Creating light in dark days

paolo-nicolello-694104-unsplash.jpg

The last week has been intense, stressful and even overwhelming for many women (and men). I put aside the topic I had planned to write about today because I feel a pressing need to address the flood of emotion that so many are struggling with — friends, family members, clients, and my own troubling emotions.

If you have a different political orientation, and feel happy with the current state of affairs in our country, I welcome you to stop reading now.

But if, like me, you have been distressed by the political climate and you feel that hope is hard to hold onto, you are not alone. We have witnessed deeply disturbing changes put in place that impact our health and environment, damaging changes to educational and our justice system, policies that are cruel and inhumane, and unspeakable omissions such as withholding standard levels of support for everything from health insurance to help for those hit by devesting hurricanes.

And then we watched the events of the last week unfold.

A brave, articulate, remarkable, composed and credible victim of sexual assault came forward with important testimony. A nominee for a seat on the highest court in this country, for a lifetime appointment, was frighteningly partisan, shockingly emotional, and seemingly untruthful. The sham of a limited investigation gave cover to lawmakers to approve the nominee, despite the outpouring of cries not to do so from scores of women who have suffered sexual assault, scores of prominent lawyers and academics, the editorial boards of the most respected news organizations, and countless citizens.

It has felt for many that this is a new and especially frightening low, one that surpasses many points where we thought things could surely not get worse.

Which brings me to address our collective state of mind, and how we can live and move forward in such troubling times.

We have been bullied, and bullies want to silence us.
They want us to cower and hide.

I say, “No!”

I urge you to resist the temptation to go fetal, or simply wring your hands with other like-minded people, or numb yourself to all the distress. 

Here are some of the tenets of my manifesto for living a creative life that are top of mind for me today, and that you may want to consider.

1. Slow down. Be still.

In quiet we can honor ourselves and have time to feel our emotions. And, we can collect our thoughts. This is important self-care that provides a foundation for taking action.

2. Live without fear.

Fear paralyzes, which is why it’s used by powerful people to quiet those they don’t want to hear from. Two sure antidotes to fear are love and action. Start by surrounding yourself with people you love, who fill your heart with good, positive energy, and who you can shower with love.

Filled with this positive energy you will think more clearly and be able to consider the actions that you can take to influence the situation in positive ways. In this circumstance, you can actively work to get like-minded people out to vote in great numbers. You can send financial support to candidates and causes you are aligned with. You can show up at rallies and be counted among the masses who will not be cowed.

3. Tap your passion.

Your passion connects you to your heart, your beliefs and your values. Let these guide you each day, and they will serve you well.

4. Live boldly.

Being bold requires that you think big. When you are bold you speak your mind. You show up to support the causes that matter to you, and encourage others with shared sentiments to do the same.

5. Create!

We all have the capacity to create our futures, rather than resigning ourselves to being passive, or worse yet, victims. When we adopt the mindset of a creator, life is full of vast possibilities, and we can be agents of change. Creativity can resolve confusion and inspire effective action. Test it and see what happens. Then keep reminding yourself that you are a creator until it is embedded in your thinking.

6. Be patient.

The challenges we face are huge, and there are few quick fixes for the changes that are needed. We must be patient and diligent as we work to turn the tide on so many fronts.

7. Carry on.

As we work as individuals and together to create a better future, new challenges will show up. Setbacks are inevitable. These will test us. We must live with intention and return to the themes discussed above as needed. We can and must maintain our commitment and persevere.

Our nation has rebounded from other dark periods, and often come out of them stronger than before. It’s by standing together and staying committed that we will turn the tide and restore justice, decency and honor, to live up to the true values of our nation. We have been the light of the world and we can be that light again.

I invite you to join me in voting in the coming election, in working to get all committed citizens to the polls, in supporting candidates with values worthy of our respect, and to staying the course for the big work that lies ahead for all of us.

Returning to center — and staying the course

IMG_4488sm.jpg

As long-time readers will recall, I frequently refer to our culture of “too busy,” as it relates to so many challenging issues.

Living a life that is too busy has been an ongoing struggle for me, and it is something that challenges nearly all of my clients. The impact of long-term too-busyness takes a huge toll on us, and dramatically limits our ability to live big.

Living at a frantic pace becomes the norm for so many of us that we often do not recognize the problem. We impose short deadlines on projects we’re excited about, or we feel outside pressure to push ourselves, and thus become accustomed to daily fatigue. We pride ourselves on being master multi-taskers. We ignore the warning signs (read stress, impatience, insomnia, and more) that tell us things are out of balance. We do not face the truth — that there’s a price to pay for this continued way of living.

Why do we tolerate this? 

For one, we see so many people around us living the same way. Our culture not only encourages, but celebrates, incredible hard work and unceasing drive. Those messages are pervasive, and make us feel like slackers if we don’t “measure up.” Not only do we think living frantically is normal — it is often portrayed as a virtue.

This is wrong.

We are human beings. We need to BE more. We need to DO less.

I know this, and yet I often fall into the trap of pushing myself too hard. In the last 6 months I drove myself to accomplish important things that I am very proud of, and that make me happy. But, by the end of the summer I found myself so exhausted that I realized I needed to make a real change.

My body said, “Enough!” And, my spirit felt as if it would collapse if I kept going at this pace. Another clue was that people around me frequently expressed concern about how tired I appeared to be. With a scheduled vacation coming up, I told myself to hang in, rest up while away, and all would be well.

So, here I am, writing to you from the glorious Rocky Mountains. The air is magnificent. The sky is gorgeous and vistas are breathtaking. I have made this a week for BEING, and very little DOING. My husband and I could surely have filled our days with outings and activities. Instead, we have made this a week of sleeping until we awake naturally (no alarms!), having nothing scheduled aside from a massage, reading in front of the fireplace, movie-watching, many meandering walks, lingering over lovely meals, and thoughtful conversations.

This has been a week of returning to center for me.

But had I not had a vacation planned in advance, I’d have needed to find other ways to re-center. I had reached the point where it was a necessity.

If you are reading this and thinking that you need to slow down and return to center, consider these suggestions:

1. Unwind for a few days — or more
A low-key vacation is a wonderful way to shift into a new space, if you can take one. And, it doesn’t need to entail a plane ride. A nearby locale can feel as special as a distant destination.

And, if going away is not feasible, you can create the space to make the shift at home. It will likely be more challenging to stay in your usual environment, but it can work.

And, even two or three days can make a world of difference.

Start by choosing when you will clear your calendar for a day or two, or longer. (Yes, this will likely entail canceling plans you’ve made, but your well-being is worth it!) Choose dates within the next couple of weeks — don’t put this off unless it’s absolutely imperative to wait.

2. Disconnect with intention
First, create an away message, even for a day or two. By declaring to the world that you are unavailable, those who email you will not expect a response. It’s liberating! And what’s more, you declare to yourself that this is time you are disconnecting.

Turn your phone off for big blocks of time — or for your entire dedicated time to rest.

Consider drawing a hot bath to sink into, and decide if silence or music will be most soothing. Choose beautiful places to walk, where you can marvel at nature. You may want to visit a museum or galleries and get inspired.

Make it a priority to eat fresh foods, and slowly savor the flavors. You can choose a variety of restaurants, or combine meals out with cooking for fun, creative experiences.

3. Plan ahead for re-entry
All the rest and re-centering of your down-time will be for naught if you resume a crazy pace after your time away. You may want to read (or re-read) my thoughts about simplifying a busy life, in posts about the gift of simplifyingsaying,“No!”, and cleaning up emotional clutter.

As I look ahead to returning home next week, I realize that the benefits of my time away will evaporate unless I commit to making serious changes. I have identified my top priorities and decided to defer other projects. Committing only to efforts that I most value now will provide satisfaction and will enable to me reach meaningful goals, while allowing me to live at a pace that will sustain me for the long-haul.

I have decided on my highest priorities for the rest of the year, as well as considering what I want to add in the year ahead. I have not only deferred some of the exciting initiatives I have had in mind, I will do them over a longer time. This will allow me to accomplish big things but at a healthier pace.

I invite you to make a plan to return to center and commit to consciously creating a new, saner pace for your life. Are you willing to make that commitment?

If you have questions, or want to consider getting support to make these important initiatives a reality in your life, let’s talk. This is big, important work, and you do not need to do it alone.

And, if this post resonates with you, or you have found good ways to get back to center and sustain it, I welcome you to share your thoughts below. 

Say good-bye to reacting and hello to creating the life you want

danielle-macinnes-222441.jpg

By now, most of us have returned from summer vacations and a season of living at a more laid-back pace. We’re getting into gear for the fall. Children are back in school or installed in their college dorms. With recollections of Labor Day fading fast, work is back in full swing. It’s filling our schedules with meetings, imposing deadlines, and making us feel pressured — whether you are in a corporate job, you work for yourself, or you are in the midst of a transition and engaged in activities related to seeking new work.

The change of the calendar and season can also make it easy to fast-forward to envisioning the series of holidays that will start to roll out, to feeling concerned about last-quarter demands, and to feeling self-imposed pressures. I am observing this energy in women all around me now.

What about you? Have you checked in with yourself to observe the way you are responding to the start of the autumn season? Are you thinking about specific ways to shift from the stress that can so easily creep in and impact your state of mind? Are you attempting to achieve more balance in your life? 

Most of us feel powerless when external forces burden us. After all, our kids’ homework must be checked, we must prepare for the meetings that are coming up, we must hustle to bring in new business. We often feel there are no options. How can we possibly make time to sit quietly and reflect, or thoughtfully plan?

The truth is that you have agency in your life
You have more power to shape your life than you may think. Rather than living reactively, you can create the ways forward that will work best for you. This is a state of mind you can learn to adopt, and doing that can be a game-changer.

It starts with realizing you have choices
You may not have considered that you always have choices — and you get to choose what’s best for you. Instead of reacting on impulse — to an ultimatum, to a request you feel obliged to say “yes” to, to the dynamics at play in any given situation, or even to self-imposed expectations — you can slow down and consider your options. You always have choices, even if they differ completely from what’s being thrown at you, or the ways you are accustomed to operating. 

When you slow down, you can choose the best course of action for you
Yes, I am suggesting you slow down! This is a crucial first step in the process. Without slowing down, pausing to get some perspective, and considering your options, this will not work for you. The key is this — do not respond or hit reply right away. Get comfortable saying something like, “I’ll get back to you.” Or, in a face-to-face situation, “I need to give that some thought before I respond.” This ensures that you won’t regret your reaction or think, “Oh, I wish I had said...!” And, it means you will be creating the space to choose the response that is best for you. 

This is also important if you notice that you are falling into an “auto-pilot” habit that does not serve you. Becoming able to notice those moments lets you take a pause and consider better options for your next move.  

The option you choose now leads to more choices
Once you have taken some time to think quietly and make a choice that will create the next step that’s best for you, the process is not over. Things are rarely set in stone. Life is comprised of decisions and choices all the time. After your first step is clear, you get to take your next best step — the next step that serves you and moves you in the direction of creating the life you want.

Be aware, sometimes the options you have in front of you will not be great. But they are yours to choose from! And, be aware that you do not have to make a perfect choice every time. The key is to make the best choice for you now, having considered your options, and then pause to consider what your next best choice will be. 

A process that unfolds like this gives you the power to create the life you want, one small step at a time. You will not find yourself agreeing to something your mother or sibling or friend wants that is wrong for you. You will no longer agree to do something that is in conflict with your integrity. This approach can end the detriment to your physical or emotional well-being to the demands of outside people and outside forces — or, to your habits of self-sacrifice. This deliberate way of living gives you perspective and helps you to create the calm and balance you need to thrive.  

Are you ready to test this yourself?
Why not try out this approach today? See when you notice yourself reacting on the spot. Then, see if you can remember to stop and take a pause, to think before you react. 

It’s great if you can start testing out this approach with something that’s not really loaded. But, if something big and important shows up today, it will be a perfect time to at least pause and think before your react. 

This effort will call on you to be alert to yourself
And, it may call on you to be willing to do something that’s uncomfortable, if a choice you make is not what someone wants or expects to hear from you. Do you feel willing to try it out and see what results show up?

Be sure to reflect on what it feels like to make a choice that you have actually considered, and that you know is best for you, and to then use that as your response. And, reflect on how it feels as you use your choice to set a clear direction for what you will do next.  

If you believe in yourself, and make a commitment to bringing this new awareness and approach into your life, you are sure to see important shifts take place. You deserve to live this way — to create the life that’s right for you.

I’d love to hear from you
Let me know how this works for you. Leave a comment below, or contact me directly to share your story or questions. 

Getting lost on purpose

Life is super busy for most of us. I hope that you are slowing down a bit this summer.

Taking a real vacation is rejuvenating and important. Sadly, many of us feel so much pressure to work and accomplish that we don’t make vacations a priority, and entrepreneurs and consultants are most likely to work without a break. Without taking time for ourselves — for rest, relaxation, to do nothing, to simply play and have fun — we hurt ourselves.

What about you? Have you already taken some time off to enjoy the summer? Are you looking forward to an upcoming vacation before the fall season arrives?

And, here’s another question: Are you making the most of the summer season even when you are not getting away? Are you slowing the hectic pace a bit and finding ways to live with less stress even before or after a vacation? 

I am often asked about how to cope with the grind of work and the pressure of fitting in personal time and self-care amidst a demanding work schedule. This is a universal challenge in our culture.

There is a lot of advice we hear for coping with the physically — and emotionally — challenging problem of overwork and stress. And, I don’t disagree that things like meditating in the morning, or getting to the gym for a workout, or sinking into a warm bath at the end of a long day are great suggestions.

But I have another idea to share that you may never have heard about. It does not require a lot of time and it’s free. What could be better than that combination to easily take some stress out of your life?

I urge you to try getting lost on purpose
Why? Because when you let yourself wander without an agenda, without knowing what you will find, you are open to surprise. And open to delight. And open to unexpected wonder. Letting yourself be spontaneous and open to whatever you may discover, and delighting in the surprises (even if you come across something like a decaying old factory rather than a scenic babbling brook), fires up your brain. It inspires you and prompts you to think differently. It ignites creativity and opens you to new possibilities.

Ready to give it a try?

Find a natural time to get lost
If you are driving home after a meeting or after running errands, why not allow yourself a few minutes to explore? Purposely turn off the road into an area you have never been. It can be an exit from the highway you have never used, or you might go down a street near your home or office you that you’ve never driven on. 

Turn off your GPS! 
This is a time to follow your nose and see what’s around you. You may find yourself on a country road that is peaceful and beautiful. You may see architecture you did not expect in the area — like a modern house or a historic home painted in unusual colors. You may be shocked at the way an area has become overdeveloped or run down. You may come across an impressive mural. You may see gardens full of exotic plants.

You may find a tucked-away little park, like I did within a mile of my home, that I never knew existed. When you find yourself in an interesting place, get out of your car and explore on foot. Sit down on a bench and look around. It may be a place you’ve never been or someplace you have driven past a hundred times without stopping. 

It’s really fun to walk in a place you think you know and let yourself wander aimlessly. Look at what's around you with open eyes. You may read the plaque on statue of a man on a horse and learn something fascinating. You may wander through a church graveyard and marvel at beautiful headstones that go back to the 17th century. You may feel inspired to pull out your phone and take some photos of the wonder around you

Share your experiences
When you are excited about new experiences and discoveries, it’s great to share them. Social media sharing has become a ritual for many people, so why not share your micro-vacation that way, just like you would a week at the beach? And I urge you to share your experiences with family and friends — in real-life conversations. When you speak about what happened, you may find that new levels of insight emerge.

These short excursions are like taking mini-vacations — they will lift your spirits and refresh your thinking. You are likely to find that great new ideas come to you as you explore, much the way ideas often come like “magic” when you are in the shower. That’s because you are allowing your overactive brain a little time to be relaxed and just play. And you will have given yourself a little gift — the gift of time just for you with no agenda.

Many of my clients have tried this little idea and have reported back that getting lost on purpose was wonderful. They report that the peace and pleasure of their short excursions have a big positive impact on the rest of their day, and opened up their thinking in surprising ways.

So, why not give yourself this little gift? This is a simple way to de-stress and inspire yourself, any time you are out and about.

If you want to share your experiences, add a comment below. I would love to hear what getting lost on purpose was like for you.

The trap of going it alone

Is there a big lesson you’ve learned the hard way in your life? A key lesson for me had to do with feeling like I had to do it all on my own. And I see it all the time in my coaching work. Lots of people are hung up on this issue.

Why do so many of us feel that if we don't figure it all out and do it all ourselves, we’re not good enough? Not smart enough? Not working hard enough? Not proving how capable we are?

This has been coming up over and over, so I want to shed light on the subject.

1. The root of the “I have to do it myself” mindset.

My story stemmed from a parent who was self-made (and very successful), and who took great pride in having done it all on his own. But the unspoken subtext of that message took me a long time to identify: there was shame if you needed to reach out for help. So, I was determined to prove my ability to do it all on my own. And that took a toll on me in many ways.

It was, frankly, impossible to be great at everything that needed to be done in my business, and exhausting to carry such a huge load in my family at the same time. When I finally sought help of many kinds, the pace of success in my work — and my personal life — was thrilling. (Early additions to what I think of as my “team” included my housekeeper, and later a brilliant coach. More recent additions to my team have been a fantastic bookkeeper and a great virtual assistant. Each person I bring into the mix lets me do more of what only I can do, and lets me do it better.)

Do you know the root of your story about doing it all on your own?

2. The “Am I worth it?” trap.

I see a lot of people who feel unworthy of asking for or getting help. This is a sign that lots more self-love is needed! Because we all deserve what’s best for us and what will let us be our best in the world. And, while making a financial investment in ourselves may feel daunting, there are options even when resources are limited. If you are a whiz at writing marketing copy, try and barter with someone who has a skill you need (say, nutritious cooking or deep-tissue massage) and would benefit from your services. Be creative to get the help that will make your life and work smoother and less stressful.

3. The “Where do I start?” question.

All of us are different, and we have different needs at different times in our lives. There's no “formula” for what help will be the most beneficial for you. You may need coaching support to make an important career change. You may need a great pet-sitter so you can travel on short notice without stress. Maybe investing in a personal trainer is what will make the biggest difference for you in the next year. Perhaps the services of a professional organizer will help you to resolve chronic low-level stress you feel when working in your office. Take the time to think about all aspects of your life and work, as you consider the kind of support that will benefit you the most. Then make it a priority to find the help you need.

Do you have a story about doing it all on your own — or what happened when you brought great help into your life? I’d love to hear it. Please leave a comment below.