Friday, December 23, 2011

Stalking the Change

Lately, it seems like everyone I know is contemplating some big change:  Another job.  A "get healthy" plan.  Remodeled kitchen.  New car.  New baby.

Maybe it's the time of year.  We instinctively feel the toll of those midnight chimes approaching.  The winds of change beckon us with the thought of hanging that shiny new 2012 calendar.

And yet, everyone has something holding them back just beyond the walls of actual action.  They are doing a lot of thinking and worrying, but not much more.  They feel distracted and overwhelmed.

The advice I give to my sisters, my friends, my co-workers (and to you) is what my dad used to always say to me in similar situations:   

Hey dad, I want a new car.  I'm thinking of switching schools. Maybe I'll grow a tail and dye my hair blue.

He'd always say, "Well, gathering information is free.   Get educated and then come talk me."

Gathering information is free.  And, freeing.

It is always empowering to explore what it would take to make the change, map the steps, talk to other people who have done it (or who decided not to) and get educated. 

Stalking the change sheds light on those shadows of doubt, fear and insecurity.    

Got all the information and still not sure what to do?

Another question to ask yourself is about permanence.  "If you do this thing, can you undo it later if you find out it was the wrong decision?"

Children and tattoos are permanent.   Jobs, hairstyles and gym memberships can always be changed again.

Make your decision with information and perspective.  And just do it.  Or don't.  It's your choice - but do choose one way or another. 

Carpe diem!

PS:  I'm on Twitter now!  @BeamingBalance
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Tuesday, December 6, 2011


I just heard a great story in a meeting that would otherwise have been an hour of my life I'd never get back.  Let me know if it resonates with you as it did with me:

Two sales reps get sent to a remote village to see if there is an opportunity to sell shoes.

Shortly after arrival, the first salesperson calls headquarters and says, “Stop shipment! Not a single villager wears shoes so there’s zero opportunity. We will never sell shoes here.”

Two minutes later, the second sales rep calls headquarters and says, “Send me everything you’ve got! None of these villagers have shoes so there is an incredible opportunity to sell shoes here!”

Two different people with two different views on the same situation.  One sees scarcity and hopelessness where the other sees opportunity and abundance.

Perspective makes all the difference.

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

My father used to always say, "People in love think they are invisible."

I've seen enough couples making out in the airport to know this is true.  When I see these people all super- powered with mutual infatuation, I feel torn.  Part of me wants to tell them, "GET A ROOM ALREADY!"
Okay, well sometimes I do say that.  I have no filter.  It's a gift.

The point is, I waver between feeling sincere happiness that there is still such love in the world and jealousy that sits just below the surface of judgment.

Schmoopie and Luv Muffin couldn't care less what I think.   They are happy.

My wish for you this Thanksgiving Day is that you love and appreciate life with pure joy.  Surround yourself with a protective, happy glow.   Be your complete, authentic self without censorship for the sake of others' (or your own) judgment.  

Be happy. 

PS:  This goes double to the pooping rainbow guy.

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

"I'm Not Here to Make Friends"

It seems that every time I mention “Reality TV", I get an overwhelmingly negative response. Humans from a wide range of religious, political and socioeconomic backgrounds seem universally united in their hatred of this genre of television.

However, it’s simply not possible that my viewership is singularly responsible for the sustainability of shows like Top Chef, Project Runway, Survivor and American Idol.

I'm convinced that some of you out there are closet reality fans.   You know too much to deny it.  Oh, I can hear it now:
     “I just saw that one episode.”
     “I've only seen it because my partner watches.”
     “I just watch it for the girls in bikinis.”

Even folks who (quote, unquote) “hate” reality TV must be familiar with the recurrent phrase, I’m not here to make friends.”

Sadly, there is now a long tradition of this ridiculous sentiment.  When I hear it, my reaction can only be a heartfelt, "Oh no they di'n't!"

Saying the "friends" line is the kiss of death.  A one way ticket for the aufiderzein bus.  Pack your tools and your knives.  Sing your last song and dance your last dance.  Burn your buff (and your ego), and go.  Buh. Bye.

If you're "not here to make friends," you're not likely to win.

This is true in life as well, both personally and professionally.

I've often written about my three steps towards reaching your life balance goals:

1. Internal:
thoughts, feelings, words

2. External:
actions in line with goals

3. Support:
help, accountability, encouragement

The essence of step three is that you'll be much more successful by having other people in your corner. 

There are a lot of reasons why any reality show contestant normal person might not want to be part of a team or rely on others for help.   

Personally, I had a childhood that required a great amount of independence.   Growing up, I became unwilling and/or unable to let others close enough to help, even when it was there for the taking.

(Fellow control freaks everywhere are nodding in empathy.)

That said, it's something I have worked hard to overcome.  At this point in my life, I know without a shadow of a doubt that I am always better for having the help and support of others.  I try to say "thank you" early and often each day for the many wonderful people in my life.  Friends.

In return for being so blessed, I make it a point to extend as much positive energy as possible.  Yeah, I know sometimes it makes me look like the crazy lady who smiles and says "hi" to everyone as she walks down the street or the airplane aisle.  Sometimes the toll booth guy thinks I'm flirting with him.  The folks at my kids' school are just waiting for me to stop the "life is great" act and pull a nutty.  Well, that could happen; especially if Dunkin' Donuts continues to get my coffee wrong at least once a week.

I do have my moments.

The life balance lesson being beamed to you today is quite simply, be nice

Be here to make friends.

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Is (Insert Stressor) a Matter of Life & Death?

Talking to some friends last night, I was reminded of a lesson I learned during my "carnival" days (as fellow blogger Bruce refers to the trade show biz).  Back then, I was a workaholic ball of stress most of the time.  I would have laughed at anyone who even suggested the idea of life balance.  Bah!  

One day I was at a team meeting to discuss a new pricing model.  I was not happy with most of the decisions being made.  Frustrated and fatigued, I kinda freaked out. Angst and argument emanated from me like the world might actually end if this (clearly faulty) pricing model passed into reality.

Later on, my boss AD met with me in the hallway.  In a Tim Gunn tone he said, "Charlene, I'm worried about you." 

I vented.  He listened then continued, "What we're doing here... it's not life and death you know."

He was right of course.  I heard the words and agreed.  On an intellectual level anyway; enough to temporarily get my knickers out of a twist.

A few weeks later, a fellow carny friend and I were taking a break, strolling the back streets of Cannes, France.  Our path became blocked by a crowd of people in an unlikely spot.  I stepped around a tall, thin lady holding a rat-sized dog.

Nestled between road and curb was a body; neck and limbs twisted in unnatural positions.  His mangled scooter was several yards back near an only slightly dented car.

When the SAMU ambulance arrived, AD's words rang in my mind even more loudly than the sirens,  "Life and death. Life and death. Life and death."  Over and over.  Life and death.

I stared at the wedding ring on the man's bloody left hand and pictured his wife receiving the news of his tenuous state.   Did he have kids?  I wondered painfully.  

Of course I've experienced death and the pain of loss before. However, up until this moment I'd never actually seen the black scythe swing down right in front of me.

My friend tugged at my arm for us to move on as tears for a man I didn't know rolled down my cheeks.

We walked in silence back to the other carny folk waiting for us at the Palais des Festivals.  The words life and death continued to drill into my core.

To this day I wonder on which side of the deal the "man in Cannes" ended up.  It didn't look promising. Still, I try to imagine a happy ending to the story as if I could somehow will it to be so, even after the fact.

Now, anytime I find myself freaking out about something at work or the bills or the laundry (or whatever), the words which rang in that awful memory act as an instant reality check.

Is it a matter of life and death?

Enjoy each moment...

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Saturday, November 5, 2011

Leading with Confidence

"A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader; a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves."  
- Eleanor Roosevelt

This is one of those memorable quotes that profoundly resonates with me in both personal and professional ways.

The business application might be more obvious.

I've had the great pleasure of working for a few people whom I admired and respected for their own success, wisdom and experience.

The one who stands out in a most positive and singular way is the one who convinced me that it was reciprocal.    Even more, I left every conversation with this leader having more confidence in myself and a more invigorated sense of my own capabilities.  I'd be charged up.  Ready to take on any challenge.  Ready to make our business and him more successful as well.  Smart guy.  Also, a good friend to this day.

Compare that to other leaders who also commanded respect in their own right.  And yet, there was always that question mark in my mind about how much they valued me and my contribution to the business.   In large part, I met my goals only because I found ways to light my own spark.  It wasn't always easy. 

When you think of which business will be more successful, will it be the one where people are mustering up their own sense of worth and creating individualized motivation? Or will it be the one that is charged with reciprocal inspiration and an energized rally cry of mutual confidence?

Just askin'.

I've been pondering this idea that we can be great leaders in our personal lives too. 

For example, parents have a unique opportunity to inspire energy and confidence in their children.  I used to think my job was to protect my kids at all times. Demand respect and be worthy of it. Make their lives easy enough with a bond strong enough that we could conquer anything, even puberty!    

When my father passed away last year, I realised that one of the greatest gifts he left was my belief in myself.  I'm sure there are things he would have spared me, but I also remember times when he very intentionally stepped back and let me figure things out on my own.   Through his intentions, words and deeds he made me admire and respect him while also inspiring that same confidence within me.    He was a great father.

Sometimes this dynamic is difficult to create with the people in our lives for one simple reason:  judgment.

Especially with siblings and friends, sometimes it's hard for us to be as supportive and encouraging as we can (or should) be because we are trying to measure up to something ourselves.  Protective walls are made higher by implicit expectations or fear of not being "as good."

In some cases, we just assume they know how much we value them.  It simply doesn't occur to us to try to inspire them. 

The same way perhaps your boss assumes you know, or doesn't realise that a little proactive feedback would help you, and the business, in dramatic ways.

The lesson, I think, is not only to be someone worthy of admiration but to openly admire others.  Let them know.  Put forth words and actions that breed confidence.

With this intent, I recently added these words to my vision board:
 Inspire and motivate others. Feel inspired and motivated.  

Love you all!

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

10 Tips for Surviving a High School Reunion

A couple of years ago, I attended my husband’s 25th high school reunion.  

For the list of things that got me through the night as well as a few things I wish I had thought of earlier, please go read the full post on my NEW website at

Thanks & enjoy!


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Thursday, October 20, 2011

This Too Shall Pass...

It was 38°F yesterday morning.  I think I pulled a muscle from the fifteen minutes of convulsive shivering while my car heater percolated to a respectable temperature. 

Mom Nat wins by a nose. After work, I broke down (just me, not my car) and extracted my wool coat from the hall closet.

Not the thickly lined black dress coat. That one is much heavier than is currently required.  Mainly I use it for holiday parties; when I'm wearing an outfit which might be wholly unsuitable for New England weather but perfect for an evening of ballroom dancing, house wine and mystery chicken.

I've had my dress coat for about seven years but it's classic enough that I can still get away with wearing it. I especially love the great big velvety hood which makes me look like a storybook character when I drape it over my comparatively small head.

Instead, I compromised last night by pulling out my long Jones New York coat from three seasons ago.  That's style seasons, which still basically means about three years plus or minus a runway show.  Tailored, just past the knee with small black, brown and cream houndstooth-ish checks.  Neat lapel with black edging.  Three buttons. 

It used to have four buttons.  Last fall, I had my coat hanging behind my office door when my boss accidentally swung the door closed at the exact angle and velocity for the coat to pendulate into the closing hinged crevice, crushing poor button #4 into tiny bits.

Now that I must admit defeat to the morning chill, this coat is my best bet.  Actually, aside from the dress coat and my ├╝ber warm, waterproof, faux-Spyder ski jacket, I'm not even sure what else I have in the ol' coat closet.  But that's okay.  I love my Jones.

Mind you, I have a dear friend who has a major coat addiction.  This is someone who has more coats than pants, by a long shot.  I'm sure she's reading this now and physically cringing at the idea that I have so few cold winter options.  Then again, we are the same size. This could expand my options considerably.  Hmmm.... I wonder if she locks her coat closet.  *evil grin*

Anyway, so I pulled out the Jones NY coat and gave it the once over to see how dire the need for dry-cleaning might be.  Some years ago I was almost certain to have, at minimum, someone's dietary contents dribbled down the left shoulder.  Luckily I and both my kids have outgrown that stage.  Looks pretty clean actually.  Smells okay.  Nothing a quick spin in the dryer on low heat with a Bounce softener sheet won't fix.  I checked the pockets.

My hand touched something smooth and roundish.  About the size of an acorn.  Even before I pulled it out, I could see the sapphire blue in my mind.

It's my "this too shall pass" rock.

Twenty years ago at Emerson College, I heard a story in my Eastern Religions class.  It was about an old man who received a stone which had great magical powers.  A stone which made a happy person feel sad and a sad person, happy. Etched on the stone were the words, "This too shall pass."
The instructor related the story to the concept of karma.  Whereas people think of "good karma" and "bad karma," we discussed the ideal to be neutral.  To be in such a balanced place that you know both good and bad are fleeting.  This too shall pass.

So, I'd taken to the habit of always carrying this one smooth stone in my pocket or purse.  In my happiest moments, I rubbed it and reminded myself that I needed to appreciate my joy to the fullest extent possible.  When I was feeling depressed or anxious, I rubbed the stone to remind myself not to get too bogged down in the negative.  That, this too shall pass.

Just recently I discovered that the old man was actually King Solomon and it was a ring, not a rock. In any case, I had lost mine with great regret.  Finding it or getting a new one has been on my "things I've been meaning to do" list for a while now.

Yet, here it found me.

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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Money Matters at Any Age

In the same way that Tim Gunn of Project Runway is best represented by his catchphrase, “Make it work!" I fantasize about my own made-for-reality-TV vignette where I am seen repeating my signature parenting phrases in multiple scenes.   (Hey, we all need dreams.  Don't judge me.)

One such broken record track I’ve mentioned already is, “Good luck with that.”

The other one is, “How much money did you bring?”

If you read no further, just remember that last phrase. The next time a child in your care asks to buy something in a store, you can reply with enthusiastic love, “Sure!  How much money did you bring?”

The way it works around here is that my kids get weekly allowance equaling one dollar per each grade. (A lot of experts say to give a dollar per year of age but personally I think that's too much.)

The entire purpose of allowance in my house is to teach kids fiscal responsibility. They don’t get paid to do chores. Helping out around the house just goes with the whole “family” gig. Non-negotiable. Otherwise, most kids are smart and potentially lazy enough that they will eventually attempt to forgo the cash in favor of shirking their responsibilities.

Someday I may let them negotiate not doing chores in favor of paying me (i.e. rent).  For now, we’re just a loving family all living under the same roof, each doin’ what’s gotta be done. Shared responsibility, respect and gratitude.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not above bribery.  A well placed extra buck here and there can do wonders; even more so when they know that pretty much any “extras” they want will come out of their own pocket.

Examples of past “extras” include:
       - Many “as seen-on-TV “ toys and games
       - Yet one more stuffed animal (shoot me)
       - iPod apps
       - Candy at the grocery check-out
       - Pokemon cards at the grocery check-out
       - Disgusting green goo in a nose-shaped package at the
         grocery check-out

If nothing else, we have had some very interesting discussions about the tricks of marketing and merchandising.

They’ve also learned a lot about saving, delayed gratification and taking better care of one’s investments. (I know a sad tale of a girl who didn’t put the caps back on her "Blendy Pens," thus throwing three full week’s allowance in the trash.)

What’s also great is the positive pressure on Big D and me to set a good example. Goodness knows we have made some financial doozies over the years.  By teaching our kids, we are more focused now as well.

Here’s a quick budgeting game you can do with the kids or without:

Write out on a big piece of paper (or use a spreadsheet if playing the grown up version):

 * Ways money comes in:

 * Ways money goes out:

Have fun listing (or drawing pictures of) all the things that bring and cost money on a regular basis. Jobs, lights, phone, food, school, clothes, fun, gifts, cars/gas, etc.

See clearly that the money only comes in from one or two places and usually doesn’t change each month.

Meanwhile, certain things on the going out list are also what we call “fixed.” (You can put a cute symbol on those to illustrate.)

When we want to buy or do more, other expenses can vary by making choices.  If something new comes up to do or buy, then something on that "variable" list has to budge in order for that new thing to get on the list.

Make sense? 

Our next foray into household financial responsibility is couponing. Miss M. is conjuring up a shared-savings scheme where she controls the coupon clipping for the family.  Yikes - I may be teaching her too well.  Stay tuned!

Happy budgeting!

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Friday, September 9, 2011

Walk, Then Run: 10 Unique Tips to Get You Moving

I've been running. 

For those who have read my P90X posts, this proclamation may not seem like a big deal.  My real friends know that despite what is probably a better-than-average fitness level, I simply don't run.  Not even with someone chasing me and the promise of a cocktail at the end.

That was then.  This is now.  But how did it happen?

Some time had passed since my P90X (and Jillian and Leandro) days.  Competing life priorities were taking up more time and energy than ever. 

Here's the thing about the "no time for exercise" excuse:  It's not technically that we don't have the time. For most of us, it's that we have so many demands on us that though we have the time, we're exhausted.

It's easy to get into a mindset where we see exercise as something that will make us more tired.  Of course, the opposite is actually true.  It's just hard to see it that way when you've driven a two hour commute after a 10 hour work day, and there are dishes, clothes, floors and kids who all need cleaning.

So what we're really saying when we say "I don't have time to exercise" is "I really just don't feel like it."  (Wah.)

In my case, I had lost my motivation to "just push play" on a DVD and have yet someone else demand a piece of me.  

I am still physically capable of waking up at 5:30am.  I just need a break from someone barking commands at that godforsaken hour.

Knowing that I needed to get my arse back in gear, I began a program called Couch to 5K that my sister really loves.  You know how I like "programs" so I downloaded the iPad app and gave it a try. 

Yeah, not so much. 

Perhaps it was the over-complication of an exercise that is simple by nature.   I just couldn't do it.

A friend of mine (also SO not a runner) was having some great results with basic running.  I decided to give it a try.   The first day I left my house, got into a good sprint and made it all the way.... to the mailbox two houses down from mine.  I had to stop and catch my breath.   I know it's weird that my cardiovascular endurance can take such a major step backwards in such a short time, but it is what it is.  I blame my mother for smoking two packs of Salem Menthols per day the whole time I was in utero.  

Lesson learned.  Walk, then run.   When I first started a few months ago, it took me about 22 minutes to go one mile.  Yesterday, I did five miles in one hour.   (I realize that's still not stellar, but good for me!.)  

Here are 10 tips, most of which I'm pretty sure nobody else will tell you:

1. If you're going to walk/run first thing in the morning, either sleep in your running clothes or have them easily accessible and ready to go.  Place your sneakers directly next to the bed so that you will trip over them on the way to the bathroom unless you put them on your feet first.  Night walkers, tie your shoelaces around the remote control.

2. If necessarily, annoy yourself.  The hardest part of walking or running isn't mile two, three or four.  It's the first few steps.  It's the getting going, especially if you are trying to move at a time when your body is usually sedentary.   If you find yourself focusing on how comfy you are in that bed or couch pester yourself with, "Just a few steps. You can do it. Get up.  Do it."  Use it as a mantra until your body is in motion.  Don't take "I don't wanna" for an answer.  Remind yourself that successful people do the things that other people don't want to do.  Get. Up.

3. Don't procrastinate.   The very moment you get the thought about getting on that treadmill or walking outside, GO.   Do not wash those dishes. Do not answer those emails. Do not make coffee.    This is a tough one for me on Fridays when I work at home. I always think I'll have "plenty of time" to fit in a workout but then get swept away in calls and deadlines.  You can have the best of intentions but before you know it, it's 8pm and you're still wearing your sweats (with no sweat having actually been produced).  Sadly, there's no glory is "almost" doing something.

4. Wear a pedometer.  If you don't want to spend any money, ask someone who frequents tradeshows and they probably have a drawer full of them with your choice of corporate logos.  

5. Record your mileage and time, do the calculation and track your progress.  You can write it on your calendar, post it to your Facebook status or join a fancy website like dailymile.   Tracking and measurement are critical to success in achieving almost any objective.

6. Be goal-oriented.  I focus on increasing miles per hour and per week.   If your focus is calorie burn, then burn baby, burn.  Or, focus on time.  The key thing is to set the goal, know how you are doing against that goal and push yourself to improve, even if in small increments.

7. "It's not you, it's them."  Just know that as this strange force sucks you into moving more, you won't be able to keep yourself from talking about it.  People will make snarky comments.  They are jealous.  Ignore them.

8. If you walk or run outside, don't over hydrate.  This may seem like bad advice but trust me when I tell you that it is no fun to realize half way through the journey that you are also the furthest possible distance from your own bathroom.

9. If you have an iPod or similar device, music selection is key.  I've greatly enjoyed an eclectic mix of songs but the stuff from my teen years is what usually gets me running. (The same music that would embarrass my kids if they saw me dancing or singing to it.)  My husband's "Classic Rock Gold" collection has also been surprisingly motivating.  Go old school.

10. Be consistent.  Make a promise to yourself and stick to some kind of regular schedule.   Depending on where you are mentally and physically right now, this may be hard to believe but soon you will be upset to miss a workout.

On that note, it's 8pm and I'm still wearing the running clothes I've had on since 5:30am.   Treadmill time!

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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

I'm generally not into "memes" and also not generally capable of being "wordless."  It just happened that I got these beautiful shots (taken from my back porch) recently and wanted to share. 

Scenes like this are one of the benefits of being an early riser.

Carpe diem!

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Monday, August 15, 2011

Comic Relief from the Sky

As ya'll know, I spend my fair share of time on airplanes.   Based on my experience, there are plenty of flight attendants who have aspirations of life on the stage vs. life in the air.

When it comes to the singer/songwriter flight attendants, I can only say, "Don't quit your day job."  At the very least please don't sing during your day job. I've heard in-flight vocals which actually made me wish the plane would crash.  Just sayin'.

And then you have the comedians.... 

Regardless of whether these quips are actually funny, a "top ten" always puts a smile on my face.   So here are just a few of the one-liners I've noted over the years:

1. "For those of you who haven't been in a car since 1957, here's how you use a seatbelt..."

2. "If you are traveling with a child or someone who acts like one, you may now board."

3. "In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure... stop screaming, grab the oxygen mask, and pull it over your face. If you are traveling with a small child, secure your mask before assisting with theirs. If you are traveling with more than one child, now would be a good time to pick a favorite."

4. "Ladies and gentlemen, if you wish to smoke, the smoking section on this airplane is on the wing and if you can light 'em, you can smoke 'em."

5. "In the case of a crash landing, please stay in your seat, put your head down and kiss your butt goodbye."

6.  During landing: "Clip clop. Clip clop. Clip clop. Whoa, big fella. WHOA!"

7. "Once the captain has turned off the seatbelt sign you may depart using the exit nearest you, leaving all your emotional baggage behind."

8. "Please check the seat pocket in front of you and only leave those items you think we would like to have... wallets, ipods, leftover candy... all good."

9. "There may be 50 ways to leave your lover, but there are only four ways out of this airplane."

10.  "Thank you for flying our airline. Now get the hell out."
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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What's Your Agenda, Frosty?

Last year I had the privilege of meeting Peter Guber, box office genius and bestselling author of Tell to Win.   Whenever I find myself wanting to hit the "delete" button on past musings about my life, I think of him. His advice reminds me that the best way to connect with people is through personal storytelling.

This is not one of the most emotional stories I have told here, but it illustrates the benefits of being goal-oriented at any age.

Some of you know my "three-quarter" sister, Angela.  We're "three quarter" sisters because we have the same dad and different mothers but our mothers are sisters.  Go ahead and read that again if you need to.  I'll wait.  Hello Jerry Springer!  I know.

Ange was a great companion for creative pursuits. Make that co-conspirator. We didn't just write and draw and play and sing together the way most siblings might do.   We almost always had an angle.   Sometimes it was altruistic.  Sometimes entrepreneurial.  Sometimes just plain ol' ego; a deep desire to be on stage.    

One day when I was maybe nine years old, Ange and I set out to accomplish our entire agenda in one full scale theatrical production. 
The "stage" was a long walk-in closet in Angela's bedroom.  The space wasn't that deep but the width scaled the room and it had bright green bi-fold doors on each side that functioned perfectly as "curtains." 

We created a script which I remember as a slightly twisted version of Frosty the Snowman.  Mind you, it was the middle of summer.  (That's me with the bright pink scarf.)

To us, it also made perfect sense that if you're going to go through the trouble of creating a play, designing costumes and converting a closet into a theatre, you need to sell tickets.  Of course.

This part of the memory is actually more fun when Angela's mom (my step-mom and aunt) tells the story. She clearly remembers the doorbell ringing and a line of people at the front door. 

They told her simply, "We're here for the play." 

Then after seeing the confused look on her face, they clarified, "We have tickets." 

I don't remember how many people she actually let in the house, but I know from the pictures we had an audience.   They enjoyed it and we enjoyed it.  We made some money and got to be stahs(That's "stars" for those of you not from the greater Boston area.)

Goals accomplished. 

Next time you find yourself sitting in a long, painful meeting or wearing a giant pink scarf in the middle of summer, ask "What are our goals here?" 

I guarantee it will make the experience much more rewarding for everyone involved.


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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Basking in Appreciation for the Mundane

Life is imperfect and inconsistent. 

Wonderful at times.  Really flippin' awful at other times.  And then, there are all the moments in between.

Yesterday morning, I went grocery shopping as I typically do first thing on Saturdays.  Other than the discovery that the store was once again stocking my beloved Kombucha drink, nothing particularly special happened on the trip.  And yet as I drove away, a huge wave of gratitude washed over me.  An incredible awareness and appreciation for something which perhaps I had at other times perceived as mundane or maybe even annoying.   

It was a good reminder to really love those "in between" moments.   The simple things.  Like the ability to walk freely into a store, pluck a seemingly unlimited supply of nourishment from its shelves, have enough money to pay for everything including "treats," get in a nice car and drive safely home to my happy and healthy family.

How incredible is that?!

Lest you think my head is completely nestled in the clouds (or someplace else), there was a point in my 20's when I had to reconcile the chaos of my childhood with my ability to have my own happy, peaceful life.   I worked hard to overcome the feeling that any periods of normalcy were simply the "tick tick tick tick" of the roller coaster going up a steep slope before the inevitable, scream-filled plummet which was sure to follow.

Over the years I have found great solace in being truly thankful, even to the point of appreciating past adversity for the strength, resourcefulness and resiliency it has gifted to me.

So, my #1 tip for finding internal life balance at any moment can be described in one word: GRATITUDE.

If there is ever a time where you feel "stuck" through anxiety, boredom, complacency or depression, I guarantee that basking in gratitude will pull you right up from your boot straps. 

Highs and lows are fleeting.  Here's wishing you some truly amazing "in between" moments.

Carpe diem,

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Life is NOT a Teeter-Totter

Given the influx of new readers (thanks again all!), I thought it might be helpful to repost a quick review of my life balance perspective.  

A lot of people make an immediate mental leap from "life balance" to "work/life balance."   In fact, there is an entire industry focused on work/life balance worth billions of dollars.   

Still, calling it "work/life" balance somehow says that work and life are on the same playing field, vying for position.  It implies what I call teeter-totter (aka "seesaw") energy.  It assumes that when one side goes up, the other goes down and vice versa.  There is a perpetual give and take... with parallel neutrality being the ideal scenario.

Personally I think this is neither realistic nor desirable.

First of all, I'm not sure I want my life to be "neutral."  I want it to be exciting and ambitious.  I want it to include hard work and I'm sure every boss I've ever had is happy I feel this way.

Furthermore, "work/life" balance is simply a misnomer.  Yes, work is a part of life.  But so is family, education, community and taking care of yourself so you can handle it all.

Life is a juggling act, not a teeter-totter ride.  Work is just one ball in the mix.

Here's the real secret:  Life balance is not about keeping all those balls in the air in perfect rhythm at all times.  Of course we try.  It's important to have strategies around the "DO" in the BE -- DO -- HAVE model I've described before.  That's why resources like The Get-It-Done Guy are so very valuable.

Still, the world is an unpredictable place and let's face it, we're human. Sometimes those balls are going to drop through some misstep of our own or with the help of others.  We may even lose a ball for a while.  Sometimes it feels like we are juggling bowling balls. They may turn into a little evil monster heads and try to eat our face.  Like I said before, stuff happens.

The thing to remember is that true life balance is internal. 

What's most important is the balance within you -- your physical, mental, emotional, spiritual self.  When those things are in harmony, the objects of external life can explode into flaming stink bombs and you'll be just fine. 

More than that, a balanced internal foundation means you'll be strong enough to cope, problem solve, persist and overcome anything that comes your way.

Including evil monster heads.


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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Customer Delight

Speaking of competitive reality television....

There is a common type of "challenge" whether the theme of the reality show is cooking or interior design or dating. It revolves around creating something for someone else based on understanding that "customer's" expectations, needs, tastes, etc.

Recently, a judge on one of the shows -- I think it was Vern Yip but don't quote me on that -- made a comment which really got me thinking.   He wasn't complimenting the winner so much as explaining why the runner-up didn't win, despite the fact that he done a great job executing exactly what the "customer" had asked.

"Sometimes it's not about just giving someone what they imagine as the perfect thing. It's about going to that place where you give them something even better than anything they could have dreamed."

As you know, I enjoy relating principles which work in a successful business as well as in a successful personal life. (Thus the birth of Personal Strategic Management.)

This got me thinking about all of the training I've received over the years around Quality, TQM, Customer Delight and so forth. Throughout my professional life, I've made it a priority to build relationships and perform to a level of service that significantly exceeded what my clients had ever expected. My goal has been to go far beyond "satisfied customers."

In my previous career, this is what helped me (and my amazing team of like-minded professionals) grow a strategic accounts business from $3M to $38M in less than four years.

So, I know it's a practice which leads to professional success.

But what about in life? In my last post, I said that we are our own customers. So now I'm wondering: How well am I doing for myself and my own "customer satisfaction"?

What are my service level expectations? Am I capable of exceeding those to my own delight? Gosh - am I even meeting my basic needs, let alone anything above that?

How would you answer that question?

This question about not only meeting, but exceeding expectations, applies throughout the extended layers of our lives.  Family. Friends. Work. Local community. Globally.  

As you ask yourself and others "How can I help you today?" how great it would be to go even one step further towards creating delight.

Call me a hopeless optimist, but I believe it is possible to live a life which is even better than our wildest dreams.

Carpe diem!
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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Lessons from Sales

Okay, maybe not everything.  How about six things? 

Here are six life lessons I've learned via 25 years of bag carrying, teleconferencing, cubicling and negotiating:

1. It helps to have a great product.  I've sold everything from newspapers and theatre subscriptions to jewelry, trade shows and health club memberships plus business solutions of all shapes and sizes. I’ve learned that it’s a lot easier to sell what I believe in than it is to sell the crappy stuff.

Increased confidence brings increased capacity.

In life, it’s hard to be confident when you feel crappy. In order to believe in ourselves, we have to invest in ourselves - physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

2. Be organized. There's always one salesperson on the team who makes the numbers but is also a completely disorganized mess. Truth is, they could really blow it out of the water if they got some good habits and process to go with their talent.

Yes, true life balance is internal, but consistency and good habits are absolutely critical to achieving our highest potential.   Life is too short to just make the numbers.

3. S/he who controls the agenda controls the outcome. My goal is always to lead the customer down a specific path towards what I want as next steps - whether it’s the close, the next meeting, more information or whatever. Having prospects drag ya into tangents and down rat holes is not fun and usually unsuccessful.

In life as well, we must set our intention and have a plan. Follow a course which leads to the ideal outcome. Absolutely listen and learn along the way, but know when someone or something is bringing you off course.  Then, make a deliberate and mindful decision about whether you want to go down that new road. Beware "shiny object" syndrome.

4. Show me you know me. There is nothing more annoying and nonproductive than talking to a salesperson who knows nothing about your business (or you). Take the time. Do homework. Be thoughtful. Listen. Listen. Listen. My goal is to be someone that people want to talk to more; not someone they want to avoid. In business and in life, success can be measured by the relationships we build.

5. Fill the pipeline. Along the same lines of Heads Up!, we need to be thinking both short-term and long-term. All the time. For better or for worse, this too shall pass. We should appreciate the good times but not use it as an excuse to be fat, dumb and lazy.   Along the same lines, everyone goes through “slumps.” These pass too as long as depression doesn’t take the place of diligence. Keep moving. Keep pushing.  The future is now.

6. Ask for the business. My very first job was at a mall clothing store in Suburbia, USA. Although they called me a “sales" clerk, all I really did was stand around, watch people look at the clothes, and hope they’d buy.   My next few gigs came with much higher expectations but also scripts.  I’m sure I sounded awful saying things like (insert cheesy sales voice), “So... will you be buying a one-year or a two-year subscription today?”   But I learned.  A lot.

Since then, I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a bad critique from a sales manager because I failed to ask for the sale. (Though on one sales call not too long ago a former boss wrote in huge letters on my presentation, “TOO JOLLY! BE MORE SERIOUS!!!"  Yes, really.)

Bottom line, even in life:  We have to ASK for what we want. Whether it’s our partner, our children, our boss or the universe, we have to put it out there.  Explicitly.  Even when you don't think you should have to.  You do.


Special thanks to Stephen Pia of COACH MEdia, one of my first and favorite corporate sales trainers!
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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Heads Up!

One of the things I've been exploring on the business side is this idea of "heads up" vs. "heads down" focus.  Particularly when things are in fast growth mode, it can get easy to just put our heads down and work our tailfeathers off.

Operationalize and get it done.  Process flows, to do lists, delegation, resources, project workbooks, change management, deadlines, fire fighting, assuming great people and wins will continue to flourish.

Over time, we can forget that what got everyone off the mat in the first place was vision.  Conceptualizing, goal-setting, motivating, dreaming, longer term planning, sky's the limit thinking, getting fired up, truly appreciating every ounce of contribution and every success, no matter how small.

Fast growth is not enough.  In fact, it has been the death knell of more than one organization.

As I think about all the truly great businesses I have seen, read about and worked with (including my current) - it's been their ability to balance an energized heads up culture with incredible heads down execution, bringing them rapid and sustainable success.

Okay, so what does this have to do with you and me on a personal level?

Stuff like this is why I conceptualized "Personal Strategic Management" in the first place:  Our lives are like these businesses. 

When life is nothing but a daily grind (aka: SSDD), we simply cannot grow to our full personal potential.

Don't kid yourself; having energy is not the same as having a zest for life.  Running around like crazy people, shifting back and forth between "routine" and "crisis", worrying about who or what needs to be where, putting everyone's needs before our own or even worse, thinking of things like exercise and healthy eating as the real drudgery and sacrifice.  

Heads down living spins us into a cycle of procrastinating our goals to such an extent that we don't even know what our dreams are anymore.

In order to achieve healthy longevity, true happiness and sustainable prosperity we need to have vision in our lives.

Dream, set goals, visualize, plan, build, unreservedly give to others and ourselves, move with pleasure, eat with mindfulness, get fired up, believe in unlimited abundance, bask in gratitude.

If anything, this balance is more important personally than it is professionally.  Think about it.  Our individual lives are a limited, one-shot deal.  Companies often survive many human lifetimes.

I am on a mission to keep the balance between "heads down" surviving and "heads up" thriving. Will you join me?

Carpe diem!

Photo note:  I shot this picture myself when a hot air balloon flew directly over my house.  (It has made several repeat visits since!)

Book credit:  Although I've heard the concept of "heads up" and "heads down" business strategy a few times over the years, this latest inspiration is thanks to a great book by Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller called, The Secret: What Great Leaders Know and Do. 
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Sunday, April 17, 2011

OCD Quick Tip: Clearing Car Clutter

I know my usual schtick is about the internal stuff; staying sane in a crazy busy life and all that.
BE -> DO -> HAVE

That said, although I'm no "Get-It-Done Guy" or "Tip Junkie", I still like to give some good OCD "DO" pointers now and then.

This is for you if you could feed a small country with the Cheerios, french fries and other snacks on the floor of your minivan crossover vehicle.

Or, it looks like you've been living in your car surviving only on coffee and fast food.

Or, your "remote office" has four wheels and a free form filing system complete with cup holders.

Or, if you actually could live and work in your car without needing any external food, paper or clothing for several days.

If this is you or you know anyone who fits one (or more) of the above descriptions, there is hope.

The key thing to remember is that it's all about routine.

Yes there are fancy bins and "systems" for keeping the car tidy, but my experience is that these only serve to create more nooks and crannies for the junk.

Personally, it helps me to have a frequent trigger for getting the crap out of the car on a habitual basis.

For example, sometimes I stop at Dunkin Donuts to get a coffee for my ride to work.  As I approach the drive-thru, I stop at the convenient giraffe-like barrels to discard old coffee cups or plastic bottles I may have collected in prior days.

When I get gas, I empty the car of any other trash.  Lately it's LOTS of tissues thanks to all the sniffles going around.   If the kids are in the car, they are part of the process.  While I am pumping gas (and using more tissues to dry my tears over the $4 per gallon), they unbuckle and go on "the hunt."  Sometimes I give prizes.  If I'm not in a huge rush, I shake out the floor mats real quick as well. 

When we get home, the kids know they must carry in everything which belongs to them.  This includes artwork, bags, half-empty (or half-full) juice boxes, sweaters, toys, balls, shoes, cups, hats and fencing swords.  Everything. 

Just like the toys and stuff on the floor at home:  If I am the one who has to pick up an item, I get to determine it's destiny.

My poor son has learned the hard way that I'm not bluffing.  (Though I do feel just a tiny bit guilty for throwing away his precious snowman picture, he is exponentially more diligent ever since.)

If you don't have kids, then parent yourself and do a quick "clean sweep" every time you go into the house or the office.  What's ten extra seconds a day towards respecting such an investment?

Like life, you may not be able to prevent the crap from getting in there, but good habits and healthy routines will keep it from piling up and creating an overwhelming mess.

Good luck!

Photo credit for "trash car": Robyn Miller from Dinosaurs and Robots
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Monday, April 4, 2011

Whose Life is it Anyway?

Here's a fun assignment: In five minutes or less, act out a skit about a foreign country and a mythical creature from that culture. During the story, you must incorporate three random objects in such a way so as to symbolize "souvenirs" from that destination. Just for fun, you will also be presented with an unexpected problem which you must also integrate and overcome.

Oh, and you only get your culture, creature, props and problem five minutes before you have to tell the story.

So let's say its Greece, the Oracle at Delphi, a mop, an embroidery hoop and dental floss. And the problem is that someone in the story suddenly grows a tail.   Ready, set, go!

Sound like fun?

This "improvisational challenge" is an example of what my daughter, Miss M (grade 5) and four of her friends got to do this weekend with a very cool program called "Destination ImagiNation."

As you back slowly out of the room, consider this: Life is one big improv challenge. 

We really have no way of knowing exactly what may happen next in our lives, what "tools" we may need to use or what unexpected problems may be thrown at us.

Okay, so most likely we won't grow a tail.  (Though there was that one time in '92 with the tequila shots.)    Anyhoo...

Last week, I had the pleasure of listening to and meeting Pamela Meyer, author of  Workplace to Playspace: Innovating, Learning and Changing Through Dynamic Engagement.  Her talk was about using a specific set of strategies to develop organizational capacity.  However, it really got me thinking about the connection between improv and personal capacity.

Pamela explained, "Everyone has times when they need to respond to the unexpected and unplanned."

Among many other great insights, she also conveyed three specific dynamics:
     1. Competence - ability to respond using only available resources

     2. Consciousness - lively and active awareness of possibilities

     3. Confidence - belief in one's own and others' abilities

As you can imagine, her ideas really resonated with me (especially the one about confidence.)   Furthermore, its clear that these things become increasingly important in a world which is changing exponentially and on so many levels.

Thinking about my own experiences, I might actually add one more to her list.  I know - who the hell do I think I am, right?

     4. Centered-ness

(It may not be a real word but since Pam used "time-ful" in her speech, I figure I'm good.)

In my mind, centered-ness is the presence of a healthy "home base" that we can rely on and come back to.

As individuals, it's the solid foundation of physical, mental, spiritual, emotional health that we can count on to get us through any change, obstacle or unexpected event.

(There are some great organizational connections here as well but we can save those for another time.)

Thinking about what makes a successful improv performance group, there's a certain "go with the flow" that just works. You know it's unscripted but somehow a cohesive story emerges with a clear beginning, middle and end.  Magic.  

As I observe Miss M's improv team, that collaboration is centered by specific "knowns" such as understanding the strengths of each individual and solid principles of teamwork. On a more basic level, it's having a clear head, being well-fed and well-rested, etc.

The truth is that life can present us with even bigger challenges than having to fit cable ties and tube socks into a story about the Russian Firebird and having frogs in our pocket.  

When I keep harping on true life balance being internal, this is what I am talking about:  it's about our ability to be ready for anything that comes our way. 

Next time you need a little extra motivation to take care of yourself, think of it as building your improv toolkit so you can handle whatever "stuff" gets thrown at you (or hits the fan, as the case may be.)

Internal life balance... the new duct tape.

Carpe diem,

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Empty Your Cup Before it Overfloweth

Pretty much everyone I talk to about life balance admits that they often feel overwhelmed.  Clearly there are moments when the glass isn't half full or half empty.  It's just plain full  

A cup about to overflow.

Even the thought of not being to handle it all adds yet more pressure. Oh, the possibilities and consequences!  Judgment.  Extra mess to clean up. Suffocation. Failure. (Hello fellow overachievers!)  

Sometimes that super anxious feeling is a clue to us that we need to do less or ask for help.

When both of those options are truly off the table, our "relief" has to come from within. 

True life balance is internal.

Instead of waiting to see which next "drop" will unleash the flood, I personally find meditation to be the quickest way of mentally and emotionally emptying my cup a little bit.  

Here's an exercise I find especially helpful in those moments. Very simple. Even if you've never meditated before, this is a great one to try.   If you're already comfortable with meditation, you can take it to the next level by using different colors depending on what your focus or goal is at the time.

First, deep breathing. In past posts I've mentioned the square breathing technique.  (In for four; hold for four; out for four; hold for four.  Rinse.  Repeat.) 

You can do that or just take a few deep breaths. In through your nose; out through your mouth.  Doesn't need to be a huge ordeal, just close your eyes and breathe.   Slow, easy, deep breaths.

Now imagine that there is a little pilot light in the area of your heart. If you need a visualization to get started, picture a match or small candle being lit.

Next, picture the light gradually getting brighter and brighter... a yellow or white glow expanding bigger and bigger until it surrounds your whole body. Then, imagine the glow is radiating out into the room around you,  through to the sky and then shining out into the universe like a beacon of light.

As you do this, feel the feelings of harmony, gratitude and happiness. You can even think of a specific happy moment. Whatever helps you replace the usual chaos of life with peaceful, joyous, thankful feelings. Let the positive emotion wash over you.  Bask in it.   

Allow all the muscles of your face, neck and shoulders relax.  Let that goofy smile to take over.  Laugh even.  (Yes, you do look silly.  It's okay.  You're allowed.)

When I do this, I usually picture my kids. There is a special feeling of intense joy and peace I feel when I'm snuggling them close, kissing their hair and feeling so filled with love that nothing in the world could ever take it away.

If you're into affirmations (which I am), you can repeat something to yourself like, "I am radiating love and light; attracting health, happiness and prosperity into my life now."

So be it, so it is.

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Practice What You Preach Much?

What was the last piece of advice you gave someone?   Do you practice what you preach?

Between this blog and my kids and work, I have lots of opportunities to nag at people give helpful guidance.

One of my favorite things about having the blog in particular is the public reminder to practice what I preach.  Instant accountability.  It’s the kind of thing which keeps my hand out of the candy jar at work because I know some of my co-workers JUST read about how I’m eating less sugar. 

As a side note, here's a little tip I discovered quite by accident: 
        Keep the sweet temptation (which of course you only buy for everyone else) in a tin container with a very noisy metal latch.  Mine came pre-programmed with a special frequency.  Listen.  *clang* *clang* 

Hear it? It's the sound of accountability saying, "You again?!  Seriously?"

The reality is that whether we are helping ourselves or others, sometimes it takes messing up a few times to get it right.   Even once we figure out how to do it, we gotta practice.  Fall down. Stand up.  Take any hero of yours in any field and most likely they didn’t come out of the womb naturally accomplished at what they are great at doing.

So, I take the expression "practice what you preach" to heart.  Nobody's perfect.

Still, it pays to at least try to heed our own advice.  Even better, next time you find yourself in a tough place ask, "What would I tell my best friend to do in this situation?"

As I'm always tellin' ya:  True life balance is internal.

Quite often we have the answers we need inside us.  We just need to listen.


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