31 March, 2011

Perspectives on March

March is the shape-shifting maverick of the lot, taking us to the brink of despair before rumpling our hair like a big sister saying, "Don't be silly, I was just kidding..." It does little to reassure us, this pat on the head. We're onto March's Jekyll and Hyde ways and know better. But March has a way of lulling us into believing again and again. We end up trusting it despite our doubt. With its breaking ice, melting snow, and early bloom poking up through the dirt, we're served up days of hope in March that melt in our mouths like bitter-sweet chocolate. We stagger outside into the warm sunlight like giddy and grinning moles groping their way into a bright new world with limited vision. Because ultimately, we have faith in March. It may be unreliable and crusty, but March is the only sherpa we've got to guide us into Spring. So we follow where it leads and resign to being vulnerable, looking a bit awkward and feel entirely insecure and unprepared. In March, we trust.

29 March, 2011


I recently took a self-imposed sabbatical. I didn't talk about it much or shout it from the rooftops. I just quietly carved out a four week chunk of time where I didn't see clients. I just saw me. I was my primary client. Even though I knew it was needed and wise - strategic, even - I still felt the requisite terror that comes with making a decision to stop spinning.

I was braced for a lot of snide "must be nice..." comments and was sensitive to how this leave would be perceived by others. Surprisingly though, all that came my way from clients, family and close friends was a resounding "GOOD for you!" I still was self-conscious, despite my commitment to this pause-by-design. Having been raised by a single mom, I was acutely aware of my privilege in taking this sabbatical and had to beat back that guilt with a wooden spoon daily.

I felt like I was breaking the rules. I hadn't broken a leg, come down with diphtheria or just given birth to a baby (thankfully). But I did have a purpose.

I wanted to create some space - a intentional pause in an otherwise busy life.

I've had pauses like this before, but I've always had a baby suckling on me - or needing to be changed, held, picked up, put down or soothed. Those maternity leaves I had were some of the most profound moments of clarity I've ever experienced, which is amazing given the physical and mental demands of birthing and caring for a newborn. I came to see those leaves of absence from the world of work as a time to give birth to more than just a baby.

My business, for example, was born during a particular unique maternity leave, during which I had no baby to hold. That was a big one. I've have come to believe that I gave birth to myself during that leave.

My Homecoming Retreat was born during the maternity leave of my youngest child. I remember sitting on the couch one warm summer day, shortly after his birth, watching the sprinklers in the back yard go back and forth and back and forth while he nursed and then napped at my breast. It was in that moment that I realized I was ready to offer up Homecoming, which shocked me to no end (I thought that retreat was years down the road for me.) I've come to believe that dear, sweet child of mine actually pulled the idea for Homecoming out of my heart and into the light of day through his nursing (he was quite a vigorous nurser!)

So you can see how I've come to be a believer in leaves of absence.

So now, nearly four years later, I decided to embark upon another one, calling it a sabbatical this time. Having had some experience taking leaves, I thought I knew what I was in for. Ha ha ho ho ho.

I had forgotten about the need for undoing. I learned about this process - and fell in LOVE with that word - after reading This Time I Dance by Tama Kieves. If you don't have this book yet and suspect you might go through a transition sometime in your life...or know of someone else who might go through one, buy it. I read it the first time after leaving my cushy corporate job after eleven years to start my own business.

"Undoing", as the author explains it (and as I've experienced it and as I've witnessed my clients going through it), is necessary because the first step of change is to grieve a loss. A loss of an identity, a loss of a suitable answer to the question, "what are you doing?", a loss of purpose, a loss of a known routine and, most significantly, a loss of "stuff to do".

"In this slowdown, meltdown phase of your journey, you have the opportunity to sort through layers of your self and decide which ones travel on and which ones get shelved...This undoing process works like painting the interior of an old house. First, you clean the walls, sand them down, and patch them up, or else you paint over the old infirmities, the same warps and clumps of history....The doing of our chosen work comes easy, it's the time of 'undoing' that requires every ounce of strength, vision, and persistence... Every belief that ever held you back from your desires will now come forth and stand before your door. This time will make you stand in your strength like you never have before." - Tama Kieves

So what did this mean for me upon taking a sabbatical? It meant all those expectations I had, all those lists I made, well-set intentions...they had to wait. Instead, I cleaned out the basement. When I was done with that, I bored out closets, cleaned out my filing cabinets and took bags and bags of clothes, toys and books to Goodwill.

Like a dog that has to circle round and round in one of those poofy beds before finding just the right positioning, I found this busy work of cleaning out, organizing and purging remarkably soothing and incredibly satisfying.

Near the end of my sabbatical, I could feel that I had unraveled - not unlike the sensation of finally being ready for a vacation on the last day of vacation. I had arrived. I was undone - or nearly there. And with that realization, with that deep inhalation into the expanse I had created, I could finally think and see clearly - new ideas and thoughts came flooding in as possibilities. Like someone who has just completed one of those body cleansing programs, I felt my energy and creativity returning to me like the tide coming in during a full moon.

It was so worth it.

22 March, 2011

A Jump Start is Better Than No Start

Sometimes a shove is needed where a nudge won't do. Sometimes, sadly, a kick in the pants is just the ticket to spark some serious change. Sometimes being impatient is a good thing.

I am a big fan of lines drawn in the sand, I admit. They excite me to no end, because they signal a boundary has been set or in some cases, a gauntlet has been thrown down.

There has been much debate about the World Economic Forum's decision to institute quotas for their most recent annual meeting held in Davos, Switzerland. Frustrated that women make up less than 16% of the delegates, they decided to set quotes requiring a fifth of the delegates sent by their strategic partners be women. A spokesperson for the WEF said the intent was to give a "gentle nudge toward gender parity."

Many applauded the bold move, even while expressing sadness that it took such drastic measures to ignite some real change. Others were outraged, suggesting the quotes weren't having any impact and were effectively reducing women's participation to simply numbers, and detracting from the value they bring. When I asked women on my SheChanges Facebook page, I heard a similar mix of opinions. The overriding sentiment, however, is that the main objective is to get more women at the table. Most everyone agrees that nothing will change if women remain on the sidelines. One women suggested the focus should be on the results produced by the quotas, rather than the quotas themselves: "I think we should not demonize or idealize quotas or anything that [gets more women to the table]. We just need to do it and get them there."

Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, authors of Rework, offers some relevant insight on the power of drawing a line in the sand: "Great businesses have a point of view, not just a product or a service. You have to believe in something. You need to have a backbone. You need to know what you're willing to fight for. And then you need to show the world." They assert that this strong stand of drawing a line in the sand - as radical and counter-intuitive as it seems, actually results in attracting "superfans" - people who will defend your actions and spread the word.

The World Economic Forum drew a line in the sand. And so did Norway in 2002, when it began using quotas to ensure 40% of all board seats were filled by women. And after seeing the results, Spain, France and Britain are following suit.

The general consensus is that the business world won't see or feel much of a change until there is a 50/50 representation of women and men in the workplace. Until then, the primary jumper cables to achieve more gender parity in our engines are quotas and women's conferences.

But where my attention goes in the wake of this controversial WEF gender quota is how much rousing discussion and debate it triggered. Sure, there might not have been many more women at Davos this year than in years past, but there it sure sparked a lot of attention. Heads turned and people took notice. Some smoke was created. And where there is smoke there is fire.

15 March, 2011

Eviction Notice

What if Fear, Guilt, Angst and Doubt were sent packing? By you. After all, they're tenants in your house, are they not? Haven't you been saying how tired you are of them blasting their heavy metal music all hours of the night, leaving their dirty dishes in the sink, the toilet seat up and let's not even talk about the icky hair they leave behind in the shower drain.

So let's, for a minute, assume you evict them. You put on your big girl panties, march up to their respective rooms and give them notice. Sure, they might be surprised - maybe even put up a fight. Can't blame them, really. They've never heard you talk to them like this before. Realizing you're not going to back down, they finally pack up their bags and shuffle off to Buffalo (or wherever else they're wanted.)

What would your house be like then, eh? Are you liking this image? Let's sweeten the pot, shall we?

Now, let's suppose you put a rockin' ad on Craig's list for some new tenants - boarders that would breathe some light and fresh air into your home, ones that would carry their weight and actually make your home happier, healthier and more alive.

Because you are the powerful manifester you are, soon four new tenants move in your house: Honesty, Impatience, Inspiration and Audacity. Clearly Inspiration is the warmest of the bunch, but something in your gut said the others were the right fit for you at this stage of your life, so you trusted it.

You welcome them in , a bit guarded and skeptical at first (who can blame you after the last bunch, eh?) The house and all its inhabitants soon settle into a new routine and here is what you notice:

Honesty is hard to be with at times - kind of grates on the nerves a bit with its close-to-the-bone comments. But we can't help laughing when Honesty is around because its observations are just ridiculously on-target. Honesty doesn't say all that much, but when it does, there is not a grain of sugar to be found. We've all come to appreciate just how much sugar we've had in our diet before living with Honesty.

Impatience was a surprise, really. A bit of a wild card that turned out to be a bonus. We all kind of tip-toed around it for a while - especially before it had its coffee in the morning - but now we're used to it. Impatience is the "get it done" voice in the house and keeps us from whining and bemoaning our lives. Without Impatience, we'd all be hung up in our underwear, spinning our wheels and waiting for someone to rescue us.

Inspiration is the one that stays up eating chocolate in the kitchen until the wee hours of the morning, talking, dreaming, exploring and doodling incessantly on this little white board it wears around its neck. Exhausting at times - especially after having its morning cup of coffee - Inspiration is the most creative person in the house, always questioning our assumptions and playing "what if" games with us.

Audacity rapidly becomes known as the pot-stirrer in the house, always saying something a little edgy or shocking with its raised eyebrow, watching to see how many waves it can make. We've all become used to it by now and are envious of the fearless nature Audacity possesses. Audacity keeps the house and everyone in it fresh by adding a bit of healthy tension to our lot, never allowing us to settle, get too comfortable or play it safe.

What a different house you've created for yourself, no? The air feels fresher, the light feels brighter and there is some substance in the house that wasn't present before. Where as Fear, Guilt, Anger and Doubt used to drag you down and hold you back, the people in this house are invested in life and take responsibility for constructing a life that fulfills them. It's also a highly creative environment, not one caught up in "keeping up with the Joneses" or paying much mind to what other people think you "should" be doing, saying or being.

What we're really talking about here is choice, right? Actively choosing your life. Your circumstances might not change a bit and certainly Fear, Guilt, Anger and Doubt will make cameo appearances in your life again. But what if it wasn't as hard as we thought? What if taking control of the thoughts that get to live in our OWN house was a choice we could make daily?

Elizabeth Gilbert writes about her own experience with this in Eat, Pray, Love: "I've started being vigilant about watching my thoughts all day, and monitoring them. I repeat this vow about 700 times a day: 'I will not harbor unhealthy thoughts anymore.' Every time a diminishing thought arises, I repeat the vow....The harbor of my mind is an open bay, the only access to the island of my Self . This island has been through some wars, its true, but it is now committed to peace, under a new leader (me) who has instituted new policies to protect the place. And now - let the word go out across the seven seas - there are much, much stricter laws on the books about who may enter this harbor."

Similarly, Martha Beck writes about the moment a woman reaches her "breaking point" and realizes she has been playing the role of society's version of what she should be: 'You know, this is a really stupid script. All this fussing and fighting and sweating and shaking is giving me a migraine. And besides, I like happy endings. Y'all can keep going or y'all can come with me, but I'm going backstage to rewrite my part. She sits down in one of the chairs, loosens the collar of her space suit, and begins to jot notes to herself on a pad. 'Let's see,' she murmurs 'I've always wanted my character to do this...' "

For some this notion of "choosing" might be a radical paradigm shift, for others it might be subtle. But the question remains the same: "What if you get to choose who lives in your house of you? Would you choose a sustainable community or a combustible one?"

And before you go down that road of "it's not that simple..." or "easier said then done...", what if you were to consider it a matter of civic responsibility? Elizabeth Gilbert called this act "assuming custodial responsibility for the care of your soul." Imagine how making the decision to improve your house would also benefit everyone that comes into contact with it. You've not only created health and happiness for your own home, you've also spruced up the neighborhood, inspiring your neighbors and friends to do the same.

What if your choice not only impacted you and your life? What if it impacted the world? What would you choose then?

01 March, 2011

Border Collies Get It

So I have this new theory about Balance - or lack thereof. It's helped me to ditch the unrealistic expectations and see things for what they are: constantly in motion and always changing.

My sister used to have this border collie named Bobo. She was a rock star. She had one purpose in life and she took it very seriously. Her job was to account for all the sheep and keep them together at all times. The only problem was that my sister didn't own any sheep. So any people that came into her home inadvertently signed up for this role.

Picture this: You are at a party at my sister's house with about twenty other people. You're talking, having a glass of wine and meeting some new people. All of a sudden you realize everyone at the party is standing really close to you. You look around and discover that all the guests at the party are tightly concentrated - some would say even squished - into the center of the living room. You don't even need to check. You know Bobo is out there. You hear her clicking toe nails dutifully encircling us. The sheep. You know she's smiling her doggie smile at having contained us all so neatly.

Until one of us breaks rank. Someone has to go to the bathroom, or maybe gets nervous in the presence of so many "close talkers" and moves to the outside edges of the room or makes a break for the kitchen.

See, Bobo? She gets it. She knows that sheep will always, always needed tending. Happy as she is with her job, she expects the errant sheep. It's job security for her. Keeps her on her toes, entertained even.

So how does this relate to balance? I don't know about you, but I fall prey to the illusion of all my sheep staying put. I circle them once and then crash on the couch, assuming they stay where I left them like good little sheep. At least until I'm good and ready to round them up again.

I've come to realize that's some seriously flawed logic. Here's how that scenario plays out:

I do the laundry, pay the bills, grocery shop, clean the house, straighten up, do the kids' paperwork for school, get my hair cut, exercise, sleep, have sex, connect with my friends, work with a client, empty the dishwasher, drop off the dry cleaning, meditate and shovel the driveway. There. All the sheep are accounted for and in a nice tidy bunch. All done, right?

No, because I look up from the couch and there it is. Chaos. The sheep are all over the place! Again.

And that's why Bobo is so wise. She knows this thing we humans call "balance" is really an illusion. It's never "there" or "done". Ever. She knows it's all relative and fluid, never static.

So the grocery shopping didn't get done, but the dog fur is vacuumed up and the kids lunches were made! Of course you didn't sleep much this week, because you grocery shopped and cooked up a storm to fill your freezer with meals and even made some for your sick neighbor! So the bills are all stacked up on the office desk (which is a mess), but you got some good lovin' this week and are feeling totally sated because of all that exercise! Sure all that laundry is done (and actually put away), but you look see yourself in the mirror and see all that crazy hair and those eyebrows which have taken on a life of their own...

You get the picture. Sounds familiar, right? Dare I say, "realistic"?

See, Bobo knows life is like a spider web. You pull one corner of the web and another corner has to give a bit. If you spend time chasing down one errant sheep, another sheep is bound to take advantage of the situation and make a run for it.

It just makes sense. So maybe it's a new theory and maybe it's just new to me. But Bobo knows.