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Holding Light

I was as proud as a new parent, when I saw the email in my inbox. The subject line, "Big Announcement! (You will definitely want to read this)" said it all.  This past week, my client, Tim Wise, launched his new business, Fishing for the Good Life.    Photo by Priyambada Nath This milestone was years in the making for Tim.  To get here, he slayed his Gremlins about quitting a well-paying, but soul-sucking job, sold his house to cut his largest expense in half, and tapped into his passion and grace to find the words for his website and write his brand story. This journey is not for the faint of heart. But for the right person, like Tim, it is the path to freedom, joy, and great satisfaction. It is also a place of light.  I have seen the transformation in not just Tim, but other clients. From being in the shadows, where frustration, anger and resentment come together, to expanding into glorious light-filled places of  thrill, happiness, and passion. I replied to Tim's announcement with this: "I am so proud of the work you've done to claim your place in the world, Tim.  You are an inspiration to so many who badly need the light that you hold. I am honored to call you a client and a friend." My purpose is to hold light for others, so that they may in turn, hold light for still others.  There is nothing more sacred, or more rewarding, than holding light. Tim's new adventure is just starting, fueled by his vitality, shining brightly from within.  It's a beautiful sight to see. PS. If you want to see what happens when a brilliant star like Tim collaborates with a supernova of a web designer, check out Tim's site, Fishing for the Good Life.  Kudos to Larah Leigh Ritchie for her fabulous work, bringing Tim's vision to life.

Mother’s Day 2015: A Seismic Shift in Small Moments

Twenty plus years ago, I was imprinted with the label, MOTHER, when my first child was born.  A couple of years later, my second child was born. Two sons. Photo by Clever Cupcakes. Chip and I took on the role of parents with enthusiasm.  After a 7-month maternity leave, I arranged with my employer to work part-time. I delighted in having two days a week at home, living at the pace of stroller walks around the neighborhood, afternoon naptime and meals made of defrosted cubes of mashed peaches mixed with yogurt.  My baby son became a toddler. When baby #2 came along, Chip was newly laid off and decided to stay home with the kids, full time.  I went back to work, full time.  My label became WORKING MOTHER. For the next two decades, our lives were filled with kid activities. If I close my eyes, I can see the images of those years, like short clips from a poignant movie.  A Mother's Day tea at preschool, being served by son #2 in a purple vest.  Watching son #1 during weekly karate practice, doing warm up exercises.  Driving both sons to math competitions.  Road trips across the country, with stops to fulfill our daily promise of ice cream, to see displays on UFOs and military vehicles, and to hike national parks.  As the kids got older, there were choir and band concerts, mock trial and robotic competitions, and proms.  I taught both sons to drive, in the parking lot of a Sam's Club that had closed many years ago. As my sons became more independent, I took on the label of WORRYING MOTHER. When they took a 2-week trip to China for high school students, I watched for the daily email from the chaperones, hungry for the group shot that was visual proof they were still alive, half way around the world.  I got a smart phone so that I could text with my younger son. I put a special note in my brain at bedtime, to listen for the sound of the garage door opening on a Saturday night.  Once, I called the parent of my son's friend, looking for my son, only to find out later that all along, he had been his bedroom, in front of his computer.  When each child went off to college, thousands of miles away, I insisted that we have weekly video calls. It is only recently that I became aware of this pattern of worry.  I worried about son #1, soon to graduate, uncomfortable with networking, and submitting resumes into the black hole of online job applications. I worried about son #2 finding an apartment for the summer in Atlanta. I listened nervously to one son's plans to take a roadtrip and sleep in the car, rather than pay for a hotel.  The list goes on. Until finally, the perfect storm hit.  I attended a three-day coaching training where on the second night, we watched the movie, About Time. If you haven't seen the movie, the protagonist, Tim, is able to travel in time, to change the course of events.  Ultimately, he decides to live each moment, fully, rather than to try to (re)create the perfect life.  I cried throughout the movie, after the movie, and before I went to bed that night. In the morning, I woke up crying. With a little help from my friends, I came to realize my sadness around "missed opportunities" to connect more deeply with my family, especially my sons. They would never be 5 or 10 or 15 years old again. I was steeped in self-pity at the thought of their empty bedrooms, void of their childhood belongings, cleaned out after their last Christmas break at home, in preparation for painting and re-carpeting. The worrying had been my way of trying to hang on, as MOTHER. Last week, one of my sons gave me a glimpse of the impact of my years of worrying. It was the best gift my son could have given me. I had kept a grown man, resourceful and capable beyond his years, perpetually in my mind as a child.  Unknowingly, I had created tension in our relationship and ultimately, separation from my son. Afterward, I wrote to my son: "Dad and I have raised you well and now our job is done. I fully trust you to make good decisions. In the past, I may have chosen worry or doubt. Going forward, I am choosing optimism, thrill, and trust. This is rooted in my pride, knowing deeply the capable and fine man you have become. I see that so clearly in this moment. And if I forget, I want you to remind me. You don't need my help or Dad's to find your way in the world. You have everything you need."  He wrote back immediately, glad and grateful that the light bulb had gone off in my head. Something had shifted within me.  I now see him as the adult that he is.  Yes, like all of us, he will make mistakes. But those will be his mistakes to learn from. I will not rob him of that experience. In a meditation, I saw a new vision of being a mother, one more akin to how my own mother sees her life--as the proud matriarch of a large clan. My mother's sons and daughters went away to seek their fortune in the world. Years later, the original family reinvented itself with the addition of spouses, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Two days ago, I texted my son: "I can see and feel a different relationship going forward that serves both of us. I could not see that future before, but I can now. I love you." My love for my sons never wanes, even as my role changes.  MOTHER has shifted from being chief protector and worrier to champion and wearer of the badge of pride for a job well done.  Filled with optimism, thrill, and trust, I have tears in my eyes, grateful for this new perspective.  Thank you, Casey and Andy, for making today a very special Mother's Day.  

What I Know Now About Networking

Six years ago, I presented a teleseminar series on networking, called Networking Naturally.  My alma mater, Northwestern University agreed to sponsor the series. 350 professionals signed up in two weeks.  To be honest, I made it up as I went along. While I was successful at networking and had written about it, I had never taught others how to network.  I went on to teach over 2000 professionals in 20 countries how to network, with more ease and joy.  Yes, joy, for even the shyest of introverts. Photo by Kathleen Tyler Conklin I developed a set of principles around networking, which allowed people to be more of themselves, while being more effective in connecting with others. These principles are as relevant today as they were in 2009, at the depth of the Great Recession. Since then, I've learned and experienced more about networking. Here's what I know now:
  • We are better together than we are alone.  I've been blessed with many wonderful people in my life. A few years ago, I realized that it was up to me to make even more of those relationships that I really enjoy. Today, I have regular calls with smart, kindred spirits who lift me up, give me counsel when I need it, and share new ideas. And I do the same for them. I have people who I meet with on a weekly, monthly, and quarterly basis, not for any specifically predetermined purpose. I trust that whatever I am ready to give and receive will emerge during the conversation.  Sometimes, I do reach out to others, specifically for a purpose, and that's okay, too.
  • Your network reflects where you are in your spiritual journey.  I've grown a lot since 2009, mainly through the graces of going through hard times and coming out the other end, with strength, wholeness, and compassion.  The people I attract today--as clients, collaborators, and friends--are different from who I attracted six years ago or even three years ago, because I have changed.
  • It's okay to let go of those people who are no longer a fit for who you are.  This can be disconcerting for some. You might even feel disloyal.  And when I have done the inner work to bless others who I am letting go, miracles occur.  True happiness is found in aligning your external life with your new found internal world.
  • Be the person who reaches out, steps up, and shows up.  I developed a model which I call the Network Maturity Model.  It shows the progression of creating mutually beneficial relationships, where each step along the way requires a different set of skills and mindset:
    • Purely transactional. ("I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine.")
    • Relationship builder. ("I'm in this for the longer haul, without any expectation of what I will receive.")
    • Relationship hub. ("Let me introduce you to John.")
    • Community builder.  ("Who is up for a meetup in San Francisco next month?")
  • People are hungry for community and belonging. In the Networking Maturity Model, one of the greatest places of joy for me is as a community builder.  Since 2009, I have organized dozens of in-person meetups (a gathering at TEDxMileHigh in Denver, dinners in Chicago, lunch in Atlanta) and virtual gatherings with sparkly names like Summer Solstice Party, Campfire Conversations, and Brilliant Conversations.  Always, I am filled with gratitude when I experience the magic of many-to-many connections and a community forms.  Belonging is a primal need for human beings.
  • It's not only important to be a good giver, but also a good receiver.  Many of you have heard met talk about "giving first, before asking for anything."  For some, the giving is easy. It's the asking/receiving that can be hard.  After experiencing burnout in 2011, I now know that giving and receiving must be balanced in order to be a sustainable cycle.  Recently, I reached out to friends on behalf of my two sons, away at school. One was in search of a room to rent for the summer in Atlanta, where he has a job the university he attends. The other is in job search, for a permanent job when he graduates next month.  With the former, my network came up with leads in less than 24 hours (most of which I'm pretty sure had not been posted on Craigslist, where my son had been looking).  With the latter, a friend who helps job seekers for a living responded to my request for help on my son's resume with the following, "I am happy to do that. Glad you asked. What a great way to thank you for your support over the years!" My friend articulated something that I had forgotten--when I am willing to receive, someone else is experiencing the joy of giving.
Networking has given me much over the years. As I get older, I see that there's so much more that's available to each of us, when networking becomes not just a way to further our careers, but a means of bettering our lives.

Re-Purposing Yourself

Photo by encore.org On the shuttle to the Phoenix airport, I turned to my fellow passenger. We both had just attended a multi-day conference. Because of her late flight into Phoenix and her earlier than usual flight out of Phoenix, she was at the conference for less than 48 hours. I was curious.  I asked her, "What was the highlight for you in your brief time at the conference?" She mentioned a couple of different sessions, none of which I had attended. And then she thought again and said, "Every single person I talked to was interesting.  Maybe because each person is so passionate about what they are doing.  That just doesn't happen at other conferences."   I wholeheartedly agreed. What was this conference that we attended? It was the annual conference for Encore.org, a non-profit dedicated to "building a movement to make it easier for millions of people to pursue encore careers – second acts for the greater good". Their vision is "to produce a windfall of talent to help solve society’s greatest problems".  (Don't you just love that image, a windfall of talent?) Their founder, Marc Freedman, is the author of several books, including the best-selling, Encore: Finding Work That Matters in the Second Half of Life. Learn moreBut this is about more than books and conferences.  The morning after returning from Phoenix,  a coaching client asked, "How are you?"  To which I replied, "Tired, but filled up."  I then went on to tell him about meeting entrepreneurs who are having huge social impact in the world.  He asked me skeptically, "Is this a bunch of rich people talking about doing good, or people who have actually done it?"  It clicked for me why the people I met had been so interesting. I quickly replied, "The latter." (BTW--the picture above is of Barbara Chandler Allen, a woman who is quoted  in one of my all-time favorite books, A Whole New Mind, for her work with the Charter High School for Architecture and Design. Nearly a decade later, she was featured in another book, Your Life Calling, based on a completely different endeavor, Fresh Artists. Allen's non-profit helps to create "child philanthropists", while supplying funding for art supplies to underfunded public schools and children's artwork in corporate workplaces.  I met Allen at the conference. When I think of how best to describe her,  "force of nature" comes to mind.) Interesting, passionate, people who take an idea for doing good in the world and make it real. But that isn't all.  Something else made the people I met so remarkable. On the first night after arriving at the conference, I attended the Purpose Prize award ceremony, given to social innovators over 60 who are working to advance the social good.  The Purpose Prize comes with a significant financial reward, anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000.  Of this year's 800+ applicants, just six are chosen for the Purpose Prize. Embedded image permalinkThe recipients each gave an acceptance speech. They could not have been more different in their cause (from equine therapy that reverses the effects of autism to helping the blind find jobs to turningaround children in low- performing schools, using brain science on stress) or their delivery (folksy vs. force to be reckoned with) or the focus of their acceptance speech (as a vehicle to further educate the audience vs. a dedication to one's mother). What was common was this: Humility.  The metrics surrounding the winners'  work are impressive. Tens of thousands of  students impacted in 86 high poverty public schools, 45,000 families helped by 28,000 volunteers mobilized in 45 disasters around the world, 91 free equine therapy centers transforming the lives of 5,000 children.  And yet, speaker after speaker came to the podium, with words that deflected their greatness and embraced others'.  One winner actually said, "I didn't do anything." I cannot adequately describe the impact this juxtaposition had on me--greatness cloaked in humility.  I mentioned this to one of past Purpose Prize winners at a luncheon the next day, Gary Maxworthy. His explanation?  "None of us got into this to win prizes."  He was alluding to another trait of the encore world, service. Interesting, passionate, people who take an idea for doing good in the world and make it real. These are people who put forth humility, even as their greatness is in plain sight, motivated by a sense of service. As I talked to more interesting people at the conference doing interesting things, I was struck by two other characteristics in the encore world: Interesting, passionate, people who take an idea for doing good in the world and make it real. These are people who put forth humility, even as their greatness is in plain sight, motivated by a sense of service.  Imaginative systems thinkers. If you are thinking, "I could never be one of those people", think again.  The road to an encore career is not brilliance or intelligence or competence. The road to an encore career is paved with the willingness to try--to apply who you are to work that has the potential for impact and meaning, to re-purpose yourself.  Anyone and everyone can do that. My thanks to Marci Alboher and the crew at Encore.org for a wonderful three days. I left Phoenix inspired and filled with gratitude, for the connections made to interesting people, doing interesting things. PS. If you are boundary crosser, like me, plan to attend the Encore Conference in 2015. In no other place have I found so many kindred spirits.  

The Trapeze

This is a popular post I wrote many years ago, as I was starting my coaching business. It applies not just to starting a business but any change in your life that you've been wanting for a long time.  Enjoy!--Carol  There’s a beautiful metaphor for change. It’s a trapeze.  The trapeze artist knows that in order to be ready for the bar coming her way, she has to let go of the old bar, the one which is currently providing safety. And she knows that there is no safety in holding on to something that doesn’t take you where you want to go.  There’s only distraction and frustration. I know of a woman who is dating an aspiring life coach. I say aspiring because he’s dipped his toe into the water but hasn’t taken the plunge—a few coaching classes and clients and sporadically attending networking meetings for coaches.  She asked me about things I had started in the coaching community, including a monthly coaching studio at a local coffee shop.  As I was talking, I realized that my energy and creativity had come out of commitment, a willingness to take the plunge, without attachment to the old way of life. Had her friend hired a coach himself?  “Well, no, he’s really not in a financial position to hire a coach.” I could imagine that his inner critic was having a field day with that one. Had he completed a training program from an accredited coaching school? “Well, no, he’s taken a couple of classes here and there.” I asked whether he had started to build a network of peers to tap into—for advice, for referrals, for support when I heard, “I’m pretty much his support system.” Alone, untrained, and without a role model.  How could he possibly succeed? The thought crossed my mind that this aspiring life coach will always be just that—aspiring.  It’s hard enough to make it as your own boss when you are committed to the path. It’s nearly impossible when you have your feet in two different places. We don’t get what we want in life without commitment. I talked about the push I needed to start my own business in the form of a layoff. “Oh, yes, when he got laid off, it gave him time to think about what he really wanted to do in life. And it turned out to be coaching.”  There’s a large territory to cross between finding out what you want to do and giving it the space and support it needs to actually unfold. I have a friend who is a coach and a consultant.  As she was starting her own business last year, she was lucky enough to land a consulting contract for two days a week for six months. It was work she had done before and it paid well. She was also unlucky enough to have gotten this contract. It kept her from building the business she really wanted. Two days a week was two days too much when it came to birthing a new business. There was no incentive to make a go of her new business. The poet Goethe writes beautifully on this point: “Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now". Let go of the trapeze bar you’ve been holding on to so tightly. Swing your whole body towards the next bar and watch it come closer in all its magnificence. At the moment that you let go and feel yourself flying through the air, your heart may stop.  Your nerves may tremble.  Your face may grimace. Don’t be scared.  Know that your greatest reward for commitment is being fully alive.
 
 

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