Beginning Again

“Always we begin again.” Benedict of Nursia

Expectations + Perfection = Disappointment

This jewel box of colors brings me great joy. Mayan Red, Tuscan Yellow, Cobalt Blue. Every part of the process – opening the box of watercolor tubes, squeezing them out onto my tray, choosing the brush, and brushing them on to the paper is a great pleasure.

This is a new phenomenon.

Twenty years ago I studied watercolor for a couple of years, pretty seriously, while at university. But when in graduate school I found I needed to focus exclusively on my course of study and I let watercolor go. And then it let me go.

I returned to it recently. But I struggled to re-learn the technical aspects of the media. I was very critical,

Expectations + Perfection = Disappointment

even mean. And then it wasn’t fun. I was wondering, do I just quit? When I found a book by watercolorist Jean Haines about meditating with paint. The aim was to just have fun. To open up and lean into the intuitive chance qualities of water and color on paper. No aiming for content, or creating ‘art’, no striving for perfection. Instead, change my expectations, let go of an outcome I can’t control  — aim instead for exploration and yield to joy.

Expectations +  Experimentation – Perfection  = Joy

So here’s the thing. Life is all a big adventure, a big research study into the nature of what makes you happy. That difficult thing you’ve wanted to do?  Throw away your expectations. Instead, just let go. Pay attention to the parts that bring you joy. And go with that.

Sprint or Marathon? Some Tips for the Winding Road

When running a sprint, you need both an initial burst of power and sustained speed. You can blow out with everything you’ve got, and pour it on all the way. But if you try to do that with a marathon, you’ll burn up everything you have in the first hour and will be left without the juice to make it to the finish line.

So it is with life. More of a marathon than a sprint, right?

You’re in it to finish, with a bit of glory, a narrative of flourishing, and your trophy (re: legacy) at the end. A legacy of love – accomplishment – purpose. So it’s time to leave behind the mentality of sprinters, and embrace the mindset of a marathoner.

You don’t go straight from 0-50, from the couch to the race. Preparing for a marathon is to  think of your goals as a kind of graceful step ladder– you put your foot You don’t go straight from 0-50, from the couch to the raceon the first step, and find the second, and move at a thoughtful pace — feel comfortable, then move on. Prepare, warm up, practice, measure — it’s a gradual process. Do you expect yourself to be perfect straight out of the gate? To be able to ‘do it all’ immediately?

To continue the metaphor, let’s consider the strategies that marathoners use..

Link with others who will encourage you when the going gets tough.

Pace yourself.

Be aware of your limits and plan accordingly.

Practice gradually upping your tempo to increase your capacity, slowly over time.

Make sure you take time to Rest and Recover.

I think our expectations of ourselves is to push, pour it on, and go at life like it is a sprint. When the reality is, that kind of tactic will cost you the race.

Change your outlook, and you can cross the finish line with your resilient spirit flying high.

 

Who Is Your Hero? (Hint: It Could Be You)

My MFA Project

My work as an artist in graduate school began exploring the role of woman as hero in Homer’s epic “The Odyssey”. Penelope, wife of Odysseus, is the one that stays behind while her husband is off fighting in the Trojan Wars, then he wanders the world, adventuring, trying to get back home. Meanwhile, she keeps the home fires burning, she raises their son from boyhood to manhood, she defends their kingdom from usurpers with cunning and wit and she takes care of her people. I wanted to hear her voice and recognize her as a woman empowered. A true hero, I found her story as relevant today as it was in the 8th century B.C.

The work I do now in coaching uses different processes but my purpose is the same. I help my clients find their voice, access their strength and build their kingdoms, empowered. They do meet ‘monsters’ along the way — time stealers, soul killers, crushing responsibilities, serpentine messages from society, lack of confidence in their own capabilities. But they learn to access their strength and do the work, because they are motivated by purpose. It is work I am passionate about. I help them be their own hero.

Who is your hero?

A Question to Be Lived Into

Questions. The juicier the better

“……… be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”           — Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

 

Asking the right questions.

 

Coaching is a partnership between equals, with the coach asking questions aimed at opening up thinking and opportunities for greater growth for the other. Rilke charges us to love the questions, and to live into them.

 

Asking questions to grow understanding has a long history. In 4th century BCE, Socrates was known as the gadfly of Athens. Gadflies bite the horse, provoking the horse to action.  Socrates approach — asking questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presumptions. Annoying the powers that be and disrupting the status quo.

 

Chavrusa is a 1st century CE Aramaic word meaning friendship. In contemporary meaning it is a rabbinic study partner. “A chavrusa helps the student sharpen his reasoning powers, develop his thoughts into words. This type of learning imparts precision and clarity into ideas that would otherwise remain vague. A back and forth, question and answer, question and answer.“ (Wikipedia)

 

Good teachers have a toolkit of great questions. Asking the right questions can “motivate learning and fuel curiosity, foster intellectual development and stimulate thinking.” (Brandon Cline, Chicago Center for Teaching, University of Chicago)

 

 

In coaching, the fundamental purpose in asking powerful questions is to move the coachee forward. Discovery is the foundational intention. A core guiding principle of coaching  —  “People are Inquisitive: Wonder, curiosity and inquiry are the source of all learning.” Like Rilke, Socrates, the Chavrusa, and any good leader, the question is a guide to opening up perception.

 

A powerful question is one free of a judgemental voice. For instance, the question, “Why did I fail” implies you are a failure, which is destructive and fundamentally not true.  It stops learning and growth. A more beneficial and constructive question would be: “What blocked me or got in my way there?” Or “How can I move forward now?”

 

Here is one vigorous question to ask yourself today:

 

“Who is in charge of my life? Me or other people?”

 

This is not a simple question with a definitive answer. This is a question to sit with. And like the gadfly, spur you to action. A question to be lived into.

Do you think “Not good enough”? and “I need to fix my flaws”?

Does your barbell have “not good enough’ on one end, and ‘fix my flaws’ on the other?

There’s body building. Then there’s this…

Sometimes we get caught up with forcing ourselves to get stronger in weak areas. Noble and worthwhile ambitions. But you will never be passionate here, and it won’t hold your focus. By investing in your strengths, this can be a powerful source for success.

It must be the educator and designer in me, but I love creating learning tools. Here is an easy three step process to concentrate on your most powerful areas. You can use this knowledge to elevate your success.

 

A little homework:

 

  1. Grab yourself an iced tea, relax in your lawn chair in the back yard and make a list. Take stock of your strengths. Answer these questions:
  • “In what areas of life do I feel naturally strong?”
  • “What am I already good at?”
  • “Given that this is a strength, what’s the next level of development with that?”

 

  1. Next, make a list of two to three goals, and the resources that are available to you right now.

 

  1. Then, weave these two lists together, do this in narrative form. This is positively reinforcing what you already have, instead of focusing on what you don’t have, or are striving to get.

 

Sarah’s Example:

Strengths:

  • I make rapid, easy connections with people
  • I have a large network
  • I have infectious positivity
  • I have great communication skills

 

Goals                                                                        

  1. Develop a part time marketing biz;

     With an eye toward taking it full time

  1. Develop a wider network, outside local area
  2. Health goals – start a regular work out routine

Resources

  1. Connections within Professional Business Community
  2. Use national platform I’m already a part of
  3. Connect within network with a health goal partner or workout buddy

 

Her Narrative

I view my strengths as being my soft skills – because I genuinely like people and am an extrovert, I make rapid, easy connections. Because of this, I have a large network. I have been blessed with infectious positivity, and tend to view the world as a friendly place.

 

Because my goal is to develop a part time marketing business, I will need to use my large network of people to begin getting the word out and start creating clients. I know I’ll have to throw the net wider if I’m going to make it a full time business. I realize now I could take on a leadership role with the state chapter of the professional business community that I am now a member of locally. My connections there will be great resources.

 

I realize now that my strengths as a people person might help with my health goals too. I will commit to connect with people who can support me with diet and regular exercise. A personal trainer or workout buddy?

 

P.S.  If you are curious about what your strengths might be, the University of Pennsylvania has a survey you can take. You’ll need to register. ( Look for QUESTIONNAIRES. They offer many surveys, the strengths survey is called VIA Survey of Character Strengths. There is also a shorter version available, Brief Strengths test.) https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/

Onward and Upward!

 

 

 

 

Re-Inventors:Re-create, Shift, and Launch Second (etc) Acts

I’m very interested in stories of re-invention. People who have either turned a bad situation that was thrust upon them into a win, or have intentionally redrawn their life maps. People with audacity and nerve.

I recently interviewed one such person, Linda Brzezinski. She is a serial re-inventor, with a penchant for business. Here is her wisdom….

“My first enterprise was while I was a student at Wayne State University. I opened a plant store with a friend next to the Cass Corridor Food Co-op called “The Clay Pot”. I loved plants myself, and that’s why I thought ‘plants’. I learned so much there, it was a labor of love, and the shop lasted long enough for me to learn that I loved being an entrepreneur. I realized there is so much I can do!”

“Soon afterwards, I got married, and moved to Ann Arbor, and began to feel the entrepreneurial bug again. I loved sewing and thought I could begin a craft business. I created an inventory and began selling them at craft shows for a couple of years. From this experience I discovered what makes a successful art and craft show. I knew I could create an environment that artists could thrive in, as a business opportunity for me. I took this knowledge and founded Daylily Promotions. My first show was at Cobblestone Farms. Within a decade I was doing 7 – 10 shows a year, at Cobblestone Farms, Domino Farms and WCC Morris Lawrence. I knew what was important to my clients the artists, and provided good service and large audiences for their work. I handled 99% of all the work for this enterprise, with help from friends and family. The last show I did was so large, that the police had to be called in to direct traffic.”

“How did I know when it was time to end that chapter of my life?” “After the traffic problems I knew that Daylily Promotions would have to make big shifts, and I really didn’t have the energy to go there. I had given birth to my second child, and knew it was time for a change. I went to work for a non profit Visual Arts organization with a retail shop, and put my experience to good use, serving the artists and customers in a storefront setting. I have grown through two additional positions beyond the Visual Arts organization, and am now at the Ross School of Business.”

“I’m a life long learner, I’m really interested in life and how things work. I enjoy my present job because there is so much opportunity for professional development. “The common thread throughout my career?” “Resilience, confidence in natural leadership, being curious and wanting to learn. I learned things I may not need at the moment, but then, every time, I’ve used and relied on that skill in the future. “

“Advice for others?” “Take every opportunity to learn new things, occasions will pop up that you can wow people with your skill set. Follow your passions – then you’ll be passionate about what you do. And don’t be afraid. You can always re-invent yourself!”

Expectations have unexpected consequences

Behind every story of disappointment, lurks a failed expectation. Expectations are outcomes that arise out of assumptions, a way of exerting control over life – people mostly but also experiences. And as we all know, life rarely agrees to meet our expectations.

There is another way though.

Janet had a fledgling commercial photography business. She got a new client, a referral from a good friend. Since the referral (we’ll call her Irene) was a friend of a friend, Janet decided to sidestep her usual written agreement (that felt too formal). Janet also decided to give her new client a significant discount on her services, as this new client was ‘a friend of a friend’.

Irene turned out to be a demanding and difficult client. She cancelled their first meeting at the last minute, then, after re-scheduling, she showed up at the planning meeting unprepared and unprofessional. Janet had to work within these limiting conditions to do her job. When Janet delivered her photos, Irene was critical of the results, and asked Janet to reshoot the photos.

Janet was resentful of Irene’s demands, and angry that she was being paid far short of her usual fee for a lot of aggravation and extra work. She only had herself to blame, so she was silent and took the criticism without comment. She ended up feeling both used and discouraged. Since Janet had given Irene a discount, she had expected her to be easy to work with, and abide by the ‘rules’. Except that Irene had different expectations for this business transaction.

 

Dashed expectations have consequences. They don’t feel very good.

 

A clear agreement in the beginning of the relationship, laying out the framework of expectation, would have helped Janet begin this business relationship. If (when) problems arose Janet could refer to this agreement, and get buy in from her client. This is an assertive policy and could have salvaged Janet’s self esteem, and her bottom line. Mutual agreements are so important to any relationship, whether they are business or personal. Knowing that everyone has a unique perspective on expectations is important. Being aware of your own expectations are vital, to avoid disappointment and broken relationships.

 

 

I like to share stories. Most of the articles I share here are taken from my own life. Those are true. I also write about other people, and their learning experiences. All the people I write about here are fictionalized, to protect confidentiality. 

 

What Happens in the Space Between Yes and No

Stories: True or False?

Every single person on this planet, interprets the world from their own learned perspective. Actual circumstances are far less important than how you interpret them. Some researchers believe that external events are responsible for as little as 10 percent of our feelings and well being. It is our internal, emotional codebook that informs our thinking and actions. This is why ‘Re-framing’ is so important in coaching. The stories we tell ourselves are what influence our mood and behavior.

So, what does this mean for you. Maybe a reference point?

Actual circumstances are fall less important than what you believe about them.

Janet was a middle aged woman. She had a very interesting life. In addition to being a wife and Mom, she was an amazing gardener. She was having fun. For awhile now she had been experimenting with making delicious chutneys, jams and homemade ketchup with her garden produce, with several more recipes she was still tinkering with. Last summer she began selling her jars at the Farmer’s Market. They were a hit! So much so, that Janet had been approached by Mark, a local entrepreneur who wanted to help Janet sell her products in regional specialty markets. Janet’s next move? She withdrew from the Farmer’s Market and quit selling. But after making this decision she got depressed. She blamed Mark.

As you can guess, Janet changed course because of the invitation to grow her business. Janet had not thought of herself as a business, until Mark identified her as such. In her mind, having your own business meant being overwhelmed, neglecting your family and constant financial headaches. The opposite of fun. This was the anecdotal evidence she had gathered and kept as truth. And she did not want that!

And why did she get depressed? She really loved developing recipes, sharing her products, growing customer relationships and making money. Her sadness was mourning the loss of this. And to her way of thinking, Mark had brought that about.

If Janet decided to try again, and tested her assumptions, she could reframe the story she told herself. The dialogue might go something like this.

Is it really true that I HAVE to be overwhelmed? Or could I do business differently?
Is it necessary for me to neglect my family? Or are there ways to integrate my family life into my business life?
Do I have to accept as gospel that turning my hobby into a business will be constant financial headaches? Or could I have a balanced strategic plan.

If you feel yourself stalling, circling or avoiding, check in with these questions:

  • What is the story I am telling myself about this?
  • Is this story true?
  • What is the ‘Re-frame’?

Opportunity Knocked. She Wanted to Run In the Opposite Direction

Daria was stuck in a big decision. She was waffling about a job offer she’d gotten in Seattle. Her initial reaction 2 days ago had been one of excitement. The job was a good match, for a company on her A list. And Seattle? She loved the city! But something had happened in the two days since she had been offered the job. A mental paralysis had settled in. And she was now swimming in a funk of indecision. With a yes or no deadline looming, she called me and we met over coffee to discuss what had happened.

How do you go from over the moon excitement to the basement of doom in two days? Worry. Daria started to list all the ways this was going to be hard. She would have to find a place to live. She would have to learn a new job. She would have to build new friendships. Learn a new city. Start all over. This was freaking her out, and the anticipatory worry had overwhelmed her.

“Daria, all of these things are true. It will be hard. Moving to the other side of the country won’t be easy. But one thing I know about you is you learn quickly, are resourceful, and have great energy. Do you think all of these worries will still be true in six months?” Daria looked at me, and slowly shook her head, no. “Will you have learned the city by then?” “Well, yes.” “Will you have learned your new job?” “I’ll be on the way.” With each question, I could see her mood shift. Lighten.

Daria had gotten stuck in the space where she realized the magnitude of the undertaking. Where things were going to be hard work. But she had not moved through the process. She had forgotten to stay connected to her dream,and to her strengths. It’s like staring at your feet when you’re trying to stand tall and walk, it’s impossible to do. You have to lift your eyes and look at the distant horizon. Where will you be in six months if you say yes to a new opportunity? If I know you, you’re not afraid of the hard work of growing into your potential.

He actually thought worry was productive

As I sat across the cafe table from Mark, I could see anxiety lines on his forehead. I noticed he had his coffee cup in a death grip, when he began catching me up on the last two weeks of progress toward his goal of starting a business. From my side of the table, it sounded like he was right on track. We had made a checklist, and he was right on target with that. He had plenty of financial reserves to provide a nice cushion. What could be wrong?

From Mark’s perspective, his worry was productive. He kept painting ‘what if’ scenarios. I quickly saw that he had shifted his focus from ‘enthusiastic anticipation’ to ‘what might go wrong’. Watching the circling drain, he was sure things were going to go wrong, and then, his plans would be down the toilet. He was absorbed in trying to prevent trouble, when there was no evidence of trouble. It was all about his focus.

Been here? Energetically moving toward what you want ( a new goal, a loving relationship, a new venture, a healthy lifestyle program) You’re diligently carrying on, when, it all begins to look like a nightmare. Where did all the good feelings go? The excitement? Like Mark, worry, doom and gloom move in to threaten your world? And you stop. How do you move through sluggish pea soup to get back to your original intention?

What happened to Mark is called “Failure Impact Predictions”, and when that happens, stress skyrockets. Mark’s mind shifted from happy to wary, as a method of protecting himself from disappointment. (He was unaware of this pattern).  But at what cost!

What I did with Mark, and what you can do when this happens to you, is to shift your focus. To do that, ask yourself these questions (and write down the answers) :

  1. Remind yourself about what progress you HAVE made.
  2. What kind of energy do you have for this goal? What would increase the energy?
  3. What resources can you tap into to move ahead?
  4. Who could help you with this goal
  5. Accomplishing the new goal will bring change. How can you support this change?

Awareness, and reconnecting to his goal made a difference in Mark’s outlook. His fingers relaxed around that coffee cup. The sparkle came back into his eyes. Relief!

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and sets a course of strategy including time-tables to carry out my plans and keep it within a structure and focus.”

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