Tag Archives | Gratitude

Another New Friend


Warning: in_array() expects parameter 2 to be array, string given in /home2/stblake1/public_html/wp-content/plugins/facebook-button-plugin/facebook-button-plugin.php on line 244

Warning: in_array() expects parameter 2 to be array, string given in /home2/stblake1/public_html/wp-content/plugins/facebook-button-plugin/facebook-button-plugin.php on line 246

0314151550Today I walked to the neighborhood grocery store to buy a pie. Usually I walk along the main street, Laurel Ave, but today I turned a block early to walk down a quieter neighborhood street.

About halfway there, I passed an older house with a big yard tucked in between apartment buildings. There was a sign on the parking strip that said “Plant Sale,” but I didn’t see any plants that weren’t in the ground, or any people. So I went on to the store and bought my pie. (Because Pi Day.) (Peach.)

On the way back, I went the same way and when I passed that house there was an elderly woman in the front yard with a handful of weeds she had just pulled. I stopped and asked about the plant sale, and she took me around to the back yard. As we walked along the driveway past a garden that was filled with giant angel wing begonias, various succulents, and ground covers including what looked like a variegated creeping charlie, she explained that she had too many plants and needed to get rid of some.

We went around the corner of the house and there was a fabulous back yard with raised beds with flowers and vegetables, a tiny greenhouse at the back, and planters all over the patio with various black succulents, kalanchoes, and many things I recognized but don’t know by name. She said nearly everything in a pot was available. (Except for the heuchera that she was giving another chance after coming back to life in a new spot.)

I picked out two kalanchoes with bright orange flowers in mustard-yellow oval pots. She said the two would be $20; I said that was perfect, since that was how much I had. I also asked about one of the smaller black-leaved succulents, and she said it was $3. I told her I would give her the $20, take my groceries home and come back for the plants with $3. “No no no,” she said, “you can have that one too for the $20.” She let me take the small black-leaved plant with me. As I left, I thanked her and shook her hand and introduced myself. “I’m Sue,” I said. She smiled and said, “I’m Maria.”

I came home, dropped off the groceries, and took cuttings from my prized angel-wing begonia and dragon-wing begonia. I wrapped them in wet paper towels, put them in a bag, and went back.

When I went around to the back of Maria’s house, she was there with the two kalanchoes in a box – with another small plant tucked in. This one was a vine with dark leaves and bright red tubular flowers. “I thought you’d like this one too,” she said. “It’s so pretty. And I have it everywhere.”

I thanked her and gave her the cuttings, which she loved. When she saw me pick up the box and start to leave, she said, “Wait, are you walking? Maybe I should have my husband drive you home.”

“No, it’s ok,” I said, “it’s just a couple of blocks.” I thanked her again and headed for the gate.

She walked me out to the front and said, “Come by any time. If I’m not out here, just knock on the door.”

I think I will.

My New Best Friend


Warning: in_array() expects parameter 2 to be array, string given in /home2/stblake1/public_html/wp-content/plugins/facebook-button-plugin/facebook-button-plugin.php on line 244

Warning: in_array() expects parameter 2 to be array, string given in /home2/stblake1/public_html/wp-content/plugins/facebook-button-plugin/facebook-button-plugin.php on line 246

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.

The Spark Plug Wire That Connects Us


Warning: in_array() expects parameter 2 to be array, string given in /home2/stblake1/public_html/wp-content/plugins/facebook-button-plugin/facebook-button-plugin.php on line 244

Warning: in_array() expects parameter 2 to be array, string given in /home2/stblake1/public_html/wp-content/plugins/facebook-button-plugin/facebook-button-plugin.php on line 246

“Hey Brian, long time no see!” I joked as I walked into the auto repair shop. It was only Tuesday, and I had just been in on Saturday to have The Corvette smogged – only to find out that it needed to have some significant work done to pass the inspection. I could have had it done on Saturday, but Brian had recommended I come back during the week when The Experts were on duty.

So there I was, making another 40-mile trip each way, so The Experts could work on the car.

I had asked Brian if someone could give me a ride to a local cafe so I could hang out and use their WiFi to work, which I had pre-arranged with my boss. To my surprise, the chief Expert himself came out to drive me over (and inspect the car at the same time).

In the mile or so drive to the cafe we talked about some other repairs I had deferred (and had planned to do this month, until this new work came up) and he suggested I purchase a particular part myself to save money and told me to bring it in and they’d install it for me. He also noticed, and diagnosed, a sound I’d been hearing, and suggested they look at it next time.

“You know,” I told him, “I lived here for 13 years until I moved to San Carlos a few months ago. I come back to you guys, not just because you know this car, but because you always treat me well. You’ve got good guys working for you.” He didn’t say anything, he just nodded.

As I got out of the car, I said, “I’d really appreciate it if you can keep the work within the estimate, this is all I can do until next payday.” He promised they would.

I had spent the last three days getting used to the idea of deferring the other work on the car yet again, and to the possibility that the cost would be higher than the estimate. If it was, I might be living very frugally for a couple of weeks. I knew it would only be for a short time – just the week before my accountant had predicted I would get a tax refund that was, ironically, almost exactly the amount of this repair, and I had an unencumbered paycheck coming up. But still. It was a surprise, and one that was fraught.

When Harry, the chief Expert, came to pick me up five hours later, he assured me The Corvette was all set and running fine. “Oh,” he said, “and one of the spark plug wires needed to be replaced. You have to buy them by the set, but I had one lying around, so I just used that one and didn’t have to charge you for a whole new set.” See, that’s just one reason I drive 80 miles round trip to these guys.

We got back to the shop and, as we got out and Harry handed me the keys, he paused to admire the car. “It sure is a pretty color,” he said, “look at that gold fleck in the sun.”

“You know, it was broken into last year and got all scratched up, and Brian over at B&D Autobody repainted the rear end for me. He did a great job.”

“Oh yeah,” Harry said, admiringly. “He does great work, you couldn’t have picked a better guy.”

“Well, it was Brian who originally referred me to you guys,” I told him. We shook hands, and he headed around to the back of the shop.

I walked into the office, and this Brian greeted me. “So, are you coming back on Thursday?”

“No, I’ll be back to finish the smog certificate either this Saturday or the following Saturday.”

“I was joking,” he told me. “Since you were just here a couple of days ago I thought maybe it was becoming a regular thing.”

I laughed. He handed me the bill, and it was less than the original estimate. “Awesome!” I said. “Thank you!”

We finished the paperwork, and I asked, “Do I need to call before I come for the smog test?”

“Nah,” he said, “You can just come over. In fact, you can just come have coffee with us if you want. Any time.”

He wasn’t joking.

I was so happy that I had to go for a drive. Of course. So I went to my favorite park, and just sat on the bench and was grateful for a while. Then I took out the bill, for some reason, and compared it to the estimate to see where it was different.

They gave me a discount on the labor. Not because it took less time than they expected. But because they appreciated how much I appreciate them. That’s basically a tank of gas for me, out of their pockets.

There are opportunities all around us to connect. If we see them.


Who do you appreciate? When have you felt appreciated?

Please tell me in the comments.

Image courtesy of…Me! Yes, that’s The Corvette.

Hallway Angel


Warning: in_array() expects parameter 2 to be array, string given in /home2/stblake1/public_html/wp-content/plugins/facebook-button-plugin/facebook-button-plugin.php on line 244

Warning: in_array() expects parameter 2 to be array, string given in /home2/stblake1/public_html/wp-content/plugins/facebook-button-plugin/facebook-button-plugin.php on line 246

It had been a long week, and it was only Wednesday.

A week of highs and lows. Of time spent with the horses, of wonderful, uplifting, encouraging conversations.

And. A week of conversations that made me think, If I am ever in another Relationship I have so much to learn, so much work to do on myself, so much I want to do differently.

A week of looking in the mirror and thinking, I’m not young anymore. I have lines on my face I didn’t have before. And they’re not laugh lines. I’m not pretty. No one will ever love me again.

(I’ve gotten pretty good, over the years, at not indulging in negative self-talk. But I succumbed. And I noticed.)

Like I said. It had been a long week. And it was only Wednesday.

But on this Wednesday I had gone into The City for the monthly meeting of coaches and, as always, it filled me up.

I was standing in the hallway outside the hotel’s restrooms, waiting for a friend to come out so we could walk together to the train station. Standing, not thinking, just basking in the afterglow of a really good meeting with friends and colleagues and a speaker who had given me a lot to ponder.

I looked up from my pondering, and there was a man standing in front of me.

“Excuse me,” he said, “but I just had to tell you. Even from across the room. You’re beautiful.”

I gaped at him.

“Really,” he went on. “Stunning.”

I’m talking to an angel, I thought.

“This isn’t a pick-up,” he hurried to add. “I’m here with a date. I just had to tell you.”

“Thank you,” I managed to say. “I appreciate that.”

“You are, you know. Really. Beautiful.” I could smell alcohol, he had clearly come out of the bar, not out of our meeting, and was headed for the restrooms. I’d never seen him before. Maybe the angel took on the smell of alcohol to make himself seem real, I thought. Or maybe the alcohol made it easy for the angel to nudge him to action. Either way, it was exactly what I needed to hear.

“Thank you,” I said again. “I really appreciate that.”

Thank you, Angel. Whoever you are.


Take notice, the next time one of your angels whispers in your ear and nudges you to be an angel for someone else.
Are you willing to let yourself be nudged?

Image courtesy of papaija2008 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Garden. Stand. Glow.


Warning: in_array() expects parameter 2 to be array, string given in /home2/stblake1/public_html/wp-content/plugins/facebook-button-plugin/facebook-button-plugin.php on line 244

Warning: in_array() expects parameter 2 to be array, string given in /home2/stblake1/public_html/wp-content/plugins/facebook-button-plugin/facebook-button-plugin.php on line 246

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.

Grace


Warning: in_array() expects parameter 2 to be array, string given in /home2/stblake1/public_html/wp-content/plugins/facebook-button-plugin/facebook-button-plugin.php on line 244

Warning: in_array() expects parameter 2 to be array, string given in /home2/stblake1/public_html/wp-content/plugins/facebook-button-plugin/facebook-button-plugin.php on line 246

It has been one of the most humbling yet uplifting times of my life.

And the word that keeps coming up?

Grace.

It is a word with several meanings.

One is connected to being “graceful,” the opposite of being clumsy.

Another is related to being “gracious,” which I think of as being kind, polite, warm.

Yet another is the blessing that is said before a meal, sometimes recited from memory, sometimes made up in the moment.

There is also the mystical idea of grace. Growing up in a fairly religious family, and taking theology classes in college, I heard phrases like “state of grace” and “grace is a gift.”

But what does that mean?

Well, two times in my life I have (consciously) experienced it. And, in my experience, grace is laced with irony. And it is, like the song says, amazing.

Ironic because it is humbling without being humiliating. Humbling, yet exalting. And amazing because… well, you’ll see.

The Story

My path began shifting earlier this year, in many ways. Most were delightful. Others, not so much. After a breakthrough year with my business, I suddenly found myself at the end of this summer not being able to “close” any new clients and not being able to support myself. A humbling – humiliating – admission for a business coach.

I had been planning to move as part of the shift in direction that has been growing over the last six months, but being forced to move – for financial reasons – was not part of my plan.

My Plan.

Sigh. “Life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans.” – John Lennon

Surrender

I fought the situation for as long as I could, until I finally surrendered and put out the call for help. And when I did surrender and put out the call, I was amazed. (I told this story to a friend, and he said, “Because no one responded?” No.)

Amazed because people came out of the woodwork in response. To help.

I received four offers of places to live. People showed up to help me prepare for a Moving Sale. They showed up to run the moving sale. They showed up to buy things. They brought food, they brought coffee. They brought boxes. They showed up to help me pack. They showed up to help me move. They took me to lunch, they took me to dinner, and they plied me with margaritas. And every time I was about to dissolve into a puddle of tears (like when I sold my plants and the fountain I built), someone was there with a hug.

Some people showed up for a couple of hours. Some people showed up over and over. Some people sent emails of encouragement, or cards. Prayers were offered on my behalf. People did what they could do, even if it was just send love. And that was enough.

Wow.

I surrendered, and asked for help, and help appeared.

It wasn’t the help I originally wanted.

It was better.

Friends

The day of the Big Move, ten people came just to help me move! That night, four of those friends took me to dinner. One of them looked at me and said, “A lot of people showed up to help you.”

“Yes,” I said.

“You have a lot of Friends,” he said.”

“Yes, I do,” I whispered.

“You’re very lucky,” he said.*

“Yes, I am,” I whispered with tears in my eyes. (*Actually, I don’t remember exactly what he said, because I was crying. But it was something to that effect.)

Help appeared.

So much help I could never have imagined it. And no one said, “You should have,” or “You ought to…” They did ask questions about my plans, and make suggestions, but there was no judgment, no looking down on me.

They just showed up. To Help. They lifted me up and carried me through. And what could have been a messy dropped motorcycle on the highway of life, with a bad case of road rash, turned into… a gift.

But I had to surrender first. And ask for help.

And help arrived. Help that was unexpected, and unearned. Help that reminded me that we are all connected.

That is Grace.

It would be easy to say that help was undeserved, but I believe we all deserve it. We are not entitled to it, and we don’t earn it. But we are deserving.

Help that is unearned, yet deserved. We all deserve it. Because we are all One.

Humbling and uplifting.

That is Grace.

Grace is a gift. A gift is not an exchange, as someone recently said to me. Grace delivers gifts that are not earned, even if we have worked hard, and for which the only payment we can make is to Pay It Forward.

Doors

Many doors have been opened to me, so many that I get to choose which are most true to the new path I am on. I don’t know where this path is taking me, exactly, but that’s OK. I get to make choices that strengthen good choice-making muscles. I now have two jobs in addition to my coaching, jewelry making, photography, and writing. I am living with a generous and delightful host. I am being introduced to people who can open additional doors.

I had to surrender and allow the decks to be cleared for something new to come in.

And for a new appreciation of something I already had to come in.

Saying Grace

Today when I say Grace, it has a whole new meaning.

Thank you for the many people who have blessed my life. Thank you for the opportunity keep learning and not be stuck, and not be trainwrecked. Thank you for adventure. Thank you for a roof over my head, for health, for laughter, for Connection. Thank you for music, and for play, and the opportunity to work, and for people to share all of this with. Thank you for all the blessings in my life, those I have worked hard for and for those I did not earn but came to me anyway. Thank you for opportunities to pay it forward, for awareness to see those opportunities. Thank you for memories, and for clean slates. May I have the opportunity to be a blessing for others as others have blessed my life.

Thank you all. May you enjoy a blessed Thanksgiving, and may you have the opportunity to say Grace every day.

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Being With


Warning: in_array() expects parameter 2 to be array, string given in /home2/stblake1/public_html/wp-content/plugins/facebook-button-plugin/facebook-button-plugin.php on line 244

Warning: in_array() expects parameter 2 to be array, string given in /home2/stblake1/public_html/wp-content/plugins/facebook-button-plugin/facebook-button-plugin.php on line 246

Yesterday I went to the wedding celebration of a friend of mine. A friend whom I hold dear, although we don’t spend that much time together.

I almost didn’t go.

I looked forward to it all week, but when the day came I was reluctant.

I would be going alone, and I didn’t think to call anyone to carpool. Would there be anyone there I knew? I feared going and being surrounded by others but feeling isolated. Would my little gift be good enough? They wouldn’t miss me if I didn’t go…

Wait a minute. I would miss them if I didn’t go. And, I said to myself, there were a lot of people she could have invited, and didn’t. She invited me.

I wrapped up my little hand-made gift, with something for each them, something personal, far more personal (aka Vulnerable) than something I might have gotten from Pottery Barn or wherever, and wrote in my hand-made card with one of my own photographs on the front. And off I went.

I arrived at the wedding party and, as soon as I arrived, a friend I hadn’t seen in months waved at me and said, “Come sit by me!” We chatted and caught up while we ate plates of Mexican food and drank margaritas, watching as party-goers learned salsa dancing. Other friends came and went from our little group, dear friends, new friends, acquaintances I hadn’t seen in several years.

Then a man appeared in front of me and held out his hand, inviting me to dance.

I have never salsa danced. Ever.

And I feel very awkward when it comes to any dance that requires Following.

And.

Remember the movie, “Risky Business?”

Sometimes you just have to say, “What the fuck.”

I put down my plate and got up. And danced. And it worked! “It’s just like walking,” my teacher said. “You’re doing great!”

How funny, I thought, not long ago I needed help walking after a horse stepped on my foot, and my walking partner said, “We’re just dancing, and you get to lead.” “That’s good,” I remember thinking, “I suck at following when I dance.” Now I was dancing, and my partner was telling me it was just like walking, and I was doing great at following. Hmmm.

We danced, and I danced several times throughout the afternoon between conversations and hugs and laughs. Ultimately I ended up in a corner with three other friends (two old, one new), just talking and Being With. It was lovely.

As we were helping our friend load up her car with gifts and leftovers, one of her friends, with whom I had danced, handed me one of the last flower arrangements to be given away and said,

“Here, Wild Thing, you need some flowers.”

Wild Thing? Me?

I laughed, and accepted. The flowers, and the name.

This morning I got up and drank my coffee and caught up on blogs I follow, and I noticed a distinct theme. The first, What We All Need, was about the importance of just being with. The second was about belonging, and how it is a distinctly 21st Century Challenge that requires stepping outside of our comfort zones. The third was about belonging to ourselves, receiving what is here and receiving the sacred. Through just being with it. Hmmm.

Belonging. Comfort Zones. Accepting. Showing Up. The truth is that if I am willing to step out of my comfort zone, I sometimes find greater comfort. I’m glad the voice that says, “I do belong” is louder than the voice that says, “I don’t belong.”

Which voice do you listen to? Which voice do you encourage others to listen to?

Want to Make a Difference?


Warning: in_array() expects parameter 2 to be array, string given in /home2/stblake1/public_html/wp-content/plugins/facebook-button-plugin/facebook-button-plugin.php on line 244

Warning: in_array() expects parameter 2 to be array, string given in /home2/stblake1/public_html/wp-content/plugins/facebook-button-plugin/facebook-button-plugin.php on line 246

In a recent post I told the stories of three friends who have either recently embarked or are getting ready to embark on Great Adventures. I’d like to say more about one of them.

LaVonne Ellis – Complete Flake, Voice Coach, Customer Lover, Writer, Adventurer

I first met LaVonne Ellis soon after I started blogging. I joined a couple of online communities for bloggers and people wanting to promote their businesses ethically and responsibly online, and LaVonne showed up in both of them.

LaVonne didn’t just show up, she welcomed me. And in the faceless, potentially anonymous world of virtual “communities,” that meant a lot. Then she started following me on Twitter. So I started following her blogs and Tweets. (Two years and one week ago today, in fact!)

As it turned out, part of LaVonne’s fascinating story is that she used to work in radio. Which, of course, means she has developed (or was born with) a wonderful Radio Voice. And one of her businesses was providing services as a Voice Coach.

Well at about this time, my frustration with my voice was reaching critical mass. For ten years my speaking voice had been deteriorating, making telephone work, public speaking and online presentations well, difficult. To say the least. And my frustration hit its last nerve when I was interviewing someone over the phone and she said, “I think we have a bad connection, can I call you back?”

Sigh. “No,” I said, “It’s just my goofy voice. It’s not the connection.” *hungheadinshame*

So I reached out to LaVonne, who was offering promotional half-off half-hour voice coaching sessions. I ponied up the money and sent her my pre-session questionnaire with a recording of me interviewing someone. I was so excited to get started!

She turned me down.

LaVonne Lives By Her Ethics

LaVonne read my description of my voice problem, and listened to my recording, and declined to work with me: She said it appeared to be a medical condition which had not been confirmed and could be serious, and said her strategies wouldn’t be effective for me. She encouraged me to see a medical specialist, and she immediately refunded my money.

I was crushed.

I had finally worked up the nerve to do something – again, after being disappointed by multiple doctors who couldn’t solve my issue and brushed me off to others – and she turned me down.

She did The Right Thing.

LaVonne could have taken my money and coached me and then said, “Hmm, too bad, so sad.” But she didn’t.

And it kicked my ass into trying one more time to get my voice diagnosed – this time successfully. Which has led to a two-year process of discovery, which is still going on.

I later reached out to LaVonne to thank her, and she told me how bad she had felt about saying no and disappointing me. But she did it anyway. The right thing.

Tough love.

Customer Love

Not long after that, LaVonne and much of the online world read a post by Naomi Dunford, “Make Them Love You. THEN Ask For Money.” Like many others, LaVonne was inspired. Unlike everyone else, LaVonne decided to do something.

And she invited us to come along.

And the Customer Love Challenge was born.

I won’t go into all the details about the Customer Love Challenge – you can read the backstory here.

What I will tell you is why it matters to me, and why I hope it matters to you.

Why It Matters

The Customer Love Challenge quickly grew into a Phenomenon. A website was born. Tweetchats were held. A community formed. A free ebook was published. 28-day Customer Love Challenges were launched. Formats were experimented with. Budding business people who really didn’t have a clue – or an audience – found support and encouragement.

Nearly all for Free.

For Love.

LaVonne provided a catalyst that helped people (us) focus their (my) attention on their (my) customers rather than exclusively on making money. She helped people (me) put the horse where it belonged, before the cart. Love your customers, she taught, and the rest will follow. And she led by example.

She provided a platform, a forum, for people to connect and support each other in figuring this stuff out. Guest posts were solicited and published. Ideas were incubated and loved into life.

Ironically enough, LaVonne helped me find my voice – as a writer. I wrote four guest posts for Customer Love Challenges in less than a year and a half. I am not alone when I say the opportunity she provided me to develop my thoughts in this area and be exposed to a wider audience meant a LOT to me. And I met a TON of fascinating, inspiring, hilarious, creative, dedicated people, many of whom have become friends and some of whom have become colleagues. Several of my Customer Love confreres, including LaVonne, went on to write Captains Curious guest posts for my blog – what an honor for me! And that is just an example of another of the lovely benefits that grew out of Customer Love – members found people with complementary skills who could help each other out.

In other words, LaVonne helped me see the positive power of the internet for Good.

Evolution

As time went on, LaVonne noticed that many of the Customer Lovers, as we called ourselves, needed technical help with their websites and making all of the bits of online business work. So she branched out, and launched Trust Wanda. Since LaVonne had figured out how to do all this online WordPress, shopping cart, hosting, eeek, stuff for herself, she began offering that as a service. First to Customer Lovers, then to a broader audience.

And something interesting began to happen.

Just as many of the Customer Love peeps grew in confidence and began to stand in our abilities and plant flags on the tops of the mountains of our dreams – or at least make progress up the sides of those mountains – LaVonne grew in confidence too.

First, it became clear that the Complete Flake identity behind which LaVonne had been masquerading was, in fact, obsolete. A Complete Flake she clearly was not. So that website – and alter ego – was retired.

Then, LaVonne launched One Blue Berry and had us all hanging on the edges of our chairs, waiting for the next installments of her Green Card story.

And then, LaVonne knocked us out with her announcement about deciding to pull up stakes and set out on her Road Trip. Charles-Kuralt-style, LaVonne intends to set out and roam the continent (or at least a big chunk of it) and write about her adventures.

I, for one, can’t wait to read about them!

But first, she has to leave. Set out. Make it so.

LaVonne has helped so many of us make our dreams come true and find our voices (literally and figuratively). I want to help her make this dream come true.

How? Well, Moral Support is important and, I’m sure, always welcome. But there are other ways we can help.

  • Although the Customer Love challenges have run their course, you can still have access to three of the Customer Love tools to help you love up your customers and build your business on a firm foundation:
  • Hire Wanda – I mean LaVonne – to build or maintain a WordPress website. She’ll even help you with recording and editing audio files to post on your website. Interviews? Webinars? Piece of cake. With coffee.
  • And, of course, you can Chip In and provide direct financial support to the Road Trip in the amount of your choice.

LaVonne is someone who has made a difference in the lives of many, although she’ll probably blush to read that. Let’s make a difference in her life.

Please join me in supporting LaVonne on her Road Trip! I’m so curious about what adventures she will have, the people she will meet, the tales she will tell, and how she will be changed by it all. Are you curious? Let’s make it happen, and make LaVonne’s voice heard.

(My thanks to Jenny Thomas of DesisisterJen for inspiring this blog post. Thanks Jen!)

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sweet Moments


Warning: in_array() expects parameter 2 to be array, string given in /home2/stblake1/public_html/wp-content/plugins/facebook-button-plugin/facebook-button-plugin.php on line 244

Warning: in_array() expects parameter 2 to be array, string given in /home2/stblake1/public_html/wp-content/plugins/facebook-button-plugin/facebook-button-plugin.php on line 246

My aunt was the first to arrive for our combined Mother’s Day/Birthday Party. She began assembling a tray of appetizers, and I leaned over and whispered, “Did you forget to bring Uncle Jim?”

She straightened up and said, “Oh! He’s coming separately in the Austin Healey, so he can take you for a ride.”

Squeal!!!!!

My uncle has loved these feisty little British sports cars for as long as I can remember and, although he’s had one for years, I’ve lived elsewhere since he bought this one and I’ve only ever heard about it and the rallies he and my aunt go to, much less ridden in it. Ooooooh, the excitement!

We had a lovely family dinner – my mom, sister, aunt, uncle, cousins, their spouses and kids. I only get to see them once or twice a year when I come to town, and we just pick up where we left off with stories and catching-up and lots of silliness.

As dinner wound down and we heaved a collective sigh of contentment (except for six-year-old Daniel, who had asked several times to be excused from the table but hadn’t yet been released to his own devices), my uncle and I made eye contact across the table and said, “I’m ready.”

I leapt up and ran upstairs to get my jacket (the fastest I’d moved since hurting my foot three weeks earlier). We went outside into the evening and walked up to the little white roadster at the curb. He unbuttoned the leather cover and opened the door for me, and I lowered myself in and fastened my seat belt. He got in, and pushed the button to start the electric fuel pump and started the car. The engine roared to life, and we drove off into the sunset.

(Seriously, how often do you get to say that?)

He took me on a route I knew well, down a long winding road overlooking Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains on the horizon, which were backlit by a deep orange sunset. I knew the route, but it looked different from that little roadster with its tiny windscreen, close to the ground and with nothing between me and the evening sky.

We headed down toward the water, and he told me all about the little white Austin Healey. It was a 1957, the first year they made them with six cylinders instead of four. He told me the history of the Austin Healey in general, what type of fuel he uses, the different things he’s had done to the car, what’s on his wish list for future upgrades.

We drove down to the beach and cruised through the deepening orange-purple evening. I waved a Princess Wave at people in a restaurant facing the water, and they enthusiastically waved back.

I asked him when he knew he first wanted one of these, and he said, “I tell people I was standing at a bus stop when I was in high school and one drove by, and I fell in love.”

This is my uncle, who told me I looked pretty when my mom and my aunt were hemming my first formal gown for a big high school dance and my dad wasn’t around to tell me. My uncle who called to commiserate and make sure I was ok after my first (and, knock-wood, only) accident in the Corvette two years after Bruce died. My uncle who doesn’t say much, but when he does it’s good. He talked all the way around Alki Beach.

So I asked him, “What’s the best thing about driving this car?”

He didn’t answer at once, but different things came to him as we cruised along. Here is (in no particular order) Uncle Jim’s Top 5 List of The Best Things About Driving a 1957 Austin Healey:

  • Just driving it around, and having people look.
  • The stories people tell him: “I used to have one of those,” “My first boyfriend had one of those,” “I’ve always wanted one of those.” Not envy, just sharing stories.
  • Feeling the wind in your hair.
  • Being part of a group that has something in common. (They’re members of an Austin Healey club and go to several events a year.)
  • Driving the stick shift – it’s just fun.

In other words, Joy. Fun. Community. And Making a Dream Come True. And encouraging other people to make their dreams come true.

Pretty cool stuff.

By the time we got back, it was full dark. But I suspect the grin on my face lit up the neighborhood more brightly than the moon.

Thanks, Uncle Jim.

What do you love about your life? Where do you find joy, fun, community? Have you made your dreams come true? If not, what are you waiting for?

Image: David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Sound Mass


Warning: in_array() expects parameter 2 to be array, string given in /home2/stblake1/public_html/wp-content/plugins/facebook-button-plugin/facebook-button-plugin.php on line 244

Warning: in_array() expects parameter 2 to be array, string given in /home2/stblake1/public_html/wp-content/plugins/facebook-button-plugin/facebook-button-plugin.php on line 246

Hey!

Hello!

There’s been a lot going on around here lately, which is why this blog has been quiet for a few weeks. That’s no excuse for being out of communication, though. I’m embarrassed to admit it took a friend leaving me a voicemail asking if I was OK and noting that it had been a LONG TIME since she’d gotten a blog post from me to remind me how long it has been!

When I was in college, hanging out with the Music majors (they were way more fun than my fellow Psych majors), I learned about the concept of a “sound mass.” But while Wikipedia quotes Edwards’ comment that sound-mass “obscures the boundary between sound and noise,” there hasn’t been much noise around here lately. Instead, there has been so much going on that it’s like a giant chord with so many notes that it is like a wall of sound with a few themes that have managed to rise to the top like cream. (I know, that’s a mixed metaphor. But I like it.)

So here’s my attempt to share the sound mass with you in a completely different medium, with some of the recurring themes that are weaving themselves together. Lately I’ve been…

  • Working on a big project for a client, requiring a lot of concentrated effort, learning the dialect of that business. I am very grateful for the steady work and an income stream that will help fund the next couple of months.
  • “Vendorized” to work with clients of the state Department of Rehabilitation, coaching them through successfully settling into new jobs and working with my first such client.
  • Talking to an increasing number of people who are comfortable… but uncomfortable. Itchy. They’re thinking, “There must be More… but how do I find it?” There is lots of forming new habits, exploring, guiding, questioning. I am grateful and humble to be a part of their journey.
  • Consulting with several small businesses, providing coaching and consulting. It is awesome fun as they have breakthroughs and golden “Aha!” moments and lots of incremental progress. We’re working on a variety of initiatives, ranging from building new habits to delegating to attracting new customers to articulating core values for guiding the business to building a new framework for employee reviews. Good stuff, and again I am grateful and humble to be a part of their journey.
  • Helping two different friends with big garage/moving sales, paying attention to the dynamics of Letting Go of Things, enjoying the interactions and circus atmosphere of the sales, and enjoying the little community that springs up around a sale and falling in love with people and their stories and blessing them and the money they exchanged for new treasures, feeling gratitude for the friends, the wealth, the fun, the exhausted sense of accomplishment.
  • Wrapping up my tenure as the US Country Facilitator for Sedaa’s Global Brain Trust, a wonderful online community for Organization Development (OD) professionals. I have loved the time I have spent working with the founders and the Global Operations team, and it is time to bring in fresh energies while I focus on building my own practice.
  • Participating in kindred spirit Andrea Lewicki’s launch of her new website, where she explores thoughts about curiosity and its applications. Andrea, like me, believes curiosity can change the world! The Grand Opening was a two day event, with interviews with some of Andrea’s favorite curious people – including me! You can view the recordings for a while longer at Andrea’s site.
  • Launching a Facebook page for Susan T. Blake Consulting, which I’ve put off doing until just recently. But now I have a place I can post short things that don’t quite fit here, and have conversations with people. Come on by and check it out!
  • Working with my friend and mentor, Michael F. Broom, and a small team of cohorts, to create, launch and promote a new series of webinars on managing team conflict. We are looking for someone to take over promoting Michael’s Center for Human Systems via social media on a volunteer or internship basis, so if you know anyone…
  • Noticing recurring themes of balancing friendship and business. Accepting help as well as giving it. Noticing my relationship with money. Noticing what I procrastinate about.
  • Wishing for more time to work on projects I procrastinated on before and have less time for now, chuckling over “Be careful what you ask for.” Wondering, is my procrastination because my priorities aren’t my priorities after all, or am I letting fear get in the way? Fear of what?

And lately I’ve been wondering a lot about abundance, about gratitude, about creating the kind of life I want to live. As I work to grow my practice, trying to make a living and support my clients and the small businesses around me, I count my blessings during these times and abundance is more and more on my mind.

You can see the threads of it throughout my life over the last few years. I talk about the importance being grateful in “Remember to Look Up;” I have been practicing Amy Oscar’s “More of This, Please” for a number of months; I have been reminding myself and others that Everything Is Going to Be All Right. (That’s another story, which I haven’t written yet – stay tuned.) And I have been thinking a lot about the work I really want to do as a consultant and coach, and what I am willing to do to make this little business fly. Thinking about what I really want. How many people really know what they want?

So when Birdy and Mike Diamond invited me to contribute to a program they wanted to develop about living abundantly, because of the synergy between my focus on curiosity and one of the steps in their program (Hint: It’s all about asking the right question), I of course said Yes. And for the last couple of months I have been pondering and practicing and exploring and noticing and writing. We are practicing and exploring not only our material but the practical aspects of teamwork, collaboration, and distribution of duties. Noticing coincidences and synchronicities and being open. Practicing gratitude. Pondering how to invite abundance into my life, developing material with Birdy and Mike and our partner, Nathara, and writing about it over at the Awesome Audacious Abundance website.

It’s perfect, really. Curiosity is fundamental to abundance. There is always more to learn, always more to do. And in our experience, living an abundant life is an interactive, participatory thing as well as a positive mindset. And Curiosity IS an abundant mindset.

So I invite you to pop over to http://www.a2abundance.com/ and peruse the blog posts we’ve been contributing about everything from Time to Money to Courage to Perfection to Magic Carpets and more. If you like what you see, sign up in the right sidebar to receive new posts (or arrange an RSS feed if you prefer). We are in the process of developing a variety of offerings to help people live more abundantly, and you can learn more about those offerings by signing up for the Explorer’s Club at the bottom of any blog post. At the same time, I laugh and am reminded of the proverb, “We teach what we most need to learn.” Come learn with us!

Meanwhile, I’m back at work in the world of Curiosity, and happy to be here! I am looking for more contributors to the next round of Captains Curious posts, so if you are interested please drop me a line at susan @ susantblake . com.

What’s happening in your life? Do any of these themes resonate for you? Please leave me a note below!

Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes