As a serious non-drug user, I always found the thought of trying LSD and mushrooms titillating, but terrifying. I wanted the experience and learning without what I perceived to be the risk of addiction or losing my mind. An article in this week’s NY Times titled “Hallucinogens Have Scientists Tuning In Again” gave me such a kick, and made me realize that I wasn’t totally wrong. What the article said reminded me so much of what coaching is about.
Apparently, under controlled conditions, scientists at Johns Hopkins and other universities are finding that patients who have taken hallucinogens have had a profound and lasting change to the way that they view themselves and the world. A fundamental and on-going change in perspective. One patient is quoted as saying, “It was a whole personality shift for me. I wasn’t any longer attached to my performance and trying to control things. I could see that the really good things in life will happen if you just show up and share your natural enthusiasms with people.” Wow! That is the sentiment that got me.
The idea resonated with me on two levels. First, imagine being able, in a short time, to get out of the ways of thinking that block us? The ‘stories’ we’ve told ourselves for years about how things are, what we can and can’t do? What a liberating change in perspective! And second, imagine really being yourself, “sharing your natural enthusiasms.” People spend so much time and energy creating masks. It’s counter-intuitive for most of us, but when we actually let our authentic selves show, we connect so much more easily. And, when the two work together: Being in a perspective of feeling powerful, plus really knowing your authentic self…the possibilities are endless.
This week I was struck twice by how much people are looking for community. The first time was last Sunday, when I read the New York Times article “Honey, Don’t Bother Mommy. I’m Too Busy Building My Brand.” I found myself trying to make sense of the number of hits people get by writing about a run in their stocking, or their kid’s spilling food all over himself. But the truth is, there is something in the air, a deep need for connection, that makes people want to know that someone out there is going through the same thing they are. My question is, “What is going on that makes everyone think they are the only one, or that what they are doing is strange?” Don’t most of us know that if we are doing something, it’s probably normal?
My second surprise was going to a charity knitting evening sponsored by a work/family balance life coach here on the Upper West Side. Knitting for charity? I was sure I’d be the only one to show up. But there were five other women there! Sitting with the group was lovely. I was reminded of being in the Hamptons on a rainy Saturday years ago, doing a puzzle with a friend and chatting. The puzzle work was just enough to keep our minds busy, so that we could just be together and talk. It is such a sweet and simple memory, yet it was so powerful.
Is it that our To Do lists keep us engaged in activities that separate us from one another? Is it that we don’t put enough importance on connection? Is it that we are so pushed to conforming to fit the corporate workplace, that we can’t be ourselves? This entry has more questions than answers. But I do believe that we need to work harder to put ourselves in situations where we can be ourselves, feel supported, and connect on a deeper level.
Who doesn’t get inspired every four years when they see the incredible achievements at the olympic games? I know I fantasize about having the freedom and support to be totally focused, totally dedicated, and totally determined. But what is it to bring those qualities into our own lives? I remember being 28 years old and seeing the movie, “A Few Good Men”. It may seem sentimental, but I happened to be in a serious, determined moment in my life. Thanks to that movie, I acted on a dream I’d had for a long time. Within a couple of weeks, I planned a solo three day bike trip from New York to Boston. With bare bones equipment, a couple of B&B reservations, and the knowledge that I could call home for a ride if I needed to, I took off.
I remember searing pain in my back and legs, joy in seeing the countryside, and incredible satisfaction. I also remember learning one of the lessons I’ve used repeatedly since. When biking up a long hill, don’t look at the top of the hill. Look down at your feet pedaling, or look at the asphalt a few feet in front of your wheel. Just work, push and don’t be married to the outcome. Maybe you’ll pedal all the way, maybe you’ll get off and walk.
There are times in life when we take on olympic size goals. Like having two kids in three years and starting a new business! When I get overwhelmed, I stop, meditate on the cycling, and visualize the road passing under my feet. It always reminds me that I am a determined person, but also that the journey, aching back and all, is the most incredible part.
Last Friday I was totally inspired at the Columbia Women in Business annual conference. What struck me most was the forward thinking tone. The logo for the conference was a phoenix. And it was called Redefining Business, Reinventing Yourself. Having transitioned in the last couple of years from a very traditional business school/corporate experience, I was thrilled to see a shift towards creating space for newness. The panel discussion I liked most was called Push: Remembering Power, Courage and Dreams in a Challenging Economy. The speakers were highly successful women in their fields. Each had a different story of pushing to the top. But what they all had in common was a love for what they do, incredible self-knowledge, and determination. What they also had was the meta-view, or view from above. These women are visionaries. They don’t sit around trying to figure out how to create the next IPod; that is in the past. These women create a void to let ideas and knowledge come. From that, new ideas are created. I am so looking forward to seeing the major new ideas and trends that come as a result of the recession we are in; I believe so much that learning comes from being in action and creating the space for ideas.
December’s Atlantic Monthly had a fascinating article about childhood development called The Science of Success http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200912/dobbs-orchid-gene. It was long, but the gist of it was that scientists, having long studied the negative effects of difficult children for the potential costs to society, have begun to ask why nature would continue to produce children with these genes. The study provides a fascinating perspective. It suggests that 80% of our society has a normal genetic makeup. These are the dandelions, who can grow pretty much anywhere, and who as a group create a stable society. Then, about 20% have a more fragile genetic constitution and are in the difficult child group. These are orchids. In a bad environment, they will grow up troubled and/or unstable. But in a good environment, they will thrive like an orchid in a hothouse. In fact, not only will they thrive but they can often be credited for a brilliance that leads to major innovation and positive forward change in our society.
What a wonderful light of hope for parents who have an ADD or otherwise difficult child? But, what does it mean for those of us who likely fall into the 80%? America is the land of the American Dream. The, “You can be anything you want to be!” and Rugged Individualist mythology. Here’s my perspective. What a relief. To me it means that we can stop spending so much time and energy trying to become the next Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or Bruce Springstein and just be ourselves. But it also means a different kind of work. Really taking a look at yourself and being yourself every day is hard work when we’ve spent so much time just reacting to others’ agendas. Think about what this would mean in your life.
This Christmas we headed to Vermont for a week of skiing. I bundled up and set my sights on the mountain, my only agenda to have fun. I fell in the snow teaching my daughter how to ski, we were delighted and a little scared (mostly her) on the chair lift, and we giggled all the way down as she skied in between my legs. On my own I skied as fast and hard as I could on the steep hills, softly and gently on some easier ones, and jelly-like on the moguls.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines recreation as “The process or means of refreshing or entertaining oneself” or, “A pleasurable activity.” I like the part about refreshing oneself, but I like even better the definition just above on the page: Re-create, “Create or produce over again.” Coaches use the Wheel of Life a lot. In it is one section titled Fun and Recreation. The truth is that recreation is not optional. We need it. It’s also not something that we can reason ourselves out of. Coaches also come from the perspective that people being coached are extremely resourceful. When we are given the space to play, rest and have fun, we re-create ourselves and replenish our resources. What a great way to increase productivity!
Last evening at a dinner party, a friend suggested I check out Obama’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech. Having now watched it, I am struck again by the power of president Obama’s eloquence. More than a pretty turn of phrase, eloquence is such an important tool to opening us to possibility. The Oxford Encyclopedic English Dictionary defines it as “fluent and effective use of language.” The effective use of language allows us to articulate, to define perspectives, and to communicate without judgement. In college I read a lot of the romantic authors and can remember that for them, nature presented a beauty beyond words. But I find it sad to give up on words to really express ourselves. To me, communication is at the heart of being ourselves, building relationships, and finding intimacy. It is key to the evolution in relationships between individuals, groups, and for Obama, countries.
What often gets in the way of good communication is the voices of others — parents, teachers, bosses, media, who inadvertently clip our wings. It can be tough to express ourselves openly when we are afraid of being judged or are afraid that our words might have an unintended impact. In coaching, articulation, listening, effective definitions of perspectives, and open communication are key to individuals’ forward movement. When someone feels truly heard, it turns out that they have the resources to answer their own challenges. And when, as with president Obama, a person’s eloquence truly opens up discourse, the possibilities are endless.
This weekend my three year old daughter got a ‘big girl bed’. She’d been anticipating it for weeks, and got in it with her new birthday doll and a huge smile, totally rejecting the baby she’s had for the last year. Of course my emotions were mixed. Alongside my happiness at her joy, I thought, “She’s not a baby any more!”
This week I promised myself I’d find something other to write about than Tiger Woods. Nevertheless, I find myself thinking about it. Specifically, I am intrigued by the notion that women today have to wear so many hats. Many of us, Like Tiger’s wife Elin, are raised to be ‘good girls’. Presentable, sophisticated, good wives, good mothers. Today we find that we also have to be, and I say this euphemistically, an exotic and wild girl.
There are times as a Life Coach when you are your own best case study. Personally, I know that I tend towards being overly ambitious. Knowing that, I thought I’d had a good plan for the months following the birth of our second child. Get lots of babysitter help, take the summer off. Still, within a few weeks I wanted to get back to my clients. I love my work, and missed it. All the while, my sister was telling me, “Slow down. The first six months of having two kids is a total blur.” Now that my son is officially at the six month mark, I realize that she was right. All of a sudden, things are so much easier. The same effort yields more results, I am more focused, less tired. And I anticipate that there will be other corners down the road. The lesson here is to listen and trust. Nature has a way that it works, and sometimes the message of, “Just Do It!” won’t get you ahead any faster. Trust your heart, trust your body, trust yourself. You’ll know when the time is right, and that to me is living organically.