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Truth Byte #70:

“Hard work before glory work.”





A couple years ago, I taught my son to do the laundry. I am an equal opportunity employer, and I think all my children (aka mini-helpers) should be able to eventually manage a household. His favourite part of doing the laundry has always been pouring in the liquid detergent and fabric softener. He calls the detergent the “yolk”. Another feature of our washing machine is that the buttons all have different tones, so when you are punching in the settings, it sounds like a little song. So of course, he also loves pushing the buttons.

For the past few years, whenever I was doing laundry, he asked to “put in the yolk and press the buttons”. Sometimes I let him, because I’m a mom and it’s a reasonable, doable, non-life-threatening request that teaches him something.

But sometimes I didn’t.

Sometimes I didn’t because secretly, I love pushing the buttons

On those times when I was really wanting to push the buttons, I would say to him, “If you want to do the glory work, you have to do the hard work.” And that’s how he got interested in learning to load the washing machine on his own. Hard work first, glory work next. There is no point pouring yolk and pushing the buttons if there are no dirty clothes to wash.

Ok, so what does this have to do with counselling?

You have to do the hard work to get to do the glory work.

People seek out therapy when they have tried everything else they can think of and nothing has really worked. Most people (except counsellors) come to counselling as a last ditch effort to make sense of their problems and get through them. They know how they want to feel. They can imagine what it will feel like to pour that yolk and can almost hear the delightful sounds of the buttons. What they forget is that the hard work comes first and they will have to face that incredibly smelly pile of dirty laundry before anything else.

We can’t bypass the hard part and reach happily ever after. It simply doesn’t work that way.

I had a friend reach out to me a while ago about her relationship with her husband, and how she was so tired of saying the same old thing year after year. She felt she wasn’t being heard, and she had come to the end of the line: she wanted to separate. We talked a little bit about what that would be like for her, and then I shared a little bit of what I have been learning lately about the male brain.  

  • Did you know that women can read facial expressions and tones of voice that don’t even register in the brains of men?
  • Did you know men, from before birth, are wired to learn with their eyes and bodies more than their ears?
  • Did you know that women can hear and distinguish two sounds simultaneously while men concentrate on one sound and everything else becomes white noise?
  • Did you know men bond with each other by doing activities together women bond with each other by talking?

A lot of this is basic brain-wiring! Of course, there are always exceptions and outliers, so not everyone will fit into these simplified differences, but, in general men's brains tend to be more like other male brains than like female brains.

The first thing is to do the hard work of realizing you can’t change anyone else’s brain, especially when they pretty much came like that. Only they can change their brain. You can change your own.

The next part of the hard work is being willing to put yourself in the other person’s shoes, to try to see a situation from another perspective.  Maybe he is just tired and needs to numb out with tv. Maybe she’s spent the day speaking to no one but the children, and wants to have a grown-up conversation so her brain doesn’t turn to mush. 

Maybe you both need different things in the exact same moment.

Seeing it from the other person’s perspective helps us to stop taking things personally, and have more compassion and understanding for the ones we love.

The last part is changing your actions and thoughts. This actually impacts your brain! There are certain beliefs you have been carrying around for years that you may not be aware of. When you challenge that default brain setting, you actually create new pathways in the brain.  Therapy helps a lot at this point (and even earlier!)  because you are working with a professional who has loading dirty clothes down to a science.

Once my friend and I chatted about all these things, a light switch went on. She is now doing the hard work of trying to understand where he is coming from and acknowledging all the demonstrations of love he shows regularly. She is starting to decode his love language, and trying to understand things through his eyes. I think they have a while to go before the yolk and buttons, but the key is to stick with the hard work. It takes time and persistence, but eventually, the glory work will follow.

So what is the glory work? The glory work is where you start to realize that everything you see around you can be interpreted in several different ways. The glory work happens when you see that your way isn’t always the right way, and you begin to genuinely learn from others and from Life. The glory work is where you begin to relax and enjoy your life and relationships rather than always feeling like you have to fix or manage something.  And the glory work is absolutely within your reach, if you are willing to do the hard work first.

Last year, my 5-year old daughter asked my 8-year old son if she could put in the yolk and press the buttons. He looked at her, looked at me, looked back at her and said, “You have to do the hard work if you want to do the glory work. But I can help you do the hard work.”

If you need help with the hard work, email me at connect@talktosaira.com for your free 20-minute telephone consultation or to sign up for my mailing list.

On Marriage

Truth Byte #69: It’s the little things that hold us together.

As Spring arrives, so does wedding season. So many people get so excited for their big day, spend lavishly, dress scrumptiously, and gather together friends and family to witness this lifelong commitment.

But what happens after the dust has settled and the humdrum of regular life kicks in?

This year is my lucky 13 in marriage, and while I still consider myself quite the infant when it comes to married life, there are some things that I have picked up in this last decade that may be useful if you are newly married or struggling with a marriage that doesn’t feel like what you signed up for.

WARNING: I know that some readers may be annoyed by this post because marriage actually didn’t work out so well for them, and I understand that perspective. But even those who have been through horrible endings, once they have had a chance to allow the wounds to heal, will likely seek out a long-term companion. Whether married, common-law, live-in, deeply committed, or some other label, I know about some things that are actually working for people in monogamous relationships. So if that’s you, it still may be worth the read.

What does it take to remain content and connected as a married couple?

When I scroll through my social media feeds, I see married couples on fancy holidays and picnics in the park. I see birthday bashes, sporting events, daddy-daughter dates, and girls' night out.

But what I don't see is what actually sustains us in marriage.

What we don’t see is the daily connection, the interrupted conversations, that sweet touch on the small of the back, that look of adoration. What we don’t see is the tightening of lips and shoulders when someone puts down the one you love in front of you. What we don’t see is the teasing hug good night before bed because she wants to stay up and watch mindless tv, and that’s okay with you. What we don’t see is him making your mom feel better when she uses the wrong pronoun.

These little moments are what keeps a marriage afloat during stormy waters.

No one ever told me about the power of these little things when I was a newly-wed. We committed our lives to each other after living on our own terms for a decade.

Suddenly, our lives were expected to blend together seamlessly.

There were times I felt so lonely and confused, even though my partner was lying right next to me in bed. I guess I thought marriage was going to be like a series of dates, each one more thoughtful and surprising than the next because as time went on, he would get to know me better, right? And for the first couple of years, it was.

We played house, had a baby, figured out how to include each other in our families of birth, and paid all our bills on time.

But as time marched on, our calendars got busy, we had another baby and suddenly date night was not easy to pencil in. As my partner loves to say, we became two ships, passing in the night. We decided to attend a 9-month training program to learn about the dynamics of intimate relationships, and finally we started to see how the ebbs and flows we were experiencing were part of the maturation of our bond. We learned about the stages and phases of love, and how authenticity and commitment would always bring us back to each other.

We learned that our marriage was something we had to mould and tend to, otherwise, in a very short time, and without warning, it would wither away.

We watched as that withering happened to some dear friends around us. We watched as they let each other go in search of greener pastures, while their children, parents, friends, and extended family tried to figure out how to reconcile this new normal.

We wondered if it was just a matter of time before we were that couple that drifted away from each other. Neither of us can look at our own parents and say, “Now there’s a happy couple”, so we had no role-models to look up to.

So we studied relationships, grew together while remaining strong in ourselves, and we looked for mentors, people who had the kind of marriage we wanted to someday have.

And we found them!

This older couple that we know just go together like peanut butter and jelly, like milk and cookies, like saag and roti. They get each other. Each of them makes the other seem shinier. They are also not afraid to ask for what they need and disagree (honestly and respectfully) on a regular basis. They have surrounded themselves with other people who believe in marriage and are willing to fight through the storms holding hands. They are the two rocking on the porch at the end of a life well-lived who the neighborhood kids call Grandma and Grandpa.

The two essential ingredients they have cultivated are: mutual respect and a deep, abiding friendship.

So that’s what we hold on to now: mutual respect and deep friendship. When things get heated I ask myself if I would say what’s about to come out of my mouth to a friend. He asks himself if the respect he feels for me is strong enough to stand up for me when it counts. We keep coming back to each other, no matter how far away our ships sail in the night.

We invest in the little things.

Sometimes we go to bed angry, because that works for him. He always wakes up feeling better. Sometimes we hash it out, because that works for me. I can sleep soundly then. So yes, there is give and take, and unfortunately, I don’t really get to be a brat and get my way all the time (though I SOOOOOO want to sometimes!). I have to show up as an adult and treat him like one too. No matter what the conflict, the marriage comes first, always. Before the kids, before our jobs, before our extended family obligations, before finances, our marriage is first.

So those are my thoughts on marriage, and how it’s actually the little things that keep us together. I am someone who loves to learn about myself and the people around me, and if you are too, here are some books that have helped us along the way:

If It Hurts, It Isn’t Love by Chuck Spezzano
Mars and Venus in the Bedroom by John Gray
The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine
I Wish He Had Come With Instructions by Mike Bechtle
How Can I Be Your Lover When I am Too Busy Being Your Mother? by Sarah Dimerman & J.M. Kearns

Listen to our podcast and join my husband and I as we journey through marriage and parenting, and adulting in general, and let us know if there is a topic you want to hear us talk about.

On Beauty

Truth Byte #68

“Beauty shines, no matter what.”

 

When I was a little girl, I would look at those blonde-haired, blue-eyed dolls lined up on the shelf at Toys R’ Us with an ache in my heart. That was back before the days they realized little girls with dark skin and black hair may need a doll that looks like them to feel normal. I looked nothing like those perfect, pink dolls, and I wondered how I too, could feel pretty.

 

Luckily, those pirated Bollywood films my parents enjoyed on our living-room TV on Saturday nights gave me an alternate version of beauty that I clung to into adulthood. To be beautiful (in my parent’s culture) you mostly just needed those big, beautiful eyes that spoke of love and longing and brimmed to the edge with tears every so often.  Lucky for me, I had inherited those exact eyes from some sexy, demure grandmother in my lineage. Long, thick, black hair and light skin helped too, but the focus in those old-time black-and-white movies was always those eyes, ringed with black eyeliner and full of mystery.

 

I have spent years wondering if I am beautiful.

 

Then this weekend, I delivered a TedX talk called “People matter more than things.”  As I looked at myself in the mirror before going on stage, I realized that when someone is walking their talk, when they are sharing their heart with no walls up, when they are being real, the beauty shines through. Sure, a cute haircut and well-fitted clothing may help, but real beauty is simply undeniable. We don’t have to look a certain way, we just need those eyes – those eyes that reflect our souls.

 

Today I plead with my sisters – let’s celebrate beauty, in all it’s forms.

 

So much of my childhood pain around beauty came from other girls and women, from a look, or a giggle, or a face turned away. My so-called friends would mock my clothing choices, not realizing that I had little influence on which hand-me-down outfit happened to fit my always-growing body.  My cousins, fairest of them all, would encourage me to stay out of the sun because I had a “problematic complexion”. Women that knew my mom would poke my extended, pre-pubescent belly, pinch my cheeks, and chuckle.

 

They all fed into the Toys R’ Us standard, and I truly didn’t fit it.  And though no one directly told me I was ugly, each of these moments made me go a little deeper into my shell, dimmed my shining light just a little bit more, until in my mid-twenties I found myself obese, bald, and stuck in the hell that is also known as self-loathing.

 

My mom was different though. As a child, she always pointed out my eyes, my hair, my heart. She taught me how to dress elegantly, and how to enjoy bright, bold colours. She promised me that one day they would all see what she did, and she stayed the course, even when I was feeling my ugliest.

 

Finally, that day has come.

 

Mothers, protect those precious little girls, let them know that their beauty will shine even while their bodies change and grow and feel alien to them. Aunts, cousins, be kind to each other. It’s not a contest. There is enough room here for all of us to shine. If we do, it simply makes a brighter, more beautiful world.

 

It's your life, and only you can live it.

 

Ten Years and Counting

Truth Byte #67

"Your love matters."

 

Yesterday was a busy day. I had five clients, two conference calls, one free consultation, and a job interview. Plus, I made three breakfasts, three lunches, and four dinners, made sure kids were brushed and washed and happy and looked after. I even squeezed in two calls to my sister and a text to my mom. And let’s be honest, I checked social media a few times and read a chapter in my book and watched some tv.

 

A busy day.

 

In the middle of it, I got a call from a number I didn’t recognize. I eventually the reached the person, who was looking for a counsellor. After a few minutes, it became clear to me that she was looking for free counselling services, which I am not offering anymore. It was hard to be on that call, because I knew she was not going to get what she wanted from me, and yet she was keeping me on the phone….right in the middle of my very busy day. Read More

Giving Enough and Getting Enough

Truth Byte #66

“Not everyone is as nice as you.”

 

I was raised to be nice. I did not yell at people, I did not swear, I did not gain any pleasure from other people’s pain.  Jealousy, rudeness, and stinginess were frowned upon in my family, and generosity, care, and selfless giving were our pillars. I took on the eldest sister role and learned very quickly to put my wants aside so the littler ones could be happy. We would hunt out the strays during the holidays and bring them home, because my mom felt no one should be alone at Christmas. We always made extra loot bags at birthday parties, because, as my mom used to say, “You never know who’s going to show up!” Read More

Who You Are, Not What You’ve Done

change, self-reflection

Truth Byte #65

“You are more important than your accomplishments.”

I grew up in an immigrant household where only one parent went to university, and that parent was only around until fifth grade. My under-educated, single-parent, working-class mom knew that the best way to secure our future was to push us to do well in school.

So I did.

I did really well.

Ph.D. well.

And because of that, so much of my early sense of worthiness came from my academic success. Preparing that neatly written report or getting the 100% (plus bonus marks!!) on the math test or knowing the teachers adored me was what gave me a sense of identity, a feeling of value. Read More

The Empath’s Guide

Self-care

Truth Byte #64

“Avoid energy zappers.”

 

I am an empath. That means I feel deeply what other people are feeling, sometimes even when they aren’t directly experiencing the feeling. It also means I can see into people’s emotional landscape even when they have spent a lifetime perfecting their masks of “everything’s fine.” I don’t know if being an empath is an official thing, but it’s an idea that has helped me understand and cope with my incredible sensitivity and often-debilitating compassion.

 

For much of my childhood, this made me seem like a crazy person. When there was tension in the room, I would feel it in my body, and my eyes would well up long before voices were raised. Read More

Sweat and Yoga

Truth Byte #63

“Flexible is the new strong.”

 

I started up my yoga classes again. It has been a few months since I rolled out my mat, because I was starting to feel like an hour of yoga every week was a bit indulgent. After all, I could be spending that time folding the pile of laundry that chronically sits in my guest bedroom, or vacuuming out the backseat of the car (damn kids and their food crumbs) or catching up on emails (over 4000 in my Inbox that need to be filed or deleted) or de-cluttering my garage. So I skipped yoga for months, thinking I would spend the time doing all these other annoying tasks, which, by the way, I never did. I simply took a longer shower and chatted on the phone with my sister instead.

 

But I digress. Back to yoga. Read More