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Got Mojo?

“Lost,” she stated. Simply. “I feel lost.”

...in a dark wood

Having “mutually” agreed that she should leave her job as a highly-paid management consultant due to the recession and re-structuring at her firm, my client was burning through her severance package…and feeling very unsure of what to do next.

Another client, that same day, also recently “dismissed” — through no fault of his own– from his accounting job at a Wall Street firm, joked casually about “running a ski resort” (he has recently taken up skiing and loves it!), but quickly dismissed that as an “idle fantasy”…and returned to the more measured state…of “feeling lost.”

No motivation. No direction. A sense of having been ripped off track by huge winds of change…and sucked up into a dark fog…with no light at the end of the tunnel. In other words: NO MOJO!

We’ve all been there. Shift happens. Especially somewhere along the trajectory called, “mid-life” (30-40-50 and up…), the rug gets pulled out from under us–a lay-off, an illness, a divorce–and suddenly the “story” we’ve been telling ourselves about WHO WE ARE no longer rings true. SO…how do we re-claim our MOJO?

As my “unstoppable” guest on my radio show, Life Shifting with Dr J, Frankie Picasso, stated: “We need to reconnect to our deepest dreams…not dismiss them but re-discover over how they fuel our MOJO for living full-out.” You got it Frankie, Bravo!

My “lost” client, above, actually dreamed about being a doctor when she was a child…but got de-railed on that path by parents and life events. Today, she is a mid-lifer who would dismiss the possibility of med school as far-fetched and impractical. Maybe. BUT what about the QUALITIES of being a doctor that her childhood fantasy was attempting to live through her? There are myriad ways to “doctor” the world; she only needs to re-connect, at a deep level, with the dream…and re-configure it to her current life story.

Likewise, my client who fantasizes about running a ski resort: why is this dream so quickly dismissed? He’s a former venture capital consultant; he knows a lot about how to raise money, how to run a business. But perhaps “running a ski resort” IS too far fetched, impractical. No matter. In the dream are the seeds of possibility. By exploring his fantasy–and seeing what’s POSSIBLE instead of what’s WRONG…the MOJO — the motivation, the enthusiasm the creativity can be tapped…and soon he’ll find his way out of the FOG.

mojo in motion!

It turns out that he loves to be in nature, to get his hands dirty…to make THINGS (maybe skis?). Whoa…is it out of the question that one day he just might discard the suit and tie, roll up his sleeves and glide off to manage a ski manufacturing business in Vermont? Sounds like a dream worth exploring, no?

I heartily encourage you to listen in to my conversation with executive coach, radio host, Frankie Picasso, author of “Midlife Mojo” –a guide to re-inventing yourself AT ANY AGE! Her story of becoming a certified master life coach after surviving a devastating motor cycle accident and having to RE-LEARN, literally, how to walk…is inspiring and wise. She never gave up, and today she has a successful coaching business, is a sought-after speaker/teacher…and works on major, multi-million dollar non-profit projects–supplying portable homes to the homeless all over North America! Way to go Frankie!

So…if you are feeling a bit LOST these days…listen in here to my talk with Frankie, and remember: Don’t discount your dreams!

the nugget of GOLD in an endless sea

Dream On!

Dr J


Every Day a Little Death

In the parlor…in the bedroom…OK so I like Stephen Sondheim! As many of you will know, this is a line from a famous song in one of his musicals. Perhaps not the most upbeat note with which to kick off an article, but what the hell. Death is on my mind today.

Could this be the start of something GOOD?

In a good way.

You see, after dialoguing with my writing partner, Judy Fox, about the challenges we all face in “shifting our lives into high gear” we agreed that one of the most difficult moments in any major life shift is—letting go of an Identity. It feels like death. Not the real thing, perhaps, but in the moment, pretty darned close. The truth is, we LOVE our labels, our fixed roles, our corner offices, and business cards that PROCLAIM who we are to the world. But, how else can we welcome in a new sense of possibility, the energy of creativity and spontaneity, if we don’t step out of the comfy, cozy corners of identity that we build for ourselves?

Sure, in moments when life suddenly shifts and doors open to
new possibilities, it can feel exhilarating and fresh. But it can also feel terrifying and frightening, as we step out of our known frames of reference and dangle precariously in the unknown.

leap of terror? Or faith?

Yesterday, I spoke with a client who sees himself as hanging on the edge of a precipice in his corporate job: Things in his company have shifted dramatically around him and he worries that a transfer or a downsizing may be heading his way. He feels frustrated and unhappy and like a victim of circumstances—bad bosses, bad economics, bad timing, bad colleagues…you name it.

He does have choices: 1. he can quit (but he doesn’t have a job); 2. he
can step up and declare what he wants–a new role, a promotion, a new opportunity; 3. or he can sit back, do nothing, and let the frustration build until he gets sick…or worse, fired for having a bad attitude. Sound familiar? I have seen this kind of situation many times in my career as an executive coach…and…I have been in this situation myself a few times.

Looking back, I wish I had been less stuck in fear, more willing to hang over the
edge, more willing to trust myself, take a chance…and take a stand. Why? Because every time I finally stepped out of my box of victim energy, and moved into the open sky of possibility, amazing things would happen. Whole new vistas of possibility would appear that I had NEVER SEEN BEFORE.

But I had to shed that part of my identity that was holding
me back: my attachment to a particular job title, office configuration, box on the org chart, etc. Something had to die, to be buried up there on the cliff before I was light and trusting enough to step off…and soar. Now, I am not advocating that you leap before you look, nor have I told my client to jump willy-nilly into the unknown.

Take a leap...the water's fine!

BUT I have told him that after learning all he can about the landscape before him, he should go ahead and MAKE A DECISION. Ask for what he wants. TAKE THE LEAP. Let go. Let that small, used-up, no-longer useful identity that he claims is his…die.

So strange as it sounds, I’m asking that you think about death today. What story do you tell about yourself that might have outworn its useful life? Think of all the different labels that you wear, the ways you supposedly “know” yourself to be: “worker-bee”, “boss”, “professional”, “adult”, “parent”, “over-weight”, “out-of-shape”, “non-spiritual”, “hard worker”, “always tired”, “oppressed”, “underpaid”, etc… Is there one you’d be willing to part with? Even a small one?

For example, I’m contemplating the possibility of letting my identity as a “coffee addict” die. Even as I write these words, I stand on the precipice: Could I actually walk by a Starbucks and not go in? (Stay tuned). Birth requires death.

Tomorrow, my client will walk into his bosses office and make a decision, take a stand, and become a different person. He already honors himself as a leader of others. But soon, just maybe, by stepping off that cliff of the known, he will become different kind of leader–a leader of self.

Peace…gotta run to Starbucks…Dr J

p.s. Click here everyday-littledeath for a wonderful tool (thanks Ambrin!) to help you do an inventory of your most cherished “identities,” think about which ones might need to die…and what’s waiting to be born!

Michael Jackson: A Real Life “Benjamin Button”

The past is never ended; it isn’t even past. William Faulkner

Like everyone else across the planet, I’ve been shocked and moved and deeply saddened to hear about the death of Michael Jackson. But not surprised.

In Memoriam

In Memoriam

I remember the day, just a few years ago, when the world watched as the forty-something year old Michael walked into an LA court room, wearing pajamas, carrying a cane, and being assisted by his “handlers.” He didn’t look well. He looked strange: both extremely old and frail…and simultaneously extremely young, fragile, child-like.

I was never a huge fan of his music, although many of his early ballads like “Ben” and later the famous “We are the World” are impossible not to love. Of course, he was extremely talented and his music, like that of the Beatles and Elvis, will likely become even more famous over time.

For these first days and weeks after his death, I’m sure that the blogosphere will be overwhelmed with tributes and commentary on his talent, his celebrity, his bizarre lifestyle…all of it. I’m not sure that I want to add to the hype or do a whole lot more here than express condolences to his family and especially his children.

On the other hand, his sad and untimely death at the age of fifty, and the description coming from his lawyers and so-called “friends” of his recent physical and emotional state—frail, fragile, isolated, lonely, “wracked with pain,” and very likely pain-killers—couldn’t help but remind me of the final minutes of a recent Hollywood blockbuster, “Benjamin Button.”

Just this spring, this strange and unusual film, starring Brad Pitt as a man who is born “old” and then spends his entire life becoming young again–emotionally and physically–was lauded by critics and nominated for innumerable Oscars, including Best Picture. Even more odd is the timing: the film is so much like the Michael Jackson story that it begs to be explored.

At the end of the film, the main character has become a small child, and ultimately dies a very sad and lonely death. Frail, unkempt, isolated, and terrified, he dies…and, in essence, returns to the womb. It is a strange and sad tale, this life lived backwards. For me, it was fascinating, if at times excruciating, to watch. I found myself cringing with sadness and horror at moments, especially near the end, and now I can’t help but notice that seeing Michael in recent years–with his surgically sallow and striated face, also made me cringe.

Coincidence? Perhaps. But the connection feels more like a synchronicity–and in that sense an opportunity: there is a lesson here for those of us who may not have lived a fairy-tale, “happy” childhood—a reminder of a deep truth: the past is always present.

...I remember it as a magical time...really?

...I remember it as a magical time...really?

The past is a story that needs to be told, released, and excised in order for us to, as the cliche would say, “grow up.” Otherwise, it can live in us like a parasite, doing an ‘inside job’ of destruction and devastation—de-railing a life.

Michael Jackson was the poster boy of a child-star—a world-wide phenomenon as a young boy—a man-child, who was taken out of school, forced to work long hours in a recording studio (he was all of six years old—an age not even covered by child labor laws!) and deprived of anything that might be considered remotely a “normal childhood.” In disturbingly “Benjamin Button”-style, his early TV interviews demonstrate a wistfulness, a wisdom and maturity–“my music is always a reflection of my heart” (he was ten!)–that belied his lost youth.

Later, as the middle-aged superstar exhibited more adolescent and then clearly childish behavior—befriending chimps and young kids, building himself a fantasy Disneyland style kiddie playground, re-sculpting his face surgically in order, one might surmise, to wipe out any sign of aging—it became painfully obvious that he was caught up in a desperate search for the childhood that he never had. Surely, it was a naive, perhaps pathological attempt to heal the pain. Ultimately, rather than choose therapy, he chose the more common route that we have come to see as “normal”: prescription drugs and denial—an ultimately lethal combination.

All of this might just be fodder for the tabloids, if it weren’t an extreme version of what I see every day in my practice: adults, over forty, fifty, even approaching old age, who are in emotional and physical pain that is directly connected to unresolved issues from decades before. Far too often, the past, with its hurts, traumas and wounds, just seems to finally catch up with us.

Of course, traditional psychotherapy is expensive and out of vogue; everyone now wants to be “coached” or spiritually enhanced– to sit in meditation and “get present.” Spending time re-visiting childhood wounds is considered “self-indulgent” — a waste of time.

Yet, watching from the sidelines, the self-destructive demise of a man who lived daily with the ever-present pain of his shrouded history…I can’t help but wonder: is it that easy to just brush away the past?

The truth is that our history lives in us at a cellular level–the hurt, the abandonment, the loss, the shame–these things are not, as much as the pharma companies would have us believe, always genetic. Though the pain may be masked by drugs, it is not healed by them.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not advocating for primal scream therapy or years on the couch regurgitating the victim, or wallowing in self-pity. Yuck. Yet, there is another truth about the past that is equal to its power and presence: it is just a story. We are all, ultimately, just a mix and match composite of the stories we choose to hold on to, and when a story of sorrow clings to us–and us to it–as the tragic figure Michael morphed into demonstrates–it can lead to our undoing.
Jackson’s great gifts as a musician and artist will stand up to the test of time, of that I have no doubt. But his death and final years of pain can also offer us an additional gift — a lesson in the importance of not getting so caught up in the past that we are destroyed by it. As Carl Jung poignantly reminds us: “What we fail to bring into the light of consciousness, appears in our lives as fate.”

Michael, we will miss you.

Dr J