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Freedom From Failure

A big part of my job as a life coach is to help people who feel “stuck.” Now stuck can mean a lot of different things. It can mean: “I don’t know what to do next.” It can mean: “I know what to do, but don’t want to do it.” It can mean: “I don’t believe I can do it.” It can mean many, many different things to different people. One of the things it seems to mean pretty regularly is: “I’m afraid if I do the thing (whatever the thing is), I’m going to fail.”

Well boy howdy do I know what that’s all about. If I’m really honest I’m afraid I’m going to fail every single day. Wow. I never really think about it that way and just saying that out loud felt pretty awful, but it’s true. Starting a business is no small thing, and you have to do a lot of new stuff that makes you uncomfortable, and you have to do it even when you think you’re going to fail. The same is true lots of places, though, isn’t it? It’s not just all of us loony self-employed people who face this.

Failure is part of doing something bigger than what you're doing now.Anybody who wants something big, who wants to get to the next level in their own personal and/or professional development is going to have moments where they think they could fail. I experience it as a musician. We try harder songs; we use more complex arrangements. We choose styles we’ve not worked with before. We don’t do that ALL of the time. We have a base of stuff that we do with confidence, and then a couple that are heart pounders until we’ve played them enough that they become part of the base and we choose a new really hard song. THIS is how we grow.

This is how we grow unless we quit before we get anywhere. See growing, changing, being more, feeling better, feeling different, expanding, evolving will ALL lead to fear and discomfort. They will. As evolved as we may be technologically, our primitive brains are still pretty simple and clear about what they’re interested in: survival. How do we survive? Well, we stick with what’s working. Never mind if it is not fulfilling; that is not the question your brain is interested in. For your primitive brain, only one question matters: has it kept us alive? Yes? Great – that works. Don’t change because THAT might kill us. Done.

So when we move to change, to grow, to experiment, our brain unleashes every story it can think of to keep us from moving down that road. Some of these are subtle: “But you’re really great at what you’re doing right now.” Some of them are not: “If you do that you could lose EVERYTHING and then we’ll be homeless, and then we’ll die.” We are so afraid to fail that we quit before there’s even the slightest possibility of failing. And as a result, we stay the same. We don’t learn new skills. We don’t learn to conquer (okay, manage but conquer sounds so glorious) our fears. We don’t learn how to be even better than we are.

You get to decide what failure is.The thing about failure is that we can be free from it without quitting. Brooke Castillo recently reminded me (and whoever else was watching) that we each get to define what failing means. You cannot fail anywhere but in your own mind, because you are the one who decides when you have failed. You are the one who decides that what you have done isn’t enough or has no value or isn’t just the rocky beginning to something new and amazing. You get to decide what failing looks like and THEN you get to decide what to do when that happens. Failing is both inevitable and totally optional. You have total control over failure. How’s that for some freedom?

You may decide that failure doesn’t exist at all. You may decide that failing at new things is the best way to figure out how to do them. You may decide that building up some grit by failing a few times will help you get through the work to follow. You may decide that failing is a thing, that you will do it and that when you will do, it will be your job to figure out what did and didn’t work and to see if there’s something you can do different, better, if there’s a thought you can take away from it that will change how you interact with the world. You are totally free from failure, because each failure is our own. We define it. We react to it or embrace it. We recover or retreat. We are free.

What would you do today if you weren’t afraid to fail?

Rules For Freedom: Dealing with Overwhelm


Look, there are plenty of good reasons to get overwhelmed in the modern world. Everywhere we look there are SO many options. I used to joke that I would do better in really small grocery stores that only carried one brand of the the thing. ONE kind of ketchup, one kind of mayonnaise, whatever. I know, I know, what would we do without the battle over Hellman’s versus Duke’s? Seriously. At times I just wanted to stop spending time on this level of decision-making. Why? Because then some time would be free and I wouldn’t be thinking about mayonnaise – right? And then the shopping would be done.. don’t worry I don’t really spend that long on mayonnaise, it’s just an illustration.

Slide1But the same level of possibility can apply to big decisions. And there’s a lot of information out there for us. We can get so caught up in the details and comparisons, data collection and analysis, worry that we’ll pick the wrong thing that we never do anything. In fact, I can’t tell you about how many adults I’ve talked to who say they’d rather be doing some other kind of work but then they get bogged down in the logistics, the details, the worries about whether or not it will work, the need to know the future. All of that becomes overwhelming, and so they stay exactly where they are, unhappy but safe. Sometimes they’ll try to put some whipped cream on that by telling me about their nice coworker.

I have a couple of reactions to this. First, it’s actually really good to stay in the blah job long enough to learn how to be happy even though your circumstances aren’t ideal. If you  can’t learn to manage your mind and emotions, you’ll just be taking that stuff with you. On the other hand… if you are just staying in a job because it’s safe and you can’t decide what to do next, the problem isn’t the number of possibilities, it’s the way you are looking at them.

Slide2When we’re taking on a new project, there are three phases involved with getting started: the idea (which may involve some dreaming), the logistical details (which often includes anything but), and action. SO many people spend an enormous amount of time in the second phase, the one that’s supposedly about logistical details. I like to call that phase: “I can’t because…” This is the time when we start with some logistical details (maybe we have some scheduling issues) or concerns from previous jobs (maybe we’ve been burned before) and those really just become the centerpieces for a big feast of reasons why we can’t ever change anything. It feels like thinking about our options, but really it’s just a whole bunch of storytelling. How do I know it’s storytelling? Because it involves predicting what will or won’t be possible in that next big career move when you have NO idea what could actually happen because you haven’t talked to anybody about anything. All stories. You made it all up. You may find that offensive because it’s based on something real. That’s okay I can take it. You still made it up. What happened to you in the past is past. The best way to allow that injury to continue is to allow it to limit you forever.

Slide3So when I have a client who’s in this kind of overwhelm, the analysis paralysis, I encourage them to focus on the other two steps: focus on the idea and the vision for what could be next, including how they want to feel and what they want to do with in great detail and THEN? Then I encourage them to act. “But I don’t know what to do….. I’m going to get it wrong… I will fail.” 1) Make a list of 10 small actions you could take to support your idea or vision. 2) Yes, you might, then you try one of the other 10. 3) Yes, you might, and you will be okay, and you will like yourself better for having tried, and you will learn what NOT to do so you can try again.

Sitting in overwhelm is paralyzing, and it’s also a choice. A good rule for freedom? Don’t allow it. Focus your sights on your vision and action. Before you know it, you just may be somewhere totally new.

Trading Places

No, I’m not talking about the old Eddie Murphy movie (and to show my age I felt weird about calling that old, but I digress). I’m talking about the idea of trading places with another person in order to get a fresh perspective. We talk about this pretty regularly, particularly when we’re trying to encourage our kids to be aware of other people’s feelings.

“How would you feel if someone did that to you? What do you think she felt like when you said that? Do you think he was happy? Were they trying to hurt you? What do you think they were thinking about?” Maybe it’s just me and my poor tormented children, but these discussions happen pretty often when trying to untangle whatever happened at recess. This notion is a big part of our adult culture as well: “Walk a mile in their shoes.” Now, don’t misunderstand me all of this talk we’re talking doesn’t mean we’re walking the walk, but that is a subject for a different post altogether. Right now I’m just interested in this idea of ways that we can shift our perspective by trading places.

we get so afraid of the futureThe difference for me right now is that I’m less interested in developing empathy (just for the moment, no worries) and more interested in gaining some perspective on the things that are going on for me. One parent in seminary and one parent as a fledgling entrepreneur can make for a lot of household uncertainty. Some days the uncertainty feels daunting and we just want more information. We just want to know what’s going to happen. Where will we be? Will all of this work out? Should we be doing things differently?

When I’m feeling freaked out or if that freaking out turns into some kind of b.s. self-abuse about being good enough, it is a good mental exercise to trade places with a friend. Let her look at the situation and tell me what SHE thinks. We’re not always good at being kind to ourselves. We’re not always good at seeing the big picture when we’re part of the landscape. We’re not always good at taking a longer view, but oftentimes someone else who knows us can, and sometimes we can access that without even talking to them. When our self-kindness and calm fails us, we can borrow some from someone else. I do this regularly. When I need calm and compassion I mentally trade places with my sister and see what she would say. When I need business advice, I mentally trade places with my mentor and see what she would say. When I need a pep talk, I imagine what my dear Dad would say. When my own capacity to be kind to myself and pick myself up is out of gas, I call in for a little mental trade.

But this trading places thing can go farther, and here’s where it gets really interesting. Every now and again I make it a point to imagine my future. I choose a point down the road, maybe a year, maybe five, sometimes ten, and I picture everything I can about that time. I try to get detailed. I try to see everything. I try to know exactly what’s happening, not by pushing, but by inhabiting that mental space, seeing it, being the me of THAT time. When that vision is really solid and I’ve been living there for a few minutes, I ask HER for advice for today. What do I need to know? What should I do? How can I get there?

using a vision of the future to guide actionIt’s been fascinating. She always calms me down, and I guess that part isn’t surprising, but the rest of it is. There’s real advice there. There’s steps to take to get to the future I’m imagining. There are things to consider and plan, with a vision of what that will bring. THAT is powerful magic. THAT is motivating and grounding all at the same time. THAT makes moving forward feel both brilliant AND safe, like of COURSE I’m going to do X because that’s how I get THERE. And when I’ve gotten my questions answered, I trade places back. I return to my present with fresh eyes, a fresh perspective, a list of next steps on the road, and a vision to guide me.

What would your future self tell you about where you are today? What would you ask? What would happen if you tried trading places for just a few minutes? I can help you with that.


The Magic of Yet

One of the things I like to do is to see how much I can change the meaning of a sentence while changing the words as little as possible. “My yard is covered with ice” becomes: “my yard is covered with ice cream,” obviously preferable but only so slightly different. I know. It’s weird. It’s a thing language lovers do, or at least the language lovers in my family. My father loved to play with words, changing words, changing sentences. I do it too, and now my son has begun to play with me. It occurred to me today that this kind of word play can be so so so useful when we’re trying to make changes in our lives. Continue reading → The Magic of Yet

Change in Just 5 Minutes

She said: “Well, if I’m only going to do it for 10 minutes, why bother?”

She was referring to exercise, and explaining to me why the hadn’t gotten any exercise in that week, having identified it as a priority the week prior.

Slide1This notion that only 10 minutes of exercise makes it not worth the attempt smells like perfectionism as a delay tactic. Perfectionism comes in many shapes and sizes, and sometimes it sounds like this:

“I’ll buy new clothes when I lose some weight.”

“I’ll plan a vacation when I have more time.”

“I’ll take a day off when things aren’t so busy.”

“I’ll change careers when my children are older.”

“I’ll exercise when I have enough time to do it properly.”

“If I don’t have time to make a great meal at home, I might as well carry out.”

“If I can’t look like the women in magazines, I might as well wear sweats.”

“If I can’t do IT the right way, I’d just as soon skip it.” Continue reading → Change in Just 5 Minutes

Is Satisfactory Enough?

This morning my singing partner and I did a scary thing. We took a tough song, with cutting and horrifying lyrics, added a dissonant and haunting harmony and performed it a cappella for our congregation, twice. We had a total of 5 songs to perform, 2 others that were new for us and new to to them, but only the one had me nervous. I knew we had really pushed some boundaries on what was comfortable for people to hear, certainly on what was easy for us to learn and perform, and on what we would do with the information of executing it poorly or being poorly received.

The song fell in the middle of the service. She was shaking before that song. I started shaking after and shook so hard that my hold torso was trembling a bit. All that fear and all that adrenaline sorting itself out after nailing that song, which was still impossibly difficult to perform and to hear. We sang Strange Fruit, made famous by Billie Holliday. While a musical masterpiece, it is not pleasing to listen to in the way that most music is. The song lyrics are a metaphorical description of a lynching, written by a white Jewish man from the Bronx, after seeing a photograph in the newspaper. My partner and I decided to sing the song facing one another to maintain our concentration and keep our emotions at bay. It was haunting. It was powerful. It was profound in exactly the way that we hoped. And we shook with the effort of getting past the fear and doubt and concern that we brought to the microphone with us.

Let me be clear, we didn’t have to sing that song. We chose it, really against our better judgment in many ways. We knew it was risky. We could easily have found something else, either that we already knew or that would have served and been easy to learn. We could have satisficed. Do you know this word? I LOVE it. Satisficing is “accepting an available option as satisfactory.” Satsificing is doing what you know so it will be okay – and believe me there is a time for satisficing. My husband is preparing to leave town for two weeks, and while I single-handedly wrangle our domestic zoo, I imagine there will be plenty of satificing. Continue reading → Is Satisfactory Enough?


I’ve been noticing lately just how much fear seems to be in the air.

It’s in my clients.

It’s in my friends.

It’s in my family.

And lord is it all over social media.

It takes so many forms. It comes out swinging. It pulls in tight, withdrawing from all. It spurs on endless chains of logic in hopes of thinking our way out. It fuels our outrage. It paralyzes us. It keeps us awake as it analyzes all of the potential risks.

I’ve noticed too that people seem to think of fear as being of two different kinds. There’s the internal kind, the nattering voice that says: “You can’t do that. You’ll fail. Nobody will like you.” Continue reading → FEAR

Revolution Not Resolution

Here it comes… I know, it’s weird to even think about New Year’s when there’s so much holidaying to do before then, but it’s less than a month away. It’s resolution time people. Are you ready?

So many folks face January 1 with a very clear notion of some way that they have failed in the past year. The solution is a resolution. (If you’re a language nerd like me that sentence can be entertaining for quite some time.) THIS year I am not going to suck in that same way. I am not going to smoke. I am not going to overeat. I am going to go to the gym. I am going to be more productive. I’m not going to yell at my kids. I am going to stop barking back at my neighbor’s dog (anyone? just me?).

slide2Personally, not one of the changes I have made in my life has came from a resolution. None of them. Not one bit. The whole theory behind most resolutions as the answer to a problem is based solely on action. I just need to act differently and everything will be different. Well, yes, and no. The idea behind action-based change misses out on a critical feature of the human brain. The thing behind your action is your thoughts and feelings. Example: my action is that I overeat at dinner. The thought behind my action: 1) our family dinners are too short and 2) I’m gonna miss out if I don’t get everything I can right now. The feelings that follow are empty and focused on getting it all in. So with an action-based solution I make a resolution that I’m not going to overeat at dinner any more. That’s it. Heck, I’ll even put a sticker on my calendar for every day that I don’t overeat at dinner. Woot. That will work great. Really, it might, for a while. Any of you who have attempted life change by resolution can probably put a prediction on how long that is going to last. Most employees at the gym will tell you 90 days is about the outside limit on that score. Continue reading → Revolution Not Resolution

Life Skills: Planning to Achieve

Hey Everybody!

I don’t know about you, but as we move further away from summer and a sort of lax attitude about what happens when, the more planning/scheduling/driving around and remembering my obligations there seems to be. It is so easy to have the things that are important to me personally and professionally get short shrift as the pace picks up and the requests start rolling in. There are many good ways to protect our own personal projects and goals; many of these methods involve working on our thoughts about what we hope to do. Even if we’re clear about our goal and have eliminated our obstacles, however, there is one more BIG step to making that goal a reality: getting down to the nitty gritty and planning to achieve that goal.

I have to admit that planning the nitty gritty of my goals has never been a strong suit of mine. I have, in the past, bought and failed to use planners. I have written on and subsequently ignored calendars. I have let projects and goals go to the wayside because I was too busy with “everything else” that I was using my increasingly full memory to schedule. I have relied on intelligence and charm to carry me through. I have given up on major life goals and projects by passively letting them slip away. No More.  My current goals are too big and too important, and having done the internal work I needed to do to give them adequate priority, I realized I needed to learn how to make these things happen. What do I do to reach a goal? To finish a project?

slide2Well, I’ll tell you. And let me just start by saying I don’t have a planner to sell you. No calendars. No special journal. You will need some paper (or a computer if that’s how you’re most comfortable writing) and eventually you will want something to schedule your time in. I don’t care what you use to make note of your obligations to yourself, but I do STRONGLY suggest that you actually mark them down somewhere. My recent education in planning to achieve a goal comes from the fabulous Brooke Castillo thanks to her Life Coach School Podcast. I’ve added a little to her steps to include my own experience and thought process. These steps are not necessarily EASY, but they aren’t that hard either, and they’re far easier than just kind of winging it and hoping it works out. Continue reading → Life Skills: Planning to Achieve