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Ordinary People Taking Action
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One of my absolute favorite things is being home in a freshly cleaned house. There is something about the smell of a clean house, not the bleach-type smell, but the crispness and freshness in the air when a house is really clean. I love it.
However, as much as I love a good deep clean, it’s something that doesn’t happen often enough – at least not in my house. With two teenagers, two working parents, and a dog, it’s almost impossible on any regular basis, to pull everything off the shelves, move the furniture – to move all the stuff actually – and do a proper deep clean.
So, instead, we regularly do a decent clean. Some weeks better than others. Sometimes before guests come over, we will do a quick wipe of the bathrooms, the kitchen, vacuum, fast dusting (if we are lucky), throw the clothes in a closet and fluff the sheets of the bed. Sometimes when we are tired, we barely do anything. Yet, we always know that deep cleaning is best – and, personally, I know that a good deep clean makes me the happiest. Yet, most often, even without the true deep clean, it’s good enough, so we carry on.
At quick glance, America is much like my house.
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It’s easy to see why our lives might be emotionally strained. Every day we wake up to more news about this COVID-19 virus; news that might be based in facts and news that could be fueled to trigger fear and uncertainty. We spend our days surrounded by a situation that I don’t believe any of us choose to be in and we spend our days interacting with people who might not share our views, believes, values and behaviors. We are surrounded by people with various knowledge and it’s hard to understand fact from assumptions and opinions.
While the world is swarming because of the COVID-19, we still have our other life stressors and triggers at play; and for some, these stressors are even more intense. If you were struggling financially before COVID-19, you might now be worried about finances even more. If you were having difficulties with your manager at work, there might be even a larger strain on your relationship. If you weren’t full engaged, this might be an excuse to disengage even more. And, we can’t forget the people who were in a good space prior to this outbreak – who may or may not be continuing to feel good about things.
We are all here for the long-haul. Whatever comes or doesn’t come from the COVID-19 situation most of us will have our lives greatly impacted because of either getting sick, knowing someone who gets sick or the short-term and long-term impact of the stress that caused changes to our work and home environments. To say the long-term implications is unknown, well that is maybe the one statement that I believe, truly believe to be true out of everything I have heard about this virus.
It’s no wonder the emotional stakes in the world are so high.
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I have wanted to move to a new home for a very long time, and while that’s not what this story is about, the context is important. It’s important because I have spent a lot of time looking at houses, and in doing so, I have noticed something: every house has a living space in which all seating is positioned to make the television more easily viewable. My own home is not an exception. This arrangement is so common that it’s always easy to identify which houses are staged and which are currently lived in. Televisions aren’t a focal point in a staged home.
On a related note, I recently read that habits are formed because of things that we do repeatedly, and often, our environment shapes these habits. It’s no wonder people come home, fall onto the sofa and settle into an hours-long daze of television watching. After all, you have a comfortable place to sit that is positioned right in front of the television. We’ve created the perfect environment for what some might argue is a not very productive habit.
A side story, completely unrelated to this (I will tie everything together soon, I promise) is that three years ago, I mentioned to my family that I really wanted a lemon tree. They were skeptical. In the state of Washington, there isn’t continuous year-round sunlight and warm weather. How would I manage to grow lemons? I told them I was committed to the task, and so, for Mother’s Day that year, I was the proud receiver of a lemon tree.
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This is a blog series following my executive coaching client, Christine, as we navigate her personal and career struggles. If you haven’t read Part 1, click here to start from the beginning. For Part 2, click here and for Part 3, click here.
As an executive coach, I build relationships with people – in many cases very deep relationships. Then, when the contract ends, we often part ways. It’s one of the hardest parts of my job, so I am always thrilled to get an update from former clients and honored to receive multiple updates. In the case of my relationship with Christine, a year would pass with no word from her and no resolution as to what happened with her family that caused the sobbing that morning.
When I coach people, the basis of my coaching focuses on what the individual needs in order to show up at their best. We discuss the concept of “triggers”, which are emotional responses to an event. Triggers can be positive or negative and are often referred to as either productive or counterproductive. We explore anticipated and unanticipated triggers, conscious and unconscious triggers, encouraging and discouraging triggers, and intentional and unintentional triggers.
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This is a blog series following my executive coaching client, Christine, as we navigate her personal and career struggles. If you haven’t read Part 1, click here to start from the beginning.
Looking at Christine today with tears in her eyes, I’m reminded of that first time I saw her cry. The first time I saw her cry, I didn’t ask why. Our relationship was so new and somewhat fragile, and I knew that if she’d wanted me to know why she was crying, she would tell me. Since that day, our relationship had evolved to something deeper, so with compassion I asked, “Christine, what are you feeling?” Her response, “Sadness, very deep sadness.”
I have a rule with my clients. When the question “What are you feeling?” is asked, the answers have to be one or two words, with no explanations. I will never ask for the explanation and they don’t need to provide it. It’s a strategy that I learned working with a large corporation – that the action of naming a feeling is often all that is needed. Yet, today, without thought, I asked, “Why so much sadness?” The room was filled with a long silence. All you could hear was Christine’s breathing, and every so often, a sniffle as tears spilled from her eyes.
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Don't Juggle; Make Choices.
A question coaches are asked a lot is, “How can I juggle work and life?” In my experience, when I am asked this question, my client is feeling like they are taking on too much in one area of their lives. I’d like to start by sharing some stories that I think readers may relate to, especially as the holidays approach.
John is an executive at a large company, who tells me he spends a minimum of 14 hours working, at least three hours driving, 4 hours sleeping and the rest taking care of his living needs. Part of his 14-hour workday is spent texting/emailing, starting before 5am most mornings and ending close to midnight most evenings. His phone rings constantly, often during dinner with his family. He almost always answers. His wife and family rarely see him, and even when he’s physically present, he’s frequently mentally distracted.
Jessica has created a habit where she ends her day in the office at 4:30pm so that she can be home for the kids in the evening. She and her husband tag team to get the kids to various sports and commitments in the evenings, all while juggling the dogs, dinner prep and other household/family needs. After the kids are in bed, typically between 9:30 – 10pm, Jessica will log back onto her computer and “catch up” on the work she missed by leaving the office at 4:30. She typically works until well past midnight, sometimes later. She sees her husband daily yet doesn’t feel that they have any truly meaningful interactions.
Emily is just returning to work after giving birth to her second baby boy. Her oldest is about to turn 3 years old, so she is juggling the demands of two young children at home and reentering a director-level job at a larger company. She has been late for every morning meeting this week, realizing it’s hard to get out of the house on time and still meet the needs of her kids. She uses the mother’s room every three hours while at the office and has been leaving every day at 6pm. Once home, she is too exhausted to log onto her work email, and yet her work is just getting started at home. Nights mean getting up every 4-5 hours to feed the newborn baby, leaving her sleep deprived the following day.
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Lately I have been asking my coaching clients this question: how do you show up? For those who aren’t sure, here’s a great way to visualize it. Imagine a line, which is a continuum between you showing up as your best self and you showing up as the opposite of your best. Think about various times throughout the day and how you show up in those moments. I think many of us will agree that where we sit on this continuum varies throughout the day.
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Back in November, I had coffee with a long-time colleague, who said to me, “If it scares you, do it.” Afterward, his comment stayed with me. It made me think of all the times I’ve heard that same, recurring theme. If it scares you, it’s meant to be. If it scares you, you’ll learn from it. If it scares you, opportunity is right there.
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"It’s been forever since I’ve seen you.” Colleen clicks send on her phone, feeling like a weight has been lifted. Finally, she’d reconnect with Kristi. It had been way too long.
Kristi picks up her phone and smiles. It’s so nice to hear from old friends. There’s just no way right now with her work schedule, though. “I know, I know,” she texts back. “We need to get together. Things have just been so busy. We will get together soon. Promise.”
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“I’ve lost sight of who I am.” It’s the only way Karen can explain what led her to schedule this coaching session. The warning signs have been piling up. She hasn’t exercised in over a year. Her doctor tells her she's neglecting her physical health. Exhaustion, weight gain, and something about her adrenal glands. Why are adrenal glands important? Her mind is too preoccupied to remember.