Onward from 2019: Learnings and Intentions


Friends!  WHAT a year, no?  How are you feeling here at the end?

In this post:  3 key learnings, 3 high intentions, and my 6 recommended life readings.

What resonates with you?

What would you add?

For a thoughtful and inspiring look on the coming year, check out Donna Cameron’s post from yesterday.


3 Key Learnings of 2019


“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”  –John Muir

“All that you touch, you change.  All that you change, changes you.” –Octavia Butler

We all live in inextricable connection, like it or not, know it or not, want it or not.  Every interaction has potential for benefit and harm, and the scale is exponential.  Some may find this idea daunting, overwhelming, or untenable.  I find it reassuring.  The idea that some cosmic life thread connects us all, that we are made of the same stuff today as that which existed at the dawn of the universe—this gives me peace.  It encourages me that everything I do in good faith could make a difference.  You really never know how far a small gesture or sharing will reach for good.

The 3 Tenets of Relationship-Centered Leadership

Not so much learnings as a synthesis from LOH training, these are the current foundation statements of my personal and aspirational leadership tenets (iterations likely to evolve over time):

  1. Founded on curiosity, connection, and fidelity to a people-centered mission
  2. Attendant to the relational impacts of all decisions, local and global
  3. Respectful of norms and also agile and adaptive to the changing needs of the system

Having defined these ideals for myself, I am now fully accountable to them.  And I hold them as a standard for those who lead me.

Being >> Saying or Doing

Saying and doing compassionate, empathic, and kind things are necessary and noble.  And they are not enough.  These actions ring hollow without honest sincerity behind them.  People feel us before they hear our words.  Our authentic presence, positive or negative, originates from within.  It manifests in posture, facial expression (overt and subtle, intentional and subconscious), movement, and tone and cadence of voice.  Fake it ‘til you make it—saying and doing things because we know we ‘should’—only gets us so far.  We humans possess a keen sense of genuineness—it’s a survival instinct.  If we accept that a meaningful, productive life and effective leadership in particular, require strong, trusting relationships, then we must cultivate true compassion, empathy, and kindness.  That means suspending judgment, managing assumptions, and holding openness to having our perspective changed by all that we encounter (see first key learning above), among other things.  This may be life’s penultimate challenge—our role models include Mother Theresa and the Dalai Lama.


3 High Intentions for 2020

  1. Continue to ask more and listen better for people’s personal and unique meaning making—not just patients but all people—attend to souls
  2. Let go perfection
    1. All relationships are not great, and it’s not all my fault
    2. Some people/relationships and circumstances challenge my best self and skills more than others
    3. It’s the honest, sincere, good faith effort, and the learning from imperfection and failed attempts that matter
    4. Some relationships are better ended
  3. Guard against judgment, arrogance, and cynicism


6 Recommended Life Readings—the 6 most personally impactful books I have read in the last decade:

The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander.  Scarcity thinking, competition, and looking out for number one hold us all back.  Stepping fully into our central selves, claiming our full collective agency for creativity and collaboration, and manifesting all the good we are capable of—that is the discovery of this book for me.

Start With Why by Simon Sinek.  In my opinion, the most eloquent and resonant writing on the purpose-driven life.  The freedom and creativity that flows forth therefrom—it all just gives me goosebumps.  Sinek’s The Infinite Game may eventually make this list too, once I have integrated its content and learnings more fully.

Rising Strong by Brené Brown.  Strength and vulnerability, confidence and shame, individuality and belonging—these are the essential human paradoxes that Sister Brené reconciles with gritty aplomb through real life stories as well as grounded theory research.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.  Be you, all you, all in.  Love thyself—flaws, failures, and falls all included.  Make things.  Because that is what we are put here to do, for ourselves and for one another.

Leadership and Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute.  Perhaps no book explains the profound importance of being better in order to do better, better than this.  And it took me almost all year to really comprehend, and then begin to apprehend, the concept.

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, MD.  I started and finished this one on vacation this past week.  Dr. Gawande is my favorite physician writer.  I consider this book required reading for all physicians for sure, but really for all people .  “The death rate from life is 100%,” a wise patient once told me.  In modern western society and culture, multiple intertwined and complex forces hamstring our ability to live and die well and at peace.  This book is a brilliant compilation of heartrending personal and professional stories, neatly folded with history, research, and practical information for improving this sad state of things.  It is also a guide to the hard conversations that we all should really have—now.  It has both validated what I already do in my practice, and profoundly changed how I will do things hereafter.  Thank you, Dr. Gawande.


Best wishes for Peace, Joy, Love, and Connection to all.


November 30:  Blogging Makes Me Better


NaBloPoMo 2019

I think I can honestly say this after 4.5 years.

Candidate topics for this last post of the 30 day challenge included People, Relationships, Connection, Movies, and Ma Jiang.  Of course all of these make me better, but tonight Blogging wins.

Writing for a public forum makes me more cognizant of my potential audience, more discerning.  I have to choose my topics carefully, balance honesty and vulnerability with privacy.  It gives me a venue to practice various skills—writing, time management, storytelling, editing, and online interaction.  Since I have committed to visiting the blogs of all bloggers who like my posts, I have also discovered the writing and lives of others whom I’d likely never otherwise come across.  My horizon is widened.

Blogging allows me to put thoughts into the world and find others with similar thoughts.  It’s a diary of experience, a web-log that serves, if nothing else, as a timeline of my personal and professional evolution, which I can then query over time in order to understand myself better.  But I don’t write it only for myself—otherwise why make it public?  I write to connect, because that makes me better, always better.

Maybe I can ask more of the blog in 2020.  Maybe I could make it more focused?  More organized?  More goal-oriented?  Or maybe not.  Nothing has to be decided tonight.  I’ll know when something needs to change.

Meanwhile, my sincere and heartfelt thanks to all who take time out of your lives to read Healing Through Connection.  I hope you get something out of it that makes you better, too.

November 13:  Lightening Up Makes Me Better




NaBloPoMo 2019

“Write without fear.  Edit without mercy.” —Unknown?

Hi, I’m Cathy, I’m a perfectionist.  I might be a control freak.  But I’m in recovery.

I kind of like that I proudly published a run-on post of a half-formed idea, then slashed it by one third and published it again.  It’s a fun paradox to inhabit pride and humility at the same time.

Other writers help.  I’ve written before about The Art of Possibility.  Phrases like, “How fascinating!” when I make a mistake make room for self-compassion and -forgiveness.   This attitude of good humor keeps me from wallowing in self-flagellation.  Because I am also accountable, I can learn and make amends more swiftly and earnestly.  The Zanders’ Rule #6: Don’t Take Yourself So Damn Seriously, is such an easy catch phrase to remember, and takes practice to live in real time.  I’m getting there!

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, full of vivid, joyful, and wondrous stories of human creativity, encourages me to take risks.  Make pretty things, she writes.  Don’t do it for us, don’t do it to help anyone.  Do it because you want to.  Your unique expression has a value all its own, so put it into the world.  Period.

Ozan says, “Do the verb”:

In many cases, we want to be the noun (a songwriter) without doing the verb (writing songs). We tell ourselves we’re going to be an entrepreneur, but we don’t build a product or service. We tell ourselves we’re going to be a novelist, but we don’t write a novel (instead, we tweet about writing a novel).

The key is to forget the noun and do the verb instead.

If you want to be a blogger, start blogging every week.

If you want to be a stand-up comedian, start doing stand-up comedy at open mike nights.

If you want to host a podcast, start podcasting.

…Doing the verb reorients you away from the outcome and toward the process. And if you plan to be a professional at anything, the process–the verb–is all that matters.

With these inspiring innovators’ help, I skip freely along on the path of writing, light on my feet.  When I trip on a rock and face plant next to some wildflowers and an earthworm, I can take off my glasses and stare a little longer from this new perspective.  I’ll likely find something to write about from it.  Sweet!

Even when I think an idea is fully formed, the act of writing expands it.  This week I have discovered deeper meaning in my stories, just by way of typing them.  More material to chew and spew, yay!

This is not brain surgery, writing a blog.  I’m not saving lives here!  But it is a challenge, a commitment, and sometimes a labor.  I hear my own voice consistently throughout almost 5 years of posts, and while my style is still consistent, I also see an evolution in the writing.  I’m gratified to continue the discipline, and taking it ever lightly definitely makes me better.

November 12:  Edits and Revisions MMB–Fierce Optimism 2.0


NaBloPoMo 2019

24 hour learnings:

  1. Unfocused thoughts lead to unfocused writing
  2. I tend toward word vomit when I’m excited

Note:  Hereafter, I will use “MMB” as the abbreviation for “Make(s) Me Better” if the title gets too long.

My deepest gratitude to lovingly honest friends whose feedback on last night’s post inspired me to attempt it again!  Let’s see how this goes—


Last Saturday, as I prepared for the Better Angels workshop, I thought of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s inspirational words:  “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”  I have referred to this quote many times over the years, and a phrase that I often add goes something like, “Bend that arc!  Hang on it with all your might!”  Meaning the arc bends toward justice only because we make it so, by working tirelessly for it, by consistently walking our talk.

Preparing for the presentation, I thought about friends who express hopelessness at any possibility for connection between opposing political sides, that we can actually work together to get anything done.  Some might even say that the Better Angels mission is futile, a waste of energy and time.

Then I felt something akin to a tidal wave rise within me, and I texted a friend, “I intend to make today a day of fierce, infectious optimism.”  At that moment I knew my goal was to take every experience of kindness, connection, empathy, openness, generosity, magnanimity, conviction, and hope, and channel it to the workshop and its participants.  Because though it was to be a skills workshop, teaching a way of doing, what we really need are all of the qualities I just listed—they are the way of being that bring true meaning and connection to the skills.

Google Dictionary defines fierce:  “showing a heartfelt and powerful intensity”; and optimism: “hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something.”

Yes, and:

Fierce Optimism Is:

Urgency with Patience

All important social movements occur (and continue) over generations.  Confrontation and revolution are necessary sometimes, but they are not enough.  It’s consistent, slow, grass roots change on the local level that sustains progress.  Fierce optimism gives me faith that even the smallest actions I make in service of my cause have impact.  I can set realistic expectations for how much I can move this mountain today.  Pacing myself, practicing persistence with patience, conserves energy and prevents burnout.  I can feel empowered and liberated at the same time, confident in my individual agency.

Patient urgency also allows me to look up every once in a while, notice my surroundings, and adapt to subtle changes, like when someone starts to soften.  The bulldozer of impatient words and heavy dogma plows through the door of someone’s mind that might have swung open freely, had I taken a more gentle approach.

Strength with Flexibility

Fierce optimism roots itself in core values, and also allows for learning and adaptation.  It confers the confidence to challenge our own beliefs and values, perhaps reinforcing them, grounding us in and strengthening our own personal truth.  But this confidence also helps us hear others’ stories, which broadens our perspective.  Standing in our core values while reaching out in curiosity, we learn about each other, and curtains open on a vast landscape of understanding that we may never have imagined.

Bruce Lee’s life philosophy included a metaphor of the bamboo and the oak.  Both are admirably strong, but under intense forces of nature, the great oak may break irrevocably.  The bamboo bends; it maintains its integrity, standing straight and strong again after the storm.  Listening with openness and curiosity is not weakness.  Allowing for nuance and the possibility that my mind may be changed is strength.  It makes me calm, agile, adaptable, and more effective.

Conviction with Generosity

Our assumptions matter.  They show up in our presence.  Let us check our attitudes toward the ‘other’.  Assuming and speaking only to their presumed selfishness and malevolence, we make ourselves small.  We become exactly the narrow minded and prejudiced enemy we deride.  How ironic.  Now more than ever, we need generosity.  This encompasses empathy, vulnerability, sincerity, humility, and a willingness to allow the complete humanity of every person.  Extending this grace to others in no way undermines my own cause.  It opens my heart to attract allies from everywhere.  Conviction without generosity too easily becomes tyranny; I want no part of that.

Fierce optimism choreographs an intimate dance between agitation and peace.  It holds tension without anxiety, potential and kinetic energy.

When I live in Fierce Optimism, I can hang on that arc and bend it like a badass.

November 4:  Setting Limits Makes Me Better


NaBloPoMo 2019

How many of you are the chubby one of the family?  That’s me.  My two sisters have been positively svelte their whole lives, with apparently very little effort, as far as I can tell.  Yes, I envy them.  But whatever, ya work with what ya got, right?

I have never been a dieter, as I hate feeling restricted.  But I have had some success with setting limits sometimes.  The best experience was after I stopped nursing my daughter.  I was finished having children, no more human to hippopotamus transformations, hallelujah!  I thought, I can get my body back, woohoooo!  But how?  I had two little kids.  I worked.  I had neither time nor motivation to exercise, and even less energy to police my own food choices.  I’ll just eat half, I thought one day.  It was so simple and easy.  So for the next year I simply ate half of what I would normally eat.  This was not too difficult, as my portions were clearly just too big.  But for some reason it was the perfect method for me in that moment.  I don’t remember feeling hungry, and more importantly, I did not fear the hunger.  It was almost unbelievable, even as I lived it, how easily I could adhere to this plan.  I lost 25 pounds in nine months, and I felt well.  I managed to keep most of the weight off for several years.

bunny bao

Now, in my mid-forties, the story has evolved.  Kids are older, work has advanced, and I’ve acquired a boatload of fun and interesting extracurricular activities.  I achieved the sisterly figure ever so briefly, and now, tee-hee, not so much.  Eating half definitely does not work today!  Fascinating.  So I have to find new, more effective limits to set.  I have to say, I’ve managed to blow through most of my recent attempts: sweets only on weekends, no eating after 7pm, lights out at 11:00pm, and screen time?  What?…  I did manage to get all social media off of my phone a year ago, though.  That was a big deal, and I’m much better for it.  When I remember to bring my own takeout container to restaurants, and move half of my entrée into it at the beginning of the meal, I don’t overeat.  And if I agree with my friends at the outset to forgo dessert, voila, calories averted.  So I’ll keep working on the health habit limits… Maybe take my own advice…

The best thing about setting limits and then violating them is learning.  It makes me pay attention, ask more questions.  I am forced to practice curiosity and non-judgment, lest I wallow in that deep hole of failure and self-flagellation.

This month I commit again to daily blogging.  My family still needs me, I still need to work out, and I want to read real books more than I did this time last year.  I also need to just get more efficient with writing in general.  So I set myself a limit of 60 minutes, start to publish, for each post—perhaps it shows in the quality of writing?  Well, that will be a learning, too!  My first attempt lasted about 70 minutes, but I can’t say I kept good track.  Last night I actually set my timer, and it was a total disaster, I think 2+ hours beginning to end.  It was so enlightening, though, watching my distracted self throughout the process.  The TV was on (my desk is in the family room—the double edged sword of being near the family but not totally with them), our shows playing from the DVR. It’s a wonder I don’t get whiplash, turning to crane my neck toward the TV from my non-swiveling chair.  People were talking to me, even though I had my earbuds in.  I kept opening my email, Facebook, text, email again.  OH my gosh it was a total circus, and I felt the chaos in my whole being.


Tonight, however, is a different story. I’m alone here at the desk, Shawn Mendes and Dierks Bentley playing softly while I type.  No TV, no earbuds.  I feel calmer; the house and I are both much quieter.  The ideas and words flow forth with ease and joy.  Fascinating!  You might say, Um, Cathy, DUH.  Of course you’ll write better when your environment is more conducive, everybody knows that!  Yes, of course, we know it.  But to experience the glaring contrast here on two consecutive nights really brings it home—the doing makes it real.

So maybe I’ll make a deal with the family the next 26 days.  I get 60 minutes of peace and quiet each day; time of day/night negotiable.  They are banished or gagged in that time, no audible devices allowed, and it’s my job to make the most of it.  Write, edit, select photos, categorize, tag, and publish.

I have 12:25 left.



Decide in Advance

be the lighthouse

NaBloPoMo 2018:  What I’m Learning

It’s the first Sunday of November of an election year.  The political ads are ramping up.  Tension rises; the agitation is inescapable.  Some media would have you believe that one outcome or another is all but inevitable, the world will positively end if one side or the other wins.  I admit, I have felt my share of darkness and despondence at the words and actions of some (many), not just the last two years, but for a long while now.  It’s hard not to feel sucked into an inexorable downward spiral of animosity and rage.

Thankfully, I still hear voices of uplift, words that speak to the optimist and idealist in me.  Let me share some of those voices and words with you here.

* * *

My friend Donna Cameron, an expert on kindness, reminds us that we have a choice, not just on election day, but every day before and after, about how we conduct ourselves with one another:

We have to ask ourselves now, before we know the outcome of the election: Do we want a united country? Are we still capable of coming together to productively and positively address the complex issues that have divided us?

Civility and compassion are not weak. It takes strength to accept loss and move forward with resolve rather than bitterness. It takes strength not strike back when our buttons are pushed or our values are derided. It takes strength to recognize the pain someone else may be feeling and not belittle those feelings or dismiss their right to grieve.

Don’t look to the politicians or pundits to lose—or win—with grace. They’re going to be gloating in victory and blaming in defeat. It’s up to us to model what constructive behavior looks like and to demand it of our elected officials.

But what can we actually do?  How will we know when to act, and what to do in any given circumstance?  Isn’t it just too abstract to say, “practice empathy,” or “be compassionate?”  Maybe.  But if these are values for us, then we can translate them into actions and practice.  Empathy manifests as active listening, holding one’s tongue while hearing someone else’s story, resisting the urge to interrupt and tell our own story.  It means relating to their feelings and expressing understanding and solidarity.  “That sucks, I know that feeling, Me, Too.”  Empathic listening, validating words, and simply sitting with and holding space are good practices to start with.

The Southern Poverty Law Center offers 10 concrete steps to fight hate.  Examples include:

Repair acts of hate-fueled vandalism, as a neighborhood or a community.

Use whatever skills and means you have. Offer your print shop to make fliers. Share your musical talents at a rally. Give your employees the afternoon off to attend.

Report every incident.  Pressure your representatives.

Finally, look for role models.  If you have not read Ari Mahler’s personal account of caring for Robert Bowers in the ER, please click on the link now.  He is ‘the Jewish nurse.’  What would you have done in his place, called to the trauma bay to care for the man who may have just killed members of your family for their religion?

I’m sure he had no idea I was Jewish. Why thank a Jewish nurse, when 15 minutes beforehand, you’d shoot me in the head with no remorse? I didn’t say a word to him about my religion. I chose not to say anything to him the entire time. I wanted him to feel compassion. I chose to show him empathy. I felt that the best way to honor his victims was for a Jew to prove him wrong. Besides, if he finds out I’m Jewish, does it really matter? The better question is, what does it mean to you?

* * *

Sometimes I wonder if my posts are redundant.  I have decided to think of them as iterative.  Looking back, I found a couple of posts relevant to today, written in similar periods/mindsets of portent, reflection, and seeking.  Right before January 20, 2017, I shared words I had written to friends.

They represent my intentions for managing myself in the coming years, of reinforcing my core values and focusing on my highest aspirations.  As Simon Sinek posted once:  ‘Fight against something, we focus on what we hate.  Fight for something, we focus on what we love.’

Months later I connected with conservative friends in an attempt at mutual understanding. It was not as comforting as I had hoped; I did not really feel heard or understood.  And I learned a lot about managing expectations.

I admit that I felt a little defensive at times, as if anything I said about the origins of my distress would be met with, “You’re overreacting,” and “You’re worried about nothing, please…”  We later agreed that it is never helpful to invalidate someone’s emotional response to a stressor, regardless of whether or not we can relate.

Last week I had a new opportunity to hear a colleague’s conservative point of view on gender.  With practice, I have become so much more comfortable sitting back, listening for understanding, quieting my inner debater.  My urge to counter and convince did not escalate.  I heard earnestness, confusion, some fear, and mostly a desire to understand and integrate, to find balance and peace.  I was not asked for my opinion, and this time I was okay with it.  I hope we can engage again and again in the future.

Today, two days before we all head to the polls (if we have not already—please please vote), we can decide what kind of neighbor, colleague, friend, parent, child, coach, teammate, employee, boss, coworker, and American we want to be.

What if we choose to be the kindest, most empathetic and compassionate ones we have ever known?

What I’m Learning


NaBloPoMo 2018


ACK!  It starts!

As usual, I have a whole list of ideas for the daily posts this month, and I will likely use none of them.  Who knows, right?  The goal is to practice daily writing and publishing, and do my best to make it non-drivel.

2018 has turned out to be a thick, challenging, and tumultuous year, among other things—would you agree?  What have you learned?  What lessons continue to revisit you?  Is it not all just so fascinating?  What would you write about if you had to publish something every day for 30 days straight…  And try not to bore people to tears every time?

For now, I will start with the books I’m hearing (because I don’t read books as much as I listen to them these days).  So many gifted writers out there, so many ideas—and they all connect in my experience, stimulating insight, understanding, humility, and inspiration.  I’ll list the books here that I’ve ‘read’ this year, and then bring in articles, presentations, etc. the rest of the month—things that have meant something to me personally or professionally—often largely overlapping circles of a Venn diagram.

I predict that the overarching themes will center around self-awareness, integrity, leadership, and relationship (surprise).  We shall see!  As I described to my friend tonight, this will be a practice in discipline, vulnerability, and brevity.  So here goes!  I list the books of 2018 below, in roughly the order that I consumed them.   Starting tomorrow, I will start pulling central tenets and key learnings, exploring how they apply to personal experiences in the every day.  Or maybe I’ll ditch this idea and do something totally different, tomorrow, next week, or whatever.  That’s the beauty of writing every day, I can just go wherever it takes me.

And so the journey begins again (continues!)—thanks for coming along!


Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown

A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Marlon Bundo and Jill Twiss

The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt

Big Potential by Shawn Achor

Switch by Dan Heath and Chip Heath

Originals by Adam Grant

Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

The Will Power Instinct by Kelly McGonigal

Mindset by Carol Dweck

The Big Sort by Bill Bishop

Do the Work by Steven Pressfield

How Stella Saved the Farm by Vijay Govindarajan, Chris Trimble

The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Dare to Lead by Brené Brown

Born A Crime by Trevor Noah

Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box by the Arbinger Institute

A Year of Living Kindly (still reading) by Donna Cameron