Peace is just a few breaths away.

Lots has been said lately about mindfulness, meditation, presence, being “in the moment”…and if you are anything like I have been for most of my life, you are confused. I had a roommate who set her alarm so she could wake up early and meditate. WTF. Not a chance. I’ll sleep, thank you. Twelve step recovery programs tell us to take “quiet time” daily. I basically fell asleep or used the time to think about things. It was good, it was something, but it still made no sense. I never saw the impact that so many were fawning over. Over the last 30 years, I’ve amassed a distinguished record of failed attempts at meditating by way of studying meditation, buying apps, doing 30 day challenges, taking action on it, reading as much as I could, listening to podcasts, and whatever else. I finally chalked it up to a biological incapability to quiet my mind. Yes, that’s all I wanted. A quiet mind where the list of things to do wasn’t flowing freely and often causing panic.

I remember coming home from an early morning meeting one Saturday and finding my husband asleep. It was 8:30 am. I immediately reacted to the fact that he didn’t have time to sleep because there were curtains to be hung and a lawn to mow. I’m so grateful that he didn’t divorce me right then and there. 

So fast forward to 2018, four kids later, when I was introduced to a spiritual mentor who simply said this: get comfortable, breathe, and focus on your breath without judgement. That’s it. What I loved about this is that she added, “don’t change the way you breathe, just breathe.” You mean I don’t have to count to 8 at every inhale and count to 9 at every exhale? And if a thought comes into my mind, let alone whole conversations with people against whom I hold resentments or need to speak with about any number of things, just notice it without judgement and refocus on the breath? Really? Over time, I learned that when I’m focusing on the breath, I have no thoughts, other than the up and down of my belly or chest. As I did it more, I noticed other sensations in my body; I noticed what was painful or where I felt the bottoms of my feet in my socks and my socks on the ground. I felt my butt in the chair, usually sinking into the chair in my office, and the tightness of my forehead or my neck or my shoulders. This time gave me the opportunity to shift and to stretch and to crack the bones and shift the muscles around. Sometimes, I even imagine myself connected to the earth or the sky and whatever else is outside of the sky. Generally, I keep it simple and just breathe. 

When I started thinking about this 30 years ago, I had no idea what I was longing for other than a chance to give my brain a break. It needed to rest. Having practiced this way consistently for almost a year now, I notice the impact outside of those moments of quiet. Over time I have seen that when someone pisses me off, I feel a nudge in my body – usually in my back – and it is like an early warning signal to the rest of me. It reminds me to check in and and ask myself a question. Sometimes, it’s “What is true for me now?” The question allows me pause. It allows me to notice that I’m about to lose my shit and so I put space between my feelings, thoughts and reactions. Other times, it is more immediate – but checking in always tells me that my reaction is not about the other person despite how hard I’m trying to make it about them. Almost always, I feel an emotion: sadness or fear. And my sadness is usually about fear. Or loss. Which is also about fear. It’s all about fear. That moment of checking in allows me to pull away from that reaction I was about to have and notice that the fear or sadness have nothing to do with the other person and everything to do with me. Tara Brach says something like “an emotion felt all the way through lasts about 90 seconds.” I have also heard that anger not reacted upon lasts about 8 minutes. It is when we resist the feelings by acting on them and not acknowledging them and letting them just pass through the energy of our body that they last for hours, or days, or years. Really, it’s our resistance that lasts for hours, or days, or years. When practicing this breathing, or presence as I refer to it, for a few minutes a day, I yell less, I listen more, and I relax into my skin in a different way because it brings presence into my day in those moments when I most need to be an outside observer of myself. More often than I’d like to admit, my outside observer says, “What the hell are you doing? Stop making everyone cray cray and just feel what you feel!”

My fears about whether or not things will ever get done if I spend 5 minutes a day practicing this presence are assuaged by the fact that I am happier, calmer, and have pause. I’m more curious and less convicted. I’m more empathic and less a victim. My kids haven’t told me that I have no chill in at least a couple of months. 

So what is this? Meditation? Mindfulness? Presence? Who cares? I refer to it as my presence practice because it takes me out of the future, away from the past, and gives me the moment I’m in and then the next moment and the next one and the next one. It’s all a form of mindfulness which is a form of meditation, but my presence practice has no chanting or mantra. I will add that at some point, I assume, but for now, I’m happy with what I have. 

I am grateful to have a work life that allows me to practice this with my clients which is good for me, too. It allows me to just release all that I have with me and show up fully, 100% with them and what they have brought to the session. I am a better coach because of it. Teenagers love it. Executives love it. My college aged clients really love it. I never would have understood it at that age. I really didn’t and I tried so hard. Resisting the fact that I had a quiet mind is actually what perpetuated the busy mind. The occupied mind. The frenetic mind. Coming out of the present and into the future is what causes my distress. I wonder what you’ll notice when you try it. I’d love to hear. 

I can share some resources from others who practice. I’ll add a recording to my facebook page so you, too, can experience it. I am not great at it outside of doing it with another person, but that’s ok for now. I don’t suck. I am not a failure. I am just a girl on a journey to increase the positivity in the energetic field that I take with me wherever I go, one breath at a time. 

There are only two things you need to know before deciding to open a home office.

As I walked into my office this morning, I spied something out of the corner of my eye that looked out of place. The only way to get into my home office, where I see coaching clients 4-6 days a week, is to walk through my dining room. I also have some comfortable chairs set up for those occasions when I hold groups in my home. So here I am, about 45 minutes before my first client of the day arrives, and I see that my dog has brought a pair of my husband’s underwear downstairs and left it in the chair directly outside of my office. I quickly grab it and throw it down the basement stairs, and head into my office. 

  1. Can you manage the necessary upkeep that supports whatever image it is that you are trying to convey to those who come to meet you professionally? 

After throwing the underwear down the basement stairs, I sat down to put together some paperwork that I wanted ready for the client who was coming to my home for our discovery session. I was deep in thought, typing away, and heard all sorts of noise from the other room. I looked at my watch and decided I had time before they arrived to investigate. Not only had the dogs moved the chairs barricading the pull out trash can in my kitchen, but they had successfully pulled open the drawer, extricated the entire hefty bag from the barrel, dragged it to a more comfortable carpeted space, and dug right in. Apparently one likes his meat and the other likes sugar so they hadn’t been fighting over the contents of the previously well tied and secured bag. I threw the bag on the porch (where I’m sure the squirrels are chowing on it now) and left them with their meat containers and banana muffin cups.

2. Do you have a space that is free of distraction that allows you to separate professional duties from personal duties?

I have had many, many clients come to my home whom I have never met before and do think about the safety and security of my family and my home. Have I ever felt unsafe with a client? No. Have I ever wondered if I should? Not really. Do I have what I need in place to allow me to do the work every day without asking myself those questions on a regular basis? Absolutely. 

3. Are you putting yourself or your home at risk of harm by having clients enter your personal space?

The answers to the above questions are something like: 

(1) Sort of?; 

(2) On good days, with a lot of discipline and sound machines on, yes; and

3) I suppose one never really knows. 

Are the answers to those three questions really important at all?

Probably not. They keep me on my toes, but they are not deal-breakers. As I continue to shape this blob of metaphorical clay that sits in front of me (that is, continue to create what I want with this life I have), I realize that only two things matter:

  1. My personal values; and
  2. My professional “why”.

Working with someone to get clear on those two things is the best predictor of success for any life decision. What is important to you? My answer to that question includes the following: flexibility and efficiency with regard to time and scheduling, being available to my children in ways that meet our needs for accountability to each other and our emotional connection as a family community, and finally, creating joy throughout my day, every single day. If I can fulfill my mission, my professional “why”, while making sure these values are being honored, I can successfully manage a home office. Frankly, I can do anything. 

So today, while I was throwing the underwear down the basement stairs, I laughed out loud at the story I could have shared with a client had they encountered tighty whities  during our first appointment. When I discovered the dogs with their sweet and savory treats in front of them, I snapped a picture, threw the bag on the porch, and returned to my office, allowing the mess to stay there until my work hours are over. And finally, I have scheduled blocks in this week to prepare meals, do some household chores, and spend time with my kids, both being and doing with them. What is good for my clients, is good for me.

Knowing and honoring my values and staying in touch with my “why” are the only touchstones I need as I continue to mold my clay with this one, fabulous life I have. 

Your Stake in the World: Write a College Essay that Communicates What Matters to You.

When I was in school learning about the coaching paradigm and how different it was from my worldview as a clinical social worker, it changed my life in so many ways. By and large, I shifted from “you are broken and I am here to fix you,” to “you are perfect exactly where you are, and there is always room for growth; what do you want?” My agenda does not run the relationship; rather, the client’s curiosity does. My job is to ask questions that open neural pathways of possibility for clients and to support them to move into action between our sessions. I do this with employees, managers, parents, millennials, and teenagers. 

During my training, I found I had a longing to bring coaching to young people. How different could this world be if students had an opportunity to explore who they are and then learned to leverage those innate talents and strengths 

to shift how they show up in the world? How significant could it be, if, one student at a time, we went from “I have no idea what I want,” to “I know who I am and what will support me to create what I want (even if I don’t know what that looks like right now).” By using students’ real world experience in school, at home, on teams, with affiliations, or at work as the playground for learning, with coaching as the catalyst, we throw a pebble in a pond and watch the whole pond change.

I was working with a 9th grade student who, after some coaching, noticed that the classes where he had the highest grades, were also the classes where he could identify an ally.  He learned that he needed some level of comfort before he could be uncomfortable enough to be seen by the teacher. Learning requires some level of vulnerability. It requires risk. Not only did our work uncover that, once he discovered how it played out, he was motivated to get in the sandbox and play with it.  He came up with a system that started with how he unpacked his bag in class and made eye contact with the teacher. It involved lots of experimenting with putting up his hand in class, whether he wanted to, or not. He would return to our zoom calls every other week, engaging with me in a different way, as well. I could tell things were shifting, but more importantly, he could, too. His mother called me to ask what we were doing together because she had noticed a difference in their home. He started to feel success and he understood that he could actually have an impact, not just in school, but in other areas of his life, as well. What started with “my teacher hates me,” ended with, “I need an ally to feel comfortable, but I can influence who I see as my allies.”

In thinking about this young man in 9th grade, I know that he already has a moment to reflect on to write his college essay. What?? You don’t have to have a ginormous leadership project? You don’t have to be an Eagle Scout? You don’t have to form a non-profit or even be a candy striper at the hospital? The short answer is, “No.” I have spent the last several years picking the brains of high school counselors, college admissions counselors, and folks who are certified to guide students through the college process in the private sector. Guess what? Everyone gives the same advice: to highlight something that communicates who you are. Most would agree, too, that the focus is on the student, not the thing. When a student writes a great (not fancy, which is another blog post!) essay about who they are, they are far more likely to differentiate themselves from the crowd of other applicants.

My 9th grade student could write about how he took his notebook out of his backpack and made eye contact, and what those moments in time taught him about intentionally engaging with other people. He could even marvel at a world where people did this on a regular basis. The admissions committees would learn that he is curious about himself, is willing to take risks in service of his own growth, and that he cares about what connects people with one another. 

Essays are about communicating what a student’s stake is in this world. It is exciting work and when we let students guide the process and we support their agenda, they do a fantastic job at doing just that.

Thank You Note Challenge January 2019

Friends,

I had the opportunity to coach the most amazing women at the Massachusetts Conference for Women earlier this month. Wow. Its one of my favorite events in which to participate. I heard phenomenal keynote speakers and went to workshops full of rich teaching and learning.

At the Workplace Summit on day one, some really interesting data was shared that stopped me in my tracks.

Taking 2 minutes (and we mean maximum of 2 minutes) to write a positive email or letter thanking or praising someone in your life is connected to all sorts of positive outcomes.

But wait, there is more….

We “co-process” the world. Because we share traits with those around us (optimism, happiness, pessimism…its all contagious), we cannot pursue meaningful self-help alone; we must pursue it in community.

(because I want to give credit where credit is due, Shawn Achor, an amazing happiness researcher,  shared this. Google him. He’s amazeballs.)

So welcome to 2019, the year of the Granahan Coaching and Consulting Thank You Note Challenge. From January 1 – January 31, I’ll be posting something daily about gratitude (teaser: I’ll share more about the data above). If you want to take part, you’ll commit to writing a short email or note to someone daily, thanking them for whatever it is you want to thank them for. This is about you. And us. It’s about partnering with each other in a quest for increased dopamine and connecting as a community.

My preference is to do this on my Granahan Coaching and Consulting Facebook page rather than creating a separate Facebook page. I’d also love for you to interact with each other on this page, sharing your own thoughts or beliefs about what’s happening for you, notice any shifts in how you show up in the world, or just share the folks to whom you are writing. You’ll be sharing ideas for those who may be having a hard time coming up with words or people to thank!

If you are not comfortable doing so on my public page, just reach out to me. If it keeps even one person from participating, we’ll do a separate FB page/event? Clearly I have more to learn about social media.

If you don’t already follow my FB page, please head on over and follow it now. Its Granahan Coaching and Consulting. Many of you access my posts when I share them to my personal page, but please join your fellow warriors over on my business page. You won’t regret the community of others who are longing for something and willing to work for whatever that is. Our co-processing starts now.

Much love to you all as we journey through 2019 together. Let’s remember what the data shows and what we already know ourselves: we are wired for connection and our light shines brighter and more authentically when we are “in it” together.

With gratitude,

Christina 

(image by Brian Andreas at Storypeople)

Remembering Who I Am: The College Dropoff

I’m home from dropping the kids and thinking about the myriad ways we all address this time as parents. I’m a big observer of behavior and I listen for a living. I’ve learned a lot and have have noticed four distinct Mama-types that reveal themselves at this time of year. Here is what I’ve learned – feel free to add something else if you don’t find yourself here!

  1. The “It’s their time, they’ll be fine” type, or its variation, the “You know its what they have to do, don’t you?” Mom. These moms have an ability to put all the emotions of their child’s departure into a tight, little box, neatly tied with a bow. It just is what it is. While not unkind, they really have no patience or understanding for those who talk about what it feels like to have said goodbye to their college kids.
  1. The “I’ve just lost my best friend” Mom. She isn’t quite sure what she’ll do with herself (other than count down those days!) now that her BFF isn’t front and center anymore. This mom looks forward to face timing with their kid at the end of the day, tries to visit often, and  has definitely had a huge role in decorating their child’s dorm or apartment. Care package group just may be a highlight for this mom when she can hear what all her kiddo’s hometown friends are up to. She loves them all.
  1. The “I’m worried that they don’t know how to take care of themselves” Mom. She stays afloat by keeping in touch with other faceless parents on the university chat rooms dedicated to parents like herself, looking for advice on where their children should grocery shop, asking what time the shuttles run, or wondering how to lodge a complaint about their child’s roommate or professor. She is not going to let her child be swallowed up by bureaucrats who might not be looking out for the best interests of her vulnerable child.
  1. The “One Day at a Time” Mom. Her emotions shift and adjust daily; sometimes she’s happy, others days she is sad, and many are nameless and shapeless and difficult to describe. Feelings weave their way through her days as she gets used to a smaller household, a quieter household, and maybe even a cleaner household.

No matter what you are feeling or which of the above types resonate for you, who you are in times of major change in other areas of your life is likely how you will show up when your child leaves the roost. If you tend to need to cry it out, then you will probably need to cry this one out, too. If you prefer to drown yourself in work, well then you will be busy this fall. If having all of the details or none of the details of a particular situation is comforting to you, then you’ll want the same here. And if you generally don’t acknowledge an impact, well, status quo, here you come! Remembering who you are will help you to predict your needs and gage your activities to avoid a salty exchange with your spouse, a tearful moment with the Starbucks barista, or your total confusion when your friend is trying to tell you how often their child’s dining hall has served corn on the cob.

If you are the “I’ve lost my best friend” Mom, do not assume something is wrong when you are hanging with your “It’s their time, they’ll be fine” pals. They are different. They are not you. It does not mean you can’t invite them along to your care package group, but do not compare yourself to them. Identify with them, instead. You have a shared experience and are both wherever you are in that. And when you need to find your people, find your people. You’ll know them immediately. And chances are, they will need you, too.

It never serves me to pretend to be the Mom I am not. I’ve tried. It is only when I remember who I am that I find what I need in these times of transition. Likely, we are each a hybrid of these four types. I know I am. Maybe others, too. When I remember who I am ~ what I need and what I value ~ I care less about being judged and I judge less. In letting go of who I am not, I can authentically be who I am. It then becomes abundantly clear that we are all doing the best we can, showing up as we know how to in this moment. From this place, I settle in to a sense that the universe will give me what I need and it is all gonna be ok. It is always peaceful there.

Now that I’m clear about that, I’ve gotta go face time the kids to see how their day was.

Turning Away from the Sun so that I Can Grow

Its that time of year again. Sunflower season. In the next few weeks, fields will be blanketed with these amazing flowers – myriad breeds, shades of yellows and oranges and browns, different heights – all pointing to the sun. I often think of August and September as a time when we start again. I imagine this is from so many years of going to school on a traditional academic calendar (in the northeast, at least!), with a new classroom, a new set of teachers, classmates, subject materials. I loved this time of year ~ unlike others, I found excitement in the newness and very little conscious fear. I remember that first fall out of graduate school. I felt lost; like something was missing. I remember the awareness that there was nothing new in my life, no new school, new college apartment, new books to buy, new subjects to eagerly jump into. I was depressed and at the same time, grateful to know where it came from.

I know my “sun”. I know that my life patterns are about the next new thing. I know that I feel a “hit” when I shift my attention towards something that is not what I’m doing right now. This has allowed for myriad experiences and exposure 

to so many concepts, topics, and types of people to come into my life. But what has it cost me? It has probably cost me some depth. Some awareness. Some awakening. If something gets boring or painful or difficult, I am easily swayed to something new {read: avoid pain at all costs}. In that newness, I cheat myself of the ability to really feel; to really experience; to really know myself outside of my defenses and my ego. My truth ~ who I am in my soul ~ never reveals itself if I don’t sit still and listen.

So this month, my attention is pointed to the sunflower. Sure, its the logo for my business, for all the reasons I cite on my website {shameless plug: www.christinagranahan.com}. Sunflowers need the sun for survival. But they also need their seed

and the dirt. Sunflowers, like me, shift and change when they hit the sun. I want to know who I am before I ever hit the sun; who I am at my core, my seed, my dirt, my soul: I want to find my own light, completely separate from the sun. I want more choice over how I view the world and how I react when I’m in it. I know that only by sitting still, turning inward, and just being in the moment without the noise of my thoughts and beliefs, can I do this work and have that choice.

Anyone want to come along and “grow” yourself with me?

Why the sunflower? While unique in color and size, all sunflowers share the desire to find the sun. Sunflowers will point their bold centers towards light – in fact, their vitality depends on it. Their potential for vibrance, growth, stature, and sustainability in a field of many, is completely dependent on their ability to poke through the dirt and move towards the sun. Like the sunflower, we all have the ability to find our own light. Our ability to stand confidently and with purpose among many, moving towards our unique genius, happens only when we find our light. Let me help you find your light.

The Red Sweatshirt Strings

There was recently a Facebook post in our community about purchasing sweatshirts for a school trip for elementary students. This trip is a tradition in town, and families are invited to purchase red sweatshirts that both provide much needed warmth for all the outdoor fun and memorialize the event for years to come. Because I had kids in elementary school for what seems like forever and was a chaperone on the trip and a parent helper leading up to the trip, I am well aware of the concern over getting just the right sweatshirt. Here’s the thing: all the sweatshirts look exactly the same. Exactly. You can buy one with a hood or one without a hood. And you can buy youth or adult sizes. But wait. The youth sizes do. not. have. strings. in. the. hood. OMG (picture a car screeching to a halt).

With 100% good intentions – really and truly – when the sweatshirt sales start, parents are warned that they must. buy. the. right. sweatshirt. There must have been a year when a child had a meltdown over their sweatshirt not looking like someone else’s, because for years, parents have been warned that if they don’t buy the right sweatshirt, it would ruin their child’s trip or they’d end up having to buy a second sweatshirt when their child noticed theirs was different. The right sweatshirt was clearly not a youth size. and clearly not a crew neck.

Remember 4th grade? Remember how different kids are, physically? Some are babies and some are grown people? All different shapes and sizes. Some call for youth sizes and some call for adult sizes. But “Oh-holy-hell-I-don’t-want-to-risk-a-crappy time-for-my-kid-the-first-time-they-are-away-from-me-overnight-so-I-have-to-buy-the-right-sweatshirt-oh-crap-what-if-its-too-big-and-looks-like-a-dress-on-them-but-I-have-to-buy-the-one-with-strings-because-what-if-the-other-kids-make-fun-of-my-kid-and-I’m-not-there-to-help-and-oh-shit-what-do-I-do-I-need-to-have-strings-in-the-red-sweatshirt!!!” It is so clear to me that this manic worry about the right sweatshirt comes from an abundance of love and care; from the schools to the parents – no one has anything other than generous intentions. I’m actually so grateful for this dilemma, because it has allowed me to see something in myself that I did not necessarily want to see.

The implied message in the red sweatshirt string proposal is, “You Must Fit In.” What may be true for you, doesn’t really matter. Happiness is in doing it right. Show up with the right clothes. Avoid being an outlier at all costs. Whatever you do, don’t embarrass me.

But when we talk “about” raising kids, parenting kids, teaching kids, don’t we do just the opposite? Don’t we preach “you be you”? Don’t we talk about creativity and following your dream and “it doesn’t matter what they say!”? In our generosity of love and care, adults can confuse the crap out of things.

The red sweatshirt strings have become a metaphor for me. I use it. Not in judgment, but as a point of reflection and a way of asking myself, “What are my red sweatshirt strings?”. Even more profound in the metaphor, is the fact that all six (+) sweatshirts purchased for my family lost the sweatshirt strings as soon as they were put through the wash (yes, I bought the “right”sweatshirts for all of them!).

First, with my kids: Where do I send them mixed messages? I can tell you that I teach them about being kind and loving, but then I may try to connect with them by gossiping about someone. Or I might encourage them to do whatever makes them happy, but then hover over them to make sure that their “happy” fits into my expectations for them. I may even offer “you be you” but “you” better also be “me”.

And then, with myself: Where am I so afraid that if it doesn’t happen perfectly, I feel like my life might fall apart? Where am I holding the reigns so tightly that I don’t allow for an opening of experience or a surrender of results? What fears keep me trying to control every detail instead of relaxing and simply noticing what actually is as the process unfolds? And even more so, where do I engage in frenetic activity, instead of just sitting and noticing what I feel?

The red sweatshirt strings have offered me a checkpoint to pull me back and put space between the thought and what actually leaves my mouth. When I feel my body tighten, or my heart race, or my brain race, I know that the red sweatshirt strings are being activated. I know that I need to put them through the wash. Get rid of them by doing any number of things. I know I need to check in with myself. I know I need to return to the present and notice what is and choose how I want to respond. My wake-up call to the red sweatshirt strings is my awareness that I am trying to control the outcome of something that I have absolutely no control over. It’s that frantic speech pattern of worry and decision and control and “what if?”. And then I need to put the damn sweatshirt through the wash.

When I blog, I blog for me. Not for the reader. I guess that somewhere inside, I am worried about the outcome of something. Instead of yelling at my family, tuning out on social media, manically engaging in activity around my house, I’m going to sit. Notice. Breathe. And see what shows up. And I guess at that point, I’d better be ready to do some laundry.

Are the Kids Home Yet?

Across all areas of my life, my acceptance of any situation is inversely proportional to my expectations. I am grateful that I am remembering this now, at the beginning of our week home together, as opposed to having an “AHA” after a tearful experience later (and who knows, that could still happen!). With two kids away at school and two kids home full time with my husband and I, we’d be kidding ourselves if we thought Thanksgiving could be “business as usual”; we are a group of willful people who do not easily embrace a “go with the flow” state of being. Given that, I am sharing my three step process for bringing home the big kids:

    1. Awareness: Being aware, before the visit, that we have all changed since the August drop-off, is imperative. Knowing this helps me to address any stories I have already started to make up about how they will want to spend their time and how they feel about being here. Just being aware that I am only one person in this dynamic of 6 people, is a starting place for me. I take a deep breath, I take a step back, and I ask myself, “so….now what?”
    2. Acceptance: First, I have the kick in the gut. Admittedly, that is sometimes my first reaction. It is the start of my acceptance. Before I can accept that new awareness, I need to acknowledge that I am not 100% in control and my kids may not have the same expectations that I have for this week. I may not know what they want or how this will be for any of us, which means that the story I’ve made up about them wanting to spend oodles and oodles of time with me, having family dinners, playing board games and decorating for Christmas, may not be their truth. So I accept that. And I get really, really curious. I throw my ideas to the wind, and start my wondering of how they DO, in fact, feel? What DO they, in fact, want for their week at home? How do my other two feel about having their older siblings home? We’ve been in a nice groove here – with fewer conflicts, not as much competition for bathrooms, transportation, and time. How will this impact them? Bedroom configurations have shifted and the house is relatively clean on a regular basis; how might that change? Acceptance happens when I give up the stories I have made up and I acknowledge that I don’t know and need to ask some questions.
    3. Action: The action I take comes in the form of openness and willingness to shift my own stories and be open to something different. Action comes in the form of fully embracing that different does not mean worse. Different does not mean we aren’t happy to see each other. What it does mean is that my kids are “grown-ass” folk (their words) with their own wants and needs, and all 6 of us are fully capable of designing something together. Action takes place in the form of listening first, asking for more information if necessary, and establishing boundaries.

In my home, this started in phone calls over the last week or so. When calls came in from extended family about making plans for dinners and gatherings throughout the week, I let them know that I needed to have conversations with my kids about it before committing.

“I know you will want to spend time with friends next week, we’d like to spend some time with your grandparents on XXX day. Does that work with your plans? Can you keep that open for family time?”

Or

“Will you want to go out with friends the night you get home? I want to make a plan for dinner and it would be helpful to know what to expect.”

My awareness and my acceptance has taught me that because my kids are used to having agency over their time while at school, I want to give them that agency while home, too. Some conversation beforehand helps us to manage our expectations and give us all some agency over our time. In my home, action also takes the form of setting boundaries:

“Yes, I would love for you to have your friends over tonight. Here is what is and is not OK. You can eat and drink whatever you can find in the house, but you cannot break the law of the land or the rules of our home. That means there will be no alcohol and no vaping and here is what you can expect my response to be if it does happen….”

Or

“I know you hate the dentist, but you need an appointment. I’m happy to make that for you if you let me know what the best days are for you.”

Finally, we design what the week will look like. We may not plan it all out, but for those who have transportation needs, appointments, work, or other “must do’s”, they are added to the calendar. We are ALL a part of the planning and therefore are ALL invested in working together. Letting go of my expectations is not something that comes easily for me, and let me tell you, cats do not have dogs; my kids have expectations and are highly invested in having them met. This litter of kittens has many, many similarities to their Mama; those similarities call for designing something together, some discussion and compromise, and then stepping into Thanksgiving week with much excitement and joy about being together. And if I stick to this plan, they may even gift me with some snuggles and board games.

The Enlightened Summer

If you could see me now. Well, thanks to modern technology, you actually can. And I’ll attach a few more pictures, too. Why on earth should anyone care about seeing pictures of me? Well, it starts with me, right? Leadership starts with the one practicing leadership. I am a coach, coaching leaders, students, young adults…..for the most part in designing their futures and in facilitating the growth of those around them. I sat down today in my “office of the day” and felt compelled to share what I’ve learned this summer about designing my life with the intention of feeling happy more often. And its only July. Can’t wait to see what else I get to learn this summer!

First and foremost, it starts with me. My coaching is so much more effective if I am leading from a place of practice. I need to wholeheartedly believe that transformation is possible, that like me, while my clients are perfect exactly as they are, there is always room for growth. I am ineffective if I am not doing all I can to live authentically, to operate from a place of choice, and to take responsibility for all that I want. From this place, I am prepared to hold the space for others while they do the same. My work with others continually reinforces this for me – I get to look at what holds me back, where I lean into my strengths, and how my perspective towards a situation, which I alone choose, can completely alter the course of that situation. The leaders I coach have shown me time and time again, the difference between a perspective of “It can’t happen,” and “It can’t happen yet.” Our work together reminds me to practice these principals in my own life, first and foremost for my own benefit, but clearly to shift my impact in the world, as well. So in setting my intention to have a more conscious awareness of feeling happy, I also hold the belief that it is, without question, possible for me.

Q: What challenges are your direct reports, your coworkers, your partner or your children calling you forth to look at in yourself?

Quincy Market, Boston

Something is always possible. I could have said, “no”. I could have said, “I’m too busy.” I could have stopped scheduling clients for the summer. I could have said, “I can’t.” All of which would have been ok. Truly. And all would have been honest responses. But if I have things I want in this life {read: a more conscious feeling of happiness}, I need to look at what I am willing to work for. I need to look at what my personal responsibility is towards moving in that direction. When it feels like there are so many things, seemingly outside of my control, keeping me from working towards an intention or goal (in my case, it is generally a pull of desire to put both feet into my home life and both feet into my work life except that I only have two feet, as well as a magnetic pull towards blaming others for any dissatisfaction I feel), I need to hold a belief that possibilities always exist; even the ones I did not know existed. From time to time, I coach someone who says, “Well, I couldn’t {insert whatever action they designed from our last session} because {insert whatever got in the way}.” Examples of this have included “look for a job because my internet was down,” “reach out to that client because I didn’t want to bother them over the holiday week,” and “talk to my boss because she has been working from home and has not been to the office.” So I ask, “What would have to happen for you to be able to say, “I did my best to… {insert the action they designed}. Inevitably, the client comes up with something that they could have taken responsibility for. In these three examples, the responses were, “gone to the library or used my phone,” “cut through my own BS and been honest with myself that I wasn’t calling because the call was causing me angst,” and “called my boss and asked to talk on the phone or at least made an appointment,” respectively. When they felt stuck, they stopped moving but when prompted, all three easily came up with something else they could have done. Maybe conscious happiness can’t be my primary emotion 100% of the time, but where can I take responsibility to create it to improve on my current percentage?

Q: What would change in your life if, at the end of each day, you were able to say, “Today I did my best to {insert the action you’ve designed for yourself},”?

When I clear away the noise, what I want is often within reach. So this brings me to today. My epiphany. I sat down, on the second floor of Faneuil Hall, computer and work bag in hand, and looked around me. I couldn’t believe, that for the second time in one week, I was breath-taken with the beauty of my “office”. My daughter and her friend were doing some shopping and I had work to do. Writing this blog was not the work I had to do but I could not help myself. Suddenly, sharing this with you felt imminently important. Not long ago, I would have been angry at myself and the world for having to choose between taking these girls into Boston and getting my work done. I would have made up a story about how hard my life is and how unfair it is and the self pity would have taken me directly to the refrigerator or to my bed, or worse, to raging about all of the demands put on me. My daughter would have felt awful for causing my tantrum, the mood of the house would have changed, and I would have felt self-righteous and then, if I was lucky, much later I would have been able to see the error of my ways…which would have only led to shame. When I think back on this past year, I realize that when faced with what could be a conflict, before I head to the proverbial cheesecake or 100 year slumber, I have learned to do a quick inventory of the situation. I get honest. I clear the noise of self-pity or resentment or “I’m too busy” and say, “What is possible here?” I put space between my feeling and my reaction. And from here, I get to fully enjoy both my work and my home. I get to joyfully choose the direction I take. And I get to take full responsibility for that choice.

Q: What becomes possible when you put a tiny bit of space between your initial thought and what you actually say out loud?

oceanside

Just last night I met someone who, while lovely, was clearly skeptical of life coaching. She learned I was a coach and started asking questions about my practice and the people I coach. She offered up her belief that coaching is just a fad and went on to say, “Work is work for a reason. No one cares if you are happy or not.” As you can imagine, there were several thoughts that came to my mind, but what I said was, “What if it is possible to have both?”

Maybe that is what ignited my thinking today. I never want to be limited by a belief that the social norms don’t allow for me to get what I want in whatever area of my life I feel called to work. This summer, I’ve been called to work on my own life satisfaction {read: happiness}. Happiness is not an emotion reserved for someone else. I don’t so much care if you care if I am happy. I do care if I am happy. And I would argue that those who interact with me care if I’m happy {see #3 above}. My happiness has a ripple effect on those who live with me, those who are close to me, and maybe even those with whom I work. With this ripple effect as a backdrop, I hold a belief that the world would be a better place if more people spent more time (work, home, recreational, etc.) feeling happy. And for today, I’ll hold the possibility for the lovely woman I met last night.

 

Sophomore Spring: Laying the Foundation for the College Search and Selection Process

AAAGH! It’s spring of your sophomore year. What needs to be on your family’s radar?

When I was thinking about my own college application process ~ back in the time when we drove “antique cars” (because we had to crank the windows, as my kids say) ~ I think we made two trips (one North, and one West), I sat for the SAT once, wrote my essay, and applied to a bunch of schools, mostly those that had sent me the nicest catalogs. And let’s be honest, I chose the school I went to for two reasons: they were the #2 seeded basketball team (and lost the Championship to the #1 seed by one point) and were therefore on TV in March when I was making decisions, and the school I chose was the largest school I applied to and I decided after a breakup with my boyfriend that I wanted to go somewhere where no one knew my personal business. My parents had absolutely nothing to do with my application process and in fact, I somehow translated their lack of involvement to mean that they really didn’t care if or where I went. But that’s for another blog….

Clearly, things have changed.

Having worked with young people in myriad ways as both a social worker and a coach, I have learned that there are ways to decrease the angst and smooth the process for both parents and students. While it is possible to start as late as fall of senior year, the earlier you start (Spring of sophomore year), the more intentional and deliberate you can all be as you move through the college search and application process.

1. It’s time for The Talk. Parents, beware. Your assumptions about college are just that. They are assumptions. It’s time to have a conversation with your child. And students? You, too. Assume nothing about this process. Set aside some time when you are all at your best – with all of the stakeholders (usually the parents and child) – and ask yourselves some questions.

  • Is college something we all agree on as the next step after high school graduation?
  • If not, what is the next best step and what needs to happen for us to explore that?
  • If yes, continue on to the next step.

2. The Talk….the next chapter. “The Talk” above is often where people stop (if they even have that talk). What I have found is that parents and students benefit greatly from a conversation about “how they want to be” together in the process of the college search. I’d suggest a conversation early in the process and again as a junior and a third time as a senior (and as many times in between as called for). Designing something together will ensure that you are not making assumptions about who is responsible for what and clarifies the ownership for these initial steps in the process. This process may not look any different from how you relate to one another in other decision-making processes, but I have found that this is often the first time a student takes ownership for a major decision that potentially impacts the whole family. Questions to think about include:

  • Who owns the decisions about the process including the schools that go on the initial “list”, what visits take place, when they take place, and who schedules them?
  • How do we deal with disagreement in the process?
  • What is most important about this to each of us?

This is your opportunity as a parent to say “The most important thing to me is that you not graduate with an exorbitant amount of debt” or “The most important thing to me is that you find a school that will allow you to travel abroad”. And likewise, your student gets to say, “The most important thing in this is that I get the final choice where I attend” or “The most important thing is that you are not constantly on my back about college – I want to enjoy my senior year.”

It is possible that you do nothing about responding to these questions at this time; you may just put them into the space, write them down, acknowledge each other for what you are each bringing to the table and whittle away at the details later. Other families may want to address what gets shared: “I am more than happy to give you your space on this and let you take the lead, but how can I know that you are moving ahead and staying on task? Can we have a monthly check-in about how you are moving ahead and redesign this agreement if necessary?” “Yes but I don’t want to talk about it between check-ins.” Again, look at the key things that are important to each of you and move from there.

3. Testing. Make note of the dates the PSAT, SAT and ACT are being offered along with deadlines for registration. In my experience, PSAT registration is done through your high school and testing seats are offered on a first come, first served basis. You CAN get closed out of a test.

The PSAT is a tricky beast. Some students sit for the test as early as 8th or 9th grade (especially if students are looking at athletic recruitment). Others take it as sophomores. The PSAT doesn’t really “count” but the score report does provide a lens through which to look at the testing process moving forward: what are your strengths and weaknesses? How do you compare to your peers? And when taken as a junior, the PSAT is the determinant of some merit based financial assistance including the National Merit Scholarship Program and other scholarship partners. You will also be added to mailing lists of colleges who will make endless attempts to prove that their school is the best fit for you.

4. Get to know who you are. This might be one of the most overlooked aspects of the college application process. As a coach and as a mother, I have yet to find anything universal about the college application process. Students and parents alike identify myriad values when it comes to colleges: affordability, school spirit, rank, safety, homogenous environments, heterogeneous environments, climate, class size….really. Maybe the most universal thing I hear is “I want (my child) to be happy.” But how do you know what will make you (or your child) happy? Most students have no idea what will make them happy. Most students have not lived their lives with intention up to this point ~ they have followed the pack, done the next right thing, and done their best to blend in with friends. Now we are asking them to stand out among many, demonstrate how they are unique, and by the way, be the best high school students they can be while trying to figure all of this out. Setting your child up with a coach is perhaps one of the most efficient, cost-effective ways, to walk through the college process. A good coach will help them identify what motivates them, where their natural strengths lie, what that little voice in their head whispers to them and how it holds them back. A coach can look at learning style, thinking style, and communication style and the student gets to use their day to day life, as it is, as a lab in which to practice and learn. With all of this self-knowledge in their arsenal, students can quickly come up with those parts of themselves ~ their own unique genius ~ that they want to highlight in a college essay or interview. From this place they naturally come up with important questions to ask on tours and meetings with admissions officers. And finally, this self-knowledge helps them to identify schools that are most likely a great fit for them because they now know what drives them, what holds them back, and what they need from a school that resonates with who they are, not solely what they have done with the past several years of their lives. It is an investment in a student’s future not to be overlooked.

5. Support. If you are reading this and are in the spring of your sophomore year, start to think about what kinds of support you think you will need. Do you want to take a test prep class? What support will you need to take the most challenging classes FOR YOU as a junior while also managing your extracurriculars and the college search process? Are you someone who benefits from accountability? To whom do you want to be accountable? Your parents? A coach? If you are not someone whose strength is not in developing systems that include well-designed actions and timelines, whose help can you enlist for that? Look at the challenges you have had up to now and use them to anticipate what challenges you may have moving forward. Then come up with a list of people to help.

6. Perspective. When my children were applying to college, I had to choose a perspective that framed who I wanted to be for them over those couple of years this was on their radar. I used a core belief of coaching to help me: my children are “naturally creative, resourceful and whole.” I was fully aware that the process our family engaged in together to walk through this time was actually as important as the end result. It was important for me that they enjoy their senior year and kept engaged in their academics. Each of them identified owning the process and the final decision about what school to attend as being extremely important. If they could get through this, know when they needed help and know how to ask for it, I would consider it a successful search. And they did not disappoint. By honoring the process they each designed with me, I knew exactly when to check in, how they wanted support, and who owned what. In doing so, we all felt a measure of success ~ like we had accomplished something big together and we have learned that these simple tools can help us make any big decisions we have to make as a family. And with this perspective and our co-active design of the process, we all felt a little less stress, met deadlines, and not only tolerated, but enjoyed, the process.