Resilience—Empowerment for the Launch You Need to Make!

As a life coach, most of the requests for my work are from people who want to make heart-centered changes in the way they work, mentor other coaches, or re-balance the way they live. At another level, I’m attuned to the level of resilience they have that will support them in making the changes that really matter to them. This is important, since creating significant changes that feel deeply satisfying usually requires taking risks and shifting some habitual ways of doing and being. 

As Linda Graham, MFT, says in her recent book, Resilience: Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back from Disappointment, Difficulty, and Even Disaster, resilience gives us "the power — the flexibility— to choose how we respond. It takes practice, and it takes awareness, but that power always lies within us." Resilience develops in us with the love and acceptance of who we are by our parents and/or other key people in our lives. It continues to expand as we allow ourselves and are encouraged to keep growing and developing our inner potential of skills and interests.

This is what Carol Dweck, author of Mindset— The New Psychology of Success, calls the "growth mindset." If you've grown up with this attitude that you can do things differently and make positive changes in your life, you're more likely to be able to learn from inevitable failures and errors and continue to move forward. You may even make a huge leap that could be a major mistake, but becomes instead a highly fulfilling outcome that takes you by surprise!

Take Elle Woods in the film Legally Blonde. As a smart, good-looking, popular college student, she has doting parents and friends who support her in her goal to meet a wealthy man to marry and support in his upward-bound career. She clearly has great poise and confidence in herself. Her first re-defining moment comes when she applies and gets into Harvard Law School to win back her prep-school boyfriend who will also be in her Harvard Law School class.

Now her resilience quotient is really tested. Coming to Harvard is for her like going to a college fraternity party, and she hasn't a clue about this new culture she's entering with its own brand of intellectual expectations. She has enough confidence in herself that she doesn't give up when treated as a social and academic outcast. However, she keeps hitting walls and feeling stuck because she's not yet clear about either what's really important to her at this time in her life or how to empower herself by accessing her potential. [Note— Helping clients achieve this kind of clarity is an important part of the work of trained life coaches like myself.]

Her inner "aha!" moment arrives when— dressed as a "Playboy bunny" at a party of her classmates from the law school— she finally sees that this is exactly how her former boyfriend really regards her. Still in costume, she goes to buy herself a laptop computer for classes that very evening and for the first time gets serious about studying law on her own terms.

If Elle Woods had asked me to be her career-transformation coach at a low point in her Harvard experience, I would be very curious and interested in exploring the quality of her resilience under considerable personal challenge. Her fearlessness, warmth, enjoyment of adventure, and compassion for others are at the heart of her ability to reach out to people in friendship and to share her own vulnerability. 

I'd also help her become aware of the kind of support she already had from several influential mentors at the law school. In what ways did they help raise her confidence in her potential and abilities to become highly successful as a lawyer? What did she learn from them about her own resilience at just those times when she lost the sense of who she really was and her purpose in being at Harvard Law School?  

A key question here for Elle Woods is, "What do you need to believe about yourself to take all your fearlessness, warmth, adventurousness, and compassion for others to shine as an outstanding lawyer in your own, authentic way? 

Resilience in coaching, then, is what you can learn to build and draw upon to go further than you ever imagined. Coaching helps you develop awareness of your own resilience to turn professional and personal challenges into new ways to live out the life you really want. The more resilience you develop, the more you'll empower yourself to launch into the full range of your inner potential for working, creating, and living well!

Feeling Stuck? Try a Radical Shift in Perspective!

Have you ever felt completely stuck as a professional— trying to find work you love, or having to do work you do not love at all? It happens to everyone at certain times, really jarring your sense of yourself as a competent, resourceful, purposeful, even worthwhile, person in the world.

What can you do when you feel stuck like that to get your creative juice going again? One thing you can do is get into a radically different perspective from the one you

are in. If you can’t do it for yourself, get in contact with a friend or colleague who’s empathic, but not stuck, and allow something new to emerge in talking together that turns your mind in a totally different direction. Coaching, too, can offer this kind of experience, as I shared once in a rather dramatic encounter.

It was early in my coaching career, and I was invited to give a presentation at a support group for people in mid-life seeking jobs. I came early to watch how the group worked together and found myself looking several times at a participant who moved very strangely, I thought. He wasn’t disabled, but his body seemed all at odds with himself. Even standing still, one shoulder was significantly higher than the other, and his whole torso was somewhat askew. But most particularly, his face looked out vaguely, seemingly without focus.

From my training as a somatic facilitator, I had an intuitive thought that he might be inwardly distressed from the sheer drudgery of waking up daily for months, maybe more than a year, to the endless round of the job search process.

Then it was my time to talk to the group about career transitions. Throughout the room, the energy was tired, low, and discouraged, so I led some exercises designed to help people expand their vision or sense of possibilities. I felt it might be interesting to the group to offer a mini-coaching session for one person that everyone else could tune into.

There was only one concern I had— I hoped I wouldn’t have to coach this particular man, who seemed so out of touch with himself, in a limited, 15-minute session. Of course, he was the only person to raise his hand.

He literally shuffled forward to the front of the room. His energy level was almost at zero. I asked him what he’d like to be coached on. He mumbled something about finding a new job. In response to my question about what he’d really like to be doing for work, he responded with litanies of positions he’d held and positions he was applying for. There was no uplift to his voice anywhere, no opening I could elicit.

I felt myself as stuck as I’ve ever been as a coach until, out of sheer desperation, I seized upon an inspiration. “Barry,” I said, “What is it that you can tell us about yourself that none of us here knows?”

Suddenly, there was an amazing shift in Barry’s posture and stance. His body literally unwound and righted itself. He took the microphone in his hand, actually smiled, and, speaking clearly and audibly to the group, told us about his joy in volunteering as an auctioneer to raise money for a nonprofit group he supported. He had such poise and passion as he told us about what he did with this work, that the group in front of him clapped and cheered. He beamed. For the first time in a long time Barry received affirmation for what he truly loved to do and who he truly was as a whole person.

In the 2013 movie Her, Theodore, a professional writer of personal letters, is emotionally and professionally stuck. His upset over the failure of his marriage leads him to start a new, unorthodox relationship with a specialized operating system in his computer named Samantha. Having a completely open mind without conventional limitations, Samantha invites him to join her in a connection that will bend his mind open and jumpstart his whole life.

When Theodore asks her how she works, she replies, “Well, basically I have intuition . . . But what makes me me is my ability to grow through my experiences. So basically, in every moment I’m evolving, just like you.”

Falling in love with Samantha, Theodore finds that he’s opening to a more playful and expansive approach to life that unsettles him, but brings him new awareness and fulfillment with his intimate and professional relationships.

I don’t know what happened next with Barry’s job quest, but it was clear that he’d had a transformative and breakthrough moment. He finally acknowledged to his support group that he knew what it was to work in a heart-centered way— and that that was what he really wanted.

Creating Confidence for Action-- One Step at a Time!

Below is an updated post from a few summers back with a message that seems just as fresh to me now as then— about how useful it can be when making career and life changes to remember what it's like to be on holiday, just doing what you want to do, whatever interests or excites you, one thing at a time….

I'd just returned from a wonderful trip to Tuscany with my extended family of friends from Sweden and England, including my two goddaughters, all living together in an old country house a little north of Pisa. Living together for a couple of weeks in a relaxed style in the foothills of the Alps brought home to me the great quality about vacations, which is-- no matter how easy-going or strenuous they are, they let you live with growing confidence and fulfillment while doing just one thing at a time. You may be mountain climbing, sightseeing, writing a novel, or cooking pizzas in an Italian bread oven, but whatever you’re doing, that’s it. Just one thing at a time.

Though it seems counter-intuitive, limiting your action to one thing at a time can be a very effective approach for change-making when you're feeling tense and uncertain, when you want to act more confidently, and with greater ease. Give yourself some time out to deeply relax inside.
Feel your feet on the ground and take several deep breaths in and out from your belly.  When you feel calmer, choose one action step that calls you, and give this your full attention.  Now you are setting the ground for following this new direction with a sense of purpose, power, and enjoyment.

In my book, Success with Soul— Loving Your Livelihood, Living in Balance, I use the following metaphor about learning to dance to explore the process of building your confidence by taking just one energizing action step forward:

Stepping into the dance of self-confidence is much like being asked to step onto the ballroom floor by (you hope!) a skilled and passionate dancer who is happy to guide you through new steps.

What does it take on your part? Excitement about getting into the rhythm of the music…A willingness to be challenged…A willingness to be supported in learning the steps.

What will you get by stepping into the dance? The joy of a new freedom of movement…A new sense of relationship to dancing…Connection to other dancers…Finding out how much more you can do when you have support…Feeling your inner knowing as you integrate the steps of the dance into a flow of rhythm and movement…Readiness to embrace new challenges.

As another example, I was coaching a man in his fifties who was in transition from his engineering career, and struggling with all he had to do, as he saw it, to get his new business under way. He felt tense and exhausted, seeing no end to his to-do list-- and no way to have a balanced lifestyle either, with an intimate relationship, recreation, or just time off for himself.

So I challenged him to put on the back burner five items from his list for a month, and then choose one new action step to take. For a few minutes, he was appalled, feeling that his life now would have no structure and that everything would simply fall apart. Then he re-examined his list and noticed that he didn’t really need to create a new page for his website or even start a blog. What he really wanted to do was begin to establish some ne
connections with possible partners for his business venture. Suddenly, he felt energy rush through his body and a sense of possibility! He also felt renewed enthusiasm for reaching out for a relationship on an e-dating site.

All of which brings me to a post, “Just One Thing,” that I receive from Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist and author of Creating a Buddha Brain: One Step at a Time. I love his ongoing suggestion that we can make powerful, positive changes to our outlook on life and in the actions we take by approaching every challenge one step at a time. I know now, from my own experience and that of others, that this approach really works!

The World Series and Beyond-- If You Can’t Trust Your Gut, Get a Coach!

Have you ever been in a situation where you felt that no matter how much you did you simply couldn’t change the outcome so that you felt alive and purposeful?  Sometimes it takes someone else with the experience and ability to see your potential to help you break out of an inner prison and live out your true purpose.

Read on and consider what the San Francisco Giants’ baseball team manager, Bruce Bochy, did for Travis Ishikawa to build his confidence and motivation to the point of hitting the winning home run that’s sending the Giants to the ultimate baseball competition, the World Series.

“For all the wives or parents who might be trying to convince a baseball player to grow up and abandon his dream, Travis Ishikawa just ruined things. In this most unlikely of post season runs [for the San Francisco Giants], the moment belonged to the most unlikely player of all. A 31-year-old journeyman who had considered abandoning the game just months ago.”--Ann Killion, San Francisco Chronicle, 10/17/14

A journeyman, in baseball speak, is a player who’s been around, maybe playing more in the minor leagues than the major leagues, not accepted as a primary player on a major league team, at least, not for long. (Think Robert Redford in the film, The Natural.) What fascinates me most about the Giants is the back stories of its players and in particular, now, Ishikawa, age 31 (starting to get old for baseball) and how he was even on the team that day at all.  Earlier this year, Ishikawa was talking with his wife, wondering if his dream of playing baseball for a major league team was over and he should try some other line of work.

Then last Thursday, the Giants won a crucial, nail-biting game against the St. Louis Cardinals due to Ishikawa’s towering home run during the last inning, sending the Giants on to the World Series!

What made Ishikawa break on through to the other side?   There were many factors.  One, certainly, was that he kept patiently practicing throughout his time of self-doubt.  However, a huge break for him was that the Giants’ head manager, Bochy, saw untapped potential in Ishikawa that he himself didn’t see, mentored his development over the first few months, and backed him at a critical moment in that final game when he might have been pulled out for letting the other team score.

All of which led to Ishikawa being at bat and making a vital home run just when it was needed most. “‘I’ve got to thank Bochy, Ishikawa said, “He knows what he’s doing. I trust his gut.”

That’s the important thing-- when you’re feeling stuck and finding it hard to trust your own gut, it’s vital to have someone at your back who sees and trusts what you can really do-- and helps motivate you to do it. That’s a big part of why and how coaching works-- beyond baseball-- for people who who need support in building their self-confidence and achieving the successful outcomes they really want!

Life's Third Act -- Generating Wisdom and Purpose!

Recently, a dear friend of mine of many years, Béla Breslau, sent me a link to a TED (Technology, Education & Design) talk by Jane Fonda, now age 77, on what Fonda calls “the third act” of her life. Fonda has always fascinated me by her luminosity and by the many ways she has re-invented her work and her self throughout her life.

Since both Béla and I are also people who have grown with re-inventing ourselves many times over-- and, like Jane Fonda, are into our third act of life-- I interviewed Béla to explore the patterns we’re noticing from this perspective as we move into our latest careers-- Béla a proprietor of a B & B in western Massachussetts and a Shintaido movement instructor, and me a career & life transitions coach. I began to realize that Béla, Fonda, and myself were talking about a certain kind of professional and personal growth-- one involving shifting perspectives and growing into one’s true purpose.

Concerning shifting perspectives, Béla-- who has a flair for friendship-- mentioned a new friend in her 20’s going through major changes. “It’s hard,” she commented, “being kind to yourself at that age, separating yourself from your parents’ expectations. It’s hard to have the more authentic perspective that life experience and awareness can bring.” Fonda, when she was 60 and examining the pattern of her family and other relationships from her past, gained the new perspective “that a lot of things that you used to think were your fault . . . really had nothing to do with you. It wasn't your fault; you're just fine.” This is valuable learning, that this shift in perspective can build your confidence from within to go forward in new directions that call you.

What about growing into and feeling our sense of true purpose? When you’re living successfully in your own terms, you can feel your purpose from within. For some of us that takes time and involves moving from the external sense of purpose that key others in our lives-- parents or teachers or peers-- try to assign for us. As Béla notes, she did not live out her parents’ purpose for her, which was to marry a nice Jewish lawyer and have a traditional Jewish family. Instead, she headed to the west coast and switched gears a number of times-- becoming a lawyer, a realtor, a fundraiser, and a long-time practitioner and teacher of the martial art form, Shintaido.

It is in her third act now, however, that she notices her purpose is “to help people in their journeys through life. I really love teaching and sharing, particularly with women, helping them validate their own strength, and share their own messages and abilities in the world.” So she teaches a “softer” form of Shintaido blended with yoga, not as a martial art form, but as a way of allowing people to open to their authenticity by enjoying and paying attention to their bodies in motion. As a mother, too, she is happy to allow her daughter to become the person she really is on her own, particular career and life path.

The purpose of Fonda’s life was initially an external one of trying to please her father, actor Henry Fonda, by becoming an outstanding actress herself, and then her first husband, Roger Vadim, who directed her in the space sex fantasy film, Barbarella, in 1968. Contrast that with her 1978 film, Coming Home, in which she is the wife of a traumatized Vietnam War army officer and the lover of another war veteran whose heart has opened with his injuries. As she gained stature and confidence in her acting career, she refused to take on roles that had no value or meaning to her.

Now, in her 70’s, Fonda has dug deep into what really does have meaning for her. Her discovery?-- that “it's not having experiences that makes us wise, it's reflecting on the experiences that we've had . . . that helps us become whole, brings wisdom and authenticity. Her goal? To be “an example to younger generations so that they can re-conceive their own lifespans.”

In other words, in our third act, from our deepest learning from the obstacles and successes in our lives, we can become the teachers and mentors we would have liked for ourselves. We can help others live from more authentic perspectives that generate an inner sense of purpose-- and culminate in rewarding career and life paths.

As yet another person in her third act-- famed author, Isabel Allende, now age 71-- says in her TED talk-- “I try to stay passionate and engaged with an open heart. I’m working on it every day. Want to join me?”


Jane Fonda’s TED Interview:

Bela’s B&B in Massachusetts:

Isabel Allende’s TED Interview:

Creating Space for Action-- One Step at a Time!

I just returned from a wonderful trip to Tuscany with my extended family of friends from Sweden and England, including my two goddaughters, all living together in an old country house a little north of Pisa. Living together for a couple of weeks in a relaxed style in the foothills of the Alps brought home to me the great quality about vacations, which is-- no matter how easy-going or strenuous they are, they let you live fulfilled while doing just one thing at a time. You may be mountain climbing, sightseeing, writing a novel, or cooking pizzas in an Italian bread oven, but whatever you’re doing, that’s it. Just one thing at a time. 

            This is a pattern I keep noticing in every aspect of life where you want to act more effectively, confidently, and with more ease. Give yourself some space so that you deeply relax inside. From this place choose one step or one direction in which to move forward, and you will do it with a sense of purpose and power.

            I was working with a man in his 50’s who was in transition from his engineering career and struggling with all he had to do, as he saw it, to get his new business under way. He felt tense and exhausted, seeing no end to his to-do list-- and no way to relax either, have an intimate relationship, recreation, or just time off for himself. 

            So I challenged him to put on the back burner five items from his list for a month. For a few minutes, he was appalled, feeling that his life now would have no structure and that everything would simply fall apart.  Then he re-examined his list and noticed that he didn’t really need to create a new page for his website or even start a blog. What he really wanted to do was take the time to establish some new connections with possible partners for his business venture. Suddenly, he felt energy rush through his body and a sense of possibility! He also felt renewed enthusiasm for reaching out for a relationship on an e-dating site.

            All of which brings me to a post, “Just One Thing,” that I receive from Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist and author of Creating a Buddha Brain: One Step at a Time. I love his ongoing suggestion that we can make powerful, positive changes to our outlook on life and in the actions we take by approaching every challenge one step at a time. I know now, from my own experience and that of others, that this approach really works!

            For those of you who’d like to be more effective in making a career or life change that matters to you, please join me for my free teleclass-- “Creating Space for Action-- One Thing at a Time!”-- on Wednesday, December 7th, 9 - 10 AM Pacific Time. Click here to register for this free teleclass now!

Confidence and Possibilities-- Entering into the Flow

Last spring I wrote several posts about one of my favorite books, The Art of Possibility by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander.  Because I’m giving a presentation on this book at Books Inc in Berkeley, CA, on July 31st, I’m going to draw from it again in this post to explore in a different way the quality of confidence that I wrote about last week.

The Art of Possibility assumes that each of us has the potential to re-examine our assumptions about life and expand the way we live by having trust (“con-fidere”-- with trust) in our own hearts and spirit.  When we approach each moment with openness to the possibilities there, we move past fear and into a way of life that flows.  As the Zanders say, “Life flows when we put our attention on the larger patterns of which we are a part . . . Life takes on shape and meaning when a person is able to transcend the barriers of personal survival and become a unique conduit for its vital energy.”

As you enter into flow, you approach a new level of confidence-- one that relies on a sense of bodily grounding, a conscious trust in the gravity of the planet to hold you steady as space opens for you to reach out in your work and your life in new ways.  When you are able to release limited assumptions of what you are supposed to do or how you are supposed to love, a whole new world opens that gives you room to breathe and dance and create!

Maureen Raytis, co-author of the lively guidebook to inner spaciousness, Feng Shui Your Mind, relates her moment of epiphany as she caught herself in her usual habit of rushing home in her car:  “For some reason, that day I noticed that I held my breath through the yellow light . . . Why did I need to amp it up like that? . . . That’s when I started to take notice of all the little stressors of the day . . . Every time I noticed my tendency to hurry, I would stop and start breathing deeply . . . I’m sure you can imagine how this perception-- that there is enough time [and space]-- changed the quality of my energy and my life.”

So here are some inquiries (big questions with many possible responses beyond “yes” or “no”) from The Art of Possibility that I invite you to play with to extend your awareness of the small things that are involved in creating a sense of flow and confidence in your life:

  • “What assumption am I making, that I’m not aware I’m making, that gives me what

I see?”

  • And then-- “What might I now invent, that I haven’t yet invented, that would give me

other choices?”

What insight are you taking away with you now about stepping past the stress of fear and limitation into the flow of spaciousness and confidence?

The Presence of Confidence - Standing in Who You Are

Lack of confidence in yourself is one of the most elusive barriers to making satisfying changes at work and in significant relationships. It lies beneath most of the reasons I see people for coaching.  It is a fear that if you stand in what you truly know-- about yourself, about what you do-- it will not be enough.  You will not be accepted as a full partner at work or in an intimate relationship.  You are not complete.  This is the kind of fear that can keep you off-balance and not knowing how to create or hold a new direction.

One of my clients, a woman in her mid-30’s, a professional psychotherapist, accepted a managerial position with a large non-profit organization that brought her a regular income, benefits-- plus a lot of concern that her skills as a supervising therapist were not adequate to her new position.  She actually did well on the job, as evaluations of her work attested, but kept feeling uncomfortable, that she was expected to have a more commanding personality than was her style.

In one of our coaching sessions, I asked her to stand facing me, lift her arms, and press her hands against mine.  I leaned my weight from my arms into hers, and asked her to press her weight back towards me.  I noticed that instead of pushing her hands forward directly into mine, she kept moving her hands with mine in circles. She did not push back directly towards me.

After doing this for a while, we talked about the feelings we’d both experienced during this exercise.  She said she’d felt as she usually did at work-- that she was trying to stay aware of how all the people she worked with were thinking, and that her mind was going all over the place.

I told her that I’d felt that she wasn’t fully present to me, that she wobbled and I couldn’t rely on her to be there with me.  What I needed, I told her, was for her just to be in her own knowing, and let me feel her presence and the weight of her hands directly against mine. I could tell that she knew what she needed to know, and she didn’t need to press hard to communicate that to me effectively.  She just needed to feel her confidence in being herself, and communicate directly with me by being presentto her own body and personal style.

The poet, Mark Nepo writes:  “[Psychologist Michael Mahoney] traces confidence to the Latin confidere, “fidelity,” and understands self-confidence as a fidelity to the self.  Indeed, it is only a devotion to that sacred bottom beneath our moods of insecurity that brings us back in accord with the center of the heart which shares the same living center with all beings.”

It is from this “sacred bottom,” this “non-judging state” as the poet Rumi calls it, that you can learn to connect authentically and effectively with others.

Career & Life Transitions-- Following Your Intuition Towards Fulfillment!

A few weeks ago I read a blog post on the Stanford Alumni LinkedIn group about Steve Jobs‘ inspirational commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005.  Listening to it on YouTube, I was really taken by Jobs‘ awareness of what it means to live out fully one’s career and life transitions.

By transitions, I refer to William Bridges‘ definition from his book, Transitions-- Making Sense of Life’s Changes, where he says:  “. . . Change is situational.  Transition, on the other hand, is psychological.  It is not those events, but rather the inner reorientation and self-redefinition that you have to go through in order to incorporate any of those changes into your life . . . Unless transition happens, the change won’t work, because it doesn’t “take.”

Returning to Steve Jobs‘ talk to graduating students, he mentions a huge transitional time for him when he was 30, had set up the wildly innovative and successful company, Apple computers-- and then was fired by the Apple board, who felt he was no longer the right person to lead the company.   He was devastated and blindsided.  As he said, “I felt ashamed, I didn’t know what to do.  I’d been rejected, but I was still in love.”

During his dark night of the soul-- the necessary, psychological “chaos” period during this major career-life transition (because his life was so connected with his work)-- his lifeline was discovering deep inside himself that no matter what, “I loved what I did.”  Not knowing what else to do, he followed his intuition using “beginner’s mind,” and started Next, still doing what he loved to do.  And Apple rehired him, with Next technology becoming “the heart of the Apple renaissance.”

One thing especially stands out for me in his talk, when he says-- “You have to trust in something-- your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.  Believing the dots will connect down the road will give you the heart even when it leads you off the well-worn path.  And that will make all the difference.”

As a career & life coach, I often work with people who have a heart-felt intuition that they’re ready to take a leap off the well-worn path of how they’ve been working or the style of life they’ve been leading.  Often in our coaching work, we spend time together holding the space for that intuition to ripen into an inner knowing that carries them forward towards where and who they really want to be.

As Jobs says, “It’s impossible to connect the dots going forward.”  So you have to have a way to hold the faith that your intuition has the seeds of who you are becoming and what you need to do in this life.  This is my joy as a career & life coach-- seeing how people blossom and are fulfilled when they are supported in going through inner chaos to personal and professional fulfillment!

Designing Relationships to Bring Forth Positive Outcomes-- Part 1, Schools

Were your elementary school days as uninspired as mine?  Except for my first-grade and seventh-grade experiences, which were out of country, my elementary school classes were traditionally designed, meaning that everyone was supposed to do the same things together at the same level.  This boring and unimaginative style guaranteed that teachers and students had a distant relationship to each other. 

          That made it easier for our teachers to hold a win-lose perspective that assumed some students wouldn’t or couldn’t learn and would probably fail.  This, in turn, set up a losing dynamic for these kids that followed them all the way through high school. 

            The difference in classes I attended in Portugal and Japan was huge!  The teachers at these schools were, as you might expect, curious and interested about the world.  They were creative in setting up relationships with each student-- and were genuinely excited about motivating all of us to learn and explore-- a new culture, the parameters of science, the connections between history and literature.  In some way, each of us in these classes were encouraged to make contributions and discoveries that led to incredible group bonding and connection.  These teachers knew the value of giving student “an A” (see my earlier blog posts on this topic) right at the start by holding the positive attitude that each of us could and would learn if we were inspired to do so. 

            This encouraging educational experience may well have fueled an ambition of mine in my early 20’s to create inspiring learning opportunities for children in public schools.  At the time, there was a lot of drive in this direction by futurist and human potential leader, George Leonard (author of Education and Ecstasy), and Harvard educator, Robert Cole.  I was also fortunate to have intuitively chosen to get my master’s degree and teacher training at Bank Street College of Education in New York City-- a unique center designed to bring forth the best in children through training teachers in child-centered educational philosophy and techniques of engagement.

             I experienced the impact of this training when I was placed as a student teacher in an elementary school very much like the one I’d gone to as a child, although with a good percentage of immigrant students.  The teacher assumed that most of these more limited-English-speaking students wouldn’t and couldn’t learn, and just wanted them to pass and move on from her classroom.  In a totally uninterested way, she assigned me three completely unmotivated, 10-year-old Puerto Rican girls to teach the basics about life in Kenya.  With the Bank Street philosophy that almost everyone can become motivated to learn if you reach out and find a place of connection with their interests, I gave the girls “an A” in my mind immediately and looked for how to engage them.

              It was immediately clear to me that Daisy, Anna, and Solia had no idea where Africa was, since they only barely understood where they were in the United States. So I started by having them consider the needs and interests of all children everywhere (e.g., food, shelter, family, games).  Then they began to get intrigued about what was unique about life in Kenya, and where it was.  A shining experience in our work together was our field trip across Central Park-- only two blocks from where they lived and went to school, but a universe away from their daily lives-- to visit some travel agencies I’d contacted on 5th Avenue specializing in African tours.  The girls had made up a list of questions about Kenya with great enthusiasm, which they asked with growing confidence as they saw the interest and respect in the eyes of the travel agents. 

            We re-crossed the park to go back to school, loaded with colorful posters and brochures about Kenya as trophies of their triumphant trek to the other side of the city.   I could see the pride in their faces and the swagger in their walk at having prepared well to talk with adults who had cared to share their knowledge and enthusiasm for travel and other cultures with them.  Learning had come alive as new ways to relate with adults in the wider world who saw them-- not as marginal students-- but as young people wanting to explore and go forward.  It was so wonderful to see the power of this positive, affirming attitude in lifting the girls’ self-esteem and expanding their horizons!

             If you, too, want to design the relationships in your life to bring forth positive outcomes, I invite you to join me for a special, end-of-the-year tele-class-- “Creating Life Satisfaction-- ‘Giving an A’ to New Possibilities!” on Wed., December 8th, at 9 AM Pacific Time.  In this lively, interactive experience, we will explore the value of holding the intention to find the best outcomes in our interactions with others.  For more information and to register, please go to

                                          Join in the Discussion! 

  • What’s a memorable relationship you designed that created a positive outcome in your life? 
  • How have you grown and learned through engaged relationships with others at school?
  • What does it take to engage with someone in a positive way?