Self Awareness

Artist, Leader, Or Entrepreneur? Who You Are At Work Can Dramatically Help - Or Hinder - Your Success

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What are you? 

It is a question we sometimes lump in with "Who are you?" in the deeper, semi-existential sense and, depending on who you speak to, answers are extremely variable. Luckily Tony Robbins, the master Life/Performance/Business/Development coach on the planet (he invented the field of coaching, by the way) provided some clarity last week as to how to answer that question at his five day Business Mastery seminar in Las Vegas.

He distinguished three categories of business people that he calls "Gifts of Service" in accordance with which we all somehow live our lives. 

1. ARTIST

The artist is someone who loves creating a product and takes immense pride in the process of serving a customer's needs. Artists love the product and design so much that they are scared of risk and want to protect the business and identity that they created. That way, artists are very mission-driven and focus on continually improving the product and its effect on the customer.

2. MANAGER / LEADER

The manager / leader is someone who is proficient at optimizing business systems and making sure everything runs efficiently. Very detail-oriented, this is someone who is fueled by managing and organizing the needs of both the processes within a business as well as the people in charge of those processes. A manager / leader is one who does not pay as much attention to the product design and creation but still wants to mitigate risk as much as possible to ensure the business' sustainability. 

3. ENTREPRENEUR

The entrepreneur is the risk taker. They spend the least time thinking about the product design and creation and instead spend the most time on the product's market fit and overall business value with the ultimate goal of selling it and moving on to another venture. The entrepreneur is fueled by the scary rush of building a startup, managing investments, and looking for any opportunity to innovate and grow. 

What it means

Keep in mind that it is common to simultaneously possess characteristics of more than one persona. It is rare to be one and only that one. The persona we inhabit can also change over time, especially once one learns more about themselves in college and then again and again in the real world after college while adopting new skills and experiencing many new things. 

I have always predominantly been an Artist because of how much I love creating things, designing new aspects of service, creative writing, and so on. Not to mention how everything I do is goal-oriented and funneled toward specific outcomes. 

A twist in the plot, however, is the fact that I am largely a Manager / Leader as well. I think it is a 60/40 kind of thing leaning towards Artist but still M/L is right up there. 

This presents itself in my brain by way of my right hemisphere exploding with creativity and then moving the energy to the left hemisphere of my brain as soon as the ideas are formed. Once the ideas move over there, the left side immediately sets to work organizing them for efficiency and sustainability. I can feel when this process happens. It is a cool mutualistic relationship between the hemispheres, and the transfer occurs so quickly once my right has created something new. The left side of the brain is like the idea protector and packages them up nicely into something usable. 

I was definitely an Artist first, playing so much with toys and Legos growing up, but I know that I developed Manager / Leader qualities via family dynamics and subsequently taking on leadership positions in jobs and volunteer experiences. Now the trick is to continue employing both together.

What it also means

This activity not only draws awareness to your dominant personality traits but it also delineates what kind of personality traits you might want to seek and have join you. For instance, the interplay between Artist and Manager / Leader in me is powerful new clarity, but it also shows me that I lack the Entrepreneur's risk-taking, turnover-focused traits.

Even though I am technically an Entrepreneur by general definition, I am very much more the Artist in the sense that I focus hard on protecting what I have created and avoiding financial risk. What this means for the future of my business is that I ought to look for and hire someone who is predominantly an Entrepreneur so that our traits balance and that other person can focus on aspects of business development that my Artist's mind does not feel naturally compelled to. 

This will make it easier for me to describe what kind of person I am looking for when I post a job description in the future. 

What you can do about it

  1. Which one are you?

  2. Are you mainly just one of the personas, or do you show signs of multiple?

  3. What does this mean for you in your job or at your office?

  4. Amongst your coworkers or teammates? 

  5. How do you think you can use this assessment to boost your team's performance and productivity?

Is Grad School In Your Future? Answer These Questions First

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I have not gone to graduate school.

Sure, I have taken a class here and there and workshops galore, but I do not have an advanced degree. A lot of people to whom I talk about my business and my career ask what kind of advanced degree I have. In fact, quite a few people presume that I must have one. But I do not. 

The rules have changed over the last ten years about the significance of graduate school degrees. I started hearing more buzz about it all the way back in the 2012-ish era. I grant that many careers required graduate school, rightfully so, such as those in medicine, law, and mental health care. My opinion as the individual I am with my own set of circumstances and goals is that I do not need graduate school. That is my situation, though. I work with a lot of people who are changing careers or entering careers and graduate school is often on the menu as a side option in conjunction with or even in place of the main job.

I also know a lot of people who have unfortunately attended graduate school because they did not get a certain job they wanted or with the sole purpose of avoiding the workforce altogether.

That is so much money and time put to something that may or may not have any return on the investment or career relevance.

My standpoint is not an emotional one. I will not emphatically proclaim that graduate school is pointless and nobody needs it. Instead, my standpoint has always been practical. As a case of need. As a logical means to an end. I have not needed graduate school thus far as a factor of what my career interests dictated. I have applied a couple of times to two different kinds of programs and thought about applying a couple of other times, but no matter what it was not about to make or break my career direction.

Several years ago, I was talking with my parents about the job I had at the time and one of them made a comment about "not waiting too long because you'll have to apply to grad school sometime soon". I had expressed interest in graduate school before, but I was alarmed by the urgency. Like it had to happen. That was before I started my business.

I am currently in Las Vegas for a Business Mastery program in which I will spend twelve hours a day for five days immersed in trainings for the sake of my personal evolution and entrepreneurship. Call it a doctorate in business administration.

A business coach friend of mine casually trained me in his company's model of supporting clients' career exploration one afternoon. Call it a masters degree in career coaching. 

He said it best when he stated "BOOM, you are certified."

Professional experience and specific trainings have been my graduate school thus far but, again, I am not opposed to the idea. There is a full masters program in which I am interested that would bolster my current skillset, but I do not feel the urgency of need quite yet.

Let us think practically. In addition to his own experience and personal opinions about graduate degrees, the author of a 2016 article bluntly titled "Millennials, Don't Waste Your Money On Graduate School" poses four questions to anyone considering graduate school in their professional timeline:

  1. Why do you want to go to grad school? --- plain and simple. Necessary for a job? Because you are bored? Because you are hungry to learn? Because you want to avoid a job?
  2. Will grad school actually help you achieve that goal? ---  the goal is not enough. How perfect is the program for that goal? What criteria need to be met for your goal to be fully satisfied?
  3. Are there alternative ways to achieve that goal? --- certifications? Seminars? E-books? Online courses?
  4. Can you afford it? --- seems obvious, but a lot of people do not stop and answer this by writing down their finances and budget and forecast them over the next two, three, or six years. What would you need to do to pay for it?

Many people only need to focus on one of those questions to determine whether graduate school is a proper and practical choice. Often it is the financial question, but I encourage people to always start with the Why (shocking, since that is what my whole blog is about). I know my Why is to augment my skillsets and add value to my clients, so my practical evaluation is about when and how to pay for it.

Either you or someone you know is considering graduate school. Encourage them to answer these questions for themselves. Make a game out of it and quiz each other. Just make sure it satisfies your true genuine outcome.

How To Direct Your Own Fulfillment, Part Two: PREPARATION

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Last week we spoke about the purpose behind starting a business, a certain job, or even a hobby. This week is about Preparation. The article to which I referred last week spoke to the fact that a lot of entrepreneurs who are lured in by the title of entrepreneur start their businesses without really comprehending what goes into running the business day to day and, as a result, the majority of small businesses fail. Their founders are blinded by the shiny diamond of business ownership and do not stop to wonder what kind of pressure that diamond has to endure to become shiny in real life.

This is why, as the article states, passion and a big idea is not everything. A lot of background knowledge and preparation are needed as well. 

Preparation comes in a lot of forms, though. I will not say that there is one absolute requirement, but there must be something. The article mentions how the allure of the Entrepreneur title also comes with the mindset of diving in, taking risks, and failing in order to succeed. Even though all three of those things occur in the life span of a business, starting off like that with no training wheels is a bigger risk than should be taken. And a rather arrogant one.

Think of it like going into a job interview without doing any research about the company or the position. The candidate is either arrogant or oblivious, neither of which bodes well for sustainable success. 

Preparation for starting a biz can be many things:

  • graduate school
  • undergraduate classes
  • a relevant workshop
  • relevant work experience
  • interviewing business owners you know
  • reading Entrepreneurship For Dummies
  • listening to a podcast
  • keeping your day job
  • waiting a few years
  • praying to God
  • moving back in with your parents
  • all of the above

The cool thing about this modern age is that graduate school is not required for so many jobs. The positive of this is that more opportunities are available and people can take more risks on their own, but the negative is that people think that they are qualified for the pursuit. Even worse, they think they are qualified and dive in to something like entrepreneurship equipped with nothing more than their self-righteous determination. 

I thankfully had numerous levels of preparation when I started my company:

  1. I kept my day job
  2. I had four years of relevant work experience
  3. I knew multiple people who had started businesses and had interviewed them
  4. I had wanted my own business for so many years that the idea could marinate 
  5. I had a support system for the business inception
  6. I had an exceptional level of common sense and adaptability

I did not need to go to graduate school, I did not need to move back home, and I did not read a single book on entrepreneurship or business.

That six part prep I had gave me enough of a foundation to comfortably start a business, but by far the most important tool in my toolbelt was years of relevant work experience. 

I knew it was time to start my business when I realized how my skills could be offered in a valuable way on their own. I was able to assign a monetary value to them at the outset and I was working with clients before I even had a website, company name, or email address. Having not gone to graduate school for a MBA or having not started the business with anyone but me, myself, and I, I have had to adapt A LOT over time and change so many things: my business model, my services, my prices, etc.

But I was able to adapt with confidence because I had a strong foundation of my own unique preparation.

As my business continues to evolve, so does the kind of preparation that I need. 

Now let us extrapolate for those of you who are starting a new job or new hobby:

  • What kind of background knowledge or preparation do you need for that new job?
    • What kind of research should you do for it?
    • What questions do you need to ask?
    • Who do you need to ask?
    • What are you personally interested in knowing?
  • For a hobby, what kind of supplies are needed?
    • What background knowledge do you need to know about the activity?
    • Who could you ask about it?
    • What does the activity entail?

Even though diving into something is thrilling and makes for a great, risk-taking story, it is still a risk. In a later post we will talk more explicitly about the challenges of entrepreneurship, but for now continue to consider these two questions:

What kind of preparation do you have for your current ambition?

What kind of preparation do you still need?

How To Direct Your Own Fulfillment, Part One: PURPOSE

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I read an article yesterday on Business Insider about the traps that people fall into when they choose to start a business, aptly named "Entrepreneur Porn". It comes down to the question of Why they are starting the business. I will discuss a few aspects here, but the full article can be found at: https://www.businessinsider.com/starting-business-entrepreneurship-hard-7

Side note: I love how the shortened link title above says STARTING-BUSINESS-ENTREPRENEURSHIP-HARD. No beating around the bush. ENTREPRENEURSHIP HARD. That is the gist before you even click the link and read the article.

As I said above and so many times before, it is all about the why. The article talks about several aspects of specifically entrepreneurship, but I would like to expand that a little bit for my readers. I do not only work with entrepreneurs and so I want to connect the points to 9-5 jobs or even hobbies and leisure activities in which people participate. The two main points that I am going to cover in two separate posts are:

PURPOSE and PREPARATION

Purpose

The article discusses the sexy allure of calling oneself an entrepreneur or adopting the liberating mindsets of "not having a boss anymore" or "freedom to make the schedule I want". Those are all attractive, for sure, but then what? Once you LLC your company and technically are granted those freedoms, what are you going to do with the business? What next?

This is where the WHY comes in. This is all about what truly drives you. Whether you are starting a business, you work 9-5, or you started a new hobby (or habit re: last week's post), why you are pursuing that thing is the most important predictor of your future and satisfaction. Hoping to call yourself an entrepreneur or hoping to have a steady job are good goals, but they can be achieved in little time. Once achieved, you are left then with a lot of subsequent responsibilities you had not considered because your only goal was achieved at the start. After starting a business, there is a lot that goes into maintaining a business. Once you get a job, you have to show up every day and perform. 

If you only thought about obtaining one or the other, you will be in for a shock about what comes next.

It is like the phenomenon of weight loss. If you set a goal to lose fifty pounds and you do it, what then? People often cop out and say "I'll just maintain it" when really they did not set a new next goal to proactively start pursuing such that a new success is defined. 

The "allure of entrepreneurship" is something I have thought a lot about. I wanted my own company all the way back in high school, but why did I want it?  Why do I want it now?  Upon reflection, I have realized that, even though I agree with the article about how sexy the Entrepreneur title can be, that was never why I went into entrepreneurship. The title feels good, yes, for sure, but I learned that it is secondary to what really fuels me: creative independence. 

There are a lot of things about business management that I am so aware that I am not interested in and the delegation of which I am slowly learning how to orchestrate. I am proud of the fact that I own something unique and authentic, but being the "owner" is not my reason to do it. It is not my why. When my business grows and there is more of a team involved, I am interested in being its leader but not its owner, i.e. not an authoritarian dictator at the top of some hierarchy that I imposed because I own the company. That does not excite me. That is only ego. Being part of a team that is serving a brand does excite me. 

My why for entrepreneurship is the independence of it.

Homework: 

  1. If you started a business or want to, why do you want to be an entrepreneur?
  2. If you are currently working a "9-5" job, what does that job do for you?
  3. If you are currently searching for a job, why do you care about having a job? What is the specific motivator?
  4. If you have just begun a new hobby or are continuing an old one, how does that hobby serve you?

The reasons are different for everyone, and your unique reasons dictate your satisfaction with that pursuit. Take a minute to answer a question for yourself.

Your future depends on it.

How To Understand Your Habits - Yes, All Of Them

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This is officially my 53rd blog post, which means that I have successfully posted each week for an entire year. Bloggers out there will be like "that is adorable" and pat me on the head, but it is pretty enormous considering I have been consistently working three jobs over the last few years and, prior to the last year, I had only written two unrelated posts in the first year of my business' inception. 

I am not asking for celebration. Instead, a year-long habit of anything is a powerful opportunity for reflection. A lot has changed in the last year. I separated myself from one business partnership, initiated another, combined my two businesses, and moved across the country. But I want to focus on the blog posts. 

We are habit forming creatures. Our brains crave certainty and familiarity for the sake of surviving as efficiently as possible. To an extent, that often means in the easiest way possible as well. How many people do you know who coast through existence, apparently lazy and uninterested in putting any extra effort into their daily lives than is minimally necessary? I bet you know a few. 

They are the people whom we identify as having "bad habits" or "unhealthy habits" and whom we might generalize by the food that they eat and the activities they pursue. But I am not here to bash others for the way they spend their time. This is a judgment free zone.

Habits are habits for a reason.

Instead, I want to focus on positive habits. By that I mean any habits that you enjoy or think are evolutionarily beneficial.

What habits have you maintained or started in the last year that felt good to you? 

I do not care if it is something that society at large deems unhealthy or negative, or even illegal. I want to know what habit you have enjoyed. Making consistent income? Awesome. Running three times a week? Cool. Using hard drugs and alcohol? Do you. I want you to identify at least one habit from the last year about which you are either proud, you enjoyed, or which made you feel good in some way. 

Once you have chosen it, I want you to think about and answer this question: 

What does that habit do for you?

I mean, really. Think hard. What does it give you? What do you feel other than the enjoyment or pride? What is the primary reason for that habit in your life?

Let us consider my example of this blog. Yes, a blog is a helpful piece of a brand and it is an outlet for me, both creatively and intellectually, but what does it actually do for me, deep down? 

The discipline part of the habit is cool, but for me it is about the commitment.

As a solopreneur, commitment to maintaining habits can be difficult. Discipline can be difficult to maintain (Let me hear an AMEN from my entrepreneurs out there). But what is empowering about my year of writing blog posts is the fact that I can now be confident in my ability to stay committed to something. As I reflect on the past year of writing content, I think about how I was able to unflinchingly write two posts one week because I was on vacation the next or write my post earlier in the week because I knew that Wednesday and Thursday were booked up. I think that is so cool. All commitment and no compromise. 52 straight weeks. 

Identifying that commitment empowers me. 

What does your habit do for you? What makes it so empowering? 

Maybe watching movies lets your brain feel creative. Maybe lifting weights liberates you from anxiety. Maybe listening to music helps you sleep. Whatever it is for you, it empowers you in a unique way. And whatever empowers you is likely something you crave on a primitive level. Let us label it together. 

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. 

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

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. 

How To Break Free From Entrepreneurial Perfectionism

Break free from your idea of Perfect.

Break free from your idea of Perfect.

This is one of probably a billion blogs that exist on the internet. Think about how many individual blog posts there must be out there in the cloud. I have read a lot of posts on lots of different topics. Some are articles from other platforms that are copied and pasted into a blog for more exposure. Some are written as a full time activity by serious, well experienced writers while others are written by teens for social media. Blog writing is non fiction so the writer crafts the structure and then types the words in his or her own personal voice as opposed to fiction in which the voice can change based on the needs of a story.

I have worked with a lot of people who say that they "have to" have a blog because everyone else does. A lot of those same people have terrible blogs to which they inconsistently add content. It becomes a chore when you have not posted anything in months and feel like you "have to" or "should". 

Here is the thing: blogs can look like whatever you want them to and they can say whatever you want them to. There is no demand for what needs to be written or how it is presented. That is up to you and what feels right.  

In this way, there is no perfect.

There is no ideal. You find out what works for you and you put something out. That is business. 

So many people and entrepreneurs in the world freak out because they start a blog or create a product and business but do not want to launch it to the world in fear that it is not perfect. I hear this a lot. It is counterintuitive. It is the very first thing you have ever put out to the universe. How could it possibly be perfect?

It is like handing in a first draft of a paper thinking that it is the only draft that you are allowed to write. 

Thinking that your product needs to be perfect on the first go closes you off to the golden feedback that the world will give back to you once the product is out there. That feedback is the only thing that will help you understand how to make your product valuable. Not perfect, mind you. It will never be perfect. 

What is your product right now? What are you working on that you are hesitant to share? Why are you hesitant to share it?

Looking back on my own entrepreneurial journey, it is funny how incredibly unfocused my niche was when I started my business. I was confident in the first service I offered, but it was a service that could be offered to so many kinds of people on so many kinds of projects. I was the epitome of a generalist in the self-expression / writing / public speaking world. I did not know why that was a bad thing, though, at the time.

The reason I was comfortable launching my product is that I had waited a long time to start a business. I knew that I only had to organize my product enough to convey on a website, for instance, in order to first offer it. I also knew that I was new to the business world. I am lucky that I never perseverated on how perfect the first draft needed to be because I was so ready to start a company.

If you read the past few weeks of posts, this idea of making imperfect action connects to the Commitment of starting a business.

You must commit to accepting that your product will never be perfect.

Once you do, all of the pressure is lifted. The stress of perfection is eliminated and you can play around with your product and get feedback and engage with customers with more fluidity and momentum instead of kneeling underneath the boulder of having one shot to make it perfect.

I started my blog three years ago because I thought I had to have one, too. I wrote two posts and nothing else for years. In fact, I made the blog page of my website invisible for a long time. But then I realized what I wanted to say about life and business, so I re-enabled the page and started writing. I picked a day of the week to post, I knew my limits, and I wrote without fear of perfectionism because it is my blog and there is no such thing as perfect. 

Here is what you do: Whatever you are stuck on, whether it be a blog post or product launch or Kickstarter campaign, choose one thing and put a simple version of it out there to the world. Publish your blog post or put your product description on your website. Take whatever that first small action might be for you that combats your idea that it must be perfect. Put Post-It notes around your home with the words "There is no such thing as perfect" on them for a first step if you are still scared about launching whatever it is.

All the while, ask yourself this question: how could it possibly be perfect if no one has been able to give me feedback on it?

Peace From Peril: How To Turn "Defeat" Into An Advantage

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Last week we talked about achievement and this week we are talking about defeat, so here is a cute puppy to help.

Now that the Olympics are over, all of the athletes are probably meeting multiple times a week with their sport psychologists to talk about what they did wrong, what mindset they could have maintained instead, and how to deal with the regret of messing up that one turn on the course. In the Olympics and athletic world, "defeat" comes most explicitly in competition, which does not occur every day. In the real world for all of us common folk, even more factors impact our pursuit of success that the defeats can be much more frequent and of many magnitudes. A particularly rough day could include tons of little defeats, a few medium sized defeats, and one or two big ones, all even unrelated. And that is in the regular ole work force and corporate jungle. In entrepreneurship, it can feel like defeats are constant, as though the pressure you feel is a champion boxer sitting on your shoulders and swinging their arm down to punch you in the face every hour or two. But just like last week, defeat means different things to different people. 

As far as I can tell, I am human, which means that competition is hard wired into my DNA. I accept that, though I despise competition now. I grew up playing soccer and tennis and I downhill ski raced. I loved skiing but did not care or know how to take seriously the competitive element of the races. Maybe I was too focused on playing Game Boy at the time. Tennis I took seriously because of the skill involved and the finesse needed to get through a match, but soccer was my primary sport because I loved the stimulus of running around while I was simultaneously proficient at scoring goals. I held a high performance standard for myself throughout my soccer career. It was not until college, though, that I realized it was more about pressure on my self-concept as opposed to pressure related to the competition of the sport.

That was important. Certain experiences early on in college taught me to rethink what things in life warrant stress, worry, and concern, and this helped me realize that athletic competition is not one of them. I found much more pleasure in my sport from that moment on. Pressure was lifted. It did not matter.

Now I own two businesses on my own and feel pressure for...umm...let us see...survival?....all the time.  Of course success in business involves competition, but as an entrepreneur you get to choose against whom you want to compete. When I think about competition in the working world, I automatically picture the corporate landscape of sales quotas, red tape, and cubicle claustrophobia. A large corporation that looks like that would not be any competition of mine, so that stressful image is deleted. Sure, I have performed a lot of competitor research but, no matter what industry we are all in or if you are some kind of entrepreneur, your greatest competitor is your very own brain. 

Oh yeah, it can be a real bully. Because your skull is only so big, your self-concept hangs out with your self-talk, which then gossips its way over to your self-worth, and while they are spreading rumors, you feel more and more like crap and then spin the vicious cycle in such a way that the gossip only gets worse and affects every part of your day. 

Enter the "defeats". Once your self-worth is demoralized by your self-talk to the point where you think that one more second not getting an email response from a prospective client means you are a waste of space and organs, every little thing becomes a defeat and the entrepreneurial F-word (failure....) starts slinking in from the shadows to join the conversation. 

But who is telling you that you are a failure? You are.

Whose expectations have you failed to meet? Yours.

"But...but...but..." No no. It is your pressure. It is the value you place on the work. Sure, your boss or your dad tells you what the task is and how you need to perform, but he or she is operating under the assumption that you care enough about the work to get it done. Stressing about the task is simply your reaction to it. 

I have a long list of projects I have not finished and about which I sometimes keep myself up at night worrying, but that is because I have placed value on them. No one else told me that those things are important to finish and deliver. Just me.

Of course, the pressure to complete tasks by a deadline is something different, but calling their incompletion a defeat is simply my own perception and label. Like the achievements I discussed last week, however, defeats are equally subjective. I see successes as moments of gratitude and I see defeats as opportunities to learn. After all, if I curled up and cried when I hit an adverse moment but did nothing about it to try something different in the future, I would never have made it past six months with a business, not to mention five service evolutions.

Let us be real, we all have curled up and cried about work before, but I am lucky that it did not keep me from wanting to try something different.  

Defeats are moments that stop you and give you a chance to say "Well, crap. I don't know XYZ" and learn something new if you  care enough about the work you are doing. If you do not care about your work and you go home knowing ahead of time that you are going to impulsively complain about the day, then it is time to reassess your goals and outlook on achievement. 

Think about that for a second...

 

Really think about it... 

 

Let it sink in...

Now that you have decided whether or not you care about evolving in your current work, do what you did last week for achievements but flip it to be about defeat:

  1. Create a working definition of defeat or failure for yourself. What comes to mind? How easily do you come to an answer?
  2. List out examples of "defeats" that you have experienced recently, and 
      1. note why you think they are defeats (external or internal? hate your job? consequences of the "failure"?)
      2. note what can be learned from that defeat

You will love the relief that comes with realizing you are not actually a failure at life. As usual, it is about perspective. It does not matter if you are a professional athlete, you work in a cubicle, you own your own business, or you are in medical school. Any stress of pressure and competition as well as any fear of failure is yours and yours alone.

Now that you really know if you care about your work or not, the choice is yours: want to curl up in a ball and cry and stay the same or do you want to curl up in a ball and cry and then evolve into a more authentic, aligned, and purposeful you?

Valentine's Day Is Over: How To Start Planning For Next Year

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If you somehow did not hear, yesterday was Valentine's Day (If you are in a relationship and did not know that, let this be your harsh reminder). I am an old-fashioned romantic who put so much more emphasis on Valentine's Day back in high school and college. I loved making the valentines, adding a note, and attaching a sweet treat for the apple of my eye to savor. During a relationship in college, though, I learned that the day itself does not need to be a monumental event like some couples build it up to be, but at its core instead an opportunity to remind someone you care about why you appreciate them. Sure, little gifts can be given, but ones that relate to your connection in some way or inside jokes are best, and simplicity is key. 

Valentine's Day is treated so differently couple to couple. I know many women (sorry ladies) who anticipate it all year and many men (sorry ladies again) who abhor the holiday and dread the moment when they have to remember which colored roses are her favorite (white, obviously). I also know couples who do not put any emphasis on it and maybe borderline resent the holiday for the over-commercialized onus that it prophesies. Netflix & Chill becomes a weapon of their rebellion instead of the activity that concludes the holiday celebration. And then I know couples who are downright realistic about it...and damned adorable as a result. Take my sister and brother-in-law, for example. She is working, is soon to have a baby, had to take their dog to the vet for goopy eye problems, and was overall aware of their energy because yesterday was Wednesday, so they treated themselves to Chipotle and will have a more special night of appreciation tomorrow when the week is officially done (Ummm Chipotle on a holiday, though? Yes, please...). Though it sounds sort of common sense, what sets them apart is the fact that they already express their appreciation for each other every single day and cherish spending time together. Tomorrow will simply be the opportunity to slow down, go silent, and remember even more so why it is nice to be in each other's company. 

As I said in the beginning, simplicity is key. If you are in tune on a daily basis with what you appreciate about another person (or in tune with what you appreciate about being single, if you are not otherwise spoken for) and make an effort to show it, then every day will be Valentine's Day. American society loves holidays and Valentine's Day is just another victim of consumerism. Let us be real, I do not think St. Valentine sat in his prison cell thinking "I'm so excited that my legacy is to inspire millions of men in a couple thousand years to realize it's Valentine's Day day-of and panic-run to CVS to find the best card and heart-shaped box of chocolates."

On the contrary, St. Valentine was sending secret notes to his beloved from a prison cell awaiting his EXECUTION so it is a bit of a conflicting narrative when we ask our elementary school-aged youth to make mailboxes and fold a little Spiderman card that says "Slinging Love Your Way!" to give to their crushes. In my mind, it is instead a bit of an omen. Sure, forbidden love and absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder are phrases in our modern vocab, but he had a MUCH more significant need to say the words in his cards than a guy does today who has only been dating someone he met on Tinder for three weeks and who is panicking because he does not know what she expects from him on the 14th.

Despite the holiday's intense origin and the way America wants us to rejoice as if "it's all good!", one thing we can learn from St. Valentine is his simplicity. I have not read any of the letters he wrote, but I will bet a lot of rose pedals that he did not waste words. They were secret letters that were only for his woman to see. I am sure they were not just 140 characters, but I bet they were more succinct than a marketing E-book too.

Just be specific. Take John Mayer's advice and say what you need to say.  A while back I wrote a post about how saying more  actually ultimately says less and being straightforward and concise with your words more clearly gets your point across as well as boosts your confidence in advocating for yourself. And when do you have a ton of pressure to be vulnerable and say what is on your mind? When you have feelings for someone and the thought of them disrupts your daily functioning...in a good way. 

Then last week we discussed how verbal language is still so limited in its ability to convey what you see in your mind and feel in your body, which is why even those with a broad vocabulary still cannot fully describe an experience with words. Enter the Love Languages: 

  1. Words of Affirmation
  2. Acts of Service
  3. Receiving gifts
  4. Quality time
  5. Physical touch

No pun intended, but I love these because it gives us options. All of our personalities present differently so we all express appreciation and love differently. Animals do not have the same verbal language as us but they still have multiple love languages. When a horse drapes its head over an other's, when tigers rub their foreheads together, and - my favorite - when elephants wrap their trunks together like we hold hands. The beautiful thing about the love languages is that we do not have to choose just one.  We choose and use what is natural and authentic to us based on the love story that we want to express.

The whole goal of my business is to promote people's authenticity in their professional endeavors but also in their relationships and communication. I talk about authenticity a lot because I see it as the ultimate goal. If you are not advocating for yourself the way that you want to, you feel the disparity. If you are telling yourself that you are horrible at a certain skill but your numbers look great and you get a promotion, you feel the disconnect. If you perceive an expectation to express your feelings to someone in a way that is uncomfortable, you feel scared instead of exhilarated. For me, I know that my love languages are in the order of:

  1. Quality time
  2. Physical touch
  3. Words of Affirmation
  4. Acts of Service
  5. Receiving gifts

Quality time with my significant other where there is physical touch and unwasted words is my authenticity. That is not to say that Service and Gifts are not important in my relationship, but they are not a priority for appreciation to be expressed and they are not the most aligned modes of expression. Think about what your order might be. Then think about whether it has changed over the years, maybe even within one relationship. Remember, my authentic place in high school and college was focused on gifts and words of affirmation. 

Now that the holiday passed and Target stores can put all Valentine's Day related paraphernalia on 75% super sale, reflect on how you faced the day yesterday. Did you communicate with a loved one in a way that was reassuring and kind? Did you feel pressure to buy things or do things that did not feel authentic to you? Or did you let the day pass knowing that you and your beau will celebrate it when you can in the best, most aligned way that you can? 

No matter how you answered those questions, for future reference and your future narrative satisfaction:

  1. Be true to yourself
  2. Do not overcomplicate your gestures
  3. Say what you need to say

Thanks, John Mayer.

Why We Do Not Actually Know Anything...And Why That Is Okay

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In high school, I participated in the French exchange program in which a student from our sister school in France came to Vermont for a couple of weeks and then we went to France for a couple of weeks. In a nutshell, my exchange student could not have cared less about the program or me, so I spent a lot of time eating Nutella on bread and getting to know his family.

Two thirds of the way through the trip there, I officially became fluent in French. Not only was I able to speak it so much more smoothly, I began to DREAM in French. That is right, my unconscious thoughts had been completely transcribed into another language. That was so cool but also so bonkers crazy to me as the young strapping lad that I was seeing the big world. The switch flipped in my brain. It had beat all the levels of learning syntax and grammar and now advanced to a totally new land of levels. I remember sitting on the edge of my bed bewildered after awakening from having dreamt in French the first time as though I had awoken on another planet with no recollection of how I had gotten there. Or maybe like Neo in The Matrix when skills were  downloaded into him as computer software and he suddenly knew kung fu. But where he could defy gravity, manipulate the fabric of existence, and fight a ton of bad guys at once, I could dream in French. Definitely the same level of cool. 

Prior to my trip, my favorite english teacher back home heard I was going to France and she dropped the bomb question on me of "who is the authority on translation between languages?" As in, "how do we know and who definitively says whether or not a word in one language actually means this other thing in another language?" Maybe there is a scientific answer to her questions but that rocked my world at the time. 

Within my studies of neuroscience, psychology, and philosophy in college, I became more and more fascinated with the concept of communication and what constituted "language" across species over the course of evolution (SPOILER ALERT: probably has something to do with how I went on to become a Narrative Coach years later...). In a neurobiology seminar, I led a lecture on how crickets communicate and a subsequent discussion on nonverbal language of other kinds of animals. These discussions taught just how wide the breadth of nonverbal language is and how "verbal language" is just plain sound that air makes moving across parts of our throat. No different than a swan singing or a wolf howling or a cricket rubbing its wings together to chirp. All language is simply an ordering and contextualizing of sound. So when someone does not know how to speak English, it means they have not learned how to form the air with their mouth, breath, and throat in the same patterns to which we grew accustomed.

History tells us how the spread of languages occurred in human evolution as the early homo sapiens began to travel up and out of Africa. The middle eastern languages (Ancient Egyptian, anyone?) and then the romance languages and boom, we have language all over the world. Despite understanding the sprawl and movement of language, I have never heard anyone answer my English teacher's question. I invite any language experts reading this who do know the answer to please help a brother out.

A major topic in philosophy of mind that was presented by Descartes in the 1600s is the concept of "privileged access" that describes how we conscious beings have our own unique self-knowledge. In other words, the way that I observe and interact with stimuli in my surroundings and perceive colors and shapes is theoretically unique to me because no one else can possibly view the world in the exact way that my eyes and brain do. Furthermore, I cannot know how someone else sees a situation even if I am standing right next to them. They may see things and observe them totally differently.

If you are ever bored, think about the question: Does that person see the color Red the same way that I do? and then clean up your brain off the ground. 

I believe the theory of privileged access extends to language. When was the last time that you said "You know what I mean?" after trying to explain something? NEWS FLASH: NO ONE WILL EVER KNOW EXACTLY WHAT YOU MEAN. If you are lucky, they will recognize what you are talking about and identify that you use the same descriptive words as they might to describe an experience. Even people with complex vocabularies cannot 100% perfectly describe their perceptual experiences because it is possibly always going to be different than the way their audience may see it, regardless of how detailed an explanation they provide. 

So why do we teach? Why do we explain things at all if no one fully understands what is being said? I believe it is to connect. We want to relate. We want to understand each other. We want to know that we are not alone in the world and that our experiences are not somehow incorrect. History itself is storytelling in order to provide another generation context for why they live where they do and how they might want to live in that culture. Tales told around the campfire throughout the millennia are the experiences of the teller to which the listeners try to relate or which they try to remember in the course of their own lives. At least teaching can be effective when it is taught in an appropriate way for students to comprehend the information. 

At the end of the day, even if students comprehend something that is being taught and a friend's story at a bar makes somewhat sense to me, we may still not actually know what the person means. But that has to be okay because chances are we never will. We cannot know what the story they are describing actually looked like to them when they witnessed it. All of the colors and objects and perspective and emotions. 

Perhaps we do not know anything about what is said to us. Perhaps all we need is to be able to feel what we think we understand of the story. What rings true to us and what relates to our life and values. 

Perhaps there is no correct translation between languages at all. Maybe there never has been or will be. But also maybe they are translated just enough for us to be able to connect to each other. Better yet, maybe just enough to help us accept that we all have our very own experience of life in the movie theater of our minds and that that is okay because we are experiencing life differently together. 

My vacation a couple weeks ago took place in multiple French-speaking countries. My French came back quite strongly by the end of the trip and, even though I would not say I was necessarily fluent again as I was in high school, the locals seemed to understand what I was saying. I received the correct orders at restaurants and directions in the mountains, and I even held a whole conversation about a certain kind of popcorn with a local woman in a supermarket.

Maybe we are not as far off as we think. 

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.