Practicing Stillness and Being Present

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My sweet sister-in-law, Leah gave me a beautiful necklace for Christmas.  It has “Be Still” engraved on it.  I’ve been wearing it almost daily ever since.  It’s a precious reminder to be present in the moment and acknowledge God’s faithfulness throughout the day.

017With the ringing in of 2015, my “resolution” was pretty simple.  This year I want to spend as much time as possible with my husband and kids; really connecting with them and enriching these relationships that are most important. I’m also committed to excelling at my day job. Everything else will take a backseat.

To that end, I’ve been practicing stillness and being present in both my workplace interactions and home with Dennis and the kids.  Today at the office I took my team through a “guiding principles” discussion, which basically consisted of talking about 6 of the 13 behaviors in the book: Speed of Trust. All of the managers recently went through a two day seminar on this content, so I was anxious to share some of it with my team.

A very fruitful and team-building conversation unfolded.  I was so happy with the response and enjoyed being the leader by encouraging participation and allowing the discussion to grow naturally.  I had no sense that I needed to control or overly moderate; instead I listened and tried to hear the contributions of each person.

In my intro to this session, I read a few passages from Habit #5 in Stephen R. Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  The habit is: Seek First to Understand then to be Understood.  What I found most insightful was the idea that we should listen empathetically.  Covey says that most people listen with the intent to reply or are actively formulating a response while the other person is talking.  Often we just overlay our autobiography on the thoughts and ideas that the other person expresses.  Instead, what if we listened with the intent to truly understand the other person.  What if we tried to get inside their head and see things from their perspective?

I’ve been trying to do this with Sienna.  She tells me stories all of the time, and often I’m tempted to jump right in with an answer or to change the way she thinks about a situation.  Instead, I’m trying to practice empathic listening and try to understand her perspective.  She has a tendency to tell me stories that start off sounding plausible, but then take a turn toward the fantastic. I’ve been known to question whether something really happened or not. Maybe I should just enjoy the story sometimes.

Today's sunset!

Today’s sunset!

It seems to me that practicing stillness and being present with my loved ones and teammates goes hand in hand. By being still and surrendering to God’s perfect will, my mind is calm and I’m able to be in the moment and open to whatever that moment holds. Therefore, I’m present with other people and can listening with the intent to understand them.

Life truly is so much richer when you’re present and able to connect with the moment.

A Big Work Anniversary

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Today is my 10th anniversary at CBIZ.  I started as an Administrative Assistant with my firm on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2005, which was also the day this local CPA firm was acquired by a large, publically traded company.  It was a big day for our office and me, personally.

When I applied for this job, my plan was to work while finishing up my Masters Degree in History and then teach somewhere. They were great about letting me adjust my work schedule for classes and then working on my thesis.

Adminions

After my degree was finished, I went to one hiring fair for local Catholic schools.  When I saw the paycut I would be taking to teach, it was shocking!  Living in San Diego isn’t inexpensive, so I reexamined my options.  Unfortunately, since folks want to live in beautiful San Diego, a lot of PhDs work at the local community colleges.  Finding a place to teach with just my MA, wasn’t looking good.

Meanwhile, work at CBIZ kept changing and growing.  I went from supporting Litigation to Audit, which was more challenging.  Then, I got pregnant with Sienna.  When I returned from maternity leave, I decided that commuting 20-30 minutes each way was too much.  With my mom watching Sienna while I worked, it would have been so much more convenient to work downtown (where she was living at the time).  So, I interviewed with KPMG, one of the Big 4 Accounting Firms.  They had an opening for an Audit Administrative Coordinator.  During this time, I didn’t really want to leave CBIZ.  So, I prayed a simple prayer that has never steered me wrong, “Lord, if this is where I’m meant to be, just make that clear to me.”

I didn’t get the job.

presents

In hindsight, CBIZ was exactly where I was meant to be.  Pretty soon after returning from maternity leave, I started supporting the Tax Group.  I formed a good relationship with the Tax Practice Leader at the time, and he created a position for me in the Tax Group.  This change paved the way to supervising the Administrative Support Team and later being promoted to manager.

Over the past 5 years, I’ve been learning about myself and how to be a better manager, everyday.  Meanwhile, I have also been learning how to be a mom.  Raising kids and managing people, it turns out, have a lot of skills in common.  Both are basically about motivating the behaviors you want to see continue.  The learning curve was steep at times, but always rewarding.

Several years ago, I was still saying that working at CBIZ, “Wasn’t what I really wanted to do with my life.”  Finally, my mom asked me one day, “Do you really want to be a high school history teacher?”  I had to admit that I didn’t.  “Well, then maybe you stop saying this isn’t what you want do to.”  She was right.

Reflecting on the past decade I’ve spent at CBIZ, I’m very content with my choices.  I’ve developed my own little niche, where my skills of communication, organization, planning, and coaching can be used daily.  I’m invested in the people and the business.  I bought a house right across the freeway from our office.  I’m here for the long haul.

As with my personal life, the most rewarding part of working at CBIZ is the relationships I’ve formed.  From the folks I’ve managed, to co-workers and mentors, the people are what make this a great place to work.  Knowing that I’m coming into the office and interacting with people I care about and who care about me, it’s awesome.

 

Me and My Dad

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I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad this past week.  Dad and Moni (my stepmom, Monica) just visited for a few days.  Since they live hundreds of miles away, their visits are infrequent and cherished.  I spent the night at their house when I made the quick trip home to Humboldt in October, which was fun and made me feel more connected to them and their life now.

Maybe it’s just me (but I suspect it’s not), I still often feel like a kid wanting to show my parents what I can do. So, having my dad visit our house, play with our kids, and enjoy our hospitality was very gratifying.  He and Dennis made the requisite tour around the house, as Dad gave him landscaping ideas and commented on how well situated our house was on the canyon. If you know my dad, you know how appropriate and expected this is!

papa and sienna

Papa and Sienna at the Ranch, 2012

On Sunday, Dad and Moni joined us at church. It was very sweet to see Papa and Sienna partake in communion together for the first time.  Sienna adores her Papa and spent a lot of time cuddled up with him during their visit. The rest of our day unfolded so naturally, as we ate brunch, stopped by Home Depot for more fire logs because it was cold and rainy, then retreated to the house to watch football.  The ease of being with family and getting to visit in our home was very cozy.

Sienna had a Daisy Troop meeting that afternoon. When it was time to pick her up, Dad decided to join me.  Seems silly, perhaps, but it was special to have my dad along on a routine part of our life. A trip to the grocery store followed. The everydayness of grocery shopping with Dad and Sienna was likewise a bonding experience.

We capped off our evening by inducting Papa into the world of Frozen.  Sienna was shocked to learn that her Papa hadn’t seen the movie yet!  We righted that. I really enjoyed getting to share the nuisances of our life with Dad.

This visit has left me reminiscing about my dad and our relationship.

One of our favorite shared memories was our trip to visit colleges during the winter of my Junior year.  We visited the campuses of University of Portland, Gonzaga, Notre Dame, and the University of Steubenville in Ohio. Notre Dame was the highlight!  We stayed in a hotel on campus that was converted from an old dormitory.  It was absolutely freezing and we went to a hockey game, feeling like we were in a different world than Northern California.  That was the first and (now that I think about it) only trip we ever took, just the two of us.  It marked a change in our relationship as the dynamic between father and daughter started to shift as I prepared to leave the house.

Dad and Teo

Papa and Teo, January 2013

My parents separated during the summer after I graduated from college.  I came home for about six weeks before making the move to the San Diego area.  Ironically, that sad time for our family actually left me feeling very secure.  My siblings were both living in their college towns, so I was the only one home.  My mom and dad each wanted to spend time with me, and though I felt for their sadness, I knew that they both loved me and everything was going to be alright. Living at the house with my dad for about a month, I learned to cook.  Man, was I proud of those spaghetti dinners, with Ragu sauce!  I have vivid memories of eating dinner in front of the first season of American Idol with my dad.  We absolutely cracked up at the ridiculous auditions by terrible singers!  I’ve always been grateful that I was home for that time.

For our wedding, I danced with my dad to the song “Today”.  It’s a folk song by John Denver that my dad always sang to me when I was young.  Hunting it down for our wedding was a challenge, but it made the moment… ours.

dad and Dennis

My dad and Moni came down to San Diego for the birth of both Sienna and Mateo.  That meant the world to me.

Two years ago, Papa and Moni came down for my birthday.  It was the first time they saw our house!  They got the kids a cool playhouse that Dad and Dennis assembled together. It was sweet to see my dad playing with the kids and really meeting them at their level.

Looking back, and looking forward, I feel very blessed by the relationship my dad and I share.  We don’t talk particularly often or see each other as frequently as we’d like, but in many ways we’re closer now than ever.

Lessons from a Rough Day

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Today was a rough day, emotionally.

Going into today, I was looking forward to Friday!  I’d had a very busy work week due to on-boarding two new women into my team, plus helping fill in the gaps in my team’s workload while our new hires get up to speed, plus doing my own work.  I was hopping from one thing to another all week, but was able to stay comfortably productive and in the moment.  As I texted my friend this week, “I feel energized!”

Today was Family Lunch Day at Sienna’s school.  The first Friday of each month they invite families to come eat with their kids.  It’s fun!

I felt content with my choice to tell one of my bosses I’d be a bit late for a meeting, so I could attend Family Lunch Day. He was wonderfully supportive, because he loves my kids. I can’t blame him!

rainWithout going into too much detail, my day was derailed during a work meeting.  My feelings were hurt by someone’s comments and I made a sneaky exit from the meeting, hurried to my office, slammed the door, and proceeded to cry for the better part of the next hour.

It was one of those moments where I simply couldn’t control my emotions.  The tears came quickly and hung around for most of the afternoon.  I’d pull myself together, then try to discuss the matter and dissolve into tears again.  Maybe it was hormonal, or just a release of stress, or ____________ (fill in the blank).  Who knows?

By the end of the afternoon, I’d made peace with the situation. But, the level of emotion over this particular circumstance was puzzling to me; it was so random.

On one hand, I’m glad that I’m now feeling my feelings more genuinely and able to release them. I remember, not that long ago, when I wanted to be able to cry more easily, after having turned off my feelings for so long.

On the other hand, it’s kind of embarrassing to cry at work, especially when you’re surrounded my older men who are reserved and probably see you as an overly emotional woman.   Sigh.  I wanted to be able to pull myself together much more quickly, but I just couldn’t control it.

rays of sunshineTomorrow will be a new day and this episode will be long behind me by the time I return to work on Monday.  Now that I’m reflecting (and drinking a glass of wine!), I can see today as an example of the feelings as weather metaphor in The Happiness Trap.  Dr. Harris talks about emotions as weather – it’s always changing.

By letting myself feel my sadness, anger, frustration, etc. and letting all those tears out, the feelings naturally changed.  I didn’t try to cheer myself up or talk myself out of feeling down; instead I just cried, and cried, and cried some more.   But, now I’m done.

The weather forecast looks brighter ahead.

Snow “Birth” Day!

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Several months ago, probably as a response to her habitual viewing of Frozen, Sienna said she wanted to go visit the snow for her birthday in January.  As a six-year-old San Diegan, she’d never been in snow before.  I figured we could take a day trip up to Big Bear on New Years Day, or something.  So, I encouraged her dream.

How fortunate we were that San Diego County was hit with a rare, extra-cold, winter storm this week!  We would have much fewer miles to travel to get her to the snow – and on her actual birthday, no less!

S and mom snowYesterday morning, Sienna’s 7th birthday, the four of us and Gaga, got on the road just after 8:00 am, headed to the quaint little town of Julian.  We’d read media reports that the area was crazy busy the day before.  With 6 to 9 inches of snowfall, folks descended on the town in droves on New Years Day.  Traffic was backed up for hours!  We were so pleased with ourselves for waiting a day because there were very few people on the road for our drive.

family snow

Appropriately, our music of choice for the drive was the Frozen soundtrack.  It was fun to all sing along and then see snow start appearing, little by little, as we climbed up the mountain.  By the time we reached Julian, there were entire valleys of snow.  Beautiful!

Watching Sienna’s reaction to the snow was priceless!  She was so excited and enthusiastic about it.  We took some pictures and hiked around the town for a bit. The views were beautiful and reminded us of all the wintery films, cards, and pictures we’ve seen over the Christmas season. Then, a sweet woman saw us walking by and asked if we wanted to play in her backyard.  It had pristine, untouched snow!

D snowDennis immediately began a snowball fight and ruthlessly pummeled his wife, mother-in-law, and children with snowballs!  Teo wasn’t a fan.  He sadly told us, “Daddy threw a snowball at me.”  We tried to defend ourselves, which only encouraged Dennis’s onslaught.

snow angelSienna joyfully made snow angels as we enjoyed our little winter wonderland!  She was completely oblivious to the cold.  I’m fairly certain she was pretending to be Elsa, i.e. “The cold never bothered me anyway.”

After playing and becoming cold and wet, we strolled around town some more and ended up getting coffee, hot chocolate, and apple pie (a Julian specialty) to warm up.  A stop into the local used book store was next.  It was sweet watching Sienna look through books and ask the shopkeeper if he had any children’s books about cats.  She’s growing up!

The entire outing was magical.  I was beyond happy and grateful that Sienna got to enjoy a memorable experience on her birthday.  It was heartwarming that her dream was so simple and her joy so pure.