Sunday, December 29, 2013

Live life as if you're playing putt-putt

When I work with my Life & Career Coaching clients, I quote movies fairly often. Undeniably the film I quote most often is Bull Durham. In one of my favorite scenes Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) gives Crash Davis (Kevin Costner) tips in the batting cage to help him through a slump. She says to him that hitting a baseball is like making love: you just have to RELAX and CONCENTRATE.

Not one or the other, but both at the same time. In a humorous and direct way, Annie described what athletes often call being in THE ZONE. However, it's not just for athletes. I help clients to get into a zone so that they can access peak performance, enabling them to do things well, whether it be accounting, housecleaning, dating, negotiating with a spouse, saving money, completing a resume, interviewing for a job...whatever!

To help yourself enter a relaxed and concentrating mindset, consider the game of miniature golf, or putt-putt. To set the stage, remember that no one in their right mind (ahem!) takes putt-putt too seriously; everyone knows that the main point is to have fun. For example, my favorite putt-putt experience was near St. Petersburg, Florida, where you can use a fishing pole to feed chewy dog-food squares to alligators in between holes. 

Now, remember that the idea is to relax AND concentrate at the same time. We could just relax and whack the ball around and not care. However, it's more fun if we concentrate enough to try to get the ball into the hole. If it took you six strokes to get the ball into one hole, then it's fun to see if you can succeed in five strokes next time. If the ball doesn't go up an incline, that's good information! Next time, you stroke the ball slightly harder until you figure out how to get the ball over the rise. If the ball goes left, aim slightly more to the right next time. If the ball shoots past the hole, tap it more softly next time.

Relax! We're having FUN, here! No big deal. Every time something doesn't go well, learn and adjust so that you do it better the next time.

I do realize that there are some people who choose to take putt-putt too seriously, and we all know how annoying THAT can be. Let's take this thought further and imagine people reacting to putt-putt in the same way they react to other parts of life; imagine how silly, unproductive, and annoying it would be: 
  • I can't believe I missed that shot. I'm so STUPID!
  • I haven't been able to finish a hole under par; he'll never want to go out on a date with me.
  • I screwed up again. This kind of crap ALWAYS happens to me.
  • I missed again. This is such a DISASTER!
  • I shot over par on every hole. This is hopeless...what's the use. I might as well give up.
  • It's "do or die" time...I HAVE to nail this shot! 
I'll bet that some of you are thinking that life isn't a game of putt-putt. On the one hand, you're right. On the other hand, it SHOULD be and it CAN be. Take a good, close look at extraordinary performers: they usually move quickly past the so called mistakes and failures, and they use what they just learned in their next venture. A great basketball player doesn't care that she went 0 for 13; she still can take and make the game winning shot. Or heed the Thomas Edison quote: I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.

So, get into that putt-putt frame of mind when you'd like to perform well. Keep "having fun" front and center, relax AND concentrate, and mistakes and failures are information you need for your next big success.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

LinkedIn: Skim the job titles

After having undergone some training and having engaged in some conversations with knowledgeable people, I'm changing how I use LinkedIn. LinkedIn is a great professional networking and social media tool on the Internet.

I used to try to connect with everyone I know or have known. Of course, when you're just beginning to build your professional network, it's great strategy to start with who you already know and with former coworkers. However, it can quickly grow limiting. For example, given that I'd lived in Boston for 30 years and that I now live in Baltimore, my connections became heavily slanted toward  friendships, people in my former field of technical writing, and people who lived very far away from me. This is not particularly useful to me at this point in my professional life as a Life & Career Coach.

Now, I'm trying to be more strategic with my networking, and I'm trying to build up my Baltimore connections. One technique that I'm using is to seek out mutual connections between people with whom I'm already connected and those in the Health & Wellness field. The idea is that fellow professionals in that field might be able to do business together by cross referring.

Here's another simple adjustment that made a world of difference. When LinkedIn gives you a list of people with whom you might like to connect, don't skim the names for people you know. Instead, skim their JOB TITLES to see if a connection would be mutually beneficial on a professional level. 

Finally, when you do request a connection, click the "pencil and paper" icon to send a personalized message. I recommend mentioning how you're connected, how you might help each other professionally, or that you're simply interested in learning more about what she or he does. A personalized message that highlights the reason for the connection will get better results than the default message, which is impersonal and gives no context for the connection.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

And suddenly there was silence

It's just after 11 a.m. on this busy morning, and I just got back from retrieving my recycle bin from the alley behind my house here in Baltimore City.

Earlier, when I opened the gate and stepped onto the sidewalk on the street that runs alongside my house, I was stunned. The street was absolutely silent, and there were no other living or moving people, vehicles, or animals in sight. The air was crisp but comfortable. And the sky was clear blue. (For locals who can appreciate finer details, this was Whitridge Avenue!)

I paused for a moment to take in the utter stillness and silence.

The tranquility was delicious!

I love city living, but I usually have to generate my own inner peace and quiet. I was so thankful that I was aware enough to appreciate this rare gift of peacefulness coming from the outside. Ahhhhhh! 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Living well, dying well

Back in the 80's, I misheard a lyric in the song New Sensations by INXS. This is what I heard:   

There's something better we could do
Than live forever

The actual lyric says that there's NOTHING better we can do than live forever. Because my misheard words offered me such an intriguing invitation, I still "sing it wrong" to this day. It makes me curious about life, longevity, and just what actually might BE better than everlasting life.

Recently, Alternative Rock pioneer Lou Reed passed away. His wife Laurie Anderson wrote a stunning piece about Lou and his passing, and you can read a touching excerpt by clicking here.

At the heart of this moving passage is Lou's complete lack of fear about something that terrifies most of us. Facing our mortality gracefully, entering into our moment of death with no fear.

Another striking aspect is how closely Anderson's observations resemble that of George Harrison's death, as described in Martin Scorsese's brilliant HBO documentary about the former Beatle. It reminds me of this snippet of one of George's songs, which he wrote in his late 20's, more than 30 years before his death:

As nothing in this life that I've been trying
Could equal or surpass the art of dying 

I won't claim to have all of the answers to questions about life and death. However, from my work as a Life & Career Coach, I do know about the emotionally and physically corrosive effect of living life in stress and fear. Also, it's routine in my work to encounter people who are rattled because they know deep down that they aren't doing what they need to be doing, and they want to get their lives on track. It's about the very human need to feel a sense of purpose.

Yes, I believe that there IS something better we can do than live forever. We can live well. We can learn how to do that, we can practice it daily to the best of our imperfect abilities, and we can die well. That could very well be the only legacy that really matters.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

"Should" versus Reality: a commuter's story

I was driving to work the other day, and I almost hit a car. Nothing serious, mind you. A near fender-bender. However what was noteworthy was my thinking process as it was happening.

What I'm about to describe all occurred within 4 or 5 seconds. However, I'll write it out in detail so that you can make sense out of what was running rapidly through my mind at the time.

In a sluggish line of traffic, I signaled for an upcoming right turn. Just before I reached the intersection, the traffic slowed even further, not quite leaving me with enough space to complete my turn.

I thought, If the traffic would ..j..u..s..t.. move a little bit faster I could make it. 

When it felt as if I'd waited long enough, I began to make the turn, but I was on target for hitting the right corner of the car in front of me.

It should be OK! That car will nudge ahead very soon...I'll clear it.

I saw that we were going to collide. 

No, it's NOT OK! I pressed my brake briefly, then thinking, That'll do it...I'll clear the car now.

I saw that we were STILL going to collide.

I pressed the brake again briefly, thinking, Well, it's GOTTA be OK now!  

It wasn't. I saw that we were still WAY too close.

It'll be fine. 

I kept my foot off the break and let the car complete the turn, missing the collision by inches.


Despite being aware the whole time of how foolish I was being, the near miss still surprised me and made me wonder how I almost just got into an accident. Well, I KNOW how it happened.

How I should have been able to make the turn was more important to me than whether I'd actually be able to make the turn 

Should trumped is.

On this particular morning, I was not playing nicely with the world, and I was fortunate to have gotten out of the situation without incurring any damage. Had I been using my mindfulness skills to get out of my head, I would have had an easier, safer time of things.

Stand your ground--be yourself

As a Life & Career Coach, it's been challenging to manage the emotions that come with the ebb and flow of clients. It took some practice to depersonalize it, instead of feeling up and confident when I had a lot of clients, and feeling low and not-good-enough when my clientele dipped. I'm sure that's true for most professionals, but it's particularly true when you're running a small entrepreneurial effort.

In my practice, I offer potential clients a free, half-hour meeting—in person or using conferencing software like Skype or Facetime—to see if we're a good fit for working together. If we are, then we transition into regular one-hour meetings.

This summer, I had a record number of clients. As you can imagine, I didn't have time to think too much about the 5% to 10% of people who decided not to work with me after that initial consultation.

Given a dip in clientele, I've been thinking recently that I could use more clients. So, as you probably can imagine, it's been more noticeable to me lately when someone attends the consultation and then decides not to work with me. Doubt can come creeping in. What the heck happened there?!

I got one of these thanks-but-no-thanks emails this morning. At first, my mind wandered toward what I might have done differently to win over this client. Should I have tried to get him to talk more? Should I have tried harder to impress him or tease out his objections? Even though he had been upfront about past substance-abuse issues, maybe I shouldn't have talked so much about how I coach people with such a history. Maybe he found that to be too heavy.

Now, on the one hand, it's a good idea for a professional to be on the lookout for ways to improve. On the other hand, it's a mistake to try to win over every potential client and customer.

It was at this point in my thinking that I'd realized, not only had I not done a BAD job, but the consultation meeting achieved a PERFECT result. I'd asked questions and conversed politely and professionally, very much in the way that I would normally do when working  with any client. This person experienced a typical "professional me" and decided to decline. 

It was another reminder of how important it is, both professionally and personally, to stand our ground, to be ourselves. If we let people see our true selves, then "the right people" will be attracted and will want to engage with us. If we contort ourselves into what we think other people want to see, then we'll be putting out very "weak signals"; there won't be much to be attracted to, and we'll end up wondering how we got surrounded by all these ill-fitting relationships.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Don't live the dream

I was reading a personal-advice blog today, and I noticed something interesting. The author did a terrific job of walking the reader through creative visualization to imagine a desired future. Then came the advice of breaking the dream into small, step-by-step actions used to create that future over time. Finally, the author drove home the point using variations on the popular phrase "living the dream."

I love the process, but I'm not wild about the wording.

You know, I never liked living the dream, and I highly recommend that you don't take it too literally or too seriously. When you're too focused on trying to get life to match the pictures in your head, then living the dream becomes the opposite of enjoying your life. It too often ends up being a seductive trap.

Don't live the dream. Instead, come to see your dreams as gasoline for your engine, fuel to get you motivated and energized. Once you're in motion, relax and concentrate. Drive your car, pay attention to where you are going, and get yourself to someplace wonderful, regardless of whether it matches your original idea.

For all of you who are skeptical about the theme of this posting, talk to any wildly successful and deeply happy person; ask them about the difference between their initial plans and how that translated into finished projects. They'll all tell you that the end result never, EVER looked EXACTLY like the original plan. 

An early lesson for me involved writing software manuals for a computer company in the 1980s; despite our most thorough research and planning, the several-hundred-page printed manual never matched our original outline. If we did our jobs well, it was BETTER than the original plan; we couldn't have dreamed of a better book.

So, as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for. As you bring a dream into reality, just make sure that you're awake and responding well to what's happening moment-to-moment: that's where your creativity and joy live.

I'll wrap up by quoting November Group, a wonderful Boston band from the 1980s. I think their lyrics to the song Work That Dream put dreaming an doing into proper perspective:

To work that dream
And love your life 
(Gotta work, gotta work!)

So,what's the dream? Does the singer of the song ever realize the dream? This joyful and exhilarating song never says so; she's too busy loving life and having fun.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Take a detour

I recently wrote a column for the Baltimore OUTloud newspaper about automatic behavior, the rut it can create, and how to break out by trying something new. Click here to read the column.... 

Recently, I was reminded about the connection between this topic and being able to tap into creativity to solve problems.

A few weeks ago, I was working with a gentlemen who was trying to manage a business relationship with a consultant who was threatening to undermine my client's efforts because of feeling under appreciated, because of not "feeling enough love" coming from my client. So, we brainstormed on strategies and tactics for managing a difficult business relationship.

At one point, I said, "When this guy gives you a somewhat helpful suggestion or tip, be sure to send him a thank-you card, perhaps a bottle of wine with it. Thank-you cards tend to give people warm fuzzies and help them to feel very appreciated."

It was at this point that my client slapped his own forehead in disbelief. He said, "I can't believe I didn't think of that. That's exactly how I established the strong business relationship in the first place, by sending thank-you cards and small tokens of appreciation." My client was unnerved as to why the solution had eluded him given that he'd done that in the past.

I reminded him that by allowing the consultant's bad behavior to kick up resentment and other hard feelings, my client had put himself into a negative space that blocked not only his creativity but also access to things he already knew! Instead of focusing on criticizing the consultant, my client needed to get into a relaxed, playful, problem-solving mood. The consultant's OK, I'm OK...let me just figure out a creative way around this!

The best way I know of being able to slow down, recognize what's going on, and shift gears like that is to make a steady practice of mindfulness. Click here for tips sheets about practicing mindfulness.


Dating strategy: what do you need to build your home?

When we're young, all we really want from dating is some passion and steady companionship. As we get older, our needs change, and most of us alter our dating course toward that LTR (long-term relationship). As a result of this shift, we often bump into dating frustration. 

A large part of the problem involves our friends, family, and society—supported by movies, TV shows, poems, and songsencouraging an intense, single-minded focus on finding love. Instead, consider focusing on building your home. Focusing on finding love can distract you from what you need for your home, but focusing on building a great home includes finding love.

So, this person you've started dating? Is this person capable of "having your back" during good times and bad? (Notice how well she or he does with having other people's back.) Does this person treat others—the waiter, a sister, a boss, a neighborthe way you'd like to be treated? Can you communicate well, make decisions smoothly, handle disappointment like grown ups, and partner well, even when it's as simple a task as choosing a movie to see on Saturday night? And, yes, is there enough passion to keep the fires lit in the bedroom; the bedroom is part of the home, too!

Right from the start, focus on whether this is a person who can respect your current home and who can smoothly build a new one together with you. This way, you won't get distracted by one room in the house at the expense of all the others.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Feel better using a little reminder

There's an unusual amount of construction happening on the roads between my home and my office. I literally cannot choose a route that doesn't bypass some road construction. This has been going on for a few months now.

As I approached one set of orange signs and a roadblock, I noticed that no work was actually being done this morning. This was an invitation for my mind to go to frustrating places such as, What the [heck]? and When will this ever end? and This has been going on forever! 

It was then that the thought End of October! entered my mind, and I instantly chilled out and felt much better.

Recently, I'd mentioned to some friends about the frustrating amount of road construction going on. One person pointed out that road construction has a window from April until October to get all of the work done. Something about the temperature and its effect on pavement. End of October! was a shorthand way of refreshing my memory about the longer conversation.

It hasn't been forever, it won't last forever, and, in fact, we're really close to the end of the inconvenience. I can easily hang in there a bit longer.

So, use brief catch phrases to remind you that there's another way to look at the situation. Make this attitude change once, no big deal. Do it three or four times a day, multiply it by seven days a week, multiply it again by a year's worth of effort, and this technique can be a major contributor to you having a more relaxed and pleasant life.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Thinking doesn't make it so

Yesterday, on the way to an outing, my husband David and I stopped at a sandwich shop. I stayed in the car with the two dogs, and David went inside to get some food. 

Being parked right in front of the large storefront windows, I saw David order, then I saw him step to the side while the cashier waited on others, and then I saw him wait...and wait...and wait some more.

I remember thinking, What the heck is going on? I convinced myself four or five times that I'd have to wait only another minute or so. I recall thinking about what might be holding up our order: they forgot him, they misplaced the order slip, they gave our order to someone else, they ran out of some food item. There must be a reason for this!

It was then that I noticed that my stomach was tightening, my face was reddening, and I was sighing heavily. How unpleasant!

I reminded myself that the running chatter in my head wasn't making the sandwiches come out faster. I convinced myself that I should either take some action (go into the store, convince David to call the manager, keep him company as we waited) or let go and accept the situation.

Preferring the company of the dogs, I decided to let it all go and relax. Immediately, all the tension drained from my body, and I felt better. The sandwiches will get here when they get here.

I had to remind myself of an important lesson yesterday. Either take action to try to make things better, or accept the situation for what it is. Don't think yourself into a stress ball and fool yourself into thinking it's doing any good.

A call to teach children how to pay attention

Click here for an excellent article calling for schools to teach children how to pay attention. Paying attention is a learned skill. 

Practicing mindfulness is an excellent way to boost the ability to pay attention. In order to live in the clear and present, we have to de-emphasize the chatter in our minds, and we have to emphasize instead our sensual connection to what's happening around us and what we are currently doing.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Mindfulness: foundation for being present

People probably have heard plenty of advice about being clear and present, seizing the day, and being connected to the present moment. The question that usually follows is: how do I begin to do that?

If you think of all the habits and skills needed to live consistently in the clear and present, you can imagine a house. Of course, a house is made up of many different parts, but we can all agree that its foundation is a critical component; you want to build your house on something very solid. Following from that, an important part of the foundation for "living in the clear and present" would be mindfulness skills.

Mindfulness skills are meditative practices that you use while you're living your typical, daily lives: taking a walk, taking a shower, having something to eat, brushing your hair, walking or driving from one place to another, and so on. The great thing about mindfulness practice is that you don't have to dedicate any time or money to it; just apply the techniques to what you naturally do on any given day.

Here are some handouts that can help you to begin a mindfulness practice:

Louis C. K. on importance of being present

Brilliant as usual, Louis C. K. describes why he hates smartphones, especially for children. He also tells an amazing story of an emotional reaction he had and why it's important to sit with it, feel it, and move through it, instead of distracting or trying to "entertain it" away.

Click here for Louis C. K. on smartphones...

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Welcome to my blog

As a Life & Career Coach, I help people to speed up the time between dreaming and doing. The biggest challenge in making this happen is understanding that there's something in between those two states. There are a number of things we can call it. Getting out of our own way. Overcoming negativity and struggling to stay positive. Floundering in lack of confidence and motivation.

In between having dreams and making them come true, you eventually have to do something today, in the present moment. It will help if what you are doing is effective, actually working well and helping you to succeed. However, it all starts with moving beyond doing nothing and finding a way to do something, as soon as possible, consistently.

To help my clients to take those initial steps into action, I like to tell a story from the movie, Bull Durham. Crash Davis is a professional baseball player on the AAA level, just below the major leagues. Annie Savoy is a Super Fan of the Durham Bulls, providing good company and timely wisdom for a number of the players and coaches.

Davis is in a battling slump, and he and Annie are at the cages. He's trying to practice his swing, attempting to work his way out of his struggles in the batter's box. Annie takes his place at the plate, and she imparts this bit of sage advice: "Making love is like hitting a baseball: you just gotta relax and concentrate." I don't think I've heard a better, more direct set of instructions about how someone can get into "the zone" and perform well.

So, that's what my blog is all about: how do we relax and concentrate on any given day, enough so that we can work our way out of slumps, avoid negativity, keep a focus on our own well being, and have more fun, even when we're technically working. Like any decent Life & Career Coach, I help you to set goals, prioritize them, break them into smaller steps, and encourage you along the way. However, my specialty is helping you to develop the habits that keep you clear and present on a daily basis, so that regular life doesn't distract or discourage you from making your dreams come true.

I hope you find this blog useful and that you enjoy it. 

About Gerry

I'm a Life & Career Coach living and working in Baltimore, Maryland. I am a Master of Clinical Social Work (MSW), and I have 18+ years of counseling and coaching experience. In additional to emotion management and mindfulness, I specialize in assisting with career transitions, having moved from being a software technical writer into being a Life & Career Coach. I established my private coaching practice in 2002. Finally, I make my home with my husband, David Kimble, and our two Basenji dogs, Q and Coal. And I work hard to practice everything that I preach.

Here are some links if you'd like to learn more about me.