Big Fish Blog

Both Sides Now… a Life of Mentoring and Being Mentored

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 View for the office...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.

Aligning the Four Bodies

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.

Take care,


New Additions

September 17th, 2012

New Editions/Understanding Ourselves:

Time Management Sheet – by Cole Consulting. This is a two-pager that is great for helping you find more time in your day that you love to do.Enjoy!

Turning 60: The Twelve Most Important Lessons I’ve Learned So Far – by Tony Schwartz. Schwartz co-authored with renowned Performance Psychologist, Jim Loehr, “Managing Your Energy, Not Your time,” and is the founder of the The Energy Project. He is highly regarded in his field and has contributed a great deal to our work. This is a beautiful, introspective, and wise account of the lessons he has learned over the course of his life.

New Editions/Understanding Others:

How to Facilitate Rather than Direct Meetings – by Cole Consulting. This is a great explanation of what it means to facilitate as a leader. When facilitating a meeting (or conversation) you are giving the group, or person, the opportunity to share openly with you rather than following your lead as Director of the conversation. That being said, the facilitator does not take a passive role in the conversation. Read on to gain real knowledge and see hands on steps for being a great facilitator, and a better leader.

Fierce in What I Say

March 21st, 2012

Guest blog by Alexa Cole, VP of Client Services, Cole Consulting

In the recent wake of my family trip to Seattle I’ve been thinking a great deal about what makes me me. What makes you you? I’ve been musing that there are three main reasons I am myself, me, I.

What I think, do, and say are all uniquely me. Of course, there are often outside factors, social pressures, and judgments that enter my mind affecting these things, but still I am the ultimate controller, guider of these three gauges that mark me.

Seattle also marked me in a proactive way of wanting to cultivate and expand the things I think, do, and say, and the latter was the main reason for the trip from San Francisco to the Evergreen State. I was there with my brother and father, associates of mine as well as family, to take a training in Fierce Conversations. Fierce Inc®, started by Susan Scott, is a training company that “helps organizations develop leaders, transform cultures, increase engagement, and create authentic, energizing and rewarding connections with colleagues and customers through skillful conversations.” It is a refreshing lens into the deeper constructs of how what we say and how we say it, really does shape us. The most popular adage of Fierce is: While no single conversation is guaranteed to change the trajectory of a business, a career, a marriage, or a life, any single conversation can®.

I pride myself a great conversationalist, an extrovert who can make friends with the bus driver, the Executive, and the check-out clerk all in a single day. But what about going deeper with these people? What authentic conversations are necessary in my personal and professional life for growth? What am I hiding behind? These are all questions that have been stirred up, not only for me, but for my brother, father, and the people around us who we have been sharing the principles of Fierce with.

I felt astounded and thrilled to be learning the tools of Fierce and immediately put the practices in place upon returning home to the Bay Area. I was astounded because in my nearly 30 years of studying, I had never before taken a class in how to have genuine, heart-felt, and direct conversations. Since it’s basically a no-brainer what Susan Scott says, that any one conversation can change the course of your life, why have we never been taught this?

I encourage you, dear reader of this blog, to take a minute and think about a conversation that has been hanging on the precipice for you whether in your personal life or career. Acknowledge that you are risking more by not saying what needs to be said than by risking being authentic and truthful to your friend, colleague, or boss. Take a deep breath, speak from your heart, and try to look at the issue alongside of the other person, rather than in opposition with him/her. After all, the root of the word conversation stems from “con” meaning with someone. Be present with that person and with the real issue at hand, and I guarantee you will feel relieved by the genuine, authentic you that is revealed.

If you’ve tried this or are going to try this, we would love to hear your comments below…

How to Have Highly Effective Meetings

March 19th, 2012

How to have highly effective meetings: 3 Simple ways to be productive and present while meeting

By guest blogger, Alexa Cole, VP of Client Services at Cole Consulting

“Be present, be exactly where you are.”

Lately I’ve been having a lot of meetings with colleagues and coffee’s to network with Bay Area consultants such as myself. It has raised the question, how do I know that my meetings are being effective and helping me achieve measurable results? I feel good when I leave with a to-do list of items to research or people to further reach out to. That is a measurable, quantitative end goal to taking an hour out of my day for a lunch with someone. However, if I don’t leave with a to-do list, only a business card or another connection with a new person, I am still enriched just the same. Down the road, I may call on that same person for guidance or help or be able to refer someone to them for useful services. I had the epiphany that I can measure a successful meeting, either in the office or out networking, by following three simple guidelines:

  • Be present, be exactly where you are. When you’re meeting with someone for 15 minutes, or even for an hour, try to be present with that person completely. Resist checking your phone or answering calls. Be clear on the front end how much time you have for that person and set the parameters in the beginning. That way you’ll know when the time is up and so will they. Try to make your surroundings comfortable for you and your partner. If you have the time and space, offer to take the meeting outside so you can be present even more fully without the distractions of the office and possible interruptions.
  • Honor the time. Know that your colleagues, as well as you, have a million things to do in a day and that carving out a meeting time is sacred ground. Try to take it seriously and have an agenda or at least a set of things in mind that you want to discuss and accomplish. If things start to veer off course, politely remind your partner why you are meeting and what you would like to get out of your time together.
  • Follow up. Have you ever had guests over to your home and been pleasantly surprised when the following day or week you receive a card or email thanking you for your hospitality? The same thing is true for a meeting with a colleague, where saying “thank you” as a follow up email or card can make such a difference. Even if you are following up on deliverables, make sure to include a separate paragraph thanking the person for taking the time to meet with you and being present. At the same time, log their business card or the hours worked together in your Rolodex so you can keep track of your meetings’ productivity. If it’s a meeting with someone you haven’t worked with before, put his or her business card immediately in your Rolodex should you have to call on that person again down the road.

It is also helpful to assign roles to members of the meeting and lay groundwork for mutual respect.

Read more from Cole Consulting on other useful meeting tips.

A Fear a Year

February 27th, 2012

It actually started years before I developed it as an intentional practice – taking on a ‘fear a year’ that is.    In some ways I think I was hard wired for this, though not with any understanding of what it really entailed.   For instance, I was afraid of telling my parents that I didn’t want to keep going back to semester after semester of college, racking up bigger and bigger loans, pouring all of my hard earned cash and quite a bit of theirs into an experience that wasn’t worth it, in my eyes at least.  So, in 1972, at the end of my junior year at UVM, after three years of battling with my parents, I just did it.  As scared as I was to disappoint them, deny them, confront them, I dropped out of college. To pursue my passion for life-long learning, emphasis on learning,  experiential learning.  My first of many ‘the road less traveled’ decisions.

It wasn’t until I was dealing with turning 40 (yikes) that I started an intentional practice of taking on a ‘fear a year.’  It was the early ‘90’s, I was wanting more from life, more from my career (right livelihood perhaps?), more from myself that I realized that since I was afraid to speak in front of large groups I should do something that forced me to speak in front of large groups.  I combined taking on that fear with a current (and life-long) passion for public education and decided to run for our local school board.  Running for office wasn’t the fear (although I did have to ‘mount a campaign’ it was not exactly heavy politics) it was the fear of public speaking.

Sure enough, four years on the Board and I was cured of that one.

By the time I was approaching my 50th birthday the stakes became higher.  Much higher!  For my 49th year I took on scuba diving.  May not seem like much but it was a big one for me.  I loved to snorkel.  More than half of my Men’s Group were all divers and I was definitely envious of their annual trips to exotic locations to dive together.  I tried going on one of the trips as a ‘snorkeler’ and it was fun but definitely not the same thing.   So I did it.  It felt great!  Still feels great!!

For my 50th year it was really big.  A 25 year marriage that wasn’t working anymore.  We had been in couples counseling for months, tried a few big ‘relationship jump starts’ and had gone through many, many, many hours of processing all to no avail before we realized that it was over except we both were too scared to call it.  So, after three ‘heaven sent’, painful-to-the-max but loaded with the same message experiences within a six month period, we decided to separate.  In doing so, I realized that one of the fears I hadn’t even let myself consider until I was knee deep into it was that I had never lived alone before.  In my whole life!  Not a reason to stay married when a marriage isn’t working (and lots and lots and lots of work and effort to try to get it to work didn’t work), but so, so easy to do given all of the givens.

Last year, 2011, my fear was that I couldn’t take three weeks in a row on a vacation.  I had never, ever done that, in my entire adult life.  And for the past 18 years I’ve been self-employed as an Executive Coach and Organizational Development Consultant which seemed to make it even more impossible to even consider doing.  But I knew that this was the fear I needed to take on and besides, I would find an excuse no matter what my job. Boy am I glad I tackled that one, as it proved to be one of the best experiences of my life!

The idea was to go to Italy with my lovely second wife Lisa where we spent three weeks in Northern Tuscany, in a sweet farmhouse in the Chianti region, just slowing down.  Disconnecting from technology (mostly), matching our rhythms to the sun and the weather, taking time to just stroll, wander, read, wonder, write, read, hike, eat, cook, sit, do Tai Chi, stroll some more, do some yoga, hang out and just be.  For three weeks.  Not  the somewhat recently discovered exorbitant  practice of taking TWO weeks in a row instead of the usual and customary one week.  Three weeks is to two weeks as two weeks was to one.  Geometrically, exponentially, vastly different.  Viva la difference!

A fear a year.  I highly recommend it.

Where are our mentors?

August 5th, 2011

This is a guest blog by Alexa Cole, associate of Cole Consulting.

Alexa with mentor/aunt Janet. Janet and Alexa currently live on opposite coasts.

In this age we are living in, where knowledge is free and if there is ever a doubt we throw around the now household term “just google it”, I am constantly wondering: where are our mentors? Our teachers of the old crafts, the wise elders, the parents you don’t just visit on holidays but who share with you real-time skills for a better life — how to balance a check book, sew a button, grow your own food. Those that teach outside of what is taught in school curriculum and help us find our true path in life.

I’ve recently been looking to change fields within my career and this has involved 4 months of vigorous searching for something that feeds me. There have been many nights recently where I make vision boards and eat ice cream, trying to quell depression. There have also been many coffee dates with people I don’t really know, trying to glean some kind of sign about what I’m meant to do next.
One such date, with my second cousin’s wife, Natalie, was more of a family visit turned social networking meeting. Natalie is beautiful, strong, and has a way of saying things like they must take no effort at all; “You should really talk to my friend Pam. She lives in Oakland and is very involved in the women’s health business and could probably help you find a job.” Natalie’s not the only sweet soul doling out names and places to me like sides to my dinner dish, “no problem at all.”
I respect the advice and appreciate hints on my path, but what I am really after is: How can I find a great career path like you, that feels fulfilling and pays decently? To this, Natalie replies, “I had this amazing mentor about 15 years ago and she got me this great job and helped me.. and showed me…, introduced me…” on and on. I was still hanging on to this term “mentor”, wondering how I could get one and how much they would cost. Just a week before I had reached out to my old college counselor via facebook to say, “Hope you’re loving Maine. xoxo. I’m losing my mind. Can you still counsel me pretty please even though I’m 3000 miles away now and already have my degree from your institution? xoxo”
I haven’t heard back from her yet and wouldn’t expect anyone to take a time out from summer vacation to help an alum who should have figured it all out after the $40k tuition. But I haven’t figured it all out, and frankly, even my friends who seem to have it all together don’t have it figured out. So where are our mentors to guide our way? Where are these connections between hearts and minds — old and young — where valuable tools and resources can be passed down?
Maybe they’re teaching about farming, or being an astronaut, or some field I am not often passing between.   Or maybe I’m supposed to find the path by myself, listen more closely to the signs and friends around me. Sure would be nice to have a little extra guidance, that’s for sure. If you know of any mentors who are looking for a disciple, please send them to 1800GETAJOB, where I’m currently forwarding all of my calls. Until then, thanks for reading. And may we all find the path we are seeking, with help or without, for all of our days.