Strawberries

Garden Hopes

When I was a very little girl, my father planted a garden in our back yard. Of everything that was planted, I only remember two things. The zucchini, as they will do, took over the world. They grew to immense proportions – some so large that my tiny mother, all of 4’9″, could barely hold them. And the strawberries. And therein lies a tale.

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My father wanted strawberries desperately. He watered. He pulled weeds. He hoed the soil. He talked strawberries. He dreamed strawberries. No strawberries. Year two, he added fertilizer to his routine. No strawberries. Year three, he gave up. He did nothing. And the strawberries grew in great abundance.

Acting and Waiting

Why is this important? This morning I was thinking about all the time I  – and probably many of us – spend acting, acting, acting. Some days I feel that if I haven’t been a whirlwind of activity I have been lazy and unproductive. I work myself into a frenzy without a moment of reflection. And then, like my father, I am disappointed that I’m not seeing results. I must have done it wrong. There must be something wrong with me. Everybody else has a bumper crop; my fields lie fallow. It is then that I remember those strawberries. Sometimes, the most important thing to do is nothing. Have faith. Expect good outcomes. Give it a little time.

Results

When I pause, reflect, and rejoice in the good things around me, I see my life and my business differently. I sometimes make a list of all the good things that have happened. I sometimes take a moment to recall pleasant surprises.

I trust that good things will continue to appear. I don’t stop working and experimenting and moving forward. But I do it in a calmer manner, knowing that even baby steps get me closer to my goals. Knowing that letting projects and connections ripen is part of the work. I recall a line from John Milton:

They also serve who only stand and wait.

That not only restores a sense of balance but also reminds me of all the great work accomplished by those who knew how to wait. How mindfulness and reflection are integral parts of forward motion. And maybe ignoring the strawberries is too.

 

Time To Review Your Support Network

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Year-End Wrap-Up

Like many managers, I spent much of December wrapping up projects and getting organized for the new year. I reviewed everyone’s performance. I checked project deadlines. I made sure that every available dollar in the budget was well invested before it disappeared. I updated files. I uncluttered my in box. Until I became a coach, though, I didn’t spend anywhere near as much time reviewing my personal lists. Since then, I recommend that my clients complete the same personal year-end wrap-up that I do myself.

Making a List and Checking it Twice

The year-end review actually consists of not one, but three lists. The first isaccomplishments. It’s all too easy to lose sight of what you’ve been able to accomplish in the course of a year. Often, we more easily remember the lows than the highs. The second is goals. What do you hope to accomplish during the next year? I’ll save these two lists for another time. Right now, let’s focus on the list that I find my clients most often overlook: your support network.

Over time, relationships within and outside of the workplace change. People move on, new people come into our lives, roles change, relationships become something else. Yet, often someone will create a support network list (chart, really) and never look at it again. Twice every year there are public service messages everywhere reminding people to change their smoke alarm batteries to be sure they will be at the ready when we need them. Think of this as checking the batteries on your emotional support system so it will be fully functional at all times.

Your Support Network

If you’ve never created a support network this is how it works. The support network consists of four quadrants, each containing a list of names. Each quadrant serves a specific function so that you can identify supporters in each significant area. As far as possible, each name should appear in only one quadrant; never more than two.

The Quadrants

Cheerleader: These people  support you unconditionally. No matter how small the achievement, they are applauding. They’ll cheer when you finish a project or get a promotion. They’ll also cheer when you get your shoes on the right foot. They never criticize; they never make suggestions. That’s someone else’s role.

Comforter: These people are there for you when you’re feeling down. They show up with tissues, chocolate, weepy movies, wine – whatever you need. They will listen to the same story for hours, never saying anything more than there, there or appropriate sympathetic comments. They agree with everything you say. If you say that your boss is terrible, they tell you they’ve always felt that way. If, five minutes later, you say this is the best boss you ever had, they agree. They wrap you up in literal or figurative quilts until the crisis passes.

Confronters: These are the people who keep you accountable. If you tell them that you want to do something, they’ll keep reminding you, gently or firmly, of what you need to do. They may also help you create a plan or break a task down into manageable chunks. Then they’ll keep after you until the task is done.

Critics: It took me a while to recognize the value of these people in my support network. These are the people who stop you from making avoidable mistakes public. Think of them as copy editors for your life – and they’ll edit your writing as well. Sometimes, I don’t want to hear what these people have to say. And I can’t count how many times they’ve saved me from disaster.

The Audit

December, as part of your year-end wrap-up is a great time to review your support network lists. Have you overused certain individuals? Maybe you want to move them to back-up status. Have some of the people on the list become unavailable? Proved to be unreliable? Replace them! Are there new people in your life who belong on your lists? Add them. Make a second quadrant. What roles do you fulfill for other people? Be sure that you know how you’re giving back or paying it forward. Add and subtract to this list as well. And renew your commitment to the new lists.

Why?

We all need support and we all need to support others. Performing this audit twice a year renews you and renews your relationships. Try it. I’m pretty sure you’ll be as glad as I was once you do.

Summer Changes, Summer Chances

After a long, cold winter, I feel a bit like I’m coming out of hibernation. It’s time to get moving and doing. A friend is leaving New York City in August and has a bucket list of New York memories she wants to create before she goes. As I looked at her list, it got me thinking about what I wanted for myself this summer.And what chances I wanted to take.

I have my own agenda of places to go and people to see and kicked off the celebration of warmth and light with a conference in Orlando that felt like a family reunion.

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Since we were staying in a Disney hotel, we had a number of interesting guest appearances. I used a free morning to pop over to Universal to commune with the folks at Hogsworth. Had a great time and can now check that off my list. My advice: walk around, admire everything, stay off the rides! (I spent most of the time with my eyes closed, praying that my glasses wouldn’t fly off.)

At the conference, I focused on renewing and strengthening friendships – less content, more collaboration – and fun.

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We’re moving forward with some wonderful collaborations this year and will be connecting virtually until we are together again next May.

The Clearwater Festival was another opportunity for celebration and reunions. In the face of so many sad and terrible examples of hatred in the world, the message on Pete Seeger’s banjo – “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender” – rang loud and clear in the faces and voices gathered on a peaceful weekend. Saturday was a flashback to Woodstock 1 for some of us – music despite torrential rain. Sunday was sunny and delightful, a time for deep conversations and planning along the bank of the Hudson.

My promise to myself for this summer is to have an adventure a week, large or small. I will stretch my muscles and my mind. I wi explore my city and myself, renew old friendships and create new ones, write, learn, laugh and dance like no one is watching.

Both Sides Now (Of Your Brain, That Is)

Many of us enter a new year with all kinds of energy and all sorts of plans for personal development, improvement, expansion, change. By the time February looms, many of us have forgotten those plans.

My approach to resolutions and plans, most of the time, has been more logical and analytic that creative and intuitive. I’ve made lists and plans and this year even experimented with (uhg!) spread sheets. I’ve concluded already that another approach is called for. Logic and creativity. I’m revisiting my overarching vision for this phase of my life and revising my vision statement, then taking it a step further and painting it. I’m not creating a vision board, although I may do that for my goals. I’m creating something completely abstract.

I expect this to help my creative side kick in as I move forward. I also expect my painting to help me create richer, more meaningful goals. Then I’ll switch to logic – subgoals, action steps, potential obstacles and steps to eliminate those obstacles. At that point, those spreadsheets will take on more meaning.

This will be a shared experiment. Karen Friedland and I are using this technique in a workshop in February. It’s on the events page here. Our next step will be to repeat this in a virtual environment, so if you want to come play with us and can’t make it to Brooklyn, stay tuned for updates – both about how the experiment is progressing and how you can join.

Writer’s Block and Sunny Sundays

I now have 41 interviews completed for my book. Each is wonderful and inspiring. But the book? Well, that’s another story. It’s hiding and laughing at me. Each interview tells a wonderful story. I know that they all fit together in some incredible way. I know that there are messages here just waiting to be shared with the world. This particular Sunday, though, I just don’t know how.

And I’m feeling the pressure to have answers. And content. Immediately.

The sun is shining. I want to turn off my computer and go out to play. I tell myself that if I can just write for an hour or so I can go out. But wait – the house needs cleaning. Clothes need to get put away. Files need organizing. It’s time to rotate winter clothes away. There’s dust!

I wish I hadn’t had that second cup of coffee. My hands are shaking. Caffeine or fear? Both? It’s cold out. Sitting by the Bay is really not an option. But it still might be nice.

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I know that if I can still my rambling mind, inspiration will come. How to get there, though? I think about V–, who has written many books, or the prolific S–. did they have Blocked Sundays? What did they do?

I come back to the two cards I pulled this morning. One was Consciousness. The message was that today I have the blessing of emptiness and that I ought not be trying so hard to fill it with clutter. The other was Sarasvati, Godess of Creativity. She urges me to dance. so, perhaps, with the 11 already-transcribed interviews as my companions, I shall head out into the Sunday sunshine. I will find a spot out of the direct sunlight (sorry iPad, but you do have some shortcomings) and some herbal tea.

I will hold fast to the notion that being blocked simply means that the ideas are mulling around in my head, not yet ready to be born, but nonetheless powerfully present. I will come back refreshed. And if inspiration strikes while I’m out, well, there’s always the wonderful voice feature.

I remember a friend whose pregnancy seemed to last forever. That baby just wasn’t ready to face the world until she was ready. At 40 – yes, she did finally emerge – she’s a pretty incredible woman. My cousin’s son, less than a year ago, was in no hurry either. And he’s already gorgeous and unstoppable. My book, too, will emerge when it’s ready. And it, too, will be unstoppable and incredible.

Off to the Bay.

Spring Hopes and Dreams

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

I’ve always compressed this quote from T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, jumping from April’s cruelty to mixing memory and desire. There’s something of that to Spring. There are faint stirrings and vague thoughts of things left undone mixed in with the hopefulness of crocuses and lilacs and daffodils.

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April seems a time of hope and new beginnings. Both Easter and Passover contain that element of being saved. And if you are saved from something, shouldn’t you be going on to do great things? Or at least to feeling happy and fulfilled? Taxes aren’t the only inventory April brings. Do you have memories of paths not taken? Desires yet to be fulfilled?

April is a good time to let go of regrets. For years, I worried about missed opportunities and paths not taken. I mourned them. I saw them as indications that I was somehow unworthy. As I’ve been interviewing women over fifty, though, I’ve seen another side to this. What did I gain by losing something? How did my life change for the better because I didn’t take that job or move to that city or stay put for the sake of a pension? There’s a quote in my office:

Say no to good to make room for the great.

My Spring inventory this year is different. What was the “great”? I’ve spoken to thirty-four women so far as part of my book project, 50 Over 50. Many of them walked away from high-powered careers. Something else was calling them. Some found space to be themselves. Some found peace. Some found opportunities to serve. All found meaning. And joy.

So, back to Eliot. And the lilacs. It’s time to remember the lilacs. How have you created lilacs out of the dead land?

Are You Open to Synchronicity?

I had an interview for 50 Over 50 with the always-interesting author and consultant Shoya Zichy this morning and she reminded me of the importance of synchronicity in creating an interesting life.

The following comes from Wickipedia’s discussion of synchronicity:

One of Jung’s favourite quotes on synchronicity was from Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll, in which the White Queen says to Alice: “It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards”.[12][13]
‘The rule is, jam to-morrow and jam yesterday–but never jam to-day.’
‘It MUST come sometimes to “jam to-day,”‘ Alice objected.
‘No, it can’t,’ said the Queen. ‘It’s jam every OTHER day: to-day isn’t any OTHER day, you know.’
‘I don’t understand you,’ said Alice. ‘It’s dreadfully confusing!’
‘That’s the effect of living backwards,’ the Queen said kindly: ‘it always makes one a little giddy at first–‘
‘Living backwards!’ Alice repeated in great astonishment. ‘I never heard of such a thing!’
‘–but there’s one great advantage in it, that one’s memory works both ways.’
‘I’m sure MINE only works one way,’ Alice remarked. ‘I can’t remember things before they happen.’
‘It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,’ the Queen remarked.

What does this have to do with synchronicity? For me, synchronicity is all about being open to all kinds of things. It’s about looking at the world a little differently. It’s about expecting good things to happen – a parking space opening up, meeting someone who leads you to your next job or life partner or passion.

How many ways can you put the details of your life together in a different pattern? How many different groupings are there for your talents? Are you looking for new experiences? Open doors to walk through?

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Speaking to so many women who have been open to possibilities has been a joy. Helping others along this path is my passion.

Why Not?

As I begin to review the 34 interviews I’ve completed for my book, 50 over 50, I’m seeing what these incredible women have in common. All of them are willing to try new things. They are curious. They enjoy a good adventure.

And they know how to recover from setbacks. One woman had a terrible attempt to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro for her 40th birthday. So she tried again at 50 – and succeeded. Several others were forced out of jobs, only to find something better.

But what struck me about all of them is that, when presented with new possibilities, they all said, “Why not?” As one woman put it, “if I see an open door and it looks reasonable, I walk through it.”

What do you do when presented with a new option? It’s so easy to over-think the situation. It’s so easy to find myriad reasons to not do something. It’s so easy to come up with dozens of reasons to postpone a decision or convince yourself it will never work. Why not?

Saying “why not?” doesn’t have to be as big a challenge as climbing a mountain. One woman who spent many years doing data entry decided to return to work after a lengthy absence. She saw an opening for a home health aide. She had cared for her mother, but had no paid experience in home care. That didn’t stop her. She said, “why not?” and never looked back. She loves her new career and her clients adore her.

Another women decided she needed to step back and enjoy life more. She said “why not?” to the opportunity to move to Florida and live on her boat. She now has a captain’s license and just might open a sailing school.

A third said “why not?” when her husband suggested that their life would be enriched by owning a few alpaca. She’s now one of the top breeders in the country and is starting to sell alpaca products as well.

Why? is a good question too. I’ll save that for another day. For now, start with “why not?” Say it with a little shrug. Envision yourself having already made the choice to try whatever it is.

Why not?

Don’t Give Up Thankfulness

I was sitting in Marble Collegiate Church yesterday listening to the pastor speak about things we should not give up for Lent. Loving others was at the top of his list, followed by thankfulness. Don’t give up thankfulness, he said.

This is not a new message. Many of us keep gratitude journals. One friend writes daily thank you notes to the Universe.

I wonder, though, if this doesn’t become pro forma after a while. Oh yes, we think, I need to get an entry into my gratitude journal. I need to write my note. I need to say thank you. OK – one more thing checked off of my list for the day.

What if we practiced mindful gratitude every day? What if we reflected on all the gifts we have been given and focused on the one that has a special significance in this moment, on this day.

I close my eyes after I make my journal entry and bask in the wonder of each day’s gift. Some days, it’s easy – one thing jumps out at me – a special moment or a kindness or the first crocus. Sometimes it takes a lot of searching to find anything at all. Sometimes there seem to be so many things that it’s hard to single out just one. Reflection helps. Sitting with an idea, a vision, some new thing, brings clarity.

I used to make gratitude lists. Now I focus on that one important thing. I relish the good feelings that one thing brings. I close my journal with a smile.

Don’t give up on thankfulness. It just keeps the good things coming.

Midlife – At the Cusp? A Few Hints.

What happens when, at mid-life, you wake up feeling that there must be something more? Anne’s story provides some clues. Anne went from jet mechanic in the military to legal secretary to sales professional to sales management back to sales professional. In her last career, she was doing recycling – “which is pretty much, you know, what kind of trash can I buy? And now I’m doing technology sales.”

When she “got fed up” with technology sales and was also transitioning through menopause, she walked away from her job and detoured into recycling before moving into technology sales. She said:
“I moved into technology sales because I was ready for a change, but I don’t like it. I find that these kids – and they are – just kids – they’re half my age and they just don’t get it I was taught that when you’re at a job you run it for profit and you follow business ethics and you don’t cut corners. You don’t cut throats, you respect one another. There’s two type of people – there’s the kind – you know, when you walk into a furniture store and they’re all can I help you, can I help you and then there’s the kind of sales person who wants to build a relationship and develop that relationship. These kids don’t get relationship sales. They have this what’s in it for me mentality and I just got fed up with the whole environment. I was just fed up with these whiny, backstabbing kids. They aren’t taught that businesses are run for profit – that you run it as if it’s your own business – they don’t have that mentality. They have a drama queen mentality.”

This might have been a great place to do some research and some reassessment. When you suddenly feel out of place, one first step is to find out more about the people surrounding you. There are excellent resources for understanding Gen X and Gen Y. Are they truly a whiny bunch or do they simply think and express themselves differently? The newest cohorts in the workplace don’t defer to authority the way older workers do. They express their ideas and opinions. They look for ways to improve processes and they move quickly. Perhaps understanding this might have helped Anne.

Reassessment should be part of every life transition. Who are you now? What do you want? Anne did this:

“It was a real journey. Yeah – I really started to look at me as me. I mean, me as a bottom-feeder. You know, I guess I really allowed myself to feel kicked down. It lasted until I decided to get back into technology sales. Which was 13 months. And I don’t know if it was brought on by menopause – I mean, I really and truly don’t what brought that on – or post-menopause.
I didn’t realize that was my next journey – my next transition, if you will. And it was a transition, because I did feel completely kicked down. I read a lot of therapy books. And start seeing a psychologist – a psychiatrist . I mean, literally, to pick myself back up. I’ve spent this whole year reading all kinds of books. I read The Art and Science of Communication: Tools for the Effective Communication in the Workplace by P.F. Perkins – she really did do a good job writing about interracial – or different groups – she writes about working with these young kids, The Last Lecture- everybody knows that was a good book, by Randy Pausch, The Secret – and then I found a really good tape called The Secret Things to God – every Sunday now I’m pretty darned religious. I don’t know that that had popped out, but now it’s back in. Keeping the Love You Find, 7 Habits of Effective People, The Power of Positive Thinking, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Giving the Love that Heals. I mean, I was really kicked down. I really, um – Your Perfect Right, which was an excellent book by Albert Nevins.”

And she found a good therapist:

“When I was growing up – and I’m a 60’s child – late 60’s , early 70’s is when I graduated, and coming from California, Haight-Ashbury – and I know that growing up I’d always heard about a generation gap. Well that’s what I feel I’m caught up in right now. It is a generation gap. And that’s what prompted me to start seeing Dr. B – was that there was such a communication gap between myself and my peers and these younger kids.”

There are great self-help books, excellent therapists, wonderful workshops and brilliant coaches all out there for you. I love Suzanne Braun Levine’s Inventing the Rest of Our Lives. A big portion of my own coaching practice involves working with women at midlife who want to sort out what’s next. As Anne says,

“Let’s just say when you’re kicked down, it’s a a journey to pick yourself back up. It really is. And it’s a lot of self-assessment. And its not so much of looking backwards. Its living in the now and what can I do to adjust to the now.”

Feeling down? Confused? Here are a few resources available to you at www.susanrmeyer.com/free-resources/:

Creating Your Goal Blueprint Part 1: Tips From a Life Architect
Having trouble creating a clear action plan? Visualizing your goals in detail? As a Life Architect, I’ve noticed that a few simple steps can change vague plans into a detailed blueprint, a clear vision of your future, and actionable plans.

Creating Your Goal Blueprint, Part 2: Tips From a Life Architect
Do you create wonderful goals, only to flounder when you try to make them a reality? As a Life Architect, I’ve noticed that this is often true – unless you’ve completed your goals blueprint. Learn how to create a plan to create sub-goals, identify potential obstacles and plan to overcome them to achieve your goals.

Making Your Support Network Work for You
Feeling overwhelmed? Alone? Stressed out? Building and maintaining a good support network will work wonders. Find out how!

Mapping Midlife – The Magic of Friendship
Lucy and Ethel; Rachel, Monica and Phoebe; Betty and Wilma. What do they all have in common? They were – are – lifelong friends. Somewhere out there almost any day you can find a rerun of these great friends supporting each other, sometimes annoying each other, but always there in the end.

Five Easy Steps to Repurpose Your Skills For a New Career
Ready for a new career? Whether you’re re-entering, moving up or moving on, knowing how to repurpose your skills can open new doors. What do you already know that you’re not showcasing?

Look around – most coaches offer free resources; bookstores and libraries are full of books to choose among.

The “secret to a successful midlife transition? Explore, learn, experiment!