Limits create freedom.

2014-11-09 07.46.36Sometimes the only way to create more possibility is by saying No to something. Instead of trying to do everything or keeping your options open or wearing all of the hats by yourself, trust yourself enough to say No.

For example, for several months I was half in my own business and half wondering what else I might do instead. But that created a whole bunch of stagnation and murkiness. It wasn’t until I consciously decided to search for a job and put my business on the back burner (in essence saying no to most of what I had been pouring my energy into) that everything expanded.

Saying No to what isn’t fun, opens the door for more fun.
Saying No to all of those Maybes, opens the door to a much bigger Yes.
Saying No creates clarity and freedom.

It doesn’t mean that the thing you say No to will necessarily be cut from your life forever and ever, but when you consciously choose where not to put your energy, all of a sudden you have a lot more energy to put toward that 1 thing that is most important right now.

This allows that 1 thing to thrive (or fail) a whole lot faster. And that in turn (regardless of success or failure), moves you forward. And without movement, we are not living.

All of those little Maybes we hold onto because we might want it later or it might be important rob us of time, energy, focus, and aliveness. It’s like trying to carry water in a bucket full of holes. But when we say No clearly and consciously, we plug those holes and get the water up the hill.

And just because we say No to something today doesn’t mean it is forever No. The limit, the choice, the No, is a way to create freedom for something more right now.

What would be possible if you focused all of your time, energy, aliveness, and focus on one Yes today?

It’s all an experiment.

Photo Credit: Clement127 via Flickr
Photo Credit: Clement127 via Flickr
I’ve read several online marketing experts who say to do lots of little experiments to see what actually works for your business (start with the best practices and advice but then experiment because what works for business A won’t always work for business B).

Then sometime last year I realized that this same principle applies to life. And everything has been different for me since then.

When you approach life as a series of experiments, it expands the scope of what’s possible.

Experimenting keeps you in the learning process (which is the most fun place to be, right?). You can start with a standard or best practice or classic advice, and notice what works and what doesn’t. And then adjust. Shift. Try the opposite. But the whole time, noticing what is and is not working.

There is no one-size-fits-all life. So why not experiment to find the one that fits you best?

It’s about people.

Everything in our human lives is about people. Relationships, sales, marketing, parenting, politics, leadership, business, medicine, money, animal rights, …everything.

More specifically, it’s all about what motivates people, how they feel, and what they believe. Yet in so many areas of life, the people-part of things gets forgotten. And that’s where it gets messed up.

Businesses that focus on the bottom line while disregarding the people they employ and the people they serve with whatever product or service they create, those are the businesses we instinctively dislike. Even if we barely know anything about them.

Doctors who are more interested in time and fitting in more patients are the ones we most want to avoid. No one wants to feel like a number.

The blogger who focuses on the number of followers and comments they have without taking the time to appreciate and communicate with the people who are already following them find it hard to build those numbers they covet so much.

Sure, there are shortcuts in most of these areas. Ways to trick or manipulate or find quick gains, like the marketer who figures out all the right things to say, tugs on your heartstrings, and makes you feel like they get you. But then after you’ve given them your money, it feels like you don’t exist.

This is also why so much of social media feels disconnected and unsatisfying. We all get so caught up in the number of likes or retweets that we get instead of the people. [Nerd moment: when we get the likes and retweets, we get a little shot of dopamine which feels good and makes us want more. So of course, we like chasing those numbers.]

But for lasting success in any area of life, build relationships with the people involved.

Let them know you see them, hear them, get them. And actually take the time to see them, hear them, and get them. It’s not always easy, but it’s key to better business, better parenting, and everything else.

Why not?

Photo Credit: Dhilung Kirat via Flickr
Photo Credit: Dhilung Kirat via Flickr
Sometimes things don’t happen quite the way you planned.
Sometimes opportunities show up that you never even considered.
And sometimes (despite the uncertainty, incongruence, and unexpectedness) the right answer is “Why not?”.

Check your filter to make sure it’s not taking you completely off-course. But sometimes all of the answers to your filter come out “no” and your gut still tells you “yes”. At which point, the answer might be “Why not?”.

The fears that are likely to come up are the ones that want you to think that this decision will be forever. But there are very few things in life that require you to commit forever. Most things (sadly, including marriage) you could walk away from if it doesn’t work out.

For example, let’s say a job you never even thought you wanted lands in your lap and you realize that it gets you excited and your gut says “yes”. The fear would say “but what if you don’t like it? Then you’re stuck.” But the reality is that a job is not forever. Why not try it for a year? What have you got to lose?

(That example is exactly where I’m at in my life, by the way. Starting an unexpected job today, in fact.)

“Why not?” opens up possibilities you might have otherwise shied away from. And keeps you playing jazz.

Life is an experiment. Why not have fun with it?

Keep your eye on the prize

Photo Credit: kenmainr via Flickr
Photo Credit: kenmainr via Flickr
There are opportunities in life (big and small) that can leave us waffling.

On paper it sounds good.
It feels like it might be fun.
I could be really good at it.
Everyone else thinks I should do it.

So how do you decide when to say yes and when to say no?

I’ve said yes to more things than I should have. Sometimes that ended with me sucking it up and keeping my commitments anyway. And other times it ended with me going back with my head hung in shame, asking for forgiveness and backing out.

But neither of these scenarios feel good. And the only way to prevent them is to know when to say No.

The trouble is that our brains like to rationalize and explain why something does or does not make sense, and this can create overwhelm or analysis paralysis.

Bypass your brain (but not in the surgical sense).

It’s helpful to do some pre-thinking about what’s important to you. Come up with 3 questions (or more) that can act as a filter for those things that send your brain into over-rationalizing.

Here’s a template:

  1. My goal is to ___________. Does this opportunity help me get there?
  2. My purpose is to __________. Does this opportunity help me serve my purpose? (Note: this could also be your “why” or mission or whatever).
  3. Overall, I want my life to be _______ (including family, health, etc). Does this opportunity help me live that life?

But that’s just a starting place. You might have other things that are important to you. Write them down. Keep them somewhere handy, and then when you’re waffling about whether to do something or not even if it does/does not make sense on paper, take out your filter and see if this opportunity passes the test.

Keep your eye on the prize. (And the prize is your best life… however you choose to define it).

Different and together

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Photo Credit: CameliaTWU via Flickr
My husband asked me the other day if I considered myself a conformist or a nonconformist? And I didn’t have a definitive answer because it depends.

For all of my talk about breaking and making your own rules, I’m also a rule-follower a lot of the time. It depends on why and what feels right and what’s important in that moment.

Life is full of choices and categories.

And it’s easy to believe that there are only 2 possibilities in each case. Not only that, but it’s also easy to believe that we have to choose one or the other, otherwise we don’t belong anywhere (and biologically, in our hearts or limbic brains, we all want to belong).

Conservative or liberal.
Feminist or patriarchal.
Pro-choice or pro-life.
Black or white.
Christian or atheist.
Good or bad.
Yes or no.
Right or wrong.
Techie or luddite.
Selfish or selfless.
Conformist or rebel.
Agreeable or contrarian.
Intellectual or artistic.
Either you are with us or against us.

But choosing sides doesn’t get us anywhere except more entrenched in disagreements. Like in politics, if you follow the media, you might start to believe that there are only extreme left or extreme right points of view. And either you’re on the right side or the wrong side. But in reality (the real kind, not the stuff on TV), most people fall somewhere in between. The land of “it depends”. The blurry middle.

For most of us, choosing sides can leave us feeling out of place (because we only sort of identify with one side vs the other). So what if we stand in the blurry middle together instead of choosing sides? That’s where we’ll find belonging and solutions.

Let’s be different and together, not the same and separate.

Rules for breaking the rules

What do Miles Davis, Henri Matisse, and Richard Branson have in common? They broke the rules in their own fields (jazz, art, and business, respectively).

But what if you’re not a famous jazz musician, artist, or entrepreneur? How can you start breaking rules in small (or big) ways?

Take cooking for example. You could just start throwing random things into a pot and see what happens. That is definitely one way to approach things. But I thought it might be helpful to have a couple of rules to help you as you start breaking the rules (or making your own):

  1. Understand the fundamentals.

    Whether in music, art, business, cooking, exercise, or anything really, it helps to know the basics. Practice the scales. Learn about color. Understand flavors. Whatever.

    Because no amount of sprinkles will cover up the fact that you didn’t know to use baking powder in that cake.

  2. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes.

    Courage is a key ingredient for life. (Tweet that)

    Just because you learn the fundamentals doesn’t mean you have to be a stickler about them. Experiment.

    Because without a little bit of courage you might never try bourbon in your whipped cream instead of vanilla extract (which would be sad because it’s delicious with pecan pie).

Start living life like a piece of jazz. Change recipes. Work differently. Experiment. Create something new.

Make your own rules

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Photo Credit: Alpstedt via Flickr
The rules of the game are clear.
Do this, not that.
Eat this, not that.
Not like that. This is the right way.
Follow the rules.
Fit in.
Be normal.

For every part of life (from diet to career to parenting to being successful), there is a set of rules. Some are written down and others are implied. And some are the cultural shoulds that keep us sticking to the script that someone else wrote.

But what if those rules don’t really apply to you?

Of course, there are those who hope that you will continue to play by their rules, but what if, in your life, you get to make your own rules?

Instead of Paleo or vegan or the diet du jour, eat the foods that make you feel good.

Instead of yoga or crossfit or whatever cool exercise trend is happening, exercise the way your body wants to (even if that means taking short walks or dancing around your house).

Instead of chasing success as defined by the media, your peers, or your insecurities, decide what success looks like for you. Maybe it means being the next shark on Shark Tank or maybe it means working just enough to support your life living in a tiny house. Or something in between and completely different.

The point is, you decide.

Why “Fake it till you make it” is terrible advice

2015-03-03 07.13.18About 5 years ago, I took the first class of what would begin my journey to becoming a certified life coach.
At one point, I said something to one of the instructors, and while I cannot for the life of me remember what I said, I remember her response as if she were in the room with me right now: “Well, you might just have to fake it till you make it, you know?”

She meant well.

But what she probably didn’t realize is that she just said something to me that (regardless of her intention) can be one of the biggest sources of confidence erosion out there.

Can you imagine a better way to undermine someone’s confidence than to tell them that they need to fake being something else because being themselves isn’t going to cut it if they want to “make it”.

Isn’t that what this advice is saying?

The real problem is that this advice is a judgment.

You could argue that I’m nitpicking the words, that the people who give this advice are just trying to be helpful and don’t mean anything bad by it, that I’m making a big deal out of nothing. But words have power. We internalize words… they become part of our internal story.

Our internal story is the source or the end to our confidence. (Tweetable)

The things we hear over and over become part of the story we tell ourselves. So for the quieter folks out there (introverts, HSPs, and reserved extroverts) who are told repeatedly to speak up, be more confident, and fake it till you make it, the internal story can quickly become one of being flawed, not good enough, and lacking some fundamental pieces.

Introverts and HSPs are especially averse to fake. We really, really want deep, true, and meaningful. So to tell us that to fit in or “make it”, we need to be fake, is like saying you don’t belong in this world. Ouch.

This is probably the exact opposite impact that the advice-giver intended.

Quiet and Confidence are not mutually exclusive.(Tweetable)

For the record, being quiet, reserved, introverted, highly sensitive, or otherwise “not outgoing”, is NOT a flaw. It doesn’t prevent you from having confidence or being confident. And none of these things need to be a source of “I’m not good enough”.

What if instead of trying to fake it till you make it, you became more realmore you? Why not redefine what “making it” means? Who says you want to play by their rules anyway?

Being yourself is the source of real confidence. (Tweetable)

When you try to be someone else, you’re standing on shaky ground. Of course, you don’t feel confident. How are you going to feel confident when you’re not even sure who you are?

But when you come home to yourself, let your roots run deep, and grow in You-ness, you become strong and confident like the mighty oak tree that, after a century of storms, is still standing tall.

Instead of faking it, stretch.

Next time someone tells you to fake it till you make it, translate it for yourself into “stretch a little.” Because what they probably really mean in their well-intentioned advice is that you’re playing smaller than your potential.

But the way to play bigger isn’t by faking it, it’s by stretching yourself into a bigger (more real) version of you. (This, by the way, is not the same as being louder, more outgoing, or “always on”.)

Stretch from your core, from inside of you, for your own reason. And watch your confidence grow.

If you like what you’re reading and want to go deeper, sign up for The Inside Story, my weekly-ish e-letter for quiet leaders like you.

How to enjoy a conference (even when you’d rather stay home)

2015-02-24 07.32.52This Tuesday I went to the Lead On Women’s Conference. And while I was excited to go, part of me wanted to stay home. Why? So.Many.People.

Worse than that, actually. So many people I don’t know.

But I volunteered to be one of the coaches in the “Coaches Corner” (offering speed coaching sessions to attendees) and I didn’t want to let anyone down. And I wanted to see Brene Brown and Hilary Clinton live (because how often do I get to do that?). So I pulled myself together and went.

Do you ever feel like you’d rather stay at home?

As an introvert and/or HSP, chances are you sometimes feel anxious or overwhelmed at the thought of going somewhere new like a conference where thousands of other people will also be. The chatter, the lights, the sea of booths. It’s a lot.

But whether for work or for fun (as in you want to go), chances are you’ll at some point need to pull yourself together and go to a conference (or concert or other large event that can induce heart palpitations).

Here are some things you can do to make the experience easier and dare I say, fun?

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  1. Go at your own pace.

    When we go places with large groups of people all there to do the same thing, it is really easy to a) think you need to go with the frenzied flow and b) worry you might miss something if you don’t. But FOMO is the enemy.
    For sure, get outside of your comfort zone, but don’t go so far that you end up out of your tree. There is a happy place for you somewhere in between “I’m going home” and “I’m going to meet 1,000 people and go to every breakout session.” Find the place where you can be at the conference without being overwhelmed by it. It is possible.

  2. Remember why you came.

    This is for those moments when you feel like chickening out, packing up, and giving up. You spent the money (or your company spent money for you) to be there, there must be a reason. What did you come to get? Who did you want to meet? Keep your goals and your purpose in mind, and it will be easier to stay when the sea of people overtakes you.

  3. Take breaks and hydrate!

    Take care of yourself. Period.
    Whether that’s stepping outside during a break to enjoy a moment of peace and sunshine, or carrying a water bottle and snack so that you avoid the afternoon hanger (hungry+anger). Oh, and wear comfortable shoes, yeah?

  4. Start a conversation with someone. They might be just as nervous as you are.

    This is my favorite tip, and one that I remind myself of often, because the truth is that large groups of unknown people can be intimidating to lots of people (yes, even some extroverts). But while we are all focused on our own anxieties and discomforts, it’s easy to forget that that woman who is sitting next to you at lunch who is also alone might love a friendly face. Why not make it yours?
    (It’s not like you have to promise to be besties forever and ever… or even the rest of the conference. It’s just hello.)

  5. Take a deep breath and have fun!

    You get to choose whether you have fun or not. And given the choice, why not choose fun?
    That said, when anxiety or nerves are involved, breathing helps. It may sound like a flippant to say “just breathe”, but it is amazing how much a deep, centering breath can do (granted, sometimes it takes more than one).
    There’s nothing you have to prove to anyone (not even to yourself). And you get to have fun because I said so. Kidding. You get to have fun because it’s your prerogative. (Anyone else hearing Bobby Brown all of a sudden?)

And at the end of the day, you get to go home and cuddle with your cat.

Or dog. Or human. Or remote.

2015-02-24 16.46.08At the conference on Tuesday, I coached 9 women leaders (each session was about 20 minutes). Then I sat among thousands of women (and a few men) and listened to Brené Brown weave her stories with research and poignant vulnerability and to Hilary Clinton mesmerize and inspire with her passion, commitment, and humanity.

Bonus: I got to visit a little with some of my coach-friends who I don’t see very often. So all-in-all it was a fantastic day, and I was glad that I didn’t listen to the voice that wanted to stay in bed and hide.

And when I got home, I changed into the comfiest clothes I own and cuddled with Raven in the quiet of my bedroom. Exhausted, at the edge of overstimulated, and completely satisfied.

What did I forget on the list?

Let me know in the comments what you would add to this list of tips for introverts and HSPs attending large conferences.