Turning On Your Success Faucet

I’m not a New Year’s Resolution type of person. For me it runs much deeper. I set “Intentions” that are based upon my deeper life goals. My intentions form the basis of my decisions when choosing which tool I will select from my inner toolbox and how I will employ it as I make choices all year long. When faced with a decision, I ask myself, “What choice takes me closer to my goal? Does this align with my intention?” You should know that these are not ordinary goals; they are the heart-filled keys to my success. Success that starts in my inner world and is mirrored in my outer success.

Many of my clients come to me saying, “I don’t know what I want to do next. I just know it’s not what I’ve been doing.” These are executives and professionals with many of the trappings of externally based success. What they are seeking is more than just a new job, they are looking for satisfaction, a sense of meaning from what they do – I call it inner success. In my experience, nearly every one of them does know, deep inside, what it is they want to do, they simply need some help in the excavation work. And when they tap into this inner success, it shines brightly in their external success.

In the process of digging deeply into this tomb where our desires have been buried, we start with the question “What do you want? No, I mean REALLY want!” When I first asked myself this question, I realized that the part of me I’ve come to call my Wanter was broken. Long ago, I had learned how to determine what was available to me and then make myself seem happy with whatever crumb was offered, instead of discerning what I truly wanted and then being willing to do what it took to get what I wanted, really wanted, deep down. Perhaps you, too, have lived under the admonition to “be practical” or you squelch your desires before they even have a breath with phrases like “it isn’t realistic.” How do you know what is possible if you don’t allow yourself to even know what you want?

Too many of us decide what we want based on what we were told we should want. Every day, I talk with clients who, after completing medical school or law school, have practiced a profession for decades, because that’s what their parents thought they should be doing. Or men and women with MBA’s who tell me that following their dreams now would be a waste of all that education. Or that the debt they’ve amassed creating the illusion of external success has them feeling trapped. I am always amazed how people seemingly at the pinnacle of their careers, are secretly unhappy and wonder why. These are wonderful people who have houses or cars or activities or entire lives that are founded on having what the culture has defined as markers of success. Yet, they are caught in the meat grinder of wanting what cannot fill them up.

See if this you can relate to this scenario. You and a friend are meeting for dinner while you’re away on business. Your friend suggests a restaurant that you don’t know anything about but he says got great reviews. When you arrive at the restaurant, it’s impressive, but on your first scan of the menu, nothing jumps out at you. Disappointed, you take a second look, deciding to choose something from what is available. While your stomach will be full at the end of the meal, and surely you’ll have enjoyed conversation with your friend, and can brag at home about going to such a fine restaurant, you end up grabbing a candy bar from the mini-bar back in your hotel room as you flick on the TV to watch The Daily Show.

Now imagine this scenario. Your friend asks you what you’d like to eat for dinner and you tell him you have been craving eggplant parmagiano. He suggests a little Italian bistro near your hotel. You order the eggplant parm. Your mouth is delighted, your tummy hums and you and your friend linger long into the night catching up on each other’s lives. As you tuck into your hotel room that night, you feel satisfied and notice the smile on your face and how it’s coming from deep inside you.

What’s the difference? You knew what you wanted and when you got it, it satisfied more than just an externally motivated part of you.

That deeper satisfaction comes from aligning our external actions with our inner goals. It is the secret to your success. Those of us who are fulfilling our inner goals have what seems like effortless success. We are using our talents and expressing our values. But getting to those inner goals requires looking beyond status, power and other people’s opinions. It requires looking beyond what’s simply available to choose from and trying to make yourself happy with it and, instead, delving into your own heart’s wanting. Maybe this year, for Valentine’s Day, you might give yourself or your sweetheart a chance to live a heartfelt life. I have put together some ideas here.

I frequently ask my clients questions like these:

  • What is the legacy you want to leave behind marking your life in the world?
  • If you knew you could not fail, what would you do?
  • What would you do if all jobs paid the same and had the same prestige?
  • When in your life have you been most joy-filled and engaged?
  • What is your secret dream?
  • What are the barriers to combining happy and successful in your life?

In April, I will be hosting a 3-day workshop in Scottsdale, Arizona called Tapping Your Inner Wealth. This workshop will be focused on working in person with a small group of men and women to identify your inner success and make it shine as your outer wealth. If you are unable to join me live in Scottsdale, I will be launching an eight week online telecourse in May to help you Turn on Your Own Tap of Success or you can schedule a phone session with me by clicking on the link in the sidebar at the upper right of this column.

Before you decide that what you want is impossible for yourself, I ask you to reframe that statement and see if really the way to read the word impossible is “I’m possible”.

What Am I Really Worth?

It’s that time of year, firms are starting to do year-end planning and employees are starting to get antsy wondering “What will my bonus be this year?”  Just like clockwork, the recruiters at Pinnacle Group start getting calls from candidates and clients alike, asking what market comp is looking like for 2012.  It seems that everyone wants to be reassured of their value.  Candidates want to make sure they’re not getting the short end of the stick and firms want to be sure they’re not overpaying for their talent.  Because Pinnacle Group recognizes the value of being able to offer reasonable guidance on these issues for the financial services community, it has again prepared a Compensation Study suggesting guidelines for the 2011-2012 bonus/salary season.

Are you antsy yet, wondering where I’ve hidden the link so you can look right away and determine whether you’re being undercompensated?  If so, you’re like most of the people we have talked to over the years.  I am going to tell you where the link is, but only because it would be mean of me to tell you I have it and then not give it to you.  But, first, I’m going to ask you to reflect on why this chart will be so influential on your state of mind.

One of the things that I’ve observed, first as an employee, then as a business owner and later as a mentor but always as a wife/daughter/sister/friend is that how we value ourselves is a constantly moving target.  We typically base our determination of our worth or our value on external criteria, things totally out of our control, and those criteria that we look to can inflate or deflate us in an instant.

I’ve seen it play out in my own life, countless times.  When I was a young lawyer, I was working at a firm I generally liked. I was succeeding at bringing in business, frequently shined as a top biller and was doing lots of networking and marketing that promised a bright future with clients I liked and whose lives I was impacting in a way that felt genuinely good to me.  The firm I worked for had a policy of keeping associates of the same class at the same pay.  I’m sure it had a reason, but we derisively referred to it as “lock-step” pay.  First years made X, Second years mad X + a little and so on.

Because I just knew that I was “special”, I pleaded my case to my assigned mentor (ps. can I say that mentorship is not something you can “assign” but which comes through organically grown respect and a genuine desire to help someone – but that’s another column!).  I showed my mentor my spreadsheet of hours billed (mine vs others), the clients I had generated and tooted my own horn about why I was entitled to a little boost of $5,000 more than the other associates in my class.  I told him sincerely that would make me happier and ensure that I continued to be a productive member of the firm. He patiently heard my presentation with genuine interest and then told me that he was not going to support my petition for more money.  I was floored … and hugely disappointed. How dare they not offer me this pittance I was asking for, after all I was doing for them! Early the following year, I looked for a job at another firm where “I would be appreciated and my real value recognized.”

I did find that job, and I took my growing stable of clients with me, and the new firm did pay more money than where I had been.  I felt appreciated and valuable again.  For a while.  But something funny was happening inside me, I started to become unhappy again when I realized that associates at other firms were making more than me.  Even more inflaming to me was when I learned that partners at my own firm, who neither billed as many hours as me nor generated as much new business as me, were making substantially more money than me!  Will you be shocked to learn that I, yet again, became unhappy with my work and my choice of firm and felt undervalued and unappreciated?

So on I moved, taking my now quite big stable of business with me and started my own firm, where in the first year I made a pittance of what I had made in my prior job, but I was in charge of my own destiny and I knew then I would be happy.  No one would ever again undervalue what I was worth.  I began building my platform and my empire.

Yet, in the next chapter of my career, I found that my own inner hungry ghost wanted more!  So then I worked hard to generate more clients, to hire associates and paralegals and staffers of my own to leverage, and on and on … and each of them generated a little bit more for me.  The problem was that they, too, wanted to feel valued and appreciated the same way I did.  They each wanted more money.  I couldn’t understand why they didn’t understand that there was only so much money to go around.  After all, I built this business and they worked for me and, yes, of course, they were valued and appreciated.  Why did they need to derive their self-worth from their paycheck?

The cycle continued for years and, as many of you know, one day I had a quantum moment where I realized that I wasn’t happy and it didn’t have anything to do with how much money I made.  I had plenty of toys in the garage, but no time to play with them.  Somehow the relationships in my life were disintegrating because I had spent no part of me in nurturing them.  Most importantly, I wasn’t really enjoying what it was that I was doing anymore and I had stopped seeing that serving my clients was a privilege of trust from them.  I am embarrassed to say that I had started to see them and their problems as “revenue sources” for me and my firm of hungry mouths.  When I looked inside, I recognized that I had lost my internal compass of value and self worth and was looking to my bank account and my possessions on display to determine the answer to the question “How am I doing?”

Compared to what?  Compared to others?  Compared to a compensation chart of “averages”?  One thing I knew about myself was that I was absolutely not average! So if a chart said that the average was X to X times 5, then I expected to be compensated at or above the X times 5 marker. If I wasn’t being compensated at that rate, then I just flat-out knew that whoever had control over the resources was undervaluing me and my happiness rate plummeted.  Do you see my story as a mirror of you?

As long as I was looking outside myself to another marker, another person, another comment, to determine whether I was being properly valued, I was missing the only true source of my value.  I could change firms, chase more clients or deals, bill more hours, earn even more money and yet my source of value and happiness was constantly at risk.

Friends and colleagues coached me during this existential crisis to “Just do it for a couple of more years, work a little harder, bill more hours or hire another couple of associates, or join a different firm, and you’ll be set for life and THEN you can go do what makes you happy.”  That siren song was oh-so seductive!  After all, was I really THAT unhappy?  Maybe my unhappiness could be remedied by just another bump in what I earned.  Everyone said that was the answer and it certainly seemed easier than figuring out what my unhappiness was really about.  For me, as long as I was looking outside myself to decide if I was happy or unhappy based on the amount of money I was making, the answer was that something under there that I had to ferret out.  If I could get to the bottom of it, I could decide what needed to change.

What I ultimately learned was that the answer to the question “What am I worth?” comes from inside me and it never changes.  Through much hard inner work, I am proud to say to you that I resonate with the knowledge that my value comes from the fact I am contributing every day to making lives around me better in real and tangible ways.  The smile I offer to the worn out clerk at the grocery store, the way I thank by name the server who brings my dinner at a restaurant which makes him feel seen, the way I nurture my husband and my relationships.  These are the priceless markers of my worth and my value.

Yes, I have to make a living, and so do you.  I like to go on vacations and have pretty things.  But I no longer mistake these trinkets for the real thing. They aren’t substitutes for happiness, they are merely accessories to it.  Money IS important.  None of our mortgage holders accept smiles and kind words as payment and your child’s day care center won’t likely barter with you instead of swiping your credit card.  But it is within each of us to determine our own true worth and our happiness with the work we do, not to allow it to be set or even swayed by the figures on our paychecks or the numbers on a compensation chart or whether we have a boat or a Ferrari.

Winston Churchill said:

“We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.”

Here is the 2011-2012 Compensation Study.

The Risks of Using Call Waiting

“Denise, there’s a call on line 1 for you.  He wouldn’t give me his name and said ‘you’d know what he was calling about’.”

“Can’t you see I have my Do Not Disturb light on?”  I replied.  “Tell whoever it is I’m busy and I’ll call him back later.”  My assistant answered that the caller said he would hold until I was ready.  I hated sales people who were that obnoxious and couldn’t hear “No” and I brushed her off impatiently with a “Fine, he can hold until I’m good and ready then!”

I went back to the project I was working on, aggravated at yet another interruption.  I was behind the eight ball already on this day, with a to-do list longer than my arm and the end of the month looming ahead of me.

Years ago, my husband had asked me what I wanted for Christmas.  Only half-jokingly, I had answered “Eight extra hours a day so I can catch up on what I always have undone at the end of each day!”  He bought me an Ipod instead, commenting that if I had more hours I would likely just try to fit more in on my schedule.   I remembered that I needed to try to find time to upload some music for relaxation onto my Ipod and wondered if there was a teenager to whom I could outsource that task.

As I was turning out the light to leave the office, late that night, I noticed that the hold light was blinking on my phone.  I picked it up and said impatiently, “This is Denise.  Who is this?”

The voice on the other end of the line said, “It’s your life.  I’ve been waiting for you.”

I dropped the phone and started thinking about how long I had been avoiding this call.

For years now, everything else came first, that is … everything that felt like an obligation or a distraction.  Each time I heard the whisper of this call, I filled my hours with something – another project, another committee obligation, another anything – just so I wouldn’t have to sit with the voice of this caller who wanted me to look at the meaning of my life and why I was here.  I avoided this call because I was afraid I would have to do something about what I heard if I listened.

How does the call of your life haunt you?  Does it come from inside you on Sunday night when you start dreading your return to the office.  Is it the pain in your heart when you hear your six year old daughter cry because you’re leaving on another business trip that will have you away from home more nights instead of tucking her in and reading her The Velveteen Rabbit.  Maybe your calling sings the familiar song “I Should Do Something” when you read about the people who have lost everything in the latest weather disaster and you wish you could get that song out of your head and just get back to enjoying American Idol.

Calls are serious business.  Responding to them is how we make something worthwhile out of our lives. Listen here to a recording on finding the courage to listen to your call.

Not every call is a blockbuster, star-making epic.  One or two of them may take up most of our time, but other more urgent calls weave their way into our lives from time to time.  Some of them, like being a nurturing, attentive parent or riding out the illness of a friend who needs our extra attention, engage our minds and our hearts and do not earn us accolades or cover photos on national magazines.  Others draw us deep beneath the noise of social conventions and impact lives in unimaginable ways.

It is neither the duration nor the visibility of the call that matters.  A life-changing call engages your ability to listen to both the subtle and obvious messages that rise within you and to see the nuance of something transcendent in the role before you.  You answer the call through your willingness to move beyond merely filling the role or carrying out the duties a task requires by choosing to imbue your intention and your courage into your actions.

When you get serious about answering your call, mentors and supporters will appear.  They will guide you with teachable moments and they will appeal to your innate human longing to be more than what you presently are.  As you move toward embodying your calling, they will help you draw upon your courage to step into the potential that sounds quietly in your dreams.

You have a choice, to just live your life, work a job, and fulfill a role or to commit to answering a series of worthy calls within this life of yours.  Listen carefully to the whispers and shouts of your callings and answer them with all the passion and cleverness at your disposal.  Use every means of introspection and mentorship available to you to help you find the courage to answer the call to make a difference – both where you find yourself now and in the place where your calling takes you.

After all, there’s a call for you on hold right now, all you have to do is answer it.

I work as a mentor to men and women ready to listen for their calling.  Schedule a complementary session or listen to a free sample of my new e-learning program on finding your true calling.

 

Living On The Edge

Years ago, I was hiking in the Cascades, adjusting to the altitude in preparation for a summit of Mount Rainier. I found the two sides of the Cascades to be markedly different – one side is lush, almost rainforest-like and the other is dry and desert-like. The difference is created by the mountain peaks that capture the rain and send it rushing out of the clouds on the Western side of the peaks, leaving little moisture to fall on the dry Eastern slopes.

In my non-hiking time, I was exploring the little towns that cropped up on both sides of this ridge and wondered what it was like to have been a settler, coming west from the populated areas of our country into these unsettled parts in the 1800’s and 1900’s. What made people choose the places where they settled, I wondered. I supposed some of it was actually choice, as in they found reasonably flat land with adequate water, temperate climate and sufficient resources to homestead.

In other instances, perhaps the horse pulling their wagon died and they had no way to continue further on, so they made the best of what they found where they were stranded. In many ways, each of these families or groups of explorers reached their own edge.

I tried to imagine what kind of frontiersman I would have made. Would I have easily left behind the comforts of a town or city to strike out and claim my piece of the great American dream in uncharted lands? Would it have seemed like the greatest adventure of my life or would I have wanted clear descriptions and certain guarantees of what I would find before I would leave the safety of “civilization”? What would I have taken with me or left behind? What sacrifices would I have been willing to make to seize this sense of freedom and create my own destiny? And, how would I have dealt with the unexpected challenges along the way … would I have left my meager possessions on the side of the trail (if there even was a trail) and continued on by foot the rest of the way or would I have settled where the horse died? With what kind of attitude or regrets for not going further on or wishing I could turn back?

I am quite sure that for each person who started such a journey, there were many more who contemplated it but were unwilling to give up the “comforts of home” or who were dissuaded by the scary naysayers warning of unspeakable dangers and taunting the would-be frontiersmen with tags that they were “fools” or worse.

Several years later, I read Down The Great Unknown, the story of John Wesley Powell’s 1869 journey of discovery and tragedy through the Grand Canyon. He was a Civil War veteran with one arm who led a ragtag group of nine trappers and ex-soldiers through the unmapped rapids of the Green River in Wyoming, into the Colorado River and ultimately through the Grand Canyon. Since it was previously uncharted, they had no idea what to expect and, in many instances, were woefully unprepared. Unlike modern rafters who sail through those rapids in inflatable rafts with experienced guides, Powell’s crew used wooden rowboats and often went through those rapids rowing backwards, never knowing if they would survive the plunges. Surprisingly, despite grumbling that sometimes reached mutinous levels, Powell brought all his men through safely, except the three who abandoned the party to turn back and were never found.

Recently, when I was guiding a client through a particularly murky part of his transition to a new career, I took a break to hike in a high desert forest to gather my thoughts about how to bring the best perspective I could to his challenge. As I stopped for lunch, I noticed that the pine trees around me had what looked like little lanterns of fresh green at their tips and that the desert sage, dry and crumbly as it is in the center of the bush, had tiny flowers all along the edges. It reminded me that growth doesn’t happen close to the middle, it happens at the edges. The frontiers are where discoveries are made. It happens in those places that haven’t yet been fully charted. The edge is where things blossom.

It’s interesting to me that, historically, those with novel ideas were frequently marginalized, referred to as freaks, sometimes persecuted or considered to be outcasts who were “on the fringe” and yet, all innovation, all development, all creativity happens on that very edge. In the uncharted waters, in what hasn’t been fully explored and mapped, in fragile buds and from tiny buried seeds and nuts. The very willingness to leave behind the comfortable safety of approval and familiarity is what has driven exploration and is so much the touchstone of our nation’s foundation – pioneers, explorers, daring frontiersmen and innovators, avant-garde scouts.

It hasn’t really changed. Is there some secret longing you have that you aren’t following because it seems too risky or you’re scared of what others will think of you if you give up all this security to follow some “crazy dream”? An entrepreneur is one who takes risks to do something new or something old in a new way. That entrepreneurial spirit is snuffed out when we stop blazing trails and instead seek the familiar well-trod path of a follower, doing things the way everyone else does. How many of us have abandoned our dreams when faced with the taunts that what we long to do is foolish or too risky, only to become tethered to a post like an old horse or chained to routine in the hopes that one day, someday, we will break free and follow our dream.

Guess what? I checked the calendar:

Sunday

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

See – there is no Someday!

We can’t afford that kind of bondage any more, that dampening of enthusiasm, waiting for someone to give us permission to fulfill our dreams before they turn to dust. The world is measurably poorer without the contributions we each can make.

Are you willing to join me on the edge, making a difference and changing the world we live in and that which we are creating for our children? I am invested in helping you do what you came here for whether anyone else calls you a freak or a fool. I have another name for you – I call you a frontiersman, an innovator, a leader, an entrepreneur, a visionary.

I have set aside several complementary sessions each week to work with people who want to change what they’re doing and seize their dreams, but don’t know where to begin. I am committed to this path of helping to open the door for you to do what you came here for. If you are interested in this journey with me, please click here.

After all, if you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space, and frankly we can’t afford it anymore, it’s too crowded in the middle. Join me here on the edge where you can see forever.

Building Your Courage Muscles

I was talking to the massage therapist the other night about my upcoming workshop on Courageous Choices and what a thrill I get every time I am able to help someone let go of the familiar to try something new. Whether it’s a new job with a different company, asserting new boundaries within an important relationship or a significant transition like choosing a new career – each step toward change requires moving beyond a well trod comfort zone and that takes courage.

For most of us, the path from the Land of Wishing to the Land of Having requires us to step through the Gate of Doing. Typically, we step through that gate only when a) the pain of staying where we are is too great to stay put or b) the desire for that for which we have been wishing becomes strong enough to overcome the inertia of resisting. I’ve seen that pain come from any of a thousand different avenues for the people I work with – getting fired, not being able to raise the next fund, learning your spouse is preparing to leave you, a serious medical issue, death of a loved one, the empty nest or a gnawing restlessness that you just can’t put your finger on but you know you can’t keep doing what you’ve been doing any longer.

For nearly everyone, “wanting” something to be different may be the starting point, but as the old saying goes “nothing changes if nothing changes.” Change requires action, plain and simple – no avoiding it. It is often fear that keeps us from taking the action we most need to see the changes we desire. Fear is not the enemy, inertia is. Fear challenges you to build your courage muscles and when you make friends with fear by stepping outside of your comfort zone, your comfort zone expands. Too often we hold ourselves back from taking the steps that will improve our lives and fulfill us, hoping that our fear will go away. The fear that you might not make enough money or that you won’t be as successful in a new career or that someone is going to be upset about your decision can keep you stuck where you are, hoping that “some day” you’ll wake up and feel the courage to try something new. Believe me, courage is not going to find you, you’re going to have to tackle that fear and step into the courage whether you want to get a new job, give a speech or leave a relationship that just clearly isn’t working anymore.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, the pioneering psychiatrist in the work of grief surrounding the dying found that the most oft-cited fear was the fear of death, even though we all know that it is inevitable and unavoidable. Her research showed that those who felt they understood and acted on their purpose in life or found special meaning in what they had been able to do faced significantly less fear and despair in the final weeks of their lives than those who had not.

Identifying the work we are meant to do and the strength of character to do something that frightens us and then deploying the physical or mental or emotional willingness to do it is empowering and exhilarating. It requires reflection, introspection, a willingness to look at things in a new way, and the courage to actually step out of one’s comfort zone and do something different and unfamiliar and yes, sometimes, frightening.

Often I hear “What will other people think or say if I (fill in the blank)?” A fellow I’m working with has become clear about the specific step that he needs to take to have the life of his dream, one he’s been dreaming of for as long as he can remember, admitted that he was worried about what his family and friends would say if he took this step. He wasn’t sure he could stand up to their criticism of his decision, even though he knew that if he didn’t act soon his dream would really be beyond his reach. I shared with him a favorite quote: The opposite of courage is not cowardice, it is conformity. – Rollo May

Courage is the willingness to act in accordance with one’s beliefs, especially in spite of criticism or disapproval of others. Many people stay in jobs they detest and go to events they despise and behave in certain ways that violate their integrity just to please other people, all the while draining their life force into the pit of conformity for the poison pill of approval. To me, it is a sad waste of a life. After all, I often joke that if your friends think less of you for chasing your dream, you need some better friends! And, families often use the tool of guilt to manipulate their loved ones into conformity because of their own fears and wants. While it’s easy to confuse courage and bravery, I think courage is not the absence of fear, but the resistance to fear and mastery of that which you have not yet achieved.

Here are some questions I use to regain my courage:

1. What do I really (in my deepest heart) want? (Be precise)
2. What do I need to do to have that? (List every action)
3. What am I afraid of? (List every fear, no matter how silly it looks in writing)
4. What does avoiding this fear cost me?
5. What would I do if I weren’t afraid? (List every action)
6. At the end of my life, will I regret not having done this?
7. How will my life benefit from facing this fear?
8. What else might I be able to do if I faced this fear?
9. What specific actions must I take in spite of this fear so I may have what I want?
10. What one action am I willing to take today and who can I ask to support me?

Dear friends, I want for you the life of your dreams. You deserve it, you’re worth it and as Christopher Robin said to Pooh, “Promise me you’ll always remember you’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.”  If you need me to be your Christopher Robin, I’m here.

If I Were A Rich Man …

Sorry for starting this column off making you silently hum that familiar tune from Fiddler on the Roof! 

Last week while I was waiting for the dealership to complete the oil change on my car, I struck up a conversation with the woman who was sitting next to me as we watched a clip promoting a television show called “Secret Millionaire”.  The premise of the show is that someone with money goes incognito into an impoverished community and agrees to give away hundreds of thousands of dollars to improve the lives of those in the community.  She told me that she loved that show and it inspired her to see someone giving back like that and hoped to do something like that herself one day.

In the course of our chat, I also learned that she is going through a divorce, recently filed for bankruptcy and had been struggling with her teenage son who has a drug addiction.  When the service rep entered the waiting area and began recounting the necessary repairs to her car, I pretended to be engrossed in the magazine on my lap but I could feel the tension building long before he told her that the repairs would exceed $3700, money I was sure she didn’t have.  She authorized the service department to handle the one safety issue that otherwise left the car unsafe to drive.

As we continued to pass the time waiting for our respective vehicles to be ready, she told me that she had been a homemaker for the past 23 years and that she was struggling with a new sales job she had just taken since she has to support herself.  She had been a top sales rep for Xerox before her children were born and she had taken the sales job since it was the only job she knew how to do. 

I asked her what she longed to do, if money wasn’t a concern.  I find that whenever I ask people this question, they always have an answer on the tip of their tongues.  Everyone knows what they wish they were spending their time on.  Sometimes it’s a sport or a hobby or a charitable mission or a dream they long ago put up on a shelf because someone labeled it as “unrealistic”.

Her answer was that she’d like to work with women whose husbands had cheated on them, to help them recover their self-esteem, like she had had to do and to help mothers whose children have a drug addiction.  I asked her what she was doing to make that dream a reality.

That’s when she looked at me as if I had three heads.  It seems to be the response I get most frequently when I ask someone why they aren’t doing what they really wish they were.  Her subsequent statement also echoed a version of what I hear most from people who aren’t following their dreams, “What would I do for money?  Everyone knows I wouldn’t be able to support myself and my kids doing that.”

I wondered if it was really true that she would be unable to support herself and her children doing something she was passionate about.  Why do people assume that their passions are incompatible with economic sustenance?  So, I figured I had nothing to lose.  I asked her what it would take for her to be willing to do what she was passionate about.  Her answer, like many I’ve heard before, was that when she had enough money saved she would think about doing it.  “How much money?” I asked.  She said, “I don’t know.  I guess ‘enough’.”   I pressed a little further, how was she supporting herself and her children now and learned that she was living with her mother since her husband refused to pay his child support.

I asked whether her mother would throw her and her children out of the house if she didn’t bring home “enough” money.  Would her children be forced to become shoeless beggars?  Of course not.  I asked whether she had thought about just staying with her husband while he was having an affair and doing the work she loved.  She said no because she didn’t want her kids to see her living a lie and selling herself out.  Can you guess my next question?  Why was it better for her children to see her selling herself out to a job she hated, while she waited to garner “enough” money to do what made her happy?

My conversation partner became a little aggravated at that point and said that if she had enough money then she would do exactly that, but until then it was better to teach her kids responsibility and the value of hard work.  I’ll admit it, I was pushing the edge of a conversation with a relative stranger when I asked her what exactly the value was of the hard work she was modeling.  And why the lesson for her children about responsibility couldn’t be modeled  in doing what brought her happiness instead of modeling responsibility as a miserable duty that must be endured to earn money so one could then be “happy”.

I reminded her of how much she admired the Secret Millionaires, how each of them made a point of finding out what really made others’ lives better and made their contribution doing exactly that.  Did she really need to wait until she was a millionaire to be able to make her contribution?  Couldn’t she do that in addition to (or instead of) holding a sales job?  I wasn’t encouraging her to be a loafer and live in her mother’s house forever or to leave her children without shoes or with hungry bellies.  What I was doing was questioning the falsity of the unspoken premise that is only the dollar value or enormity of our contribution that makes it worth doing and that, until we each have amassed our personal fortune, we can’t do what makes us happy or that contributes to the well being and happiness of others who are less fortunate?  I think that’s a myth that too many people have bought into – the eternal deferral of what fills you with passion until after you’ve made “enough” money – whatever that is. 

Over the past year, in addition to working on the book I have been writing on work-life balance issues, I have been guiding individuals who are looking for a solution to exactly that dilemma – how to reconcile their desires to do what fills them with passion and still provide for their families while making a difference in their community.  It is this work that fills me most with my own sense of purpose and I enjoy inspiring others to find ways big and small to live their purpose NOW, not later, in an authentic and meaningful way.  I hope you will join me at one of my many workshops and gatherings to explore the solution to this dilemma for yourself. Until then, I leave you with two very important questions:

What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?  – Mary Oliver       

and

WHAT’S STOPPING YOU FROM DOING IT RIGHT NOW?     

Playing Your Part

I grew up in suburban Detroit. My dad was a barber. Most of his customers were autoworkers. When Detroit churned out lots of cars, the auto workers were flush and got regular haircuts. When Detroit was lean and laid off auto workers, they let their wives cut their hair or wore it longer. Our family’s prosperity was intimately tied to the auto workers’.

Thousands of workers are struggling to learn new trades or relocating to another city in search of similar work, slowly realizing that they are unlikely to earn the same wages, with the same benefits, in a new career. Many resist this message and hold out hope that their industry will rebound or that somehow they will be able to keep doing the same work they’ve been doing – in some cases for their entire adult life.

As outsiders, it’s easy for us to look at these workers and say, “Get with it. Move on, learn a new trade and take a different job or move out of Detroit to where there’s work.” It’s easy for us to say it, we’re not them.  But in many ways, we are them.  Almost all of our industries are changing.  Retooling is key to surviving and prospering.

After a dozen years practicing law, I left my practice, bought a motor home and decided to travel focusing on understanding what other people do for a living. Some of it was just plain fun but a lot of it was my personal exploration – deciding what I would do next with my life.

I went to the local pancake supper or town meeting wherever I was and talked to the local people. I asked whoever had the most interesting job, “I’d love to see what it’s like to do what you do. If I agree to come every day for a week, and do whatever you need one, will you take me on as your unpaid assistant/apprentice?” Usually, I got a yes!

 The first time I tried this was with a dairy farmer who answered “Yup. And wear yer boots!” It was a total blast. For one week, I showed up and did whatever needed to be done – hand fed the calves, milked the cows, did bookkeeping or drove the tractor full of manure out to the compost field. I’ve been told that being a lawyer had prepared me well to dump a big tractor full of you-know-what somewhere!

 I had several years of these interesting experiences – a potato farm in Maine, a lobster boat in Nova Scotia, a paint store in North Carolina, a catfish processing plant in Georgia, a Hobby Lobby craft store in Texas. What I learned was how important it is for everyone in this country to do the best job they can at whatever they are employed at. I also learned how undervalued many of these people and their labors are.

Coming from a purely intellectual job, where I had been highly compensated for my perceived knowledge, it was easy to fall out of touch with what makes this country run every day and to think my work was somehow more valuable or important. Without the dairy farmer, the truck driver who brought the milk to the store, the guy who stocked the cooler, the woman who ran the cashier or the men who made and installed the checkout stand and floors, I’d be out of luck for my breakfast cereal and milk fix. Each of them does their job with pride and skill and our lives are the better for each of their labors.

Asking, “What else CAN I do?” is a step in discovering precisely how our tangible talents can be used in different ways. Use my life as an example. I could have joined another law firm, or I could have gone “in house” with a client. Or I could have taught law or written or researched. In ferreting out my talents, I discerned that I am a connector, an educator, a developer, a dream builder. Those things came from building a regional law practice over a decade, leading a team of lawyers and guiding my clients to resolutions. I am also a negotiator, a strategic thinker, a writer, a critic, a team builder, an advocate and (ask my husband) a strong willed woman who can argue a point. I realized that building something was important to me, I get a kick out of getting things going and both thinking “big picture, long term” and implementing the small day to day minutiae. It was important that my next role had lots of people contact, a way to bring different views together, ways to help people think differently and a little bit of theatre – I liked the drama of the courtroom and the presence of being in front of people.

I have spent most of the past dozen years guiding people into discovering their authentic callings and reframing the choices for their lives.  It lets me use many of my talents and helps me to develop others like learning how to be of service. Was it what I envisioned when I left my law practice over a decade ago? Nope, not even close. I was originally thinking I might run a children’s bookstore or open a B&B in Italy! But I was open to opportunity.

Like a laid off auto worker, you can just comb the remaining factories hoping to find identical work in the same town at similar pay, or you can start thinking really creatively about what you are talented at and passionate about and how it could fit into a completely different industry or geography.

 There is a lesson for all of us in what furloughed blue collar factory workers have known for a long time – your job isn’t who you are, your job is what you do to earn money to support your family and entertain yourself. When you’re pouring the Cheerios into your bowl tomorrow morning, be thankful that someone else didn’t think those jobs were “beneath” them.

What Seeds Are You Planting?

Every year I coax myself through winter by devouring the garden catalog from Silver Heights Farm in Cochecton Center, New York. Trina nurtures an amazing variety of things that I can transplant as seedlings every spring to get a jumpstart on my vegetable garden. While there are some things that come up best from seeds like beans and carrots, my wooded lot (and my personal dearth of patience) just doesn’t offer me enough sunshine to grow tomatoes and peppers from seed before fall comes. In my many years of backyard gardening, I have learned some lessons, such as if I plant carrots, I can’t expect to harvest oranges, so I think carefully about what I want to harvest when I decide what to plant. With the vagaries of climate in our area, it also means I am quick to decide what’s a weed and to firmly yank it out by the roots.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve noticed the spread of a really invasive weed throughout the county I live in. I had only read about it taking root in other parts of the country, but I’ve started to see signs of it here. It seems to be spreading and showing up in places I hadn’t seen it before. I recognized it as the genus “Blame” and I realized that it wasn’t staying confined to its own family like most plants do. Nope, this one was definitely a weed and it was move stealthily from one yard to another and its roots were crowding out healthier growth throughout the county.

A neighbor mentioned it at a coffee shop. She said to the man she was sitting with in the booth behind mine, “Why didn’t Somebody do something?” I knew I shouldn’t eavesdrop, but I realized she was the third person that day who had made reference to this insidious rot of blame. I knew that blame grows wildly in the shade of denial and that it was spreading across the country and was now threatening the gardens and forests of my community.

I had been reading about this invader in the paper for many months. “Why didn’t Somebody do something to stop the banks from making all those mortgages?” For heaven’s sake, why didn’t Somebody do something to stop the nuclear meltdown in Japan! Somebody ought to figure out how we can avoid cutting back on services without raising taxes. It seemed like everywhere I went, people were looking for a mysterious weed-killer to deploy against this kudzu-like duo of denial and blame that had crept into our conversations, robbing us of the fruits of our labors.

Everyone seemed to wonder why the manufacturers weren’t issuing more of this Somebody that they could sprinkle on the problems they faced like some kind of magic cure to bring this black rot of irresponsibility under control. I started to wonder if individually we aren’t each the “Somebody” we’re searching for.

I supposed the blame and denial had taken root because maintaining the gardens of our lives is hard work, especially when we’re maintaining the common ground of a community. In many ways, it’s just easier to hope that spraying on some nebulous “Somebody” will make everything fine when we’re ready to harvest our share. But that head-in-the-sand approach allows the weeds to take over and pretty soon it’s hard to find the dreams we thought we had planted. I want to harvest friendship and prosperity from the safety of this common ground and I want to take pleasure in sharing that labor and that bounty with my neighbors.

In tending this plot of land we share, I am diligent to make sure that no one is spraying RoundUp on it as a way to keep the weeds of blame under control. Pesticides like anger kill everything it is sprayed on – weed and vegetable alike. Blame needs to be pulled up by the roots and we all need to be careful not to accidentally tote the seeds of blame to someone else’s home. That means mindfully disposing of rumor and using the bright light of personal accountability to clean our tools before digging in anyone else’s dirt.

Fruitful gardens benefit from composting – it can turn leftovers and yard waste into rich organic matter. Unlike MiracleGro, which gives a quick, but short lived burst of blooms, doing the work to enrich the soil makes for long-lasting, healthy growth and delicious, satisfying results. I personally suggest using your hands to turn together in your own yard equal parts of responsibility, selfless effort and humility. When we each bring together the products of that effort and moisten it with a shower of kindness, we will be amazed by how fertile our common ground is.

No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. What we plant in the months ahead will ensure a bountiful harvest for our community. It’s amazing what one seed can grow.

Try This On For Size

Last week I was looking for a new swimsuit. I had narrowed it down to two different suits after much effort to find one I was comfortable with. I complained to the sales girl in the fitting room that I wished each had a little more coverage. She reminded me that a swimsuit is not just about coverage, that is was also about displaying my assets in a tasteful way that maximized what was unique about me and that showing a little of myself was ok in this instance. I thought it was an apropos metaphor for continuing this journey with my writing and my workshops.

So, in an effort to let you know that this journey together will be a little different, I want to warn you that we’ll frequently be trying on something new and perhaps letting a little more hang out (on the writing front). I hope you will enjoy this different side of each of us and that this will be a place for great new discussions of transitions and growth.

Let me know what you’d like to “try on for size” in your life if you had a chance. Looking forward to enjoying this journey together.

Denise

Tools of Discernment

Recently, I was trying to decide whether to stay on site for a conference I was attending or to stay at a nearby hotel. Both choices had merit. On the conference site, I could be close to the action and would limit my commuting time. In a local hotel, I wouldn’t have to worry about anyone I know seeing me in my sweatpants and uncombed hair when I went out for my morning run. The cost was pretty comparable, as were the amenities. After weighing the choices and waffling about it for longer than I should have, I decided to let the ultimate authority decide for me.

I asked the Magic 8 Ball.

I admit it. It’s not a scientific approach to decision making but sometimes it’s really the best choice. Certainly, the decision making process of the Magic 8 Ball is more decisive than Congress and it’s rarely steered me wrong.

Holding the classic black sphere in my hands, I asked my question of the oversized pool ball emblazoned with the mystical number 8.

“Should I stay on site at the event?”

Turning it over, I peered into the mysterious blue liquid, waiting for the orb to offer me an answer in the clear triangular shaped window.

Better not tell you now it replied.

I couldn’t believe it! Why couldn’t the answer be revealed to me now? Perhaps I had asked the question the wrong way. I tried again.

“Should I stay in a hotel for the conference?”

Reply hazy, try again

Calming myself with a deep breath, I decided to phrase my question much more simply and directly. I closed my eyes and asked my Magic 8 Ball guide the question again – this time speaking slowly and really articulating my words as I would if I were repeating my question to someone for whom English was a foreign language. Who knows the real language of the Magic 8 Ball, I thought.

“When I go to Boulder next Sunday afternoon, should I stay at the conference center lodging onsite for the entire conference event?” Whew! That should do it. Every word, every nuance, even the date, city and purpose for my visit was now clear for my enigmatic friend. Just to avoid jinxing myself, I kept my eyes closed while I turned the ball over to read my answer.

Opening my eyes, I saw that the little 20 sided die inside was stuck on its corner, poised between two answers. The thing was clearly stumped, I thought. No wonder I had been unable to make this decision on my own, even the 8 Ball didn’t know. But then I wondered, was it simply refusing to answer me out of spite?

The instructions say not to shake the Magic 8 Ball since it could create air bubbles that may interfere with the letters’ ability to seal against the clear window, making them illegible, but I shook it anyway. Hard. “Answer me!” I shouted, as I asked it again, “Should I stay at the conference center lodging?”

Finally, the answer came, Signs point to yes. I relaxed. But then it wobbled and flipped to Don’t count on it.

I gave up. Clearly I wasn’t going to get a sensible answer from this childish element of divination. I called the conference center to book a room. The reservation agent informed me that all the rooms were booked, but she would add my name to the waiting list. Thanking her, I realized that I was disappointed. The feeling in the pit of my stomach told me that I really had wanted to stay at the conference center. I couldn’t believe I had wasted all that time with the Magic 8 Ball trying to make a decision when I could have just listened to my gut.

While looking up the number for the hotel, my cell phone rang. It was the conference center, they had a cancellation and I could stay on site after all. I was elated.

As I picked up my Magic 8 Ball to put it back on the shelf, I thought “I guess I knew in my heart all along what I really wanted.” Before I put it down, I flipped it over one last time and it read

You can rely upon it

Maybe next time I’ll flip a coin.