Tag Archives: courage

The Secret Catalysts in Successful Career Transitions

I recently participated in an interactive talk given by Ron Renaud, “Unleash the Power of Your Values.”  Ron is a senior faculty member at CTI and author of “The Uncompromised.”  He has identified four personal standards that allow us to live more authentic lives, in line with our unique values.  These standards are:

  1. Enthusiasm: a positive attitude, energy.
  2. Courage: doing what’s challenging and what most won’t do.
  3. Endurance: physical, emotional and intellectual energy to consistently and sustainably do what must be done.
  4. Integrity:  doing precisely what you say you’ll do; requires self-knowledge & wisdom.

How do these standards unleash the power of our values?  For example, if independence is a high value of mine, by practicing enthusiasm, courage, endurance, and integrity, I will attain a greater degree of independence.  Similarly, if community is a strong value, these standards can help me build a stronger sense of community.

In a future post, I’ll delve more into endurance.  As a runner, I know the importance of looking at the long haul and keeping at it.  It won’t do any good to run 1K and stop if it’s a 3K race.  This concept is so critical and it’s the reason I named my coaching business Passion + Persistence.

For now, let’s look specifically at the four standards as they pertain to career transitions.  A career transition could mean seeking a promotion, or changing fields.  In order to build a successful career and identify job opportunities, both inward and outward perspectives are required.  Let’s break this down further:

An outward perspective asks questions such as:  what is the market like?  How many job openings are in that field?  Where does one find those types of jobs–in a large or small company, at a nonprofit or an academic institution?  In which parts of the country?

Looking inward is at least as important.  An inward perspective seeks to know:  where do I see myself in five years?  What types of tasks have I enjoyed the most in my past jobs?  What values most fulfill me at work–creativity, security, autonomy, or interdependence?  Do I enjoy mentoring others?  Do I like to engage frequently with coworkers or to have long stretches of time alone?

Self-reflection leads to self-knowledge and, ultimately, yields greater job satisfaction.  Moreover, it makes it possible to have a more profound impact on the world.  When we understand our own values, we live and work more authentically, because we’re going with, rather than against, the grain.  Our natural talents and abilities find fuller expression.  We are doing what we were meant to do in the world, and equally important, being who we were meant to be.

Reflecting on the parts of ourselves that we both like and dislike grants the power of choice.  Am I nurturing?  Intellectual?  Playful?  Driven?  Am I jealous of coworkers? Do I fear economic insecurity?  It’s powerful to choose which parts of ourselves we’ll hold onto, and which parts we’ll change.

Once we see ourselves as we are, we can choose to let go of the obstacles standing in the way of our own success, and embrace those characteristics that make us uniquely ourselves–whether we are fierce, radiant, intuitive–whichever traits make us the most alive and allow us to share our greatest work with the world.

Yes, it’s important to study the market and to be realistic about our options, when considering a career transition.  It’s also critical that we not choose passively, or out of fear that we won’t find anything better.  By delving deep into our vision of our future selves, our best selves, we can choose wisely when considering such a transition.

Where do you see yourself in five years?  Where are you now and where do you want to be?  What’s one tiny baby step you could take this week to move towards that vision?  I invite you to consider how you might use the standards of enthusiasm, courage, endurance and integrity to move closer to it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Please leave a comment or share this post.  Wishing you great success and authenticity in work and life!

Singing Italian in a Jewel Box

At a friend’s suggestion, I recently made a list of challenges and achievements, and discovered that many of my greatest accomplishments have been things that scared me silly at the time.  Here are some items on that list:

+ Lived and studied in Paris
+ Ran a half-marathon
+ Finished first on my team in a regional cross-country race on a rainy, muddy day
+ Canoed through rural Quebec
+ Studied Italian and traveled through Sicily
+ Studied and played organ professionally

All of these experiences involved adventure and challenge. Some entailed physical anguish:  aching at mile 10 of a half-marathon or portaging on a canoe trip.  Other times, the anguish was mental: realizing I had a ways to go at speaking French fluently or being a virtuoso at the organ.

Stretching my limits is both exciting and nerve-wracking.  Since it’s Easter weekend, I’m doing a lot of singing and playing the organ–activities that are very rewarding but make me nervous, because improvement is always possible. When I’m offered an opportunity to play, my inner response tends to be, “This makes me nervous, and I really want to say yes.”

I’ve played the piano since I was seven, but only started learning the organ a couple of years ago.  It’s easy to think people will notice every mistake, but the truth is, no one’s standards for my playing are as high as my own.

Before playing, I often think, “It won’t be perfect, but it will be beautiful.”  This mindset helps me to stay present.  Playing is worth the nervousness–it’s creative, rewarding and fun.  It’s also gratifying to see my progress, no matter how slow.  It gives me a sense of achievement, and hopefully has a positive impact on others.

How can we light the path to our achievements?  Visions can be powerful tools.  I use visions in many areas of my life:  work, family, health.  My “music vision” continues to evolve, but core components are a pipe organ, choir loft, beautiful sanctuary with stained glass, singing a foreign language, decently paid, and pastoral support.

One church where I played last summer checked nearly all of these boxes.  It was gorgeous, like a jewel box or music box–a music box decked with jewels, perhaps.  I played on a 3-manual pipe organ and sang Italian hymns.  It had a choir loft, so I didn’t feel conspicuous.  It didn’t check one or two boxes, but otherwise, it was a music dream come true.

I knew less about the pipe organ when I began playing at that church than I do today.  When I sent in my resume, it was because I believed that I knew enough to get started, to pick up what I didn’t know, and to do a good job.

I had enough passion that I took the right steps to get hired, and filled in the gaps later.  I studied registration more closely–principals,  flutes and reeds; 8, 16, and 4 foot stops.  I learned about couplers.  At first, I relied primarily on pistons (pre-sets), but after a few weeks, I was doing my own registration (or selection of stops).

My vision got me to that point of playing the organ and singing Italian in a jewel-box of a church.  I can look back at various mistakes I’ve made–playing at the wrong time, missing a note or two, ending a hymn too soon–and congratulate myself.

Why?  In most lines of work, someone who is successful fails more than someone who isn’t successful; she just recovers more quickly from her failures.  Who remembers a missed note–or even notices? If I always played it safe, I wouldn’t leave my house.  Some of my “peak experiences,” or vivid memories that reveal my core values, involved stepping way out of my comfort zone, being scared silly, and taking action anyway.

Speaking of leaving my house, the first month I lived in Paris, I barely ventured outside my new neighborhood as I acclimated to new surroundings and a new language.  Yet by the end of the year, I felt at home in the City of Lights.  My comfort zone had widened.  I had learned to navigate the subway, shop for groceries and order lunch at a cafe–all in French.  I certainly hadn’t felt comfortable doing those things when I arrived.

Passion conquers fear, but not without courage and persistence.  We need to be willing to fail, and keep moving forward anyway, to make our dreams a reality.  So keep failing, keep succeeding, and you’ll move ever closer to your wildest dreams.

What is something that you’ve achieved in spite of adversity, because your passion was greater than your fear?  What challenges have you taken on because deep down, you knew that you had it in you?  Most importantly, how can you apply that learning to what you want next in your life?

Reaching for the Stars

I have always been an amateur psychology buff.  In college, I had a class in perceptual psychology,  but mostly I have dabbled in it on my own.  It is part of what led me to coaching.  I am endlessly curious about how our minds work, how we see the world and interpret what we see–what information we gather, and what meaning we assign to that information.

Over the years I have taken a few personality surveys.  I have also encouraged my loved ones to take them, with varying responses.  They aren’t for everyone, and that’s OK.  Personally, I find it fascinating to reflect on what drives and motivates us, what makes us flourish.

I find Myers-Briggs (MBTI) to be revealing and mostly on-point.  Like any paradigm, it has its limitations, but most of its insights resonate with me.  I took the MBTI twice, several years apart.  Interestingly, while my overall type hadn’t changed, my Intuition (I) and Judgment (J) factors had both mellowed considerably–allowing more room for their counterparts, Sensing (S) and Perceiving (P).  I believe we have innate preferences, but through our experiences and choices in how to see and engage with the world, we change.

Another survey I like is the VIA Character Strengths Survey, which measures 25 character strengths and lists them in relative proportion.  My top strength was “Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence,” followed by “Gratitude,” “Love,” and “Perspective.”  For me, this test is revelatory because it points to what I need to flourish–where I thrive and what saves me, as it were.  My top strengths remind me that to be happy, and fully myself, I need to seek opportunities to enjoy beauty, to love and be loved, and to practice gratitude.

How do I do this?  For example, taking my top strength, I look for oases of beauty in the drought of what could otherwise be a sterile week:

  • On a lunch break, I find refuge in a park around the corner with a waterfall and yellow hyacinths in bloom.  It truly restores me.
  • I make time to play the piano, organ, and sing.  Even on a busy weeknight, if fills me up and I leave feeling like myself again.
  • I listen to and watch others who are more talented than I am.  It inspires me and makes me feel alive.

Looking at our less-developed strengths is also a good learning opportunity.  One of my “less developed” strengths is “Bravery.”  The creators of the VIA survey write: “Identify an area in which you generally shy away from confrontations.  Practice the phrases, the tones, and the mannerisms that will enable you to effectively confront the situation next time.”

My first reaction to reading that was, “Are you kidding?”  Identifying confrontations is about the last thing I want to do.  My mind isn’t naturally wired for it.  Nonetheless, our minds are pliable–we can actually forge new neural pathways by changing our thoughts and habits.

And thus, we change and grow.

stars

Coaching asks for openness to seeing ourselves as we are today, seeing ourselves at our most magnificent core, and dedicating ourselves to moving bravely toward our truest self.  It can be a little scary.  At my Fulfillment class at CTI, one of the leaders drew this picture of our comfort zone, with stars outside of it, illustrating that to reach for the stars, we have to step outside our comfort zone.

So, if we’re uncomfortable, we’re doing something right.  Yet we don’t have to be constantly uncomfortable.  We’re allowed to take a step or two forward and stay there–or dance up and down the steps we’re familiar with–till we’ve gathered the resolve to take another step.  We get to be at choice.

CTI led us in a visioning exercise to develop a life purpose, phrased as “I am the ___ that ___.”  I was initially drawn to the image of a lighthouse, that illuminates others’ strengths.  Later, I was drawn to the vision of a lake where I canoed in rural Quebec, out of which came this working life purpose statement: “I am the deep lake that holds beauty within and around it.”

What does it mean and what is its impact?  I can honestly say that I don’t completely know, but that it centers and directs my life journey.  There is something compelling about the beauty of nature, art, music and writing that inhabits me–even simply the appreciation thereof.  What does it mean to hold beauty?  I hold it in my eye, ear, mind, and heart.  How will it impact others?  That story is still unfolding.

What are your top strengths and values, that when engaging in them, you feel the most like yourself?  Who are you at your deepest, most magnificent core?

I’d love to offer a sample phone call to explore your values and what you most want.  What matters?  What are you drawn to?  Call or email me to set up a session to move toward the stars.

Patience and Fortitude: Living in the Present

On my walks through the city, I often pass the main branch of the New York Public Library at 5th and 42nd.  Its entrance is guarded by two lions, named Patience and Fortitude by Mayor LaGuardia during the Great Depression to inspire New Yorkers.

Enduring hardships does require both patience and fortitude–whether something we want to pass (illness), or something we want to happen (starting a family).  Our peace lies in trusting the unknowns; our power lies in pursuing the knowable, taking steps to find out what information we can, and making choices that are in line with our greatest good.

This week, my neighbor and friend passed away over a long illness.  I was moved by how his courage and faith sustained him in difficult times.  They seemingly enabled him to immerse himself in the moment, whether that moment was ordinary or out of the ordinary…  playing with his 1 1/2 year old, watching a movie with friends from church, or taking a trip to Hawaii with his wife, where they had lived for several years.

In the midst of what must have been tremendous sorrow,  my friend was also filled with gratitude and hope.  I witnessed his openness to the grace of joyful moments that only come from living in the present.  He had a service mentality of looking for ways that he could help others and was mindful of what his legacy would be.

I was moved by his wife, as well, by her practice of living a day at a time.  Yet, she made plans.  She and her husband had planned for him to work as long as possible, while she cared for their baby, until he no longer could, at which time she returned to work.  She arranged for extra help.

She–and they–looked ahead to the extent that it was possible, from a place that was both heart-centered and practical.  With that in place, she lived in the present.  I’m sure she felt sadness and fear in ways I can’t imagine–yet what amazed me is that she also truly counted her blessings, and made time to express her care and concern for others.

As someone who can be impatient, I am inspired by both of their lives that I have witnessed.  I have been doing a lot of work around changing the things that I can in my life, and surrendering the future, which can’t be known or controlled.  We often have more power than we realize, both by changing our perspective, but also by taking concrete actions on our own behalf to improve our lives, follow our passions, and connect with others.

It’s a practice where I often stumble and grope in the dark through unfamiliar territory.  I’m tempted by the illusion of control–but in fact, I am led by as much light as I have today.  Tomorrow, I will be led by as much light as I need at that time.

Everything that I need is provided.  When I do the necessary footwork around what is within my power and trust that the rest will go exactly as it’s meant to, I feel more serene.  When I focus on what’s in front of me and the difference that I can make–in work, love, or any other area–my life and my faith grow bigger.

I’m deeply saddened by my friend’s passing, and for his family’s loss.  I’m also extremely grateful to have known such a shining soul, and to have witnessed his family’s path in a difficult time, living in a place of openness to love and grace.

Trapeze: Your Bravest, Most Fulfilled Self

On my 35th birthday last summer, my husband and I went to my friend’s trapeze show at Pier 40.  On a fairly major birthday, I couldn’t think of a more fun, inspiring activity than to watch my friend and her classmates fly through the air, with views of the NY skyline and the Husdon River in the background.

I admire my friend for many reasons. She follows her passions with a sense of adventure, pushing herself to do things that are a little scary.  I love her commitment to her vision of her ideal life.  It would be easy to settle for what is already known, safe, and comfortable.  Instead, she embraces the amazing life she has today and risks moving towards an even more amazing life.

Not everyone needs to go to trapeze school (heck, most of the country doesn’t have a trapeze school within 100 miles), but there are so many ways we can practice courage in our everyday lives.  It’s exciting to challenge ourselves, to have something to work towards–whether in our career, health, or personal development.

This year, I’m excited about writing this blog, connecting with readers, and growing my coaching practice (read more about that here on my Coaching page).  I set goals for myself such as posting twice a week, reaching out on social media, and reading other coaches’ blogs to clarify my own approach to my practice and to connect with a community.

Change is risky–I’m not in control of the results–but doing something new can be worth the risk.  It can actually be costlier not to risk doing something differently!

I need courage to balance my coaching practice with my work in publishing and music; spending time with family; and self-care.  However, I wouldn’t trade any of it–I’m very grateful for an abundant life.

I admire my parents for their courage, as well.  My mother was a university English professor who completed her dissertation when I was in my teens and early 20’s.  The experience impacted her so profoundly that she started her own business, NW Coaching, as a dissertation and life coach, helping others to complete their own dissertations by setting goals and breaking them down into manageable baby steps.

My father showed persistence and dedication in his lengthy career as a government economist and senior executive.  He honored his top values, family and career.  It couldn’t have been easy to balance the two.

It can be gutsy to work hard, and equally gutsy to work less.  My dad transitioned from a busy career to retirement, and is now enjoying pursuing other interests and spending more time with my mother and his extended family.  My mother also left one of her jobs to spend more time with my father.

Life presents us with all sorts of choices that have the potential to lead us into our most fulfilled selves.

What’s one area of your life where courage could be an ally in making great strides towards your goals?  What area of your career, health, or personal life do you most want to improve or enhance?  What are you passionate about?

How daring and fulfilling a life could you live, if you allow yourself to picture it?

Falling Down: Adventures in Skiing

After Christmas, my husband and I went skiing for a couple of days in the Poconos.  It was our first ski trip in 7 years, so as you might expect, we didn’t instantly have our ski legs back.  In fact, as we approached the ski lift on our first time up, we were rather unceremoniously knocked to the ground when we mistimed the lift’s arrival.  Well, I think I mistimed it, moved forward too soon, and consequently knocked my husband to the ground, as well.  The guy working the lift made the rather unhelpful comment, “You’ve got to watch where you’re going.”

In spite of a rocky start, it was a wonderful chance to recharge our batteries, now that the flurry of entertaining and being entertained was over, not to mention all of the Christmastime singing and playing that comes with being musicians (6 times over 5 days)!  The Victorian-style B&B with a step-up bathtub didn’t hurt, either.  When else do I take candlelit baths?

However, I was reminded that the gifts didn’t only come when things went smoothly–when I glided down the slopes as if I had been on skis since the age of 4, like quite a few kids we saw on our trip.  The gifts also came from that small opening when things didn’t quite go according to plan, and in the ability to choose my response.

My other notable fall was one I’m proud of.  On our second day of skiing, Kevin and I were feeling pretty confident.  We had navigated all but two slopes, including several black diamonds.  We were exhilarated.  Kevin was mostly in charge of keeping track of which slopes we had skiied (I attribute it to his Master’s of Library Science degree) and shared that we hadn’t tried Mohawk, so we glided over to check it out.

It was starting to get dark.  The sky was a beautiful, deep blue.  We looked over the edge of the cliff.  It was steep.  It had moguls.  Kevin asked, “what do you think?”  I knew if I thought too much about it, I’d lose my nerve, so I said, “I’m going down,” and off I went.

I didn’t last more than 10 seconds before tumbling over a mogul (not knowing the trick was to go AROUND  it), losing a ski several feet up the slope from where I landed in the process.  No twisted ankles, only bruised pride, as other skiiers could see me from the lift above as I fumbled uphill towards my ski.

Yet I knew even in that moment this was a win.  I had ventured something difficult, and was still alive to celebrate that fact.  My fear had not held me back, and the stakes were not really that high.  (If I had feared veering into the woods, I wouldn’t have attempted it–or would have at least considered wearing a helmet!)

How many times do we not try something because we imagine it will be too hard or we’re afraid the results will be messy, imperfect?  Yet there I was, on mogul-riddled Mohawk, the sky growing ever darker, not too proud to accept help from a more experienced skiier who stopped to retrieve my ski.  He helped me reattach it, each of us clumsily balancing with our poles on the steep pitch of the mountain, then off we went our separate ways.  While I did feel slight embarrassment, I focused on my pleasure at making it down the mountain without another fall, and my gratitude for my own bravery and daring.  Not recklessness–but willingness to risk results that were uncertain, messy, an imperfect and fun adventure.

Daring in Webster’s:

1: willing to do dangerous or difficult things

2: showing a lack of fear
I think “showing” is a key word. Acting in spite of fear, not letting it dictate one’s actions.

When have you acted in spite of your fears?  I’d love to read your comments!