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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

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Are you a “Conscious Marketer?”

Ever been to a networking event and have someone hand you a business card, tell you their name, and ask if they can “give you call”? Well, I have. Too many times. Sometimes I feel like people

Is this your networking dance?

attend these events with a stack of cards in hand, their only goal for the evening is to see how many cards they can give out…and snatch up from others.

What about having a REAL conversation? Maybe you only get to talk to one or two or three people during an entire evening, but you take the time to ask questions, learn about the person…to spend more time listening than talking? Have we lost the art of CONNECTION?

If you are in the “networking” or “sales” or “brand-building” mode…out there schmoozing and trying to find a job, sell your services or build a business…then you must, simply MUST, listen in to my recent radio show with guest Lynn Serafinn, conscious marketing expert and author of, “The Garden of the Soul: Lessons of Four Flowers that Unearth the Self.” Lynn is a book promoter, classical musician, and author of the up-coming book: “The Seven Graces of Marketing: How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell”.”

Lynn and I had a deep, rich and provocative conversation about a topic near and dear to my heart: how to SHIFT from a “transaction-oriented” approach to marketing to a “relationship-oriented” approach. Click here to listen or download to Itunes/Mp3.

And so you ask, what is the difference?

Well, to my mind…and Lynn seemed to echo my sentiments, the key difference between today’s tendency towards quantity and transaction-based connections (e.g. how many friends you have on Facebook fddoes NOT by itself, imply lots of sales of ANYTHING!) is whether you enter the connection point from FEAR…or LOVE. What? No, really.

Here’s the thing: we all feel anxious and nervous about meeting new people, or reaching out BEYOND OUR COMPUTER to connect with others. But when we enter that sacred moment of connection, reaching out our hand and saying “hello”…far too often that anxiety (e.g. fear or the unknown “other”) takes over, our breath gets shallow, we feel a knot in our stomach…and we slip into “robot” mode: “Hi, how are you? What do you do? Here’s my card…etc.”

The goal of the fearful ego is to GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE…and as soon as possible get back safely ensconced behind the cheese plate or better yet, the computer screen. This is the sort of anxiety/fear-based dynamic that tends to pervade the typical cocktail party or networking event. Everyone is smiling… NO ONE is really having a good time. BUT, it doesn’t have to be that way…

Crossing the bridge of connection

Love-based connections, or what I prefer to call “conscious connection,” starts from a different place. We take a few deep breaths; we feel our anxiety and accept it as natural (our silly ego attempting to protect us), and then we step into the moment of connection with ANTICIPATION, the energy of curiosity…deeply interested to KNOW this other being that I am blessed to meet at this moment in time.

We might say, as always, “hello, I am so and so…but then…WHO are you? What brought you to this event? What are you hoping to learn? What is the challenge you are struggling with in YOUR business? How might I help? How might we help each other? Etc…” Many minutes will go by…you might only get to hand out a few business cards. Yet, something else will very likely occur: you will relax. You will soften in your body and feel empathy instead of anxiety. After all, we are all in this swirl of life TOGETHER. We are all, ultimately, looking for the same thing: to be heard, to connect, to feel loved…to belong.

By entering into a networking opportunity with a LOVING heartset instead of a fearful mindset, something wonderful, precious, sacred, and key to the success of every business might just occur: you make a friend, find a partner, a customer, or a referral to someone who can help you land a job or build your business. You might have find someone you can help out as well. And a real, powerful connection is born.

We are all connected

Lynn and I talked for an hour…and it felt like five minutes. She told me her wonderful story–the amazing journey of how she parlayed a music career into a spiritual journey to the far-flung wilds of India and on to a marketing career–but most importantly, she shared with me why she is so passionate about helping people SHIFT the way they promote their books, their brands, and their businesses.

She is calling for a wholesale REINVENTION of the way we do business, away from the old paradigm of fear-based, scarcity-based, competition, towards a space of gratitude, abundance, and deep connection. It is all about remembering a deep truth, one which we all know in our hearts but so quickly forget when the pressure to sell, pay the bills, get known, be “out there”…takes over: we are all connected. We are all longing to belong. I was moved by her passion, her spirit…and her dream…as I hold the same one, for my clients…and for the world.

SO…if you are out there on the entrepreneurial, job-hunting, or life-reinventing circuit, doing the networking, Facebook-ing, tweeting thing…listen in to Lynn and try to be more CONSCIOUS and thoughtful when approaching that “unknown other”. Don’t get caught falling down the rabbit hole fantasy that “its all about the numbers”. It ain’t true. The sales pitch (I know, I know you’re supposed to have the 30 second elevator pitch…oy!) might bring you a bit of business

How many "clicks" will pay the rent?

— but surely, in the long run, it won’t feel satisfying and it won’t be sustainable. What does last…is becoming part of a community of REAL people…forging and nourishing those LOVING spaces where people come together…to live, learn and support each others dreams.

I hope you’ll listen in and let me know what you think. I’m all ears!

Dr j

Twenty Questions…and A New Video!

Dear friends,

I just wrapped a “prep” project for what I hope will be an opportunity to chat with Diane Rehm’s of NPR’s Diane Rehm’s show book segment. I had to answer the proverbial “twenty questions”…(Ok…fifteen!) which was time-consuming but also great fun as it forced me to think deeply about WHY I wrote my new book, “SHIFT: Let Go of Fear and Get Your Life in Gear” –and why I’m passionate about helping people MOVE THROUGH FEAR and shift their lives into high gear!

I thought I’d share the question/answers with you here…BUT of course I still hope you’ll tune in when I get the call from Diane! Also…check out the cool new video that my publicity team created for me…I think it captures my excitement about the book as a tool for becoming a master “life-shifter”, the need for us all to get better at handling the up and down cycles of life… and my desire to help!

See below and click here: SHIFT VIDEO

Let me know what you think! I’d love to hear from you! 🙂

1. What inspired or compelled you to write Shift: Let Go of Fear and Get Your Life in Gear (GPP Life; April 20, 2010)?

There were two main drivers behind my passion for writing “Shift.” The first motivator emerged when I found myself frustrated with the dearth of current self-help books that I wanted to share with my clients. Today’s self-help literature feels so fragmented and “dumbed-down” to me. There are lots of short, pithy “motivational speech” type books about how to achieve happiness in five easy steps, and books that tackle anxiety and depression from a bio-medical perspective (the neuro-science angle is all the rage) and cognitive slant (“change your mind and you’ll change your life”), but very few that take a serious look at how change really operates in our lives—and more importantly: how to navigate the inevitable FEAR that accompanies change. I kept returning to books that were written up to twenty-five years ago (e.g. Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway or The Road Less Traveled) and finally decided that a book needed to be written that provides an integrated—mind, body, heart—approach to moving through change, and fear.
The second reason I was inspired to write “Shift” was that after working with clients for over 15 years from all walks of life—business, academia, government—I noticed a clear pattern, a series of distinct stages, that people would seem to go through whenever a big upheaval or transformative “shift” would happen in their lives. I definitely noticed it in my own life as well. In the process of shifting out of the corporate world, into the entrepreneurial, consulting arena, I watched myself go through specific stages, and experience distinct anxieties and fears, all of which paralleled exactly what my clients were going through. I decided that a roadmap of these stages, with tools for working through the fears that accompany them, would be exactly the kind of self-help book that I wished that I had been able to reach for…and one that could potentially help people relax more as they undergo change, perhaps not need the “pharma fix” to quell the symptoms—and in general, become more masterful at dealing with change.

2. “Shift happens,” as you so colorfully put it. If change is such a common and constant part of life, why do most people dread it?

We are constantly bombarded with media images of smiling, prosperous, skinny, happy people who are lounging on Caribbean beaches drinking Pina Coladas. This “endless happiness” rant—a sort of consumer nirvana, has become the holy grail of Western culture. Yet, the reality, as we all know, if we stop and think about it, is that life doesn’t really work out this way. Change, as the Eastern traditions remind us, is constant. We become so caught up in the quest for material wealth, security and so-called “happiness,” that when life does what it does—change—and we are called to grow and move beyond our comfort zones, into new jobs, new relationships, new careers, new family or community constellations, our first reaction isn’t excitement, or enthusiasm, but, unfortunately, dread.

3. Anxiety, worry, stress, and even depression often come with the territory of major life changes. What’s wrong with how most sufferers treat these painful symptoms?

The issue here is what I call the “myth of the symptom.” This myth is that just by alleviating the symptom, we will not only feel better, we WONT have to change. The reality is that most of the time these symptoms are a surface manifestation of our deep-rooted resistance—and fear—of change. We view the painful symptoms as “the enemy” when in reality, they may very well be our soul calling out to us to grow, stretch and move out of our comfort zones. In a word, to change!
Far too often, we seek to alleviate the symptoms, and temporarily feel better with pharmaceuticals or comfort food or excessive sleep or alcohol, but despite our best efforts, life keeps moving. We eventually have to heed the call to wake up and get with the program—to take a risk, step over the edge and change. Our jobs, our families, our relationships, our finances—these will all constantly morph and change.
On the other hand, as I’ve seen over and over again in my practice, especially with entrepreneurs and business leaders, even positive changes like a job promotion or starting a new business can bring on symptoms of fear. Unfortunately, our cultural tendency has become to avoid, dismiss or deny even the most positive opportunities to grow. Instead, we get stuck and reach for the pharma fix. This is unfortunate, because very often the symptoms which we label as BAD, are actually very helpful “pointers” to our need to move, grow and shift, if we could just wake up and “smell the coffee” as they say. This is why I approach fear—and its attendant symptoms, anxiety, depression, stress, etc.—with reverence and view them as potentially (not always) positive signs of growth and change, not as pain points that we should immediately attempt to banish or cover over with drugs.

4. In Shift, you confront the formidable subject of fear—but in a way rarely talked about in self-help books. Would you explain how fear and change naturally go together?

Too many self-help books treat fear as if it were an enemy, something to be avoided, dismissed and jettisoned as soon as possible so that we can get back to being fat, dumb and happy consumers. I’m frustrated with this approach to self-help, because I believe that the endless clamor for happiness and avoidance of pain is actually promoting the very opposite of what is intended: distress and de-motivation. Fear can be a great motivator. It shows up as a signal that it is time to “get in gear” and move forward in our lives, to take new risks, learn new ways of adapting, and to be creative. Fear is a signpost on the road that change is in the works, and it is not always, or even most of the time—bad.
In the context of change, our trouble starts when we feel anxious, or stressed, and we label ourselves as having something “wrong” with us, and make the symptoms worse. In truth, the push to grow and change that comes from the outer world, or from our soul’s desire to expand and create, often brings up the symptoms of fear—and this is actually a GOOD thing…a sign of life pushing us forward against the edge of complacency.

5. As you note in Shift, most people view change as a three-stage event—with a beginning, middle, and end. How did you come to see change as actually happening in six stages?

After reading the best-selling book “Transitions” by William Bridges and noting that most books of this type denote change processes as having these three basic stages, I started to notice that there was more going on in each of these stages than at first meets the eye. I started studying closely the events, the emotions, and the fears that showed up during the early, middle and ending stages of the cycle of renewal/change that clients were experiencing and I began to see a pattern of shifts that occurred all along the way, six of which are clearly identifiable: a rupture (breakdown), a release (ending, letting go), a retreat (rest stop), a revival (beginner phase), a rehearsal (new commitment) and a realization (manifestation). I found that breaking the change process out into these more nuanced stages was extremely helpful—mostly because the types of fears that we experience vary greatly at each stage along the way.
Recognizing that fear morphs and shows up differently at each juncture is an important element in becoming more masterful at moving through change—because we can come to EXPECT to feel fear, to consider it “normal” and not to denigrate or criticize ourselves for not always being thrilled with each stage even as we know that we are growing and evolving. Even at the culmination of a change process, what I call the realization stage—we can feel fear (fear of success!) and perhaps reprimand ourselves for not truly embracing the moment. Yet, when we become aware, for example, that fear may show up even in the realization of a dream, we can ride the wave of the symptoms with greater equanimity, calm, and awareness….and yes, even enjoy the ride~!

6. Most self-help books approach personal growth as a steady, uphill journey or a linear process. What makes Shift radically different?

Again, it is a Western conceit to consider personal development to be a linear, uphill, trajectory. This tendency to view life as a straight line towards enlightenment—or happiness—is built in to the culture mostly through out education system, which is designed with 2 or 4 year increments of study, each of which culminate with a graduation, and some formal ritual of completion. Yet, the deeper truth is that we never “graduate” from life. Thus, early in our lives, we are suffused with the cultural patterning which tells us that life is a series of steps to be climbed that lead straight up to happiness, prosperity and retirement. Yet, if we look at how nature works—in seasons and cycles—we see that life really doesn’t operate in a straight-line trajectory. Everything moves in cycles, and every culmination, or “realization’ or graduation, is followed by an ending, a letting go, and a return to a beginning.

7. In Shift, you take issue with the popular notion that everyone has an “authentic self.” So, how do you define identity? If there’s no such thing as the self, how can a person possibly develop self-awareness?

I like the way you phrased this question because although I take issue with the idea of an “authentic” self, I do believe that we have a self—an essential, deep and abiding beingness that is very real, but not static. The key to my approach to the self, and our need to constantly reinvent the self all throughout our lives, is to recognize that what we consider to be an “authentic” self is just a story, a narrative of how we see ourselves, how others see us, and how we are moving in the world at any given moment in time. It is not “inherent” or “real” or unchangeable—just the opposite in fact. What is “authentically” real about us is in constant flux—our roles, our beliefs, our attitudes—and once we recognize this it is very freeing. We can then give ourselves permission to re-write the “story of me” at any time, throughout our entire lives.

8. In Shift, you also take issue with the prevailing self-help focus on achieving happiness. Why?

I am not fundamentally against “happiness.” However, my concern with the trend towards studying everything about human life from a “positive psychology” standpoint is that it carries the assumption that happiness is something to be “achieved” as a goal, as a marker of a life well lived. Yet, how many people do you know that are constantly happy? Happiness is an ephemeral, moving, transient experience, and unhappiness—melancholy, sorrow, grief, and yes, even fear—are not always bad. I’m more interested in helping my clients live a life of meaning and depth, a life filled with exploration, creativity and risk-taking, than I am helping people to climb up a “happiness tree,” find a perch to hang out on and rot. Happiness is a great, if momentary, experience along the cycle of change that characterizes real life—not something to be set forth as the pinnacle to be achieved. This attitude toward life actually sets us up for the opposite experience—distress—because it is so unrealistic and more like a Hollywood movie than the way life really works. By being bombarded with images that promote striving for success and happiness as the epitome of life’s purpose—we set ourselves up to be highly self-critical, to rarely measure up…and paradoxically, to be very unhappy!

9. Why do you have a problem with experts who stress the power of positive thinking? Why do you see navigating change as a matter of the body and heart as well as the mind?

I am not against “positive thinking” or approaches to personal growth that incorporate awareness of how our thoughts impact and influence our feelings and behaviors. The thinking mind is a key component in the constellation of self; it is a crucial part of who we are. BUT, it is not everything. Human beings are much more than “brains on a stick”—we are thinking, feeling, and physical beings. Just changing your thoughts may have a temporary impact on your life—making you feel better, change a behavior for a while, but real transformation, the kind where you wake up and don’t even recognize yourself or your life, requires the full-on engagement of the emotional, physical and mental aspects of who we are. We have to bring the body/heart right up in the front seat with the head.

10. As you explain in Shift, the best approach to navigating change depends on whether a person is more of a “thinker,” a “feeler” or a “doer.” How can a person determine his or her particular predisposition?

Everyone uses all three of the modalities to move through life—thinking, feeling and doing. However, we all have a stronger affinity for one or two of these and tend to ignore or dismiss the others. In Shift, readers can take a simple diagnostic exam to help them determine which of the three modes of operating they lean towards—giving them information about what they should attend to and not ignore. In order for real transformation to occur in our lives, we need to engage with all aspects of our being—and knowing more about our natural tendencies can help us to be sure to bring into focus those areas of our lives that we might naturally ignore or dismiss.

11. Throughout Shift, you reinforce the benefits of meditation and yoga. How can these spiritual fitness practices help anyone deal with the challenges of change?

The real benefits of meditation and yoga are simple, yet profound. Both of these practices help us get out of our thinking minds and become aware of our emotional and physical states. We learn to attend to our breathing—a natural access route to become an observer, a witness of ourselves, whether in action in yoga postures, or in a relaxed, contemplative state like meditation. Learning to step back, create space for feeling, sensing and being present to our physical and emotional energies is key, for it encourages us to create a dialogue within our selves—to listen in for clues, symbols and signals about what is really happening in our lives—and how/what kinds of change may be occurring.

12. As you make clear in Shift, what most people really fear isn’t the end result, but the beginning. Would you share a few nuggets of wisdom or strategies for making starting over less daunting and more manageable?

A crucial strategy that I offer my clients—and everyone who is up against feeling stuck or resisting the call to change—is to remember what it was like to be a kid, to connect to that “beginner’s mind”. The key to becoming masterful at what I call “life-shifting”—moving through life’s upheavals and ruptures, is to become aware that every ending signals the shift to a new beginning. As we get older and more set in our expectations that as “adults” we’re supposed to “have it handled,” we may resist and fear endings.
But even more often, we struggle with the call to begin again, to start over, because being a beginner is often awkward and uncomfortable. I always remind my clients that life moves in cycles and that the “beginner” phase of any life change can be the most exciting, energizing, and fun part of the process. We have to give ourselves permission to view this stage—what I call the “revival” –as a creative, exploration process. We need to recognize that “feeling inadequate” is perfectly normal, and that if we can get in touch with the child-like energy that is always available to us at any age, we can learn new skills, re-invent our roles, and our sense of self at any point in life, even very old age.
I encourage older people, baby-boomers in need of renewal for example, to blend together the two energies—of the inner child and the wise adult—together in approaching new activities or learning new skills. It is not only ok to make mistakes, and to stumble along the way, it is normal and expected. We need to lighten up on ourselves and remember to have fun along the way. It is a misnomer to believe that “mastery” means doing everything well or being an expert. Mastery, to my mind, is about becoming aware that being an awkward beginner, a ungainly adolescent, and a struggling apprentice, are natural parts of an endless cycle of change—becoming masterful is about becoming adept at moving through these phases and not dreading, but delighting in the process.

13. In today’s economic climate, more and more people are being forced to change their careers, lifestyles, and expectations about retirement. Can you offer any words of reassurance or practical guidance to help them?

When I look to reassure people that they can get through a major change, or a difficult time in their career or family life, I remind them that ideas like “retirement” are very new on the cultural and historical scene. The fact that we are living longer and living healthier lives means that instead of worrying about retirement (although financial planning is wise), we have the opportunity to reinvent our lives over and over again rather than sit back, watch tv or play golf. By recognizing that we have the energy of creativity available to us at any age, and that what we consider our “defined self” is anything but determined, we are free to re-write and re-craft our own personal story all along the path of life.
I’m reminded of my adopted mother’s view of life. She passed away about a year ago after struggling with cancer for many years, but even in the last five years of her life, with cancer, she still found time to volunteer at local elections, work part-time in the city hall of my home town, and gather on weekends with friends and local folks that were decades her junior. When I would ask young people who loved brunching with her on the weekends, why do you hang out with my mom…I mean, she’s “OLD”? They would answer, “Because your mom is ageless. She has a joy about her, grit and determination, a wonderful sense of humor…and she really knows how to LIVE. It is a joy to spend time with her.” I feel grateful to have had a mom who really didn’t buy into the cultural story of retirement and “giving up” as you get old…she had innumerable careers, a busy, active social circle, and endless numbers of hobbies that kept her engaged literally right up until just a few weeks before she died.

In Shift, readers will find inspiring stories of a number of men and women who “re-invented” their stories about who they thought they were…at forty, fifty and beyond. You are never too old to learn how to master change, because change is occurring anyway…the key is strapping on, with enthusiasm, for the ride!

14. As you share, you trace the birth of your book all the way back to the fateful date when you were seven. How did learning the truth that you were adopted mark a seismic change in your life and identity?

I like to share my adoption story with people because along with other important “shifts” that I’ve experienced in my life, this is a great reminder that who we think we are is ALWAYS subject to change. I had an early life experience, a revelation, of how my sense of self was not “fixed” or fact. I have a genetic story of who I am that is different from the environmental story. I have moved at times in my life from feeling like an “orphan” to being embraced with having two families, and many friends. Life is like that. Our identities are not etched in anything even remotely concrete. When people come to me with stories of failure, or childhood trauma, or breakdown in their careers or relationships, I’m quick to remind them that this is just part of the story of who they are—and always subject to change.
Today in our culture, we suffer a great deal from what I call “crises of identity” because we get very attached to our jobs, our lifestyles and our material possessions. But, these are always subject to change…and this is not a bad thing, but can also represent an opportunity, for re-birth, growth and new expression of our potential as creative beings.

15. What is your greatest goal or aspiration for Shift? What would you most like any person grappling with a major change to learn from reading your book and do first?

What I most want people to “do” after reading my book, is to give themselves a break. HAHA. To relax more and lighten up. To realize that who they see themselves being and doing is not fixed in stone. As a culture, we need to re-connect with the child-like, playful, inventive energy that made our country great in the first place.
My greatest aspiration for the book is that people will come away with an awareness that they are always moving, shifting and changing and that this “fact” gives them a great deal of freedom to become bigger, better and MORE of who they dream of being…BUT they have to re-assess their beliefs about fear, and its attendant symptoms, and become less rigid, less “dictatorial” and attached to some so-called authentically fixed story of self.
I’d love to see people breathe a sigh of relief after reading “Shift”—and not be so quick to reach for the anti-depressants or beat themselves up for not always being happy. Instead, to recognize their fears and anxieties as normal responses to a deeper process that undergirds all human life: the impulse to grow, create and constantly be born anew…at any age.

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Demons, Dragons and the Daimon (part one)


“There are times when we may fool ourselves. There are times when we can fool others. But we can never fool our body. It is the most sensitive barometer of our inner world.
” –Sherrill Sellman

The demons are back!

For the past few months, I have been waking up in the morning with what can only be described as “a jaw ache.” I get out of bed, slipper-slide my way to the coffee maker, and notice that my mouth feels like it has been nailed shut. Fortunately, the sense of “lock-down” persists for only a few minutes. When I sit breathing deeply in meditation, or take a few swigs of java–my jaw loosens and the pain subsides.

I didn’t think much of it until I heard on an NPR talk show that dentists recently reported a 50 percent jump in cracked and broken teeth in the past six months. Of course, as trained scientists, they just note the data and try to avoid speculating on why this might be happening…but I’ll venture a guess: anxiety, worry, stress…maybe FEAR?! (not that we are living through a fearful time…)

Does once every twenty years make a pattern? Not sure, but I can tell you that in 1989 when I first moved to New York City, I remember going to the dentist for the first time (on the 90th floor of the Empire State Building, whoa!) and he asked me if I “grind my teeth?” I had no idea what he was talking about, except to note that ever since arriving in NYC, I had been waking up in the morning with a jaw ache…rather like the one I currently have. He told me that I needed to be careful about this–that if it persisted I could crack/split a tooth during the night, or wear down the enamel, and the subsequent treatment could be quite extensive, expensive, and painful. Yikes.

Of course, the great irony was that he had a thoroughly unscientific, but rather profound explanation for my teeth-grinding: anxiety. He noted that many new patients, who come to NYC from other places, often have a great deal of anxiety in their transitional months. He was right, of course. I was excited, but also was anxious about moving to New York: I was worried about my finances living in such an expensive city; I was worried about being lonely in a city of 8 million; I was worried about starting my new job; I was overwhelmed by all the amazing things to do in the city…that cost money. You get the idea.

The good news, is that within a few months–by the time of my next visit–the pain had subsided and I guess I had became a relaxed, just normally stressed out New Yorker…with a loose jaw. Teeth intact.

Twenty years on..it appears that the teeth-grinding night demons are back. And it seems, according to NPR and the national dentists association, that I’m not the only one whose dream state is being attacked by little guys taking jack-hammers to my teeth while I snooze.

So what is going on here? Well, to my mind, what I’m going to call the “anxiety demons” represent bad news…and good news.

Unpleasant little devils!

Unpleasant little devils!

The bad news is that we are living in a particularly stressful time — and the symptoms of anxiety, stress, and worry are ubiquitous. The good news is that the demons are prescient, potent and insightful: we just need to listen to their message, and almost always, they signal CHANGE is afoot. Our job, if we have the awareness to hear the message, is to not RESIST…but, as best as possible, to go with the flow. Change, even disruptive upheaval…usually happens for our own good (that’s where the daimon comes in, but I’m getting ahead of myself).

Back to the den of demons. Have you or anyone else you know experienced an unusual number of physical ailments lately? I’ve notice that a large number of my friends–and clients–have recently been taken down by a plethora of them: back pain, hepatitis, insomnia, stomach flu, sinusitis, skin rashes, Lyme disease.

One friend, who is considering a major career move that will take him across the country and potentially away from his spouse, took to bed with what he thought was the flu. Five weeks and many shed pounds later, he realized that the tenacious bug was a big wake-up call: he needed to rest, reflect, and really think through his decision. He was deeply anxious and wrought with guilt over the desired change.

A client who I’ve recently taken on is “thinking big” for the first time in years, pondering life shifts that may take him and his wife into a new business venture, away from their home state, and perhaps out of his twenty year career in the hotel industry. In the midst of this “life-shift,” he has committed to tackle the one major demon that has held him back for years: his weight. Yet, in the first few weeks of our work together, as he gears up to face the possibility of major change–and a new regimen of diet and exercise–he has actually gained five pounds. Oops, wrong direction.

What’s going on here? Why do the demons attack just when we’re most vulnerable?

Well, my take is this: the demons are actually trying to protect us, to keep us from risking too much, upsetting the apple cart of our lives…and disturbing the peace. They are what I call the “front line” defense soldiers, attacking from the flanks–in the stomach, the mouth, the head, and the back (oh, could I tell you stories about clients with back pain!).

They are actually fairly benign in most cases–representing a temporary onslaught–but their goal is simple: to warn you about the dragon, that big time protector of what we might call, in Kafka-esque terms: the Keeper of the Castle “Status Quo.”

Demons, simply put, are symptoms. Symptoms, as Freud pointed out over a hundred years ago, are often the street lamps on the road to repressed fears, forbidden desire, and unhealed trauma. They can be a wake-up call that it is time to face down the dragon of fear…and move forward towards a new landscape. The mistake we often make, however–and that our sound-bite culture reinforces–is to ignore the deeper roar of the dragon, and tend the symptom alone. “Pop the pill,” “sleep it off,” “cut it out” (metaphorically AND quite often, literally), and “get back to work.” These are our mantras. And what of change, growth, re-birth, transformation? Ah, no thanks, please pass the NyQuil.

So, in most situations, we stay focused on the demons, try to alleviate the symptoms, and avoid coming face-to-face with the dragon we most want to avoid: the dragon of fear.

the real culprit...

the real culprit...

Why? Well, partly because the meaning behind the demon of illness can be elusive: sometimes a cold is just a cold. BUT, more often, I think, especially when we sense (if we take the time to reflect) that our symptoms may well be related to stress/anxiety, is this: fear is a formidable foe.

Slaying the dragon is no easy task. It is often easier to just pick off the demons, one by one, rather than face the truth of our deeper pain, or hear in to the music of our deepest desire. Yet, when we are finally anxious enough, fed up enough, sick enough, or just downright MAD (witness the recent election) enough, we may just rise to the occasion…and stand up to our fears, shouting, to the world, to ourselves, “yes we can~!”

The key to this shift—and you can bet we are in the midst of a major one right now—is awareness; becoming aware that the underlying issue is FEAR; that the headaches, body aches, diet dramas, and other afflictions, are not [always] random, accidental or genetic (as pharma execs and some psychiatrists would have us believe) but very simply the body’s own language, signaling us of FEAR…and CHANGE.

Here’s the rub: You can’t slay a dragon if you refuse to acknowledge that it exists (look what it took for us to finally see the insanity of the Wall Street fueled housing debacle). Only by becoming aware that we are AFRAID…or that we are UNHAPPY, literally “sick and tired” of the status quo, only then may we step beyond the demons…and enter the dragon’s lair.

At this point, you may rightfully be asking, “Ok, I’ve had a demon here or there, but if I can “take two aspirin and feel better in the morning,” why would I want to face down my deepest fears?” Good question. Yet, it is exactly that kind of thinking that gets us into these extreme messes — witness the mortgage crisis–in the first place.

By side-stepping the guardian of the castle, and avoiding our irrational terror of change, we are prevented from accessing the one thing that brings joy, passion and the energy of possibility into our lives: the daimon of our deepest desire. We all know what the dragons of folk tales really guard in those foreboding medieval castles: buried treasure!

buried in each and every one of us...

buried in each and every one of us...

Think about it. What are we really most afraid of? That we might have to shift our life focus from “money” to “meaning?” That there really could be joy in having less “stuff” and more time? That the breakdown in the “house of cards” called free market capitalism might cause us to re-evaluate what really matters?

It does seem that just as we get comfy in our strata-loungers, something equally demonic, but in a good way–shows up to shake us up, forcing us to change and grow. It is a mystery par excellence: this daimon of passion and longing, the creative impulse to build new castles and try out new economic systems, the drive towards a better world–the instinct to elect better leaders. Where does this come from?

Carl Jung considered the daimon the key to individuation: a daemonic pull towards growth and transformation that ultimately pushes aside our complacent, self-absorbed ego-self to reveal the soul, or Self with a capital “S”. Thomas Moore, in his new book “A Life at Work,” likens the daimon to our “soul’s desire”–a calling from deep within the unconscious to create meaning, connection, and depth in our lives, and in the world. In short, our life’s work:

A daimon is an unnamed urge that pushes you in a certain direction. it is the force behind the passion and tenacity of your yearning. The Romans believed that a child is born with his daimon, or in their language, his genius. It is a fertile idea; that the deep passion and drivenness that stays with us all our lives is there from the beginning. The daimon is a primal, creative urge. The daimonic voice is deep-seated and connected to your personality and destiny. [The challenge] (sic) is to learn to trust it, without being naive or giving up your basic skepticism.

To my mind, the daimon represents the final frontier—below the demon, beyond the dragon. It is that deep inner voice that calls forth our deepest aspirations as humans: to live out our dreams, to make the world a better place for our children, to satisfy our hunger for peace, brotherhood, and community. We all know those feelings, even the most cynical among us were deeply moved by the recent inauguration of President Obama. SO, where does that voice—the one that calls forth the immeasurable creative potential of humanity—reside?

It’s in there, deep in our souls, but it can be hard to hear behind the din of demons and dragons who would hold us hostage to anxiety, stress, worry, guilt..and loudest of all: our fear. In my next blog, I’m going to explore further how we might “slay the dragon.” But for now (funny, I can feel my jaw tighten in anticipation…it’s almost as if my own demons are just lying in wait, whispering, “leave us be…don’t rock the boat…just take that Xanax the Doctor prescribed…no need to get feisty on us!”), I’ll leave you with this question:

What demons have been showing up in your life lately? Are you ignoring them? Fighting them? Perhaps…listening in for the message they carry?

Behind the fortress of fear...is there a doorway to possibility?

Behind the fortress of fear...is there a doorway to possibility?

What dragon of fear or harbinger of change might they be pointing to? Are you listening? Please let me know. We’re all on this battlefield together…

Of course, the recipe for success, even in this trying time, is simple (but not easy!):

1. De-code your demons

2. Slay the dragon…and

3. Follow your daimon.

Onward, HO!

Dr J

Job Loss, Life Gain. Part 3

Today’s post picks up where I left off in part 2, with you dancing in your living room.

Get ready, get set...let's go!

Get ready, get set...let's go!

Hopefully, you will allow this “dance” time to be more than a Minute Waltz–perhaps you’ll give yourself a few days, a few weeks–even a month–to re-claim your soul, and re-kindle your vision. But soon enough, it will be time to get out in the world and get to work, literally. So let’s go.

If you’ve been following my thread in these posts, then you likely have picked up on a theme — a “life-shifting” mantra — that is near and dear to my heart. Turning any job loss into a life-gain is about shedding an outworn identity, re-claiming your vision, your passion, and values–who you KNOW yourself to be– and aligning these with the world of work. It is about finding that oh so sweet, sweet spot: The place where the world pays you to do what you love.

Of course, in a Mcdonalds, Gap, Starbucks world, this is easier said than done. BUT, it’s worth the effort to go for it. Otherwise, how else will we change the world? How else do you ever make the shift–from a consumer cog caught in the machine of commerce, to a human being manifesting your true potential? This is the real job, for all of us: the job of having a meaningful life.

So if you’re finally feeling fearless (ok, maybe a bit of trepidation, but ready!) and charged up, here’s what I consider to be the next steps:

5. Don’t network. Here’s the skinny on networking: it doesn’t work. What we really need, in order to find our next home in the world of work, is not a stack of business cards, a long email list or 600 friends on Facebook. We need instead, maybe one, two or three REAL connections–real people who will help us, listen to us, point us in a new direction, and likely connect us to one more REAL person that brings us closer to our “sweet spot.” The problem with networking is that it is far too often a “transactional” form of human intercourse — where quantity and speed are valued over depth and connection.

It's the connection that counts

It's the connection that counts

Recently, I was invited to attend a “networking” breakfast. It was one of those regular Tuesday morning affairs, held at the ungodly hour of 7am by a “business networking association” (that shall remain unnamed so I won’t get hate mail!). I’m glad that I had the opportunity to see how these things work. For me, in a word, they don’t.

When I arrived, there were about twenty people sitting around a table, all looking like they needed much more caffeine than was provided by the now empty urn on the side table. Each person got two minutes to stand up and give their “elevator pitch.” It was fast-paced, anxiety-provoking, and mildly entertaining (of course it was 7am so I have to be fair: not sure that ANYTHING would have been very entertaining to me at that hour). There were accountants and lawyers and real estate agents and recruiters. Other than the few who had polished their speech with a good metaphor or self-deprecating joke, I can’t for the life of me remember ANY of them.

The only person that I would consider a “connection” was the wonderful woman who invited me in the first place, a person, by the way, that I had only recently met at another association function, and who I had the pleasure of really talking with, listening to and SEEING. She was/is a really great person, and one whose friendship and support I hope to nurture for years to come. The other twenty people at the “networking” social, are still sitting on my desk, known only through their innocuous — if graphically stylish– business cards. For my taste, the whole early morning-breakfast-spiel-business-card-swap thing–is a colossal waste of time.

What you really want to accomplish when you “hit the pavement” and enter the fray to “build a network” is this: real connection. Talk with a few–maybe just ONE–real person and do more listening then speaking. Connect with their dream…and ask them to connect to yours. Make a date to get to know them. Creative solutions to life’s dilemmas are not born from a three-minute spiel, they are born aloft on the wings of deep dialogue.

6. Don’t look for a job. Ok, let me get this out on the table (it’s probably been too long in coming): I think the whole idea of a “job” is outdated. A job–that is, a “slot” in which to fit a person–is rapidly going the way of the typewriter, the hand-held calculator, and newspapers.

We love to forget that the idea of a “9-5 job” is probably less than one hundred years old, and like “retirement,” is an anachronistic invention of the post-industrial revolution. What has always existed, and what we humans are driven to seek, is WORK. And, work that is meaningful, value-added, and flexible enough to accommodate today’s fast-paced global economy, more and more often doesn’t “fit” neatly into a box called “job.”

I tell my clients this: don’t look for a “job,” look for a problem to solve. Get out and meet people, reconnect to old friends (this is where Facebook can be GREAT), sit down with them and listen in for their “problem.” Ask yourself: what problem do I LOVE to solve? The key to finding real, meaningful work in today’s tough climate is to BE THE SOLUTION to someone else’s problem. Whether or not there is a job, there is usually a problem. Your “job” as a seeker of work, is to find the intersection–the sweet spot–between the world’s problem and what you love to do (the solution).

More and more companies these days are hiring temp workers, part-tim’ers, consultants, and project managers. In fifty years, I doubt that very many people—beyond government employees and unionized plant workers (which will surely be ALL overseas)—will have traditional jobs. We will all live a “portfolio” life, doing a bit of this, a bit of that, a project here, a consulting gig there.

It can be unnerving—and challenging to juggle in the checkbook—but it is better to get with the program: a portfolio of work, not a job, is the future. And, for many, the future is now (Freelancers Union, a non-profit organization for people who live a portfolio life — a “gig life” as many of them call it — was formed only eight years ago, now boasts millions of members, and is doubling in size every year!).

Now, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go on Monster.com and look for a “job” as listed there or elsewhere. You should. But don’t put all your eggs in the traditional baskets (if you ever wonder that the world of work is changing rapidly, just consider that job hunting sites like Monster are now considered “traditional” when they didn’t exist ten years ago…).

What really “works” in the new world of work, is this: get really clear on your vision of what you want to do in the world; get out and meet a few people and offer to help them with their “problem” (whatever that may be); be flexible and fluid and prove your value; do your homework and find out what your “value” is worth on the open market; once proven, demand same. Done. That is, for now.

Until next time the bottom falls out…and it will. The biggest lesson that we all need to learn from this turbulent time is that there is no such thing as “long term” any more. Everything is changing, faster and faster, and we must adapt.

But this can be great news for those who learn to master the process of “life-shifting.” Becoming adept at changing stripes, shedding jobs, identities and attachments (think Zen Master in a suit/tie), you pass through a doorway and enter a kaleidoscope landscape of possibility, meaning and progress, bestowed by life with the greatest gift of all: the gift of re-invention.

My river of change...

My river of change...

As I sit here on a sun-drenched, freezing Sunday morning, gazing out at leafless trees, a river of ice flows, and a dozen, dipping, undaunted ducks, I can’t help but pause and remember: the seasons “re-invent” themselves four times a year. We could learn from that.

Cheerio,

Dr J

Victim, Victor and Valence

Do you ever have stuff happen–life events, people problems, bad luck–that prompt you to want to cry out, “why me?” Or just as likely, “What did I do to deserve this?” We’ve all been there. I have yet to meet anyone who hasn’t felt like a “victim” at times. Especially these days, with the economic and political situation seeming to daily drop another bomb

Didn't see THAT coming

Didn't see THAT coming

on us from places and circumstances that seem (and are!) far from our control.

So my question of the day is this: When life throws you off kilter, how do you get back on track? How do we make the shift from “victim” to “victor”? This can be a difficult question, especially if we have experienced a tragedy–loss of a job, loss of a loved one. Yet, even if it takes days, weeks, or years, I believe the answer is the same: valence.

Ok, so you’re probably thinking, what the hell is he talking about? Valence? Isn’t that an arcane term from high school chemistry? Well, yes. AND…it is also one of those handy words, that once understood in context, beautifully sums up the trip from victim-hood to victory.

Let’s start with a definition: “Valence” is the capacity of a person to react with or affect another in some special way, as by attraction or the facilitation of an activity (Random House Unabridged 2006).

Perhaps that doesn’t help much. Here’s how I think about it: valence is the energy of movement–and attraction–between two forces, in this case, two “stances”: victim and victor. To my mind, the key to shifting from victim to victor stance is to shorten the distance–in time and space–between the two poles of energy: negative (victim) and positive (victor).

Valence can be thought about like an oscillation. When bad stuff happens, our emotional energy is immediately pulled towards the “woe is me” story. We are likely to hang out there–for a long time perhaps–until the energy of attraction to something else (e.g. the energy of empowerment, self-responsibility, positivity, “victory”) becomes stronger. Then, and only then, do we make the shift.

Let’s look at an example. Yesterday, I had a classic “victim” moment. Ok, more than a moment…a few hours. I was all set to spend the afternoon catching up with friends by phone, working through the email overflow, and reading the NY Times online Sunday version “cover-to-cover” (is that possible anymore?), when suddenly, literally in the middle of typing a sentence, everything went dead. No email, no internet, and in my case, since my telephone is connected through the internet: no phone.

Yeah, right?

Yeah, right?


My first reaction was to be pretty irritated with my cable company. With no land line that worked, and no access to email, I was forced to go stand in the middle of my driveway (that’s the only place where my cell phone gets a good signal) in the 20 degree upstate New York December CHILL, and dial, re-dial, and dial again the 800 number, trying to reach the cable techies. I kept getting a busy signal. Oy, it is cold out here in my bathrobe, and it is Sunday, why don’t they answer the phone? ARGH!

Standing in the cold, unable to connect to the world at large (at least that’s how it felt), I was very angry at first. Miffed, big time. Returning to the computer, only to find that NOTHING had changed and that I was probably in for an extended “outage,” I turned to the TV — just to calm myself (I don’t recommend this choice as a “calming influence” btw!). Bad idea. TV: dead. TV: tied to same cable company. DR J: very upset. VICTIM of total technological withdrawal.

At this point, the valence factor in my emotional system read as follows: 100 percent attracted to victim stance. Time 12:35pm (I checked). With no TV to assuage my anger, I turned to my next favorite “pacifier” and brewed myself another cup of Starbucks. Strong (again, probably not the best choice…but I’m human…we’ve all been there). Strangely enough, truth be told, the steaming hot java did have a calming effect. In fact, it was so tasty and toasty, that I decided to bundle up in winter gear and head outdoors again, this time to sit on my deck in the blazing, frigid sunshine.

Sipping my coffee and noticing the frost gleaming on my deck furniture (which should be stored away by now, I remember thinking), I caught a glimpse of a deer down by the river, sipping the icy brew. I was mesmerized by its beauty. Majestic. Calm. Seemingly oblivious to the cold. I felt the valence shift: I had completely forgotten about the computer, the TV, the phone. I may have been disconnected from “the world” (really?) but I was connected to this deer, the river, the sunshine…and even began to notice the wispy, molten fog of my own breath.

Valence is movement. The deer, the air, the sunshine–all worked on me as energetic triggers that prompted a re-framing of my sob story. The turning point came when I awoke (that is what it felt like when it hit me) to the question that I often use with my clients when they are in “victim” mode:

How might this technological white-out be happening “FOR” me instead of “TO” me? Voila! Victory! Time, 2:05 pm. I had spent 90 minutes in deep victim mode.

All at once “victim” was vanquished and “victor” arrived: I strolled back up the stairs and found the computer screen still blank, yet rather than re-igniting my fury, I took a deep breath and sank into reverie. The valance–the movement of attraction–had fully shifted to this new interpretation of events:

When the internet had gone dead I had been writing to a friend about how overwhelmed I was feeling–with work, family stuff, economic stress, etc. I was contemplating a much-needed vacation…but didn’t think I could afford it..financially or time-wise…

Suddenly silence. All of a sudden, I had NOTHING to do — no emails to write, no phone calls to make, no TV to watch. I could do ANYTHING I wanted (except those things, of course). I had TIME to kill–time to rest, time to relax, time to kick-back (we’ll deal with feeling guilty about all this in another blog).

AND, now that I had made the shift, and no longer felt like a victim, the rest of the afternoon was glorious: I read a bunch of chapters of a great novel that had been sitting waiting for me–for months. I wrote in my journal (long hand!). I went for a long walk. I practiced yoga (without a DVD: fun!). I even, God forbid, took a nap.

Four hours later, I awoke…to the blinking lights of a phone, internet, and TV connection restored. I was almost sad…and, of course, relieved.

The moral of this story is simple: we all fall “victim” to victim thinking at times. It is in our nature to be pretty upset when things happen that are beyond our control. What is in our control, however, is HOW LONG we hang out in victim mode. The key to making the shift is waking up and shifting the valence of energy from “bad news happens to good people” to “how is this seemingly bad thing a gift?”

As a therapist and executive coach, I don’t try to convince my clients not to be “victims” of the dire circumstances that many of them are experiencing right now. Polly-Anna I’m not. What I do try to do is help them make the time spent in victim mode shorter and shorter each time it happens. Growth, happiness and learning is all about valence:
Moving the energy of attraction from the dark to the light.

I’m pretty happy with having made the shift in 90 minutes yesterday. Depending upon tomorrow’s tragedy, the journey from victim to victor may take longer…or shorter (I’m going to shoot for 60 min!).

V is for...

V is for...

So here is your key question: What if this (tragedy, bad luck, etc.) is happening FOR me and not TO me?

To shorten the gap — try posting this question somewhere where you’ll see it, loud and clear (maybe on the computer!):

And so, dare I say? Vanquish thy victim, vouchsafe thine victory!

happy V-day!

Dr J

NY Times Redux

Time marches on. It has been a couple of weeks since I had my “moment in the spotlight” in the NY Times. Needless to say, everyone else has moved on to bigger and better (or bigger and worse: Mumbai) things by now. But not me. I keep ruminating (ok, obsessing) about how two hours on the phone with a journalist, discussing six important ways that business leaders/owners can relieve their anxiety during these troubled times, wound up becoming six, watered down sound bites. I’m not really complaining, because as I’ve said before, it was a privilege to be able to share my thoughts in that most august of Augustine publications, yet, I can’t help but wish that my “six steps” had been re-told with a bit more substance.

Fear is not something to be taken lightly. Fear, especially for those whose jobs are in jeopardy or

Throw me a lifeline!

Throw me a lifeline!

whose businesses are really feeling a pinch, is not something that can be brushed away like crumbs from the dinner table. Fear saps your energy and makes even basic activities a chore.

So in the cause of support, health and well-being for all of us in this challenging time, I want to revisit my list….and share my six steps again, hopefully with a bit more depth and nuance. So here they are “straight from the horse’s mouth,” as they say.

SIX STEPS TO WORKING THROUGH FEAR in Turbulent Times

Step One: Confess to Stress

Do you sometimes feel anxious? Worried? Stressed? I know I do. We like to think these are all independent “symptoms”–and sometimes they are–but more often than not they are multiple buckets in which we attempt to toss away our fear. In almost every case, fear is the real culprit. When we get caught up in anxiety, stress and worry–or feel irritable and cranky–we have a tendency to get fixated on the symptom, and ignore, or deny, the underlying issue. Like my client who says things like, “I’m very anxious about the fact that I worry all the time.” Sound familiar?

The crucial first step to releasing fear is actually a two-fer: acknowledging and sharing. Fear needs to brought out from under its cloak of stress or worry or whatever you use to cover up the deeper truth: you’re scared. Real problems arise, not so much from the fear itself, but from our tendency to avoid/deny facing it. Especially if you are a business owner or leader with responsibility for the welfare of others, you may want to “put on a face of hope” and “be the rock” for your people–your employees, your family, your customers.

Yet, if you have no place to share your own vulnerability, to acknowledge that you too, are frightened and unsure, at some point the facade may crack. In my practice, supporting senior executives and type-A entrepreneurs, the most dangerous “symptom” of all appears all too often: isolation. Feeling fear is one thing, feeling fearful…and alone...well, now you’ve entered the danger zone.

My suggestion: find a buddy. You may not be able to share your fears (at least not completely) with your organization or employees, and you may be concerned about upsetting your family–or adding to their fear. So seek out at least one close friend and confidante–a coach, a therapist, or at least a pal–and express your deepest fears. Ask for help. It may just be the most courageous and “leaderful” step you’ll ever take.

Lean on Me

Lean on Me


Step Two: Reflect, Don’t React

Once you have taken the first step, and acknowledged that fear is the driving force behind your anxiety, stress, worry and all-around bad mood (for many of us!), there is a new decision to make: how to respond. The issue here is learning how to practice being responsive rather than reactive. This may sound simple, and it should be, but in our action-oriented, results-driven culture, we are often pressured to “shoot before we aim” and many of our so-called “role models” in politics and corporate America (think Trump!) appear to be focused, driven, and decisive…anything but reflective.

Act first, think later — is a recipe for disaster, and not, in fact, the way even the most action-oriented leaders, if they are successful in business and in life, really work. Reality TV and journalistic sound bite newsreels portray leaders as always ready to make a move…but very likely, (I suppose during the commercials), those same action heroes sat quietly for long moments, and hopefully, have thought long and hard about what to do.

I call it “Minding the Gap”: create space between your reaction to something that comes at you and the action you take in response. The “gap” is crucial. Without space to breathe and reflect, you are likely to make missteps. Ask yourself these questions: how much space-time-breathing room do you give yourself before you make a big (or even small) decision? Do you wait 24 hours before hitting “send” on that angry email you’re dying to write? Do you walk around the block a couple of times before heading into the house — and careening into dinner — after a stressful day at work? Do you take time to release the toxins of fear and anxiety from your body through yoga or exercise?

The size of the gap is not what matters here. It could be two minutes, two days, or two months–if you have the luxury. What is crucial is to CREATE SPACE for reflection. As Eckhart Tolle might put it: to find your way back to NOW.

Step Three: Stay in Focus

It is a common refrain to hear that you need to “stay focused” during difficult times. This is a no-brainer. What you hear less about is WHAT to stay focused on –or how to determine if you really are staying focused. For many of my clients, staying in action “feels” like staying focused. But is it? Or perhaps even more common: focusing on fear! (I guess that’s what I’m doing right now. Ummmm). The point is this: just telling yourself, or others, to “stay focused” is not particularly helpful. We are all, always, focused on something.

I break “focus” down to a more granular level. What you really need to attend to are two fundamental dimensions of focus: internal/external and time-based (past, present, future).

In the first case, you have to become aware of whether you are overly “externally” focused –taking care of everything that is right in front of you but ignoring your own needs–or vice-versa: withdrawing into your own emotional world, becoming distracted and dis-engaged from what is going on around you. The key is balance–moving back and forth between inner/outer focus as needed (see my blog post June 2007, titled, Zoom, Zoom, Zoom for more information on this particular form of focus).

In the second case, the issue is knowing whether you are too focused on the future (living in your fantasy or vision) and ignoring the present needs of the business. Likewise, you don’t want to get caught up in ruminating about the past– bemoaning lost opportunities or lamenting the “good old days” — and again, miss the issues right before your eyes. You need to have awareness about where you are putting your attention: be in the present, but thinking of “possible futures”…be focused on others, but caring for self, etc. The key again is balance: crafting a vision for the future, but living moment-by-moment in the NOW.

For more information on the subject of focus, I highly recommend The Power of Focusing, by Ann Weiser Cornell.

Step Four: Don’t Blame, Re-frame

The issue here is that we all have a tendency to “play the victim” at times. When there are so many things that impact our businesses that appear to be out-of-our-control, it is natural to get discouraged and want to point fingers…or blame the messenger. The key to staying positive and on-track in the midst of the mine field of economic bombs being dropped on you from all directions is to remember one key principle: there is only one thing you can truly control and that is how you SEE THE EVENTS.

We are always creating a “story” — a narrative– with which we explain what happens in our business…and in our life. The key to “staying afloat” during rough seas, is to not get caught up in the negative frame, but rather to “re-frame” the story — to look below the surface of what might appear to be bad news– and find the gold. You can always re-interpret the story as one in which opportunity abounds, no matter how bleak the picture looks in the moment. As Jim Kramer says on his TV show: “there is ALWAYS a bull market somewhere…it is your job to find it.”

Step Five: Stay in Balance

This subject of this step, like focus, is something that we hear in mantra form all the time: “Get a life.” Of course, as nice as that sounds, we all would likely admit that true balance is the first thing that gets thrown out the window as soon as we find ourselves in “fear-mode”. Anxiety breeds over-activity (and less sleep), and stress breeds exhaustion and irritability. The idea that we need to maintain balance (e.g. work/life balance) is certainly not new. What is missing, however, from most of the “self-help” literature on the subject is the answer to a key question: what, exactly, do I need to keep in balance?

Huh?

Huh?


It is not enough to maintain a balance between work and life (in fact, the colloquialism “work/life balance” is an oxymoron: since when is work NOT life?). For most business leaders working “under the gun” of stress and fear, work becomes life, and vice versa. It is not enough to find a temporary median point on the see-saw of “life” and “work”. In order to release fear and stay energized, optimized and optimistic, there is a balance more fundamental than that between work and life: the balance between head, heart, and body.

What really matters, at the end of the day, is that you balance your “thinking” side with your “feeling” side…and that you align both with your physical well-being. If you spend all your time thinking about the business and forget to sleep or eat, well, I can predict the outcome: disaster. If you spend all your time in “emotional meltdown”–crying jags, screaming fits and the like–well, here too, I can predict the outcome: disaster, but worse, you’ll be alone. Everyone who might support you, will flee! The key to “staying in balance” is not to focus on work vs. life (not possible anyway) but to focus on keeping aligned: mentally, emotionally, and physically.

Suggestion: reflect back on a typical week (especially one when you were in “stress/fear” mode). How much time did you spend attending to your feelings? How much time did you spend doing mental gymnastics–thinking, thinking and more thinking? How much time did you spend tending to the vehicle that seemingly effortlessly carries around all those heavy thoughts and feelings–your body? What is the balance between the three?

Step Six: Watch for Blind Spots

The issue here is that when business leaders (or all of us for that matter) are in “fear-mode” they have a tendency to deny/avoid confronting the truth. As in step #1 above, it is crucial that a leader be open and honest about his/her experience of anxiety and stress. We have to remember that even as the CEO, you are a human-being…vulnerable to the same fears and stressors as the lowest person on the totem pole.

Step six, however, is not just about “confessing” and naming your fear…it is about being willing to get clear, objective and tough-love feedback from people who will tell you the truth about what you may be doing that is unproductive and hurtful, or what you may be missing (e.g. the big picture?). As the leader of an organization, of three or three thousand or more, you are not immune to the darker aspects of human nature.

Often, denied fear–or avoided stress if you prefer–shows up in the outer world as something rather unpleasant. Do you recognize any of these behaviors from a place you may have worked: raging employees,

We've all been there

We've all been there

angry bosses, nasty co-workers, arrogant customer-service agents, condescending superiors, dismissive department heads?

Ok you get the idea. We all have our “shadow” side. As Carl Jung pointed out so profoundly many years ago: “The psychological rule says that when an inner situation is not made conscious, it happens outside as fate.” The fear and hurt in our hearts that we would deny and push away, shows up in the world anyway, as projection. We unconsciously toss on to others what we refuse to own in ourselves.

This step may be my last (for the moment) but it is key: when in fearful mode in business, and in life, we all need to find someone–or maybe a whole community of someone’s–who will give us the hard, cold skinny on how we are behaving. Only then, with a little reflection and humility, can we bet back on track…and show up as the leader/role model that we know our best self to be.

Question to reflect upon: How often do you get real, useful feedback in your life? Do you take the risk and ask for it? Do you have someone who will tell you the truth, no holds barred?

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So…there you have it. My recipe for riding out the storm of anxiety, stress, and worry–FEAR–that is likely gripping you, and me, and everyone else, at least now and again, as the economic tide of woe flows by. We all know that economic tides, just like the ones pulled by the moon, will turn and ebb and and change. We are not on the Titanic, and I, for one, don’t believe there is an iceberg ahead.

We're all in the same boat

We're all in the same boat

Times will get better. But for now, we all have to do whatever we can to keep our backs up straight, our hearts open, and our heads above water. We are all in this boat together–so please send along your additions to my list…there is plenty of room in this life raft!

Dr J