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The other night I woke up at 2:30 a.m. unable to sleep. As I reflected on how depleted I felt — the result of too many early morning cross country flights to visit clients and family and a few intensive day-long strategy sessions with colleagues — I realized I’d been running a bit too hard and fast.

I was exhausted. Sitting on the couch thinking of my current state, it reminded me of my car. In great shape overall, looks better than its years, but running bone dry and in need of a major tune-up.

The next day I decided to implement my 6-step jumpstart plan to get my energy back:

1. Clear the clutter. I cleaned off my desk, cleaned out my files and answered some emails that were nagging at me. Oh and unpacked my suitcase that’d been shoved in a corner of the bedroom.

2. Plan for time off. I looked ahead in my calendar to anticipate what needed doing between now and the end of the year, blocked off times to think, write and carved out time to enjoy the holidays with family, as well as time for myself to rest and rejuvenate before the new year.

3. Say NO – eliminate the “maybes.” By removing three tentative commitments from my calendar, which felt a bit stressful to undertake, I gained back 4 weeks of my time, not to mention the hours each project would have taken me to complete.

4. Drink water. Seriously, it works. After being on 6 airplane flights in a week and drinking too much coffee (to wake up) and wine (to fall asleep), I was dehydrated. Nothing cures what ails you like water.

5. Sleep. The other miracle cure besides water. Yesterday I took a nap. People who know me know this NEVER happens. My mom couldn’t get me to take a nap at 2, why should I start now? But I allowed myself to surrender to my exhaustion and it really helped.

6. No Should Days. This is my miracle cure and it works every time. If you’re like me, you might have the fear that if you actually slow down, relax and, gasp – get horizontal – you may never want to get up again, so you just keep going. That’s when I pull a “No Should Day.” On this day (usually a Sunday) I allow myself to do anything I want, but I never do anything if I feel like I “should” or have to. I can scrub the toilet, but only if I want to. Yesterday I played Gin Rummy with my 9-year old niece, watched 2 movies (No Reservations and Nim’s Island), took a nap, baked squash, hung out with the dog and went to bed early. This morning I woke up at 6 a.m. without my alarm and felt good as new.

If you feel like you’ve been sprinting through this year and are in need of a bit of respite, try my six steps and let me know what works for you!

Given the chance, 600 million adolescent girls in developing countries can unleash the world’s greatest untapped solution to poverty. This is the Girl Effect. If we can release girls living in poverty, they will do the rest.

On this day honoring the power of enabling young women around the globe, I reflected on my own “Girl Effect” and where I’d backed away from truly owning my power to create change.

From the moment of my conception, I was swimming in the amniotic fluid of revolutionary change. Barely a year old when Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, I still cry every time I hear his powerful words. That same year, 1963, Betty Friedan published “The Feminine Mystique” which my mother discussed in hushed tones over coffee with her friends holding my newborn sister on her lap.

When I was 3, my parents marched on Washington to protest the Vietnam War and, although my two younger sisters and I stayed with our grandparents, we felt ourselves swept up in the enthusiasm of the belief that our voices mattered. At the age of 7 I could barely contain myself as I stayed up late one night watching Neil Armstrong walk on the moon on our tiny black and white TV.

In that moment it seemed to me that the human race was capable of miracles. Anything and everything was possible.

As I got older, I was convinced my generation was forging a new world order of peace, justice and equality. In elementary school, my parent’s had us bussed to the South side of Syracuse in Upstate New York to support integration. Although at times I awkwardly stood out as a white girl in a sea of black children, I felt it was my responsibility to be strong and fulfill my parent’s dream. My certainty that we were doing the right thing was never greater than when we gathered for assembly. Our budding little multi-racial community would sit in a circle on the polished gymnasium floor holding hands singing “We Shall Overcome” at the top of our lungs, beaming at each other with wide smiles, as if the power of our voices could heal generations of prejudice, injustice and pain.

Soon all our heroes and role models were slain. My uncle returned from Vietnam a shadow of his former self. The South Side became a dangerous hotbed of rioting and unrest, and my parents decided to move us back to neighborhood schools, fear damping down the fires of change.

The teenage years crept in. My parents got divorced. After college I moved to New York to try to make a living on Wall Street with all the other ’80s graduates. But something nagged at me.

For a while I volunteered at homeless shelters, taught writing to young kids from Central America, traveled to third world countries, gave my support to the Ugandan Literacy Project to swap books for education for young women. Then 9/11 happened and, shell-shocked, I burrowed further into my nest. I recently supported a project in Haiti to build a school for young children, but it’s different. I’m an observer. I’m no longer on the front lines.

In the pursuit of my career, a happy marriage, paying the bills, surviving each economic downturn and market correction, I realized I’m hiding out — playing it safe. I’ve taken distance from the battle. The young revolutionary in me got scared — don’t stick your head out too far or it’ll get blown off.

But I can feel a new revolution emerging. One that comes from a place of love, not fear. One that wants us to find solutions together, not battling each other. I am hoping, not only for the young women of the world who so desperately need the education we take for granted, but for all of us, that together we can find a solution to some of the world’s most pressing problems.

As Rumi says, “Outside of ideas of right-doing and wrongdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

What is calling to you? Where are you playing it safe? How long are you going to wait?

This post is part of a collaborative effort of hundreds of bloggers coming together to write about The Girl Effect, how young women can change the world. Your support, your voice and your action – that’s what it’s going to take to wake up the world and make a real difference. You can be part of that change. In fact without you it won’t happen. Join the conversation and let the world know what the Girl Effect is capable of. Talk it up. Spread the word. Blog about it or read others who are blogging about it – find out more here

I’m obsessed with finding purpose and doing what you love for a living. Lately I’ve been reflecting on the power of place as a calling. In a world where we can live and work virtually anywhere, how do we know where we are meant to be?

I’ve lived in many places around the world. I was drawn to them not so much for the location as the reason for being there – London to study, New York for work, Montevideo for love, and San Francisco for family – but I sometimes wonder, where is my place?

On a recent trip into the Australian Outback our group was led on an Aboriginal tour of Uluru (Ayers Rock). When we arrived at our meeting spot there was an older Aboriginal woman dressed in a t-shirt, loose fitting skirt and black walking shoes. Next to her was a young Japanese woman, her long dark hair twisted back in a ponytail, wearing designer sunglasses, a bright colored striped sweater and jeans. The young woman started off by introducing us to the older woman and then began conversing with her fluently in Pitjantjatjara, the Aboriginal woman’s native language.

There are more than 200 Australian Indigenous languages. Less than 20 remain strong, and even these are endangered: the others have been destroyed, live in the memories of the elderly, or are being revived by their communities. So the fact that this young Japanese girl conversed with this woman as if she spoke Pitjantjatjara from birth astounded me. I had to hear her story. At a pause in the tour I pulled her aside, “What are you doing here?” I asked.

She laughed and told me how she had come 5 years earlier with her Australian boyfriend for a vacation and stayed 3 months. They then moved to the town where he was from, but she could not get the Red Rock out of her system, and, despite challenges with visas, return trips to Japan, and eventually leaving her fiancée, she continued to feel called back to the Red Rock, where she worked as a guide for Japanese tourists and cleaned houses during the low season. Basically, doing whatever she could to stay in this remote land.

“One day I was visiting a friend’s apartment and she” – she pointed to the Aboriginal woman – “was talking with him and I realized that the construct of their language was similar to Japanese, and I could actually understand her!” She began to study both Pitjantjatjara and English intensively in order to be a guide, sharing the Aboriginal knowledge with others. Clearly she had found her calling. She listened to her inner voice and followed the signs that kept drawing her back to this strange and isolated place. One can feel her passion and sense of purpose in sharing the ancient knowledge and wisdom that would have surely died with this woman, along with her language.

Have you felt the call to place? What places call to you? Where do you feel drawn to travel to or visit and what draws you there? I’d love to hear your story!

Today I planned to blog about my trip to the Australian outback. But life intervened. Or I should say TV did. Despite my proclamations to not revisit 9/11, to put it in the past and visualize a more positive future, I was drawn in to the History channel’s numerous documentaries on this tragic event. With a mile long to-do list for the weekend and my dog staring at me mournfully, I told my husband I felt guilty watching TV. He said, “You’re feeling the weight of this day, just allow it.” So I did. And here’s what I gained:

Where were you?
I was stuck at the Dallas airport, in a hotel, where I’d been invited to speak at a leadership conference along with a client. Our talk was scheduled for 8am on September 11th. Because of the national security risk, my client was whisked out of Dallas, but I was stuck there for days. Stranded along with dozens of conference participants, we spent our time glued to CNN in the hotel bar or staring at the grounded planes on the tarmac outside the hotel. Although I moved to San Francisco in 1991, I’d lived in Manhattan, worked on Wall Street, and passed by and through the Twin Towers for years. They had become a part of my personal landscape. As I watched them fall, something inside me collapsed too.

What got you through?
What got me through ten years ago was the company of other people. Even though we just stared at the TV most of the time, knowing I was not alone helped. Back then all I could see was the hurt and the tragedy unfolding before me. On TV today I heard stories of those who survived, of loved ones found and reunited, of hope. I also saw everyday heroes, those who stepped up to make decisions that put others lives ahead of their own, like the passengers and crew who grounded flight 93. I saw people who didn’t have the expertise, rank, authority, or directive to take action and went ahead and did it anyway, like the man who ran into the Pentagon to save others when he was told not to. Countless lives were saved because ordinary people like you and I acted courageously from their hearts and did what was right.

What’s happened since then?
I met my husband in July of 2002 and a few weeks later, my niece was born. I love both of these people so deeply and cannot imagine my life without them. Ten years ago my niece didn’t exist and my husband was a stranger. A lot can change in ten years! Revisiting this day I would like to think that ten years from now when I look back I will have made choices and decisions that contributed to the world being a better place, that I acted courageously from my heart, and that I put others needs before my own when that was the right thing to do.

What about you? Where were you? What got you through? What’s happened since and what would you like to be reflecting back on in ten year’s time? I’d love to hear your comments.

What’s Your Rock?

I recently saw the film 127 Hours about a guy who falls into a crevice in a canyon in Utah and gets pinned against a wall by a huge boulder. Eventually (5 days later) he cuts his arm off to save himself. Pretty intense film, and not for everyone.

He struggles for days to find a way to free himself, to no avail. We watch helplessly as he battles this rock. And then at some point he realizes “This rock, this rock has been waiting for me my entire life. Ever since it was a bit of meteorite a million billion years ago, out there in space, it’s been waiting to come here, right here. I have been moving towards it my whole life from the minute I was born, every breath I’ve taken, every action has been leading me to this crack in the earth’s surface.”

This one scene struck me so profoundly. From this point on in the film he knows what he has to do. He stops fighting the rock and sacrifices his arm to free himself. It made me wonder… What obstacles do I fight, do I push back on, struggle with? Where am I not seeing that the very thing I am feeling challenged by has been sent to me from long ago and far away, that we are predestined to meet each other head on, and that by overcoming the challenge I am made a better person?

I am such a believer in the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I have experienced it time and again.

What’s your rock? Where are you fighting when what you need to do is surrender to the challenge in front of you?

This is a slug. A banana slug to be exact. I came across it on my walk with the dog the other day. (I don’t exactly walk my dog, she walks me, or sometimes we walk together, she is much too independent to be walked by a human). I usually search for some sign from the universe as I start my day, and this was a bit of a letdown. I like majestic redwood trees swaying in the wind, hawks screeching ominously above my head, ravens swooping down from the sky and flying in front my windshield, and of course the ever-present deer bounding ahead of me in the hills where I live. So a slug did not seem very exciting. But as I examined it more carefully, I thought, no a slug is good. A slug is the anti-me. My shadow.

No one could accuse me of being a slug. In fact most of my life is built around you not judging me as a slug. Or a slacker. Or lazy.

This has its drawbacks. Like an acute inability to relax. Or to even sit on the couch without a computer on my lap. Sometimes I will allow myself a book, but it’s usually self-improvement oriented. The drive to do keeps me on my toes. And I like it. But I get that sometimes I need to do nothing. Soon after I saw the slug, I came across this blog on “Slacker Manifesting.” It was kind of painful to even read it, because everything she suggests is again, the antithesis of what I normally do – run around like a chicken with my head cut off getting stuff done. And it’s not all work, but there are aging in-laws to care for, and niece’s to babysit and mother’s to call. Not to mention the laundry, groceries and entertaining friends.

The slug stuck with me for a few days. I tried to imagine what life would be like if you spent like, a day, getting from one side of the sidewalk to the middle, and then you get squashed. What is the point of a life like that? But then I thought, well, that’s a slug’s life. That’s what slugs do. Better to be an authentic slug, live life to the fullest and get squashed than be so busy I miss important things. Like giving my husband a hug when I walk in the door from work versus checking and opening the mail right away and finding – you guessed it! More things to do. So yes, being busy prevents me from being present for those I love the most. I’m working on that.

I looked up slugs on Wikipedia. A snail with no shell. Hmmm… this spoke to me. Lately I have been stretching myself, putting myself out there and taking more risks to express myself (like this blog). I DO feel a bit shell-less lately.

So a slug it is, my power animal for this week. I will embrace my inner-slugness and practice my Slacker Manifesting, because, after all it is summer!

What are you gonna do this week?

Looking outside the bathroom window of the converted barn, my eye is drawn to a horse chewing on the fence, as if it’s trying to pry open the gate with its teeth. Kimberly, the owner of the rescue horse ranch I am visiting tells me “that’s called ‘cribbing’, typical behavior for a race horse who’s been confined for long periods of time. Even though we have 120 acres here, she still chews on the fence. It releases endorphins that help her calm herself.” I suddenly feel like crying. That’s me, I think. Huge amounts of wide-open space all around me, and I still feel confined, trapped, imprisoned in my life. Why is that? What will it take for me to realize I am free and have choices and can create the dream life I have envisioned?

We hadn’t even started the work with the horses and I was already discovering why I had come.

I was here to engage with the horses to see where I get in my way. As this is what I do for others in my work as a leadership trainer and coach, I thought I might as well explore my own limits through this unique horse/human collaboration and break through the boundaries holding me back from truly stepping into myself.

As the ten of us walked out onto the ranch to greet the 23 horses, many of them former thoroughbred racers saved from slaughter, my whole life pattern sprang up in front of me. Part of me felt exhausted. I just wanted to lie on the ground, smell the earth, feel the sun on my skin. But no, I was here to learn from the horses and lying on the ground wasn’t mentioned in the “rules.” What would the other people think of me?  Not to mention I had driven an hour and a half North of San Francisco to experience a horse ranch, not waste my time lying on the ground! I had work to do!

As the other participants walked among the horses, petting them, talking to them, connecting with them, I went into the corral to see who wanted to be my friend.  All the horses around me were too busy eating grass to bother with me. I went up to one horse and tried to feed it, eagerly offering some juicy grass. It turned away. Ugh, I thought, rejected by a horse! I am failing at this.

I sat on a log to regroup. And then it came to me. I’m going about this wrong. I’m trying to take something from these horses. I want their attention, their acknowledgement, their love.  I decided to walk among the horses and be neutral. I reminded myself I was there to connect with nature and the animals and let go of needing to accomplish anything. Just then I heard a screech and looked up to see four hawks circling overhead. I took it as a sign from the universe that my thinking was moving in the right direction.

When I finally gave myself permission to lie on the ground, I let go of all need to DO anything and allowed myself to BE with the sun, the hawks, the horses, the land. I took it all in. And when I had released all expectation and removed all pressure from myself to somehow succeed at this task, I rose up and went to walk among the horses.

I was drawn to two horses standing under a tree apart from the herd. I climbed up the hill to join them and be in their company. As I approached them to see if they wanted to connect, they moved towards me, gently nudging their heads first into my hand, then my shoulder. As they moved closer I was a bit nervous they would trample me but then one of them, a beautiful majestic chestnut mare, bowed her head and placed it fully against my chest. I felt my heart pour open to her, and then it hit me. This horse was giving me an incredible gift in her presence and connection with me. I was not here to learn from these horses, nor were they here to teach me anything. I was simply here to be and to love and experience the incredible joy in that. When I drove home from the ranch that evening I felt lighter and more present.

The next day Kimberly emailed a photo of Casey (above), the mare I had connected with, along with a brief description of her story. The title under her photo struck me: Expression without Expectation. As I read the description of Casey’s life I realized she resembled how I felt when I met her — tired of the need to perform and prove myself, tired of worrying what others think of me, and wanting a break from it all. Here is Casey: When it came time to perform, Casey, a talented Thoroughbred who had achieved fourth level in dressage, would hang her head in the corner of her stall. Sensitive owners found her new purpose helping us help people.  Now Casey shows us her gorgeous collected trot at liberty as the lead mare of our herd. Fulfillment of her right purpose will come with a riding partner who will allow Casey to express her athletic talent and beauty without expectation of victory.

Where are you gnawing at fences that no longer constrain you? Where are you not allowing yourself to surrender to laying on the earth?

Photo courtesy of www.theflagfoundation.org