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stepping out of your comfort zone: growth that spreads

What brings you a breath of fresh air? Every day routine can lead to efficiency, mindlessness or boredom. Experiencing something new grows your creativity, capacity and confidence. How often do you introduce a growth experience into your life?

Recently I enrolled in a metal art class. I love handmade objects, but have old messages warning against my artistic talents. Childhood art and music classes provide opportunities to awaken interests, but if done poorly can dash a child’s confidence in trying something new. My early conclusions were that I possessed neither musical nor artistic talent. These doors were closed for me and much was lost.

And yet throughout my life I’ve loved working with my hands. So independently I did sewing, weaving, knitting and beading. They relaxed me and gave me a final product.

I also became a “patron” of artists and love hearing about their journeys, learning their processes and buying their works. I want to encourage and support them in their dreams and efforts. But I also admire how free and courageous they are to follow their passions.

But what about my dreams and passions? What did I ignore and fear? My career as a psychotherapist and coach found me operating mostly in my head and heart. I don’t use my body in my work. Where is your career focus: head, heart, body? And what changes are required to become whole?

People approaching new learning or returning to previous interests can expand their brain capabilities. Through neuroscience’s concept of neuroplasticity, we now know that the brain grows new neural pathways through stimulation. The experience of being out of your comfort zone by taking on something brand new allows you to develop many skills including creativity, perseverance and flexibility that are beneficial in your current career. Plus this change of focus promotes energy to sustain a long work life.

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”
Neale Donald Walsch

Amy has been a physician for 40 years. She loves her work, but it feels repetitive at times. She regrets the administrative parts of her job, but loves patient contact and solving medical challenges. Amy notices friends are taking up dance, music and painting. They report joy in their endeavors, meeting new people and expanding their interests. Amy wants to find something new for herself, but she admits some fear and uncertainty.

A frequent concert fan, Amy starts thinking about playing an instrument. In high school she played the violin, but gave it up in college. “What if I could study music and be around people who play?” Amy does some research and finds a local community college offering piano lessons. She enrolls.

Amy loves jazz and convinces her teacher to begin lessons in that genre. At first Amy is a fish out of water, but eventually the practices become pure joy as she gets lost in the music. She meets other enthusiasts, young and old, and they talk of playing together.

While Amy has a stressful job and is tired at the end of the day, after a piano lesson she feels rejuvenated. She finds herself approaching her medical practice with new eyes and excitement.

“Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

So what do you want to take on? How long have you languished in your comfort zone? Perhaps it feels like you are constantly challenged in the work place. You’re tired of feeling stretched and never comfortable.

But taking a risk in a different environment can prove satisfying. Maybe you use your body all day, but rarely your heart. Taking on challenges in a new environment and developing unfamiliar skills constitute an act of courage. Proving to yourself that you CAN do something out of your comfort zone is a message that will carry you anywhere in the world.

Where do you want to grow?

What area would be a challenge for you?
Pick an interest
Take one class
Evaluate your growth
Continue or change again

Take that smile of satisfaction with you on your next path!


working for yourself: the entrepreneur within

You have unique ideas. You dream of working at something you love. You feel bored at work. Your co-workers are nice, but your heart isn’t engaged in your present role. You aren’t even sure the organization’s mission resonates with you anymore.

Perhaps you have traveled this experience as far as you can. Or perhaps you can alter your current position to better things in the future. You can either unravel what is possible within or outside of your organization.

Often at midlife employees feel chained to their jobs. Some call it “Golden Handcuffs”. I first heard that term when I worked for local government. All of a sudden the job you took on a whim in your twenties/thirties has lasted 20 plus years and you are deep into the benefits package. Your lifestyle and responsibilities have grown and you are living well on those benefits. Alternate companies are no longer offering defined retirement plans, 5 weeks vacation, security, recognition.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now”

Chinese Proverb

What would make you leave all that behind? What leap are you willing to take? Some people have a burning desire to create their own business. After learning the ropes in a particular field, you want to be in charge, to do it your way, to be creative. Or you have a secondary interest that has followed you throughout your life. It never seemed practical enough to provide support, but it kept calling you.

Maybe you left it behind or maybe you made it a hobby. But it’s always brought you great pleasure and satisfaction. It’s something you could learn about and practice for hours without tiring. What would it be like to turn this love into a business?

The fear in taking this passion seriously is that it would erase the joy. It would become work and resemble what you are struggling with now. So you ignore the call and put it in the impossible dream category.

What if you had the courage to look at it differently? What if you examined the possibilities versus the unlikelihoods?

Marion loves designing and sewing. Since being a young girl, she has drawn and made her own clothes. Marion learned from her mother who created her children’s clothes for financial reasons. Marion has less time now to sew and more money from her job as a bank Vice President to buy designer clothes. But she’s still fascinated by the innovative, hands on process.

What can Marion do? It might be foolish to give up what she has developed as a professional. But every year she is feeling more restless, less satisfied. Her job is not very creative. She is extremely competent at her position, but has little wiggle room to operate differently.

Marion takes an Italian vacation and visits Positano. There she is fascinated by the unique stores selling handmade clothes and shoes. She learns the town has a long history of family workshops and begins talking with the owners, designers and seamstresses. She is in heaven to be around these people.

Once home to her real world, Marion cannot forget what she experienced in Positano. She wonders about having her own business. Is it an unachievable dream or something she could establish? Being a practical person with many resources, Marion begins researching the design trade. She locates people to interview. She begins drafting a business plan.

Having seen many business plans as a bank official, Marion is familiar with the required elements. Each one leads her to more thought and investigation regarding niche, legalities, expenses, marketing. She takes a local course given by a small business attorney to learn more. All the while, Marion is planning and building, weighing the costs and benefits. She is excited.

While Marion knows she likes to design and sew, there are more pieces needed to run a successful business. She identifies those and consults people who are doing them. She ponders the options of a brick and mortar store, or online sales or supplying inventory to larger companies. Which would bring her most satisfaction? Delivering the products into the hands of customers or being further removed?

All the while, Marion is examining her financials. What is needed to begin a business? How much does she require to live on? What is the risk of leaving the bank and going off on her own? What is the risk of never trying this?

“So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then seem improbable, and then when we summon the will, they soon seem inevitable”

Christopher Reeve

We’ll learn more about Marion’s decisions next month.  Meanwhile you can:

Identify your work passion
Ask what part of it intrigues you
Visualize developing a business
Find role models to learn from
Assess your financial health

Start dreaming and see you on the path!

the audition: testing the waters to a new career

A 16 year old American girl in an impoverished Haitian neighborhood is interviewing sick people attending a clinic run by U.S. volunteers. How did she get there? Instead of texting with friends, learning the latest dance steps or writing an English paper, Claudia found herself in a totally unfamiliar environment. An invitation from her uncle turned into an experience of a lifetime.

Think of those incredible times when you experienced a unique experience. An experience that shaped your future. An experience available to you because you took a chance.

Claudia was open to seeing a new country and to taking on a new responsibility. From that short exposure, Claudia received an up close view of medical work. By trying on that environment, she now has more information about what it’s like to work as a doctor, nurse or medical assistant. Claudia loved being part of the team, loved seeing people get help and was intrigued by what future roles will be open for her.

By emersing yourself in diverse occupations, you can learn a great deal. Is this for me? Do I have a fit? You either are propelled to discard and move on or to delve deeper. Claudia is interested. She wants more experiences like this. She is on track to get medical training.

When you were young, it was expected that you would “audition” in various settings to gain information about your interests and aptitude. Your family arranged opportunities, as did the scouts, your schools and faith based groups. You experimented with many types of work and activities which helped you chose a focus.

But you aren’t 16 anymore. How do you make a career change when you long for something different?

At the end of the day, your life is just a story. If you don’t like the direction it’s going, change it. Rewrite it. When you rewrite a sentence, you erase it and start over until you get it right. Yes, it’s a little more complicated with a life, but the principle is the same. And remember, don’t let anyone ever tell you that your revisions are not the truth.”

Tyler Jones

Susana is in transition. She has practiced law successfully for 20 years. But something is off. Susana is reluctant to go to work in the morning and, once there, is often irritable and dissatisfied. She knows she wants to make a change, but she doesn’t know what or where. Susana needs exposure to some different environments. She needs to shake things up. Just like Claudia, Susana is eager to be amazed.

But how do adults test out alternate careers? You are working and handling life’s responsibilities with little free time. How do you carve out time for “auditions”?

Claudia was also busy. She petitioned her high school to take time off and agreed to write a special report on her Haitian trip. You too can be creative with your time. You can use vacation hours to volunteer or intern in an intriguing field. Organizations, domestic and international, look for people to teach, build, create and solve problems. Instead of a beach, perhaps an orphanage or wildlife preserve is calling you.

With free evening and weekend time you can take courses, volunteer in your community, serve on a board. Designing a detailed plan to investigate a new career field through part time emersion gets you in motion instead of misery. It also allows you to enter a community of people who are bursting with knowledge and enthusiasm about their fields.

The parts of Susana’s job she loves are mentoring new employees. They are eager to learn and ask probing questions. Susana wonders where she could do work that focuses on mentoring. She finds a Saturday volunteer position where she tutors students living in a domestic violence shelter. Her plan is to do this for 6 months and evaluate her aptitude and interest. While doing so, she is investigating part time adjunct law professor positions in local universities.

By trying on and expanding, or discarding, Susana is creating her own decision tree made up of experiences and answers. Some she will leave behind, some may become hobbies, and some may lead her to dive deeper into a new direction.

Decide it’s your time to make a change:

Dare to dream
List your interests
Investigate one
Create an internship
Interview the community
Evaluate your experience

Shake life up and see you on the path!

wait don’t tell me, figuring it out yourself

Some of you may listen to the NPR Quiz Show, “Wait, wait don’t tell me”, or have been in that frustrating state of trying to remember or do something and imploring someone, “Wait, don’t tell me”… Along with the desire to come up with the answer independently, is the satisfaction of figuring it out on your own.

This past week I encountered that situation. Every year I participate in a psychotherapy conference in Washington DC. In addition to clinical courses, creative arts workshops are offered to allow us to grow by getting out of our heads and using our bodies. I chose the Clay class.

I’ve always admired and collected ceramics and wondered how it would be to create a clay piece. Our instructor gave us tools, clay, brief demos, colleagues for support, and permission to play. It was heaven manipulating the clay and seeing what emerged. We worked on small tables of 5, all creating unique projects.

After watching people throw pots on a wheel, I was intrigued to try it myself. Maybe this could become a hobby for me and I would become good at it. In addition to supporting artists, I could become one and share my gifts with others… To be honest, I wasn’t dreaming that far afield. I was just curious to try something new.

Another student centered a blob of clay on my wheel and then it was me alone with the clay. Being mindful of the instructor’s demonstration, I started the wheel and touched the cold clay.

I didn’t really know what I was doing, but took my cue from the clay. When it felt dry and my hands couldn’t shape it, I would add water. When it seemed off center, I gently moved it back into equilibrium. It felt like the moving wheel and clay were in charge and I was a minor onlooker. This was fun.

No one was there telling me how to do it. At times I thought, “I need to ask for help, I need to find the correct way to do this”. But just as quickly as that urge arose, I responded with “Wait, see if you can figure it out on your own”. I liked that freedom and risk taking.

I doubted something huge could go wrong. At one point I drew out a thin lip of the pot. It looked cool and then, in a flash it flew off the wheel. Oh well, that was ok. I just started over. No biggie.

“We cannot teach people anything, we can only help them discover it within themselves”


What were my take aways from that day with clay? I enjoyed the hand building and wheel working experiences. I felt relaxed expressing myself with my hands. And felt positive that clay is something I’d like to try again. I challenged those early childhood messages, “You don’t have talent”, by simply investigating an interest.

Why not pursue something new and different that exposes you to unique experiences? Why not stretch yourself?

What does playing with clay have to do with Career Transitions? Getting curious about an alternate career field or job happens when people are ready for a change. That urge to shake things up and immerse yourself in another environment represents a voice calling you. You’ve heard it.

Sometimes you ignore the call because you can’t attend to it right away. Sometimes it gets so loud or falls in your lap that you just have to take it on. Sometimes you give yourself permission to take a peek.

Just like in clay class, you need some orientation, some tools, some encouragement and even some fellow seekers to support you. You may charge ahead with purpose or feel lost and want some direction.

Based on my experience, I encourage you to make times when you follow your heart, investigate interests, avoid asking for the answer first and envelop yourself in the multiple possibilities.

Steps to get started:

Ask what’s calling you
Find a way to experience it
Engage your head and body
What are the lessons?
Decide what’s next

Happy Trails and see you on the path!

career year end review: wins and lessons

Sonnenuntergang in den Bergen
It’s common to make New Year resolutions at this time, but how many of you review the year you are exiting? Especially in work life, whether you work for yourself or others, you can learn lessons to guide your progress and growth.

If you were to close your eyes and scan over the past 12 months, what stands out? Is it that fantastic trip you took, or precious time spent with friends and family, or does something work-related make you smile?

Most of us need to work to earn a living, but what else does your career bring you? What are the meaningful parts of your role? What keeps you engaged? What demonstrates that your efforts matter?

Lisa works in the healing arts and is reminded that her hard work matters when clients praise the positive results of her efforts. Harry, a musician, is motivated to continue long hours of practice when audiences cheer and return to experience his superb performances. Tony feels recognized when his boss salutes him in meetings and hands over more authority.

While exterior validation feels yummy, what are you hearing inside yourself? What’s going well from your perspective? How do you measure success in your work? Is it quantitative, objective, or emotional? By making yearly career goals it is possible to evaluate your progress. This can be the year to begin a structured process to know where you are:

1. List your most important career Wins of the last year. For example, these could be advancements in pay or responsibility, completion of projects, or advanced skill development. Karen was asked to take on new responsibilities when a co-worder suddenly left. While she felt unprepared to carry out unfamiliar duties, Karen jumped in. She grew new skills by working with a mentor as well as taking an online course. Now Karen is amazed and proud of what she can do.

2. Make note of those times when you are in Flow: you are so immersed that time flies by. Analyze the pattern of those times. Are you working with a team, creating something unique, or using a skill you are very comfortable with? Marty finds whenever he is thinking outside the box, he is extremely satisfied and excited.

“When you recover or discover something that nourishes your soul and brings joy, care enough about yourself to make room for it in your life”

Jean Shinoda Bolen

3. List your Lessons learned: those things you love to do, those you’d rather avoid, your system for finding solutions. Sarah realizes she is better having great independence than being micro-managed. Often failures while painful, can teach us a great deal. Bob took a risk with a friend to start a new business. They were matched in their talents and ended up competing in decision making because they lacked complementary skills.

4. Appreciate all the Skills you have used as well as new ones gained. Imagine how these skills can be transferable. Marion is a great cheer leader for her team. She can translate those skills into leadership and management opportunities.

5. What Risks paid off the most this year? Stretching out of your box and doing something new lead to growth. Which one of these risks reaped returns? Was the “pain” worth the “gain”?

6. List the new Relationships you have made and how you want to prosper from their existence. Bob joined the Board of a non-profit and is meeting professionals outside of his field. It is bringing an infusion of viewpoints and personalities that spice up his life.

Once you have an overview of this year’s work, it’s time to look ahead. What do you want for yourself in the future? Set your intentions. Where do you want to be? Is it staying where you are, moving to a new role in the same organization, or is it time to move out? People put off making changes waiting for the planets to align, but the reality is that nothing will be perfectly timed for a change. You can make the change now on your terms or have change happen to you without your input.

“Life has no smooth road for any of us and in the bracing atmosphere of a high aim the very roughness stimulates the climber to steadier steps, till the legend, over steep ways to the stars, fulfills itself”

WC Doane

Whatever you decide, it helps to have an accountability partner to brainstorm goals, steps, and review progress. Whether this partner is a peer, a colleague, or a professional coach matters less than the act of committing to a regular process.

So look back before you look ahead:

Make sense of this year
Write your “take aways”
Keep what you like
Discard the rest
Take a new step forward

Be bold and see you on the path!

tools for growth: building confidence

Summer Fun

People remark, I’m not sure I can do it. How do I build confidence so I can approach my goals? Perhaps it’s easier to believe you don’t have the right stuff to accomplish something. You are different than other people. It’s easier for them. They can talk, step up, figure things out. You can’t. They aren’t afraid. You didn’t inherit those confident genes. Your family didn’t encourage you, or teach you, or serve as a model.

Is it possible this is all an excuse? Reasons not to try,  not push yourself? To stay stuck in a familiar but uncomfortable state? What does it take to believe in yourself?

Change and growth are possible. I know you’ve already experienced them. The next path may be long, it may be rocky, it may be harder than you thought. But it is possible. What is needed to take that step?

The vision of a better life can absolutely overpower the fear of taking a risk and changing. You may be miserable in your career. But rather than focus on that pain, how would it be to focus on the alternative…the life you desire? It’s like walking toward the light versus running from the dark. We need pain to get our attention, but the danger is getting stuck in that pain. Pain doesn’t necessarily propel us forward. Vision does.

If we make the vision manageable and attainable not a mountain to climb, it’s likely we’ll take a shot. So chunking the steps down into reasonable size makes us feel capable. Make the step just a little outside your reach so you think, hey I can do this. It’s like climbing or swimming. Conquer a small distance, look back, applaud, and look ahead again.

We all have something we’re good or even great at. We may not recognize it as our gift because it comes so easily. Robert, for example, can fix anything. He started taking things apart as a young boy. He had no fear and kept at it until he found the answer. Margaret, on the other hand, has a fantastic voice. She sings constantly as she goes through the day and has never had lessons.

By recognizing our gifts and talents, we can build a Mastery List. On it may go skills we’ve developed like public speaking, writing or tech savy or gifts we’ve inherited. Having a personal/professional Mastery List helps us in times of uncertainty. When we question our abilities to take on something new, a foundation of strengths and successes can bolster our confidence.

You’ve all heard “don’t rest on your laurels”. In order not to be stagnant we need to stay in motion. Try new things. Risk taking is a tool that leads us onto new paths. Feel the fear and keep going. Take a leap into the unknown, the uncomfortable. James had never been out of the country. He liked being familiar with his surroundings and speaking his own language. However, his boss asked James to accompany him on a business trip to Asia. The boss was showing confidence in James and requested his expertise.

James questioned his ability to function so far from home in a new culture. But he took a deep breath and decided to try something very much out of his comfort zone. The result was a bonus from his boss and a new project where James will share his skills with others. James is intrigued, honored, and excited with this new opportunity. And he found he loves the people and food of Thailand.

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

Building your confidence tool box:

     Create your Mastery List
     Applaud your gifts
     Design a vision tied to your interests/passions
     Take a calculated risk
     Chunk down your first step until it’s manageable

Keep your eyes ahead and see you on the path!




value added to your life: turn it upside down

Woman Hiking toward Cathedral Rock (Sedona, Arizona)

What is your philosophy of life? Have you developed one? Have you paused long enough to recognize your life lessons so far?

Recently while hiking in the red rocks of Sedona, I met a philosopher from China. He would call himself a cook, but he shared his life lessons along the trail. Joe worked extremely hard for over 20 years and now is touring the U.S. at his own pace. If you ask Joe “what are you doing tomorrow?”, he’d say “I don’t know yet”.

Instead he does what he feels like when he wakes every morning. If it means spending 3 hours patiently waiting for a butterfly to land near his camera or driving across the desert without stopping, Joe uses his intuition and interests to point the way.

Now if you think Joe must be retired, you’re wrong. Joe is 48. Earlier in his life he had different priorities: raising a family, making money to buy a house, helping his parents, becoming an entrepreneur. While family is still important to Joe, working long and hard is not.

When you scan back over your life, what emerges as your priorities? Do you notice you were more involved in certain roles, responsibilities, or activities at particular stages? Can you see that your life has ebbed and flowed according to the choices and circumstances present? Perhaps your calling wasn’t always expressed through your career. And that was ok.

I have another friend Caroline who is also in her 40’s. She works when she needs to and goes for long stretches of time when she lives off that money and does volunteer work. To Caroline her volunteer work is her passion and her work is to pay the bills.

What strikes you about Caroline and Joe? What role does work play in your life currently? How does your work meet your needs? The old model of working 40+ hours per week for 5 or more days during 45+ years of life is changing. People are moving in and out of work.

Instead of taking a break at the end of a long career, people are taking sabbaticals after 10 years or less. They are learning to live more simply, saving wisely, and not becoming captive to possessions. Even the old adage of home ownership as the American dream is changing. Many of us don’t want the responsibility or expense of home ownership.

What are you a servant to? What would you like to throw off or away? Joe and Caroline value their opportunities to chart an independent course toward their happiness. Neither are tied to a clock or a timeline. They certainly are in flow much more than most of us.

What if you took a leap like Caroline or Joe and tried something new? What do you have to lose? What could happen with this new sense of direction? How did Joe and Caroline break out of their traditional work schedules?

Something greater called them. At first it wasn’t clear what part of their lives needed changing, but they knew something needed to be different. They worked at figuring out the missing pieces by trying on interests gradually. Maybe that calling was percolating from long ago…an interest in adventure, a passion to help others. They fueled those interests and their creativity grew.

Caroline and Joe were rewarded for their efforts. They heard a “yes, this is what I want”. Some people find a way to follow their bliss part time on the side. Some do it for huge chunks at a time. There is no formula for everyone. Only trial and error and a willingness to take a risk.

Ready to dip a toe in?

Make a list of your interests and values
Draw lines out from each, developing the possibilities
Pick one and go investigate
Ask yourself if you want to know more
Follow your answer
Get in action

Enjoy the ride and see you on the path!