22 August 2013

The Life of a Full-Time Artist

Do you ever dream of being a full-time artist? Or did you ever?  Here’s an honest look at one full-time artist’s actual life.  Many of us imagine other lives for ourselves: our future life that we are working toward, the life option we left behind at some point, or the lives we see others living.  Usually these other lives are imagined in airbrushed perfection, which no real life can ever match up to.  It can be enlightening to get the reality check of a candid glimpse into the life of someone actually living that life.  I offer the look at this particular artist’s life to show how hard she works and how demanding her success is across so many media and platforms, not that she is complaining in the least. I know Julie Fei-Fan Balzer and she’s not. 

When you see the beyond-airbrushed reality of someone else’s life, it can remind you why you didn’t choose it.  Or it can illuminate the challenges of that path which may help you later when you encounter them yourself: instead of seeing them as setbacks you may remember that they are just part of that path.  It can remind you that no life is perfect; it can suggest that the life you are living now might look perfect to someone outside it.  

It might also help you to see that you are already on the path that is right for you, even though it might not look or feel the way you imagined it would.  You may be creating exactly what you always wanted for yourself, but you could miss seeing and appreciating that because it doesn’t exactly match the image you had of it.  Joseph Campbell wrote, “We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.”  [Read more Joseph Campbell here.]  If we’re obsessed by our failure to live up to a rigid picture of how our life should look, then we’re unable to see, appreciate, or build on our actual successes. I’ve written more about this elsewhere.

We expect the path to success to be a straight line and the reality is it’s anything but.  Why do we expect such simplicity?  Growing up on too many Disney movies?  I don’t know, but maybe it is the nature of dreams to look seamless so they can inspire us and draw us forward.

Whatever our chosen path, it’s easy to be so stuck in the weeds that we can’t see the bigger picture of our progress.

Some years ago, when I was a freelance database developer working from home, I had to make an unscheduled trip to my daughter’s school to pick her up.  Her school was about 30 minutes away.  I was up to my elbows coding a new system and not happy about taking an hour out to make this run.  I started the drive feeling cranky and frustrated.

It was fall, and the route included a beautiful stretch of highway that gave view to acres of trees in full fall colors.  At some point I noticed the gorgeous trees and cloudless, sun-filled sky and had a sudden mind-shift. I just suddenly saw my life from an altitude of 80,000 feet.

I saw how fortunate I was to be out in the middle of the day on this road, just as part of an ordinary Tuesday morning. Not only that, I was driving to pick up my amazing daughter who I loved so crazy much. I saw my good fortune in having a daughter period, and a second amazing daughter too.  And how grateful I was to have engaging, well-paying part-time work in a second career I had segued into from a non-technical career as a corporate trainer. It was a moment of seeing that the life I was living was actually the life I wanted.  I tended to be so insecure about work and money that I missed seeing what was right in front of my face.  And soon enough I would return to that glass-half-empty frame of mind.

Tips and Tricks

If/when you find yourself imagining the perfection of some other life, here are a few constructive things you can do.

  • Make a list of some of the ways your current situation is going well for you.
  • Make a list of some of the ways that you imagined life might be challenging or difficult.
  • Make a list of the aspects of the imagined life that you envy. 
    • Using that list, identify some ways you could have some of that in your current life.
    • Identify the next steps you could take to do so.
    • Take those next steps.
  • Imagine you are an acquaintance of yours.  How might your life appear perfect to that person? 
  • Read The Art of Possibility by Ben and Ros Zander. 
  • What about your life is perfect for you?

I’m not saying there’s never a time for massive course corrections.  There are certainly times when course corrections are in order.  But that’s a different post. 



10 October 2012

A Word About Delegating

Delegating is not about thinking you’re too good for certain tasks.  It’s not about being a snob.  In fact it’s not about you at all.

It’s all about the work. If other people can take some things off your plate and that frees you up to do more of the work that only you can do, that moves everything forward in an efficient manner.

Most organizations housed in office buildings pay a cleaning company to handle the heavy housekeeping for the site.  Why?  So that the people who work there can focus on the mission of the organization and not have their time taken up with housekeeping tasks that are better handled by a cleaning company.  Meanwhile, the cleaning company has a valued, steady customer.  It’s a win-win.

That’s why delegation succeeds.  No matter what kind of work you do, you can’t also do everything else.  As you become more skilled and experienced, you become capable of higher level functions.  It’s a no-brainer, right?  But you can’t actually DO that higher level work if you’re still doing all your own collating.

Yes, the people more junior to you also have full plates, so you feel guilty.  But keep the focus ON THE WORK.  It’s not about you, and it’s not about them.  It’s about getting the job done.

And if there’s a staff shortage, then that needs to be addressed directly, for what it is.  And not buried under guilt and ambivalence.   

Need to delegate more effectively?  Need better guilt-management skills?  Consider getting some focused, customized coaching on this.   Coaching is what I do best.  Contact me.


28 July 2012

Vacation Primer

Here are some thoughts for a satisfying vacation.

Before you head off into your next vacation, write down for yourself answers to these questions:

1. What are your expectations for this vacation?

2. What do you most want to get from it?

3. How exactly do you see yourself getting it?

4. In order for you to get this, do you need anyone else’s buy-in or support?

If you’re vacationing with other people, ask them these questions too, and share your answers with each other.

Getting clear on and expressing your own needs, wants, and expectations can support you in getting what you need.  Similarly, hearing what your fellow-vacationers want and need can also be extremely useful.  Where these wants are aligned, great.  Where they are not, knowing and discussing this in advance can result in some agreements that are acceptable to everyone.

What’s helped you have a vacation that fed you what you were hungry for?


18 July 2012

A Cheering Section of One – Acknowledge Your Own Success

Athletes and stage performers are some of the few adults in our society who receive instant applause each time they succeed. For many of the rest of us, it has been a long time since our daily triumphs, let alone our competencies, were given much notice. Our families and coworkers expect us to be reliable and effective, and many of us don’t find room in our lives to give or receive a well-timed pat on the back.

And yet, we all need acknowledgement. We need it to see where we have been successful and to motivate our continued success. The good news is that the person best-positioned to acknowledge you is you.

I recommend routinely taking the time to acknowledge your growth, learning and success on four levels:

  1. Your accomplishments and results. These are the things that are visible to the outside world, and that our culture recognizes as worthy, such as: winning a grant, reaching your sales goals, getting an award, finishing a 5K run, being promoted, your film winning at Cannes, losing 5 pounds, etc.
  2. Your behaviors that you are proud of. Even if you didn’t meet your projections or your deadlines, you might still be proud of the way you worked, the way you led your team, or the way you handled the disappointment. These behaviors might represent profound and enormous growth for you, and it’s important to acknowledge all of that. And even if these are old behaviors that you’ve owned for years, it is still important to acknowledge yourself for them. Other behaviors that might fit into this category:
    1. you got better at leading meetings
    2. you kept your agreements with yourself and others more consistently
    3. you set clearer boundaries in one area (even if this only happened once)
    4. you yelled at your kids less
    5. you were more honest with someone than you might have been in the past
  3. Your personal qualities. These are elements of your personality that you may not even notice any more. You work hard. You are a reliable friend. You’re a good listener. You’re funny. You’re a caring person and you know what your limits are. You take good care of yourself considering how demanding your life is right now. You intuitively knew what was going on at the xyz meeting when no one else seemed to.  And so forth.
  4. Your learnings. What have you learned recently?  What have you gotten better at? How did you stretch? What do you understand now that you didn’t a year ago? What did you endure recently that would have previously done you in? Where else and how else did you become more seasoned, mature, wise, effective lately?

I can already hear you resisting this recommendation by saying, “I don’t have the time for this! My life is crazy.  I’m lucky if I can do all the stuff I’m already committed to doing. I don’t need another should, thank you.” But hear me out.

Yes, this exercise can be done in a formal written way, where you take time and sit with a pad of paper and a cup of hot tea, and really think about this in a focused and intensive way.  A little music would be nice.

But it can also be done in discrete segments, on the fly, whenever you happen to think about it or have a moment. While you’re sitting in the dentist’s waiting room, instead of checking your email, use your phone to write down some of your personal qualities that are strengths, and send it to yourself as an email.

When you’re in the checkout line at the supermarket, just mentally note some of the ways you’ve grown recently. Are you more effective in speaking up for your point of view at meetings? Do you weather your teenager’s withering looks and rolled eyes with more equanimity? Did you clean up a relationship that had gotten a little messy?

Just note these things to yourself: THAT IS the acknowledgement. No need to take out a full page ad in your local paper (if you still have one). No need to email these epiphanies to all your colleagues and acquaintances (bad idea). Just note it to yourself. Become your own, quiet, cheering section.

This is hugely, powerfully constructive. It will re-charge your batteries. It will upgrade your sense of yourself in an appropriate way. It will help you lead your life from a stronger place. It will offset some of the ways you are never satisfied with yourself.   Keep doing it.

If you need help identifying your wins or crediting yourself properly, contact me. A short round of success coaching can supply you with a fistful of gold stars and the courage to use them.


15 February 2010

Post Op

About 10 days ago I had day-surgery on my hand.   I was NPO after midnight and scheduled for a 3:00 pm surgery.  Doing without food or water was no big deal, but no morning coffee?  That was hard.


9 February 2010

Managing Discomfort

I’ve just returned from taking a few vacation days in New York.   A friend came up from DC and we spent a day together.  I stayed over with another friend and spent a day with her as well.  Very fun, and a perfect getaway for me. 

I’m back to a  very full plate, much to do in a very short time.  When I have a crunch like this, I need to work more quickly than I’m comfortable working.   If I’m not careful, I can get very stressed by it.  I think it’s the discomfort that stresses me, not the work itself or the volume.  So this time I’m going to try managing the discomfort a little better, and I’ll see if that makes a difference.

How will I do that?  Well, one thing I’ll try is this: when I start feeling stressed, I’ll ask myself, “Are you stressed by the discomfort of having to work more quickly than you want?”  If the answer is yes, I think knowing that will help me keep it in perspective: I can certainly handle my own discomfort — it’s all up to me.  

Meanwhile, I’m excited about all that’s going on, including a cluster of teleclasses coming up at the end of the month.


5 February 2010

Getting Help

One of the key skills I teach many of my clients is to recognize when they need help and how to get it.   

Being a coach keeps me honest: I really do have to walk the talk.  That means I have to recognize when I need help and then to get it.

My business is extremely busy right now.  Not so busy with clients that I am full, mind you — so don’t hesitate to contact me yourself about coaching or to refer someone else!   But extremely busy with the “back office” side of things.

My back office plate filled up incrementally with the following, probably TMI, which you should feel free to skip (go to “At some point,” below): 

·     I was interviewed for an internet radio show that’s airing next week, the publicity for which required that I create a Face Book page and bring on some fans.  

·     This blog, which had snoozed through the holidays, needed to become more active again. 

·     My trademark, the Getting Unstuck® Coach, was challenged by a company seeking my permission to use the same trademark for their training business, which overlaps with my corporate training work.  Some back and forth with them, a threatening email from their attorney, calls with my trademark attorney, etc. Yuck.

·     I’ve finished my ’09 bookkeeping, but the forms that go to my accountant need to be filled out, which inevitably requires going over my data one more time, making corrections, etc.

·     I’m down to the last 30 copies of my book, Getting Unstuck Without Coming Unglued: Restoring Work-Life Balance. So it’s either time for a run of another 300 of them, or time to migrate to a print-on-demand solution.  Investigating print-on-demand solutions means identifying the players, getting informed about each’s process and pricing, doing the compare and contrast, and making a decision.  Yuck.

·     Finish the profile of my business on Yelp.com and ask clients to write recommendations.  

·     Deal with my mouse, which intermittently stops highlighting. 

·     Write a formal proposal to lead a daylong work-life balance training for a tech company in FL.

·     Write an informal proposal for a keynote later this month.

·     Email the contacts I’ve been referred to at 2 magazines to inquire about writing a work-life column for them.

·     Send out an email to everyone I know to announce this blog and update people on my coaching niche: work life balance and productivity.

·     Schedule teleclasses for the end of February, and get the classes and registration info onto my website (now done) and into my February newsletter.

·     Write the Feb newsletter.  (You can subscribe here.)  

·     Update website: send requests to my web programmer and follow up.

·     Other stuff too.

At some point, I began to feel overwhelmed.  I worked longer hours, I tightened up my efficiency, I said no to non-work invitations.  I was barely making a dent in the list, and the overwhelm got bigger. 

And then I heard the bell ring and saw the light bulb turn on: I needed more help!  Duh. 

So I got help.   Lots of it.   Most of these items are still in process, and the list is ultimately my responsibility, but having other competent people working on some of the bigger jobs and getting back to me for input as needed is a HUGE RELIEF.   I am point person, not point-person-&-technician.  

If you’re at all like my clients or the people in my seminars, your initial response to “So I got help” may be something like, “Yeah, right, well maybe in YOUR life, but not in mine.”  Stay tuned for a subsequent post that addresses this. 



26 October 2009

Trust the Force, Luke

Some of my best work happens when I am not working. 

In preparing to launch this blog, at the end of the summer, I wrote some very rough drafts of possible posts.  I’ve learned to trust the process of getting ideas on paper first, however incomplete or awkwardly expressed, and editing later if the ideas still hold.

The extraordinary essayist Anne Lamott uses a technical term for this: the “shitty first draft.”  

But something big was missing for me with these drafts.   I didn’t have a sense of the whole blog.  I wasn’t sure who exactly was writing – my private self?  my coach self?  I couldn’t possibly massage the drafts into posts without knowing the larger gestalt.  I was stalled.

Then I had the immense luxury of a day with no appointments and no pressing deadlines.  The only item on my calendar was “blog.”  I spent the whole day reading blogs, thinking about blogs, conceiving of my blog.

I thought about blogs while I went to the farmers’ market and bought wonderful fruits and veggies.  I thought about blogging while I drove home, unpacked it all, and then cooked up a storm.  I roasted yellow peppers. I poached chicken breast (I know it’s not a vegetable). 

I made a chicken salad with the chicken breast, the roasted peppers, calamata olives, the sweetest little yellow cherry tomatoes you could ever meet up with, gently sauteed zucchini, and maybe another veggie  or two.  I tossed it with a Dijon vinaigrette I quickly made and refrigerated the whole thing, to be served later on a bed of greens. 

I also made a pureed zucchini-leek soup with lemon, coriander, and a small hit of red pepper, and chilled it.  And I cooked 8 ears of fresh sweetcorn (still at the season’s peak), 3 of would be used at dinner-for-two and the rest would be used over the next 2 days, one way or another. 
While my hands were busy with all this good chop-wood-carry-water kind of work that I truly enjoy when I enjoy it, my mind was in deep background, thinking about blogging.  I don’t think I said anything out loud for 6 hours.  The dinner, at least, was going to be good, I thought, whether or not I ever launch this blog. 

But what started to emerge, by the end of the day, was a concept for my blog, a location from which to speak.  I couldn’t have said at the start of the day that that was the missing piece, but as it began to emerge, I recognized it as something I had been lacking. 

When I returned the next morning to my “shitty first draft” of random, roughed-out ideas for blog posts, it no longer looked disjointed (though it still read like a sfd). 

The behind-the-scenes conceptual work I had done while chopping and cooking veggies now provided a framework for containing most of the ideas in the drafts.  I knew which ones to throw out and which ones to keep. I understood where I woud be coming from, to write this blog.  I was no longer stalled. 

Trusting the process is sometimes, in E.L. Doctorow’s words, “like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

If you wait until you can visualize the whole journey, you’ll never get there because you’ll never take the first step

If I had made myself spend the day at the office, I would still be stalled. 

Tapping into your deepest wisdom and creativity most often happens indirectly.  You can’t access those parts of yourself with your mind in cognitive, task-list mode.  When you engage in activity that leaves your mind free, you open up the possibility of hearing from those deeper parts of yourself.  “Intuition will tell the thinking mind where to look next,”    Jonas Salk wrote.

So give your inner task master a day off now and then.  And trust your own process.


18 October 2009


My adult daughters have been on my case to learn to text.   Since they text daily as a matter of course, they say it would just be another easy way to be in touch with them.  A compelling argument.  Eventually, compelling enough to convince this recovering systems analyst and technophobe to learn to text.

I was writing my first text to them when somehow the unfinished text got sent off before I finished.   Emily, CEO of a clean tech company, was driving with a potential investor to a meeting when she got my text, which she read immediately.   She told her driving companion that her mother had just sent her first text.  “What did it say?” he asked.  She answered, “5.”


17 September 2009

First Post

After being on the fence for ages about whether or not to start a blog, I finally jumped in. 


My main inspiration for this came from two bloggers.  One is Dianna Huff of DH Communications, whose Marcom Writer Blog  is packed with business-to-business marketing tactics and Dianna’s delightfully insightful, informed, and intelligent perspective. The other is Morra Aarons-Mele who writes on BlogHer, the Huffington Post, and elsewhere.  I am impressed with how frequently she posts (baby notwithstanding!), how well she writes, the breadth of her intelligence and scope, and how candid she is.


I’m awed by the high quality of these and other blogs I have been reading and by the frequency of their posts.  I start this blog with trepidation and humility.  My topic, as the name suggests, is work-life balance.


My intention is to use this space to be a little more informal, creative, and spontaneous than I am in my monthly newsletter, Strategies for Change, which I will continue to publish.  And full disclosure, I am not above posting something from my newsletter here from time to time.


Thank you, Dianna and Morra, for the inspiration and the high standards you have set. 


And a second round of appreciation to Dianna, who has been my trusted internet marketing advisor, mentor, coach, and ok, Goddess.  Thanks also to Rachel Cunliffe of Created Designs for the design and functionality of the blog.