Saturday, March 14, 2015

Are You An Extrovert Paired With An Introvert?

Being an extrovert by nature definitely comes in handy in America, where we tend to place a huge emphasis on being energetic, out-going, gregarious, and social.  But that doesn't come easily to at least 1/3 of our population, which is comprised of individuals born as introverts.  These do not gather energy from being super social, but rather it costs them tremendous energy to put themselves out there, and when they do what they really want is a deep connection, not some superficial exchange to pass the time.  Why is it important to understand these differences?  Because we rarely partner with our own kind, and instead almost by instinct we tend to gravitate to our opposite in order to find balance in our lives.

Over that last 20 years, I have truly come to appreciate a life with introverts.  Even though I continue to be surrounded by extroverts in my professional life, at home my partner, son, brother, and several close friends are all introverts, and being with them has definitely taught me to appreciate quiet time.   They understand that I may not need as much of it as they do, but I respect that it is important for us to unplug, and I have rediscovered great joy just relaxing with a good book or taking pen to paper to share the conversations that play out inside my own head.

Thanks to the internet and social media, the opportunity for introverts to connect more with others from the safety and comfort of their own homes has expanded tremendously, and it is critical that we appreciate what they have to offer-- both in the corporate world, and at home.  Their creativity and soft power is truly beautiful, and it is their presence in my life that has taught me the true wisdom of this proverb: God gave us 2 ears and only 1 mouth, so perhaps you should listen twice as much as you speak.

If you are in love with an introvert, I urge you to embrace each other's differences, pull from each other's strengths and help shore up each other's weaknesses.  You may also want to check out "Quiet" by Susan Cain.  It is a wonderful book about the power of introverts.  See also

Friday, March 13, 2015

Are You Ready For Parenthood?

They say no one is ever really ready to become a parent, yet 80% of women will become mothers by the time they reach the age of 44, and as people are becoming more open and honest about the challenges of parenthood, I do think we can (and should) help future parents prepare for the road that lies ahead.

First, the stats speak volumes: 60% of couples with newborns will experience a dramatic drop in satisfaction with their partners.  This is not surprising when you take into account the raging hormones involved for a woman, coupled with sleep deprivation for both, a complete upheaval to your family's schedule and finances, as well as major changes to each person's identity, the mom's body, and the desire to be intimate.  Simply stated, that first year can be overwhelming, and if you allow yourselves to become two ships passing in the night, don't be surprised when someone ultimately decides to ship out.

Second, again relying on stats we see that 60% of children in the U.S. are now being born out of wedlock.  What does that mean?  Well, it doesn't necessarily mean that the parents are not together, but they are certainly not bound by marital vows that provide married parents with certain legal protections and a little extra incentive to prevent things from unraveling when the going gets tough.  Parents that ultimately wind up in separate homes are going to have to make a concerted effort to share time and shield their children from conflict.  They will also have to bear the brunt of extra commuting and financial challenges that ultimately should be spelled out in a legal document to ensure the child's welfare is protected.

Third,  the average cost of raising a child through age 18 for a medium income house is now $245,000 in the U.S.  That is pretty close to the average price of a house, and we are not even taking into account college costs here.  There really is no sugar-coating this fact- kids are expensive, and as a result responsible parents need to be able to manage their finances carefully.  You can't provide a stable home without a stable financial picture, and if you want to teach kids about financial responsibility, you need to be able to practice what you preach.

Fourth, these are challenging times with very little guarantees in life.  You have to be able to keep up with the changing times and be okay with change, so that you can teach your kids to adapt.  The more you can roll with unexpected events, like a kid getting sick at the last minute or school being canceled, the more you can show your child that a key life skill is to embrace the unpredictable nature of life.

Fifth, how clear are you about your own mission, vision and values?  As a parent, you will have to face your own past and decide what you want to replicate versus what you want to do differently for your own children.  As you take on the mission of raising a child, you will be forced to think about the values you want to impart on them.  The more insight you have into yourself, your values, what makes you tick, the more prepared you will be as those tough questions start to come up.

It may seem overwhelming to think this is what it takes to be a parent, but the reality is none of us have it all worked out when we take that plunge.  You will learn as you go, and you learn not to worry too much about the long-term future and instead focus on enjoying each little milestone and celebrating each achievement as it happens.  Somehow, you come to really appreciate that self-sacrifice is an integral part of love, and that perhaps the best rewards are not in fact tangible or public, but rather something as simple as the knowledge that today you made a child's life just a little bit easier or more enjoyable.

In my own case, shortly after my son's first birthday, I made the decision to end my first marriage.  As a result, I have had to share custody the last 10 years and suffer the consequence of not seeing him every day or being there for every night that the Tooth Fairy, Santa or the Easter Bunny came to visit.  Being a single mom has proven to be very difficult at times both financially and emotionally, especially in the DC Area which is a very expensive city full of career-driven people that don't necessarily value work-life balance.  Many here live to work, some just work to live, but either way balance is rarely part of the equation.  It takes a real effort to not make that your reality, but in the end I think you will find the effort is all worth it when you consider the immense joy, wisdom, and above all unconditional love that children bring to our lives.

Parenthood is certainly not for the faint of heart, but it is by far the most rewarding experience life has to offer.  The key question is how badly do you want it, because there is no point in making a half-hearted attempt.  You are either all in or not.  After you have that answer, you can figure out the rest as you go along just as all our ancestors have done since the beginning of mankind.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Can You Climb Out of the Divorce Abyss?

On average, 1 Million Americans each year manage to survive the divorce process, and yet these numbers are somehow not particularly reassuring to those going through the process, who feel like they are free falling into the bottomless pit of hell.  Am I being overly melodramatic?  Not even close-- for those of us that have survived the free fall where you see the security of a life partner, your finances, your identity, your social life, and even your health all slip away.

When you are going through a divorce, you will undoubtedly feel out of control at times, perhaps even helpless at moments, and with each new insult that hits you it will become abundantly clear why so many experience a period of anxiety or depression while going through this miserable situation.  In your darkest moments in fact, you may even ask yourself whether it would be better to drink poison or administer it.  And hopefully that is when you wake up, and realize it is time to take back control of your life and climb out of the abyss.

Here are some tips on how you do that:

1. Get Control of Your Finances- make sure you have a sufficient income to meet your own expenses without relying on someone else.  Balance your own budget so you don't have to borrow from others or beg your ex for money.

2. Create a Stable Home- Set up your own daily routine that brings you comfort and joy.  Get rid of clutter, decorate your own way, and establish a place you are proud to call your own.

3. Rebuild Your Own Life-  Connect with your co-workers and neighbors, and try to make new single friends.   Set new goals for yourself-- take a class, travel, join a gym and rediscover parts of yourself that fell by the wayside during your marriage.

4. Forgive Yourself- Hindsight is 20/20, but sadly none of us have figured out a way to go back in time.  If you ignored red flags, let things go too far, said or did things you shouldn't have,  compromised too much or not enough, okay let it go.  Hopefully, you learned some valuable life lessons that you can not only apply in future relationships but that may help you help others you meet going through a similar experience.

This all takes time, so be patient.  It took me almost a decade to get over my divorce.  With lots of help from others, I learned to manage my own budget, create a stable home for my son and I built a life for myself that I am proud of, but the forgiveness piece took quite a long time.  I wouldn't let others in and kept wondering how could I have made such a terrible choice in a life partner?  The answer is actually quite easy- because at 21,  I was young and naive.  Now I see that extreme opposites are bound to fail, especially when you don't accept each other for the way you are and instead you stupidly keep hoping you will change one another.

After a decade of soul searching, I am happy to report that I have finally come to peace with my past and find myself excited to put it all behind me to embark on a new chapter with the kindest and most patient man I have ever met.  Together, we are healing past wounds and restoring each other's faith in the promise of a happily-ever-after life, and if we can do it, so can you!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Are You Stuck in a Black Hole?

During a divorce, people tend to go to a very dark place.  Many feel like they are trapped in a horrible nightmare with no end in sight, especially when the person on the other side is constantly launching threats, using the kids as pawns and/or has an attorney that enjoys acting like a bully.  But this is really all par for the course, and it is my job to reassure people that there is a light at the end of the tunnel-- within 12 to 18 months this is usually over for most, and the key to exiting gracefully is to never let yourself think you are stuck in a black hole.

If you are feeling trapped in a bad situation, try these 3 simple steps:

1. Find a guide- seek out someone that can give you guidance on how to make a change.  For example, if you don't like your job, get insight from others as to what else is out there and what you need to do to make a move.  If your finances are out of control, go talk to a money manager and get advice on how to curb spending, establish a budget and maximize your savings.  If you are having problems with your personal relationships, go talk to a counselor that can help you gain gain some insight.

2. Make a plan-  plot out the steps you need to take to implement the changes you need to be happy.  Try to be realistic with your timeframe, and don't expect overnight success.    It may require a lot of perseverance before you can actually see that you are making progress, but no matter what don't give up hope.

3. Visualize success- if you don't believe in yourself, you are screwed, end of story.  Rid your mind of self-defeating thoughts, that's the surest path to self-destruction.  You have to think positively and have faith that the efforts you are making are not in vain.  Getting out of a black hole will only happen if you trust that it is not just possible, but actually probable.

Until you experience a black hole moment, you really haven't lived and the only way out is to work through it.  It's not an easy journey to go through one, but unfortunately it is the best way to develop depth and gain perspective.  It is part of our human experience, and it is often only in the aftermath of these events that we become most humble and grateful for the things that truly matter.

Embrace the mantra that which doesn't kill you only makes you stronger.  It takes courage to face your fears, put yourself out there on a daily basis, and work through life's challenges, but I'm a firm believer in what FDR said-- you have nothing to fear but fear itself.  :)