OMG, did you hear about…

Such a common phrase. We hear it, and immediately we’re all ears. What juicy gossip is about to be shared? How exciting!

Gossip. We all do it. In fact, that’s the excuse used when someone is busted for gossiping. “Well, everyone does it. What’s the big deal?”

Recently I’ve been contemplating gossip and the role of reality TV in the habit. Back before DVRs, when TV was watched mostly live, reality shows provided an excellent outlet for gossip. We could sit around at work and talk about these ridiculous people and their ridiculous behavior. We could hash out what they did, what we think they should have done, and what we imagine we would have done, without consequences. It was as if there was an invisible contract. They were paid a lot of money, and now we get to gossip about them.

However, once people began recording to watch later, those conversations came to an end. You might excitedly start out with, “Hey, did you hear about what X did on X?” and someone would immediately stick their fingers in their ears and say, “La la la la! I haven’t watched it yet.” “Safe gossiping” all but came to an end. Suddenly we were looking at these people we work with and realized we no longer had much to talk about. After all, we were all there because we had a common job, not because we had common interests. So what did we do? If your workplace was like my last one, we fell into gossipping about each other. Reality shows did relieve workplace gossip for awhile, but it eventually made it so much easier to tolerate. It’s what we knew how to do. It’s what we had in common.

To the gossipper, it seems so innocuous. Actually, it’s better than that. It seems great. You’ve got an audience eating up every word. You’re the star. You’re showing how “in” you are by showing how “out” they are. Even the listeners feel better about themselves because after all, they are not being talked about. They’re included in the “can you believe this” group, which means the gossiper thinks they’re cool. And then, if they can add a bit of gossip themself, they become the star and the “in” person.

The incentives to gossip are plentiful and we all fall into the trap. I was as guilty as the next person for all the reasons listed above. There was a sense of power when I was the person who had information to share. I felt safe as long as I was included in the gossipping, because that meant they weren’t talking about me… until I left the room and they were. It was then that I understood the damage we were doing to each other. I stopped taking part, which left me completley out of the circle. I sat back and watched my coworkers cannibalize each other. Everyone would be in the room laughing and getting along, one person would leave, and suddenly the gossip would start about them. Then when they walked back in the room, the conversation turned light and fluffy again. It doesn’t take many brain cells to realize that you might be safe in the circle for the moment, but the minute you left, you would be fodder for their entertainment.

In that situation, trust evaporates. It doesn’t feel safe to say or do anything. You look at every person wondering what they’ve been saying about you and what they will say about you. In some cases, what they are saying gets back to you, and then… friendships die. When no one even tries to verify the truth, and immediately accept the gossip as gospel, the wounds go even deeper. They didn’t even question it? Really? That’s how little they think of me? As it says in Proverbs 16:28 “A perverse man spreads strife, And a slanderer separates intimate friends.”

How many times have we seen a news reporter, who is trained to ask “what, when, why, where, and how” as well as research the facts, get it wrong. They don’t consider an angle or understand all the motivations in the situation. Then we hear the whole story and suddenly we think, “Oh, now that makes sense!” Coworkers and friends don’t do that kind of work in their information gathering, yet people assume they’ve got all the facts. For instance: “Did you hear he blew through his mother’s inheritance in a year? How stupid could he be.” Then you find out the person spent the money to help a sick friend, and rather than being stupid, the man was a saint. The gossipper generally doesn’t have all the facts, but we like to believe they do, so we can judge someone else and feel superior.

Would we want our story represented like that… only sharing the negative and not looking at all the facts – or someone not taking into account all the motivations that led to the behavior? Of course not, so we need to stop doing it to each other. Gossip is an infection that does nothing but destroy. Since we spend so much time at work talking with coworkers, there will always be some discussion about each other. Sometimes there are issues that need to be discussed and sorted out. How do we avoid the pitfalls of gossip? How do we know when we’ve left the realm of discussing work and entered into the destructive habit of gossip? In an article worth reading titled “The Danger of Workplace Gossip,” Mary Abbajay states, “If the discussion is hurtful or damaging or negative, then yes, it is gossip… …If the story is told with negativity and without good will, then it’s gossip.”

Next time you start talking about someone, there are 3 simple questions to ask youself before you speak – Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind? If the answer to any of those is “no,” keep it to yourself. I’m working on that, but still have a long way to go. It’s a tough standard to live up to, but our workplaces and friendships would be better off for the attempt.

 

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Happy Birthday to Me

Birthdays are only unpleasant if you are aren’t doing in life what you want to be doing. Even though yesterday was my first step into the second half of a century, which could be depressing, this was a very happy birthday. The increasing number means little right now.

The first half century of my life was pretty remarkable. I often think about myself as someone kind of boring. I’m just a middle-aged woman living alone with my cats. Then I think back on all my adventures and realize I have not lived an ordinary life. Running off to Hawaii at 20. A summer in Yellowstone. A winter at the Grand Canyon. Teaching city kids about nature. Showing up in LA with no experience and still managing to have a 25 year career in television – working with the biggest celebrities, sports figures, and government officials on the planet. I’ve gone caving, had the Phantom of the Opera sing to me backstage, seen Renoirs and Van Goghs in person, attended several Super Bowls, gone ghost hunting overnight on an old ship, made John Candy laugh, ridden the London Eye, chatted backstage with the VP of the United States, gone whale watching, and so much more. I’ve done things I never could have imagined I would do when I was young. It has been a remarkable ride, and I’ve said that if I die today, I wouldn’t be eligible for a refund. I’ve gotten my money’s worth.

However, most of those events happened years ago. For the past few years there has been very little adventure in my life. I went to work. I recovered from work. I went back to work. That was life. Daydreams, which were the power behind most of my adventures, stopped completely. Being a square peg in round Hollywood left me more and more insecure. I built higher and thicker walls, sure I would be rejected anyway. I collapsed in on myself, not sure who I was anymore. For the first time in my life, I understood the term, “soul sick.” No dreams, no joy, no me.

Thankfully, the soul is a resilient thing. Since leaving LA and finding myself in a strong community of friends and coworkers, my soul has returned to life. I find myself more comfortable in my skin. Confidence is growing, laughter comes easily, but most importantly, I can dream about my future again. I can imagine all sorts of exciting adventures happening… even falling in love. Anyone who knows me well is probably picking themselves up off the floor after that comment.

I feel like I’ve received so many wonderful gifts this year. My house in LA was beautiful inside, but had no view other than my neighbor’s houses and a sliver of busy street. Right now I look out across an expanse of field bordered by trees that are just starting to change into a beautiful mix of reds, golds, and greens. I’m have the time and mental clarity to be working on a novel. My commute went from an hour and a half battling LA traffic to 10 minutes on side streets of a small city. My dead-end job is dead, and I’m now doing work that matters, is appreciated, and provides new challenges every day. I went from working in a toxic soup, to one of mutual support and encouragment. What might I have accomplished in Hollywood with this support system? I went from worrying I had no future, to being able to dream of fantastic futures. A completely 180. I am so blessed.

Through a bit of planning, hard work, and a great deal of real estate luck, I have recieved the best birthday present I may have ever been given. I’ve gotten myself and my dreams back. Happy birthday to me.

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Wherever You are is Perfect

All the advice on building a loyal audience to my blog is to make regular posts. I’m failing at this. Like most people, I don’t like failing. However, being kind to myself is taking precedent over achieving many of my goals.

Historically, I have not been particularly kind to myself. Most of us aren’t. We say things to ourselves that we would never tolerate being said to others. We know how those words create deep wounds and step in to defend others, but then we cut ourselves to the bone. It’s a disease we need to work on curing.

When I first moved to Missouri, I was in an almost manic phase. I had a vision of a perfect life. I didn’t want to fall into old habits. I wanted to pursue social connections and not become isolated. I wanted to find people with whom I fit. I wanted to eat right. I wanted to exercise. I wanted to lose weight. I wanted to write daily. I wanted to meditate. I wanted to keep negative thoughts at bay. I wanted to solve every problem I’d ever had. AND I wanted to relax into my new slow-paced, stress-free life.

Ha! It was like I short-circuited. Since I hadn’t reached my goals, it felt as if what was true today, would be true forever. It hadn’t worked instantly, so it would never work! (face palm)

When I realized I was rushing into things and trying to make it all work at once, I actually learned from my mistakes and stopped stressing so much. I allowed things to unfold at a natural pace, and stopped worrying about where I should be. Shockingly, that has done the trick.  I actually did solve all my problems at once, and have been able to relax into a new slow-paced, stress-reduced (not free) life.

You see, once I stopped beating myself up for not being perfect and recognizing that life is a process, the social connections were far easier to make. When someone is telling you you’re a permanent failure, it’s hard to believe you’re likeable. Then I joined a group class at work, where I not only exercise, but get to do it with fun, supportive people. That ticks off the boxes, making connections, exercising, and losing weight. The more I work out, the less eating garbage appeals. I’ve started to meditate again. I’m not doing it daily, but I’m doing it more days than I was. I’m definitely reaping the rewards of that. As I slow down and focus more on being present, joy comes flooding back into daily activities. Even turning on the faucet can be miraculous if you’re in the right mindset.

So, what’s been learned? Acceptance. That, wherever you are is perfect. It has to be. It’s where you are.  If you want to be someplace else, then take a step in that direction. It still won’t be exactly where you want to be, but it will be perfect for you, because where you are now is one step closer than where you were. That’s the only way to get there. One perfectly imperfect step at a time.

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