Life Happens: Survivor’s Guilt, Phantom Grief and the Pursuit of Happiness

We’re under a collective fatigue. A lot has happened the past few months and this is the breaking point. Between the hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, an earthquake, events now called by cities, Charlottesville, Las Vegas, followed by trial by Northern California Fires and Hollywood Harvey and a time line of taking the knee.I felt guilty that I spent two minutes debating the merits of lavender scent laundry detergent versus fresh air scent. It reminded me as kids when we were told, finish eating there are starving children in the world. Here I am picking a laundry scent when there are people without a place to live. Sure, there are relief efforts for the natural disasters, there is social discourse on events, but that seems to do little to reign in the gamut of emotion from the anxiety, doom, empathy, compassion and survivor’s guilt. With information, pictures, videos and stories so available today, there is a new thing to add to the list, something that is becoming more prevalent, phantom grief.

There was a mass shooting in Louisville, Kentucky over 25 years ago. I drove to work, I knew there was something wrong because there were so many ambulances. By the time I got to  the office, I learned there was an active shooter at Standard Gravure, one of the guys in the office was on the phone with his wife. The next day, I couldn’t speak, I had no voice. No, this wasn’t shocking or grief, a group of us went to Cincinnati that night for a Rolling Stones concert. I lose my voice during the opening act, Living Color, my guitar hero Vernon Reid was on stage, singing Open Letter to a Landlord. Three days later, I was a greeter at the Cathedral of the Assumption for a memorial service. Something almost unbelievable had happened and yet life went on. Five friends went on a road trip to River Front Stadium and watch the Rolling Stones perform Gimme Shelter from row 11, floor seats.

Now, in a world of political correctness and optics, I feel the need to stress, oh yes I was impacted and felt deeply. I was horrified at the media presence at the memorial service and tried to protect a few grievers from photo ops and sound bites. I am thankful a few days before, I was with good friends on a once in a lifetime adventure. The desire to show compassion and empathy can lapse into the dark side of fantom grief. It requires us to stay in a hyper-vigilant state of mourning, any good time is guilt ridden. The grief cycle is denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. As we process grief and we may spiral back and forth between the stages before we emerge to acceptance. With phantom grief, nothing is really a loss. We will stay in anger, bargaining and depression because there is nothing to process. We are left with primarily anger and depression that plays out in all kinds of crazy.

If you find yourself or those around you anxious, overwhelmed and slipping to the dark-side. Consider it could be phantom grief; you are not in immediate danger, you do not have a loss, it’s ok to be happy.  I once heard a response to eat all your food, there are starving people in the world. This kid responded, I am thankful we have food, I will trick or treat for UNICEFF, but  my eating or not eating isn’t going to stop people from starving. Use kid logic now as inoculation against phantom grief. Have gratitude for what you have and compassion for those in need. Go spend time with friends and family and enjoy life.

Down Dog, Reflections on Barks in a World of Bytes

Ace in Action

Ace does not like me. This is a fact. Ace is a dog and every time he sees me, a barking frenzy ensues. He is not afraid of me. His tail is wagging, but his demeanor is more, let me get off the leash and see watch what happens. Ace has spoken barked.  Someone mentioned to me, what if people were more like dogs? There is an honesty about dogs. Dogs don’t lie to you,dogs hang their heads in shame when they have done something wrong. You know when they like you and when they don’t. My immediate thought,  It’d be great not to have to try to figure people out.

I work virtually, with limited time on the phone and emails,  there are challenges.  I wonder, how engaged are people in a project, is there support for change, is there enthusiasm for innovation? The worldwide virtual environment is  in its infancy;  there isn’t a strong organizational culture around how things work.The trouble is, we act like there is. While one team adheres to strict plans and schedules with check points, other teams feel this is just a suggestion. Frustration and mayhem ensue.

Imagine two groups of dogs are playing . One group is trained to heel and sit and the other is taught to sit. If you say heel, half of them will obey and the other half will keep playing. This is only a problem if the expectation is all dogs would heel. At that moment, telling the playing dogs what “heel” means is not going to change help.¹ Agreed to behaviors, definitions and goals are the way forward for projects. Yet, often, little attention is given to this and we end up with “they” are behind schedule versus “they” have set unrealistic dates.  There may be a year long effort kicking off and time isn’t spent up front understanding work style preferences. Little time is spent on discussion and agreements on goals. Projects have more of an “assumptive” launch. Everyone “assumes” they know what things means and how it is expected things will go. Consider dedicating a little more time up front. Look, if everyone is in agreement, it’s short meeting. If not, it’s time well spent.

I should not say, Ace doesn’t like me. Ace barks in my presence. He could be a wonder dog who barks to indicate disease, mental anxiety,maybe I’ve disrupted his puppy world, or you know, he just doesn’t like me. We don’t know and can’t know because we can’t have a conversation with Ace the dog. But with teams and people, we have the gift of words. You can ask. So instead of wondering why something is not what you expected, ask. Yes, there is a chance you may not get a workable answer, but there is a good chance you can. That’s a lot easier than the mystery of the barking dog.



¹This example is for illustrative purposes only and by no means insinuates people must be trained as animals. 

² The yoga pose in the featured image is commonly called down dog.

Somebody’s Watching You? The Virtual Reality

Assumed you’re always being watched. I know there are those bristling at the thought. From my 7th floor balcony I can see people in a parking garage 3 blocks away, see housekeeping enter and exit rooms at a hotel a block away and see inside which restaurants have a line before I go out to eat. Yes, I was still a little surprised when my neighbor said she sees me walking to yoga from the window in the gym, but it reenforced, assume you’re being watched. I wondered if she noted the times I crossed the street to avoid the sketchier side of the underpass on the my half mile walk. The real concern is avoiding the“harmful” watch. Those who are watching to potentially do us harm, or exploit us. That’s the creepy, icky, criminal watcher we want to be mindful of. Consider there is another “watcher” that’s just a click away.

Have you experienced getting online and somehow, 90 minutes have gone by? You’ve probably slipped into the darkness of algorithmically delivered content based on your likes, dislikes, previous searches, subscriptions, online shopping patterns, etc. The content is customized to fit your world view. I heard Jeff Bezos speak at a commonwealth club event in the Silicon Valley three years after the launch of Amazon. He talked about overcoming the difficulties of a start up, from the first name, a take on abracadabra which sounded too much like cadaver, to the necessity of kneepads in packing boxes. But it was his vision that sold me. He perfectly articulated my feeling after reading a great book. The exhilaration, the need to tell someone and the desire to find another book as good. The challenge was using data to make this happen. Revolutionary! As an avid reader,the possibility of buying and reading a book I absolutely love sounded like reader nirvana.

Fast forward and we’re in the era of big data. Technology today makes it possible to gather, analyze and predict behaviors based on data. This is collecting our clicks, the amount of time we spend on sites, what triggers a tweet, a text, an email, a social media post to determine patterns and predict our behavior. We listen to podcasts and similar ones are recommended.We read a post and there are 5 related links that follow. This is stealthily customized content, readily evident with a simple Google. Two people can put in the same search in Google and get different search results. You can delete cookies, clear history and it’s not going to change this. We’re being watched and we’re in an echo chamber. ¹ What we see and hear on-line reflects our world view. Here is the danger.

In the real world analogy, you’re looking for a place to park. There is a big event, you’ve circled the block slowly three times and it’s clear people are trying to find places to park. A stranger knocks on your window and says, I’ll park your car for you, just give me $20 and your keys. This seems like to perfect solution to meet your needs, right? In this scenario, would you even roll down your window, let alone pay $20.00 and hand over your keys?  Is it time to bring more discernment to your online experience? In an echo chamber there this is the absence of competing views, those get censored out, are ridiculed, discounted or underrepresented. Your beliefs now have point of views, masquerading as facts, to prove your intellectual superiority in being right. This cycle circumvents the questioning the validity of the source, there is no fact checking. Delusional is characterized by or holding idiosyncratic beliefs or impressions that are contradicted by reality or rational argument. Your echo chamber has the potential to render you virtually delusional.

You’re always virtually watched. Your content feed can be informative and entertaining, but, needs to be balanced with reality to avoid the malady of virtual delusion. This week, what happens if you approach online as unfamiliar? Question each link as you would a new neighborhood at night, who told me to go here and why am I going here. As you review content, consider, is the source reliable, is this fact or opinion, what might the competing view be. You’re not necessarily changing what you do; you’re just bringing a new awareness of where you are. I haven’t changed my route to yoga in the last 6 months, but I have an awareness of when I need to be more alert. Be virtually aware, Big Data is watching you.


¹An echo chamber is a metaphorical description of a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition inside a defined system.

Ready, Set Go? The Case for Change

I hadn’t intentionally changed my order at Starbucks in 10 years. In March, the barista made me a vanilla latte instead of a chi tea latte and boom, for the last 6 months, my drink order has switched. Funny, it hadn’t occurred to me to try anything new. “Stuck in a rut” is defined as too fixed in one particular type of job, activity, method, etc., and needing to change.I argue that I was not really stuck in a rut with my drink order, I didn’t feel a need to change,but 10 years with the same drink order is screaming, pull me out of this rut and save me from a myopic existence. As adults, how do we know when it is  time to change, when it is time to move on?

As kids, we’re pushed to do things that are new and different to us. It’s the start of the school year, a new grade with a new teacher and new people. At university, you’re given options, take this test, and we’ll know if you’re ready for med school, law school, or grad school. There are all these things saying, you’re ready. But now what? As an adult, typically, the only time I try something new is by accident. Not the first one to yoga class, forced to try a new spot, road closed, time to find a new route.

Who tells you, you’re ready? When do you know it’s time for a new job, a new relationship, a new financial plan, etc. Is it only when things are not working you consider a change? Be cautious with “if i ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That’s a path to obsolescence. At the very least, there is maintenance. When was the last time you made a change, by force, by accident or by intent? Do your actions keep you comfortable or put you in the conscious pursuit of making life better?

Ain’t too Proud to Beg?

The song, Ain’t too Proud too Beg* has been on my mind and I’m not happy with the dictionary definition of beg which says to earnestly or humbly ask for something. Begging is pleading with a sense of urgency and fervor. It’s been informed by 3 generations in my family. I begged for Captain Crunch cereal as a kid. I pleaded with flailing arms and legs, convinced Captain Crunch was magical and life changing. My mom, would give me the look of admonishment and sternly say, “stop begging, “ followed by a reminder, we take food down to the shelter where there are people with no food, stop begging.” The intruder my mom surprised was still holding the hatchet he used to break into our house. My mom screamed, fell to her knees and begged for her life, “please don’t kill me, I have two small children.” My plea for a cereal seemed meaningless sand trivial, begging is life changing. My grand gesture of begging was in sharp contrast to my grandfather,  who, barely able to move or speak, whispering for someone, or something to please end the pain. He was begging for death.

When do you beg? A very frustrated bus driver asked the passengers aggressively trying to board the bus, “Wait, I have to get the wheelchair passenger on first.” The driver lowered the wheel chair ramp and no sooner than it hit the ground, passengers shoved to board the bus. Incredulous and frustrated, the bus driver shouted, “Wait, I have to get this passenger on the bus before you board. We aren’t going anywhere until I finish so can you wait?” The driver pushed the chair up the ramp, strapped the chair in place and ensured the passenger was ok.  Then there was a small gesture. The woman in the wheel chair smiled, said thank you and handed the bus driver a tootsie pop.  I saw the initial look of the drivers face that went from what do I need this for , to the realization that the woman was acknowledging her help. The driver graciously took the candy and nodded.

My experience of ” beg” ranges from the trivial requests of a child or a matter of life and death.  Despite all the histrionics I associate with “beg,”  the action is more subtle. It can be a look asking for help, which keeping with the dictionary definition, is to earnestly or humbly ask for something. When have you begged? You make many choices everyday. When given an earnest and humble request, are you helpful and respectful?


 *The world premiere of Ain’t too Proud, the Life and Times of the Temptations is currently featured at Berkeley Rep and runs through October 22, 2017.

In Case of Emergency: Beignets and a Plan

I don’t associate vegan restaurants with decadence, but Souley Vegan,  Monday through Friday, from 6:00 am – 10:00am, serves beignets and chicory coffee. It takes 11 minutes for me to run across the street, grab my fix and get back  to my desk for a sugar and caffeine party. My party was interrupted on Friday. As I wait for my order, I see a blind man get off a bus. His cane tapped the very edge of the handicap ramp,  his foot landed  where the curbed started and he stumbled. I gasped loudly, which made the waitress look out the window. In a flash she was out the restaurant and on the corner where the bus driver has gotten off the bus to help get the man oriented. The waitress helps the man across the street as I stare out the restaurant window. Why didn’t I rush to help?

View of restaurant and street from my 7th floor office window.

An emergency is a serious, unexpected, and often dangerous situation requiring immediate action. I know what to do in the event of a fire, stop drop and roll. I know what to do in the event of an earthquake, drop, cover and hold on. A helpless person on the street, it’s embarrassing, I’m not proud if it, but I’m not sure what to do. I help myself, but what about others? I thought a lot about this the last few days, and I think it’s as simple as this. Go to the person and ask, may I offer you some assistance.

A friend once told me he does scenarios and thinks about responses. You won’t know in the moment what to do unless you’re prepared. This week, do emergency preparation. Think of scenarios you could encounter and how would you respond. Here are some examples, and note, there are variables with each that will inform your response. It can be intimidating –  someone yells at you at work.  It can be safety – you know a coworker has been drinking heavily and watch, the person staggers to their automobile and are about to drive off. It can be integrity – you hear someone tell an untruth to a group of people. What do you do when someone makes a racist or sexist remark?  These are difficult situations; however, the odds are, you will encounter something unpleasant and you will have no control over that event, but you can control how you respond. Be prepared.


Note: To the Tampa Crew, the architect, the professor, and the realtor – hope you all made it through the storm. For the Deland Family, Riding the Storm Out with a sound track; I’m a little calmer now, didn’t want to see you folks without a roof again. 

Take the Cake

Houston is incomprehensible. The scenes of people fleeing with water above their necks, The narratives of people who fled Katrina, moved to Houston and are fleeing yet again. People have lost everything. It will take years and years of recovery. I’m just going to eat cake. I started a new job in February with a new team. Two left the team in June and this past week, the two of my peers quit. Cake for breakfast.  As a small nine year old bookish kid, a tall popular kid stopped a mean kid from beating me up. No, we did not become best friends, there were no other words said, but I am so grateful. She saved me; so compassionate. She died yesterday. I’ll just finish off this cake now.

You can’t have your cake and eat it (too) is a popular English idiomatic proverb or a figure of speech. The proverb literally means “you cannot simultaneously retain your cake and eat it”. Once the cake is eaten, it is gone. A lot of things are gone this week. Many things leave an impact and shape our lives. Sometimes we need a moment. There will be more experiences, more loss and cake. This week, just a take a moment.


%d bloggers like this:
%d bloggers like this:
%d bloggers like this:
%d bloggers like this:
%d bloggers like this:
%d bloggers like this:
%d bloggers like this:
%d bloggers like this: