life lessons from a therapist

I just finished Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb and recommend it both for entertainment and enrichment. Thanks to my friend, Paru Radia, for turning me on to it. Here are ten of my favorite quotes and takeaways. If you read it, I’m sure you will find many other lessons that will help you in your day-to-day work and personal life.

  1. I know how affirming it feels to blame the outside world for my frustrations, to deny ownership of whatever role I might have in the existential play called My Incredibly Important Life.
    It’s so much easier to pin the blame on everyone else so that we don’t have to feel the pain, admit that we did something wrong, or hold ourselves accountable. We can’t make it better if we don’t acknowledge our part in it. I remember years ago after a failed relationship staying up all night working through the question “what was my part in it?” because I didn’t want to make the same mistakes that led me to this conclusion again. This is essential whether our part in the failure was the majority or minority causation.
  2. If you go through life picking and choosing, if you don’t recognize that “the perfect is the enemy of the good,” you may deprive yourself of joy.
    I was taught perfectionism from an early age – not on purpose, but the result was still the same. It will always be a struggle, but the fact that you are reading this is proof that I am getting better. When I remember that my purpose for the website and my posts on social is to help others, it seems selfish to hold off posting because a sentence or thought is not perfect.
  3. Most big transformations come about from the hundreds of tiny, almost imperceptible, steps we take along the way.
    Let’s say you want to change the culture at your company, transition your career into a completely different industry, or lose fifteen pounds. None of these aspirations are achievable overnight, but starting with the end in mind and tracing the small steps backwards is really the only way to reach any BHAG.
  4. When people delude themselves into believing they have all the time in the world…they get lazy.
    The context of this quote is around dying, but it applies to life, work, family, projects. Whenever the deadline is far off, we procrastinate and don’t do much work. See #3.
  5. In idiot compassion, you avoid rocking the boat to spare people’s feelings, even though the boat needs rocking and your compassion ends up being more harmful than your honesty. Its opposite is wise compassion, which means caring about the person but also giving him or her a loving truth bomb when needed.
    We all worry about how constructive feedback will go over, but it usually is welcomed when it comes from a place of compassion and empathy. I would like to see someone illustrate a “loving truth bomb”. I can’t draw, but I imagine this beautiful, colorful orb shooting out lovely scented flowers that feel like a hug when they hit you, a soothing light to prepare you to be enlightened, and maybe a small snack to give you the energy to take action.
  6. Before you speak, ask yourself, What is this going to feel like to the person I’m speaking to?
    This is the author’s suggestion for building empathy. Simple, but if we can add to our quiver of habits it could be all-powerful. If we can remember to pause, filling the space with this question will lead to the best results.
  7. Your feelings don’t have to mesh with what you think they should be. They’ll be there regardless, so you might as well welcome them because they hold important clues.
    Going back to perfectionism, denying or trying to repress our unwanted feelings will not change them. Only sitting with them, maybe in meditation, and studying them will lead us to the change we seek.
  8. The things we protest against the most are often the very things we need to look at.
    This one is so painful to do. Looking at the things that most annoy us about other people and examining if the reason why is because we do the same things in some form or fashion can be extremely cringe-worthy, but the exercise will probably make us less annoying to both ourselves and others.
  9. Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
    I’ve found that this comes with work and maturity. If you are a young person that is able to do this, I applaud you. As mentioned in #6, it’s that essential pause that we can fill with thoughtful choice instead of rushing in to get our point across, prove we are right, or impress our audience with our thoughts.
  10. ...we talk to ourselves more than we’ll talk to any other person over the course of our lives but that our words aren’t always kind or true or helpful—or even respectful.
    If we had to choose one of these habits to adopt, this one will make the biggest impact, because we can only choose empathy for others when we have it for ourselves.

If you enjoyed this book as much as I did, let me know your ah-ha moments.

the underground railroad

Since obtaining my NYC library card, I’ve renewed my passion for reading. My first check-out was The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. This book, along with Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me, should be required reading for all Americans. As a Southern-born, blond-haired, hazel-eyed white girl raised in an upper-middle class home, I have enjoyed the life of privilege and insulation. Policemen smile and say “hello” to me when I walk down the street, immigration officials waive me straight through with little inspection, and employers are happy to see me when I show up for an interview. These books help me feel the plight of those who have faced humiliation and persecution in a way that hopefully guides my behavior in both treatment of and advocacy for my fellow humans.

The Underground Railroad follows the life and history of Cora, a third generation slave in Georgia – chronicling her childhood on the plantation, escape through the swamp, and life on the run. Her courage and innate sense of right put her life in danger when she stands up for a fellow slave who made a minuscule mistake in the presence of the master. This action, along with the encouragement of her fellow defector, motivates her to seek freedom. Her journey is filled with triumphs and terror, making it difficult to set the book down until you get to the last page and discover her fate.

Thank you, Colson Whitehead, for making me feel the pain and grief of the slaves and the shame of the slave owners.