Posts Tagged ‘gut’

A few months ago, I was speaking with a client who I’ve become friends with over a couple of years of working together. She has 7 year old twin boys and my monkeys are three, so in addition to talking about work I often turn to her for twin management advice. She’s super smart, has a great sense of humor, and seems amazingly on top of her shit.

I was totally shocked when she revealed to me that she was recently diagnosed with breast cancer and was about to undergo radiation treatments. I offered whatever commiseration and compassion I could, and she told me that she was managing pretty well.

Initially, she was scared, anxious and overwhelmed. Over time, it’s gotten better. She had come to see the situation as an opportunity to grow, to rise up to the challenge of asking for and receiving help, and to remind herself of her strength. Overall, her prognosis is good and she is extremely positive.

One thing that helped, she said, was maintaining a perspective on the situation. She keeps the Chinese character for crisis posted on her desk. The symbol is a combination of the words for danger and opportunity, she told me. She said it was comforting to see the opportunity in the situation, and it helped her not to dwell on the danger.

I thought it was a very poignant story, and immediately loved this idea of hope amidst crisis.  I planned on blogging about it, but as soon as I Googled the idea I found about 10 different posts saying that while Westerners like to say this, it’s not really true. It’s a misinterpretation of the way Chinese characters work. The anthropologist in me values the intrinsic Chinese cultural perspective over Western interpretations of the culture, and so I decided that it wasn’t really true and that I shouldn’t write about it.

I’ve recently been thinking a lot about breast cancer and I’ve come to a new interpretation of the crisis means danger plus opportunity interpretation. I’ve decided that it doesn’t really matter if it’s technically true or not. If it’s a powerful way of thinking about a crappy situation then it is, in some way, true. I’m sure it’s true to my client, if not to Chinese linguists.

Before, I dismissed the wisdom in the perspective because it wasn’t grounded in absolute truth. But now I realize that sometimes, truth is irrelevant. It doesn’t hurt anyone to believe that there’s ancient wisdom about how a person can respond to a situation. And it’s such a powerful idea that I believe it can really help ground a person’s approach to dealing with a frightening and often painful disease.

I wonder when else we let our intellectual understanding of a topic or an idea get in the way of emotional insight. I’m pretty sure it happens more than we know. I’d love to hear about your experiences with the truth in the comments below.


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One of my Strengthsfinders strengths that I’ve always identified with is input, which means that I’m a collector of information. In my case, it means that I’m an information addict, filing pieces away in my brain, overloading on data, never shirking a web search when more information might be out there that might be able to help me in some way that I can’t even imagine.

When I was pregnant and a new mom, it actually started to feel less like a strength and more like a weakness. Especially since the more books your read about getting your babies to sleep, eat or play, the more perspectives you can find about the ‘right way to do it.’ Ultimately, after consulting 6 different books about gas and finding 5 different answers ranging from it’s all in the parent’s head to your child could be seriously ill, I made a clean break and decided not to rely on books to help me rear my children.

Instinct, I decided, would be a way better teacher for me than information, and I vowed to stop reading the baby books. Oh yes, every once in a while I can’t resist, and still consult a chart that tells me what my kids should be able to do by now or an article that helps me decide whether they’re really sick or just have some evil cold. But for the most part, my husband and I have been going it alone since sometime before the monkeys’ first birthday.

Enter the era of the tantrum. Lately, my kids have been really stumping me. The whining. The crying. The defiance for defiance’s sake. It makes my head hurt just thinking about it. And while every once in a while I find myself coming up with an inspired way to handle their behavior, for the most part I have no freakin’ idea what to do.

So today, I read that Dr. Harvey Karp has come out with a new book, The Happiest Toddler on the Block. I’ve heard about his first book, The Happiest Baby on the Block, but never read it. And while I’m still really into the idea of parenting by intuition, I’m wondering if it has it’s limits. I mean, how many times can you use the same approach to address behavior and find that it doesn’t really work before you start questioning that approach.  

I haven’t read the book yet, but I’ve already learned something from reading the review of the book in the New York Times. The article goes into a bit of detail on Dr. Karp’s method for talking a toddler out of a tantrum. Instead of reasoning, or trying to soothe through calming adult language, Dr. Karp suggests talking toddler speak, mimicking your children’s language and phrasing. In response to a child’s wilful demands for a cookie, “Dr. Karp adopts a soothing, childlike voice to demonstrate how to respond to the toddler’s cookie demands. “You want. You want. You want cookie. You say, ‘Cookie, now. Cookie now.’ ”

Talking directly to toddlers in their own language shows them that you’re listening to them, and, Dr. Karp suggests, reinforces that you’re acknowledging their point of view. My guess is that it may also surprise them enough to shock them out of their tantrum. Gotta try that one.

This idea really resonates with me because it reflects the attitude I try to take when having conversations with clients and colleagues. When folks are frustrated or upset, the first thing I do is repeat their concerns to help them fell heard. Of course, when I do it with my kids, my instinct is to rephrase what they say in my own words. But I really like Dr. Karp’s suggestion of using their words and their phrasing to really drive home the point.

 So I’m intrigued. I probably will even buy the book. And it makes me think about the limits of intuition. As a consultant in an emerging field, I am often asked to solve problems that go beyond my area of expertise. Most of the time, that’s OK, because something that I’ve done before prepares me for what I have to do now. Even if I don’t have the exact experience of doing something, I have enough related experience to figure it out.

But any good consultant knows that some things lie directly outside of their area of expertise, and therefore require bringing in other people who do have the knowledge, or figuring out how to learn really quickly. As much as I think relying on your intuition is a good thing, its also critical for me to know when I’m outside of your zone of effectiveness, and when I need to consult outside experts to get the job done — whether that’s with my children, my colleagues, or my clients.

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This morning, my kids were acting strange. They were whiny and cried a lot, and one of them had woken up several times in the middle of the night – all of which are, thankfully, unusual behaviors in our household.

I tried to tell whether they were sick or not by taking their temperatures, but they didn’t have fevers. I tried to ask if they were in pain, but no matter how I phrase it, the answer is always yes. Our conversations go like this. Does your tummy hurt? Yeah. Does your head hurt? Yeah. Does your cheek hurt? Yes. Does your funny bone hurt? Yes. Very helpful.

I really wanted to know if they were sick or just cranky, so I could make a good decision about whether to send them to school. But I didn’t have a lot of information at my disposal. I had to guess, and trust my gut. My instinct told me that if they weren’t actually sick then they were at least pretty tired, and that I should keep them home from school.

As I thought about it, I realized that with my kids, I am often having to make decisions without all the information that I’d like to have. I have to just trust my judgement and make a call and hope its the right one. This actually happens a lot in business as well. As much as we’d like to be able to predict future outcomes, most of us have limited information. The information we seek is often unavailable, costly or even unreliable, so we have to just go with what we have. It can be hard to trust your judgement, and sometimes even harder to convince your colleagues to let you trust your gut.

That’s where parenting helps. It gives you a chance to practice trusting your gut. I’m going to try taking advantage of these opportunities, instead of dreading them, in hopes that when I have to use my judgement at work, I’ll be better at it. Ideally, just having more confidence in my gut decisions will inspire other folks to trust my gut as well.

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