Relating to “Relationship”

Dad and MeThis past weekend I went to a 2-day intensive course on coaching people in relationships and my first words are “Wow!”  Now, it is certainly the case that every coaching and leadership course that I have taken from The Coaches Training Institute (CTI) or related group elicited the “Wow!” response from me. But I think this one was a different type of “Wow!”  The course was held by ORSC, an offshoot of CTI so there is some overlap in the style of training.  Lots of experiential learning, lots of immediate connection and closeness to the others in the course and lots of emotion and introspection!  But what I hadn’t really thought about so much before going to the class was that relationship is most of what life is about.  We are in relationship to our parents, children, spouse, friends, and any and all business colleagues.  And guess what, we are even in relationship to ourselves and—this might seem to be pushing it—we are in relationship with things like money, food or you name it.  So the “wow!” factor is that this course applies to all of my life and everyone’s life.

I signed up for the class because as I have been working with couples designing their wedding ceremonies, it became obvious to me that I had a wonderful opportunity to coach them about their relationship.  For over a decade I have been coaching individuals in business and life coaching.  Being a celebrant is in so many ways just an extension of my coaching work.  I already ask the couples to explore their relationship so that I can capture their connection in the written words of the ceremony.  How fortunate that I get to work with couples when they are just beginning their married life together.  My hope is that I’ll get them thinking about their relationship in a way that leads to them creating a more fulfilling life together.

My FamilyWe take for granted so much in relationship and I find that rarely in life do we step back and actually discuss the relationship.  Sure we talk all the time with whoever we are in relationship with.  Yet for most people it is a rarity that they set aside time to talk “about their relationship”.  Some couples do that naturally but most often the only ones who take a step back and look at the big picture are those who are having troubles in the relationship and seek council.  I suppose it is not a startling concept to consider talking about the relationship before there is great conflict.  Perhaps what is startling is how few couples (and I use the term couples to refer to ANY relationship) do that.

So I am going to go out on a limb and suggest that everyone have a look at the relationships they have.  Make time to have conversations with whoever you are in relationship and you will be greatly rewarded with understanding and connection (and love depending on the affiliation).  If you are having big conflict, consider having a coach or therapist facilitate.  I certainly plan to have those conversations now that I have some relationship coaching training under my belt.  At the very least, I plan to have a heartfelt conversation with myself about what I want and need in my relationship with life.

XOXO Rachel

Tales of the City—Tales of Community

Kidd Hall community 1984While I was in College at UC Berkeley in the early 80s, we read the San Francisco Chronicle in our cooperative house in North Berkeley. My friend at the time (now my sweet husband) Andy read the column, Tales of the City, a fictionalized serial by Armistead Maupin without fail. I read it from time to time but I really got into it when in 1993 the TV mini-series of the same name appeared. Andy and I were married by then and living in New York City. I was glued to the show and could hardly wait for each installment. I was bereft when it was over if I can use such a strong word to describe the relationship I felt for the characters in the program. Even thinking about it I get a strange almost queasy feeling in my stomach and as I try to uncover why, I think the key is “loss” and probably as in “loss of community”. I have had the same unsettled feeling in my gut several—only several—other times.

One of the most remarkable memories of that feeling was when I was in jury duty in Manhattan in the early 90s.  Like clockwork (before the NY Jury Reform of 1996 jury duty was indeed clockwork every two years because the jury pool was so small due to a long list of exempt professionals) I would receive my notice to show up for jury duty at the courthouse in lower Manhattan. Going to jury duty turned out to be an amazing experience for me in a number of ways. Fairly new to living in New York City at the time, it was a wonderful opportunity to get to know a different part of the city from where I worked (Midtown) and lived (Upper West Side). Lunchtime, I used every second possible to explore neighboring Chinatown and Little Italy. Food was a big draw and I had wonderful soups and noodles and cannoli and yummy ice cream in flavors that were new to me at the time like red bean and green tea.

Medicine Wheels community in Sebastopol, CABut what jury duty in New York City really left me with was an astonishing group experience. Because I was so interested in the jury process and also such a “goodie two shoes” that I would never have even considered trying to say something during “voire dire” to be excused, I was always selected for a case (and I still am to this day). One such case was a drug possession and sales trial. As the juror was selected, I didn’t really take too much in about each potential juror. But when we were then whisked away to the jury room to prepare to hear the testimony, I began an intense and speedy induction into a community of jurors.

As we went around the table and formally introduced ourselves, the interesting and creative people in the group amazed me. We had an opera singer, a professor, a music producer, and a number of business people from different disciplines including myself—to name a few. I felt an instant rapport with almost everyone and we had what turned out to be a week-long intense relationship. We went to lunch together, we talked of life (but not the case until deliberation) and we became so close that when I said goodbye, I felt such a painful loss I had rarely felt before and infrequently since. I am pretty certain that feeling was a visceral emotion of loss of connection. As awful as it can be, I think it is also wonderful because it means that I was so closely connected to a group of individuals that its loss was almost overwhelming.

Community of family circa 1960sIn today’s New York Times Book Review I receive word that Armistead Maupin’s concluding series of books comes to a close with his final novel, The Days of Anna Madrigal. Though I have never read the book series (perhaps it is time) just reading the review brought all these thoughts of community and connection flooding to me. It brought back memories of the amazing community of dear friends I lived with at Kidd Hall at Berkeley.  And it reminds me that it is time to foster and create more community in my life, even if the ache of loss is a possibility.

XOXO Rachel

The perfection of human variation

What's at the rainbow's end?I am always searching for a way to classify who I am.  If there is a category to put myself into, I have attempted to do so.  Over the years, in part because I am a psychologist but mostly because I am a person who is constantly doing self-searching, I have taken countless quizzes and assessments about my personality.  In the journey to make sense of who I am, I have discovered that I am sensitive, I am bold, I am beauty, I am a visionary, I am a perfectionist… and I am both an introvert and an extrovert.   I find this duality most perplexing – how is it that I am either an introvert or extrovert depending on the assessment?  Can I be both or am I really one or the other and there is a problem with the measurement?

Alone and yet on top of the world! Haleakala VolcanoAccording to the Quiet quiz by Susan Cain, I am an introvert.  However, she includes a description of an ambivert as someone who is able to tap into either pole as needed.  If you answer half of the questions as an introvert and half as an extrovert, she explains, you are counted as an ambivert.  Being the perfectionist I am (according to many assessments), I could not help but count how many questions in her quiz I answered as an introvert and an extrovert.  The number was the same!  I suspect that there must be some questions that when answered a certain way, swing the scale in one direction.  Given the variation I have seen across other assessments of my style, I am clearly hovering between introversion and extroversion.   I behave differently depending on the situational context.

So does the introvert-extrovert scale help me understand myself?  Well, yes and no.  One thing that it really does help me with is with how I treat myself when I make a decision.  For instance, I tend to give myself a hard time for not wanting to go out and socialize.  Apparently, that is not uncommon in introverts because society generally has a bias towards extroversion.  In other words, we are made to feel wrong if we choose not to socialize or prefer a few one-on-one interactions.

Maui labyrinth for introspectionWhat I also find puzzling is that I want to come out on the scale as an introvert!  Why would that be the case given the cultural bias towards extroversion?  Well, for one thing, great thinkers and scholars are frequently introverts and I want to believe that I could be in their category.  Shouldn’t I be happy that I can be so flexible?  Instead I am a bit uncomfortable that I do not fit neatly into one category.  Oh, it’s that perfectionist characteristic again telling me I am not quite normal if I don’t fit in.  But as I think about this some more, I realize that I don’t really want to fit too neatly into anything.  I am a complex individual as is everyone.

I do believe that we have certain traits or characteristics that seem pretty fixed, but I am coming to the opinion that no one can be truly classified into any category.  That’s the wonder of our human capacity.  We are an amalgamation of genetics and life experience and there are no two people who share that down to the exact details.

Hibiscus smileTake assessments as a tool to help appreciate who you are.   Used wisely, they can reveal some aspects of yourself and provide reassurance that you are not alone.  But don’t treat them as a judge of who you are.  And don’t look to them to explain how you will react in any given future situation.  For we are as imperfect as the tools are.  And that is just perfectly human.