Cultivating Awareness

What Will Change in You When You Make the Choice You Really Want?

I remember using the pros and cons method for choosing the college I went to. That gave me the understanding that I preferred a large, coed university with an international program. What it didn't do was help me understand how a college education could help me learn how to develop authentically as a person, and in that way, help me find a career path that genuinely interested me. 

That's where coaching could have been very useful in offering me different ways to make new, aware choices for learning, expanding my skills, and becoming the person I really am. The choice-making options that coaching offers include what Joshua Rothman  in "The Art of Decision-Making" describes as—

  • Maximizing values— understanding what's really important to you— and making choices based on those values

  • Diverse perspectives— seeing your situation from different angles— helping you see aspects you hadn't thought of in making a new decision

  • Old self into new self— when a choice point requires that you open into a completely new way of engaging with your life

  • Aspiring to new values— aspiring to a new direction that interests you, but you don't know why or whether it could be right for you

The following example shows how using values and perspectives helped lead a client of mine from aspiring to a new way of working to shifting into a new self— that is, opening into a completely new way of engaging with his desired work and his whole life.

Matt, a corporate manager in his early forties, turned to coaching because he felt stultified in his career. He aspired to creating his own business, but wasn't sure that he was the type who could do well working for himself. When he came for coaching, he first wrote out a list of his values, which included— family, financial freedom, environment, and living authentically. Then we did the coaching exercise, “Perspectives,” which helps people explore different choices or options by encouraging them to push the boundaries of what they feel is possible.

With Matt, I used “Perspectives” to explore his attitude towards “working outside the box.” The perspectives he chose to explore included “Critic” and “Dolphin.” As I guided him through each perspective, I encouraged him to stand in different places, close his eyes, breathe, feel the sensations in his body, and visualize his internal energy level, “environment,” and attraction to that perspective.

He felt the fear in his contracted body sensations of the "Critic" as he thought about working outside the familiar corporate container. The “Critic” reminded Matt that it would not be easy to have the same level of financial ease and daily structure outside the corporate environment. Matt felt a deep weight inside his chest, as if his heart were closing down.

Ultimately, however, Matt chose the the “Dolphin” perspective to help him find a way to work “outside the box.” He realized that his new “Dolphin” attitude gave him energy for taking action on his dream. It also supported the purposefulness of his commitment to his family and the environment. It felt good, both physically and emotionally — excellent intuitive reasons for going with his new choice!

Matt then learned about the steps he needed to take to start his own consulting business with pro-environment action groups, and began doing this kind of work on a part-time basis. As he stepped into his chosen way of working, he said he felt as if "a huge weight had released from his chest" and he was "coming back" to who he really was.

Synchronistically, the company he worked for was downsizing, and offered Matt the option of leaving his corporate position with a sizable severance pay. Because he was now emotionally and financially prepared to leave, Matt's career transition became a deeper, transformational change. He left a career whose purpose was defined by others— and became a person who worked and lived out his own, immeasurably more satisfying purpose,

What Makes Taking a BIG RISK for Change Worthwhile?

Making a change that will radically shift your life involves taking a risk that is a definite challenge to what is known and familiar to you. Such challenges can be external, involving changing professions, investing capital to create change, or moving to a different place. But at a transformational level, taking a BIG RISK involves changing from within yourself, too. What is a BIG RISK to one person will not necessarily be the same BIG RISK to someone else with a different personality, skills, and life experience.

The bigger the challenge is to a person, the bigger the risk will seem. My client Jessica was a parent considering whether to publish a book she'd written about a controversial subject she was passionate about— bullying in public schools. Her son had been bullied when he was younger, and this had seriously impacted his sense of well-being.

But for her, even thinking about publishing this book was like being in a nightmare of having to solo pilot and land a small plane in dangerous terrain without total confidence in her equipment or or her ability to fly. 

Jessica came for coaching because she felt stuck, almost paralyzed, with fear. She'd written her book, but was afraid to publish it because of possible harmful consequences to her and her family. So I started by having her define what the value was to her in taking on such a huge challenge. While privacy for herself and her family was important to her, with her son in college, she felt a renewed inner drive to publish and voice her concerns about bullying at school.

Coaching gave Jessica a safe, supportive place to talk freely about the meaning to her of putting her book out in public. In this way, I heard her compassion and empathy for those children who were bullied and whose lives at school became a horror. She began to feel compassion for herself in her struggles with her fear of creating this genuine transformative change. She also felt more supported and grounded in planning for a big leap forward.

It's important to remember that taking a BIG RISK to make a change that matters vitally to you is not about the absence of fear. It's about becoming aware that fear indicates the presence of a new and larger possibility in your life. One way to do this is by acknowledging what success really means to you. Taking on the challenge of making a change that emotionally engages you is what makes taking the risk worthwhile.

Jessica now saw the risk she was taking as "My BIG Adventure!" What will be your reward? I asked her. She replied, "The adventure itself, learning to fly freely by motivating others to stop bullies in schools!"

Next, Jessica planned smaller action steps she could take to accomplish her mission. Using the metaphor of trying to land a small plane safely in dangerous, unknown territory, she saw that she could prepare by having her equipment (her book) carefully inspected before flight time (by her editor and her friends reading over her manuscript). She could be trained in making emergency landings (learning how she could handle criticism of herself and her book); and very importantly, learn to not to be hijacked by fear. 

She recognized how vital it was to have understanding friends and professional/ emotional support people to help her through any challenges that would arise after her book's publication.

She checked out the terrain of who she wanted to read her book, and made a list of her allies in getting the book out with positive reviews from teachers, other educators, and parents she knew. She had in-person and online talks with these people and began to get contacts for interviews on the radio, newspapers, education journals, and online sources. Jessica felt excited, and increasingly confident of her vision to change public school culture by creating zero-tolerance for bullying.

At a deeper level, Jessica found her inner well of inspiration to create something bigger than herself of true value in the world— making a beneficial contribution to young, vulnerable people. In transforming her fear of taking her BIG RISK to go forward with her book publication, Jessica felt empowered to meet the challenge of getting to where she really wanted to go! 

"You shifted perspectives . . . You allowed your heart to open. You let the bird out of the cage. You are flying!"  — Pamela Hale, Flying Lessons

Creating Successful Change— Keeping the Spark Alive!

"What we think we want, what we think we strive for, is often not the goal at all— just what we hold on to in order to discover what is truly calling us.
— Mark Nepo, The One Life We're Given

Have you ever had an experience where a barrier or obstacle inside yourself suddenly fell away and the next direction in your life opened clearly to you? This invisible barrier can be a belief based on other people's opinions— an emotion long-held and frozen inside— or a goal that does not take into account changing conditions. As this barrier falls away, you can feel the spark of adventure and aliveness inside yourself that has guided you to this place through all obstacles.

In my work as a coach, I see this inner shift as the defining place clients reach who have gone through the chaotic middle zone of a transition, between an ending and a new beginning. This place of uncertainty and discomfort also can be a time of affirmation of what we love and the spark we carry within us that lights our way forward. This is a genuine foundation for career and other life changes that feel right for us because they're based on what is true for who we really are.

In my book, Success with Soul-- Loving Your Livelihood, Living in Balance, I describe such a transformational journey of a client, Julia, "a single woman in her mid-30’s, who was very discouraged after a move across country to a big city for the sake of a new career in restaurant management. Her initial focus in coaching was on whether to change careers, and if so, how. However, it soon became clear that she had a desire she’d never before consciously claimed-- the warmth of home with a partner committed to creating family together. She’d certainly never put 'home' into the equation of how she wanted work to look and feel like in her life."

As Julia and I explored the joylessness of her life at that time and the profound sense of disconnection her restaurant work gave her from her friends, family, and overall sense of purpose, one thing became very clear to her— the importance of home and family. She became aware of her inner barrier— that her career goal had to be a high-level management position in a cutting-edge restaurant— and recognized it as a serious obstacle to her happiness. With this new awareness, she stopped trying to create career success in this way and found her inner spark. She realized then that she loved cooking and wanted to work in a way that combined this with her strong desire to help others.

"Synchronistically, she reconnected with a former boyfriend who now wanted to be her mate and build a life together. Her glow of delight at this new evolution of her life was palpable-- as was her new career plan to teach cooking for health and nutrition….

As she stayed connected with the 'spark' in her spirit that wanted to come fully alight, she answered her own biggest question: 'How will following my heart allow me to evolve a way to live and work that fully embodies all that I am and most desire?'"

Recently, I attended a reading by Mark Nepo— a remarkable poet, storyteller, and author, akin to the mystic poet Rumi— from his most recent book, The One Life We're Given— Finding the Wisdom That Waits in Your Heart. I was riveted by the quiet eloquence and deeply centered presence of this man whose calling to share heart-centered wisdom through his writing and speaking was born of some very difficult experiences in his life.

After surviving almost fatal thoracic surgery for cancer in his 30's, followed by divorce, Nepo discovered that the book he'd planned to write, and had had great ambitions for, was no longer relevant for who he was becoming. The books he actually wrote instead reflect a very different perspective on what success can be. Through his unplanned journey, he realized that living out hard experiences opened wide his heart and transformed the evolution of his life. His inner barriers fell away and revealed his own bright, authentic spark, guiding him to a successful career and new marriage.

"….What we think we want, what we think we strive for, is often not the goal at all— just what we hold on to in order to discover what is truly calling us. Often, when we think we're building one thing, we're building another, or we're the ones being built . . . When we think we're enduring one thing, we're often being undone by life into the birth of a gift we've been carrying for just this opening . . . The point is, we're challenged to follow our heart beyond our intentions in order to find our quiet destiny, the way a tulip . . . follows its urge to break ground, hardly imagining its life in blossom."
— Mark Nepo, The One Life We're Given

What obstacle have you encountered that opened you to your inner spark of aliveness?

What can you do to help keep this spark alive?

What has challenged you to make a successful change by transcending an inner barrier or obstacle?

Inviting Silence— the Power of the Pause

Over this past month, I've become aware in so many ways of the importance of inviting silence into our lives. You can't speak silence.  Speaking words aloud are the antithesis of silence. Yet when we come to the end of what spoken words can offer and invoke silence, there is a power and a presence there beyond anything we could ever have said.

Recently, I was writing some feedback for a coaching session I'd observed as part of a mentor-coach training with facilitators Marion Frankel, MCC and Edmée Schalkx, MCC. As I listened to the recording of the session, I was struck by several instances where the coach piled three questions one right after the other, without a pause. At one point, his client hesitated, confused, then picked a question at random to answer.

As a coach, I know it's easy to get into a place of rushing to talk when you're feeling nervous, when you're worried that your client hasn't understood your first question, or when you're pressed for time to help your client arrive at a meaningful outcome. Interestingly, the most valuable thing you can do at that point for your client— and yourself— is to pause after a straightforward, open-ended question. Then let the silence invite her also to pause, then go deeper into herself for a response that comes from what is true to who she is.

When I'm grounded and mindful, completely present with the person I'm coaching, I can feel the quality of openness in silence that allows for new awareness to come forth. As Marion tells us, "Just listen. You can leave your client all the silence she needs." In fact, silence becomes a gift you offer of trust in the other person's inner knowing. As Susan Cain says in her book, Quiet— The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking: "Why shouldn't quiet be strong? And what else can quiet do that we don't give it credit for?" [Take a pause here to absorb the experience of this second, very powerful question. Notice what moves you inside.]

Recently, another angle on the power of the pause came to me from my friend, Swedish opera singer Miriam Treichl. She linked me to a TED talk in which singing coach Antonio Pappano, working with André Chenier, star tenor, in a vocal master class, has a response of his own to Susan Cain's question: "The difficulty for the singers is how to deal with silence. That's when the quality of the singers is exposed. So I'm trying to work in the rehearsal room to get them to fill the silence with their own intensity."

In another synchronicity, on Friday, November 13th, as we learned of the carnage that had been perpetrated in Paris, the Berkeley Repertory Theater in California opened Ayad Akhtar's play, Disgraced, that features a protagonist who is a secular Moslem man. Though this was a play of many intense and angry words, the ending after the performance transcended them. As Robert Hurwitt wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle:

As devastating as are the final scenes of “Disgraced”— and [this] drama is as deeply unsettling as it is thought-provoking — the act of conscience that followed the opening night curtain call, Friday, Nov. 13, was even more profoundly moving.

As the applause died down, the actors stared straight ahead, fumbled for each other’s hands and bowed their heads for a simple, prolonged moment of silence. The packed, still house joined in unstated but explicit shared humanity and solidarity with the people of Paris. And, I believe, with freedom for art, thought and life itself. Yes, I wept.

After the terrible events of the day and Akhtar’s characters’ scathing attacks on — and passionate defenses of — Islam, most of us needed that moment of silence before heading out the door….

Ensconced in the communion of silence with the players and the audience, Robert Hurwitt and doubtless many others wept. In this pause was the expression of feeling and connection in the human community.

So what is it to invite silence into our lives? As we've seen, it is caring permission to go deeper into who we really are. It is being present with others to share our feelings and our common humanity. Overall, it is the opportunity to remember ourselves and for what purpose we are alive and connected to the whole of our planet, here, now.

When "Life Happens"— Accepting Not-Knowing in the Change Process

When my book, Success with Soul-- Loving Your Livelihood, Living in Balance-- came to its day of birth into the world in March 2013, I wrote that its true genesis had been my lifelong drive to live a life where I could do the work that really called to me while being the person I really am. I found that fulfillment in being a life coach over that past nine years.

Now, two months after surgery that removed part of my right lung and successfully left me cancer free, I'm re-examining where I am in my life at this time, while re-integrating the inner movement of my breathing with my outer movement in the world. When you have to think about a part of yourself that's as automatic as breathing, you know something has changed. In my case, I will regain almost full breathing capacity. However, this unexpected life change and the process of coming back to full living fully again, has been a deep transitional experience for me.

Recently, I acknowledged to my own coach that "I feel I'm really in a transition and grappling with the unknown. Why didn't I expect this?" This visceral awareness of made me aware at a deeper level about how hard it is for my coaching clients who must grapple with events beyond their control that bring the need for change into their lives. When your life gets muddied with unexpected and unwelcome events, it's easy to feel lost and without the ability to navigate.

In Success with Soul, I write: What . . . I call the “chaos zone” is a difficult state to tolerate in our western society, because, in general, we don’t value emptiness, non-productivity, and alone time (alone without the Internet, that is). Yet, career and other life transitions that lead to deeply satisfying changes require this alone time to do nothing much but be with the discomfort and fear of not knowing which way to go.

In letting myself go deeper into the sensory, emotional, and existential currents that are carrying me now, I give myself the gift of spaciousness without the demand for immediate solutions. Some of the questions that have come up for me during this transitional time in the aftermath of my surgery are— What do I want to do with my life after such a significant health challenge? What do I feel is changing about the nature and depth of my work? How do I stay with the discomfort of not knowing where I'm going at this time? How can I honor what is changing inside of me? How do I make space for what wants to fill me now?

I've been cut open, in my psyche as well as, literally, my body. If I choose, I can see a purpose within this experience. I can hold two truths at the same time— I love my work as a coach— AND something inside me has responded to this change in my life by shifting gears in how I want to work and how I want to live fully in my life. For this period of time, I'm less on the computer making online connections— and more often outside, walking, gardening, watching clouds, and yes, coaching. I'm enjoying making more time to talk (rather than email) with friends and colleagues, as well as taking in summer by biking in new places with the scent of eucalyptus trees in the air. Like a child, I savor the cool smoothness of vanilla ice cream at the end of a hot afternoon, while it some of it melts and dribbles down my chin.

As William Bridges, author of Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes, notes, transformation to a new state of awareness requires taking time out from a familiar way of life to empty out and let what is calling you from within to emerge organically, in its own time. With new vision based on healing from a serious illness, I'm feeling my way through the emptiness with no GPS, getting past the fear of flying, and letting new signposts emerge as they will.

However, I'm doing this knowing I have the support of my coach, my friends, my family, and my colleagues whenever I'm ready to shift my attention from deeply inner to the next steps on my emerging path. At this point, I have only questions, feelings, and sensations. But in my experience as a life coach, I know that the more I pay attention to these signals from "life happening," the more likely it is that whatever change emerges will be fulfilling and enduring (at least, until the next changes signals come forth!).

In Synch with Synchronicity-- Creating the Clues to Heart-Centered Change

What is synchronicity-- and how can we use awareness of its appearances to take compelling leaps into new, more fruitful openings in our lives?  Synchronicity can be thought of as happenings that coincide in ways that have deep meaning for the people involved. As such, they can offer clues or affirmation of where we want to go if we take the time to look deeper with our hearts and minds.

Phil Cousineau, in his book, Coincidence or Destiny?, says: “An experience of synchronicity is marked by elegance, symmetry, vividness, suddenness, poetry, or a truth that speaks to the heart.”  Furthermore, “there are no accidents in the circle of synchronicity . . . at least, not when one is on the path with heart, the path of destiny.”

As a career and life coach, my interest is very much in supporting people in finding their “paths with heart,” where their inner longings for change transform into new ways of working and living that are rewarding and heartfelt.  When my conscious attention is focused on finding and working with people at this level, I’m often aware of an energetic patterning within myself that appears to expand my opportunities to connect with them.

As clinical psychologist Dr. Kirby Surprise, author of the book, Synchronicity: The Art of Coincidence, Choice, and Unlocking Your Mind, says in a recent interview with the ezine, “SuperConsciousness”:

Synchronistic events happen when people see a meaningful connection between external events and their own internal states . . . As reflections of what people are thinking and feeling, most synchronistic events become very explainable . . . If you simply say, “Okay. What do I actually want?” and look for that, you get events that present you with the opportunities to pursue that pattern....

There are millions more patterns in the universe and in the room around you than you could possibly deal with. What this amazing supercomputer in your head [the brain] does is it only shows you the patterns that it thinks are most relevant to what you want to see.

So we do have the power to set up the context to call forth synchronistic events by combining the capacity of our brain with our conscious intention. Experiencing these events, however, often feels in the moment almost magical; and they do operate beyond linear cause and effect. Synchronicity is a web of connection that can reach into our lives in wholly unexpected ways-- through intuitive knowing, déjà vu, dreams, and sudden happenings that have an inner rightness but no explicit logic.

For example, I use the online network, LinkedIn, as a means of professional outreach. However, a recent connection with retired drama director, Stella, through LInkedIn about coaching had that amazing sense of "no accidents" that struck both of us.

One day, browsing through some LinkedIn messages, I “accidentally” hit a button saying “Connect” without knowing what I was connecting to.  Over the next couple of days, I got dozens of acceptances to “connect” through LinkedIn from people I didn’t know, or know of, in fields wildly divergent from my own.  Since I usually only connect with, or invite connections from, professionals on LinkedIn I know or know of, I didn't understand what was happening.

Then I got a LinkedIn message from Stella asking for a consultation about coaching.  I knew I didn’t know who she was, so I asked her how she’d heard about me.  She said she’d gotten an invitation to connect from me, but hadn’t known why, or who I was.  So she checked out my LinkedIn profile and found I was a coach specializing in career and life transitions.  This interested Stella, who was wanting to make major changes in creating a real community with meaningful friendships in her life.

She then checked out how I’d known about her and found that we did have a mutual LinkedIn connection-- though not among our primary contacts, but among the contacts of our primary contacts.  Our mutual connection turned out to be a woman who is a good friend of mine.  When Stella contacted her, my friend told her that I’d coached her at a critical time in her life when she needed support in making authentic life style changes.  She gave me a very positive testimonial, which encouraged Stella to consult with me about how coaching could help her create new changes in her own life.

So somewhere between my awareness of whom I enjoy working with and Stella's conscious desire to make vital changes in her life, a field of connection appeared manifesting in a happening that surprised us both. This “synchronistic event” was the cue, and clue, that set the stage for a deeper level of understanding between us that has led to a coaching relationship with rewarding new possibilities for Stella.

“Synchronistic events can indeed be a way for those very intelligent and aware parts of the rest of your supercomputer [brain] to try to talk to you, to cooperate with you, helping you in whatever creative problem solving in your life that you want to do.”
-- from Synchronicity: The Art of Coincidence, Choice, and Unlocking Your Mind

Here’s another instance of a synchronistic event leading to “creative problem solving” with another coaching client of mine. A science researcher and mother of two young children, Lana was telling me that her life had lost some richness for her, because she felt she no longer had any time for spontaneous visits and calls with her women friends. Just as she said that, the doorbell rang. Lana excused herself to answer it and then laughed out loud. The friend that she’d particularly been thinking of as she talked with me had just come to the door with a birthday gift for her!

Simply by paying attention to her deep desire to have more unscheduled time with her close women friends, Lana opened a channel that had become less present in these relationships. The synchronicity of her friend showing up at her door without previous planning affirmed for her the possibility she has within herself to change an unrewarding life pattern into one of “vividness, suddenness, poetry, [and] a truth that speaks to the heart.”

Creating Success with Soul-- What It Means to Be Really Heard


Most people who’ve asked me about coaching understand that its primary purpose is to help people make positive changes in their lives. What’s less clear to them is how working with a coach will make that happen. People often have in mind the stereotypical image of a sports coach exhorting a player to go and do more and do better!

So I’d like to speak now to a fundamental quality that great life coaches possess-- the art of listening and engaging from that place of deep listening with their clients. With their attentive listening, such coaches are attuned, beyond the words themselves, to what the quality and tone of a person’s voice can convey-- whether she is present or distant, energized or stuck.

As the authors of the book, Co-Active Coaching, state: “To be listened to is a striking experience-- partly because it is so rare. When another person is totally with you, leaning in, interested in every word, eager to empathize, you feel known and understood . . . Everything in coaching hinges on listening-- especially listening with the client’s agenda in mind....”

We don’t often have the experience of someone listening to us with an open mind and undivided attention as we talk about something that feels vital to us-- for example, a change that may be so radical and life-altering that we’ve never spoken about it to anyone else. “Feeling heard” is very much about feeling safe and supported in sharing a new-born, vulnerable part of ourselves. For many of my clients, this, in particular, has been a major gift of their coaching experience.

What is it, then, to be a life coach with the great privilege of helping people change their work and their lives-- by learning to be active and dedicated listeners ourselves?  I’m a coach who deeply cares about people having livelihoods and lives that reflect and enhance who they genuinely are and what they truly value. I’ve had training and practice that’s helped me learn how to listen-- not just with my ears, but with my whole body-mind awareness-- to my clients’ deepest yearnings for, and hidden fears about, making changes that have soul and substance.

In this regard, I resonate to the following quote from Hilary Mantel’s amazing historical novel, Wolf Hall, about this ability to respond from a place of deep listening to help evoke transformative change in others:

He [Thomas Cromwell] takes it seriously, the trust placed in him; he takes gently from the hands of these noisy young persons their daggers, their pens, and he talks to them, finding out behind the passion and pride of young men of fifteen or twenty what they are really worth, what they value and would value under duress. You learn nothing about men by snubbing them and crushing their pride. you must ask them what it is they can do in this world, that they alone can do.The boys are astonished by the question, their souls pour out. Perhaps no one has talked to them before. Certainly not their fathers....

If you’re on the edge of making a change that could positively affect the way you work, relate, and affect the world around you, consider finding out for yourself what it means to be genuinely listened to and supported in creating the success you long for. Contact me for a free coaching consultation and experience for yourself the liberating gift of being “really heard.”

Into the Woods-- Finding Possibilities in Hard Choices

I recently saw the Stephen Sondheim musical, “Into the Woods”-- a re-creation and intersection of well-known fairytales-- and was struck by this image of going deeper into the unknown to find the path to yourself and your true desires.

Into the woods
To get the thing
That makes it worth
The journeying.
Into the woods....

Sondheim’s Cinderella finds herself running away into the woods-- ball dress, golden slippers and all-- from the prince she thought she wanted to marry.  Intuitively, she knows she wants something different both from her current life of drudgery and from being swept up into another of which she knows nothing.  At some deep level, she knows there is no escape from being the person she really is.   

So she sits in the woods, not knowing what to do, and seems to do nothing.  But is she really doing nothing?

In my book, Success with Soul, I look at different ways in which clients of mine, other people I admire-- and myself, as well-- have had to learn about the process of change, otherwise known as “transitions.”  To make changes that feel right and rewarding for you, you must spend some time in the free-floating “formless form” between one way of working and living, and the next.  In this zone, you will connect with what your soul really longs for-- and this will be the foundation for your change into work you love or a way of living that resonates with who you are becoming:

If you stay aware and receptive with this unexpected gift of time between an ending of something no longer satisfying to you and a new beginning, you can learn to navigate the chaos of not-knowing by surrendering the need for action or definition.  Finally, you will begin to feel the knowing from within yourself arising as your whole self prepares for action . . . When you go through the inner experience of transitioning from an outgrown way of working, relating, or creating, to one that opens your possibilities and your heart, you begin to understand the meaning and power of “transformation.”  

Or, as Ruth Chang, professor of philosophy at Rutgers University, said in her recent TED talk about making hard choices:

Far from being sources of agony and dread, hard choices are precious opportunities for us to celebrate what is special about the the human condition, that the reasons that govern our choices as correct or incorrect sometimes run out, and it is here, in the space of hard choices, that we have the power to create reasons for ourselves to become the distinctive people that we are.

What I’m interested in here is what Chang calls “the space of hard choices” in which yourun out of “reasons” for how to make a challenging choice.  Often, you must go deeper, “through the inner experience of transitioning from an outgrown way of working, relating, creating.”  You must go back “into the woods” on your journey towards understanding of who you really are before you can take action.  

This is the place where rationality does not hold sway, where you must find your new bearings through feelings, creative impulses, silence, and intuitive awareness that pierce your defense against change and let you emerge into a new form of being. This is the discovery that will let you come back and make what may be a hard choice, but is the right one for the direction you are called to now.

Learning to listen to your deep intuitive knowing is a good practice, because as you grow and develop lifelong, the opportunities for making new, challenging choices will reliably keep coming your way!


Into the woods,
It's always when
You think at last
You're through, and then
Into the woods you go again
To take another journey....

  -- Stephen Sondheim

Why Work and Live in Dynamic Balance?

If you’re reading this post during the week, what kind of day did you have?  How many tasks did you attempt or complete?  How many people did you interact with?  What kind of time pressure were you under to get things done?  How much control did you have over your professional and domestic agendas?                                 

And now, check in with your breathing and the sensations in your belly, chest, and throat.  What are you noticing?  Are you at ease in your body?  Or tense, constricted, and pressured around your back, neck, shoulders, eyes, belly?

Recently, I watched a new TV series from England called “Silk”-- the informal name given to English barristers (court lawyers) who attain the prestigious title, Queen’s Counsel (QC), due to their professional success and political acumen-- who are thereby entitled to wear silk gowns in court.  In this series, two barristers, a man and a woman, from the same chamber (law firm) are locked in a cutthroat battle to be nominated as QC.  

The woman’s life, in particular, is a mad dash from one courtroom to another, alternating between flashes of brilliance and forgetfulness, followed by evenings of drinking and politicking with other lawyers and judges, then reading new legal briefs until the early hours.  Only in moments does she come out of her work round to acknowledge support from a colleague or her longing for a child and a whole life that has relational warmth and depth.

Granted that this is an exaggerated scenario, “Silk” speaks to a way of life that is on serious overload re emotional and physical health and life balance.  This is a story I hear often as a coach and somatic therapist from people who overwork and give themselves away on the job-- and as parents, spouses, partners, and parental caretakers.  Trying to live up to other people’s expectations, they lose their connection to their own spirit, passion, and sense of self.

In my ebook, Success with Soul-- Loving Your Livelihood, Living in Balance, I describea movie called Enchanted April that I absolutely have to see every year for its beautiful depiction of the shift from resigned hopelessness to the richness and wonder of being alive.  It starts with the meeting of two women in post-World War I London on a dreary, stormy day.  Together, they make a radical decision to stop “being good” to everyone else at the cost of feeling “miserable” and depleted themselves.  

I’m talking here about lives out of balance and what happens when too much of yourself is being absorbed in ways that are no longer fruitful in your life.  I’m talking about how we can stay refreshed and renewed-- in dynamic balance-- with work, family life, friendships, creativity, spirituality, and well-being-- forces that shape and energize our lives.

Why are so many of the people I coach seeking balance in their lives, particularly when they’re considering shifting to a new career?  A number of them have worked as almost as strenuously as the woman barrister in “Silk” in their 20’s and 30’s, only to realize in mid-life that they’re missing out, not having a primary relationship or actively participating in their children’s lives or even taking care of their basic health and fitness needs.  In seeking a new way to work, they begin to realize that this is exactly the time for them to evaluate what possibilities are available for creating a more satisfying, holistic quality of life.

Otherwise you will reach the point where, as a doctor in her early 50's-- concerned that her sixty-hour-per-week position was adversely affecting her relationship with her teenage daughter-- told me: “My well is running dry.  I have no more to give out.  I am no longer capable of superhuman exertions!”  This is exactly the risk of working and living without being in a more natural balance.

Now take a little time here to notice and feel the dynamic balance and energy of your own life by considering and responding to these questions:

• What does the rhythm of your life look and feel
like when you’re at ease and not under stress?
Close your eyes and feel your body sensations
and breathing just as you are now.  Now visualize
yourself in a place that is totally relaxing to you.
Again, pay attention to your body sensations and
breathing.  Notice any images that arise as you
visualize and feel yourself coming into more
natural balance in your body, mind, and spirit.     

           • Does your work embody this balanced rhythm in
any way?  If so, how?  If not, why?   

  • What is one step you can choose to take that will
let you incorporate this more balanced rhythm
into your current work situation or your plan for
a new career?  

  • How can making this one change help create more dynamic balance in your whole life?

Remember that even if your life feels profoundly out of balance, yes, you do have a choice in developing a whole life that is more in rhythm with who you really are and wish to be.  In fact, you’ve taken the first step towards positive change if you’re noticing your physical, mental, and emotional discomfort in a state stuckness and imbalance.  Learning to create the balance in your life revitalizes the way you work, feel, and relate with others!

Facing and Transforming the Fear of Change

When you think of change, what images and feeling come to mind?  Do you think of the fall foliage of maple trees turning bright orange and red?  Do you remember the feeling of pure excitement running through your whole body the day you moved on campus and began a new life as a university student-- or traveled overseas for the first time-- or when you got your first acting break replacing the star performer in a major play?

Or does the word “change” bring back the sweaty palms and pounding heart of your first deep-sea dive-- or your first day at a new school in a new town as a child-- or when you knew deep inside that you were no longer satisfied with a way of life you’d lived for many years?

Are you afraid of the crack in the shell of your life?  Or are you eagerly peering through this new opening to a life with more expansive and fulfilling possibilities?

Whatever your perspective on change, one sure thing is that it will keep happening and knocking at your door.  The question is, will you embrace it and see what it offers?  Or will you turn away, vulnerable and fearful, from from this calling, trying to keep yourself small and untouched?

The people I’ve worked with as a career and life coach contacted me because they’d felt for some time that they needed to make a change in their jobs and the way they lived. How did they know this?  Some said they’d had significant dreams, body signals (stress, pain, illness), and other signs (e.g., lack of interest, burnout at work), forcing them to realize that their existing life patterns no longer felt meaningful.

They resisted change, however, because of the equally strong counterforce of fear-- of loss (of a job, a relationship, status, family/societal approval, control); of failure (not reaching their dreams); and of the unknown.

Their resistance to the upwelling clamor for change within themselves came at a high cost, though. One woman I worked with in a software firm kept taking sick leaves and had occasional difficulty completing projects for which she was responsible. She was terrified of being fired, though she also longed to be, and the emotional stress was overwhelming. As we examined her situation, I asked her what it was she feared the most. “Not knowing what I want to be doing instead,” she responded.

It’s understandable that we cling to the known for its predictability, comforts, and societal approval. However, when the emotional pain of this clinging becomes too great, we have the opportunity — with the right kind of support — to choose to move past fear into our potential for living and working authentically and well.

The urge towards change, which is natural and inevitable, can be surfed like a wave in a new way, to a new destination.  Change can also be mindfully observed and simply allowed to happen, as when turning leaves feel their hold on the tree loosen, and they float down to their next incarnation on the earth.

Change can be our inspiration towards transforming ourselves and our lives into the happiness of living and working from our true nature.  For most of us, however, embracing change requires outer support and inner attentiveness to face the fears that inevitably arise and to allow its gifts to manifest for us.  As Brené Brown says in her book, The Gifts of ImperfectionWe don’t change, we don’t grow, and we don’t move forward without the work.  If we really want to live a joyful, connected, and meaningful life, we must talk about things that get in the way.

If you’re interested in exploring this topic in more depth, please join me in my upcoming Teleclass, “Success with Soul - - Transforming the Fear of Change” on Wednesday, May 22, 2013, at 12 Noon Pacific Time.  To register, click here!