Hello, Universe, are you trying to tell me something?


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I am sitting on the bed in my childhood bedroom, a room panelled in honey-colored knotty pine, listening to the rain on the roof just inches from my head. Now a resident of California, I haven’t heard the sound of rain in months, and the rumble of thunder is delightful, comforting.

If I look out the window, the rain and clouds obscure the view, but I know well what is beyond them: Puget Sound and the Vashon Island Ferry docks to the southwest, and the Olympic Mountains to the west. For now, though, the horizon is the rooftops across the street and the treeline a few blocks away.

I am reminded, being here on this rainy day, that grey and green is a soothing color combination, one that you have to have lived with to appreciate. It is quite a contrast to the combination of blue sky and golden hills that is the horizon of my home in Northern Califorinia’s East Bay.

I am sitting on the bed in my childhood bedroom, with my mother’s cat, Tommy, purring at my feet. Tommy is three times as big as my cat Abby, and one and a half times as big as my cat Rocket, who are at home in California. Tommy is taking care of me, making sure I get enough Feline Time while I am here.

I am sitting on the bed in my childhood bedroom with a borrowed laptop on my lap. My own beloved MacBook Pro, labelled “vintage” by Apple, gave up the ghost a few weeks ago, and a friend of my roommate is experimenting to see if he can pull six years of files, photographs and music off of the hard drive. (“What, you didn’t have a back-up?” I hear you tut tut. I thought I did; my external hard-drive was whirring away several times a day, but the files are all from the first backup in 2011. Only the database files have recent dates. Lesson: Test everything at least once a year. More often is better.)

When I moved last year and held a gigantic moving sale and let go of many things, I began thinking about the difference between connection and attachment. This year, as I have wrestled with selling my Corvette, the difference between attachment and connection has become a lot clearer. Contemplating the loss of my files, music and photographs brings it up again.

Hello, Universe, are you trying to tell me something?

When the Corvette was broken into at the beginning of this year and many of my favorite CDs were stolen, I thought, “Ah well, most of them are in iTunes on my computer.” Not all, but many. Now those are gone.

Most of the photographs are on memory cards, either in my camera bag or in storage. But the edited versions may be lost forever, except for the ones uploaded to WordPress. Ah well.

And the files… some can be recreated, some cannot. Much is just historical archive, files I have accumulated over the years. But I will be sad to lose the poems and essays I have written and not yet published. It is a challenge to lose the budget spreadsheets and resumes, the invoices, all the files I was able to just open and replicate as needed. Ah well.

Thinking about all of that, I mind me of the difference between accumulation and collection. Much of what is hidden on that hard drive was carefully created and collected, but much was just accumulated. The accumulation I won’t miss that much. But the things I had consciously collected, those are different. Ah well.

I am sitting on the bed in my childhood bedroom, on my first vacation in a year and a half. I am here for the wedding of my cousin, an occasion of great rejoicing. Not just a public commitment and celebration of love, but a validation. That something that was denied to him and to so many others for so long, and still is in many places, is now available to him. They were always worthy, but it took society a while to catch up. This is a celebration of inclusion after being excluded for so long. A celebration of connection. An event of fierce and tender Joy. It’s going to be one hell of a party.

I am sitting on the bed in my childhood bedroom, thinking about how to get together with everyone I want to see while I am here and still get some rest, still spend some quiet time with my mom and my immediate family. Thinking about how to maintain those connections, and build some new connections with people with whom I have only corresponded.

Connections. Versus Attachments.

Collections Versus Accumulations.

Worthy musings for a rainy morning in my childhood bedroom in Seattle.


Where are your connections vs. attachments?
Where are your collections vs. accumulations?
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Remember Who You Are


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This post was inspired by, among other things, recent posts by Justine Musk and Julie Daley and a note from my cousin, Maritherese. Thank you, ladies.

Last year, in the Spring, I was preparing to lead a workshop. It was new. It was big. It was exciting.

I was terrified.

I stopped at my favorite park, which happens to be on the way from here to almost anywhere (at least I make it be on the way from Here to There), to walk the trail and think, which I often do. This time, when I stopped at the giant rosemary bush and pinched off a tip and inhaled its pungent fragrance, I prayed. “Help me! Send me guidance.”

And I got an answer.

Clear as a bell.

So fast that I was still inhaling.

“Remember who you are.”

My exhale became a sigh of relief. Remember who you are. Yes, I can do that. I know what I know. I am a teacher.

I was able to center, to focus, to relax. To stand in my power. I taught my workshop, and it went well. I shared my knowledge, people laughed in all the right places, and my voice was my friend, not my enemy.

Remember who you are.

I walk that trail often, and it has become a ritual to pause, pinch a sprig of rosemary, breathe it in and remind myself, “Remember who you are.” It is my church. It is my labyrinth. That breath fills my body, my heart soars with the hawks circling overhead, my feet grow roots down into the earth, and I connect – with myself, with everything.

Remember who you are.

Here’s the funny thing. Who I am is constantly changing. Who I am is shaped by my experiences, by who I meet. By what I learn. By what I choose, by what I avoid. I am constantly changing.

And. Who I am is unchanging and eternal. My friend Lewis Brown Griggs speaks in his TEDx talk about our souls being at our core as if at the center of a tornado, where even a feather is in such stillness that it can’t be harmed. I love this wonderful metaphor – it reminds us that who we are cannot be killed or damaged or lose access to the Light and Love from which we all come, no matter what horrific events befall us.

Remember who you are.

Not long after my walk in the park and the workshop I taught, I met a horse who changed my life. We introduced ourselves, and spent some time being together in the pasture. Then he suddenly laid down next to me in the grass. So I laid down next to him, and we rested together. It was…sublime.

I didn’t find out until later that it was unusual. Highly unusual.

Much later, I asked Lewis what he saw when I was lying there with Prince (for this event was witnessed by the group of coaches I was with that day). He said, “Comfort. An amazing sense of complete and total comfort, and when you were lying there with your head on your hand, your head next to Prince’s, that sense of comfort expanded to include everyone who was watching.”

Wow. That kind of blew me away.

I realized that it wasn’t just something that happened to me, I co-created it. And it wasn’t something that just happened to me, it included others. That was a powerful pair of realizations.

Later I was telling this story to my friend Julie, and I told her that I had realized that this was, as one of my teachers says, one of my “Superpowers.” That I am able to create a safe space for others where important stuff can happen.

Julie thought about it for a minute and then said, “It isn’t something you do. It’s who you are.”

Oh my.

Remember who you are.

When I am fully who I am, that makes a safe space for others. To be. To be who they are.

Remember who you are.

The other day I was walking the trail, breathing in the perfume of rosemary, and it occurred to me that remembering who I am means that I have known who I am. I have only forgotten. And yet I am always getting to know myself. Apparently that continual discovery is continual remembering.

I recently had an insight about fear, and about the part of myself that is afraid. But that part of me isn’t Me. I had a glimmer of understanding that there is an ancient and eternal me that isn’t afraid, that knows what to do and can do it.

And. I am more than a widow, more than a survivor, more than a teacher, more than a friend, although those are all part of my experience.

Remember who you are.

“They” say people can’t change. Yet I see people change all the time. I have changed.

And. If we are ancient and eternal, the good news is we don’t have to change. We only have to remember who we are. We are not what we do, or what we have, or the choices we make. We can change those things.

If we remember who we are, we can make choices that are in alignment with that.

Remember who you are.


Tell me, what do you remember about who you are?
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Image courtesy of Idea Go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Road to OK


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Mt. St. Helens After Eruption - View Across Spirit Lake, National Forest Service

A fellow member of a FaceBook group posted a comment that made my heart ache.

She had told her dying husband that she would be OK… but she wasn’t. Oh, she took care of the kids, she went to work, she put meals on the table… but she wasn’t OK. And she didn’t know how to be.

Boy, did that take me back.

I had forgotten…

The hospice chaplain, when she came to give Bruce last rites, had me talk to him. To say good-bye. He was barely conscious, and only moaned in response. She coached me through talking to him, and prompted me to say, “And I’ll be OK.”

And I did.

But I wasn’t.

I wasn’t OK. Life sucked. It was worse than I could have imagined. For longer than I expected.

But I kept going. I got out of bed every day. I fed the cats, and myself. I paid bills. I went to work, and I appeared to handle it gracefully, with focus, so I’m told. (The operative word being “appeared”.)

And every fiber of my being hurt.

And I couldn’t give up, because I had told him I’d be OK.

Damn it!

I spent several months being pissed at that chaplain.

I got over it.

The being pissed part, anyway.

And eventually I got to OK.

First in moments and spurts. And then more.

And I have gotten to Better Than OK.

Much better.

Photo by Peter Prehn, http://www.flickr.com/photos/pictoscribe/1076805181/ c 2007, Creative Commons

Mount St. Helens will never be the same. But the hills around it have turned green again and life has returned to the mountainsides.

To my Facebook friend I said, You are on the road to OK.

I have walked that road.

It goes Somewhere. I promise.


“When you are going through hell, keep going.” –Winston Churchill

Parking Lot Angel


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I pulled into a parking spot at the grocery store, just before lunch time, after a meeting and on my way to one of my jobs. On top of the world after a successful meeting.

I got out of the Corvette, and a guy in a pick-up truck had pulled up behind me, window rolled down. He held out a brochure.

“May I give this to you?” he asked.

Oh no, I thought, a religious tract.

“Sure,” I said, suspicious.

“We’re the oldest Corvette association in America, and we’re right up in San Ramon. We’d love to have you come.”

Not what I expected. “Cool!” I said, “Thank you!”

Standing in line at the deli counter, I burst out laughing. People looked askance. “Damn,” I said to myself.

Ah, the irony. And the perfection. I’ve been driving (and loving) the Corvette for nine and a half years, and this Parking Lot Angel finds me now, when I am thinking about wrestling with selling it.

(I told the whole story to a friend last night, and he said, “You are cool. The Corvette is cool by association.”)

Well, I will go to their next meeting. They may be able to help me sell it. Or they may be able to help me not sell it. And they may be angels for my other work, too.

Either way, angels are not to be ignored.

Grief and Joy


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This is the continuation of my previous post – which you can read here.

As I began to embrace shifting the focus of my coaching and consulting away from traditional Organization Development, Change Management and Executive Coaching and toward Grief work, an idea began taking hold in my head and my heart. It both mystified me made perfect sense. And it scared the hell out of me.

It scared me so much that, like Jonah, I ran away and found myself in the belly of a whale. Hiding. Waiting.

What was that idea? This:

Grief and Joy are the same.

Wha…?

I Know It to Be True

It makes no sense… and it makes perfect sense. It confuses me when I try to wrap my head around it, and it resonates through my body and out to the tips of my fingers.

My body knows it to be true. The same body that has experienced wracking sobs that felt like they would tear me apart, drain me dry, leave me desolate. The same body that has felt surges of energy when I have truly connected with others, and not just in sexual activity. My body knows it to be true. When I hold this idea for a moment, my body knows it to be deep and real like taking a deep breath. It fills me and feeds me like oxygen.

I don’t understand it, but I know it to be true.

Grief and Joy are the same.

A little bell in my soul goes ding. It resonates.

The Belly of the Whale

My brain, on the other hand, does NOT know it to be true. My brain is flummoxed. It resists the idea. How can two such different experiences be the same?

And how could I do this work with such a crazy idea as a foundation?

That is what scared me, scared me into silence and into running away until I found myself in the belly of the whale.

Grief and Joy are the same.

If someone had said this to me when I was in the deepest desert of Grief, in the bleakness and desolation… If someone had said this to me when I was there, I might have wanted to slap them. The way I wanted to slap well-meaning friends who said things like, “You’ll be ready to let him go someday.” I wanted to slap them… and they were right.

And yet…

If someone had told me that Grief and Joy are the same when I was fresh in desolation, maybe I wouldn’t have wanted to slap them. Maybe, at a time when I was in touch with the physical pain of loss, I would have recognized the truth of it with my body.

Even though the physical experiences of Grief and Joy are so different.

And yet…

As I write that I am also struck by how similar they can be.

How similar the paroxysms of grief, the waves of wracking sobs, the grief spasms, are to the waves of orgasm.

Grief – the emotion of separation – and Joy – the emotion of connection… they are the same thing.

Or they are part of the same thing.

My brain says No, and picks out the millions of differences and distinctions. My body says Yes, and breathes into it.

I breathe through it.

Perhaps it is like that. Joy and Connection are the breathing-in. Grief and Disconnection are the breathing-out.

They are both breathing.

They are One.

Someone – I don’t remember who – once said, “Grief is how we love those we have lost.” So Grief is the emotion of connection, too.

Joy is the emotion of connection. And Grief is the emotion of connection. And if A=B and B=C, A=C. They are one, and they are different.

They are One.

And so I have come to the point of acknowledging the fear that this knowledge brings up in me, the resistance to the idea, and to embracing this knowledge, trusting the truth of it. And sharing it with you. Thanks to the help of friends, and to the fact that I can’t un-know it. I must share it. I was not meant for the belly of the whale. At least, not forever.

In the novel “Ordinary People,” Judith Guest wrote, “People who keep stiff upper lips find that it’s damn hard to smile.” We must embrace Grief and Joy. We cannot have one without the other. We can not live without them both.

They are One.

There is more to be said on this subject, and I hope you will tell me what you think.

Meanwhile, here is my promise to you:

I hold this thought for you when you are in the desert and I walk with you. When you dance in delight I will dance with you.

They are One.

Come with me. I will walk with you. Let us prepare… and experience it… together.

You are not alone.


Welcome to the rebirth of Susan T. Blake Consulting and Coaching!
Please contact me to talk about
dealing with – and preparing for – Grief. And Joy.

In the coming days, weeks and months I will be writing more about Grief, and Joy, and how they touch our lives in expected and unexpected ways.

And I will continue to write about birds, and horses, and Curiosity.
It is all Connected.

Please leave a comment, and share this if you are so moved.

Image courtesy of khunaspix / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Grief and Its Twin


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Over time, I have gradually come to the conclusion that my Right Path is to be working with Grief. With people who are grieving, with the people who support them, and with organizations whose people are experiencing – or preparing to experience – change and loss.

Now, considering that I’m a widow, and a coach, it may seem like a no-brainer. But it was a surprise to me at first. At first I resisted the idea.

And even as I came to not only accept but embrace it, sometimes when I thought about working with Grief, my brain would still say, “No, really? That’s so depressing. So dark.”

But I have a secret, a secret that lights me up and makes it not only possible, but thrilling, to work with Grief.

What’s that secret?

Joy.

Wha…?

Joy.

My friend Joie Seldon, who writes and mentors around Emotional Intelligence, taught me something very important:

Think about it. When you connect with someone, and you think, “Wow, this person is really neat,” or “Wow, they really like me,” or “Wow, I am so Freaking LUCKY,” or you don’t think anything at all but just bask in that connection for even a second, that is Joy.

What, you may ask, does that have to do with Grief?

Everything.

As I realized that my path is leading me to grief work, and I thought about the connections with others that brought me to that realization, I remembered what Joie had taught me. And I realized this:

Not the state of disconnection, but the loss of a connection.

Stephen Jenkinson, in his beautiful teachings on grief and dying, says, “Grief and the love of life are twins.” I would say it a little differently: Grief and Joy are twins. They are connected, they go together. Like two sides of a coin. One is Heads, and one is Tails.

Grief honors the lost connection, and in doing so honors and reflects Joy.

I can say that now, having survived the darkest, most barren days of my life while living through the grief of losing my husband of 22 years, my best friend, my favorite person. But in those darkest days I in no way associated Joy with what I was going through.

And yet.

In the days leading up to his death and after his death, people went out of their way to connect with me, to support me and catch me when I fell. I met people I wouldn’t ever have met if Bruce hadn’t died, and we connected. This is important, because I felt his absence so profoundly that I felt disconnected.

From everyone. And everything.

From life as I knew it.

From God.

But people flowed into that vacuum and created a lifeline. A net. And I became part of the net for others.

And I know that my grief was, and is, an honoring of my connection to Bruce. The depth of my grief was directly related to the depth of our connection.

So even in my darkest hour, in those darkest times, Grief and Joy went together.

Knowing that, feeling that, having experienced that over and over, I accepted that I can hold on to that as a a lifeline as I do this work. Even more, I accepted that I can hold the space for both Grief and Joy as I do the work, and hold that space for others, even if I don’t use that language.

It’s our secret.

But then…

As I contemplated this link between Grief and Joy, the connection that gave me the courage to embrace shifting the focus of my coaching and consulting away from traditional Organization Development, Change Management and Executive Coaching and toward Grief work, another idea began taking hold in my head and my heart.

And it scared the hell out of me. It scared me into silence and paralysis for several months. I ran away, and found myself in the belly of the whale.

To Be Continued

Image courtesy of khunaspix / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Who’s Got the Car Keys?


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He’s one of those friends that when I ask “How are you?” he really tells me. And when he asks me the same question, I tell him.

So when I saw him the other day and he asked me how I was, I thought back to our last conversation, two months ago, when I told him I was having trouble moving forward with the work I know I am supposed to be doing, the work I am called to do, because I’m afraid people won’t get it, they won’t believe me, they won’t want to talk about this. But when I told him at the time, he got it. I thought about the lack of progress I’ve made… and I really told him how I was.

“I’m OK. But I’m stuck.”

And what started out as “Hey, how you doin’?” turned into lunch.

We talked about what needs to be done to get things going (publish the blog posts that announce my new focus and my message, reach out to people who are in my network). I didn’t give him any bullshit about working three part-time jobs (which I am) and not having time to Do What Needs to Be Done. I just put it out there.

“I’m scared.”

He didn’t wave it off. He didn’t say, “There’s no need to be scared.”

He didn’t even ask me what I’m scared of. (There’s a list. But the What isn’t the point.)

What he did do was point out that this wasn’t Me being scared, it was the Little Girl Me. And it was OK for her to be scared. In fact, it’s her job. (One of her jobs.)

Then he said something that hit me between the eyes:

“Just don’t give her the keys to the car.”

Now that’s a metaphor I can get into.

“Just don’t give her the keys to the car.”

I laughed out loud, and said, “She must be the reason I haven’t been able to put the car on the market!” (That’s another story. One he didn’t even know about.)

She can be scared. I can comfort her. I can let her go hide. The real me, the Ancient and Eternal Me, she’s not scared. She knows – I know – what to do, and can do it. But if I give Little Girl Me the keys to car and let her drive – or she hides the keys under the sofa cushions – then we’ll never get anywhere.

“Just don’t give her the keys to the car.”

So over the last few days, every time that fear has cropped up, that resistance, I’ve thought of that. And laughed. And then done a little piece of the work that needs to be done.

And I made a poster for myself and taped it on the wall where I can’t miss it:

I’m tempted to write Dammit! in fine print at the bottom.

But I’m keepin’ the keys.

Get ready. We’re going for a ride.

Attachment


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I finally get the meaning of Attachment.

It’s a concept that has floated across my awareness at various times in my life, generally with the teaching that “bliss isn’t really possible when you’re (too) attached to things (or people, or outcomes).” I thought that meant “don’t get (too) attached because it will hurt when you lose it.”

Well, as someone who has moved numerous times and given away or sold lots of stuff in the process, as someone who throws Garage Sales for fun, I didn’t think Attachment was an issue for me.

I was wrong.

Even when I worked in a corporate job and wore Italian wool suits, I knew I would go home and put on mismatched socks and overalls. Attachment? The only things I was really attached to were my husband and my cats. (And my guitar. And my camera. And the antique cameo Aunt Norma gave me as a Welcome To The Family gift. But really, that was all.) (Really.)

I was wrong.

The other day I was telling a friend about how I am having trouble getting my car ready to sell, and how I had realized how much I liked the aura of coolness the car gives me. How much I like…

…the way people look at the car, look at me, and say, “That’s your car?” (Why are they so surprised?) And then they look at me differently.

…the way we Corvette drivers nod and wave at each other. Nobody else does that. Except bikers.

…the way people say, “You have the. Coolest. Car. Ever.” So I must be cool by association. Right?

…the way other drivers treat me. They yield the right of way just to watch the Corvette go by. On the rare occasions I’ve had to drive something else, I get no respect. People cut me off and steal the right of way.

This is all on top of the pure and simple Joy I get from driving the thing. From seeing an opening in traffic and putting the car there. From goosing the accelerator and taking off. From flying along the highway. From going around curves and corners at speed.

But that wasn’t what I was talking about.

It wasn’t about the fact this was the last car Bruce and I bought together.

And it wasn’t about the fact that I paid it off.

I was telling my friend how I had finally had to admit that my ego liked the way people look at me because I drive a Corvette…and how that made me feel.

She just nodded and said,

“Yup. That’s an attachment.”

Damn.

Here’s what I’ve realized

Attachment in itself isn’t a bad thing. The problem lies in what it keeps me from doing, or drives me to do (so to speak). And, more importantly, what lies behind it. Whether or not I sell the car, realizing the reason behind why I’ve had trouble moving forward with selling it is huge. That lesson can’t be unlearned, whether I sell the car or not.

Even more importantly, I realize as I write this, Attachment and Connection should not be confused.

We get Attached to ideas and beliefs. We Connect with Others.

This is a reminder to myself to finally believe in my Innate Coolness and Amazingness. Regardless of what I drive.

And to focus on Connection, not Attachment.


Where are your Attachments and your Connections?
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Surprising Lessons from the Herd – Part II


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In my previous post I alluded to learning lessons from my friends at Equistar Farm, lessons I’m applying in surprising ways. Here is Lesson Number Two:

Watch Your Feet (or Head)

Another thing I’ve been doing, off and on for the last year and a half, is working as a Job Coach for the Department of Rehabilitation. When clients with disabilities get new jobs and need additional training and on-the-job-support, the DoR provides a Job Coach to go to work with them.

So far I’ve worked in grocery stores and hardware stores, training and supporting Courtesy Clerks (aka Baggers), Carry Out/Attendants and Stockers. I’ve learned a lot in the process! (Please be nice to your Baggers – I had no idea how hard they work, and what they have to put up with.)

Right now I’m coaching a client who is helping to build out a new grocery store. There is a crew of about 25 stockers, cashiers and inventory management people on site, installing fixtures, putting up shelving and stocking shelves – plus the construction people who are finishing with painting, electrical work and bolting down shelving. There are scissor lifts and pallet jacks moving around, and people carrying boxes, ladders and big pieces of metal.

I get to wear a hard hat (along with everyone else), and boy, am I glad – there are a lot of moving parts and bodies. We all have to keep our awareness up, not only for who/what is coming toward us but what’s on the ground and who we’re headed for. One wrong move and someone could get skewered, squished or run over.

As I was moving through this bee hive of activity, I was reminded of moving through the herd in the pasture and how I have learned to keep my awareness up about which horses are where, how they’re interacting with each other, where they’re heading, and whether they know where I am. One of the first lessons I learned – the hard way – was Watch Your Feet… after I didn’t pay attention and got stepped on by a 1200 pound bay gelding named Jake. (I’m fine…now.) I quickly learned the importance of watching my feet – and their hooves (and their rear-ends and their ears and their tails and their locations and what directions they’re moving).

There’s a difference between being Aware and being Wary

Even more importantly, I learned there’s a difference between being Aware and being Wary. It would have been easy to say, “I’ll never put myself in that situation again!” Instead, I chose, and choose, to put myself in that situation again and again. But I’m smarter about it. I can protect myself by being aware and present without having to be wary and keep others at arm’s length.

And the student becomes the teacher

All of this flashed through my head in an instant as people and equipment moved around me and someone walked casually by with a steel beam over his shoulder. I shared it with my client.

“You know, I’ve been working with a herd of horses.” He looked at me sideways. “When I’m in the middle of a bunch of animals who don’t want to hurt me but are a lot bigger than me, I’ve learned to protect myself by paying attention to where they are and what they’re doing. This is a lot like that.” He thought about it for a second, then nodded, grinning. He got it, and thought that was pretty cool.

So did I.

So, learning to be safe with the herd has helped me to be safe with others. And helped teach them to be safe. And it’s made me a better Job Coach.

It occurs to me as I write this that both of these lessons – working with shoppers and with construction crews – are about Safety, about helping others to feel safe, and about being safe. Hmmm.

Never a dull moment, eh?

Watch your feet.


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Surprising Lessons from the Herd – Part I


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Working with horses has taught me a lot of lessons, but I never expected to apply them to working in Retail and on Construction Sites.

I started working with horses a year ago, after being introduced to Equine Guided Education (EGE) by the people and horses at Equistar Farm. The lessons I have learned about myself have had a profound impact on me. (One profound impact has led me to change the focus of my coaching and consulting, but I’ll tell you more about that later.) I want to tell you about two of the unexpected applications for lessons I’ve learned from being with the herd. Here’s the first:

Shoppers Are Prey Animals

While retooling my coaching/consulting practice, I took a part-time job in Retail. It was one of those things you (I) tell yourself (myself) you’ll (I’ll) never do, but keep in your (my) back pocket In Case of Emergency. Well, last Fall was the Case of Emergency, and I started working in a little clothing store – my first retail job since college. (And that’s a while ago.)

And, to my surprise, I’m having a blast.

The store managers put together a good team of people who work really well together (most of the time), and I love working with the customers (most of the time).

We are expected to greet every customer who comes in, to connect with them. There is a higher likelihood that a Visitor to the store will become a Customer if we connect with her. It makes sense, really; if a customer has a question, or is unfamiliar with our merchandise, or wants to try something on, or needs a second opinion, it’s easier to get help if she has a connection to someone. (I know I hate going into a store and being ignored.)

So I greet customers when they come in and try to at least acknowledge their presence and help them feel welcome.

Customers want to feel welcome, but they also need to feel safe. (I hate going into a store and being ignored, but I also hate going into a store and being pestered.)

When I greet a customer, sometimes we’ll strike up a conversation and quickly develop a rapport. But other times the conversation goes like this:

“Hi, welcome to ____ ! How are you today?”
“I’m just browsing.”

Funny, I didn’t know “browsing” was a condition, like “Fine” or “I’m doing great” or “I’m so hot, I’m glad it’s cool in here!”

At first I was tempted to say, “That’s not what I asked.” But I’ve been in their shoes – and I realized “I’m just browsing” IS a condition: They have PTSD – Post-Traumatic Shopping Disorder! So what I say instead is, “That’s cool; make yourself at home. My name is Sue if you need anything.”

That’s how I realized Shoppers are like prey animals. Like horses are prey animals. Wary of being pounced on and trapped.

So I started treating my customers like I treat my friends in the herd.

“She’s gone completely bonkers,” I hear you saying. But stay with me.

When I introduce myself to members of a herd, they don’t like it if I walk directly up to them and try to start interacting. They are immediately suspicious – it’s a little too much like being charged by a lion, or a wolf. It works much better to ease into it – approach, pause, check each other out, come closer. Non-threatening.

So after turning off a few shoppers, I started behaving like I was with the horses. Rather than walking right up to them and addressing them directly, I try to be busy with something else – straightening shirts on hangers, putting things away – but not too busy to notice them and say hi, making them feel important. I greet them warmly but casually: I see you and acknowledge you, but you’re not in my cross-hairs.

Funny thing, they respond to that.

Learning to help the horses feel safe with me has taught me about helping others feel safe.

The horses have taught me to be a better salesperson. And since I take the Service part of Customer Service very seriously, that means a lot to me.

Stay Tuned for Part II!


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