5 “NEEDS” That Stifle Our Personal & Professional Growth…John Page Burton

We all have needs. We need air, water and food to survive. Most of us have a need to feel safe, secure, loved and cared for.  I believe we can all agree that these are healthy needs. Unfortunately, not all of our needs are healthy. Many are destructive and can significantly stifle our personal and professional growth? Let’s take a closer look at 5 unhealthy needs and what we can do to create a shift.

1. The Need To Be Right. This need causes people to become argumentative, confrontational, condescending and vindictive. This need is Ego driven. The need to be right can be very polarizing in our personal and professional relationships. A person needing to be right struggles to consider any point of view that differs from than their own. Growth occurs when we become open and accepting of NEW and DIFFERENT beliefs, opinions and perspectives. It’s not as important to be right as it is to be respectful in our communication with others.

2. The Need For Constant Approval. This person expects to be acknowledged for everything they do. This juvenile, insecurity driven need is emotionally draining to spouses, friends, family members and co-workers. If you don’t acknowledge and shower them with praise they often become angry and resentful. Growth occurs when we learn to be humble. Our ACTIONS will always speak much louder than our words. We must learn to accept unsolicited praise, say thank you and move on. Nobody likes being around a person who “gloats” or demands acknowledgement.

3. The Need To Be Noticed. A person driven by this need is heavily influenced by appearances and is always in search of a new audience. They tend to base their self worth on material possessions and will go to great lengths to “flaunt their stuff”.  Characteristically, they are loud, boisterous communicators. They will do anything to grab the spotlight and they love to be seen as the “star of the show”. When they feel ignored, many will throw “adult temper tantrums” in a last ditch effort to satisfy their craving for attention. Growth occurs when we realize that substance is much sexier than stuff. People who crave notoriety tend to be seen as “show offs and braggarts”. People who exhibit humility and gratitude are generally seen as intelligent, trustworthy, responsible people.

4. The Need For Control. This need is fueled by insecurity and fear. Control is an avoidance strategy. At a subconscious level, the controller is simply avoiding their own self doubt and fear by focusing their energy on “fixing” and “manipulating” the people around them. Controllers are disappointed, frustrated and angry most of the time because rarely if ever do the people around them live up to their rigid expectations. “Control freaks” have a deep seated fear of being out of control and will do everything they can to control their environment. Growth occurs when we release our death grip on control, face our fears, embrace and accept failure, learn to delegate, appreciate that most people don’t desire to be “fixed” and commence on a dedicated journey toward self acceptance.

5. The Need To Be Needed. In my book Wisdom Through Failure, I refer to this need as “Helpful Harry Syndrome”. Helpful Harry routinely prioritizes the needs of others before his own. At first glance this seems to be a noble trait but in reality it is an avoidance strategy. Eventually, Helpful Harry becomes an angry giver as he comes to realize that many of his needs are not being met. The need to be needed does not encourage self sufficiency. In other words, “Helpful Harry’s” are teaching their children, spouses and employees to rely on others first. Growth occurs when we establish the habit of meeting our own needs before we focus on meeting the needs of others. With that being said, it is important to prioritize the needs of small children, those with disabilities and of course the elderly. We must encourage our adult children, spouses and employees to become problem solvers and doers. Admittedly, many may consider this a “self centered” approach, however, in the long term it will pay big dividends.

The beauty of personal growth is that ALL of us are a work in progress. It is VERY safe to say that none of us will ever achieve total mastery. We are human! Our goal is to recognize a familiar program when it begins to run and make an immediate shift toward our truth. With each shift we lay the foundation for our NEW REALITY.  As a wise man once said…SHIFT HAPPENS!

As Always, I look forward to your thoughts and feedback.
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Are You A CAREfrontational Leader?..John Page Burton

The vast majority of us will serve in some type of leadership capacity. Many of us will lead companies or sales organizations, others will lead classrooms, community organizations, political groups or non profits. The most important leadership role we may ever experience is the role of parent and family leader. We must also focus on becoming a consistent leader of self. During a recent conversation with my friend Ross, he referred to me as a “CAREfrontational” business coach. I asked him what he meant and he replied “you are very direct in your communication, yet your compassion and understanding clearly shine through”. I liked his term CAREfrontational and promised Ross that I would incorporate it into my next article on leadership. Let’s take a closer look at two different leadership models…

CAREfrontational vs Confrontational Leadership.

Far too many leaders in their quest for significance, employ a confrontational, authoritarian style of leadership. Most confrontational leaders believe their approach produces results and garners respect. In reality, this approach is extremely polarizing within an organization and over time it tends to contribute to higher turnover rates and a decrease in productivity due largely to the volatile nature of the work environment. Some of the words commonly used to describe confrontational leadership include; argumentative, combative, contrary, volatile, quarrelsome, contentious, scrappy, authoritarian, unfair and dictatorial. Some of the feelings this type of leadership creates within the rank and file of an organization include; mistrust, fear, doubt, drama, self protection, concern, trepidation, anxiety and security. Confrontational leaders create a culture of ME vs you and “I am always right”!

The “CAREfrontational” leadership approach is focused on the organization as a whole. The CAREfrontational leadership model seeks to identify the strengths and weaknesses of each team member, understand their primary communication style and focuses on exploiting the strength and leveraging the weakness of each member of the team. This leadership style encourages delegation and prioritizes time management. The communication style of a CAREfrontational leader is explicit yet respectful and is designed to instruct not degrade. Words used to describe this leadership style include; team, health, welfare, maintenance, concern, interest, importance, provision, responsibility, collaboration, growth and trust. Some of the feelings this leadership style creates within the organization include; pride, integrity, belief, autonomy, freedom, creativity, expression, fulfillment and personal responsibility. Doesn’t this seem like a more inspiring and empowering WORK environment?

QUESTIONS…

Which type of leadership model do you believe fosters a true sense of team? Which business environment might have a lower turnover rate? Which model encourages vision and collaboration? Which business environment is more authentic to the human spirit? Which environment would you prefer to work in?

The myth surrounding the CAREfrontaional leadership approach is that it is to “liberal” and doesn’t create a big enough gap between “leadership” and the “employee”. I disagree. The confrontational leadership approach has proven to be highly effective in the United States military where breaking our soldiers down and building them back up is essential for survival and success on the battlefield, however, the confrontational leadership approach is very INEFFECTIVE in today’s competitive business environment where INNOVATION tends to trump intimidation. Unhappy, stifled employees, simply transfer their talent to an environment that is more conducive to their personal and professional growth. The CAREfrontational leader understands that TEAMWORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK and they strive to create synergy as they grow and protect the financial interests or their organization.

THE BOTTOM LINE…

Over the past 20 years I have had the privilege to spend time around an array of very dynamic, highly effective, CEO’s and business leaders. One of the common traits inherent to each one of them is their ability to create a compelling vision and sell that vision to their entire organization. I refer to this as the “buy in”. The “buy in” is essential for creating massive results in any organization. Rather than take an authoritarian approach, CAREfrontational leaders take a much different approach. They seek out and hire “play makers” and are then willing to get out of their way and let them make plays. In the sports world, this philosophy has proven to be a successful formula for winning CHAMPIONSHIPS. Another significant trait found in CAREfrontational leaders is their ability to build, nurture and maintain influential networks. THE TAKEAWAY…A truly effective CEO or business leader is rarely the person who has the most impressive credentials but rather the person who carries the most influence. Our personal and professional circle of influence say’s more about who we have become professionally than our resume does. In the spirit of polarization, confrontational leaders tend to infuse their insatiable need for significance into the organizations and networks they belong to. On the other hand, CAREfrontational leaders understand the value of relationships and make building and nurturing them a top priority.

In my role as an executive coach, my clients hire me for one reason, they desire to become more effective leaders. I am not concerned about being popular, I care about my clients achieving the results they seek. Can I be direct? Yes. Do I care? Absolutely. Can I be extremely CAREfrontational, you bet! Do the majority of my clients respect me? I believe my authenticity shines through more often than not. I encourage each of you to take a closer look at your current leadership style and ask yourself if it is helping or hindering your organizational growth? Admittedly, this is a tough question to ask as our Ego has a significant investment in our current reality but it is a question that we must pose if we desire to be the amazing leader we are capable of becoming.

As always, I look forward to your thoughts and feedback.a41

6 Lies That Kill Dreams & Stifle Opportunity…John Page Burton

No matter how honest we believe we are, most of us are guilty of lying. Many of us have created a habit of lying. Our lies cost us financially and emotionally. Our lies may keep us from rising through the company ranks, starting our own business or from enjoying a truly intimate relationship with our partner. In the world of dreams and opportunity the TRUTH can indeed set us free!

The 6 Lies…

*If he/she would just change, my life would be so much better! Not only is this a lie but it means that we are willing to give away our personal power. Many of us tell this lie as it relates to our relationship partners, employers, business partners and friends. In reality, the person who tells this lie is fearful of introspection and prefers to avoid taking the bottom line for their life experience. We can either go through life playing the role of “victim of circumstance” or we can take responsibility for the people and circumstances we have attracted into our life and make different decisions going forward. Choose to be proactive!

*I don’t have enough time. Most of us will make time for anything we deem important. We can easily “find time” to hang out with our friends, go fishing, watch TV or engage in any other activity that makes us “feel good”. The reality of this lie is that many of us consciously choose to use our “lack of time” as an on demand excuse to avoid anything that requires us to leave our comfort zone. Time is our most precious commodity, it is up to us to allocate it wisely.

*I am not educated/qualified enough. The reality of this lie is that some of the biggest companies in America were founded and built by people who never attended a day of college or in some cases didn’t make it past junior high. As I share in my book, Wisdom Through Failure, I am apt to hire a person with a high I WILL over a person with a high IQ. The person who possesses both is a bonus. Is it really our lack of education that is holding us back? In many cases a lack of motivation is the real culprit.

*I’m not attractive enough. Intelligence outweighs looks. We live in a society where first impressions do favor job candidates, however, in the end, it really doesn’t matter how “good looking” you are if you suck at what you do! Even the most aesthetically pleasing people will eventually become a liability and sent packing. Taking care of ourselves and presenting well should be a priority for all of us, however, the belief that we are somehow limited because of the way God created us is a fear based fallacy. We are better served to focus on developing our skills than hunting for a plastic surgeon.

*I don’t know the right people. It’s true that our “connections” can help us move through life and business at a faster pace but keep in mind our connections will take time to develop and nurture. The reality is that in order to attract the “right people” both personally and professionally we must become the person we desire to attract. Our job is to focus on becoming the best version of our self. To quote my favorite movie line…”If you build it they will come”.

*I don’t deserve to be successful/happy. This lie is based around the guilt we feel about something that occurred in our past. We have deemed our particular situation(s) to be so “heinous” that we have subconsciously determined that it is far better to be mediocre than strive for greatness! Each time we find ourselves moving forward, the voice in our head reminds us of what a “complete loser or imposter” we are. The reality of this lie is that we are much wiser because of the experiences from our past and we can use this wisdom to help us make better choices and decisions in the future. Our past doesn’t determine our future…we do!

When we make the decision to stop telling these lies we can move toward the compelling future awaiting each of us. One of the fastest ways we can change our lives is by changing the story we have been telling ourselves. Here’s to the TRUTH!

As always, I look forward to your thoughts and feedback.

The Problem With Perfection…John Page Burton

I recently visited with a client who has spent the majority of his lifetime struggling with the concept of “perfection”. For as long as he could remember, he had been admonished to do things “perfectly” and was routinely chastised or punished when he failed to achieve the level of “perfection” required of him by a series of “well meaning” role models, including his parents. Because of his skewed reality around perfection he struggled to achieve a true measure of happiness in his intimate relationship or career. Millions of us can relate to the expectations of “perfection” that have been placed on us by our parents, athletic coaches, teachers and other role models we have encountered along our journey. I know that for many years I felt like a total “loser” for not living up to the demands of perfection placed on me. That was then, this is now. Today, I strive to do my very best in every endeavor, however, I realize that for me, “perfection” rarely happens and I’m fine with that. One of the fundamental problems with our obsession for perfection is that over time it tends to create an array of personal and health challenges. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

Avoidance strategy. Many of us are using our quest for “perfection” as a means of avoiding potential rejection and therefore protecting ourselves from opening up and becoming vulnerable. For example, we have all known someone who is looking for the “perfect partner” and isn’t willing to “settle” for anyone who doesn’t measure up to the exact profile they have designed. Or how about the person who won’t go to the beach until they are in “perfect” shape. In both cases “perfection” is being conveniently used as an excuse to keep them from addressing their self doubt and fear and in both cases it is keeping them from having fun and meeting some really awesome people.

Judgment. How many times have we failed to make a connection with someone because they were not driving the “perfect” car, wearing the “perfect” clothes or living in the “perfect” zip code. Our need to pass judgment may be preventing us from meeting talented, progressive people. I know several extremely accomplished professionals who drive older model vehicles,regularly wear shorts and flip flops and live where they “feel the vibe”. You can’t possibly know anything about someone unless you have a conversation.

Health. Our quest for “perfection” can lead to a variety of health problems, including diet pill addiction, Anorexia, Skin Cancer, disfigurement from plastic surgery and an array of other health related challenges. Accepting ourselves for who we are is the first step toward optimal health. Diet and exercise are natural, proven strategies for living a longer, more enjoyable life.

Parenting. Anyone who has been subjected to the pressure stemming from parental demands of “perfection” has experiential knowledge regarding the emotional damage it can cause. As parents we want our children to do and be their best, however, the reality is that from time to time they are going to fall short of our expectations. It is up to us to teach our children that failure is an essential element of success and encourage them to embrace failure as an important part of the success process.

Self Examination. When we demand “perfection” in others it is always a good idea to examine our own motives. Why are we demanding “perfection”? Years ago, I coached high school baseball. I remember a particular parent who managed to always find something wrong with his son’s performance. One night, after a game in which his son had gone 4 for 4 and made several spectacular defensive plays, I observed the father verbally abusing his son as they walked to the car. Troubled by the incident, I called the players father and asked him why he had been so upset after the game? He explained that there had been a professional scout in attendance and that his son had gotten a late jump on an attempt to steal second base. The father went on to share that he had never been able to play college or professional baseball due to an eye injury suffered during his senior year of high school and that all he had ever wanted was for his son to have the opportunity that had alluded him. FYI… His son never played another inning of baseball after he graduated from high school. A few years ago I ran into him at a local restaurant and asked him why he had decided not to pursue college ball? (He certainly had the talent) “Coach, by the time my senior year rolled around I hated the game, no matter what I did it was never good enough for my dad and I just didn’t want to see him in the stands anymore”.

The problem with “perfection” is that it is unrealistic. I believe we should all strive to be the best at whatever we do, however, we must also realize that we are human and that we will fail and experience set backs. The pursuit of “perfection” can cause us to hold back from trying new things, meeting new people and from taking risks. Strive to be the best version of yourself and show yourself some grace.

As always, I look forward to your thoughts and feedback.

The Truth About “Magic Bullets”…John Page Burton

In today’s fast paced, I want it now world, millions of people are searching for the proverbial “magic bullet”. They want this “magic bullet” to immediately improve their health, business growth, intimacy and general happiness. Many of my clients initially seem quite receptive to any “shortcut” that would enable them to avoid putting in the hard work and discipline needed to achieve the success they seek. I routinely advise my clients that success comes to those who are willing to roll up their sleeves and engage in the SUCCESS PROCESS. Ironically, five of the key elements inherent to the SUCCESS PROCESS just so happen to spell out the word MAGIC. Let’s take a closer look…

MAGIC…

MOTIVATION. Motivation is an inside job, either you’re motivated or your not. There is no “magic bullet” that can motivate someone to do something they’re not dedicated to accomplishing. Find your “WHY”, design a plan, secure an accountability partner and get started!

ACTION. We must be willing to take massive action. Action doesn’t come in a “pill” or secret potion, it is born from BIG DREAMS. The bigger our dreams the more action we will be willing to take. Action builds muscles of courage and boosts confidence.

GOALS. Our attainment of a significant goal is a profound experience. Who we become as a person from the time we set our goal to the moment our goal is realized (the process) is the true “magic” of the goal. “Magic bullets” are not an option, hard work and sacrifice is the determining factor.

INTUITION. Tapping into and trusting our inner voice is THE grounding principle of the success process. All of us know how we truly feel in every interaction or situation we encounter. Our ability to communicate this truth sets us apart from those who are in a continual search for the “magic bullet”. When we are in touch with our authentic self we have little use for outside chatter. We take full responsibility for our RESULTS.

COMMITMENT. Without a high level of commitment we will never achieve anything of real significance. We must be committed to our plan of action. Our dedicated commitment to ourselves and our plan will get us through set backs, rejection, failure and our commitment will accelerate our resolve.

THE TAKEAWAY…

There is no such thing as a “magic bullet”. The only “magic” lies within the process. The process goes along way in determining who we become. LEARN TO EMBRACE THE PROCESS.

I look forward to your thoughts and feedback.

10 Reasons Why Moms “ROCK” In Business…John Page Burton

After a recent conversation with a female client who manages to effectively balance the roles of being the primary care giver to three small children with also being the CEO of a progressive start up company, it dawned on me why “moms” tend to make such outstanding business leaders. The skills that are required of motherhood are basically the same skills that are required of a successful business person. Below are 10 examples of the traits and skills inherent to both “moms” and business leaders.

1. Organizational skills. “Moms” are highly proficient at multitasking. They know where things stand and how to maximize both time and material resources. They are masters of logistics who understand that the devil is often found in the details. They routinely inspect what they expect.

2. Problem solvers. “Moms” rarely sweat the small stuff! They know where to focus their energy and when to release control. When a problem or obstacle arises, they transition into solution mode and stay there until they achieve a favorable outcome.

3. Master negotiators. “Moms” occupy a permanent seat at the bargaining table. They must possess the ability to impartially consider all evidence, weigh each argument and often render their decisions in the face of extreme opposition. They make decisions that are congruent with their core beliefs and values.

4. Financial management. “Moms” are masterful at establishing and living within a budget. They understand the value of a dollar and how to make it stretch. They are value oriented and consciously seek out the highest return for their investment. They will plan for a “rainy day” and they understand the fundamental principles of income to debt ratio.

5.Resource management. “Moms” can make 3 peanut butter sandwiches using 2 tablespoons of peanut butter and convince their kids that bread is what makes the sandwich so tasty in the first place. They are masterful at recycling clothes, shoes, books, bicycles and just about anything else that can serve a secondary purpose and still keep them within or under their budget.

6. They are true servant leaders. Need I say more. The early stages of motherhood could be described as a thankless job in which the compensation is low and the frustration is high. Motherhood requires an extreme outward focus.

7.Patience. “This to shall pass” becomes a daily mantra. “Moms” learn that all storm clouds will eventually blow over and be replaced by blue sky and rainbows. They recognize that maintaining patience is critical to their sanity. They learn to focus their energy on what they are able to control in their present moment rather than dwelling on the past or living in the future.

8. Flexibility. “Moms” recognize that life happens when they are making other plans. They instinctively understand the value of contingency plans and must be extremely quick on their feet. They are acutely aware when they are trying to put a square peg in a round hole and will usually be among the first to acknowledge that NOW would be a good time to head in a different direction.

9. Compassionate understanding. Life holds a profound truth…STUFF HAPPENS! Feelings get hurt, ego’s are bruised, fears surface, anger arises, jealousy brews and through it all a “mom” must remain objective and compassionate with those in her charge. Compassion is a guiding light to those who are lost.

10. Sense of humor. “Moms” know the secret to life…don’t take yourself or those around you to seriously. Maintaining a sense of humor is the healthiest way to navigate through trying times. A sense of humor helps us to maintain perspective and is also a reminder that we should not go through life treating everything as either do or die. A smile can often melt even the hardest heart.

In short, “moms” are natural family leaders who also make outstanding
business leaders! As always, I look forward to your thoughts and feedback.

Quit Acting So Darn Stupid!…John Page Burton

At one time or another all of us have been effected by a negative label that some “well meaning” person assigned to us. These “well meaning” people may have held the misguided belief that their “worldly” input would somehow be invaluable to us as we made our way through the ups and downs of our formative years. Many of us had some rather unhealthy labels attached to us, labels that we still identify with as adults. In all fairness, most of us were also the recipient of empowering labels. For the purpose of this article, I am choosing to take a closer look at some of the more “damaging” labels many of us have been subjected to. Most of our “hang ups” and insecurities as adults can be traced directly back to a label  we “accepted” during childhood. The same can be said of the areas in our lives where we exhibit extreme confidence. Unhealthy label=insecurity and fear. Healthy label=confidence and daring.

In my practice I have the privilege to work with a diverse group of clients. Many of my clients have been the recipients of empowering and encouraging messages that instilled in them a profound sense of self worth. They enjoy an up beat, confident approach to life. Conversely, I have clients who received a plethora of negative, discouraging messages which they have allowed to keep them trapped in the emotions of inferiority and fear. To them life is a scary place that consists of “winners and losers”.

Below are five negative messages/labels that many of us received during our formative years. Remember, if we hear a message long enough we are likely to believe it’s true. This should serve as a reminder when we are communicating with young people.

*”Quit acting so darn stupid”. The message we received was that we were not very smart. Many of us have held this belief since childhood, and we have chosen to routinely under perform in every area of our life.
*”You look fat, chubby or to skinny”. These insensitive labels may have been the catalyst for our negative self image around weight, our distorted relationship with food and may contribute to an array of unhealthy practices that support our belief that our body is not “good enough”.
*”You never do anything right”. The message taken away from this “gem” is that we are incapable of thinking for ourselves and that someone else will always “have to fix our mess”. Because we fear that we will not do it right, many of us have created the habit of avoidance.
*”Why can’t you be more like your sister/brother”. The take away from this “timeless classic” is that we are not good enough. Many of us go through life constantly comparing ourselves to others and we routinely avoid competition or scenarios where we may be put in a position where we could lose and “look bad” in doing so.
*”Keep your mouth shut, unless you have something important to say”. Silenced at an early age, many of us have chosen to remain silent for a lifetime. We fail to speak up when we see injustice, we accept abuse, we routinely look the other way when we know something is wrong and we refuse to speak up for what we desire. We may also be unclear as to what actually constitutes “something important”.

Some of the people we received these messages from included, parents, siblings, teachers, clergy, coaches, friends and relatives. Many of us have internalized these messages to such a degree that we might as well declare  “I am nothing more than a fat, stupid loser who never gets anything right and I am obviously going directly to hell because of the errors in my ways. I should have just kept my mouth shut and been more like my brother Earl”.

In order to live a truly rich, rewarding life, it is imperative that we stop identifying with false, unhealthy labels and begin telling ourselves a new, empowering truth. It is not up to other people to write our life story…IT IS UP TO US!

Some things to consider regarding LABELS…

Limiting. Labels are limiting. Living up to our “assigned” labels will never allow us to expand and grow. The Ego knows that a “mind expanded will never return to it’s original size” and therefore it will fight hard to keep us trapped in our comfort zone.

Adversarial. Labels feature two opposing sides. There is the truth and there is the Ego. The Ego wants to hold us hostage to our negative labels and the truth wants to set us free. Which side will prevail? The one we feed!

Belief. Labels represent an outdated belief system. The labels that most of us carry around were “assigned” to us during our formative years. As adults we know our truth and it is crucial that we adopt a new set of beliefs. For example, when I look in the mirror I am more than capable of determining whether I am at a healthy weight, to skinny or morbidly obese. I do not choose to allow someones “opinion” from 30 years ago shape my current reality or my true self image.

Excuse. A label can become an excuse for not taking the action necessary for us to reach our true potential. When we encounter a challenge do we seek a breakthrough or do we revert to an outdated label that will allow us to conveniently justify our lack of courage?

Lies. When we attempt to live up to a negative label we are consciously choosing to live a lie. Yesterday’s label does not define who we are today. For example, I was labeled an average student with below average communication skills. If I had lived up to this label you would not be reading this article. I knew that my “assigned” label was false and so I set out to develop a new belief system that was congruent with my inner truth.

Story from the past. Do we desire to live in a world of make believe or in a world of truth? Labels keep us stuck in our stories from the past. Living our truth finds us alive and well in the present moment. Living up to our labels means that we are choosing to let someone else determine the rules of OUR GAME. The truth means that we have made a conscious decision to take authorship of our own life.

What negative labels are you hanging onto that are costing you happiness, prosperity and a true sense of self? We all get to choose what labels serve us and which ones don’t. If during your formative years you were encouraged to use your voice, run your own race, love your body, embrace your God given intelligence and always speak your truth, you owe the influential people in your life a HUGE debt of gratitude. If like many of us you feature a few scars, now may be the time to begin embracing a new belief system, one that offers a more honest representation of who your really are.

As always, I look forward to your thoughts and feedback.

Making Peace With Our Departed Parents…John Page Burton

I clearly remember chasing her down the street, the snow stinging my eyes, tears freezing my cheeks, my heart pounding out of my chest all while listening to her desperate screams.  For many years I was haunted by the image of my mother, scantly clad in her nightgown, running from her demons though a snowstorm at 2am. I wanted nothing more than to stop her, bring her in out of the cold and somehow make her terrible nightmare end. It wasn’t a dream, I was ten years old and this was reality. I vividly remember watching a neighbor peek out her bedroom window, a blank look on her face, she was clearly disturbed by what she was seeing but was unwilling to help me. The next day when I saw this neighbor, we exchanged pleasantries but not a word about that event (or others like it) was ever spoken. Two years later my mother was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and I was admitted to a private school in the mid west. At age 12 my childhood as I knew it, had come to an abrupt end.

My parents divorced my freshman year of college. Throughout my college years and well into my thirties, I routinely attempted to re-connect with my mother but our visits were always dominated by her “hate speak” directed toward my father. I patiently listened for hours knowing full well that if I defended him or attempted to change the subject I would be asked to leave. Over time, my cravings for her companionship diminished due in large part to the profound realization that she had no real interest in my life. Eventually, she made a decision to remove me from her life entirely and we officially disconnected. Over the years, I would call her on her birthday or on Mothers Day only to hear her say, “you must have the wrong number, I don’t have a son”. I learned of her death two years after her passing, I was 49 years old. Her obituary (written by a “caretaker”) didn’t mention that she ever had a son but ironically a sentence was dedicated to the time she spent with my deceased father. “The wheels on the bus go round and round”…

For many years, I blamed my father for the disintegration of our little threesome. (I was an only child) Years later, by way of many heartfelt conversations I came to better understand my father and why he had chosen to remain in bed that snowy night and why he felt that sending me away was in the best interests of everyone involved. We were finally able to understand each other and offer forgiveness. During the final years of my fathers life, we became very good friends and I was by his side when he passed away in my home. During one of our final conversations he stated that “he wished we could have become much closer.” I smiled and thought, me to.

Today, I can appreciate my mothers journey as well as the dynamics of her mental health. I have a much greater understanding of what my mother brought from childhood into adulthood and just how confusing and painful it must have been to live inside her head. I understand the exhaustion and frustration my father felt as he watched his wife and my mother spiral into her own “hell on earth” experience. I have forgiven myself for the anger I carried with me for many years because of what I felt was my failure to protect my mom from her demons and keep her safe. As an adult it is easier for me to recognize that being only a few years removed from believing in Santa Clause, there was no way I could make sense of her illness let alone “fix” my “broken” mother. Today, I am at peace with both of my departed parents.

Many of us are still carrying around the same feelings of guilt, shame and failure that I felt. Some of us are still being controlled from the “grave” by parents we have not made our peace with. For many of us “the departed” still wield considerable power over us in the form of guilt. We lament the way things “should have been” and how we “let them down” etc. If this sounds familiar to you, it is time to make peace with the departed and move on. Here are 3 considerations that may be helpful in the peace making process.

*WE did the best we could under the circumstances. Most of us would do many things differently if given a second chance. Life is not a dress rehearsal, this is it. We don’t get a “do over” and therefore it is in our best interest to learn from our experiences and move forward. I work with a client who experienced a horrific childhood. Both of his parents betrayed him in a very cruel and unjust manner. He has carried around an anger that in the past has turned into an often destructive rage. My approach in working with him has centered around the fact that it was NOT his fault, he simply found himself in the cross hairs of extreme dysfunction. He can’t change what happened to him but he can change his relationship to it. In our work together, we focus on how he can take everything that has happened to him and make sure that it never happens to his children. He has powerful references on how NOT to treat children which will help to ensure that his children will receive everything emotionally (and more) that he failed to receive as a child. He is now beginning to turn his anger into love and in the process he is healing many of his childhood wounds. Children are dependent on adults to blaze a stable trail and sadly parental dysfunction can cause a tremendous amount of collateral damage.

*THEY did the best they could under the circumstances. Our parents did the best they could with what insight they had at the time. I am not making excuses for bad, abusive or violent behavior but the reality remains that this is how our parents functioned. If we have not made peace with our parents, chances are we are still carrying around a great deal of psychological baggage. Once we have forgiven ourselves it is time to free our parents. It was our parents job to help us not to harm us. We relied on them to “get their shit together” and they failed. When they pointed the finger at us and told us that it “was our fault” they were acting the way they were it was a lie they told us out of FEAR. Our parents often FEARED facing their own demons and so they took it out on those of us who were in the closest proximity. Abuse and dysfunction are learned behaviors that are often passed down from one generation to the next. WE can END this cycle of dysfunction by not repeating our parents behavior.. Through forgiveness we can begin making peace with our departed parents.

*Grace. Most of us are very good at beating ourselves up. We are our own biggest critics when we should be our own biggest fans! God has given each of us a plethora of life circumstances to learn and grow from. I will not pretend to understand why some people are presented with horrific life circumstances while others seemingly “skate through”. God has a plan. I will never know what my mom’s final thoughts were as her life came to an end. Like my father, did she also wish that we had been closer? Did she finally make peace with her demons and seek forgiveness? Grace allows us to experience peace in spite of not knowing or understanding the answers to these types of questions. Our parents played a very important role in shaping who we are today. The majority of our beliefs and perspectives are a direct result of their influence. Grace allows us to re-frame our beliefs and perspectives in a manner that doesn’t make our parents right or wrong. We understand that they did the best they could with what insight they had at the time and we are finally willing to let go of the anger and resentment that has kept us in emotional chains.

If you are still being controlled from “the grave” my hope is that you will find these insights helpful so that both you and the departed can truly R.I.P.

As always I look forward to your thoughts and feedback.

The Unfortunate Death of “Sandbox Bobby”…John Page Burton

I grew up in a small town where just about everyone eventually ended up with a nickname. My personal moniker was “Burtbutt”. Forty years later I can still recall many of the nicknames. There was HoHo, (aptly named for his love of Hostess products) Punky, Scooter, Chico, Blackey (the only African American kid in our town) Porkchop and finally Sandbox Bobby. Over time, I have lost track of all of these colorful characters with the exception of one, Sandbox Bobby.

Sandbox Bobby died when he was nineteen years old. The coroner determined his cause of death was alcohol poisoning. Today, from my perspective as a peak performance coach, I believe that his death was a bi-product of his mothers insatiable need to protect him from failure. Shortly after Bobby graduated from high school, he found a job, bought his first car, moved into his own apartment and immediately began making up for all the things he had failed to participate in as a young adult. Less than a year later he was gone.

The story of Sandbox Bobby dramatizes a dilemma that faces parents everywhere. How do we find and maintain a healthy balance between keeping our children safe and still allowing them to navigate their way through normal, albeit often painful life experiences? Bobby’s mother chose to relive her own childhood drama by projecting her fears onto her son.  During high school, Bobby’s mom drove him to and from school, enforced an “in by dark” curfew, didn’t allow him to attend dances, go to parties or even have a girlfriend. She made his bed, did his laundry, cooked his meals, packed his lunch and discouraged him from securing after school employment. Granted, this is an extreme example, yet many parents are doing a similiar injustice to their children by always playing the role of the “great protector”. KIDS NEED TO HAVE THE FREEDOM TO FAIL & EXPERIENCE DISCOMFORT!!!

Transference…

Many of us relive our past trauma by projecting our hurts, fears and concerns onto our children. I recently engaged in a conversation with a client who shared that she was not willing to put her daughter through the same “name calling and bullying” that she had endured as a child. Her daughter, on one occasion, had complained that a classmate had called her a name. Because of this one incident and much to the dismay and objections of her husband, she made a decision to “home school” her children. She has admitted that she isn’t qualified to teach anything more than the most basic academic subjects however, in her mind “it is better than the alternative”. Her life changing decision is a direct result of her perception that her daughter will continue to be made fun of by her classmates in the same manner she had been. By “saving her daughter” she is actually crippling her daughter.

Another client is a single mom who up until recently was engaged in a power struggle with her 14 year old son. Her son loves football and wanted to try out for his high school team. My client had determined that it was “simply too dangerous” for him to be playing football. She sited her concern about “concussions” as the main reason. I pressed her further and finally was able to get to the root of her concern.  She admitted that because he is small for his age she was concerned that he would be “crushed” when he didn’t make the team. I had an opportunity to speak with her son and brought up the possibility that he might not make the team. “If that’s the case, I will try out for the golf team, I actually like golf better than football anyway but she should at least let me try out”. Mom later admitted that she had been “crushed” when she had been cut from her high school cheerleading squad and later the debate team. She carried this feeling of rejection for years and simply did not want her son to experience those same feelings. *It can be noted that as of this writing her son not only made the team but may have a chance to get significant playing time as a freshman.

In both of these cases the parent is projecting their fears onto the child. It is important that we look back on our childhood objectively and be willing to release our past fears and insecurities. We must acknowledge that kids can be cruel, accept that failure is a part of our children’s growth process and understand that sheltering our kids from the natural flow of life may produce significant long term consequences.

Some thoughts on finding and maintaining a healthy balance…

*Create an authentic environment where your children can communicate their true feelings. When our children feel comfortable communicating with us from an authentic place, they are more likely to open up to us in times of confusion, adversity and even despair.

*Make a clear distinction between criticism and concern. When we have a concern it is wise to address it right away however, we must do so in a manner that doesn’t make us right and our children wrong. It is up to us to provide reasonable boundaries for our children without extinguishing their spirit.

*Spend quality time together. I believe that the family that plays together stays together. Engaging in healthy, outdoor activities provides us with an opportunity to bond and get to know each other on a deeper level.

*Encourage our kids to think outside of the box. We must challenge our children to look for solutions rather than dwell on problems. Remember, we are grooming the next generation for success not co-dependency.

*Encourage our kids to take risks and teach them that failure is an integral part of the success process. Protecting our kids from “potential” failure is not preparing them for the real world. When our children fail it is our job to let them know that we are proud of them for their willingness to take risks and for getting out of their comfort zone. As adults, how we react when our children experience failure will leave an indelible impression on them. Make sure it is empowering!

In short, Sandbox Bobby did what most of us would do if we had spent a lifetime on the outside looking in. Bobby made a conscious decision to make up for some lost time. At the time of his unfortunate death, Bobby was socially stunted, curious, easily influenced and he took everything to the extreme. I believe that if Bobby’s mother had been equipped with the information I have shared with you, Bobby would have been able to leave the sandbox at the appropriate time and never look back. God had other plans for Bobby. My hope is that by hearing his story another life may be saved.

As always, I appreciate your thoughts and feedback.

10 Reasons Why “Moms” Make Outstanding Business Leaders…John Page Burton

After a recent conversation with a female client who manages to effectively balance the roles of being the primary care giver to three small children with also being the CEO of a progressive start up company, it dawned on me why “moms” tend to make such outstanding business leaders. The skills that are required of motherhood are basically the same skills that are required of a successful business person. Below are 10 examples of the traits and skills inherent to both “moms” and business leaders.

1. Organizational skills. “Moms” are highly proficient at multitasking. They know where things stand and how to maximize both time and material resources. They are masters of logistics who understand that the devil is often found in the details. They routinely inspect what they expect.

2. Problem solvers. “Moms” rarely sweat the small stuff!  They know where to focus their energy and when to release control. When a problem or obstacle arises, they transition into solution mode and stay there until they achieve a favorable outcome.

3. Master negotiators. “Moms” occupy a permanent seat at the bargaining table. They must possess the ability to impartially consider all evidence, weigh each argument and often render their decisions in the face of extreme opposition. They make decisions that are congruent with their core beliefs and values.

4. Financial management. “Moms” are masterful at establishing and living within a budget. They understand the value of a dollar and how to make it stretch. They are value oriented and consciously seek out the highest return for their investment. They will plan for a “rainy day” and they understand the fundamental principles of income to debt ratio.

5.Resource management. “Moms” can make 3 peanut butter sandwiches using 2 tablespoons of peanut butter and convince their kids that bread is what makes the sandwich so tasty in the first place. They are masterful at recycling clothes, shoes, books, bicycles and just about anything else that can serve a secondary purpose and still keep them within or under their budget.

6. They are true servant leaders. Need I say more. The early stages of motherhood could be described as a thankless job in which the compensation is low and the frustration is high. Motherhood requires an extreme outward focus.

7.Patience. “This to shall pass” becomes a daily mantra.  “Moms” learn that all storm clouds will eventually blow over and be replaced by blue sky and rainbows. They recognize that maintaining patience is critical to their sanity. They learn to focus their energy on what they are able to control in their present moment rather than dwelling on the past or living in the future.

8. Flexibility. “Moms” recognize that life happens when they are making other plans. They instinctively understand the value of contingency plans and must be extremely quick on their feet. They are acutely aware when they are trying to put a square peg in a round hole and will usually be among the first to acknowledge that NOW would be a good time to head in a different direction.

9. Compassionate understanding. Life holds a profound truth…STUFF HAPPENS! Feelings get hurt, ego’s are bruised, fears surface, anger arises, jealousy brews and through it all a “mom” must remain objective and compassionate with those in her charge. Compassion is a guiding light to those who are lost.

10. Sense of humor. “Moms” know the secret to life…don’t take yourself or those around you to seriously. Maintaining a sense of humor is the healthiest way to navigate through trying times. A sense of humor helps us to maintain perspective and is also a reminder that we should not go through life treating everything as either do or die. A smile can often melt even the hardest heart.

In short, “moms” are natural family leaders who also make outstanding
business leaders!  As always, I look forward to your thoughts and feedback.