Thursday, February 26, 2009

What Are You Doing?

Stop, right now and ask yourself, "What am I really doing?"

Are you in a job that fulfills you or are you there just to collect a paycheck? Are you happy with your relationship or just going through the motions? Are you enjoying your kids or just running them around from Point A to Point B? When is the last time you laughed? When is the last time you cried?

What are you doing?

It's an important question and one we rarely ask. When you do stop to answer it, the first answer is usually a rattled off list of to-dos. "I picked up the groceries, got the oil changed, completed the presentation, helped the kids with the homework," and so it goes.

But as a life coach, you know I'm looking deeper than that. When I ask, "What are you doing?" I want you to get beyond the busy-ness. I want to get down to the heart of the matter. What are you contributing? What lives are you touching? Are you raising great kids? Are you creating lasting memories?

Granted, as adults, we know that life is about a lot more than doing what we want to do. Sure, I'd love to sit at home and write all day but pesky little things like a mortgage, lights and food have to be paid. Yet even as we live our day-to-day lives, I challenge you to do a little more.

I read a statistic that said that the average American worker spends less than 2 minutes in meaningful conversation with their significant other and less than 30 seconds in meaningful conversation with their children. Is that really what we want to do?

Smile more. Use the time in the car or in the kitchen to have a real conversation. Volunteer. Help a neighbor. Spend some time in nature. Spend an hour or two a week, doing something you love. Be present at work and give it your best.

Whatever you do, do it. Do it fully. Do it with excitement. Do it with love.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Keys to Success: Don't Quit - Commit!

This is the eighth in my ten part Keys of Success series. A new key will be featured every Monday.

Over half of marriages end in divorce. Almost half of teenagers in the 50 largest cities in the United States fail to graduate. Success 101 – You can’t win if you quit. To put it another way, you can’t quit, you’ve got to commit!

As this series comes to a close, we have talked at length about what success is about. It’s hard work. It requires vision. You have to be prepared. You have to be responsible and accountable. But none of that matters, not talent, not vision, not passion, not preparation, and not even discipline matters when you give up.

Everyone knows that Michael Jordan was cut from his high school team in his sophomore year. What would have happened, if he would have quit? Well, we know what wouldn’t have happened. He would not have become one of the best basketball players ever. No one would be wearing Air Jordans. And none of us would even know who Michael Jordan is.

Steven Spielberg loved playing with is 8mm camera but he didn’t love school. In fact, he dropped out of high school. When his parents persuaded him to go back, he was placed in a class for kids with learning disabilities. Luckily, his parents moved and got him into a decent school. He graduated but was denied entrance into film school. He ended up majoring in English instead. As fate would have it, he met a studio executive who let him hang out on the studio lot. Ten years later, Jaws became his first hit.

Spielberg could have quit at any number of critical junctures. He could have never returned to college. He could have become just another guy with a liberal arts degree but he didn’t. He stayed committed to his dream of film making.

Success is not guaranteed. You might not make a million or become the CEO of a major company. You might not ever be a perfect size 8 or write the Great American Novel. But one thing is guaranteed. If you quit, you’ll never get there (wherever there is).

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Gifts that Keep Giving

A few Christmases ago, I decided to give a truly unique gift to my Dad. I enlarged a few of my favorite photos, found a really unique frame and created a one-of-a-kind gift.

On Christmas Day, I was so excited when my Dad opened it. Then my heart fell. He said, “Oh,” carefully put it down and proceeded to get all excited about the next gift he received: a men’s grooming kit. He was especially excited by the nose hair clippers.

I thought about that incident the other night when I was thinking about gifts. Not so much presents, but the gifts that each and every one of us have. Some of us have a knack for numbers, or a passion for fashion, or an ear for music. Others are gifted teachers, counselors or engineers. We all have something to contribute.

What a shame it is when we put that gift aside. What a waste. Imagine all of the wonderful things we are missing out on because people don’t use their gifts. Imagine all of the joy we deny ourselves when we put aside that which only we can offer.

There are several reasons why we don’t go with our gifts.

Gifts aren’t effortless. They do require some effort and some dedication. A gifted dancer still has to master the basic steps. A photographer still has to learn about composition and lenses and the workings of the camera.

Gifts aren’t all-or-nothing propositions. You don’t have to quit your day job. There are other ways to let your talents shine. Volunteer. Become a mentor. Make it into a hobby. Do it part-time.

Give your gifts a chance. Experience them. Express them. Allow yourself to feel the joy that comes when you allow your special talents to shine through.

It's Not an Option

Resignation isn't always about quitting your job. No, I’m talking about resignation as it relates to a specific state of mind. When you are resigned to something, you throw your hands in the air and sigh. describes resignation as “an accepting, unresisting state; submission; acquiescence.” In other words, it’s ‘giving up.’

I know a number of people who are miserable. They stay in jobs they hate, relationships they loathe, or are just in situations that they do not want to be in. Their response to their circumstances is resignation.

  • “At least I have a job.”
  • “You know, someone is better than no one.”
  • “Well, what can I do?”

Yes, it’s a blessing of sorts to have a job in a stagnant economy but does that mean that you don’t even try to find something different, something better? Hiring may have slowed dramatically but there are still jobs out there. But, you won’t find them if you don’t look.

As my dad told me many years ago, when you stay with the wrong person, you are denying yourself the opportunity of meeting the right one. Is being miserable worse than being alone for a moment?

You can always do something. In my book, you have to do something. Doing nothing and letting life happen to you is not and should not be an option. If your relationship is on the rocks, you work on it or you leave. If your job isn’t working out, you at least start looking for something else.

The bottom line is that you are in control of your life. You have to take the reins. Your boss won’t do it. Your spouse won’t do it. As much as they would like to your parents and your family can’t do it. It’s up to you.

You can pray about it. You can meditate about it. You probably should do those things but you can’t get off your knees, sit on your sofa and expect a miracle. Yes, miracles happen – God can turn rivers red, speak through a burning bush and walk on water. But most of the time, God, Spirit, the Infinite Universe or Fate (whatever image works for you) works miracles though people and situations.

Resign those feelings of resignation. Lose the excuses. Get off your behind. And make things happen.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Keys to Success: Be Bendable

This is the seventh in my ten part Keys of Success series. A new key will be featured every Monday.

Watching a tree during a storm is a marvelous thing. As the winds pick up, the leaves and the branches begin to rustle and then sway in the wind. If they get stronger, you will see the tree bend, and then bend some more. The big old trees are often as flexible, if not moreso than the young saplings. Even when a tree finally succumbs and breaks, imagine how many storms it had to weather to make it that far.

The tree will sway and bend but the roots dig in and stay strong. I maintain that our ideals, our values, our beliefs, are our roots. Our plans, actions and goals are our limbs and trunk. To be successful, we have to be able to bend but still stay rooted in the things that matter most.

You might have to change your plans. If your plan isn’t working or isn’t effective, you might have to bend a little. Don’t be afraid to change your course. In my 20’s, I fell in love with the idea of moving to Phoenix. I wanted to have my own mythical Phoenix experience in the city that bore it’s name. I wanted to fly headfirst into the fiery Phoenician desert and emerge a new creature. It sounded so romantic!

Well, 9 months later, I was miserable. I could have dug my feet in and ‘toughed it out’ maybe things would have changed, but maybe they wouldn’t have. I decided to have my Phoenix experience in Maryland. It was a change of plans but one that was definitely for the better.

You might decide to scrap your plan all together, in favor of something else. That’s okay too. From childhood through the first half of college, I wanted to be an attorney. I had romantic notions of the law and nobly defending the downtrodden, getting justice and righting wrongs! After taking a few pre-law courses, I changed my mind. The law (like Phoenix a few years later) just wasn’t for me. Journalism was. I’ve never looked back.

Rigid trees, the ones that can’t bend, break in a storm. When things have gotten hard for me, I’ve bent but I’ve never been broken.

Flexibility is a key to success.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Lose the Excuses!

There is a reason that my website and my blog are called lose the excuses. The concept is a simple one: stop coming up with excuses why you can’t, haven’t or won’t do something and do it. No one is perfect. We all come from dysfunction, we all have shortcomings, we all have failures and we all have hindrances, but so what? Successful people, happy people aren’t perfect people; they have as much going against them as the rest of us. They made a decision to lose the excuses and do it anyway.

Poverty is not an excuse. Race is not an excuse. Sexual orientation and gender aren’t excuses. Coming from a poor school district or a single parent family is not an excuse. I can point to any number of successful people who have started the race with those same handicaps and still managed to win.

With the compassion of a loving parent, we have to hold one another to a higher standard. We have to expect more. Over the weekend, I worked with a group of young people (ages 13-15). My focus was to talk to them about consequences. I gave them a number of situations and asked what they would do – if they saw someone drop a wallet, if a friend wanted them to shoplift or if a younger sibling was blamed for something they did. To make a very long story very short, the majority of them consistently chose the path with the negative consequence – taking the wallet, shoplifting and even letting the little brother or sister take the blame.

When pressed for answers as to why they made those choices, I heard a lot of excuses. And, the scary part is that I also heard a lot of resignation. These were poor African-American kids and they told me that since they were poor and African-American, not a lot was expected of them. In fact, some told me that a few teachers and even parents expected them to do what most would call the wrong thing.

One boy recounted a teacher as saying that he’d “never amount to anything.” These kids were being taught from an early age to embrace the excuses. They were being taught to define themselves by the excuses and to identify with the excuses.

Tragically, the cycle continues.

If we want to break the cycle, we can’t do the same thing. Business as usual will not suffice. We need to hold people to a higher standard regardless of their race, income level, personal situation or any other artificial limitation.

Losing the excuses is the first step in creating a life based on your terms, your goals and your dreams.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Keys to Success: Teflon

This is the sixth in my ten part Keys of Success series. A new key will be featured every Monday.

Teflon – to the novice cook, it’s a godsend. No matter how badly you burn the rice, it will come off with ease – no scouring or scrubbing, no endless soaking in the sink.

When he was in office, President Clinton was often referred to as Teflon. Although he was tainted by scandal since his first run for office, nothing seemed to stick. The same could be said of Mafia legend, John Gotti, The Teflon Don. Charges and allegations appeared to just slide off of him. Well, since he died in prison, obviously it caught up with him, but for a long time, he was like legal butter.

In life, we can learn a lot from our Teflon role models (and no, I’m not talking about learning how to run a criminal enterprise or receive ‘services’ in the Oval Office). When it comes to criticism, negativity and hostility, gossip and the like, it helps if we can learn to let it slide off and not to take it so personally.

Learning how to take criticism is a critical part of success. Learning from your mistakes and seeing where you can do things differently – better or more efficiently – is a good thing. If there is a lesson to be learned, we can learn it and move on without the extras of hurt feelings, misunderstandings and wounded pride. In fact, in the road to success, those extras become indulgent, time-wasting detours.

Success demands confidence. When you are sure of what you want and where you are going, you can meet criticism and hostility with class, style and … yes, a smile. Be gracious as you the let the negatives slide right off of you.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Can and Should Are Not Synonyms

When I was a little girl, I couldn’t wait to grow up. Basically, I wanted to be a grown-up for two reasons: I could eat whatever I wanted and I could stay up as late as I wanted.

Flash forward 30 years later, and I know now that just because I can stay up until 3:00 in the morning while stuffing my face with Extra Value Meals, Coca-Colas and Hostess cupcakes, doesn’t mean that I should do those things.

What I didn’t realize as a kid, I definitely realize as an adult and it all boils down to one word: consequence. Sure, I can stay up late, but I feel it the next day (especially if it’s a work day). I can eat whatever I want but I will pay for it dearly on the scale and in larger clothes sizes.

Life is an endless stream of cans.

  • You can cheat on your spouse.
  • You can buy more house than you can comfortably afford.
  • You can quit your job before you have lined up another one.
  • You can do 95 mph on the highway.
  • You can have 14 kids.

The question isn't can you do those things but should you do those things? The answer depends on the consequences. Maybe buying the house is a viable option if you are in line for a big promotion. Maybe you have a critically ill child and you are trying to get to the hospital as soon as possible.

The answer is to really think things through and come to the conclusion that is best for you keeping the end result in mind.

Sure, my inner child isn't thrilled about salads over burgers and a sensible bedtime over a series of all-nighters, but my inner adult knows all about cans and shoulds and consequences.

But to avoid any tantrums, the kid can stay up late on weekends and enjoy the occassional sloppy cheeseburger. : )

Monday, February 2, 2009

Fear ... It's Nothing to be Afraid Of

This is the fifth in my ten part Keys of Success series. Every Monday we’ll feature another key.
Some people think that bravery or courage means the absence of fear. The truth is that being brave or courageous means moving forward in the face of fear. We all get nervous or downright scared, but the trick is to hear the fear. Listen to what it’s telling you and move forward anyway.
A while back, I wrote about a friend of mine who had been taking swimming lessons. During her last lesson, she decided to try something she’d never done before and jump off of the diving board.
Standing on top of that board, looking down into that water, she was scared and a ton of what-if’s came flooding into her head. She listened for a bit but then realized that her teacher was there, she was in a public pool with life guards and most importantly that she could swim. She was prepared. She was ready.
So, she jumped. In fact, she enjoyed it so much that she did it a couple more times. You see, she was scared when she climbed up the ladder. She was scared when she walked to the end of the diving board. And, she was scared when she jumped. But the actual experience proved to be much better than she had imagined.
She felt the fear at each step of the way and she still did it. None of those wild imaginings came to pass. As it often is the case, what we fear happening is almost always worse than what actually happens.
Success requires you to step out of your comfort zone … and that, in and of itself, can be very scary. If your fear is revealing some real concerns, be sure to handle them. But often times what we fear is not knowing the outcome or looking silly or making a mistake. It’s those fears that can be the most damaging because they aren’t backed by fact or even a strong gut instinct. Those kinds of fears are the ones it’s most important to break through.
So as you stand there, at the end of your own personal diving board, ask yourself, “Am I prepared?” and if the answer is “Yes,” take the plunge. You may actually enjoy it!