5 February 2015

Mentally Preparing for Valentine’s Day


Valentine’s Day can be a lovely experience, whether or not you are in a relationship, and if so, whether or not it’s perfect. Here are some tips to help you enjoy Valentines Day:

  • Be good to yourself, and appreciate all that you have to give.
    Yes, it’s great to be in love, to be loved by that special someone who always knows exactly what you need and gives it unstintingly to you at the exactly optimum moment, and who always gives you the perfect Valentine’s Day gift. But that may not be your situation.  And even if it is . . . the first person we all need to love well and fully is ourselves. So make Valentine’s day a day of loving yourself.  In the right way, of course. I’m not talking about narcissistic self-obsession. I’m talking about mature, kind, self-awareness and acceptance about what makes you…you.  There are two essential elements to this.  First, turn off the self-critical voices — this is essential.  Then you can turn to the second element of this, which is to appreciate what makes you special, unique and loveable. The more you understand what makes you special, the more you can share this with people in your life. The more you give and love, the more love comes back to you.


  • Be grateful for the people in your life that you love, and let them know how you feel about them.
    You might not know it to see all the hype about this holiday, but there’s more to love than just romantic love. There’s also friendly love, family love, neighborly love, pet love, colleague love, job love, neighborhood love, love of children and grandchildren, love of life and many more. Love makes your life richer. Let Valentine’s Day be a reason to reach out to everyone you love and let them know how much you care. I know someone who uses Valentine’s Day to write a handwritten note to each of her closest friends, expressing what she appreciates about them. I know someone else who always takes a small subset of her women friends out for dinner that night. I don’t mention these examples to make you feel guilty about one more thing you don’t do, but rather to illustrate a whole other approach to the holiday.


  • Don’t let the media, advertising, and the retail industries impact your feelings of well-being and self-worth.  Hallmark Valentine’s Day cards. TV ads. Radio ads. Boxes of chocolates. Romantic music and images of stargazing couples exchanging gifts.  Ads for diamonds.  These are some of the ways Valentine’s Day is interpreted in our culture. It’s become a holiday for everyone who makes money from our need to feel connected, romantic, or loved.  Don’t be hijacked by all the hype.  You can define how you choose to observe the holiday.  Or whether to observe it at all.

One way or another, make it a great day for yourself.

And if you like chocolate?  Have some!

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29 October 2014

Seeing Old Friends


cropped homies

This month I hosted a 5-day gathering at my home with my three closest high school friends (Cass Tech, Detroit, MI).  We’ve been getting together once a year at one of our homes for the last few years.  We live in 4 different cities, 2 different countries.  Here we are in the photo, posed in front of Orchard House, the home of Louisa May Alcott, in Concord MA, on a gorgeous New England Fall day.

Having this time with my old friends is a great treasure.  I experience with them a level of unconditional acceptance and being deeply known that I don’t really have with my current friends to the same extent.  We knew each other when we were 15, we knew each others’ parents, and we can see the 15-year-olds in the women we’ve become and appreciate how that 15-year-old is (and isn’t) still alive in the current version of the person.  There is a lot of laughing when we get together —  a lot of lightness and fun like we used to have together in high school days.  We did that well back then, and it comes back when we get together.  We don’t take it for granted.  After everyone left, one of them wrote, “Unconditional love and support.  It’s . . . mystical, spiritual, and yummy.”  And this from someone who’s not typically new-agey in her expression or beliefs.

As this blog post from Scientific American notes, research shows that “connecting with friends can lessen stress” in a person’s life. In fact, “social connection doesn’t just help us survive health problems: the lack of it causes them.”

Research documented by the Mayo Clinic corroborates this finding.    “Having close friends and family has far-reaching benefits for your health. . . .  A strong social support network can be critical to help you through the stress of tough times, whether you’ve had a bad day at work or a year filled with loss or chronic illness. Since your supportive family, friends, and co-workers are such an important part of your life, it’s never too soon to cultivate these important relationships.”

This week I happened to see some amazing footage of reunions of cross-species old friends, each one moving and remarkable.  In this one  a man who raised a gorilla he later released  into the West African wild goes to see him after 5 years.   If you’re hungry for more of this, check out this reunion of a lion with the couple who raised him as a cub; their re-connection after 1 year is amazing to witness.  And finally, here’s one of a different lion and the woman who rescued him when he was injured, abandoned, and dying, and nursed him back to health.

The third video ends with this advice: “True friendships last a lifetime. Get in touch with someone. You’ll be glad you did.”

I want to second that recommendation and suggest that seeing any of your friends, old or new, can re-charge your personal batteries in profound ways.  Of course this is not NEWS to to any of us — it’s something we know intuitively, and there’s lots of research that supports it.  But I’ve seen that spending time with friends is one of the first things that people jettison when they’re stressed by a relentless schedule.  And yet even small amounts of time with a friend can nourish and hydrate a person very deeply.  Friends give you a lot of bang for your buck.

A recent Forbes article reports that connection to friends might even save your life.


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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. 


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28 November 2012

Coaching at the Massachusetts Conference for Women

Next week, on December 6, 2012, I’ll be coaching at the 8th annual Massachusetts Conference for Women, in Boston.  In partnership with the Conference, The New England Chapter of the International Coach Federation (ICF) selected 40 credentialed coaches to provide individual coaching sessions with Conference participants who want to schedule one.  I’m thrilled to be one of the chosen coaches, and I’m very much looking forward to the event.

Do you live in the Boston area?  Or can you get to the Boston area on 12/6?  If so, consider going to the Conference.  It promises to be an exciting day.  The expected 7000 participants will have the opportunity to hear from a wide-ranging and huge list of speakers.

If you get to the Conference, sign up for one of my coaching sessions, or come over to the location of the “Mentor Match” (what the coaching program is called) and say hello.

If you’ve been to other conferences, conventions, or seminars of this size, you probably know what to expect.  If you’re an extrovert, chances are you’ll have a great day, and you’ll come away energized, inspired, and happy.  If you’re an introvert, you too may come away energized, inspired, and happy, but you might also come away drained and exhausted in a way that your extrovert colleagues are not.

For many introverts, participating in a conference of this size and scope can be personally taxing.  Here are some suggestions for how to get the most from the day with the least amount of damage to your sanity or well-being — try one of two of them:

  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day.  Seriously.  It will keep you grounded.  (And yes, it will also keep you running to the ladies’ room, but hey, each time, it’s a couple of moments to yourself, right?)
  • Take a break from the Conference sometime during the day — just go off for 15 minutes and collect yourself.  Breathe, acknowledge yourself for getting to the Conference and for stretching out of your comfort zone.   You might call a friend or colleague and just check in.  Or you might call your work phone and check in with yourself (leave a message).
  • If (when?) you start to feel overwhelmed by all the high-energy input, know that in the days that follow, you will decompress.  Even more important, know that all that you are learning will unpack itself in the days ahead, and consciously or not, you will integrate what you need to integrate from this, and your next steps will emerge.
  • If you think of any next action steps you might want to take, write them down!  These ideas have a way of disappearing over the course of a high-stimulus day, so harvest them as soon as you’re conscious of them.  You can always discard later.
  • When you meet someone you think you might want to follow up with, ask their permission to contact them later.  In the cold light of the next couple of mornings, go through the names (or cards) of people you met and decide whether and how to follow up.  You don’t have to do everything on the fly.
  • Remember that you’re not the only introvert there.  We’re everywhere!

If you identify as an introvert and read this far, you might enjoy reading this post from earlier this year.

I hope to see you at the Conference!

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26 November 2012

Enhancing The Creative Process

I recently emailed a client to ask how she was doing with her upcoming deadline.  She replied by sending the following image:



The source for this image and many other original graphics that reflect a similar sensibility and dark humor is http://www.ToothpasteForDinner.com.  This image is used with their permission.  I think the image brilliantly captures a very real experience.    

The creative process — whether invoked to write a grant, solve an engineering problem, or deal with a difficult person —  is an excitable beast.  It uses different parts of our brain than the usual task-list, taking-care-of-business mode does, and requires a different kind of care.  If you treat your orchid plant the same way you treat your schefflera, at least one of them will not flourish.  Same with the creative process — it needs to be handled in a way that’s specific to IT.  It’s much more of a diva than our workhorse routines are.  It’s  temperamental, easily dissed, and will shut itself down in a heartbeat if it’s mistreated.  But with proper care, it can flourish.  

ONE element of care that can enhance your creative process is to free up some bandwidth: make some space for it.  That means getting some things off your plate.  Here are some classic ways to get items off your to-do list:

  • DO.  Find the short and simple items and just get them done.  Get your car inspected, tell Ed you won’t be at his meeting, do your backup.
  • DELEGATE.  Outsource some of the tasks: find someone else to do them.  Cajole, beg, barter, influence, hire, call in favors, leverage your authority, whatever it takes.
  • DELAY.  Schedule the item into your calendar for a month from now, at which time you will consider doing it.  Note: this is not the same as procrastinating.
  • DITCH.  Admit that it’s not happening, get over it, and cross it off the list.  For example: re-organizing your PowerPoint slides.

The key thing in freeing up bandwidth is to not get so caught up in it that you never get around to addressing the original creative challenge!  I have learned this about myself: I’m much more in my comfort zone when I’m in work-horse mode: do do do do do.  I am easily hijacked by my all-important to-do list and my big bold brassy bossy executive function.  I have to remind myself that my working-dog mentality reports to me, not vice-versa — I am its boss!  Once I get some tasks off my list and some bandwidth freed up, it’s time to return to the creative process.

There are many other things you can do to support your creative process, but this is a crucial one.

Do you think Einstein did his own taxes?

As  life coach, I help professionals and entrepreneurs tap into their creativity and brilliance.  Curious?  Contact me and get your questions answered.

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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.

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10 October 2012

Work Life Balance and the Evening Rush

It might seem like the best way to get things done is to do them in quick succession and not stop until you’re finished.  But because we’re human beings and not machines, that’s simply not the case. We approach problems better when we’re well-rested.  We can think more clearly when we aren’t stressed or distracted by trying to do too many things at once. Taking a break, especially when shifting gears from “work-mode” to “home-mode” can improve the quality of your personal life and, though it might seem counter-productive, taking time for yourself will actually help you get things done more efficiently.

As soon as you set foot in the door, check in with yourself. Consider putting a post-it on the wall with the words “check in” as a reminder. How are you feeling? Are you stressed from the commute?  Do you feel swamped with too many things on your to-do list for tonight?  Was there a meeting or conversation at work that you’re still processing?  Do you need some diversion? Notice your physical state.   Are you tired, hungry, or thirsty?

This needs assessment can actually happen pretty instantaneously.  Once you’ve had a little practice, you can do it while you’re hanging up your coat.

Now you can set an intention for yourself for the evening.  Is it more important to relax and unwind, or is it a top priority to prepare for something important tomorrow?  What’s at the top of your priority list?

If you live with other people, get a read on how the others are doing.  Do the kids need to blow off steam?  How’s that homework coming along?  Is your spouse running late and stressed?  Determine the best course of action to help your family members.  Make quick and early assessments of what’s needed on the home front.

If at all possible, address your own needs before taking care of everyone else’s.   If your feet hurt but you simply don’t have time to sit down, at least change into comfortable clothes and slippers.   Consider for a moment how there are humorous podcasts that can be played while dinner is being prepared that could give everyone a good laugh.  Many people work themselves into stressed, unhappy states by trying to look after the needs of family members at the expense of their own. This can throw off what is sometimes a delicate work life balance.

If you would like to get a brief consultation and learn more about how you can improve your own happiness and productivity in your daily life, schedule a free consultation with me. I’ll be happy to answer your questions and give you an overview of whether or not life coaching would help you and, if so, what aspects of your life could be improved. The initial consultation can even be by phone if that’s more convenient for you.

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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?

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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.

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2 March 2010

The Yoga of Physical Therapy

Why is it so hard to do so many of the things that are GOOD for us?  Why is the fast-paced, adrenaline-laced life so much more fun than the slower-paced choices? 

I recently had a string of body mechanical problems, resulting in 3 different sets of physical therapy exercises I was supposed to do twice daily.  These are slow, boring moves.   I don’t do them during a class, with music pumping and a teacher urging me onward, a setting that feels, to me, more “fun.” 

In fact, one of the injuries happened during a class with the music pumping and a teacher urging me onward: I over-reached, lifted too much weight during a weight training class and injured a muscle or tendon in my upper arm.  No big surprise.

But PT felt like a punishment, at least at first.  I couldn’t go to class with the other boys and girls.  I had to be home alone in my living room with therabands, counting 30-second intervals.  Ida wanna hafta do this.   Poor me. 

But truly, as I learned the PT routines and began to see some results, I started doing the exercises the way I’m learning to do yoga with my excellent teacher, Victoria.   Instead of counting or timing thirty seconds, I could now just breathe deeply into the exercise for the right amount of time, which I had internalized.  And by just breathing into the moves,  being in the moment, I entered a more meditative space, good for my head.

Victoria tells us, “Don’t get greedy on the mat.”  What she means is,  don’t be overly focused on the external look of the yoga pose at the expense of your well-being.   Don’t be so greedy that you don’t honor your body’s limits today.  Instead, she teaches, at some point, go for the inner pose, be ok with what is, be willing to stop fixing, perfecting, trying to make it perfect.

It was greediness in my weight training class that got me injured.  I was greedy for the achievement of  lifting more weight than I was really capable of lifting without injury.

I’ve healed two of the three injuries.  My challenge now is to stick with the exercises for the third one.   And to resist greed.

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