work in progress

Continuous Improvement

The reason I became a coach is because I didn’t like who I was. I could be condescending, judgmental and self-centered. In other words, at times I was a real bitch. And I was unhappy. I am not proud of who I was and how I acted. I wanted to change. My first client as a life coach was myself so I could work through all the negative traits I expressed in my life. I wanted to be a better person.

And I continue to do this work.

work in progressChange is not a one-time event. It is constant improvement. Yes, I made amazing strides not to be the person I was 20 years ago. And I am also working on myself every day to be better 20 years from today than I am right now. No matter how much work we do, how much we improve, there is always still more to learn and improve.

A few weeks ago, I had a potential client reach out to me. In our conversation, I mentioned how I am not perfect. I don’t have this life thing down. I have a lot of tools I use and I do my best every day. Yet, it is still a journey for me. Every day I learn and grow. Every day I mess up things I could have done better. Every day I brush myself off from my failures, make amends to those I hurt in the moment, and vow to do better.

In looking over my life I can see improvement. And I intend that every day I will improve a bit more.  As a perfectionist, it is sometimes difficult to admit when I have failed. Yet, it is in this awareness, recognition, and acceptance of my failures where I have found the most growth. Self-improvement does not end in the destination of perfect. Self-improvement is the willingness to see our warts and all, and to use this information every day to make better choices in the moment and in the future.

Part of the work I am doing now is healing the hurt I caused others in the past when I was not at my best. To do this healing it is necessary to take responsibility for my actions and to admit my failures. Consciously or unconsciously I have hurt others during my journey. Some incidents I am painfully aware of, and some pain I caused I may never know about. It may be terrifying to go back to painful times and admit my wrongs, but it is one of the most healing acts to experience for myself and for those I hurt.

Today I received an email from someone I hurt decades ago. The message resurrected my awareness of who I was and how I may have hurt others because of it. Unfortunately, this person chose to write to me anonymously, so I don’t have the opportunity to work through the damage I caused. I truly hope they reach out to me so I can understand the extent of the pain I created and so we can work together to heal.

I, Tonya

You Have a Choice

One of the films I saw at the Cabo San Lucas International Film Festival was I, Tonya. After the Golden Globes where Allison Janney rightfully deserved an award for her portrayal of Tonya’s mother, a lot of people were upset that a movie “promoted” someone who did something bad. Interesting how this did not happen for the Wolf of Wall Street, Good Fellas, Gangs of New York, Blow, and a host of other movies with real life portrayals of male bad guys. But I digress.

I, TonyaWhat I noticed watching the movie was the effect of what we learn and experience as children, and adults, has on how we look at life and how we make choices in our lives. Just the other day I spoke to someone in job transition. Many years ago, one of his co-workers sabotaged his career. For the years following, he had a string of short-term jobs where he walked through the door looking for the person who was going to do that to him again. He was looking for the fight. He was defensive and scared. Can you imagine how his bosses and co-workers would react to him? The result was he replayed the event again and again in job after job.

After seeing the I, Tonya, I was telling a friend how it was a brilliant telling of not only the Tonya Harding / Nancy Kerrigan memorable event, but also the back story of why Tonya is who she is. Regularly beaten and unloved by her mother, abandoned by her father, and abused by her husband, the undereducated Tonya was not positioned to be the best person. It does not excuse her actions, but it can explain how her experiences led her down the wrong path. She expected others to hate and attack her, so sometimes she even created situations to provoke them.

My friend replied that his father beat him too. He said it lead him to become tough and fight when he was young too. But then he realized he was no better than his father and made a change. Now he is a very kind, hardworking, intelligent multi-lingual man (Portuguese, Spanish, French, English) who has a lovely wife and terrific plans for the future. He started on a similar path as Tonya, but made different, healthier choices.

Sometimes the trials of our lives do not play out in how we interact with others, but how we treat ourselves. The other day I saw an interview with Roxane Gay the author of Hunger. At 12 years old, she was gang raped. Her response was to gain weight to defend herself and make herself unattractive and therefore not a target. This led to a major weight problem. Which then led to the telling of her story which in turn provides the tools for many others to heal. She turned her protective personal choice into a tool to help others in similar situations.

We are all given challenges in our lives, some more intense than others. Our goal is not to stay in the role of victim continually recreating our pain, but to learn from it and change the course of our lives. I have been given some challenges in my life, nothing as intense as the others in this post, yet experiences which initially had me mirroring those that hurt me. Part of my personal growth was in noticing how I was continuing the cycle and consciously choosing to stop it.

What challenges have you been given in your life? What incidents changed the way you approach life, others, and yourself? Have you moved past the incident or are you doing things to create it again and again?

new year

Cut Yourself Some Slack

As we prepare to close out one year and move into another, many of us look back with disappointment. We could have done this or that better. We didn’t take advantage of an opportunity that arose. We didn’t act our best in a certain relationship. We beat ourselves us and make a resolution to be different in the new year. We attack ourselves for being human and create goals for being perfect next year.

Why do we always seem to be so hard on ourselves?

new yearOne reason is that we are looking for closure. We never want to have to go through X again. We think that if we can finally get it right, we will never have to go through it again. Sorry to say, this is not true. What I have found in my life and while coaching others, is that we all have certain challenges we will experience again and again. If we finally handle the situation perfectly, then eventually the challenge will appear again but this time it will be a little tougher and more complex. Instead of expecting that there will be a final resolution, identify your personal challenges and accept that you will see them again and again and again, no matter how well you handle each occurrence. Every time your challenge presents itself, focus on the how the challenge is helping you grow and learn.

We are also hard on ourselves because we look for blame instead of focusing on the lesson. When we keep receiving the same challenge, we want to know why we are victim of this issue. Who is to blame? Genetics? Karma? We spend years in therapy delving into the why. But in this case, the why doesn’t get us anywhere. It is what it is. This is our challenge. It did happen. It will happen again. The goal now should be how to make the most of our lives knowing this is our obstacle. Stop looking back to the why and instead focus on how to best manage what we are challenged with.

And, of course, for my Type A’s out there, we are hard on ourselves because we believe we must be perfect or we are worthless. We hold ourselves to standards we would never hold anyone else to. We create impossible goals which can never be met. If we show even the minutest human frailty, we attack our imperfection with a vengeance. Instead of focusing on what you did “wrong,” spend a bit of time looking at your growth. What did you handle better this year than last year? How did you show up differently now than five years ago? When you look at your life as a whole, can you see the successes and progress you are making overall? Instead of beating yourself over each incident, take a broader look at your accomplishments and growth.

As the year draws to a close, identify and accept your reoccurring challenges. Take the time to look at your progress. Looking and celebrating your growth is a much more positive and useful way to enter the new year.

sulking child

Look for the Lesson

Sometimes people don’t understand me because I don’t let my emotions run away with me (for the most part). A car cuts me off and I smile and wave. When someone is rude to me I only become more kind to them. In the current world where righteous indignation is prized and promoted, I don’t fit the mold.

And I’m happy.

Happy I don’t fit the mold. And happy because I don’t fit the mold.

sulking childSome of us live in a world where we feel the victim. We give others our power and then when they use that power against us, we are angry.

Some of us live in a world of competition. Attacking anything and everyone to get on top and feel safe.

Some of us live in a world of mistrust, blaming others for our problems.

Some of us see the world as a struggle, making challenges and issues where there are none.

Me? I live in a world where every interaction is an opportunity to rise above, be the best person I can be, learn, and change. Every conflict is an opportunity for growth. Every confrontation is a window into the other.

Don’t get me wrong. I am human and have my share of emotions. Emotions are important. Emotions are indicators. They let us know what is working and what is not working in our lives. Emotions wake us up to something to solve, something to change. The problem arises when we let our emotions take charge of our actions. It is powerful and necessary to feel anger when someone has wronged us so that we can fix the problem or remove ourselves from the situation. But if we allow ourselves to act with anger, we only create more issues.

What if instead of going off on a tirade about what wrong has happened to you, you look for a solution? And if there is no solution, what if you look for acceptance?

Besides emotions indicating when a situation needs to be addressed, being triggered is also a chance to learn about the other. We often see ourselves as the center of the universe, as the lead in a movie. Therefore, we see everyone’s actions in terms of us. The truth is, people act independent of us. They have their own movie and universe to contend with. When we believe that people are specifically acting to hurt or harm us, we are not seeing the real picture. We need to look for their motivation.

Recently an individual decided to slander me and attempted to destroy some of my relationships. At first my emotions – anger, fear, sadness – kicked in to let me know something was not right. Then I had two choices. I could try to defend myself against untruths and fight back with anger and malice. I took the other route. I looked deeper than this person’s external actions. I saw that they were insecure and were attacking out of a feeling of defense. It wasn’t the best idea, but it was their truth. I let the attacks linger in the air, I shared the truth with some who needed to know, and then I removed myself from the situation. If I would have allowed my anger to get the better of me, I would have lashed out with the same unjustified bitterness as this individual, just causing more issues.

What if instead of labeling the other as mean or rude, you can see the struggle they are going through and how much pain they must be feeling? How would you address conflicts differently?

This week be aware of your emotions. What are they telling you? Then look for the logical solution or if necessary, accept the situation for what it is – in either case, do what you need to feel good again. For bonus points, look at the one causing you pain. Look deep inside them and see their own pain making them act in the way they do.

helping others

Inspirational Living

I always thought I had to help people and save the world. For the first thirty or so years of my life, I was focused on helping others. I made sure friends and family had what they needed. I supported charities. I put my needs and desires legions behind the needs of others. I was driven to do it. Sometimes people did not want my help but through compulsion I pushed my assistance on them. I couldn’t help but help others. When I couldn’t help others, I felt like I was less than. When I actually received something myself, I felt selfish and bad. I was programmed to be a giver. However I was also exhausted and unhappy. Helping others felt like a duty not a joy. Yet I still thought I was meant to heal those around me and the world at large. And now it looks like that is truly part of my mission, but I had the “how” wrong. My mission to help others is not through self-sacrifice.

helping othersOver the last few years I took off the superwoman cape and learned to put myself first. I focused on my own happiness. When I did help others I did it as from a point of selfishness. I helped only when it felt good to me. And I didn’t help when it felt like a restrictive obligation or when there was something else to do which would make me feel happier. Through my coaching practice I learned to only help those who wanted help and who were ready to receive the help. I learned healthy boundaries with those who misused me and my help. And I began to think of myself first. The funny thing is I am affecting more people, making more changes in the world by being self-focused and self-giving than I ever did by sacrificing myself for others.

Just this week, a counselor in the Northeast told me of her client who was so inspired by my husband’s and my move to Mexico that he sold his house, purchased an RV, and now plans to semi-retire and travel the country. She said his eyes lit up when she told him of our pursuits and how we are thriving in Cabo after taking the risk. Some man who I do not know and will probably never meet, changed his life for the better because I changed my life for the better. All this time I spent sacrificing for others was unnecessary. By living my life, truly living my life, I help others.

Moving to Mexico to live a dream is very selfish. I thought only of my husband and myself. I didn’t stop due to family obligations. I didn’t change my mind due to societal expectations and rules. I did not put how the move would affect others above my own desire. I only thought about living my life the way I wanted to live it. By focusing on myself, by living the life that I want, by really living my life, I have become an inspiration to others and am helping to change their lives for the better.

We do not have to give up who we are or what we want. We do not have to do it for our children. We do not have to do it for our parents. We do not have to do it for anyone. Sacrificing for your children only teaches them to sacrifice themselves for others. Instead, show your children and those you love how you can care for them while not neglecting yourself. Give to yourself. Be an inspiration. Be the model of how you wish those around you would be.

What inspiring life are you going to lead?

inside out movie image

Understanding Others: Getting Below the Surface

The Pixar movie, Inside Out, has been nominated for an Oscar for best animated feature film. And rightly so.  The film is about a young girl, Riley, whose family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco. The move is difficult on Riley as she had to leave her friends and beloved hockey behind. But this storyline is not what makes the movie special. We not only see Riley but we see her emotions – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust – working in the background showing the motivations for her actions and reactions. The film adeptly explores the thoughts and feelings behind the leading character’s choices. It is a glimpse into our minds, how we tick, what inner dialogues are happening, and what can happen when our emotions run amok.

inside out movie imageAfter seeing the original movie, I saw this version of Inside Out with all the inner thoughts edited out. The almost two hour movie is reduced to fifteen minutes. All of the inner conflict is removed. All of the insight into Riley’s decisions is gone. The depth of the movie is reduced to a flat surface-level movie about a young girl and hockey. This edited version is more like what we see in real life.

Throughout the day we are not able to see the motivations and inner dialogue of those we are communicating with. We only see their actions – or inactions. We make assumptions about their motivations. We sometimes feel there is something going on under the surface, but we are not sure what. Other times we assume – incorrectly – that everything happening is directly related to us. Without the inner insight into others, we often make incorrect assumptions which cause issues which were not there originally. Without this insight, we are blind to what is really going on. Without this emotional intelligence, we are ineffective friends and associates because we are not able to truly know what is happening.

How often do you get a chance to look under the surface with your loved one, friends, or work associates? Are you communicating solely on a physical world level or are you taking the time to dig a little deeper and see what is going on underneath? Do arguments and issues arise seemingly out of nowhere? Do these communication issues cause hardship, pain, and poor choices?

Here are a few ways to get below the surface in communications with others.

It’s Not Me, It’s You: A common breakup line is, “It’s not you, it’s me.” When it comes to communication issues, it is best to reverse that phrase. When we assume other’s actions, reactions, and inactions are in relation to ourselves, we are usually wrong. They have their own history, biases, fears, and issues they are working out – which usually have nothing to do with us. Remove yourself from the playing field and open your eyes to what may be going on with the other.

Remember the Titanic: A mighty ship went down when it assumed that the iceberg was only the small tip sticking out of the water. Never assume that what you see is all that is going on. We all have mighty icebergs below the waterline. Before jumping to conclusions with only what you can see, remember that there is a lot going on behind the scenes for each and every one of us.

Uncover Their Motivation: Most fights and miscommunications occur not due to the situation at hand, but because of our own fears, past experiences, and desires. Stop looking at the issue at hand, and instead look at the motivations and needs of the other. You may have a work associate who commonly takes credit for your ideas. Instead of getting angry and defending your ideas, first stop and look at the other’s motivations. Are they afraid of being fired because they do not have their own ideas? Are they so focused on moving ahead they are making poor choices and hurting others? Are they overwhelmed by responsibilities at work and home leaving them no time to think of their own ideas? When you can identify the deeper issue, you now have something you can resolve.

Own Your Own Baggage: You and your actions are also affected by your fears, past experiences, and desires. When you are triggered by someone else, take some time to look into why you are being triggered. Don’t look at the issue, but what the issue means to you. Is the situation affecting your self-esteem? Does is trigger a history of people mistreating you? Are you seeing the real situation or are you filtering it through you previous experiences? Before addressing any issue, but sure you are dealing with the present situation and not a version created in your mind.

As you move about your day, remember we all have inner dialogues happening. Stop focusing on the surface of what you can see. Dig deeper and begin to understand those around you. When you begin to understand others more deeply, you can also begin to understand yourself more deeply.