3 Life Lessons From 2013

questioningI know it is well into the new year and many of us are focused on working on our resolutions and looking ahead to lighter, richer, healthier, better version of ourselves. But, I’m not quite ready to close the book on lucky 13. Before I bid adieu to el Año Viejo, I feel it’s important to reflect on what life had to teach me last year. For me it was a great year with challenges, achievements, wins, and losses. Each small experience brought to me life lessons. Below are three of the big takeaways from 2013 that I wish to share with you:

 

Helping people make positive change should feel as good as spreading soft butter on warm toast

I love mentoring and coaching people to help them achieve their dreams. I mentored friends, colleagues, and students throughout my career as a natural byproduct of my work, but this year I was fortunate to have a job as a coach and work with people from all over the country. This summer I had a couple of coaching and mentoring experiences that were very challenging. The goals were not the issue, it was how I felt about the progress they were making. I felt frustrated and anxious at not being able to truly identify the best way to be helpful and have them move things along more quickly. I tried different tactics and continued to feel uneasy with my approach. I sometimes doubted my abilities as a coach and wondered if I was asking the right questions. Yet, other people I was coaching were making great progress and it was thrilling to see how each session was opening up new ways of thinking. In the end I learned this: people can only work on the things that that they are ready to face – and that goes for professional as well as for personal issues. It dawned on me that I have seen this kind of resistance to change in myself. When we are truly ready to deal with the barriers that hold us back then we become more open to help and more pliable to change. Those people who sailed ahead with a little bit of coaching were truly ready for it and helping them felt as good and easy as spreading soft butter on warm toast. For myself I learned that be most helpful to people I have to match their pace. If their pace is at a standstill, that’s as far as it will go and that is okay.

True friends are superheroes that show their superpowers in times of distress.

Some lessons come in the ways of do’s and don’ts. This is the case with this lesson. Throughout my life I have considered myself surrounded by lots of friends. The main reason for this is because I called everyone a friend. If I knew only a little bit about you then bam!, he or she was a friend. If we had done some work together or shared an experience, that meant we were automatically friends. You can see that I had set a pretty low bar to friendship and it came back to bite me. So the lesson for me here was don’t set the bar to friendship so low that I can trip on it and fall on my face 🙂  But, the real takeaway comes from the incredibly beautiful experience of seeing my true friends emerge by my side when I was facing difficult times. My friends (and I use that title very carefully now) have become larger than life superheroes in my life giving me their attention, support, love and constant reassurances. They have deflected negativity with one swoop  WOOSH!, crushed my self-doubt with a single blow CRASH!, and kicked fear right in the gut. POW! Their counsel, advice, and shoulders to lean on have been the most precious gift any one could receive. True friends, like Superheroes, are rare indeed.

Work towards what you want but let go of the outcome

I am a big believer in visioning. If you can envision what you want, I believe that you will get what you want. Where I get discouraged is when the path towards my vision seems to take me off course, or if it does not line up with the steps I thought it would take, or if it’s taking much longer than I thought. The frustration comes in when I feel I cannot control the steps or the speed with which I am making progress towards my vision. From the prior two takeaways I learned this: I cannot control the outcome. How things wrap up or end up are not for me to own because all who are involved share and contribute to that outcome. I can feel elated or disappointed about the result but it is not for me to own as if my actions alone were the catalyst. The best thing I did in 2013 was to surrender. To surrender is hard but also uplifting. To surrender does not mean giving up my power, rather it is a way to release my power from the box I had constructed around it. If you’re looking to feel lighter in 2014, try surrendering. It works!

If you would like to share your big takeaways from 2013, write them in the comments section and I will post them in a special page for all of us to read.

Feliz y Prospero 2014!

Much Love,

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One More Thing About Good Leaders

Good leaders, like other humans, have flaws (GASP!) that can ultimately derail their careers

A lot has been said about leaders. Good leaders are inspirational, fearless, visionary, ethical, exemplary, servant, tireless. We know that good leaders surround themselves with competent people and they don’t know everything yet can make everything happen. Leaders share a lot of good qualities. But, leaders are not the superheroes they are purported to be. They, like other humans, have flaws (GASP!) that can ultimately derail their careers.

Today I wanted to write about the leaders I have been privileged to know but with an honest assessment of their qualities and their flaws. Collectively, these leaders are a bouquet of personalities – some are like exotic flowers bursting with color, and others like an unassuming spray of baby’s breath. But all have taught me important lessons about leadership. These are not their real names.

Ernie was a leader who taught me a lot about leadership. He was confident, fearless and he really stood by his team. As a team leader, he was demanding but willing to take the time to teach and guide you through the project. His communications style was direct and clear so there was never any doubt about what he expected from us. And, he expected excellence. What I admired most about Ernie was that he was willing to provide every opportunity for me and others to be seen and recognized by upper management for the work that we did. Ernie could be harsh at times and was quick to lose his temper. He had earned a reputation for his lack of control when there was a disagreement or a dispute. Ernie was passionate and dedicated to his work and his team. He had many good leadership qualities and for me he was a great leader.  Ernie was driven by quality and he made me feel challenged, appreciated, and part of a team with a single objective, to do our best.

Lucia was the opposite of Ernie. If I had a word to describe Lucia it would be consistent. Lucia was driven by her desire to help people in need and she diligently and consistently sought resources for others wherever she went. She was a visionary. Though she led a small team, the challenges she took on were huge because her vision was gigantic. What I admired most about Lucia was her ability to build relationships with people from different backgrounds. It was incredible to watch her meet someone new and within one meeting, the relationship would flourish into a friendship of mutual admiration. Lucia, like Ernie, was passionate and dedicated. But her approach was more like a diplomat’s. She was always graceful, complimentary, yet Lucia was singularly focused on her vision. Her focus was so singular that she failed to see pitfalls at times. I am grateful for Lucia because she made me feel like I was part of something big.

Sarah was a tough leader. She set high expectations and would not hold back any criticism. I was instantly afraid of her and impressed by her at the same time. She was outspoken and quick to set the tone and the pace for how things were going to go. One-on-one, Sarah would open up and let you see her heart. She took an interest in you and would give you advice, if you needed it. I believe that Sarah was driven by her desire to change people’s lives and to duplicate her success for those who were willing to be her student. Unfortunately, that left out a number of people on her team.  For Sarah, it was her way or no way. I admired Sarah because she took the time to coach and champion people. She gave me great advice.

From these great people I learned that leaders do not always see their flaws. Good leaders like these will get us to challenge ourselves, to feel like we’re part of something big, to feel like we can do anything, because they have our backs. But, in their blind spot may be an uncontrollable passion, a brick tunnel focus on their vision, or a fierce loyalty to their own way of thinking. Ernie did not see that he was seen by management as a bull in a china shop. Lucia did not see that some relationships required less attention and others greater care. Sarah did not see that her management style created rivaling sides on the same team.

Leadership must be accompanied by a healthy dose of humility and an acute awareness of our fallibility. After stepping down as a leader in my organization I was disappointed to see that my strength in maintaining a positive and team-oriented office culture had also been my weakness. I failed to see reporting conflicts and the competing subgroups that were created due our management culture. Lessons from my flaws, and of others, can only prepare me to do it better next time.

Much Love,

 

 

 

Creating A Vision Board

So the first quarter of the year is behind us and some of us (okay, me) have gotten off track from our annual goals. Weather, illness, schedule and plain-ol’ laziness are the culprits for not keeping up with my running goals. This week’s blog is a repost that is going to help me. It is written by my friend and guest blogger, Janie Montoya-Ledet. Janie has accomplished a lot in avery short time and she shares with us her recipe for success with the help of vision boards. Right now I need that visual cue to keep me committed and focused on my 2012 goals. I hope you will also find it useful. 

The beginning of a new year is a great time to set goals. Unfortunately, it’s so easy for New Year’s resolutions to be pushed aside and forgotten over time. Want a way to make them stick? Try vision boarding!

A vision board is a big board used to post your goals and dreams. The process of creating one helps you clarify the exact results you want to achieve. It also serves as a reminder and motivator every time you look at it.

Step 1. Write 4 or 5 specific goals

Write down your goals/dreams and leave plenty of space between them. Starting with too many can be overwhelming, sojust pick a few. You can always add more later.

Step 2. Envision/clarify results

Underneath each goal, write down the specific results you want. Ask yourself the following questions: How will I know I am finished achieving this goal? How will I measure my progress? How will I feel? What does it look like? Where do I picture myself when I’ve achieved my goal? What am I doing? For example, underneath “Get Healthy” , I might write “Feel sexy enough to wear a bikini to the pool this summer.” and “Meditate during yoga so my mind is peaceful and happy”. Try to stay focused on positive action statements instead of writing down things you wish to avoid. For instance, instead of “Eat less junk food”, change it to “Eat more fruits and vegetables”. This will help you prepare for the next step.

Step 3. Gather supplies

You will need:

Cork board (or a large poster board)

Stack of magazines

Scissors

Thumb tacks (or tape)

 

Go through the magazines and clip pictures that will remind you of your goals. Cut out large words or numbers if they are important to the goal, but if possible use exclusively pictures. They are much more descriptive than words. Scrap booking aisles are a great place to find stickers you can use. I recommend cutting out stickers and not peeling them off of their backing so you can move them around and enable yourself to reuse the cork board later.

 

Step 4. Put pictures on your board

Using the thumbtacks (or tape), place the pictures onto your board in groups. As you work, new goals or ideas will probably come to you. Add as much as you want, and re-arrange as needed. If you think of another image you can use, go back to the previous step and gather more pictures. On my first vision board, I replaced a picture of a baby boy with some little pink baby girl footprints, and

within 2 months I was pregnant with a baby girl. Be specific!

 

Step 5. Hang it

Hang your board somewhere you will see it daily. Hanging it in the kitchen is a good idea if you wish to enlist the help of your friends and family in achieving your goals. If your goals are a little bit more private, perhaps a bedroom or closet is a more suitable place to hang it. If you feel an urge to hide it, ask yourself why. Showing it to someone you trust, may help you move closer to your goal. There is something very powerful about broadcasting your desires out into the universe.

 

Step 6. Celebrate

Accept progress towards your goals in whatever form it comes. Sometimes you will achieve a feeling that you wanted (e.g. happiness, peace-of-mind) in some other way than what you originally wrote on your list of goals. Recognize and celebrate each time you achieve something on your board. Once your goal is completed, remove it to make room for another goal, or add another picture if you’d like to work on another aspect of the same goal.

 

I read this blog frequently, so post any questions or comments about vision-boarding and I will respond. Good luck!

Much Love,

Pushing Ourselves To Excellence

It was pretty early in my life when I figured out that I could excel. I turned my homework in on time, wrote neatly, and colored within the lines and voila! “Excellent!”, exclamation point included, was written across my work. Assignments, papers, and report cards repeatedly told me and my parents that I was excellent and this was rewarding. Excellence, in my formative years, meant that I conformed to behavioral norms, that I did what was asked of me, when it was asked of me, and that I followed instructions well. Then one day, my fifth-grade math teacher told me that I was being transferred to a higher level math class. I was scared. Would I still be excellent in the new math class? I feared that I would not be able to keep up. My new teacher handed me my book and said that since the class had started three weeks ago I could turn in my homework by the end of the week. That night I finished all of the chapters that were required by week’s end. The next night, I did more, and the next night, more chapters. I wanted to prove to her and to myself that I could do the work. At the end of the week I turned in my homework. I had completed all of the problems in the entire book.  My teacher was astonished and even showed my completed work to the other teachers. I could see that I had done something truly unexpected.

This early experience taught me that excellence is more than just doing what you can do or what you’re asked to do, but going far beyond what others expect of you.  Employee evaluations systems reward employees who not just meet but exceed expectations. Until not too long ago, that was fairly easy to do.  But in today’s economy, when companies have kept minimal levels of employment, exceeding expectations is far more difficult. Today, employers expect that we do the job of two or three people, that we work 50 to 60-hour weeks, that we overbook our calendars, that we meet impossible deadlines and that we be accessible to their needs 24/7.  Forget giving 110 percent, employees are giving 200 percent, only they are doing it from a place of fear not empowerment. 

Someone who is depleted of their energy is not going to be excellent. And, would you agree that part of what motivates us to push ourselves farther is recognition? When someone recognizes that fire in us and says,” hey great job, you’re excellent,” we want to do more. Expectations are so high that even If you are giving it your best, it just seems like good enough. You might like the article, The Productivity Paradox: How Sony Pictures Gets More Out of People By Demanding Less by Tony Schwartz. This article talks about the transformation at Sony Pictures that led to a happier more productive team. Unfortunately, it may be a bit longer before other employers realize that their future growth is at risk due to employee burnout. If you’re feeling like you can’t do any more, here are 6 steps that could help you to push yourself to excellence.

Step  1. Get some rest. If you are exhausted, your body’s systems are not functioning properly. Your body needs sleep so that it can rebuild cells, proteins, and enzymes that you need to function. If your job requires you to work late, try to at least get out early on Friday and try to sleep for most of the weekend, if you can, or try to add one more hour of sleep every day by going to bed earlier than normal.

Step 2. Eat better. I know, when you’re super busy, fast food, takeout, the vending machine, and the coffee pot become your best friends. But, you are depleting your body of the very thing it needs  – energy. When you need to perform at your best, whether you are athlete or a graphic artist, you need good fuel.

Step 3. Set weekly goals for the right priorities. Of all of the things that you have to accomplish, which ones are really critical to your job? Don’t fall into the trap of believing that all are. Find out which ones are the top priorities for your boss and make time for those. Set weekly goals around those priorities and arrange your schedule so that you can dedicate time to achieving those goals.

Step 4. What Has No One Else Thought of? Consider your priorities and ask yourself, what has no one else thought of? What could I do differently to make this outcome better? Ask yourself these questions to gain a different perspective on what you’re doing and to open your mind to creativity. You may come up with a creative solution, or a better way of doing things.

Step 5. Believe In Your Ideas. You may have some great ideas that will never see the light of day because you don’t believe in them. Believe in yourself and know that for every good idea that was ever offered, dozens of bad ideas preceded it. The point is to generate ideas so that you can find the one that will work. Document your ideas, analyze them and rank them.  Share your top three to five ideas with your boss and be prepared to make a business case for them. 

Step 6. Reward yourself. Hey, if your employer won’t do it, then do it for yourself. Rewards work no matter who they come from. If you feel you did something really well, give yourself a well-deserved reward, and say, “This is for being excellent.”

We are capable of amazing feats. Even when we think we don’t have one more ounce to give, that we can’t run one more mile, that we can’t write one more report, that we can’t present another meeting, we step up and astonish everyone, even ourselves. I pray that you will find something helpful in this blog as you push yourself to excellence again.

Much Love,

Link to the article: http://hbr.org/2010/06/the-productivity-paradox-how-sony-pictures-gets-more-out-of-people-by-demanding-less/ar/1

Awaken Your Creative Side

(first published on January 16, 2011)

Singing at a high school play rehearsal

Hello readers. You are my source of energy today. Once again my system is under siege by a cold that is concentrating its attack on my throat and my head. I don’t get sick but once a year so to have a cold when I got over one six weeks ago is a real bummer. The feedback I receive from those of you who read this blog is what’s keeping me on my writing schedule. Thank you.

It’s my PMS or my cold that drove me to seek comfort in classical music. With iPod attached to my arm, and hands covered in bread flour, I invited the three tenors, Luciano Pavarotti, Jose Carreras and Placido Domingo, to serenade me into a better mood. Hearing their beautiful voices brought me back to a time when I felt that singing was my life and if I couldn’t sing that I would surely die. In my tween to teen years, singing and drawing gave me pure joy. I didn’t understand it then, but today I see that those two activities were expressions of my feelings. Music helped those feelings surface like soap floating in water. Listening to the music this morning brought to the surface some raw emotions, which was exactly how my throat was feeling. I felt deep longing and sadness as the music crescendo-ed (can I used this as a verb?). It was a sadness for what I had abandoned and tucked tightly away in a dark corner because of self doubt and frustration. It was a longing for the things I used to enjoy that are not a part of my life anymore. The longing to sing to the music I love, classical and musical theater. Honestly for all the singing I did in my youth, it’s interesting that I don’t even sing in the shower.

I don’t remember when I started to sing but what I do remember clearly singing incessantly at my grandmother’s house. My grandmother was a serious, stern and stoic woman. For her, there was no better sound than the male singing voice.  I knew then I would never be good enough for her ears.  It didn’t stop me from singing though.

In my teenage years I fell in love with opera and musical theater. My favorite pieces were the ones I could sing. Some of my favorites were Barbra Streisand and Sandy Patti.  I got my chance to stretch my vocal chords all up and down the scale in the school choir and in drama.  I even got the part of Maria in Sound of Music – no, seriously. Thank goodness the director did not see a need to make me look Austrian.  I never studied music so I don’t sightread or play an instrument but, I managed to get auditions and had the opportunities to sing in choirs at the university and in a semi-professional community choir. But, as life got busier, singing went from being an everyday joy, to a hobby, to silence. I still listen to music and have learned to appreciate many more genres like jazz, R&B, Hip-Hop, Classic Rock, Blues, Latin, Flamenco, Copla, etc. 

As the music continued, ideas bounced around in my ahead about how I could awaken this part of myself. I could take voice lessons or I could join a choir.  I just want to sing that’s all. So, my winning idea was to learn all of the songs that are in the Three Tenors CD. I am sure I can find the lyrics online and spend a couple of evenings a week rehearsing and learning the music. I will sing for the pure joy of singing and not worry about being good enough. Is there something, a talent or a hobby, you loved to do when you were younger but you don’t do it anymore? I believe that we were our true selves when we were children and felt free to express our natural talents. Is there a talent you let stay dormant because someone told you that it was too competitive or too costly? Or, that you were not good enough or would never make any money doing? What would happen if you started doing that again, just for the pure joy of it? Will you join me and find out?

The bread was rising and so were all of my emotions as Luciano Pavarotti sang Nessun Dorma into my ears. This song is so beautiful that it will make you cry. But, my tears were for other reasons. My brother is a professional comedian and singer and he lives in Europe with his family. For my wedding, he sang the most beautiful rendition of Nessun Dorma and that truly special moment will forever live in my memory. It was Pavarotti’s voice but my brother’s funny gestures and muecas I saw in my mind…my brother infuses comedy into everything. I miss him terribly and I am his biggest fan. 

As I finish tonight’s blog I wanted to share that the Three Tenors reminded me how much they missed me singing along with them. Unfortunately, they will have to wait until my throat and sinuses heal, but I’m sure they’ll understand.

 Much Love