Ban the Valentine’s Day Performance Plan

I’ve been called a Valentine’s Day scrooge. It’s true. I love people. Not Valentine’s Day. During the 14 years I was married, my husband was out of town for 13 of them and we barely acknowledged the day. Last year, the guy I was dating fell asleep on the couch at 9 pm and I watched Sports Center by myself.

Our culture has turned Valentine’s Day into a performance based holiday. I liken it to a grown-up version of standardized testing. Unnecessary pressure is placed on people to express their love for each other. Boyfriends, girlfriends, and spouses everywhere rarely pass the test. Single people feel obligated to appear sad. Mothers of young children turn into competitive lunatics.

Those of us less-crafty-types with small children feel lame on Valentine’s Day. A few years ago, my friend, Polly-the-Pinterest-Addict (girl, I love you), made these:

I have NO idea what they are, but don’t they look fabulous? This friend inspires me to be a better mom, and I love the creative things she does for her boys. But that photo launched me into a moment of inadequacy. Am I doing enough for my kids on Valentine’s Day?

On to the school parties. Check out these gorgeous card boxes by two girls in my son’s class when he was in first grade.

The boa! The glitter! The ladybugs! I have box envy. The problem is, I have a full-on panic attack when I walk into a craft store AKA foreign land that causes the right side of my brain to hemorrhage and me to drop dead in the pipe cleaner aisle.

I also loved this one with the lace.

I know you’re dying to see my son’s box…

Yep, that’s the reverse side of some leftover Christmas wrapping paper.

Adding to the paucity of my self esteem at these annual class parties are the beautifully crafted hand-made cards and gifts. I call it a success if I can get my kids to write their own name 23 times on store bought Disney cards.

This time of year I’m out of steam. It takes me two months to recover from the ridiculous, evil Elf on the Shelf’s antics. I mean, er, I’m still tired from implementing all my fun Elf on the Shelf ideas! (Can we take a break from the performance pressure please?)

In the leadership development work I do with my consulting firm, I coach executives and athletes to maximize their potential and perform their best. Peak performance is critical to my clients’ success in sports, business and life. An important distinction for any leader is this:

Your performance does not equal your identity.

Who you are is determined by your core values and by living those values with integrity each day. Your identity is not affected by your performance at work, on the playing field, or on Valentine’s Day.

If LOVE is one of your core values, let’s take back the holiday and focus on what’s important: Loving others well.

Here are three ways you can live out this core value:

  • TELL people you love them. Not just on a holiday. Tell them every day.
  • SHOW people you love them. Do something unexpected for a friend. Send a card for no reason. Make your family’s favorite meal on a Tuesday.
  • REACH OUT to those who might not feel loved. Chances are you know someone who is hurting from painful circumstances. They’ve lost a parent. They’re the new kid at school. They’re going through a divorce. Notice them. Befriend them. Invite them to lunch. Or simply pick up the phone.

Join me to ban the performance plan inherent in our society’s celebration of Valentine’s Day. Of course, if you’re a talented baker or crafty-type and you enjoy those activities as an expression of love, rock on sista! All you romantic guys, keep supporting the economy and pay the 300% markup on flowers and candy this week, especially if your wife’s love language is chocolate!

For those who might feel less-than on this holiday, keep in mind it doesn’t matter if yours is the best gift, most delectable treat or embellished card. Take the pressure off yourself and do one thing.

Love others well. Every day of the year.


The Secret to Becoming a More Positive Communicator

We all know someone who drains the energy right out of us. The thought of a brief conversation with a certain friend gives you the shakes. A feeling of dread bubbles up when you see a particular family member’s name on your phone. To this day, you fear that mean math teacher. Or you suddenly come down with a case of swine flu after reading a coworker’s name on the meeting agenda.

After years working in consulting, education, and as a parent, I’ve observed one specific behavior these people all have in common: a negative communication style. Everything they say comes across as critical or condescending. The Debbie Downer is a nag, drag, and a total wet rag.

You’ve been guilty of doing this at times, and it’s likely unintentional. Still, the way you come across when communicating with colleagues, peers, friends, and children will have a lasting effect on your relationships. It will either positively or negatively affect the desired outcome.

The secret to becoming a more positive communicator is simple:


What’s a START behavior? It’s something you want the person you’re talking with to start doing. By contrast, a STOP behavior is something you want the person to stop doing.

Most people, without realizing it, focus on STOP behaviors when engaging with others. Consider these examples:

A manager says to his subordinate, “You’ve gotta stop being late to meetings.”

A teacher says to her students, “Stop blurting out!”

A coach says to her team, “You’re loafing on defense!”

A friend says to another, “I never hear from you anymore.”

A parent says to a child, “Stop running around, you’re not listening!”

All of these statements come across with a negative tone of accusation.

Now consider these alternatives:

“It contributes to the team’s success when you’re on time to meetings.”

“Raise your hand, please.”

“You need to want the ball more than the other team!”

“I’d love to get together for coffee. I miss you!”

“It’s time to sit down and do homework.”

See the subtle differences? One set of statements sends the receiver of the message a bad feeling. The other phrases send the same message in a more positive, respectful way. The first set assumes the worst about the person you’re addressing. The second set assumes the best in them.

It takes practice, but focusing on START behaviors when communicating with the people in your life will not only increase the likelihood of a better response, it will improve the overall health of your relationships.

What are some ways you try to be a more positive communicator?


The One Thing Your Children Need to Hear

Do you love your children? The majority of parents would respond with a resounding yes. A large percentage claim to love their kids unconditionally and want them to know it. But throughout my experience coaching, teaching, and volunteering in schools I have seen too many kids tie their self-worth to individual performance.

Deep down in their hearts, they feel the following pressure:

My parents will love me LESS if I…

  • Miss the shot
  • Fail this test
  • Don’t try my best
  • Get caught in a lie
  • Wake up in a bad mood

My parents will love me MORE if I…

  • Score the most points
  • Make good grades
  • Have lots of friends
  • Obey all the time
  • Never fail at anything

Growing up in today’s pressure-to-perform culture, most children feel this way. But you can change it with these simple words.

I love you the same no matter what you do.

[Read more…]


Candy Corn Cookie Cemetery

My poor kids drew the short straw when it comes to having a crafty-type mom. I try, but baking and glueing aren’t my thing. That’s why I love this easy, no-bake Halloween treat. Bonus: it’s delicious. The recipe makes two batches. Give one to a neighbor, or if you’re OCD like me, have one for the kids to decorate and one you can make with perfect-looking rows.

It’s also a great recipe if you’re without power due to hurricane Sandy. The beating/mixing can all be done by hand. No electric mixer or oven required.


Two packages Oreo cookies
Two 8 ounce packages cream cheese, softened
Two 3.4 ounce packages instant vanilla pudding mix
4 cups milk
2 cups powered sugar
Two 8 ounce containers frozen Cool Whip topping, thawed
Candy Corn
Two shallow, rectangular aluminum trays with lids

First, set aside about 20 Oreos to make the tombstones. Cut two sides off each cookie, keeping the scraps. Combine remaining cookies from both packages with scraps and crush. You can do this easily in a food processor. Or put them in a plastic bag and hit repeatedly with a mallet or meat tenderizer. (I prefer the second method if highly stressed after reading how many of your Facebook friends have started their Christmas shopping.)

In large bowl, whip cream cheese with an electric mixer on medium speed. In a separate bowl, whisk together dry vanilla pudding mix and milk for about two minutes. This is good exercise for those upper arms you want to show off in your holiday dresses next month. So don’t forget to switch arms at the minute mark. Add the pudding mixture to cream cheese, along with powdered sugar and whipped topping. Beat until well blended.

Spread a layer of crushed cookies on the bottom of each pan. Next spoon a layer of cream cheese mixture over the cookies. Repeat the layers and finish with a good ground covering of cookie crumbs for the cemetery. Arrange the cookie tombstones and candy corn as desired. Cover and chill for two hours before serving. Keep in the fridge.

Happy Haunting!