Why I Resist The Coalition Ambition

Getting young ones launched in life is a noble mission and my life’s work and I’m happy to report that I’ve been more successful than ever as I hone my skills and take on even greater challenges.  The trick is keeping up with the accelerating chaos created by well-intentioned college admissions folk who are utterly clueless about their applicants’ reality, and either don’t know that or are not willing to go there.

Is that ignorance or arrogance?  Hmmm…probably a shade of each.

The recent Coalition commotion has caused a minor stir in the everyday world but a major one in the world of guidance counselors.  No one describes this better than my esteemed colleague, Will Dix, who has kept up a steady stream of superb pieces aimed at reaching the hearts and minds of our former colleagues in college admissions.  Will understands the needs of both cohorts well and is doing his best to stop the generational meltdown that will surely come as a result of the silly Coalition expectations.  GCs everywhere are near apoplectic over these expectations since they can easily anticipate the unintended consequences that will ensue.  Yet, oddly, they have never been included in the Coalition’s planning, which is where the ignorance and arrogance come in.

Admissions officers and guidance counselors have long seen themselves as partners in the launching of young adults, but this decision to change the college admissions process without consulting their GC partners and then dissing their protests over same has revealed just how broken the process is.

Anyone who every worked as a college admissions officer will feel their Bravo Sierra barometer engage as they read the Coalition’s plans since this proposal doesn’t pass the smell test, meaning that even the most experienced among us can’t imagine how creating an online ‘locker’ for 9th graders to post their work for review by college admissions officers years later could possibly lead to more underprivileged Black and Hispanic kids being admitted to top tier schools, which is supposedly the point of the whole exercise.  It doesn’t take an MIT PhD to see that this scenario will just spawn a new cottage industry of consultants eager to help advantaged 9th graders produce admissions worthy documents from the get go, thereby throwing the advantage to the wealthy once again while increasing the stress levels of young teenagers who are already medicated in unprecedented numbers to get through their days, courtesy of our helpful medical community in bed with the pharmaceutical industry.  No matter that data shows these meds are counter-indicated for teenagers.  No matter they actually trigger suicidal behaviors in growing brains.

Who cares?  At least those advantaged teenagers will have a better shot at getting into an Ivy school.  And isn’t that what life is all about?

Let’s face it. Underprivileged minority students are not in the Ivy + schools’ applicant pools, but not because they just need to plan earlier by putting 9th grade assignments in a Time Capsule Locker.  They aren’t there for a million different reasons and here’s where the cognitive dissonance comes in.  These schools know that, but at the same time they are looking for that one diamond-in-the-rough kid who pulled himself up by his boot straps and earned all As and at least a 2100 on the SATs.  In the real world, this is an urban legend, but that myth has kept those admissions officers hooked in its illusion.

For the past 30 years these schools could have taken minority students with mixed grades and/or low scores and leveled the playing field but they haven’t.  Know why?   Do you think for one minute that Harvard will let its SAT mean score drop and lose the coveted top place in the USNWR ranking system, just to bring social justice in the admissions process that is stacked against certain populations of kids?  Nah.  It won’t happen, folks.  We’re talking Big Business, Big Egos here, not education.

Look at what these schools DO, not at what they SAY.

Bottom line: the Coalition’s big ambition will only widen the access gap by creating a system that the wealthy know how to play very well and, count on it, they will win the day, leaving another generation of disadvantaged kids locked out of the American dream.  And over time, the difference between the haves and the have nots will wreck all that’s good about America.

So here’s a big shout out to Will Dix, a champion for children and a true hero to the rest of us in this fight to rescue education from the corrupt clutches of Big Business.  You aren’t alone, Will.

There are many of us out here calling Bravo Sierra on this idea because nothing short of the future of our Republic is at stake.

Yeah, it’s that important.

Toddlers With Hormones

I actually saw a commercial on TV in the wee hours one morning a month ago that made me stop in my tracks and watch, it was so compelling.  It featured a young toddler (you know, the ones who struggle for balance and walk like Godzilla), teetering from side to side in slightly slow motion as he walks down his home’s long corridor toward the glass paneled door.  The ad is for Air B&B and though many thought it creepy, I love it.

That little human, so proud to be up on two legs, struggling to hold his balance as he moves towards the object of his desire (what’s out there in the big world?) reminds me of teenagers getting ready to apply to college.

They say that human development is one big spiral, repeating over and over as we age. Teenagers go through toddlerhood (you’re not the boss of me!) but in a more sophisticated way. They share the same biological imperative to move on up, albeit with much more fear than they had when they were two and learning to literally keep up with the others around them.

When they were two and fell one hundred times learning to stand upright, modern teenagers were greeted by smiles and loving encouragement from the adults around them.  No adult would think of criticizing a little cruiser trying to walk.

But God help them if the same Big Toddlers fall when they are in high school.  All hell rains down on them.  They are most often medicated to adjust their attitude.

I’ve had several students call me in a panic over the past month.  They were over-committed in their senior year and their grades went down this spring after their college acceptance because “I was hurrying to get all I could from my high school experience”, meaning “I was struggling to meet everyone’s expectations of me.”  The colleges they committed to on May 1 were suddenly not as committed to them.

It used to be that seniors’ grades slipped due to ‘senioritis‘, as they blew off school to do nothing.

Now their grades drop as they try to finish the many commitments they developed in order to please the adults in their world and get admitted to college.

Sorry, college admissions colleagues, but you guys are culpable here.  You can’t expect teenagers to be perfect over-achievers in order to give you bragging rights when you admit them and then cut them off when they struggle to keep up at the end.  Kids live in the real world where things are complicated and genuinely unforgiving.

Admissions officers live in a vicarious one, making decisions on applications – not real humans – and think they understand KidWorld because they read so many essays.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Kids will always tell admissions officers what they think they want to hear.  They inflate their applications and have many other adults write their essays.  I’ve experienced applicants one way as an admissions officer and a completely different way as an educational consultant in the trenches with them.  All admissions officers should spend a year or two as an independent consultant before becoming Gatekeepers again so they can get rooted in the reality of applicants’ lives.

The focus on pleasing the Gatekeepers (admissions officers) supercedes everything because in this era, it’s about spin.

Kids just want to keep moving and are doing what adults tell them is necessary to get in.  Admissions officers want to admit “the best” to leverage their position on USNWR and to brag to their board of trustees, alumni and specific audiences.  Gone are the days of the real and true ‘match’.  It looks to me that all of the nations’ best universities, maybe even including my own beloved MIT, have been usurped by a business model and so are driving down the wrong road, however well-intentioned.

If all of us adults involved in college admissions would see applicants as Big Toddlers (or better yet, Toddlers with Hormones), we would be more likely to do things right and train the next generation of human beings to revel in their authenticity.

And their authenticity is why they have come.

Want To Know How To Make Your Brain Happy?

Thanks to modern brain studies and to findings from the new field of resilience and well being, we can now know what makes a happy brain.  And a happy brain makes a happy life.

I don’t know about you, but I’m on it.

Gratitude and compassion.  Who knew they are such powerful antidotes to the toxicity of daily thought?

When you back way up and take the 50,000 ft view of our current life, you can see that we’re swimming in a toxic soup of fear and shame and guilt and vengeance and anger and helplessness and I could surely go on for three more lines.  We’re poisoned by the foods we eat (pesticides in our GMO wheat???), the water we drink (more than 100,000 man made chemicals that never existed before 1960 are in the water now), the air we breathe (have you noticed those chemtrails in the sky yet?).  And even way worse, we’re being constantly irradiated with microwave radiation from our ubiquitous wifi sources.

When you think “smart technologies”, think “x-rays”.   Yeah, it’s that bad.

OMG.  It’s no wonder most of us are sick, which, of course, makes the pharmaceutical industry highly profitable.  Hmmm…..

Dr. Amit Sood, a practicing MD from the Global Center for Resiliency and Well Being at Mayo Clinic has a simple remedy to fight back.  Watch his video and I hope you’ll be inspired to try it.

We are all connected somehow in a large field of some kind and the more who make this change, the easier it will be for the rest of us.

The more who change, the faster we’ll tip this world of suffering and pain upside down.  And then maybe we actually will have heaven on earth.

Worth The Wait

This past year for me has been punctuated with surprises, most of them welcome and a few not so hot.  In the latter category, I developed a few niggling medical issues after a life of robust health that sent me on a new adventure, into the jaws of the health care system.  I’d never minded seeing a doctor before because I always had excellent insurance.  But the Affordable Care Act changed it all up (sorry, kids, but it did) and now the kind of insurance that was perfect for me is no longer available at any price in the state of NY.

Now we’re all HMOs…OMG.

Now I brace myself when I have to see a doctor because there will be a hospital involved somehow and long lines.  Lots of long lines.  I compensate by bringing my Ipad along and getting caught up on my reading.

Today was typical.  I went for an 8am fasting blood panel and sat in a waiting room at St. Luke’s for 90 minutes just to get the paperwork to then go off to the lab for the blood drawing.  Getting annoyed after 30 minutes, I tried to do mindfulness exercises and even to meditate to stay centered, calm and patient.  There were, after all, many people waiting all around me who were seriously ill.  My test was routine.  Finally the nice lady handed me my paperwork and off I went one floor down to another office…and more waiting, this time with The Today Show blaring a story about why it’s OK to wear white in winter now (how come that show is still on past 10am?).  That almost pushed me over the edge, but NYC has taught me patience and so I endured.

Finally I was called back behind heavy doors by the technician from the Islands who silently, efficiently and in about 10 seconds flat drew 4 viles of blood.  I hardly knew what hit me. It was surprisingly masterful and I told her so.  She laughed and thanked me, saying that most people have a tendency to cry when they sit in that chair. Cry?  As she completed her paperwork, she said,

“You know, it’s never about the needle.  It’s always so much more.”

She stopped, faced me square on and looked me dead in the eye.  ”This is a hard country to live in, you know.  Many people are here alone without their families or they have no families at all.  Life just builds up on them and when they come in, they can’t hold it anymore and they sob it out here.  I just sit and listen for as long as it takes.  Sometimes I hold their hand.  I just let them cry it out for as long as they need because I know that unless they release all those tears, their bodies won’t give up any blood.”

She went on to say,

“I don’t care how long we have to wait or how many people are out in that waiting room.  There has to be human care at moments like that.  I don’t know what they are living with or what they are running from, but it’s only decent to respect them.”

And then she smiled at me.

I swear to God, tears welled up in my eyes and I wanted to break down in sobs myself.  I suddenly realized how fast I move and how hard I push and how I rarely take a break for myself, relentlessly trying to save the world one child at a time.  It was over-whelming. And yeah, in that moment I wanted a Mom to rock me, sing to me, soothe me out and tell me that all is well.  These emotions lasted just 10 seconds or so, but I swear I had a healing in that room with that needle-packing Earth Angel, because I walked out with a happy heart.

As I left the hospital, stunned by how moved I’d just been in that moment with that wonderful woman, I remembered the time my favorite teacher, friend and shaman par excellence, Sharon Turner, and  I witnessed a powerful moment with another stranger and how

Sharon turned to me afterwards all wide-eyed and said, “Do you think he was real?”

I don’t know, Sharon.  But she sure was worth the wait.

Hey, That Mistake Was One of My Best Creative Moments

I’ve had quite the 6 weeks.  Somebody somewhere posted the old story on Facebook about my resignation from MIT in 2007 as if it happened yesterday and many people chose to write to me with great emotion about that.  I got snarky tweets referencing me, hate mail from FB people I don’t even know, fan mail from FB people I don’t even know, and lots of phone calls from people I do know sending their love and admiration to buffer the vitriol.  This went on for several days around my birthday and I was struck by two things: how easy it is to manipulate crowds and how mistakes from the past are never allowed to be over, both compliments of social media.

Perhaps you are a more perfect version of me, but I’m guessing you’ve done a few things in your day that you wouldn’t want the world to know about, much less find exposed on the front page of the NYT.  As awful as my 15 minutes of fame was, it fulfilled its purpose of deepening my humanity, not by breaking me but by breaking me open in compassion instead.  When I do read the Times now and see the public scourging of others, my heart goes out to them and I send them a whole legion of angels to protect and carry them through. No one knows the hell they are living.

It bears remembering that we human beings are designed to make mistakes.  And because of this, we all deserve salvation. Period.

Moreover, consider the possibility that we Homo Sapiens were actually designed to create through mistakes, that our best creativity comes from our screw-ups.  Now that’s a mind-bender.  So once a mistake serves its purpose, it’s done and finished, water under the bridge.  Sorta like #36 of the 449 times we stood and fell trying to walk as toddlers.  Why remember that forever with shame when the fall was actually building neurons for balance so we could walk upright for the rest of our lives?

I’m choosing to let my mistakes serve their purpose.  I’m writing another book.

If you are someone wont to throw a dart at someone you don’t know because you don’t like what you think they did, hold your fire and ask yourself this question instead: “What part of me does this thing I hate and wish to see punished in the other? ”  How about you forgive that part and pay attention to how it’s actually trying to serve you?

In this Era of the Cyborg, let’s go all counter-culture and experience the pure pleasure of being imperfect for a change.

And then let’s get about the business of creating our lives for real.

The Power of Retreat

After a frenzied summer given over to clients and trainings and filming and writing, I’m tired and need some serious off-the-grid time, so I’ve come to my RI beach and my little cottage for my 2nd annual retreat.  One of my revered teachers, Dr. Monica, working with me through the darkest days of my life last year, suggested that I create a retreat for myself, spending as many weeks as I could alone at my beach house, asking questions and listening.  Uh, listening for what exactly, I’d asked her.  You’ll find out, she replied.  Go away with no plans, no script?  Are you kidding?  She told me that once I understood the power of the retreat and the questions I’d ask, I’d create one every year forever more.  I was highly doubtful, but agreed to the plan, reluctantly giving it a try.

The rules of this retreat, as laid out by Monica, were simple.  I was to do whatever I wanted in the moment for as long as I wanted.  Listen.  Have no plan, just desires in the moment.  Listen.  Wash, rinse, repeat.  Listen. For as long as I could arrange.

The only question I need ask, Monica suggested, was “what do I want to do now?”

I won’t lie, the first 2 days were excruciating, since I’m a planner who doesn’t know the meaning of ‘spontaneous’.

But as the days went by, I got into the pattern of no-pattern and soon began to seriously dig it.  I meditated with Deepak Chopra, weeded my beach roses listening to certain recordings of Coast to Coast AM (don’t scoff…this show does a huge service by discussing things the main stream media won’t touch, like their Lyme Disease show last week…and I love the quantum physics stuff), walked the beach for hours, drove to Rhody Joe’s for their chicken wings, drank martinis, communed in my neighbor’s hot tub, all spur of the moment, none of it planned.  I slept late sometimes, got up early other times, watched ‘on demand’ movies and went for days with no TV or music.  I wrote and cried…a lot. It was glorious.

Little by little, I started hearing myself again (albeit faintly) after a lifetime of internal deafness.  I settled down and took a few baby steps back to myself because I had truly lost my bearings and maybe even a bit of my mind in the previous few years and it was time for that to stop.  Fast forward to now…

All this month I found myself looking forward to retreat again

and now that I made it back here, I’m in that early what-was-I-thinking stage that I know will settle into the pattern of no-pattern.  I jump up to eat my favorite steak and eggs at Hungry Haven (where the wait staff knows me now and already knows what I want), then drive to Java Madness, my favorite place to write on the planet, where I know the owner now and have my choice of open tables inside since in the nice weather everyone sits out on the large deck overlooking a sleepy marina.  Although I love the water, I want to write tucked away in the corner inside, with live music drifting in from the deck.  It’s the end of the summer and people are still pretty relaxed. I’m settling in, doing what I want in the moment and listening.

Soon the academic year will start again, and I wonder which of my many ventures will take off this year.  At the moment, I have a new idea.  I’d like to write a book about fall from grace moments and form a group of others like me, publicly identified as flawed.  When I had my 15 minutes of fame, despite all of the loving support extended to me (THANK YOU!!), I felt very alone and so I isolated, as is my nature.  I’m thinking that my little group of kindreds would be willing and available to reach out to those who fall in the future, offering a spirit of camaraderie and an action plan based on our experiences.   Cool idea, huh?   And really needed, too, since mistakes no longer have a half-life thanks to the internet and its forever memory, and the fact that we’re talking about human beings.   People screwing up and making mistakes?  Yup.  Just as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow, humans will be flawed.  And that is what makes us all such miraculous creatures.

I screw up, therefore I create.

Love that mantra…

Getting Real About Getting That Leg-Up in the Ivy + Application Pool

Check out this article from Bloomberg this week on the high cost of high school summer enrichment programs at Ivy+ universities and the false hope they create regarding eventual admission to those universities. Parents are paying upwards from $7K ($10,490. at Harvard) to enroll their children in summer school courses on selective college campuses (including some Ivy League schools and others equally renown like Univ. of Chicago, Duke and Stanford) with the hopes/expectation that this will give their kids that important leg-up in the college selection process.

For the millionth time, parents, please hear me.  It won’t.  Going to Harvard Summer School will not get your kid into Harvard.  Not even a little.  It’s just a great way for the schools listed above to earn some serious cash by exploiting desperate parents and their own reputations.  Did you know that many of the people teaching those summer classes are local high school teachers augmenting their salaries for the summer, not professors from those universities?

The professors you think you’re paying for are way too busy and too esteemed to teach advantaged high school kids all summer.

So let’s get real about what it takes to get admitted to one of the top colleges in America, including some of the Ivy League schools.  I suspect this news might break the hearts of some, but I hope I can help you get real before it’s too late and you hold expectations that will never be met.  Forewarned is forearmed.

Want to know who gets that leg-up for admission to an Ivy school, for example?  Try Division 1 athletes who have SATs of 2200+ and who are in the top 10% of their high school class.  Know how many of those there are out there?  Not many… and they are applying to all the top tier schools and will probably get admitted to most.  Are you going to turn your kid into one?  Not likely unless your kid has that kind of athletic talent, the right aptitude to play the sport, is an excellent student in school and has had the benefit of top coaching for many years.  In other words, they would need that perfect storm of aspects that conjoin to create an Ivy League athlete.   No offense, but it’s probably not your child.

If you had the job of reading 35,000 applications to choose 2000, you would quickly see that being able to do the work at that college is so not good enough, nor is having top grades and scores, or being a wonderful person who ‘deserves’ that education.

You would quickly experience that there are many thousands of top students who fit those descriptions and frankly, they all resemble each other on paper since 99% of those applicants are the same age and live standard teen lives without a lot of variation to set them apart from each other.

If you had to pick 2000 of those candidates, you’d admit students who fit your institutional needs, the ones who are different: Div 1 athletes, children of wealthy donors, children of faculty and staff, valedictorians of local high schools to honor the ‘town/gown’ relationship, and whatever other needs your college has.  There is nothing inherently wrong with this.  No laws are broken because we’re talking about private colleges who can generally call their own shots except for anything that would violate the 14th Amendment or the Americans with Disabilities Act, meaning they can admit whomever they want for any reason except ones having to do with race, gender or a disability of any kind.

You’d have to move fast through all of those applications because you have so little time to process and make decisions and get those decisions out on time.  While you would read all of your cases, some you would only just scan because you could pretty much tell within 30 seconds if that candidate would be one of the lucky 2000 admitted.  You might feel guilty about that, but you’d realize that this is how life is, you’re paid to admit a class within that 12 week time window and you have 40 more to read before you quit for the day.

Think writing applications is grueling?  Try reading thousands of them,

one after the next, trying to keep them all straight, your eyes glazing over as you read the 12,000th essay about the lesson learned on the losing team or how the writer’s life was changed by feeding lunch to hungry children for a day in Africa or India or any 3rd world country they were visiting with their family last summer.

I don’t mean to be cynical.  But if you did what I did for a living, you’d understand the realities of the college admissions business and would see that spending $10K to send your child to a summer school program where they teach classes your child could take at a local high school summer school for free, just to give your child an advantage in the college admissions process, is not money well spent.  It’s dumb.

If you REALLY want your child to learn during the summer, encourage them to work a summer job for minimum wage.  There they will learn lessons in integrity and character-building.  They’ll learn not to quit and how to work with all kinds of people. They’ll be humbled and challenged much more in every way than they ever would be at Harvard Summer School or Oxford Summer Program which is just more of the same and won’t help them get into college.

If you were reading 35,000 applications to admit just 2000, wouldn’t you rather take a student who worked a hard construction job all summer instead of spending 2 weeks saving endangered sea turtles in Honduras (for $8K) or doing an unpaid internship cleaning test tubes in their parent’s biochemistry lab?

Yeah, me too.

Judgment or Discernment?

I’m hate to admit this, but I have always been harshly judgmental.  I was raised that way and had this skill finely honed through a career in college admissions (did you know that judgment is an occupational hazard of admissions?).  Mostly I was unconscious about its toxicity.  But in all honesty, it did serve me by keeping others who might hurt me at bay.  Ah, judgment is such a great defense…

Judgment seemed to be my friend and ally until I fell and was exposed publically to the judgment of others.  As you can imagine, it doesn’t feel good to have strangers judge you.  It feels so unfair.  Ah, karma…

Once I experienced the destructive power of judgment, I made a promise to change and I have.

I’m careful now to hold my tongue when I want to put others down.  I recognize that what I want to judge in others is what I hate in myself.

Discernment, however, is important.  It’s often mistaken for judgment but they are very different.  Judgment is mean and wants to lash out.  Discernment is seeing what you see with no story attached.  Judgment creates a one-upsmanship (“I would NEVER do such a thing because I’m a better person.”)  Discernment is an awareness of what is and offers the opportunity to make another decision.

So now we have the Paula Deen situation.  Judgment makes us want to lash out at her for being bad, wants us to write mean things about her and cancel all of her business contracts to punish her for things she said and did in her past.  Judgment spins a bigger story here (she’s Southern, she was a closet diabetic even as she was cooking up food to clog our arteries, she’s greedy, she’s evil, blahblahblah) and wants to see her humiliated.  Discernment watches with no opinion, knows Paula Deen is mortal like the rest of us and that all humans are imperfect.  We’ve all said and done things that society would not approve of.  Discernment knows that ‘imperfect’ does not mean ‘bad’.  Discernment offers compassion to Paula even as it reviews and maybe resets our inner compass around our own behavior.

College admissions provokes a lot of judgment.

Parents often judge their children for not being smart enough or ambitious enough or conscientious enough etc etc as they begin to compare their children to college admissions standards.  One parent I know literally burst into tears when she heard her daughter’s SAT scores, crying “I thought you were smart.”  As you can imagine, this didn’t help her daughter at all.  The daughter felt shame for “letting my Mom down and making her cry.”   I wanted to hunt her mother down and give her a good slap but that wouldn’t help her mother at all.

I appeal to parents now.  Drop the judgment and switch to discernment.  Discernment carries no story.  It sees what is.  If your child’s scores don’t fit a certain college’s profile, look for a college where they will fit instead of blaming your child.  SATs tell us nothing of value.  Truth.  If your child’s rank isn’t as high as you’d wished or if they didn’t end the year well, attend to the cause with no story attached.  It is what it is.  Judgment will choke off any encouragement for them to do their best.  Judgment is the death of confidence and confidence is the single most important attribute your child needs to go into the world every day.

Discernment is your real friend and ally.  Time to get to know it well.

The Shame Series Continues: What’s The Point of Confronting This? (Or, Can She Please Stop Writing About This Now?)

The reason I’m writing about shame so much recently is that I can see how common it is to the human experience and how it cripples us, creating more drama in our lives than in the typical soap opera on daytime TV.  I see how it stops us from being our brave selves.  I see it in clients and friends, in people all around me.  I see it in all of the haters on social media and in the self-righteous commentators on TV and radio.  I can see it is because I’ve come to know it so well myself.

Shame is that awful feeling we have when we feel like we aren’t worthy of being loved, when we feel that profound disconnection from others we need.  Shame is ubiquitous (only sociopaths feel none) and it’s easy to understand why.  Chalk it up to civilizing children.  Lord knows how many times as tiny children we heard “no”, “stop”, “that’s bad” as our parents did their best to keep us safe and under some measure of control.  (My father used to say that I got myself into so much trouble, it would be a miracle if I made it to 21.)  Then as older kids, we might have heard “what do you think you are doing?” or “shame on you” or “you know better than that” because adults wanted to keep our sexual curiosity in check due to the unintended consequences of that (pregnancy, STDs, big hurts), not to mention the iconic bad decision making of teenagers.  All of these phrases were meant to stop us and create a course correction of sorts, but because the sentiment was based in judgment, they also generated this awful feeling called shame.

You feel guilt when you think you’ve done something bad.  You feel shame when you think that you are bad.

It hurts to be judged, especially by the people who love us the best.  Afterall, if they think we’re bad, we must be bad.

If you or your child is a perfectionist, shame is at the root, hiding, stealthy, even sneaky.  Maybe your culture approves of this drive for absolute perfection.  Maybe you’ve won awards or have taken your personal value from the perceived admiration of others around you.  College admissions certainly stokes this up.  But make no mistake – hidden away, shame wreaks havoc in your life. It messes with your health since the fear of doing something wrong keeps you in a chronic state of fight-flight-or-freeze.

Does your child have physical issues like stomach pain or headaches or even repetitive sports injuries?  Yup.  There’s shame under there.

Shame also interferes with your relationships, because you are only as good as your last success and no one can be allowed to know what a screw-up you really are inside. You’ll always hold a piece of yourself apart, for fear of rejection.  Been there.  Done that.

So no intimacy or rest for you.  Ever.

Saddest and most important of all, there is little creativity being expressed because to do that is to risk rejection and the shame within you will not let that happen.  So over time you do what you’ve always done, except really really really well.  Over and over.  Deluding yourself into thinking you’re growing.  One-trick pony.  And all the wildly interesting stuff, the juice of life within you that thrives on risk and change, goes unexpressed… and we all lose.

So what’s the point of hanging on to shame?  Does it protect us in the long run and make our life worth living?  Nah.  It’s actually more like a silent and creepy cancer that chokes us off from our authentic self.

If you are not thriving the way you’d like, and you have always been a perfectionist, go immediately and read some Brene Brown, the shame researcher.  She’ll tell you all about it in the most hilarious way.  She’ll describe how shame thrives in secrecy and silence.  In fact, the less you talk about it, the more exponential its growth.  When you finally understand it, you’ll want to expose shame to oxygen and sunlight when it surfaces next.  Best of all, you’ll want to make a joke about it.  (Shame hates to be made fun of.)  You’ll laugh about it and share it with those who have earned the right to hear it.  You’ll swap shame stories…(Warning: don’t share shame stories with just anyone because shame-based people will only make you feel worse.  Share with friends that offer compassion and empathy.  Shame hates empathy.)

Soon, swapping shame stories will be the new black.

It won’t take long before you’ll feel more relaxed, more comfortable in your skin.  And best of all, that creation power that was waiting in the wings to be noticed and expressed will open up your life in ways you cannot imagine.  All good.

I still get paralyzed by shame a few times per day, but at least now I notice it for what it is and I laugh, saying out loud, “Oh, yeah.  Should HaveAlready Mastered Everything.  Hilarious.  Good try.”   The Shame Series Continues:  Whats The Point of Confronting This? (Or, Can She Please Stop Writing About This Now?)

So here’s your homework assignment for the week:  tell someone who has earned the right to hear it your scariest shame secret.  Then give yourself lots and lots and lots of approval because you just took a giant step toward freedom.

Fear Nation

We’re bombarded 24/7 with scary news.

If we listen to the media, or even to our friends and community members, there is so much to fear that we must be hyper-vigilant to stay safe.  After all, the food we eat is killing us, the water we drink pollutes us, the air we breathe is toxic.  We could get the flu and die unless we get the flu shot.  We can’t trust anyone because they could snap and go crazy.  We could lose our jobs at any moment.  We can’t trust our elected officials because they are all corrupt and in some crazy way are united against us, the innocent general public.  The world is unstable and some crazy 3rdworld country leader somewhere is going to bomb and destroy us.  Can’t trust humans.  The weather is changing and will wreak havoc on us.  Can’t trust Nature.

Oh, and our kid will be rejected from colleges because they are not: White or Asian or Black or Hispanic or male or female or rich or poor or middle-class or an athlete or a non-athlete or from the right school or the right state… ad infinitum.

Can’t trust life.

Really?  I’m so fed up with this belief system that does nothing but wear us all down.

Recently I’ve become aware of a small conspiracy movement that believes the Newtown CT shooting was a hoax designed to marshal enough public sentiment to limit our access to guns and undermine the Second Amendment.   I’ve personally been working with people from Newtown CT as part of the Tapping Solution Newtown Stress and Trauma Relief Project and I assure all of you that the events of Dec. 14, 2012 were no hoax and no actors were involved.  This was one huge human tragedy because so many young children were involved.  As with so many tragedies, we’ll probably never know what was in the mind of Adam Lanza, the shooter, because he took the coward’s way out.  But how we respond to and interpret this challenge and others like it in everyday life is the whole point.

When we choose fear, fear wins.  We lose bigtime.

Folks, this is a fear-based planet which is why we’re all here – to conquer fear.  It’s no wonder we’re exposed to it again and again so we can confront and live through the fear. 

So when you get scared that your child will get rejected from his college choices, your cortisol levels go up (cortisol is the body’s stress hormone) and so does your blood pressure and heart rate.  You go into some version of fight or flight and over the long term, this elegant mechanism designed to save your life actually wears your health down and speeds its demise.

So turn off the news and the scary stuff.  Step away from any conversation that revs up your anxiety.  It’s all b.s. anyway.  Look to what is real and true and not there to sell you anything – look at the sky and the trees around you.  Watch the birds and wildlife if you are lucky enough to be around some.  Tune into your breath and your heart rate.  Smile at your children and spouse.  Relax.  In reality, there is beauty and wonder and innocence all around you at every moment.

Perception is everything.

I heard a recent interview with the iconic Louise Hay who, when prompted by the interviewer to discuss some plan or other, responded, “Why don’t we just trust life and see how things unfold?”

This is the perfect way to inoculate yourself from Fear Nation, even if it is heretical to our willful way of being in a world where we believe it’s all up to us.  Maybe it isn’t.  Maybe trusting life is the paradoxical key to happiness.

It’s what I choose.