Tag Archives | Confidence

My New Best Friend


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DSC_0829-1024x681 - Version 2I have to tell you a story.

I had a job interview a few days ago, one I was very excited about. I had made it through two cuts after submitting a cover letter and answering ten essay questions. I went into it – and came out of it – very excited about the opportunity, working to help grow a small company to the next level. Their materials talked consistently about two things near and dear to my heart: Community and Curiosity, and it would challenge me to use skills acquired throughout my career.

The interview went pretty well; I felt like we had pretty good rapport. He had me start with questions for him, and I was ready. This isn’t his first startup; what had he learned from launching previous companies? What did this job really entail? The description hadn’t been very detailed.

I liked his answers. Thoughtful. Honest.

He asked me about my strengths, and my challenges. I talked about my organizational skills, my abilities to build and improve processes, my communication skills, my facilitation skills, my relationship building skills. Regarding challenges, I’ve had to learn to deal with conflict using the tools I coach others on. Keeping my writing short and succinct. Living with my voice. He asked about my voice, and I explained it has been diagnosed as Spasmodic Dysphonia, a neurological condition that is similar to stuttering, except it affects the vocal cords. I have had some success with speech therapy, and I have chosen not to pursue the recommended medical treatment – there is no “cure” – Botox injections to the vocal cords. It can be challenging, I said, to get on the phone, to do Skype calls, but it doesn’t stop me.

We went on. He asked, What am I passionate about? I told him I’m passionate about building things. About solving puzzles. Holding the space for people to do their best work. Almost as an afterthought, I added, “Working with horses. I am also a coach, and I incorporate horses into the coaching process.” He made a note, and told me he had just hired someone for another role who also works with horses. He said, “You’ll probably get along.” That was encouraging.

At the end, he asked the Million Dollar Question. This is a start-up, he said, and we expect everyone to give it everything they’ve got. What do you think about that?

I was ready for that question, as it was my only concern. I told him I had worked for start-ups before, and worked in a variety of roles where I put in long hours. And it had taught me the importance of setting boundaries, of reserving space to do the things that feed me so that my work is sustainable. So I am careful about setting boundaries, and I encourage others to set boundaries too.

He kind of grinned – or maybe it was a smirk, this is a guy who sends emails at 10pm and 5am and on Sundays – and said it was always interesting to see how people responded to that.

We wrapped things up, and he promised I would hear from him by the end of the week.

I sent him a Thank You note by email, thanking him again for the chance to talk. And I reiterated that, while they couldn’t have “everything I’ve got,” what they would get would be really damn good.

I was cautiously optimistic. But he was interviewing 11 other people, and I suspected that my unwillingness to work 100 hours a week would eliminate me.

Much to my surprise, I got a response later that afternoon. He thanked me for my time, and said,

“There’s a lot to like. On reflection, I think the speech condition must be a non-starter for us. I need you forward facing in many many situations and roles, and with people much less sympathetic than myself.

Best to be straight about that.

It’s possible at some further point that there are additional roles, but for now, presentation in diverse situations is too critical.”

I was stunned.

I had to read it several times.

Not because he cut me.

But because he cut me because of my voice.

And he might be willing to hire me in the future if he could hide me.

I sat with it for a little while, then sent him a reply. I thanked him for his honesty, and said I understood – and that I had to push back. I pointed out that I don’t let my voice stop me, and I lead meetings, conference calls without video, and even workshops – all very successfully, because of my facilitation and presentation skills. Making a lot of cold calls would not be a good fit, but when it comes to facilitating meetings and building relationships my voice has not been an issue. In fact, it has been an asset in two ways: I tend to not waste my words and I have been told that my being “soft spoken” causes people to lean in and pay attention.

Then I got furious.

And had a good cry.

I was stunned. And angry. And disappointed. He went for my underbelly. That’s not “sympathetic.” He could have just said there was someone else who was a better fit. He could have said he really needed someone willing to give it all they’ve got.

But he didn’t.

He revealed himself.

*  *  *

Four different people checked in with me to see how it went, and I told them. Each one was appalled, not just for my sake but because, as each one of them put it, “I don’t think that’s legal. Did he really put that in writing?”

Yes. Yes, he really did.

I had another good cry.

The next morning, he replied to my reply, saying,

“Of course I trust you won’t let it stop you! I’m only saying that I personally found it a distraction.”

*Facepalm*

I wrote a response, saying (among other things), that I actually expected him to tell me he was looking for someone willing to work 100 hours a week, or that he had a candidate whose skills were a better fit, and I would have understood. But he had self-selected himself out of the people who appreciate me for the quality of my character and skills rather than a physical characteristic. I suggested he consider getting sensitivity training before someone else with a distracting physical characteristic reacts less kindly to being excluded.

But just before I hit Send, the wise Voice In My Head said, “Just walk away.” So I saved it to Drafts. I sent it to one of the dear friends who was appalled on my behalf, someone who has been a hiring manager herself, because I was torn between wanting to get The Last Word (and maybe even helping him somehow) and just walking away. She sided with The Voice In My Head.

So I let it go. I took a long hot shower and went to an interview with a different company – which went very well and we are going to the next step. Then I spent the rest of the day sending invitations for my new series of retreats and workshops.

*  *  *

I have sat through many tedious corporate compliance videos in my career, but I now understand first hand that this is why the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 are the law of this land. They were enacted to help us become comfortable with being uncomfortable, so that we could look through the differences that distract us to see each person’s gifts and abilities.

These laws don’t cover everything. But if we are able to cultivate a willingness to look past certain attributes, that helps us be willing to look beyond all kinds of distracting attributes to really see the person.

* * *

But that’s not the point of this story.

Even though this episode hurt, it gave me a great gift.

It has given me the chance to reflect and articulate how my voice has been an asset in various ways, including helping me exercise courage and compassion for myself – and for others. I applauded myself for all of the times I have chosen to get on the phone, to lead the conference call, to schedule the workshop. For all of the times I haven’t let fear of my voice stop me.

It also has helped me to appreciate more than ever the people who haven’t been “distracted” by my voice and who have valued what I bring to the table, including people who have asked me specifically – and repeatedly – to use my voice in leading workshops, moderating panel discussions, facilitating team meetings, leading difficult conversations, coaching them through rough spots, asking powerful questions, and speaking truth to whatever is happening.

I am immensely grateful for all of the people who are more interested in what I have to say than in how it sounds.

They are my tribe, these people who see Me.

He is not. He can only see my “distracting” voice.

I am grateful that he revealed himself.

I am grateful that I, too, have been revealed. I got to watch myself handle this differently than I might have several years ago, when I might have taken the bullet and let it make me feel Less Than. At one time I did let my voice hold me back, let it reinforce some story that I’m not good enough. But I have chosen, and worked, to not hold myself back. I need not be ashamed – of my voice, of anything. There is no secret to hide, to hide from.

And I’m grateful for something else.

When I received the diagnosis of Spasmodic Dysphonia five years ago, I chose not to go with Botox shots in my vocal cords for a variety of reasons. Some people do; good for them. But I do not. Because…

…Botox. It’s a poison. Eew.

…I can still sing. And no one could promise that the Botox wouldn’t give me a different speaking voice but take away my ability to sing. I’d rather sing.

…Botox doesn’t work for everyone, and when it does it is temporary. It also causes people to effectively lose their voices for approximately a week after each shot. I’d rather have some voice all of the time.

But most importantly, I chose not to go down that path because for ten years I had increasingly hated my voice. I saw it as The Enemy. But when you hate one part of yourself, you hate Yourself. I didn’t want to live like that anymore. I wanted a truce. I wanted peace. I wanted to make friends with my voice again. And I felt like shooting it with poison would be stabbing my voice in the back.

That’s not what you do to your friends.

So I have spent the last five years making friends with my voice. Taking it everywhere I go, being willing to be Seen. And Heard.

And this week I realized that my voice has paid me back handsomely with a great gift.

By showing me what I’m really capable of.

That’s what friends do.

Today I can say, loudly and clearly,

My Voice. And I. Are Friends.

Garden. Stand. Glow.


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Breathing Into a New Year

I am not immune to the seasonal reflection and contemplation that goes on this time of year, and like millions of others I find myself reflecting on the past year, my successes and failures, realizations, and what I want for the coming year.

It isn’t just about flipping to a new year on the calendar, though. 2012 was a year of huge transition for me, and I have spent the last two months on a sort of working vacation. Working. Treading water. Breathing. Contemplating. Being Grateful.

But over the last two weeks, as my schedule has slowed down slightly and we have passed through the Winter Solstice and the end of the Mayan calendar and entered 2013, I have begun to look forward. That has manifested as three exercises (so far) that have been very fruitful. I’d like to share them with you here, as you may find them helpful as well. (And going public, and the accountability that can bring, is probably a good thing.)

A Personal SWOT Analysis

A what?

It started when a friend invited me to send her my resume, as she wanted to share it with her client. I took some time to review it first and do some updating. One of the things I had highlighted was helping my clients perform SWOT analyses. What’s a SWOT analysis? It stands for

Strengths

Weaknesses

Opportunities

Threats

with Strengths and Weaknesses being Internal factors and Opportunities and Threats being External factors. The idea is to brainstorm these, and only then set goals and plan initiatives that have a good chance of succeeding based upon your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats.

I looked at my resume and thought, “Hmmm, this might be a good time to do that for myself.”

So I did.

It’s been an interesting process (which is still in process, especially the Opportunities and Threats part). Here are a few highlights:

  • This has been a great opportunity to be reminded of my strengths. I have a lot of them. I tend to take them for granted. (Is there anyone who doesn’t, at least at some time?)
  • This has also been a reminder of something two different wise people have said to me at different times in my life: “Your strengths taken to extreme can be your greatest weaknesses.” One example? I am extremely persistent and tenacious. Taken to extreme, I can be quite stubborn (good Taurus that I am). This doesn’t always serve me (or those around me), especially when it’s time to walk away from something.
  • I have a number of opportunities available to me, and I had an idea for another one as a result of this process.
  • Examining the Threats is important, especially since most of them can be prepared for and overcome. But they have to be recognized first.
  • Regarding those Threats, I realized that they, and the Opportunities, aren’t all external. Those Weaknesses can pose threats to my success if I don’t manage them. As for the external Threats, I need to watch my feet, and be aware, not wary.

That Amazing Question Again

Then, on Sunday, Chris Brogan’s newsletter arrived. In it, he asked this version of my Amazing Question: What would you attempt if you believed in yourself a lot more than you do today?

Hmmm. Excellent timing. I emailed Chris, and he challenged me to answer it for him. So I did. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Schedule more workshops – at least one every month.
  • Actively promote my coaching – by calling people, sending emails, launching a newsletter.
  • Get back on a regular – or at least more frequent – blog schedule, even if the direction changes.
  • Invite new Captains Curious guest posts.
  • Create a new photography site.
  • Create a site for my jewelry and either begin selling on Etsy or actively schedule shows and parties.
  • Submit a proposal for the magazine article I want to write, interviewing other women named Susan Blake.
  • Finish the rewrite of “Remember to Look Up” and publish it for e-readers through Amazon etc.

Damn. That’s a big list of Opportunities. But completely achievable – if I believe in myself. Since it was fed by the Strengths and Opportunities lists I had recently begun, I know it’s all possible – Weaknesses and Threats not withstanding.

Boil It Down

And then Chris’s next blog post arrived, his annual “My Three Words” post, in which he describes choosing three words that will be his touchstones for the year, his guiding force to keep him on track. They are the words that represent the Big Vision for the year.

So, here is my response to his challenge to come up with three words that represent my Big Vision for 2013:

Garden. Stand. Glow.

Garden: The first word that actually came to me was Renaissance, because I have a lot of interests, a lot of talents, a lot of avenues I want to pursue. I am a Renaissance Woman. My commitment for 2013 is to respect them and to pursue them all: Coaching. Writing. Photography. Music. Jewelry Making. Partnering with horses in Equine Guided Experiences. They all feed me, they feed others, they feed each other, and they have the potential for literally putting food on the table – if I act like I believe in myself (see above). I am a Renaissance Woman, but an even better term that describes this, and embodies action, is Gardener. A garden requires tending – planning, tilling, planting, watering, pruning, weeding, harvesting. And this is about action, not just interests and talents. Also, a good garden is filled with a variety of plants, not just multiples of only one plant, and that describes me. A polymathic garden. So my first word is Garden.

Stand: As in, stand in my power. 2012 was a year filled with repeated reminders that I am powerful. And that I often either discount it or take it for granted. Especially my Intuition. I built a varied and successful career on mostly left-brained, highly analytical abilities, but events in the past year have repeatedly plunked me smack dab in the middle of my right brain. My work with horses is part of that. Where before I have often discounted my intuition, I am finding that it is indispensable and usually accurate. Part of respecting my garden of talents, interests and skills includes trusting that intuition. It guides my curiosity and I can employ my curiosity to validate it. This year I commit to standing in that power, so my second word is Stand. (I also like the visual connection to a “stand of trees.”)

Glow: As I tend my Garden and Stand in my power, I see myself start to glow. That glow serves as a beacon to others. The glow of a candle in the window, a campfire in the forest, a lighthouse on the coast. Come this way! It helps us find each other, connect, engage. No hiding my light. My third word is Glow.

* * * * *

There you have it. Three exercises for the New Year, the new age. It is all part of a work in progress, of course. I encourage you to try them! Please share the results here in the Comments, or feel free to reach out to me.

The Amazing Question


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This morning I received a newsletter from Chris Brogan (if you don’t know him, you can find him here and here) with the subject line, “Do you live by a manifesto?”

Funny you should ask that, I thought. After reading a variety of manifestos in the last couple of years, I was moved by a few but never wrote one.

Then, this past Spring I asked myself this question:

“What would you do if you really believed in yourself?”

I don’t remember what prompted it. But I started writing, and out came a pretty amazing statement.

So amazing that I typed it, made it pretty, and printed it out. I put it in my office and in my bedroom where I could see it and read it frequently.

Sometimes it becomes wallpaper, but I consciously go back and re-read it for courage and direction when I get lost.

“What would you do if you really believed in yourself?”

I wrote to Chris and told him about it, and sent him my manifesto. To my surprise, he responded almost immediately, saying “What an amazing question!!!”

It is an amazing question. It’s also a hellish question, and a heavenly question. It is heavenly and hellish because once I answered I could no longer hide.

Side note for Word Geeks

Here’s a thing I learned about writing a Manifesto. It’s based on the word “manifest.”

Seems kind of obvious, but it’s not. And it’s important.

If you look at the various definitions of the verb “manifest,” they boil down to an important idea: To make something visible. To make something real.

I asked myself a big question and answered it from my soul. As soon as I did, as soon as I made it real, teachers started appearing, doors started appearing, and opportunities started appearing.

And then…

And then something awful happened.

I realized how long I had been hiding.

That’s so big that I can hardly breathe as I write it. (And my pen ran out of ink as I wrote it. Hm.)

I realized how long I had been hiding, and that I no longer could. (I admit it’s a hard habit to break. But it’s possible.)

It is awful, and terrifying. And wonderful. Awe Full.

Are you curious?

If you’re still reading, you’re probably curious. Here it is.

Click Here for the Manifesto

Come and get it!

As I said, as soon as I made it real, teachers started appearing, doors started appearing, and opportunities started appearing. And I started getting tested. (Have you ever heard the proverb, “Never pray for patience, because you’ll get it and then it will be tested”? Like that.)

But I’m up to the test. Even though it’s scary. And I know you are, too.

“What would you do if you really believed in yourself?”

Would you like to answer this amazing question for yourself? Would you like to do it in the company of others?

You’re invited

to an evening workshop on Thursday, September 27th. Because the lessons I learn aren’t meant just for me.

Come and answer this Amazing Question, this amazing, hellish, heavenly question, for yourself – in the company of others. (There’s safety in numbers!)

Your answer to this question can open doors and provide you with a vital roadmap. I will create a space in which we will pause and listen, lead the process of answering the question, facilitate the sharing of the answers with the group, and facilitate work on what to do about it.

Are you ready?

Are you curious?


The Amazing Question Evening

Thursday, September 27th 2012

7:00pm – 9:00pm PDT

390 Diablo Road, #115 Danville, CA

$10

Attend live or via Skype

Attendance is limited to 20 participants

Please join me!


It’s time to move from the maze to Amazing.

Images from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Thank you, Chris, for permission to use your name in this post!

Bird Brains -or- How Do Birds (and People) Learn?


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My office looks out upon a patio garden that is twice as large as this room, and I spend a good deal of time here working – and contemplating the garden. The patio is enclosed by a six-foot privacy fence and shaded by a heritage Valley Oak. Over the years I have transformed (or more accurately, continually transform) it from an ivy-ridden rectangle filled with oak leaves and acorns to a miniature secret garden and wildlife sanctuary.

Two of my favorite features (which also drive me crazy) are a fountain and a bird feeder. The fountain I built several years ago from a large ceramic pot, and the bird feeder (and a separate hummingbird feeder) hang from a nearby post.

The fountain is a favorite with the birds, but it occasionally stymies them. The goldfinches were the first to figure out how to use it as a water source, landing on the spout and having a drink. The current spout also provides a spot where they can stand in the running water and cool their heels, which they often do in the summertime.

For more than a year I watched other small birds watch the goldfinches but never make the leap to perching on and drinking from the spout themselves. It wasn’t until last Spring that I saw various house finches and chickadees making the same use of it.

This morning a house finch visited who is apparently new to the neighborhood. A female (or juvenile) who may just be finishing molting, she has little tufts on her head that mimic a horned owl, giving her a slightly disheveled look. She landed on the edge of the fountain and spent a good part of the morning looking longingly at the stream of water coming from the spout. She hopped about on the edge, eyeing the stream, peering down at the water in the bowl, and flinching as water droplets would bounce up at her. She made numerous attempts to lean forward to drink from the bowl, but it was a big stretch and she often had trouble keeping her balance.

How Do Birds Learn?

Meanwhile, a male house finch, glorious with his red head and back, swooped down from the bird feeder, landed on the spout, and had a good long drink. Tufts watched him with her head cocked, and even hopped up and fluttered in the air while she watched. The male flew back to the bird feeder, but Tufts remained on the edge of the fountain, eyed the spout, and then continued reaching down for a drink. A few minutes later, the male came back for another drink. He clearly said something to her and looked at her while he drank. Tufts again watched him intently but again, after he flew away, she returned to stretching down, almost beyond her reach, to drink from the bowl.

How many times, I wondered, would she have to watch him before making the attempt herself? Just then, Tufts leapt off of the edge and into the bowl – and into the water. Much to her apparent surprise, she got rather wet. She flew up to the fence and shook herself off, and I swear I could see her frowning in contemplation. She hopped over to the bird feeder and munched for a few minutes, then flew back to the edge of the fountain – and hopped down into the water again. This time she hopped back up onto the edge, preened, stretched, and looked quite satisfied with herself.

Was her initial hop into the water an attempt to get at drink? Was it an unsuccessful attempt to land on the spout, or was it an end run? Was it her intention to take a bath, or was that just a serendipitous outcome? I’ve been sitting here for about two hours, and I haven’t yet seen her land on the spout. I have only watched her observing another bird drinking from the spout two times; how many times will she have to see it before she is willing to try it?

Maybe she will decide that the method favored by most other birds just isn’t for her. Maybe she thinks she is a much larger bird. (I have watched robins and blue jays drink from the edge of the fountain, but for them reaching the water is not such a stretch.) I have also seen other birds – hummingbirds and goldfinches – fly into the stream of water to get a bath. But I have never before watched a bird intentionally dunk itself in the water for a bath. Does she just not get it? Or is she afraid to try something new?

How Do People Learn?

How many times do we have to see someone do something before we work up the confidence to try it ourselves? How often do we fail at the attempt – or try an alternative – and end up accomplishing something entirely unexpected? And, how often does someone who has accomplished an act consciously demonstrate it for others, encouraging them to give it a try? How many times will they be willing to demonstrate until the student works up the courage to try – or courageously fails until finally succeeds? Certainly, being willing to live at the edge of chaos makes a difference.

* * *

Meanwhile, I am watching a goldfinch pull bits of cotton wool for nesting materials from the erstwhile suet feeder. She pulls and pulls and pulls, until she has a beakful that is nearly too large for her to take away. “Silly bird,” I thought, “why don’t you just make multiple trips?” Then I had to laugh at myself, thinking of all the times I have tried to carry more bags of groceries than I should, simply because I didn’t want to make multiple trips from the car to the house and I was fixated on what seemed to be the simplest solution.

In some ways, we’re not so different from the birds.

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