New Years and Now

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It is -18 degrees outside.

Most of the diners in the area are closed, so I am eating breakfast in a McDonald’s. It is quiet except for the pop music they play just a tad too loud. There is snow outside.

I woke up next to the woman I love. Our first New Year’s together. Both of us have families and children from a previous marriage and so often holidays are kind of fractured affairs to see everyone that is so important to us.

But this weekend is ours. The seeing in of a new year is ours.

A new year, but here I am doing what I do every day. A time of prayer and meditation.  Time to journal. Time to write. The inward focusing time that fuels introverts like me. Last night my love asked me if I was going out to write. I was thinking about it. She said she thought I should. She knows the value of it.

The sun is on my back. Yes, it bleaches out the computer screen a bit, but the warmth is welcome

It is New Years.  A time of anticipation. Of Promise. Of new hope. Of resolutions. Of, for many of us, change. We are going to lose weight. (the classic resolution). We are going to write the novel, get the new job, get the help we need, become great, or greater. We are going to pull out of our dark place. We are going to …..

… become better.

We all know though, that it’s just a day. Not unlike the others except for the power we give it, the choice to make this day the starting point of new things. We choose to do on this day something we need to do: Release the old and grasp the better.

And that’s the magic of New Year’s, isn’t it? That we give it that power. We choose to mark this day as a day of new beginnings, of washing away the old and becoming the new. What if we gave any day that power? What if we recognize the truth, that any day can become our new year.

In recent years, I have come to measure new years by relational things.

The most recent one was May 20th, my wedding day. A day that everything changed. But even that day was just one in a long chain of days and decisions that brought the woman and I together, that brought us closer.

Each day a decision. Each day a new start. Each day with the possibility to create newness, to change our course, to move in a new direction.

I like small changes. The big, wholesale “I am going to change everything at once” method has never worked for me. I am not sure it works or most of us. I know that for me, a parade of tiny changes works a lot better. I don’t get overwhelmed, or disappointed, or sidetracked. I get lots of little victories to celebrate and reinforce the fact that I can do it.

Little changes are not overwhelming. They are not wearing. They are not scary. If we slip on a little change, it’s not a big deal.

And so, knowing what to keep is just as important as knowing what to change.

My love knows this time in the morning is what sets my day. I pray. I write in my journal, purging the dark stuff in my head. I write. Hope rises again in my day. I can move forward. More importantly, I do move forward. Days without my routine are off kilter, never quite gaining the traction I need to be as effective as I need to be, never quite being who I want to be on that day.

She and I have talked about what we want for the new year. Yes, we have some things. Resolutions? No, I am more gentle with myself than to call them resolutions. Hopes, with action. Dreams that can be reached and touched by action.

The subject has come up several times the past week or so, and a fair number of things have emerged. All good. All doable We will, I am sure, make progress on most or all of them, even as we don’t dismantle the things that we love.

It’s been a lazy couple of days. It’s too cold to go out. No walks on the beach or along the trails in the mountains for us. Quiet time. Talks. Fixing meals. Going to the movies. Afternoon naps. Reading.

Refreshing, spiritually and relationally. A time, more even than Thanksgiving, to remember and celebrate my blessings. Plans got frozen out, and something just as good floated to the top.

I am not rich. I have a modest house, modest cars, a modest life. But I have people who love me and people I love. I have interesting and rewarding work. I get to live mostly on my schedule and my terms. My creative and spiritual life fill me.

Remembering and keeping the good things. It is just as important as resolutions, second chances, and new beginnings.

In fact, it may be those things we keep that make the things we want possible.

Happy New Year my friends and readers. Celebrate today. There’s good stuff ahead. There’s good stuff around us right now.

Sipping coffee.

Tom

Reinventing Ourselves

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Every 8-10 years along my life’s journey, I’ve made substantial changes. Most of them I chose. One I did not. But each time of change required a reinvention of how I lived and worked. Something about reinventing seems to be wired in my DNA, because I have done it in my work as well, spearheading three technology startups that each went on to become major companies in the systems integration world.

A fair number of my clients come to me wanting to re-invent something: Their career, their work-life balance, their creative lives, their company direction, business processes, their marketing – something basic and vital.

Not everyone can re-invent themselves. Don’t get me wrong. I believe in a general way that any of us, any person, any organization can reinvent themselves and reach their dreams and goals. The process of doing this is pretty well established. And whether it’s my process, developed by the John Maxwell Team, or someone else’s, the truth is, most of us take the same basic steps with different verbiage attached to it.

So we know the way.

But not everyone can do it.  That’s the reality. I can generally tell within a few sessions, a few hours, whether or not they are going to be able to do it or not.

What’s the difference? Here’s what I have learned in five years of coaching and pastoring.

Letting go of the List

Some clients, both individuals, and organizations come to me to accomplish something. They have a definition of success that has eluded them, and so they come to me. But what I hear coming out of their mouths are all the reasons they can’t do it. Everyone’s list is different, but they all have a list. Generally, it is a long list, and full of external things.

Everyone has a list of reasons. For some, they abandon that list after a few meetings and it goes away as we talk about what we CAN do, what DOES make a difference. Others though, continue to raise objections, continually spouting the list like a barrage of walls and barriers. It’s like they are daring success to come, making sure it won’t come because they have put so many roadblocks in the way (in their own mind)

If you can’t let go of the list, you won’t be able to re-invent yourself, your life, your work, your company, your organization. You won’t move on. You won’t have the growth, success or significance you dream of.

Do you believe you can? Then you can. If you believe you might, or maybe, then you can’t.

Accepting Responsibility

Here’s what I know. People who accept responsibility for their own lives can change their lives. People who think the outside world is holding them back, can’t.

Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes the outside world does hold us back. But generally, it can’t stop us if we do the work and give it the time and persistence. (More on that later.)

Reinventing is different than a little change. It’s big work. It is absolutely doable. But if we spend a lot of time worrying about everything and everyone else and the barriers then we’ll never change what we need to change: Ourselves.

Years ago I was part of a startup called The Whitlock Group. There were four of us that quit our jobs with well-established companies to begin this new thing with a completely different approach. It was slow going. Manufacturers and customers alike were wary of a new player with no track record, and a new approach to the business.

One of us, I will call him William, was constantly worried about what our competitors were doing to squash us. Our leader – I will call him Kevin – said something that has stuck with me for thirty years.

He said “Don’t worry about them. Do what we do. If we are right, we will prevail.” And we did. Spectacularly.  By the time I left Whitlock, we were a $38M/year company. Today they are one of the top five companies nationwide in their field.

Taking responsibility for our own success, leaving the blame game behind, is how we get there. If we live in the blame world, reinvention won’t happen.

Change, but not too fast

Everyone who wants to reinvent their lives, or their business, knows there is going to be change. There has to be. We don’t want to reinvent because everything is the way we want it.

No, we want more. Success. A richer life. A more Creative life. More money. A big idea. Something more. And we know that means change. Some people are change averse, but they are rarely the people who want to reinvent.  No, the people who want to reinvent life and work have the opposite problem.

They want to change too fast. They want results now. And so they go about it in whirling dervish of activity. And generally, they burn out, blow up or fizzle.

You see, the human mind and the human spirit can only take so much change at one time. Throw too much at us and we get stressed. We succumb to overload or we rebel. It is human nature and you can’t change it. I’ve seen wonderful people with wonderful ideas, full of potential for reinvention sabotage themselves and their organizations by changing too much too fast.

Baby steps. Slow, steady, constant, tiny little changes. That is what gets you there. If you are prepared to spend a year to eighteen months making changes in slow, steady ways, you can reinvent anything. Even (especially) yourself.

Never Walk Alone

Reinvention rarely happens in a vacuum. Most of us need help. A mentor. A coach. Someone from the outside who can ask the right questions, encourage us, call us out on our madness, and keep us on the path.

Go it alone, and most of us will stray. We will wear out. We will get discouraged. We won’t see our own progress. We need cohorts, partners, supporters, mentors, coaches, someone who will pull the truth out of us and make us look at it and act on it. Someone to be accountable to.

What does that person need to me? They need to be someone you feel safe talking to. They need to know when to encourage and when to hold your feet to the fire. They need to be outside your status quo (because that’s what you want to change, after all.). They need to be someone you will feel accountable to.

Ideally, they will be someone who has trod your path of re-invention and have been trained to guide others. They will have a flexible mind, aware that there are often multiple paths to success, and concerned that you find the one that is true to you.

And There It Is

And there it is. If a person or company…..

  • Can let go of their list of external factors that are in their way
  • Can accept responsibility for their own success and failure
  • And are willing to move constantly, but slowly towards re-invention….

Then re-invention can happen. It does happen. As the old song goes “Dreams can come true. It can happen to you…”

Want to reinvent you or your organization? Look at these things. Think on them. Be honest with yourself about them. And when you are ready to do it, find the right person. (Maybe even me.), and let the re-invention begin!

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

Coaching

Want to try out personal coaching without making a big investment? I offer a “3 for Free” package. 3 free personal coaching sessions, via Skype (or in person if you are close by) to let you see how it works and if it is for you. Interested? Click Here

 

 

What Do You Want, Really?

I am running away for a day and going to the beach tomorrow.

Why? Because I need a reset day. Life and work have been way too busy the past month or so and I am worn down. I plan to do exactly nothing. Stare at the horizon. Daydream. Meditate. Maybe paint. Maybe not.

Why? Because I can.

I work freelance. I have for the past five years or so. It’s taken some time to figure out how to make it work, but I am pretty much there now.  It’s not for everyone. There are some pressures a “regular” job don’t have. You have to always be looking for the next piece of work while still doing the work at hand, on time and on budget.  You answer to you for your time and if the quality of work falters, you don’t get a talking to, you get fired. Freelance is not an hours job, it’s a results job. Which means at times you work nights and weekends. Just part of the gig.

But there are also perks. The biggest perk is a flexible schedule. Ninety percent of my work isn’t based on 9-5. It’s based on X job done by X date. This means that with a little notice, I can schedule myself a day off, or help a friend, or cut out a few hours for a mid-day date with the woman I love. Sure, it means work at weird hours (Today, for instance, I’ll put in a long, long day.), but having that control of my time and being able to do things like a day at the beach or a long hike in the afternoon, or coffee with my sweetie in the middle of the day mean a lot to me.

A lot.

When I began the freelance life, I went through a similar process of examining myself, my past, my likes, my dislikes, my strengths and my weaknesses – the same process I take my coaching and consulting clients through. What I discovered is what I wanted most was work that allowed me to have a life, all week long.

I had fought for time when I had worked regular jobs and hated all the things I missed because of it. I made most of my kid’s school things, but I also missed a lot of them. I missed things at church I wanted to be a part of. I pushed through things that I could have pushed through much better with a short break, a mental health day (Literally).
As I moved up in work and life, I gained more control of that time, and I was determined, I discovered, that I wanted that flexible life. It was a primary driver in going freelance.

Yes, even more than money.

I like money, but I quickly learned what I did and did not need during my divorce a decade ago. And I learned that I needed a lot less than what I had had before the divorce. In fact, I didn’t miss the stuff at all. Simple suits me. I am always giving away stuff, even to this day.

But time! That’s precious stuff. And as I age, it has become more precious.

Now, that’s my journey and my priority, but who cares? It’s not yours. If you dig deep into your heart and soul, you will find what you really want in life. Where your real priorities are.

My experience is that they are rarely what we think they are at first blush. It’s only when we dig deep that we find the things we really want. It takes a clear eye, tons of self-observation and self-honesty. With my coaching clients, it often takes 2-3 sessions to get to a real understanding of what they want most. It takes longer if you are doing the work alone.

But it is worth the work. Because how can we get what we want if we don’t know. And what if we do the work to get what we want, when what we thought we wanted when we started was not really what we want most?  Think of the time wasted.

And time is precious.

Here’s what I know. I know it from my own life and I know it from reading and studying and I know it from my client’s lives. If we know what we want, we can get it.  Really. There are paths and processes we can all follow and get “there”, where ever “there” is. But most of us only sort of know what we want.

In my case. I wanted time to be. And not on a rigid schedule. It took time and work and following the processes that I needed to to get there. And I am there. I’ve seen the same thing happen in my client’s lives. There is no mystery to it. It’s all belief and work. If we believe and are willing to do the work, what we want happens.

You can have what you want. We all can. There’s no secret to it. But first, we have to know what we really want. And finding it is not as easy as you think.

Off to the beach,

Tom

Magnetic compass on a world map

Magnetic compass standing upright on a world map conceptual of global travel , tourism and exploration, with copyspace

What I want. What you want.

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What I Want

I want to write.
I want to paint and draw and create.
I want to sing and dance and the privilege of being silly.
I want to love and be loved.
I want a roof over my head and food on the table.
I want to sit at a cafe table in Venice for hours on end.
I want long conversations with God, my true love, and children.
I want to make a difference, to lift those around me
to where they too get
what they want.

About this poem

I had an unexpected coaching session early this morning with a new client, and after asking him what he wanted from life, he turned the tables and asked me what I wanted. This is what I told him.

At the time, I had no idea it was a poem.

It also served as a reminder that I have what I want. (Except for the trip to Venice, which has happened and will happen again, I am sure.)

What do you want? Do you know how to narrow it down so you can focus and find a path. Do you know what makes it happen?  Coaching can help. And I offer three free “Get What You Want” coaching sessions so you can see if coaching works for you.

That’s right. Free. No strings attached. Wanna give it a try?

Tom

The Art of Savoring

This morning I went to my favorite diner in Pawlet, Vermont. I had sausage gravy, something the cook rustled up for me simply because I mentioned it in passing yesterday. The coffee was extra strong, a good thing.

Tom Petty and Joe Cocker were playing on the stereo. I worked for a couple of hours.

I had been sick last night. One of those passing stomach bugs. Maybe sausage gravy wasn’t the best idea, but it felt good going down. It warm and salty and peppery with a hint of sweet Italian sausage. My stomach, despite my poor decision in foods, decided to let it stay down.

After I knocked off the first writings of the day, I went back to my home. Driving in and parking, I walked over to my little flower beds at the back of the house. I got a late start planting them this year so things were late in blooming, but now, right on the cusp of fall, the colors and fragrances are sweet and bright. Most nights they predict frost now, and sooner or later the weatherman will get it right and the color and aromas will be gone. I savored them for a few minutes.

I worked some more. It is warm enough that I can still leave the doors open in the daytime and be comfortable. But it is cool enough that a few wood stoves burn through the day and the light smell of wood smoke is in the air. I know it’s pollution, but I love that smell. I love living in a place where so many heat with wood.

I stopped for a few moments and offered up a prayer. It’s been a brutal few weeks with hurricanes, fires, political insanity, deaths, loss and actual insanity, ending in the killings in Las Vegas. I am still in the mourning and prayer stage, unable to make sense of it all – the losses are overwhelming still when I think.

It will pass. I will move to a “what can I do?” place soon enough. It’s how I work, overwhelmed at first, but only at first.

I went upstairs to pack. I have a short road trip ahead. The bed was a mess and I left it. The perfume of the woman I love lingered on the pillows. Why would I mess with that? My cat lay on her spot on the bed, defying me to move her. I pet her instead and felt the deep rumble of her purring as she nuzzled my hand.

It’s the little things. That’s what my therapist told me when I was in my darkest place. It is the little things, the good details in life that remind us when the big picture is a blurry mess, that life is a beautiful thing. I have a friend, Paula, who calls them “little scraps of magic.” And so they are. White magic that surrounds us, signs I believe, of a benevolent God. Tiny reminders that taken alone mean little.

But when added up, when we take the time to notice and count them, they are life-changing. When we take the time.

There was a fallen leaf on the black convertible top of my car when I went to put my suitcase in. A beautify thing. A simple thing. I tossed my suitcase in the car and the wind, warm and cool at the same time, blew the leaf away.  There will be more. There are always more.

And that is the lesson my therapist wanted me to understand. Good is around us. Beauty is around us. Even when we humans act like idiots and madmen, the good stuff surrounds us. It only we make ourselves look beyond the pain inside.

That’s hard to do of course. Pain makes us pull inward. We ball up, put up walls, retreat. It’s a safety thing. For some, it’s a survival thing. The more the pain, the stronger the need to move our heart to a fetal position. The longer the pain goes on, the harder it comes to look for that good. It’s not easy.

But it is powerful.

We forget the power of little things sometimes. I know I have at times. But when I am overwhelmed, again and again, I turn to the simple act of savoring. A touch. A taste. Smells in the air.

And I heal.

Always, I heal.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

Spirit and Profit

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Spirituality is no longer taboo.

Mainstream Publications such as the Washington Post and New York Times regularly write about spirituality in life and at work. Oprah and her empire has risen largely on a focus on spirituality that isn’t about religion at all. More and more often now, you will see pieces on spirituality in Forbes, Inc, or Fast Company.

Why?

As a nation, as a people, and as a culture, we seemed to have reclaimed the idea that what we do needs purpose. And that purpose, that spirit, needs to be about something bigger than ourselves. It needs to be part of a group of core beliefs that go beyond a mission statement.

Authors such as Steven Covey and Rick Warren have written books that moved the power of purpose, of spirit, into the mainstream. Daniel Pink’s masterpiece, Drive, speaks intimately to what moves us, what drives us, and what binds us together. I rarely have anyone I work with, personally or corporately, deny the potential power of spirit in their growth and in reaching their goals. And I almost always ask about purpose.

Yeah, I ask.

Knowing your purpose is a key to reaching your goals.

We need something bigger than ourselves to commit to. We derive power from it. We will work harder, with more focus, more effectiveness, and with more joy with that spiritual sense of being a part.

So I ask. If I know the spirit of a person or the spirit of an organization, there’s a way to get them there. But you would be surprised at how hard it is for people to answer that question.

Oh, they have an answer, but it’s vague. Or as we talk and I ask questions, their initial answer is almost a shapeshifter, taking on

Typically, when I talk with coaching clients, as we talk and I ask questions, their initial answer is almost a shapeshifter, taking on new form, new ideas, contradictions, self-arguments, soul-searching re-arranging itself again and again as we peel away the onion to find what really drives people, what really energizes and excites them and fills their spirit.

Organizations are not much better. A lot of them have mission statements, which were all the rage a year or so ago. But as I talk to leaders and others down the organizational chart, there is, once again, confusion. There’s often a disconnect, with the corporate culture being out of alignment with the professed mission statement.

Why is it so hard? 

It’s hard because a couple of things have to come together. First, we are not trained to look for what really moves us. Modern culture tells us what should move us. Culture tells us what is trendy, acceptable, and popular. But it can’t tell us our real hearts. That takes work. Real soul searching. Whether we are a company or an individual, digging for the truth is hard and takes time.

Let me tell you this. In all my work as a consultant and coach, I have never had a person or corporate group have the same purpose when we ended looking at it as the one we started with. Not once. And I don’t expect it to happen if I get to do this for another decade or two. It takes work finding the truth of ourselves.

The other reason is that having a spiritually-oriented life, being focused on doing what we say we are about is even harder than figuring it out in the first place. Inevitably, as people or organizations, we discover that our actions are out of alignment with our professed purpose.

When we are out of whack like that, when we are professing one thing and doing or acting on another, we end up confused, or angry, or dismiss that high-sounding purpose as just another lie. We become even less effective with a fractured purpose than if we had no purpose at all.

What makes a purpose, a spirit, work? 

  • First, it must be true. It has to be at the heart of what a person or company or organization is about. If it’s marketing, or if it’s a thing to say to puff ourselves up, it will fail. People will see through us. Our customers will and we will and (in the case of an organization) our employees will. And when you lie about your spirit, your credibility is gone.
  • Second, it must be wide enough to encompass all we do. It can’t be a narrow little idea. It needs to be a big idea. A big reason to be. Something that we can apply to everything. So for a person, it has to be able to work for our work, our relationships, our creativity and (if we have one), our faith.  If we are an organization, it has to be big enough to be useful in each and every division, product and job.
  • It must be achievable. We have to believe we can get there, truly be able to believe, or we can’t embrace it. And neither can our employees, customers or leaders. (Now that I think of it, this may be part of being true.)
  • Lastly, it only works if the people at the top not only embrace the idea, but live it, talk it, market it, encourage it, point out others that are living it. Leadership has the power to make it go or not go. That is true with individuals where self-leadership moves us, and it’s even more true in organizations, where leaders at all levels have the task of making that spirit real.

Why go to the trouble?

A wonderful article in the Financial Times points out that the paradox that the most profitable companies tend to be less focused on profit, and more focused on purpose. My experience as a coach for individuals has indicated the same thing.

When we have a purpose that is true, wide enough and achievable; and when our leaders (or ourselves) commit to that purpose, great things happen. Morale soars. People want to work with us. People want to buy from us.

And, oh yeah, we make more money. Hmmm.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom