Saturday, April 9, 2011

Why Trees Are Not Lost

I had an epiphany the other day. (It's been a long time coming.)

A lot of us wake up in the morning, go about our usual routine, go to work our usual route, and approach our tasks with the usual resignation. And usually, the quiet message playing in the background is "Boring, bored, ho-hum, been there - done that, boring..."

The funny thing is, we don't seem to notice it enough to DO anything about it. Well, some become weekend warriors, but most of us just put one foot in front of the other.

So by now you are wondering, what does this all have to do with trees?!

Isabelle Smith

My insight came from the coming together of several comments that all have the same root.
  • "Just make sure you look where you want to go as you drive, because the car will follow your line of sight. If you are looking at the trees, that is where you'll end up."
  • "Don't worry about skiing into a tree. Just look where you want to go (between them) and that's where your body will take you."
  • "You are not lost, the trees know where you are."
I know my readers are intelligent and probably didn't need the italics to point out the message.
Except perhaps, for the last comment. That drove the nail home for me.

We are all heading some place - many of us realize we have a choice in the matter. If not the final destination, then for sure how we will get there.

Pawel Kryj

But sometimes we feel really lost. Directionless. All we see are the obstacles. Perhaps - because that is what we are looking for. Most of us are so afraid of failing that the hurdles are what we look for in our path. Funny how they appear exactly where we thought they would!

What if - and this was my A-ha! moment - we focused on where we wanted to go - between the obstacles?

Marjorie Manicke

What if we focus on exactly what we want in a job, in a home, in a client, in ourselves. Although visioning helps, I am talking getting really really detailed - FULL descriptions. Size, color, gender, location, commute time, responsibilities, to the last detail.

And then we make a list of things we could do to prepare ourselves to get there and the steps it would take to get there.

And then we put it on a time line. Be as specific with times and dates as you can. Next Monday, before dinner. Thursday night by 5 pm. By next August 1st.

Then you tell someone. Your partner, your best friend, your coach, your sibling, your mom or dad. Someone you trust to check on you, encourage you, and hold you accountable.

Thomas Boulvin

I bet you a year's worth of car washes (who doesn't want a clean car?) that you will reach your goal without hitting any trees... I mean obstacles.

You will no longer see the obstacles, and trees will become a source of energy, comfort, shade, and wisdom. They aren't lost, they are where they should be. And you will be too.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Connecting Through Difference is A lot Like Doing Your Laundry

As I am a stranger in a strange land (an American in Germany), I tend to meet a lot of others like me. I don't seek them out, we find each other. Like a good book.

Or it could be that my line of work (transition coaching) brings them to me.

I work with folks who are unsure how to be successful in this new place. They don't know the unwritten rules, and are either afraid of making mistakes or have already made some and are frustrated with the results.

After I get done explaining where the reactions come from and what drives the behavior, I try to make suggestions on how to cope and adapt to this new adventure. Sometimes I hear the refrain, "I just can't change who I am so that they like me!"

No, no, you most certainly don't. Be true to who you are, but try to close the gap by behaving in a way that will get you what you want. Smile, learn the language (especially the pleases and thank yous), and learn to laugh at yourself.

For some, that last one is a TALL order.

And change is hard. But we strangers, are actually the guests, so it is up to us to put forth a large share of the effort to get along here.

A wise woman once said to me,
"Do not try to change who you are, just open the door and invite others to join you."

First, it is important to know who you are. What is important to you? What is special about you? Appreciate your uniqueness. Own your gifts.

Now I bet you are wondering, "Ok, I know all that, but what door is she talking about?!"

That door would be your mind - your heart. When you become open in your mind, you judge less, you are less fearful, and more curious. A smile is a great way to open a door.

In Germany, making direct eye contact with a smile is another way to open a door. Though you may have to do it consistently for a month before you break through someone's rough exterior, your reward may be incredible warmth and loyalty for life!

Ok, you've figured out who you are, you can manage a smile, so how do you get past that barrier that is set up by difference? Their fear of you, or your fear of THEM?

Be curious. Ask questions. Cultivate a desire to know, understand, and engage with the unknown. The unknown could be a person, a place, an event. It could be a verb or a noun.

Take courage. You do not have to change, and neither do they. You just have to find a place you are both comfortable. Repeat steps 1 through 3.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

I’m Alive - Da*%!$-it!

I grew up in a place that reminded me regularly that I was a small part of a very gigantic picture. When the earth moves underneath your feet and takes everything attached with it (floors, cabinets, large trees) you feel powerless.

First it scares the crap out of you. Then you have a rushing sense of deep and overflowing gratitude. I’m alive!

(Manu Mohan)

I imagine it is the same with a flood, tornado, hurricane, volcanic eruption or any other major natural disaster. Any time nature exhibits its power, we are reminded of our status as guest, not host.

Funny how I never truly appreciated having to struggle with nature until now. Since living in Munich, where there seem to be very few struggles with nature (I won’t count the infrequent hailstorms or fruit flies) - I've been missing something.

At first it was a kind of lull - then complacency. Things are just dull.

There is no physical reminder to dislodge old (bad) habits, hard old shells that cover my brain and affect how I think. Nothing to wipe away ruts that I get stuck in. Nothing that forces me to feel alive!

Sad to think I have to be forced to do that. It is too easy to get stuck in the Mundane and Mediocre.


The other thing that natural disasters seem to do is bring people together. I remember a forest fire behind our house two years ago. There were helicopters dumping water from the nearby pond, and neighbors all around came out to look.

Bikers stopped to look and I got to meet neighbors that I had been living next to for more than a year – and had never seen before. There was concern for the folks living next to the forest and a few of us helped them spray their roof and move furniture. Luckily it came to nothing, and I have not seen some of those people since.

For a moment there was a feeling of caring, coming together, connection. People felt necessary, lucky.

Perhaps that is the biggest reminder – not to take things for granted. And as much as I dislike hearing about the struggles or those who survive a natural disaster, I do envy their wake-up call.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Jumping Fences

I was recently walking in the rain through a park with a friend. I forget what we were talking about, probably just unloading, and she said something that stuck with me.

‘I hate it when others chose my boundaries.’

I asked her what she meant and she explained that she did not like it when her husband, or anyone else, told her what the standard shoulds and shouldn’ts are and how they Must Be Maintained.

(Pedro Rama)

It was not that she did not believe in a total lack of boundaries or rules, but there seemed to be so many rules that had Served Their Purpose and were still being held on to, for no apparent reason.

We agreed that when we get to choose which boundaries we maintain there is a greater sense of focus and power. When society decides, based on tradition or obligation, our energy gets sapped and our attitude heads south too.

We get angry, resentful, frustrated. Am I hitting anyone’s “YES!” button?

Surprisingly enough, a lot of this rule following (and I am not talking about things set up to keep us safe, like stopping at red, or not stealing), is self-imposed.


We often set up fences based on an assumption that THAT is what we are supposed to be doing. I am of working age, I have my degree in marketing, that is what I am supposed to do the rest of my life. Or, I am the eldest, it is my job to be taking care of my aging parents. Or, I am the mom and wife, I should be getting all the laundry done and feeding the dog because no one else will do it if I don’t.

But you see, there is always a choice. There is always a way to redefine something.

The marketing degree, for example. So what if you wake up one day and realize you did it because that’s what made your parents happy? Ask yourself what makes you happy. Is it the people part, the research part, or the creative problem solving part? Those can be found in LOTS of other careers.

And if you are the eldest, all that means is you should continue to have the power and intelligence to convince younger siblings to contribute to your parents’ care. Either with money, or time, or other ideas.

Ultimately, if you are a working mother and have a partner or children over 6 years of age, you have plenty of helpers. Feeding the dog is a shared responsibility and getting the laundry done can be a community effort. (Clean underwear is a powerful motivator.)

Any of this ring a bell? Do you have any boundaries that make you balk? Fences that need to be jumped over? Take a good look, I bet you’ll discover some that no longer serve a purpose, and need to be readjusted.

Realizing you have choices often does that.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Jump - First Photo!

Here's the first of what I hope will be several submissions!

Doesn't it want to make you jump too?

Come on people... let's see you JUMP for joy!

It shouldn't be just for children...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Jump for Joy!

Yup. Literally. I want everyone to show me their BEST jump for joy. I want you to feeeeel it.

Believe it. Be it.

Ball up your fists. Bend your elbows into your gut as you bend down to spring. Then push up so hard that you jump up and explode!

Or, you could try running and jumping for joy.


Oh, that's a good question.

Well, let's think of some rationally good reasons:
  1. It will get your blood flowing and make your cheeks pink which will make you look healthy.
  2. It will warm up cold hands and feet.
  3. It will make you laugh which increases the secretion of the hormone endorphins, which will help you stay healthy.

Now for some irrational reasons:
  1. Because we can.
  2. Because it's fun.
  3. Because it's not sitting like a lump in a chair.

That's enough of the reasons. Back to jumping for joy.

I hit upon this because I was looking for a photo of me for something and found this:

It is one of many that friends who came to visit me where crazy enough to do with my daughter. To this day, when I look at that photo I laugh. I glow. It makes me so happy.

And frankly, I don't think there is enough of that going around.

If you're feeling brave, send me a photo of your jump for joy. It could inspire someone else...

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Leave a Trail

Ever heard of "desire lines"?

They aren't found on your face - or any where else on your body.

They are the paths that cross a wide lawn or snake behind a large building. They are the paths that lead us to where we want to go without following the prescribed concrete path.

They are created by a need - a desire - to get somewhere faster, which often means not following the path laid out for you.

(Photo by Claire Gaillard)

Paths in Life

Have you ever looked up from your life and thought (not necessarily for the better) "What am I doing here?!"

Senario 1: You went to school, got degrees, built a life - and then - you wake up.

Senario 2: You flounder, wander, float, do a little of this and a little of that...and you end up - really - nowhere.

Actually, I imagine there are many senarios, many different paths, to the ultimate question. W.A.I.D.H. Often replaced or followed by, "What was I thinking?!"

In my experience as a coach, people end up coming to me when they realize that they don't want to walk on the sidewalk anymore. They are looking longingly at those little jagged paths that are behind the benches, among the trees, venturing into wide open spaces...

(See the path on the faaaar left of this photo? Desire line!)

It takes a lot of courage to step off the safe path, to not follow the prescription for happiness and success. Of course, this is readily described in hundreds of 'self-help' books in a variety of languages.

But no (good) coach will give you a prescription to happiness, because the real path is the one you discover on your own.

But what if - what if - we stop a moment and really look at where we want to go. Create our own idea of what success and happiness is by looking at our own passions and truths.

It can be hard not to just follow along all the easy trails laid out for us. Look, they're clean, safe, direct (sort of), orderly, sure. If we follow these paths they will get us to a place for certain.

But what about the journey? New discoveries? New Adventures? Curiosity?


We don't all need to rush out and find a new route to the north pole, or discover a new way to make toast. But what if we stepped off the path every now and then? What would we find?

A mud puddle? A dead end? A dark hole? It's possible.

An insight? An epiphany? A brilliant idea? It's possible.

That's just it - it's all possible!
But only if you step off the prescribed path every now and then. Get your heart rate up, heighten your senses.

In fact, why don't we leave trails for others to follow?!

Go ahead, step off the path. I dare you.

You might be surprised that someone is standing right next to you.