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mindfulness

Managing with Mindfulness

In late October I enrolled in a mindfulness program offered through the Grand Rapids Center for Mindfulness  The exact name is “Mindful Based Stress Reduction”, but I prefer to simply call it “mindfulness program” because the it offers so much more than stress reduction — it’s a guide to listening to my authentic self and being in touch with me as we are guided through several mindful practices.Just like the assignments I give to my Database Sherpa clients, my classmates and I are assigned “practices.” (I know several people call them “homework” but I prefer “practices”). We practice various mindfulness techniques in our own environments so we can hone our skills. I’m halfway through the program and my mindfulness haven has become, of all places, my car, where I practice seated meditation. During my car practices, the voice of April Hadley (my instructor) begins to talk to me, and my body responds. There has been an unintended consequence to this: I’m a better driver. I drive slower. I’m more aware of my surroundings. I am quiet. No radio, instead the sounds of traffic and the wheels on the road.

And I’m not the only one following an ancient practice in a modern environment. Zola has been in the car with me, and we have meditated together while waiting for Daddy at the dentist. The sweet sound of my daughter taking deeps breaths in the back of the car while I relax in the front is bliss. She manages the intro and the three-minute meditation (about eight minutes). Pretty darn good if you ask me.While I’ve been going through this program, I realized that I’ve been attempting to embed these mindfulness principles into the work of Database Sherpa. Being present and aware of the current state of emotions and well-being of my clients is important, yet I was not giving my clients the tools necessary to handle stress long after I have departed. Although I build confidence, stress will occur regardless.

Then, an opportunity presented itself. A client asked me when we might discuss and act on some yoga techniques that were not in our original plans. (They were pretty sure that I was going to do it — they just wondered when it was going to happen.)At the time, she and her co-worker were working on their annual appeal campaign (and those in the nonprofit sector know the stress that can bring). So, I explained a technique called Lion’s Breath to them (thanks to a wonderful suggestion from my Sherpa partner, Veronica Beck), and sent them a YouTube video of various people doing Lion’s Breath. A few weeks passed before our next trek. When we connected, I asked them, how it made them feel.Only one had done it and it had relieved her stress. On the other hand, her co-worker had not, and had been suffering from headaches so bad that she had to take time off from work. We both recommended she try it — I know it’s one of my favorite stress-relieving practices. (And we all joked about practicing Lion’s Breath at their next staff meeting. It would be a hoot to watch!)

So, while I am embedding compassion, kindness, database development skills into Database Sherpa, I also need to provide my clients with coping skills. Providing them tools and techniques that they can use on their own to deal with the changes that will come with their new database system. Yet another refinement of the Sherpa process, for which I am grateful to my mindfulness teacher, April Hadley.

mess

Sharing the Mess

I tried something new with a client the other day. I decided to share the “messy” part of database development, specifically the creation of workflows in Salesforce.

Now, before you get excited, I’m not going to teach you how to create workflows, instead, I’ll show you how sharing the mess is a radical idea that’s scary, yet exhilarating.

For those who work with Salesforce know, workflows are both powerful and confusing to the end user. Users often get caught up in trying to get it perfect the first time, which hardly ever works. They also often don’t figure out what they want the workflow to do before they sit down to create it. Needless to say, I’ve always found my clients frustrated by their lack of knowledge.

So, instead of starting over, I decided to guide the process through the mess. Allow the mess to unfold, acknowledge the mess, and then figure out what to do to clear up the mess.

Before we began, I explained that I was going to share with them the process — the good and the bad — on how workflows get created. Together, we had documented what we wanted the workflow to accomplish, so that was taken care of before we began. Then, the big question, how to begin?

I let them decide how and what to start the process. The path they chose was the wrong one, but I didn’t stop them. Not long into the process, they found their choice wouldn’t work. With a little searching on Google, we discovered why, and with help from the documentation we began again—knowing more than we did the first time around.

By the end, we had a working workflow, which they continued to refine after our call.

Why am I sharing this? As a Sherpa, I want my clients to learn and engage in new ways. By sharing with them the mess that creating workflows can generate, their stress levels dropped and they were more willing to try new things, and, to use resources to discover where they have stumbled off the path.

As a consultant, allowing the mess to happen was a new — and entirely scary — experience. I was vulnerable to my own lack of knowledge and even worse, I wasn’t “in control.” For a control freak like me, this was the most difficult thing I have ever professionally done.

When I spoke with the client after this trek and asked them how things were going with workflows, they had already created an additional workflow and had refined the existing workflow. And, the best part was, they made mistakes and figured them out!

So, we often get caught up in being perfect for our clients, but sometimes it’s good to share the mess with the client, because, you can’t learn from perfection, but you’ll always learn from a mess!

saying goodbye

It’s never easy to say goodbye

I’m back friends! I believe that Zola’s school schedule and our work schedules are set, so a rhythm is finally in place.

One of my Database Sherpa clients is coming to the end of their current journey with me and I have come to the realization that they are afraid of letting go. It’s entirely understandable, since I’ve been with them for over seven months. We’ve bonded and grown together in many ways.

I’m reminded of a time when I worked at a company that had a consultant who guided them through a major transition. This consultant had overstayed his need, but no one saw it. Employees were comfortable with his presence. And when the manager realized the consultant was no longer needed and decided to make a change, it shook many to the core. Although the staff felt like he was still needed, in truth, the team had assimilated the knowledge needed to take over. The real issue was this: he had become a familiar face and people were used to seeing him around. Being connected.

I’m not a psychologist or expert on emotional well-being, but I do know that we get comfortable with the way things are and that we need familiarity in our lives. Too much disruption can cause stress and stress is not good. I certainly don’t want to cause stress in my client’s lives when it is time for me to leave.

So, as I think about how I will manage this transition, I keep reminding my client how they have come so far. How much they have accomplished, and how much more they will accomplish without me. I tell them how proud I am of their hard work. I am trying to build up their self-confidence before I release them into the world to continue their journey without me. I also remind them of all the tools and resources they have at their disposal (which are not going anywhere), and that I’m also available if they get really stuck.

This is probably the most challenging and difficult part of my job as a Sherpa: letting go. It’s not quite like Zola saying “Self Mommy”. This is the time that she’s fallen down and looks at me with those teary eyes—my heart aches. BUT, after I make sure she’s not injured, I dust her off, stand her up and say, “Do it again.” It’s all about trying, failing and trying again.

I know my client will be just fine. I know the fear they are feeling. It will evaporate and they will feel their confidence grow with each new step they take without me. I am so very grateful to be a part of such a transformation.

I’ll leave my client with this Dr. Seuss quote: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

Montessori

Maria Montessori and Database Sherpa

My husband, David, and I have had long dialogue about what type of education we should provide our daughter Zola. Would it be a traditional public school, private, boarding, etc.? Although we are both products of the public school system, we wanted to be conscientious in making a decision for our daughter.

I started by learning about many education methods, and the one that stuck with me throughout all my readings was the world of Montessori. I found myself drawn to the methods that Maria Montessori put forth and was fascinated by the ideas and concepts she presented. First and foremost, they fit well with our parenting style, so the decision has been made to send Zola to a Montessori school.

Now, what does this have to do with Database Sherpa?

While I was reading this as a parent, I also found myself excited by her methods as a Sherpa. What appealed most to me was the fact that children cannot and shouldn’t rely on an adult to solve problems or resolve conflict for them.

WOW, isn’t that the truth? I have to resolve all my own conflict in life. Not my mom. Not my dad. Not my grandparents. ME! So, why not start children learning this at a young age? Seems perfectly logical to me.

When it comes to databases, somehow, we believe we can have someone else do the work for us. That we can just turn everything over to someone else for him or her to do. While there are many consultants that are fantastic at building databases for organizations, it’s still not quite as thrilling as doing it yourself. It’s a core value of Database Sherpa to help organizations help themselves.

Another interesting value of Montessori is the belief that through mistakes and failure, learning takes place. A child may work hard at spelling their name or a word, but the key is that they are working. They may fail 10 times over, BUT, when they do figure it out, the joy is palpable. This is another core value at Database Sherpa, encouraging failure in our clients to gain knowledge and understanding. This is crucial to success of database development.

Active participation is important as well. Montessori believed children should and could dress themselves, make decisions for themselves, and act appropriately with little guidance. This participation with active guidance provides a wonderful learning environment. One that is safe, nurturing and compassionate.

I find it very interesting that I am drawn to these “beliefs” not only in my personal life but also in my professional life. It makes me very happy that I can have these halves of my life blend so well.

breaking your rules

When you make the rules, it’s okay to break them.

I don’t live by the rules, but I do live by the process. And rules are part of the process. I think processes are important (unless following them gets me stuck in my thinking.)

That is, until I came upon my latest Sherpa project.

Let me set the stage and explain a couple “process rules” we have at Database Sherpa:

  • A client cannot be in crisis mode. Looming deadlines cannot cause undue stress on the individual taking the trek.
  • When we help organizations build a brand new database, we guide them through the learning process. We don’t build it for them.
  • We use the buddy system. We Sherpa at least two people in the organization to build their database.

Yep, I broke my rules. I helped a client who a) was in full-on crisis mode, b) was working with a fully built database created by someone else, and c) was the sole administrator of the database.

But ask my toddler Zola, and she will be the first to tell you (or show you) that rules are merely guidelines. So I said, “yes” to Lauren of the  Women’s Resource Center in San Diego. Lauren is in a new position within the organization. Although she’s been there for 5 years, this role is only 1-1/2 years old.

Women’s Resource Center was using Donor Perfect, but a board member recommended a switch to Salesforce.com. Lauren agreed. Unfortunately, Lauren was not involved in the creation of the Salesforce.com database. Although she was involved in the importing process, she wasn’t able to get her hands into the database and was left out of some critical decisions that needed to be made.

In order to help Lauren, I broke several of my own rules:

  • Lauren is the only user of the database. (I broke the “buddy rule.”)
  • She had an existing database. (I broke the “new” rule.)
  • She wasn’t involved in the creation of the database. (I broke the “guide them” rule.)
  • She felt overwhelmed by her lack of knowledge. (I broke the “crisis” rule.)

Why did I break my own rules? Lauren had a very specific task to accomplish without a lot of other distractions, and she was very enthusiastic about the prospect of learning.

When I first spoke to Lauren, she was quite overwhelmed and felt she was in over her head. She had also been told that the initial import hadn’t been done correctly and the data needed to be re-imported.

She gave me access to her existing database. (What an experience, to see the data already in there!) Spending time in her database, I realized that the data was imported quite well and only needed some minor tweaking. And on top of it, during the process I would have an opportunity to show Lauren some other important Salesforce.com features that she was unaware of.

As she explained the situation, I assured her that the data had been imported “okay,” but needed a little tweaking. The relief in her voice was immediate! And during our first trek, she confided that after that first call, she had a good feeling about Database Sherpa. Her stress levels had decreased dramatically and she was excited to get into the database and learn on her own and with guidance.

I knew this journey would be shorter than my other journeys as it required me to only teach Lauren exactly what she needs to know right now. This allowed me to break my own rules.

Our first trek went great. Up to this point, we had not spent much time talking to each other or getting to know each other. I learned that what she really needed and wanted was to be guided through her existing database that she is needed to use.

As I was documenting our recent trek and preparing for our next trek, a thought popped to my mind: Database Sherpa is much more than just developing databases. It’s about building confidence and providing a unique level of support.

After our call, I knew Lauren would be practicing her new database skills. No, Lauren did not offload all of the work onto me. Instead, she now has a Sherpa who is coaching, guiding and helping her as she builds her skills and confidence. Our journey is just beginning.

Yes, rules are made to be broken. I’m excited to work with Lauren and the Women’s Resource Center of San Diego. Breaking the rules will not only help her, but will also help me strengthen and grow the processes at Database Sherpa.

gifts

Gifts of Gratitude Tour

I’ve embarked on a Gifts of Gratitude tour which has allowed me to spend time with my wonderful friends and supporters of Database Sherpa. It’s given me a change to talk to them about the future of Database Sherpa and to give gratitude to them for helping me on this path. I’m so grateful to all those that support and encourage the growth of Database Sherpa.

During this tour, I’ve been reflecting on what I have learned:

  • People love to share stories of success and triumph. It’s a joy to listen and learn from them. My favorite story during this tour was the one with a client who has found an amazing intern who has helped immensely with their database. This intern has transformed into a leader of the system, getting cues and ideas from others. This was exciting news and I plan to meet this intern soon!
  • Individuals want you to succeed. Everyone I have met has wished me luck, has hopes for the best for me, and encouraged me to continue this work. No one said that they were not receiving any benefit from the coaching and support I provided. Most were asking how they could help me further my work. How wonderful!
  • Ideas are everywhere. My clients have so many ideas of what Database Sherpa could be and more that it could offer. I was astounded by the marvelous ideas and concepts presented to me. Now, to digest them all!
This experience has been wonderful for me and I hope to give back to this community by providing additional services to them such as webinars and possibly some resources.

I want to thank all of the individuals and organizations that have helped to make Database Sherpa such a successful business. I appreciate your dedication to me and it drives me to continue to do this work!

Process and Journey

Is it a Process or a Journey?

Once again, I’ve been thinking about Database Sherpa. (Seriously, what else is new?) As I’ve begun to work with my marketing literature, the two words that keep coming up are Journey and Process. I wonder: Is Database Sherpa about a process or is it about a journey?

Both of these words have the same purpose—arriving somewhere new from a series of steps. But, the word “journey” invokes a different feeling to me. When I look at quotes that surround that word, I see things like:

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” ~ Lao Tzu

“A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike. And all plans, safeguards, policing, and coercion are fruitless. We find that after years of struggle that we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” ~ John Steinbeck

“Process” also invokes different feelings to me. When I look at quotes about process, they are more like this:

“The system is that there is no system. That doesn’t mean we don’t have process. Apple is a very disciplined company, and we have great processes. But that’s not what it’s about. Process makes you more efficient.” ~ Steve Jobs

“I know that two and two make four – and should be glad to prove it too if I could – though I must say if by any sort of process I could convert 2 and 2 into five it would give me much greater pleasure.” ~ Lord Byron

Journey often evokes a feeling that steps taken are as important as the end place; but process encourages me to get to the end in the most efficient way possible. If I think about these two words in terms of yoga, one is organic energy (journey) and the other is muscular energy (process). Both work in tandem, but they are very different and provide different results. It’s a fine balance between both.
So, if you have too much organic energy (journey), it might take you a L-O-N-G time to get to your destination. You might wander a bit here and there and smell the roses all day long. But, if you have too much muscular energy (process), it might not take you very long, it may be very efficient, but you will miss many things along the way, like the roses or thorn bush or tricky spots that will appear later.

So, with Database Sherpa, what feels like a journey at times, may morph into a process and a process may turn into a journey. At least, that is my goal. So, you can receive the best of both energies.

As my Papa has always said to us (in his Indian/British accent), “It’s not a question of one or the other, it’s both.”

Thank You!

Gifts of Gratitude Tour

This week we’ve kicked off our Gifts of Gratitude tour to build a community of Sherpas. This is a fun tour, where I get to have lunch, coffee, breakfast and chat with super cool individuals who have started to build their own communities.

So, what is this all about? Well, I’ll give you a taste, but if you’re want to learn more, you are going to have to have a conversation with me over coffee or tea.

At Database Sherpa, we recognize that many organizations fight with their database more than necessary. Others miss good information just because data is trapped in bad software or old spreadsheets. We are on a mission to help organizations find peace with their data.

We achieve this peace using a process unlike anything data management has seen before. We are more guide than taskmaster, more teacher than consultant. Our unique approach means we are building a community of people committed to compassionate database management. Together, we are proving that databases can have a heart!

We are looking for people to join us. Our journey to Database Sherpa is not paved with big marketing campaigns. It has always been sustained by people like you, who share our values, and more often than not, have experienced our approach firsthand. Together, you create a community of Sherpas by sharing the principles that guide your database practice and referring future clients.

If you want to learn more about how it works, please, get in touch with me at ashima@databasesherpa.com and I’ll be happy to have a conversation!

Karma

Karma: What’s it all about?

I’ve been having a wonderful time thinking about Database Sherpa. I am grateful to have the time to develop a process that will work for all organizations. Maybe a little history would help for those new to my concept.

It started about 20 years ago when I was running my business, Hopper Business Solutions. Hopper was the embodiment of my dream to run my own business, be my own boss, and to change the way women were viewed in technology. In the beginning, Hopper provided Internet consulting to emerging businesses, but over time, turned into much more.

In addition to creating new databases, I started modifying existing databases for small businesses and nonprofits—systems created by another consultant prior to my arrival. Whenever I began a project, I always found a mixture of disgust, frustration and anger with these systems. I never enjoyed walking into a place with such negative emotions. I often heard these complaints:
  • “The consultant never listened to us and did their own thing. I don’t know why we have to capture the client’s (shoe size, favorite color, etc.). So we don’t and leave that field blank.”
  • “The reports don’t give us what we need. We fill in all the information, but the reports are missing a lot of information that is in the database. Our data is trapped.”
  • “The consultant never finished the database because we ran out of money (or worse, they stopped helping us and moved onto another project). Plus, they worked too much on what they felt was important, and not on our immediate needs.”
This litany is probably no surprise to organizations that have probably at least one such pain point with their former or current system. Let me just say this: It’s NOT just the consultant’s fault.
How can I say this? When I began working with unhappy clients, at some point they say that they had forgotten to mention something to consultant, emphasize the deadline, or take control of the project when things got out of hand. Blaming the former consultant was an easy out.
But, these are mistakes that happen. Even to the best consultant. I wondered, what could we do to make these complaints a place in the past? How can we, as consultants, pass on our knowledge and skills so that the client is now capable of doing the work needed? How can the client be put in the driver’s seat and the consultants be the guide? How can we make our clients happier—and more productive—than when we began with them?
My search for these answers lead to the birth of Database Sherpa where we have a simple value: Bring compassion and joy to our clients, all the while helping them achieve good database karma. (Thanks to DVQ Studio for that fun word combo).Yes, I said JOY. Database work can be tedious and boring. Sometimes it’s even downright frustrating. There is enough frustration in the world, and we have a strong desire to change that. So we approach every project with a positive attitude and encourage lots of laughter and fun to bring back the smile! Now, about that database karma thing, I’ll get to that in a sec….
So, what brought about this thinking about going the extra mile to bring joy into work? Well, recently I’ve been in dialogue with another consultant who has also gone down a similar path, albeit for much longer than I. She has lots of great stories and results, and she’s quite a guru who is becoming a dear friend.She feels it’s important to meet the client where they are at the time they contact her. She told me, “I want to work with clients whose missions I feel strongly about, that I want to support. It’s important that I meet the client where they are, not where I am.” She’s quite compassionate to her clients, and I am sure I can learn more from her as time goes on. And I am in complete agreement with her. We could all learn a thing or two about compassion! She makes a compelling case that makes a lot of sense to me.

We should all help those that reach out to us. Give them the guidance and tools they need so that they are more capable and empowered to drive their mission in the right direction.

But, before you run off sharing your wisdom with everyone you cross paths with, I’d like to offer a caveat. While it’s important to help organizations that to seek change, it’s also critical to make sure they align with your core values.

A key core value at Database Sherpa is to help build good database karma for organizations (I said we’d get back to that). What is this database karma and how does it work? Well, it’s not the karma from the eastern philosophies, or from the TV show, “My Name is Earl.” It’s about destiny to a small extent, but karma is more about action than anything. (And as an aside, I’d like to say there is really nothing “good” or “bad” about karma; it just is.)

Taking this concept one step further, we also believe you cannot outsource your karma. You can’t blame your karma on a long-gone consultant. Good database karma is the result of organizations investing energy to create its database and taking ownership of its long-term maintenance and evolution.

In order to bring positive database karma to organizations, it’s crucial that they be open, be willing to spend time and learn, and be capable of making their database work for them. Good database karma is not as simple as importing data from a spreadsheet. It requires being patient, practicing compassion, facing your fears and doing it “self mommy“.

So, my friend will continue to exhibit compassion for her clients, encouraging and guiding them—even after they’ve started working with her. (A workstyle I greatly admire.) Compassion can have a powerful outcome. It could change the world by making us active, rather than passive learners. (If you read my last post about compassion, you’ll see why I’m such an idealist now.) Ultimately, we desire the same outcome: To make our clients successful with their database systems and increase their knowledge.  My friend has already achieved that, achieving great success and admiration from her clients. That is a wonderful feeling and one she is very proud of.

As a Sherpa, I dream of a day when my client will outshine me and go on to do great things in the database community. I bow deeply to my new friend who has given me food for thought and opened my eyes to other possibilities.

DIY

Self Mommy… Letting Go!

Being a parent of a toddler, I sometimes find myself doing for my daughter. But, most of the time I let her do it herself. As she likes to say, “self mommy”, which translates to, “I got this mom”. I’m encouraging her to be an independent being. One who feels like she can take on anything that life throws at her. While it’s difficult to watch her struggle, fail or succeed without me, I know it’s necessary. Even at the tender age of three. She needs to learn to do it “self mommy”.

The other day, after receiving an email from a Database Sherpa client asking a very specific question: “How do I find the IP address for a user?” I found myself typing a very specific answer “Click on this… then do this… and then you’ll see the IP address. You can do this when you find it and then ask them to try again… blah, blah, blah…” Then, my daughter popped in my head saying “self mommy”. I realized, in that moment, I was enabling bad behavior. Reliance on me! I needed to help the client, no doubt, but I didn’t need to spoon feed the answer (like I don’t need to put on my daughter’s shoes for her). I saved my draft and began composing another email which loosely said something like: Think about it like this, where can you find the information about each user in the database? So, my long winded email, that would have been printed out and followed like any directions, turned into a single question. Like when my daughter asks me which foot a shoe goes on, I ask her “is that the left or right shoe?” Knowing that might lead her down the right path. That was my hope with the question I composed.

I know that such emails can be frustrating to the receiver, so I also wrote “I’d like you to be able to figure this out yourself because it will give you the skills you need, long term, to answer these types of questions without me. I know you can do this as you’ve been so good at finding things and figuring this out with such little guidance on my part. You have the ability, just take your time and look at all the places it could be. It will be clear then. If you’re still struggling, shoot me an email and I’ll give you another hint.” I had already thought of my next hint too (just like I do with my daughter).

No response. A few days passed, still no response.

I found myself having serious doubts…

What if she’s po’ed at me for keeping the answer from her? Really, this was an easy question. Maybe I should have just told her how to do it! Dang, sometimes our brain can be quite a nasty creature.

Then, in the back of my head, I hear my daughter saying “self mommy”. I listened to the doubts and said back, “let’s see what happens. I can always explain to the client what I was attempting. I like to let things play out and learn from them later.” My doubts listened and I blew them away during my meditation.

Our call came about two weeks later, I was doing a lot of doubt blowing! On our call, she started with explaining why she’d asked about the IP address. She had a user that couldn’t access the database and she thought it was because the system wasn’t recognizing his computer’s IP address. Anyway, she had gotten my email and decided to put it aside for a few days and enjoy some vacation time. When she got back to it, she thought about it and decided to try a few things. While in the database system, she found herself in the user section. So, on a whim, she clicked on his name and sure enough, she found out his IP address. And, in the process, also learned it wasn’t the IP address, but rather a wrong password he was typing. Once she realized that, she reset his password and he was in the database in no time.

As she recounted her ordeal, I listened to her and realized that she was happy…not upset, HAPPY. She had figured it out. She had done it “self mommy”. After our call, I digested what had happened and what I learned.

So, my learnings are that (1) even if I think I can help with a simple email, it may not. That’s okay; (2) it’s important to give the client challenges along the way. It’s not about spoon feeding, but it’s also a fine balance. Sometimes I might need to spoon feed. It’s about compassion.; (3) I like to help others, I like to see them succeed, but I also have doubts about Database Sherpa; (4) this was as much work as giving her the answer.

Then, when thinking about the client, I realized she learned much as well. That: (1) it’s good to take a break, walk away and come back with a new perspective; (2) her original reasoning was incorrect, it wasn’t the IP address; (3) resetting the password for a user is easy; (4) she figure things out herself, without me!

Look, as a Sherpa, I want to continue to grow and learn. All of my clients do as well. This was a win-win situation.

Well, except for my doubts. They were not so happy, but they will return and try again… they always do 🙂

So, just like when I watch my daughter dress herself, I felt joy and heartache at the same time. Joy that my client is growing and learning without me and heartache that they will need me less and less. I’ve grown to really enjoy our talks together and one day, I know the talks will cease and they will not need me anymore. But, that’s a post for another date!

Letting go is never easy. Frankly, it’s one of the most challenging thing in the world, but it feels good. Knowing that I was some small part of the learning and the growing. It gives me great joy. It’s what compassion is all about!