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    Listen to Your Mother

    You Have My Complete Attention

    attentionOne of my favorite rituals when my twins were babies was to give them their nightly bath. I loved the one-on-one (-on-one) time with them, playing and splashing and just being together. Over time, they advanced from baths to showers, and from needing my help to wanting complete privacy, thank you very much!

    But one bath-time ritual that my daughter Sophie didn’t seem to outgrow during her tween years was keeping me company in the bathroom when I took a shower. Each evening after work, I would hop in the shower and pull the curtain closed, and then hear Sophie sneak into the bathroom, close the lid of the toilet, sit down and say, “So let’s talk.”

    I was torn: I missed the privacy of being alone with my thoughts and my loofah, and I also appreciated the opportunity to have some deep conversations with my growing girl. But one day, my curiosity got the best of me and I asked her,

    “Sophie, why do you always want to talk to me when I’m in the shower?”

    Her answer caught me with my pants down:

    “Because it’s the only time I know you won’t check your phone while you’re talking to me. It’s the only time I have your complete attention.”

    There was no shower long enough or hot enough to wash off the sting of that pointed and painful observation.

    Ever since then, I’ve started:

    Paying a lot more attention to paying attention!

    I realized that I did it consistently with my clients (who pay for my complete attention), but I didn’t do it consistently for my family, who are, in fact, the reason that I even have clients. And it’s still hard – every day. There are a million things competing for my attention, between emails, calls, dinner, errands, the expected and the unexpected interruptions. But I am well aware that because of how hard it is to give someone your complete attention these days, it is a more precious gift to give and to receive than ever before.

    In a recent New York Times article, “Stop Googling. Let’s Talk.” the author cites that the costs of dividing your attention with people you care about include empathy, connection, and trust. And while technology is surely a factor in what makes this challenging, what is also a factor is our willingness to settle for less than someone’s complete and undivided attention. We need to learn to ask for what we need from others in our personal and workplace relationships to feel heard, connected and respected and we need to stop making excuses for ourselves for why it’s ok to not be fully present for another human being with real and immediate needs and challenges.

    In the 7th and 8th cohorts of the Jewish Coaching Academy that I facilitated last week (email me for 2016 dates), we discussed 10 behaviors that let someone know that you were committed to being fully present for them. They include:

    • Close the door.
    • Turn off all electronic distractions.
    • Put your cell phone completely outside of your line of vision.
    • Let other people know that you’re going to be occupied, and for how long.
    • Put a “Do Not Disturb” sign up and honor it.
    • Create a time buffer before your conversation so you can clear your head from your previous work or interaction.
    • Make a list of what you need to do after this conversation so that you can be fully present now.
    • Notice when distracting thoughts come into your head, and then send them away without judgment.
    • Let the other person know if something is interfering with your ability to be fully present, and then do your best anyway.
    • Tell the other person “You have my complete attention”.

    How do I know these work? Because I use them with my clients, my friends and my family and they thank me for not just being there for them, but for really, fully being there for them. And I also know these work because I now, blissfully, shower alone.

    Taking A Risk

    New Year’s Day 2013 approached and as usual I took a look back at 2012 and imagined what 2013 had in store for me. I still make new year’s resolutions but I’ve learned to refine them over the years. Gone are the days that I resolve to lose a ton of weight or just be a better person. Now my resolutions are concrete and a bit more measurable. This year, I had resolved to do 3 things: 1. Cook more, 2. Write more, and 3. Get out of my comfort zone more. Ok, so two were highly measurable and the third well not so much.
    It’s almost 6 months into 2013 and I can say I’ve managed to check off all 3. Cooking was easy especially after I announced this to my spouse who promptly held me accountable and used it to her advantage at dinner time. The other two were going to take some thought and diligence on my part.
    Several months ago, a poster arrived on my desk for approval. The poster was for an open casting call for a show called “Listen To Your Mother.” Listen To Your Mother is a national series of live readings by local writers in celebration of Mother’s Day in 24 cities across the country.  I promptly put my initials on it and hung it on our community board. Everyday, I walked past that sign and it would catch my attention. It stared at me, taunted me, and called to me. I tried to put it out of my mind but I couldn’t. For those of you following along on this blog you know that I don’t share my personal life all that often and this certainly would entail doing so. After a month of kicking the idea around, I decided to just try and write something and see where it went. I was sitting in my doctor’s office, whipped out my iPhone and started typing away. The story spewed out of me like hot lava. An hour later with tears streaming down my face (thankfully I was already brought back to a room) but I had written my story. That as I would later find out be the easy part.
    I sat on the story for over a month and not once did I say anything to anyone. Finally, the night before the deadline, I sent an email to the director. I pressed send with my eyes closed and my heart racing. Still not the scariest part! The director promptly emailed me back with a time slot, Sunday at 4pm. Somewhat relieved that I would be in Florida during the auditions and couldn’t make it. Oh well! It wasn’t meant to be! Not so fast, the director replied and said she had a few people that couldn’t make it that day and could I make it on Tuesday. Tuesday came and I auditioned for the show. I was nervous not necessarily about the audition but more because what if I actually got picked? A couple hours later, the phone call came, my story was picked to be one of fifteen stories to be shared on Mother’s Day.
    Rehearsals came and an amazing group of women formed a bond over sharing their very personal stories of being a mother or about their mother. This was way out of my comfort zone but every step of the way the cast, my co-workers and family all supported me in this very scary endeavor. The evening of the performance a weird calmness calm over me and all the nerves just disappeared. The show was a rollercoaster of emotional stories told from various points of view and from as diverse a group of women. The scariest part for me was facing the sold out audience (many whom I knew) after the show and after revealing a very personal story regarding my mother’s untimely death.
    Here’s what I learned from this experience:
    1. Support is all around but you have to be willing to ask for it and then accept it.
    2. Doing things that are scary is not only good for you but makes you stronger.
    3. Writing is a process. It takes patience, nurturing and commitment.
    4. Going outside your comfort zone can lead to amazing new friendships and an experience that will stay with you for a lifetime!
    Now I have 6 months to sit back and think about my resolutions for 2014. Challenge yourself to do something outside your comfort zone. I promise you won’t regret it.

    “Deb has been a respected speaker and facilitator for a number of our JCC conferences over the past few years. While I've heard about her energy, hard work in preparing, and meaningful content, it took her recent keynote speech at our annual JCCs of North America Professional Conference to make me realize what an incredible asset she is. Watching her present a content-filled, energetic, and personalized session -- without using any notes -- was very impressive. Deb is a multi-talented, serious, and impactful presenter."

    – Allan Finkelstein, Past President and CEO, JCC Association of North America

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