Archive for the ‘Believing in Yourself’ Category

I have to start this post by acknowledging that it has been a really long time since I last wrote.  Really long.  The only real excuse I have is that I have been doing other work, in addition to coaching, and that has kept me really busy.  But, I never stopped working with clients or loving coaching or feeling a desire to write about things that interest me.  I have thought of posting many times because I continue to read a lot and be excited by ideas and insights, but I have let myself be derailed (I know exactly how it happens…I am tempted now to get up and start going through my closet to get rid of things.  That needs to be done too, but for now it will have to wait.)

But today will be different.  I am mostly caught up with my work, so I am going to sit here until I hit the Publish button.  And since I have done this a few times before (I have a few drafts from years past where I never did hit that Publish button), I am going to keep it simple.

This article by Carl Richards in yesterday’s New York Times, “Time to Be Honest About the Fear That’s Getting in Your Way,” feels like a good place to dive back in.  That’s because I completely relate to the first few sentences:

There is something you have been working on, isn’t there?  Something big. Something exciting. Something you have always dreamed of. It’s that perpetual “work in progress” that you tell only your close friends and loved ones about. The novel that is in “final edits.” That website that you are going to start … tomorrow.

Ah yes, tomorrow.  I know it well.  Some avoidance is about laziness or lack of time or something else, but for the big things, the bold things, the things we keep wanting to do despite the “roadblocks” we imagine…they are stopped by fear.

Our own work, when we are judging it ourselves, is never finished or good enough. I have a secret for you: It’s not because we are perfectionists. It’s because we are scared. Scared nobody will like it, scared it won’t work out, scared to be embarrassed.

I think I stopped writing blogposts because I got really busy with other things, but then once I was out of the habit, I started to have doubts about the worth of my posts and were they good enough, and who cares what I think.  Fast forward several years and here I am, with blogposts to write and other creative projects I want to do.  Carl Richards asks the questions I need to answer.

Once we understand why we are perpetually stuck at 90 percent, we can make major strides toward 100 percent. It’s no longer about this or that specific roadblock. Now it’s about, “How do I work with fear?”

That is a much better question than, “What font should I use?” and it’s one that is much more interesting.

So how do you work with fear? Do you have specific things you do when you have something you really want to do but are hiding because you’re scared? Mantras you repeat, stories you tell yourself, music?


There is a right time and a wrong time to negotiate with yourself.  It seems pretty obvious, but I am amazed at how often people pick the wrong time.  When you pick the wrong time, you always lose (or win, depending on if you’re answering to the proverbial angel or devil on your shoulder).  Here is the rule I use:

Only negotiate when your best self is present:  the one that sees the future, has faith in you, wants you to succeed and is a step removed from the thing you are negotiating.  For example, you can negotiate an exercise plan when you are warm and relaxed, feeling good and can see your fitness goal/s clearly.  You can’t do that when it’s still dark outside, windy and cold and you are trying to force yourself out the door.  Those negotiations almost always break down.  If you open the door to negotiation, how can you possibly make a good case for leaving the comfort of home and head into the cold, cruel world of exercise?   This is the wrong time to negotiate.  It’s exhausting for one.  And based on my own experience, you usually end up feeling worse because  you give in to your less-than-optimal self.

If you negotiate with your best self and make clear decisions, it is very freeing.  You don’t even open the door to the possibility of staying home on that cold, dark and windy morning.  You use your energy to get dressed and out the door and when that voice says, “just stay in bed” or “you’ll go tomorrow” you shut it down and go on automatic pilot, knowing that this is what your best self wants.

I exercise on certain days at certain times.  It is non-negotiable unless I’m sick.  I know I feel better when I do it…both physically and mentally.  The thought of negotiating that on a day to day basis exhausts me.  I am a good negotiator and can run circles around myself if I want, so when I start to hear the “oh, you don’t really  have to go out today, give yourself a break” I shut it down and stay focused.

Negotiation check list:

  • ask yourself who you are negotiating with.  If it’s not your best self, wait until that self can show up.
  • remember you can always renegotiate.
  • for on-going things, like exercise, diet, job-search, create your plan and agree to stick with it for a certain period of time…a week, a month…so you can see what it feels like.
  • remember what your longer term vision is.  remembering why you are dieting, exercising, looking for a better job helps make the hard work feel worth it.

When do you negotiate with yourself?  Who wins?

I sent my sister an article from the New York Times (yes, my NYT tag keeps getting bigger!) by Ruth Starkman about her experience reading college applications at U.C. Berkeley.  I sent it partly because our children will soon be applying for college.  I also sent it because I feel like it exposes the gross side of the college admissions process, or really any application process.  In other words:  playing the game.  I find both comfort and discomfort in what Starkman writes, although the first feeling was definitely discomfort.

First and foremost, the process is confusingly subjective, despite all the objective criteria I was trained to examine.

Fortunately, that authentic voice articulated itself abundantly. Many essays lucidly expressed a sense of self and character — no small task in a sea of applicants. Less happily, many betrayed the handiwork of pricey application packagers, whose cloying, pompous style was instantly detectable, as were canny attempts to catch some sympathy with a personal story of generalized misery. The torrent of woe could make a reader numb: not another student suffering from parents’ divorce, a learning difference, a rare disease, even dandruff!

In my note to my sister, I wrote that the article stressed me out.  She wisely wrote back that it shows that you might as well just be yourself.  Oh yeah…that’s what I keep telling my clients.

Then she sent me another NYT article…a transcript of a commencement speech by the writer, George Saunders, to Syracuse University students.  It was the perfect antidote.  Real.  Hopeful.  Putting kindness at the top of the list of goals.  A good perspective for everyone…graduating from college or at any stage of life.

It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.

It may be facile, but that’s what I like.  It boils it down to something easy to grasp.  Be kinder.  To others, and I would argue, to yourself.

I have the pleasure of working with several 20-something-year-olds right now and one thing I see again and again is how hard they are on themselves.  There are so many internal and external voices telling them they should be further, better, happier.  They say how old they’re getting.  I have to laugh because I know I felt the same way but from where I’m sitting they are so young!  Again, Saunders has a lovely way of expressing this pressure to succeed.

Still, accomplishment is unreliable.  “Succeeding,” whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there’s the very real danger that “succeeding” will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended.

That’s where balance comes in.  Succeeding is great and we all want to feel productive, but that success will feel so much better if the big questions are not ignored.  And, that’s exactly what I see processes like college applications and complete focus on career potentially doing…crushing the big questions.  There’s not much room for kindness in those processes.  What are the big questions?  They present themselves on their own time…it’s a matter of being willing to see them.  In the meantime,

So, quick, end-of-speech advice: Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up.  Speed it along.  Start right now.



Why is it so easy to find reasons we can’t do things or know that certain things won’t happen in our lives?  Often when I’m working with someone, the thing they want to achieve is barely out of their mouth before the reasons why this desire is unreasonable, impossible, unrealistic, unachievable is in the room with us.  How can the dream survive if it’s surrounded and drowned by all the doubt?

It’s a normal protective thing to do.  We all do it to some degree.  We want to temper our desires so the (what feels like inevitable) fall won’t hurt so much.  But this protection can take over and literally snuff the life out of possibility.  I’m not saying to be unrealistic.  It is good to be honest about what stands in your way and admit where things might get challenging.  That is healthy.  But when there is no room to dream and believe not much can or will happen.

I have several clients who have have seen their circumstances change significantly over the past year.  Not things that fell out of the sky suddenly.  Not purely lucky events.  Things happened because they believed enough and moved forward.  When I ask each of them now:  “Would you have believed me if I had told you when we first met that this is where you would be today? That this would be your new reality?, they each admit that no, they would not have believed me.  Never.  No way.

And that shows that believing the unbelievable is not a crazy thing to do.  That’s the little bit of oxygen that is necessary to make things happen and get your fire burning.  People are always so certain they know why things won’t work out.  That’s what I ask my clients to let go of: that undermining certainty.  I can’t predict the future, but I do know when people get out of their own way amazing and unexpected things happen.

** Another of my long-neglected drafts finally being published.

I really liked this opinion piece from the New York Times: The Rise of the New Groupthink by Susan Cain.  Her first sentence, “Solitude is out of fashion” immediately resonated with me.  But it was the last sentence of the paragraph that struck that note of, Yes!  That is so true!  “Collaboration is in.”  I’ve noticed it especially in comments my kids make about school.  Collaboration is the new Holy Grail, and it kind of pisses me off!

I’m not against collaboration…it can be wonderful.  But a lot of collaboration is just draining and unproductive, and no one seems to want to admit that.  Why do we need a Holy Grail.  Can’t we just accept that different things work in different circumstances and for different people.   I have found myself flat-footed a few times when my son has complained about his teacher’s insistence on making it work with everyone. I want to back the teacher up and take his side, but I lack conviction because I am pretty solitary worker.  I mean, I get it, they’re kids, they do have to learn how to get along, and all that.  But can we also acknowledge that collaboration doesn’t always work?

Near the end of the article, the author explains that most humans have two contradictory impulses:

…we love and need one another, yet we crave privacy and autonomy.

To harness the energy that fuels both these drives, we need to move beyond the New Groupthink and embrace a more nuanced approach to creativity and learning. Our offices should encourage casual, cafe-style interactions, but allow people to disappear into personalized, private spaces when they want to be alone. Our schools should teach children to work with others, but also to work on their own for sustained periods of time.

So, how does this relate to coaching you may ask?  Well, I have seen many creative and solitary people become dispirited by the constant feeling they don’t fit in and are different.  So they try to adapt.  And that is often the wrong thing to do.  Wrong in the sense that when you go against who you are and accept that your ways are wrong, you can’t shine.  Although there are plenty of exceptions of people who have stood their ground and done amazing things, the majority of us don’t necessarily have the singularity of vision and the strength of ego to constantly go against the tide.  We put so much energy in trying to just stay afloat that our creative genius is drowned.  I see it again and again.

After reading this article, I will say to my son:  You’re right.  It does sometimes suck to work with people. And that’s okay.  Sometimes it’s great.  Go off on your own.  Be brilliant.  Then ask for feedback and interaction.  Then go away alone again and see what you believe and stand by it.

How do you work best?  Do you like working in a group, alone or a mix?