Sounds like an odd question, doesn’t it? Mark Nepo, in The Book of Awakening, says, “What is not ex-pressed gets de-pressed.” So, today I ask myself, what needs to get uncovered? What needs to see the light of day, get felt fully, expressed to myself, then set free? The past few days, I’ve felt slighted by a few people in the outer part of my circle. Missed connections, unanswered emails – things that happen often enough; things I’ve been guilty of. Yet this felt different somehow.
When I reflected a bit, poked around a bit, I found a huge pile of perceived slights, a bit smelly by now, growing mold, taking up space. I’d pushed them down until they became like those odd, awful things you find in the bottom of the vegetable bin when you haven’t cleaned out your refrigerator in recent memory. The more I’d pushed them down, the bigger – and smellier – they got. No surprise there.
The more I’d hold on, the more convinced I became that these slights were not overblown or imagined – they were absolutely real. I thought of that old childhood ditty, “Nobody loves me, everybody hates me – I’m gonna eat some worms.” Well, no – I don’t think so. Holding on, depressing clearly isn’t a workable strategy.
So that means expressing – at least to myself – what I’m feeling. It doesn’t necessarily mean sharing and it doesn’t mean a deep, long therapeutic intervention. Like so many others, I’ve known the roots of these insecurities for decades. Instead, I think, it means making better use of my internal radar. It means stopping, breathing, reflecting, and asking the Byron Katie question, “Is that true?” before doing or feeling anything. And it means expressing my hurt or frustration to myself rather than pushing those feelings down like yet another piece of fruit of a questionable age left to rot in the vegetable bin.
I find that once I’ve expressed how I’m feeling, once I’ve looked for the truth behind the feeling, I can start to let go. I can stop feeling sorry for myself long enough to be reminded of the circle of love that surrounds me. I can think about what I might be doing to close off possibilities to expand that circle. I can reach out to find new ways to create openings for those on the outer edges. I can think of what I might be doing to push people away out of fear of future real or imagined rejection.
Over the weekend, as part of a thorough cleaning, I took the time to clean out the vegetable bins. It had been a while, and there were some nasty surprises. Yesterday, I started doing the same with my friendship circles. My intention? No more nasty surprises.
Creating the Life You Want
My cat, Obie, knows how to get everything he wants in life. He’s most insistent about having his needs met, whether it is being fed (well, that’s more his brother’s job – Obie is a good delegator) or sitting on me or being petted, he’s relentless. I understand why so many people say that in their next life they’d like to come back as a house cat. It can be a very satisfying existence.
In the past few months, Obie has learned to leap. I’m not happy about this, and he doesn’t care. He blithely hops from my chair to the printer to the top of the computer armoire. This didn’t make me happy, but I could live with it. Within a few days, he leapt from the armoire to the adjacent bookcase. Again, not happy, but I can live with this.
A week or so later, he decided to test his skills with a real leap. To my horror, he leapt the two and a half foot gap across a doorway to a second bookcase. Now I’m unhappy. No good can come of this. He’s going to get stuck. It’s too big a risk. Obie doesn’t agree.
Having conquered the living room, Obie moves on to the kitchen. I find him on a low cabinet, then on the refrigerator, supervising me as I cook. He’s happy I’m not. A couple of days ago, he figured out how to leap across the kitchen from the refrigerator to the china cabinet. He’s eyeing the kitchen cabinets now.
Sometimes, my clients don’t know what they want. We spend weeks – sometimes months – figuring this out. Some of them are brave and persistent. Like leaping Obie, they set new challenges and go for them.
Sometimes, though, my clients – and me as well – stand on the precipice and freeze. It’s hard to take that leap. Cats have an innate faith that they can sail through the air and land where they want. We are rarely as sure. The lesson that I’ve learned from my insistent, persistent cat is that the leap is worth it. He looks so self-satisfied when he succeeds.
Not yet ready to leap? Hop. Take a giant step. Small risks and small successes lead to bigger risks and bigger successes. Go for it
Or maybe not. This may not be your mother’s version of aging, but I know that my 70’s are not that different from my grandmother’s. My grandmother worked until she was 65. Then she traveled, became active in her synagogue, visited, and in general stayed very busy. Sally, also past 70, splits her time among Manhattan, Maine and Cambodia. She sews and makes jam in Maine, just has fun in New York and volunteers in Cambodia. Phyllis is working on science fiction/fantasy film projects as she reimagines her business model. Carole is thinking about leaving her current job to lead tours. Sharon owns a major company.Betsy left editing for publishing. I could go on and on.
There was a lot of pressure on our mothers to not work, although many of them did. Every women’s magazine portrayed the working woman as selfish – taking a job away from a returning vet. They pushed the merits of homemaking and treated it as a blessing, not a burden. The women’s movement of the sixties and seventies was in many ways about emerging from that cocoon. Even for working women, homemaking was seen as central. We moved into an era that seemed more doing it all than having it all.
Or Reimagining an Old Model
When I started to think about our age cohort, I was reminded of women of earlier eras. Women for whom working in the home also involved being out in the fields, caring for livestock, creating almost everything in the household, raising and often educating children and nursing. These women would never have imagined a retirement that centered around leisure. They found leisure and pleasure in pockets, quiet moments in their day-to-day routines. And they worked their entire lives. And they were active and vibrant.
So, I think we may be more like earlier generations of women who didn’t so much compartmentalized their lives but simply lived them. Women who found purpose in activities both big and small. I came across this wonderful article this morning: http://womensenews.org/2016/04/my-role-models-worry-more-about-losing-their-minds-than-their-looks/. Here’s a peek:
These women are wondering about how to be themselves and grow, rather than how to be their age. They rejoice in a new sense of self that replaces acting out of obligation with choice; in how they spend their time, with whom and why. They celebrate the freedom to make more choices that are truer to what they actually want.
That’s what I’m seeing too – and what I hope to see more of.
Blaze Your Own Trail
More and more, programs are designed to help women over fifty explore new directions and create lives they love. These women are my favorite clients – my passion and my joy. Who could not be delighted to see a woman in her sixties move into a new career? Or cultivate a long-forgotten passion for teaching or dancing or painting?
You will find that many paths have already been at least partially cleared. You will find groups to support you in your quest. Go for it!
So Many Inspirations
I have yet to be lucky enough to eat at Dooky Chase’s restaurant in New Orleans. Her speedy comeback after Katrina was legendary. I wanted to take a moment to share the link to a wonderful piece from The Newyorker:
Your Next Step
Enjoy! And support female restaurant owners and chefs!
Yeah, I know, I know – when lie gives you lemons, make lemonade. Well, it’s 27 degrees and windy, even though it’s April, so I won’t be making lemonade, thank you. If life gives me lemons today, I will say thank you, put them away, and move on. Despite the underlying message of the catch-phrase, I will do nothing.
Maybe I don’t want lemonade. Maybe I choose to simply admire the beauty of the lemons. Maybe I want a lemon tea cake. I know that the idea here, really, is to make the best use of what you have or have been given. After appreciating each new gift, I want to take a reflection break. I want to stop, examine the gift, and contemplate how each new gift fits into my life. I want to take informed action.
A Reflective Moment
That can sound overwhelming or unnecessary or even a bit woo-woo. Not really. This is really sound science. Your brain needs a bit of time to absorb, make sense of, and integrate new information. Do I like lemons? Should I feel threatened by this gift? Do I have time to make lemonade? What do lemons mean to me? What memories do they evoke? All of this runs through your mind in a matter of seconds. Taking time to access this information helps you know clearly what your choice should be.
Back to the Lemons
When life gives me lemons, I stop, enjoy the feel of the skin, inhale the aroma, and immediately spend a few seconds in Tuscany, inhaling the lemon-perfumed breezes. And, for that moment, I am at peace and all is good.
So, when life gives me lemons, I will have a mini-vacation and perhaps simply go ahead with my original agenda. And I will remember that, whatever life gives me, I will appreciate, reflect, and then decide.
The Big Project, Shift or Change
Starting Over II
You get up in the morning raring to go. You’re excited about your master plan. Your zany, huge goal, the new life you’re creating, the project – in an organization or within your own venture – that you can’t wait to complete. You go through whatever morning rituals are important to your physical and spiritual wellbeing. If you’re me, you have that essential mug of coffee. Now you’re all set. And yet, nothing happens. Sound familiar?
Both as a coach and as a person embarking on a major project, this scenario is all too familiar. Thinking about starting something is exciting. Doing the actual work can sometimes be something very different. When I used to advise dissertation candidates, we called this the clean refrigerator syndrome. I’ve come to understand that this is as true of entrepreneurs, executives, coaches, and anyone involved is something big that will result in some kind of change. I’ve visited clients on a project deadline who were very busy reorganizing their files when I arrived. Entrepreneurs have spent hours ordering new business cards or perusing LinkedIn or Facebook in the face of a big step. And yes, right now I have a very clear house.
Sometimes, procrastination is productive. Kerul Kassel wrote about this in 2007. Procrastination can happen when we’re not sure of our decision or when we need time to think a project through. More often, though, it’s avoidance. It’s fear – of success or of failure. It’s seeking perfection. Avoiding ridicule. Any combination of these things.
When procrastination gets in my clients’ way or in my way, I know that something has to shift. When I see that I’m caught up in a bad case of the “what if’s,” I just go for it. Okay, what’s the worst that could happen? And i it did, what would you do? The what’s the worst that could happen? I’ll run through this about seven times. Usually, I’m laughing so hard that the last couple are really hard. Try it – you’ll see how easy it is to move into the ridiculous. Then I just pick myself up and get to work.
It’s harder, though, to avoid deer-in-the-headlights paralysis when a lot is at stake. As I redefine and expand my coaching practice, I understand more deeply how my clients have felt in these moments. And I have a very clean apartment.
I’ve had clients reorganize everything you can imagine, from files to cabinets, to alphabetizing spices. Some mornings, I hear an old box of photographs whispering to me. Somehow, none of that gets the work done, though.
Just Stop It!
What I need – what my clients need – is a plan. I’ve done this before; I can do it again. A friend got her doctoral dissertation written in fifteen minute increments. She figured that she could do anything for fifteen minutes, no matter how much she hated it. I worked on mine for longer periods of time with a system of rewards. I set writing goals and if I met my goal I had a chocolate chip cookie from a local bakery and watched an hour of a daytime drama I’d taped. I had no life outside of trips to replenish the cookie supply. It’s not a path I’d repeat or recommend. I even tried a distraction-management plan adapted from a routine a friend used to manage anxiety attacks. He’d permit himself fifteen minutes of obsessing before forcing himself to move on. I’d allow fifteen minutes of cleaning or solitaire before forcing myself back to work.
Huge Vision, Small Plans, Small Steps
Sometimes, you just don’t want to see the big picture. It’s important to have a gloriously huge vision. See yourself already there. Live in that world. Be that person. And with that vision firmly panted deep in your brain, park it. Go for the small steps. Break everything down into the smallest steps possible. Complete one step at a time. Reward yourself. Go on to the next.
Everyone has to find a system that works for them. Try a few things out; tinker with the system until it feels right. I learned that cookie rewards, for example, were not the best idea unless I wanted to keep buying an ever-expanding wardrobe. Today, I mastered the repeat payment feature in my shopping cart. I competed one blog post. I spent an hour working on a book chapter. I had a schedule and I had rewards. One was some time to read a mystery. Another was a taped cooking show. When I finish setting up new mastermind groups, I’ll be having lunch with a friend. When I finish the book chapter, I’m going to a movie. And, of course, when that huge vision is a reality, it’s party time!
Note: this originally appeared in the Huffington Post)
There’s a saying in coaching that you end up coaching the clients who need what you yourself need to work on. So, it’s no small irony that, as someone who coaches women over forty who are planning the next phase of their life, I am currently planning my own next phase. And that I know at least one other coach who works with similar clients who is also starting over.
What It Looks Like In My World
In my twenties, I taught in early childhood programs. In my thirties, I wanted to work with adults, so transitioned through teaching in a career-related program at a local college to about twenty years in staff and organizational development. There, I discovered my love of coaching. I quit at fifty, with nothing in the works, to become a coach. After several years of bits and pieces, I created the first internal coaching program within New York City Government and coordinated and coached within that program for six years, until this Fall, when the agency abruptly decided to end the program. Like magic (not the good kind), I went from a steady base of fifteen to twenty clients to one. Whoops! Well, been here, done this – time to do it again.
So here’s where I begin relying on everything I believe in and everything that is part of my work with clients. I know this works, because this is my third major reboot experience, so I need to take my own advice. As you may know, that’s never as easy as it sounds. The rebuilding process looks something like this:
1. Resilience, Persistence and Optimism
Resilience is what keeps you from spending your life on the couch watching really bad television.
I’ve bounced back before. I can do it again. What I’m learning, though, is that it can take longer when you’re older. I enjoy working and have no desire to stop, yet some days, I look at my fully retired friends and find it hard to get energized. The I think about women like Jeannette, who started what has become a thriving business when she was older than I am now. Or Alice, who continues to build her business past eighty. Or even Grandma Moses who didn’t pick up a paint brush until late in life.
Do something every day that moves you toward your next great thing. I’ll admit that I’m not as quick to run out to yet another event when the weather is bad. Still, there’s always something to do. Set up virtual coffee dates to network or for informational interviewing. Read and comment on blogs. Write something. Learn how to use the newer forms of social media, like Periscope or Blab. Check out LinkedIn groups or Google Hangouts.
Ask everyone, everyone, everyone for job or client leads. The more people who know what you’re looking for, the greater the likelihood someone can help. I think of that old sales axiom that it takes a hundred no’s to get one yes. I think of Sharon, who, with no business background and didn’t even know what an invoice looked like, kept knocking on doors until she got her first contract and who now has a highly successful contracting business.
Remain optimistic. If you need the occasional pity party, set the timer for maybe fifteen minutes, then pick yourself up, smile, do a little dance and remind yourself that things are going to turn around. Believe that. Envision the outcome. See yourself in that office or on that stage and see buckets full of cash. If you can’t imagine what you want, you’ll never be able to make it happen. Part of optimism is seeing your future as real – it creates a roadmap.
Now is the time to take really, really good care of yourself. Check in with your doctor to be sure everything is in order. Get yourself out of the house. Spend time with friends. Spend time doing inexpensive things that you love. Exercise. It relieves stress and reenergizes you. Balance that exercise with time for inner peace. Meditate, journal, read inspirational books, listen to music, sit very still. Whatever it takes to maintain an inner balance. Watch what you’re eating. It’s all too easy to reach for the junk food. My particular downfall is sugar. What I know, though, is that ice cream isn’t going to bring me comfort. It’s going to make me lethargic and unable to work. One cookie too many and I fall asleep. I keep fruit that I love in the house – it’s one extravagance in my revised budget. Melon may not be in season, but the cost of a package of honeydew chunks is, in the long run, far less than that box of cookies.
3. Be ready
So far, I’ve had the opportunity to teach in a coaching program that I love. I’ve been invited to speak to a few groups – and have gotten a few clients through those events. I’ve had a good response to the launch of my book as an ebook. I’ve been invited to record a few podcasts and a radio show. Little steps, little steps – yet forward motion.
Those clients are out there. They need me and my experience with redesigning my own life to get them where they want to be. The clients will come – that might even mean someone you know or it might mean you.
Own Your Feelings
Are there days when you just plain don’t feel cheerful? When possibly no sane person would have reason for a big smile? I say own it! There’s a lot of pressure to present an optimistic, cheerful outlook no matter what is going on in your life. “Don’t worry, be happy” seems to be the mantra. The problem with this, for me, is that when you need every ounce of energy to keep moving forward, using some of that energy to create a bright and shiny facade just seems like a bad idea.
Now, I’m not advocating sinking into a morass of despair, curling up under a quilt and crying through old movies while eating chocolates. (Although sometimes that’s a really good temporary measure.) No, I’m simply saying that it’s important to own your emotions, to feel whatever it is you’re feeling.
Message From the Universe
As I was pondering this notion of feeling what you’re feeling, this message from The Universe popped into my inbox:
“Don’t wait for those feelings of excitement, confidence and clarity before you take action.
Take action first, without them, and they will follow.”
Take action. there’s the key. Take a break to have a hissy fit or a bout of the weepies when you need to. Don’t feel forced to smile all the time. Allow quiet moments when you want – or need – them. Feel discouraged, just don’t let that stop you. I’ve cried my way through enough projects that turned out wonderfully well to know this works.
There’s a Difference Between Cheerful and Optimistic
And that difference has everything to do with persistence and resilience. I have a close friend who is dealing with her second bout of cancer and another who is dealing with her third. Both lead busy, productive lives. One is a basically happy woman; the other is a chronic worrier. Each keep her cancer in perspective. Neither walks around with a perpetually sad countenance. Neither, though, feels obliged to put on a happy face just to please others.
Many of the women in my circle are entrepreneurs; primarily coaches and consultants. We’ve all seen economic upturns and downturns. A few have declared bankruptcy along the way. As a group, we’re pragmatic. And honest. The response to, “How’s it going?” to others within the circle is likely to be flat out honest. When I lost a big contract, I didn’t lie and say everything was wonderful. It wasn’t. I said, “Not so great right now, but I’m working on it.” Others have said, “Could be better.” Nothing wrong with a little truth. In fact, this kind of response has often brought offers of help, leads, joint ventures and all kinds of wonderful things.
One of the women in Fifty Over Fifty, Sharon, reached a point where she needed public assistance for six months. Was she all smiley and cheerful? Nope. She was too busy getting out there and making things happen. It was grit and determination that got her a million dollar plus business, not bouncing up and down and grinning. She put on her most optimistic attitude and kept knocking on doors until she got her first “YES!” and kept trudging up that hill.
So What’s The Plan?
Really, it’s pretty simple. There is a book called The Managed Heart that talks about industries where employees must be permanently cheerful. The author describes the negative impact – increased stress levels, burn-out, poor health – caused by being forced to be cheerful. Every so often, there’s a story of a flight attendant loosing it, and I’m always surprised that this doesn’t happen more often. I wonder what happens to customer service reps after a day of unrelenting good cheer. (Well, maybe not all of them.)
- Own your emotions.
- Feel what you’re feeling. Express it when appropriate; keep it to yourself – and maybe even stay home – when it’s not.
- Listen to what sadness may be telling you. Have you made a choice that needs rethinking.
- Take your anger out in the gym or on an inanimate object, never on other people. Shredding mail by hand works – that great feeling of ripping things up can be cathartic.
- If you can’t concentrate on work, take a break and do something else. This is often how most of my cleaning gets done.
- Take a walk.
- Put on some music that matches either your current mood or the one you’d like to shift into.
- Call someone. Talk it out.
- Cuddle up with a pet or a partner.
This is my go-to list. Yours may look different. Go create one now – and sing a new song, “Don’t Worry, Be Whatever.”
Sometimes, Everything is Not Coming Up Roses
I know, I know – personal development coaches are supposed to be upbeat and write motivational posts, right? But we’re ordinary people, and sometimes our lives aren’t going all that well either. The past couple of months have been a roller coaster. Just as my biggest client disappeared into the sunset, I was offered my absolute dream opportunity. I love the project, the students and my colleagues. Of course, there’s a little glitch in the payment process, but, oh well.
I found the perfect jacket last week. The zipper broke immediately.
The four and a half trip home from a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend turned into seven hours of bad traffic. I slept through the dinner ordering part of the trip. I had the perfect turkey sandwich in my bag.
Everything seems to have slowed down or gotten stalled of late. After three attempts, I’ve still not been able to finalize two meetings. Even my cat litter delivery is mysteriously delayed.
What’s going on here? I’m torn between feeling like I’m trapped on a roller coaster and feeling like I’m slogging in the mud. And slogging. And slogging.
Well, as the old saying goes, there’s got to be a pony in here someplace.
I’m feeling less than cheery now, but I remain optimistic. I know that, with a little patience, a lot of hard work, and a lot of faith, everything will turn around. I have the resources to hold on. I have friends to listen to my weep and gnash my teeth and kick and scream. Each morning, I set an agenda and do at least a little bit to reach my goals. No, life is not always wonderful – I don’t care what anyone says. Sometimes life just isn’t much fun. But there’s always room to change or create something new or wait something out. Persistence. Perseverance. Grit. I have friends who have gone through multiple rounds of cancer and still have wonderful lives. Some have lost loved ones. Some have gone bankrupt. It seems to me that, deep inside, they knew that somewhere in that pile of manure there really was a pony. And they were right. And so am I.
And What Does This Have To Do With You and With Coaching?
Everything. When I look for a coach, I want someone who doesn’t think everything is wonderful all the time. I like working with a coach who has had some hard times. Why? Because they’ve survived. Because they know how I’m feeling when things aren’t going well. Because they know how to help me turn things around. That’s what makes them good. That’s what makes me good.
I know as sure as I’m writing these words that when I feel like one foot is over the cliff and the other is on a banana peel, something magical is about to happen. I know how to wait out any sense of impending doom – and I help my clients do the same.
So, yes – I believe in positive thinking and intentions and affirmations. And I also believe that sometimes compassion, common sense, support, and a good plan are better. So, if you’re feeling down, find a good partner and a couple of shovels. I promise – there’s a pony in your future.
It’s All in the Question
You might – or might not – be surprised at how much the question you ask influences the answers you get. Sometimes, seemingly similar questions will bet you to very different places. I’ve found, for example, that “What if?” is very popular among motivational speakers. I’ve also found that for many people, it leads to catastrophizing instead of exploring possibilities. “What if” stops some people dead in their tracks. “Why not?” might be just what you need to open possibilities.
My recent trip to the Highline is a good look at what happens when you ask “Why not?”.
Me (well, my shadow) taking pictures on the Highline
For many years, the old railroad spur on the far west side of Manhattan was nothing more than an eyesore. There were periodic moves to tear it down.
A bit of history from Wikipedia:
“The High Line (also known as the High Line Park) is a 1.45-mile-long (2.33 km) New York City linear park built inManhattan on an elevated section of a disused New York Central Railroad spur called the West Side Line. Inspired by the 3-mile (4.8-kilometer) Promenade plantée (tree-lined walkway), a similar project in Paris completed in 1993, the High Line has been redesigned and planted as an aerial greenway and rails-to-trails park.”
From Wikipedia: “The High Line viaduct, then a portion of the New York Connecting Railroad’s West Side Line, opened to trains in 1934. It originally ran from34th Street to St. John’s Park Terminal at Spring Street, and was designed to go through the center of blocks rather than over the avenue. It connected directly to factories and warehouses, allowing trains to load and unload their cargo inside buildings. Milk, meat, produce, and raw and manufactured goods could be transported and unloaded without disturbing traffic on the streets. This also reduced the load for the Bell Laboratories Building (which has housed the Westbeth Artists Community since 1970), as well as for the former Nabisco plant in the Chelsea Market building, which were served from protected sidings within the structures.”
Why Not Create a Park?
As trucks replaced trains, the spur fell into disrepair and disuse. In the late 90’s, a railroad enthusiast asked, why not preserve this piece of railroad history and create a park? Now, people come from all over the world to walk the Highline and enjoy the landscaping, bask in the sunshine, enjoy a snack and admire the skyline and waterfront.
My Highline Adventure
So why was I on the Highline instead of in front of my computer? I had materials to review for a new course I’m teaching. I had blog posts to write. I had an assignment to complete for a course I’m taking and a call for that course. There’s a (virtual) stack of books I want to finish reading. I need to organize materials for a new book project.
Well, after a freezing weekend, the weather had shifted back to early autumn. It was over 70. The sun was shining. So, I said, “why not?” I packed up my Kindle, my iPad and my phone. I added colored markers and a large pad so I could work on content mindmaps. My office was now portable, and off I went.
I could have easily talked myself out of going. But I wanted an adventure. And it was a wonderful and productive afternoon.
Say “Why Not?”
Next time you’re feeling a little bored or a little stuck, let your mind wander. What do you really want to be doing? Then go out and do it. As you create your own wise, wild and wonderful life, you’ll find opportunities for adventures big and small available to you every day. Go out and have an adventure and come back and share it here!