Embrace Your Whole Life

Dad and daughter
Image by Peter Werkman via Flickr

How would it be to open your arms and embrace your whole life, to take a fresh peek in every corner, explore every dream, pay attention to everyone and everything that matters to you.  What would it be like to expand your focus to all segments of your life, not just the few areas that feel important to you right now?

It’s so easy for life to get lopsided.  As we struggle to accomplish what we want – get that degree, move up the corporate ladder, raise our children – we can get so caught up in what we’re focusing on that we ignore other meaningful areas of our lives.  We end up missing out on the richness of life, the dessert of life that comes after the meat and potatoes of day-to-day living.

A great way to expand your vision is to use what I call The Whole Life Inventory.  The inventory provides a snapshot of all aspects of your life, giving you information on how satisfied you really are.

Create An Action Plan

Here’s how:

  1. On a piece of paper list the following eight life areas:  Career, Health, Money, Friends and Family, Fun and Recreation, Physical Environment (your house, town, etc), Significant Other/Romance, Personal Growth (includes spirituality).
  2. Rate each area of a scale of 1 – 10 with 1 being unfulfilled, and 10 being very fulfilled.  This reflects how satisfied you are with each area in your life.  Write the scores next to each area.
  3. Next, rank each area by how important it is to you, giving the most important area a 1, the next most important area a 2 and down to the least important area which would get an 8.  Write the ranking next to the scores.
  4. Take a look at your inventory, what do you notice?  Are there any areas that scored high in importance and low in satisfaction?  These are the areas that you may be neglecting, areas that you know are important but can’t seem to find time for.
  5. For those areas that scored high in importance and low in satisfaction, ask yourself “What would make this area fulfilled, what would make it a “10”?  For example, if “Family and Friends” is important to you, but you have a low satisfaction score, examples of things that might make the area a “10” could be to seek out friends with interests similar to yours, spend more time with your children, or schedule more frequent visits with relatives.
  6. Now it’s time to act!  Identify one action step for each area you identified in step 5 and schedule time for the activities in the next few weeks. Some people may feel overloaded at this point, so keep the steps as small as necessary and give yourself enough time.  Just remember that as long as you’re working on one action step you’re making progress!

It’s refreshing and invigorating to step back and look at your whole life.  If you’re like most of us, there are things you love that you’ve been neglecting.  Spending more time with loved ones, exploring a hobby that invigorates you, creating a plan to improve your career or earn extra money – this is the most direct route to adding richness and depth to your life.

Letting Go

I’ve lived a life that was very different than the life I’m living now.  I worked for a major corporation and earned a six-figure salary. I owned a convertible and my vacation souvenirs were diamond jewelry.

Then I was laid off.  Even though my co-workers and I had been warned that there were going to be layoffs, I somehow assumed that my assortment of skills and reputation for high quality work would protect me.  It didn’t.

As I write this its several years later.  By now I’ve been joined by many, if not most, of my friends in this world of layoffs.  Although we all talked about the possibility, none of us truly expected it.  And when it hit it was devastating.

When I consider my friends’ and my reaction to the loss of our jobs from a broader perspective, I realize that our pain isn’t just a result of what we lost, it’s also a reflection of our attachment to what we had.  The reality is that most of us live day-to-day with the unconscious assumption that things will never change, that what we have now is somehow permanent, ours to own.

The end of the assumption of “forever” eventually comes to all of us in some form, whether it’s the loss of a job, or a loved one, a relationship, a lifestyle, a home – the list goes on and on.  After we lose what we thought we would always have we recognize that nothing is forever.  And, because we’re human, our first reaction to this new reality is fear.

What drives this fear is the belief that if we lose what we have now there will be nothing to replace it.  We cling to the present not because we love it, but because it’s what we know.  In reality, I had come to hate the job I lost. I was no longer growing and learning – by the time I was laid off the only skill I was still sharpening was tolerance.  But when I walked out the door for the last time I still felt as though I’d been gutted.

Trying to lock down today into forever is futile, frustrating, and foolish.  The desire to hold on to an ending career, relationship, or lifestyle doesn’t serve anyone, not you or the people who are in the game with you – your co-workers, employers, partners, family members or friends.  By focusing on what was, we close ourselves off to what could be. We never get to experience the rich world of possibility that exists outside the limits of our present life.

Now, my life is almost the opposite of what it was five years ago.  I don’t have nearly as much money but I’m rich with new friends and experiences.  Starting my own business has increased my self-confidence and I’ve discovered a love for writing that feeds my soul.

I won’t lie, sometimes I look back and miss those fat pay checks.  But most days I’m deeply grateful for the freedom I now have and for all that I’ve been able to explore and accomplish in the last few years.  With this love for my new life comes a new awareness that things won’t be like this forever and the knowledge that I need to enjoy them while they’re here.

 

What Do You Want?

My friend Ann recently ended a 37 year teaching career and, to her chagrin, she’s not finding retirement much fun.  She’s shocked at how hard it’s been to find something to fill her days, even though she’s gotten lots of well-meaning advice.

“One of my friends suggested I go back to teaching, but I don’t want to do that. Another suggested tutoring, but I don’t want to do that either.  And I don’t want to just sit around at home and do nothing, it’s so boring.  Another friend told me that I would get used to just relaxing, I just have to give it more time. But I feel like I should be doing something.   And my art!  I’m not interested in my pottery anymore, I thought when I retired I’d have plenty of time to work in my studio, but now I don’t want to!”

Yikes, it sounds like everyone Ann knows has weighed in on how she should be spending her retirement.  But the only person that who knows what’s best for Ann is Ann herself.

Here’s how she can narrow down her options:

Step #1 – Clear out the “Shoulds”

Notice all the “shoulds” in what Ann said – she should do something, she should relax, she should teach, she should still want to do her art.

When you pile on the “shoulds” your thoughts and feelings get lost under all those other voices telling you what to do.  Ann has so many shoulds that they cancel each other out – she should be relaxing, teaching and doing her art, all at the same time!

Step #2 – Narrow it down by staying broad

The next step is to start to identify what it might feel like if you already had what you want.  If you imagine that you’re in the middle of doing whatever it is you want to do, in a general, non-specific way, you can begin to identify more specific information.

Start by pretending that you’ve already achieved your goal, whether it’s finding the perfect job, spouse, or  fabulous vacation.  Then ask yourself not what it is, but what it feels like.  In Ann’s situation her questions might be:

  • What does my body feel like? (I’m active, sitting, I can feel the wind, I’m warm and cozy, etc.)
  • Where am I? (outside, inside, with people, alone, in an office, in nature, etc.)
  • What type of activity am I engaged in? (helping people, making something, building something, writing, etc.)
  • What emotions am I feeling (love and connection, freedom, silly, relaxed, in flow, etc.)

An example – If I’d answered these questions when I was figuring out that I wanted to be a Life Coach, my answers would have been something like:

I’m working alone, very relaxed, in a quiet, comfortable atmosphere.  I’m helping people in some way, I’m writing, and maybe doing something artistic.  I’m enjoying a sense of freedom at the ability to do my heart’s work.  I’m challenging myself, but in ways that I choose rather than what others might choose for me. 

Step #3 – Use your insights to start your search

Once you’ve figured out what your job/vacation/retirement activity feels like, you have the information you need to start identifying possibilities. You can use your list when you talk to friends and family and get suggestions based on what you want, not what they think you want.  And you can use your list as criteria when you start evaluating your ideas.

***

It’s clear from what Ann said that she has a lot more information than she thinks she does.  When we get rid of all her shoulds, what emerges is the beginning of a very specific and helpful list: Ann wants to DO SOMETHING (all caps, it’s not a trivial something she’s looking for), she wants to get out of her house, be active and engaged, and, clearly, she wants what she does to be new and different.

It’s easy to get caught up in what we think we should be doing, you can see by Ann’s story that when that happens progress can grind to a halt.  But when we start our search by exploring what the outcome will feel like and then narrow down our options, we’re able to cut though the noise and get to the heart of our desires.

 

 

Field Guide to the Loner: The Real Insider (Psychology Today)

This is a terrific article from Psychology Today on Introverts.  Even though in the article we’re called “loners” it does a great job of illustrating the fact that much of the time we’re quite happy to be alone.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200703/field-guide-the-loner-the-real-insiders

Networking for Introverts – Mixers & Meetings

I am an introvert. And, until I started my own business, I usually avoided groups of people I didn’t know. That changed, however, when I realized that the best place to make new contacts is networking meetings and mixers. I found that all it took was a shift in my perspective to make networking events not only easy but fun (yes, fun!).

To make the most of networking events:

#1    Relax
Most people are at networking meetings and mixers for the same reason you are – to make new contacts and build their business. Unlike parties, where people often cluster in groups that can be intimidating to break into, at networking functions people tend to mix and chat in smaller groups. Still, walking into a room of strangers can be intimidating.

Some key things to remember :

  • Keep things in perspective – you have nothing to lose. At worst you’ll waste a couple of hours, but you could end up meeting someone who’ll contribute to your success.
  • No one is focused on you, and no one will notice if you stand alone for a few minutes. And if you do stand alone and look pleasant, it’s very likely that someone will come up and talk to you.
  • It doesn’t really matter if there’s someone you don’t click with. We sometimes worry that others won’t like us, but if they don’t, so what? Just move on and find someone you have more in common with.
  • And, finally, remember, you can leave any time you want!

#2  Focus on connecting with people rather than selling them
I’ve met people at networking functions who instantly launched into an obviously memorized long-winded sales pitch for their product or service. Not only was I turned off, but I also didn’t want to recommend them to anyone else and subject others to their pitch.The best use of networking meetings is to connect with other business people who can refer potential clients to you. I’m not saying that you can’t gain clients from these functions, but I am saying that you’ll only get clients if people feel a connection to you, and for that to happen they have to get to know you a bit, and not just hear about your product. Plus, it’s a lot more fun!

#3  Be prepared
Create a short (2-3 sentence) introduction that summarizes the benefits of your service and practice it until it’s easy to remember. At informal events you can use your introduction to describe your business as you meet people. At more structured groups you may be expected to stand up and introduce yourself – if you’re prepared it’s quick and painless. It’s also helpful to write up a list of the benefits of your product and practice saying them before the meeting.

#4  Avoid overwhelm
At the first few networking meetings I went to I felt that every two minutes I was getting information I needed to act on or invitations to participate in other events, classes, or groups. I would get so overwhelmed that I was exhausted by the end of the event, and my automatic answer for all invitations became “No”.

To head off overwhelm, plan to “unpack” the event in a day or two when you have more time. At the event simply tuck business cards and brochures into your bag or folder and make notes about items you want to follow up on. This takes the immediate pressure off and gives you time to recover before trying to process everything.  I also make it a rule to never accept or refuse an invitation at a networking event. I simply respond with a pleasant “May I get back to you in the next couple of days?”   This gives me time to consider the invitation outside of the pressure of the meeting.

Networking events are great place to practice extroverting, and the more I attended the easier and more enjoyable they got.  The trick is to take the pressure off yourself and don’t worry about impressing or selling, just connect with others and enjoy yourself.

The Discomfort Zone

Map of the East Village neighborhood in Manhat...
Image via Wikipedia

We’re all familiar with our Discomfort Zone.  It’s where we’re stretched, where we’re pushing our edges.  Just the thought of traveling there can make us fearful, and many of us work hard to avoid it.  We try to protect ourselves with a list of  ”I don’ts” – “I don’t drive in the city”, “I don’t make speeches”, “I don’t go to funerals”, or simply, “I don’t know how.”

It’s pretty easy to spot the folks who make a habit of avoiding their Discomfort Zones.  It’s the guy who hates his job but won’t look for a new one.  Or the person who ignores a medical issue.  Or the woman who refuses to go to social events for her husband’s work, leaving him to make excuses for her.

If we go through life dodging our Discomfort Zone our lives get smaller and even, in some cases, shorter.  There are things we need to do to take care of ourselves and manage our lives –going to the doctor when we have those mysterious symptoms, or weathering the stress of interviewing for jobs when we’re out of work.  And there are things we want to do that might require some discomfort – learning a new skill or visiting a foreign country.

The trick to conquering our Discomfort Zone is to simply go there and stay – not forever, not beyond our limits, but long enough to move past our fears and learn what’s there to learn.  I’ve found the more often I go into my Discomfort Zone the easier it gets.  The feeling of “I’ll die if I have to do this” fades and I gain confidence as I move into the experience.

It gets easier because much of what we believe about our Discomfort Zone is fiction.  We dream up exaggerated disaster scenarios – the crowd dissolving into laughter as we make our speech, hysteria at the funeral, getting lost forever in the city.  And, fearing we won’t be able to control what happens, we lose touch with the reality that we are capable of handling difficult situations.

What usually occurs when we venture into our Discomfort Zone is that we do fine.  We even may surprise ourselves and discover we’re better than we thought at navigating the city or public speaking.  But even if our outcome isn’t perfect, even if we’re uncomfortable at the funeral, or give a speech that’s merely serviceable – we still do ok, and that’s often enough to get through the Discomfort Zone.

What’s important is that we don’t let our fears get in the way of our growth.  That we trust in the fact that the Discomfort Zone is only uncomfortable because we make it so.

Because yesterday’s discomfort might just be today’s adventure.

Copyright © 2010    From The Easy Place

Are Your Flaws Really Your Strengths?

grandmother's report card
Image by victoriabernal via Flickr

I grew up thinking that I wasn’t quite as good as other people.  I was shy, not as smart as my older brother (who was, in his words, “brilliant!”), and I wanted nothing more than to be part of the in-crowd in High School.  Finally, after muddling through college, I found a place in the work world where my organizational skills and ability to learn quickly helped me find success.

My corporate career served me well in many ways – I was able to support myself and my daughter, buy a house, and enjoy a bit of the American Dream.  But I never felt really connected to my work.  Sure I had triumphs, times of growth and recognition, but many of my personal qualities – my sensitivity, imagination and soft-heartedness were, for the most part, liabilities in that environment.

But once I’d moved on to the post-corporate world I found that the traits that had made my life difficult in the business arena became assets in my new role as a life coach.   Actually, they were more than assets, they were necessary for success.

The lesson here, I think, is that those parts of us that we wish we could change, those  “flaws” that show up on our report cards or reviews, are really only our flaws as defined by our current environment.  On the flip side of those “flaws” we often find our greatest strengths.  I struggle with public speaking but love writing.  I have a friend who is considered brash by some, but to those she protects she’s a hero.  I have another friend who believes in the goodness of everyone and would probably be chewed up in a big company, but she’s a leader and a glowing success at the school where she teaches Special Education.

When we wish we were different, we hold back what we have to offer the world, and when we do that we end up a pale imitation of the person we were meant to be.  Every personal quality we have, every quirk, is a gift.  And those quirks, those differences, they’re what make us unique, and in our uniqueness is our beauty.

Ouch, My “F”ing Heart

Heart

One of the best things about being an F is how tender-hearted we are.  And one of the hardest things about being an F is how tender-hearted we are!

Like all F’s I seek harmony.  And when one of my co-workers or loved ones is in a bad mood it’s really difficult not take it personally. My natural tendency is to make it about myself  –  “What did I do?” or “Why is he being so mean to me?”  But this is a form of self-absorption, we’re focused on our reaction, on how we feel, rather than what’s happening with the other person.  We need to shift the question from “Why is he picking on me?” to “What’s going on with him that’s upset him so much?”

Some tips for dealing with others’ upsets:

  • Shift your attention from how you feel about the situation by getting curious about what’s happening with the other person.
  • Don’t take their moods personally, even if they lash out at you or blame you – it’s not about you, it’s about them.
  • Don’t take on their pain. Your compassion helps, your hurting along with them doesn’t.
  • Don’t try to fix or soothe them – you can’t.  Telling someone the “look at the bright side”  or to “feel better” doesn’t do anything except minimize their emotions.
  • It can be really draining to spend time with someone who is dealing with a prolonged issue, so be sure to take care of yourself.  Give yourself a break and schedule fun time with friends or other family members to help you not get sucked in to the negativity.

I know, all this is easier said than done.  But it benefits everyone when you can provide a supportive, calm and grounded environment when someone close to you is upset – I like to think of it as giving the gift of being strong when they’re at their weakest.

So all you F’s out there, protect that tender heart by keeping it full of love, compassion and the kindness that comes so naturally to you.

Whoops!

When I was training to be a coach I assisted for a class at my coaching school. On the first day of an endless session where the students practiced and the assistants sat quietly at the back of the room, I got bored.  I’d brought a book  and without thinking, I asked one of the leaders if I could read during the practice session.  Had I thought about it I would have realized that this absolutely wasn’t done – no assistant had ever sat and read during any of the classes I’d attended.

As the leader very kindly explained to me why I couldn’t read during the session, my face burned with shame.  For the next two days of class I felt like a fool.  I was sure that she’d told the other instructor about my ridiculous question, and I imagined that some of their instructions over the next couple of days were directed at me, just in case I had any other brainless ideas.

I was so embarrassed I almost didn’t tell anyone, but finally I confessed to my coach, Michael.

What was Michael’s response?

“So what?” he said. “You’re human.”

And, just like that my embarrassment and shame evaporated.  I realized that although I thought my question was disastrously stupid, the leader probably hadn’t given it much thought.  And even if she had, even if she paused and thought, “Here’s a dumb one,” what did it really matter?  It’s true she was the class leader but, as Michael would say, so what?  We were both there for the same purpose – to help train coaches.

Now when I goof up it leaves a different residue.  Sure, I’m still embarrassed, and I still get that flash of “What will they think?” panic.  But it quickly fades as I reconnect with the fact my blunder is merely a moment’s lapse of judgment – nothing more.  It’s not the first mistake I’ve made and it won’t be the last.

And that’s ok, because I’m human and that’s just part of the package.

Copyright © 2010    From The Easy Place

Don’t Be a Victim

“It’s not fair!”  Don’t you hate those whiny victims – always complaining about the problems in their lives?  Why don’t they just get it together and do something about it!  Right?

Don’t look now, but chances are that on occasion you are that whiny victim, too.  The good (and bad) news is that, at times, we all are.

A toddler girl crying
Image via Wikipedia

People feel victimized when circumstances feel out of their control, when the unfairness of life impacts getting what they want, or being treated the way they feel they should be treated. And, feeling helpless, they retreat emotionally to when they were truly helpless, back into childhood, when they really didn’t have much control over their lives.  Ever notice the childish tone a person in victim mode can take?  They’re awash in the feelings they had years ago when Mommy took the candy away.

When it’s our life, when it’s happening to us, our frustration kicks in, and once that emotion takes over it’s easy to fall back into the childhood feeling of “It’s not fair!”   We become blind to the fact that we’ve fallen into helplessness.  We lose touch with the fact that we have adult powers that can help us deal with whatever is going on.  And, much of the time, we don’t even realize that we’ve made ourselves a victim.

How can we avoid becoming a victim?  We can’t.  Its human nature to feel sorry for ourselves occasionally.  The trick is recognizing when we’ve slid into helplessness and pulling ourselves out of it.

How can we tell when we’re falling into victim mode?  It’s easy – we’ve stepped into a victim role when we hear ourselves complaining without including possible resolutions.  For example, “He’s so unfair! Why is he treating me like this?” is victim language, while “He’s so unfair, and I’m talking to him about it as soon as I cool down.” is not.

How can we pull ourselves out of victim mode?  In the two statements above, feel the hopelessness of the first statement.  And the power in the second.  When we simply complain, we imply that there’s nothing we can do about the problem.  However, by identifying an action to be taken we step out of victimhood and into our personal power.

What if there’s nothing we can do about the problem?  Sometimes there are no solutions, something difficult to deal with has happened and there are no actions we can take.  In situations like these even though we can’t change the outcomes we can change how we deal with them.  By focusing on the future, on what we can impact, we can avoid hopelessness and stay connected to what’s still possible.

People who don’t make an effort to identify and correct when they’ve fallen into victim mode often end up in a destructive vicious cycle of helplessness and bitterness. We’ve all met people who are locked into the past, whose potential is derailed by events they never got over.

By making it a habit to notice when we’ve gotten stuck on our grievances and moving ourselves into action, we can stay on the track to success and growth.  We become better able to cope with the current reality and more prepared for the next “unsolvable” problem that is sure to come.