What Makes a Good Team? An Outsider’s Perspective


(Editor’s note: This first appeared as a guest post on Vida Aventura’s website, written for company owner Deseri Garcia, personal coach and team-building guru.)

A day with the Indiana Fever reveals valuable lessons in teamwork and unity.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in my life working in teams. I’ve enjoyed (suffered from) countless groups that could be described as challenging (dysfunctional at best), and exhausting (pure torture at worst). I’ve done my best to work with strong-willed personalities (egomaniacs), quiet observers (terminally clueless), and eternal optimists (annoyingly perky).

On the other hand – and not coincidentally – as I’ve grown and matured, I’ve also worked with truly inspirational, motivational, satisfying and productive members of fantastic teams. The conclusion, of course, is that when you’re a part of a high-performing team, you just feel better, get more accomplished, and produce greater results.

Vida Aventura Owner and retreat leader Deseri Garcia, with Indiana Fever's Tamika Catchings and me after an amazing day.

Vida Aventura Owner and retreat leader Deseri Garcia, with Indiana Fever’s Tamika Catchings and me after an amazing day.

What’s the secret?

What’s the magic formula to building a great team? There are lots of really smart people who know way more about it than me. But I can tell you that I know one when I see one. Which is why I was so giddy when my good friend and Vida Aventura Owner Deseri Garcia asked me to join her for a team-building retreat with the Indiana Fever. Continue reading


Fifty Shades of Fruit Loops


I saw Fifty Shades of Grey last week and contributed to a weekend box office record of $94.4 million in ticket sales. Since then, I’ve read impassioned pleas from mothers, advocates and well-intentioned citizens who are convinced this movie will lead to the moral decay of future generations.

fiftyAnd while I am the first to speak up against domestic violence and intimate partner abuse, let me set your mind at ease. Blaming this movie for the demise of healthy relationships in America is like blaming Fruit Loops for obesity.

Let’s start at the beginning. I didn’t read any of the E.L. James’s series, which apparently features bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism (BDSM) as one of the main characters, and has sold over 100 million copies worldwide. This wasn’t because I’m a prude, mind you. It was because so many of my writer friends warned me that the poor quality of sentences and paragraphs would send me into an emotional tailspin. Who would want that?

So when I went to the movie, my expectations were extremely low. I merely wanted to giggle with my girlfriend and consume champagne. In the dark and with popcorn. Continue reading


Yoga and the Great Brain Escape


Over the past few months, no less than 15 friends or well-meaning health professionals have insisted that I include yoga as part of my health regime. And I have ignored them with style and grace. It’s not that I don’t take yoga seriously, exactly. My hesitance has more to do with the thought of practicing it with other people. In public.

My skeptical attitude isn’t due to fear or loathing. Rather, I hesitate only because my brain is similar to many other writers and creative types, meaning it never turns off and there is a constant narrative or dialogue (usually satirical), darting around in my head. So when there is a room full of people stretching, om-ing and smiling in a serene, almost Stepford Wife kind of way, well you can imagine what a gold mine of comedic skits there is before me, just waiting to come to life.

Peace Through Yoga in Zionsville, Ind., was the scene of my first true yoga encounter. In public.

Peace Through Yoga in Zionsville, Ind., was the scene of my first true yoga encounter. In public.

It was this mindset – unfortunate or otherwise – that plagued me when I attended my first yoga workshop at Peace Through Yoga. Yes, it was an actual workshop – with other people – and for three hours.

Oh, and did I forget to mention the vision board portion of the program? You know, when grownups, armed with scissors and glue, cut out images and words representing an ideal future and create collages on poster board?

Continue reading


Rape? Don’t Cry for the Colts


The Indianapolis Colts are used to being tested. They are no strangers to adversity … what with head coach Chuck Pagano battling leukemia in 2012, and owner Jim Irsay being arrested and charged with DWI last year and then serving a six-week suspension.


Colts linebacker Josh McNary.

But when the news broke yesterday about Colts linebacker Josh McNary being charged with rape, it was like something out of a B-movie on cable. And I have to shamefully admit that my first thoughts were these: not now, and whoa, the timing is suspicious. Right before we travel to Foxborough, Mass., to fight for the AFC Championship? Could the New England Patriots be behind this? Would they sink this low … and actually set a player up just to throw off our game? I was desperate.

And then I read the criminal complaint, and reality set in. Nope. Not a joke. The nightmare is real, but it isn’t for the National Football League, because if anyone has learned anything over the past year, immediate (and appropriate) action should and will be taken. And the nightmare isn’t for the Colts organization, because let’s remember … it’s a football team. Yes, we’re playing in an important game, but the key word here is … game. Continue reading


Holiday Guide to Self-Medication


©2014 Michelle Freed

As we officially head into what many of us consider to be Pre-Holiday Crazytown, I have some bad news. You are most likely on the verge of a physical, emotional or mental breakdown.

Holidays can be hazardous to your physical, emotional and mental health. Duh.

Holidays can be hazardous to your physical, emotional and mental health. Duh!

Studies show that brain activity rapidly decreases 5-7 days prior to significant family gatherings, due to stress, overwhelming to-do lists and relatives who don’t know how to look anything up on the Internet. This means that your chances of contracting a cold or flu (and a diagnosable mental disorder) more than triple.*

Personally, I’ve already shown signs of logic and memory deterioration (example: I stored the glue gun in the oven and trimmed the refrigerator with tinsel). As an added bonus, this morning I discovered a box of nails hanging out with sandpaper and medieval torture implements in my esophagus. It’s not something I like to brag about.

The good news is that there are lots of ready-to-purchase, over-the-counter remedies for almost all pre-holiday ailments. It’s just a matter of knowing which ones to use at what time, which is why I’m here to help (hint: you might want to destroy your browsing history after reading this, should authorities or technologically savvy 10-year-olds get involved in the crime scene). Continue reading


Power is a Four-Letter Word


Power is obviously a five-letter word, but lately it’s sounding more like something different. Not literally, of course, because that would be weird. Powr? Pwer? It just doesn’t have the same ring.

superman-chris-reevesPower is the thread that strings together the events of the world in the same headline and lead story. Ferguson, ISIS, the CIA … and now Sony Entertainment Pictures. Hell, let’s even throw in Bill Cosby to the mix. You name the crisis, scandal or despicable situation, and you’ll find people in power who have abused it.

Is it that simple? Of course not, but just for the moment, let’s act as if it is.

Voltaire wasn’t blowing smoke up his derriere when he said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” The problem is that people and organizations often come into positions of enormous influence without having any idea how to handle it. As far as I know, there’s no Power for Dummies book (but really, it might not be a bad idea). Continue reading


The Ferguson Tragedy: It’s So Easy


For most of us who watched the news break last night from our cozy leather recliners (perhaps with a cold beer in hand), the “whole Ferguson thing” is easy.

Scenes from Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014. Photo by Reuters

Scenes from Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014. Photo by Reuters

When St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch announced that a grand jury will not indict Officer Darren Wilson in the August killing of teenager Michael Brown, some of us felt exonerated. “See?” we say. “That police officer was only doing his job.” It’s that simple.

Some of us were outraged, wondering why, after everything we’ve seen and heard, we will not see a fair trial, with evidence presented in a public court instead of a private grand jury room. “It’s so obvious,” we say. “It’s a cover up.” Continue reading


Thanksgiving: It Gets No Respect


(Author’s note: I can’t help but run this again and pay proper respect to Thanksgiving … the lost holiday. Enjoy.)

Thanksgiving gets no respect. It’s the Rodney Dangerfield of holidays, and I’m not going to take it anymore.

Every year I stand by and watch as Americans abruptly switch their attention from stale, leftover Halloween candy to twinkling lights and eggnog. Retailers scramble for early sales, yard decorators untangle lights, and children everywhere pen wish lists the size of outdated phone books.

But that’s only the beginning. The holidays, themselves, are part of the problem. Continue reading


Boobie Slow Slam: What to Expect from a Mammogram



This morning I went in for a mammogram, or as I like to call it, my annual Boobie Slow Slam. And I left fighting back tears from the pain. I don’t know if it’s because my lady parts are more sensitive the older I get, or maybe there is a revolt going on (“Damn it, we’re tired of being tortured here! Aren’t there any drugs for this?”). Whatever the reason, it hasn’t gotten any easier, yet I force myself to make and keep the appointment, no matter what.

With the mini-gown on, there's nothing to do but take a deep breath and go meet The Machine.

With the mini-gown on, there’s nothing to do but take a deep breath and go meet The Machine.

Because my mother is a breast cancer survivor, I am well aware of the importance of screenings, which is why I started having them at 36 instead of the standard doctor-recommended age of 40. The first one wasn’t a big deal. In fact, I kept thinking, “What’s all the fuss about? That was a breeze!”

But now things are different, and I maintain my love/hate mammogram relationship with both reluctance and passion, fear and courage.

So what’s it like to have one? This necessary evil that is uncomfortable at best, and excruciating at worst? I want to tell you about it. But men, be forewarned: you might want to sit down for this. Continue reading


My child is gay. Now what?


gaymomThe phone call was a surprise. It took a few seconds to register the area code, and even then I wasn’t sure who it was. But I immediately recognized the voice on the other end.

“Wow, it’s been a long time,” I said. “What took you so long?”

It was Gwen,* a woman I worked with over 20 years ago – my office buddy and social conspirator. We always laughed at the same kind of jokes, complained about the same kind of corporate red tape, and agreed on almost every social issue. Except for one.

“I don’t hate the sinner,” she’d say. “I just hate the sin.”

Of course she was talking about homosexuality, and she was sure that being gay was a choice – a baffling one – that went against every tenet of her religion, everything she felt to be “right.” Our debates were always heated, usually ending with clenched jaws and a few days of silence. But that was so long ago.

“I need to talk to you,” she said. “Do you have some time?”

Once we both left our jobs, it didn’t take long to lose touch. But then, as is now a standard, we reconnected on Facebook. We regularly exchanged seasonal private messages, and peppered comments on each other’s posts with funny comebacks or thoughtful reflections. I periodically loitered among her digital photo albums, studying her wedding photos … and then her two children, who grew up over the years in snapshots and abbreviated sentences.

“I think Sarah is a lesbian,” she said. “Now what?”

She was talking about her 14-year-old daughter. And this is why I knew one day she would call me. Because I suspected as much.

Sarah is beautiful. Although to this day I’ve never met her, I know that she loves skateboarding, riding horses and climbing trees. I’ve seen the pictures of her learning to water ski, cuddling with a new puppy, and baking cookies with her younger brother.

She is almost always pictured in oversized gym shorts and graphic t-shirts, hair in a simple, unkempt pony tail … frequently standing out among her fashion-obsessed counterparts posing for selfies. None of these things point to sexuality by themselves, but there was just something about those pictures and the way she appeared that made me wonder.

“You’ve always been an advocate,” she said. “And I’ve always been so judgmental. I guess the joke’s on me.”

No parent wants to see their child go through a difficult time, or struggle any more than what an average childhood guarantees. But the truth is this: Gwen was scared. Not only because of this new revelation, but because she was staring smack-dab in the face at her own belief system – at her lifelong perspective on an entire group of people she had emphatically rejected.

But Gwen is not alone, and I’m so happy about it. Why? Because as marriage equality steadily becomes a reality, and the subject of sexual orientation loses its shock value, more and more of our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) youth are coming out of that dark, nasty closet. Which means more parents are dealing with this issue openly. Which means it’s not as isolating as it used to be. For anyone. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

So I listened carefully. I didn’t lecture Gwen, as she probably assumed I would. I didn’t chide her, or preach about politics or religion. I assured her that everything was going to be okay. I encouraged her to just love Sarah, support her, and to know that the two of them would get through it together.

And then I couldn’t resist relaying some hard, cold facts. According to The Trevor Project, LGBT youth are four times more likely (and questioning youth are three times more likely) to attempt suicide as their straight peers. In addition:

  • Suicide attempts by LGBT youth and questioning youth are 4-6 times more likely to result in injury, poisoning, or overdose that requires treatment from a doctor or physician, compared to straight peers.
  • LGBT youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGBT peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.
  • Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average.

I also doled out a little tough love. I told Gwen she was going to have to put on her big-girl panties, educate herself, and be her child’s advocate in every way possible. And once we concluded our very long conversation, I emailed her the following list of resources and advice:

  • Find your closest PFLAG chapter and surround yourself with other parents who understand you.
  • Distance yourself from anyone who even remotely suggests that there is something wrong with your gay child. That includes friends, family, colleagues and organizations.
  • If your church tries to “reform” or reject your daughter (or your family), search for another church. Almost every denomination or religion has gay-friendly communities – even if only online.
  • Don’t be ashamed. There’s nothing wrong with you or your child. You just have to be open, research and learn, acknowledge your feelings, work through them, and love your child. The rest will take care of itself.

*Subject names have been changed by request for privacy protection

©2014 Michelle Freed