Tuesday, September 30, 2014

How Will You Finish 2014?

With exactly 3 months left in 2014, I am already focused on how I will finish this year,  both personally and professionally.

It does not matter that I started this year on a Whole30 diet to clear my mind and break up my unconscious habits.

It doesn't matter that my business is growing at a 300% clip going into a quarter when I grew 900% last year.

It doesn't matter that I cannot go one week without yoga, my newfound relaxation and exercise panacea for all the ill my life.

Nor does it matter that I am 0-8 on every federal contracting opportunity I've bid on.

It doesn't even matter that a personal crisis dropped in our laps on the cusp of the fall threatening to blow up every single plan that was made for this year.

The next quarter is my chance to run across the "finish line" of this year - 2014 - my year of being unencumbered  - with most or all of my goals in the rear view mirror. I've got a little over 90 days to make that happen.

Now that is not going to happen "by chance." Here are the five things I'm doing to finish 2014 well:

1.   Make contact with all the potential business partners I've been cultivating relationship with all year. If I am just reaching out for the first time, chances are they will be a warm enough prospect to impact this year or set me up for work next year. It's the time of year for budgets for 2015 and final projecting for 2014. Small end of the year projects go to those who are asking.

2.  Sit down with each family member and look at what I need to do to ensure we are in sync going into the holidays. Holidays are stressful but they are more stressful when not properly prepared for. I'll make things right with anyone I've wronged so we can have a peaceful and fun holiday season.

3.  Do a gut check with all my current clients. Set up meetings to gage their satisfaction and these will be in continuation to all the efforts I've made all year. Many of my on-going partnerships have already expressed intentions of continuing - it's on me to create more value.

4.  Self-reflect. Even though I do this often, I will have a serious inventory chat with me. Am I where I want to be? What's holding me back? What can I do to change that? Taking time, going into the final stretch of the year is critical for ensuring I actually shut down when I have my down time.

5. Plan my break. Every year since I've been an entrepreneur, I have experienced a near shutdown at the end of the calendar year. The first year it startled me and I was not prepared. By year two, I had plan and now I won't ever go into final quarter without one. We have a trip to California on the books and a surprise waiting for us all on the other side of year end.

I am looking forward to this final quarter of 2014 and the push to start 2015 well. Every move I make over the next 90 days will ensure I hit my goal of finishing well both personally and professionally. What are you doing to end 2014 the way you want to?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

2 Lessons From A Few Days Of Silence

This is a tough thing for a ENFJ like me
As I approached a week with three public presentations and a pop concert, the familiar scratchiness and dry throat sensation made me panic. Standing outside on a wet chilly day at a cross-country meet, I decided not to talk for three days. This declaration was super easy to say but almost impossible to execute. Right away, I broke it when we saw one my son's former soccer coach, whom we had not seen in over 2 years. As I walked away, I started thinking about how I'd actually pull off the next few days without my voice.

After all, I am a storyteller- by nature and nurture. A corporate marketer and strategist, talking is my bread and butter. It's how I make my living especially now as an entrepreneur. Now, a full week on the other side of that experiment and those important conference speaking engagements. I sit here with my sore throat reflecting on the two most important things I learned from my few days of silence.

Many Ways To Express

Expression comes in many forms. We are taught from an early age that talking is the best and most effective way to express ourselves. After having to shut my yapper for a few days, I'm not so sure. I noticed how my family slowed down their interactions with me. I could see them hesitating as they are, sadly, accustomed to me jumping in. Their eyes reassured me that it was ok because they recognized my sadness without me having to say it. That was a powerful expression of empathy from them and my own sorrow for my past actions. Touch became extremely important to me during those few days. Normally, I am pretty low on the tactile expressions of affection. During those days, hugs and even simple hand holding were so important to me. Everyone else in my family appreciates the back rub or scratch and I'd always rejected these forms of affection, until I had no words and they became a means to express my feelings. And it has been one of the "holdovers" I have kept since I started talking again - touching more. Finally, my facial expressions and body gesturing has always been slightly on the dramatic side. During my silent days, it was like I was a mime. Without words, my other expressions were even more valuable to me and I noticed those expressions more from others.

Listening As Art

Anyone can talk. In fact, most everyone does but not many people listen. And while I am a decent listener, those two full days of not talking really taught me how to listen from a different point of view. There were so many encounters where my listening skills were sharpened. Again, mostly with my family but also at the first conference I attended that week. Meeting tons of new people and not saying much was a first for me. I decided against "explaining" not talking much and just observed. People generally hate silence and without my normal instinct to fill it - I realized how good it can be. Watching the expressions and comfort levels of people during a silent moment is incredible. I'd never seen that before and now I will allow for that as it is a great indicator of many things. The most critical listening for me occurred at the Ed Sheeran concert with my 13 year old daughter. I only knew two of his songs going into the show. Being forced to only listen at a live music event was phenomenal. Not only did I gain an appreciation for this young artist and his craft, I got to take in a concert with all my other senses because I did not talk. My body felt the music in a fresh new way. Most of the show I took in with my eyes closed feeling the music deeply. I expressed my reactions through touch with my daughter who often times looked like she was floating in air. I'm pretty sure it would have been very different had I uttered even one word.

Because I talk for a living, I plan to take some of my key insights from my silent days forward. I plan to give my voice a break at least one full day every week moving forward - no calls, no meetings and very little talking personally. I will awaken my other expression skills and activate them more often - integrate them with my words. I challenge you to join me - even if your voice is healthy.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Monday, September 15, 2014

Two Things Not Spending Money In September Has Taught Me

It's September 15 and I'm half way through my self-imposed spending embargo. I cannot take credit for this experiment as I saw a friend do something similar in August. I was intrigued by the challenge to only spend money on what was absolutely necessary - needs versus wants. 2014 has been a year of challenges for me personally, some self-imposed and others thrust upon me. I could not think of a better time to stop and examine how I spend money than now. This exercise in fiscal discipline has taught me two things about myself (and human nature)....

You Can Rationalize Anything

Dictionary.com defines rationalize as an attempt to explain or justify (one's own or another's behavior or attitude) with logical, plausible reasons, even if these are not true or appropriate. Declaring to my family in August that I was not spending money on anything I (or they) did not need in the whole month of September did not elicit much response. I could see the "uh-huh, whatever you're doing works for us" malaise when I told the family over dinner one August evening. It was not until we were standing at an accessories stand a flea market on a Sunday that they truly understood what I'd meant that day. 

There were $1 hair flowers in a bin calling my name. Colors I don't have now and I have tons of colors.  When I refused to buy one, my kids pointed out that hair flowers were part of my wardrobe - my brand. They insisted that I needed those flowers. For about one minute, I considered their input. It was true. I wear hair flowers in my fiery red afro every day - most often matching whatever clothing combination I sport. The flowers were an essential part of my wardrobe and brand. Yet I vowed not to spend money I did not need to spend for the entire month of September. So as great a deal as the flowers were, I passed. 

Like everything else in life, we have to make choices. We have to honor and own our choices. I promised myself I would not spend money and while it would have been easy to justify or rationalize the small purchase, I would have let myself down. There was no room for that - not for a $1 hair flower. Or anything. I made a promise to myself and I cared enough not to rationalize breaking it.

You Can Do Anything

The toughest test of my spending embargo came this past Friday when I went to Geneva for a client meeting. My favorite popcorn shop is there and every time I visit the community, I buy at least $10 worth of popcorn. I, unconsciously, pulled up the the store front on 3rd street and parked my car. Within 10 seconds of putting my car in park, I realized that I could not make that purchase. Ironically, I had not eaten that morning, so my stomach started to growl at the sight of the caramel popcorn through the window and the buttery smell wafting in the air. As quickly as I stopped the car, I started it again and left. I arrived at my meeting where there was fruit, pastries and coffee. 

The rest of the day, I kept playing that moment in front of my favorite snack shop over and over in my head. Had I really resisted my favorite snack? Yes, I had. I'd also ignored all the Puma Friends and Family emails that inundated my inbox this past weekend. I tossed the Gap Outlet coupon that expires September 30. I'd also pushed away my normal "get a jump on Christmas shopping" urges that assaulted me when I was not thinking clearly one evening.  Each day that has passed has proven to me that I can and will complete my challenge to not spend money on "wants" the entire month of September.

You may be shaking your head at the $1 hair flower or the $10 caramel corn stories. But I am here to tell you that being faithful in the small stuff absolutely impacts your ability to be faithful when it really matters. Those small often unconscious purchases are the root of larger spending. And while, I do not have a problem with spending or keeping my budget normally, I've learned in 15 short days that changing my thinking on small things can make a HUGE impact on bigger things. I have not even set foot in Banana Republic Outlet, Gap Outlet, Target or TJMaxx - places where I most often make purchases without even blinking. I am excited to see how this thinking will impact my marriage, my relationships with my kids and my business.

So, I turn to you. What in your life needs your attention? Is it spending? Is it a relationship? A habit?

Where are you rationalizing thoughts/behaviors in your life? How are you letting yourself down? 

What are you not believing about yourself that's holding you back?

Take a moment today and examine your own relationship with choices. It will be worth every minute. In fact, you may find yourself on some sort of "embargo" of your own. October is right around the corner.

Monday, September 8, 2014

3 Ways To "Be" When Trouble Comes To Town

When we hit crisis mode, our next steps matter most

If you live any length of time, you will face a crisis or some type of adversity.  Whether it be relational, vocational or deeply personal, crises are the great equalizer of human beings. Hardship is part of our human reality - a "given;" operating smoothly through hardship is optional.  Here's a few tips to help you exercise that option:

Be Still

When you hit a rough patch, it is normal to feel like you must "do something." Our senses are heightened. Often times, much is happening around us, related to us. We feel compelled to action. One very good way to react is to be still. Literally, do nothing. Don't make any declarations or decisions in the heat of your rough moment. Breathe more. Seek solitude. Withdraw from non-essential commitments and just be. There is no need to make any moves when crisis first hits you. You have to absorb what's happening so you can truly understand what you are to do next. That happens best when you are still. Find respite and do nothing as much as you can during your storm.

Be Discerning

Merriam-Webster defines discern as to detect, to recognize or or to come to know mentally. You need to discern whom to include in your crisis. Be very careful only to share your crisis with people who are known to be helpful and discreet. Identify that short list and keep to it. Equally, you have to recognize how things are different post-crisis. The temptation will be there to try and "normalize" life or get back to the way it was "before." Embrace your new normal. Resistance only causes more pain. Take time to notice how different things are and acknowledge your role. Only spend energy on things within your control, letting go of all else. Surround yourself with love. People you love. Activity you love.

Be Ready

Life has put out a challenge. Things are not as they were and now you must respond. Being ready for change is the hardest aspect of managing adversity.  We get angry and stuck reviewing what we could have done differently and in those moments, we miss opportunities to move forward. Push yourself to be ready for what your new normal will offer. For some people, that will mean examining areas where you just float through life and force yourself to "shake it up. " If the crisis didn't do that for you - you have to do it for yourself, now. If your crisis turned your routine upside down, embrace it. Look out for new ways to express and communicate what you are feeling. Notice people you did not notice before. Allow yourself to "go" places you don't normally go - both physically and emotionally. You would be surprised at what the universe can bring your way when you are ready to receive it.

Over the years, hardship and adversity has come my way many times. By implementing the advice I  just shared, I've found that my ability to manage those tough times has improved and stifled the long term impact them on my quality of life. I hope you find that, too.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

3 Unhelpful Things Folks Do When A Friend Is In Crisis and How To Be Different

Do you know how to extend a hand during a crisis?

When people you care about hit a bump in the road, it can be super hard as a bystander. It often takes all we have to be on the outside of the crisis looking in. The immediate time following discovery of a crisis is so important. Whether your friend tells you or you find out another way, how you react to them in the early days really makes a difference in the long run. After many years being on both sides of this equation, I've compiled of list of the 3 unhelpful things most folks do when a friend is in  a crisis and what to do instead.


Believe it or not, many people do nothing. They either 100% avoid the person during the crisis or completely ignore the crisis when they are forced to see them. While it is uncomfortable for you, it is worse for them. Nothing is really the worst possible thing to do when someone you care about is hurting. People need empathy and compassion when they are dealing with a problem. Proactively reach out to the person and let them know you are there for them. Nowadays, a text is good enough to gently send the message that you care, especially if you are unsure of how close your relationship may be. Of course, call if you share a deeper bond. When you see them, don't avert eye contact, give them long reassuring gestures to demonstrate your love and loyalty during their difficult time. Make sure you check in with them after the "initial" hit. Like earthquakes, most human crises have "aftershocks" and it takes time to return to their routine. Knowing people are concerned can really make a difference, more so as time goes on.

One Up

If your friend opens up to you about the crisis and needs to share, do not "one up" them. Meaning, don't use that opportunity to relate a time you felt similarly or compare their current crisis with your own past crisis (or that of someone else)  - even if they are identical. During the crisis, people want to be heard. They need to vent and release the stress they are feeling. While relating stories are good in other circumstances, during a crisis, it is best to just listen, especially in the early stages. When people are in shock from their crisis, the last thing they need is to have to shift their thoughts and energy to processing a story about someone else. At some point, it will be ok to give your friend encouragement about a future state but during the crisis, it's best to just listen.

Crisis Overkill

Many people get wrapped up in someone else's crisis. It's human nature to do so. Being obsessed with knowing "how it's going?" or "are you ok?" can be very damaging to a person's ability to heal. Do your best to read your friend and discern their healing rate. Clearly, ask how they are doing related to the crisis but ask them about other areas of their life as well. Your loved one needs outlets and reminders that life goes on. Time often drags in the midst of a crisis and uncertainty. Every day tasks can be monumental when under tremendous stress. Bring dinner one night to relieve her of that responsibility.  Take him out for coffee and share with them something new going on in your life - unrelated to the situation. Give them a gift card for a car wash. Mow their lawn or come and take their dog for walk. Being helpful in a meaningful way gives hope. It allows your friend a moment of gratitude and gratitude is a proven cure for most ills.

Adversity and crisis are apart of life and inevitably,  relationships. Our role as friends may call on us to be by someone's side when calamity hits. Next time you're called to support, you know exactly what to do.