Uh-Oh, Detour Ahead: Do You Know How to Get Where You’re Going?

Family PicAs you know, last week I was on vacation with my family, enjoying a road trip and time in both Pittsburgh, PA and Washington, DC. We took in a ball game, we visited Abbey Lee’s dance studio, we soaked up a lot of history, ate good food – in short, it was a delightful time that we spent together.  Here’s a picture of us preparing to embark on a bus tour in Arlington Cemetery; we’re a pretty happy bunch, eh?

We were blessed with a relatively uneventful trip, from the perspective of detours. That being said, there were a few incidents that required us to “course correct” as it were, reschedule events or otherwise tweak our plans. Road construction on the way down caused some major traffic delays, changing our schedule in Pittsburgh dramatically. In Washington, some sites weren’t accessible when we went to check them out, due to unanticipated volume or special events. You get the idea. And I’m sure you can relate. No matter who you are, there are times when the best laid plans don’t go according to plan. So what do you do?

Well, there are a couple of options, including throwing up your hands in despair, sighing (or yelling) in frustration, stomping your feet and going on a tirade. This is a possible response and, in my experience, it doesn’t really help the situation.

You could act as if the “obstacle” doesn’t exist. Road construction? Nope, gonna plow through anyway. No tickets available? Can’t be true, I’ll just stand here and wait for someone to decide that they don’t want their tickets and then buy them off of them (it could happen). Flash flood? That’s okay, a little rain never hurt anyone (despite the warnings of police to stay off the road) – let’s go check out that museum!

Some might look at the above examples and feel that they illustrate persistence. It’s important to understand, however, that persistence isn’t about pig-headedness; instead, persistence is about being able to take in the circumstances as they change, keep your eye on your objective and tweak your plans accordingly. In other words it’s not so much about staying the course, as recharting the course as needed, so that you reach your destination most effectively. It might be later than anticipated, but it will be safely accomplished. The planned activity might end up being on a different day, but the day will be more suited to the plan. Do you understand what I’m talking about?

I’ve had a great deal of opportunity to dance with course-correction this year. My book still hasn’t gone to print, due to a variety of seeming “obstacles”. I know that it will. And it hasn’t happened according to plan. At first, this has been frustrating. And yet, every “delay” has resulted in something good coming about as a result.  My fall workshop has been rescheduled by a week. Bummer on the one hand; brilliant on the other as I’ve secured the right location for it. Do you see what I mean?

Bottom-line: life’s detours can be frustrating, challenging and downright irritating, especially when all you want to do is “get there, already”! That being said, such detours are par for the course – for every course, no matter who you are – and learning to course correct, no matter your objective will serve you well. So stop bemoaning the challenges you’re facing; accept them for what they are, keep your eye on your ultimate objective, and find the alternate route to your destination. You’ll get there. And you’ll be better off for the experience.

hourglassYou’ve heard it said a million times or so over the course of your life:  there’s only so much time in a day.  To be specific, there are 24 hours in each and every day, 7 days in each week, and 365 days in an average year.  Time is measureable and, therefore, for all intents and purposes it is finite.  Face it; this sense of finality has you feeling like you’re racing against the clock when it comes to a lot of the things for which you’re responsible.

Need examples?  Well, school starts in two weeks; have you done your back-to-school shopping?  Thanksgiving (in Canada) is about 2 months away; have you organized the details of whatever traditional celebration is on the horizon?  Halloween and Christmas are on the heels of that – you can tell if you’ve been shopping at all recently – these seasonal displays are already creeping into the stores; do you know what needs to be done in preparation – and have you done any of it yet?  Each of these markers can leave you feeling harried, hurried and in a race with time.  How on earth will you ever get everything done, and ON TIME?

What I know for sure is that time is a funny thing.  Yes, empirically speaking, it is a finite resource.  There is, in fact, “only so much of it” and you’ve got to work within the confines of the limits that exist around it; you cannot go out and “buy more time.”  Or can you?  How is it, after all, that two different people can get two vastly different quantities of work done in the same amount of time?  Sure, you can point to time management and organization, but I want to point you in the direction of something a little bit different, something that, admittedly, might seem a little hokey.

There is a way that time seems to diminish in quantity, the more you focus on it.  Contrary to the law of attraction which says “that which you focus on expands”, time seems to do the opposite.  The more you watch the clock, particularly when you’ve got a deadline to meet or a specific task to complete, the faster time seems to race.  This seems especially true the older you get.  Think about it; when you were a child, summer holidays seemed to last FOREVER, didn’t they?  Now that you’re an adult, with specific obligations on your calendar and a sense of time passing, there seems to be a way that summer goes by really quickly, right?  Well, you actually can combat this sense of time passing in the blink of an eye; simply put, stop being quite so forward-focused, and stay right here, right now, in this moment.

The reason time can seem to work against you is that you’re living from event to event, rather than within the events themselves.  You’ve programmed your brain to always be thinking ahead, moving from moment to moment.  When you can live within the moments, time slows down for you – or at least, it feels like it does.  This feeling of time slowing down then gives you a sense of expansiveness.  There’s a way that you’re no longer rushing against the clock; instead you’re working with it, and within it.  This in turn allows you to shift from a mindset of “there isn’t enough time” to “there’s plenty of time.”  This mindset shift will allow you to accomplish all that needs to be done, in a timely way, without pressure or turmoil.

Bottom-line:  time is on your side.  It really is.  The way to ensure that you’re making the most of it is to stop focusing on the moments and events that lie ahead, and stay fully present in the moment and event at hand.  When you do this, you’ll find that time seems to expand as you need it.  And, as a bonus, you’ll feel less rushed, which means you’ll enjoy your life more.  Here’s to enjoying your life, right here, right now!

everything-is-possiblePossibility thinking.  This is a hallmark characteristic of mine and has been for a long time.  I grew up with a father who always, always said that “anything is possible.”  As a child, I’m not sure I believed him; however, that way of thinking got hammered into my subconscious and, as a result, as I grew up, it came to govern much of my thought processes. 

As a professional speaker, life and leadership coach and author, infusing my message with the essence of possibility-thinking is par for the course.  Whether I’m speaking to a core team about building team competencies, writing for an audience of professional women about the truth about life balance, or coaching a group of executives around the challenges of decision-making, “possibility” and how to engage with it is always on the table.

The stumbling block that inevitably arises, at least for some of those involved, is the question of whether or not anything truly is possible.  There are all sorts of reasons for this.  Sometimes it’s about preconceived notions; sometimes it’s about personal experiences that seem to disprove the premise; always, it’s about perspective. 

Perspective is the vantage point from which you choose to view the world.  Notice the use of the word “choose” in the previous statement.  In other words, perspective can be changed.  The power to change your perspective lies with you.  Why does this matter?  Well, let’s use the concept of flying as an illustration.

For centuries, humans longed to fly.  For those same centuries, it was deemed impossible.  Factually speaking, anyone looking at the human body would have to agree; the human body is not built to fly in the same way that birds fly.  And therein lies the essence of possibility, the perspective challenge.  If your perspective is that flying for humans can only be managed in the way that birds fly, the feat will remain impossible.  If, however, you start to look at the situation from another perspective, perhaps holding the question “how else might we fly”, possibilities open up.  as we know in this day and age, those possibilities have opened up so much that not only is flight simply part and parcel of our 21st century travel experience, the question of whether or not humans can fly is no longer raised. 

When it comes to possibility thinking and the question of whether or not anything is possible, it’s imperative that you understand one thing:  believing that anything is possible is not about being a Pollyanna, or defying the laws of the world, or thinking that you are immune from trials and tribulations.  Instead, possibility-thinking is about giving yourself the gift of expanded perspective.  It’s about recognizing that any one way of viewing the world isn’t the only way to do so.  And, it’s about letting go of the question of if something is possible, and instead dancing with the question of how it is possible.

Bottom-line:  anything truly is possible.  It may not be possible from the vantage point you’re currently holding.  If, however, you shift your perspective and hold another question, possibilities will always emerge.  Let go of your idea that something has to happen a certain way; and watch the possibilities become real.

This week I wrap up my exploration of the Serenity Prayer. Once again, for those who haven’t heard it, or don’t recognize it by that name, here it is:

serenity_prayer

Having looked at the first two lines over the course of the last two weeks, I want to draw your attention today to the third line which, in my opinion, is the crux of the matter. In fact, I sort of think that you could (to some degree) ignore the first two lines and still enhance your life and leadership, if you truly embraced the last line.

“The wisdom to know the difference.” There’s something profoundly accurate about invoking the quality of wisdom when it comes to living and leading, isn’t there? Wisdom is that quality that goes beyond mere book knowledge. Wisdom isn’t about how “smart” you are. Wisdom, instead, is about your capacity to stand outside of yourself – to take yourself out of the equation – and make decisions in service of the bigger picture. It’s about sourcing an understanding from the situation, allowing the circumstances to inform you, so that you act accordingly.

Admittedly, wisdom can be a tricky concept to get your head around. But that’s the point. The truly wise don’t get their head around it, they get their hearts around it. They are able to stand in the question of “what will serve” rather than “what needs to be done”. In other words, those who are wise anchor any and all action in a solid sense of what the space is calling for.

Last week, I shared the formula for building your capacity for courage. “Think, Breathe, Act, Repeat.”. Marrying the first two steps , thinking and breathing, is what activates wisdom, in my opinion. Why? Because it allows you the time to get clear and get anchored. Wisdom is always found in clarity and stillness.

This brings us to the last piece of this line and, indeed, the last piece of the verse, “knowing the difference.”  Specifically, we’re talking about the difference between what you can change and what you can’t. How do you separate the two?

Sometimes, it’s easy. You can’t change the weather. You can change the accoutrements you tote along to deal with the weather. You can’t change your gene pool. You can change the type of clothes you wear to enhance your physical traits. You can’t change who your family is comprised of. You can change how often you choose to hang around with them (which may be particularly helpful information, if you don’t get along). 

The realm of human relationships might probably provides the greatest challenge when it comes to the concept of change. Whether you’re talking about employer/employee dynamics, parent/child relations, spousal situations or anything else, we are often told that we can only change ourselves, not others. I think we all understand, instinctively, the truth of this idea. The practical implementation, however, can be a different kettle of fish. Let me explain.

Imagine: you’ve got an employee who just doesn’t seem to be meeting performance expectations. You really like this employee; you see that she has great potential, she’s just not living up to it. So you think to yourself, I know I can’t change her but, surely I can explain myself, make my expectations clear. So you take the time to meet, you explain your expectations, you share what you see as her potential, you lay out a clear plan to support her in changing for the better – and she still doesn’t measure up.

So you go though it again. And again. And just one more time. You start to change your own expectations because hey, you can’t change her, but you can change you, right? And before you know it, you’re in one big mess.

What went wrong? You started down a slippery slope. You continued to “act”, without “thinking” and “breathing” before each action. Had you in fact done so, you would have realized that despite your efforts to create something that worked for both, the employee just wasn’t on board. Either because she didn’t understand or, because it didn’t fit with her value system, or perhaps, she just didn’t want to. Regardless, the truth is that this is a situation that cannot change – at least not in the way you originally desired.

Changing your expectations is an option – and, it’s only an option if the way in which you change your expectations still jives with whatever is true for you. Understand?

I will confess that this is an area that I continue to grapple with from time to time. In other words, my sense is that it’s not easy. Except when it is. And it’s always easier when I Think, Breathe, Act. Always.

Bottom-line: knowing the difference between what I can change and what I can’t, facilitates my being able to accept what needs to be accepted, and then source the courage necessary to make the changes that are needed.  The qualities of serenity, courage and wisdom need to be consciously accessed every day. It sounds like a chore, and it’s not. Instead, it’s a liberating step on the path to effective leadership.

This week I continue my exploration of the Serenity Prayer. Once again, for those who haven’t heard it, or don’t recognize it by that name, here it is:

 serenity_prayer

 

Last week, I looked at the first line, and today, I want to move on to the second – the one that’s all about the human trait of courage. Courage is one of those human qualities that we all desire to some degree, and yet, so often we shy away from it. Why? Because courage as a quality tends to feel bigger than we want to be, you know?

The thing about courage is that it exists within each of us. It often lies “dormant” to a certain degree because we don’t always feel called upon to access it. Put us in an emergency situation – especially a physical one – however, and most people can be as courageous as required.  It’s as though instinct kicks in and provides the necessary adrenaline to be courageous.

In the face of change, however, things shift.  The courage that’s required to initiate or implement change is of a slightly different quality. It’s not of a physical nature, but rather an emotional one, an intellectual one.  It’s often said that “change is hard” and so, we tend to get small in the face of it. Whether it’s changing jobs, changing homes, changing technology, there’s a certain amount of courage that we need to access to make it possible, to “boldly go” where we haven’t gone before.

How do we do that? Three simple steps will take you far:

  1. Think (for a second, that’s all). Thinking provides the necessary clarity for moving forward with courage. Note, I’m not talking about over thinking – just about giving your situation a modicum of thought. It’s about being deliberate and intentional, not rash.
  2. Breathe (deeply – the deeper, the better). Breathing grounds you, centers you, and helps you choose wisely.
  3. Act (in whatever way will move you toward the desired change). Do what you feel called to do from your place of grounded clarity.

The more you work this system, the stronger your capacity for the necessary courage will be.

The other piece of this line relates to what it is that you’re wanting to change. Specifically, it’s about changing the things you CAN. Think about that for a moment. What are the things in your life that are troubling you right now? What circumstances and conditions do you wish were different? How many of these are actually within your power to change? It’s important that you make and understand this distinction because, otherwise, you’ll be doing nothing but beating your head against a wall ad nauseam. And let me tell you, this is never a pretty site.

How do you know the difference? Well, the final line of the verse speaks exactly to this question and next week, I’ll share some thoughts to help you understand this last piece.

For now, the bottom-line is that COURAGE is a necessary human quality when it comes to being with and implementing change. You can absolutely develop your capacity for courage. Just remember: Think, Breath, Act, repeat.

This week I continue in my exploration of the serenity prayer. Most of us have heard it at some point or another in our lives, even if we haven’t called it that. For those who haven’t heard it, or don’t recognize it by that name, here it is:

serenity_prayer

The first line is what I want to focus on in this article. As I identified last week, there are three components to each line of the verse: a human trait, an action, and a “state of affairs”. In the opening line these three components flow naturally into one another. The  human trait is that of serenity, the action is acceptance, and the state of affairs is the “things I cannot change”. Let’s look at each of these and notice how they link up.

Serenity is a word that brings about a sense of peace, of calm, of bliss. While serenity can indeed be equated to those things, at its core, true serenity is about allowing. When you are in a state of serenity, there is no resistance, no pushing or pulling, no struggle. 

Acceptance then, is a natural extension of serenity. When you allow yourself to be serene, you allow yourself the experience of accepting, of noticing without giving in to the call to shift things that may not, in fact, need to be shifted.  Admittedly, this way of being with the world can be difficult. There’s a natural human tendency to manipulate circumstances and conditions around us. That being said, there are things that cannot be manipulated, that aren’t meant to be manipulated, and taking a minute to determine whether or not something is shiftable, malleable, changeable is important to investing your energy wisely.

Bottom-line: there’s something to be said for the art of simply allowing, accepting. When you can be in a state of acceptance, when you can stop trying to be in control of that which is outside of your control anyway, then you can experience greater energy for the things that you need to change. And there are things that need to change.

Next week: we’ll take a look at courage and identifying the things that are actually within your power to change.

The serenity prayer. Most of us have heard it at some point or another in our lives, even if we haven’t called it that. For those who haven’t heard it, or don’t recognize it by that name, here it is:

serenity_prayer

Three short phrases combined into one powerful request of God, the universe, whatever higher power you may believe in. Even if you don’t believe in a higher power outside of yourself, understanding the wisdom of this prayer can go a long way to helping you live and lead most effectively in your world. Over the next few weeks, my intention is to look more deeply at this verse, with a view to helping you understand the significance that it can have in helping you live your best life, and be the best leader you can be. Today, I want to take a big picture view, and look at the whole verse.

Why do I think this verse matters when it comes to life and leadership?

In a nutshell, having serenity, courage and wisdom are essential qualities for living and leading powerfully. When you can approach all aspects of your life with acceptance (which is the essence of serenity), courage and wisdom (which is a different kettle of fish from mere knowledge) you are powerfully armed to deal with the challenges which life will present.

Each of the three phrases in this well-known prayer are comprised of the following: a human trait, an action, and a “state of affairs” as I call it. Understanding each of these three components within each phrase goes a long way to understanding the verse as a whole. The words are simple in and of themselves. And, they are incredibly powerful when combined. So powerful, in fact, that this one little prayer has the power to absolutely and irrevocably change the way you interact with the world around you, the way you lead those who choose to follow you, and the way in which you experience this thing called life.

Next week, I’ll share my thoughts with you on the first line of this prayer. Remember, whether you’re a spiritual person or not is irrelevant. This article series is about enriching your human experience in a surprisingly simple way. Stay tuned and until next week, stay true to you.

11688backyard_hammockSelf-employment and summer. I sometimes think that these two things are just meant to go together. I mean, as a self-employed individual I get to work when I want, I get to work where I want (can you say “hello hammock?”), I get to soak up the sunshine on my deck while I work – in short, I get to call the shots in a lot of fun ways. Heck, I could theoretically take the whole summer off if I wanted. Which isn’t what I want at all this year, and at the same time, I do want time to enjoy all that summer has to offer.

Since I entered into the world of self-employment over a decade ago, the summers have been one my most enjoyable seasons.  While all of the perks mentioned in the first paragraph are technically available to me year-round, there’s something about summer that heightens my gratitude for my status as a self-employed individual. Summer has always been my favourite season of the year, and generally speaking it brings about an opportunity for me to modify my work schedule in such a way that feels more slow-paced compared to the rest of the year. I consciously choose to work what many would consider “reduced” hours, giving myself more chunks of time with my family, friends or even in solitude, time to enjoy this season completely.

One would think, given my particular penchant for “slow paced” that I would be less productive, that I would get less done, that I would “squander” my time. Ironically, however, I actually manage to be as productive — sometimes moreso — with these summer hours as I do the rest of the year. How? By keeping things “bite-sized”.

Every day, I choose two or three things that must get done. I’ve always said that to-do lists are a set-up for failure because they’re never-ending. There’s always something more to add to the “to-do list”. By picking two or three specific items from the list each day, those projects/tasks/activities become my focus. Once they are done, that’s it. I allow myself to put everything aside and move on. This sort of “bite-sized focus” allows me to channel my energy in a super-concentrated way. I’m really clear on what needs to get done, by when, and what awaits me once the task is complete. The result? Far-greater productivity in the long run, than is possible when I’m starting at longer “to-do lists”.

Admittedly, this sort of bite-sized focus can actually be used year-round. Its effectiveness is not limited to summer-time by any stretch of the imagination. The beauty of summer provides such incentive for me, however; this is why I find this approach particularly effective during this season. There are summer-time perks that are mine to enjoy, once my bite-sized list of tasks is complete.

Bottom-line: if you want to get the most out of summer – whether you’re self-employed or not – keep things really focused. Choose to hone in on two or three tasks MAXIMUM each day. Once these are done, shift yourself into that “lazy, hazy” gear that we generally associate with the summer season, and allow that flow to permeate your being. Bite-sized focus. This is the key to maximizing productivity.

Canada-Day-PartyI know that I’ve written about this before, but every year – several times a year – I’m struck by the tendency that many of us have to make celebrations complicated. We organize activities, create extensive guest lists, plan elaborate menus – all in an effort to “celebrate”. Too often, by the end of all of this planning, the host or hosts are too exhausted to enjoy the event – and the minute details that have been tended to haven’t been appreciated by the guests either.

So what’s the solution? Keep it simple, my friends. I can’t say it often enough. And I know this from my own experience. There is something to be said  — an elegance to be found – in a simple celebration.

The goal of any celebration is to mark or honour a moment, or an event. When planning a celebration then, the event must be the focus of those plans. And the plans must in no way overpower the event itself.

Here are some suggestions for creating simple celebrations in your life, whether you’re celebrating an achievement, a birthday, a life event or anything else:

  • Keep the guest list meaningful – in other words, it’s not about the number of people, but rather about how these people connect to the celebration at hand
  • Ask for help – enough with trying to plan things on your own. Invite your family and/or friends to assist with any and all tasks
  • Let go of “obligation” – in other words, don’t do anything for the celebration simply because you feel you “should”
  • Bust the myth of the celebration trifecta – food, money, alcohol. None of these things is what makes a celebration great – a celebration is about marking an occasion, nothing more.
  • Consider what will be meaningful and memorable in the years to come – will you be more appreciative of an event where you spend time with a few select individuals, or do you want to be surrounded by everyone who’s known you since birth? (or something in between?)
  • Tune in to what feels like an authentic representation of whatever it is you’re striving to celebrate
  • Never underestimate the power or significance of a solitary celebration. While celebration is often best when shared with at least one other (shared joy is double joy, as the saying goes) sometimes, it can be valuable to just be by yourself
  • In the spirit of the last point, a celebration can be as simple as treating yourself to a walk on the beach, enjoying an afternoon reading, or writing in your journal

Bottom-line: keeping celebrations simple can actually be a far more meaningful experience than trying to complicate things. As the week ahead unfolds, and indeed as the year’s various moments invite you to celebrate, give thought to how you can keep things simple. In this way you won’t lose sight of the event you’re trying to honour, and you’ll create an experience that’s truly meaningful.

focusThis past week was an opportunity for taking stock. This is a deliberate project which I undertake every year, usually during the month of June and again at year-end. While I believe in evaluation and self-reflection as a regular part of my business, these structured opportunities allow me to take a more deliberate look at what’s working, what’s not, what needs tweaking – and then move forward with greater clarity.

The act of “taking stock” is always a valuable experience. Lessons are learned, ideas are formulated, plans are created. And every so often, I get taken by surprise.  This was the case this past week. What I discovered as I evaluated where I was at relative to where I want to be (and to where I’ve been) was an eye-opener to say the least. Especially since what I discovered is exactly what I caution against, on a fairly regular basis.

What did I notice? Blurred lines. Boundary-lines, that is. As I looked at my schedule and looked at how I was working towards the achievement of certain objectives, I realized that over time I had, slowly but surely, created a circumstance in which my boundaries were no longer clear. What boundaries? The boundaries between personal time and professional; the boundaries between individual project times; the boundaries between specific spaces. The blurring of these lines has negative implications to say the least. In a nutshell, I have been less productive than would otherwise have been possible.

So how did this happen? How did I, who knows the value and importance of clearly defined and honoured boundaries, get myself into a situation where said boundaries were anything but?

Simply put, I wasn’t paying attention. I got caught up in the throes of everyday living and “going with the flow” to the degree that things started to blend and bleed into one another. Go figure.

I’m sure that this has been a contributing factor to the degree of fatigue that has been part of my experience of late. I’m sure that this has been a contributing factor to the lack of efficiency that I’ve noticed. And I’m sure that this has been a contributing factor to the frustration that sits just under the surface as I try to “get it all done”. When boundaries are blurred – moreover, when boundaries are not respected – things just don’t run as smoothly.

So, what’s the lesson? What I’ve learned – and what I want to share with you – is this: pay attention. Pay attention to what you’re doing and when. When you stop a project – for the day, for the moment, for the week – let it go. Kick it out of your brain space and allow it to percolate elsewhere.  Moreover, delineate your physical spaces clearly, particularly if you work from home at all. Leave your work tasks and projects in a defined space, preferably behind a closed door when you’re not in work mode.  There’s a reason that we’re taught to have a space for everything and put everything in its space. It’s about honouring boundaries.

Bottom-line: blurred lines can happen to the best of us. No matter who you are, if you don’t pay attention, boundaries can get crossed, without you even realizing it. The crossing of boundaries – especially when done without intent – gets in the way of effective, productive work. So pay attention. Be deliberate. And watch as everything falls into place.

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