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.