Tag Archives | Fear

The “What If” Puzzle


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What is the difference between “What if…” and “What if…”?

I was recently talking with a group of friends who are, like me, small business people. We were talking about wrestling with self-doubt and dealing with our Inner Critic, and the “What if” questions started coming up. You know, the Doomsday Version.

At the same time, these are wonderfully creative people, problem solvers of all types. They (and I) also ask the other “What if…?”

What, I wondered, is the difference between “What if…” and “What if…”?

Let me explain.

The Doomsday Version might include,

  • “What if they don’t like me?”
  • “What if people don’t understand?”
  • “What if it’s cancer?”
  • “What if I’m wrong?”
  • “What if I look stupid?”
  • “What if I build it and nobody comes?”
  • “What if I can’t pay my bills?”
  • “What if I lose my house?”

…and so on.

Every scientist, artist and other problem solver also asks “What if…” but those questions are very different. The Creative Problem Solver version might include,

  • “What if I mix these two colors (or substances)?”
  • “What if I used this material?”
  • “What if I explored this canyon?
  • “What if I brought these teams together?”
  • “What if I asked this question?”

So I wondered aloud, how are these questions different, and how might we change the Doomsday Questions that stop us into Possibility Questions that help us move forward?

How do we identify the difference between the “what if” that leads to discovery and the “what if” that hides behind security? One of the differences that is immediately apparent is the addition of certain words – even if they are only implied.

The protector, the inner critic, asks, “(But) what if…” whereas the scientist, the artist, the writer, the explorer, all ask, “(I wonder) what (would happen) if…”

It is the difference between open possibilities and the possibility of Doom

We agreed that the voice of Doom, that voice of Fear, has a role. It is trying to protect us. But too often we don’t question the Doomsday scenario and we let it stop us.

The difference between the Doomsday “What if” questions and the “What if” of Creative Possibilities is the difference between Fear and Curiosity.

How can we tell them apart?

When “What ifs” come up, how can we tell which driver is behind the wheel?

One way is to look at the language. Does the question start with “But?” If so, it is probably Fear speaking.

Does the question begin with “What would happen if…” or, better yet, “I wonder what would happen if…” If so, then it is probably Curiosity speaking.

Take an even closer look. If the question is about things over which I have no control (or think I have no control), it is probably Fear talking. If the question is about things I can do, then it is probably Curiosity speaking.

Can we shift from Fear to Curiosity?

Is there a way to shift from a position of Fear to one of Curiosity? Yes!

How?

The first step is to recognize which voice is speaking. The words themselves are a giveaway, as is the issue of control.

Yet another giveaway is the tone. This can be challenging if the voice is in my own head, but I can still ask, is this a voice of protection or of exploration?

The second step is to ask, is the voice of Fear raising an objection that can be planned for, or is it just raising an old fear that is no longer relevant or is beyond my control?

As Mike and Birdy Diamond pointed out in their Captains Curious post, Fear doesn’t last in the face of Curiosity. Curiosity allows us to plan.

The third step is, as my friend and colleague Michael F. Broom says, to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Tara Joyce, who wrote a Captains Curious post about Living the Questions, was the person who introduced me to the concept of the value of living on the “edge of chaos.”

Jeffrey Davis writes about the value of “fertile confusion.”

And Paula Swenson, whose Captains Curious post will appear this week, has written about the importance of “making friends with uncertainty.”

These can all help us move from Fear to Curiosity.

I have learned

Once upon a time, as I was preparing to move to a different city, someone very important to me tried to talk me out of it. She was worried about me, and she was going to miss me (and I her).

“But what if (The Doomsday Scenario happens)?” she asked.

Now, I confess, I had already worried about that possibility. But I had faced it.

“I know what to do if it does,” I said, “Besides, what if it doesn’t?” I asked. “What if I live happily ever after?”

I chose not to live in fear of something over which I had no control.

As I have learned (over and over) to walk not in Fear but in Curiosity, making a comeback from one challenge after another, I have learned that “what if” can feel like chaos, like confusion, like uncertainty.

But it is almost never as bad as I fear.

Sometimes it is worse, but it might only be the edge of chaos. It could be fertile confusion. I can make friends with uncertainty. I can chose adventure. I can choose wonder.

As I write this, I am reminded of a scene from one of my favorite movies, “2010.”

It might be horrible.

Or it might be something wonderful.

I can choose what questions to ask, and how to plan.

And so can you.

Would you like to receive these posts, and the Captains Curious, in your inbox? Click Here.

Captains Curious: Curiosity in Times of the Tower


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Welcome to Captains Curious, a weekly series of guest posts on the subject of Curiosity. The newest members of the Captains Curious are Mike and Birdy Diamond! To learn about the series and the other Captains Curious, please click here.

What good is curiosity? Just how important is it?

When Birdy brought up the question of curiosity to me, I got to thinking about how vitally important curiosity was, especially in Times of the Tower, a.k.a. times of major life-altering change, for those of you not immediately familiar with Tarot symbolism.

Why?

Because when people are having problems, what normally happens is the instinctual hiding and going inward thing. You know – you are being hunted (it doesn’t really matter by what) and you should hide and go into yourself. Don’t be noticed, maybe the bad thing will eat somebody else – just sit there and feel sorry for yourself.

Which is exactly the wrong thing to do!

Even in the old days, having friends with spears was a lot more useful.

Birdy chiming in here, with some examples for those of you (like me) who learn better by story.

Where shall we begin?

Oh, yes, the running-and-hiding-under-furniture thing.

Yes, a definite tendency, and one I’ve practiced far more often than I’d like to admit. 😀

But yes, while an instinctive move, perhaps not the best one to make in such times.

On a personal note, the running and hiding thing has caused me FAR more embarrassment and trouble than it was worth.

To the point that no, I don’t have any stories that I’m willing to share about that aspect, beyond ‘Been there. Done that. Do NOT recommend it!’ :>

But why curiosity?

  • Because you can’t be curious and closed down at the same time.
  • Fear doesn’t last in the face of curiosity
  • Curiosity forces you to look outward
  • It encourages perspective
  • It encourages thinking ‘outside the box’

All of which is exactly what you should be doing in Times of the Tower.

So.

A story that I AM willing to share.

Well, the first one that comes to mind is the one that sparked this whole ‘Time of the Tower’ idea in the first place.

As is so often the case, it was the personal situation that brought it home.

We’d heard about the Japan earthquake/tsunami, but were distant enough from it to view it with the detached compassion that occurs when the turmoil is not at your own front door.

Then our own world fell apart, and the need to deal with the Time of the Tower hit home.

My husband was informed that his employer was succumbing to their own lack of curiosity and entering into bankruptcy, which meant the closing of a number of stores, including the one he worked at.

(If you’ve been hanging around me at all, you probably know the parties involved, but as Susan rightly pointed out, names are not important here. What is important is our own curious approach to getting our tailfeathers out of the fire. Besides, the retail industry’s lack of curiosity and the consequences therefrom is a WHOLE ‘nother show. :-D)

  • Because you can’t be curious and closed down at the same time.

So, after the crying and the screaming was done (I freely admit in times of stress, I tend to go to my Totem Sparrow, who is not exactly the quietest of Birds!), we set about putting our curiosity to work.

  • Fear doesn’t last in the face of curiosity

Sitting down and exploring our options was an excellent way to keep the boogeyman at bay, which was definitely helpful, especially for those middle-of-the-night fears that creep up and pounce unwanted, though not unexpectedly.

  • Curiosity forces you to look outward

Later on, we would discover that Explorer is an Archetype shared by both of us, which explains a lot about why curiosity is such an important thing for both of us.

At the moment though, we were only interested in figuring out what the flock we were going to do to get ourselves out of this mess. With an unemployment rate of 11% in Michigan, and a distinct lack of desirable options as far as a range of jobs, the squeeze definitely seemed on.

But we put all that behind us and sat down, determined to use our curiosity find a way that worked.

We brainstormed.

We hashed out options.

We worked things out to make sure vital things would be taken care of.

We took action, both because it was the Useful Thing to Do, and because it kept the boogeymen in the middle of the night at bay.

  • It encourages thinking ‘outside the box’

Curiosity let us do all that.

It freed us from being so immersed in the situation that we couldn’t move.

It allowed us to explore other options and paths.

It allowed us to look at things in new lights and from new directions.

Good things those.

  • It encourages perspective

And it also gave our brains something useful to do, instead of dwelling on the negatives, which was very useful from both a movement and metaphysical perspective.

It also gave us the freedom to look at the situation from more than just the angle of a soon-to-be-ex-employee. This is valuable stuff, not only for the information it brings at the time, but also for avoiding future problems in one’s own life and situation.

For example, the things we’ve learned about what NOT to do in business are both numerous and things people would pay tons of money to know.

Many are common-sense, which just goes to show you how scale and business veneer can change one’s vision. And that ultimately, when it comes to business smarts, size does not matter, which can be an incredible confidence builder!

The Time of the Tower is all about the ‘out with the old – and in with the new’ kind of time.

If you are associated with the old thing – even if indirectly – it can start off as a bad thing. And often it is bad.

At least in the beginning.

The old thing going away always leaves a vacuum.

Always!

It hurts. It still does, even though at the time of this writing, we’ve had nearly a month of Mike being home. The benefits are numerous, and on a big-picture level, we don’t regret a thing, but it’s still all too easy to give way to the emotions that lie just underneath, the parts of you that resist change with all their might, even when it’s the best change that could happen to you.

To be replaced with something new.

And there is the opportunity!

The gift in disguise, if you only know how to look for it.

And overall, it IS the best thing that could happen to us. The changes, both personal and professional, that have occurred in just the short time since Mike’s come home are both a telling example of what is wrong with Big Business today, and a striking example that not all seemingly devastating change is, in actuality, devastating.

Encourage your curiosity!

Gain the perspective that will allow you to see that it is a Time of the Tower and to look for those opportunities that are there if you only have the curiosity to look for them.

Once you realize it’s only a ‘Time of the Tower’, you know it’s a side effect of a growth spurt – along with the associated opportunities – so you know there is no need to waste any more time with fear.

If it’s ultimately going to be a good thing, then why worry?

But, remember one thing.

The old ways of doing things may be part of what is going away.

So, be on the lookout for new, outside-the-box solutions and methods for your future.

Encourage your curiosity – you will find it quite profitable!

* * * * *

Mike Diamond, man of mystery & science. Aviator, astronomer, inveterate questioner & explorer. Also a channel, he & his Guides eagerly await opportunities to educate folks on what’s out there in the Universe. You can find him most often on the decks of the A.E.V. CrowTarot (http://www.crowtarottours.com) or in the Mind Arts Lab of Blanket University (http://www.craftycrows.com), but he is also to be found flying about through all the sites of the Avian Empire. (http://www.theavianempire.com)

Birdy Diamond can most often be seen flying around the web gathering bits for her ‘Roving Robin’ columns for such sites as: Birds on the Blog, CustomerLove, and the Caffeinated Business Community. In her native habitat of the ‘Avian Empire’ (www.theavianempire.com), she is most often to be found in the Studio of TwOOwls Art (www.twoowlsart.com), the Mysticphoenyx Cafe (www.mysticphoenyxcafe.com), or the Talking Tree over at ‘An Encouraging Bird’ (www.anencouragingbird.com), though she is also to be found on board the A.E.V. CrowTarot and on various parts of the campus of Blanket University.

* * * * *

Would you like to submit a guest post on the subject of Curiosity? Send an email to susan {at} susanTblake {dot} com with the subject line: Captains Curious.

The Beauty – and the Danger – of Woo-Woo


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This post was triggered by a post written by my friend and soul-sister, Jenny Bones. It has become one of those topics that started burning a hole in my pocket to the point that I couldn’t get to anything else until I took it out.

Jenny’s post What’s Wrong With a Little Woo? (at her new website, an exciting change of direction for her) hit a nerve with me.

I am, among other things, an Organization Development (OD) consultant. And even though that sounds mighty Proper and Official, people in OD (and HR and Training and Development, and all the associated tracks) are sometimes looked down upon by The Corporate World as being, well, woo-woo. Touchy-feely. We deal with feelings. And soft skills. (Among other things.) Sometimes the work we do isn’t perceived as being “closest to the dollar” (or anywhere near it, except as an expense). Dealing with and overcoming this perception is not an unusual topic at professional meetings and trainings.

So I wasn’t surprised when I went to a workshop last fall called Become an Inspiring Speaker (which was FABULOUS) that there was a lot of self-deprecating humor among participants and presenters about being perceived as being woo-woo. What did surprise me was that when someone would ask, “What does that mean?” or challenge the use of the term, people would kind of hem and haw and change the subject.

“Woo-woo” is one of those terms that everyone kind of knows the definition of.

“Woo-woo” is one of those slang terms that everyone kind of knows the definition of, but here are a couple of official definitions (from the Internet, which is never wrong):

Wiktionary.org says: “It has been suggested that “woo woo” is intended to imitate the eerie background music of sci-fi/horror films and television shows, however the exact origin is uncertain.” It gives the definition as: “(Decribing) A person readily accepting supernatural, paranormal, occult, or pseudoscientific phenomena, or emotion-based beliefs and explanations.”

The Skeptic’s Dictionary says, “When used by skeptics, woo-woo is a derogatory and dismissive term used to refer to beliefs one considers nonsense or to a person who holds such beliefs… But mostly the term is used for its emotive content and is an emotive synonym for such terms as nonsense, irrational, nutter, nut, or crazy.”

Nice, huh? The problem is, what is considered nonsense is relative. It can be applied to anything that isn’t mainstream, left-brain and “close to the dollar.”

“Be Who You Be”

In Jenny’s post, she takes a stand that you should “be who you be” and not be afraid of being woo-woo if that’s who you are. I agree! She went on to say,

“When we edit ourselves and our marketing message in the hopes we’ll attract a larger audience we risk losing everything. More often than not, we end up missing our target completely.”

With that I agree… and I disagree. Here’s why.

I agree that we should represent ourselves authentically and not try to convince others that we are something we are not. Or that we are not something we are. We can only connect with our Right People by letting ourselves shine.

But And I also believe that we should carefully select the language we use and be wary of using terms that have negative baggage – not only because it can scare new Right People away, but also because it reinforces the monster voices in our heads that call us names. It makes it more difficult to fully embrace and describe with pride Who We Are and What We Bring to the Work We Do.

Simply put, it’s the term woo-woo that bothers me.

It’s the term “woo-woo” that bothers me.

So I left a comment on Jenny’s blog and told a story about a group of consultants and coaches with whom I meet regularly. At one of our meetings, where we were working on ideas for promoting our businesses, we kept using the term “woo-woo” in a self-demeaning way. So we had a reframing exercise to see if we could shift the way we thought of the term, and of ourselves. And in the process we came up with a lot of very useful terms to use instead of “woo-woo.”

It was a very powerful exercise, as it helped us to take more pride and ownership in what we do as well as giving us new language to use with people who hunger for more than black-and-white, either-or, numbers-driven, left brain solutions.

I should have anticipated it, but several people replied to my comment asking about what some of those words were.

So I went back to my cohorts and asked if they minded if I wrote about this. Their support was unanimous, and one responded with, “I’m totally in support of it, and, in fact, would love it if you DID mention us — not names and details, but that you are a member of a fabulous group of intuitively-oriented goddesses with our feet firmly on the ground.

I couldn’t have put it better myself! So here we go with more about the reframing exercise:

We brainstormed as many synonyms as we could for “woo-woo.”  Not necessarily concrete definitions, but any term that came to mind that we associated with “woo-woo.” A volunteer record-keeper wrote them down in a word cloud as fast as we blurted them out.

At first they were mostly words that are negative – or might be perceived as negative by The Corporate World – including words like “unrealistic,” “joke,” “scary,” “mysterious,” “unprovable,” “touchy-feely,” “girlie,” “psychic,” “dangerous,” “evil,” “witch,” and “wimpy.”

But even before we stopped to intentionally redirect ourselves to listing more “positive” terms, those terms started tumbling out until we had more positive terms than negative terms. Overflowing positive terms!

Then we went back through the word cloud and circled those positive terms to help them stand out. They include “curious,” “power,” “quantum physics,” “universal,” “authentic,” “honest,” “real,” “expansive, “right brain,” “passion,” “joy,” “present,” “intercultural,” “love,” “light,” and “connection.” Those are just a few; a copy of the actual page is below:

What a difference! By the end of ten minutes we had shifted the language we were using and the way we were presenting ourselves, and we pledged to only use the positive terms when marketing ourselves going forward.

What’s my point?

The world includes – must include – both yin and yang. We have both a left brain and a right brain.

There are a lot of people in The Corporate World, as well as small businesses, solopreneurs, and individuals, who want and need what we bring. We can authentically speak to them in languages they can understand.

So, embrace who you are and what you bring to your work! That enthusiasm is contagious! As Jenny said, “You are the only thing that’s unique about your business. Market it. Celebrate it. Believe in it.”

Use language that celebrates who you are and what you bring to your work. If that includes the term “woo-woo,” Yay You! But if using that term is just an excuse to kick yourself in the shins or justify your lack of success because They see you as “woo-woo,” then Not-Yay.

If the rebel in you wants to proudly wear the badge of Woo-Woo, go for it! But think carefully about whether or not it is an excuse to have your “No One Will Ever Buy From Me” cake and eat it too.

Re-framing can be a powerful exercise for getting unstuck and looking at something in a new way. Language is important – and powerful.

Take it from a “fabulous group of intuitively-oriented goddesses with our feet firmly on the ground.”

Do you truly embrace what you do and invite others to share in it? How have you used a re-framing exercise to change how you look at things? Please leave a comment!

Are You a Leader, or a Follower? How About a Servant Leader?


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Leaders, Followers and Listening to What People Want

When is giving people what they want leadership, and when is it following-the-pack?

I’ve had the opportunity to participate in a lot of wonderful conversations recently about developing products and services for customers. One of the issues that have come up repeatedly is the importance of finding out what your customers want so that you can give it to them. Otherwise one runs the risk of developing a product that seems like a great idea but that no one buys.

Seems like a No-Brainer, right? But it’s not. In the context of those conversations a very smart person made the statement that asking what people want and then giving it to them isn’t leadership, it’s following-the-pack.

That really made me stop and wonder: When is giving people what they want leadership, and when is it following-the-pack? When is asking what people want and then giving it to them good customer service, and when is it purely mercenary? Why don’t more people – and companies – ask what their customers want?

I’ll address the last question first.

Why don’t more people – and companies – ask?

It takes curiosity to pursue finding out what people want and whether or not they are happy. Why don’t more people – and companies – ask? Fear.

As I wrote about here and here, there are a variety of things that keep people from exercising curiosity. The big one is fear – fear of finding out we are wrong about our assumptions or beliefs, fear of finding out we’re on a different path than everyone else, fear of looking dumb. Fear of admitting we don’t know. Fear of having to change, because change usually involves the unknown and that feels like chaos.

Another Fear

Another fear is of becoming a follower rather than a leader, that creating a product just because everyone wants it is not being a leader but following the pack, pandering to the desires of others.

This goes back to our earlier questions: Can one really be a leader if one just gives people what they want? Which raises another question: Should someone conduct surveys just because it’s The Thing to Do?

Soliciting input and feedback should not be done just because everyone is doing it. That is just following the crowd. It is inauthentic, not writing your own story but acting out someone else’s story.

If, however, people you admire are surveying their customers to find out what they want so they can create products that will help them, you may emulate them. You can put your own stamp on it by creating your own conversations with your customers. And the best surveys are conversations.

But still, isn’t doing what your customers want really just “following the pack?”

Not necessarily. Much depends upon how one defines leadership, and upon the extent to which that definition includes a component of service.

Consider the idea of Servant Leadership. According to the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership,

“The phrase “Servant Leadership” was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay that he first published in 1970. In that essay, he said:

‘The servant-leader is servant first… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.’ ”

There are Ten Aspects of Servant Leadership, which tend to give a person authority versus power:

  • Listening
  • Empathy
  • Healing
  • Awareness
  • Persuasion
  • Conceptualization
  • Foresight
  • Stewardship
  • Commitment to the growth of others
  • Building community

Although curiosity wasn’t listed as one of those ten characteristics, I submit that curiosity is an important component of several – especially Listening, Empathy and Awareness. In this context, exercising one’s curiosity and finding-out-what-people-want is an important part of leadership.

The best surveys are conversations. And a good conversation involves several of the characteristics listed above.

It is this service mentality that keeps finding-out-what-people-want and then giving it to them from being either “following the pack” or a purely mercenary endeavor. Moreover, an effective leader listens to identify what problems her or his people need to have solved, and then leads by teaching them honorable methods for solving them.

Should we always give people what they want?

We must compare what people want to what we are called and able to give. Are those in alignment? If not, we may still serve by referring people to someone who can give them what they want.

For example, one of my favorite parts of the movie “The Miracle on 34th Street” is where Santa Claus refers customers of Macy’s to other department stores if they ask for something Macy’s doesn’t carry. At first the management at Macy’s is horrified – until they realize that this honesty and willingness to be of service doesn’t lose customers, it makes them even more loyal.

It is also important to remember the importance of dialogue, and of authenticity. There is a difference between “tell me what to do” and “tell me what you want.” A responsible servant-leader engages in a conversation and does not just take orders. And when it comes to finding out what people want, remember that the best surveys are conversations.

A responsible servant-leader has to prioritize, and listening to the wants and needs of customers can help with that.

And sometimes a responsible leader has to say No. But it is possible to listen respectfully, weigh the options and then respectfully disagree and follow another path.

It is possible to ask people what they want and try to give it to them without just being an order taker. It is also possible to listen respectfully and yet follow another path. If you are committed to listening and building community, then the input and feedback you receive is part of a dialogue, a conversation. And in that context it is important to say, “Thank you for your advice/input, but I am going to do this instead – and here’s why.”

It all goes back to being willing to be curious.

It all goes back to being willing to be curious. Which means being willing to admit we don’t know, to being open to change – changing our minds, changing our methods, even to hearing a new calling and changing paths. And a Servant Leader who is curious can have very meaningful conversations with customers as he or she works to find out – and help them get – what they want.

“The ear of the leader must ring with the voices of the people.” Woodrow Wilson

Are you curious? If so, stay tuned – there’s more to come about having meaningful conversations with customers. Meanwhile, please leave a comment and tell me what you think about this!

Follow-up for Superheroes in Training -or- Curiosity is a Super Power


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I recently had the great good fortune to have a guest-post published at www.redhotmomentum.com, a website for small and/or nontraditional (“unhinged”) businesses.

I submitted it there because it is about Marketing, which really isn’t the focus of my website or my blog posts. But two of the people who followed up with me directly got me thinking, and one pointedly suggested a follow-up article. So here is that follow-up. I’m posting it here because it is not about Marketing so much as it is about Questions and Curiosity – two of my favorite subjects. (Go read the original post here. I’ll wait.)

Are you back? Great, here we go.

Those two people who reached out to me are both in full-time jobs. One wrote,

“I am struggling with similar things even though I am employed, switching careers definitely is as unsettling because I don’t have experience in what I want to do.”

The other wrote,

“I am that woman now and have not yet figured out how or where or a comfortable way to market myself. I keep hearing my family members saying ‘you better keep your job with benefits’ every time I even begin to want to market myself and then I back off.”

I thought about their predicaments, and what it was about my story that appealed to them. One thing is my struggle with the internal resistance I kept encountering. Another is the idea of the security that a full-time job offers – security that can be very difficult to leave behind. And yet another is the fear I described that no one would give me a try in my new role because I no longer wore my old cape.

To overcome those fears, I had to get curious about myself and ask myself a lot of questions about why I was getting in my own way.

And I realized that these two people were actually asking questions in addition to the ones in the original post. (What, you haven’t read it yet? Click here.)

• How do I quiet the voices of my family that tell me to choose security over following my dreams?

• How do I pursue my dream when I don’t have Real Experience in that area?

How do those questions go together? Are they, perhaps, the same question?

Confession Time

I didn’t voluntarily leave my last job – I was laid off. I had been thinking of making a change but I hadn’t done it, and circumstances made the decision for me. I didn’t decide to stop job hunting and embrace the uncertainty of hanging out my own shingle until after the severance had run out and I really began to think about the possibilities and, more importantly, to see a completely different set of possibilities.

But the fears are still the same.

That said, let me try to address their questions.

Beliefs

Here is the thing about family members and friends (and their voices that take up residence in our heads): Is it possible that they love us and want the best for us, that they’re not TRYING to discourage or squish us? That they’re just wrong? Well-meaning but wrong?

I learned a very important lesson last year at a workshop led by Marcia Wieder. She talked about listening to the voice of my inner Doubter, and rather than trying to silence it, learning to determine whether the warning it is giving is a legitimate obstacle that needs to be overcome or an obsolete belief that can be released. (Willie Hewes and Alexia Petrakos also do a great job with this at the Monster Journals.)

And so when my Voice of Alarm said, “You’ll never make it on your own! Go get a Corporate Job with benefits!” I practiced asking questions like, “Do I have to find a new corporate job with benefits? Or can I find reasonably priced individual coverage at a risk level I can handle?” Mmm, guess what – I have individual coverage now. And then I was able to get to the bigger issue of my beliefs about whether I could really be a Superhero without someone else’s Cape of Authority.

Threads

Regarding making a Career Change, it occurs to me that the idea of threads is very important. As I mentioned in that other post, I have had a fascinating and fun variety of jobs in my life, and I never went from one job to another exactly like it. But there was always a thread that connected them. And even if Job A was very different from Job M, I could demonstrate that there were certain threads (skills, personality traits, work habits) that helped me to not only move from one role to the next but to be successful in all of them. (Such as, I’m a Builder. Not a Maintainer.)

Focus on the threads, the suspension bridge cables that bridge the gaps, not the gap itself. Spend time pouring the concrete footings, and acknowledge the gaps between them. But focus on the threads.

Questions – My Favorite Part!

So, here are some questions to add to those in that other post, especially for Superheroes who want to move from the Fantastic Four to the Justice League – or create a League of Their Own. (Wait, I think someone’s already used that. No worries, you can call it something else.)

• What are the concerns that your Doubter (or Monster) brings up?

• Are they real obstacles, or are they beliefs?

• If they are really potential obstacles, what are your options and resources for overcoming them?

• If they are beliefs, where did they come from? Are they still valid?

• If they’re no longer valid, can you release them?

• Have you done the same exact thing throughout your career?

• If not, what are the threads that connected your various roles?

• How are they applicable to your desired role?

• If your target role is really different from your current/past roles, what are the transferable skills, character traits, talents, etc., that apply to the target role – even if it is not a 1-to-1 fit?

Story Time

Once upon a time, when I was a recruiter, I sometimes found a candidate that I just knew was going to be successful – even if his or her background wasn’t a direct match with the dreaded Job Description. They might not have been an exact fit, but they had something, some Secret Sauce, some Super Power, that made them worth taking a risk on. Often it was The Stuff You Can’t Teach. Once I identified it, I was able to add that to the experience I presented to the hiring manager. And the hiring managers usually went for the people with The Stuff You Can’t Teach because they could, well, teach them the other stuff. But I had to be curious enough about the candidates to uncover it.

Curiosity is a Super Power

Curiosity is the key to answering to both of the questions at the top of this post.

Curiosity about myself has helped me to look at myself and figure out that I needed to set aside my reliance on my old cape and embrace my new cape.

Curiosity doesn’t only help us to solve problems and be more creative and play well with others. Curiosity also can be used to understand ourselves better.

And that makes it a pretty extraordinary Super Power.

Are you curious?

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Fear and Loathing and Compassion – for My Voice


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Fear. Hope. Joy. Grief. Tears. Why, I asked myself, am I all a jumble?

Driving home from a doctor appointment I was flooded with emotions, and all I wanted to do was have a good cry. But why? Were they tears of fear? Of relief? Of joy? If fear, fear of what? Fear of no longer having any excuses?

For about ten years my speaking voice has been deteriorating.

For about ten years my speaking voice has been deteriorating. It began with just sounding strained, sometimes raspy or gravelly. It has progressed to the point where my voice breaks, stopping and starting, and it takes a great deal of effort at times to force words out.

When the troubles started, I had been working for several years as a recruiter and salesperson – interviewing candidates, meeting clients, negotiating placements, and making follow-up calls. In other words, I talked for a living. And I loved it. I had what was for me, at the time, the best job in the world.

I thought at first that maybe I had worn my voice out from talking too much. It didn’t hurt – it just didn’t work right.

It grew gradually worse, and I wondered about various possible causes. Was it stress? Was it that I lived for a year in a sick (moldy) house? Was it the result of 20 years of second-hand cigarette smoke? The symptoms didn’t go away as possible causes were eliminated, and various doctors couldn’t agree. I eventually resigned myself to living with it, although it was embarrassing: Customers would ask if I was feeling well, and family members would ask if I was upset about something.

Certain words were especially hard to say: Hello. Susan Blake. Salad. Oddly enough, though, I could still sing.

It continued to get worse. Sometimes it was fine, but it got increasingly harder to have conversations, especially on the phone. Certain words were especially hard to say: Hello. Susan Blake. Salad. Basically any word with an emphasis on a syllable with a vowel in it – which is most of them. The vowel just wouldn’t come out. And the harder I tried the worse it got.

Oddly enough, though, I could still sing.

I didn’t let it stop me. My job (a different one by then) was eliminated in 2009, and I jumped into working from home – which involved a lot of phone calls and meetings. Oh well. You do what you’ve gotta do, right?

Then something interesting happened. I was at a conference, chatting with several people, and one of them took me aside and said she had noticed my voice, and told me that she used to sound like me. She asked if I had been diagnosed, and I said No, I had been to several doctors but they hadn’t come up with anything. She nodded, and told me that she had been diagnosed with Spasmodic Dysphonia, a neurological disorder that causes the vocal cords to spasm. She was being treated with botox shots to the vocal cords. (Eeew!)

That was interesting, even exciting, but I did nothing – ignoring the situation and attempting to power through it.

Almost a year later, another woman took me aside and told me the same thing. She passed the names of some specialists along, but I still did nothing.

Even though I knew there was a good chance that I had a real physical condition, I didn’t pursue getting an official diagnosis. I gave myself a lot of reasons.

Even though I knew there was a good chance that I had a real physical condition, I didn’t pursue getting an official diagnosis. I gave myself a lot of reasons – I didn’t want botox shots in my vocal cords. I was afraid I would no longer be able to sing. I haven’t sung in a choir in years, but singing has always been an important part of my life. I told myself that getting diagnosed with something that might be considered a pre-existing condition while I am getting my health insurance through COBRA might make it difficult, or impossible, or at least ridiculously expensive, to get individual coverage later. I said it didn’t matter how my voice sounds, even though the work I am pursuing involves a lot of group facilitation and public speaking, since I am getting lots of unsolicited praise for my coaching and facilitation skills. Also, several people – including intuitive coaches – told me that when I found my “true voice” my vocal problems would clear up. Part of me believed that.

I heard a recording of myself participating in a webinar, and I HATED the way my voice sounded.

My symptoms continued to grow worse, and I got tired of getting on the phone with someone new and having them say, “I don’t think we have a good connection, you’re breaking up. Can I call you back?” “No,” I would say, “It’s just my goofy voice.” Then, one day not long ago, I heard a recording of myself participating in a webinar, and I HATED the way my voice sounded. More than the normal “Ugh, is that really how I sound?” that most people experience, it was horrible.

So when I met a voice coach through an online community of which I am member, and she sent me a coupon for a voice coaching session, I said, “Why not?” After all, I pay attention to coincidences. We scheduled the call, and I completed her questionnaire – including information about my voice and the two people who had suggested it might be Spasmodic Dysphonia.

She cancelled the appointment – rightly – because I had an Undiagnosed Medical Condition.

I was crushed. I completely understood – and yet, I was surprised by how disappointed I was. And I was surprised that I was surprised. But I had finally admitted how much my voice bothered me.

I shared all of this with my sister, who sent me a link to a recent NPR story about a woman who had lost her voice and was diagnosed with another form of dysphonia. She visited a specialist who diagnosed her and treated her with a special massage of her vocal cords and neck. I listened to the interview and the vocal exercises the doctor gave her, and when she spoke clearly for the first time I burst into tears.

Which surprised me.

And that surprised me. (Hmmm, see a pattern here?) I have hated the sound of my voice for a long time but I thought that nothing could be done, so I stuffed it. I was beginning to have hope that maybe something could be done – and I was terrified.

Hope can be a terrible thing.

Hope can be a terrible thing. Not in the sense that it keeps you from acting, waiting for a miracle (which it can, which is a terrible thing), but because it takes courage to hope and act on it in spite of your fears. And once you let the genie out of the bottle…

Well, the genie was definitely out of the bottle. After a few days of just being with that, I screwed up my courage and made an appointment with my doctor and asked her for a referral to an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist. She gave me one, with her blessing, and I made an appointment.

I was terrified all week before the appointment – terrified that he wouldn’t be able to help me and my hopes would be dashed, that the only option would be botox shots, that the botox would ruin my ability to sing. But I was committed to going. And I did something important: I talked about it. I told people about what I was doing, made myself and my fears visible, and I asked for support. (And I joked with colleagues that if the specialist couldn’t help me, perhaps I would become The Singing Facilitator.)

Then my cousin was diagnosed with a brain tumor. And it occurred to me that maybe my problem was pretty small in comparison.

It occurred to me that perhaps instead of hating my voice I might consider thinking of it with compassion.

And after a conversation with a Buddhist friend about the importance of compassion, especially for ourselves, it occurred to me that perhaps instead of hating my voice I might consider thinking of it with compassion. This wouldn’t change my plan, but it could change my attitude.

So I went to the specialist. I told him my story (the short version), and he said that just from listening to me he suspected that I did indeed have Spasmodic Dysphonia (SD). There is no cure for SD, but it is now recognized as a physical, neurological ailment that is not resolved through counseling or psychiatric methods. There is no cure, but the accepted treatment of the symptoms is botox shots to the vocal cords. (“Eeew,” I said.) Treatment at his clinic also includes working with a speech pathologist to unlearn various compensatory behaviors that people develop to try to force words out. (I get that – I had to unlearn protective and compensating habits years ago when recovering from shoulder surgery). He asked me to schedule a session with the speech pathologist for testing and an official diagnosis.

I told him that singing is very important to me, and asked if the botox injections would affect my ability to sing. He admitted that he did not know, and said he would email some other specialists and ask on my behalf. Cool. I also asked if anyone was doing anything with acupuncture, and again he did not know. (A doctor who will admit he does not know something gets a lot of points as far as I’m concerned.)

What is this about? Fear? Joy? Relief? Grief?

But all the way home, I just wanted to pull over and have a good cry. Why was I all in a jumble? I asked myself, “What is this about?” Fear? Fear of what? Fear of the treatment? Fear of it not working? Fear of losing the ability to sing, which comes from my soul? Fear of no longer having a reason to hate myself (my voice)? Fear of no longer having excuses to pursue my goals of public speaking, facilitating and coaching? Fear of giving up certain beliefs, even if they were bullshit? Were they tears of joy? Of relief? Of grief? Or all of the above?

Driving home I was listening to the soundtrack from The Beatles LOVE, which is a brilliant re-work of Beatles songs and snippets that blend in and out of each other in an amazing jumble, and it was so appropriate. Chaos in the music, chaos in my head – but not quite, because it all fit together. More like the edge of chaos, about which I’ve written just recently. You have to be willing to be at the edge of chaos for something new to happen. I was definitely at the edge of chaos – at the very least.

You have to be willing to be at the edge of chaos for something new to happen.

I didn’t let myself have that good cry until the next night, and what a Wail Fest it was. Why? Grief. And Relief. And Hope and Fear and Joy. There was a lot of letting go to do. Letting go of the denial: I have something for which there currently is no cure. Even with the botox, my voice will never be the same. Letting go of the idea that there was someone to blame – that it was all the result of my late husband’s smoking, or that it was my fault – the result of stress (stress of being a caregiver, stress of my husband’s death, job stress, loss-of-job stress) – or that it was the result of confidence issues, or of stuffing my wishes and my voice in favor of others and that I just hadn’t done enough work on myself – when, in fact, I have made choices consciously and without regret, and I am in a very good place. My voice isn’t broken because I’m maladjusted. There is no one to blame.

There is no one to blame… but I have let this be an excuse.

But I have let this be an excuse. I had to admit maybe I haven’t finished transcribing the 47 interviews I did for a very cool research project last year, not because I’m So Busy starting my own business, but because I so hated listening to my own voice. I had to admit that I have hesitated to take steps to launch my own workshops and record webinar products because of my voice. I was embarrassed at myself, and I grieved for the lost time.

And in the midst of all those tears, I found compassion. Compassion for myself. Compassion for my voice. I didn’t break my voice. And it helped to think that my voice certainly didn’t want to be broken, and it wasn’t trying to send me a message. My speaking voice is just broken.

I also remembered something I had learned years ago: I didn’t Cause it, I can’t Cure it, and I can’t Control it. But I can Contribute to making it worse – and hopefully to making it better.

Before I went for the testing with the speech pathologist, I did some research, and I wrote to the clinic featured in the NPR story. Various members of my family have sent me links to research on acupuncture as a treatment for SD. I spoke with a friend who is a professional singer and voice coach, and it turns out that she has worked with several people with varying degrees of SD. She helps them first to strengthen their singing voices and place them in “the mask” rather than sing from their throat – I totally get that, having studied voice for three years in college – and then she helps them learn to speak through that place as well. Hmmm.

She had me sing Happy Birthday. Even singing with a tube down my nose she said I gave her goose bumps.

I met with the speech pathologist, and she agreed that I have all the hallmarks of SD, with no nodules or irritation on the vocal cords, and no dire diseases. She recorded me reading some scripted material, and then she did various tests involving scopes down my throat and up my nose. I had also explained to her about the importance of being able to sing, and she had me sing Happy Birthday. Even singing with a tube down my nose she said I gave her goose bumps.

It was very interesting seeing how the vocal cords spasm when I talk but not when I sing. It turns out that speech is controlled by a different part of the brain than singing, which is why it is not unusual for people with SD (and people who stutter) to still be able to sing.

She was all in favor of the botox shots, but she also understood my hesitance. She offered to round up some patients for me to talk to, and she also suggested I do some searches on YouTube because there are a lot of videos there of people with SD and there might be some before/after videos. I have homework.

I also asked her about the work she does to help people unlearn bad speech habits they’ve acquired. She explained that she helps them learn to place their voices differently, usually in conjunction with the botox treatments. She has also done some work with singers who have damaged their vocal cords through how they speak, training them to speak more like how they sing. Bingo. The work she described is somewhat similar to what my friend does (and is covered by insurance) so I asked if we could just start with that – knowing that statistically voice therapy alone isn’t as useful as the combination – and she said yes. So I have an appointment for my first voice therapy session with her. Since I have had some voice training in the past, maybe I will have an advantage.

When I shared all of this with my family, one of my brothers, who is a musician and has also studied voice, wrote: “My singing instructor used to say, Good speech is half sung.” Hmmm.

Lessons… Why do there always have to be lessons?

I have learned a lot of painful lessons through this process – many of which I thought I already knew:

  • Denial is a powerful thing.
  • Sometimes our reasons (excuses) for doing something – or not – are not what we thought.
  • It’s all too easy to believe something is my fault – even though I have no sound and current data to support that.
  • More than one thing can be true at once.
  • I have to be willing to be at the edge of chaos for something new to happen.
  • I didn’t Cause it, I can’t Cure it, and I can’t Control it. But I can Contribute to making it worse – and hopefully to making it better.
  • Talking about my fears makes them look smaller, and sunshine is the best disinfectant.
  • Caring is dangerous. Live dangerously.

Caring is dangerous. Live dangerously.

I make my living partly with my voice, but I sing for joy. I’m not ready to trade the joy in on the living yet. But I am going to do everything I can to improve my speaking voice – I have gifts to share and I cannot let this stop me. It’s scary; I don’t know what will happen. But there is no spoon. I can’t control this disease, yet there are things I can do. Maybe I will learn how to speak like a soprano. (Not to be confused with The Sopranos.) If I can focus on joy and the Wonder that is my purpose and bring them to re-learning to speak, maybe I can beat the statistics. I may end up getting the botox shots, or maybe I will become The Singing Facilitator.

I have dreams, and I can make them come true. The process has begun. No excuses, only choices.

I may have to put my money where my mouth is and find a choir to join.

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