Why Failure is Fundamental to Success!

Failure!

This is not a word that brings happy thoughts.  In fact, it is something we avoid so much that we often miss opportunities because we see the risk of failure that is attached.  Failure is something we all must face at some point in our lives.  From grades, to relationships, to careers.  We will climb, and we will fall, eventually.

The ugly truth is we can fear failure so much that we spend more time focusing on it than dreaming and creating.  We may not take a high powered job because we are afraid we cannot handle it, and we will fail.  We may trade one major in college for a safer one because we are afraid we will fail if we are challenged too much.  We may not stick with relationships long enough to let them flourish because if it fails, we will be heartbroken.  In fact, we have given the fear of failure a great deal of power over our lives.

If there is anything I have learned, it is that I would not be the strong, confident, and intelligent woman I am right now if I did not take risks.  I used to hide in fear, not believing I could do the things I wanted to do.  It all boiled down to my fear of failing myself and the ones I respect and love.  It took some major failures for me to find out that I was stronger than I thought.  Then, it took a great deal of risk to get to where I am now.  I am not even close to done as I know I will continue to risk failure because each time I do, I grow, learn, and discover even more about myself.  I now know I must fail many times before I will succeed a few.  I also know, the success is worth it because I will have earned it.

The next time you consider turning down an opportunity, or cast aside a dream, think about the reason behind it.  Do you not want the opportunity, or are you afraid you will fail?  Take more chances, aim for more dreams, and when you fail, try again.

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Why “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg Can Help You!

I have heard fellow business students speak about Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In” over the past semester and knew I had to read it.  I am not sure if it is the fact that the business world is evolving and women are taking more risks, or if it is because I attend an all women’s day college, but the popularity of this book is making its mark.  I have lofty goals and know the glass ceiling still exists in many ways for women.  As soon as my semester was over, I dove into this book.  The main concept that is discussed in this book is the fact that women tend to steer clear of the table, when they should be willing to sit down, even if they are the only woman, and “lean in.”  It is necessary for women to become more involved in the business, the dialog, the negotiations, and to not fear discussing important topics.

Sandberg even goes as far as discussing the need for women to speak about their family choices such as having a baby, and to not turn down opportunities because they think their pregnancy or children will affect it.  Instead, they should determine the choice they make based on their desires.  I have seen how women limit themselves, and I am a shining example of this as I have always put others ahead of myself, until recently.  I think Sandberg makes an important point because women tend to remain silent when they should be speaking up!  It is crucial for women to know where they are going and what they want.

As more equality is found in the workplace, more fathers will need to step up, and I have seen this happening as well.  My husband is incredibly supportive, and while I can nitpick and say he is not taking on enough housework, he takes on a great deal of the work with the kids.  I assume that as I work more outside of the home, he will step up even more and take on housework.  Sandberg shows the unfortunate seclusion men face when they become the primary caregivers for their children, and this dynamic also needs to change if women are to rely on them more.  The important thing is for the dialog to continue so changes can be made.  Women need to “lean in” because their opinions and challenges matter.  Without an equal say, there cannot be an equal society.

Sandberg brings up important topics, some of which are already widely discussed, but her overall message is important to the development of women in the workforce.  There are many things I will take away from this book, but more importantly, when I find myself backing away from a situation because I am one of the only women, or I am nervous, I will “lean in.”

Advocacy Blog Series: Parents as Advocates

I think it is crucial to discuss the aspect of advocacy that blends into the role of parenting.  When a child is born, the parent is automatically the advocate unless the child is a ward of the state or another family member.  There is an instant responsibility that goes deeper than basic care and devotion.  Every time that child has a problem, is ill, needs supportive services in school, requires a legal guardian for sports, or anything else, the parent falls into the role and becomes the child’s advocate.  Some parents take to this quite easily, and if they are lucky, they will make it through the 18 years of guardianship without a hiccup.  However, it is likely that something will happen.  The child will probably be hospitalized at some point, they may require counseling for depression or more severe mental illnesses, they may be a victim of bullying or abuse, and they may have a physical illness.  It is almost guaranteed that a parent will face at least one serious issue where they must advocate for their child.

What does this mean?  It means you must be willing to be informed, to question, to learn, research, have sleepless nights, make tough decisions, and do whatever else may be necessary to help your child get the help they need.  The system, whether educational, medical, state, or judicial, should be there to support you and your child as well, but things can go wrong.  Even the people working in the system may make misinformed decisions, stereotypical assumptions, or mistakes.  This is why it is so important for parents to put the extra effort in.  here are a few examples:

When my son struggled with mental health issues that threatened the safety of my family, we had to research his conditions, understand the medications, seek residential care, and fight the doctor who attempted to place him in a group home where he would have ended up in the state system.  It was not easy.  In fact, most of my days were spent researching, making phone calls, or sending emails.  The one truly important lesson I took away from this situation was the need to document everything.  When the doctor was acting unethically, I began to copy very detailed emails about his plans and our concerns to people in the government, at the top of the insurance company, and advocacy agencies.  This had a major impact, all info was documented, and he was fired.  We were able to get my son into a facility that was able to help him.

When my daughter was diagnosed with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, we were shocked at first.  Thankfully, I had an incredible woman at the hospital who was an advocate for me as I tried to get my daughter on SSI.  It was a nightmare, and I had suffered abuse over the phone from my local SSI representative.  I was not strong enough at this point to fight, but this woman helped me, she fought for me, and was a perfect example of why advocacy is important.  After I grew stronger, and did some research, my life became about doing everything I could to care for my daughter.  My husband and I were proactive, we kept medication logs, medical records, notes, and anything we could to help track her care between surgeries.  This was another example of the need for documentation, but also the realization that outside help from an advocate can be incredibly helpful.

Finally, in the educational arena, we have had to work very closely with my son’s schools to accommodate his disabilities.  He has had an Individualized Education Program (IEP) since he was in kindergarten, and it was very useful.  For a parent, it can be confusing at first, but there are a few things you can do to help.  First, read the school’s handbook, next, research IEPs, and look at specific state regulations.  Pay attention to your child and how he/she learns, responds, calms, or reacts at home.  Take notes on a regular basis about things that help and things that do not.  This is information you can supply in IEP meetings.  The more knowledgeable you are about the school system and what accommodations can be made, the better you can be at advocating for your child.  You also need to be open to recommendations.  If something doesn’t feel right, say no, but listen to reasoning first, and do not be afraid to ask questions.

These are only a few examples, but they truly express the ones that stand out to me as learning experiences.  Every parent will need to step into this role in some way, and some more than others.  Do not fault yourself for mistakes, or feel guilty when you miss something.  There are handbooks everywhere, but none that can truly guide you in your specific situation.  As an advocate, it often feels like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, but if you reach out for others, you may be surprised at who is there, and who has been through similar experiences.  Please feel free to share your experiences.

Control and the Caregiving of the Mentally Ill!

I have not spoken about my son on here yet, and it is time that I do.  It can be difficult to speak about the caregiving that goes with caring for a mentally ill child because mental illness has become a dirty term in our society.  While we speak about the needs to pay attention to mental health when someone kills themselves or someone shows signs that were ignored and people die as a result, we never really confront the lack of care.  We do not consider how families struggle with the various perspectives people have about mental health.  My son is mentally ill, and I have spent time wondering who I could talk to because I do not want them to think I am a bad mom or we are a broken family.  Are we broken, sometimes it feels like it, but we manage to piece ourselves back together.

My son has had various diagnoses since the age of 4.  We know for sure he has ADHD as he flaps his arms, has rapid thoughts, and cannot focus.  This is just the the beginning.  He has social issues and has been put in the autism spectrum umbrella.  He has also been labeled bi-polar, but that label has been removed.  He also has oppositional defiance disorder.  The last one is difficult for me as I think it is basically a child refusing to do what they are supposed to do.  He definitely has that, but I do not believe it is a mental illness, I believe it is a choice.

The past two weeks have been a nightmare in our home.  My son was doing well, but his grades continued to drop.  He was grounded from electronics and found ways around parental controls, but he was doing well compared to what we consider to be not well.  We put increased pressure on him by taking away his ereader since he figured out how to get through parental controls to access Facebook and have inappropriate conversations.  We thought we were winning as we took more and more control, but he pushed back…hard.

He has now refused to do any assignments over the past two weeks, he has not participated in classes, and he has earned 8 after-school detentions and an in-school suspension since then.  He has made it clear that this is his choice, and he said if we took him to the therapist, he would not participate and would waste our money.  At this point, he was 3 weeks into the new marking period, and all of his grades except one, was an F.  One was a 60%.  His lowest grade was a 7%.  This was what control led to.  The harder we pushed, the harder he pushed back.  This is when we stopped and gave him control.  We let him know his choices.  He could repeat 10th grade, end up in juvenile detention if he continued down the more defiant path, residential treatment again if he refuses to participate and does not work with his therapist, or he could take responsibility for his actions and turn things around.

Surprisingly, he started to make positive decisions today, and while I am afraid to get my hopes up, it shows that sometimes we need to relinquish control to find the best outcome.  This can be difficult for caregivers because we hold a lot of responsibility.  We are used to doing everything, but when we have to let go, we feel out of control.  I think this is especially true in cases of mental illness because there is so much we have yet to understand when it comes to mental illness and we already feel out of control.  This type of illness affects the whole family, and can be devastating.  It can take over your whole world, make the entire family dysfunctional, and cause a great deal of stress.  I have struggled to handle the barrage of turmoil while still maintaining my college coursework, my job, and my leadership roles.  I managed, but how many caregivers of mentally ill individuals are suffering and afraid to ask for support because they are afraid they will be judged.

It is time we open our hearts and recognize mental illness for what it is, an illness.  We should not make people who suffer through depression, bi-polar, and the many other conditions out there, feel as though they are abnormal.  We should not make families feel like they have to hide their mentally ill relatives or children because that makes it appear as though it is shameful.  We should be having a discussion with one another about how we can help the mentally ill and their families.  We should be trying to understand these individuals because they deserve to be loved and accepted for who they are, not for the image they present to the world.

How to Transform Caring!

In the caregiving world, caring can be many things, but we often assume it is “just” the task of daily care, grooming, medication control, nursing, and providing basic needs.  The problem here is that these tasks are often cast aside as unimportant, or carers believe their role is, as my mom says, “just a caregiver”.  Caregiving includes everything above as well as advocating for another, listening to them, helping them, loving them, and being with them.  The role of a carer must be based on fulfilling human needs, including the emotional ones, because people who are weakened by illness or age need more.

My grandfather has Alzheimer’s, and he is tethered to reality by only a few things.  My parents spend their lives making sure he is loved and cared for, and this included the emotional support.  He lost his wife a year ago, and she was one person who grounded him to reality.  It was difficult because he would ask for her each day, and my parents had to relive her death along with him.  This is where caregiving becomes more about the actual caring.  They have remained patient and loving.  He has since improved slightly and is grounded by my parents and his dog, Honey.  While he may forget a great deal, he notices his surroundings, my parents, and his little terrier.

His world was turned upside down again as his dog, Honey, died this morning.  This is when I saw how difficult caring could be because while my mom was upset by the loss of Honey, she was absolutely torn knowing she would have to tell her father about his little dog.  They placed her on her cushioned bed, and put her on his lap so he could mourn her while actually seeing her.  He needed to make this connection, and perhaps it will keep him from asking about her each day in the coming weeks.  My mom cried, and told me she is surrounded by death, and she knows there is more to come with her father so frail, and the fact that she also cares for my aunt who is dying of a rare cancer.

This leads me to the need for us to transform caring.  We have caregivers for the sick and elderly, but who is caring for the caretakers.  They are shrouded by death, loss, fear, illness, pain, and so much more each day.  They struggle to cope and carry on with their lives.  They face job and financial struggles, a massive loss of privacy, stress, and exhaustion.  There are not enough resources, and in many families, support is limited.  Caring needs to be transformed into a more comprehensive understanding on a societal level.  These issues need to be brought front and center at this time when baby boomers are aging, and the demands for caregivers will rise.  If not, we will see an increase in demand placed on family caregivers without the framework of support and this will lead to higher levels of stress related illnesses.  We need to begin a dialog about the health care system and reliance on caregivers now.  And, if you know a caregiver, support them if you can.  Offer to help by giving them a break, making a meal, running an errand, or just listening to them.  They need support too.

What Advocacy Means to Me

There are more and more non-profit organizations being created, more policymakers seeking to advocate to prevent specific injustices, and more people recognizing there are problems in our society, our laws, our beliefs.  I began to notice these problems early on as I grew up in a home painfully divided by mental illness.  I saw, at a young age,  the struggles that are so prevalent in the structures of mental health treatment in the United States.  When families are left, stripped of normalcy, to cling to any shred of hope, there is a problem.

I have learned a great deal about the need to advocate for oneself and for loved ones when navigating the health care system.  As an adult, I have been thrown back into the torment of hospitals, insurance, and fear as my both of my children have serious conditions which require specialized care.  In the process, I have seen parents and caregivers lose themselves, unable to fight or not sure how.  When family members are traumatized by the serious illnesses of loved ones, they should not be confronted with a system as convoluted and stoic as what we have.  While we have received excellent care, we have also faced atrocious care and callous individuals.  We have been placed in situations that devastated us.  We have had to learn the “business” of health care because the humanity disappeared.

This leads me to the idea of advocacy.  I believe advocacy begins with providing a voice for those who do not have one.  It is working on behalf of others who need your help.  Caregivers have to be advocates, as well as teachers, lawyers, policymakers, non-profit representatives, etc…  Advocacy is growing as we realize the need for people to represent various groups of people.  It could be under-advantaged children, abuse victims, parents with an ill child, caregivers of elderly parents, and the list goes on and on.

For me, advocacy has become an important aspect of my life because I have had people advocate for me when I needed it.  Then, as I became stronger, I advocated for myself, and my children.  Now, I wish to use what I have learned to advocate for others.  The more people open their eyes and see the situations that need to be changed, many of which are right around the corner or even in our own homes, the better our world will become.  If I do not step up and work for change, who will?  And, if you see something that you could lend your voice to, speak up.  If you don’t, who will?

Facing Your Fears!

As I have moved forward in my life, I have found one thing to be true.  Fear is an ever-present foe, and it has kept me from seizing opportunities.  It is so easy to see fear as instinctual, a protective mechanism we all have to stay safe.  This is true, but in many cases, we are afraid of the wrong things for the wrong reasons.

How many times have you walked away from an opportunity because you were afraid?  Perhaps you were asked to speak, but you were afraid to stand in front of a room of people where you would be judged or scrutinized.  This could have opened doors for you, but you let it slip through your fingers due to fear.

This is a common problem.  I have let fear rule my life.  However, I have been pushing it aside and taking risks lately, and I have been rewarded.  I was afraid of public speaking, yet I spoke to a room of people last week, and made such an impression, I have been asked to perform the same speech again.  I made contacts and became more confident at the same time.  I have found success is terrifying, and I think many people do not put themselves out there because they are afraid of the good outcome as much as the bad.  Acceptance, success, leadership, and power are scary because they are unpredictable.  We want to know what is coming, but when you do well, there is more responsibility and expectations placed on you.  You may fear your abilities to keep up and to meet these expectations.

I have had these fears, but I am finding my life to be more rewarding when I work toward achievement instead of shy away from it.  I am more confident, and I feel like I can accomplish anything I work for.  Instead of fearing the unknown, explore it and make it work for you.  If you stay locked in the life of mediocrity because you are afraid to seek success, you will not be happy.