Emotional Awareness

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. 

The Five Habits You Need To Build Resilience As An Entrepreneur

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My blog's earliest, most loyal follower and advisor gave me feedback on my previous post about Resilience and the Entrepreneurial Hurricane (which makes this post Part 2 of last week's Part 2...mind blowing...)

We discussed how entrepreneurs can create resilience for themselves beyond the reminders of Why they are in business in the first place. We came up with a cool Five Step Process to fortify your beach house:

1. BE OPEN TO FEEDBACK

Exhibit A: This post is being written because I am open to feedback. Without feedback, you do not know how the world is receiving you and what you offer. You might say "I don't care what the world thinks of me", which is noble and impressive and all, but you might want to care about what the world thinks of your business if you are trying to sell a product. 

The best part about feedback is that it comes in so many forms:

  • your mom after reading your blog
  • your dad asking about your financial situation
  • your friends who test your products
  • comments on your social media posts
  • total strangers at a networking event
  • customers after buying your product

You can walk up to a stranger at Starbucks, explain your business, and see what they say.

I have done that a lot, actually. I am so interested in people's responses after I describe what I do because their questions and comments inform how I am describing my service, from which I can adjust my wording. 

I won't go into the nerdy corollaries of how social feedback contributes to species evolution right now, but it suffices to say that you need feedback in order to grow anything, so start practicing openness to it.

 

2. CHOOSE WHO TO LISTEN TO

This one is a big one. If you are open to feedback, you are going to hear it from everyone and everything. The challenge is compartmentalizing what you hear and applying it to your future. As a result, you have to pick and choose what you listen to. 

This happens to me a lot. I mentioned last week that the biggest trap in which I get caught is that of unrealistic comparison to other entrepreneurs and business people. Over time, I have stopped listening to as many interviews by celebrity entrepreneurs and stopped reading as many blog posts about what I "should" be doing right now to succeed. Those people do not know me. Their words are not tailored to my business, so I must determine if I can apply any of their value to my current goals or push it away. 

If you get in the practice of taking some pieces of advice and avoiding others, you will realize who around you gives the most applicable feedback for your business. For me, it is my girlfriend, a handful of advisors, and my clients. I form such a deep connection with my clients and their stories that their feedback on my service is the most golden nugget of input that my business could need. 

For your business, to whose or what voice is most effective for you to listen?

 

3. MEDITATE

Yea, I know I am the billionth thing that has told you to go meditate in the past few years, but this is real. As I discussed in a past post, meditation is a very active practice and it is all about energy.

Meditation helps you slow down and channel energy toward what fuels you. If you can sit still for even five minutes with your eyes closed and watch your thoughts flow around while you are breathing, you will begin to see themes come up in your thoughts. Often times the common thoughts you sense are related to fears or anxieties but, relating to #2, you will also notice voices either from within you or people outside of you. 

Drawing awareness to these voices, even for just five minutes at a time, will help you acknowledge what voices are helpful to hear and which are harmful. 

That way, you can more comfortably deflect negative self-talk while working because you know from where the self-talk might be originating.

 

4. LOGICAL GOAL SETTING

Now that you can discern what to listen to and what not to, you can more clearly see what you want to accomplish today, this week, this month FOR YOURSELF.

I repeat: FOR YOURSELF. Stop thinking about other brands "like" yours, because there are no other brands like yours. No one performs my kind of consulting in the exact way that I do it. Based on the feedback that you have received about YOUR product, what is next on the to do list to keep things going? 

Edit your website?

Change your prices?

Start an email campaign?

This took me a while to understand for myself. I want to write books and create social media campaigns and give lectures and send email newsletters and make TQ coffee mugs and tee shirts and I have wanted to do all of those for years. Even though I am capable of doing all of those things, doing all of those things was not realistic at the time I thought about doing them. 

Similar to the famous line in Jurassic Park, just because I could do something does not mean that I should. 

I got down on myself because I was not accomplishing all of those cool things that a business might have, but then I realized that I was focusing most of my time on customer service and defining my product, which is far and beyond the most important. 

So I wrote all of those cool possible projects down in a list such that, over time, when it feels appropriate, I can look at it and choose one to try out.

It gives me the freedom to focus on what is important right now and still try new things going forward. 

Make the list for yourself of things you either think you "should" be doing or things that you would like to create. Then think about what you have been working on and ask: "what needs to be accomplished right now?"

 

5. PATIENCE, YOUNG GRASSHOPPER

Being a business owner, you can know everything about what going on with your business. This is positive for the sake of productivity, but it is also a challenge because you are the one who thinks most often about the big picture. 

The big picture can be torturous because we business owners want to get to that end goal NOW. We creative, ambitious types are so freaking impatient. It motivates us and tortures us. 

If you have completed Steps 1-4 at this point, then you have a sense of what goals to pursue today. If you actually meditated, you also know how to take a productive deep breath. 

Step #5 is a gentle reminder to be patient. You see the big picture goal. Even though you will not attain it today, the realistic goals you set for yourself today and pursue this week will continue to authentically serve your big picture. 

Take another deep breath. You are doing the work. And you rock.

Now fortify that beach house. You are going to live there for a while.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Example 1: standing up for yourself to a boss?

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is a long time seeking the sound of authenticity.

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

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

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?

How To Win Olympic Gold Every Day In Life And At Work

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Here is a fun fact about me: I cry every time I watch the Olympics. Yup, that is right. Huuuuuuuuuge sap right here. With a foundation of pride the athletes have in representing their country to how impressive they are in their individual skillsets, the Olympics get me EVERY. DAMN. TIME. Watching the competition can be so stressful, too, though (#Womensicehockey last night, anyone?) even though I am not competing and I have no personal stake in the outcome. I cry because no matter what the result, it is such a cool achievement to simply be there and compete in the sports about which they are all so clearly passionate. I am always fascinated, though, by the athletes' focus on winning medals as the ultimate emblem of their achievement when any athlete who has ever participated in the Olympics that did not earn a medal can still call him/herself an olympian and garner almost as much recognition for their athletic prowess than the medaling superstars. Obviously not the exposure and press conferences and sponsorships and book deals that come from winning medals and world cup championships all the time, but exposure nonetheless for the foundational reason that they are at the olympics: to compete in an athletic sport.

I have always had an odd relationship with competition and achievement. I have become more comfortable as an adult with certain forms of confrontation and in fact have become strong at conflict mediation in professional settings. My engagement in competition, however, ended after college. The subject of competition relates so much to narrative, both on the individual and cultural levels, that I will dedicate a whole post to it soon, but for now the Olympics has made me think a whole lot about the idea of achievement. 

When I watch Alpine Skiing in the Olympics (my favorite sport to watch), the cameras never stay on the competitors after the last run is skied for me to see how the athletes who did not make the podium or better yet who were pushed off the podium in the last run react to not getting a medal but still acknowledge that they did pretty darn well. Some athletes who get interviewed have trained themselves in the mindset that their effort is only worth it if they get a medal at the end. Some even focus only on gold and nothing else is acceptable. I am just an objective spectator who used to ski race (which means I know what the competitive aspect feels like even though I do not know what it is like to ski at 90mph down an ice rink in South Korea) but my personal mindset is if I ended up, say, in the top ten in an Olympic event, I would think that that is pretty darn cool! I would blast that all over social media. As a matter of fact, I may lose a medal somewhere or stress every night when I go to bed that it would get stolen. 

I have trophies from athletic exploits growing up but they are simply that: trophies. I would be disappointed if they were lost or stolen because I am an extremely sentimental person, but I would soon understand that they are simply representations of something I experienced and I do not need to hold on to the object in order to remember the achievement. Similarly, I gave away some shirts and sweaters a few days ago that I remember loving when I wore them and guess what? I am already over it. They are just fabric. 

I have thought in the past and currently think a lot about my sense of achievement with regard to starting and owning businesses like I have. I started wanting to own my own company way back in high school without a clue in the world a) how to start anything and b) what the heck it would be about. But that did not matter. I knew that was a goal. And the seed only grew.

So when I started The Tailored Quill in 2015 and I had multiple clients paying me for services before I even had a name, logo, or website, I of course saw it as an achievement. I had finally done it. I had created a business that I could call my own and I was immediately making profit. But what happened next? The same thing that happens after Shaun White wins a gold medal at the Olympics. New work begins. I had to provide what the clients asked for. I cannot rest on my laurels because then my enterprises will not survive. I can learn form my achievements just as I can learn from my failures and keep going. When I officially launched a crowdfunding campaign and blasted out announcement emails, I said "Okay, that is cool" because I achieved the learning experience of building those two campaigns, which I had never previously needed to know how to do. And that is the extent of that achievement because I then had to build the rest of the business. It is not like that automatically garnered me a hundred paying clients or meant that I could retire. On the contrary, that hardly caused a ripple. My brain made the mental note of the achievement but I knew I could not spend the rest of the day drinking champagne saying "that email campaign was so sexy. I have earned the day off."

Definitions of success have to be subjective but so many people and entrepreneurs listen to the objective societal definitions of it. You know, millions of dollars, big house, nice car, the latest clothes. 'merican Dream! I sort of fell prey to those ideals for a while until I realized that I have absolutely zero interest in living in a ginormous mansion. As soon as I was able to ground my goals and interests in contrast to those of society, new goals for myself and my companies were dramatically different. Achievement is no longer assigned to a monumental accomplishment but instead takes the form of teeny tiny things. 

For example, I bought a cardboard box and packaging tape at the post office this morning. There was no line (which is a miracle in itself), the box is the perfect size, and the tape does not get all bunched up and stuck on itself. The post office should get a gold medal for that because it started my day off so nicely and smoothly and it even got me stoked to tackle the other tedious items on my to-do list today. 

I have learned that achievement of the tiniest things make the biggest difference to me. I do not need to have a multi-billion dollar business on my own and I also do not want to deal with all of the staff members that a multi-billion dollar business would require. Instead, testing out a new social media strategy yesterday for the fun of it was a win. Feeling confident and comfortable expressing myself over this platform every week is a victory. Maintaining two businesses that have been profitable since both of their inceptions is my gold medal.

In reality, achievement is recognizing that for which you are grateful. I am grateful that my businesses are profitable but I am not bragging about it as though it means I have attained enlightenment over all other business people in the world. I am thankful that I was taught the new social media strategy and that it is something I can comfortably sit down and put into action. Gratitude moves you forward. 

There is an awesome scene in the military film Jarhead in which a couple soldiers are talking animatedly about the video game level that one of them is about to beat and another soldier flatly chimes in "You know what happens when you beat that game? Nothing. You start over." Humorous buzzkill but he has a point. I can be excited when I beat a level in Candy Crush but all that means is that I move on to the next level, the next challenge. I am grateful for the skills, knowledge, and strategy I used to beat that level, though. 

Achievement is what you make it, so here is your homework:

  1. Rewrite your to-do list, but this time double check to see if any tasks could be broken down to even smaller chunks that are more easily achieved. Make sure your goals are realistic for the time and resources you have available. 
  2. Define success for yourself. Whether a casual brainstorm or a formal statement, getting something down on paper that does not appease society or your mom or your overzealous business partner will feel oh so good. What is success to YOU? A bulleted list of long term goals is just as acceptable as a fantasy paragraph about where you want to live. You will not be graded.

Start thinking about what achievement looks like in your daily lives. That way, you can be like me and say "huh, that was cool" when you learn something new and cross your unique personally realistic goals off of your list every day. I am grateful to you for reading this post and I count that as an achievement. No medal necessary. 

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.

Just A Friendly Neighborhood Reminder To Do Something Your Body Should Do Automatically

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Let us stay on this whole mindfulness thing for a bit because I literally had to remind myself to take a breath earlier today. Like consciously speak to myself in my own head to chill for a hot second and deeply breathe in. Let us all take a second for a breather. In fact, let us take this whole week as a breather. Let us just chill. Holidays are over, resolutions are "adjusted", and it is somehow actually February. Remember a month ago when people were fighting each other for pasta on the shelves at Whole Foods? Let us all just chill for a second. We need it. 

Last week I was 1. in a different country and 2. amongst tall mountains. I prepared some work things to bring with me that did not require a lot of time or, more importantly, brain power and attention to start working on in case the trip got boring (really, Taylor??), such as content design and product development brainstorming. Did I look at it once last week? Nope. Sure didn't. Not for lack of trying, though. I definitely thought about the tasks a few times but when it came down to reaching into my bag and cracking open the notebook, my hands did not move. The week also 3. involved physical activity on those mountains, so my physical fatigue and the mental shift that I was so totally in a different culture somewhere else on the globe kept my hands to my side and my mind on the present. I am lucky to be able to change the channel in my brain and be wherever I am on most vacations in the past, but there are some in which I simply cannot do it. And it is painful. One trip last year I could tell on the plane ride out that I was not going to be able to tune out the world I was temporarily leaving and, unfortunately, I turned out to be correct. 

Life moves. Whether it is "too fast" or "way too fast" is subjective, but nothing ever stops. Molecules are always in chaos, air and weather are always in flux, waves and nature are eternally restless. Sharks have to keep moving in order to breathe. Translation: if they stop moving, they die. WHAT? Ironically, so many humans - particularly Americans - act like sharks. If they slow down, they will die. If they stop what they are doing, they will fail. UGH, it is exhausting. I am exhausted just thinking about it while I write about it. The sad part is that we all know that it is unhealthy. Sure, some people "thrive" off of a fast-paced lifestyle or are most productive under pressure, but that does not mean that their hearts and blood pressures enjoy it. I have always lived a very busy life with days and weeks jam-packed with everything I can fit in, mostly related to work. Go me! I am super hard-working, but none of that matters if I do not know how to slow down.

It took me until junior year of college to learn how energy should be prioritized and allocated in life in order to remain a healthier version of myself, and I have continued to practice that allocation ever since in the big, bad, real world. That is why I am entitled enough to help people with a) slowing down to breathe and b) figuring out how best to allocate their energy in their work, relationships, and everyday life. You are never done practicing how to slow down, but the practicing becomes easier. And you do not have to do it alone. 

Where I was last week was an isolated bubble. A remote microcosm that forces you with limited WiFi and perilous roads to stop moving and surrender. No one is watching, do not be scared. At night, stars glistened over the mountain peaks and I all but fell to my knees and cried in surrender. Instead of the dramatic display that that would have produced, I chose instead to take good, long, full breaths of the brisk mountain air. It was all I could do, and it is exactly what I needed. Fast forward to today when I had to consciously remind myself to take that same kind of revitalizing breath. Yeah, I am not in the mountains of another continent, but slowing down is possible here too. So no matter how "fast" you feel your life is right now, remember that that is okay as long as you know how to stop and take a deep breath. 

Do it right now (please). I dare you.

No matter what you are doing right now, you could use a deep breath. If you are self-conscious about it, this is me giving you permission. If you are scared, this is me offering support. If slowing down makes you cry, there is no shame in meditating in a bathroom stall. If you are embarrassed that you have to set a reminder in your phone or on your Apple watch to take a deep breath, just know that I am going to go tell myself to take another deep breath in just a couple minutes. 

Why Meditation Is So Darn Difficult But So Darn Helpful

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In a couple days, I am going on vacation. Somewhere NOT awesome, I promise you. Definitely not out of the country and definitely NOT unplugged from my computer. There is NO REASON WHATSOEVER for you to be jealous. 

Now that that is cleared up, yes, vacation. This silly eight letter word that we all have heard but rarely get to experience firsthand. It refers to some kind of "break" or "free time", but those are things that us millennials and millennial-esque individuals (you know who you are) have never even heard of. The only break and free time we know is when we break a bone playing a sport and have free time when we are not allowed to practice. And think about THAT negative association... Along the same lines, "rest" is like the snow leopard of physical wellbeing. It is rare, blends in with your surroundings, and when you finally see it, it disappears almost as quickly as it had appeared. But it is so damn beautiful. "Why hide?!?!?!" you want to ask it. "Why will you not stick around for me to enjoy you?"

Unfortunately the answer is that we do not know how best to take advantage of rest when the opportunity arrives. I will be the first to admit, it is really difficult. Even sitting for a whole afternoon binging Netflix sometimes is not the full rest that you want. Sometimes I feel just as unrested after lying on the couch in the very same position watching a whole season of House of Cards. Why, though? I did not move for so many hours! 

The other option for "full rest" is napping, but napping is like the tylenol of physical wellbeing. Everyone's dosage will be different. If I nap for 22 minutes, I feel good but come on, I never nap for 22 minutes. No, I end up napping for an hour and wake up feeling like my brain stayed on the pillow and my body became a baby giraffe taking its first steps. 

So how do we actually rest? 

A dear friend of mine has been meditating hard for almost thirty years and now gives lectures on how meditation affects and promotes a healthy mindset. In his talks, he discusses how meditation is actually an extremely active activity (redundant, yes, but YOLO) instead of the common assumption that everything stops, slows down, or shuts off when you meditate. Your physical movements slow down, yes, but you do not shut off your brain. On the contrary, you slow your body down in order to open your mind up and let it explode however it wants to. Then do nothing. Just watch the thoughts. Sounds simple but you know it is difficult if you have ever tried it. 

Meditation is interesting in this way because it has become such a trendy topic in mindfulness and yoga has become the be-all-end-all cure for everything. But meditation is super hard! Watching all of your crazy thoughts while trying to focus on the sound of your breathing or the 3 hour YouTube video of a mountain stream is a lot of work! It makes sense that so many people will not even try to meditate because it does not sound restful at all. 

I meditated quite a bit back in high school and some in college before I created my own Mobile Meditation that I would use on the go when I am in the car. I got into a good habit in high school and even got to that point where I actively saw the black glittery void that I was breathing into (it was pretty cool) and my Mobile Meditation became the appropriate dosage for my post-college lifestyle. I recently got back into it at home and, even though I am not yet seeing the void as I did in high school, I am able to feel the separation between my body / breath and my thoughts. It is a little trippy, yes, but you have to be open to it. I have learned that my brain is so in need of that unloading because of all the stimuli it filters every day that it busts the door down when I close my eyes and take the first breath. I have to be okay with that. I have to remember that it is the same thing as a muscle getting the toxins and stress massaged out of it at the spa. It is active and sometimes painful but will feel good afterward. 

I often feel like the meditation was all over the place or "did not work", but then I notice that my breathing is much smoother and my head feels lighter regardless of the onslaught of thoughts it just endured. 

Just like you, I am going to keep experimenting with what is most restful for me. When I am on the long plane flight that is DEFINITELY NOT GOING OVERSEAS, I am going to try to meditate, nap, and watch movies and we will see which one is most restful. I wonder what is most helpful for you. What do you like to do to "rest"? And does it actually help? Since you have already given up on your New Year's resolutions, what can you recommit to trying in order to help yourself rest and recuperate?

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. 

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?

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. 

STOP AND SMELL THE TRYPTOPHAN: Gratitude for Every Connection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Something that happens to a character."

"Has a beginning, middle, and end."

"A glimpse into somebody's life."

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

It should not. Here is why.

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

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

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

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

Each dot = a story

Ultimate trend and overall layout of the data = the narrative

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

Just a data point. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nope. 3psi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pause for a deep breath.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But holy cannoli, we are not nice to ourselves.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You described that with so much enthusiasm."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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