February 19, 2012

Kumbata is an 11-year old who lives in a small, fenced in village outside of Kampala, Uganda, where he was placed at age 3 after graduating from the orphanage where he was first taken care of. He lives, as all the “watoto” which is Ugandan for ‘Children” live and that is with 7 “siblings,’ also orphans, and a house mother. In his modest village, there are open fields of grass, an elementary school and a new high school is being built week by week by different volunteers from all over the planet. Kumbata’s eyes are large and bright, his smile radiant, his energy level high. He loves to sing and sings every day at school or with his family. There is water in their house, a coal pot for heating food, bunk beds, kitchen table and chairs and a couch. The cement walls are painted neatly and a few pictures drawn with crayons adorn the room where the bunk beds hold all 8 kids. What is noticeable about Kumbata to the visiting crews of volunteers: this child is joyful, happy, carefree. He loves his school, his teachers, his friends, his family, his housemother and God. He has yet to see a computer, though his older sister tells of such things that are in a small room in the high school library. He’s familiar with buses and cars that come from the big city. He says he loves the stars and wants to visit them someday when he is older. He is content.

Serena is also an 11-year old child in the outskirts of New York City in nearby Connecticut. She lives in a 5,000 square-foot home complete with an entertainment room with a wall for a viewing screen, a kinect video game console, three p.c.’s, two printers, two lap tops, three itouches and the newest member of the family: a “baby” ipad. Joyful as well, she romps around from machine to machine and seems to be a bit frustrated today because the power is out and she can’t Skype her friend who lost her cell phone privileges to tell her that perhaps they can come up with an alternative plan for communicating. She has 10 minutes between her cello lesson and competitive diving practice and is really worried that there won’t be enough macaroni and cheese by the time she gets home because her little brother eats it all whenever it’s part of dinner. She’s wearing a Harvard hoodie and hopes she can swing that when she’s older so she can be the third generation to attend.

There’s nothing surprising to us about either of these stories. In one respect, this is the epitome of the contrast available to us on the planet if we look at the end of our fingertips and search the web under “living conditions in Uganda or the United States.” What’s striking for me to behold are the contexts for each story, each child in terms of their sense of “enoughness” in their worlds. IN one, you have the child thrilled to pieces with acres and acres of wide open space to play soccer, run, play stick ball, explore, rest; in the other, a child engaged in the technology of their world perhaps wondering what the next “level” of the next game is going to be….or what the next time saving or entertaining product will show up on the shelves at Frys or Best Buy. You could say that in the Kumata’s world, all his life he has been fed three meals by his house mother who has been provided with a job to raise the children and perhaps a side job making clothing, and is paid enough to buy the food and clothing for all the kids in her care. He knows that his “mother” and her God are going to provide him with whatever he needs and until he’s older he doesn’t have to think about how to do this for himself just yet. For Serena, she too has a knowing that some never ending source of stuff is going to continue to magically appear. That all the surrounding accoutrements and comforts of life have some correlation to the jobs her parents spend most of their waking hours working at and that also for the foreseeable future it’s all going to keep coming.

Behind the scenes of Kumbata’ life are dozens of workers, hundreds of volunteers, an intermittent flow of funding and donated resources and labor that have built this, and three others like it, village. Through not only funds and direct resources, but the collaboration of natives, agency workers and volunteers came together to create a vision that young orphaned people in the outskirts of Kampala, cast offs from war or AIDS ravaged parents, could be loved, fed, provided clothing, family and education and could be prepared to someday be tomorrow’s leaders. A life of love, education and learning how to interdependently live amidst the greater society from which they were originally rejected. These kids get lessons early and often of what sufficiency is all about.

Behind the scenes for this particular child, Serena, are two very ambitious, driven, achievement oriented, loving parents intent on providing the best possible life for their kids. They are happily involved in working as long as it takes to make certain that the kids live in a spacious house with multi-faceted rooms and wide driveways and a huge yard. They get excited about the possibility of both more affordable and roomy cars for each member of the family and are always looking forward to one of their three annual family vacations to destinations to entice the experience of the kids for places foreign and lush, striking and rich. They are constantly setting aside funds for tuition for universities yet unapplied to but dreamed of year after year. They are bent on promotions and steps up the economic ladder to ensure the continuing provision of as much as possible for as long as possible. At times, there is concern about whether there will be enough money for all the dreams and so tireless hours of work ensue. These kids get lessons early and often about what both abundance and scarcity are all about.

So why look at this contrast? Why flaunt these juiced up exaggerations of the human experience? Actually, there is no inherent need to look at this. We could continue to do that which we do so well in the face of crumbling financial, political and social chaos: ignore it either until it goes away or until the “real crisis” point comes and we don’t have any choice but to make radical change. Whether it is the environmental issues of the ozone, water supply, crop issues, rhino horn poaching—or the political uprisings of long-term religious frustrations and conflict, exports and imports, nuclear build ups or scamperings of OCCUPY you-name-it, we CAN consider hitting the universal pause button as a culture and redefine for ourselves, as a STILL comparatively young culture here in the U.S. what, if any, role there is for sufficiency. Should we run ads on face book, Yahoo and twitter screens all over the country? Shall we create yet another t-shirt donning now “Got sufficiency?” Shall we make it a high school graduation requirement that students take one semester spent completely looking at the Wikipedia version of “today’s sufficiency?” Send out the big guns of Anthony Robbins, Barak Obama, Oprah and Martin Sheen with a “campaign for sufficiency?” Hit up all the women’s leagues, Rotaries, men’s groups, spiritual circles, religious institutions, meet-up groups and virtual neighborhoods and place the item of “sufficiency” on the top of the agenda’s for 2012? Why not? What could it hurt? While you contemplate that option, I’d like you to consider the approach of Gandhi, Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King, and that is taking one personal action, take one step in your own life around this mega theme of sufficiency. Recently I watched a movie by Hollywood writer, director and now a self proclaimed minimalist Tom Shadyac called “I AM,” where he interviewed the likes of Desmond Tutu, Lynn McTaggart, Howard Zinn, Coleman Barks and other spiritual leaders, teachers, poets, authors, quantum physics scientists and asked them two questions: “What is wrong with the world,” and “What can we do about it?” What he discovered through the process of producing the film was that in fact there is more right with the world than we imagined; that sufficiency is available to all of us, and that the answer to the first question, “What is wrong with the world” is the same answer as the question “What is right with the world,” and that is “I AM.” As to the second question, “what can we do about it?” we are reminded AGAIN of the all-pervasive, transformative power on the planet: LOVE. So I’ll leave you with an inquiry to take out into your lives as you leave this room: how much sufficiency can you take?



August 5, 2011

There is just no way I can impress upon my kids enough how much I love my primary language. I try so hard not to be embarrassed that while I took some Latin in high school and how wonderfully that has contributed to my spelling capacity, it is only “pig Latin” that I can actually claim as a second one. With that, I’ve decided to do what I can with this complex yet intriguing language of English. Over the years I have stopped fighting what doesn’t make sense about it, whether it is spelling or vocabulary or grammatical structure and instead I do one of two things: play games with it and try to “out smart” it, or, indulge in creative writing where I take major liberties in my English “Driver’s Ed” class, I mean, poetic license. Both amuse me and sustain me. For certain in a future blog I am going to share my fascination with what I deem “powerful verbs”. You will never be the same, for example: FATHOM.

For today, I have four words that have to do with doing something over again, as in the title of this piece, re-do. I want to use my carefully selected “re” words to take a look at the situation of our country right now and consider a vantage point that is perhaps akin to the view you’d have from a hot air balloon. From up here, I see people running around down there with less freneticism but more angst, more droopy shoulders, more of a place of being “sapped,” kind of worn and weary from an unexpectedly long journey with an unknown destination. I’d feel that way too if I actually read all the news or even half of it. Facts is facts (see, you can use really BAD English for the cause of getting your point across!!!), and we all know the “numbers” ranging from the GNP to the COL , to the DOW to unemployment figures and dare I say the average price of a house in your area. Those are real and I’m not touching any of those facts. I AM, however, going to ask us to reflect on our response to this new reality from this somewhat comfortable place up in the air balloon. My final request for our journey is that you suspend thoughts about the past (i.e. “last time this happened,” or, “it always goes like this and heads toward that…”, etc.) and the future, which by the way is not here yet (“This is going to get worse…” “The only way this can go is down!” “I’m afraid we’re running out of options,” etc.). I know, that’s a ton to ask. Bear with me.

How we respond to things determines much about our level of sanity in any given day or moment. There are books all over the place and speakers as well touting some version of “…between stimulus and response there is a space….this is where choice is,” which is to say that when something happens, there is a time frame in which we can actually pause (or not) and then respond. Miraculously, in my experience, any microcosmic to great pause in that space more often than not adds to the integrity and joy in my life. As an executive and life coach, I get the pleasure of working with people on creating new perspectives, very much like us being up here in the hot air balloon. What I would like to have you consider from up here are your values. What is it that is really important to you? What are things in your life that are as I like to say “non-negotiables” that no matter what, don’t fall below the line? I believe that times like the ones we are in can offer us an opportunity to look at these questions, so I invite you to do that (unless, of course, this is in your electronic Covey Day-Timer list under “sharpen the saw” today!!!). Not for me but for you. Jot them down and give them a look; sit with them for a few minutes. Stick them on a post it for a few days and look at who you are in relation to these values that you identified.

So here’s the rub. I think that right now the times are calling us to re-examine our values. That is the first “re”word. Take a look at how you spend your time and energy. What really matters when you spend that time and energy? What contributes to your well being and honors who you are? What betrays who you are? Jot them down for reference. When I do this with people there is another guiding premise I highly recommend inviting into the space: NOBODY GETS TO BE WRONG. This is a delightful default that has an amazing capacity to make life much, much safer and even more fun if you allow yourself to get into it. Make this something to play with, not work with, play with. If it’s hard, well, you know the rest.

Now, consider those values in terms of re-alignment, our second “re” word. You have a list and it is full of things like (my examples follow): connection (friends, family), being creative (hobbies, reading, art), engaging in the outdoors (recreation), self care (nutrition, exercise), care of others (family, pets), exploration (travel, spirituality) etc. Take a look at these values and see where they shake out in terms of what I referred to earlier, that is, the importance of these in your life. A picture is going to emerge about what it is that you desire to have in your life. In a sense, these can start to create a stake that you have for yourself in the world. So let’s say that my stake is to inspire others to be their most powerful self, to care and love my friends and family and to nurture myself so that I may serve the world. This offers me a place to launch from when I step into the world that is around me. It can inform me when I think about what vocation I want to pursue, how I want to spend the waking hours of my day, where and whom I want to invest in (yes, I’m ending with a preposition). Another related word here would be re-calibrate. If the picture you draw from here is inconsistent with your current picture, you are at that choice point between stimulus and response. You can stay with status quo or you can choose this new referent point of articulated, important values. The BIG STAKE in the ground is your fulfilled life! That is what is at stake above, below and all around our hot air balloon, is it not?

Should you choose to accept this mission (yes, it’s from the 60s T.V. show “Mission: Impossible”), you can then re-set, or perhaps re-constitute, your life from this new place!!! It’s like Florida orange juice, from the 70s, “reconstituted” for your tasting pleasure!!!!! So play with this re-do place for a little while. The great news is that you can now more easily drop into that place of re-laxing after the stimulus, before the response and check in with your values to keep you on track. Of course!!!!

Falling to Pieces

January 13, 2011

I’m not even going to think this post through, which in general I prefer to do, but I think if I did that I would probably not write about my condition.  I received a packet in the mail today from my medical insurance company with the following words on the outside of the packet: “It’s your anniversary!  That means it’s time to renew.”  I totally noticed the use of the exclamation point, which I’m taking to mean that such an anniversary, from their perspective, is a good thing.  I pondered, “anniversary of what?”
Don’t get me wrong, before I opened it, I’m serious, I did quietly say to myself, “It doesn’t matter what it means, this is where you are grateful that you have insurance at all now open the dang envelope and see what all the fuss is.”  And so I did.

The opening was gorgeous indeed:  “We understand that you have choices when it comes to health care coverage, and we thank you for putting your trust in XYZ.  We strive to provide you with comprehensive, quality health coverage.”  About that choice thing…well, never mind.  Let’s just keep going:  “This year’s annual renewal rate reflects changes to our standard medical plan benefits….” (Hey!  I thought they just finished saying COMPREHENSIVE!  My bad.)…”to comply with the requirements of the recently enacted federal health care reform legislation.” (I KNOW there is a fancier word for it than that, I just forget what it is and apparently so do they.  OK, a few points there.) “Some of the changes…” (OK, some but not all because the policy wonks haven’t quite translated it into lay persons language because bottom lining doesn’t always correspond with not-for-profit, albeit government agencies’ decorum…fine!)…”in the standard medical plan include no lifetime maximums….” (that sounds awesome)…”elimination of certain annual limits…” (ditto, in principle)…”and the expansion of the definition of dependents…” (I can only hope that means animals and in-laws who overstay their visits).   I guess at this juncture, and I won’t be quoting much else from the letter so you can breathe a sigh of relief now, so far this doesn’t sound too scary.

One transition sentence: “Please note, as we receive additional guidance and clarification from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,” (see above: when the policy interpretation wonks finish their translation services, for which we are indeed grateful and give those folks a raise)..”we may…(maybe we will, maybe we won’t)…”be required to make additional changes to your benefits.  At this time, we do not expect rates to be impacted by these changes. (So if I have this right, we won’t be impacted by changes we don’t know about.  I’m so glad I’m not a betting woman on this one.)

While only somewhat unnerved  by that transitional segue, I’m profoundly struck by the next, and for purposes here, final piece of information:  Plain and simply, “Rate changes.  Your rate changes are effective 10-01-10.  Your health plan’s current monthly premium rate is $757.90 (to wit I already still choke monthly and figure out new ways each month to work on that whole grateful thing) and your health plan’s new monthly rate will be $838.30.”

I think if I had psychological benefits associated with this premium, I might have a place to route some of what is coming up in me right now.   I’m pleased to be human right now and how that looks is: “Holy moley, this is absurd indeed! This is all kinds of new levels of absurd.”  Followed by, “They do know this is their baseline plan for a single individual who is self-employed, right?  Surely they do.”  Yes, I am fine about being transparent as to the real nature of these amounts because I do believe it offers one person’s story and that would be mine.  As I sit here live, hot-of-the-press and in the moment, I find myself going to a place that quite resembles a quagmire.  “I don’t want to afford this.  I need to afford this.  It is a new cost of doing business.  Business costs go up, individual business owners are most certainly not exempt from increases to the costs of doing business, particularly in the area of health care.  Welcome to the club.  Support your local lawmakers, do your part to make this transition to a new way of health care provision a smooth one.”

My next inclination is immediately to “So, how does this translate into a new opportunity for you to realize increases in your revenue stream?”  Easy enough: listen to your last post about “What if it were easy?” and apply generously here.  Sigh.  Suddenly I look square in the eye of wisdom and ask: “Oh, yeah?  Easy, huh?  Easy here!  I’ll give you easy!  Easy THIS!!!!”  Well, I feel moderately better.  So now I am SLOWLY transitioning to that place of recovering.  What is it that I need to recover to here?  What is coming up for me?  I will tell you what:  a temporary lapse in my abundance belief.  I almost went back to that familiar, soul-sucking place of a scarcity mentality.  The place of, “there won’t be enough….I don’t have enough…what if there is not enough?”  I’ll be darned that was another close call.  Another skirting on the edge of constriction, contraction, withdrawal, defeat, lack of trust, loss of faith.  So here I am at the choice point.  What one of my mentors suggests as a query:  “Which wolf are you going to feed?”  The wolf, in this case, of scarcity or the wolf of abundance?  Which of these will honor my soul, which will betray?  Sigh.  It’s still going to take me a few hours, maybe a day to answer that query, but my interior soul knows the answer already.  One of my take-aways here is that even as recent as a year ago this would have KNOCKED ME STRAIGHT ON MY BUTT, pulled the rug out from under me, dismantled any sense of progress, thrown me for a multi-week vortex….you get the point.  I didn’t know I was going to arrive here when I started this post, which again is why it was best for me to write and not think about saying anything close to “the right” thing or the” p.c.” thing.   Nope, I’m going to stop for a few moments and celebrate that I still have everything I need to face another day in earth school tomorrow and that I am headed more toward a place of recovery somewhat shorter than a month which will last longer in my cells than the $70.40/month premium increase.  Yep, that’s my new math.

What if it was easy?

August 18, 2010

I have had the privilege of receiving some re-tooling in my life through taking life coach training at the Coaches Training Institute (CTI) in San Rafael, CA. After several wonderful career adventures in teaching and local government management, I found myself at a crossroads with a burning desire to help people, well, at a crossroads in their lives. Suddenly it became compelling for me to help others realize that, in fact, they can access a more fulfilling life and they even have ideas about what that looks like. Since completing my training, amongst other issues I assist clients with, I have been thrilled to hold sacred space for people around what will enable them to live more fulfilling lives.

Clearly this is not the end of the story, as your screen appears to have more words beneath this very sentence! One of my favorite new tools in my toolkit is the art of making deep inquiries. This life beyond “yes/no” questioning is nothing short of amazing. To give you just a simple example, which question makes you think more, “Are you enjoying the work that you do?” or, “What work would feed your soul?” My experience so far with the coaching world has been that some incredible gems are mined when these deeper inquiries are posed. I so love mining!! As a coach, one of the ways I keep sharp for my clients and myself is that I also have a coach lobbing some pretty incredible inquiries my way in any given month. Sometimes I even wonder, can I handle it? Seriously, sometimes one question can keep me musing for a week!!!! (And, if you have yet to hear it before, the rumor is that the mind can be a dangerous neighborhood!!) If you have ever read, listened to or watched author and speaker Byron Katie, here is a woman famous for asking a known series of four questions, not the least of which can stop us all in our tracks: “Is that really true?” There are days when the ability for that one simple question to whip me into shape is so likely, that I try to duck because I know what the darn answer is.

Another such question has come up for me in my recent leadership training experiences and I just have to share it with more people before I burst. That question opened this post and is “What if it was easy?” I have an article I’d like to write for a number of magazines and have not yet braved that world; many things come up for me around “what if no one likes it?” Or “what if it doesn’t fit the genre of the magazine?” “What if it is crappy?” and the like. Typical artistic angst. Were I to posit to myself “what if this was easy?” my approach would be so fundamentally different. While this is speculative, let’s just follow through with this. Let’s just suppose I take that as my new default approach and I start taking actions to write the article, edit it, find the contacts for submitting it, and send it off. How bad would that be? There is nothing in this scenario that would indicate blockages, barriers or defeat. It is kind of like another coaching tool we use which is to ask people to “Act as if….” (fill in the blank). So in this case it would be “Act as if it is easy to submit an article to a magazine.” The irony would be that you would “act as if” and in the process, actually take the steps and then there you are, on the other side! Add a little healthy detachment to outcome and you have an effort well pursued!!! Alas, something in our inner hard wiring with a less than healthy assist from our culture seems to get way too much pleasure out of making things hard. If it’s not hard, it must not be good. How screwed up are we? As if there is some redeeming quality to the hardest route, some “bigger prize” at the end. Me thinks not. And, thanks for nothing!

I have one more example of this new inquiry at work from a real life situation. Recently I teamed up with a fellow coach from Calgary (Leah Halvorsen) and we set out to deliver a workshop aimed at teaching people how to “claim their bigger selves.” We started with the very simple premise that people often have smaller versions of themselves than who they really are and why not give them a chance to get ‘right-sized” and show them the huge magnificence of who they really are? We had a very short timeline in which to do this, we had geographic constraints in terms of meeting in person and relied heavily on all our lovely technology to fill the gaps, we had limited resources for elaborate marketing schemes….you get the picture. And very early in the process, Leah dropped the big question and said, “Hey, Jen, what if this is just easy? Why don’t we just approach this whole thing from what if this is going to be easy?” And I thought about how easy it is to make things harder than they needed to be, a habit of a lifetime, and I thought, “Heck, I am so in!” And off we went. The two of us had never co-lead anything like this in our lives before and I tell you what, there wasn’t an hour that went by when our new default program didn’t serve us immensely. It made for levity, forgiveness of missteps along the way, for learning and for all-around being human!! We were able to live that which we were about to teach others! It was incredible, AND, you DIDN’T have to be there to get it.
You can get it in your own life. Think of one thing that is heavy on your mind right now, one event or relationship that is laden with intricacies and obstacles and thick with “there’s no way” energy and then ask yourself, what if, instead, this were easy? I would love to hear your comments on this blog post because my sense is that if any of you dare to try this, your stories will serve as even more compelling evidence to encourage all of us to give it a try. It can apply to absolutely ANYTHING so keep that easy too. After all, what if it WAS easy?

What if it was easy? (version 2)

You don’t even need to know what “it” is when you are examining this question. If there is anything at all going on in your life with a relationship, a work or volunteer project, a situation in your home, real or imagined…anything that has you even remotely stuck, what IF it were easy? Can you even imagine changing your default in this manner?

Let’s have some fun with this. Let’s say that you are really bogged down by the amount of research you need to conduct in order for a product, idea or project to launch. All you can see is mounds and mounds of work to cull through. That work is somewhat of a static thing, or at least quantifiable. Before we wave a magic wand and make it into something fantastical, what if that mound is in fact a mound of all easy? If we are going to slap a label on it, well, why not for grins just label it “that easy mound” of research? If we can infuse a glass, gallon, tub, lake or ocean full of water with love, joy and beauty (via The Hidden Images of Water), can we not do the same by calling the mound easy? I wonder.

You have a gigantic mess in your garage, there are boxes and bags of things in every room of your house of things that need sorted, routed or thrown away, your entire house is complete and total chaos. Culling through it and confronting the monster is overwhelming and incomprehensible? What if, for say, a week, you walked around the house saying to yourself, “What if this is easy?” What if this mess, which by the way could care less what you call it, accuse it of or otherwise deem upon it, was an easy mess? Like someone is going to come to your house and check on what you are labeling it? Surely you are labeling it, so as long as you are in the labeling business, I suggest you invest in a few labels that include the word EASY on them. Don’t you wonder if the energy will shift? Can you imagine creating a whole new and different relationship with the MOUND (of research, unspoken words, mess in the house, etc.) that is based on ease? Hello, world, let me introduce you to just exactly what ease NOW looks like!!! It looks like this. This is ease and it’s cousin, easy.

I completely dare you to try this exercise, as they say, at home. Instead of “don’t try this at home,” I very much want you to try this at home (and the office is ok too). Try one thing. ANY thing. Anything. Did I say anything? And tell me how it goes. See if there is anything here or if it’s just another one of those crazy coaching games those crazy coaching people play. Or, you could just go along and keep making everything hard. Your choice. Have fun being easy!

Textual Simplicity

August 4, 2010

I’ve decided to own the fact that I don’t have a burning desire to be a technological expert. This is a conscious choice in that I know the tools that are available to me to increase my aptitude and awareness in this realm, and, when I need help I can go there. This said, I have also held a belief that our kids might actually survive if they don’t get cell phones, emails and facebooks when they are 9 or 10. OK, so in my home we made it to about 13 for most of these and in short order it became as if the instruments of shame (did I say that?) had been here all along. I’m sure my children’s perspective on this is quite different and that I’ll be hearing about that for decades to come. And never mind that we might even posses the same technology (say a certain iPod model or maybe even cell phone) and within a nano second  they have it up and running and understood. I’m OK with that as well because after all , they can pretend to be smarter than me. OK so they are, but only with these gizmos (for now).
And….(I can start a sentence with “and” in my blogging world), a few unanticipated events have occurred around this new land of technological advance in our home. One, there is some building evidence that after the initial novelty wears off , early teens actually do use the phone to talk on. I’m not kidding. I’ve actually witnessed this in person and my skepticism around their ability to use their God-given voice is, pun intended, muted. Second, I am not taking it for granted that in fact, when I want to contact my kids when they are out of my physical presence (which seems to be somewhat more frequently with advancing age, imagine that!), I can track down their slippery selves!!! (English a little marginal there, sorry).   And they get it that not answering is, well, not an option in this lifetime. This is all good.
My most unexpected experience occurred a few minutes ago which spurned this blog (I find that my blogs are best when they are spurned….I’ve gone beyond the squirm factor to the spurned factor!!!) and that was this: Liam (I am remiss to reference my kids as “my” too often as it could sound detached or possessive) texted me this message: ” Hi mamma!” I replied to him, and he’ll probably squirm that I am sharing this, “Hi, Q.T.” and I proceeded to weep. I did! I teared up, went outside to connect with my higher power in the radiant sun and I sat there weeping with utter joy. I sit here on the receiving end of what could appear to many as a random hello and for me it landed in such a way that I was reminded of the deep love I have for this child. I love him madly. I love that he can use this funny gizmo to say hi to me from out there in his 13-year old world. And even as I run around constantly nagging the kids to connect face-to-face and voice-to-voice first and foremost, I just got a huge dose of how sometimes a well placed text can rock your world and make your day! May you also have a well-placed textual experience sometime soon; you never know how it might land!

I’m super excited to announce that the cat is out of the bag!  Or, the girl is out of her chair and into the world with a new workshop!  A colleague and friend of mine from my recent CTI Leadership training course, Leah Halvorsen and I are set to deliver a workshop in the lovely San Francisco Bay area called “Claiming the Bigger You.”  Several folks have reacted to the title already so I am going to say straight away that the byline really needs to be “The one time when bigger IS better!”  So there you go!  Basically the workshop will be an experience of seeing who you are as reflected in a group of others, being SEEN and visible for that wonderful self that you are, and being encouraged that being seen repeatedly from here on out IS possible, believable and CRITICAL to your life.  So that is the teaser, folks.  If I did my technological duty, you should be able to click onto a link here and find the flyer for the workshop in my “media” area.  I might also go ahead and cheat and insert it here…we’ll see how tough this software is….



America’s Compassion Coach

The title of this post would not lead you to believe for a moment that this is actually about facing failure.  One of my favorite writers on the planet, Oriah Mountain Dreamer, says in her epic poem “The Invitation,”  “I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!” If you’ve read my earlier post on the “squirm factor,” this topic definitely makes me squirm.  And I take that to mean that there is some growth available here, darn it.  Fine.

As a recovering overachiever, failure is just not in the vocab.  In fact, it would be the thing to avoid at almost any cost, really.  Partaking in the fruits of failure might lead to that scary state of being human, and, well, we all know how over-rated THAT is.  As a pure, unadulterated thought, failure is just a pure, unadulterated thought.  As a feeling, well, it generally is unpleasant.  I don’t know about you but I have called a failure a failure most of my life and this new concept of using the word “falling” instead takes a little getting used to, as in:  Honey, you had a falling when you missed that deadline, you are not a failure when you missed that deadline.  Well, don’t wordsmith me…a missed deadline is a deadline that failed.  Or, as my children love to tell me “That was an ‘epic fail’ mom!!!”  But I do see the real point here.  I do recognize that when we come up short in some human endeavor we often respond with the notion that we have failed and some of the more masochistic of us take it to the next level:  therefore I am a failure.  As if by missing the mark on something we then get a free pass to identify ourselves with the condition of being a failure.  How delightful that this is in fact absurd, ego-based, illusion-laden thinking.

Where I really want to go with this is to the place where we as a people re-examine our relationship to failing, falling short and failure–all of it.  I’d like to suggest that we begin to increase our capacity to catch eggs.  I hope you will appreciate the challenge it is going to be to use my native English to capture what is in fact optimally done with that wonderful technology known as U-tube.   And yes, I’ll spell it like I want to, thanks.  Picture if you will a spry thirtysomething fellow in an oxford cloth shirt and jeans standing next to a waist-high square table upon which sits 50 dozen raw eggs.  Fortunately for the story here these eggs will not be chugged raw by the thirtysomething fellow.  A mere 15 feet away is another thirtysomething fellow standing beside an empty waist-high square table covered only in a cotton tablecloth.  Our first fellow has been challenged to see how many eggs he can toss to the second fellow within a five-minute time period.  The second fellow has but one job: catch as many eggs as possible in the time allotted without breaking them at any time in the process from catching to placing on the table.  The clock ticks and the eggs fly!!! So many options, so little time.  Some eggs fly over the head of the catcher, though not many, splaying themselves on the back wall behind the catcher.  Some land gracefully into the hands of the egg catcher.  Perhaps one ends up on his cheek, his tosser sending them a little to swiftly at times.  Some crack upon impact on the table.  A ton of them have a succesful journey.  From the perspective of the egg catcher, this is like catching bullets, not dodging them.  I chose to focus on the catcher and ignored the tosser when I first saw this amazing act.  Egg after egg after egg was lobbed at this daunting dude and I noticed that no matter what the final destiny of any given egg, he stood ready to follow, catch and place the eggs onto that table.  Egg on the face?  Didn’t phase him at all.  Egg on the thigh?  ‘Nothin.  Eggs on the wall….no biggy.  DING!  Time was up.  He had a great collection of them, and, when all was said and done, he did not break the Guinness world record (where only absurd contests such as these exist) but he taught me what I wanted to know about failure.  Yessiree!  Egg on your face?  Wipe it off, keep going.  Egg flying past you over to the next guy?  Deal, move on.  Eggs landing square into your hands, right oh! High speed eggs, low-speed eggs, intermittent eggs…doesn’t matter.  When it comes to catching eggs it’s staying in the game that counts and laughing at the mess and spending little, if any, time dwelling on the broken ones.  Love the broken ones, and, more are coming so stay in that game!  What good would it do us to try to attach ourselves to that gooey, slippery, raw egg that just dropped?  Look at it, appreciate it, love yourself for having tried to catch it and look out for more eggs!!

So certainly, how we respond to life’s “eggs” (the other ‘f’ word) will determine what kind of relationship we will have when we come up short on something.  I know that after I saw this lively demonstration I most emphatically decided that I want to be an egg catcher when I grow up…or now would be ok too.  I want to get better and better at catching them but more so at being much more nonplussed at those inevitable times when they splatter, smash and fly over my head.  Take me to that world where nobody gets to be wrong.  Ever.

Who of us has not had the occasion to make the proverbial “mountain out of a molehill?”  I for one didn’t know moles made hills (thought it was gophers, I’m all messed up!).  But I am WELL aware that humans do have a special propensity for making little things into BIG ONES.  I am amongst this kind of human. Why plough through a problem when we can add some extra weight onto that fishing line and really sink it deep???  Why see the issue for what it is when we can turn up the assumption meter, add a little pressure here, higher-standards-than-anyone-else there, you’ll never be enough on top and sha-bang!!!  Beautifully gnarled, gremlin-infested PROBLEM with no exit signs anywhere!!  It’s exhausting for me to even set the stage here!!!  Gads!

Let me give you a picture of how this very propensity played itself out in my life some time ago.  I have other examples but this one is typical and therefore representative of my pattern in this area (see also “overkill,” “overachieve,” self-flagilation”).  In the month prior to my 30th birthday I got the idea in my head that perhaps after smoking off and on from the age of 15, that maybe I ought to knock this out.  You know, clear that chemical out of my body so I could begin the long purification process for pending middle age.  (Now that is hilarious!)   Attempts to stop on my own failed in various different iterations so I decided to enroll in a smoke enders group through the American Cancer Association.  Perfect, just me and a group of other folk all set to quit together with the faciliation of a group leader.  I had some trepidation that the scene would be akin to Jack Nicholson’s experience in group in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but I braved it.  They asked us to agree on a quit day (you did not need to have quit to show up there…at least when I went).  So we did and we got all the skinny on the intellectual reasons why this was all going to be a good thing, complete with a sticker kit to use to mark our days on a quit calendar!  Is that incentive or what?  So to the point here, I decided well, I wasn’t going to quit when everyone else did, I was going to quit a few days earlier so I had my very own private, “unique”quit date!!! I had a ceremonial last smoke before I even finished the last pack that it came from, having relished that aromatic last twig in my car in a grocery store parking lot.  Nothing but sacred.  Scrunched the pack containing the balance of the cigs and exhaled my final lungs-full of dirty butt smoke.  I had started my special journey!!!  It is anticlimactic after this point, really.  It was just so typical for me to make it harder.  Raise that bar so that I could be different, perhaps more victorious, whatever.  No ego there!!!  Sheesh!!

So flash forward to 2010 and the topic is not an addiction, (other than to be as hard on yourself as you possibly can in as many situations as possible), and now the molehill is my life:  bigger than a cig pack, smaller than the universe, so at least I have that going for me!!!  And the mountain I have created is around how I better have a huge station in life and a mega presence and supersonic message and a giant-sized purpose with  an order of mondo impact on the side!!!   Other than that I can pass go, collect $200 and stay in the game.  And I had a brief flashback to a CD from the effervescent, in-your-face loving-you-madly speaker Jacob Glass saying “You’re not so special, really,” to all of us and asking us to embrace mediocrity!!  I was so amused and relieved at the thought of it!!!  And even after having that insightful seed being planted, here I found myself today, the “make it harder and more impossible than it needs to be” pattern returning and no real sign of me embracing my glorious medioctrity.

And yet, for some synchronistic, awesome reason, I was given the opportunity to break my pattern today.   Let me just say that these kinds of opportunities are likely to happen to you if you engage in the work I do, that is,  if you find yourself sharing space with those earthlings called “life coaches.”  There I was, making the newest of mountains out of my current molehill, going about the usual rigamoroll like so:  “I shouldn’t….I can’t really…..but then so and so will think… will I explain….but there will be economic implications….it’s so out there….what if….there’s no way…..couldn’t I just….?”

And then the moment of truth came:  I had to confront all the voices of the “committee” (who honestly believe in their heart of hearts that they are helping you),   and say to them “thanks for coming, thanks for your previous support but I’ll be taking it from here.”  And what is it that I am taking?  Well, I’m going to take on a new “job,” and that job has everything to do with participating in three specific endeavors that make my heart sing.  I will be spending a whole month connecting with others, writing, and reading.  As the words roll out of my head and onto the keyboard I am keenly aware of a LACK of mountain here!!!  Whatever it is that is before me already seems to be “right sized,” and not a question of molehill or not.  It is sheer permission to pursue those things that make my heart sing.  There’s a boatload of unknown in the whole thing and that tells me that I am so in the right territory.  So I’ll be blogging about it this month and I can’t wait to see what happens!!!

Is there anything in your life that resembles making a mountain out of a molehill?  Will you consider giving yourself at least temporary permission to do something outrageous?

Squirm Factor

March 23, 2010

I was in a conversation with some colleagues from a leadership training program of which I am a part. We were talking about how to figure out if something we want to do is really something we want to do? What signals are there that we are on track? What signals are there period? I’m sure it’s no news that our bodies are regularly screaming, ok, talking to us about the state of things. Insane what we can learn when we listen to that pain in our neck, or ache in our lower back, soreness in our jaw, dull ache in our stomach, etc. Sadly there are no computer programs to do the translations on them, but we might be able to figure them out with a little practice (and a Louise Hay book nearby?).
So anyway, one of us was talking about trying something new (this will be a recurring theme for me) and I asked them something like “On a scale of 1 – 10 how much does that make you squirm?” Thus, the squirm factor was born. So I think they said “Seven.” A one, two, or three would have indicated that it wasn’t too big of a deal. But this indicated to me that it was pretty up there and yep, that was their body telling them that this is striking some kind of nerve and whatever that is, it’s the place to go next! Kind of nuts, isn’t it? To go where you are squirming in either semi-fright or anxious anticipation? Or maybe it is excitement. Whatever the case, I wonder if there is something in your life that is making you squirm? Could you possibly entertain that it might be a feeling telling you something important is here? Could you maybe even stay there a little longer and entertain the thought of going exactly there and looking for the hidden nugget?