26 April, 2011

I Pledge Allegiance to Myself

I'm stepping out this year in big and bold ways. I'm writing a book, I'm creating new offerings and I'm stopping some old ones. I'm poking holes in my logic and challenging myself to get out of my own way. I'm going for the brass ring, taking myself more seriously and finding more joy and play along the way. I'm terrified and excited all at the same time - creating periodic bouts of nausea I've come to call "vomit moments". Having experienced these moments at key points in my life, I've come to recognize them as sure-fire indicators I'm on to something important. I pay attention to vomit.

I've been experiencing a lot of vomit moments lately. As is my process, I tend to "stop, drop and roll" in these times - putting my ear flush to the ground to listen for hoof beats on the earth and whispers (or screams) from my soul to give me direction. This used to be an intensely private experience for me. But now I'm taking it public and here's why: Brene Brown and her insanely good TEDTalk on the Power of Vulnerability. If you haven't yet seen this, I highly recommend stopping everything you're doing and watch it now. I'll wait...

I've decided to go public with my vomit moments for two reasons: 1) I'm a coach who works with women to take leaps into the unknown and I want them to know I share their courage and walk my talk and 2) I'm proud of my commitment to opening myself up to being vulnerable. This last point is new for me...the pride. In watching Brene Brown's talk about it, I learned that this ability to make myself vulnerable was actually a testament to my degree of self worth and my desire to have myself be seen fully - by me and others - so that I am able to make substantial and real connections. According to Ms. Brown's extensive research on the topic, people who are willing to make themselves vulnerable tell their story with their whole heart (which incidentally is at the root of the word "courage", from the French "coeur") because they believe that what makes them vulnerable is what makes them beautiful.

So there it is. Vulnerability=Beauty.

And here it goes. In this season of stepping out and cliff-leaping, I'm pledging allegiance to myself. I've done this countless times before, but this is the first time I'm doing so publicly. I have a list of 10 things I wish to uphold for myself in the coming months. I call them "Lael Code". They may not mean much to you, but I assure you they do to me. I'm not going to go into much detail on them, but if you're interested, I'd be happy to elaborate...just ask. And here's my ask of you. Hold me accountable. Let me know you've read this. Pick one of the ten you like and ask me how it's going. When you see or hear me do something, help me connect the dots and celebrate I'm actually honoring them (like this post being an example of #3 in action, for instance...). Thank you. 
  1. Believe in what you can't see
  2. Feast on your life
  3. Ask for what you need
  4. Tell your story with your whole heart
  5. Practice gratitude in moments of terror
  6. Let yourself be seen
  7. Do it anyway
  8. Feel your feelings
  9. Receive the gift of myself
  10. Let go and enjoy the ride
There is tremendous power in making something public. I highly recommend. But go for the vomit. Everything else is just decoration.

12 April, 2011

Good Rules

I swear I'd never thought I'd put those two words (Good and Rules) together, let alone write them. Together they create a bit of an oxymoron. For anyone who knows me, rules are not something I put a lot of stock in. To me, they are meant to be questioned, poked at, and certainly tested. Perhaps it's my New Jersey roots acting up again or perhaps it's just the pot-stirrer in me having fun. But my friend Jessica Esch changed all that one day and now I'm a believer.

Instead of creating new year's resolutions every January, Jess writes new rules for herself. These serve as her guidelines to which she promises to uphold and obey during the coming year. They inform her decisions, help her select perspectives that serve her intentions and give her permission.

Like I said, I'm a believer.

The magic in these rules is that they have been hand crafted and selected just with Jess in mind. She chose them. She wrote them down and agreed to their terms and conditions (but please note the clause at the bottom of her rules, lest you are concerned about locked in)

Being a witness to Jess and her rules has totally reframed my previous notions of them. If asked what the key has been to growing my own successful business has been, my number one response would have been, "I gave myself permission to break the rules."

And it's true, I didn't do market research when creating any of my offerings like Homecoming, my women's circles or Tribal Gatherings. I joked about having a "focus group of one" and constantly asked myself the question, "Well, what would I want?" and then designed accordingly. I didn't do benchmarking or extensive research on my "competitors" to see what was already out there. In fact, I adamantly refused to see them as competitors (much to the chagrin of many), and chose to enlist them as allies, as sister organizations on a similar mission. This paradigm shift is often referred to a "Blue Ocean" approach to strategy and assumes abundance versus lack - far from the shark infested and bloody waters of the "Red Oceans", which insist we go toe-to-toe and grab market share from our would be competitors. But why we insist on doing that is another post altogether...

The rules I'd advocating in this case represent more than just permission, though. They honor our need to be in control of our destiny. Yes, I said control. There, it's out of the bag.

Control gets a bad rap these days because it suggests it precludes working in isolation of faith, serendipity and openness. But that's just not the case. Control, as I see it is more of a manifestation tool. It is not the end, it is part of the means to the end. It's like the infamous story of the man begging at the feet of the statue of a saint to win a lottery ticket. Every day he'd say the same thing, "please, please let me win". One day the statue came to life and said, "my son, please, please buy a lottery ticket." Exercising a degree of control and honoring that urge is buying your lottery ticket. In working with my coaching clients, I often refer to it as a "woubbie", something that feels good, smells good and is comforting to hold. Like a soft and well-loved blankie of a toddler.

These "good" rules - or your version of them - can be a great woubbie to get you through the dark nights and lonely days on the transition road. They can be the anchors and bell buoys in your harbor. And as long as you hold fast to your belief that there are a lot of other variables at play - the direction of the wind, the turn of the tide, the harbor master's whim and the other boat traffic, they'll serve you well.

Want some inspiration? In addition to Jess's rules above, here are a few more from some women I admire:

  • Start with the love and then work very hard and try to let go of the results (Elizabeth Gilbert)
  • Cast out your will and then cut the line (Elizabeth Gilbert)
  • Trust the spark. When you find your natural exuberance, you will find security (Tama Kieves)
  • Let life get wind of you. Catch on fire and the world will catch onto you (Tama Kieves)
  • Obey your instincts (Martha Beck)
  • Open your eyes, follow your heart, and trust that life is unfolding (me)
  • Create your own music and join in the dance, for in it lies the magic of life (me)

So pull out a pen and get yourself a clean piece of poster board. Give yourself the permission that no one else can give you. Write the rules that you want to obey. And then hold them lightly and watch what happens. Honestly, it's pretty amazing. As are you.

05 April, 2011

Stupid Rules

My face hurts. It's because of laughing. About balance.

Last night one of my women's circles gathered around that very topic and we howled (and cried) as we teased apart this thing they call Balance (and for the record, by the end of the night, most of us ditched that term in favor of "grounded" or "centered" or even "in control.")

As a group, we were fascinated by the ridiculous and often unattainable expectations we set for ourselves. We discovered we shared a mutual penchant for wanting to "have it all", despite our recognition that this was clearly not possible. We howled out loud - and were brought to tears - as we spoke of our frustrations in trying to juggle the various roles we have, our disappointments at letting ourselves (and others) down, and the resulting shame we often felt in not having figured it out yet. We came to realize these thoughts and expectations were like this "dirty little secret" women didn't talk about. Except last night, of course. When we broke the rule.

The laughter felt damn good.

Liza Donnelly, a New Yorker cartoonist, is a master at getting people to laugh at these rules we set for ourselves as a society. She spoke about her own experience recently at TEDWomen and shared her story of how she's used humor as a tool to combat her "fear of womanhood". As her cartoons flashed behind her (and the audience roared with laughter), she illustrated her point of how we are imprinted with messages at birth and then bombarded with more messages - often conflicting - that tell us how to be. We know this, right?

Well here's an interesting twist she put out there for us to consider. Women, she asserts, often are the ones to police the rules because we are the carriers of the traditions. So we pass these rules down from generation to generation. The problem with the rules is that they are vague. Those rules that we do know, we're not terribly fond of - and they are constantly changing. She points out the obvious tenuous position this puts us in as women.

So what to do? Use humor to change them. Liza believes that women+humor=change. Why women? "Because women are on the ground floor and we know the traditions so well, we can have amazing antennae and can bring a different voice to the table"

Her mission? To think about these stupid rules we're following as well as laugh. She believes "we can change this thing, one laugh at a time."

I don't know about you, but I'm willing to have a sore face if it means creating some change in this world.