Category Archives: Life Coaching

5 Healthy Habits During a Job Search

Career transitions come in many forms, one of the most major ones being a new job search.  In addition to the obvious steps of networking and sending our applications (which I will cover in separate blog posts), it is important to consider how to support ourselves mentally, physically and emotionally during a job search.  In coaching clients who are in the midst of a job search, I have observed that they have the best chances of success, and weather the transition the most smoothly, when they follow these 5 healthy habits:

1. Get ample sleep.

Prime your mind and body by giving yourself the rest you need.  We are at our most productive after a good night’s sleep.  Most people need 7-9 hours.  Notice how much sleep you need to feel your most alert.  If you feel you can’t spare the extra time in bed, consider that an extra hour of zzz’s can result in several hours of added productivity, not to mention a more positive outlook.

Some people who are worried about a job search may find they suffer from insomnia and have a difficult time winding down at night.  If this describes you, go the extra mile to set up a cozy sleeping space, limit screen time at night, engage in a soothing pre-bed ritual such as journaling or listening to music.

2. Exercise regularly.

Exercise is wonderful for so many reasons.  It leads to better sleep.  It puts us in a good mood.  It activates endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals.  It makes us calmer, less reactive, and better company for others to be around.

Have a hard time committing to exercising on a regular basis?  Consider the huge rewards it brings.  Sometimes it’s simply our resistance to a new habit that stands in our way.  Try scheduling exercise in your calendar and set yourself up for success:  pack your gym bag, set an alarm.  The more times in a row that we repeat a new habit, the more engrained it becomes in our minds and the more naturally it comes.

3. Do something just for fun.

Why?  Career transitions inevitably entail a lot of stress (both “good” and “bad” stress).  Doing something you enjoy, that’s just for yourself, can alleviate much of that stress.  It also has a profound impact on reframing the career transition as one part of your life, rather than an all-consuming part.  Whether it’s hiking, taking a painting class, or playing in the backyard with your kids, everyone needs time to be playful, silly, or creative.

4. Surround yourself with a support network.

This one is a double whammy.

First, you will feel more supported emotionally when you take advantage of the support that’s available to you.  You will have more optimism and resilience, and less risk of anxiety or depression.  You will experience more connection and less isolation.  Others matter.  Positive psychology shows that meaning is a key hallmark of happiness–connection to other people and to something larger than ourselves.

Secondly, you will be more likely to hear of useful resources or job leads that could ramp up your search.

This last one is important. . .

5. Be gentle with yourself.

Whether your search is a long or a short one, remember that it is temporary.  While you are in the midst of it, treat yourself with as much care and compassion as you would a good friend.  Before long, you’ll be at your new dream job, and your search will be a fleeting memory.  While you’re in the thick of it, do everything you can to make the process easier on yourself.

Naptime and Growth Spurts

I don’t get a chance to blog as much these days, between mothering a toddler and coaching my clients.  I find that I miss it, though.  So today, as my son naps, I find myself with a precious hour or two.

Time is a hot commodity as a parent.  Whether working out of the home, full time, part time, or stay at home (what a misnomer!), all moms and dads find that there’s a new “normal.”  Yes, we can still carve out time for ourselves, but it’s no easy feat.  It takes compromises, trade-offs, and in many cases, communication with a partner.

For example, my husband often takes our son to the playground before leaving for work, so that I can coach a client without Herbie banging on the door, crying “door, door!”  Parts of daily life such as showers and ample sleep also take communication.  (Honey, remember the time I took a shower without warning you and we found Herbie had climbed onto the dining room table and was going through the mail?)

Point being, when even a shower is not to be taken for granted, there can be a lot of pressure when I find myself with an hour in the middle of the day to spend as I see fit.  I review my options.  I could clean the bathroom (we haven’t hired a house cleaning service, something that I would nonetheless advise ANY new parent to squeeze into a budget).  I could read any of three books that I had optimistically purchased on Amazon.  I could answer overdue emails and texts.

Or I could blog.

We do what we are to feed ourselves.  To remember who we are.  I am a writer who loves psychology and personal growth.  These fields are interwoven for me, personally and professionally.  As an INFJ, I tend to look at the world in terms of where I want to grow.  It’s my idea of fun to jot down goals in each area of my life where I want to focus in the coming week.  I love understanding mental processes, perceptions, and motivations.  This is why I’m a coach.  It’s also a part of parenting that I really love, as well.

So in the context of my new “normal,” I’m okay with a certain degree of clutter in our home.  I’m okay if my exercise is running around the playground and park (believe me, I have the biceps and quads to prove it).  I’m okay if couple time is family time.  There’s a season for everything, and other seasons will circle back around again.  For now, it’s a season of growth:  my growth, my son’s growth, and my clients’ growth.

My son went through three shoe sizes in three months.  I’m ready for new shoes, too.

Resilience & Rock Throwing 

At Forest School this morning in South Mountain. Lessons in resilience. My 19-month-old son rolled down some (carpeted) steps on our way out, then another toddler accidentally threw a rock at his forehead by the brook. 

While justifiably upset, he recovered quickly (after a few tears) from both and adventurously waded knee-deep in the brook, finding the biggest rocks he could possibly pick up and throw. 

The lesson for me is to be prudent and don’t take needless risks, but to keep on trucking. Expect comfort, and offer it. Be brave. For me, bravery doesn’t mean not expressing feelings. It means not being held back by accidents. Not losing out on opportunities for joy. 

Wading in the cold water, he pronounced “BIG!” as he hoisted each rock up to his shoulder. 

Choosing Powerfully–In Spite of Fear

As cool fall weather is sweeping in, I’m enjoying seeing all of the yellow, copper, and red leaves, some still on the trees and others that have fallen. I have a lovely view of trees in the park across the street from my house. As I write this, the golden leaves match my living room curtains, making me grateful for both the beauty of nature and the comfort of home.

I used to work at a corporate job in midtown Manhattan and didn’t have very much time to spend at home, especially not in the afternoon. Mid to late afternoon has become one of my favorite times of day, when the sun sweeps across the sky, lights up the living room with its southern exposure, and sets elegantly over the park.

A couple of weeks ago, on an unseasonably warm October day, I took a solitary hike in the Watchung Reservation here in New Jersey, and basked in the beauty of majestically tall trees, sunlight playfully dancing on leaves, and birds singing their avian hearts out.

More time appreciating nature is just one of the rewards of having listened to my heart and followed the path that was right for me–changing careers and stepping into a very different lifestyle than I once knew. It was scary to leave the corporate career that I’d always known. It felt secure, dependable, safe. I was offered a position at the NY Times and had to rely on my coach to help me see that there was something else my heart was calling for. Something less known, but more in line with how I want to express my values today.

Through coaching, music, and preparing to be a mother soon, I’m living some of my deepest values: beauty, creativity, personal growth, curiosity, compassion, caring, health, family, and flexibility. Being rich isn’t on this list. I care about security and frugality, but only in service of my core values. Fear of not having enough no longer rules me.

Life can still be stressful. As I write this, my grandmother is in the hospital after having a stroke. I’m filled both with love and gratittude for my relationship with her–and the good that she has done for so many people in her 95 years–as well as fear and sadness.

This week, I also I went to traffic court. I wrestled with the checkbook to try to make sure I wouldn’t bounce a check. I tracked down electricians and several heating specialists, as part of my responsibilities as a landlady. These are necessary, if frenetic and unpoetic, parts of life. As someone who is an intuitive introvert (to borrow from Myers-Briggs), engaging in a lot of extroverted sensing can feel taxing to me, and takes recovery afterwards.

Yet, my life is essentially exactly as I would wish it, just for today. I have much room for growth, but right now, I’m celebrating what’s good. I’m savoring the fruits of how I’ve chosen to craft my life. My work is deeply meaningful to me–I get to help others be at choice in their own lives. I get to champion them as they create what they want, and celebrate what they’re learning.

I also get to design my own schedule and incorporate self-care. For the first time ever, I get to go to the gym for an hour and take a short nap most afternoons. I alternate between work and my personal life throughout the day, rather than work in an 8 or 9-hour block of time. This may not work for everyone, but it’s ideal for me.

Why can it be terrifying to leave what we know, what has its merits and we consider pretty good, in pursuit of something different, better?

Our saboteurs can be sneaky. I have a “good-enough” saboteur who points out that what I have isn’t bad, so why rock the boat? That belief can literally keep me stuck in a place of dissonance for years. Another saboteur masquerades as trying to protect me: “you’ll get hurt, it’s better not to try.” This often comes from fear of failure or not having enough. It takes good coaching to help me see more resonant perspectives that can move me forward towards what I really want.

Power comes from choosing consciously. My future self is already living her ideal life, fulfilled beyond my wildest dreams. I get to play with discovering what that life is like and who that future self is. Then I get to step into it–again, and again.

“What Fulfills You?”

“What fulfills you?”

When we run into someone, we usually ask “How are you?”  Since it’s rhetorical, this question usually garners the expected superficial response, “I’m fine, thanks, how are you?”  The question doesn’t dig deeply, doesn’t attempt to make a meaningful connection.

I recently assisted at a 3-day Fulfillment class with CTI, the Coaches’ Training Institute.  Students had come from varied backgrounds in terms of geography, career, and life experiences.  I volunteered to assist the leaders and help to make sure things ran smoothly.

In our first exercise, everyone circulated, introduced themselves to another person and asked, “what fulfills you?”  It was fascinating to see how fast we got to know meaty things about each other:  what we do for fun on a Saturday, who we spend it with, where we like to travel on vacation…

…in short, what lights us up and made us feel alive.

Aliveness and connection are the foundation of a fulfilling life.  I see this emerge in my coaching clients when they move towards what they’re passionate about.  It’s easy to be complacent and pretend that what our heart tells us isn’t really important.  We resist what’s new because the unknown feels scary.  We settle for what we don’t enjoy but think ought to be ‘good enough.’  Sadly, this leads to flatness, deadness.  Picture a heartbeat on an EKG that has flatlined.

In contrast, coaching offers a vision of life that is resonant and full of purpose.  Values are clarified, goals are determined, and actions are aligned with values.  Now, that’s a life with a pulse!

Living a fulfilling life is a radical act.  A coach finds out what someone really, truly wants to do, and asks them to take action to get it.  How often are we asked what lights us up, and are held accountable for taking baby steps toward making that happen?

How many times do we think about taking that step, then back down, shrugging it off?  “Maybe one day–if things change…maybe not.”

What’s a radical act for one person may not be for another.  Someone who never exercises may find that working out 3 days a week is radical and life-changing, while someone else may sign up for a triathalon.  We are all unique.  The important part is what that action means to us as individuals–what direction it has us pointed in, what we learn, and how we grow from doing it.

We have the power to visualize a fulfilling life and to go out and get it.

Call or email me for a free 30-minute sample coaching call today.

Practice Makes Perfect? It Depends.

Bulletproof Musician recently wrote this insightful blog post about how to practice effectively.  Perhaps surprisingly, the most important factor doesn’t turn out to be length of practice time, or making few mistakes to begin with.  Rather, improvement made during practice depends on how mistakes are addressed.

Progress appears to hinge on the proportion of times that a passage is played correctly.  Musicians who stop immediately to understand and correct mistakes, drilling the same passage at a slower tempo until they have mastered it, do best.  Those who plow through without taking time to understand the exact nature of the mistake do not fare as well.

This may sound like a basic insight, and it is indeed straightforward.  It surprises me, though, that practice length and willpower (a limited resource) are relatively unimportant.  Rather, awareness, focus, and corrective action are paramount.  If our brains don’t consciously understand what mistake was made, we’ll continue to repeat it.  Only by slowing down and figuring it out will we correct it.

I am an imperfect student of the organ, which has become my favorite instrument.  I have alternated between taking lessons with a very accomplished organist (and very talented teacher) and studying on my own; currently I do the latter.  When I practice, I have some structures in place to keep me honest, such as tracking length of time and the pieces that I practice in a notebook.

I do repeat difficult passages several times, often playing just the pedals, then adding one hand at a time.  I do slow down the tempo so my brain can process what I’m doing wrong, and correct it.

However, full disclosure:  I don’t do these things consistently.  It can be tempting and way too much fun to zoom through Bach preludes & fugues as though skiing on a black diamond.  If I wipe out, I may have no idea what happened to get me there, and often little desire to be a detective about it.

I don’t want to return to the bunny slopes.  I want to go down a double black diamond again like the big kids, whether or not I’m ready for it.

Playing brings me joy.  When I practice today, it’s first and foremost because I love doing it, not because anyone is demanding that I do it.  Playing well, however, also brings me confidence and satisfaction.  My choice lies in how to preserve the joy and spontaneity of playing for fun, expression and enjoyment, at the same time challenging myself to be rigorous and set the bar high.

In July, I had an opportunity to substitute for St. Anthony’s organist and music director in Jersey City  for two weeks.  It was a memorable experience, playing sacred music in support of a full choir.  Playing with the registration to find the right mixture of sounds, choosing interludes, and conducting a cappella motets all come to mind.

What stands out the most for me, though, is that I was able to play Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in G Minor as a postlude.  I wouldn’t have been able to do that six months prior.  It felt like a crown, a gift that I was able to share with others.  I wouldn’t have had that to offer if I’d only zipped down the black diamonds like a speed demon.  Methodically slowing down–having the patience, humility and trust to do so–got me to that point.

A confession–I will still play at times like a black diamond skiier.  But the more I realize I have it in my power to play well, the more I want to get curious enough to slow down and figure out the parts of a piece that are befuddling me.

My coaching practice is called Passion + Persistence for a reason.  Identifying what makes us truly alive and sticking with it (rather than getting derailed) enables us to achieve our life purpose.  In the case of music, I could have also named it Practice + Persistence–which apply to so many areas of life!

One reason that I’m challenged to write my blog as often as I did in the past is that I have many creative outlets (such as music).  I’m grateful to say that I feel fulfilled.  Yet it helps to remind myself that like music, there is no “should” about writing.  I enjoy expressing myself through both music and writing, and using them as mediums for connecting with others.

Music, writing, coaching, and connecting with people make me truly alive.  What lights you up?  I’d love to hear from you.

Warmly, Mary

Seeking Adventure in Small Ways

On Sunday, I went to three cafes and spent time in three towns.  In the morning, after singing at church, I picked up breakfast at a cafe before driving to Weequahic Park where I walked around a lake.  Later, on my way to play the organ (at another local church), I sipped a decaf latte on the bench of a cafe facing Independence Park, around the corner from my house.

That evening, my husband and I were ready for another outing, so we drove to Belleville, adjacent to Newark, and ate dinner at Topaz Thai.  I was happy to discover there was a Thai restaurant within a 20-minute drive from where we live.  I’ve missed eating Thai, Indian and Ethiopian food regularly since moving here from Brooklyn close to three years ago.  In my neighborhood in the Ironbound, Portuguese, Brazilian and Italian food predominate.  I’m still exploring all of the nearby towns and discovering what cuisines they have to offer.

After dinner, we drove a few minutes down the road into Lyndhurst and enjoyed a bavarian cream lobster tail and pignoli cookies from an Italian bakery.  Then my husband realized we were practically in Rutherford, which was home to William Carlos Williams, so we looked up his house and checked it out.

I started a notebook the other day to keep track of some of these outings.  It actually has three sections, “Music” (where I record the pieces I’ve practiced on the organ), “Outings” (for hikes, new towns, new places), and “Special Projects” (various priorities).  I process and remember things better by writing them down, so this helps me remember that we hiked in the Palisades two weeks ago, or practiced a Bach prelude and fugue that I want to revisit soon.  I don’t write everything down–but I like writing down what’s important to me.  The act of writing it affirms that it’s important.

I’m grateful that I live in a city that has such easy access to many different types of places.  I also feel grateful for having honored my desire for a little excitement.  Maybe it wasn’t a trip to Europe–but even a little outing, devouring Thai food, bavarian cream pastry, and seeing W.C. Williams’ house, in three new-to-me towns, temporarily satiates my yearning for excitement and adventure.

I suppose it’s adventure on a modest scale, with a lowercase “a,” quite different from ones I’ve taken in the past such as circling around Sicily for a week, or living in Paris for a year.  Yet when those capital-A Adventures on a grand scale aren’t possible, modest adventures go a long way.

Yesterday was quieter.  I cooked breakfast, did some cleaning, worked out at the gym, went to the hardware store, played the organ for a bit, gardened, had two client calls, and talked with family.  A quiet, productive day–and for today, it felt just right.

It always feels wonderful coming home after being out, and conversely, going out after staying at home for awhile.  Something about the varied pace feels important.  I need stability, and I need excitement.  When my schedule doesn’t allow for more, simply walking around a lake or trying out a new restaurant really does provide that sense of newness and discovery.  My need for fun and adventure can be honored by seeking out simple pleasures.

Which needs and values are you honoring?  Which ones are getting stepped on or overlooked?  Small tweaks to our routines can make a big difference.  A small step can often have a huge imapct.

The Lure of Fantasy: The Sims and Other Dubious Pleasures

When I was younger, I would play Sim City.  You got to build entire cities, with roads, fire stations, waterfront houses.  Sometimes an earthquake would destroy it all.

In my twenties, my brother gave me The Sims for a birthday.  It was thrilling for nostalgia’s sake, plus it added a new dimension.  I developed my virtual people’s job skills, relationships, and home decor.

I played it ardently.  For a short period of time, I recall, I could easily spend most of the weekend tending to my Sims.  I sent them to work, I brought friends to their houses for parties, I clicked a single button to make them read about cooking and presto, they could whip up a 4-course meal.

Would that life’s returns were that immediate.

The game is alluring because at a click of the mouse, my Sims are off and running, accomplishing great feats.  If I want to learn how to cook, improve job skills or build new friendships, it takes time and consistent effort.  The feedback loop isn’t as immediate.  Rewards take time to reap.  I need to take satisfaction in more gradual changes.

Last weekend, my little sister from Big Brothers Big Sisters told me that you can get The Sims on your iphone.  I told her about my experiences with video games, where they can be fun but it’s hard to turn it off after, say, a half-hour.  Yet armed with this knowledge, when I got home that night I downloaded it on my phone.

The allure of fantasy is strong, the “rewards” immediate–but fleeting.  Once I had my Sims garden to earn money and buy a new stereo, what then?  I was given new “challenges,” but how challenging were they?

Playing The Sims is addictive, but the second I stop, I feel empty, not filled up like when I swim or write a blog post.  It’s like crack cocaine.  I need another fix.

Video games are fun–they’re so fun, in fact, that we can’t handle them.  Much like eating Chewy Chips Ahoy, gambling, and other risky behaviors, human beings aren’t cut out to do them in moderation.  We’ve primed for the quick fix, the sugar high.  This is why I very rarely keep Chips Ahoy in the kitchen.  I’d rather have a nice dessert at a restaurant, anyway.

What’s different when I listen to what my body and mind need?  I feel deeper rewards.  Not the high of the sugar rush or adrenaline rush, but a more sustainable “I’m on the path.  I made this happen.”  Whether it’s getting out of the house early in the morning to go for a swim, or accomplishing a difficult project, the payoff is far more satisfying than the addict’s quick fix.

I recently wrote this blog post about Flannery O’Connor and the power of habit.  O’Connor wrote every morning from 9:00 to noon.  We are the habits we develop.  At a certain point, they become not so much a matter of willpower, as second nature.  Our commitments and persistence make this happen.

How can I solidify this knowledge, make it concrete?  There are a few phrases that come to mind:

1. Smart feet:  put myself where I need to be, and the rest will follow. Convincing myself to get started is always the hardest part!  Once I’m there (whether at the pool or on my website), I know what to do.

2. Focus on what’s in front of me:  I can’t solve something that’s three steps down the road.  I can only take the next right action, and see what its consequences are.

3. Keep my word to myself:  I do this by putting my commitments to myself in Google Calendar.  To keep the same examples, even if it’s swimming and blogging, if I don’t do them I make myself delete them from the calendar, and I hate doing that.  I’d rather show myself that I’m trustworthy by keeping my word, just as I keep it to others.

I’m not quite ready to delete the game from my phone, but maybe I can mention it to my coach.  She would probably ask, “What if you just deleted it?”  In the meantime, I’m cooking a veggie frittata, blogging, and can’t wait to go swim.

How will you keep your word to yourself today?  What are you committed to?  How wil you honor those commitments?

I’d love to hear what you think.  Please leave a comment or send me an email!

Warmly,

Mary

Work with a Coach to Create Your Ideal Balance

Work-life balance is a term that gets thrown around a lot.  What does it mean?  Not working 60 or 80-hour weeks?  Having time with your spouse or kids every night?  Spending weekends on your hobbies, not glued to your computer or smartphone?

“Balance” would seem to imply that all things are in equal measure, all of the time.  In fact, this isn’t many people’s goal.  Some work hard and save up so they can have more free time a few years down the road (hoping they have time for other interests before retirement).

Some may want to spend 40+ hours on their career because it’s a passion; for them, balance means having a few hours here and there to explore other sides of themselves.  Others feel stifled by such a demanding schedule and thrive with more flexibility, perhaps working for themselves or freelancing.

What is your idea of balance?  What are you balancing?  When the pieces of your life are in ideal balance, how are you dividing your time?

Personally, I balance work, family, exercise, personal growth, fun and recreation, and other types of self-care such as sleep.  I need to do most of these everyday.  That can mean spending 45 minutes talking with my husband over breakfast, doing a few hours of work, going for a swim, making a healthy lunch, writing a blog post or answering emails from clients in the backyard, talking with my own coach, and watching “House Hunters” on YouTube.

I take time to pray or engage in meditative activities (including sitting by my bedroom window, watching sparrows dance on the grapevines) whenever I need to recenter, which could be 5 times a day.  While work and family occupy the bulk of my time, the other activities, though less in quantity, are just as important to my well-being.

Other tasks, such as monitoring savings or cleaning the house, fall under general upkeep and weekly to-do’s.  I fit them in when I feel the least resistance to them (usually mid-morning).

One coaching tool that explores these parts of our lives is the Wheel of Life.  It’s a circle with eight wedges:  Career, Family & Friends, Significant Other/Romance, Fun & Recreation, Health, Money, Personal Growth, and Physical Environment.  The sections can be tweaked; some people separate Friends & Family, or add a category of Spirituality.

Assign a number from 0-10 to represent your satisfaction with each area.  Your observations about your wheel of life can be illuminating.  Are you equally satisfied with each area, or are they wildly divergent?  Is your romantic life a 10 but your finances are a 2?  Is your career a 9 but your health a 4?

If spending long hours at work or a dislike of the gym are blocking your health from being a 10, consider an early-morning jog in a park close to home.  Do you want to be a  more available partner or parent?  The remedy is to clearly see where you are today, envision what you want, and take the first step to bring you closer to where you want to be.  Where we put our focus has the power to unearth possibilities.

Sound simple?  It’s deceptively simple, so much so that many of us are surprised when we wake up one day realizing we’ve jumped ship, abandoning our own dreams and desires.

What would an 11 look like?  It’s said that coaching begins when each piece is at a 10.  Through coaching, we get to stretch the limits of what we believe to be possible in our lives.  I’ve experienced this myself through being coached.  What mirage will be dispelled next?

Working with a coach ensures the support and accountability that are needed to make any lasting change.  August is a great time to start coaching!  Email me today at marywcrow@gmail.com to see how coaching can work for you.