Monday, March 24, 2008

On Fox

Whether your company is cool enough to bring us in to help address the impact of stress or not, no worries. We've got you covered and relaxed with some de-stress tips we shared last week with Anna Gilligan: check it out by clicking here!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Self Care Secrets Debut at The Economist

We were speaking at The Economist this week and a question came from one of the employees about what practice I find most helpful as a self-care preventative against stress. Without thinking I said "dry brush and self massage". Silence ensued. Aside from being unintelligible to most people, to a twisted mind acutally sounds slightly tawdry.

Truth be told, this is just one of the many ancient "secrets" emerging in the mainstream. My husband's VERY conservative General Practitioner swears by his neti pot (details below), and even insisted my husband start to use one to keep allergies and colds/flu at bay. Check out three core daily self care practices we've inherited from the ayurvedic folk. Whether you adapt them now or later, there's no doubt they're on the rise!

1. Neti Pot - A neti pot is a little ceramic pot shaped much like a teapot. You fill it with room temperature water and a small portion of iodine free salt. You then tilt the spout into your nostril (yes, bear with me) and turn your head to the side so the saline was can run freely into one nostril and out of the other. Sound gross? Wait until you get through multiple winters cold free. Wait until you get through allergy season without becoming a sneezy, snotty mess. You'll see gross in a whole new way, and after all 'tis the season.

2. Tongue Scraping - (pictured above)No we don't mean the sensation of being licked by a cat. Tongue scraping is performed with a little bendy horseshoe shaped piece of metal that you brace in one hand to scrape bacteria off of your tongue. Why would you want to do that? Because bacteria is the reason for many icky things - colds and other illnesses, plaque, bad breath, gum disease, etc. It takes just a moment and is easily worked into your dental hygiene routine. Besides, once you see what you're scraping off your tongue, you'll be glad you did.

3. Dry Brush/Self Massage - Not just for the lonely among us, this practice is considered mega important among ayurvedic practitioners for stimulating "the body's natural pharmacy", or your lymphatic and immune systems. A dry brush is usually made of natural bristles and fits easily into your hand. Before you shower, you take the brush and sweep it over your entire body, usually from feet up. It shouldn't take more than a minute or two. Then you take a moment to rub organic body oil into your skin. This practice is a 1-2 punch that increases the immune system, softens your skin, improves tactile response and relieves muscular tension.

Whether your company sponsors someone like me to come teach about these things, run, don't walk, to the health food store to stock up on these instruments and make their use a part of your daily routine. When world renowned yogini Shiva Rea taught me these practices, she warned me they are addictive. They are, but in the very best way because they WORK.

The Balance of Doing Good

Welcome to the blog for Balance Integration Corporation. This is where we explore ideas and perspectives about staying whole while navigating the challenges of daily life. So why is there a picture of a dying dog on this column header? Why are you about to read a couple of paragraphs about a Costa Rican artist who captured a street dog, chained him to a wall and forced him to starve as a form of art?

Because “Balance isn’t about hating your job”, to quote my buddy Heather Green of BusinessWeek. She’s right. Leading a balanced life isn’t about achieving a perfect distribution of moments between home and work, self and family, recreational and professional. Living in balance is remembering that you are a full being in everything you do, in all the moments of life – no matter the venue or topic defining any given moment. Living in balance is showing up powerfully in relation to the world around you. If balance is the change we wish to feel and see, far from copping an attitude of not-my-job thinking, we have to step up and make our goodness felt and we need to do it more often.

Because in 2007, Guillermo Vargas Habacuc did exactly the aforementioned act. The story goes as follows: In the ghetto streets of Managua, Nicaragua, Mr. Vargas paid some children the equivalent of a couple cents to catch a dying dog so he could chain the animal to a gallery wall and make “art” out of the animal’s suffering. The artist spelled out in “Eres Lo Que Lees” – translated as you are what you read – in morsels of dog food on the wall of the entry to the installation. Just below, the animal was tied to the wall, denied food and water and left intentionally to die. In one corner of the installation was a pot in which crack cocaine and marijuana smoldered while Nicaragua’s national anthem was played backwards. Gallery patrons walked through the installation watching the dog’s life slip away.

Uproar ensued. As the news of this installation hit the web, waves of blogging fury rippled out first from observers in the art world and then from the animal rights community. Adding fuel to the fire, Vargas was invited as part of a select group of artists to participate in the Bienal Centroamericana Honduras 2008 – an honorific art exposition. Since then petitions have emerged, verbiage created and made available in multiple languages for people to send to the galleries showing Vargas’ works. In his own defense, Vargas has been quoted as saying, "The important thing for me was the hypocrisy of people: an animal thus becomes the focus of attention when you put in a place where white people go to see art but not when they are on the street dying of hunger.”

The irony of protesting cruel hypocrisy with an act of cruel hypocrisy aside, this is not about analysis of the act. Sure, we could talk about the value of life in distressed economies. We could talk about the legacy of cruelty in post-colonial nations. We could point to the cruelty of dominating nations and power-wielding groups and individuals around the planet and throughout history. We could paralyze ourselves into apathy with the notion that he’s right – after all don’t we all see suffering on our own street corners and often do nothing?

That we instinctively cringe in reading this story, in the view of images from Abu Ghraib or any other cruelty, we feel our relationship with life. That we shudder in the face of suffering, we know our relationship with what is good. That the grace of human kindness rises within us/among us and manifests as our outrage is the act of balance. When we protest and petition, when our outrage drives us to take up an action that aligns us with beauty, it is then that we know our mettle. Our acting upon these inner urges is the coup de grace that brings balance into the world.

Because suffering exists everywhere, make some balance and do something to ease an injustice you see. It might be signing an online petition against the Bienal 2008 honoring of Mr. Vargas (which you can easily find by googling the topic). It might be giving money to Kiva or some other funds distribution arm. It could be taking a piece of fruit or bottle of water along with you in your daily migrations to give to whatever homeless person you meet. Just do something. Do something to remind yourself that you are not powerless in this exciting world of ours. Indeed, recognizing the depths of just how bad our worst can be, we have the opportunity to revive our dedication to good.

Feeling Eliot Spitzer

When I wasn’t much older than Ashley Dupre, I was seduced into a job I should have never accepted. Trilingual with a freshly-minted masters degree in international business (and the ego to match), I scoured the earth for a position that was worthy of my brilliance. Working at UPS as corporate marketing liaison for franchisees from Mailboxes Etc., my situation was friendly and challenging but felt a little "brown" in every sense. I wanted sexy. I wanted branding. I wanted to use my languages. I wanted to use my passport.

For a mature executive, even the interview at IBM Latin America would have been a dead-giveaway that the job wasn’t a fit. The gray office space didn’t even have cubicles but open architecture that looked like something out of a 1940’s newsroom. They had been through round upon round of layoffs, so aside from smelling the fear, everyone I met had a long face and sad eyes. When we talked marketing, they talked components. When we talked creativity, they talked price point. When we talked corporate culture, they bragged about their victory in wrangling budget for teal paint. A sizzling hot pot of marketing inspiration, it was not.

But I was wooed, not by anything they said and certainly not by anything I saw. Fort Lauderdale did not offer a strong community of educated single professionals, either. No matter. I was wooed by my ego and the delight as I played the words “Brand Manager, ThinkPad, Latin America” over and over again in my mind. OOH, how sexy. That the pay was significantly higher than what I made at UPS was nice, but it was the “Brand Manager, ThinkPad, Latin America” that made my juices flow. With that and some experience, I felt only breaths away from becoming the next Seth Godin.

In quiet moments as the movers packed my boxes to transport me from UPS in Atlanta to my new destiny in south Florida, I definitely felt a shudder when thinking about that lifeless office space and those long faces. I grimaced when considering the linearity of the conversations and the rigidity of the responses. Fancying myself not so much a steamroller, but more a sweetness-oozing Little Mary Sunshine, I braced myself with enthusiasm thinking, “IBM really wants to be better in marketing!" About that dreary office? "I’ll just be super friendly and have them warming up in no time!” After all, I would have bliss to spare as “Brand Manager, ThinkPad, Latin America”. Delusion comes in many flavors.

Within weeks of starting this glamorous new adventure, my mood was adapting more to the environment than the environment was to me. My sweetness had not only been met with resistance, but had convinced my coworkers I couldn’t be taken seriously. After two months there, the flow of evening martinis was less to escape my deep unhappiness than to break loose the logjam for tears, snot, sobs and fists to go flying as I pounded the floor in tantrums of anguish for my situation and disappointment. That I found an “out” before self-destructing completely or getting fired is a stroke of grace more than brilliance. A phone call here, a resume faxed there (remember those days?) and “hey, yeah, that sounds like a fine opportunity”. POOF, demons be gone, and adios IBM.

You don’t have to be a psychologist or career counselor to recognize the flow: ego leads, actions follow, heart breaks in the wake, behavior becomes reckless, exit orchestrated either gracefully, or in Eliot’s case, disastrously. Although the pattern is transparently easy to recognize, so often we ignore when the ego is leading us into disaster. Having coached hundreds of professionals across multiple industries through challenges more constant to the human condition than any of the conditions present in their work, the questions we have to constantly return to when charting our course of action are ones like these:

1. What brings me joy/happiness? The drivers of your joy are often called core values. We all have core values without which our lives are tedium, torpor and torturous. If you can’t name any value or quality that results in joy for you, you need only look to the last time you were REALLY happy and ask what qualities were present there or conversely what qualities were lacking when you were last REALLY unhappy. If whatever you are doing or considering doing does not possess elements of your core values, it is the wrong move. In my case, although my ego got a little “schwing” from the title, I was betraying my core value of playfulness.
2. Does the WIN really matter? Whenever we make choices according to what we think we are supposed to value, we’re making a big gamble for what is likely a short term win and a complete loss in the long term – save for any riches salvaged in the form of character-building insights. Take my WIN of “Brand Manager, ThinkPad, Latin America”: let’s say I stayed and got the marketing-genius of the century award (even figuratively). If I was doing it to impress other people, how impressed would they have been when upon meeting me they found me to be a nasty, bitter, alcoholic corporate burnout?
3. When is it time to say WHEN? What if you made a dumb choice and went for something that really isn’t what it was all cracked up to be. Or maybe like Eliot's case, it IS exactly what it was cracked up to be, only in pursuing it you forgot what you’re cracked up to be. Let’s say you played hard to become EVP of whatever when you really were much more content managing sales folks. Let’s say you campaigned hard to become governor when you really just liked the thrill of discovery and making right. There’s a moment when what is happening does not compute. If you look around yourself and find yourself thinking “this is not my beautiful house”, a la David Byrne, pause to pay attention and take stock of your situation. If you’re already doing things you can’t believe, wouldn’t want photographed (or traced), or are ashamed to admit to those who love you, it’s probably time take that pause a bit further. It’s probably time to make that change you wish to see. Allowing the pieces of admitting error to fall where they may is many shades superior to the potential debris from the acts we are all capable of committing.

As it so happens, I went to see Seth Godin speak at NYU today. He talked about looking at what is happening around you and allowing what you observe to support you rather than fighting against it. Although his references were directed to marketing and shifting realities due to new media, they pertain aptly to life. To borrow from the new book he was plugging, the temptation to create a Meatball Sundae, to dress up something to be yummy that is just downright disgusting, is one we all fall for at one time or another. So let’s take a lesson from the ex-gov, and what the hell, from any of your own sorry “I CAN’T BELIEVE I…” lamentations. In his closing words today, Seth departed from talk of markets and media. In a moment of self reflection, this nine-time bestselling author confessed that his greatest success was not being a marketing guru, but the decision he made when he “set out to be the best in the world at being ME”.