The Pebble in your Shoe is Having a Rock Party

“Want to go to a Rock Party?” was my Dad’s joke every spring. Being a farmer, as soon as the fields were dry enough to plow and plant, meant he spent long days outdoors preparing the fields. Over the winter, the freezing and thawing of the soil would push the rocks to the surface, and they would need to be cleared to create ideal growing conditions. The naïve would answer ‘yes’ to Dad’s question and end up following a tractor and wagon all day, throwing rocks onto the wagon. If you were smart, you jumped into the driver’s seat first.

Recently, in a blog post, I shared a story about two of my heroes, the artists Christo and his wife Jean- Claude. When Christo turned 80 he said, “I’m 80. I want to do something really hard.” As I’ve gotten older, I’ve looked to my elders to show me the way. That post was all about challenging mountains to climb, and the small and large courageous acts it takes to scale them. But what if you’re having difficulty scaling the mountain?

Muhammad Ali was so clever with language that he inspired fans and non-fans alike. He said, “It isn’t the mountain ahead to climb that wears you out: it’s the pebble in your shoe.”

Sometimes your particular ‘mountain’ and the problematic ‘pebble’ are not so obvious.

Here are six “shapes’ that pebble could take:

  1. Your mindset — Your underlying belief system is in conflict with your desires. Examples: “If I succeed my world will change dramatically” “I can’t have financial abundance AND healthy strong relationships” “I’ll lose control of my life if I take on a leadership role.”
  2. You have conflicting values.  “Professional ambition and kindness can’t co-exist” “Marketing myself feels like selling out” ” The needs of my family and personal achievement is a competition”
  3. You have conflicting ambitions. Are too many choices muddying the waters? Causing confusion — so you end up doing nothing?
  4. You are not all in. (Caused by: see above) To follow through on goals, you have to be 100% on board with your new goal. 70/30 will not cut it.
  5. You have a limiting narrative. “I have to take care of my family first — and their needs are never ending.” “I can’t ask for that much money, they will never pay it.” “I can’t say no, I can’t handle the consequences.”
  6. You are experiencing overwhelm. Too many things on your to do list? No clear plan on doing any of them?

By eliminating these ‘stones’ you clear the path to achievement. Want to go to a Rock Party?

She rolled down the window, and let it go…

The Tyranny of the Couch

Carolyn was driving along a quiet stretch of highway, daydreaming, when an intriguing idea formed in her consciousness. The idea was exciting. Tempting at first. But then made her anxious. Nope. She opened her window and let it go.

After returning home she quickly was knee deep in work. Some weeks later, coming home from work late one night, the idea popped up again, and held her attention. She pushed it away. It didn’t seem do-able. And, if she followed through, it would definitely mess with her orderly life. For what? Following her idea into territory with no guarantees. She couldn’t have it. She pushed it away again.

(I’ve talked to lots of ‘Carolyn’s’ with this dilemma. Good people. With great ideas — but following closely behind are the questions, the doubt, the possible impact and upheaval. Work, time and energy.)

The couch is so cozy, I think I’ll stay right here, thank you very much. THE idea — to end something– leave an uninspiring job or dying relationship. Or fresh beginnings– a new adventure, a new career, look for a new romance, take a year off to pursue a dream … the variables are endless. The common denominator, something new is calling you.

How do you know when to listen?

1. It’s an idea that resonates. Does your heart expand when you think about it? Do you feel a sense of relief? Check in closely with how you feel.

2. The idea is persistent. It keeps appearing in one way or another.

3. It is precisely the thing that might shake up ‘your orderly life’. It makes you a bit anxious, somewhat afraid, leads you to doubt yourself. All of this is necessary TO GET YOUR ATTENTION.

Carolyn was not a lazy person (she worried that she was). What was going on for her was an internal narrative that didn’t align with who she really was. She was in conflict with herself, and not completely aware of it. Will she be lured to the comfort of the couch and stay put? Or will she do the work necessary to create a bigger, better version of her life story.

Come on adventurers, put your boots on and let’s go!

Is it time to clear the air?

I work with people who want to develop in their careers, or move through divorce not reduced but expansively, or who want to meet challenges and thrive instead of hide or fight change. In essence,to live a full meaningful life. In every arena, because of the complexity of we humans, being in relationship with others can sometimes be ‘difficult”. To succeed and thrive means to meet those relationships with complete presence.


It’s Time to Clear the Air

We’ve all been there. It’s time to have that ‘talk’. Things have come to a head, and you’ve decided that you can’t ignore it any longer. So gather your courage, pull on your boots and be an adult.

But where to begin? Here are some thoughts.Untitled design

First and foremost. You cannot make anyone talk through an issue. The only thing you can do is offer a safe place for dialogue to happen. How do you create a ’safe’ place? By acknowledging that this might be difficult. That you care enough about improving the relationship to work on it. Own up to the fact that you may have contributed to ’the problem’ (whatever it may be). By offering this, you validate everyone’s feelings. Next, be ready to do a lot of listening, if the other party feels like opening up. Another thing to remember, this is a process. The initial conversation may just open the door a crack to honesty.

Which brings us to the next important feature of any relationship — their feelings are theirs, not yours. Your actions are yours. That is what you need to own. Let them know you care about improving things, and are willing to hear, regardless of what they are feeling. Your goal is not to make their feelings go away. It is simply to witness them and stand by the relationship.

Accept that some things may not be resolved. Again, you don’t have control over the thoughts or actions of others. But knowing that this is a process free’s you to lead the way and set the tone, because good things can happen. If not now, then somewhere down the road. By being open and receptive, you hold the key to the opportunity for deeper relationships, which are vital to a rich and abundant life. The life you are committed to having.

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The Secret Behind Every Decision

“I think I’m depressed” Tom (not his real name) said quietly over his coffee cup. Indeed, he looked sad. I urged him to tell me what was going on. As the story unfolded, Tom said that he was having trouble feeling good about his decisions. He blamed poor decision-making on his lack of a big bank account and a more prestigious career. His father, mother and sister were all very accomplished people. He was sure there was something wrong with him, that he couldn’t do the same.

The Secret Behind Every Decision

Tom’s story included the fact that he was a good Dad to two daughters. His marriage had broken up when the girls were young. From the tenor of his story, I had a feeling that Tom had not made poor decisions. But that his values shaped his behavior and choices, values he wasn’t aware of. I knew that if I could help Tom discover what values drove his past decisions, he would feel a lot better about himself, and that would inform all future decisions.

Values are the principles that you live your life by. Too often, we are unable to identify what is really important for us. We don’t live our lives in alignment with our values, and then wonder why we feel unbalanced or things aren’t working. To honor your values means to create and live your life in such a way that there is nothing in the way of living them. This leads to a life lived with integrity.

The compass that sets your course are your core values. Those core values direct all of your life choices and every aspect of your behavior. Core values are defined by you. They are:

  • Something that is regarded as important.
  • Standards of behavior.
  • Beliefs, ideals.
  • Guidelines of worth.
  • Principles that guide conduct.
  • Seen as intrinsically desirable, valuable.

Values are easily squashed by needs, shoulds and problems.

Needs. ..Shoulds. ..Tolerations. ..Unresolved matters. ..Addictions… Irresponsibility. Stress… Fantasies. ..Roles. ..Money. …Obligation/Duty……..

Until this list is handled, values orientation is difficult to do, because most people have values and needs confused. Their needs are so great that they overshadow their values. This circumstance makes living a values based life and setting values based goals unsustainable. A Values based life brings fulfillment.

Some examples of values: Accomplishment, Discipline, Social Recognition, Spirituality, Taking risks, Tradition, Wealth, Creativity.

Tom did a values assessment with me, and discovered that family and responsibility were much stronger values for him than affluence. Tom had been comparing himself to others and in his mind he hadn’t measured up. A man with a prestigious career and a big bank account was the role he imagined he was supposed to play. For Tom, the discovery that he had made the choice to work at jobs that would be best for his family, jobs that allowed him to be the kind of Dad he wanted to be, brought him great relief. That knowledge paved the way to making peace with the past, feeling satisfaction for the present, and empowered about the future.

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Aid for the Confounded

So you want to take some action, but with so many variables  piling up, even the most dedicated mathematician would throw in the chalk. Like a restaurant menu with 300 entrees, you have too many choices,  which makes choosing impossible — ironic isn’t it? Then you figure, every choice has a consequence. And when you start calculating that out?  You’re tangled into knots, you cry, and then you quit. Back where you began.
Being stuck feels awful. Stuck in a job? Stuck in a relationship that makes you unhappy? Stuck in boredom? Stuck in a cycle of soul sucking hyperactivity. Should I marry that guy? Should I retire? Should I take that job across the country? Should I get a divorce?
Stymied. Stumped. Stuck. But thinking about the alternatives gives you hives.Screenshot 2015-06-24 16.11.32
Surprise! This type of itch is a good thing. Because noticing the ick of stuck is the message you have been waiting for. When things get really uncomfortable, the energy begins to shift from inertia to response. There is a tipping point. And you are now leaning in the positive column. Don’t just think about it or worry about it. Make a plan for how you’re going to deal with it. Then do something about it. What to do? Here are a few ideas:
1. Dedicate some extra time to thinking and planning. Take yourself off on sabbatical for the weekend. Start making notes of all the possibilities. Remove all the ‘shoulds’. Include all the ‘wants’. Then zero in on the ideas that make your heart sing.
2. Get some coaching so you get a shortcut to the most effective strategies. (Of course I would suggest this. But I suggest it because my clients tell me it works. I’m here to be of service.)
3. Read some books written by folks who have ‘been there’ or have practical advice. There are lots of self help books with proven track records. Google your topic, see what comes up. Ask your friends for suggestions. Do a Facebook poll.
4. If it’s a relationship problem, seek a mediator or counselor (if all parties in the relationship are agreeable). If it’s a financial issue, enlist a financial advisor. There are great resources out there that are free too. Getting help before it becomes a crisis relieves a lot of stress.
5. If it’s a career decision you want to make, think about people you could reach out to in your circle who would be helpful. By talking with people you trust and have perspective, you can gather more information to help you make good decisions.
Any of these ideas are good. Just do something. Being so indecisive feels awful. Recognizing “this is me stuck”, is seeing the road sign. Let ‘stuck’ direct you to the first step. Now, get going.

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There was a note of panic in her voice in the telephone message. As she laid out the problems she was facing, I heard “but what if this happens, and what if……”  Two days in a row, I saw faces full of anxiety, heard words that lacked energy, people who appeared vulnerable and without power. Stories of sleepless nights, brought on by impossible expectations or the specter of trouble ahead. 

I heard a lot of ‘overwhelm’ stories this week after my last newsletter article  (“It’s Snowing Overwhelm”)  This is how it went………Small anxieties became large worries that became distress that spiraled into sleepless nights. Trouble fermented like a large pot of ugly stew.

When you were a kid and you went to the county fair, were you drawn to the cotton candy booth? The paper cone swirls around the vat, a few strands wind on, pink fluff begins to collect and by some magical force it creates a big ball of fleecy sweet. Worry and overwhelm spin out like that. Stress multiplies and snowballs. Only it’s not sweet. It’s toxic.

It’s time to be kind to yourself. Give yourself a break. If you begin to feel a sense of panic, stop, breathe, and make a plan. Here is the framework:

Analyze and ask yourself —

  • What is it I need to know?

  • What is the one essential thing that needs to be done first?

  • What is an action I can take that would help?

Panic makes us vulnerable to crisis. A plan gives you choice and is empowering. 

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Screenshot 2015-02-20 19.10.28

Where I live, it’s been relentless snow and cold. We’ve had below zero windchill temperatures, and, well, pull on your boots and parka designed for arctic adventurers. While the weather is good or bad, depending on your perspective and time zone, what really bothers me most is when I hear people mention the words “I feel overwhelmed”. My heart breaks.


Even my dog Buddy looks cold

I’m always on the lookout for tools to help people live their best life. To cope with things like OVERWHELM. Because we can’t do everything, but we’re told we should. Overwhelm is an energy and joy stealer. It prevents you from doing your best work, living a full and complete life, feeling happy. Neuroscientists report that “94% of working people in the industrialized world have felt overwhelmed to the point of incapacitation.” (Christine Carter, PhD.) We try to do more multi-tasking, to get everything done. But that doesn’t work either.“Multitasking has been found to increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol as well as the fight-or-flight hormone adrenaline, which can overstimulate your brain and cause mental fog or scrambled thinking.” (From an article in the Guardian written by Neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitan) No wonder I hear that undertone of hopelessness when people say, “I’m overwhelmed.” Screenshot 2015-02-20 19.32.18

Because you can’t do everything, you need to make choices. In those areas, begin to practice ‘no’. But what do you say no to? Say no to all the things that don’t line up with your values. I’m not talking values as in ‘family values’, although family can be one of your core values. Values are the principles, beliefs and attitudes that guide your decisions, actions and behaviors. When you are not in alignment with your values, your life doesn’t flow easily. My clients do a values assessment that helps them clarify where their values lie. They work with a list of words associated with values, such as ‘Career’, ‘Individualism’, “Innovation’, “Helping Others”, “Family”, “Adventure”, etc. I work with them to get really clear on what their top 5 values are. They can then make decisions on where to say yes, and where to say no. Any tool that can help you make decisions and set priorities, is helpful with overwhelm. So, make a list of ten words describing important personal principles. Compare them with each other, and see which 5 are most important to you. These are the values that drive your life. By getting clear on your core values, you can make decisions on where you spend your time and energy. At work, you may not have control of all of your decisions. Zero in on the areas you do have control over, and choose what and how you spend your time.This leads to a life lived with integrity, and a whole lot less overwhelm.


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Welcome and Entertain Them All

(Back in the day), college hopeful high school students chose to take foreign language classes. I chose not to. I had heard they were hard. Don’t walk through that door. Upper class students, who I knew were smart, didn’t always get an A in such classes. Hard work that garnered a C grade didn’t seem to make sense to me. Now I know, from the perspective of maturity, that challenging myself to take harder classes where I would not be ‘perfect’ would have had its own rewards. It is the homework of the brave.

Screenshot 2015-01-12 16.11.11

As part of the coaching process, my clients answer year-end questions. I begin with, “What were your greatest challenges of the past year? The next question is “What were your greatest achievements of last year?” The answers sometimes surprise them. Most often, the responses are identical. In doing my own personal review of 2014, my greatest challenges were caring for my parents as they were dying (they passed away within two months of each other). What was my greatest achievement? The lessons I learned through loving and caring for them through that process. There were times I wanted to uncheck the box “responsible adult daughter”, I will admit that to you. If that act would have released me from the pain and discombobulated feelings. The moments when I was not my best self. When I revealed petty emotions, overwhelming grief, and critical words. If, by unchecking that box, I could have remained “perfect”, untouched. But to remain “perfect” would have limited the scope of the messy experience of loving people through to the very end and learning the lessons of dying and death. That’s an achievement worth hanging around for I think. Perfect didn’t have a place in the vocabulary of a richer life.

In telling me their stories of challenge and achievement, I see over and over again, the resilience of people. All the people I meet who have crushing work loads or difficult relationships or sadness and loss in the past, shape their experience to be transformative. In connecting with strength, and riding that wild boat through to the other side, I see them reap great rewards.

I would love to hear about your challenges of the past year. Your achievements. Please share so the rest of us can learn.

Rumi wrote a poem, The Guest House, that describes the lesson, creatively illustrated by artist Ellie Cross. Get it Here > The Guest House

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Sandwich Diplomacy

Standing in Integrity: Part 1: Sandwich Diplomacy

Joe, my smart son in law, loves Zingerman’s Sandwiches. Zingerman’s Deli has what seems like hundreds of choices to pick from, so it is difficult to decide what to love when you’re hungry. I might continue to think about Zingerman’s (I do love their pickles), but I’m writing an article about Sandwich Diplomacy, and these aren’t the kind of sandwiches I’m
talking about.                                                                                                            ( Melina & Joe>>>)

I also love working with people, and entering into a ‘thinking partnership’ with my clients. Many of them struggle with asking for what they want. I’m guessing this comes up for you, too? Yes?  I know you are a nice person. You like making other people happy. And in order to do that, you don’t rock the boat. Maybe you give in when you don’t want to. Maybe you say, “Whatever you would like to do is okay with me”. Sound familiar? Asking for what you want turns out to be really hard. (There are many reasons for this). But, there comes a time when you decide you’re ready to leave the ‘passive’ voice behind, and take a more active role in your own life. And you can begin, with small steps in small moments, to initiate larger changes. For people who find asking for what you want intimidating, a good tool to use is Sandwich Diplomacy.

What the heck is that, you say? Here is my definition:
Sandwich: To insert between two other things.
Diplomacy: Skill in managing negotiations, handling people, etc., so that there is little or no ill will, tact.

So here’s how it works for the purposes of asking for what you want. By using two positive statements sandwiched around a more difficult ‘asking’ statement, you have an easier time stating your needs.The bonus is, the other party also has an easier time hearing what you have to say. What, say you? Here are a couple of examples.

As a volunteer who wants to say no:
“This committee is doing amazing work, and the gala you are talking about sounds like a winner. My schedule is packed right now, and I won’t be able to contribute. The beauty of your mission is, others will get behind you.”

See what I mean? Two positive statements sandwiched between the asking statement. A little more palatable for those of us who have difficulty saying what we want.

Two more examples:                                

As an employee who wants to make a request:
“Because our company values education and training, I’m requesting funds to go to a conference in Atlanta. This department has a strong tradition of innovation and development, and I want to be a part of that.”

As a friend or family member who wants to set some boundaries:
“I love coming home after a long day of work, and spending time catching up with you. I would like you to clean up the kitchen before I get here. Then we can make a cup of coffee and sit down and relax together.”

Are you, at this point, saying, yeah, right! I ‘ll ask, but what if they say no?” Fear, that the answer may not be what we want it to be, keeps us small and prevents us from asking in the first place. But, go ahead and try it on for size. If they push back, then you have valuable information. Did they not hear you? Repeat the phrase. If they did hear you, and they begin to argue, repeat the phrase. If they did hear you, and still say no, then you know where you stand. You can make the next move, make a different choice, make a plan to leave, etc…..

Begin taking steps to stand tall, right now, using Sandwich Diplomacy. And it’s  not crunchy peanut butter spread thick between two slices of Zingerman’s Chocolate Cherry bread that I’m talking about. Although that’s fabulous too.

I’d love to know your experience using this tool, so please share!

Safety + Risk = A Well Seasoned Life

“A ship is safe in harbor. But that’s not what ships are for.” William G. T. Shedd

In dry dock, a ship is refurbished, updated, and repaired. Rust is blasted away, or rotting wood cut out and replaced with fresh strong panels. Several coats of marine grade paint are applied, another step in helping the boat remain seaworthy. Supplies are replenished. Safety gear checked. All these things are vital to the purpose of the ship. But, they are not what the ship is about. Screenshot 2014-09-18 22.04.05

What is a ship’s purpose? To sail out into the world to fulfill it’s mission. There are times when you need to pull into dry dock, make some adjustments. Revisit the navigation charts after strong winds have pulled you off course. Fix the damage done by vicious storms, or anchor in the bay just because you want a new coat of paint and a rest. The theme is the same. These things are important, but they are not what you are about. You are about fulfilling your purpose.

“A ship is safe in harbor. But that’s not what ships are for.” William G. T. Shedd

Harbors are safe. Free of demands, free of risk. Once we leave the harbor, the waters are unpredictable. We might be tempted to stay safely anchored firmly to the dock. Do you really want to be chained to an anchor? Risk and change are a way of life. Just try standing still in the rapidly moving stream of life. It is ultimately much more dangerous than swimming toward a more promising future.

A few thoughts on pushing fear aside to move toward change (risk).

– Stock your tool kit. What do you need to begin? Number 1 is a good support structure. Thinking you can or have to do everything yourself will make the risk overwhelming.

– Develop a positive attitude about yourself. You have already survived many ups and downs in your life, right? You’re smart. You’re adaptable. You’re good at facing challenges. Engrave this on your mirror.

– Embrace the process. Remain open to the knowledge that it won’t all be smooth sailing. Flexibility in your expectations is your watch word.

Be willing to let difficult moments, failures and perceived failures be your teacher. Can you do that? Can you untie the ropes and venture out? What do you need to pack to make your boat seaworthy so you can take the plunge? Spice, variety and adventure make for a well seasoned life.

Bon Voyage,Screenshot 2014-09-22 10.15.48