New Beginnings

newbegginingsOccasionally, I post poems which really speak to me and capture the essence of coaching or what I am calling forth from my clients as I coach them.  It is spring and everything is new, fresh and beginning again, so it is the perfect time for this poem. This is such a beautiful example of what coaching calls forth in us that I had to share.  Enjoy!

For a New Beginning
by John O’Donohue

In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.

For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.

It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.

Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.

Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.

Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.

— from To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings, by John O’Donohue

Be mine: Do you love your work?


With Valentines day approaching we are hearing a lot about love…love of a another, particularly a romantic partner or spouse.  Celebrating love and each other is wonderful, but I am thinking of a difference kind of love, loving what you do, loving your career.  This type of love is often more elusive.  Society tells us we should love our partners, our friends, our family, yet it is ok to merely tolerate your job.  We put up with a lot in our jobs, trudging along, assuming there is nothing better out there.  It is supposed to be “work”, right?

I want to challenge this notion.  I believe we all deserve to love our work, just as we deserve to love and be loved by our romantic partners.  When was the last time you really loved your work?  Where you couldn’t wait to get out of bed and get to it?  If you feel that way about your current job – great!  If not, it might be time to find out what would be a better match.

Just like a life partner, your job will be much more fulfilling if it aligns with your values.  For example, one of my favorite past jobs was when I worked as a Research Scientist at a biotech company designing a test to help with the management of HIV drugs in HIV patients.  Our test would help patients live longer, higher quality lives at a time when HIV was still new and there were not many drugs available.  I couldn’t wait to get to work every morning, because the work was highly aligned with my values of intellectual curiosity and making a real difference in the world.  I could feel the impact we were having in the lives of HIV+ people and it was exciting.  The actual work of calibrating the assay was extremely tedious but the passion behind the work moved me through the tedious aspects of my daily routine.

I have had many jobs since then that were not as fulfilling and I can feel the difference between pushing myself to do work I am not aligned with and the natural pull of something that grabs me.  When our passions, values and work are aligned something magical happens – it just flows.  Things fall into place and everything is suddenly easier.  Work no longer feels like “work” but turns into joy and play.

As a coach I get to help my clients find their true passions and overcome the fears preventing them from following those passions.  This work is deeply aligned with my values of truth, curiosity, honesty, learning, freedom, adventure, and making a difference for others.  I am so in love with my job that I sometimes have to pinch myself to remember that I am not dreaming.

What’s your passion?  What difference do you want to make?  What impact do you want to have?  What would make you jump out of bed every morning and rush into work like you would into a lover’s waiting arms?

Testify here.

If 2013 Kicked Your Butt

Written by Guest blogger: Vicky Keston

We’ve all had tough years, days or months.  In my son’s preschool class, they’re teaching the difference between big problems and small problems.  But what if your problems this year were all big ones?  I still remember the year I was sick, needed surgery, and was laid off.  And the year my father died.

So how do you avoid a downward spiral from your all-too-real problems?  I don’t have easy answers, but life has taught me to push towards the positive.  For me, the first cry feels cathartic, but the hundredth feels just plain depressing.  So while it’s easy to say, for me, thinking positive is the only alternative.

  • When missing a loved one, think about positive moments you had together.  A fun day, trip or moment, things you loved to do together, moments when you were happy.   Do something you used to do together.  I think of my dad when I fix or assemble something myself.  I hear him telling me to put all the little pieces in my pocket, and when I lose one, “How many times have I told you . . . .”  It makes me smile.  My mom donated a bench at his favorite waterfront spot, which also makes us happy.

  • When dealing with a career disappointment, try to look at the opportunity to make a change.  Each time I was laid off, in retrospect, I was ready for a career change.  I would never have chosen that way to make the change, but the result was still good for me and resulted in a more satisfying job.  I try to dive in with new zest to the search, set up networking meetings, get my resume in order and stay busy with the search.  A career coach can be extremely helpful if you’d like to redirect your focus but don’t know where to start.

  • Friends can be amazing but can also disappoint.  I try to remember that not everyone is meant to be my rock.  I ask myself, was this person letting me down, or did I expect too much?  I look at my set of friends for who IS that rock, who can I count on, and think about cultivating those friendships instead.  Furthermore, sometimes we are just in different life phases.  When having a baby, all of a sudden, your life is turned upside down.  Before kids, I used to go for all day bicycle rides, yoga five times a week, long dinners with friends, ballet and symphony performances, and dinner parties.  Now, I spend weekends at playgrounds, try to cook ahead for the week, catch up with work, and heck if I know what it feels like to sleep past 6:30 or 7am.  Like dating, friendships are finding the right match, not just personality but in terms of your life stage.  The person who I used to ride with all day, who’s still riding all day, won’t find hanging out with little kids so fun.  Not that I have time to focus on more than a couple sentences at a time when two children are running in opposite directions.

  • Be kind to yourself.  Balance time for reflection with keeping busy.  Do you recharge by being alone, or does too much alone time bring you down?  Try to schedule some childcare to get out without your children.  Maybe you have a partner who can watch the kids after they go to sleep.  Maybe you have a friend who can swap babysitting with you.  Maybe you can join a gym with childcare.  Or maybe you can splurge on some babysitting time so that you can get out with your partner or friends.

  • Consider volunteering or helping others out in a small way.  In The Art of Happiness, the Dalai Lama says that doing good makes you feel good.  One particularly tough day, when I was trying to conceive my second, I gave the homeless guy on our block $5 to try out the theory.  His reaction put me in a great mood the rest of the day.  Currently, I volunteer with our local mom’s group, co-chairing a committee that supports our 4,000+ members when they have a tough period.  Friends often ask how I find the time, yet helping out always makes me happy and makes me realize that you can always find someone having it better or worse than you.

  • Above all, hope that 2014 will be better.  What’s a fresher start than a new year?  Set some simple resolutions for the new year.  One year, I vowed to floss every day.  Another, to drink more water.  This year, it will be to prioritize a weekly yoga class to help me recharge before the weekend, which as a single mom of two with no weekend childcare, is particular challenging.

Guest blogger: Vicky Keston is Co-Founder and CEO of Gooseling, which makes games like Cavity Dragons to convince children 2-8 years old to brush their teeth, and publishes a parenting blog by the co-founders.  Vicky lives in San Francisco with her two and five year old.

How to make your New Year’s resolutions actually work

New YearHave you noticed that most people set their New Year’s Resolutions, and don’t make it a month before they give up on effecting meaningful change in their lives? We make new years resolutions a big deal, concocting grand plans, which never come to fruition because we set ourselves up for failure. Most people set up their New Year’s resolutions based on their failures from the past year. This begins the year with guilt and shame so the resolutions feel like a punishment and you end up recreating your failures. Not the best way to motivate yourself.

This year try something different: Start with a blank slate. Write down all your breakthroughs, breakdowns and things you didn’t accomplish you thought that you would and read them to a loved one or friend. Forgive yourself your failings and learn from them. Hold a ceremony and burn them. Watch the smoke go up in the sky as they are released. Now you can start the New Year totally fresh.

Instead of making resolutions, select an inspiring new theme. Celebrate and focus the New Year by deeming it the “Year of _____”. It could be anything from the Year of the New Hobby or the Year of Financial Stability to the Year of Transition to A New Career, Location, etc. This makes it fun and gives it an overarching emphasis attached to something currently meaningful to you. Then, with this theme in mind, ask yourself what you want to see happen and what you want to show up in the coming year. Make sure to include both ways you want to be in the world (for example “I am fully present when my husband is talking to me” or “I am a successful business owner”) as well as things you want to do or accomplish. Focus on qualities you want to exude not just tasks to complete. And put them in the present tense so your brain hears it as already true.

Pick fewer resolutions than you would normally. What did you shoot for last year? Try for half as many or a third as many. It’s easier to focus on achieving fewer goals than many and the psychological effect of checking all of them off is encouraging. Would you rather succeed at three out of three resolutions or one out of twelve? Since you are picking (and sticking) to only a few resolutions this year, make them count! What if it were your last year on earth? Would your resolutions be different? Of course they would. Whether it’s to climb Mount Everest, finally take three weeks of vacation (one unpaid), finish a college degree, or mend an estranged relationship, include some of those bucket list items this year.

So now that you have cleared the slate, picked a theme and built a few powerful resolutions around that theme, how do you keep on top of your resolutions? It can be very helpful to create structures to remind you of your intentions. Trick yourself into transformation by setting up reminders in your environment: Repaint a wall in your house a color that represents a goal or with the actual resolution spelled out in huge letters. Set your alarm clock to sing your New Year’s Resolution theme song. Order a case of your own private label wine with your resolutions emblazoned on the bottles. Get a piece of jewelry that serves as a reminder. Change all your computer passwords or your screen savers to keep you focused on your goals. Grab a friend, spouse or sibling for mutual support in sticking to your New Year’s Resolutions and jump into the challenge together. Using an accountability partner is a tried-and-true method and it’s more fun than doing it alone! If you can’t find a reliable buddy, consider hiring a Professional Coach to keep you on track.

Adapted from an article blogged to the coaching community a few years ago by Karen and Henry Kimsey-House. The founders of the Coaches Training Institute where I was trained to be a coach!

Giving Thanks

I love Thanksgiving for the simple fact that it reminds me to GIVE THANKS and to really feel deep gratitude for all that is right with my life. The practice of daily gratitude is a deep and fulfilling one that, if practiced over time, can subtly shift our perspective on life towards joy. Thanksgiving is a reminder to feel and claim that gratitude every day.

This Thanksgiving, I have a lot to be grateful for. After 8 surgeries since May, I am finally cancer free. I just celebrated my 10th wedding anniversary last month and my coaching practice is blossoming. Those are all big things going well in my life right now, but the little things are also important: the last tomatoes of the season that I harvested from my garden last night so ripe and juicy, the soft purr of my cat as she snuggles up against my leg, the flowers my husband bought me when I returned from the last surgery.

It is so important to stop and savor the good things in life, to reflect and remember that amidst all the struggle and the suffering there is a tremendous amount of joy, in so many forms: a smile, a kindness, a great smelling rose in your neighbor’s garden, loved ones in your life, simple pleasures and extravagant successes.

What are you grateful for today?

Getting rid of the Goblins in your head

With Halloween approaching, it seems like a good time to talk about those ghosts and ghouls that haunt us and keep us from achieving our dreams. I am talking about those negative voices in our heads, you know the ones that tell us we are stupid, lazy, fat, not-trying-hard-enough. Yeah, those ones. Those voices keep us from choosing growth, change, and transformation. In fact, their job is to prevent change, to keep us “safe”…which often equates to stuck. So, when we are creating change in our life or are going through transition in career, relationship, or life they are especially vocal.

I call these voices saboteurs, because they tend to sabotage our dreams and stilt our growth. These saboteurs have lots of excuses and they sound very rational, but they are not to be trusted. They do not have our best interests at heart. Yes, they think they are helping, they think they are protecting us from loss, rejection, pain. “If you don’t try for that promotion you won’t feel bad if you are passed over”. The problem is if you don’t try for that promotion, you will never get promoted. See the problem with listening to the saboteur? The saboteurs keeps us small, scared and unwilling to try, to grow, to achieve.

There are several ways you can deal with these goblins in your life. You can simply ignore them and try to focus on something else. It is often helpful to focus on your dreams and goals when a saboteur rears its ugly head. Another strategy is name and personify them. This can give you a way to identify a saboteur when it shows up and deal with it rapidly, before its voice starts to sound deceptively like your own. It is also helpful to identify and cultivate the positive voices in your head and to dialog with them. Just as we each have several negative voices, each of us has a host of positive voices or internal allies, such as the part of us who can appreciate everything, even in challenging situations, or the patient one, or the curious one who, like a child can see any situation with joy and innocence.

What poison are your saboteurs whispering in your ear? What strategies can you develop to counteract them? To stop listening?Ghoul

Slowing down

Beautiful St. Emilion, France
Today, as I pause during a busy European trip for both work and pleasure to hang out in a landrymat (or Laverie in French), I am reflecting on how good it feels to slow down, to have no agenda, if only for today. Of course with only 3 days in Bordeaux, and this being my last before moving on to Narbonne, it is tempting to rush out to the countryside to visit more wineries or take in a museum, but just sitting on the floor of this laundrymat (nice machines but no chairs provided) feels good and reminds me of the importance of stopping every now and then.

In general Europeans are better at slowing down than Americans. Over the week I have been in France I have witnessed this and my innkeeper here in Bordeaux agrees. We have had several interesting discussions about how rushed Americans are – a sad product of our work-a-holic culture and the scant vacations we are allowed which leave us cramming in as much as possible in those precious 1-2 week (or less) holidays. As a long time practitioner or yoga, I know the benefits of slowing downing, breathing fully, taking my time, being fully present to the beauty of the world around me…and trust me, in Southern France, there is much beauty to be had. Yet, I often forget, as I am sure we all do from time-to-time, some more so some less so, the beauty of just resting, of having no agenda agenda – of letting NOW! be your agenda.

The sun is shining outside after a week of straight rain and as soon as my laundry is done I have nothing to do and nowhere to be. I am calmly excited for what the day might bring. Check in with me on Facebook if you are curious what I got up to.

How is it different for you when you slow down? What is available to you in that space? Feel free to share your experience below.

Merci. A bientot!

Creating happiness

Research has shown that a large component of happiness is habit. This is good news, because it means we can create greater happiness simply by changing our habits and perspectives. According to modern neuroscience our plastic brains can rewire themselves, if we can sustain a new habit daily for 2-4 weeks. By repeating the same exercise, action, or words several times a day over an extended period of time, we actually create new neural connections. Similarly if we stop repeating actions or words which decrease our happiness (such as those critical voices that tell us we are not good enough, are stupid, or will never be successful) we weaken those neural pathways. If we can manage to completely stop feeding our inner critic it will eventually die of starvation. If, instead, we start feeding our inner wise self/inner best self/inner CEO, that part of us will grow stronger.

What messages do you give yourself every day? Are they critical or positive? What is the ratio of each to the other?

Here are two two minute exercises, that if repeated daily (better yet 3X a day) for 30 days will increase your happiness:
1) Close your eyes, place you hand on your heart, take a few deep breathes, imagine you can breathe in and out through your heart, as you breathe in say to yourself “I breathe in love”, as you breathe out relax, as you breathe in say to yourself “I breathe in ease”, as you breathe out relax, as you breathe in say to yourself “I breathe in compassion”, as you breathe out relax, as you breathe in say to yourself “I breathe in peace”. Repeat for 2-5 minutes.

Fun fact: this exercise stimulates the release of oxytocin, which is the the hormone that surges through your body when you feel love, or make love, or when a mother nurses her baby. It has a calming affect on the nervous system.

2) I know it sounds cliched, but keeping a gratitude journal has been shown to increase overall happiness and satisfaction. It is a simple act that can radically change your life for the better. Simply spend time each day (I find right before bed works for me) writing down three things you are grateful for or appreciate every day. It could be something that happened that day or a more general positive aspect of your life. You could even make it more public and do as a friend of mind does and post your daily gratitude to Facebook. She calls it “three good things” and it is beautiful practice.

I plan to do both of these things for the next 30 days. I call it the 30 day happiness challenge. Will you join me? Report on your discoveries and progress in the blog comment section and testify on my Facebook page.

Is transparency important for leaders?

In my corporate management job and in several volunteer leadership positions I have held over the years, I make decisions by consensus.  I ask everyone’s opinion and encourage discussion at each team decision point.  I like to do this for several reasons:  It gives junior people more power, more experience, and more personal investment in delivering what we all agreed on.  I also believe that more heads and perspectives are better than one and that group think is often much more powerful.  Finally, I truly value everyone’s opinion and it just feels more fair to me.

Interestingly, I don’t always do a good job of sharing my reasons for choosing a consensus model over other possible approaches.  I just do things that way.  And lately I have been wondering if this lack of transparency can lead others to form their own conclusions about my reasons for this approach.  I realize that, depending on perspective, it could alternately look like I don’t have the answers and/or don’t know what I am doing, so I ask my team all the time.

So these musings have lead me to consider the importance of transparency for leaders.  Transparency is important on may levels.  It builds trust in leaders and the organizations they lead.  It also builds rapport, as others learn who the leader authentically is and what he/she values. When leaders are transparent, people can be much more objective in evaluating the pros and cons about their leader.   If you are transparent, especially during the worst of times, you actually strengthen your leadership as people begin to trust you as person and thus will respect you more as a leader.

Whether you are a leader in your work, your community, your family, or your life, where are you transparent?  Where could you be more transparent?  What benefits would that transparency bring?

The Power of No

The single most important and powerful thing you can do for yourself, your life and your sanity is to learn to say “no”… say it loud and proud rather than with a guilty hesitation.  In my years as a career and life coach and professional development speaker this is the one thing I always come back to.  It is something that most of my clients, especially my female clients, struggle with and need to learn for themselves.  And it is not easy.  We are programmed from an early age not to say no and it takes effort to unlearn all that training.  I call it “exercising in the gym of No “.

Last week I came across this great blog by Mike Robbins, which addresses this subject rather nicely, so I thought I would share.