Contributor Archive

Worst Case Scenario

Monday, March 14th, 2011

How many times have you caught yourself saying,”Well, with my luck (fill in the blank with the worst case scenario for what you are dealing with)”? I find myself doing this more than I like to admit. Several weeks ago, during a particularly trying time in our lives, my husband and I were driving home from a very scary visit to our vet’s office. We had taken both our dogs in for their yearly routine exams having no clue anything could seriously be wrong with them. When the vet found a large, very suspicious mass on one of the dog’s chests, he soberly told us he didn’t like what he saw and would let us know the pathology results in 5-7 days. On the car ride home, I burst into tears and told my husband, “We just can’t catch a break these days.” My husband was very calm and told me to just keep my emotions in check until we knew what we were dealing with.

That was the longest week of my life. My stomach was in knots, I couldn’t eat, couldn’t find joy in anything, and basically just wanted to curl up in the fetal position. My dogs are brothers and extremely close. All the worst case scenarios of how the other dog would go on without his brother kept running through my mind. It was horrible. The test results finally came back and showed that the mass was large and in a very bad spot, but was benign. A great deal of money, a quick surgery and recovery later, and our pup is back to normal.

This whole incident made me take a serious look at why I am always ready to jump to the worst case conclusion. Am I trying to protect myself? Get my armor up and ready for battle even though it might not be needed? Why can’t I be more positive and optimistic? Does it always have to be the darkest day in my brain?

I think a lot of us do this. We expect the worst and the worst hardly ever happens (thank goodness!). But when it does happen, it rocks our world, and we decide to not be caught unprotected again. So, next crisis, our minds go into overdrive and we imagine what it will be like when the world falls on our heads so we can be “ready.”

While this is just human nature for some of us, starting now I am going to make a real effort to temper this impulse. Spending those 7 days imagining life without my beloved dog was in no way good for me or my family. And, of course, as it turns out, totally unnecessary. I am going to try to put my imagination in a lower gear, be realistic when things come up, but not panic and freak out. I know this will be harder than I think, but in the long run, it will balance my life, allowing me to be a more positive presence for myself and a more positive force in the world.

Hurry Up and Wait

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

I was at a party recently on the 10th floor of an old building in New York City. Right beside the elevator everyone had to take to get to the party was a big sign saying to limit the number riding the elevator to six people. Since there were only 3 of us in our group, this wasn’t a problem. We climbed in, and, I have to admit, became a little concerned at the creakiness of that old lift. Nervously making jokes about getting out alive, we were relieved when the ride was over and the doors opened, welcoming us to the party in progress.

We hadn’t been there too long when a big commotion in the hallway got everyone’s attention. Sure enough, the elevator was stuck between floors and nothing could get it to budge. In what seemed like the wink of an eye, New York City firemen, laden with their gear, were climbing up the 10 floors. They popped open the elevator and got everyone out within 5 minutes. Truly, it was a sight to behold! When the doors opened, out came seven people.

I have thought back to that scene many times since. Would I have gone along with cramming one more person into the elevator, thinking ‘it’s just one more, what can that hurt?’ in my haste to get to the party? Maybe. Probably. But I hope not.

How many times in life do we push the envelope because we’re in a hurry or because following the rules would be an inconvenience? And frankly, when we do it, we do usually get away with it and suffer no consequences. But this time it backfired on an elevator full of people. Because seven people chose to ignore that sign, they took two truckloads of firemen off the street and out of pocket for those who truly may have needed their remarkable expertise and courage in a crisis. And, with the elevator now broken, our having to walk down 10 flights of stairs at the end of the night sure didn’t endear the rule breakers to the rest of the party goers!

This summer, I hope we can all pay a little more attention when we’re hurrying about our day. If we can slow down, we may actually find that we truly settle into a flow, and we’ll know at our core when we are about to do some dumb, inconsiderate, or dangerous thing. Not only that, we’ll be savoring more precious moments than we ever do when we are in such a hurry to get where we’re going.

You’re Not Alone

Friday, September 11th, 2009

It has been a year since I received one of those phone calls everyone dreads getting. Our phone rang early on a Saturday morning when my husband was out of the country and I was home alone. On the other end of the phone was someone I didn’t know telling me that one of our closest friends had been killed the night before in a horrible plane crash.

I have heard that when your system receives a shock, time seems to switch into slow motion. That was true for me. While trying to breathe through my own grief, I had to figure out how to contact my husband and break the news to him. Since we were literally half a world apart, it was impossible to really hold and comfort one another. We each had to deal with the disbelief, the sadness, and the pain alone, as I imagine many people have to do.

Over the past year, I have watched our friend’s widow and daughter deal with Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, his birthday, and Father’s Day all without their husband and father. So many times I thought to myself, “How do they get through this pain? How do they get out of bed each morning?” But somehow they did and continue to do so.

Every single one of us will have to deal with death and grieving at some point in our lives. No one is immune - it will touch all of our lives. The holidays are some of the worst days for those who are mourning. Some will have to mourn alone; others will have family members to help ease the pain. Maybe you know someone who needs a little extra attention this holiday season - someone who has recently lost a loved one. Or maybe you, yourself, are grieving the loss of someone you love.

May we all take the time to reach out to those who are hurting and let them know that even though they might feel alone, they really aren’t. While this is a season of joy for most of us, we will experience more of it if we reach out to someone who is hurting, lonely, facing a life-changing illness, or just needs a little extra love. This holiday, I wish peace of mind, love, and comfort to all.

Moving Through Grief at Your Own Pace

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009

Have you ever noticed that when someone is dealing with a bitter, life-changing blow, others want to “hurry” them through the grieving, sadness, and the loss stages and get them right back to “normal” as soon as possible? There is tremendous pressure from family and friends to “get over it,” “move on,” or “find closure.”

People think that by urging a loved one along, moving them toward happy days again, they are actually doing that person a favor. But I don’t think so.

We all need to move through the stages of grief or loss at our own pace, a pace that feels right and works for us. Time and time again, I encounter people who have been rushed through a process that they needed to take their time with, and they still have never really recovered.

This manifests itself in all sorts of ways — turning to food to fill a void left in your heart, “medicating” yourself with alcohol to get through the night, holing up in the house and slowly cutting off contact with others, or simply closing down and not letting anyone get close to you again.

During these scary economic times, people are experiencing losses in ways that they ordinarily might not. Losing a job that you love and have done for years is a very painful kind of loss. Losing most of your retirement savings is also a brutal blow to a family.

This summer, if someone you care about is trying to cope with a loss — be it a job, money, relationship, or a death — try to resist the urge to make them feel better before they are ready. Be there for them; listen to them when they need a sounding board, offer advice only when asked, and let them move through their stages at their own pace. It might be the best support you can offer them in this crazy “get over it” kind of world.

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Who’s the Kid and Who’s the Parent?

Friday, May 8th, 2009

Recently three of us were walking through a convention hall. A 5- or 6-year-old boy carrying a red sports drink was ahead of us, with his parents several yards in front of him. At one point, the boy stumbled and caught himself, but as he was recovering, half his drink sloshed onto the floor. Seeing the slippery mess he had made, he ran to catch up to his parents. We watched as he stopped his parents, they turned, and he pointed to the spill. We also watched in disbelief as his parents shrugged, turned around, and kept walking, leaving the spill for someone else to either slip in or clean up–not their problem, I guess.

I could tell that this bothered the child because he kept looking back to check on that spill all the way out of the building. His parents? Not once did they turn and look back. Not once.

What message did those parents convey to their child? He obviously knew on some level that he had made the mess and needed to clean it up. They taught him that if you just walk away, someone else will clean up your messes for you. Wow.

I know it was the end of a long day and everyone was super tired. But as parents, we need to always be careful of what lessons we are teaching our children. Maybe on a different day, when the parents weren’t burned out from having walked miles at a convention, they might have stopped to clean up the mess. But on this day, they shrugged it off, and that boy will never forget the lesson they taught him. Let’s all try to be aware that children are watching us, whether it is convenient or not, and they are looking to us as adults to show them how to be good citizens of the world.

Have a peaceful and restful summer and enjoy every spectacular day that you get to spend with your children.

The Power of a Smile

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

On a recent business trip to New York, it was very cold, the wind was blowing, my feet hurt from the previous 8 hours spent walking the trade show floor, and I was starving. Needless to say, I wasn’t in the best of moods and wanted nothing more than to go back to my hotel room and crawl under the covers. Unfortunately, I still had a business dinner to get through that evening.

So there I was, walking in the snow and wind, feeling very sorry for myself, and knowing my misery wasn’t going to end anytime soon. I came to a corner where I had to stop to wait for the light. A little boy of about six was standing there, holding his mother’s hand. Suddenly, for no reason, this child looked up and gave me the biggest, brightest, sweetest smile ever. His whole face just glowed in my direction. My rotten mood evaporated — poof! — just like that! With one brilliant smile, that little boy turned my day around.

I have thought about that incident many times since that trip — how the actions of a complete stranger had such a profound effect on me. When I look back on it, I can’t help but think about what effect I may have on the people I come into contact with on any given day.

The holidays are stressful times for so many — people who don’t have any family close by, people who have suffered the recent loss of a loved one, people who have lost a job at the worst possible time, or people who are just piling too much on their plates (as I was that cold New York day). This holiday season, remember this story of the difference a little boy made as you go about your day. Make your smiles brighter, say a kind word, offer to help if you can sense it is needed, and leave a positive impression wherever you can. One small gesture could end up being the best gift you have ever given.