Narrative / Storytelling

On Transition: How To Take The Stress Out Of Change And Uncertainty

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I just moved across the country from Massachusetts to Utah.

Do not worry, it was planned. For a very good reason. But despite how planned it was, moving is still ranked as one of the top stress-inducing activities for human beings. I have moved numerous times in my young adult life and, even though I am really really ridiculously good at it, it is still a daunting and difficult process. 

The part that I am best at is getting in to my fully packed car, starting the engine, and driving to wherever my new home will be. I do not feel any stress during that piece of the process. Once I arrive in the new location, a little stress comes in the form of the to-do list at the new living situation (i.e. utilities, internet, unpacking, organizing my belongings, etc.), all of which is dependent on the extent of preparation prior to the journey.

Speaking of preparation, that is where all of my stress lives. I am quite good at planning the preparation and checking off all of the things that lead up to leaving my apartment spotless and concealing the keys in the freezer for my landlord, but still the process of doing all of those things is so burdensome.

I felt a constant simmer of cortisol flow inside me for about a month and a half, my sleep was affected because my brain exploded with "WHAT ARE WE GOING TO ACCOMPLISH TOMORROW???" brainstorms the second I turned out the light, and my body felt like it was riding around on the Tilt-A-Whirl ride at the carnival (google it) swirling from work to packing stuff up to "sleep" and back to work. 

Before you determine that this is just my diary entry about how successful my trip along the Oregon Trail went and a discussion of my personal stress triggers, let me clarify that this post is about transition. 

People hate change. People fear change. It is uncertain, unpredictable, uber terrifying. Change is literally the total opposite of familiarity, and human beings are wired to seek out and settle into any sense of familiarity available. Our brains crave it so that it can log the most efficient ways to survive. 

Of course we also need novelty and uncertainty for our brains to grow at all, but human beings enjoy trying to control that uncertainty by planning way ahead for something or overanalyzing every single possible scenario even though they have zero knowledge about it. 

As a result, transitions can be challenging for people in so many different ways. 

I, for example, get stressed in the daunting preparation of moving. Others may not pack much so the preparation is super easy but they get stressed by the drive itself. 

As I mentioned above, the overall process of moving is split up into:

  1. Preparation and planning
  2. The action of the change
  3. Settling in to the new state

Moving is an easy example to use for a stressful change, but I want to think beyond that now and ask you how you react to change. 

Let us think of some examples of change, large or small, that you may experience throughout a given day:

  • a rainstorm
  • a surprise meeting
  • a car accident
  • a surprise party
  • someone buys you a drink
  • your computer crashes
  • you sleep through your alarm
  • you wake up before your alarm

See, change can be all kinds of things but those things do not have to always be a surprise. Like moving across the country or knowing you have to lead a meeting today that you usually do not have to, change causes some level of stress. 

Reflection Homework:

  1. What changes or transitions have you experienced recently that you expected / could plan for?
  2. How did you react to them?
  3. What changes or transitions have you experienced recently that you did NOT expect / could NOT plan for?
  4. How did you react to them?
  5. Did you react differently depending on whether or not the change was known ahead of time? Why or why not?
  6. Go back to the three categories above and zoom in on your reaction. Which of the three steps of the change process caused the highest reaction?

A lot of people are so distracted by the stress of their change that they are unable to perceive what specifically about that change is causing the stress. If you are able to answer the above questions, you will be able to focus in on what stresses you out the most. 

If you always stress about the same segment of a change, how might you prepare differently for that segment in the future?

If you make a list of recent changes and notice that your stress is divided up through the different segments of each change, what do those changes have in common?

This awareness will lead you to preemptively quell the stress before it even begins in the future. 

What Is Missing In Your Life? Your Skills, Values, And Ambition Assessment

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What do you care about? 

I should just end this post there with that question. A real punch to the stomach that would hopefully confuse you and then stress you out as you think about how to answer it. 

I work with a lot of people starting businesses but I also work with even more people who dislike where there career is and desperately want to make some kind of change. The wall they run into on their own is an incomplete awareness of what is needed to make that change. 

A common framework that helps put structure to this mental roadblock is the definition of a person's unique skills, values, and ambition. In my class, I teach the importance of not only defining them but aligning them so that one's self-concept is rock solid. I visualize it for students like an equilateral triangle and talk about it like Tony Stark's triangular arc reactor chest-piece that he makes in Iron Man 2. When the energy is flowing through it, the whole triangle lights up with epic power. That epic power is available to anyone who puts the time and energy in to aligning their skills, values, and ambition.

Now back to you. Answer me this:

- have you ever gotten so inspired about something you care about but then you do not even start it because you do not know how to do it?

- have you ever gotten so good at something in your job and you have goals for yourself within the company but you never make progress because you do not care about the company's mission?

Let us break it down into common sense: 

1. If you care about something and you have related skills but you do not have goals or ambition, you will not be satisfied.

2. If you have a goal and skills that can help you achieve it, but you do not care about anything specific, you will not fulfill that goal.

3. If you care a ton about something and you have all the ambition in the world to go after whatever that thing is but you do not have relevant skills, you will not make progress. 

Unfortunately you cannot just have 2 out of 3.

No ambition = progress will be like molasses.

No relevant skills = you will feel incompetent and frustrated.

No core value set = you will become apathetic and aloof.

Now what is there to do about it? Assess yourself. Of the three categories with clients, I often start with values because people often have a more accessible sense of what they care about in life than the other two categories. 

Values

Let us start with values. Here are some guiding questions.

  • what are some things in life that matter to you, in general?
  • what is important to you in your work or at your workplace?
  • what kinds of causes or societal issues pull at your heart strings or fire you up?
  • what do you care about having in a relationship or your friendships?

Skills

Skills are sometimes harder for people to reflect on, so be gentle with yourself when you are answering these questions.

  • what are some things that you consider yourself good at?
  • what is something you love doing?
  • what are your responsibilities at work? 
  • what do you do in your free time?
  • if you know specifics, what abilities are you confident in?

Ambition

Ambition can be big or small, future or present. Think about any goals at all that come to mind.

  • what is your goal for your career right now, overall?
  • what is your goal for your work right now, specifically?
  • what is a goal you have for your relationships or friendships?
  • what is your personal development goal for the future - aka what are things that you want to learn about yourself, where do you want to live, what do you hope to personally achieve, separate from work?

The important thing to keep in mind is that you do not have to be able to answer every single question. I often customize these questions into only one or two that are specific to my client's situation. For you the readers, I wrote longer lists in hopes that at least one of the questions is helpful to spark your reflection. Do not put pressure on yourself to answer every one and to make sure your answers are perfect. 

If an answer comes to mind, no matter how disorganized or basic, WRITE IT DOWN. It will be your perfect starting point. 

Now, step two is to look back at your responses and feel which category either garnered the least awareness or was more difficult to answer. If only one stands out, great. If two stand out, choose one that feels most relevant to focus on first.

If it is your values, think about it again. Everybody cares about something, even if that something is video games or not going to work. 

If it is your skills, are you able to identify what skills would be helpful? If not, ask someone what they think. If so, what is a first step you can take to acquiring those skills - who can you talk to, what can you read/research, what class can you take?

If it is your ambition, ask yourself why you are having trouble identifying a kind of goal - is it because you do not like where you are at in life? If so, what don't you like?  Do you wish you could identify a goal? If so, who could you talk to for help around thinking about and defining goals?

Whichever one is most relevant for you is that on which your career satisfaction or your personal fulfillment depends. 

Jefferson Dinner, Part Two: How To Earn Respect In Any Conversation

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A while back, I wrote a post about finding your true voice and how I finally heard mine for the first time a few years ago at the Book Swarm event in Oakland, California. As I have moved around the country since then and worked on my business in different places, my true voice has come and gone, hidden from me here and there, gone on vacation a few times without telling me. It is only natural because it is connected to my self-confidence and my meta-awareness about my skills and acquired knowledge. 

Sometimes it hits me hard in conversation and I say to myself "Oh damn, I know stuff..." and drop knowledge bombs on whoever with whom I am interacting. It is so cool when you realize that you know things. You suddenly feel so powerful and even unstoppable. But it is hard to ground it and hold on to it in your awareness because there are so many moments of the day that distract you and that do not give you the chance to exclusively have the floor and fully live in that knowledge power.

The Jefferson Dinner last week, however, was just that opportunity. For those of you who did not read my post last week, shame on you. Also, to recap, a Jefferson Dinner is when a small group of people get together, eat dinner, and discuss their thoughts on a certain pre-determined topic one at a time such that everyone is heard and everyone gets to speak. 

My true voice came back from vacation just in time for my turn to speak in each of the discussions we had. 

No, I'm not telling you that Jefferson Dinners are the only times when you can feel heard and powerful. They help and they are a lot of fun, but let us dissect what about the Dinner specifically created the opportunity: 

1. Structure

The overall subject of the discussions was determined and advertised ahead of time, which told participants what to expect and also what was not going to be addressed (makes sense, right?). Furthermore, the location was predetermined and private, which provided the comfort of containment for the participants to express their opinions about the topic in a safe space. No matter the topic, the fact that the setting is preset and someone else is in charge of deciding the conversation topic, its direction, and its movement relieves the participants of a lot of pressure and energy to maintain a conversation on their own.

2. Forming an opinion

The structure of the setting and the structure of the discussion itself provides a comfortable scenario in which you may formulate and express your opinion. When the question is asked, participants naturally dive into their own brains and feverishly thrash around searching for a comprehensible personal response like a kid in Jaws swimming away from the shark. The cool thing, though, is as soon as the first person volunteers to speak, the mental ferocity subsides and you attend to the speaker. Every so often, a new little phrase will connect itself onto your response in your mind, but it does not take any extra energy or distract you from listening. 

The structure of the setting also provides the space in which you do not have to stressfully choose when to interrupt someone, raise your voice to share your opinion, or get angry when your opinion is not heard and the conversation moves on. This one is HUGE because it means that you do not have to expend any extra energy AND everyone remains civilized and amenable by the end of it. The Book Swarm discussions? Not so much... But that is for another time.

3. Respect

Here is the whopper. The crown jewel. What it is all about. You got external structure, you add personal comfort, and now all that is left is how the crowd welcomes your offering and respects your input. In the Jefferson Dinner, if the rules are followed, everyone shows you the respect your opinion deserves because you showed them the respect that they deserved. 

This is what is missing in so many conversations these days. Work, relationships, phone calls with family, you name it. Think about yourself at work interacting with a manager or colleagues. The structure of the setting is all set, you know what you would like to talk about, but BAM, you are met with disregard, inattention, and discourtesy. Maybe the listener is distracted, maybe for some reason they do not care, or maybe they are so arrogant that they cannot wait to hear themselves talk again. 

Often, this dynamic leads you, the speaker, to unsheath a nice defense mechanism and try to meet the listener where they are at on a higher level of snobby-ness than is natural and comfortable for you. Then it is a battle of defense mechanisms and you never actually express anything that you wanted to express nor advocate for yourself in an authentic and respectful way. 

Unfortunately the presence or absence of respect in an interaction determines the outcome of that interaction. 

What do we do about it? Kind of like last week, let us use these three themes as a sort of scorecard. Next time you are in the position to have a convo with someone in which you have something important to express, first ask:

  • Is there external structure around you? Is the setting familiar? What are the wild cards?  (i.e. will someone interrupt? will it be noisy? Have I been in that office before?)
  • Have you thought about what you are going to say IN A RESPECTFUL AND APPROPRIATE WAY? (i.e. what is the purest form of what you want to say, and how do you say that with etiquette?)  I capitalized those for a reason because some people take my advice to plan what they want to say but do not think about how to say it respectfully. It does not end well...
  • How can you set up the conversation such that you garner respect from the second it begins?  What can you say or how can you approach the conversation in such a way that makes it clear to the listener why you are in the conversation and what you want to accomplish in it? 

This can look like a lot of things, but often what I help clients to do in this situation is to be vulnerable and honest up front about their own reason for being in the conversation and then send the ball over the net to the listener who can now speak to their own experience. Because the word "vulnerable" is a terror trigger for many people, let me show you an example. Imagine you are the speaker:

"Hi ____________, I reacted quite strongly to some of the things that were shared in the meeting earlier. I would like to tell you about the reactions and ask you what it was like for you so I know how to go about starting my tasks." 

Though oversimplified and unspecific, this example still includes several important features to practice:

  1. you are being open and honest about your emotional reaction to something
  2. you are not downplaying or discrediting your experience
  3. you are not accusing the listener of anything, thus eliminating their need for defensiveness
  4. you are asking their opinion on a situation as well, thus opening up a respectful dialogue between you two
  5. if the listener does not respond respectfully, then that shows much more about him/her and is evidence feedback for how to interact with that person in the future 

What can you do either in preparation of a conversation or right at the beginning of that conversation that will quell power trips, offer respect, earn respect, avoid defense mechanisms, and help you feel empowered by expressing your opinion in an authentic and comfortable way?

Think of some interactions in the past and brainstorm how they might have been started differently.

Jefferson Dinner, Part One: How To Assess Fulfillment In Your Work

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Last night I participated in a "Jefferson Dinner" that a friend hosted in which ten people were brought together to eat and hold an orderly, respectful, and deep conversation. The host pitched a thought-provoking question and we participants could only speak one at a time, in order around the circle, so that we were forced to actively listen to the responses of everyone else. 

The subject of the event was The Future of Work and The Paradigm of Full Time. Our conceptions of "work", where the job economy is headed, statistics about freelancing and entrepreneurship, and how to continue focusing on personal fulfillment and career satisfaction were discussed.

The three total questions that we covered throughout the evening reflected on our past, present, and future ideas of work in our society. Even though our answers were all so unique and they started very differently about our pasts and how we entered the workforce, common themes emerged by the end when we discussed the future of work that we hope will be possible. 

To optimize survival, human beings seek both certainty and uncertainty.

The certainty we crave is familiarity. Reliable patterns of things that we can respond to with efficiency and fluidity because it becomes practiced. The uncertainty we crave is novelty. We all still want something new. Our brains need novel stimulation. Even though I resist the routined life of a 9-5 job and so lack a lot of the certainty that is common in the working world, I still have a lot of certainty on which I can rely, examples of which include shelter, electricity, and a support system. With regard to work, certainty is often interpreted as the security of a paycheck or the environmental security of an office in which work is undertaken. These certainties provide a foundation on top of which you can navigate your enjoyment of the work.

If things became too certain and predictable and efficient, though, humans would become bored. If machines automated my life and I rarely had to put effort in, I would not know what to do with myself because I would crave some kind of novelty to evolve. Novelty for a lot of people means materialistic possession, like buying the newest phone that comes out or the newest car. Novelty in work, however, can be found on a wide wide spectrum and is different for everyone.

Novelty is newness that implies opportunity. Opportunity implies choice. Choice implies freedom and agency. And finally, agency offers empowerment.

Once you are able to recognize choices within your work and the personal agency you have to make work what you want it to be, you have the opportunity for your work to be fulfilling. Even though I just described this so eloquently and simply, it is not often that simple in practice. Many variables affect your choices as well as your emotions around those choices. This is why walking the uphill path to fulfillment consists of stubbing your toe, someone tripping you, getting one foot stuck in quicksand, someone pulling your arm one way, and a strong wind gusting against you in some form every day. 

So what do we do about it? How do we even think about fulfillment in our work when there are so many variables involved?

Let us start by taking stock of your unique work situation right now. 

Security, Agency, and Fulfillment were the three themes that arose from the discussion last night, so let us use these as the frames through which we reflect on our work:

  1. Security:  what in your work provides you with a sense of security, reliability, and certainty right now? 
  2. Agency:   what about your work affects your independent agency? Do you have the freedom of choice in your role? Are you micromanaged? Are you asked for your input? What role does choice have in your job?
  3. Fulfillment:  what do you hope for, deep down? What do you wish was different in your current work? What do you fantasize about related to work?

Please answer these honestly as they pertain to you. Do not say that money provides you with security just because you think that should be the answer. Use the above questionnaire as a scorecard to shed light on your current mindset about work. After you answer those three, look at your answers and ask:

  • What sticks out to you?
  • Which question was hardest to answer?
  • Which answer feels heaviest to you?

You may find that one theme feels more stressful than the others. Highlight that one and reflect on why. That will be the starting point from which you begin working towards fulfillment. If you are fulfilled in your work, great! I want to know how you got there. What was the process for you?

If anything arose as the most important concept at dinner last night, it was that we humans are still seeking fulfillment, so why not work on it together

How To Innovate, Evolve, And Do What You Want

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If you followed my gospel from last week, you have already begun to rephrase how you do things "right or wrong" into doing things that are healthy for you and things that you genuinely want to do. Now that the pressure is lifted, how do you evolve? By innovating. 

I feel like no word is safe anymore because innovation, though an old word, is now such a buzz word in the business world. Ever since that fruit company (Apple, is it?) got in the habit of pumping out multiple products in a calendar year, businesses took the importance of making new products more seriously instead of relaxing on those that have worked for years. 

Humans need progress to feel adequate. 

No matter how small, one new step makes a big psychological difference in someone's self-worth. The past two weeks' posts have revisited the concepts of Commitment and Resilience in practice. Following the sequence, this week is about Adaptability. Now that the pressure of doing things right or wrong is alleviated, you have the free mental space to innovate, pivot, adapt, or transition in order to evolve in your work.

WHAT TO DO

The cool part is that judging decisions and risks based on what is healthy / what you want is now your secret weapon that can be employed in your product innovation as well. Here is how. Innovation can occur in three ways:

  1. You design the new product and implement it yourself because you want to and it feels awesome. 
  2. You design the new product and delegate its implementation to someone else because you only enjoy the design aspect and implementing it is not a healthy use of your time.
  3. You know that you want to innovate something new but you do not enjoy designing the new product or implementing it, so you delegate the whole project to someone else and act as its supervisor to approve whether it aligns with your vision.

Notice how all three of those were about what you as the owner wants and finds to be a healthy use of your time and skills? Pretty awesome how that works. And easier than you thought, huh?

REAL TALK

Even though the pressure of doing it right or wrong or perfect is gone, of course there is pressure involved with innovation. Market research is important so that you know what customers need and so that you can innovate to those exact requirements instead of guessing and praying. Amongst the pressure, listening to your genuine interest barometer helps you prioritize what ideas to pursue. 

I started my business as a creative and had to balance it with the business logistics I committed myself to learning over time. As a creative, it should be no surprise that I have a surplus of ideas that I would enjoy creating for my business. Because I am the only member of my team at the moment, I prioritize the little things that I can add for clients right now to augment the experience of working with me. "Well sure, Taylor, that makes sense because you have to do that for clients in order to stay in business." Yes, but ONLY BECAUSE I WANT TO.

I repeat: because I want to.

I am facing the need to innovate in lots of ways right now, and I am doing the market research for it, but I consistently decide how to spend my energy based on what would be healthy for my goals to work on in this moment. 

WHAT IS NEXT

Hey all you non-entrepreneurs out there! This works for you as well. For those of you who work in a corporate job, what evolution do you currently seek? What is your ultimate goal in your current role? What innovative steps do you want to take to get there? This could be a conversation with a boss, collaborating with a colleague in a different department, or taking a weekend workshop to acquire a new skillset.

Let us break it down.

#1 Starting: Whether you are an entrepreneur innovating a new product or a corporate employee hoping to evolve within the company, start by thinking like a creative. Start listing out any bit of an idea that comes to mind and break it down a little more if you can. Map it out if you can. Draw a flow chart of what it would need to be born. If you do not identify as creative, then only list things out. Stick to words for now. Write down whatever comes to mind.

#2 Learning: Whoever your audience or community is, fire up the ole Google and research whether the ideas' keywords you wrote down relate to any current need in the market. If it does not, that is okay. It may down the road, so do not erase it. Move on to the next one. 

#3 Acting: If you found an idea that strikes in the market, ask yourself whether or not that is interesting for you personally to work on.

#3a  If it is not interesting for you to work on, is it still interesting to you to have in your business? If so, what kind of help do you need?

#3b If you do not know what kind of help you need for it, who is someone you know that you can ask: "hey, do you have advice on who I would ask to help with ________?" Simple as that. 

#3c If it is interesting for you personally to work on, how do you go about starting? Do you have the necessary knowledge or skills to do it? If not, with which requirement would you want to start?

You will feel pressure at every turn of your business or job. Your interest in your professional evolution gives you motivation. Your motivation faces up to the pressure in the moment. Asking yourself what action you want to take from there is the positive step forward. 

You Are Thinking About "Right and Wrong" All Wrong

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DO THE RIGHT THING.

YOU ARE DOING THIS WRONG.

IS THIS RIGHT?

WHERE DID I GO WRONG?

Do you ever ask these questions? Better yet, do these questions rule your life? Are you distracted by doing things "correctly"? "I want to do it right" is probably the most common problem I hear clients complain about when we discuss obstacles to their success. I hate this notion that there is a right or a wrong way to do things in life. That is right, I just said Hate. Oooo, strong word! It is the most unhealthy mindset because it puts so much pressure on you to be perfect. Look back at my post on making imperfect action a few weeks ago. So many people think that something has to be perfect for it to be put to market or submitted to a boss. 

WHAT TO THINK

Of course you want to complete something well and feel proud of it, like that science project you spent a week constructing in high school for the science fair, but using the words Right and Wrong puts more pressure on you than is already there for the task.

Example 1, Creating a logo: Holy cannoli people think this has to be perfect. The first pressure in getting a logo made is whether or not you as the business owner likes the logo. A mere emotional reaction. The second pressure is when the business owner worries whether or not it is perfect for their brand. Uh-oh, now there is a double stack of pressure and only one of them actually matters! 

Spoiler alert: the emotional response one has to the logo is the only answer you need. It determines how well suited the logo is for the brand. It is a beneficial double whammy. Which means you are left with the extra layer of pressure dangling off the side that relates more to how the world will perceive your brand, and not the logo itself. Which means you do not need that pressure while the logo is being made. Which means you need to chill out. There is no right or wrong. 

Example 2, Nobody likes your product: This is where right or wrong really hits home like a wrecking ball for people. When an owner gets feedback that their service was not effective or the customer did not enjoy the product, this must mean the entrepreneur is a failure. Better luck next time. 

NOPE. This means that you now have data to inform how to change your product...if you WANT to. That is the key. What do you WANT to do with the feedback? 

Feeling like a failure is a choice. You call yourself that. It is another story you tell. 

Do not worry, I am guilty of it too. I am guilty of thinking that there was a right way to progress in life. Originally I thought that the right way was to get good grades in high school so that I go to a good college, work hard there so I get a job, go to grad school so that I can become an "expert", and then settle into a career that makes money. A lot of people do this, and it is not wrong to do so. But thinking that there is one single right way to do this life thing is not true and it is not healthy. 

I thought it until I got a bad grade in a class and realized that it was not going to impact my work prospects after college. I thought it until I realized that my gut was not compelling me to go back to graduate school as I thought it "should" have over the past six years. It does not matter when you do something, because it is YOUR choice based on YOUR desire. It is nobody's business to tell you when you must do something. 

I know what some of you are thinking: "But Taylor, there is definitely right and wrong. I could lose my job if I do or say the wrong thing."  True, sure. There is a wrong answer to math problems (I would know, I struggled with math). There are inappropriate things to do at work that threaten your employment (I would not know because I am an angel). But I encourage you to think of the words differently.

WHAT TO DO

"Right" and "Wrong" have a heavy, sharp, pressured connotation to them. Even if you feel like you did something "right", you feel the pressure about it. I want you to change the words. I want you to try saying "Healthy" vs. "Unhealthy" for YOU instead of "Right" vs. "Wrong" based on someone else's expectations. Doing so alleviates the pressure and makes the outcome positive. Not only that, it taps what you feel good about.

Try it out: Instead of thinking that you did something wrong when your product receives criticism, ask yourself "what do I want to do about it now? What would be healthy for me to put effort into adjusting?" 

In the absence of extra pressure, there is more space to be inspired. 

WHAT WILL HAPPEN

Right vs. Wrong relates to following what we think of as rules and acceptable behavior, but what we do not think about is the fact that we humans made up the word "rules" and "morals" and defined "acceptable behavior". Now that I dropped that knowledge bomb on you, I am not telling you to go kill someone because morals do not exist. Instead I am telling you to take the pressure of perfectionism off of your task because no human has the power to tell you a one single right way to do things. 

By thinking about what is healthy for you or what you want to do instead of what you have to do or should do, you promote your own confidence and growth while connecting why your work is healthy for you and why your work is healthy for the world.

You are promoting healthy human evolution instead of addressing a single microscopic moment of pressure.  

I have a client right now who knows she must have a difficult conversation with her mother in order to move forward as a confident, independent adult. She began saying what she "needs" to do and why she "has to" do it, but over the course of a few conversations she has shifted the language and realized that she genuinely "wants" to have the conversation because she recognizes its beneficial outcome.

Her body language has changed, her motivation has changed, and now she wants to face the challenge because she sees it as an opportunity for growth. Not just popping a stress bubble that will come back in another form later on. 

This is the resilience I wrote about a few weeks ago. If you face challenges with the question of what next move would be healthiest for you, you will never experience setbacks as failure again. You will take a next step, and then another, and then another, because there is no right way to move through life. There is only the way that you want to. 

Finding Authentic Voice, Part 4: The 6 Pieces Of A Successful Conversation

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Anger does not get us anywhere. It feels good to let out because anger carries so much energy with it, but it is not a long term solution for either he who lets out the anger or its intended victim. This is why conversations that are fueled only by emotion - any emotion - end up with the participants too distracted by the emotion that mature self-expression goes out the window. Examples include: any argument between drunk people at a bar or a kid crying to its parents about wanting a toy.

The needs of those involved are rarely met because it is an unattractive and ineffective display of self-advocacy. 

On the flip side, relying too much on intellect while suppressing emotion can be detrimental. Several times in the past I suppressed emotion in difficult conversations with significant others so that I could focus on what was being said in the conversation and offer a level, honest response. No matter how honest my response was, I came across as detached and unempathetic. Even though we both were feeling feels, the fact that I suppressed mine in the convo made her feel more alone and dejected. Suppressing mine only made the conversation feel worse in the end.

Luckily for everyone, there is a middle ground where the magic happens. The problem for everyone is that it is a difficult space to navigate. People get anxious about letting themselves feel strong emotions when trying to communicate in a respectful way. It takes practice.

I am here to tell you it is manageable and possible. I had to learn how to do it myself many times.

Whatever it is you have been ruminating on and workshopping with me over the past three weeks, it is time to let it out in a healthy and effective way. 

Last week you defined WHY you want to express the thing you want to express. If you have not, go back now and do it now. Knowing the Why gives you the objective of your conversation. The goal you would like to achieve. 

Example 1: in the scenario where you hate your boss, sure, you likely feel anger, but the reason why you will talk with HR will not be because you hate him. They will not care to hear that. Instead, your goal is to enjoy your workday more without the stress of wondering what your boss will do or say next. That is why you care to hate your boss.

Do you see the difference? 

The past client I described knew that telling HR his boss was a douche would not help his situation. Instead, our work together made him realize that he was going to speak to HR because he cared about his job and the cool ideas he had for it. 

The goal of the conversation is bigger than the person to whom you are speaking.

As a result, tell it as a story. Easy as that. When you sit down with the person to whom you want to express yourself, follow these steps:

  1. PREPARE THE AUDIENCE. Say: I have been having a lot of trouble with something and I want to have a conversation with you about it.
  2. TELL THE STORY. Describe ALL of the relevant data points to set the scene for the person and lay the framework for why you are having this conversation.
  3. LET A LITTLE EMOTION IN. Explain what is affecting you, how it is affecting you, and why. Be specific and honest.
  4. RESPECT THY ENEMY. Even if it is a boss you hate, explain their position, the things they say/want, and why they seem to do that, if you know. Do not whine, though
  5. ASK FOR HELP. Now that you have the context (2), your side (3), and the other party's side (4) presented, inquire as to how to proceed. Ask for advice on how to accommodate all parties involved so that you can move forward. 
  6. REPEAT WHY YOU CARE. Reiterate why you care at all. In our example, it is why you care about your job and what you are motivated to achieve within it.

Follow this outline for any conversation. Practice it. You will still feel quite vulnerable as you are describing the situation. Instead of anger or sadness taking over, though, you will feel the emotion behind your description and it will remind you why you care. 

This form of conversation honors your emotion while respectfully communicating your feelings and needs. 

As I said, I have had to practice this many times. Last year, I had this exact form of conversation with a boss in a side job because the culture amongst coworkers had become sadistic and toxic. I knew complaining and venting would not achieve any change, so I followed the above format in order to present every layer of the situation, of which my boss was not aware. I was able to explain how burnt out I felt and how it affected our work with clients. Because of the fact that I referred to how it was affecting other specific people as well and how we were all at a loss, my boss sought those people out and asked for their perspective the very next morning. 

Remember: if you are polite, honest, and authentic when you express yourself, you will succeed in conversation. If the recipient cannot handle it, then that is their problem. Speak your truth.

Try it out. You will do great.

How To Find Your Authentic Voice, Part 3: What Is The Point?

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If you have not read the past two weeks' posts, a) shame on you and b) go back and read them. As a Sparknoted summary that will not give anything away from the actual posts, Part 1 was about self awareness and Part 2 was putting preliminary words to something you want to express. Now that you have diligently followed my instructions and you have done the homework from the last two posts, you should have a simplified note of what you want to express in its raw form. Some examples could be:

 If you hate your boss: "GAHH he / she is such a self-absorbed a-hole!"

Or if you are mad at your significant other: "GAHH I wish he / she would stop telling me to X"

Or if you have a pitch to give: "Why can't they just tell how incredible my product is? 

That is okay. Let it be pure and angry. Vent into that notebook. It is the starting point. 

Now comes the most important part. The ultimate question: WHY DO YOU WANT TO SAY THAT? What is the objective of what you want to say? Why do you want to tell your boss that you hate him / her? Why do you want to grab investors by the collar and shake them into understanding why your product is so amazing? Why do you care about the way your significant other is addressing you? 

If you can answer the Objective question for your situation, you are at a huge advantage. I asked my client - the one I mentioned in last week's post - that question and, after he stutter-stepped for a second, we got down to the fact that he enjoyed his job, he knew he was good at it and that he had a plan for its success, but that his value of autonomy and innovation was being intruded upon by his manager. Ultimately, it was not solely that my client was mad at the manager as a human being but mostly that the manager represented an obstacle to my client's long term performance and growth as an employee. The next step - which you will read about next week - was taking his answer to the Objective question (and the personal goals and value sets) and crafting a conversation with the HR office in which he talks about his role and his goals for it and how it would benefit the company and how he relates to his manager in a polite and level way...instead of sitting down and reaming the guy out and getting nowhere but angry again. 

Your homework for the week is to think about the thing you so badly want to say and ask yourself why you so badly want to say it. What is the point of expressing it for you? What good would it do?

Spoiler Alert: it is emotional. 

When I discovered my voice for the first time at the Book Swarm in California, I spoke up not because I was angry at my colleagues but because we were not focusing on what was most important for the project in that moment. But why did that matter to me? What was the point of speaking up and getting them back on track? 

It is because I loved what we were doing. In less cliche terms, I was so immersed and so interested in the subject matter and what we were trying to accomplish that I felt like the discussion in the moment was an obstacle to our efficiently completing our task as a team. I cared about the subject, so I cared about my team’s success, and I spoke up to that authentic feeling. 

Truly why, on the deep level, do you want to give your boss a piece of your mind? What value set is involved when you tell your significant other how you’ve been feeling? 

Your unique answer to that question will ground you back down from the raw truth and remind you why you care. That way, you can have the polite, authentic conversation you want to have and express exactly what you want to express. 

How To Find Your Authentic Voice, Part 2: Start With The Raw Truth

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What are you keeping inside you right this second? What are you wishing you could tell someone? What do you wish that you had told someone and missed the opportunity?

Oh no, is this where Taylor lectures about regret and how to carpe our diems? Not really, but kinda sorta. Here is the deal: we all go through that pain of wishing we had said something different or just something at all in that moment that passed and will never come back around. Holy cannoli, I can think of numerous girls on whom I had a wild crush to whom I never took the opportunity to say anything because I was too scared and worse, I did not know how to say it. 

But that is not all true. I did not know how to say it effectively. We all know what we want to say - we rehearse it endlessly in our heads day in and day out - but never get around to saying it because we let fear set in of taking the risk and panic about the person's reaction, then we overthink the heck out of it to the point where every letter in every word sounds wrong because you cannot decide how you will possibly survive saying the words out loud in real life. I was the Lord Commander of Overanalyzing situations and conversations when I was in high school, I might as well have been paid for it. But when I think back, there is no question that I knew what I wanted to say. The overanalysis was my brain's attempt at controlling the situation that was causing me so much torturous anxiety before I even put myself into the situation. A constant preemptive fight or flight response.

Expressing your undying love for your crush in grade school is such a perfect example of this because 

  • A) hormones are RAGING
  • B) ALL the feels are happening
  • C) humans fear rejection
  • D) even good parents had not yet taught you how to handle risk and rejection
  • E) I had not yet started my company to help you develop authentic self-expression

Honorable mention: 

  • F) the terror of his/her friends being nearby, 
  • G) the subsequent gossip about the words you chose, and 
  • H) how little you focus on class work because you are thinking too much about seeing him/her by their locker between third and fourth period. 

Are you remembering how that feels? I sure remember it, and I am willingly subjecting myself to it as I write this. 

Fast forward to now. You are finally through puberty but instead of bearing your soul to a crush, the person to whom you want to express yourself is your boss and the acceptance you seek is from your coworkers. Similarly, you may be an entrepreneur who wants to pitch to investors or share your idea with potential teammates. Or maybe you have a job interview or a networking event in which you want to articulate your skills and value. 

It does not matter what the scenario is now because the fear and anxiety can be exactly the same as in high school. You are clear that you want to ask your boss for a raise or to fire Jack in cubicle 3 but you do not know how to articulate it appropriately in order to avoid sounding arrogant or whiney. You know what you want to pitch to investors but you do not know how to make the presentation structured and compelling. 

Overthinking is what we do. Our brains want to control situations, especially situations about which we are anxious we are anxious because it is perceived as a threat to our survival. 

NEWS FLASH: that is actually a good thing. The fact that you panic is a sign that you care! Otherwise, you would not spend so much time thinking about whatever it is! Boom, knowledge bomb. It is a genuine desire in which you place a lot of value. The only way that it becomes a bad thing is when you give into the fear, overthink the hypothetical conversation, and then never follow through with it. That is when I start my lecture about regret. 

So here is what you do: whatever your specific thing is that you want to say right, I want you to write it down in its rawest form. Even if it includes profanity, even if the words feel messy or silly, write it down. Do not manicure it or edit it in any way. Write down your first draft. That way, even if only a single sentence, it is out of your head and you bypassed the stress response. 

There is no pressure involved with the first draft. 

Maybe you hate your boss. Write down why or what you wish to ask for, anger and all.

Maybe you have a wedding toast to give. Write down your ideas in some order, no matter how cliche they sound.

Maybe you have a networking event. Write down the talking points you want to cover in conversation, no matter how boring.

Just get words out of your head and we will polish them later.

I had a client last year who was on the road to being fired, was angry about it, and wanted to go to HR to explain his side of the story. The problem was that he did not think he would be able to politely articulate his side without coming off as angry and whiny. 

The first thing I did with him? We wrote down what his anger would want to say about his manager - basically that he was an incompetent waste of space at the company. It felt goofy for my client to write it out as though he were venting in a diary, but it diffused his stress just enough to rationally take the next step, which was to discuss the true objective of talking to HR (to keep his job or only report his manager's behavior? Those are different things) and then strategically craft the wording in the most level and effective way for everyone involved. 

Overthinking is just that: thinking. So get the rough draft of whatever it is you want to express on to paper so that you get yourself ahead of your own brain and the fear. 

Your five-minute homework assignment: 

  1. Who do you want to speak to / what expressive task are you thinking a lot about right now?
  2. What do you want to say (uncensored and unpolished)?
  3. Write it down.
  4. Breathe a big sigh of relief.
  5. Kiss puberty panic goodbye. 

How To Find Your Authentic Voice: A Beginner's Guide

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The first time I wrote a blog was when my sister and I went on a road trip around the west coast starting back in 2011. It was a great way for our family, friends, and ourselves to keep track of the daily adventures and, more importantly, convey to our mother that we were alive and safe. Cute side moment: she would make her morning coffee and sit down to read our post from the night before before she read her morning newspaper. Mm the best way to start the day. It was fun and it was natural because I have always liked writing and it helped that the subject matter was super easy. It was also easy because a) I was not trying to gain income from its exposure and b) we knew the extent of its exposure: just family and a select group of family friends who knew about the journey.

Fast forward to 2015 when I wrote my first blog post for The Tailored Quill. I did not know how it was supposed to be used or how it could translate into clients or income. Instead I simply knew that I had to have one because everyone else did. If you were ever curious about how impressive I am, know that I wrote ONE WHOLE BLOG POST ------ and that was it for a really long time. I wrote another post a few months later. Yeah, months. That is like 1000 years in Millennial social media chronology.

The second post was more like a cute summary of why I started the business but it did nothing to convey what the reader should do about it. SOLID content marketing. But hey, everyone starts somewhere. So my blog sat stagnant for two years until I felt it in my heart that I had a lot I was ready to say. More powerfully, I knew how I wanted to say it. That is when I sat down last year and made a list of almost 200 topics on which I could write blog posts, most of which could easily be broken down even further into more topics. 

Fast forward / rewind to a couple days ago when a friend told me that last week's post about the two questions you need to ask as the first step toward career satisfaction (which she happened to read while at work) made her realize that she did not in fact hate her job as she thought. She instead disliked certain pieces of it while it otherwise checked off many boxes relating to her goals and interests. She stated "the two questions reminded me why I do what I do and put it in perspective, even though my story has always been that I'm terrible at it and that it is miserable."

 

She went on to articulate what I was thinking: the fact that it is difficult - sometimes impossible - to know what impact I have on people who read my work even if they never become clients or ever get in touch with me after reading it. I can track clicks and engagement on my blog page, but Squarespace cannot yet measure the lingering emotional impact the content has on visitors. And this is a crucial point about entrepreneurship that applies to every other arena of your life: 

Expressing yourself with an authentic voice is always valuable even if you do not know who is listening. 

I did not hear my true authentic voice until six months after I started my company in 2015. I did not find it in high school or college or even in the years of mental health work before I started The Tailored Quill, but it was growing ever so incrementally. I found it on the second day of the Book Swarm in Oakland, CA, where I was hired as a scribe to record and consolidate material from industry experts to craft a book on Narrative in the 21st century with a small team in only two days. The second day was when the team got together and took all of the previous day's material to package it into concise, world-rocking chapter outlines. It was basically ten of us in a big room interrupting each other and debating what should be included where and how to emphasize what. 

Several team members were debating one point ad nauseam and I suddenly burst in to the fray and commandingly offered the perspective that the focus ought to be on the broader scope for the moment and that the point about which they were debating was in fact more appropriate for a different chapter altogether. Even though I was "right" and they relented in order to move on, I personally was like "Oh damn, that's what I sound like??" and my whole life, evolution, development, interests, jobs, thoughts, and goals all passed before my eyes and connected to how I saw myself standing there and speaking in that moment. 

I sat down and thought about that for a solid ten minutes. My brain and its prior skills and knowledge recognized that the group was focusing on the wrong thing and then...here is the magic moment...I CHOSE TO SAY SOMETHING. I chose to speak up right then. Something in me was ready to do that and impelled it. 

I did not know that starting my blog would impact people's lives when I started it in earnest last year, but I was able to feel that same impulse within me that it was time to start speaking up. As opposed to when I "started my blog" in 2015, I knew what I wanted to talk about this time and I knew that I was ready to share. 

Now, believe it or not, this is not a boastful blog post. I am not trying to celebrate myself. Sure, I am reciting my own personal narrative growth but my point is that I am just like you. I spent years frustrated that I was not heard, years wondering how to authentically express myself, and it will forever be a challenge. It is becoming more and more consistent in this blog and in conversations about my work but it is not perfect. It is like yoga. You have to keep practicing it in order to actually stay flexible.

I can, however, consistently recognize the impulse to express something, even if I do not end up expressing it. That is the first step. Feeling the urge to express yourself but not following through causes tension within you and may lead to stress and frustration. I am willing to bet that you feel the same kind of detachment between who you are now and the fully aligned, authentically expressed you.

Example 1: standing up for yourself to a boss?

Example 2: articulating your true value in a job interview?

Example 3: Telling a cute stranger at the bar that they are attractive without sounding rude and creepy?

Need I go on? You can come up with countless other examples. And that is okay. All of it is so normal.

In fact, society promotes the disconnect between your expressive drive and the actual act with cutthroat work cultures and an intense "This is the land of opportunity! Go take it for yourself!...But also be careful! It is super dangerous too and you might not succeed!" ideology.

No one can know when the moment will occur, and that is the way it is. You will never make it to that moment, however, if you recoil and avoid the conversations you want to have or avoid asking the questions you want to ask. You will be stuck shoving the voice into a teeny tiny box deep behind the fire of tension and inauthenticity. 

What I want you to do is breathe and shrug and say "Yep, I do not have my voice yet...AND THAT IS OKAY. Cut yourself a break. Do not get down on yourself because society thinks that you are failing. It took me 26 years to hear my authentic voice for the very first time. That is 9,490 days! 

That is a long time seeking the sound of authenticity.

If you are able to accept the fact that that detachment being present is totally cool and normal, then you open the door to the cavern deep inside you (see my post on Cave Diving) and you will feel the same subtle impulse that I did/do and you will not hesitate to say what you want to say in exactly the way your brain has yearned for you to say it. 

Who knows what you will say, but you will hear it when you say it, and your life will never be the same. 

How Working With Me Is Like The Best Cave Diving Trip You Will Ever Take

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When I tell people that my career has been in mental health and that my business helps individuals with self awareness around their self-talk, ambition, and authentic expression through writing, speaking, and communication, I am often asked if meditation is involved. If you read my post last week about how active an activity (redundant again. You are welcome) meditation is, I find it interesting that meditation is so front of mind when topics of mental health and introspection are discussed. Those same interactions proceed into a discussion of how the persons are "not good at meditation" or "cannot meditate" or are "scared of introspection." I get that. Let us be honest, meditation takes time, introspection is scary, and deep internal personal change is like pushing a boulder up a hill forever (google search: Sysiphus).

But I am going to zoom out a bit. People get nervous about mindfulness as a discipline because they think there is a right or wrong way to "do it", when really the only wrong way to do it is to not practice mindfulness at all. But yes, that is when it gets super scary because it is like "Umm, where do I start and how do I stop?" People may start with meditating, then devote a couple hours a week to journaling, then over time become comfortable turning inwards at will. The problem is: the moment when you open the hatch too far and tumble down into your self and cannot find the way out of the caverns of your inner world, you straight up panic and thrash around in the previously tranquil pools of your consciousness. People freak out, climb out of the hatch, and lock it up tightly because it was too scary. No more introspection. No more journaling. No more deep breathing. Just shallow breathing and surface level thoughts from now on.

That is where people get stuck and they settle for handling life on their own without mindfulness. That only lets new panic take the place of the other panic. You will become unhappy at work, irritable at home, and antisocial with friends because you feel all the tension build up inside of you while the hatch behind your heart remains triple locked. And THAT is where I come in.

Mindfulness is scary because it requires vulnerability and no one else can be mindful for you, but that does not mean you have to do it alone. Why do we get the most out of yoga at a yoga class? How do we come to write our thesis papers in college? How do we learn to chill out the hormones and comfortably speak to a crush in middle school? We benefit from the support of a teacher, advisor, or caregiver. Yes, it provides accountability and accountability is a good motivator, but more importantly having someone there to support your introspection reassures you that you will be safe and cared for no matter how scary it gets. As soon as I begin working with a client, it is deeply collaborative. I meet them on their level and we journey into the abyss together. Sounds daunting? Duh, but that is the point of every exploration. Exploration inherently involves the unknown and tackling the unknown is so much more fun when you have a teammate committed to the exact same journey with you.

Here is what happens:

  1. We open up the hatch together.
  2. I help you dive into the pool of your inner consciousness (I do not push you off the diving board, I promise)
  3. I will hold your cell phone so it does not get wet
  4. I will hand you a big inflatable donut so that you do not drown
  5. We bob there, letting the current of the water gently bounce us along the path of your narrative goals
  6. You feel more comfortable in the water as your awareness becomes more grounded
  7. You hand me the donut floatie while you dip your head into your new empowering self-beliefs
  8. You start swimming freestyle further and further toward new communication styles and authentic expression. 
  9. You exit the hatch, rejuvenated like after a long swim in a calm lake instead of a frantic flail in the shark tank at Seaworld.
  10. Repeat.

You want to get to know yourself better? Want to improve your communication with friends or coworkers? Want to stop beating yourself up about your ideas and ambitions? All you have to do is take the plunge.

How A Snow Storm Shows You Who You Really Are, Part 2: BACK TO YOUR ROOTS

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It has been a week but there are still giant snowbanks on the side of the road that test how skinny I can make my SUV on a two lane road. Last week I wrote about how the imminent snow storm was like the zombie apocalypse for which everyone in Massachusetts had to prepare by buying groceries on groceries all day the day before and how tension was high enough to inspire some to fight over certain items on the shelves.

Ugh, fighting over certain items on the shelves. As though Whole Foods does not have other options for food somewhere else in the store that we could stomach for a single day of precipitation. Last week's post was about reflecting on the idea of Need. This week we reflect on where that comes from. 

I was born and raised in Vermont, which means that my childhood was sponsored by The North Face and I was acquainted with sub zero temperatures before I was a single year old. My siblings and I grew up ski racing and, following my retirement at age 13, my party favor was circulation issues in my feet and hands because of the blisteringly cold days on the mountain that froze my toes and fingers. I am not that bitter about it because I realized over time how much more tolerant of the winter I became from such early and frequent exposure. Fast forward to college when I walked around campus in January in a plain old sweatshirt and laughed at the freezing wind like a boss.

I bring this up because I will always be thankful for my frostbitten upbringing. Strangers, coworkers, friends, and family talked to me about the storm last week and all I could do about it was shrug. It was simply another snow storm in my lifetime of snow storms. It is a form of adversity that I tolerate much more confidently than, say, walking in the Sahara desert (I am lightheaded just thinking about it) while someone who lives in a desert climate would not be able to handle a snowflake. The pressure of a snow storm on our immediate environment produces a stress to which people react very differently. I agreed that food would be good to have in my fridge for the snow day, but I was not so emphatic that I needed to fight someone for it in the grocery store. 

I am also not holier than thou. I am just one individual with his own unique journey. The fact that I accept snow storms as they are does not make me special; instead it is how I learned to survive during the winter. Those who fought for food in Whole Foods may not be as accepting of the cold and wet so they project their angst into their food supply. That is fine. That is their journey. But think about last week's post: Where does the need come from? Better yet, where does the angst about a snow storm come from?

If you have lived in Boston for a long time but still get anxious about the snow, what taught you that it would be a stress-provoking situation? Do coworkers talk about snow storms so much that you absorb their anxiety? What were the environmental conditions of your childhood? Maybe you developed a scarcity mentality at some point (do not fret, a lot of people do) and register the first sign of stress as the potential loss of resources. As we count days further from 2017 and closer to when we give up on our New Years resolutions, I challenge you to consider this question:

HOW DOES YOUR PAST AFFECT YOUR CURRENT SENSE OF NEED?

The need that Whole Foods shoppers felt last week does not remain isolated to the grocery store. Our brains are large and powerful but still small and contained in the space of our skulls, so the same brain circuits and power are used in multiple situations to streamline the way we respond to perceived stress or need. Using the same systems enables us to see choices that will benefit our evolution. So think about what your needs are and where they come from. In fact, map it out or make a chart. Here is how:

  1. Use the basic headers of HEALTH, WORK, and RELATIONSHIPS as a starting point and write them however you want on a sheet of paper.
  2. Reflect on the needs you feel in each category (i.e. food to eat, money to have, interpersonal support) and write them down.
  3. Now go deeper - i.e. what kind of foods, why do you need money, what specific kind of interpersonal support?
  4. Write them down
  5. Reflect on where those needs come from - i.e. did someone tell you it was a necessity at some point? If not, how did you internalize the need for, say, a certain amount of money, or a certain type of connection with others in the past?
  6. And now you have a flowchart of your personal needs and nowhere to hide.
  7. Bedazzle it as you see fit.
  8. Frame it on the wall.
  9. Post it to Instagram. 

Like a while back when I wrote about how to "reverse-engineer your stress", this simple activity helps you rewind your stories and figure out why you react to stress the way you do in different situations. It is a fun exploration if you open yourself to the process and maybe, just maybe, it will help you breathe a little easier when someone takes that last veggie sampler at the store that you wanted for your snow day. 

How A Snow Storm Shows You Who You Really Are, part 1: NEED

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Today, the eastern united states is witness to a large snow and ice storm. We up here call it a nor'easter and know that all it really means is to lace up our L.L.Bean duck boots a little tighter and make sure to keep the hood of our North Face parka in place over our heads when we inevitably leave the house. It is supposed to accumulate up to a foot of fresh snow. 

Even though there are a lot Boston-area residents who have lived here for a long time and are no stranger to winter conditions, this funny thing happens when the forecast calls for a dumping like today: people think that it is the end of the world. It is as though meteorologists reported that the zombie apocalypse will, in fact, begin at the stroke of midnight on Thursday morning and that we all better be indoors and out of sight forever. I drove past Whole Foods and Trader Joe's yesterday at 2:00pm(!) and both parking lots resembled a Los Angeles interstate. Random horns were honking somewhere, pedestrians looked both ways twenty times in the ten foot walk to their cars, and a hundred other cars piled into the through spaces to get a spot that can no longer be vacated because too many cars are piled into the through space. Smack my head.

Admittedly, I recognize the value of stocking up for a snow day and I wanted to get provisions myself, so I waited until 8:30 to go. Traffic had died down and there were parking spaces, but checkout lines still extended down the hallway to the bakery at Whole Foods. Judging how slow the line was moving as I meandered through the threadbare aisles, I was prepared to take a loaf of bread and ration it out to people in line to fortify them on their journey. 

Produce baskets were just baskets at that point, the pasta section was destroyed, and all of the pre-made food shelves were completely empty. Does anyone else remember the Millennium Bug scare and how we all prepared for a new Dark Age? That was right around New Year's Eve, too... What a coincidence. Anyhow, I miraculously found everything I wanted (cheese pizza, macro bars, and a deformed yellow bell pepper that was not damaged, just misunderstood) and asked the cashier how he was holding up. He told me he would be off today and could not believe the day they had had. That is reasonable. He went on, though, to tell me that he saw people earlier in the day fighting over food on the shelves. I did not ask him to elaborate on what he meant by the word fighting (but I absolutely pictured Catness Everdeen and all three of the Hunger Games movies), but let us stop for a second and consider the typical shopper of a place like Whole Foods: GROWN UPS. ADULTS. FIGHTING for non-perishable food that they want for a single day of bad weather. Even millennials and hipsters I know who shop at Whole Foods would not actually argue or lunge for that last box of almonds and cashews. It was like a scene from every virus outbreak movie ever after a pharmacy or food shop had been looted. 

So what the heck happened? Did a looming snow cloud make us resort to baser instincts? Maybe. But does a snow storm make us need to fight over food? No. What it boils down to is our perceived sense of need. Sure, hunger is one of Maslow's Foundational Needs we have to satisfy to survive, but what food does Maslow say is necessary and how much should be bought when there is a snow storm? 

I choose to write about this after last week's post about New Year's Resolutions and making realistic personal change because a lot of people's "commitment" to make change starts with a perceived need, and I think that is wrong. 

"I need to lose weight"

"I need to make more money"

"I need to get my life in order"

Are these not desires? See, stating a need assumes some external pressure. A reasonable need is to complete a certain work assignment by noon so that your boss can use the information for a board meeting. The need comes from a pressure outside of you that bears down on you in order to instigate action. An external pressure that invites action like that is also known as a stressor. In that sense, acting to satisfy that need requires acting through a level of anxiety. Exhibit A: yesterday at Whole Foods. There was a whole lot of anxiety-fueled need swirling around based on the external pressure of a snow storm. 

Now think about your Resolutions that you may or may not have set last weekend. How many were born from some external pressure (i.e. a fitness freak coworker who has passive-aggressively made comments for the past six months about how little cardio you do) and how many were out of a genuine desire born within you?  

Turning Needs into Wants eliminates the external pressure and the subsequent anxiety. There is more comfort in pursuing a change that you genuinely want and it is typically much more interesting and healthy. Not to brag or anything, but I went to Whole Foods last night with the desire for some food to have available today instead of the pressing need for a certain kind or amount of food to ensure my survival. That way, if there was no Annie's White Cheddar Mac & Cheese left on the shelf, it would have been okay with me and I would have found something else. After all, I chose to wait until just a few hours before the snow was supposed to begin, so you were not going to see me pointing to the far wall and stealing a ton of stuff from people's carts as they dumbly look toward the far wall. The fact that I was not in any state of anxiety allowed me to laugh about the sad state of the shelves with other shoppers and have a calmly supportive conversation with the cashier about the Civil War he had just endured. 

Make realistic goals, people! You need food for the snow day? How much do you actually want to have available for your family? You need to lose weight? What do you actually want to do to start (Hint: start by reading last week's post)?

We do not need to be savages in an upscale grocery store. We simply want to survive. Google Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. What is the minimum amount of quinoa necessary for you to survive a snow storm? 

Why The Holiday Is The Perfect Time To Hire Me, Part Two: New Year's Resolutions

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Allright, folks. You are back to work in a wobbly haze, still wondering how you were able to fit that Toll House pie around the stuffing and dinner rolls in your stomach. On your commute home right now, you realize that tomorrow is Friday, which means that it is almost the weekend and this weekend is when we say goodbye to 2017. "Another party? I suppose I could get dressed up and be festive one more time. Maybe just a few drinks this year." But another year done and gone? Yikes. All done. Bye bye. 

2017 was supposed to be our savior. It was expected to be the beam of sunlight bursting through the clouds of 2016 and warming us with the grace of hope and optimism. Instead, another cloud rolled in and it started raining. Even if people do not make a big deal about New Year's Eve, I do not know of anyone who does not stop for a mental millisecond to consider the fact that another whole year has past and you need a new calendar to hang up. I personally never put much emphasis on going out and watching fireworks with thousands of other people in the freezing cold, but I without fail always feel very sentimental about the turning of the year. It is a strong mental marker for the memories and experiences that occurred in the time span of twelve months, the nostalgia of which immediately transforms into the "Holy s***" moment of "what the heck is gonna happen next?"

We cannot control the future but we can control the choices we make as the future comes our way. As such, humans make these funny things called "resolutions", which are steadfast promises - mostly about physical health and lifestyle - that people get stoked about and talk about for a whopping couple of weeks before the reality sinks in of having to maintain that promise FORRR-EHHH-VER. A sudden amnesia breaks out and not a soul says a word about resolutions for another 11.5 months. 

My question about resolutions that I never hear anyone ask is "Why should making intentional personal change be deflected to one time per year, only to be dismissed after mere weeks?" I know what you are thinking. You are sitting there reading this with your freshly typed list of potential resolutions in a word document just behind this window, and I seem to be conveying to you that they are meaningless. As they are written right now, yes, most of them are meaningless. But read on.

The root word of resolution is resolve, and the google searched definitions of resolve start with the verb to mean "to settle or find a solution to a problem." If this were the only definition listed on the interwebs anywhere, it would affirm the classically American "fix it" mentality (just think about health care for a second). Luckily, two more definitions are offered: 

1) to decide firmly on a course of action

2) a firm determination to do something

These are better. I like how both include the adjective firm as though we would not believe the focused nature of the word determination when left on its own. A resolution is rooted in the framework of someone wanting to do something and then FIRMLY choosing a course of action. It sounds so empowering like that, like the determination in Aragorn when he turns and runs by himself toward the whole Orc army in the final battle of Lord of the Rings. We can get jazzed up about resolutions because it is exciting for us to think of something that we desire to change and then come up with a plan to pursue that change. Feel that new strength!

So why does that excitement crash and burn before January has even finished? The majority of resolutions are meaningless not because they are invalid or poor choices or you are an idiot for even thinking about those in particular, but instead because they are simply unrealistic. 

I will let that sit there for a second. 

Your resolutions are not wrong, they are just unrealistic. A lot of people commonly set resolutions about losing weight. Say you want to lose fifty pounds. Okay, awesome. More power to you. But how are you going to do that? And by when? And then what? What is the actual plan around losing fifty pounds? What list of changes and commitments must you fulfill in order to reach that one goal? People would like to lose fifty pounds but they do not consider that within their lofty resolution is a ton of hidden resolutions such as but not limited to: seeing a nutiritionist, taking their advice, changing what food you buy, how you cook it, how much to eat, what gym to go to, to get a personal trainer or not, what kind exercise to choose, how to improve, how to recover, how to maintain. 

That is eleven individual resolutions that people could choose as an alternative to the lofty hope of losing fifty pounds and are so much more connected to reality. They are quantifiable. So what is wrong with stating the resolution to see a nutritionist and let that be it? That would be so easy to achieve in January. Just one consultation. Then make one single food item change based on their advice. Two steps in to our list. You are killin' it. Am I the only one who feels like these goals are so much easier than the one we started with?

Think about it for yourself. Are your goals for the new year realistic for you and your lifestyle? Here is where I come in and why you should hire me in January. For years now, I have practiced the aforementioned goal setting technique and taken it a step further to strategize the actual action steps for each one. That way, starting several years ago, I no longer set one or two distinct resolutions to pursue above all else at the turn of the clock but rather I concretely and chronologically organize my to-do list in a logical order that is realistic for me to work on. An example is completing a self-paced online course for a new certification that really should be done before I do anything else on my list so now it is the first priority in January. Instead of resolving to make a million dollars this year, I resolve to work on something much more tangible about my business that may (hopefully) eventually lead to making a million dollars. 

This form of strategic goal setting is something I have used to help clients in their entrepreneurship, for instance once they have defined a brand narrative and their products are all packaged up, but I am using it more and more now with clients in their personal relationships. More specifically, how to communicate with others close to them. We humans get into habits at a young age with regard to interpersonal communication, so many then do not have any clue how to adjust / improve their communication in a time of need. As such, the desire to improve communication is unrealistic because the individual does not know how to even begin. I help clients break down their lofty goals in order to create realistic, step-by-step action plans. They say "I would like to improve the communication in my relationship" and we break that down together. They say "I want to get clients for my business" and we make a plan together.

Do not think that you have to set a lofty resolution to be like everyone else. How many people do you know have actually accomplished a legitimate resolution? You still have four night to choose your promise so take your time. Here is a four day plan:

  1. Tonight (Thursday): think of a lofty goal for yourself.
  2. Tomorrow (Friday): make a list of what would need to happen in order to achieve that. Really break it down into its parts.
  3. Saturday: look at that list of simpler goals and choose one that feels realistic for you to achieve in January. Write it down.
  4. Sunday: while you dress up for your party, take a look at it again. If you still think you can realistically achieve it in January, then you have your resolution. Go forth and prosper (Do not throw away the other list, though. You still have to achieve the other items, too, just in their own time). 

Cheers to you, to your realistic resolutions, and to your success in 2018.

Why The Holiday Is The Perfect Time To Hire Me, Part One: Holiday Dinners

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Christmas is four days away, which means that Christmas Eve dinner with the family is only three away. Here is the skinny: whether you celebrate Christmas with a huge family and a huge meal, celebrate Hanukkah for eight separate days of family time, you do not see your family for the holidays but attend a lot of friends' holiday parties, or stay at home by yourself mixing eggnog and Maker's Mark and watching the Grinch on repeat, emotions, self-esteem, and self-talk play important roles in the holidays. You cannot avoid them. I spent New Year's Eve all by myself last year, intentionally thinking "2016 was a drag. I am going to relax, treat myself to dinner and a nightcap, and watch the ball drop" and, even though that is exactly what I did and it was wonderful, holy cannoli did the thought "is this going to be forever?" slip into my head and spark some worry.

I enjoy alone time but I am also confident that it would be quite challenging for my personality to maintain it for a long time. On the flip side, I enjoy spending time with my family but I can feel overwhelmed around the holidays easily with all the bodies and voices and schedule demands. 

If you have followed along for the past few weeks, I have written about topics of personal narrative that relate directly to navigating "the most wonderful time of the year". Today's post is the first of two that will explain why this is the perfect time of year to give me a call.

Let us run through a typical holiday reunion dinner of a friend we will name Brian:

Brian drives to it in his quarter zip sweater and corduroys. He has not seen his family or his distant cousins in a long time and he feels a ping of excitement about showing up like a celebrity that everyone has waited for. He also feels some apprehension because of the absurd amount of social energy he will have to muster for chit chatting all night long about whatever the fam wants to bring up, especially that uncle who "hates to bring up politics again" but always brings up politics again. He slaps on a huge smile and hug everyone in the room with the same greeting, sighs as he stands amongst the group, fields a couple questions, and then he is ushered toward the cocktails. As soon as a drink is poured, conversations continue as they were and he stands and waits to hear in which one he could participate.

Then it hits him. He is just one of the crowd again. The ping of excitement dims and the apprehension from the car waves at him from the inside. He wonders what to talk about, if he should ask a question, if he really cares about the discussion your dad and brother are having about Bitcoin, if he should sit down and see what mom put on the TV as background noise, or if that would seem antisocial having just gotten there. And then he notices that his cousins have children, and he considers his own relationship status. 

At dinner time, he notices that mom took the liberty of assigning seats and he learns that he will sit next to his sister's eight year old son who does not know how to use a fork or communicate without a cell phone screen lighting up the lenses of his huge glasses. Brian wonders why he deserved this. He just got home. Why couldn't he be allowed to sit next to his own siblings at least? He takes another swig of wine.

He eats too much probably to fill the emotional space the experience has thus far created. Now he thinks about the last time he worked out and how his sister runs so much more often than he does. An easy enough task, considering she mentioned her marathon training progress no less than seven times since you got there. He feels a huge surge of anger and jealousy, and then irritation that he is so jealous. When she asks if he has run recently, he struggles to push that massive amount of anger back down into his stomach with a scoop of mashed potatoes and says "Oh, some" when really he wants to ask the arrogant fitness freak for advice and support around getting into a healthy running habit. 

Then the extended family leaves because of the little ones and he sloths over to the couch like Jabba the Hutt and mindlessly listens to his dad while wishing his mom had asked him more about his life throughout the evening. He goes to bed thinking that they do not care about him as much. 

SOUND FUN?? More importantly, does any of this sound familiar?

On the surface, every one is functionally happy but everyone is emotionally reacting to their many unique triggers underneath. Like all feelings, happiness is a mobile occurrence. It can be fleeting. It may last for a while but cannot stick around for too long. Some kind of trigger reminds you of something frustrating, reminds you of your fatigue, something you forgot to do at work, or an off-hand comment from your cousin. Triggers cause a reaction that is yet another temporary feeling state. The quality of a feeling never remains the same within you. It ebbs and flows, grows and dwindles. Your behavioral response, however, can get cemented the more it is repeated. 

New awareness of these triggers and emotional-behavioral reactions can foster a healthy sense of contentment instead of sharp spikes into myriad emotions and unpredictability.

This is where I come in.

The situation I described is wrought with triggers: memories of past holiday dinners, disappearing in the crowd, your assigned seat, your sister's tone of voice, your parents' perceived ignorance. None of these are intentionally presented to hurt Brian's feelings but Brian reacts with hurt feelings. 

Negative self-talk and judgments that Brian believes to be true come next. The belief and the emotions combine to create a narrative in Brian's mind about how he relates to those around him and the world at large. In my example, Brian's narrative is quite discouraging based on limiting beliefs that his family does not care about him. As a result, the narrative will likely show itself in how he behaves and interacts with his family during the rest of the vacation. 

Fun fact: my greatest strength is organizing people's emotion and thought patterns. I either make it visual, such as drawing out cycles of behaviors that always feed the initial trigger and keep the person spinning in the same la la land of frustrating interactions, or I make it a written timeline that links triggers, emotions, behaviors, and responses into a chronological order as a narrative. Either way, I record it external of the person's brain.

Therein lies the magic. I do not fill gaps for people. I do not put words in their mouth. Instead, I take the words that they share with me and I organize them into something comprehensible. And let me tell you, being shown your behavior patterns and why you feel stuck in life or work or love is mind-blowing. I have done it for myself many times. Sometimes it is scary too because it makes it too real. But that is why I am there for methodical support: Because at that point they have a choice to either take that new awareness and roll with it on their own to make change or stick with me and learn how to apply the new awareness to concrete situations in their lives.

Take Brian's triggers and imagine those same triggers in a work setting, out on a date, or in every day interactions with strangers (or myself when stuck in traffic). Take a second to imagine how much more productive and respectful and healthy those situations could be with a little more nonjudgmental awareness and insight.

What I speak about regarding personal branding is exemplified in Brian's reactions, both verbal and nonverbal. I can picture his body language as pretty mopey by the end of the night even if his face is still trying to hide his feelings, not to mention his curt verbal responses. I may spend a lot of time with a client on one particular interaction or dynamic in order to examine what stories a client's body language, facial expressions, self-talk, and verbal expression may tell. Often, the stories you express in one situation are very similar, if not the same, in most other situations so learning about your storytelling in one situation will draw awareness to and improve your storytelling in any situation. 

As we all finish up our work and plan for our respective holiday celebrations, consider for a second your own triggering situations. Does your mind immediately identify them?

Does it take a second or do you automatically know what has been frustrating you?  

What change would you like to make in those situations, if you were able to?

Better yet, what change is in your control?

And lastly, what triggering moments can you predict in your own life this holiday season?

How will you prepare yourself for them?

FEEL THE BURN! How Personal Branding And Corporate Branding Are Not That Different

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A dear friend of mine and the owner of Sweat Concierge, which provides all the fitness hot spot recommendations you would ever need (and the beats to listen to while you are there - check it out), got me into a stimulating conversation about what "branding" is. You readers should know by now that that is probably one of my top topics to nerd out on. After all, I teach a class on it (message me for more info about that).  

When I teach a class on personal branding, I always ask the audience how often they hear the word "branding" these days and it is pretty common to hear that the word is all over the place. I talk about personal branding a lot because that is what I help individuals with and several of my mentors' careers have been devoted to broader brand design and strategy.

When discussing it the other day, my friend was confused that I was talking about so much emotion and psychology in my blog when she always associated "branding" with the larger corporate world. She is not wrong, but branding is talked about so much more in the startup and millennial world as well. In fact, it is everywhere. I told her that the distinction between what I do and the commonly known business branding is not a matter of definition but a matter of magnitude / scale. Let me explain: 

In personal branding, I help individuals align their interests, core values, and personal goals toward personal contentment. In corporate branding, it can be said that the same categories are addressed but for a larger institution instead of a single person all in service of the company's productivity and success. The two kinds of branding are very similar, but different by scale.

Let us explore further:

The origin of the word branding, as many probably know, is the use of a hot iron to mark something - or someone - to show ownership or simply to label it as belonging to something, some place, or some group. The word comes from old German in which it means burning and transitioned into a verb in Middle English as in to leave a permanent mark and subsequently began to imply ownership in the 1600s. Branding was most commonly used on livestock to show which was owned by whom, but unfortunately the practice extended to slaves and criminals. Despite the intended target, branding denotes belonging. 

These days, tattoos denote gang affiliation. In the American Indian world, perhaps hair styles and jewelry were relatively similar but garments of clothing and artwork distinguished tribes from each other around the country. Think about right now. You can often tell who belongs to the class of superwealthy by the clothes they wear or the cars they drive or what google says their net worth is. No matter what, branding is everywhere whether you like it or not. Even if you reject the idea of branding and walk around the world naked all day long, that is still your brand! That is still showing others - graphically - how you enact your place in the world.

Branding is about the story that is expressed to the world. I believe that brand strategy for large businesses and corporate departments is interesting but I more strongly believe that if the individuals within those companies do not understand their own personal brand that they bring to that company and those around them, the company's brand will never be quite complete.

Now here is where it gets hairy: sure, you could argue that a company could hire a brand strategist who designs a campaign that makes the company enormous success without talking with the employees about their ambitions, interests, and core values. Absolutely. Because brands are everywhere and we all have our own, there is no one singular brand to rule the world (cue the audience member who yells out "Amazon!"). There are successful brands and less successful brands, but that is relative to intention and is boiled down to understanding. My clients understand themselves so much better - their emotional patterns, communication styles, goals, interests, and values - and can more confidently express each of those in daily life to improve their communication, interactions, relationships, and work satisfaction. This is only possible because they were open to a new understanding. One of my mentors was once hired by a large company and worked them through his whole process of narrative and brand design only to be met with a lot of "but why though? I don't get it." It was not my mentor's inability to describe new story channels for the company, but the company leader's inflexibility to understand and accept the new brand identity. 

My clients come to me when they are feeling the need for some kind of change either in their work, career, or relationships. They notice something is not working and there is a tension inside of them that burns into restlessness. So many people never respond to the restlessness except with anger. They stay stuck, go home and vent or drink it away, then get up and repeat. Those who want to make that change, though, look outward for guidance and take action. The catch is that, even though they recognize their ambition to make a change, there is a whole lot of fear pulling them back toward their familiar, un-risky daily life.

Being stuck in the middle of fear and ambition creates even more tension within someone and confusion within their mind. People lose sight of their interests, they think that their goals are somehow misguided, and very often resort to judging themselves in the sense of doing things in a right or wrong way. Does this sound familiar to you? It sure rings a bell for me and my evolving personal brand (not my company, but me as a person). A few years ago I learned that there truly is no such thing as right or wrong with regard to your "path." It is simply a matter of what is healthiest for you as an individual. If you are restless, stressed, and angry from unenjoyable work, your body and mind will have a hard time maintaining a healthy condition. If you respond to tension by talking it out with a colleague or partner and strategize how to productively ameliorate the tension, you will feel healthier in your body and your mind will feel clearer. A matter of acting forward instead of covering up. 

I knew as early as high school that I wanted to start my own business at some point, which is why - ESPECIALLY now - I feel in my gut that a lot of jobs in an office of some kind working for someone else would cause tension and restlessness in me. I help people navigate that murky, dark, scary place between fear and ambition, and what can be discovered there is a new understanding of unique story that is powerful whether for an individual or a large company.  

So whether it is you stressed at work in the cubicle farm, crushing a PR at the gym, feeling awkward at a Christmas party, or telling someone you love them, understanding the why of your experience continues to define the brand story you express to the world every day. Like the hot brand that indicates the farm to which a cow belongs, show the world how you are a part of it. 

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.