The Night Call



“Vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center, of meaningful human experiences.”
Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

The phone rang as I was getting ready to go to sleep.

“I want you to know that I’m more vulnerable than I seem,” she said.  “I can be hurt easily and if you ever want to stop seeing each other, all I ask is that you tell me.  Don’t just stop calling.”  Wow.  That’ll wake you up.

Some people consider vulnerability a state or situation wherein one is able to be hurt and is therefore a weakness to be avoided.  I think a lot of divorced people find themselves there.  But vulnerability is better characterized as a choice we make to intentionally allow ourselves to be open and able to be hurt so that, as Dr. Brown asserts, we can taste life and love more richly.

My wife Laura made this choice while we were dating.  We were both in the aftermath of painful occurrences.  Mine was the death of my first wife the previous year.  Hers was a very unpleasant divorce following which she told herself that she would never again allow herself to be emotionally hurt by a man.

Fortunately for me—and us—she changed her mind and I received that phone call.  I was very touched by her openness, especially considering the pain of her divorce and told her so.  I also said that if it was OK with her, I’d be sticking around for a while.  So far, it’s been over 10 years and we still feel the magic.

Happy Together

Happy Together

Laura made a decision to forego her previous conviction of abandoning vulnerability.  She did not do so lightly.  We had connected emotionally and were allowing ourselves to feel love again with all the joy and potential pain that love involves.  Because tearing down the walls of inhibition and surrendering our shell means that we have chosen to be open and vulnerable to someone else.  Love is vulnerability and love is surrender to someone we have come to trust.  There’s really no other way to get there.

BTW, if you haven’t heard—or heard of—Dr. Brene Brown, you must watch her two TED talks on vulnerability, shame, and courage.  You can find them here andhere.  Best to view them in that order.  She’s also written two books:  The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly.  You should read them.  You really should.


Lessons From Bad Bosses

There are some great movies about working for bad bosses. Check out Horrible Bosses, Working Girl, or the great 9 to 5.

Staff on Chess Board

Staff on Chess Board

I’ve been a boss and I’ve been bossed. I liked being the boss better.

It wasn’t an ego thing. My father was President of one of the banks in the small town where I grew up. He naturally commanded respect and, of course, I wanted to be like my Dad. Through him, I saw both the rewards and the disadvantages of being in charge. And there are plenty of both.

I confess to being a better boss than an employee and got to be very “black & white” about people to whom I was subordinate. I could forgive and work hard for bosses who had plenty of drawbacks but who were people who deserve respect. But I had no time for managers who were out of their league being in charge.
Ultimately it came down to whether or not I sensed that they respected us as subordinates and that their enthusiasm was for the organization, of which staff plays a key role. I hated toadies and suck-ups and bosses who liked toadies and suck-ups.

But you learn valuable lessons from every boss. From the good ones, you learn what to do and from the bad ones you remember what do to avoid.

Here are 4 “worst practices” I learned to avoid from observing and working for bad bosses:

  • I’m in charge; I’ve arrived: Once I was competing with someone else for a managerial position. I asked him why he wanted the job and he told me: “I don’t know. The money and the position, I guess.” He lasted in that job for less than 4 years. I replaced him and stayed for 10.
  • Now they have to do what I say: Sure, you may have a title that gives you authority but there is such a thing as malicious obedience. Sure, sometimes you need to be firm but, if you’re a good manager, those times are rare. As Michael Hyatt said in a recent blog post: “If you want their very best, you have to have their hearts. You can’t demand this or even buy it with a paycheck. You have to earn it.”
  • Why would I need advice from staff? I’ve got more experience than they do: Some managers feel that asking staff for ideas would weaken their own position, especially if you actually mean it and adopt the ideas. Wrong! Staff can have great ideas and will be even more motivated if you make the great ones happen.
  • You can’t trust employees: One of the worst bosses for whom I worked had this attitude. As a person he was shallow, narcissistic, and manipulative. In other words, poor managerial material. Sometimes employees will let you down or act dishonestly but I’ve always found those to be the exceptions.

Mutual respect and trust are essential to great manager/staff effectiveness and efficiency.

What have you learned from your bosses?

The House Is Quiet Again…

Today is our last day of having our beloved children here.  I use “beloved” in both a real and a slightly sarcastic sense.

We love them beyond measure and their visits, especially en masse, enliven our day-to-day routine with their youth, late-night stamina, ideas, opinions, and of course decibel level.

They also destroy our day-to-day routine and make the predictable completely unpredictable.  Meal times, arrival times, departure times, event participation times are all blown away subject of the vagaries of several adult individuals and 2 small children.
Our brood ranges in age from 28 to 36 and most are forming holiday traditions of their own, as they acquire significant others, spouses, and children.

It’s madness.  And we wouldn’t have it any other way.  Well, perhaps the “decibel” part.

Right now, we’re in an “all-in, all-out” phase:  Everyone is here for either Thanksgiving or Christmas and no one is here for the other holiday.

We treasure these alternate-year mass gatherings because we know that, just as they’ve dwindled from being all together for both late-year family events, someday or some year it could change again to their being here for neither.

Or we might be together but not here, not at our home.

Happy as all of us are to be together, it’s disrupting them for them, too.  They’re away from home in another place they also call home, more restricted in their movements, splitting time with us for time with old friends and blended families as well as having less privacy and time for themselves.  They’re also having to live in someone else’s space, using borrowed transportation.

So, it’s stressful for all of us in different ways but stress that we welcome (as much as we can welcome stress) because that stress is the price of admission to family reunions and the the joy of being together.

We put up with the hassles because they are part of the package of family holidays.  Some must also undergo the additional stress of travel with its unpredictability and probable inconveniences.

We all deal with it in our own ways.  Some read or watch TV, others bury their attention in technology, escaping temporarily while being the in the same room.  Some retreat to a nap and others bustle around cleaning up or preparing for the next meal.

I’m the least social of anyone in the family so my habit is to physically remove myself to another part of the house for awhile.
And later today, when the last children depart for their homes, Laura and I will breathe a sigh of relief, revel in the peace and silence for a day or so before missing this noisy pack and looking forward to our next gathering.

We are so very blessed.

3 Habits For Deeper Love

Following the death of my first wife Diane in 2000, I knew that someday I would want to find love again.  The following year, quite by accident, I met Laura.  About  3 weeks from now, we will celebrate our 10th anniversary.

We have a terrific marriage and a very strong bond of love and respect.  And we haven’t had one fight, not even cross words.  We thought that this might be abnormal; didn’t every couple fight?   One of my best resources following Diane’s death was a psychologist at the cancer center in Fargo, named Ann Sandgren.  I asked her about this and she reassured me that some couples communicate at such a deep level that situations never escalate to the fighting stage.  Cool!

But I think we also practice some habits, I’ve counted 3 so far, with which any couple can experience deep love.

1:  No changing your spouse:  We were both  53 when we married and we figured that the chance of either of us changing drastically was about the same as having a July blizzard in Tucson.  So we accepted each other as we were and as we would probably stay.  We’ve only really had to compromise on the time at which we eat dinner.  If you love each other, you’re probably just fine the way you are.

2:  No snapping:  I admit that there have been several times when I’ve been ready to snap at Laura for one reason or another but something always held me back.  In thinking about that, I realized that she or what she was doing really had nothing to do with my temper flare; she just happened to be in the way.  I’m sure she’s done the same with me.  And every time I thought about it for a minute or two, I figured out what was causing my irritation.  It wasn’t her.  And since I’ve never liked apologizing, I guess it’s better if you don’t have anything that would make that necessary.

3:  No give-and-take:  The last habit is the best one.  It’s realizing that a good marriage, a deep love isn’t about give and take; it’s just giving.  It’s not a 50/50 proposition; it’s both of you giving 80/20 and the real magic is in the overlap.

That’s where we realize what a great blessing, what a great gift we’ve both been given.  Out of pain and loss has come love, happiness, trust, and joy at just being together.  Laura’s said several times how much she enjoys times like weekend mornings, sipping coffee in our living room chairs and hashing over something in the Sunday paper, talking about our plans for the day, or sharing something one of the kids has said to us on the phone or in an email.

Simple things. But I don’t think that love needs to be some complicated.