An Invitation To Be More Genuine and Live From Our True Selves

I’ve been thinking a lot for the past few years about the idea of being more genuine in all areas of my life.

I’ve heard people talk about masks that we all wear. That we have masks for all areas of our lives and take them off at home – or sometimes not even at home. I’ve heard that there’s a difference between our so-called social self and our professional self.

This has never sat right with me. When I hear about those kinds of things, my bullshit meter starts ringing. This way of looking human nature is what feels so slimy to me about traditional marketing, branding, messaging, and quite honestly some relationships.

I no longer feel comfortable with people that behave one way in my presence and then behave differently somewhere else. And admittedly, I certainly have in the past betrayed my integrity to go along and keep peace.

You probably know what I’m talking about. When you’re with someone and you can tell they are behind a facade. Like they are physically present, but you can’t really find them. You can feel when you’re not getting someone’s true self.

More and more over the years I see how much I value genuineness – this feeling that someone’s true Self is really present.

So I strive (not always succeeding!) to be genuine whether I’m talking to a potential client, a friend, or my husband at home. I’m still learning.

What does this mean? This means being who I am and not hiding. It means not pretending to feel something I don’t feel. It means being congruent with my internal feelings and my outward behavior. Bottom line: It’s not lying just to go along.

Now here’s an important piece to this. Being genuine does not mean saying everything I think. It does not mean correcting people all the time when I disagree with them.

It definitely does not mean saying whatever I want to whomever and then not caring what they think or how they feel. That’s just being an asshole.

If you’re an Enneagram fan, my personality tends to sit comfortably at Type 8, and I’m aware that my communication style can sometimes come off harsh or abrasive. It can have an impact on the recipient that I don’t intend. Being genuine for me requires self-reflection, self-awareness, constant work on myself and my issues.

None of this is easy. I fail miserably sometimes. I’ve agreed to do things even though I didn’t really want to do them. (I keep getting better at saying no) And on the other side of that, I’ve woken up more than morning after spending time with friends asking myself if I was too harsh or too overbearing. Was I honest in a way that could have been hurtful?

My ongoing intention is to be genuine with a compassionate awareness of how I am in relationship to others.

I’m interested in knowing where in life you haven’t been genuine or have noticed someone else not being genuine. How did that feel?

So if we meet, please don’t show me your social or professional self or any self that has to be named. Show me You. That You without the labels or masks, and I’ll do the same.

Why I give my money to FLYTE

I started traveling when I was very young, and visiting different cities and experiencing other cultures has made a lasting, positive impact on my life.

Because of this, one of my missions is to support others in growing and living a full life through travel and Nomadic Matt’s nonprofit called FLYTE allows me do this in a way that tangible and meaningful.

From their website:

“The Foundation for Learning and Youth Travel Education (FLYTE) is a nonprofit organization that empowers youth living in underserved communities through transformative travel experiences. Today’s education system provides very little in the way of global education, and many struggling schools and teachers have little or no opportunity to offer their students access to resources that can provide any type of experiential international education. FLYTE was created to change that.”

What FLYTE does aligns perfectly with two of my passions: seeing the world and making it a better place for everyone!

The most recent school they took on a trip was Victor School in rural Montana. I received an update about the trip via FLYTE’s newsletter and was deeply touched by how these students were changing inside and out. Most of the students had not ever been outside the U.S. and they made the brave trip out of their comfort zone to Guatemala. They learned about the local culture they visited, interacted with locals and engaged in volunteer work. Along the way, they learned about themselves too.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The students have an opportunity to journal and reflect on their journey. They noticed that what they see on the news is not always accurate about other people and countries. (!!!!!!) They realized how little some people in other countries live with – like clean water, toilet paper, education, and much more. These students found gratitude for what they had back in the states and an new appreciation for the lives of people unlike them.

You can read the full post here. Please take the time to do so.

I just learned that the next school chosen will be from Oakland, CA, and they’ll travel to Colombia. I can’t wait to hear about how their trip unfolds, opens their hearts, and changes them in such a lovely way.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I donate monthly to FLYTE because I see how it’s helping make the world a better place starting with these young folks. These kids will take their learnings and new-found enthusiasm for exploring back to their hometowns and will hopefully encourage others to open their minds to people who are different.

FLYTE recently featured me as part of their Donor Spotlight series. My spotlight is posted here if you want to hear more about why I love this organization.

I invite you to join me in contributing to the significant growth for these young people by setting up a monthly donation to FLYTE. It’s a wonderful way to keep this work going AND getting a tax deduction!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Privilege of Seeing Pain

The Privilege of Seeing Pain

“I started sharing my pain with everyone,” is what one of my teenage clients said to me recently. What an interesting way to say this. Her words hung in the air.

They are simple and poetic. Significant.

Her words gave me a new context for what it means to “act out.”

When the pain inside became too much for her to bear, she started sharing it with others as a way of saying, “I’m here, and I need someone to care. I can’t handle this on my own.” She had a rough childhood, and she started doing all of the harmful things one can imagine a teenage girl doing to herself, including stealing and harming others.

Adults do this as well – share their pain. The person who abuses their spouse, the dad who can’t stop yelling at his children, the woman who drinks excessively and physically abuses.

We all have these moments of sharing our pain, everyone one of us. Our prisons are filled with people who were sharing a pain too great to hold in.

Is there anyone you can think of in your life that has been sharing their pain with you? Is there anyone in your life that you’ve been unconsciously sharing your pain with? Ask yourself if there’s anything that you can do or want to do about this to help. There may not be . . . and there may be.

I’m reminded of this tale that I read a long time ago. I don’t know if it’s true, but I like the essence of it. The piece that sticks out to me: “If at any time during his or her life, the person commits a crime or aberrant social act, the individual is called to the center of the village and the people in the community form a circle around them. Then they sing their song to them. The tribe recognizes that the correction for antisocial behaviour is not punishment; it is love and the remembrance of identity.”

This teenager in front of me had forgotten who she was. That she had a well of good inside. After years of being given someone else’s misbeliefs and someone else’s pain, her real identity was buried.

What if we took the time to listen, care for, and show kindness to the people in front of us who share their pain instead of shame them, punish them, or incarcerate them? Might we be able to remind them of their goodness and their deep capacity for love?

Not easy, but worth a try.

Healing Doesn’t Happen To Us

Healing Doesn’t Happen To Us

As a therapist, I’ve heard the phrase “Therapy doesn’t work” (or some version of this – it’s ineffective, takes too long) many times.

I wonder if some people go in to see a therapist thinking that the therapist can heal them in some instant, magical way. This was often the case in my work with foster and adopted children when parents and foster parents told me to “just fix” their child.

But healing doesn’t just happen to us. It happens because of us.

Each person needs to be an active participant in their own healing.

I strongly believe that the source of healing – anyone’s source of healing – doesn’t rest with the therapist. (The consciousness of the therapist is important, so please do find a competent one who continually does their own inner work.) But healing is a verb – own it. Healing requires conscious action, commitment, courage, and willingness.

You may be asking, “Then what’s a therapist for?”

A therapist shines a light on blindspots. A therapist is a guide and (hopefully) a loving and safe presence, which is needed when someone’s experiencing pain. A therapist can often symbolize the loving parent we may not have had but wanted.

A therapist holds the space for healing to take place and that healing comes from within the client.

If you don’t feel comfortable with your therapist, tell them. If it’s not a match, don’t give up on therapy – find a new therapist.

My dear friend and very talented TMJ and sleep specialist Dr. Dave Shirazi encourages his patients to take ownership of their own healing by having them sign a form which states the following:

“We understand you have come to us seeking help in resolution of the issues and problems you have been facing for considerable time now. We want to be clear on how the healing process works for everyone. At all times, and with no exceptions to this rule, you are always in control of your own healing and are even doing your own healing. All healthcare providers, at best, can only facilitate your well being, that is why there are no guarantees in medicine. It is 100% your responsibility to follow the directions, recommendations, referrals, care of appliances, office visits and treatment given by your healthcare provider(s), as well as to give feedback and inform us of any challenges and wins along the way. . . But we cannot heal for you. Please be clear on this point. To that end, and for this process to continue, we ask that you acknowledge your responsibility of your own health and well being. Responsibility is yours to have, and responsibility is your power of healing.

“I, (client name), understand that I am responsible for my own health and well being. I am fully aware that the doctors and staff and referred doctors at the TMJ & Sleep Therapy Centre of Conejo Valley are here to facilitate my wellness, but do not heal for me. My healing occurs by me and for me. . .”

This is brilliant. This kind of active healing requires being vulnerable and not just saying what one thinks they want their therapist to hear. It requires being honest with oneself and the therapist when things aren’t going right and giving that therapist feedback – and it requires doing the work.


Honesty & Vulnerability

Honesty & Vulnerability

One of the issues I see frequently in therapy with my clients is an overwhelming fear of being vulnerable – with me and with others. This can make moving forward in therapy tricky.

I’ve struggled with being vulnerable as well. In the past, it’s felt unsafe.

We live in a culture where we are afraid of our fear and our feelings, and vulnerability is mistakenly associated with weakness. It can feel uncomfortable, because we are afraid of what others will think of us or afraid of being hurt.

One of the best ways to connect with those we love and the only way that true healing can happen is if we are brave enough to be honest with ourselves and vulnerable with others.

This requires not hiding behind anger (which can feel powerful) or not hiding behind a wall of perceived strength built by the ego.

Brené Brown says is best in Daring Greatly: vulnerability is life’s greatest dare.


Being Good Enough

Being Good Enough

Several years ago my daughter played the cello when she was in elementary school and it thrilled me to no end. The sound of the cello resonates deep in my body. It’s melancholy, and I hear it sing a sad song of yearning and longing for the beloved.

It is truly my favorite instrument – and she was damn good.

So when the kiddo switched to the clarinet, well . . . that was a sad day for me. And when I was required to complete a heartfelt project in the second year of my Master’s Program, I decided that it was time for me to give it shot and learn to play.

I was pretty nervous about this undertaking. I’d not played any instrument since I took piano lessons as a child and over the years had developed a misbelief that I was not creative enough to play anything.

And not only would I be learning to play the cello in a few short months, but there were rumors that I just might possibly perform in front of my 200-person class at the end of the year . . .

So off I went. I hired an amazing cello instructor named Emily at Baxter Northrup, rented a beautiful cello that I named Neda, and met with my Project Team mates (Alycia Schlesinger and Jenny Caruso) twice a month for mutual support.

I practiced in hiding at first because I was embarrassed about my playing but with my husband’s encouragement, I quickly learned to ignore the negative self-talk and moved from the bedroom to the living room for my evening routine.

During our Project Team meetings, I shared with Alycia and Jenny all of the fears and judgments that surfaced about myself while pushing my edge this way. They all boiled down to “I wasn’t good enough.”

The final criteria to fulfill my project was to perform in front of my Project Team – easy – they loved me and cheered me on the entire time. As we neared the end of the year though, I started to wonder what it might be like to actually perform in front of my large class.

When the time came, I signed up to perform for the class on the final day (with everyone else who opted to present their completed project). I was terrified. I couldn’t sleep well the night before. I asked myself, “Who are you and why in the world are you doing this??”

I somehow managed to make it to class, walk up on stage with my heart pounding, coherently say some kind of introduction to the class, and play.

And here’s the thing: I was pretty bad. I didn’t practice enough as I probably should have and I sat up there squeaking away. I knew when I decided to perform that my playing wasn’t going to sound that great and some of my notes were going to be off. But I wanted to challenge myself anyway. Could I get up there and let others see me unpolished and imperfect?

As I played the last note, I looked up and saw my fellow classmates erupt into a standing ovation. It went on for a long while as I bowed in gratitude. I remember looking over at my husband, Alycia, and Jenny and seeing all three of them crying. I could see on their faces how proud they were of me. It was a pretty special moment.

I left the stage thinking, “Wow! I just did that!” and I was high the rest of the day. This was a significant stretch for the introvert who prefers to be in the background. Students congratulated me all weekend and several thanked me. One person said, “I realized when I saw you up there that I didn’t have to be perfect and that was freeing.”

I’ve become a fan of being good enough, of ignoring the whispers of ego-perfection, of letting whoever I am in the moment be just fine.

Go Change Lives, Mom

Go Change Lives, Mom

“Go change lives, mom.”

That’s what my kiddo said to me the other day as my husband and I left for Madera, CA, to spend three days in a women’s prison.

This was a service project with 80+ other volunteers for the Freedom to Choose Foundation led by Drs. David and Bonnie Paul. For three days we teach and practice communication skills with the women and these skills are life-changing for them. They share with us how much they learn and how they use the skills with their fellow inmates and their families. (You can learn more about this on the FTC website And watch these videos!)

But I’ll tell you what the secret ingredient is for these experiential workshops. It’s not just communication skills the women are getting from us. They are also getting our open hearts and our care and our loving attention.

When I first volunteered for FTC several years ago, I was afraid of going into a prison, of being around people who had committed murder, of the correctional officers, the watch towers and metal fences everywhere. The no bargaining for hostages policy was sobering. My fear lasted for all of three minutes as the inmates greeted me with gratitude, smiles, and hugs. What really struck me was how much the women in prison were yearning for connection, for someone to care. And not just the women – we completed our first workshop in a men’s prison last year, which was amazingly successful, and I experienced the same thing: people wanting someone to care.

This recent workshop was my fifth time volunteering for FTC and as I share about this with other people, I’m often asked the question, “Why do you go and spend your time doing this?”

How do I put into words what it feels like watching someone who has felt worthless their whole life and has made decisions based on that finally start to see that there actually is good inside of them, of watching their heart open to loving and care for the first time in years? Or perhaps the first time ever? To watch someone realize that they can make different choices and that they are worthy of love and kindness and can give that back to others. To hear a lifer say that even though she’s in prison she can start to be a better person to herself and those around her. In the men’s prison, one man said to me, “I come from the projects and I always thought that’s where I belonged. I’m realizing that I have other choices and that this is my designed community of caring people.” There are no words for how deeply moved I am to be part of this.

Sometimes people ask me if the inmates deserve it – the bigger question they are asking is do people in prison deserve us to treat them with loving, respect, and kindness and deserve to have a free self-improvement workshop given to them. That question is short-sighted.  And my short answer is yes. They’re doing their time, and, as one inmate put it, prison is hell. Some are paying reparations for their convictions. I met one woman who had been in prison for more years than I’ve been alive. And if they want to learn a new way to be and learn how to be better people and better citizens of our society, let’s help them do that.

The bottom line is that if people feel loved, if they feel good about themselves they will make different choices with their lives. It’s likely that a lot of these women will be paroled sometime in the future. Doesn’t it just make sense to give them tools that they can actually use to make their lives better when they’re out?

I hear their stories of repeated physical and sexual abuse, forced prostitution, neglect, betrayal and I understand why they wound up in prison. I’m not making excuses for them, and I’m not advocating emptying the prison system. My message here is one of understanding and empathy. The Freedom to Choose Foundation is proving that people in prison can make positive lasting changes in their lives.

This has easily been one of the most profound experiences of my life. If you’d like to help with real and lasting rehabilitation, check out the Freedom to Choose Foundation and donate or spread the word.

A Question That Will Change Your Life

I was sitting with a teenage client of mine supporting him through a tough situation at home that will likely not change in the near future.

I find one of the most frustrating things about having teens and children for clients is that as much work we do in the therapy room, their life situation usually doesn’t change much without significant parental involvement. And that doesn’t happen often.

So, I see my job with my teen clients as teaching them skills that they can use to handle their situations now in a way that supports them in healing and growing into caring and self-reflective adults.

In most cases the teen wants his outer situation to change – it won’t. He wants to move out – he can’t right now. He wants things to be different than they are – not going to happen any time soon.

Knowing this, my only leverage is with him. The leverage always exists inside of my client.

I used to ask my clients, “What’s the lesson for you here.” This sometimes leads teens to say things like, “Not to trust anyone” or “That my parents suck.” Not really the direction I’m wanting to guide them in.

So instead, I recently asked one of my teen clients, “How can you use this situation to make you a better person?

(I use the phrase “better person” here intentionally. Some people reading this won’t like the word “better” because it may imply that this teen is not fine the way he is now. I believe we all seek to improve ourselves in some way, and I want him to see clearly that he has choices to lead a life full of positive possibilities if  he wants. He has a choice. I want him to know that he can take this really crappy situation and learn something useful from it.

He stared at me and didn’t know what to say. There was no room for him to be dismissive about what I’ve asked, and my question prevents us from going into a negative spiral that isn’t supportive to healing.

I know how I’d answer this question for him. I see all kinds of ways that he can use what he’s going through to learn, grow, and heal himself. But I stay quiet.

He responds after thinking about this for a long while, and we proceed to have a very rich and meaningful conversation about his responsibility for his life and his feelings.

How can you use this situation to make you a better person?

A variation on this question is “What can you learn from this situation to make you a better person?”

Going forward, whatever happens in my life, I’m going to ask this question of myself and move ahead with healing.

This is my challenge for you as well.

My Highlights of 2013

I’ve been reflecting on the blessings of my life this past year and my cup runneth over. And I found myself pondering this quote:

“There are years that ask questions, and years that answer.”  -Zora Neale Hurston

Last year was a year that asked many questions – really great questions – of me. Questions such as: What kind of person do I want to be as I get older? How am I going to use all of the gifts that I have in a more impactful way? What risks can I take that I haven’t let myself take in the past? What do I want my life to mean to me and others? How can I live a more wholehearted life? How brave can I be?

The personal highlights I list below prompted me to ask these questions. I’m still steeping in them. I’ve decided to list only five highlights from the past year (in no particular order).

1. Becoming licensed – I’ve known that I wanted to be a therapist since I was six years old. It’s true. I’m not even sure that I really understood what a therapist was when I was six, but I knew that I was a good listener and that I’d be able to counsel. When I started this journey towards becoming a licensed therapist, I thought I would learn how to be a therapist and help others. I didn’t realize how much I would grow personally and how much I would heal while in school, and I most definitely didn’t realize how important and significant my personal healing would be for my career as a therapist. (More on this in a future post!) When I learned I passed my last test, well, that was a fantastic day.

2. Traveling to Italia – My husband and I spent a week in Florence and a week in Rome with another couple that are our dear friends. I can talk all day about how beautiful the country is and how much I miss being there. This was a significant trip for us for many reasons. It was one of the longer trips we’ve taken together, and we had a magical time. We both have parents who are immigrants to this country, in fact my husband’s not from the U.S., and we consider ourselves global citizens. I came back inspired to live life differently and more deliberately and listed some of my Italian photography for sale on Etsy. This delicious trip sparked a renewed commitment to travel with the realization that we had created more freedom in our lives to do this, and we’ve committed to visiting a new country every year. This takes planning, cooperating, and saving! Next on the list? The majestic land of New Zealand.

3. Moving to part-time – I’ve been working full-time since my daughter was born. When she turned 19 last year, I realized that I had been working full-time in order for us to survive: pay rent, buy food, pay bills, etc. Playing safe in order to take care of us both, which was necessary at the time for a young mother like me. I had been operating in survival mode for a long time. Now that she is an adult herself, working, driving and taking care of herself much more, I had the opportunity to expand into taking more risks if I wanted to with my career. In June, I quit my full-time job and starting working very part-time. This was a frightening transition, and I’m still in the process of learning to structure my time, but it’s been one of the best decisions of my life. Without the grind of a full-time commitment, I’ve been able to slow down and I actually have energy to enjoy going out and spending time with my friends. There’s more space in my life and in my head to sit in silence and wonder in amazement about what’s next for me. I love this. I love the space and have found that ideas and inspiration are coming forward that couldn’t before.

“Let go of promises you’ve outgrown.” -Danielle LaPorte

4. Volunteering for the Freedom to Choose Foundation – I’ve volunteered for the FTC workshops in the women’s prison in Chowchilla, CA, twice before 2013. But when I returned this past October, something was different – I was different. The work that’s being done with the workshop participants is nothing short of miraculous, but this time I allowed myself to open my heart much more. I allowed myself to be touched in an even deeper way by the courage of the women in prison to dive into their healing no matter how painful it was for them. In November, we brought the FTC workshop to a men’s prison for the first time. I expected the men to be harder to reach. I expected that the men would be too macho to cry or to be vulnerable and open up to strangers. I don’t think I could’ve been more off the mark. Their emotions were just under the surface and they were yearning for connection. A lot of healing crying happens during these workshops, and the men’s FTC was no different. I heard men say, “I’ve never been treated like a human being before you came here” with tears in their eyes. They were kind and respectful and desperately wanted to learn anything to help them be better people. They were making the best of their lot. The weekend was one of the most profound experiences of my life, and I’m eager to go back. It’s truly work of the heart. Mind = Blown!

5. Starting to write – I’ve never considered myself a writer before. I didn’t think I was good enough or that anyone would want to read what I had to write about. Starting to write this blog was a huge step in realizing more of who I am. Using my name for the URL and expressing myself to a wider audience was challenging at first. I tend to be more contemplative and quiet, and I’ve enjoyed stretching myself to communicate in a more public way. I’ve also had an idea for a novel rattling around in my head for several years. It’s about a topic that’s dear to my heart, and my husband (who’s a published author) finally sat me down and started coaching me through the process of starting to write my book. It’s slow work and sometimes painful, and I’m taking it quite literally word by word.

What will 2014 bring? I’m ready.

What were your top highlights from last year? I’m interested – share below.