Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Say Yes to life

Something I read yesterday morning resonated deeply with me. In a book that's filled with fun and wisdom, How Did I Get to Be 70 When I'm 35 Inside? by Linda Douty, I read about Albert Einstein asking whether or not the universe was a friendly place. And here's what Douty wrote: "There are plenty of reasons to answer No.... To answer Yes changes the way we view life and the way we live it. Something harmonious happens when we lean into that affirmation with heart, soul, and mind. Science is telling us that our cells actually change structure, the immune system is strengthened, relationships deepen, and irrational joy and peace emerge."

Oh, yes, I do believe it. Seeing the world as an unfriendly place sets you up to be suspicious, closed off to people and afraid of people and situations with which you're not yet familiar.

Seeing it as generally friendly, however, opens you up to new experiences, new friendships, and to more wonder and joy than you might have imagined. And who wouldn't like "irrational joy and peace"?

What would be your answer to Einstein's question?

If your initial response is No, are you open to seeing the universe in a new way? Perhaps it's time to explore the Yes of life!

Monday, July 30, 2012

That dreaded S-word

So much seems to be about the S-word these days. We're told that most of us are sleep-deprived. Almost daily we hear about the epidemic of obesity. We hear about people going over the edge because of it. To deal with it, some turn to yoga, exercise and healthy eating. Others turn to addictions such as alcohol, food, shopping and other ways of numbing out.

Stress. It's rampant. Of course, we need a certain amount of stress in our lives just to keep us alive and functioning. But way too many of us have way too much, and it has become harmful.

Is stress out of control in your life?

I invite you to look at the energy you "spend" on different parts of your life. On what do you choose to spend your time and energy? Are there some things you can simply tune out because they don't need your attention? Are there things others can do for which you don't need to take responsibility?

See your energy in the same way as you view your money. Choose where to spend it, where to save it. Decide what needs your attention—and what you can tune out. Remember the Serenity Prayer, too: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

You'll feel so much better by taking charge and making choices.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Your next step

Are you at a point of change and transition in your life? Not sure about that next step? Maybe even feeling some fear about it? Or just plain stuck?

Many of my clients are facing career changes. Some are unsure about how to prepare for retirement. Still others want relationship changes—or have had that change forced on them through divorce or some type of broken relationship.

These experiences can be devastating. And they also can offer opportunities for growth and outcomes that you never imagined. I know that to be true from my divorce, job disappointments and job loss, as well as other relationship and career changes.

You may have images or metaphors that work well for you. I like to see these changes through the lens of the caterpillar/cocoon/butterfly transformation—as you may have noticed if you read my Home or About website pages. I love the image of a ground-hugging caterpillar with a limited view around her eventually soaring high above the flowers!

If you are interested to learn more about your own changes and whether you might be ready to unleash your inner butterfly and soar, I invite you to sign up for my three free gifts today. Isn't it time to take that next step for whatever change and transition you face?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Women connecting

My fiance often says how intrigued he is by the way women connect with each other. We can meet a woman for the first time and immediately tell her she looks gorgeous in her outfit and within five minutes, be in deep conversation about our values, beliefs and experiences.

Most of us absolutely thrive on connection and relationships. Much as I love my fiance, my three sons and all my family, I often say I would probably wither and die without my women friends or what I've learned even at my age to call my "girlfriends."

We learn from each other. We inspire each other. And, at our best, we encourage each other to reach our best selves.

With this in mind, I wonder whether any of you might be interested in a group coaching experience? Group coaching is just what the term implies: a group that gathers, often in person but it can also be done by phone through use of a conferencing service line, to share ideas and experiences around a given topic. The group commits to a specified number of weeks, and each member is present (insofar as it's possible) for each session of that time since it's the synergy of everyone's presence that really makes a group come alive. Groups can be gathered around a topic or even around a book that everyone reads and uses as a springboard for sharing about their lives. I as a coach would be facilitator (definitely not a lecturer!) and each person would bring questions and personal experience to the table for everyone's growth and development.

I'd love to hear from you, either in the Comment box below or through the Contact page of my website, to know whether you are interested and whether you have a topic you'd like to see covered.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Letting go is a process

Sixteen years after my husband and I divorced, he died suddenly. It was a tragic and difficult time, especially for my three sons. I knew it would be for them. What took me by surprise was my own grief. And also a resurgence of some of the old anger.

I had worked hard following our divorce to understand what happened and to forgive, let go and move on. But after Doug's death, as so often happens, I was reminded that grief work is a long process, not a one-time event (even an ongoing one-time event).

What happened in those months following Doug's death was significant for me. In time I was able to forgive the young wife and mother I was at the time of our divorce for her failure to sustain the marriage. I saw that she had done the best she could given who she was and what she knew at that stage of her life. And I was able to forgive the young husband and father who also did the best he could given who he was at that time. I forgave him for his failure in making our marriage work, too. This was all really quite remarkable to me. It was another large piece in my healing process, one I wasn't even aware I needed. I thought I had moved on quite well, thank you very much.

I'm fully aware of how difficult forgiving and letting go can be—and especially how difficult it can be to forgive ourselves. I am at peace with that part of my life. At least for now. Who knows whether there might be another piece of the grief work yet ahead? If there is, I know I can handle it.

Do you have some grief work, forgiving or letting go that holds you back? If so, I invite you to take a look at it. Move into it and through it. Please contact me if you would like some coaching around the issue.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

About true happiness

Are you happy? Content with your life? Comfortable in your own skin?

The authors of the book Creating Optimism say that we're taught in school and by the media to want things that don't bring us true happiness. "Society is based not on purpose but on the pleasure principle: the good life is one in which there is more pleasure than pain, more good feeling than bad. If you can structure your life so that you maximize your immediate pleasure, then all will be well."

Whether you buy what they are saying or not, I suspect you and I can agree that media messages do try to sell us on the idea that certain things will bring us happiness: making lots of money, buying certain products, being thin and sexy (as women), etc. Most of us have learned that this simply isn't so.

What makes you happy? And what does happiness mean anyway? Is it more about contentment, satisfaction and serenity than about being bubbly, laughing a lot and enjoying the good life?

And if you see it as contentment and deep-down joy, how do you achieve that? I would love to hear your views on this—and hear how you got (or plan to get) to that state. Are you willing to share them with us below in the Comment box?

Monday, July 23, 2012

3 ways to gain focus

Occasionally I have clients who bring several issues they want to address in coaching. Often, they tell me they're not able to focus, unable to decide which issue should receive attention first. Here are 3 ways to break through the fog:

1) Say (or write) where you are at this very moment. What's on your mind? What are you feeling? What's currently vexing you? What's energizing you? What seems to be calling to you right now?

Inevitably, when a client can't focus on where she wants to start in our work together, a breakthrough will come when we begin by talking about what's going on inside at that very moment.

2) Once you decide on the first issue, imagine putting the other issues in a drawer, closing it and telling yourself you'll get to those later. We all tend to have "monkey minds" in which ideas and problems continue to swirl and flow. It's tough to focus when so much is going on inside. It can really help when you visualize putting into a drawer all but the one thing on which you wish to focus. The items are still there, accessible to you, but not so present and looming so large as they were before. Put them in a drawer one at a time if that will make it more real for you.

3) Create one or two bite-sized action items for the one thing you've named as your focus. Be sure these are S.M.A.R.T. goals: Specific. Measurable. Achievable. Realistic. Time limited.

Once you actually start moving on one issue, you will be so energized and much clearer on where you want to go. Focus will come more easily once you've had that initial breakthrough.

Contact me for a no-obligation, complimentary strategy session if you feel stuck and want to capture (or recapture) your focus.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The good life

What does successful living look like to you?

Perhaps you are knee-deep in a career you love and you want to move ahead in it—or you're exactly where you want to be. Or maybe your career isn't the important thing but your relationships and social circles define a good life. Your job is just a job.

Or you might be retired and find that volunteer opportunities and more time with family and friends enriches your life. To you, that is successful living.

Your view of a good life is as different from that of others as your fingerprint. And we each get to define it for ourselves. What's important is that you are authentic about what makes your life good and what makes you happy. Then do what's necessary and possible to make it happen.

It's all about choices. You don't always get everything you want. But it is important to think about what you want and create a lifestyle that includes enough of those good things that you are content and joyful. If you don't have a goal in mind, you surely won't reach it.

If it's right for you, create a vision for your life—complete with as much detail as possible. Dream a bit. Later you can see what's practical and possible. Have fun with it. Then go for it!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

One brick at a time

I once heard a speaker compare a problem to a brick wall. She said when she faced a complex problem, she imagined it was a brick wall. And she determined to tackle it one brick at a time.

Are you facing something in your life right now that seems insurmountable? Career change? Another job added to the one you already have or perhaps job loss? Relationship troubles? Aging parents? Your own aging process or illness?

Whatever it is, see if this metaphor might help you move through and beyond the problem. If it's a brick wall, what are the individual bricks you need to take down? Start with one. And then another.

Don't you just feel lighter when you think of that massive, overwhelming wall being comprised of individual bricks? When you think of removing one brick at a time rather than taking down the entire wall at once? Soon you'll see possibilities rather than the problem.

Let me know if you would like to try coaching to address some issue in your life. Check the Contact page for several ways to get in touch with me. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Just say 'No'

Do you keep adding things into your life and feeling overwhelmed with commitments? Do you find it difficult to say "No"?

Welcome to a large group of women! It seems to be a tendency for us as women to take on more than we should. We often shoulder responsibility for so much!

I have a friend who started a decluttering business. When she worked in someone's home, whether cleaning out a cupboard or a closet (or perhaps an entire house), she advised the owner to not buy anything new to put into that space without first giving away or tossing something already there. That prevents a repeat of the clutter.

I've heard it said that we should do the same with our commitments. I like that idea. When we say "Yes" to one thing, we need to say "No" to something else; or we can easily become overwhelmed and resentful. I know—this is far easier said than done. What helps me do this is to start small.

What one or two things can you eliminate that you're now doing? What might someone else more appropriately do? Or perhaps even do better? What don't you want or need to do? It's about making choices.

Once you've successfully eliminated one commitment, you might tackle another one. It really does become easier to say "No" with practice. And soon, perhaps you'll find your life more manageable. You might even have more room for joy and less for irritability!

Please share with us in the Comment box if you've found some tips that helped you say "No" to over-commitment.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

'A heart full of happiness'

Two days ago I helped a friend celebrate her 60th birthday. The surprise party was organized by her family and included a mix of family and friends. Even in the wilting heat, we all had so much fun: so many laughs and even a few tears.

Among the things I love about Eileen are her infectious enthusiasm, joie de vivre and resilience. Like most everyone, she has experienced many setbacks and lots of pain and disappointment in her life. But she keeps on keeping on. And not just as a survivor. She does so as a sparkling participant in life. She takes seriously the saying, Live until you die.

Eileen is the type of person we all want to be around. Does that mean she never gets down? No. But it means that she works through her disappointments and grief and climbs right back on life's roller coaster for the next part of the wild ride! She is an inspiration to me and to many others.  Eileen bears out something author Joan Chittister says, "What we bring to life is what we get out of life.... Bring an open heart, get a heart full of happiness."

What do you bring to life these days? Want to ratchet up your happiness quotient? I'd love to help if you need a little coaching around that. Please contact me today, and we'll set up a no-obligation, complimentary strategy session.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Never forget

They were arrested on trumped-up charges, thrown into prison, beaten, and kept in rat-infested cells. In their attempts to bring about justice and draw attention to their cause, they went on hunger strikes and ended up being force-fed raw eggs in a most brutal manner.

"They" are the women who fought hard and risked their lives so that we could have the right to vote, a privilege many of us take for granted today. We shouldn't. Some women lost their lives. Some were separated from families. While some suffragists were young, many were older and frail.

Last week I attended a gathering partially sponsored by my American Association of University Women branch, at which we were shown the movie "Iron Jawed Angels," starting Hillary Swank as Alice Paul, one of the leading suffragists. Although I have read about their struggles leading up to the 1920 adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment securing women's right to vote, I was touched at a very deep level seeing the abusive, harsh treatment of these women. I will remember it every time I go to the polls and exercise the right for which they were willing to give their lives.

If you haven't seen this 2004 movie, I highly recommend you rent it. I'm sure you will be as grateful as I am for those brave women, on whose shoulders we all stand now. It makes me ask the question, "What am I willing to do today to gain rights for women everywhere?"And what am I doing to make sure we never forget?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Pay attention!

Years ago someone taught me a helpful spiritual practice for day's end: think about what gave you energy during that day and what sucked out your energy. It helps me to journal about these two things, but you can just reflect on them without writing them down if you aren't a journaler.

Some time after I learned that practice, I read about another set of questions to ask at day's end: Did I bring more light into the world today, or did I take light out of the world? And where did I bring more light? At times I simply add those questions to the others I learned earlier.

I have always liked all those questions because they make me pay attention to how I am in the world. Am I reflecting the values I say I hold dear? Am I following my passions and doing things that give me energy and joy—and bring joy to others too? Or am I allowing myself to get stuck in a rut of negativity?

What do you do to pay attention to your life? I'd love to hear your tips. Share them with us in the Comment box below, if you would.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Are you 'crazy busy'?

Last week I read a fascinating article Tim Kreider wrote for The New York Times about being busy. He says the standard response when you ask someone how they are is, "Busy." Or "So busy" or even "Crazy busy." Isn't that so true?

I've often said that busyness has become a competitive sport for us in the U.S. And are we better off for it? I would argue that we aren't. And that seems to be Kreider's opinion too, starting with the title of his piece: "The 'Busy' Trap."

He says we feel anxious and guilty when we're not busy. Even our children (and grandchildren) are totally booked up with activities that are planned. My middle son and I often talk about how he and his brothers enjoyed pick-up softball games on the sandlot near our small town home. But his kids were part of teams from the time they were very small. It's just how things work in suburban America these days.

Back to Kreider. He suggests that busyness seems to serve as "a hedge against emptiness" letting us know that we really do matter. But he argues that idleness "is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body." He adds, "The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole...." Yes, oh yes!

I hope you are allowing what I've long called "white space" onto the pages of your life. Pull back from some of the "shoulds" and the endless to-do lists and find time to just look at the tree outside your house or the flowers in your back yard. Watch the cloud formations. Smell the flowers. Think great thoughts. Or none at all. Take time to play. It will re-energize you and bring you much more joy than crossing endless items from your to-do list.

What will you answer next time someone asks how you are?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

'Book of Dreams'

Yesterday's post was about creating new dreams when old ones die.

What if your dreams haven't died? Is there a way to be pro-active and prepare for the possibility of it happening to you some day? Definitely.

In January 2004 I made a list of dreams I had, mostly about who I wanted to be and how I wanted to live in the world. It was actually two years later, in December 2005, that I purchased a beautiful little journal that I titled "Book of Dreams."

This journal has nothing to do with the dreams I have when I sleep. It has everything to do with things I dream about being or doing some day. It's about how I want to live in the world. The little book is more than half full of ideas. So when I lost my job a few years ago, I learned what a wonderful resource I had in that journal. I didn't even open the journal, however, until I'd spend lots of time grieving, journaling my anger, fear and hurts (but not in my Dream Journal). And lots of time letting go. And letting go some more.

Once I was ready, what a joy it was to open my little Book of Dreams and see what in it had resonance and energy for me at that time. That's what led me to where I am today.

I encourage you to create your own Book of Dreams. Have it ready for the time you're in need of new dreams. Or for the time when you want to tweak a current dream.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

4 ways to help new dreams emerge

I recall that following my divorce (and so much letting go and grief work), my dreams of a happy marriage and together-in-the-vine-covered-cottage-forever were the last thing to go. That happened when I lost my job, too. My dreams for that particular career path were the last to go.

So once you have let go, let go, and let go some more—until even your dreams are gone, how do you create a nurturing and welcoming environment for new dreams to emerge?

Here are 4 things you can do for starters:

1. Be sure you really have let go. When you are still holding on in some way to the old life, you aren't clear enough inside for new dreams to be welcomed in. If you're not done yet with your old dream, that's OK. It just isn't quite time yet for a new one. Take time for any more inner cleaning out you need.

2. List all the things on your wish list (whether that's for a career or a relationship). About what are you passionate? What's giving you energy right now? Check your bucket list and thimble list (smaller dreams) to see if they hold any clues.

3. Take good care of yourself. Get plenty of rest. Eat healthy foods. Exercise. Pamper yourself with massages, bubble baths or whatever nourishes you. Be sure you're in a good place so you can entertain dreams.

4. Spend some time each day when you have nothing planned, find a quiet and safe spot where you can do a little dreaming, and keep a journal or list of thoughts. Be intentional about this, and you might be surprised what ideas will emerge.

Want help with this? Please contact me if you do. And tell us in the Comment box how you've created new dreams if you've experienced this before.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Cocoon time

They were taken completely by surprise. One day they learned their job was ending. They didn't even see it coming. Others made the choice themselves.

I have several clients who are job-hunting or looking for new careers. Some made the choice, and others had no choice. I've been in both places myself—and, personally, I'd rather make the choice myself. But we don't always get what we want, do we?

Either way, though, it's important to reflect on what you have lost in the process. Even when you choose to leave a position and move on, you will experience some losses—whether that be status, a coworker (or more) you liked, connections, flexibility a good health plan or something entirely different.

The same is true when you leave one city and move to another. Or just leave one neighborhood for another. All our "hellos" contain some "goodbyes" that involve loss.

Take the time to reflect on what you're losing and do whatever grieving is necessary for you to let go of the old and prepare for the new. It's important work. It helps you to "clean out" inside and be truly ready for whatever comes next for you. It's the cocoon step of the caterpillar-cocoon-butterfly transformational process. Let go. And then prepare to soar!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Can women really 'have it all'?

Twice within the past week I've seen fascinating TV programs about women having it all. Such a comment begs the question that was, in fact, raised by panelists in both cases: Whatever does "all" mean?

No one really answered that question. In the early days of feminism, it meant you could raise children and have a career.  That was a good thing for many women, right? But, of course, it also set women up to try to do everything—and perfectly: be the perfect wife, mother, employee, coworker, and everything else.

So many good points were raised during the discussion on both those programs, not the least of which is the idea that we women want to be careful that we're not set up against each other. We should be able to choose the life we want: Do we want to be single or married? If married, do we want to have children? (Child-rearing isn't for everyone.) Do we want to be a stay-at-home mom or have a career? Or some combination of the two? Or do it serially? Do we involve our husbands and partners in the child-rearing or try to do it single-handedly? So many choices. And often, they don't really seem like choices.

Another important point was raised: Many of the world's women do not have the luxury of such choices. They simply have to work and raise children. 

It's important to not judge another woman for her choices. What works for me may not work for you. Your choice might not be mine. That's quite all right. We choose. And then we live with that decision. And in the best of all worlds, we work for and support all women everywhere in their choices.

What's your experience with such choices? Please share with us in the Comment box below.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

3 ways to boost your self-image

Along with the main issue most clients bring to the table, there's one that so often rides alongside or even underneath the others: low self-image.

We women have to work so hard to build and maintain a healthy self-image. So few of us seem to come with one ready-made! Some of this is due to messages we received from someone (or several someones) as we grew up, and some is due to the media messages that surround us constantly (be slim, be beautiful, be vivacious, be smart, do it all).

It took me a few years and lots of hard work to boost my self-esteem. However, there are 3 things that provide a good starting place:

1. Root out the negative messages and voices in your head. Often it helps if you can identify whose voice you are hearing. Then when you hear it, you can simply say to yourself, "Oh, that's just my third-grade teacher, Mr. Olson, again. That's only his view." I found it helpful to envision a stop sign in my head when I heard a negative voice or thought. It was just enough to stop me in my tracks and help me recognize the message for what it was.

2. Believe in yourself. That's easier said than done, I know. But it's a good habit to cultivate. Perhaps you might make a list of things you do well—or things you like about yourself. Keep the list where you can see it often. Add to it. Believe those things. Many years ago my spiritual director urged me to start and keep a "Value Journal," in which I was to write compliments and praise I received from others. Eventually I learned to say those things about myself.

3. Treat yourself as well as you treat others. The truth is that we would never treat friends in the way we sometimes treat ourselves. Why would we do that? Notice what you say about yourself and how you care for yourself. Ask whether you'd do that to a friend. Engage in self-care. It can become a habit!

Discover the joy and energy of being your own best friend.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Celebrate independence

Today we in the U.S. celebrate our country's independence. The subject of independence makes me think of boundaries. How good are yours?

Have you, like me, been in this place before: You complain about what a coworker or a loved one did or said to you? Perhaps that person delivered a real put-down to you, or maybe someone pushed into your turf in an inappropriate way. I've certainly been-there and done-that.

Later, when I have examined the situation more closely, I saw that there were things I could have said or done to make clear that my boundaries had been violated. In the face of a slur or a put-down, I might have said, "I don't accept people speaking to me that way. You owe me an apology." Or I could have said, "Thank you for the idea. I will certainly think about that when I make the decision about where this project needs to go next (making it clear that this is your turf and your decision)."

Even when you do set boundaries, sometimes you'll meet with the response, "Oh, you just can't take a joke. I was just kidding." Uh, yeah, I don't think so. Generally, you know intuitively what a put-down is. And there's nothing funny about it. So just hold firm. You don't have to be nasty. But you can be firm about what you will accept and what you won't. It's really about holding people accountable for what they say and do—and holding yourself accountable for what you'll accept.

Boundaries—they're as important to us as individuals as they are to countries!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Change your focus

What are you thinking about these days? Is your focus on the possibilities—or on the fears?

I've heard it said that whatever we focus on gets larger. And I've found that to be true in my life. Whenever I am beset by fears, and I let those fill my mind day in and day out, they rule. I become anxious, irritable, negative and sometimes just plain stuck.

When I can manage my fears and focus instead on the possibilities and positives of my situation, I feel hopeful, happier and more able to move ahead.

So make some adjustments today. Just as you would adjust the settings on your camera when the wrong thing is in focus, change the focus of your thoughts. See what happens if you're able to look your fears in the eye (and see how much smaller they become when you do that)—and begin to think about what actions you might take to move yourself ahead, whether it's your career, a relationship or some other life issue you face.

Want some help doing that? Maybe it's time to try coaching. Please contact me if you would like a no-obligation, complimentary strategy session. It's an easy way to see whether coaching might be what you need right now.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Dreams keep you alive

Long ago I read that we don't keep dreams alive—dreams keep us alive.

Many times I've discovered the truth of that. I'm thinking especially of two huge life changes I experienced and how each of those meant the end of dreams: when my marriage ended in divorce and when I was Reduced In Force from my job of 22 years.

As I grieved each of those (they didn't happen at the same time, thankfully!), I really was grieving multiple losses embedded within the one very large loss. And each time my dream (of a marriage that would go on "till death do us part" and of a job that continued until I decided I was ready to leave) was the last thing of which I let go. Once I'd grieved the loss of the dream and let go of it, I needed to replace it with a new dream. Losing each dream left me sad, in a low-energy mode and temporarily stuck. I needed new dreams.

For it really is our dreams that keep us motivated and energized. That's what can put a spring into our step and make us jump out of bed in the morning.

What dreams do you have? Are they keeping you energized and filled with joy? Is it time to put legs on a dream you've long held but tucked away for later? Or time to create new dreams?

Take action today to create and live your dreams. They really do keep you alive and energized!