Building Connection

“Being a Contribution” -- and How to Jump Start Your Life!

Have you ever been in a situation where you felt that no matter how much you did you simply couldn’t enhance or change the outcome so that you felt alive and purposeful? As a coach, I’ve heard this from people who are very able and successful in their careers, for example, but feel stuck in the quality of their whole lives.

So here’s a question for you-- What challenge can you give yourself that will move you out of a dead end into a place where your energy can move again?

Ben Zander-- co-author of The Art of Possibility and concert conductor-- gives his music conservatory students the following challenge to jolt them out of their attachment as to whether or not they’re playing well enough:  Each week they are to “notice how they are a contribution . . . and to cast themselves as a contribution into the week ahead. . . and imagine that everything they do sends ripples out beyond the horizon.”

So what does this mean in practical terms? Have you noticed how easy it is to get mired in your own expectations, pinning your happiness on your plans and accomplishments?  For example, “This has to be a wonderful trip” or “This relationship will be the one” or “I must do well in this profession-- I’ve invested so much in getting this degree.”

It’s so easy to forget the value of just being who we are and who we like to be--and sharing that with others.  And yet, holding the attitude of “I am a contribution to others and to this planet” can literally redirect your talents and your energy into areas with real potential for expanding and lighting up your life!

I inadvertently played the “I am a contribution” game some years ago when traveling for a while through England with a friend.  When my friend left and I was on my own, it was like I lost my inner compass and didn’t know what to do next, even though I had plans.  I felt absolutely stuck, and I had a number of weeks to go before returning home.

As I sat in my hotel room unable to decide what to do, I suddenly thought of the owner of the hotel-- a pleasant woman who’d talked with me in a friendly way about my trip, but with a look of sadness in her face.  I wrenched myself out of my own preoccupation and thought, “I wonder if there’s some way I could help her be happier.”  This thought moved me out of my room and onto the street where I saw a flower vendor.

On the spot, I bought a small bouquet of fragrant, though not exotic, flowers and presented them to the hotel owner.  I still remember how her face lit up with pleasure as she lifted them to her face to take in the scent of the out-of-doors.  Suddenly, I felt my heart open and a delight in life come back to me.  This small act of “being a contribution” freed me from my limited mindset to an expansive place of spirit, which turned out to be the unsuspected door to the possibilities of my own
journey.

As one of Ben Zander’s students wrote about “being a contribution”-- “I know now that music is not about fingers or bows or strings, but rather a connective vibration flowing throughout all human beings, like a heartbeat.”

Building Life-Enhancing Relationships-- “Giving Each Other an A”!

[Note:  My blog post this week is one I wrote last fall.  Since I’m planning to give a presentation on the book, The Art of Possibility, on Sun., July 31st, at Books Inc in Berkeley, I’d like to share with you again the excitement I felt when I first discovered it.

Since I always enjoy the insights in The Art of Possibility whenever I open its pages, I hope that if you’re re-reading this blog post, you, too, will continue to feel the sparkle and engagement of connecting with the possibilities in others that can expand your own life, as well.  My appreciation, too, to Leslie Williams Schwerdt for her scintillating photo of our friend, Joel Stratte-McClure, exploring his own jazzy, pre-birthday possibilities.]

This past week, I was really charged up with the combination of participating in my Stanford University alumni reunion and reading the book, The Art of Possibility, by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander.

One aspect of this book that struck me at my reunion was the part the authors call “Giving an A.”  By this they mean allowing people and experiences to be what they are and could be-- not limited by your own expectations.  Most people I met at my reunion said that this one was the best ever, and I agree.  My feeling is that every successive five years when we come together, we allow more of ourselves to be seen-- not just the parts of us that appear to be successful in the world.  At this reunion, there was definitely a sense of trust that who we are-- and what we’re doing that’s opening us to who we are-- was of interest to others. In the context of having graduated from a very competitive university, this more open way of interacting with each other constitutes major personal growth!

At earlier reunions, more people interacted from the “measurement” perspective of “what grade did you get?” that was the norm during college and “how well are you doing?” that was prevalent as people were starting to activate their careers.  A number of years later, my classmates and I have grown into the “possibilities” perspective that sees people as whole and evolving.  There’s so much more energy and authentic connection when you relate in this way! We’re not limited by others’ expectations of how we should write or take exams, how many trips we’ve taken or how much we make a year.  We care more about how fulfilled and expansive each other’s lives have become-- and are becoming.

“When you give an A, you find yourself speaking to people not from a place of measuring how they stack up against your standards, but from a place of respect that gives them room to realize themselves . . . This A is not an expectation to live up to, but a possibility to live into.” (The Art of Possibility).  Isn’t this the essence of how to create and sustain life-enhancing relationships-- whether with your soul mate, the store clerk you see every week, a casual acquaintance on a subway, or even someone whose political views you don’t understand at all?  It’s also the essence of how to create value from any new experience you embrace.

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.

Japan and the Force of Nature-- Loss, Endings, and Remembrance

With all the chaos and upheavals going on in the world at this time, my heart and soul goes first to Japan, struck out of the blue by one of the largest earthquakes in recorded history and a tsunami hit of unimaginable proportions.  This is human life slammed into the pure force of oppositional nature.  This is beyond “transitions” and into the limit of human endurance.

With all the reverence for the diverse manifestations of nature in a limited island terrain, the Japanese have traditionally had a profound awareness of nature as a defining element in their lives.  In a volcanic region of earthquakes and threats from the sea, it’s easy to sense that life is precarious. 

Which brings up the question, “After catastrophic suffering, when all has been lost, what can we hold on to for remembrance and sanity?”  Once I read that the Japanese Zen Buddhist master, Suzuki Roshi, when asked, “What is Nirvana [enlightenment]?” replied, “Seeing one thing through to the end.” 

I live in earthquake country in California, and still I find it almost impossible to imagine what it would be to lose my family, my home, all my daily possessions, and my sense (however untrue) of basic security in a natural disaster of major proportions-- like the thousandsof people in northeastern coastal Japan recently.  Yet, I hope that something would illuminate deep inside me a sense of purpose in being there, even in themidst of such chaos and loss-- and would shine through me like a light, however wavering and flickering, guiding me through to the end..

When I was twelve, I lived with my family for a year in Tokyo-- a magical, transformative year that introduced me to an exotically other culture from that of suburban United States.  One difference that I could see even as a child was the way the Japanese people we met and came to know interacted with nature.  Unlike California where I grew up, Japan was so limited in space that personal gardens were small, sacred places, carefully tended, each stone, flower, and leaf having a place and a purpose.  Going away to the mountains, forest or ocean was often like going on pilgrimage, a re-connection rather than just recreation.

One way I stay connected with places and people I love and must leave is to find a stone for each experience of loving and interacting with these people, these places, that commemorates our time together.  Even if I had to leave these stones behind to flee for safety, they are gathered in my memory and will stay with me, lighting my path.

            What are ways you’ve discovered to honor heart connections in your life that you’ve had to leave behind?

Connection and Intention - Why They Really Matter

Those of you who’ve been reading my blog over the past month know that I’m a great fan of the Oscar-nominated film, The King’s Speech, for its rich character interaction and development, plus the fantastic, dedicated coaching experience throughout!  I saw this movie for a second time, and was part of the repeat crowd afterwards still wowed by the performances of Colin Firth as Prince Bertie/King George VI and Geoffrey Rush as voice coach Lionel Logue.  This film is the journey of two unlikely partners in healing/transformation who, through this challenging process, also become friends.

A few days ago, when I saw another Oscar-nominated film, The Social Network, I was stunned at the contrast between these two movies.  Both involved characters who had major goals they met during the course of the films, and both explored the value of friendship in meeting these goals.  Viscerally, The King’s Speech filled me with warmth and a glow throughout my body-- while The Social Network left me with a headache and a chilled feeling inside.  (I know, I know, I’m out of synch here-- even though Facebook is very much part of my life now-- with the majority of viewers who resonated to this film.)

What made the difference?  I believe it’s about invoking the power of positive intention in the work we do.  Whether we’re creating revolutionary products or helping people make transformative changes in their lives, feeling fulfilled by our work depends on more than being first or making a fortune.  Fulfillment is also about deepening and sharing your commitment to connection with living beings, with life, in the course of doing what you love to do.

            I sense that in The King’s Speech Lionel’s intention of helping the king learn to live out his personal and professional mission (communicating clearly to the people in the British Empire) succeeded because of the caring connection that evolved between the two men during the coaching experience.  In The Social Network, however, Mark Zuckerberg’s intention in developing Facebook was to use his intellectual brilliance to get even with all those whom he felt looked down on him.

Working with this kind of limiting intention, it’s not surprising that Zuckerberg had only one friend, and by the end of the movie, none at all.  What was it worth to him that he’d developed the social online tool of the decade and became the world’s youngest billionaire?  At the end, we see him waiting, alone and unhappy, to see if his former girlfriend, whom he’d alienated, will become a Facebook “friend” with him. 

            As a career and life coach, I wonder what it would be like to work with Mark Zuckerberg as my client.  Now that Facebook is launched and his fortune made, what would be an area he’d like to change in his life at this time?  Might he wish to develop the gifts of friendship and intimacy?  What would he need to claim in himself to do that?

Claiming Your Authentic Voice-- & Finding Friendship and Connection!

I just saw a phenomenal movie last night, The King’s Voice-- an incredibly acted vision of a man in public life with a stammer whose overwhelming desire is to speak clearly and authentically.  That he is the second son in the royal family of England who becomes its unlikely king just before the outbreak of World War II makes the achievement of his goal all the more remarkable.  The story of how he does so is the story of his evolving relationship with his speech therapist, Lionel-- an undauntable coach who challenges Bertie to sing, dance, shout, and ultimately repair the traumatic disconnections of his earlier life by creating a healing bond of friendship.  

            So when the historic moment arrives, Bertie (now King George V)-- looking only at Lionel’s encouraging face and prompts, speaks to all the people in the British Commonwealth by radio, and is able to say what he needs and wants to say to hearten them for the perils and trials ahead. 

            In my blog post of December 9th, I shared my insight that a key ingredient in creating successful relationships is active engagement.  In a healing relationship, one person-- the teacher, the therapist, the coach-- will usually need to take the lead initially in positively engaging the other.  As The Art of Possibility expresses it, “The practice of giving an A allows the teacher to line up with her students in their efforts to produce the outcome, rather than lining up with the standards against these students.”   

            In this way, Lionel aligns himself with Bertie as a friend who fully believes in Bertie’s ability to speak clearly and express himself as the person he truly is.  No one else fully understood the forces of custom and history that crippled Bertie’s voice.  No one else was willing to stand with him against these forces and champion his speaking his own truth.  In standing up for his client, his king, and his friend, Lionel came forth as the new force of truth who allowed Bertie to shine (and smile). 

            In wishing you all a Very Happy Holiday Season, I’d like to wish you a new year filled with joy, confidence in your own voice, warm relationships, and success defined in your own terms! 

                     Eve 

              Join in the Discussion! 

  • What has made you hold back from speaking your truth?
  • Who has helped you speak clearly or find your own voice?  How did they do so?  
  • What is the quality of your relationship with these people?
  • What is it to be a friend to someone?

The Joy of Team Playing-- Evolving Quality Relationships

The value of playing together as a team-- or in this case, an impromptu band-- leapt up at me during my recent Stanford University reunion.  One of my classmates, Paul, is a pianist who had also been a conductor.  Some of his friends who had also taken emeritus Professor John Chowning’s freshman seminar in modern music and contemporary society held a gathering in which those of us present were invited to participate in making our own music, all together, under Paul’s guidance. 

            Paul particularly asked us to try instruments that we’d never played before.  When I asked my friend Libby who was squeezing an accordion with verve when she’d learned how, she replied, “A few minutes ago.”  Leslie and I were working the gongs, Joel was on bongo drums, and my husband, William, a former sax player, was grinning as he experimented with his drumsticks. 

            Then Paul instructed us about the signals he would use to bring each of us into the performance.  We had to pay close attention to his arm and eye movements, and follow our cues to play short or long, soft or loud.  It had been ages since I’d played violin in my elementary school orchestra.  I realized I’d never had the sense then as I did with Paul’s conducting of how connected we all were to one another as we awaited our cues and heard the separate tones of our own instruments becoming the music we played together. 

            In addition, I experienced a profound sense of being seen and heard as Paul looked at me and signaled me to play.  They were just moments of connection, but felt totally focused on me and what I was creating under his guidance.  As I wrote in my Oct. 28th blog, Paul was “giving me an A,” which is the process of “transporting your relationships from the world of measurement into the universe of possibility” (from The Art of Possibility by Roz and Ben Zander).  

            He gave me the space and the encouragement to go forward into the unknown, take risks, make mistakes-- all the while contributing to the expanding sense of connecting and relating to the whole group.  Later, he told us how vital it was for a conductor to earn the trust of the players in the orchestra in order to be able to play well together.  One thing was clear to all of us present: by acknowledging and drawing forth the spirit and potential of each person in a team-- whether a professional orchestra, a group of colleagues, a teenage club, or former classmates wanting to go in a new direction together-- quality relationships and experiences have a chance to evolve and make a difference. 

            If you are interested in exploring further the possibilities for more work and life satisfaction by creating opportunities for quality connections, please join me for my upcoming tele-class, “Creating Life Satisfaction-- Giving an A to New Possibilities!” on Wednesday, December 8th.  To sign up, please click on the following link:   http://www.kailaslifecoaching.com/?id=presentations.

Building Life-Enhancing Relationships -- “Giving Each Other an A”!

This past week, I was really charged up with the combination of participating in my Stanford University alumni reunion and reading the book, The Art of Possibility, by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander.  

            One aspect of this book that struck me at my reunion was the part the authors call “Giving an A.”  By this they mean allowing people and experiences to be what they are and could be-- not limited by your own expectations.  Most people I met at my reunion said that this one was the best ever, and I agree.  My feeling is that every successive five years when we come together, we allow more of ourselves to be seen-- not just the parts of us that appear to be successful in the world.  At this reunion, there was definitely a sense of trust that who we are-- and what we’re doing that’s opening us to who we are-- was of interest to others.  In the context of having graduated from a very competitive university, this more open way of interacting with each other constitutes major personal growth! 

            At earlier reunions, more people interacted from the “measurement” perspective of “what grade did you get?” that was the norm during college and “how well are you doing?” that was prevalent as people were starting to activate their careers.  A number of years later, my classmates and I have grown into the “possibilities” perspective that sees people as whole and evolving.  There’s so much more energy and authentic connection when you relate in this way!  We’re not limited by others’ expectations of how we should write or take exams, how many trips we’ve taken or how much we make a year.  We care more about how fulfilled and expansive each other’s lives have become-- and are becoming. 

            “When you give an A, you find yourself speaking to people not from a place of measuring how they stack up against your standards, but from a place of respect that gives them room to realize themselves . . . This A is not an expectation to live up to, but a possibility to live into.” (The Art of Possibility).  Isn’t this the essence of how to create and sustain life-enhancing relationships-- whether with your soul mate, the store clerk you see every week, a casual acquaintance on a subway, or even someone whose political views you don’t understand at all?  It’s also the essence of how to create value from any new experience you embrace. 

                        Join in the Discussion! 

  • What are some relationships you’ve given an A to in your life?
  • What’s been of value to you in these relationships? 
  • When have you given an A to a huge step forward in your life?  What opened for you because you did this?

Career Development & Life in Balance in The Netherlands

This week I’m in The Netherlands, visiting my younger goddaughter, Gabriella, a law student at Oxford University in England, who’s spending a year studying international law at the University of Leiden this year.  It’s wonderful to see how she is broadening her scope as a lawyer-to-be who will probably be working in Europe, engaged in a new culture, making new friends and contacts.  Since she’s still exploring the kind of law practice she’d like to be part of, she’s also busy setting up mini-internships with barristers and judges in London during the summer.

     I’m also enjoying meeting in person for the first time Louise-- one of my favorite people from my certification training with the Coaches Training Institute (CTI), which was all done by phone.  It’s so great to get together at last!  I so admire the way Louise brings a very relational quality to her corporate coaching and training business-- and how she is building a wide network of professional contacts to enrich the quality of her work and expand her clientele potential.

      From both my goddaughters and Louise, I also find a wonderful European quality of life in balance.  For one thing, there are so many scheduled holidays in the northern European countries.  Also, people stay connected with their families and share many activities together intergenerationally-- holidays, child care, dinners, and trips.  Even when people are very busy with work, there is a structure in the culture that mandates more time with family.

      In my coaching, I see many people wanting to connect more and build stronger relationships within their families, have more quality time together.  It’s wonderful over here to see that happening more organically.

      What do any of you readers feel about my perception that northern Europeans seem to have a better balance between work and family/personal life?  I’d really enjoying hearing some of your thoughts on this matter.