The Magical Mystery of Trust

I hosted my first retreat over the weekend. After months of planning, inviting and executing, it finally went down.


It was amazing.

Was its success due to organization, location and flow? Sure, those things helped. But really, it was something much bigger and less tangible than all of that. What made it truly awesome were the people who came to participate in the process. And would you believe that I barely knew any of them? This wasn't a retreat full of supportive friends or clients, but people who were brand new to me. Most of whom had never attended something like this before. Some were there because someone they barely knew told them they should look into it.

One of the hardest things to do when you're a high achiever is to surrender and allow things to unfold. We want a checklist, deadlines and CERTAINTY that what we are about to embark upon is going to go as planned. Does that work? Maybe. But you can also be hindered by controlling every last detail. Letting go of the plan can mean making space for something even better to happen.

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When I was sending invitations for the retreat, I had a good idea of the people who would be a good fit and might have interest. One by one, those people fell off as the timing didn't work for them. Did I freak out? No, because I knew they were genuinely interested, and if it sounded good to them, it would sound good to other people, too. I didn't know who those others would be, but I knew they would show up.

And show up, they did.

The first night, we sat in a circle around the fire at this beautiful retreat house in the cool spring air with glasses of wine in hand. The bond between us began to form as each shared why they were there and what they hoped to get out of the weekend. I was in awe of those who admitted they didn't exactly know what it was about and what it could do for them, but they had the courage to come because it felt right. Some pretty funny stuff came out of that uncertainty, as well. One attendee said he called his mom on the way, and because he wasn't sure what the retreat entailed, she warned him that he may be walking into a cult gathering. Bahaaaa!

As we did the work and had some laughs, my appreciation for each and every person grew. There was such good energy in this group that by the end, I was in complete awe. All the control and planning in the world couldn't have created what we just experienced. I couldn't have put together a more perfectly aligned group. I didn't have to. I allowed the "who will come" piece to go down the way it needed to, and lo and behold, the magic of that trust revealed itself, in the form of this group of people who I feel much richer for having experienced. I know they feel the same way about each other, too.

I mean, who could have anticipated that because one person showed up to the dinner table with gin and juice that we would decide that gangsta rap should accompany our meal? You can't plan for that level of awesome.

When you’re working on something, be sure to balance the planning with allowing. Create the framework that will support what you want, but then leave a little space to allow for the what if. It is highly likely that when you take the inspired step but loosen your grip on control, the outcome will far exceed your expectations.

Can you pick one thing in your life that you should loosen control over and do some allowing? It's okay to be nervous. Acknowledge and try it anyway. You might be blown away by what happens next.

Conquering Fear

In my work as a coach, I encounter fear on a regular basis. It is the single most present emotion in every person I meet who wants to be a coach. They want life to be different, but they're scared to make the change. They are afraid they don't have what it takes, that they can't have what they really want, that embarking on the process of change will rock the boat of their personal and professional lives so much that they'll be tossed into the water with few options for crawling back to safety.

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These are the three ways people respond to this kind of fear:

  1. Avoid. The fear is too much, they simply can't take it, and therefore their deep desire to create a different, better life goes nowhere. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. They stay stuck.

  2. Freeze. They don't necessarily run, and they are very aware that change must happen and is likely inevitable, but they can't quite bring themselves to take an active step in the direction of making it happen. They keep talking about it, but don't take action. They stay on the treadmill. This reaction also leads to—you guessed it—staying stuck. But unlike the avoiders, people in this category are likely to become increasingly uncomfortable with the status quo, and many will eventually take the steps needed to move forward.

  3. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Now THIS is the sweet spot. This is the mindset that sets you up for growth and expansion. Unfortunately, there seem to be fewer people here in #3, and far more people in #1 and #2.

There are always rationalizations and justifications when it comes to #1 and #2 (see my blog post “Conditionality”) for being in that place. But these aren't reasons. They are the excuses we make to alleviate the discomfort of being too afraid to proceed.

If you're reading this and thinking, "Shit, that's totally me. How do I get past it?" know that you're not alone, and that you can get unstuck. Here's how:

Choose to. Make the choice to do it despite the fear.

Anticlimactic, right? Except NO, it's not anticlimactic, and here's why. When you are in the high-achieving rat race of chasing success, so much of what you do is focused on meeting the expectations of others. How to be a good parent, manager, employee, friend, etc. You put yourself on the back burner and before you know it, your life is totally driven by the needs of those around you. You end up in a disempowered mode of operation, where you feel as if you have no choice but to do X, Y, or Z.

But you do have a choice. You must have the courage to exercise it. Take back the reins. It's time to be the power player in charge of driving your own life.

Here's the thing about acting in the face of fear:

The more you do it, the easier it is. You've heard me say it before and you'll hear me say it again—when you first try to change the way you operate, it's as if your "muscles" are weak. They've never been tested. The more you use them, the stronger they become, and the easier it is to make different choices and act in ways you never did before. Think of it the same way you would trying to lift a heavier weight or run a farther distance. It will be hard at first, it may even feel impossible, but you keep at it and before you know it you're lifting 2x as much and running twice as far as you believed you could.

Which way do you respond? Are you typically a 1, 2 or 3? If you're a 1 or 2, make the choice to act despite fear and give that muscle a chance to flex and become stronger.


Let Some Good Sh*t Come In

Do you ever just let things happen? Do you have to plan, list, push, and hustle until the thing you've set your sights on has been achieved?

That used to be me. Totally. If I decided I wanted something, I was a force of nature. I went after it hard. I didn't always get what I wanted, though. And even if it felt like a kick to the gut at the time, whenever I look back on an instance where I pushed and worked and did all the things but didn't accomplish the goal, I can see in hindsight why it was better that I didn't get my way.

It's good to be self-efficacious, to be driven, to focus, and to pursue what you want. These are not bad things, but this approach has the very negative downside of shutting out the possibilities you don't give yourself a hot second to realize are there. Have you ever stopped to consider that maybe there's something better for you that you aren't yet capable of seeing or accepting? Sometimes when we get our ass handed to us in the pursuit of what we've been pursuing, it's because that thing really wasn't right for you. Maybe there was something really jacked up about it and you not getting your way saved your ass in the end.

But what if something you've said you don't want comes in?

We live in a time when there is so much emphasis on manifestation. The teachings are everywhere. Focus, vision board, say the words, meditate, etc. Yes, do those things AND realize at the same time that there could be something much better in store for you if you'll just let it in. What if you've been trying to manifest something for a very long time and it's just not happening? Have you convinced yourself that you're just not trying hard enough, or that perhaps you're blocking it in some way? Here's a radical thought — maybe what you're trying to manifest isn't really aligned to you.

But what if the thing that wants to come in is really aligned to you?

I recently had an experience that puts this in perspective. I've done a fair amount of public speaking in the last couple of years. I'm told I'm good at it, which I appreciate, but I'm a ball of nerves before I speak. Not just right before, but I have all kinds of nervous energy in the preparation phase, as well. I will often have stretches of time where I present every few weeks, and I kind of laugh/cry at myself that all I will want at the end of that is to lay on my couch and watch mindless TV in a puddle of relief that it's all over. It stresses me the eff out. But I know it's important so I keep doing it.

A few weeks ago, I met with a speaker's bureau that helps connect speakers to events. In the conversation with them, I said very deliberately, "I'm not interested in being a speaker who earns most of their money speaking. An opportunity once a quarter would be great." The owners of the bureau smirked, looked at each other, and then turned to me and one of them said "Then you'll probably be really successful. It seems the people who want it the most have the most trouble getting the opportunities." I laughed, they laughed, and I was like Ha, that's hilarious, but no really. I'm serious.

A couple of weeks later, I was talking to one of my besties and said "You know, I've decided I really enjoy speaking in front of groups of 50 or less. I have no desire to be on a big stage, and the thought of it makes me want to puke my guts out."

The next day, I received an email. It was an introduction between an organization I had spoken for in the past to one that was seeking a keynote speaker. To speak to 1000 people. I got this email the day after I made my grand proclamation. I can picture the Universe laughing in my face.

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Sometimes, we don't want something because it's scary. But when the opportunities for the thing that scares you keep coming in, pay attention!! What if this is something you're going to be really good at? What if it will open a door, pave the way for something you can't yet comprehend?

Other people frequently have a better handle on what we are capable of than we do. They don't have all the bullshit in their heads about us that we do about ourselves. You know you have those people around you when you get a scary/exciting opportunity and when you tell them half out of your mind with nerves, they look right at you, like, "Yeah. So? Of course you're going to do that."

Let some good shit come into your life. Experiment with not pushing so hard. Find a way to detach a tiny bit from what you're pursuing. Tell yourself that what you’re pursuing is what you see in front of you but you are open to other possibilities. Don't grind away at what you're trying to accomplish. When we are ego-driven, we pursue from a place that doesn't necessarily serve us. We think we need to prove ourselves, show others what we're made of, and get to a level that we believe we must be at in order to be validated. Sometimes, the opportunities that come in scare the shit out of us precisely because they are NOT ego-driven. They are opportunities to do something that is fully in sync with who you are but you aren't sure you have what it takes to do whatever it is. Naturally, your ego wants nothing to do with that. Your ego only wants the things that make you feel safe, secure and confident.

Where do you have on the blinders that come with doing/hustling in pursuit of the thing that's eluding you? What opportunity keeps trying to come in that you avoid out of fear? Write it down. Ponder it. Consider that it might just be the nudge you need to go in the direction that could be a game-changer.


Conditionality

Sound familiar?

“I'll get to that when this project is over. Now is not the time to try to make my relationship better.”

“Work is crazy right now. I'll take care of myself when things slow down.”

“No point in trying to eat better when I'm under so much stress. I'll figure it out when I'm less overwhelmed.”  

When we allow the conditions that surround us to dictate what we will or won’t prioritize, we stay stuck. Think of the excuses you give yourself in the areas of your life you want to put at the top of the list but avoid. How long have you used those excuses? Is it going to slow down? Are you ever in a stress-free time? What’s the mythical right timing or the perfect set of conditions that will facilitate moving forward?

 
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It’s time to stop. Stop making excuses. Stop letting yourself off the hook. The things we put off over and over tend to be the things that are good for us and could change our lives.

Why is that?

Avoidance. Fear that you can’t pull it off, have what you want, make it happen, etc. You can have hope for the future if you haven’t tried and failed... right?

Wrong. Life doesn’t just magically set you up to hit a home run. When you stay in the cycle of “I don’t have time, I’m too busy, the timing is wrong for this conversation.” you are 100% in the backseat of driving your life. You’re letting life drive you. You react when it’s time to act.

We tend to assign magical mystery powers to the idea of “right timing.” What does that even mean, anyway? Obviously, there are times in our lives when the timing may not lend itself to adequate focus on an endeavor, and it’s important to tune into that. But always ask yourself if the reasons that the timing isn’t right are real reasons or excuses driven by fear and avoidance.

I’ve found that people put an enormous amount of pressure on themselves to do something all the way or not at all.

For instance, if you want to prioritize your health, you may think that means you need to jump into a clean eating plan and working out five days a week. Then you wonder why you can’t make it last and see it through. Hello? It’s not reasonable to expect you can go from 0-100 all at once and sustain that change.

Give yourself permission to take steps in the right direction instead of insisting on an all-or-nothing approach.

Here are some common pain points and ways you can begin to take empowered steps to create what you've been putting off.

Want to spend more quality time with your family but work hours are ridiculous? Pick an hour in the evening when you will turn off your phone and be present. It’s unlikely that something will need your immediate attention in that one hour. Make it a habit, and you’ll see that you’ve opened the door to find additional time and new ways to spend even more time connecting with the ones you love.

In need of some attention to your health? What can you do to start down that path? Can you reduce your portion sizes? Take a walk several days a week? Hire a personal trainer? Take a step in the right direction. Make the time. Your calendar won’t magically open up.

Have you been dreaming of doing something different professionally? Maybe you long to expand your business, start your own business, go after a big promotion, write a book, etc. If your mind immediately goes to thoughts like “I can’t make less money, that will never work, it’s not realistic” — STOP.  You don’t have to quit your job to get started on any of these paths.

What can you do now to gain some momentum? Research your market, your idea, connect with a coach who can help you, meet with people in your organization who will champion you, start thinking about what you want to write about — there are so many steps you can take to get started in a no-risk way. Do not allow a lack of time to be your excuse. There’s only not enough of it when you are prioritizing the wrong things. Prioritize yourself, your future, your dreams and make the time.

Get started and stop avoiding today! Sit down with a journal and think about the areas of your life where excuses are keeping you stagnant. What are those areas? Pick one and put it on the top of your priority list. Then identify one thing you can start doing in the next five days to take a step in the right direction.

To Do or Not To Do

Recently, I wrote about the dark side of achieving and how much I love to-do lists. There's something so satisfying about crossing things off as they get done. Being list-driven, however, has a negative side that can keep you limited and focused on tasks and activities, leaving little to no space for thinking, feeling and operating beyond the limited bubble of daily life. High achievers are pretty damn good at giving themselves tasks and getting them done. What they aren't so good at is making time and space for the activities that create huge rewards even if those rewards can't be measured. You know a whole lot about what to do and leave little space to identify what not to do. But that's really where your work begins when you are trying to make a shift in your life.

That's why I'm introducing the To Don't list.

We all walk around with loads of programming, patterns, and habits that are so ingrained in how we operate that we don't necessarily register them consciously. They are there in the background, dictating what we prioritize, generally more focused on meeting the needs of everyone else and putting ourselves last. But how do you stop doing that when it's second nature? When the thought of taking a break or doing something for yourself triggers guilt and anxiety? And that's just the little stuff. Imagine the magnitude of impact the inability to self-prioritize has on the trajectory of your life. If you stay stuck in the patterns and programming, you can expect things to remain just as they are, or possibly to get worse if you're tolerating situations, circumstances, and relationships that aren't tenable.

How to stop? By identifying and being conscious of what is not moving you forward so you can stop doing it. Obviously, this is not a one-and-done deal. If you identify that being a people-pleaser is ruining your life, you can't simply wave a wand, say "I shall no longer people-please" and be magically cured of this tendency. It's taken you a long time to get to where you are, and it will require some undoing. But it won't take you nearly as long as you think if you are consistent and committed to being conscious and interrupting your patterns instead of falling in line with them.

 
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Don't get all overwhelmed considering the universe of To Don'ts you have to engage in to get yourself to a more aligned way of thinking and behaving. Of course, there are many, but you don't need to do them all right now.

There are a handful of high priority things to stop doing that will start to move you forward in a powerful way.

I'll be sharing some game-changing To Don'ts in my book, but for now, you can get your starter list by clicking subscribe and get it delivered straight to your inbox.

 
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Use Your Words

One of the most challenging aspects of being a truth teller is that it can feel like you're on an island. Friends, family, and coworkers look to you to be the person to say the thing that isn't easy to say, that might be triggering to the person receiving the message. For years, I assumed the role of the-person-who-always-tells-it-like-it-is and allowed that responsibility to be placed on my shoulders. To me, the alternative was worse - it wasn't okay to go on pretending that said issue wasn't an issue. If that meant I had to be the messenger so be it. But I've learned a lot as the messenger, and one thing, in particular, stands out:

If I let others make me the truth teller, I allow them to abdicate responsibility.

To stay disempowered and safe behind the invisible wall of silence that means the boat won't be rocked and the peace will be kept.

We live in a society that has programmed us to believe that likeability trumps the truth. It's more important to be "nice" and pleasing to others, even if it means we suffer because words that need an outlet stay inside of us. Conflict is to be avoided at all costs, and the unfortunate unsaid conclusion is that speaking up creates conflict. Speaking up may cause another to be triggered, but triggers are your friend.

If you can learn to look inward and examine why you've been triggered rather than becoming defensive and lashing out, you can see more clearly the elements of your own beliefs about yourself that may need to be addressed and improved. When you are willing to be kind rather than nice and be truthful, compassionate, and honest in your communication, you give others the opportunity to respond.

 
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Let me say that again: Speak up and give others the opportunity to respond.

Silence is the status quo's best friend. Don't like something but won't speak up? I guess you're doomed to more of the same. How can anything change if you won't vocalize how you feel or what you need? Far too many hope that others will meet unspoken expectations. Hope is not a strategy.

Avoidance isn't a strategy either.

Are you avoiding giving someone a response because you don't want to hurt their feelings? How is not responding at all a better option? Is lack of courtesy somehow better than honestly responding with "I'm sorry, I don't believe this is a fit for me at this time" or "You are on my mind and I will respond shortly" because you are genuinely busy at the moment?  Maybe you're not responding because you know the conversation that must be had will be a tough one.

So what? When you do the hard things, you grow. Your relationships improve, You become a better version of yourself.

Telling the truth isn't easy. No matter how gently and diplomatically you phrase it, if the person on the receiving end doesn't want to hear it, they will be defensive. You can't control the other person's reaction. That doesn't mean it's better to hold your peace. Give them a chance, they may surprise you. If they don't, you may need to evaluate whether continuing to be in a relationship or association in which honesty has no place is right for you going forward.

Truth can either improve your connections or break them. Either way, it sets you free.

the Dark Side of Achieving

There's a lot about being a high achiever that works for me. I love me some lists. The satisfaction I feel when I get to cross something off my list is a mini-high that keeps me going. If I do something that wasn't on my list, I'll add just so I can cross it off (admit it - you do it, too). My calendar is my best friend. It lays out my day in an organized way so that I know what I'm doing when and what I'm focusing on for the day. I can be type A about details. I can stay high-level when it makes sense, but I do like to know the ins and outs of any given situation. There's more, but I'm sure you get the gist. All of this works for me. Except for when it didn't. 

The double-edged sword of being a high achiever is that the same qualities that make you so awesome can also limit your forward movement.

When I first left my day-job, what I expected to be a brilliant sensation of freedom and lightness was instead a weird fog through which I meandered. I didn't know what to spend my time on. Hell, I couldn't even think straight. It was like someone had reached into my skull and mashed a bunch of neurons around. Obviously, I knew what I needed to be working on, but the gap between that and getting started felt more like a chasm. What the hell was my problem??

I'll tell you what my problem was: no one was telling me what to do.

I didn't have outside input for my list. Outlook was gone from my life and it had ruled my days for so long that living without it meant I spent too much time thinking about what to do first or next. When I made my own lists, I realized with anxiety that everything on it was new to me. I hadn't done a lot of it before, so there was no quick "I'll just knock this out" and move on available to me. I had been a speed-doer all my life.

Efficient like a machine until this experience showed me that my efficiency came from a place of mindlessness.

My list used to full of to-dos that I could get through quickly, without a lot of thought required because I had reached "expert" status on the tasks and activities that filled my days. You may be asking, "What's wrong with that? Isn't that a good thing?"

It's not a good thing when you realize you can do most of your life on autopilot. Where's the energy? The inspiration? 

The lives of high achievers are hyper-focused on accomplishment. You have to be productive, busy, efficient. Your tasks are measurable - there is an end product that you can see or touch. It's working for you, right? People tell you how good you are, the boss notices so you get the raise/bonus/promotion. You're rewarded for being this way.

But operating in this manner begins to narrow the tunnel around your mind.

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Doing is more important than being. Making sure everyone else gets what they need trumps any fleeting desire you may have for putting yourself on your to-do list. This is the stuff of burnout, my friends. It's repetitive. What used to be exciting can become rote. You do it to get through it. You start living for the weekends and rushing through your list so you can avoid opening your laptop at night. 

Life is not about moving from task to the next. You aren't here simply to produce and achieve. You're here to be. To experience. 

So how do you fix it? You begin by putting yourself on the list. 

Each day, put one thing on your to-do list that is all about YOU. It doesn't matter how small it is. Five minutes for meditation or journaling, a ten-minute walk, thirty minutes for a coffee meeting with a friend, the workout that you keep meaning to do but haven't made the time for. Once it's on your list, HONOR IT.

You should not be the first thing to get booted from your list.

If it makes you uncomfortable to think about putting yourself on the list and keeping yourself there, good. That's natural. You're not used to being a priority, and that little voice in your mind is going to pipe up with all kinds of useless input like "Are you sure you should be doing this?", "You don't have time for this", or "It's selfish - you should be doing x, y or z." This is your opportunity to tune in and see what's really going on in your mind. What are you telling yourself? How are you keeping yourself stuck? Observe, jot it down, then do the thing that's for you, anyway. 

I want to hear from you! How did it feel? What did you realize? 

Are you a high achiever in need of a mental reset?

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Here are 5 questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do you feel like something is missing from your life, but can’t quite identify what it is?

  2. Do you hope that the next raise or bonus will make you feel better, only to find out that it only brings temporary relief?

  3. Have you hit that high-title job status...and you’re still not happy?

  4. Are you stuck in survival mode, too busy to put yourself first?

  5. Do you wonder if there must be something wrong with you and worry that you’ll never be satisfied?

If you answered yes, or even felt a “maybe” to one of all of these questions,

You are likely a high achiever.

This doesn’t mean you’re a major stress case, in fact, maybe you’re doing okay, but you still feel as if there should be something more.  

I am a high achiever, and not so long ago, I answered yes to all of those questions.

I felt like something was missing. Big time. I had no idea what it is was or how to get it.

I wanted more money to make it better.  Instead, the more money I made, the less awesome I felt. Each money goal I achieved put a spotlight on the reality that the money couldn’t fill the void or make my life better internally.

I had the job I always wanted and was the least happy I’d ever been. At the height of my career, managing a business unit with high visibility, where I thought I always wanted to be, making more money than I ever had, I was miserable.

I was stuck in the loop of doing, rarely taking the time out to put myself first.
As strange as it may sound, I didn’t know how to put myself first. It was a foreign concept. I would feel guilty when I attempted to, as if taking the time for me was exceedingly self-indulgent.

I worried that something was fundamentally wrong with me. I had everything I wanted but was so unsatisfied. It made no sense to me why I was restless and unfulfilled.  I thought, “I’m damaged in some fundamental way. Why can’t I be happy?”

If any of this sounds familiar to you, take heart. There’s nothing wrong with you. But your bar is too freaking low when it comes to what you expect for YOU. You can be amazing and wondrous and a force to behold professionally and simultaneously ignore who you are as a human, continuing to expect your professional success to magically create feelings of excitement, inspiration, fulfillment, [insert favorite word here].

High-achievers come to a place of stagnation because survival is good enough. You rarely tip the balance into truly experiencing your life more often than not. You grind it out. To want more is unrealistic and perhaps even silly. After all, this is what your parents did and your friends do now.

Suck it up, buttercup. Maybe buy an expensive toy or take an extravagant trip to fill the void. Deal with it and settle in. This is your life.

Right? RIGHT??

When I examined my own experience, I realized that though the circumstances of our lives varied, many of my coworkers felt similarly to me. They had it “all”, but it didn’t feel like much. They were exhausted, put upon, bored, anxious, depressed, overwhelmed, stressed out, running on fumes, irritable, frustrated–the list goes on. Oddly, it reassured me that I wasn’t alone. Not in a misery-loves-company kind of way, but in a way that sparked the thought that we all shared something in common that could be identified with the right tools, if I could find them.

I did some research and decided to start by reading self-help books. I scanned summaries, looked at reviews, and ultimately decided to begin with books that had a more spiritual bent because every business-oriented book out there felt much too “corporate” and formulaic to me. I made progress. Each book had something valuable and insightful to offer that would move me a few steps forward, but ultimately I would get stuck again. The way I operated was so ingrained and embedded that getting my brain to think in new ways was harder than I anticipated.

I kept at it. It took time and energy, trial and error. Now it’s my mission to share what I’ve learned with other high achievers so you can do the work with guidance and clarity around what to do and why.

As successful as you are, you can’t take your life to the next level without doing the deep work to transform the way you see yourself and raise the bar for what you expect from life.

The way you live has been dictated from the outside with little to no input from you. How can you possibly expect fulfillment if what you want isn’t at the heart of all you do?

How to begin? As you go through your day, pay attention to your mental chatter. Do you find yourself saying "“I’ll be okay,” “It will be fine,” “I’m alright” or other words that suggest you are settling? Write it down. The only thing you need to do right now is be aware. It can be very uncomfortable to admit consciously, but it’s the first and necessary step in the direction of living a life that’s aligned to you.

Like what you’re reading? Sign up for my newsletter to get my guide to put out the day fires, “To Don’t Lists For High Achievers” and get news on my forthcoming book The High Achiever’s Guide.