Obstacles into Opportunities

The Bullied Can Bully Too

Workplace Bullying. It is a crime. http://www.diversity-report.com/diversity-report/workplace-bullying-it-is-a-crime/

Workplace Bullying. It is a crime. http://www.diversity-report.com/diversity-report/workplace-bullying-it-is-a-crime/

Have you ever had the experience of a book flying off a bookstore shelf and landing in your hands…literally? This is what happened with Katherine Preston’s Out With It: How Stuttering Helped Me Find My Voice. As someone who lived through a childhood and adolescence with various orthodontic devices and extreme embarrassment over the impact these devices had on her ability to communicate, Preston’s part autographic, part ethnographic account of growing up with a stutter landed in the right hands. While I’m less than 100 pages in and fortunate not to have experienced a long-lasting speech impediment, I’ve been impacted by Preston’s description of her own anger over her disability.

I’d forgotten how angry I was for so many years feeling like I couldn’t communicate aloud with the clarity my thoughts had when I shaped and listened to them in my head. Like Preston, my communication at times elicited sneers and pity from my peers. And if the term bullying were around when I was a kid, I likely would have placed myself in the category of being bullied.

But if I’m honest, I also could be the bully. The anger I at times felt towards the effortless communicators in the world and the self-loathing I felt for myself for not having been similarly granted an access pass meant that I could be really awful to other kids if and when they were more vulnerable than me. And as I grew up, shed the metal, and experienced some status at my all girls’ high school, I definitely got–I think it would be fair to say–a little more awful. I felt entitled to gossip. To make-up excuses to avoid hanging out with certain girls. To flip flop between best friends depending on who served me more on a given week. I’d paid my dues in elementary and middle school. Up until Preston’s book, though, I didn’t have a chapter in my autobiography for my brief stint as a bully. I was simply the ‘victim’ until I wasn’t.

That’s the danger with how we think about bullying–whether we are talking about it on the playground or in the boardroom. Most of us have found ourselves in both the role of bully and bullied, yet very few of us identify ourselves by the former behavior. It’s something we do, but it’s not the truth of us. Unfortunately, as conversations with a few people I went to high school with would prove–I suspect–we might be deluding ourselves to think that others don’t define us by our at times bullying behaviors.

While most of us recognize that when we are yelling we are entering our bully zone, we can ignore and fail to take responsibility for curbing some equally dangerous adult  bullying communication behaviors.

1. Using  jokes and sarcasm to wrap insults and judgments. Trust me, as the recipient of much of this from a s0-called friend when I was in my early 20s, the recipient always knows you are not really kidding.

2. Making feedback personal. Focus on the behaviors you want someone to adjust. Leave the story you’ve created around what happened, somebody’s personality, and your own ego out of it.

3. Giving ultimatums–be they spoken or implied. Use your power to give people choices. Even if none are perfect, there is nothing more crushing than someone with more power than us using her or his authority, knowledge, or position to make us feel backed into a corner.

4. Triangulation. If you’ve got an issue with someone, step into your moxie and go speak directly with him or her.

5. Sharing a confidant’s private information. If you feel that you must share, let the person know. And as scary as it must be, tell her or him why.

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Why Saying ‘No’ to Your Biggest Opportunity May Be Your Biggest Opportunity

I am back! I don’t use these three words lightly. While I am still navigating the unfamiliar territory of integrating my professional life into my personal one since the birth of my daughter, I know that the storm clouds that settled over me during the first few months of her life have lifted. Many factors have played a role in overcoming my at times suffocating postpartum depression, which I eluded to several weeks back. One of the most important ones was saying ‘no’ to what a year ago I would have called a dream opportunity.

The day I received an invitation to debate the merits of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In on a cable news show, I had spent the morning on my couch hugging my daughter while simultaneously trying to shield her from seeing me move through many rounds of tears prompted by insomnia, anxiety, and what I would learn a few weeks later were dramatically low levels of progesterone and estrogen. Nonetheless, I could feel myself learning towards saying ‘yes.’

Get gussied up, fly to New York City in a week, and film a segment on a topic I’m passionate about…that sounds like a dream vacation away from myself.

Which is exactly why I ultimately said ‘no’.

I knew that saying ‘yes’ felt easier. And if there was any hope of me beating my PPD, I needed to be all in to my recovery. I needed to be present with all of the discomfort of how I felt in order to move it through. I needed to be present with my daughter, even though I was embarrassed by the mother she was seeing, to continue the bonding process that was stagnating. And I definitely needed to be present to get to the bottom of what I sensed was a chemical misfire in my body to reclaim my life. Saying ‘no’ felt scary as hell, so I had to say it.

Now that some weeks have passed, my hormones are regulating, and I have watched the segment I would have been on, I also know that the context was off. This was a cable news show where I would be arguing the minority position. While I love a rhetorical challenge, getting positioned as a wacka doodle in the midst of a depression may not have been as perfect of an experience as I initially made it sound to myself. It’s easy to idealize an opportunity, or as I did for a couple of days, convince ourselves that if we say ‘no’ we are making a drastic mistake. Sometimes almost right is entirely wrong…as this would have been.

Another key factor in passing was recognizing I couldn’t prepare the way I would have wanted. Yes, I had spoken about Lean In during a previous TV interview, but I have been out of the TV game since I’ve been pregnant. And there is a big difference between rehearsing for a guest expert interview and rehearsing for a debate when the host of the program you are on, and the person you are debating, are both taking the other side. I don’t believe that all press is good press. Without having the time to prepare out loud my main and supporting points, having studies and statistics at the ready, and feeling at ease receiving snarky comments, I would have under performed. And as a result when I time traveled back to my ‘real’ life, I would be returning feeling weak in the one area that had previously been giving me strength…setting me even further back in my healing.

Finally, I was tricking myself by framing this as my ‘biggest opportunity’. While I still am passionate about developing my media platform, participating in another TV segment no matter how high profile would only be fulfilling what is now a secondary goal rather than a more primary one–recovering from PPD and enjoying the miracle that is my daughter. In hindsight, I see I often have a habit of clinging to an outdated goal rather than giving voice to the one that represents where I am now. Has this ever been true for you?

I’m grateful to hold space for a lot of my clients’ deepest desires. Yet I’m realizing that a lot of what they are chasing, and a lot of how they are talking to themselves, building relationships, pitching their visions, etc. while they are doing said chasing, runs counter to what they say they really want for themselves…now. ‘Big’ is not always ‘best’.

Which opportunities that you are seeking would allow you to live what thought leader Danielle LaPorte refers to as your core desired feelings? Go after these. Identifying how you want to feel in the process and after the achievement of your goals and asking yourself whether your goals would enable these feelings is your best litmus test for whether you are on your best path. For aren’t we all just trying to achieve and sustain the feelings that make us feel like our truest selves?

I know that my core desired feelings are joy, gratitude, impact, and of course moxie. And right now, my greatest act of moxie is committing myself fully to hearing the new sound of my voice–one that has as much space for my insecurities as my successes, that can articulate my clarity and confusion, that can speak the awe I feel for the incredible being I gave birth to even in moments where the only ‘aw’ I’m experiencing is followed by a ‘ful’. Fortunately, the more that I make moment-to-moment as well as more long-term decisions with this in mind, the more that ‘awe’ wins and the ‘ful’ abates.

How can you consistently create space as well as design and rework your goals to hear the truth of your own voice?

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Musings from the 4th Trimester: The Message in the Mess

It’s good to temporarily interrupt my newsletter/blog leave of absence to offer you fresh content this week. Wow, has 2014 given me a lot—the greatest joy I have ever experienced in the form of my daughter, Kaia, and…a big kick in the tuchus (as my dad would say).

I wish I could report that my first weeks as a mom have gone exactly, or even remotely, as planned. After all, I had one of the most idyllic pregnancies. Sure, there were some minor speed bumps—an unexplained fully body rash in my second trimester, a week of sciatica shortly after, and some discomfort in previously mentioned tuchus in the third trimester (I promise to be light on details and allow you to visualize whatever you choose to or choose not to see.) The point is, all in all, I felt great.

Moxie Maven Alexia Vernon Prenatal Yoga

As this picture taken just a month before I delivered suggests, I was (for the most part) active, glowing, and ready to be that mom whose picture makes other aspiring moms think, “Okay, I can be a mom and a moxie maven.”

Now, I want to smack that mom and, honestly, anyone who paints a picture of her or his life as so perfect it saddens or outright shames others who are comparing themselves against that unattainable ideal.

In the last 24-hours preceding Kaia’s birth it became very clear that the so-called plan—from labor on—wasn’t going to happen. My fantasy of a non-medicated, hypnobirth followed by a happy, breastfeeding baby was as much an illusion as the pictures of celebrity moms on the covers of magazines I’d idealized and internalized.

At 40.5 weeks, after various medical professionals I trust swore that my amniotic fluid was low despite how it was measuring and strained their faces with worry after noticing fetal distress on my electronic monitoring tests, the choice was made to induce. Within 24-hours of having just about every medicine or procedure I specified in my birth plan I didn’t want administered, I delivered my 7 pound kiddo, complete with a head of hair that would make most older adults seethe with envy. During the first hours as she lay on my chest flickering her baby blues up at mine I thought, ever the optimist and positive protagonist in her own story, the mess is over. I’m in love with this heavenly creature I somehow created, and it will be smooth sailing from here. Time to put Kaia in the Ergobaby, head to mommy and me yoga, and grab a green juice on the way home.

Kaia's Baby Blues - Reduced

Silly, silly me. While my daughter was essentially healthy, thank goodness, the next 48-hours would bring what felt like a constant succession of sucker punches to my very fragile body. From learning I had almost no milk supply, to discovering my girl inherited the posterior tongue tie/tongue thrust I’ve made a staple of so many of my presentations, to the first love of my life—my cat Plato, passing, to an emergency visit to the pediatrician over precious Kaia not passing any urine, the blows just kept on coming.  I would go on to spend the majority of my first month hooked up to a breast pump, battling a variety of different infections in my various female parts (again, I’ll spare you the details), and pushing through postpartum depression and extreme anxiety.

I know the so-called blows will keep coming. I’m the mother of a newborn. And a human being designed to encounter setbacks. As I write to you today (several weeks before you are reading this), I have a mask on my face. For despite holing myself up in my home most days and using obscene amounts of hot water and soap on my hands, I somehow managed to come down with a cold and I’m desperately trying to protect Kaia from it.

What I’m getting pretty clear on, and what I think matters about my messes for you, is as follows:

1. Plans are important. As is knowing when it’s time to toss them. While I really really, make that really really really really wanted a natural childbirth, and spent hours concocting a birth plan and making enough copies for everyone who might possibly come into contact with me in the hospital to know what that birth plan was, I knew when it was time to take it off the wall and file it in my new mommy memory book. Same thing with so many of my other “this is how I intend to mother” plans. I don’t, however, regret making any of my plans—although I wish I hadn’t made so many of them so black and white. Or, I hate to admit, quietly judged other women who made choices counter to mine. Tremendous growth happens when we have a strong intention, we use our personal power to try to actualize it, and it doesn’t happen. Even greater growth and heaps of humility happen when we find ourselves living plans we had previously judged others for making.

2. You can ALWAYS find moments of silence. While infants may sleep 16-18 hours per day, the truth is that most of that time this mom is running around cleaning bottles, doing laundry, prepping meals, or planning for my Influencer Academy sessions. And when my little dumpling is awake and not crying, she needs me for food, to change a diaper, to soothe her, to entertain her…sometimes it feels like all of the above simultaneously. Yet on most days, we still manage to meditate together. I hold her on my chest, play a guided meditation, and we breathe together. Sure, I’m not in perfect posture. Sometimes I’m having to do a lot of shushing throughout. Yet whether we make it through 2 minutes or 10 minutes, both of us emerge more present and still as a result. I need that time. And you need that time. Make it happen no matter what your circumstances are.

3. You have to feel what you are feeling—and tell the truth about it. The baby blues hit many women, yours truly included. And when they hit on top of you grieving the loss of a loved one, as mine did, they can be ugly. The problem for me was that I spent my first 3 weeks pretending I was fine. Tired, but fine. And then I came home a few weeks back after a pitch perfect Influencer Academy session and sobbed secretly in my bathroom like I’d never sobbed before. And unfortunately that sob gave way to a lot of crying and at times dry heaving over the next week. (Oh, the poor cashier at Target who asked how my day was and didn’t know what to do when I started a round of tears at her register.) I wish I hadn’t waited to feel what I needed to feel. Perhaps my milk supply might have come in on schedule, I wouldn’t have gotten sick, I may have been able to sleep when Kaia did, and most importantly, I would have healed a lot faster. Physically and emotionally. You can’t suppress emotions. You can keep them in a bottle but eventually the pressure will pop the lid off and then you have a real mess to clean up.

And while you are feeling all that it is you are feeling, or at least shortly after when you have your stamina back, be honest about it. That has been my saving grace. I’ve spoken to my family, my closest friends, my Influencer Academy women, and now several thousand of you about the reality of my first weeks as a new mom. When we pretend that everything is fine or even worse, make it sound perfect, we miss an opportunity to show others that it’s normal and okay to experience rough times. And so much of my pain, and I believe others’ pain, is wrapped up in thinking that other people are thriving in the same situations we feel like we are sinking in. We need to hear more stories of people struggling in their careers and lives AND how they are bulldozing through.

4. Sometimes the only thing that you can intuit is that you are in way over your head. When that happens, ask for help. While I spent a lot of hours of my pregnancy in birthing classes, decorating my home, and doing a lot of other relatively fun but in the grand scheme of things useless activities waiting for Kaia to move from womb to world, I did not spend any time mastering what I really needed to know as a new mom—like how to change a diaper, swaddle a baby, or even get a car seat in and out of the car. The best thing I did in my initial postpartum days was plead with my husband to extend his leave of absence from work and encourage my mom to live with us until I got up to speed. It’s great to build a strong team to support us in advance, but sometimes we don’t know the people we need on a team or the roles we need them to play until a crisis feels imminent or is actually unfolding. In these situations it’s vital to use our most direct communication with the people we have around us and say, without mincing words, “I need your help.”

I’ve thrown a lot at you in this blog post/newsletter. My hope is that whether you can relate to some of the messes I’ve described or not that you recognize that your messes are here to teach you.

To strengthen you.

To show you the complicated, vulnerable parts of yourself you likely strive never to put on display or even have to look at in the privacy of your own home.

Within each and every mess there is a message for you about how to get through. And more importantly, how to evolve as you figure out how to make your next move.

I hope you accept the invitation.

And when you feel ready, speak the truth about what you are living and overcoming to the people who’ve earned the right to hear it.

The world needs heroes who are honest about the journeys they have been on and are going through.

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Opening the Door…and Saying Good-Bye

opening the doorOnce a month I have to take the padlock off the gate to my backyard in order for my landscaping company to come back and perform their routine maintenance. Lately, this has become an increasingly difficult task.

When it rains, the lock often rusts making it hard to unfasten.

And with just over a week to go until my daughter’s due date, my fingers have so swollen that holding a pen is challenging. Sticking my hands into a narrow opening to twist a lock off…darn near impossible.

Most months I reassure myself that while it may take a while to remove the lock, if I believe it can happen and stay unattached to how I will make it happen, by golly it will.

This month–I just asked my husband to do it.

No matter what, whether it takes 20 minutes or I ultimately have to ask for help, I know with certainty I will ALWAYS get it open.

I have often lacked that level of conviction and clarity of self-talk in other areas of my life. I’ve never been short on goals and aspirations, yet I often have been devoid of the faith that whatever it is I seek I will make it happen. As a result, the door between where I am and where I’m seeking to go has often stayed shut. And locked.

2013 was my year to open the door I’d fantasized and yet lacked the moxie to open for so long. It was the year where I finally experienced in Technicolor what exists on the other side.

A sold-out, TED-style public speaking development program.

My own women’s leadership academy.

Motherhood.

And above all else…peace.

The “how” for opening the door was letting go of the fear that I might not get the door open and replacing it with the feelings I want to experience, i.e., gratitude, joy, and confidence. And once I was certain I would get that door open, that the payoff would be breathtaking, and I simply focused on the most immediate next step while having an eye towards the bigger picture, the requisite action steps revealed themselves to me in perfect time.

Beginning today, I’ll be taking a couple of months off in order to enjoy being a new mama. Because so many readers have come to me over the last year, I’ll be sending out periodically newsletters from years past that you likely never received or could benefit from re-reading, before I return with fresh content in late-February.

But before I say adieu and wish you a wonderful close to the year, a healthy and happy holiday season, and a terrific, fresh start to 2014, what I want for you to imagine is your door.

See, I know that no matter how far open the door to my potential, impact, and happiness currently feels–and no matter how fancy your title, how much revenue or income you earn, or how many outward markers of success you have compiled–new doors are always appearing in our lives.

So let’s commit to one another that we’ll do whatever it takes to unlock them in the year ahead.

What is the door that is currently in between where you are and where you are seeking to be?

What do you know exists on the other side?

And what will be your reward for stepping into full faith that you will get it open?

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The Danger of Getting Too Close to Our Role Models

dangerOne of my Influencer Academy women wrote me the most exquisite thank you note this week. In it she talked about the impact the program has made on her and called me her role model.

And I gasped. For I immediately worried that this was the beginning of her losing the voice she was finally owning and using in a big way.

It’s vital we surround ourselves with people who inspire and stretch us–who live the kind of life and behave in their work the way we aspire to. And at the same time, the moment we identify someone as performing that kind of role for us, we’re in danger.

One of the first people in my professional life I branded a role model was the director of the professional development program I was managing at the time. Her facilitation style was dreamy. She knew how to take a room from 0 to 100 in a matter of minutes. When she spoke, people–even the most apathetic young people–sat at the edges of their chairs and listened. And when she asked questions, you could see people’s eyes roll back–in a good way–as they went deep inside themselves to think and churn possible answers around.

The problem was that in my adoration for this person, I started to unconsciously mimic her. I would recycle the questions I heard her use with the people I trained. I would shake my hands in the air like she did when she told a story. She was British, and I even started to sign my emails with “cheers” and say”bollocks” whenever I got miffed. It was pretty gross. And I had no idea I was doing it.

As I shared in a ForbesWoman article last summer, the key to fixing communication mimicry or any of the interpersonal relationship errors that can over time derail the relationships we care about most, is to shift away from a me“ orientation. Rather than replaying a story in our heads where our role model is infallible or we bemoan that we can’t be as eloquent or together as them, we want to ask how can we put our own fingerprints on the communication behaviors we find so appealing.

Writer Charles Caleb Colton is credited with saying, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” I disagree. It’s using our authentic communication style to inspire other people the way our role models inspire us that most honors their leadership and influence.

Over the years, I’ve learned that there are a couple key ways we can consistently do this.

1. First, the moment we find ourselves making an idol of someone, we want to ask ourselves, “What communication tools does this person use that I [and most likely other people] find so attractive?” Most likely you will identify some combination of the following:

A) Asks a lot of open-ended questions

B) Communicates more possibilities than problems

C) Makes people feel good about themselves

D) Projects confidence in her/himself…and the people s/he surrounds her/himself with

E) Embraces his/her quirkiness and uses humor to build rapport

Start incorporating these strategies and stylistic elements, your way, into how you communicate with others.

2. Then, periodically spot-check yourself, particularly when you find yourself mentally or verbally ooing and aahing over your role model. Think about what has recently come out of your mouth, gone into reports or emails, been posted online, etc. and make sure it is sounding like you.

I’m always on the hunt for new role models who use their communication to propose great ideas, make people feel seen and worthy, and who are able to take ownership of their mistakes when they inevitably happen. In the comments section below, please let me know the women and men who inspire you in these ways so that I can check them out. And if you want to know who some of mine are, peruse the line-up for this week’s TEDxFremontEastWomen. It’s been one of the highlights of my year collaborating with these 9 women on their signature talks–supporting each to awaken to and own her idea worth spreading and to communicate it in her distinct voice. I look forward to seeing many of you headquartered in Las Vegas at the sold-out event.

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Walking My Talk–What I Learned From My Difficult Conversation

Speaking at Influencer Academy Leading an Influencer Academy session at 8-months pregnant, no problem. Pitching myself for a big keynote, easy peasy. Telling a client he or she is playing it safe rather than stretching to his or her edge, exhilarating. Preparing to present my birth plan to my OB, however, completely fear-inducing.

My husband Steve and I spent last Saturday in a prepared childbirth class at the hospital we plan to deliver our daughter at next month. We knew that much of the information would be redundant to what we had been learning in our 15-hour hypnobirthing course and that much of what was new might run counter to our birthing preferences. Nonetheless, we agreed it was important to learn what our hospital did and did not routinely do during labor and delivery so that we could craft our birth preferences accordingly. While we managed to squeeze one another’s hands and giggle during most of the uncomfortable moments of the day, our ability stay in control of our experience of the day–specifically my ability to stay in control of my experience of the day–dissolved when my doctor’s partner (who is covering for her the weekend we are due) unexpectedly met us during our end-of-the-day hospital tour and decided to take over the reigns. Within ten-minutes, after discussions of his routine patient care, all of my dreams of a natural childbirth felt squelched and I wasn’t sure whether to cry, whine, or start researching other doctors and their partners…all of which I did for 24 hours.

Then, I finally did what I would tell any audience member, client, or loved one to do; I began to plan for and rehearse the difficult conversation I knew I needed to have. I made a list of what I wanted and a complementary list of what I needed from my OB. I got clear on the questions I could ask  that would likely facilitate the results I sought. And above all else, I took back control of the story I was telling myself, propelling myself back into the role of protagonist.

Although my heart felt like it was stuck in my womb while I waited over an hour to see my doctor earlier this week, I’m happy to report that she signed off on my birth plan without requiring one change, AND she offered to call her partner to make clear if he delivered my baby he too would be honoring the plan. AND she even requested that I give her an extra copy of it, sans my personal info, to use as a teaching tool for what to do for her other patients. I walked out of that office with my head held high, grinning from ear-to-ear, and kicking my heels up in the air. And once my victory high began to wane, I reflected on why I was able to garner the results I intended. Here are the top reasons I came up with:

1. I eased into my agenda by meeting my doctor where she was rather than assuming she should meet me where I was. I began by asking if we could go over my prenatal homework, and then gently moved toward my agenda by asking when it would be convenient for us to go over my birth preferences. When she said we could do so now, I gave her a quick summary of the weekend, what my concerns were, and why I was presenting her with such a detailed proposal.

2. After receiving permission to have the conversation, I was direct with my requests–to go line-by-line through my proposal to agree upon which preferences I could have and which she required me to tweak. Once we came to consensus, I asked that she sign-off on her copy and mine so there was no question for anyone involved in my care as to what we agreed upon. Although I knew I was requesting quite a bit of her time and it was towards the end of her work day, because she knew what I expected of her and agreed up front to it, I was able to stay present in our discussion and let go of my worry that I wouldn’t get what I came for.

3. As we spent almost 25 minutes discussing, I watched my desire to over explain–why I was requesting what I was requesting or going back to the experience that had unfolded with her partner over the weekend. I didn’t give her any excuse to get derailed or defensive. Instead, I looked for opportunities to stay connected with her by communicating genuine “thank you’s” whenever she made concessions and kept the atmosphere light by infusing humor into every few minutes.

One day I hope to get to a place where difficult conversations feel a little bit less difficult–where I can immediately say to myself, “Lex, this is an opportunity to be daring and in your moxie. Go seize it, lady.” But I am so not there yet. Fortunately, after I allow myself to go through a self-indulgent “why my?” spiral downward, I spiral back-up pretty quickly by focusing on the above. My charge for you this holiday season, during a time where I find the need to facilitate these kinds of conversations can be at an all time high, to shorten the distance between your spirals down and back up when you realize you need to speak up and out. Consider the action steps above, and focus on what can be rather than on what in the short-term feels like it can’t.

 

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Rewire Your Brain for Resiliency with Second Firsts’ Christina Rasmussen

second firstsAccording to Professor Edward Diener, one of the world’s leading authorities on positive psychology, when someone encounters a loss she or he may grieve upwards of 5-8 years. And this is not just about experiencing the loss of a loved one. Whether one is going through a divorce or has lost a job, the grieving process and period can be just as long and acute.

One of my dear friends, life after loss expert Christina Rasmussen, has just written a bestselling book, Second Firststhat reframes loss from something to dread and “get over” to a process that while often painful in the short-term can be a launching pad for living a life and performing work that is more in alignment with your true passions and values than the life you lived before. And Christina knows loss perhaps more than anyone I have ever known. A grief counselor, Christina experienced the unfathomable — losing her husband to cancer in his 30s with two young girls to raise. While Christina thought she knew grief from the work she had always felt called to do, nothing prepared her for experiencing it firsthand.

Christina generously treated me to an advanced copy of her book, which officially released this week. I have found her process and experiences predicated on rewiring the brain for joy and high performance valuable for helping me and my clients reframe and respond to a range of setbacks. Here are 4 of Christina’s strategies, 1 for each of the first 4-steps of her reentry to life process, that you can use in your work and with your people.

1. Interruption (part of Stage 1: Get Real)

When you find yourself in a “why me” spiral where you are recounting — and a result reliving — your story, i.e., your employer or client violated your contract, your business partner stole money, your honey is relocating cross-country, whatever it is, it’s vital to interrupt yourself. Come back to the present. Reflect on how your past-oriented thoughts and story are not serving you. And if you lack the energy or discipline to do this, particularly if your loss is still too new and raw, give the people in your life permission to interrupt you.

2. Strive for 5 Percent (part of Stage 2: Plug In)

Whenever I’ve endured a loss, one of the greatest impediments to moving into and thriving in the next chapter is harnessing the resources to do so. Although grieving is exhausting, it can quickly become my default mode because I perceive it as easier than trying new activities, pursuing new relationships, etc. Christina knows this and recommends “dipping your toe in the water of life until you are ready to jump back into the river and swim” by giving “5 percent of your attention, 5 percent of your energy, 5 percent of your time, and perhaps more important, 5 percent of the potential of the outcome you want to see.” When your brain recognizes you can accomplish 5 percent successfully, it will have a harder time looping back into its old thinking of “this is hopeless.” You will have proof that change is possible and the motivation to try bolder and more beneficial activities moving forward.

3. Connect the Unpleasant to the Pleasant (part of Stage 3: Shift)

In order for the brain to truly shift once and for all, it’s vital for it to release oxytocin, the chemical that our cells release when we experience love–particularly in childbirth. While it can feel near impossible to do this when our brains are full of thoughts of loss, when we link these thoughts to new ones, we create the mental rewiring eventually to do so. “If we are thinking about a memory that does not make us happy and simultaneously begin thinking about another memory that is happier,” Christina explains that “the juxtaposition of the two memories causes the neural pathways for both to begin firing together–permanently connecting them…[making it] less painful [and creating the conditions for oxytocin to release] when [the old memory/loss] comes to mind in the future.” I tried this linking with thinking about labor and delivery. While this a fearful future projection for me rather than a memory, by linking the thought to another very pleasant one, walking along the beach in Kauai, and being rigorous by going to the latter any time the former comes up, in just a few days I’ve already experienced a tremendous shift in my thinking and more importantly in how my body feels. (I promise to report at the end of December/beginning of January how the brain rewiring shaped the eventual childbirth experience!)

4. Build a Bridge to Your Past (part of Stage 4: Discover)

One of Christina’s central beliefs is that loss, no matter how it shows up, can be an invitation into greater happiness and prosperity in the present and in the future. She believes that our losses show up in order to give us opportunities to reconnect with our true selves which we’ve often become disconnected from, hence why we experience certain setbacks with such intensity. They feel like they are happening to us rather than for us–as a vehicle for growth and evolution. In order to begin to see how we can thrive in the future, Christina suggests we build a bridge to our past self by asking the question, “When was the last time [I] felt like [myself], before [I] experienced a loss of any kind?” And then, she invites us to unpick what we were like at this time, the activities we enjoyed, the kinds of people we had in our lives, the possibilities we saw for ourselves, etc. [Note: The activity has many more steps outlined in the book, but this gives you a sense.] The answers that emerge can provide rich clues for where we want to go and how to plug-in moving forward.

To learn numerous other strategies for rewiring the brain for resiliency, you can order your copy of Christina’s book HERE and learn more about her organization of the same name at SecondFirsts.com.

Posted in Adult Learning, Career Advice, Happiness, Personal Development | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I Don’t Want to Be Responsible for That

There are few things I don’t like doing in my professional life. While as my husband Steve knows I’ll always take a pass on vacuuming or cleaning toilets, in my career whether it’s giving feedback to someone I’m collaborating with or coaching on a project — or coming up with the creative for a new program — I really relish just about all of the hats I get to wear…with just an exception or two. At the top of that exception list is saying, “I can’t take that on” or “I have to take a step back from _____.” I strive never to be involved with a project or accept a position — professional or volunteer — that I can’t see through to completion at 100 percent.

As you have probably guessed, this week I had to do exactly this — relinquish one of my roles. As I enter the last two months of my pregnancy, limited energy and at times mobility are forcing me to be really clear on what I can take responsibility for and what I either need to delegate or pull the plug on. That doesn’t make it any more comfortable. I’m just clearer that while guilt and shame are optional, staying the course at times just isn’t.

On the day that I was coming to acceptance with the decision to admit to a group of people who had entrusted me with one of the hats I wear, “I need to step back,” I happened to be meeting with one of my mentors. As I was driving away from her company, which occupies a very prominent campus, several ambulances sped past me and all I could think to myself was how glad I was NOT to be in the aforementioned leader’s shoes. I would NOT want to be responding to whatever crisis was likely unfolding on her property. It made me realize that although every now and again I step into a role where I am responsible for something that doesn’t light me up or serve me or my purpose, for the most part I’ve been pretty clear on what I do and don’t want oversight of — and make both day-to-day and more strategic, long-term plans that serve this self-awareness.

Unfortunately, too many conversations I have with my clients revolve around resolving the disconnect between what they have responsibility for and over — and where they really want to be applying their resources, i.e., time, energy, skills, ideas, etc. Usually, the awareness about their disconnection hasn’t come intellectually. It’s not an aha of, “This is not the best utilization of my resources.” Rather, it’s a deep, as one person recently called it “knocking” that if I don’t wake up and give myself to pursuits, roles, etc. that align with who I am at my core I’ll just combust. Of course when we wait until this knocking gets too loud or combusting feels just a workday or two away, we don’t make the best decisions about how to recalibrate. As leaders, whether we are just at the beginning of our journey or are supposed to have it all figured out in our corner office, in order to ensure that who and what we have responsibility of is in the best interest of ourselves, our teams or clients, and our larger communities, we want to consistently give ourselves opportunities to ask the following questions.

1. What am I doing out of a sense of should rather than from a place of deep desire?

2. What do I stand for? Does the way I’m using my resources align with my answer?

3. What am I tolerating in my life and work? And what are these tolerations costing me?

4. What words or messages are traveling into my subconscious that I’m terrified to speak out loud?

5. Which of my roles and responsibilities are allowing me to be the best version of myself — and make better people out of those I’m in relationship with?

Whether what emerges today, next week, or next year is the realization that it’s time to renegotiate your role, pull the plug on one of your core programs, or even resign from a role that has defined you without fulfilling you, remember that the short-term discomfort of owning this awareness for yourself and communicating it to others in your life will be far more comfortable than staying simultaneously paralyzed and unhappy where you are. As I say and strive to practice, harness the moxie to take responsibility for making whatever shifts are necessary both to be in your integrity and to perform the work — and in the way — you know you have been called to.

And speaking of moxie, I encourage you to leave a comment below discussing what discoveries you make going through this process. It will create accountability for you to take action NOW.

Posted in Adult Learning, Career Advice, Coaching, Communication, Happiness, Leadership, Personal Development | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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