Support Others with Serious Illnesses

Oftentimes we don’t know how to help a friend or client dealing with serious, long term illnesses. We ask what we can do, look to actions that make US feel better rather than what best helps them. Here are a few ideas:

– Attend key doctors’ appointments to take notes;
– Drive to/from appointments;
– Run errands;
– Bring food (be sure to ask the person if there are any allergies or preferences). Cook for them, not yourself;
– Walk the dog (or cat);
– Listen;
– Touch them – human touch has amazing healing power.

When someone is struck with a serious illness, they may or may not choose to reveal what’s going on with them. If someone shares with you, thank them for their trust and listen with compassion. Don’t project. And try to understand their situation as best you can. Again, don’t project.

A friend recently shared with me some great advice about sharing. There are people who understand, but don’t care. And there are people who care, but don’t understand. Then there are those who neither care nor understand (avoid), and those who care AND understand. It’s from this last group that you’ll likely get the best support – the love & support you truly want & need.

Introspection + Extrospection

I love the Enneagram. The more I learn about it, the cooler I think it is. For those of you unfamiliar with it, the Enneagram is a personality typing tool. Unlike tools such as MBTI (which I also think is valuable), you don’t need a professional to interpret it and tell you what your type is; it’s the only self-identifying typing tool that I know of, and the nine (9) types are intriguing. I’ll write more about this in future posts, but what has me excited today is the “EnneaThought” I just received from  If you know your type, you can sign up to get the EnneaThought for your type on a daily basis. So far, I’ve found them to be about 95% applicable, so I think I’ve typed myself accurately. Here’s the latest:

“Reflect on this teaching: Possession of knowledge alone cannot bestow virtue, happiness, or fulfilment. For these things we must look within and beyond ourselves. Where do you usually look for them? (Understanding the Enneagram, 331)”

I love knowledge. I used to think knowledge alone was enough (it’s not). Then I focused on introspection; interesting (to me), but not enough. I’ve come to realize that introspection and extrospection – looking beyond ourselves – are the truest ways to happiness and fulfillment. We can’t rely solely on ourselves, nor can we expect others to make us happy. It’s a combination of the internal and external that allows us to develop most fully.

How Do You Define Success?

When you think about success, what does it look like?  Have you ever stopped to fully picture it?  If you don’t know what it looks like, how will you know when you achieve it? Think about the physical environment – where are you geographically? In the city or the country? In the mountains? At the beach? Are you with other people? If so, what are they like? Are you managing people, working with peers, building a home and family?

If you’re thinking about professional success, what about the organization? Is it formal, or informal?  What’s the dress code? Who are the people around you?  What kind of people work for you?  Who are your peers?  Who, if anyone, do you work for?  If you are the boss, what kind of manager are you?  What do you want your organization to look like? What’s the dress code, if any? What do you expect from your colleagues?  How much personal time do you have? Can you work from home?

If you are thinking about personal success, what does that look like? Is it about your physical health?  Emotional health? Mental health? What are you doing to strengthen each of those areas? Are you going to a gym, walking with a friend?  Taking classes or seeking support where you need it.

Give it some thought, and create a picture of what success looks like for you. The more detail you can add, the more likely you are to achieve your view of success!

Offering Support

The following quote from Edgar Watson Howe made me think about the various ways we can offer support to others, “When a friend is in trouble, don’t annoy him by asking if there is anything you can do. Think up something appropriate and do it.”

I like the basic idea behind this, which is not to wait to be told how you can help, but to take action, because many people are hesitant to ask for – let alone accept – help even when it is offered. However, I think it’s valuable to ask as well, especially if you don’t know the person as well. They may have some specific needs, “Can you cover this meeting for me?” or “Would you be willing to accompany me to the doctor and take notes, in case I get overwhelmed?”. In cases like this, you want provide the support that’s been requested.

On the other hand, if you ask, and the person thanks you but says they can’t think of anything, then it’s time to get creative, based on the situation and your knowledge of the person, and then take action. For example, if you have a friend whose spouse is in the hospital, you might prepare some easy meals the family can use as needed, or arrange to take the kids overnight. You could also offer to sit with the patient to give the family member a break – studies show that patients who have someone with them to advocate for them get better care, especially if the patient can’t advocate for him/herself.

If your friend has lost his/her job, you could start working your network to help find opportunities and make connections; forward jobs you see that might be appropriate for them; suggest possible volunteer opportunities that could freshen their skills; and invite them to attend networking events.

We all know that when there’s a death in a family, people flock to support the bereaved right away. Two weeks later, however, the family is usually alone without the same support structure when the reality of their loss finally sinks in. In these cases, it’s just as important to provide ongoing support as it is to provide support in the midst of the emergency. You can do things as small as take out the weekly trash and recycling; make sure the gas tank is filled; pick up dry cleaning; go grocery shopping; help them sort through the paperwork that comes with such a loss; or take the person away for a few days or even a few hours to get a different perspective.

As you can see, there are a myriad of ways we can support those we care about. It starts with asking what we can do, and continues with thinking up ideas we believe will be welcome, based on our knowledge of the person and experience with the situation. It’s rare that we should take “no” for an answer – people in crisis always need help, and sometimes that help is in figuring out what help they actually need. Unless someone tells you your help is unwelcome, go ahead and do something. Think of what you would find useful, ask others who have been in a similar situation what helped them, and use your instincts. And be tactful. At the same time, don’t force your help on others; if you try something and they ask you to stop, stop. But know that when people are in crisis, they often don’t know what they need, and the idea of trying to give you an answer can seem overwhelming – like one more thing in an already long list. So find something simple, innocuous and unobtrusive to do that can help them without burdening them. People want – and need – our support; they’re often just too overwhelmed or embarrassed to ask for it.

Watch for an upcoming discussion on learning to accept – and even ask for – help. It’s a critical muscle that many of us don’t exercise enough.

Not Enough Time? Maybe It’s Time to Reconsider.

People often complain about not having enough time, but really we just waste bits and piece in little ways. There’s the 10 minutes waiting at the gas station, either to get to the pump or while filling up. Or the 20 minutes spent hitting the snooze button 5 times. The unexpected 15 minutes your colleague is late for a meeting (or you are early). The time between ordering takeout and its delivery – set the table and then throw in a load of laundry or unload the dishwasher. Or the time you spend waiting for a return phone call. I use that time to make short calls of my own, and the person I’m calling usually appreciates the brevity of the call because they are busy too.

As Charles Caleb Colton says, “Much may be done in those little shreds and patches of time which every day produces and which most men throw away.”

If you have an extra 15 or even 5 minutes, you can jot down ideas on a pad of paper or your smart phone for later reference, schedule an overdue doctor’s appointment, catch up on some key emails. When I go through my emails, the first thing I do is flag the important ones, and the next thing I do is delete all the unimportant ones. Then I go back and attack the flagged messages one by one. I often check my emails on my iPhone while waiting in line at the grocery store or for a colleague. Then I have an idea of what I’ll need to tackle when I get back to my office.

Tonight while taking a walk, I managed to map out in my mind a talk I’ll be giving in a few weeks. While it’s just in my head at this point, having allowed myself the walk and the time to think through what I want to accomplish, I know that creating my outline and talking points will take far less time now.

Here’s an exercise for you: map out exactly how you spend your time each day, in 15 minute increments. From the time you alarm goes off to the time you get up, take your shower, have your coffee, read the newspaper – whatever your morning routine – all the way through getting the kids settled after school and everyone to bed at night. Where do you lose bits and pieces of time? How do you use them when you suddenly realize you have 5 minutes you hadn’t anticipated? Let me know. I’m sure others will appreciate your suggestions!

The Easiest Thing Is to Be Yourself

I love this quote from Leo Buscaglia, “The easiest thing to be in the world is you. The most difficult thing to be is what other people want you to be. Don’t let them put you in that position.”

Despite this very simple truth, we run around life trying to be who we think others want or expect us to be, striving for some impossible state of approval. If you think about it, though, since almost everyone is doing this, we’re keeping ourselves from really knowing one another – and being known.

Try this: be yourself. Be authentic. You’ll find it’s really easy once you start, and I bet you’ll like who you see in the mirror!

Forgiveness: Who Is It Really For?

I was talking with a client the other day about this very topic. She was incredibly resistant to the idea of forgiveness, convinced that it somehow meant absolution for the person being forgiven. She said “I can consider moving on when situation X is resolved, but never forgiving. I hate that word.” I tried all sorts of ways to get her to see that forgiveness is not about the other person; it’s about the person DOING the forgiving, but she just wouldn’t budge.

A day or two later, a friend shared this Jewish proverb with me: “A (Jewish) wife will forgive and forget, but she’ll never forget what she forgave,” and it got me thinking about my client. Maybe this is why she feels she can’t forgive – because she knows she’ll never forget. But forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting. It just means letting go of the hold that a situation or person has over you. Why give someone else’s actions the power to “run” your life? As the saying goes, “…holding a grudge is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.”

What do you think? Is there someone in your life you need to forgive, in order to clear some emotional clutter from your life and start running your own life again?

Why we are grieving about tomorrow...

when tomorrow’s not today?” These brilliant words came from the mouth of my 8-year-old nephew, Nick. So often we worry about troubles that have yet to arise without realizing the time and energy we are wasting.

It took me until my 40’s to realize that you have a choice: you can stress about what might happen, causing yourself a lot of potentially unnecessary angst, or you can focus on what is happening right now, and let tomorrow happen tomorrow.

I’m not suggesting you deny reality; it’s still important to prepare for potential outcomes. But is grieving a loss (be it a job opportunity, a second date, or the life of a loved one), that hasn’t occurred the best use of your time and energy? Imagine the loss doesn’t happen – you’ve worked yourself up over nothing. If the loss does happen, you’ll have plenty of time to deal with it then. In the moment.

You have a choice. Devote negative energy worrying about a problem that may never happen, or focus on the beauty of now. I’m so grateful that my nephew has already embraced this lesson.