about what matters — a danger zone when the loudest words relate to being cute/beautiful/ruffled/princess-y.  Whether we mean it or not, by calling out a little girl’s haircut instead of the book she’s carrying, we’re telling her that the way she looks is more important than what she’s able to learn and do. Read more

Work Friends Matter

field of rapeseed and clouds

I had lunch with a friend at work today.  Not just a co-worker…a friend.  We sat at a sushi bar and talked about our lives and batted around work ideas in a way that we could have done whether we worked together or not.  When we got up to leave, I felt better about life, I felt better about work, and I even felt better about the world.  I felt more connected, and I felt more like myself.

This brief lunch reinforced Gallup’s research — “having a best friend at work” matters (note: “best” is used here a way to differentiate, not necessarily connoting what we think of as a “best friend”).  Gallup talks about why it matters in the context of engagement + productivity at work, but from a personal perspective, I think it’s important to think about how much it matters in terms of our emotional well-being.  Spending as much time at work as we do in today’s world, having a friend — or lots of friends — at work makes it easier to be our true, authentic selves.  It makes it easier for us to show the highs and the lows…to share what’s working and what’s not…to give open and honest feedback…and to stay emotionally connected to a company and a culture.

So I end this week grateful…to live in a world where as life and work are blending, friendship connects the two.

Do you have a great friend at work, and how has it changed your work…and your life?

The Most Important Relationship

love is life

I heard Diane von Furstenberg talk today, and she totally blew me away.  I feel like I should go out and buy a new wrap dress tonight in her honor just to remember over and over again how her talk made me feel.  I’m not exaggerating – she was one of the most grounded, authentic, bright, self-assured, funny, ageless, wise, beautifully human people I have ever heard, and she gracefully put words to so many of the things I believe.

She made one brief, yet powerful comment that sums up who she is: “The most important relationship you have in life is the one you have with yourself” (she later re-framed this as your “friendship with yourself”).  After all, it’s impossible to have strong relationships with other people – your family, your partner, your kids, your colleagues, your friends – if you aren’t able to accept and embrace who you are.  As my mother told me from the time I was  little girl on, “you need to love yourself before you can love other people.”  Diane called this “smiling at your shadow.”

I’ve heard these words before – maybe even said them before myself – but for some reason they really rang true today.  She shared numerous stories about her hunger for independence, regardless of what relationships she was in.  She talked about being able to pursue audacious dreams and achieve amazing things because she knew who she was and she gave herself the love and care she deserved, minimizing self-criticism and self-doubt.  And she spoke about the lifelong quest for clarity about who we are and what we’re doing in the world.

Despite always being a little bit shy about standing ovations, I leapt to my feet after her talk to show my overwhelming gratitude – for both being a role model and for giving every woman in that room permission to treat ourselves with care…not in a way that minimizes the care of others, but as a way to make sure we have the energy to give our best to other people.  I now see my wrap dresses in a whole new light…and I can’t wait to channel my inner DVF every time I wear one.

Have you ever met someone who changed the way you thought about your life in a very short time?  Who was it, and what did you learn?

P.S. If you’re interested in a few other pieces of wisdom Diane shared today, here were some of my favorites:

  • “If you can pack a suitcase, you can organize your life.”
  • “Passion, instinct and love beat data every time.”
  • “You have to be serious at the base so you can be frivolous at the top.”
  • “The biggest gift you can give yourself is independence.”
  • “I have never met a woman who wasn’t strong.”

My Cohousing Dream

cohousing community in denmark; photo by seier + seier via flickr creative commons

cohousing community in denmark; photo by seier + seier via flickr creative commons

I recently watched the documentary Happy, an hour-long 2011 film that tells happiness stories from around the world.  Perspectives from both everyday people in places like swampy Louisiana and Kolkata’s slums, as well as leading experts in positive psychology and happiness get at the essence of what really makes people happy.  The messages are familiar (money doesn’t equal happiness), but the way it’s told is beautiful and human and real.

I was pretty sleepy when I watched it, so i admittedly drifted in and out of portions of the film.  But one segment really stuck with me.  It was about the world’s happiest country at the time (SPOILER ALERT): Denmark*.  This wouldn’t have been the first country I would have guessed, but when I heard it, it made sense.  Great public programs, excellent education, low unemployment, a strong middle class, and strong societal feelings of trust and safety all contribute to high happiness, as measured by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Happy Planet Index (HPI).  But the story that stuck with me most was told by a woman living in a “cohousing” arrangement.

As wikipedia describes it, a cohousing community is “an intentional community composed of private homes supplemented by shared facilities.”  Residents share in everyday activities such as cooking, dining, child care, gardening, and governance.  Basically, it’s like college/retirement homes, but everyone has their own full house and the community is more varied and multi-generational.  The cohousing movement began in Denmark in 1964 when an architect brought together a group of friends to discuss possibilities for a more supportive living environment.  Cohousing is now a well-established housing option in Denmark, and it continues to grow around the world.

The woman interviewed in Happy about her cohousing arrangement was pretty convincing (she jolted me out of near-REM sleep).  She cooks just a few times a month…her children have built in playmates…she can run out to the grocery story to get milk anytime because there is someone around to watch her kids…she has grown-up friends to eat dinner with every night…she has more amenities/facilities than she could ever have living on her own.  In short, she has community — something we know from research has a strong positive impact on our overall well-being.

I love love love the idea of cohousing.  Yes, maybe because it’s just an idea for me now and I’m not packing up our stuff in a Penske quite yet, but maybe because it’s something we as a society actually need.  People don’t consistently live near their parents and siblings anymore.  Housing is insanely expensive in some places.  Neighborhood schools aren’t always a given, reducing the natural community that they bring.  Finding good childcare is time-consuming and stressful.  And people are overall maxed out.  Life really does take a village.  And I’m not talking about a clothing optional, Big Love kind of village…just a normal, hip, cool, interesting one full of varied and curious and compassionate people.

So if I could design my own community, here’s what it might look like…

  • Mixed ages — elderly people, families, 20-somethings…united by a common commitment to community
  • Shared meals — maybe as a large community, maybe in smaller sub-communities
  • Guest housing — for family members and friends from out of town
  • Big, beautiful garden — manageable with lots of waterers…
  • Swimming pool — of course
  • Outdoor showers — because I love them
  • Art room — for kids and grown ups
  • Ample space in each single home — privacy would be even more important in a cohousing situation

What do you think?  Does this idea make you want to learn/explore more or buy a single family compound on 20 acres where you wouldn’t have to interact with anyone unless you made a big effort?  Do you know anyone who lives in a cohousing community and loves or loathes it?

*Note: Denmark is no longer the world’s happiest country, according to the Happy Planet Index (HPI).  Costa Rica took its place in 2012.

21st Century Postcards

photo by counselman collection, via flickr creative commons

photo by counselman collection, via flickr creative commons

I’m a luddite in some respects, and I always have been.  As a kid I wanted to be Laura Ingalls, and I dreamed of eating by candlelight and panning for gold and walking to school and running free on a 19th century farm.  I even begged my mom to make me a long gown and bonnet and get me a metal lunch pail to take to school (totally weird, I know).  And even today, I love old-fashioned things like hand-written letters and physical (versus online) stores and paper lists.

In light of my tendency to yearn for the simplicity of the past, it’s ironic that I now live in the land of the future — Silicon Valley.  But I love the future too.  Surrounded by things and people and ideas revolving around technology, it’s hard to not feel excited about the promise of innovation.  I love the way technology helps me keep track of information and stay connected to people and see my parents who live thousands of miles away and learn new things and understand the world around me.  But at the end of the day, I don’t think technology can replace the joy of physical relationships and tangible goods.  I think they need to gracefully co-exist.

One of the most concrete examples of this is the mailbox.  I don’t want it to go away, despite the rise of companies focused on virtualizing mail.  I love finding real letters in the mailbox…feeling the paper and seeing a loved one’s handwriting and knowing they took the time to sit down and write something.  My mom is really great at this (thanks, mom)!

So…in an attempt to marry my real life with my virtual life, I just tried out a postcard app called Postagram.  It was simple: upload photo from phone, write short message, upload address (I sent one to my sister), pay, and hit “send.”  Yes, my sister won’t get a handwritten card, but she will get a smiling photo of my 4-yr-old in a tie when she opens her mailbox one day next week!  This whole process took me under three minutes, and it’s a great way to communicate in a new and interesting way.

If you like this idea, there are lots of companies in this space:

How do you stay in touch with your loved ones?  Do you love real letters, or think of them as a thing of the past?

Warm Fuzzies

As I described in an earlier post, summer (sleepaway) camp was a formative experience for me.  It was the first time in my young life I felt truly independent.  It got me out of my sheltered world into a still-sheltered-but-not-as-sheltered place where vegetarians and musicians and people with dreadlocks and counselors with tatoos lived.  But most importantly, it reinforced that much of life’s meaning and joy comes from people and relationships and communities they form.  This focus on people wasn’t something we explicitly talked about; it was just one of the cultural norms of the camp.  It was the way people showed up every day.  One of the practical and concrete ways this manifested was overwhelmingly simple: every person in the 12-person tent taped a brown paper lunch bag onto her metal bed frame.  The purpose of the bag was to collect “warm fuzzies,” or short notes from tentmates about what makes them so awesome.  For example, warm fuzzies said things like “thank you for taking time to ask how I feel about being adopted,” or “I think you’re a beautiful singer,” or “I can’t believe you swam all the way across the lake this morning!”

I’ve thought about this exercise many times over the years, and wondered how this simple concept of proactive feedback could become more of a mainstay in our lives.  Maybe because of the warm fuzzy experience or maybe because “words of affirmation” are my leading love language*, I’ve tried to carry this through in my personal relationships.  Early in our relationship, I used to leave little handwritten love notes all over the place — in my husband’s suitcase, pocket, computer case, backpack, car, etc.  He started doing the same (maybe out of guilt, but I’ll take it), and my heart would leap when I’d find a warm fuzzy stuck on the mirror or on a bottle of juice in the fridge.  But as time has gone on and our lives have gotten more complicated, I’ve realized I barely ever do this anymore.

So in the spirit of wellness and connection and gratitude, I’m resurrecting it — for my husband and for my kids (what kid doesn’t like a love note in their lunch box once in a while).  This practice — a short message scrawled on a post-it — is for me, an easy and meaningful way to tell people I care about how awesome they are.  It can take less than a minute and can totally change someone’s day.  So if you do one thing today to support your relationships in a new way, give someone a warm fuzzy.  It might make their day — and yours — a whole lot better.

*If you’re not familiar with the concept of love languages, it can be a great relationship-building exercise.  You can learn more here.

Smiling at the Bus Stop

photo by vox efx via flickr creative commons

photo by vox efx via flickr creative commons

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned a guided meditation about standing at a bus stop.  This was led by Justin Rosenstein, co-founder of Asana (collaboration start-up), and I thought it was so simple and effective that it was worth including here.  Here it is: Read more

Life Design: The Shady Ladies

photo by gollygforce via flickr creative commons

photo by gollygforce via flickr creative commons

Sean always laughs when he sees “Shady Ladies” written on the calendar, but he doesn’t dare schedule anything that conflicts.  “Shady Ladies” (long story re: the name) is code for a dinner I have with two friends every 4-6 weeks.  These meetings initially started in an attempt to create a community of practice among four of us (one has since moved to Chicago) with similar professional pursuits.  I would still call this a community of practice (work is still definitely a core topic), but it’s evolved beyond that into something even more meaningful: a time to talk (and give each other feedback) about the way we’re designing our lives. Read more

The Alice Lane “Kibbutz”

hearts on doorstep“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irresistible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.” 

— Brene Brown, Professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work

Sean and I drove a Penske across the country in August of 2005, making stops in exotic places like Cheyenne, Wyoming and Elko, Nevada  Our final destination was a small, dead-end street in Menlo Park California called Alice Lane, where a little apartment I had never seen awaited us and our truck full of our most prized possessions (I had been out of the country that summer, so Sean had gone solo to find a place to live).  As we drove through cornfields and across mountains – clicking off states one by one – I became increasingly curious, nervous, excited, and terrified to see this place we were going to call home for the next few years. Read more

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