Category: Understanding Ourselves
August 1st, 2019
Let’s face it. Most of us really like certainty. It’s just so much easier to see the black or white in any situation than to muddle around in shades of grey. As the Democratic Presidential contenders do their debate thing, aren’t we hoping for a clear, clean message that shows a way forward, one way or another? Case closed.
Yet, life isn’t like that.
More and more, I’m realizing that moving from Certainty to Ambiguity, to a place of curiosity and wonder, is harder to come by but well worth the effort. It takes a commitment on my part to dig deeper, push past my judgments and reactions. And do it with compassion and grace. To stay still, within myself, and offer what I know about myself, rather than self-righteously telling someone else what I see is ‘wrong’ with them. Or worse, feeling it but not saying anything (which will bleed out in some passive aggressive way later, to be sure).
I’ve shared Kim Scott’s model of Radical Candor before, and while it
still applies to many situations, what I’m talking about here has more to do
Analysis. In large part because when
I’m ‘stuck’ in a place of Certainty, because I see myself as right and/or
others as wrong, so that I can take comfort in my black and white analysis, I’m
almost always operating out of my old child self – protecting, defending,
rationalizing my position.
When I can return to my present self, willing to live within
the ambiguity that the present almost always requires, I find my way back to a
connection with others that is far more satisfying and productive. Yes, uncomfortable at first (not black or
white, and that makes me squirm), but healthy in that curious, wondering, willing
to look at my own shit kind of way.
I do hope the Democrats take a look at their shit and figure
this out, sooner than later.
Thanks for listening.
Let me know your thoughts when you have a chance.
December 11th, 2016
Disappointment, loss, grief, and, shock (DLGS). That was my November. Especially on the morning of 11/9, which was especially shocking, as shocking in fact as the events of 9/11 (a numerologist would have a great time with that one).
For me, all of this DLGS on 11/9 was about to be fully sandwiched by two other events, full of disappointment, loss and grief. First, the somewhat sudden passing of my 42-year old godson, on Halloween. I had just been in touch with his mom, one of my oldest, dearest friends, as she was helping him move into hospice, and I was planning on arriving the next day to see them. Then, within a few hours of getting settled at hospice, he was gone.
The sandwich on the other side was a memorial service on 11/15 for a long-standing coaching client from one of my all-time favorite teams. He was an incredible inventor (including the Craisin). A great story teller. A wonderful family man. Only 59 years old. Fine one minute. Gone the next.
The silver lining, right in the middle of all this loss and grief, was a delightful dinner party, hosted by my old friend Katie, who had been planning on having a dozen of us over to celebrate the election results. Which as you may have guessed turned into a somber, soul-searching evening. No celebrating for us.
Yet, our hostess had the wisdom, and the will, to lead us on a process of active listening, and deep sharing. Each of the dinner guests took turns first introducing ourselves and explaining our connection to our host & hostess. Then, at the dinner table, Katie asked us to share how we were feeling, what we were thinking. With rapt intent, we listened as each person made their personal accounting of how deeply troubled and concerned we were by what had just happened, and what may yet come to pass – post-election, mid-shock, still stunned.
Having that unexpectedly yet wonderfully intimate, deeply personal (yet in some ways universal) description of where each person was, right at this exact moment in time, had me feeling better already. Uplifted beyond belief. Just knowing that others were in a similar place, and hearing where they might go from here, brought a ray of hope and possibility.
I was particularly struck by our host’s description of how he felt like he has been living in a bubble. Actually, a bubble within a bubble. Living on an idyllic, socially responsible, working farm (first bubble), located in the State of VT (bigger bubble; Bernie’s bubble).
The whole experience left me thinking of David Whyte’s missive on Disappointment:
The measure of our courage is the measure of our willingness to embrace disappointment, to turn towards it rather than away, the understanding that every real conversation of life involves having our hearts broken somewhere along the way and that there is no sincere path we can follow where we will not be fully and immeasurably let down and brought to earth, and where what initially looks like a betrayal, eventually puts real ground under our feet.
The great question in disappointment is whether we allow it to bring us to ground, to a firmer sense of our self, a surer sense of our world, and what is good and possible for us in that world, or whether we experience it only as a wound that makes us retreat from further participation.
Disappointment is a friend to transformation, a call to both accuracy and generosity in the assessment of our self and others, a test of sincerity and a catalyst of resilience. Disappointment is just the initial meeting with the frontier of an evolving life, an invitation to reality, which we expected to be one particular way and turns out to be another, often something more difficult, more overwhelming and strangely, in the end, more rewarding.
More rewarding if we each commit to behaving as Leaders. Step out of our bubbles. Better yet, burst out of our bubbles. No more sheep. No more checking out, letting others lead, or just waiting for the world to change (as John Mayer sang once). Time to step up. Engage openly, honestly, compassionately with others. Even if, especially if, they don’t come from our old, safe, self-replicating bubble.
Lead on my friends!
October 10th, 2016
As a young boy my mother would take me to temple on the High Holy days. She would admonish me to sit still, reflect on where I had messed up during the previous year and make amends so that I could start the New Year with a clean slate. At the time, I remember thinking that this all sounded a bit kooky. Transgress all year, go to shul for a few days to make amends, then go out and misbehave all over again?!?
Which of course is exactly what I did.
It’s only as an adult that I finally started to put together the value of deep reflection, heartfelt atonement and commitment to doing better. I am just now beginning to understand and appreciate the incredible impact and karmic reverberations of reflection and repentance.
In addition to avoiding the repetition of past mistakes, there’s much to be said for going one step further, such as practicing random acts of kindness and beauty. Or not so random.
Maybe we can find a way to reset our Snap Judgement Meter. Breathe in and breathe out. Slow down enough to be able to meet people where they are as opposed to where we think they should be. Almost always it takes a willingness to look compassionately at whatever might be going on for others at any moment in time and accept them for who and where they are. Here. Now. Without judgement.
It seems like many of my coaching clients and their teams experience a similar dissonance in the workplace; quick on the draw to judge others and themselves for that matter. All this does is lead to poor communication, challenging work flow and disappointing results. The solution may not be as simple as meditating or mindfulness practices, but it certainly can’t hurt. Almost every day we see new evidence of the effectiveness of a daily practice. Just this week, in the online New York Times, I discovered this whole section devoted to How to Meditate and why it’s so helpful and healthy. Sounds True is a wonderful resource worth checking out for their Mindfulness Daily program (amongst other great offerings). There’s always the Understanding Ourselves page on my site (scroll down towards the bottom) where you’ll find great articles on meditation and mindfulness, along with some good readings on Communication and Leadership (further up the page, Sections listed alphabetically).
Even if you’re not celebrating the Jewish New Year, the fall is still an opportune time to put these practices of reflection and mindfulness to the top of your to-do list. The change of seasons, the abundance of the fall harvest and the age-old time for ‘back-to-school’ seem ripe with possibilities.
What do you do to slow down and reset? Any practices you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you.
Here’s to full and bountiful reflection!
October 10th, 2012
Last week, while making the drive from my New York office up to my Vermont office, coming up Route 22A where it enters VT, I was suddenly and vividly reminded of why I chose VT as my escape route out of the metropolitan suburbs of the 60’s. Three things struck me: 1) the vast open sky that seems to stretch out forever, though it’s nicely framed by the Adirondacks on one side and the Green mountains on the other; 2) the unobstructed landscape below – gracefully assisted by the lack of billboards, thanks to the foresight of VT’s Legislature in the 60’s, and, 3) the small number of houses, and consequently a landscape that not only allowed for but actively promoted long, slow, deep breathing.
So what does any of this have to do w/ mentoring? Well, while I did have some very significant mentors growing up outside of NYC, my most memorable and meaningful mentors have mostly been here in VT. Starting with my first career as an educator, Sandra Wyner, a strikingly beautiful South African woman who studied Montessori with Maria’s son Mario, in Bergamo, Italy, the way it was meant to be taught; with the focus on the student, the teacher a mere facilitator and resource provider. Sandra and I started a modified-Montessori, parent-cooperative elementary school in 1976 that is still going strong today. She mentored me in the art of individualized education, collaborative process and transactional analysis (a system for personal growth and personal change.)
The 80’s led me out of teaching and into the realm of business, where I had the good fortune to work side-by-side with many amazingly bright and talented individuals. My most memorable mentor was a scrappy old codger named Hank Adams, who hired me to serve as General Manager at his thriving mechanical services business, and was a mentor to me in ways I’m still learning from. Although Hank had to leave high school to help his father run his business, he had the kind of business savvy that just can’t be learned pursuing an MBA. For example, when considering recruiting for key positions as we were growing the business, he would challenge my pedigreed aspirants, shiny resumes and all, with the phrase “someone we know, even if they’re only a middle-of-the-road leader, is always preferable to the unknown know-it-all.” Understanding and developing leaders takes time and commitment. Short cuts should be few and far between.
By the time the 90’s came around I realized that I needed to cultivate my leadership capabilities both inside and outside the workplace. I ran for our local school board and had the good fortune to initially serve on the board with the superintendent, Fred Tuttle. Fred was not only a kind, intelligent, humble, compassionate leader, with over forty years of experience in the field, he knew that the business of education was really the business of people. He had the ability to connect with people, all kinds of people – directly, deeply and most importantly, meaningfully. He taught me, by example, more about how great leaders can build connections, than any other leader I’ve had the good fortune to mentor under.
Around the turn of the millennium, I met, and mentored under, a colleague, Dean Lea, who is a Renaissance man extraordinaire. Although he hadn’t practiced as a pharmacologist for years, Dean understood the essence of that field, part alchemist, part researcher, facilitator, advocate, life -long learner. As an arborist, he brought some of those same skills to his apple orchards. As an organizational development consultant and executive coach, he used all of those and more. And on top of all that, he has taught me that one’s quirkiness (and Dean can be quite quirky) is to be cherished, not suppressed.
And, of course, mentoring is at its best when it goes both ways. For years now I’ve considered it an honor to provide the mitzvah of mentoring, particularly to young people between jobs and/or careers. My way of giving back, paying it forward. So what an added bonus when I had the opportunity to begin formally mentoring my daughter, Alexa, when she agreed to come to work for me earlier this year. She’s always had an affinity for coaching work, the ‘go-to girl’ not only with her friends but also folks of all ages and backgrounds. A great listener, compassionate to the core and always ready, willing and able to lend a hand to help get things done. Together, we have studied the art of effective communication, creative business problem solving and how to lead by example.
The best of both worlds.
Giving and getting.
It doesn’t get much better than that.
September 19th, 2012
Guest blog by Alexa Cole, VP of Client Services, Cole Consulting
Yesterday I participated in a call by the Wealthy Thought Leader, Andrea Lee, called “Coaching Skills for Highly Uncertain Times.” It was comforting to participate on this call and have the gentle reminder that things aren’t just hard for me and for my clients, they’re hard for most EVERYONE right now. These are uncertain times, and it’s the way we navigate through these times that make us stronger and wiser human beings.
Andrea Lee provided a wonderful tool during this talk on how I can help my clients get clearer about an ultimate goal and how to drive to that destination, being sensitive to the fact that our route is often circuitous. What she didn’t talk about, and what I’d like to address today, is how we can best take care of our minds, bodies, spirits and souls through these uncertain times.
According to Dr.Stone, a prominent and well-respected teacher, “the reason why we have these various bodies is so we can interact with and experience the various dimensions of reality. Our physical body allows us to experience and interact with this Earthly plane. Our emotional body gives our Soul and Spirit a “house,” so-to-speak, on the emotional plane, and our mental body allows interaction on the mental plane. We are multi-dimensional beings, and this is why we have multiple bodies.”
The road map, or action plan, is also important but I find it can be hard to discern the right action steps to take when I am overwhelmed or exhausted. Usually feeling depleted happens because I am not making the time or space to get in touch with my true heart’s desire.
I propose a four-part alignment exercise to use as a centering device for when you are going through a difficult decision called, aligning your four bodies.
1. Aligning the mind – What do I need to have clarity on before I can move forward with my decision? What is left unresolved in my mind?
- Homework: Take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle, making two columns. On the left write “Content” at the top, on the right column write “Context” at the top. Record each issue or mental block you may be having such as “I don’t feel I deserve to have a job in the field I want because I lack experience” and in the Context column next to it write down all of the limiting beliefs you may have around the issue such as “I lack confidence because…”, “I can take a class to gain more experience…”, etc. They can be positive or negative blocks but writing them down often helps free your mind from the burden of your decision.
2. Aligning the physical body – Carve out half an hour each day for the next three weeks to dance, walk, go for a run, or whatever you like to do for physical activity that is pure enjoyment.
- Homework: When you move from this activity to your job or other tasks in your day, be aware of your feet firmly planted on the ground for rooting into the energy of the earth, our greatest resource.
- Before bed: When you’re lying in bed at night, imagine breathing into your feet, legs, hips, stomach, all the way up your body. This will bring you into your body and re-ground you for sleep and relaxation.
3. Aligning the soul (or emotional body) – What are some things that make you come alive, or feel very fulfilled in your life? What brings you a sense of calm and joy? Alternately, what are some things that leave you feeling depleted or lackluster?
- Homework: Spend at least one part of your day doing something that makes you feel happy and vibrant, and less time in your week being with people or activities that drain you. Especially when going through a difficult period or decision in your life, it is important to keep routine around things that feed you and provide you with emotional support.
4. Aligning the spirit – Whether you are a spiritual or religious person, or you feel most connected in nature or with people you love, get in touch with how you like to connect to the world around you. It may be through music, art, travel, or church. For me it is feeling a sense of community when I get to share a meal with those I love or meditate in the mornings.
- Homework: see if you can spend time each week connecting with your own inner spirit and the spirit around you. If you don’t currently believe in a drawing force that connects us all, perhaps look into a non-denominational meditation or church service. I find it incredibly helpful in times of turmoil to have a sense of unity with others in the spiritual sense.
By getting in touch with these four parts of ourselves, our heart can release into the present more fully. It is easier to face decisions head-on because we feel nourished and grounded, ready to take on whatever comes our way. Use this method as a tool for making a tough decision, or just use it before bed, calling in your four bodies mentally in order to put each part of yourself to rest at the end of a long and productive day.
Let me know how it works for you and if you have any suggestions or feedback, please let me know in the comments below.