Tag Archives: playing well

What Should I Do? A Multicultural Answer

I am currently teaching a new course at Montana State University called Leadership Foundations. Thirty students ranging from 18 to over 40 are exploring together what it means to be a leader while learning some core skills.  As part of the course, each student must devote 10 non-class hours to some type of volunteer activity where he or she can practice leadership.

One of these students, while struggling to get those service learning hours accomplished, asked, “How do I know what projects are worth my time or which ones I should give up on?” She added, “Just how much energy do you put into something that looks like it is going to fail?”

Considering these questions, I recalled two others that guide my decisions on where to devote my time. When I am wrestling with what to do or not to do, I like to ask myself:

  1. If I were really brave, what would I try?
  2. Would I do this even if it might fail and others might reject me?

Reframed these questions could also be:

  1. What would I do if I knew I would succeed?
  2. What would I do anyway; no matter the final result?

The first question asks me to rise to my highest and best while the second makes sure I am doing something for the right reasons. My ego loves success and to have everyone love me; so, sometimes I can be drawn to a project if it might make me look good or bring some adoration – that’s seductive stuff! But, I am really at my best when I contribute happily regardless of what might be the ultimate outcome.

Steve Jobs, we learned in an earlier post, asks himself in the mirror each morning, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do?” It seems that Jobs incorporates my two questions into one. I believe he is asking, is it bold enough, fun enough, substantive enough or right enough to be doing?

My friend David Baum taught me a similar centering technique derived from the Jewish tradition. He subscribes to an ancient proverb that says you should always keep one piece of paper in each of your front pockets. On one write, “I am part of the Divine,” and on the other scribble, “I am nothing but dust.” The wisdom comes, David reminds me, in knowing which to pull out of your pocket to guide your actions during your day.

Your appropriate next step in Buddhism is often called “right action.” In Hinduism it is referred to as “selfless service.” In both traditions we are counseled to be brave enough to get involved in life, and at the same time not to get attached to our desired results. To answer the inquiring Leadership Foundation student, these philosophies would say if the project will succeed or fail should not drive your decision. Instead the question should become, is it worth doing, would your involvement be of value to you, and to the world?Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers

I am drawn to people who have clarity around right action. Today I was reading about thirteen indigenous grandmothers who have been gathering twice a year around the world to find ways to care for our future generations. In closing, I invite you to watch Grandma Bernadette as she describes why she has chosen to be part of the 13 and devote her time to their efforts.

Grandmother Bernadette’s Story from Laughing Willow on Vimeo.

Kevin Connolly — Playing Well at the X Games

Have to let you all know that our friend Kevin Connolly just took 3rd place in mono ski at the X Games! To get a sense of what that means, click here for a short ESPN clip of the final run…This is not skiing for the faint of heart.DoubleTake -- A Memoir

I have to sing Kevin’s praises since he’s been playing well — by both making his mark and having a great time — this year. His recent book, Double Take: A Memoir published by Harper’s Studio was released last fall and he’s taken to the air waves to promote it. Here’s a fun clip of an interview with Today Show’s Meredith Veiria:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

I can tell you that Kevin isn’t much for being considered “inspirational,” but he consistently reminds me to reach for the stars while maintaining a great sense of humor. We are cheering his win here in Bozeman and look forward to seeing where Kevin will next set his sights. Congratulations!

Steve Jobs — Three Tenets of Playing Well

The good life is inspired by love and guided by knowledge. — Bertrand Russell

225px-Steve_JobsWhen I recently found a YouTube version of Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement speech, I was not surprised to see the 1.5 million “hits” to date. This became one of my personal favorites when its transcript appeared in my inbox soon after its presentation. Just in case, it hasn’t landed in your email — I include it below:

I was reminded watching this speech of a quote by Bertrand Russell, a 20th century British philosopher and winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. At the beginning of his autobiography, written in his 80’s, he states:

Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a deep ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.

I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy—ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy…With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine…Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a hated burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate the evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer. This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.

Job and Russell remind us that love, curiosity and recognition of our mortality are great allies in playing well. When these are ignited within me, I find that I usually play at my best. First, loving what I am doing and who I am serving opens my heart. Curiosity gets my head into the game. Then remembering death and suffering are part of the human being program, centers me into my body and circumstances.

How can we engage these three passions, as Russell calls them, each day? We can pose Steve Job’s question of “If this was your last day on earth would you spend your day as it is planned?” I like to check if what I am doing both brings me joy and has substance. What daily practices assure that you are playing well as Jobs and Russell describe?

Going Mother Bear

I remember twenty years ago when our son Cameron was a newborn and my husband and I ventured bravely from the suburbs to downtown Washington, DC on the Metro. He must have been three weeks old or so, as Cameron lay on my shoulder sleeping. A man across the aisle looked at the sleeping baby, I’m sure out of natural curiosity or happy memory, and I doubt I’ll ever forget my reaction. Holding tighter to our baby, I worried fiercely he wanted to take Cameron from me. I probably shot him a look that would kill as I envisioned all the ways I would protect my child.

Mother Bear

Mother Bear

Childbirth had its way with me chemically. Bruce said about a week into motherhood that I acted like I had been hit by a truck OK, not a good metaphor to use with a woman recently recovering from childbirth, but I had to agree with him. The woman I was before the birth had replaced Stepford Wife style while I slept postpartum in the hospital. No, I didn’t become a more diligent cook or housecleaner (no such luck there), but I had become a person who now suddenly would be willing to rip the eyes of out a fellow Metro traveler.

The “mother bear” instinct that took me over was often frightening. I must be honest, Before Cameron (BC), the thought never entered my mind how I might “take out” someone who would threaten one of my loved ones. After Cameron, I began to run scenarios on how I would jump in the tiger area at the National Zoo to rescue my children. How they would have gotten in the pen, I have no idea. Yet as I visualized attacking one claw equipped animal after another, I realized the footloose and worry free BC Deidre was gone.

Around our house in Montana, every couple of years a yearling bear cub appears trying to forage for food. Bird feeders and garbage cans are our usual casualties, but I used to wonder why the mother bears would send off their babies so young. Watching how my mother bear instinct rages within me even though we have grown and almost grown children, I wonder if this early send off is nature’s way of keeping both mother and teenaged bear sane!

With a twenty year old and two teenagers in our family, I am struck by how I still desperately want to keep them safe. I guess I always thought the “BC Deidre” might return when the kids reached a certain age. No luck there. Much to my children’s dismay, the mother bear instinct still remains.

When our children play upon cultural edges, be it teenaged antics or a racy outfit, I notice that I don’t act my best. I want to throw a baby blanket over their heads and take them home, even if they are home! “Guess what, teenagers and twenty year olds need some self-determination and independence,” says my rational brain. Meanwhile, Mother Bear tries to take over, even if her logic on safety is completely out of whack.

Sports are a funny aberration of mother bear gone awry. Go watch the antics of soccer moms. Why might you ask are these women ready to eat the referee alive, find themselves screaming at coach or opposing team parents, or pushing their children to run harder and play tougher? My theory is all the mother bears on the sidelines are internally chanting, “Winners are safer,” and “Great athletes have more opportunities and are thus safer.” Oh yes, and there is the constant message they could repeat that “Athletic kids are healthier (safer), get better grades (safer) and are less likely to do drugs (that will protect them too.)” Our logical minds can find counter arguments to all these pronouncements, yet the mother bears seize the stage and run to sign up little ones for another summer camp.

So, in terms of this blog’s theme, how does a biologically programmed mother “play well”?

I have found three supporting tools:

  • Self awareness – that my hormonal mommy makeup wires me to “keep them safe at all costs,” reminds me to pay attention if I’m going “bear.”
  • Check out the story – When I get a bit territorial, it helps to realize what statement I’m using. It usually that ends with, “…are safer.” It’s then good to remind myself that it’s not always true that kids who get straight A’s are safer for example. What’s the story I’m using? Is it appropriate? Is it fair to my children?
  • Be compassionate – I often dislike how wishing to create safety creates fear-based reactions. I want to support self-determination, creativity and independence in my children, so worry, inadvertent fussing or nagging rarely pleases me. But, I’m still a mother. Get between a grizzly and her cub and you’ll be in trouble. That my claws come out from time to time is only natural. Being kind to myself is better for all involved.

Once out of my childhood house, but “Before Cameron,” I was always confused by my mother’s reactions when I’d periodically visit. Going out with friends, she would be worried if I returned late or struggled over choosing a new job direction. I would remark how silly it was how I could travel all over the country and live thousands of miles away and it didn’t bother her at all, but at home I needed a curfew. Now twenty years AC, I understand entirely. Mother bears become just that when their cubs drop by, whatever their age!

Keeping it Real

I smiled listening to Michael Jordan honor his beloved sister and brothers as some of his valuable opponents when composing last week’s post. I get it; when I wrote The Way of Conflict, I began the introduction by telling the story of how I grew up fighting with my three sisters.

These are three of the dearest people in my life. They are also my walking truth serum. I know within days of exposure, I’ll be required to fess up to what’s working me internally. Over the years, I’ve come to trust their uncanny abilities to make me come clean and have a healthy respect for this power. I love to be with each of them, but know that seeing them always brings some level of reckoning.

For some, old friends might provide a similar experience. They’ve known you too long and you have too much in common to be able to pretend your insecurities or struggles don’t exist. We can tuck them away for most of the world, but there are those souls that keep us honest.

Reading about indigenous cultures I notice that community members are sometimes assigned this truth serum role as a specific job. In the Dagara tribe in Africa you are chosen by the year of your birth to be a community jester or a “nature person.” Nature people are expected to tease you or to give you grief if you are putting on airs. When a nature person shows up at your door, know that you are going to get a work out…it’s their job.

Some Native American traditions explain that this role provides “coyote energy,” seeing this animal as the trickster whose role it is to keep us real. In other traditions it is the ritual clown who makes fun of those trying to pretend that there are above all the messiness of life. Their universal role is to humble us.

Humility means to be “of the earth.” Not less than another, and definitely not higher, but instead that we are all essentially the same. Important souls around the world remind us that as much as we’d like to ignore it, we are human just like everyone else in our community. We all make mistakes, fear death and have physical urges that can control us. We are imperfect and yet valuable in our own right.

I notice that within my sisterhood, we seem to call out behavior that is outside of our best and brightest. My siblings give me grief about eating ice cream out of the container (I know it’s gross), but also none will put up with self-depreciating talk. It’s in that fact that I trust; they see my potential and can get quite peeved when I miss the mark.

Historically we are told this was the role of the court jester. I know how easy it is to delude myself into thinking that my actions make sense and thus appreciate the idea that wise royalty knew that you must have someone checking your work. Too much pride or bravado needs loving critics.

Last weekend I had the rare opportunity to spend time with all three sisters and mom in Yosemite. On Saturday, twice driving back to a cabin we were renting, we saw a cute young coyote cross the road. Rare to see a coyote in Montana in broad daylight, I was impressed to see him in California hanging near the road hours apart. It took until one sister said, “I love each of you, but being all together isn’t always easy,” for me to giggle at the irony. Adding the citings, she was right; there was lots of “coyote energy.” Yet, like after working with a great personal trainer or coach, this week I now have a better sense of who I am, where I stand and what I need to work on. From the nudging and prodding I hope to be better, brighter and more real…and curtail double dipping in the Haagen Daz container.