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One Sentence

One Sentence

What is the meaning of life?

The question feels colossal. Maybe even unanswerable at first. When we’re young, we plan for our ideal adulthood via main plot points:

√   Pick a career
√   Get married
√   Have kids

Then we grow older and begin to understand that those checkboxes aren’t everything. Successful careers and thriving families are merely the cumulative results of some larger force that drives each of us in unique ways.

One of my favorite games growing up was Milton Bradley’s The Game of Life. I recently played it with my family, and was amused to see my kids react the same way I did at their age. “Yes! I got the best salary!” “It’s not fair! I wanted to be a doctor!” “I hope I get twins!” Of course, the game’s ultimate winner is defined by who has the most money. My boys were being taught the same unconscious lessons I absorbed when I was a kid.

I watched as they became swept up by imagination, seeing their “lives” unfold through the events marked by a large “STOP!” sign on the gameboard. They raced each other to see who could start a career, buy a house, build a family, and collect a payout the fastest. But even as I delighted in their enthusiasm, I was struck by a disquieting thought.

The big events provide a necessary chassis, sure – but what about those more common spaces on the gameboard we barely pause to read? The ones that say, “Go Fishing,” “Plant a Tree,” or “Visit a Museum.” Aren’t those just as important? How about coffee dates? Laughter during family dinner? Still moments to observe the clouds float across the sky? Why don’t these moments earn checkboxes?

These moments are literally what make up a life. The weight and meaning of our experiences are ours alone, but more importantly, they are ours to own. We get to direct our energy and attention toward whatever we value most. Each hour, you’re making the decision to focus on past performance, current experiences, or future plans. We get to decide when to be the driver and when to be the passenger in that little red car filled with pink and blue pegs.

It’s not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. We all extract different significance from our days for different reasons. Yet when there are kids (pink and blue pegs) in our orbit, our choices about what’s important have influence. We navigate the “Game of Life” differently when there is precious cargo onboard. It’s worth noticing your personal tendencies and becoming clear on your answers to the big questions. What you find is what you’re teaching your children by example. Is finishing the game with the most money and accolades really the way you win? What is most important?

Widen the lens. Try to take on the big questions (“What is the meaning of life?”) with little answers. What if you could only respond with one grammatically correct sentence (no run-ons)? There are many questions to answer beyond figuring out the meaning of life. What is the role of joy and sorrow? What is the balance between work and play? How are pain and growth related? The point of limiting yourself to little answers is to force clarity. So here’s today’s big question: Why were you placed on this planet in this moment?

Define your purpose. You have one sentence available for your answer.

About the Author

Kerry Galarza, MS OTR/L is the Clinical Director and a pediatric occupational therapist at the Midwest Institute & Center for Workplace Innovation. She provides specialized assessment and intervention with children of all ages and their families. Kerry engages clients with naturally occurring, meaningful home-based methods to empower autonomy and maximize functioning. 

Knowing When It’s Time to Zoom

Knowing When It’s Time to Zoom

Grace under pressure is a gift. Those who can stay poised under adverse circumstances have the ability to step back and see the bigger picture. They widen the lens, get perspective, and fend off the body’s efforts to move into fight-flight-freeze mode. They can be thoughtful and decisive when it matters most. Sometimes, however, the crisis is bigger than even the most mature adult in the room.

When life gets disrupted by a traumatic event, a calm state of mind can disable the ability to act with urgency. Our bodies move into fight-flight-freeze for a reason. Health and safety become paramount. Zooming out lessens the stress that gives us our fuel to perform.

It’s a delicate balance. Not enough stress subtracts from engagement, while too much stress causes anxiety or even a total meltdown. Finding the sweet spot is the key.

Both detached calm and intense focus are valuable in a crisis and there’s an ideal time for both. Knowing when to narrow or widen the lens is the key. Zoom in when all other input must be blocked out in order to attend to the top priority on the triage list. Zoom out when you need to see the bigger picture and develop a strategy.

Families need both skill sets every day. It doesn’t require a trauma for our grace or our focus to get activated. It simply takes a diagnostic appraisal of the challenge, followed by a decision about which self to bring to the moment. Engagement or distance? Zoom in or zoom out?

About the Author

Kerry Galarza, MS OTR/L is the Clinical Director and a pediatric occupational therapist at the Midwest Institute & Center for Workplace Innovation. She provides specialized assessment and intervention with children of all ages and their families. Kerry engages clients with naturally occurring, meaningful home-based methods to empower autonomy and maximize functioning. 

Invisible Selves

Invisible Selves

Humans have a tendency to be pretty self-centered. It’s not a criticism, it’s biology. We’re actually wired to diminish the complexity of other people’s experience while staying immersed in our own reality. It’s a great way to ensure we’ll care sufficiently for ourselves. It’s also a stopgap to make our experience of life more manageable and less overwhelming. But, of course, there’s an undesirable side-effect to this when we forget to put it in check.

If recent history has (re)taught us anything, it’s that nobody is immune to struggle. Even if you consider yourself one of the lucky ones – maybe you usually bounce back quickly from unexpected challenges, or you tend to find ways to skirt them – eventually a time comes when you just can’t. Or when a loved one is suddenly knocked off their feet and you find yourself powerless to help. Circumstances have a way of conspiring to take us by surprise when we’re least prepared.

Simplifying our understanding of other people makes us forget that their struggles are as real as ours – even if they’re invisible. It’s usually hardest to keep our biases in check during moments when we’re caught unaware. That self-centered biology kicks in to help us find clarity in a comfortable black-and-white conclusion. However, clarity is not always accuracy.

Whenever we create narratives about the type of person someone is, or what their lives must be like, we’re missing a big opportunity that would help both parties. What would happen if we recognized the “invisible self” – the one with complicated struggles and vulnerabilities – existing inside each of our friends, acquaintances and even the strangers we pass on the street?

This is hard. We have to suspend reality and endure the anxiety of not knowing until we can position ourselves behind the other person’s eyes. But there’s a reward. Trying to see someone’s invisible self is a powerful gift for both the giver and the recipient. It’s the gift of humble connection, of mutual grace, and, if we’re lucky, healing compassion.

I’ll be the first to admit it’s a very difficult gift to give sometimes. It’s easier to work on something in a familiar environment. So I have a suggestion: let’s make an effort to give it more at home to help build the habit. As well as we think we know them, our kids and our partners probably have invisible selves, too.

About the Author

Kerry Galarza, MS OTR/L is a pediatric occupational therapist and the Clinical Director at the Midwest Institute & Center for Workplace Innovation. She provides specialized assessment and intervention with children of all ages and their families. Kerry engages clients with naturally occurring, meaningful home-based methods to empower autonomy and maximize functioning. 

The Magic of Catching the Beat

The Magic of Catching the Beat

Families lose their rhythm all the time. Each person in the house has a competing agenda, from the parent trying to keep up with work, down to the baby with a yo-yoing nap schedule. If it feels as though everyone is marching to a different drummer, it’s because everyone is.

Like a game of Candy Land or Chutes & Ladders, you might occasionally cross paths, keep pace together for a few strides, or spot one another on a bend on the path. You’ll get a temporary flush of satisfaction when this happens, but it’s only a matter of time before a split occurs again.

The emotional, physical and cognitive toll that comes from rhythmic discord in the family gets worse when it accumulates over time. Eventually, everyone needs to get back in sync. It’s not easy when so many tempos are playing at once. Luckily, one of the most valuable cures is 100% free and it can happen anywhere and at any time.

All it takes is pausing together to catch the same beat again. Sometimes, you have to give the process a little nudge. Reset the metronome to a cadence that works for the whole family. There are limitless ways to achieve this. And there’s only one rule: Do it together.

Put on your shoes and head out for a group walk. Have a family meeting to problem-solve a collective issue. Fix a bothersome household snafu as a team. Rearrange the playroom for fun. Play a game. Plan a family garden. Make art in unison.

Or very literally, put on some tunes when you’re together and let the beat seep into your family’s collective consciousness. Bonus points if you end up having a family dance party.

Your preferences will depend on your family. You can allocate 10 minutes or an entire day. The benefit is real no matter how you’re able to fit it in, but it works best when it happens with some regularity. So, go ahead and turn up that music every chance you get!

About the Author

 Kerry Galarza, MS OTR/L is a pediatric occupational therapist at the Midwest Institute & Center for Workplace Innovation. She provides specialized assessment and intervention with children of all ages and their families. Kerry engages clients with naturally occurring, meaningful home-based methods to empower autonomy and maximize functioning. 

Marriages, Families, and Teams

Marriages, Families, and Teams

Relationships share similar dynamics whether small or large. We are most familiar with the exchanges in interpersonal settings since most of our connections are one-to-one partnerships. When you expand these interactions to a family or a team, the complexity multiplies. What if the model for successful partnerships was the same regardless of size or scale?

Imagine the marriage as the nucleus of the family. Apply the same expectations for the interpersonal connection to the larger group as an integrated ecosystem. Consider the variables that contribute to the success and effectiveness of each relationship within that ecosystem.

Values: Each person fights for the same cause.

Differences: Diverse perspectives bring richness to conversations.

Respect: Everyone places equal importance on the way people are treated.

Closeness: Fondness and caring grow deeper as experiences are shared.

Accountability: Every promise is backed by integrity and commitment.

Growth: The entity pushes for continuous improvement.

Adaptability: Change, whether expected or not, refreshes everyone in the ecosystem.

The recipe for successful partnership, thriving families, and effective teams is the same. Start with core values and mutual goals. Learn how to disagree respectfully. Build trust and connection. Stretch and grow. Manage change with resilience. Reinvest through each stage of development.

 

About the Author

Steve Ritter is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, the Founder and Managing Director of the Midwest Institute & Center for Workplace Innovation, the Founder and CEO of the Team Clock Institute, and the author of Useful Pain: Why Your Relationships Need Struggle and Team Clock: A Guide to Breakthrough Teams. You can find Steve on LinkedIn.

Back to School: Begin Again

Back to School: Begin Again

The kids are back in school. For us parents who have been through 15-20 years of schooling, an academic cycle is built into the rhythm of our lives. There is a beginning (fall), middle (winter), and an end (spring) followed by a period of regrouping (summer). The hands on the clock keep spinning as families navigate challenges.

As you begin again, consider opportunities that arise from your family’s new cycle:

Reinvestment: Each new beginning offers a chance to measure your level of engagement. The degree to which you invest determines the strength of the platform that will eventually support your growth.

Embracing Conflict and Difference: Friction is a gift when it’s managed with respect and maturity. A new day invites a new idea. If nothing changes, nothing changes.

Increasing Connection: Trust is cumulative. It is earned with accountability and damaged with neglect. The cyclical nature of families offers endless second chances. Seize the opportunity to advance your relationships to the next level.

Adaptation: Each day has unexpected events that require a reaction. Sometimes our responses are nimble and poised while other times we’re awkward and clumsy. Efforts to keep things from changing are usually counterproductive. Moving with the flow of change is often the best strategy.

Refueling: The natural breaks (holidays, spring break) are designed to recharge the system. Walking away and getting some space is an effective way of finding clarity. Depleted resources need restocking. Fuel the next phase of growth with well-earned rest.

The stages of the cycle are predictable in healthy families. Follow the refueling phase with a renewed investment. Use this as a platform for building trust. Leverage the connection to innovate. Distance from the status quo to manage the changes you’ve created. Adapt with poise and begin again.

About the Author

Steve Ritter is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, the Founder and Managing Director of the Midwest Institute & Center for Workplace Innovation, the Founder and CEO of the Team Clock Institute, and the author of Useful Pain: Why Your Relationships Need Struggle and Team Clock: A Guide to Breakthrough Teams. You can find Steve on LinkedIn.