Develop your Character – Dr. Lauren Hazzouri

From Lauren: While none of us created the current of the day—the antiquated notion that dictates we ‘do it all’—many of us unknowingly swim right along with it. We’re pulled in a dozen different directions and the best we can do is paddle as hard as we can, striving for perfection as we try to sync up the traditional gender roles of yesterday with the expectations of women in the workforce today.

THE PROBLEM

Swimming with the old current leads to falling short on all fronts, losing sight of one’s self and creating resentments, as illustrated in the following case composite.
How to Develop Your Character

MEET MARY

Mary raced into our appointment 10 minutes late, on a wing and a prayer. She was breathing heavily, her hair disheveled, wearing a pair of stained yoga pants and an oversized t-shirt. She sat on the couch and launched into an explanation of herself, her appearance and her tardiness. She told me that her five-year-old daughter had been crying earlier that morning and refused to go to school. Mary had missed her daughter’s bedtime the night before when she was at a work dinner that ran later than expected. She called her daughter and told her that she was heading home, hoping to ease her daughter’s mind so that she could fall asleep (she didn’t). Feeling guilty the next morning, Mary didn’t have the heart to send her to school, so she kept her home, assuming her own mother would be available on a moment’s notice, so that she could get to work. Unfortunately, her mother didn’t answer the call. In turn, Mary called in sick to work, where she had an 8am meeting, creating an internal discomfort, but making her daughter’s day. There’s nothing like being promised an entire day with Mommy! A few minutes later, Mary remembered her 11am intake appointment with me. Once again, she called her mother. This time, her mother answered and changed her plans so that she could stay with Mary’s daughter whileMary went to her appointment. In a valiant effort not to disappoint her daughter, who had been promised the day together, Mary winked at her mother and told her daughter that she was getting something out of her car in the garage. Instead, she left without an explanation, wearing what she had worn to bed the night before, and raced to our appointment.

Mary is not unique. On some level, this probably feels familiar to all of us. So, what’s the solution?

Swimming upstream takes guts, especially for women, who have been socialized to be nurturing, accommodating, polite and subtle. But, we are pioneers. We have guts—and we need to be bold in putting them to work for us.

As I’ve said, the first stroke upstream is a steadfast commitment to our core values, from which balance and boundaries originate. Here’s how to make that commitment—and stick with it.

BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF AND OTHERS

No one’s feelings are worth selling yourself out—not your boss’s, your child’s or your partner’s. Your character core must be strong to propel you through life in a healthy way. Stating your truth is the beginning of fitting your life to you. Repeat after me, a commitment to honesty is a commitment to self.

ALWAYS DO WHAT YOU SAY YOU’RE GOING TO DO

Make your word mean something. If you tell your daughter you are going to spend the day together, you must spend the day with her. If you tell your colleagues you will be at the office in the morning, get there! Don’t promise what you cannot deliver. Yes, at times you will have to tend to tears or deal with disappointment, but in the long run, you will create an environment of consistency and trust that will free you to live the life you deserve.

RESPOND—DO NOT REACT

The goal is to act in our environment in the same way that we would respond in a vacuum with no outside influences. In life, we can only control what we say and do. Much of the time, to respond appropriately, we must wait for our emotions to dissipate and our rational mind to resurface. All of our power lies in the space between stimulus and response. Becoming familiar with that space is so important. It allows us to hold on to our power, to ourselves!

DO THE RIGHT THING—EVEN WHEN NOBODY’S LOOKING

This is a tough one, especially if we are “good” for the sake of doing good or making others happy, and not for the sake of being well. We must value our character in the effort to be our best selves—for ourselves.

THE SOLUTION

Swimming upstream—speaking our minds, stating our truths and standing up for ourselves by being true to our character core—allows others in the water with us to adjust their stroke accordingly. It creates a consistent, interdependent climate that works, as is evidenced in Mary’s case.

How to Develop Your Character

MARY: THREE WEEKS LATER

I walked into my office at 8am to find Mary, typing feverishly on her laptop, wearing a yellow blouse tucked into a black pencil skirt. She greeted me with a vibrant, “Hello!” before explaining that she’d arrived to my office several minutes early to respond to emails before our session, after having dropped her daughter off at school. Mary told me that her new work schedule allows her to go into the office at 10am on Wednesday mornings to accommodate a weekly breakfast date with her daughter. It gives them something to look forward to after not seeing each other much on Tuesdays. Daddy is now in charge of the bedtime routine on Tuesdays, the night Mary schedules most work dinners. Because lying and reacting—a result of living in damage control mode—are not consistent with the recent commitment she made to herself, Mary had to set clear boundaries. She seemed relieved and proud of the manageable life she’s created by being honest, accountable, responsible and full of integrity. Telling her daughter that she wouldn’t be home to tuck her in on Tuesday nights wasn’t as difficult as she had feared. When she spoke with her husband about taking over bedtime rituals on the nights when she worked late, he jumped at the opportunity. Although her daughter struggled a bit the first week, she seems to be adjusting nicely. She loves the scary stories Daddy reads to her on Tuesday nights and has learned to love Wednesday mornings. Mary explained to her employer that she could commit to work dinners on Tuesdays, yet she wouldn’t be scheduling any meetings on Wednesdays until after 10am. When asked how the news was received, she giggled and stated, “they just said, okay.” Overall, she was surprised by her colleague’s response to what felt, for her, like a gutsy move. Mary summed things up as she left, saying, “I’m good. I got this.”

Mary’s story reminds us that we’re no longer part of a ‘one size fits all’ society. We can make our own way—creating the path that works best for our personal goals and priorities—and our efforts will change the current for future generations. Take a cue from Mary: you’re good. You’ve got this.

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