Sharing How Confrontation Led to Connection

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For awhile now, I’ll have occasional thoughts about how blogging reinforces my analytical side.  You may have noticed that my posts tend to read more like an article or even a scholarly paper, rather than a personal diary entry.  Given my educational background in philosophy and history, I suppose my training has developed a writing style that’s more analytical than emotional.  I’ll read other blogs, like my favorite: Hands Free Mama, and marvel at the her wonderful observations and the depth of her writing. It’s so beautiful.

imagesThe thing is, when I find myself trying to draft a post and then shy away because it’s drawing me too far into my head and away from my life, I start to feel negatively about blogging.  I don’t want to turn away from this blog.  Instead, I want to embrace my emotions and write more from my heart than my head.

I had a pretty awesome epiphany last week.  I’ve tried to draft a post about it several times, but honestly, it’s difficult to admit without making myself, well… look bad.  So, I procrastinated and tried other angles.

But, I want to be real, honest, and transparent, so here it goes…

I’ve been a manager at work for several years now.  During that time I’ve grown A LOT as a manager and received wonderful training and advice.  A mentor of mine is a huge proponent of feedback and has changed our company culture to embrace giving and receiving feedback.  I’ve gotten fairly good at helping people see where they can improve their performance.  As a managerial tool, I get the benefits of feedback.

This past week I had a couple situations where I was irritated with people.  In my frustration, I talked to other people close to me about the situations and garnered their agreement and approval.  The thing is, those conversations just stirred up my feelings of anger and agitation.  It didn’t matter how many people I told about these issues, there was no hope in resolving it… until, I addressed it directly with the person who I was upset with.

Before confronting the issues directly however, I spent time trying to improve my feelings and fix my intent on the other person’s success.  I wasn’t getting very far, when I just decided to say a prayer for the right words and go talk to the person.

An amazing thing happened when the conversation started, I felt my anger melt away.  It was replaced with a feeling of connection and a desire to help the person understand and grow.  The issues were resolved and I left the exchange feeling invested and hopeful in the other person.

What started as a wise managerial practice, turns out to also be the best way to resolve negative feelings and remain loyal.  Turns out that I didn’t need to tell other people about these situations, all that did was cause me prolonged anger and agitation.  By lovingly confronting the situations with these other people, I actually resolved my frustration AND developed a deeper connection with each of them.  Talk about win/win!

So, there it is.  That’s what I learned. In putting it out there, I pray it’s helpful to someone else!

A Surprise Trip to Disneyland!

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014A few months ago, we got a wonderful surprise from one of the attorney’s at Dennis’s firm.  I eluded to it in this post, but never came back to tell you what the fun surprise was…

We were given 4 tickets to Disneyland!

Disneyland is one of our favorite places!  Even before we had kids, Dennis took me there 4 times in our first year of dating. I remember how excited he was the first time we went together. Hanging out with him there, I was tickled by how much he loved it.

017We did annual passes to celebrate Dennis’s 50th birthday and went a bunch!  The kids had a blast and have been asking to go to Disneyland regularly ever since the passes expired, about two years ago now.  We kept telling them that it was expensive and we’d save up money to go in a few years.

So, these free tickets were very exciting!  We decided to surprise the kids and not tell them we were going to Disneyland until we woke them up Saturday morning.  Teo came into our bed around 6:00 a.m. (per his usual routine), so we told him first.  He was so excited and ran into Sienna’s room to tell her!  I quickly chased after him and just caught a glimpse of Sienna’s reaction.  She jumped up in her bed out of a deep sleep… “What? Disneyland?!?”  It was priceless.

011Our day was wonderful!  It was early June and wasn’t too hot yet.  We know the park so well that it was easy to navigate and hit the rides we wanted to do without terrible wait times. The parade at the end was amazing, as was the new fireworks display.

The kids are both finally big enough to ride the rollercoasters!  We all went on Thunder Mountain Railroad together, which had been under construction for much of our “Year of Disney”.  I rode with Teo; Sienna rode with daddy. It’s such a great ride, but Teo was freaked out by the bats in the caves.  Poor kid.  After that he refused to ride anymore rollercoasters.

033When it was time for Space Mountain, we had 4 Fast Passes and only three interested riders.  Sienna and Dennis went first while Teo and I looked around the Tomorrowland shops. When they came off the ride, I asked her how it was.  She looked a little shaken up as she told me it was fun.  I asked if she wanted to ride again with me.  She hesitated, and then said, “Okay, yes!  Let’s go!”  I explained that she was feeling exhilarated.  It can feel a little like fear, but it’s just because you’re so excited!

025The outing turned out to be a milestone in that we didn’t bring a stroller!  The kids walked (almost all day).  We ended up carrying Teo at the end, but Sienna hoofed it from 9:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.  We brought the kid’s pajamas along and they promptly fell asleep on the drive home.

For weeks after our visit, the kids kept asking when we could go to Disneyland again.

I explained, “Not for a long time, we need to save our money.”  Sienna shrewdly replied, “That’s what you said before, but then we went.”

Ah, touché.

What’s Your Mindset?

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When my planning and controlling strategies stopped working a little over two years ago, I realized that I spent a lot of my mental energy convincing myself that I had “everything figured out.” A sense that things were knowable, controllable, fixed, so to speak, was very comforting to me.

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My friend Laura suggested a book to me quite a while ago called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Miss Laura had been one of Sienna’s preschool teachers and I’d been telling her that I was struggling to motivate Sienna. “She only seems to want to do things that she’s already mastered. She doesn’t want to try new things and gets frustrated if she doesn’t do something perfectly the first time,” I’d told Laura.

So, while I read this book to help me learn how to motivate my children, it actually spoke loud and clear to me.

The author Dr. Carol S. Dweck argues that there are two mindsets – the fixed trait mindset and the growth mindset. The mindset you hold dictates how you see yourself, others, and particularly how you view challenges and learning. In the fixed mindset, people believe that their qualities – intelligence, talent, and innate characteristics are set. The “growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts. Although people may differ in every which way – in their initial talents and aptitudes, interests, or temperaments – everyone can change and grow through application and experience,” (pg. 7).

People who have a fixed mindset are focused on showing how capable they are, whereas those with a growth mindset are interested in learning, taking on new challenges, and growing their knowledge and skills. Dweck says: “When you enter a mindset, you enter a new world. In one world – the world of fixed traits – success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself. In the other – the world of changing qualities – it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself,” (pg. 15).

Interestingly, one of the consequences of these mindsets involves the way people view effort. In the fixed mindset, effort is seen as unnecessary. If you’re smart and talented, you don’t really have to try. For those with the growth mindset, effort is essential. You can learn and grow through applying yourself and trying to tackle new challenges.

Man, can I relate to that distinction! When I was in my first semester of graduate school at SDSU, I had a very challenging professor. He was in his last semester before retirement and had very high expectations for his students. I had never taken a collegiate history class and was starting a Master’s Degree in History! Dennis can attest, I cried every week that semester. It was hard. When I got real with myself I realized my fear was not so much that I’d fail, but that I had to really try. I was used to getting through school by giving not quite 100% effort and thinking that my natural intelligence was enough. Not anymore. If I didn’t try, and try hard, I wasn’t going to be successful in this class.

One of the parental takeaways from the book is that we should be praising effort and diligence instead of intelligence and natural ability. She argues effectively that kids who are praised for being “smart, special, talented, or a natural” at something are actually less likely to put forth effort or take on new challenges. Instead, they see those opportunities as a threat because they might show that they aren’t really that gifted and special.

As I sat with Sienna while she worked hard on her math homework last night, I focused on encouraging her effort. When she finished I hugged her and said, “Sienna, I’m so proud of how you kept trying when the work was challenging! Are you proud of yourself?” She agreed that she was.

When I look back on the past five years or so, it’s been a time of extreme growth for me. I’ve been raising children, learning to be a manager, and taking on new responsibilities at our church. At every turn it’s been clear that the skills and knowledge I had at one stage were not going to be sufficient for success in the future. I had to learn, grow, and keep putting forth effort toward challenges that I hadn’t faced before.

A primary focus was on giving and receiving feedback. Through that process I learned how powerful it is to discover aspects of yourself that are holding you back from achieving growth and learning new skills. I witnessed the growth of others that surpassed my expectations as a manager. By embracing my own growth and talking about it candidly with my Team, I was able to show them that the need to grow and learn is a safe process with me.

As I relinquished the old coping strategies of control and excessive planning, I’d often remind myself that I was growing. It became comforting to remember that growth was a continual process, not something that I’d achieve. I’d never “have everything figured out” in life. Reframing that idea in a growth mindset made it much easier to embrace.

This change, for me, was accompanied by a deep appreciation for my faith in Christ. As Lutherans, we emphasize that Christ accomplished everything for our salvation. We simply receive his grace through faith. This proper understanding that my works are not earning God’s favor and that I do nothing good without God’s blessing, helps me to submit to God’s will. It’s the antithesis of believing I have “everything figured out.” That phrase actually sounds rather ridiculous now!

Reading this book has given shape and distinction to many of the thoughts and feelings I’ve had about growth the past few years. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to describe my “awakening” in terms of a mindset shift from fixed to growth.

What about you? Do you see yourself in either the fixed or growth mindset? I’m interested in hearing other people’s perspectives!