Category Archives: Life Challenges

Giving Back to Come Back Again and Again

When researching Thriving Through Tough Times, I learned that to fully recover from difficult circumstances we are counseled to give. Giving creates meaning out of rough situations, moves us out of ourselves and generally makes us feel better. Andy Mackie’s example as you’ll watch below, adds a whole new level of promise to the “give back to come back” maxim.

After nine heart operations and drugs that sickened him, Mackie decided to use the money he had been spending on prescriptions to buy harmonicas for school age children. With little time to live, according to the physicians, Mackie wanted to finish well by doing what he loved. But, Mackie didn’t finish his time on earth as quickly as predicted, and month after month he bought more harmonicas and taught kids how to play. Eleven years and some 16000 harmonicas later, Andy Mackie left behind a strong musical and ethical legacy when he passed away at 73.

I hope you enjoy this video.

TEDxBozeman Video is Available

Per your many requests, please find my March 23rd Tedx Talk below! It is also available on YouTube under the Tedx Channel at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEAzWD3038Y .

Thank you for your kind and enduring support, Deidre

You gotta be flexible

My mother-in-law Jinny Combs taught me many things.

As one of my most formative bosses, I probably model my leadership style off of hers more than I recognize. I know that I rely on two pieces of constant Jinny advice, “Look for people with good attitudes, you can teach them everything else,” and “You gotta be flexible!”

After running a guest ranch in southwestern Montana for fifty years, Jinny could have easily written a long book on leadership, but instead she penned three cookbooks and a collection of funny stories about life at the Diamond J.

Jinny taught that you could use writing to foster flexibility. When we would lose a pet or a person, my mother-in-law would write a poem. Sometimes a haiku composed at 4 am fit the bill and in other cases, a prose poem was right. Really anytime life surprised her, Jinny took pen to paper and reframed the situation into one that had value and, most often, a whole lot of humor.

These poems were never just for her. Once the story was captured in verse, it was typed, copied and sent out to a large distribution list of friends and family.  An envelope with Jinny’s distinctive writing was a harbinger of news that although it may contains some sadness would always have us giggling.

Each piece would also end with an “ole!” Since my in laws spent their winters in Mexico that felt fitting, but this now feels like a constant call to get back on your feet and cheer that you are still here. Jinny was never one for focusing on loss or grieving, at least around us. There were guests to meet in the summer, or to correspond with off season, and more fun to be found.

Jinny read whatever I wrote loyally, including this blog. The videos were her favorite and, before she got sick last spring, they always engendered calls and emails.  It should be no surprise to me that I have been putting off composing a post after losing her last August.  I would like to chalk it up to too much work, but if I am honest, I have been avoiding the pain of writing without her reading.

But, you gotta be flexible — is not following our mentors’ advice is one of the ways that we can honor them? Jinny often said that her mother-in-law created the most brilliant sunsets. Following her tradition, maybe it’s time to believe that Jinny is out there watching in the vast worldwide web. She’s sending along her favorite emails full of animal photos and waiting for me to get back on my feet. And so, I send this far and wide, just as she would have, and end this post with a rousing, but I must admit teary “OLE!”

Check out lifebyme.com

A few months ago, I was asked to write an essay for www.lifebyme.com and today it is being featured on their home page! I hope you check out “Paradox” and find it of interest.

As always, thank you for your support. Today, I get to practice being seen…

Do or D.I.E.

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to share leadership skills with nineteen international English teachers who are visiting on a State Department fellowship. Part of the program includes internships in our area schools. In my workshop we were uncovering the culture of a local high school.

Teacher after teacher shared surprises the school had held in their first visit. “The hallways are so quiet,” “Do you know that everyone chews gum, even the teachers?” and “Your students eat in during class!”

Some of this was news to this mother of past and present high school students, and it begged a brief tutorial on the D.I.E. cultural model as we all grappled with what all this information meant. Tracking the history of D.I.E., or the Describe, Interpret and Evaluate model, it appears that it was originally posited as an approach to art criticism. Briefly this is a 3 to 4-staged strategy where you notice:

  • What are you seeing (Describe),
  • What does it make you think (Interpret) and
  • What are you then concluding and do you know it to be true (Evaluate and/or Theorize)?

Recently, this model has been applied to foster intercultural sensitivity. Example,  A man is eating lunch using his fingers instead of cutlery, chewing with his mouth open and belching loudly (Describing the scene). I might think, “I wonder if he is American?” or “Does he know that this behavior is culturally off here?” or “That is definitely not attractive by American standards.” I might then start making assumptions about the individual and his cultural competencies.

Checking my work while I then evaluate my assumptions and interpretation of the situation wakes me up to where I am overlaying my own cultural frameworks and stereotypes and where I might be completely wrong.

So, returning to the international teacher cohort, after describing their visits, we then noticed assumptions were we each making on chewing gum or eating in the classrooms. Could we draw the conclusion that these unique activities created quieter hallways? Did it make better or worse students? The exercise drove home for me once more how quickly I zip from description right into interpretation and forget to evaluate too often.

Case in point. I sat down to dinner near Valentine’s day with friends and posed a timely icebreaking question, “What is something that you love?”  A reply included a description of how fortunate one of us felt to be supporting his organization through bankruptcy and negotiations with creditors. “I feel really lucky to get to engage in this level of problem solving,” he added. If I had described to you all on his plate, I wonder if your interpretation might be closer to my “wow, that sure sounds miserable.”  Meanwhile, his interpretation of the situation has a highlight of my evening. I loved seeing another modeling the possibility in seeing challenges or conflicts as gifts. I also loved how he proved my lack of “die” reasoning “dead” wrong.

A practice session for breaking down my thought processes into 3 distinct stages came in the form of taking my daughter on some eastern college visits over Presidents’ Day weekend. We’d arrive at a school and how quickly I noticed that I wanted to decide if it would be good/bad for her! Maybe it was because I was woefully underdressed for the humid cold, but I was a hindrance to my daughter’s experience anytime I started to jump to conclusions. So instead, I tried to use the hour-long tours around campus to notice details instead. What was fascinating is, when I was paying attention, how much description would be devoted not to faculty capabilities or dorm room dimensions, but to my own emotional landscape as I practiced visualizing our youngest daughter off at university.

So, I pass along this as a leadership exercise for us all to practice this week. Pick an attention grabbing situation and:

  • Describe the scene
  • What assumptions are making, what thoughts are arising?
  • Evaluate — what can you guarantee from your assessment might be true? Could I assess this completely differently?

Just as we couldn’t determine the influence of gum chewing or I couldn’t suss out if a college was truly right for my daughter, we have some room to also choose our interpretations.  Watching the inspirational effects of my friend choosing to see turmoil at work as a fascinating opportunity, perhaps since we don’t know, shall we add the brave assumption of “this is great,” while breaking down our experience? As I interpret all of this, it seems worth a try!