Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The New Year: Completions and New Beginnings

The New Year is a time we associate with completions and new beginnings.  We have the opportunity to review from where we’ve come, and consider where we want to go.  For the coming year, I share a modified version of an exercise I call Looking Back, Looking Forward.  This one places more direct focus on three key aspects of creation: Be/Do/Have.  

Grab a journal or open a new document on your computer or tablet, and let’s dive in…

Part 1: Looking Back

To move forward, we must first look backward.  We start by reflecting on our successes and lessons, and finish by declaring completion and celebrating both what we have and have not achieved.  We get to define what we consider “success,” as winning is in the eye of the beholder.  Many of our most significant accomplishments have involved “failure” to help us gain insights or knowledge into ourselves and others, and perhaps what we want, need, or will/won’t do.  

By reflecting on these successes and lessons, we are better able to choose who we want to be as we engage and interact with the world.  And we must then let it all go by completing and celebrating the past and choosing to move forward without regret or attachment to what coulda/shoulda been.  

Looking at who you were being (Be), what you have done (Do), and your results (Have), reflect and respond to the following questions:
  • Successes: What have I created/accomplished this year, and why is that meaningful?
  • Lessons: What have I learned this year, and what are the impacts of those lessons?
  • Completions: Whether I achieved them or not, what goals from last year do I want to declare “complete” and move on (without guilt, regret, or “should”)?
  • Celebrations: What do I want to acknowledge as my biggest takeaways from this past year, and how will I celebrate them? 

Part 2: Looking Forward

I don’t believe in resolutions and feel they can be detrimental to a person’s experience of themselves.  This is because resolutions are typically created from a “fix it” point of view, and often result in negative feelings if/when they aren’t achieved and sustained.  I also caution against creating too many goals or changes at once.  There are studies that show that likelihood of success declines as the list of goals/changes grows. 

It is far more effective to identify and commit to 2-3 key SMART goals/targets that are personally meaningful and born out of choice and not should.  Let’s now focus on looking forward into the new year with an eye on creating and committing only to what you really want.

I.  Assess Your Current State
Start by taking a litmus test for where you are right now.  Consider how fulfilled you are in various areas of your life – career, health, relationships, etc.  Take this Wheel of Life assessment to get a sense of your levels of satisfaction and expression. Or you can jump straight to the results section for a list of questions to ponder.

II.  Visualize Your Future
Now that you know where you are, take a long view on who you want to be and what you want to do/have this year.  Project yourself out to December 31, 2014 and reflect on all you’ve experienced, created, and learned over the past 12 months.  
  • What will you include on your Looking Back for 2014? 
  • What does it feel like to have these successes and lessons?  
  • What value, impact, and meaning would that have for you?  
  • Who were you being that made that possible?

III.  Set Targets
Identify 2-3 targets that are important to you this year.  The more challenging the targets, the fewer you’ll want to commit to.  Don’t be tempted to take on everything.  If you are concerned about follow through, perhaps you may want to focus on only one critical, meaty target this year.  

Examples of broad targets: “focus more on health and fitness” or “be more patient with my kids.”  Specific targets may read like: “grow my practice's revenue by 20%” or “get accepted to grad school.”  However you define the targets, you will be more successful if they align with your vision above, are grounded in your personal values, and you truly want them enough to commit wholeheartedly.  Half-ass commitments make for half-ass results (if any).

IV.  Define Your Approach
Be-Do-Have Model
For each target, you will want to get super clear on the details.  Your level of specificity and commitment has a direct relationship to the likelihood of achieving your end goal.  If you find it challenging to complete the Be/Do/Have, you may need to go back and refine/revise so each target is clear and meaningful to you.  Taking each target one at a time, complete the next section.

A.  Be (Who/Why): Start with the heart. Consider who you want/need to be to achieve this target, and why it is meaningful to you. Your motivation to start and sustain anything will be impacted by how connected you are to the value and meaning your targets have for you. Also consider what is the mindset and sets of behaviors that will make it possible for you to hit your target? Do you care enough to fully commit to this target? Complete the following statements:
  • This target is personally meaningful to me because...
  • To achieve this target, I commit to being...
Example - Be
Target #1: Create and engage in a health and fitness regime that works for me
  • This target is personally meaningful to me because... my health is critical for my own mental and physical well-being, and it plays an essential part in me being able to be/do/have everything I want in my personal and professional life. A focus on health and fitness will give me more energy, allow me to better manage stress and anxiety, and help me overcome my issues with insomnia.
  • To achieve this target, I commit to being... present and intentional, in integrity about doing what I commit to, and willing/open to seek support and allow others to hold me accountable.
B.  Do (How): Create a plan of action.  Identify the actions necessary for accomplishing this target, and then break those down into baby steps. Be as SMART as possible: Be specific, put the steps into time (by when), and note any resources needed (tools, people, dollars, time commitments) to be sure you are super clear about what you are undertaking and whether it is realistic and achievable.  

The example below shows how to break down a broad target like “exercise” into specific actions you can take -- to build a roadmap for achieving your target.  It will look like this: Target >> Activities to reach that target >> Clearly defined baby steps/support structures for accomplishing those activities

Example - Do
Target #1: Create and engage in a health and fitness regime that works for me
  • Activity 1A: Exercise for 1 hour minimum 3x/week
    • Define activity options [such as 3 mile run, stretching, cardio/weights, palates class, etc.]
    • Renew gym membership by January 7 [or join a softball team, or…?]
    • Download JIFIT app for tracking my workouts by January 10 [for accountability and measurement]
    • Identify 1-2 workout buddies by mid-January [for accountability and support]
    • Etc.
  • Activity 1B: Be mindful about what I eat
    • Cut out refined sugars and processed food
    • Identify healthy eating options near my office
    • Bring lunch to work 2x/week
    • Etc.
  • Activity 1C: Focus on my fluid intake
    • Limit alcohol to 1x/week (wine/beer only) through February 28
    • Drink 64oz of water per day
    • No soda or artificially sweetened drinks
    • Etc.
  • Activity 1D: Create structures for mental and spiritual wellness
    • Identify a therapist by January 15; commit to 1x/week
    • Attend a yoga class 2x/month
    • Meditate daily for 5 min. every morning at 7am
    • Research approaches to managing my stress and sleep issues
    • Etc.
C.  Have (What/When): Define measures, milestones, and results. What will be the indicators that you are making progress? At what points will you reassess and what accountability structures will keep you on track? What will be the results, outcomes, and impacts if you are successful in achieving your target?

Example - Have
Using the same target as above, here are some potential options:
  • Measure your body at the start and create points (monthly, quarterly?) at which you will measure change in inches (decrease for weight loss; increase for muscle gain)
  • Track your activities and progress (however you define it) by using your calendar, Excel, an app on your phone, or even a wall chart with gold stars (if that motivates you)
  • Keep tabs on how you will feel (more energy, longer/better sleep, improved mood) by keeping a journal or asking for periodic feedback from people around you
The main objective is to be super clear about what you are shooting for as your results, and how you will measure them along the way. This will help you evaluate progress, and to fine tune the actions and baby steps to keep moving toward your goal. Be sure to create some rewards (big and small) for accomplishments of all kinds (big and small).  There needs to be some play in this if you want to keep yourself motivated over the longer-term.  

V.  Take Action
This is where the rubber meets the road.  What will be your first steps (i.e., today, this week, etc.)?  Do you need to create some structure and accountability by putting things in your calendar, finding an accountability buddy, or partnering with someone so you don’t have to do it alone?  If you are really serious and committed to achieving your targets, consider all the resources you have at your disposal, including people.  In other words, don’t be afraid to ask for and accept help. 

Final Note

You have the power to create your experience this year by being conscious and intentional about who you be and what you do.  What you will discover over time is the “have” is part results and part impact.  It’s a process of “becoming” as you continue to commit, take action, refine your approach, and allow the tangible and intangible results to unfold.  What you learn and how you grow can sometimes be just as if not more significant than what you actually achieve.  Be open to that and you will likely enjoy the experience more.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Your Personal Brand: Part 2 – Putting Yourself Out There...Thoughtfully

There are many reasons to invest time in your personal brand: to obtain/change a work role in a similar or different field, start or grow a business, or simply because you want to put some conscious effort into how you are “putting yourself out there” as a person and a professional.

In Part 1 of this discussion on personal branding, I focused on helping you answer foundational questions about your core self – how you see yourself, what’s important to you, and how you want to be seen.  In Part 2, I provide a few recommendations that may help to consider as you define your approach and methods for expressing your personal brand. 

Ultimately, you want to communicate who you are in such a way that it is authentic and creates a foundation of trust.  You want to be true to you, while you are establishing credibility, reliability, and intimacy (pieces of “The Trust Equation”).  What you create on- and off-line are a representation of who you are (and say you are) and impact how you are perceived.  Therefore, you will want to be thoughtful (and often strategic) in what you say, do, and what your “artifacts” say and do for you.

“Artifacts” are the various external pieces you create that serve as your expression and how people come to know you.  Examples range from work products, to “marketing pieces” (website, resume, social networking profiles, collateral materials), to your social media and thought leadership (blogs, Tweets, and posts), to your contributions on discussion boards.  This even extends to conversations people have about you in the press, testimonials, or through “word of mouth.” 

While the way you physically present yourself through your appearance, actions and interactions all impact others’ perceptions, your artifacts are an additional (and important) method for helping others to understand who/what you are about.  In this “online world,” artifacts show up when people do a web search on you – so you want to be smart about what’s associated with your name and business.

When “putting yourself out there,” consider these best practices:

Be strategic.  It is important to be clear and intentional about why you are doing what you’re doing.  What are you known for – or want to be known for on a deeper level?  What are you attempting to create or achieve?  These questions (and the foundational work you did in Part 1) will help you zero in on your specific intentions and will continually act as your guide in determining which methods and story will serve you best.

Be consistent.  Take the time to consider your communication plan: messaging, method, and frequency.  Identify your point of view, foundational beliefs/tenets, and key messages so you are clear and focused in what you put out there.  Don’t try to be everything to everyone – keep your focus tight.  You may center around a niche, area of expertise, or content you believe will help establish you as an expert or “go to person” on specific topics.  Consider the best methods and avenues for delivering those messages, and create a schedule for when/how often you will get in front of people (regular intervals like monthly near the 1st, every Monday, 3 times a week, etc.).

Be impeccable.  Do your research, and ensure quality and accuracy in your output (including spelling!).  If you intend to craft multiple artifacts, don’t overextend or dilute by trying to do too much too soon – especially if you don’t have adequate time and energy to give it the attention.  Choose consciously, intentionally, and wisely.  It’s better to do a couple of things really well than to be mediocre at a variety of things.  

Be yourself.  
Be sure to show your personality, passion, unique point of view.  Yes, you need to be strategic and tactical...and it is equally important to be you.  Help people get a sense of who you are and what you care about. You are more likely to create connection and trust if what you put out there resonates and feels authentic.  

Be courageous (fear + action).  Don’t be afraid to try things out so that you can tweak, iterate, and evolve to better hone your approach and thought capital.  This post is not meant to scare you into not pulling the trigger or taking a risk.  Rather it is meant to encourage you to invest time and thought before diving in. 

So, go ahead and start that blog, but carefully plan your messaging and frequency of posting.  Create your website, resume, and social/professional networking profiles, but consider the story you want to convey and what you are hoping to achieve.  When you Tweet, post, or comment on discussion boards, remember that people will be reading them and forming opinions about who you are… so you’ll want to be conscientious about what your “shares” are doing for (or against) you. 

Your personal brand is a huge component of your relationship with others – in other words, it is your means for interacting, creating impressions, and having intended and unintended impacts on those around you.  We have always heard from parents and the like that it’s what’s on the inside that really matters.  This is absolutely true.  However, it is equally important to consider the perceptions others have of you. 

Your brand is already out in the world, and it is up to you to consider whether it is meshing up with your inner reality such that it serves as the most authentic representation of you as possible.  Therefore, it’s crucial to be conscious of BOTH who you are and how you’re being seen – for success in both the personal and professional spheres.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Job and Career -- Same or Different?

Last week, I was on an NPR radio program called The Afternoon Shift with Steve Edwards, where we focused on career changes (to listen, click on “Career Shift”).  In the discussion, I made a distinction I have made many times before – the difference between job and career – and thought it was worthwhile to elaborate here.

A job is something that provides you with the resources to live your life (hopefully well), while a career may or may not pay at all – but is what you be/do to live your purpose and passion.  This is important to note, as many feel that there is something wrong if job and career aren’t the same thing.  Let’s talk more about the differences.

A job is a role that funds your housing, your lifestyle, your kids’ education… giving you an income, health benefits, and the resources to finance your personal wants and needs.  You may love it, you may like it, or you may willingly tolerate it because of what it provides you.  Of course, you may hate it, but that’s another issue I won’t cover in this discussion.

Career is what you do in life that brings you pleasure, fulfillment, that sense of losing yourself in the flow of the experience, is founded in your values… and you LOVE it (on a deep level).  It may be your craft, your art, your expression, or even expertise you have honed over the years.  But you don’t have to be making money doing it for it to be your career. 

Your job may bring you all of these things, but I argue it’s completely okay if it doesn’t.  The most important thing is you feel satisfied in all areas – career and job.  Sometimes it’s more important to have the job and security while having the freedom to play elsewhere.

With clients, I have them work through an exercise called the Wheel of Life, where they rate their levels of satisfaction along various dimensions like Health, Love, Career, and Money.  I usually end up asking whether their work roles would fit better in their Career sector or in their Money sector.  Some are very clear about their Career sector, while others are taken aback when they realize their work is a job, not a career – and it fits better in their Money sector. 

When separated out, it is possible to have a much richer (and more accurate) conversation.  You may be a doctor, a writer, or a barista – and each could be looked at as a job or career, or both.  It depends on your perspective and how you experience each of them. 

More than one client has come to me saying that they are dissatisfied with their careers when they are really referring to their jobs.  In these cases, we will often focus on both career and job as two separate things.  Let me share an example that illustrates this distinction very well.

The Situation: A client began coaching with the complaint that she was unhappy at work and wanted a change so she could focus on her art. 

The Evaluation: We started by taking a look at sources of her dissatisfaction.  We evaluated how she was approaching her role, the actual work she was doing, and the nature of his interactions and relationships in the office.  Because she had a tendency to avoid conflict, she was not standing up for herself and claiming what she needed to be effective and fulfilled – both in and out of the office.  At work, disagreements and issues with her manager were not being addressed.  In her off-hours, she was not investing in her creative life by carving out time and space for her writing and painting.

The Approach: We worked on her emotional intelligence, communication and organization skills, and she talked with her manager to explore her career development path and possibilities.  In parallel, we found ways for her to engage in creative activities (her art and other things) outside of work.

The Realization: As we dug in, she started realizing that the dissatisfaction was coming less from the role, and more from her.  This desire to leave her work role to do something more creative was only part of the picture.  As she consciously worked on resolving the issues in the office, she actually started enjoying what she was doing more and had improved interactions with coworkers.  The more time she put aside in her off-hours to focus on her art, the more she felt she was getting the creative expression she needed.

The Big Take-Away: She recognized that she wanted both a job and a career, as separate things.  Her work role, which paid for her paints and travel and ability to live, was her job – and she liked it.  But her career was her art, and she realized that she would be miserable and would end up resenting her art if she had to rely on it as her source of income

One last story:  There are three bricklayers and each are asked why they do the work they do.  The first says, “I do it for the money.”  The second says, “I do it for my family.”  And the third says, “I am building a cathedral.”  The first two are probably jobs (resources) to these bricklayers, while the third is a career (fulfillment).  I would argue that none is inherently better than the other, as they each serve a different purpose, and each could lead to satisfaction and fulfillment if framed appropriately.  Is your job your career, and does it have to be for you to be happy?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Your Personal Brand: Part 1 – Evaluating and Defining

On Friday, I sat on an alumni panel sponsored by Northwestern University’s MSLOC program as part of a “Brand Yourself” series.  The discussion centered on the panelists' stories and experiences in developing and marketing a personal brand to help achieve our career goals.  To view a recording of the virtual panel, go HERE.  I provided a 30 minute talk, but thought it would be helpful to share some of my insights in a post.

My career story has seen some twists and turns, and has not been without challenge.  Most of the past twenty years have been spent working closely with CEOs and leadership teams (1994-2008), while I concurrently completed three academic degrees and multiple professional certifications (1997-2009), and grew a consulting practice (2000-present).  This was all with the intention of broadening and deepening my expertise and experience in the individual, team, and organizational spheres.

As I focused intensely on my own personal and professional development, I was learning a great deal about how to present and position myself to best navigate through my career.  Both unconsciously and consciously, I was creating what has become my personal brand.

When thinking about personal brand, what comes to mind?  Is it your resume, or your online presence?  Is it how you portray yourself to colleagues at work or at networking events?  Is it how your friends and family see you?  Is it how you express your values on a daily basis?  The answer is YES to all of these questions, and more.

The thing to remember is: your personal brand is already out there, whether you like it or not.  Google yourself and see what comes up.  Those are the things that hiring professionals will view when they inevitably investigate your online presence when considering you for a job.  Your Facebook posts and LinkedIn copy all say something about you, and it’s the reader who decides who you are to them (perceptions are their realities).  So, it’s important to do an audit to see what’s currently out there, and consider whether it aligns with how you want to be perceived.

I’ve extensively discussed the importance of starting with your core for everything you want to be/do/have.  Developing your personal brand requires the same process, but has both strong internal and external considerations.  It’s about who you are, and what you’re about, as well as who your audience(s) is and how you want to be seen.  Let’s look at some key questions to ask yourself:


       Who am I and what’s important to me?  Consider:
      Purpose (What/Why)
      Passions (What/Why)
      Values (Why)
      Strengths (What/How) – innate and able to be developed
      WIIFM – What’s in it for you?
       What impact do I want to have?  For whom?  This is both short- and long-term.
       What do I want to be known for?  By whom?  This may be about developing expertise or leaving a legacy.
       Where am I blocked?  This may be about fear that stops you or derailers that get in your way.


       Who is my audience / target market?  Consider both personal and professional, depending on your business.
      WIIFT – What’s in it for them?  What can they gain?
      What do they want? 
      What is needed “out there”?  Is there a gap I can fill?
       How can I best represent myself?
      How do I see myself?
      How do others see me?
      Where is the disconnect?
      How do I want them to see me?
       What is my story?
      What story am I currently telling?
      What do I want to tell?
      How might I reframe or alter the story?

The last part focuses on your story.  When I refer to that, I’m not suggesting it’s about a tale you spin.  Rather it’s your authentic truth and how your life, work, and life’s work have unfolded – and how you give a narrative of that journey.  It’s about putting into words and actions your core self, manifesting something in the world.  This is what will show up as your personal brand. 

As Michael Port says, your brand will look, sound and feel like you, and will be easily recognizable as your essence.  You will want it to be clear, authentic, meaningful, and consistent.  This will help make it feel real and memorable for others, prompting them to say, “Oh yeah, [name] is the person you want to reach out to for help with [expertise].”  Or, “[Name] is my go-to person if I want deeper insights and guidance about [topic].”  Or, “If you need really good [product/service], you will want to check out [name].”

To get there, you will need to do the upfront introspection, conduct an audit of what currently exists, determine your intentions, and set a strategy and plan for how to be intentional about designing your personal brand.  You have to consider what you are about, what your offer is, and how you will talk about you/it.  Determine:

  • Who you are at your core, what you stand for, and why you do what you do
  • The specific, topics, issues, or problems you focus on (and solve?)
  • Who your various audiences are and who you impact (or intend to)
  • The results you achieve – both tangible and intangible
  • Why people should work with you or buy what you’re selling (literally and figuratively)
Put some time into working through these questions and areas to consider, and evaluate what you define your personal brand to be (or want it to be).  Remember: It’s already out there. It’s up to you to determine whether it is an accurate, authentic representation of who you are and how you want to be seen...and what you want to do about it. 

In Part 2, I will discuss some tactics and specific approaches to personal branding I have found to be effective.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Reflect, Celebrate, Create Anew

2011 has been quite a year – for everyone I know.  It has been challenging on every front, but has also been a year in which we have learned a great deal about ourselves, and our wants and needs.  And there has been a large string of wins

We can get so caught up in the go-go-go of the holiday season, and the pressure that comes with “wrapping up,” we forget to take the time to authentically pause (not just rest) and reflect on all the successes and lessons we have experienced.


Every year, I do the comprehensive "Looking Back, Looking Forward (LBLF) exercise".  And 2011/2012 will be no different.  Rather than rehashing it for you, I’ll let you click over there yourself and run through it.  Instead, I want to focus on some key points. 

Of course, reflect on the year and consider these questions:
  • What did you accomplish that you intended to accomplish?
  • What did you accomplish above and beyond what you intended?
  • What didn’t you accomplish that you intended?
However, I want emphasize the many lessons you’ve had.  In the face of challenge, you either meet them head on, avoid them and deal with the consequences, or suffer through the experiences.  In any case, you always come out the other side having grown in some way.  For each instance, I invite you to focus on:
  • What actually occurred
  • What you did to address the issues (or not)
  • Who you were (or not) that brought you success (or not)
  • Who/what you choose to be/do going forward
Reflect on what you did and did not do, but take the time to identify what you learned.  If you are not yet clear, reflect on that and come to some understanding so that you can acknowledge your strength, perseverance, and capacity for handling the many bumps that life presents to you along your journey.


It took something for you to push through, to walk through the fire, to come to some new realizations about who you are and what you want/need.  Celebrate that.  Even if the outcome was not what you were hoping or expected, remember that these experiences were custom created by and for you so that you can learn some important aspects about yourself and life that are essential for your future. 

Learning and growth are important, so don’t forget to celebrate this.  And of course, don’t skirt over the many accomplishments and successes you’ve had over the year – no matter how big or small.  Each are wins, and it is essential that we give ourselves credit and snaps for every step that got us there.  They are not just items you are ticking off your “to do” lists.


Be sure to do the LBLF exercise now.  Don’t put it off, as you want to start the new year off with clarity and power.  Leave 2011 in 2011, and design your 2012.  This is not a series of New Year’s resolutions, as I don’t believe in fixing and correcting.  Rather, I believe in creation and commitment based on your core values, your heart’s desire, and what you know you want for yourself and your life moving forward.

Again, this is about what you want to be/do/have in the coming year.  This is also about what you want to learn.  Just like creating a development plan at work, consider what you want to focus on in your own life and put some SMART goals in place so that you can make them happen. 

Clearly, life will throw new experiences at you and you will need to allow the river to carry you where it will, but you will find that if you place some emphasis on growth and development as a goal, it will be less stinging when something unexpected shows up.  You can say to yourself, “Ah, here’s an opportunity for me to expand who I know myself to be,” and look for where you can bring the very best of you to the table. 

One final thing I like to do is create some themes for myself for the year – in other words, setting some specific intentions.  For 2011, I created three key themes that I defined at the end of 2010:
  1. Phoenix – completion à rebirth à growth à expansion
  2. Opening of self to other realms of thought, heart, and spirit
  3. Abundance and freedom
Because I set those intentions, I am able to see that is exactly how 2011 went down. It puts it all into a context I remind myself of – both as I went through the year and as I wrap up 2011. I am formulating my 2012 themes as we speak, but I know they will include digging deeper, expanding capacity, and building.

As you consider your 2011/2012, remember to return to your core by defining/honoring your values, incorporating both successes and lessons, and celebrating how beautiful your life is/has been.  You made it happen.  And will continue to do so, whether you do the LBLF exercise or not.  However, the more clear and intentional you are, the richer the experiences in 2012 will be.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Allowing the River to Carry You

There is an art to the act of surrender.  It requires a belief that all will work out for the best (successes and lessons), and having trust and faith in ourselves, others, and/or something larger than us.  This is no simple feat, yet it can be much easier than we make it if we “allow” it to be.

I am a master of scenario planning.  When faced with a decision, challenge, or even a possible situation, I identify and examine all the potential outcomes I can imagine.  With that, I work backward and distinguish the issues that might arise, the resources I have and may require, and what choices I will need to make – all the way up to the immediate moment.

While this might sound like intelligent strategizing and preparation, it can be maddening and a source of worry and stress.  Particularly when these scenarios are only possibilities, or when I only have limited information.  I can put myself on a hamster wheel, turning the thoughts over and over looking for holes and missing pieces to the potential outcomes and courses of action.  I recognize that while there are unknowns, I can make some reasonable assumptions and plan accordingly. 

This vigilance (or hyper-vigilance) is useful to a point, but it is also detrimental.  It takes away from being present and fully able to objectively see all points as they arise.  If our minds are directed toward a particular course, set of criteria, or potential warning signs and triggers, we are more likely to see only that.  There is a need for certainty and a sense of control, attempting to be adequately prepared for most any situation. 

However, there needs to be a balance.  The motto of the US Coast Guard has always resonated with me – semper paratus (“always ready”) -- and I have lived much of my life by that.  However, as I’ve witnessed all the stress and worry I inflict upon myself over the years, I am finding it equally important to cultivate this idea of “surrender.”  Let me share a metaphor that helps me visualize this act of “letting go.”

Imagine yourself in a small canoe on a wide, powerful river.  You have a pair of oars and are paddling madly, attempting to direct yourself upstream.  You are struggling and sweating to row against the current, fighting to move in the opposite course from where the river is taking you.  You suffer and stress for fear of what’s around the bend and are doing your best to resist, defend, and survive.

Now imagine that this river is life, a journey, and your situation.  That there will be many twists and turns ahead that you can’t quite see, but the river is your friend.  Any waterfall or jagged rocks you meet are there for you to navigate around and through, and you get greater experience and wisdom with each encounter.  You and your little canoe are safe, and  you can trust it will be a wild ride that can be fun if you let it be.  But also know this: the river is going to take you there whether you like it or not.  You can struggle and suffer and fight the current, or you can take a different tack. 

Take a deep breath, mustering the strength and courage to have faith and trust in you and life.  Picture yourself pulling your oars into your canoe, surrendering and allowing the river to carry you, whatever may come.  This does not mean that you can’t consider the “what ifs” and potential scenarios and make some preparations (steering the canoe with your oars).  But it will allow you to let go, relax, and pay greater attention to the scenery as its occurring.  Calm and focus will better allow you to effectively respond to whatever arises than you having your head down with your arms frantically paddling against a powerful force.

I might say carpe diem (“seize the day”) as a Latin companion to semper paratus, recognizing that there is a balance between being prepared for the unforeseen future, while drinking in the now and relishing its fragrant bouquet.  However, I think I’d prefer to close with a quote from the 1986 film character, Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”  If you keep focus on fighting the current, you’ll miss out on not only life, but the many signs along the way that can help you navigate your journey.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Life’s Challenges Expand Your Capacity

Life will throw a lot at you, sometimes more than you believe you can handle. However, it’s an interesting journey to discover how much capacity you actually have to manage and push through the challenges that cross your path. Walking through the fire is hard, but trying to walk around it is ultimately harder (and more time/energy consuming).

When we are faced with challenges in life, it is our opportunity to pay attention. Whether we choose to look, listen, and continue to ask the questions is up to us. We are presented with opportunities to either play victim and bemoan our fate or to learn how our choices impact our experience.

We ultimately create the situations in which we find ourselves. At times, we can feel like life is being done TO us, that we are a victim of the world “out there” and of our circumstances. The truth is: life is being done BY us. We make a series of choices that lead us to this point -- both internally and externally -- when we choose a certain perspective or course of action.

I have said before in another post: you are exactly where you are supposed to be because that is where you are. Consider what you are meant to be learning right now. Take an objective look and evaluate how and where you may be the source of your suffering or situation, and what actions (or non-actions) brought you here. What are you discovering about yourself, your values, your desires and passions, and what you do and don’t want in your life? What is important to you and where do you want to go next?

If you are unclear, start paying attention to the breadcrumbs and follow those until you get find greater clarity. If you know where you want to be/go, take some baby steps to allow you to inch your way little by little toward your objectives. The key thing is to get clear, make some choices that are in alignment with who you are and want you want to be/do/have, and take consistent action (no matter how small).

The final piece is to cultivate gratitude for these experiences, these opportunities.  They are being delivered to you for a reason, and it is up to you to make the most of them so you can push forward powerfully into the next chapters of your life.  Say thank you, even if you feel frustrated or discouraged, and allow yourself to surrender to the larger forces at play.  Surrender does not imply giving up.  Rather it is about letting go of fighting the current, and allowing the water to carry you.

Through this process of living life, we discover that the Universe/God/Life gives you only as much as you can handle. By observing, releasing the garbage that we put in our own way, and cultivating some faith in ourselves and something bigger than us, we realize that our capacity is much larger than we ever knew. Look back 10 years ago and you’ll likely see how far you’ve come. And 10 years from now, you will reflect on this time and recognize how important it was for your journey and development.