TRIGGERED! How To Reverse-Engineer Your Reactivity

In the business world, triggers are what companies like Facebook and Instagram exploit in us to tailor content toward our interests and habits to keep us using their platforms. Triggers can also code for something negative, such as when someone or something pisses you off. 

Personally, a MASSIVE trigger for me is traffic and drivers who I identify as dumb. Anger to 1000 in half a second flat. Triggers are called triggers because they cause something to happen. Think about the trigger of a gun. It causes a major reaction. But the trigger is just a trigger. It is not positive or negative itself. Even though the trigger is the first step of causing the gun to shoot a bullet, the trigger itself can't be labeled as positive or negative even if the bullet does something we would deem negative. We assign the emotional meaning to the trigger event. We say whether it is good or bad. When Facebook or Instagram exploit mental triggers to get us to continue using their platform, whether or not it is a bad thing is subjective. 

I bring this up because last week I mentioned the dreaded experience of seeing family over the holidays and the difficulty therein about communication. Family triggers all of us in one way or another. So many kinds of strong reactions engrained in us since we started developing consciousness just simmer under the surface as a holiday draws nearer, ready to lash back at any comment.

"Hey, can you pass me the stuffing?"

"OH, YOU WOULD ASK ME TO DO THAT!"

It happens at work as well. I am guilty of not liking a certain coworker and so I let rage boil up in me when he / she literally says anything. Whether at home or at work, the problem is that our interpretation of the triggering event dramatically affects the relationship downstream between the two parties as well as your relationship with yourself. When I get angry at traffic, it feels natural to blame every driver around me. It is not their fault, though. In fact, I am equally to blame because I joined all of them in driving that main road at that moment during rush hour. But I still feel anger. Then the interpretation of every other driver's idiocy cements itself into a mindset I adopt whenever I get into the car, which puts me on edge and may potentially make me feel a lingering tension when I get to my destination. If the destination is a social event, that tension may then affect my countenance and sociability with other people and thus relationships are damaged.

Think about someone or something that really stokes that rage fire in you. Coworker? Ex love interest? Starbucks barista? What do they do that you would call the trigger? Keep in mind, their behavior isn't positive or negative. We label it as such. So, why does that super specific trigger cause such a reaction in you? Do other things elicit that same level of reaction?

Our reactions to triggers can be very different. For instance, the anger I feel well up in traffic is very different than the frustration I have felt when my siblings have pushed my buttons in the past. I do not think my siblings are dumb and should consider retaking a driving test like I do for the people I encounter in traffic, but things they have said or done in the past have triggered me to react with anger. Except for some occasions, the truth that is frustrating for many to accept is the fact that those who trigger you are not - at least most of the time - doing so on purpose. Maybe the way someone talks makes them really happy but sounds like nails on a chalkboard to you. That person unfortunately cannot be blamed for your reaction. It is how they talk. 

What to do about this hard truth is even harder. It is a form of radical acceptance. It is okay to feel angry and be triggered, but it is not okay to let it ruin the rest of your day or extensively affect your life going forward. That is completely on you. In my example, I do not want my current and potential social connections to be negatively impacted just because another driver did not use their turn signal, so I have to work backwards. Like in the design world, it is a matter of starting with the end in mind. 

If I want my relationships to be spared the flares of my previous anger, I must somehow check that anger in the car and leave it there. To do that, I must reword the story that my anger narrates.

That way, "Every driver in the entire world is an absolute waste of space" changes to "Wow, there is a lot of traffic right now. I bet I am not the only one stressed out."

Now that the story has changed about the situation, I understand that I am not actually angry that a ton of other people chose to go out driving right when I did, but instead that I get angry when something stops me from getting somewhere. My anger is no longer generalized to blame all others, but instead it is connected to something very personal about me.

See what I did there? It is a simple process of reverse engineering. By starting with my preferred outcome in mind, I was able to bring awareness to what was actually pissing me off in the moment and thus created a new choice when I get angry at traffic in the future. I still get angry at traffic, but I am much better able now to remind myself why and leave it at that. Radical acceptance. 

I help clients with this quite often, actually, especially in their daily work life and in networking situations. Reactivity is RAMPANT. It becomes so patterned and rigid that it is very difficult to break. It becomes a reflex. Think about it for yourself. If you are going to see family for the holidays, I bet you can probably predict how you might react to each member regardless of what they say or do. Write that down. Start the process. I am not telling you to ever change the emotion because the emotion is not a bad thing. How you behave in response to the emotion can be. So as you think about your holiday triggers, ask yourself: "what is the outcome that I want?" and go from there. 

DECK THE HALLS WITH FIVE QUESTIONS THAT HELP YOU ASSESS YOUR RELATIONSHIPS AND COMMUNICATION STYLE

Andddddd suddenly it is December again. Even though Christmas music has been playing and Starbucks has been using the red cups for over a month, now is when we buckle down and freak out about gift-giving, snow tires, and, of course, even more time with the family.

I love my family and I am lucky to have a family that communicates through an endless group text message, but every family has their own version of pervasive challenges that never quite go away. Especially around the holidays, personalities clash, arguments happen, the house is suddenly THAT MUCH smaller as "grown up, mature" kids try to prove how grown up and mature they are. 

For the majority of families whom I have served in the mental health field, holiday time together is an impassible terrain of anger, sadness, and trauma. In every case, all of the tension is caused by the absence of a single tool: respectful communication. It is very difficult for a child to have a parent or sibling yell at them and relentlessly blame them for something they did not do and for that child to simply shrug it off with a "well, something is going on with them and they are projecting all over me. I wonder what is wrong."

When you are getting berated for no reason, it is human and normal to feel sad, angry, resentful, and defensive because you are being attacked and your self worth is threatened. I am one of the billions of people who have been bullied before, and I still get bullied to this day. Think about bullying, though. It is so sad that a bully is so insecure about him or herself in some way that they have to exert negative control over peers who they deem to be weaker in order to feel less powerless and more worthwhile in the world. What if that bully instead approached some of the "weaker" kids, asked to sit down at their lunch table, and be friends with them, and over time be able to talk about their anger and stressors to friends who would show him or her compassion?  Why does the bully not do that?

Because it is DIFFICULT.

It is difficult to express your feelings. It is difficult to trust others with your vulnerability. It is difficult to be authentic. It is difficult to take a deep breath and remind yourself that it is not your fault. 

Why do you think we had a section in high school health class when we were formally taught how to use "I" statements to express our feelings and have a respectful conversation? Because it is difficult to say "I felt hurt when you said ____  to me." It takes a lot of self-awareness to know how specifically your feelings are hurt, and even more self-assuredness to verbally express them.

And therein lies the big issue.

Not many children or adults know how to put words to their feelings and calmly discuss them. A lot of people know what they are feeling but, because they do not know how to verbalize it, they resolve to believe the only way to express them is through action or argument, leading to fights and resentment.  You cannot change others but you are always able to make change in yourself.

Last week I wrote about gratitude for the connections we make, and respectful communication is the fire that forges those connections into healthy relationships. You see, how you carry yourself day to day and communicate with those around you comprises the story you tell the world. We will never be done working on personal expression and respectful communication, myself included. But we cannot do it alone. I am proud of my own ability to openly express my thoughts and feelings and I had a lot of help along the way. Now I help people identify the stories that they are telling the world, how it is getting in the way of their goals or their relationships and, most importantly, what to do about it.

I have helped clients effectively present wedding toasts, strategize comfortable and authentic networking for their new startups, and hold a respectful conversation with HR about a boss that they absolutely hate.  Our presence is not enough to make a strong relationship. Healthy connections with others comes down to how you communicate. And let me be clear. We all need connections.

So now that we are riding fast toward the New Year, stop and think about the connections you have right now (family or otherwise) and ask:

  • How do I communicate with them?
  • What tone do I use or emotions do I feel during the interactions?
  • Can I feel that I want some kind of change?
  • Is something missing in the connections that I wish was there?
  • Can I put words to what it is?

That is where you start. 

STOP AND SMELL THE TRYPTOPHAN: Gratitude for Every Connection

I attended Thanksgiving a few years ago at my sister's husband's family's home in Colorado with their close family and friends. In that household, it is a tradition to cook unbelievably delicious food, let everyone fill up a plate, sit down and smell the miraculous tryptophan and all of its filling companions, and then carpet sweep the group by asking everyone to take turns sharing something for which they are thankful. A group of, like, twenty people. Cruel and unusual does not cut it. 

Yes this was a compliment of my in-laws' culinary magic wrapped up in a massive complaint for having to stare at it in front of me with hands seemingly tied behind me. That aside, when it was my turn, I brought the house down expressing gratitude simply for connections, because it was through my sister I met her husband and through her husband I met his family and was lucky to be invited to that Thanksgiving meal, where I met other nice people and reconnected with old friends whom I met years prior through my brother. After all, it was by another of my sister's connections that provided me the opportunity to get a job in Colorado in the first place. 

Everything is about connections. If we are unable to recognize what we are connected to, we will not be able to express gratitude for it. People may be grateful for a loved one, a house over their heads, or a strong WiFi signal, all because they recognize the value of its presence. They admit their connection to it. 

I was lucky enough to attend a college student leadership event last week that featured keynote speakers, panelists, and flash-talk presenters from many fields related to innovation, entrepreneurship, and professional development who, through their very different specific lenses, distilled professional success to one single factor: building relationships. Making connections. Authentic networking. Whether for seniors who are starting to make specific connections in the job world or for freshman learning how to play the long game of fostering relationships that will pay off in a number of years, making connections is gold. 

There is not an effective alternative. Business, school, social relationships, everything is about connection. We are yet another community-based species in whose DNA it is imprinted to band together, find a tribe, and protect one another in that tribe against the harshness of the world. Sure, the whole survival-of-the-fittest competitive element of our DNA seeps through the cracks (Thanks, Darwin), but our need for connection is strong and everything and everyone around us continually feeds that impulse. 

I was relieved to learn in my own entrepreneurial journey that the best kind of marketing for my sort of business is networking because I enjoy networking and having conversations with people. I help clients with authentic storytelling and personal branding, and my work is a direct reflection of the importance of my own authenticity. I love what I do and the story I tell about my work and my business is authentic because I am uncomfortable with trying to present some kind of thin sales pitch just to lure someone toward my company. There are so many people who do not know that they need assistance like I provide, and that is FINE. It would never be my place to convince them in that moment that they do. That is why my own slice of our evolutionary connection habit is so strong. The authentic relationship is mutually beneficial. I learn something from everyone's stories, whether they become clients or not, and so I will never not benefit from the connections I am so lucky to form. 

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I will always be grateful for being taught the value of connection, how to honor it in my work, and how to continue seeking it in a healthy and humble way. I hope that you all may take a second this weekend to think of the connections you have made and are currently making and how beautifully they contribute to the dynamic Thanksgiving dinner of life. 

INNOCENT LITTLE DATA POINT: A new definition of Story in your daily life.

In a class I recently taught on storytelling and personal branding, I asked the group "What is a story?" I only heard crickets at first as everybody totally overthought the question. I did not want to assuage their anxiety so I let the silence continue. Eventually three answers were called out:

"Something that happens to a character."

"Has a beginning, middle, and end."

"A glimpse into somebody's life."

All of those are correct. But the definition could be distilled even further. I intentionally oversimplify the definition of a story to "a data point". That is all it is. Plain and simple. A data point. Sit with that for a second. Does it make sense to you? Does it confuse you? Or does its simplicity anger you?

It should not. Here is why.

The three answers that the students shared were correct because a story is in fact an event that occurs with which someone interacts, it has a sequential structure to it, and the way in which someone reacts to the event says something about who they are. But these events can be huge (like a bomb going off) or teeny tiny, like me turning my head to look out the window a second ago. Interestingly, a lot of people I have taught and spoken to confuse story and narrative. I have found that they often think of story as a large grandiose recount of a period of time but, even though stories do involve an amount of time passing, they are not necessarily large.

What adds magnitude to them, however, is how events affect our lives. Very small things can dramatically affect people. A smile from a stranger on the street, hitting all green lights on the way home from work, catching that perfect sunrise at that perfect moment.

Now think even smaller than that. Me typing this post, me moving my fingers, my thoughts changing from one sentence to the next, what other thoughts come to mind and distract me. Even the act of telling you what a story is is a story. It gets super layered from there but every little thing that occurs, every way we look, every tiny action we make, is a story that contributes to our day and subsequently how we feel about that day and then how that day affects tomorrow, and so on and so on. This is why I call them data points. These miniscule-all-the-way-up-to-enormous events in a given day are bits of information that collect and impact a future.

Think about a classic scatter plot you learned how to make in grade school math class. You plot little dots on the graph and see what sort of trend it makes overall. This is a perfect example:

Each dot = a story

Ultimate trend and overall layout of the data = the narrative

On its own, a data point does not inform anything. It is simply a piece of innocent information. An event that occurs. It contributes to a narrative, though, because we react to it and apply our own meaning to the event based on emotional biases. That is how an event lingers with us longer than the event itself lasts. That is why someone's death affects one person so much more deeply than someone else (sorry for going dark). I alluded to this last week about how meaning that we assign to actions and events make them live on endlessly in the future. Our subjective assignment of meaning is just that, subjective. We have debates and arguments about events and stories that we experience, but our arguments are only ours. We each experience events in our own very unique ways only because we attach our own unique meanings to them. But without the meaning we attach, an event is just an event. 

Just a data point. 

Think about this for yourself. Think about every little teeny tiny thing that has happened for you and to you today and to which you have reacted. Really think about it. If you are doing it correctly, you ought to feel overwhelmed pretty quickly by how many things actually occur in a given day. 

Here is an example. A few minutes ago, I watched a gentleman on the sidewalk get out of a cab with six different pieces of luggage. One normal sized suitcase, a carry on rolling suitcase, a tiny rolling suitcase, and three messenger bag-like briefcases. The briefcases he piled on the large suitcase, looping their handles on the suitcase handle. Then he proceeded to stack the tiny suitcase on the small suitcase and methodically try to match up the handles so that one finger could hold the tiny suitcase in place while the majority of his hand could guide the small suitcase. The whole event lasted thirty seconds and was rather humorous at first (clown-car status) but two things made it less like a circus act and more of a seriously impressive endeavor: the man was impeccably dressed in suit, tie, and trench coat and the man's face conveyed nothing more than straight determination. No distress, no visible embarrassment.

Okay, scene set. Now story time. In that thirty seconds:

  • I stopped typing because I saw that this was no ordinary taxi exit,
  • I observed his dress and mannerisms,
  • I reacted with laughter first and then intrigue,
  • my eyes narrowed watching his hands dance around the suitcase handles,
  • I felt self-conscious that I was staring for too long,
  • I realized he could so easily look up and see me at the window eavesdropping on his adventure,
  • I consciously decided to keep watching,
  • I picked at a fingernail in anxiety for the man's struggle,
  • I felt surprise by his stalwart focus and composure,
  • I felt joy when he figured it out and started moving,
  • and I was left with immense curiosity for where he was heading...and why he owned so many small pieces of luggage...

See? A lot of stuff happened in a tiny amount of time. I have no idea where that man is but I am still curious about his journey and where he was going with so many bags. I want to know his story. And that event was significant enough for me to spontaneously decide to include it in this post, which took more time, which may have eliminated the possibility to do something else with that time, and the ripple effect continues from there for my day and week. 

It was just an innocent event that has now affected my day. And every bit of that story and my interaction with that event is its own story as well. Its own data point. Just like my students said, the Event of the Gentleman and the Suitcases had a beginning, middle, and end, it is something that happened to a character, and, most importantly, it presented the tiniest glimpse into his life. At the same time, my interaction with that event had a beginning, middle, and end, it happened to me - I experienced it - and it gives a little glimpse into my life by how I react to random moments.

SOME THINGS CHANGE, BUT MANY THINGS EVOLVE: the concept of Stable Evolution in Narrative.

I am currently home in Vermont for a couple of days visiting family, and my mom made a dentist's appointment for me. She made it last week before it was even confirmed that I was coming home. I am not sure if it is the evolutionary predisposition of a mother to care for the health of their child that it is still raging in my mother or if sending me to the punishment of having sharp metal objects scraped across my teeth like a dagger across a chalkboard is somehow sadistically enjoyable for her. 

It does not really matter which, but it suffices to say that she has not changed. And that is awesome. Some things really do not change in life. Childhood bullies still might be jerks, siblings will fight no matter how much "maturing" they have accomplished, and my mother will always stay on me about going to the dentist. If you recall from an earlier post that calling the dentist to make an appointment was a huge learning experience for me when I was younger, this time around is a good example of my mother's personal narrative. 

See, narrative evolves. There is no beginning, middle, or end to narrative. It simply evolves and reiterates infinitely. Even when someone dies, their legacy maintains characteristics of their narrative. Any long dead historical figure currently lives on well past the individual stories of their life because of how their stories are told now. 

Despite how one's narrative evolves, though, one does not fundamentally change. Yes, of course you can get plastic surgery or transition your gender, or suffer traumatic brain injury that alters your personality, but you as a human specimen have not changed. You are the same person that takes up space on this planet, but you have evolved into another version of yourself. 

Stick with me.

This is the concept of Stable Evolution that I teach clients and students about in the world of narrative. You remain the same person but you evolve over time. I share so much with the little child Taylor in the photographs here in my childhood house, but so much has happened to me in the years since then that has transformed the sense of who I am. My mother's care about my dental hygiene has not changed for my entire life while she has experienced so many things that have caused her to evolve. The things we experience are events and the events are stories that affect us, one way or another, because we are at the very least aware of them if not intimately involved in them. These stories affect us and contribute to our narratives, which is the neverending evolution of each of our lives. 

I reunited with my college soccer teammates last summer. It was fascinating to hear how each and every one of us had such a different career path and different set of goals for ourselves. Some guys were married, some were talking about buying houses, others about moving across the country for work, most about still playing soccer somehow. We were the same people I knew in college (myself included), the same personalities, but we had all evolved. We had all remained exactly who we were/are while remaining open to the events we experienced since college that have transformed our day-to-day activities and goals. 

"Stable" has a heavy connotation to it because so many in western culture associate it with mental health and use it as an idealized goal to become stable or maintain stability. The problem is that there is no such thing as true stability for a human being. Sorry. It is not possible. The countless things we look at, react to, feel, say, move toward, and think about make it impossible to sit down and say "Yep, all settled." People even think that meditation is the way to shut everything up in your head and turn everything off. Nope, not true. Instead, meditation presents the space to be accepting and aware of all the thoughts and chaos. To let them happen, not to suppress them, and be okay with them. This is why our existence remains stable but our identity is never defined. It continually evolves. The only stability we can achieve is the consistent openness to this evolution. Even ignoring some kind of thought or emotion is still an action that will inform future responses and thus evolve how you personally handle certain situations.

At first listen, a lot of people have trouble understanding this idea of Stable Evolution because the words are contraries. I like to tell them it is characterized by consistency. If you are open to accepting the fact that you are constantly evolving, then your sense of self will remain consistent. One is dependent on the other in that the stability of your sense of self depends on your openness to personal evolution. 

Before I spin you down the rabbit hole any further, here is an activity:

Pick an age in childhood. Imagine what you were like at that age, what you looked like, and what you remember your personality traits to be. Write down everything that comes to mind. Does your current recall of yourself at that time seem very different than who you are now? If so, why? What personality traits are similar or different now?

Now think about all the events of your life that have occurred since that age. Okay, not ALL of them, but run through the timeline in your mind. Imagine how those events have affected you. What did they change about you, if anything? Hopefully, if you are human, you learned something from every event (whether consciously or subconsciously) that has made you evolve but who you are as a person has not actually ever been "changed".

Some things do not change, but a great many things evolve. My mother made dentist appointments for me when I was little until I learned how to do it not because she enjoyed calling them but because she cares about my wellbeing. Even with the multitude of events and situations from which she has evolved since my childhood, she still made an appointment for me to see the dentist today. 

ALL WE HAVE ARE STORIES: how our life paths have a lot to do with the stories we tell

I first connected with a friend in California who travels to new parts of the world apparently every week (FOMO much?) when I stumbled upon her beautiful Instagram account a couple years ago. Above her contact info, the only words were "We are just visitors, all we have are stories" - words that I totally fell in love with and about which I had to cold-message her.

Every day when I am not immersed in a client session or in restful solitude at home, I am constantly thinking about the overwhelming chaos of human movement. Strangers walking, driving, bussing, stuffing themselves into trains, they all have their own reason for being right there in that exact moment. People driving in traffic are distracted by their unique thoughts and emotions at that time when they nearly hit the car in front of them at a light or they are frustrated enough by their own unique triggers that they express themselves by honking at a pedestrian. 

You know what I see? I see stories. I see thousands of storybooks walking, driving, passing by every day. It overwhelms me because I am equally entranced by my ability to help people tell their stories and daunted by the sheer number of stories out there. So I take a deep breath and remember the quote: All we have are stories, and that is okay.  

It is so true. That is all it is. We are filled with stories and experiences and events and images that have affected the evolution of our personalities. That is great that we acknowledge what makes us unique, but then we have to share those stories in order to learn what to do with it. We build communities through stories, we make friends through them, find love through them. We start religions and businesses because of stories. 

In college, I took a 99% worthless anthropology class that consisted of three months of my professor bragging about her own research, but the 1% value I pulled from the semester was learning for the first time about Ethnography, which is defined as the scientific discipline that "describes the customs of individual peoples and cultures."  A powerfully broad concept I pulled from this section of the class was the way that ethnography studies how history is simply a process of storytelling. In the beginning of civilization in the middle east, tribal elders would gather round a campfire and tell their life stories and the stories of their tribe to the youth in order for the youth to know the significance of their own lives. Even the point of school is to catch us up on what has already happened or that others have learned. 

Stories are all that we have to offer one another. Explaining something at work, telling your spouse about your day, teaching your child how to wipe for the first time are all stories based on stories we have heard and expressed in ways that we have learned to express them. 

This is also true of stories we tell ourselves. You say you rock at cooking, you hate your job, you love your family first above all else, but what do these stories say about your personality? Why are these stories that you tell yourself? And how do they affect your daily life?

If we are only made up of stories, then we are extremely sensitive to them. Emotions underly the stories we tell ourselves. As soon as the stories become verbalized, they are then made real-er and presented to the world for feedback. The way that others react to those stories then close the feedback loop and affect the way we feel about ourselves in the world, new emotions are created, and the cycle starts again. 

Pick a story for yourself that you notice keeps replaying in your head and in conversations. For a lot of people, it is that they hate their job. Whatever that story is that you come up with, how do people react to it? If you keep telling the story and do nothing about it, what does that mean about your life right now? How can you adjust the wording of that story? Or do you not want to change the story?

Every story that comprises us has served a purpose and precedes the many more stories that have come and are still to come. Perhaps you are content with the stories you are telling, good or bad, but all I am saying is think not what your stories can do for you but instead what you can do for them. 

SILENCE IS GOLDEN: How saying less actually says more.

I recently attended a workshop on effective communication. It was three hours long on a Thursday morning. The content focused on mental frames we use that bias our interactions and affect the ways we engage in conversations with others. For instance, how formulating the belief that someone won't listen to you before you have even tried speaking to them inspires us to avoid any conversation altogether. The content subsequently covered a step-by-step method for conducting a productive conversation with respect, integrity, and confidence. 

I was content to learn that a lot of my conversations with people already follow that general method, but what was most interesting about the workshop was how direct and concise the content was. The prowess of the facilitator and the idea of "leaving your audience wanting more" not withstanding, it was a strong emblem for how communication should be. 

See, we humans think that we need to beleaguer subject matter to get our point across. That is often why it is easier to tend to be more wordy in writing than is necessary. Think of someone you know who - to put it diplomatically - is proud of something they know and loves to tell people about it ad nauseam. Do you often think that you would still get their point if they had concisely expressed their message once and left it at that? Aside from any arrogance behind talking about something longer and more frequently than is necessary, think about how much more time we would have in life if everyone got to the point and moved on.

Yeah, kinda depressing. But here is the thing. It is very difficult to be concise. It has been something I have been working on for years in interpersonal conversation. In text messages and college papers and cover letters I have improved over the years, but I know I can do better in person. 

Because my human experience on this earth is made up of my unique interpretations of events and stories based on what intellectual / emotional capacities my brain developed, how I understand a message or story from someone is guaranteed to be at least slightly different than the way they imagine and understand it themselves. Even when I feel like I totally get what they are saying, it could very well still be because I am thinking of something different. I will go over this more in depth later when we cover "conflicting narratives", but it suffices to say that we can all work on getting to the point.

"Why do we need to do that?" you might ask. Because wordiness comes from insecurity. We fill in our sentences with useless fillers like "just" and "like" and even a lot of adverbs to curb the edge of what we are sharing, whether out of fear of how the other person will take it or out of insecurity about what you are saying. If you read my post from a few weeks ago (see Friend-request your stress), I am willing to bet that you can identify interactions or individuals that cause you stress or insecurity. Those are perfect examples of moments to expect that stress, blurt out what you need to, and breathe into the silence that follows. Isn't it ironic that our stress response of adding more words to our conversations is our way of trying to shy away from a situation?

Next time you feel yourself start to blabber on and on, ask yourself: how much more do I need to share? Have I yet conveyed the point I wanted to make? If so, stop there and accept the fact that your message has been shared. If you have ever heard the old proverb Silence is golden, then let it be so and see what your audience does next. 

MY CELL PHONE DIED FOR TWO HOURS: Here is what happened.

My cell phone died for two hours. A hush falls over the crowd. "What could he do?!" One person whispers. "How did he survive??" Another one cries. 

My cell phone was officially pronounced dead at 11:30am, when I was leaving central Massachusetts after having met a client. I had used my phone's GPS to get there, but now that was not an option. Here's the thing: I knew parts of the town really well, but not where I was that morning, so I figured I would be able find some familiar landmark and orient from there. I drove down Main Street for a bit but nothing looked familiar. Cue the dramatic, low-tone background music.

Self awareness step one: I knew what turn I had made to get to the library, and the name of the street off of which I turned to get on to that street. So I backtracked. Luckily I have a very strong visual memory and was able to get back to Route 2. From there I knew exactly how to get home. Smooth sailing, right?

Not right. I shall thicken the plot by mentioning that my left front tire had been slowly leaking air for the better part of a week but I had not been able to get an appointment at the shop. Usually the pressure lives at 37psi, but that day it was down to 21. I probably could have made it home safely, but I did not want to push it. I knew where there was gas station and so I made my plan. I still had two hours before I had to meet another client, so I casually counted my quarters and slid them into the air machine. I awkwardly squatted there holding the tube handle tightly on the valve and saw the meter reading that the pressure was increasing. Solid.

The one catch was, the tire was flattening before my eyes. My car reading said it was down to 6psi. Confusion and panic ensue. I think "okay something must be wrong with either the machine or my tire. I'll call AAA and my client and let them know what is going on." Oh wait, I do not have a cell phone. Panic fire rises. 

I then resolve to try the air again, thinking if I re-screwed one portion of the handle that that may make some kind of difference.

Nope. 3psi.

$2.50 and a faulty air machine later, I have a flat tire. And no cell phone. It is like that time you go on a field trip in middle school to a place you know will have an epic snack bar and you realize that you left your wallet at school. You try to play it cool and you know you will still be able to participate in the activities, but secretly you are crying your eyes out on the inside and worry that you are going to starve.

Self awareness step 2: Plan B is the thing people are most afraid of. Asking another human being for help - in this case, to use a phone. But that is the thing. It took me a solid minute through the panic and dread to remember that I have the social skill to ask the station attendant if I could use the station phone - or even his cell phone - to call AAA. I am glad that I reminded myself of that skill, but I do not enjoy how long it took for me in the moment to remember that I possessed it. I do not spend anywhere near as much time on my cell phone than peers and friends do, but it is still a necessary appendage to my tripod of keys-phone-wallet that I compulsively "must" have on me every day. 

Let us just say that the station attendant - whose name will remain confidential but rhymes with Jean and starts with a D - was less than empathetic about my situation. And when I say less than empathetic, I mean he said "Yeah I don't know. Others have complained about that too. I can't do anything about it" so bluntly back to my explanation that my dumbfoundedness overcame my ability to plainly suggest that a sign be put on the machine or that a phone call be made for repairs. I made the mistake of asking for his brilliance to advise what I do, and he so eloquently stated "I don't know. It's a separate company and I'm the only one here so I cant't do anything about it" in such a curt, defensive way that it made it sound like I was the one who flattened his tire and now I was convincing him to give me a Slim Jim for free. 

I do not get angry often. Well, okay I get irritated often but I very rarely show it. I am thankful, however, in this instance that my irritation came through in the form of a facial expression that Jean-with-a-D was actually able to perceive, because by the grace of his own kindness he told me that the building next door was an auto shop and maybe they could fill up my tire. 

There was all this panic and anger and shock and confusion swirling in a barrel inside of me, not so much to overflow, but just to keep my brain kind of awestruck at the situation. Imagine how sexy I felt driving one mile an hour fifty yards in a car whose front end I could feel was slanted toward the ground and whose tire gasped as it flopped through one dilapidated rotation at a time.

Thank goodness the auto shop attendants were angels from heaven and the nicest guys in the world. They mentioned I had not been the only one who had come by and they filled my tire in two seconds.

At that point I had forgotten that I had not had a cell phone. I had not needed it. The timing was such that I could still make it back home and even stop for lunch before meeting my next client. My phone sat lifeless and dark in the front seat as I drove. Humorously, now that the panic and confusion had subsided, I thought "hey this would be a good time to give my mom a call. I haven't talked to her in a while." Smack my head. I even thought of a couple people I needed to reply to via text (voice dictation of course). Smack my head. We are so programmed to think that the phone is available and we can do anything we need on it right away at anytime. Even after all the horror-story material of the Reverse Air Machine, my brain still had not learned that my phone was dead and could not be used. It impulsively still thought it could be used right then. 

If you can believe it, I even stopped to pick up lunch without my cell phone - "whaaaaaaaat, another half hour you intentionally cut yourself off from the world?!" Yup, a conscious choice. Because my cell phone is not the world from which I am being cut off. The world can still be accessed without a phone. Short of manually walking into the airport and asking the human behind the desk to give me a ticket to the world, the grocery store in which I bought lunch was filled with a world of people with whom I could connect or from whom I could ask for support if needed. 

Sure, my back pocket felt significantly lighter, but I survived. 

FRIEND-REQUEST YOUR STRESS: How to optimize your learning in an overstimulating world

I saw a meme once that alluded to the fact that the purpose of school is to fill us in on what has been going on in the world before now. Simply to catch us up on why are learning in the first place. Yeah, I see your wheels turning. You are thinking back to that social studies class where you learned about the Ice Man in the Himalayas or Alps and are curious how that applies to your accounting job now. It is kinda disheartening to think about all the classes we have sat through and wonder what you learned and why.

Pause for a deep breath.

We have learned a lot in our lives. Everything in life is learning even if not in a classroom. What is taught in school is constantly evolving. Evolution is change. Change causes stress. When I am learning something new - like when I had to teach myself my own bookkeeping a few years ago - I have a miniature panic attack at the beginning. Just a little one. It has to happen because it is human. Getting unexpected instructions at work right now is like getting homework at the end of a class period. It suddenly stresses you out a bit because you did not know of it before.

And what is worse, WE ALL HAVE DIFFERENT LEARNING STYLES. Not only do our bosses and teachers all have different personalities that lead to different teaching styles, every student and employee has a totally different learning style. No wonder communication breakdown is the primary cause of job dissatisfaction. But I digress. More on that later...

Learning something new causes stress. Straight up. And that stress is tied to a unique learning style.

Perfect example: Someone very dear to me learned how to administer stress tests while studying Exercise Physiology back in college. She was verbally taught all the step-by-step procedures to administer the test, what each apparatus and programmatic feature was, and how to explain the process to the subject. All good and interesting, except she had no clue how it all fit together. Cue the minor panic attack (Stressing about a stress test: priceless). Luckily she had initiative and has the same blended learning style as I do so, come time to demonstrate the stress test in the lab portion, she did not hesitate to volunteer. Even though she did not fully understand what was about to happen from a practical perspective, her engagement in the demonstration made her consolidate all of the information and understand the process to every detail.

Not all of us have the initiative that she did to take the risk and volunteer to be a test dummy, but we all feel those sudden rushes of momentary panic when we are taught something and do not understand it. All you have to do is recognize it and move on.  Even if you do not ask for help at that point, you must keep going. Reread the textbook seventeen times, stare at the math problem, google how to do what your boss just asked you to do.

We live in a world that is completely flooded with information. Words, images, data everywhere. I thought there was a lot of information to learn back in middle school when we did not yet have cell phones or AOL. Now look where we are. Something new is thrown at us in alarming fashion a zillion times a day. A lot of it we do not consciously notice but our brains and bodies register. It is a lot. Some would say too much. If the overload of information does not match your learning style, anxiety is bound to arise. We are learning new information both consciously and unconsciously from so many new sources all of the time that overwhelm will happen. It is guaranteed and it will not stop.

But here is all you have to do:  Accept that. Yeah, that is all. You are going to get anxious. Every day you are going to get presented with something new to absorb into your limited capacity brain tissue, and it will cause stress. Do not shy away from it, though. It is just your brain wiggling and adjusting itself to store more information. Own it. Expect it.

Why? So you are not surprised when the stress pops up. That way, you will recognize the stress simply as your response to the change and then you will be more open and comfortable to learn the new thing or take on the new task even though it is unfamiliar and unexpected. 

So say hi to your stress, do not push it away. You might learn something from it.

1. WHAT IS YOUR LEARNING STYLE? 2. ACHIEVE GREATNESS.

Technology affects the way kids learn. I spoke about it last week. The reason I spoke about it last week is because it is simply scary how quickly the use of technology can pervade our lives, habits, and psyches. All you Millennials out there, remember college (the awkward 2-12 years ago, depending on who you are)? My college years occurred in the time frame when students already owned their own laptops prior to entering freshman year instead of my sister's time frame in which her college loaned them to students and said "now, this is called a laptop. You can do homework on it on top of your lap." My laptop was large and clunky and its fan made such a powerful whirring sound that it sounded like a malfunctioning boat motor that often dissuaded me from working in the library.

This was the time period when people started taking notes in class on their laptops and ballpoint pen sales began to drop. I have never taken notes on a laptop (regardless of its motorboat sound). I have always loved and needed the tactile feedback of writing notes with a pen in the layout that best suited my absorption of the material. That is not to say that my classmate in the row ahead of me did not receive the same comprehension from typing his notes out into a ready-made study guide while simultaneously checking Facebook notifications. 

The thing is we all learn in different ways. Even "visual learners" learn differently amongst each other, just as "hands-on" learners require different tactile stimuli. And that was before modern technology became a tool you could use. Picture two cavepeople, one a visual learner and the other a hands-on learner, trying to communicate to one another how to make a fire. One would be drawing it out with a stick in the sand while the other is wondering how the sand will turn into burning wood.

Being the unique weirdo that I am, I fall somewhere in between. High school math was a great example (why do I always return to math class in these blog posts?). I would need to watch the teacher explain a concept sequence on the board a few times, then ideally have the teacher watch me try it on my own and correct me, then I would be perfect. I would totally get it. The second it became more collaborative - after I got the general idea and the teacher provided the specifics, proactively or as feedback - I was good to go. 

All it came down to is a personalized application to my life. Here is how: the teacher teaches in their unique teaching style to a bunch of hormone-distracted children who each have their own slightly special learning style. Since the teacher is teaching in such a way for everyone to learn and I sit there unsure how this fits with my learning style, let alone the rest of my life, there is an element of connection that is missing. I am not connected to the material because I do not know how it should connect to me. 

All it takes is one comment slightly more tailored to my learning experience and BOOM, math was fun. In business, everything is learning. Since I chose to be an entrepreneur in the business world, seriously EVERYTHING IS LEARNING. When I made my first website, I just said "Allrighty then, I guess I will figure it out as I go." And I did! I was open to the journey and threw caution to the wind. 

But let us think about when you cannot do something alone. Like when you talk to a designer about a logo, or a landscaper to quote a construction project, it is very rare anymore for customers to trust providers at face value, so automatically the provider becomes like my math teacher in that they must convey their information and value but then explain it in the context of your specific need. That is when it becomes collaborative. Teamwork makes the dream work.

Just like hot yoga, a lot of people do not know how narrative coaching would benefit their life and wellness. I could explain the history of narrative, the transformation of branding trends in conjunction with technological advancements, and the psychosocial importance of personal storytelling in an oversaturated and disconnected market, but then my listener will think "Wow he knows a lot" and then go back to a job they dislike. Instead of showing how much of a narrative nerd I am, I enact what my math teacher did for me and collaboratively caress the needs of a prospective client with a personalized explanation that applies to them.

Let us be clear, though: it is not about me, it is about you. It is about your learning style and how we can work together to make that fire. Your learning style is unique, your career development needs are unique, your personal goals are unique, so any way that you work toward them will have to be unique. It is just another math equation: uniqueness of need = uniqueness of action.

The fun part about my job is that I get to help you discover that uniqueness WITH you, not FOR you. It is collaborative so that a) we both learn and b) you do not have to feel like I did a lot of days in math class staring at the board not knowing where to start. 

A starting point can be anywhere, so tell me: how do you like to learn?

KIDS THESE DAYS: THE MILLIONTH REASON WHY TECHNOLOGY SHOULD BE FEARED AND RESPECTED

I read an article in Time magazine back in 2013 about how technology has changed the way that children learn these days. Selfie fever was already an epidemic at the time, but kids did not know how to take them correctly. They simply knew that they had to dress up, pose "effortlessly", and take a thousand pics just to be sure.

The Millennial generation was the first to grow up with the onslaught of computers and cellular phones. My sister is on the upper boundary of the Millennial age bracket and she did not get a cell phone until senior year of high school, by my parents' insistence. This new weird gizmo was too dangerous to be entrusted to an adolescent...

When she got hers, my brother and I looked on with wonder, interpreting what we saw of the phone as the combo of a landline, a remote control, and a PlayStation 2 controller. We were all like, "what's a text message? Don't you talk on it?"

Little 'ole me came along and my parents softened a little by letting me have a cell phone during sophomore year of high school instead of senior year because so many other kids already had them. My parents are not pushovers or people who predictably hop on bandwagons, so giving us phones was genuinely due to the value of accessibility. If I needed to access my parents for anything, I no longer had to go to the school office and wait in line to make a landline call out. My phone, a beautiful and sleek Motorola flip model, lived in my backpack (cause there was no way something that bulky could live in my pocket just yet...especially with an antenna) and there was security in knowing that it was mine and that it could be used to contact my parents at any time.

And that was before any apps...or a camera...

The Time article scared me when I read it because it meant that the advent of the internet and the proliferation of cell phones fundamentally changed the way that human beings learn information. In the old days, it was lecture and discussion-style and then you take a test to realize how much did not actually sink into your brain. The teacher was the source of information, however, and you could not comfortably call that teacher at home if you did not get something. You had to refer to a book of some kind.

But then in 2013, the article spoke to how students hear the information from teachers and make mental note of keywords or key-phrases that they can then look up online or on their phone later on or before the test. Not only that, if there was a story on the news that seemed interesting in passing, children will log the topic and tv channel in their mind so that they know where they could find it later instead of sitting down and watching right then. They learned where to find the information, not the information itself.

It freaked me out because it meant we youngens were learning in such a different way than people had in the past and even the way that I was learning had changed over time.  

But even though the kids that the article referenced (FOUR YEARS AGO, mind you) simply tie a balloon to the back of their brain that holds the location of the new knowledge just to have for later, that is still new knowledge. Forming the memory circuit for where that information lives is still a new memory circuit. Sure, the person does not absorb the history lesson's content right then, but they still have taken in a new piece of knowledge about that content. Not only that, but they have created a new adaptation for survival in knowing where to find certain information that they are being taught is important.

This learning style contributes to the overall ADD of my generation because the logging of the key phrase and where to find the content only takes a couple of seconds, freeing up time in the classroom to draft one's next tweet or zone out looking at the cute guy or girl in another row. Kids now ask "what's next?" because they tie up the balloon and compartmentalize information so quickly.

I am absolutely guilty of this, especially in the past few years when the amount of accessible information has continued to explode and the amount of things I have wanted and needed to learn has similarly expanded in the course of entrepreneurship.   

So why am I still scared of that article?

I am scared for the kids. I think I am fine and most of my adult comrades who use the balloon trick are fine because we mostly know why we are saving that memory circuit and because we need to devote our attention to some other piece of our job. But kids do not know what they should devote their attention to yet, which is why technology is so distracting and the allure of social media is so strong. They tie up a balloon about history class and when the test is and call it good. Then they hop back on Instagram.

So even though kids are still learning, I can still be scared.

The Two Most Important Questions to Ask Yourself About Your Life

I majored in Neuroscience in college. Remember how I said I am a nerd? If you need more confirmation, just keep reading. 

But seriously, I majored in Neuroscience (and now own two businesses? How does that work??). I went to a liberal arts college and went in with the most common liberal arts course of study: UNDECLARED. I thought I wanted to study history, so Freshman fall, right off the bat, I took an Ancient Greek History course. Greek and Roman histories are my favorite so I thought this would be a great place to start exploring. So many names and dates, thought papers, and discussion classes later, I realized that the bleak career prospects were not enough to appeal my interests in the subject.

My second choice was psychology because I had enjoyed it in high school. Freshman spring I took intro psych with a visiting professor who spoke to a lecture hall full of forty students as though they were teeny tiny toddlers learning how to keep drool in their mouths for the first time (I think she was a child psychologist by trade). Beyond her tone, cadence, and overall way of interacting with us, her lectures were slow and her tests were hard. HOWEVER, a neuroscientist from Indiana University who somehow happened to be in Middlebury, VT, exactly when we needed to learn the anatomy of the brain and nervous system (?), presented the neuroscience lecture and holy smokeshow I fell in love.

No, not with him. With his sweet, beautiful, nerdy words about the brain and nerve cells and autonomic responses. Speaking of autonomic responses: I was autonomically reacting to the subject matter in the same manner I did when I first fell in love with a human female.

Flashback to exactly a year before that: In high school AP Biology senior year, I did not hesitate to dissect the brain of a fetal pig even though the internal body systems were all that were required for the lab report grade. I painstakingly chipped away at the skull and gently shaved it away so as not to damage the brain tissue underneath. I peeled off the coating of the brain and slowly wiggled the brain out of the spinal column.

I had no idea why I so comfortably volunteered to do it and immediately went after it in my free periods or why I took suchpride in holding the brain of another animal in the palm of my hand, but it happened all the same. I was in flow.

Fast forward a year and even though a brain was not in my hand, the love was back in my heart. I immediately declared neuroscience, found my advisor, and signed up for all the classes in the major I could. I even finished my general ed requirements by the end of Sophomore fall so that I could literally spend two and a half full years nerding out on the best subject matter of all time. 

I will never forget sophomore spring when I took four science classes in my major, two of which had labs, and people began to ask me: "so what are you going to do with neuroscience?"

Good question, though it is beyond me why I was being asked that mere months after I declared and before I was even halfway done my college tenure. Despite that, this is what it came down to: it did not matter. Who cared what I did with it? I did not care. I had no interest in going into the field of neuroscience at the time but I simply loved the subject so damn much. 

On a particularly stressful night before I probably had two exams, a paper, and a lot of reading assigned, my dad asked me on the phone: "why are you studying it then if it is causing you that much stress?" I know he cared about my health and was genuinely concerned, and I was equally genuine when I shrugged to myself and answered: "because I love it."

I still do not know why I fell so hard in love with neuroscience, but there also does not need to be an explanation. It simply clicked.

We all have unique interests and we are all presented with choices.

What to study, where to live, where to move, where to travel, how to get there, what job to get, what career to create.

No matter your interests, there is something in a choice that connects to who you uniquely are as a person that pulls you toward an option or away from one. Either way, the choice you make says more about you than the choices on their own. Something inside me guided me to work on that pig's brain and that says a lot more about my personality than it does about the fact that a fetal pig was lying on the lab counter in front of me with an untouched head. 

What is it about you that guides your decisions? Why are you where you are? It is okay if the answer is: I made a mistake. That is fine because it is accountability for a choice you made. Even if it turned out to be a mistake, you still made a choice and that act says a lot about who you are and where you are in your life. 

So question number one is: no matter what choices you made to be in the spot you are right now, what do you love about what you are doing? Think about it. Is it something about the work itself? Do you just enjoy the commute? Are you thankful that your job sucks and it gives you something to complain about? What is it for you? Why do you get up and do it all the time?

I have discovered - only recently, mind you - that the unique love I have for neuroscience is about the exploration. I will get into more of that at a later time, but it suffices to say that the architecture of the brain and its organization and functions present the opportunity to explain everything about who we all are. I think the brain is cool as a physical object, sure, but that is not why I took so much time and care to breach the pig's skull. It is because the experience offered an opportunity for exploration. 

So question number two is: now that you know what you love, what do you want to do about it?

Where do you want to take it? Is there a change you want to make, or a next step within your role that you want to take? What are you going to do with your love?

A lot of people I work with hit this point where they realize there is something in what they do that they love that keeps them going every day and that they want to do something about...but they are terrified of taking a next step because they cannot articulate answers to these two questions.

I have answered them for myself, and the second answer continues to evolve, but that is okay. That is the process. When you are in love, the feelings evolve. The nature of the connection evolves. 

What evolution are you hoping for?

How My Three Brand Pillars Will Change Your Life

Last week I introduced to you to the three pillars on which my services are based - Awareness, Acceptance, and Accountability - and now I am going to tell you how they can be used to rock your world and change your life.

To start, let us take it back for a second. I am the youngest of three kids. I have been known as the baby, the little prince, the perfect one, the favorite, and some others, but I swear none of those have gone to my head, I swear. 

Did I mention I was the favorite? Anyways...  I got to observe all of my family interactions from day one. All of the questions, the activities, the arguments, and the love. Before I even knew that I was a "person", I was filling up my brain with little notes and observations about personality and motivations. As I grew a consciousness, I began to notice I had biases, interests, and dislikes, and that they began to affect decisions I made. Those interests and decisions led me to set goals and voila! Awareness laid the groundwork for direction. 

My self awareness was built by life events that came with getting a little bit older. Golden example: the terrifying experience of calling the dentist's office that I described a few posts back. When I was little-little and didn't know I had a voice or what a telephone was, someone made the appointment for me. In my example, I had become old enough to know how to use a phone and that that was how appointments got scheduled, but I did not know the right way to schedule one. 

This is the acceptance. The combination of self awareness and more life experiences showed me what I did not know.

I thought that there was a right or wrong way to schedule an appointment with the dentist and plainly did not know how to do it. Even though I panicked before I asked for help, the panic on its own is a form of acceptance - I was panicking that I did not know something!

But then I learned how to do it. I asked for help and called the darn dentist's office. I stuttered my words, but I achieved my goal. And there comes the accountability. As soon I learned how to make a dentist's appointment, I would be expected to do so in the future. Since I now had the new ability to call their office, I bore that privileged responsibility.

Okay, why is he talking about the dentist's office so much? Because it is real life. It is a mundane, every day challenge that someone could face growing up. And it is an example of positive change that my business provides. Sure, I could help you with calling the dentist because I am now an expert, but I also mean applying the three As to not only a business but your personal life as well. 

Lightning round: A RELATIONSHIP YOU ARE IN

  1. Awareness = your emotions for the other person, your capacity for vulnerability, maybe even what you are looking for out of a partner or relationship, and, of course, where you fall short in the connection.
  2. Acceptance = that you are not perfect - SPOILER ALERT - and you do not know everything and that, in your emotional discomfort, you are dating the person with whom you can communicate and ask for help
  3. Accountability = you are dating the person with whom you can communicate and ask for help. Now that you know how to, you can continue to in the future andddddddd boom, the connection gets stronger.

You are welcome. 

Now let's circle back to business. If you are starting a business or have started one and for whatever reason chose to skip over your narrative exploration (shameful), all you have to do is frame your reflection with these three pillars. For example:

  • Awareness = your business idea, your desire to start your own thing, and maybe even the first step to designing your product.
  • Acceptance = that you do not know how to make a business plan, do marketing of any kind, or in what kind of guidance youwant to invest.
  • Accountability = as soon as you do ask for help or receive guidance, you have the responsibility to not only advocate for any help as needed in the future but also follow up on that guidance and do what was advised.

In other words:

  • Awareness = your goal
  • Acceptance = current state / what you need to learn
  • Accountability = learning and taking action

This is why people recruit friends or hire people like me to keep them diligent. Accountability often is most effective when its source is someone or something external to you but, if it is not rooted in a passion that you are aware of, you will not stay motivated or you will veer off in the wrong direction.

One of the defining principles of true narrative is aspiration, and these three As make up the car that drives the aspiration forward. They provide direction. Apply them to your life. Where are you feeling stuck and wanting direction?

These three pillars can be used to provide direction as well as give you a boost of an action plan to pursue a goal in any realm of your life.

Conversations with coworkers, date night, cooking a meal, running a marathon, running a country, starting a business...

Knowledge is power. You cannot get to true Accountability without digging into your self awareness and goals...

...so let's get started.

The 3 Pillars Of My Brand

In both The Tailored Quill and my second company, The Axon Program, apart from my mission statements and value propositions, I assist people with three life-changing elements:

  1. Awareness
  2. Acceptance
  3. Accountability

Boom. There you go. There is a nugget for you. Now go off and thrive with that, if you can. If you want to learn more, keep reading and stay tuned. These will come up a lot. 

See, you cannot have acceptance without awareness, nor accountability without acceptance. There is a logical order to it. Just like the order of the universe, though, the order consists of chaos.

Clients come to me when they are in some inner crisis of ambition. Their external world may seem ordered but inside everything is in total disarray. An unfortunate majority of people in the world wait until the chaos begins to boil over before they reach out beyond themselves for some kind of assistance (see post #2). Even though I wholeheartedly promote the vulnerability it takes to ask for help, I understand that a lot of people do not know how.

No matter what, there is such great awareness and acceptance already there when someone chooses to ask for help. The person is aware that they are stuck, stressed, or helpless and subsequently accepts that they themselves do not have the resource knowledge necessary to ameliorate the tension. 

That is huge! People do not realize how impressive it is that they have that awareness and that they are able to accept that they  do not know something. The reason people do not see how impressive it is is because the sensation of helplessness and the vulnerability needed to ask for help feels TERRIBLE to most people.

I am working with one client now who without fail will give themselves a mini pep talk and then preface a question they are about to ask me, all because the experience of asking for help in any way and showing that open vulnerability has always been severely unfamiliar. It is like the setup routine a professional weightlifter displays before attempting a lift.

Once the stress response subsides and the endorphins sift back in to their blood stream, most people are able to stop and think "Huh, I did that!" and hear me when I tell them how impressive their self awareness in that moment was. 

That is why my work is collaborative. I present the space for you to be safely vulnerable. You take the risk of asking for help. I label how impressive your capacities for awareness and acceptance are. You revel in your new personal glory. We set goals as a team for accountability. Then we repeat. Over and over and over. In every kind of way.

I took a cellular biology course during my sophomore year of college and during one lab session we learned how to run analytical tests of data we had collected. I entered in data, a graph appeared in the report, and I had absolutely no idea what the graph meant. I stared at it for a so long, one eye on the obnoxiously loudly ticking clock on the wall, knowing that I had to understand this one piece if I was going to complete the assignment. As I began to sweat and panic, I felt helpless. 

Then I acknowledged how many times I had stared at the graph in that previous ten minutes and I knew that I did not have the answer. I took in an exasperated breath and asked the TA for help. I recognized her supportive way of guiding me to come up with the answer on my own, and we both relished the epic flood of epiphany that I felt when it all clicked. 

Now translate that to your life at work. What if you have an assignment due at the end of the workday and you are staring at the materials with wide eyes, seeing no where to start? 

What about if you feel stuck in your job and want to change careers but have no idea how to go about it?

What about if you want to start your own company?

We all feel that panic and we are all aware that it is panic. But it is what we do at that moment that determines whether we remain helpless and slip into despair or learn something new and grow. Maybe you have already felt the despair before, so I walk on the wild side: take the same exasperated breath I did and ask someone for help. See what happens. 

The Simple Way To Turn Your Life Into Grad School

How many of you out there would love to just go to school for the rest of your life? 

I know a lot of people who would immediately raise their hands like Hermione Granger. I know a ton of people who would say absolutely not, and that is fine too. 

I do not know where it came from when I was born and began to evolve my own sliver of primate consciousness, but I have loved learning for as long as I can remember. Not just hearing new information - truly learning it. Letting it seep into my muscles and marrow and the very folds of my brain. 

If you read a few posts back about my one-day stand with calculus, you have an idea of my relationship to math. But even math I find fascinating - not enough to keep learning for the flipping fun of it, but for what it is, why it exists, and the way that problems are identified and solved. The logic and the systems of it. 

I have come to realize that my interest in math, for example, is the same interest I have in the human mind. The logic, the systems, the way that we face changes and challenges and adapt in order to address them. 

Information that we absorb we process and integrate in our minds based on our unique learning styles as well as our biases toward what we have enjoyed learning in the past. I am fascinated by math because of the way human beings invented it, now interact with it, and how math plays a role in explaining so much about the world, not by the act of solving a proof in my high school classroom. Similarly, I am fascinated by physics because of how it explains the universe and how chaotic systems have led to planets and species evolution, not by the idea of solving one of the foreign language formulas that fill up chalkboards in a lab.

I have come to peace with the fact that I may not get the chance to learn most things I would like to in this lifetime (Perhaps I will read about them during retirement in my leather easy chair and velvet robe I will own and with the sun setting perfectly outside the window), and accepting the classic constraints that time places on how much I can learn enables me to happily open myselfto learning everything I can every day.

Access to information is at an unprecedented level and even saying that is becoming redundant with the pace by which apps and websites and companies and programs are evolving while I write this post. 

This is profoundly so in the world of business/narrative/branding/marketing/strategy. I just spoke with a colleague and fellow Narrativeologist who said "You are never ahead or on top of how fast the industry and media is moving." 

(Sooooooo we created a monster...? Table that for now...)

The solution? "Honesty," he says.

"If you accept that you will never be able to get ahead of the world, it will be much easier to tell a client 'Hey, I have not thought of that before. Let's talk about it' when they offer a counter-perspective on your solution. Being honest about not knowing something opens the door to solving problems as a team."

Learning is collaborative. My company's tagline is Confidence through Collaboration and I mean it both ways. There is no such thing as a true expert but I know things that clients find helpful to learn either about themselves or their brands.

Simultaneously, every client knows so many things that I do not know and presents the opportunity in every conversation to teach me something new about myself, my company, and what I think about the human experience. 

A lot of my clients are inundated by the billion things out there now to help them grow their businesses. It is my job to simplify things for them, but I cannot do that unless I learn from them what math problems they are facing or what chaotic systems are affecting their evolution. 

The opportunity for learning is just that: an opportunity. It comes from something. Whether it is something subconscious like a personal motivation or interest that presents itself, as customary as a teacher presenting something new in class, or as tangible as the pressure to figure out what makes you stand out in your industry (Pro tip: that is why you come to me...), inspiration must be there from a separate source. 

So maybe it is not about going back to school for the rest of your life. Maybe life is all the schooling you need.

What is the source of your inspiration? What are you dying to learn about?

How to find a resource! Hint: Be afraid...

Merriam Webster defines resource in numerous, but related, ways:

  • a possibility of relief or recovery
  • a source of supply or support
  • a source of information and expertise
  • a natural source of wealth or revenue
  • an ability to meet and handle a situation
  • {and most importantly...}
  • a natural feature or phenomenon that enhances the quality of human life

Let's get the obvious one out of the way. When we say "someone has the resources for x...," it is often clear that we are referring to money in some way. A resource in that sense is almost like a relaxed recognition that money is there and can be accessed as necessary.

Okay, great. Let us move on. Resource comes from Old French meaning "a source or spring", refers to "a means of supplying a want or deficiency", and "to rally and raise again." It also comes from Latin's root word for resurgent, relating to the idea of rising from some lower point.

I think that is pretty cool. We seek resources when we acknowledge a need of our own or a gap in our knowledge, however big or small.

The first time I ever made my own appointment at the dentist's office when I was younger, I was petrified. The fact that my parents had made appointments for me before that point made me think that there was this grand, special way to do it that only they were allowed to know and that there was definitely absolutely a right or wrong way to do it. In other words, a high probability I would fudge it all up and be eternally ashamed. I was lucky to recognize my mom as the resident expert at the time on this knowledge that I needed so, what did I do, everyone? Say it with me: I. Asked. Her. For. Help...! Very good. 

She was all like "Yeah, just tell them that you need a cleaning and see what days they offer might work." 

Am I on candid camera? Was that it?

You know the emoji of the narrow, focused eyes and the one pensively scratching its chin? Combine those two and that is the face I remember giving to how simple her answer was. This is how a resource presents the possibility of relief and recovery. Not only was all of my pre-pubescent anxiety immediately extinguished but I also acquired a new skill of confidently picking up the phone and advocating for something I needed from the big scary dentist's office.

Resource seeking can be as simple as my younger, cuter self calling the dentist or as complex as someone with an epic idea wanting to start a business (I know there are bigger examples but no, I am not going to mention the kind of resources our marvelous president should definitely seek right about now...).

I have met so many people in the startup world and, having created two startups myself, there is an endless need for resources in the form of information and expertise.  Even though I listed what the dictionary calls a resource, actual resources are completely subjective. My clients see me as a resource for personal branding and building narratives, but the way in which they need that is unique to them and their journeys. 

A common misconception is that seeking a resource is a one-way effort. But instead it is an exchange. A matter of teamwork.

You are the one that has to break the ice, though.

No one will know you need their supply and support unless you put yourself out there in an honest and authentic way. I was shaking in my socks when I asked my mom about the stupid dentist but my vulnerability could not have been more authentic because, well, I was terrified to make the stupid phone call. 

I prepare for every single meeting, phone call, email, text message, what have you, when I am seeking aid from a resource so that I am able to not only honestly ask the question I want to ask but also contribute back to the discussion and subsequently put the work into applying whatever was taught to me. It becomes a mutualistic interaction around an agreed topic.

I learn from my clients every time I speak with them and it is my job to provide resources to them in any form they need. Narrative evolves (stay tuned for more on that) and so do everyone's needs for knowledge, including my own. If we continue to practice our authentic expression of vulnerability when we realize we don't know something, everyone will benefit and their eventual resourcefulness will be filled with new skills and knowledge that they can then share back to the world themselves. 

Remember, the origins of the word resource reiterate the theme of rising up from a place of deficiency. A resource can empowering, uplifting, helpful, and exciting if you are open to seeking it.

I am humbled that the mission of my companies and the mission of so many companies with which I am acquainted echo the last listed definition of the word: the enhancement of human life. 

Whether you want to call the dentist or start a company or anything between and beyond, I guarantee there is someone who can relieve your angst and I hope you will take the step to reach out. We will all be made better for it. 

Treat yo'self! A little first step to huge self care

Last week I talked about how important it is to be nice to other people but also that that takes energy. It is not easy to give yourself to others all the time. We need to separate and recharge in order to restock our supply of altruism. I have always been "reservedly extraverted" but it was not until a point in college when I learned the true beauty of introspection and self care (to be covered in a later post).

It is not lost on me that so many people in your lives have told you to be nice to others and you likely hear some version of the instruction every day. Whether or not we follow the instruction, we at least think for a few seconds about what it means to be nice to others.

But holy cannoli, we are not nice to ourselves.

We set such high expectations for ourselves and place undue pressure on responsibilities underneath the pressures that others already assign us. That's a lot!

And I am not just talking about work. This intense self-oppression shows up in play too. How many people do you know have told you how exhausting a family reunion is? How they just want to run away and breathe an hour into the party? Yeah. You do not get paid to attend a family reunion on a much-needed Saturday afternoon with your wife and two infants, but it feels like work.  

My family doesn't do tropical vacations. It simply was never injected into our gene pool. In fact, we opt for the total opposite altitude and go on week long ski trips, shredding as much pow as we can regardless of how long it takes to find our lungs and teach them how to breathe that high above sea level. Even though we have skied all our lives and I would choose the mountains over a beach any day, a week long ski trip is exhausting. It is guaranteed that each member of my family says "Vacation is a lot of work" at some point during the week, immediately followed up with "I need a vacation to recover from our vacation."

I digress. The point is that we put our energy toward a lot of things and a lot of people and it is easy to lose sight of ourselves, our health, and our success. My solution: cut yourself some slack. You do so much. You work so hard. Remind yourself of that.

I know what it's like. You get tangled in the vines of responsibility, focus on work during the day and personal health at night, on repeat, and you do not give yourself enough credit for the effort you put into everything. Let me be the one to thank you for your service.

You are a champion. Sit down on top of the podium and take a long breath. Close your eyes even. 

I am not going to tell you to take a vacation now, don't worry. That would be most hypocritical of me. 

Instead I am telling you that you are awesome. You are really talented and you are working damn hard. Believe it or not, it is okay that you do not know something, too, or are dealing with stress. Yeah, it is. You are allowed to not know something. That is part of the human narrative. 

One of the first things I learned in my career was how to label the most simple thing about someone I am serving simply for what it is. Every client comes to me with thoughts and emotions and stories and hopes and has no idea what to do or where to start.

Before we choose a direction, I label how cool it is that they are at a point where they feel totally stuck. I have said things like:

"It's so impressive that you were able to ask for help."

"You described that with so much enthusiasm."

"I'm proud of you for acknowledging something you do not know."

...just to name a few. I help them pause for a hot second and breathe and reflect on what they have already accomplished just to be in that challenging moment. It brings them down to stable ground upon which we can set goals for their narrative work.

I know what you are thinking and I appreciate the compliment but the answer is no, I am not perfect. Nor am I exempt from extreme self-criticism and perceived directionlessness (but at least I can reflect on how confident I am to make up a word like directionlessness and publish it in a blog post. Go me!).   

I have worked on cutting myself some slack my entire life. I still do. A friend and colleague asked me yesterday "How do you maintain your own narrative? Who does what you do for you?" Um, well, numerous people but mainly myself. I practice the labeling tactic on myself ALL THE TIME. I have to. It is about checking in and reminding myself of the things I have done that led to this moment. For instance, writing this post is a reminder in itself. I have stopped several times throughout the drafting of this to think about what has led me here and why the challenges I currently face make a whole heckuva lotta sense. 

As soon as action is taken toward ambition, you immediately find out where your knowledge gaps are. But UGH, that is okay! I become aware of the gaps in my knowledge because I have never needed the knowledge before.

The challenges I face are unique to the decisions I have made. 

What challenge are you facing today? And how does that challenge indicate the progress you have recently made?

Maybe, just maybe, answering that will help you give yourself some slack. And maybe that slack will give you space for a deep breath. And then suddenly you have a nice moment of alone time, supported by the knowledge that we are never truly alone in all of life's challenges.

 

 

 

 

P.S.  Exhibit A: you kept scrolling. You are a curious person. Keep being amazing.

You'll never read this, will you?

Blog - one of the goofiest but most recognizable words in the world. Like a lovechild of "blah" and "fog". Both super exciting. The first recorded mention of the word was in 1997 as part of the word "Weblog" before its separation into the phrase "we blog" allowed it to become a verb in addition to a noun. The term "Weblog" makes a whole lot more sense, let's be real. Now blogs are as ubiquitous as thermostats: random instruments that are secretly necessary in daily life. Blogs often take the form of a lack of form, leaving it up to the writer to craft it the way they want and about whatever they want (SPOILER ALERT: we'll cover this a lot more in a later post).  

Whether you're a quintessential millennial (like me) or a well-informed baby boomer, you very well know how blogs are the rebellious middle child between a tweet and a novel. It has stuff to say and it's ready to argue, but it's going to argue it in 600-1200 words and then turn stubborn, holding fast behind the words once it's published. The younger sibling will comment on it, the older sibling will discuss it on their book tour, but the middle sibling will remain stoic. 

Like the events that punctuate a culture's history, blog posts are the stories that compose the blog's overall narrative. The first time I wrote a blog was in the summer of 2011 when my sister and I took an epic road trip around the west coast for two weeks, documenting how many pastries we ate and how many times her iPod Classic (yup, remember those? The iPods that could store a hundred thousand songs or something?) thought it was a good idea to play Christmas songs on shuffle. We published the blog because we knew the trip would be an adventure and our closest friends and family wanted to be included in that adventure (it was amazing. If you happen to find it in the internet-land, please enjoy).

That's what blogs do: they connect people. Even if you don't read this post - let's be honest, you likely won't; it's the first post - I now get to be stubborn about a topic. And you ought to pay attention, because everything I will talk about actually relates to your life. And yours. And yours. And mine. That's important to understand so I'm glad you read all the way to this point (you did read this, right?).