Do You Tell Stories?

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“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ~ Maya Angelou

For several years I have attended an annual speaker’s workshop in Las Vegas. One of last year’s presenters was Michael Hauge. Michael works with Hollywood Screenwriters to find and tell what is most authentic in every moment of a story. I learned from him.

Do you tell stories? And I don’t mean fictitious tales. If you do, to whom? For what purpose?

Some of you know that I speak in public. As “facts tell but stories sell,” rarely do I speak exclusively about facts. Rather, I stitch them together into stories to provide an interpretation and to point to a larger significance. I do this because, among other commonalities, we are wired for relationship. In order to grow, develop and move closer in connection, we need to gather from one another. And this can be accomplished by simply sharing an insight or experience with other people.

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For much of my adult life I worked in linear environments, settings which dealt in data, lacked color and focused on bottom lines. We didn’t tell stories; we delivered results to stakeholders. We grew business enterprises that did little to build cultural bridges, construct meaning or provide a shared understanding of our lives as knit together in society.

The only emotion we elicited was scorn from investors when goals weren’t met or elation from the same cohort when financial targets were surpassed.

Yet stories with emotion, the kind that bind families, generations and cultures, are key to what profoundly shape civilizations.

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Have you ever paused to consider how your stories might change hearts and minds? An example: The Diary of Anne Frank did more to educate people about Auschwitz than any research on the topic. And it was simply her story. Stories invite participation. When you tell a story, you are essentially creating a framework for the listener, reader or viewer to insert their own details, thereby enabling an active role in the story itself.

Think about this: Identifying common value is attractive, not just for those with whom we want to communicate directly, but also to other listeners we might want to be part of the conversation. And many of us want to be part of some conversation. Right?

The reality is that each of us can be a storyteller. Perhaps you’ve not thought of yourself as one. What might be an insignificant experience to you could serve as a meaningful lesson for others. Yet, how are they going to benefit from said lesson if you aren’t telling your stories?

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Don’t zip it. Share it! As an emerging (or growing) storyteller, consider these points:

  1. Have a reason or an objective. It may be to encourage or inspire or cause someone to think differently. Keep the story’s purpose in mind. At the story’s end, reflect on what you shared. And ask if there are questions.
  2. Be imperfect. We are delighted by stories that involve some vulnerability. People want to hear about struggles, and how to overcome them. It’s okay to talk about success but talk about the challenges; what got you there!
  3. Spread the glory. Give credit and explanation to those in your life who have helped you in your journey. Acknowledge those who influenced you and lifted you up to the heights you reached.

Quality of Life, Varies

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“The significance of a man is not in what he attains, but rather what he longs to attain.”  ~ Kahlil Gibran

Reference.com defines significance as, “importance; consequence; meaning.” I’ve previously posted about significance and given what I believe it means to many, I’m revisiting it.

Significance is not a subject on which people often dwell. Instead, many are focused on achieving success, however one defines success. When you ‘Google’ the word significance you find abundant reference to: statistics, physics, ethics, religion, history, locations, and significant others. But you need to dig deeper to find works that address it in the context of life meaning and the accumulation of moments that matter.

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It’s easy to feel like small acts of kindness are unimportant in the big scheme of things, especially in parts of our world that are captivated by fame, promotion and bravado. But small acts can be incredibly important. Life stories, even legacies, are not possible without a series of meaningful acts; with each moment adding on a quality to the next.

A person who is leading a significant life is unimpressed with him/herself.

Many of us are passionately engaged on the road towards success (I certainly once was), but if we are asked whether or not we are living a life of significance, some may not have an answer. It’s not easy. And it’s not for everyone. Creating a life of significance takes planning and awareness of your calling, values, and goals. And this is something that can become lost in day-to-day living. However, it is attainable.

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Copious choices exist if living a life of significance is an aspiration. Here are three possibilities to consider:

  1. There are opportunities every day to learn new things, meet new people, explore new ideas, and contribute to the betterment of yourself. Many only appear once. Don’t miss them. Or… maybe you’d rather create them!
  2. Contemplate telling your truth of the moment. (It evolves as you grow and change.) Be authentic by your definition, not what others cast upon you. When you become grounded in who you are, it becomes easier to push beyond limits and live more significantly.
  3. Opportunities for turning what you do into ‘what you give back’ are virtually limitless. If you’re itching to shift your focus towards doing things of greater value, what would you consider to be the most pressing issues of our time? How could you leverage your skills and interests to help solve a piece of those problems?

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Significance can be core to the overall quality of how you live your life. In part, it’s about ‘who you are’ and how your choices have a ripple effect on your family, community, and the wider world.

Contributions on Two Fronts

 

“Simply being with other people who are also seekers and who are involved in the same quest you are is very meaningful.” ~ Dan Wakefield

The two most recent segments of the Awakening to Awareness Radio Show featured guests who are committed to contributing to community and on a broader scale, society.

Executive Coach, Tony Mayo, recently authored, “The Courage to Be in Community.” His book served as the underlying focus for our interview/conversation. Tony shared his distinctions between courage and bravery, and authenticity versus genuineness. We talked about the significance in communities of five “Cs”: courage, connection, choice, compassion and conversation. And we explored relationships, acting from the heart, vulnerability and “costumes” – all in the context of community.

Tony’s book addresses two overarching issues: How do we balance the universal human needs of authenticity and acceptance in our personal lives? and, How might we foster communities where others have the courage to be truly themselves with us? Tony’s one unifying purpose: to promote workplaces of humanity and prosperity where people can be productive and satisfied.

When journalist and cancer survivor Ysabel Duron turned the camera on herself, she launched an encore career that shines a spotlight on cancer for Latino communities throughout the United States. In September 2003 she founded Latinas Contra Cancer (LCC), an organization committed to educating, supporting, and providing essential services to low-income Spanish speakers suffering from the disease.

In 2013, at the age of 66, Ysabel was named the encore.org Purpose Prize winner for her extraordinary contributions in encore (aged 60+) careers. Encore.org is at the vanguard of a large and growing movement of individuals in their encore years, helping to solve many of the toughest problems facing our nation and the world. Immersed in her work and cause, Ysabel explains her utter clarity about greater purpose in life.

Full bios for Mayo and Duron, along with show podcasts, can be accessed and downloaded via this link. Consider listening and being enlightened.

Extraordinary Places

                Deborah "Atianne" Wilson

Deborah “Atianne” Wilson

“Your wealth is a measure of your service to others.” ~ Jewish Proverb

Significant in the coaching profession and in life is the word “shift.” I’ll refrain from defining shift as we each have our own meaning for it. We’ve all experienced shifts – directly or indirectly, voluntarily or involuntarily. My friend, Deborah, having faced abuse, abandonment, rejection, divorce, dis-ease, infertility and financial fears was invited to shift from a place of depression, physical pain and ego misunderstandings to extraordinary places of peace, empowerment, joy, authenticity and love.

Deborah “Atianne” Wilson is known as The Intuitive and Spiritual Wealth Coach. Everything that has shifted, healed and transformed in Deborah’s life has come from the fundamental knowledge that it all matters – we all matter. I know Deborah personally and she is not a ‘woo-woo’ person. She is a grounded woman with uniquely gifted intuitive abilities and thoughtful perspectives. She shared some of her story and her wisdom on this week’s Awakening to Awareness radio show (podcast here).

I invited Deborah to talk about her new book: It’s OK to be Spiritual and Wealthy: 19 Essential Keys for Living a Joyful, Prosperous & Abundant Life… something to which I believe we all aspire. During the show Deborah spoke about important life lessons including: practicing true forgiveness (challenging for many people); the value of expressing and living our life of freedom; divine connection (though not necessarily in a religious sense) and; giving and being in service to others from a joyful place in our hearts.

If the concepts of prosperity, joy, serving others, inner work, and personal responsibility resonate with you, consider listening to the podcast. If you are interested in learning more about Deborah, here’s a link to her website.

Strength in Integrity

“Just as your car runs more smoothly and requires less energy to go faster and farther when the wheels are in perfect alignment, you perform better when your thoughts, feelings, emotions, goals, and values are in balance.”

~ Brian Tracy

I just finished a three-day Mastermind with a family of amazingly accomplished, forward thinking, and giving entrepreneurs. Collectively, this group possesses and demonstrates a wide-range of enviable qualities and traits, high among them – integrity. It was/is a privilege to be a part of and among them.

A boat with no leaks is said to have integrity, as is a solid piece of furniture. It is their wholeness – no gaps or weaknesses – that gives them their integrity. People who have integrity convey a similar “seaworthiness” and stability. There is the sense that they can be counted on, that their actions will be consistent with their ideals. Just being in the presence of someone with this quality creates a feeling of steadiness even in a chaotic environment. These people are natural, not fabricated or self-perceived, leaders and we sense that it is safe to follow them. We are blessed with notable examples of modern human beings who embodied integrity. Can you name three?

Integrity cannot be self-ascribed. As with true leaders who personify integrity, we can learn first hand the benefits of sacrificing short-term gains in favor of long-term vision – provided the vision benefits others and not one’s self. In a culture obsessed with convenience and freedom, integrity can be a rare quality.

Integrity generates self-confidence and self-esteem. It is never aligned with being self-centered. It is important to take time on a regular basis to examine whether your actions – public and private, your words, and your vision are in alignment. Consider making it a priority to assess any imbalances you find and commit to resolving them. Also, take time, when necessary, to revise your overall life vision to ensure your actions and words support ideals for a larger community or cause greater than your own personal motives.

Integrity cannot be faked. So much of integrity is authenticity, which to many, is something you feel or know intuitively. There are many ways in which to demonstrate integrity. Maybe you’d like to try these:

  1. Live for others ahead of yourself. The root enemy of integrity is selfishness. The Golden Rule requires treating others the way we would like to be treated. Living the Golden Rule boosts personal integrity.
  2. Don’t kowtow. This goes back to being authentic. There’s nothing less authentic than ass-kissing.
  3. Make an excuse board. Put it all out there. Make columns for eating crap, chronically skipping exercise (though allowing for earned rest days), going to bed late, drinking too much, stressing yourself sick, etc. At the end of one month, see how much you’ve excelled at cheating yourself (and possibly others). This can be an effective exercise, even if potentially unpleasant.

To conclude with a light-hearted look at integrity, here’s a fun video . 🙂

Being in Harmony

“When you find that your life is out of alignment with your grandest idea of yourself, seek to change it.” ~ Neale Donald Walsch

Life is ever-changing. Fair statement? Most of us are experiencing the shifting sands of life transitions. And there are times when we feel lost or some things feel “off.” Yet, you are in control of your life. You are in control of your actions. You are in control of your choices.

More fair statements (in my mind): Taking charge of yourself by being accountable and accepting responsibility for your actions are hallmarks of a strong character. Living your life in alignment with your values is not always the easy course to follow. Many difficult decisions must be made as we transit life. So we periodically ask ourselves, Did or do I do the right thing?

When faced with constant change, it might be the time to embrace that everything you once valued as important may not be what you value now.

When you are in the midst of a life transition, or even when you’re not, it’s essential to take stock of your values, and then do whatever you can to align your life with your most core values. Living in harmony with those values paves the way for, if not ensures, happiness and peace of mind. Some people call this living authentically.

In my mind, the heart is what represents your values, the things that are most important to you. When other parts of our being are not aligned with our values (eg., we make a different choice or take a different path) we experience dis-harmony which can lead to feelings of frustration, confusion, or unhappiness.

It makes sense then, that the more clarity you have about your values the more rapidly you can identify why you are experiencing dis-harmony and realign yourself to feelings of happiness. Ultimately, understanding your values helps you make choices to experience congruency, success and happiness.

It is generally accepted that when you live according to your core values you are in balance. When you stray from your core values, stress can build beneath the surface. Over time, you can come back into alignment with your core values or you can rationalize them away. Or another value can overtake an existing one if followed repeatedly. (Recall yesterday’s post about affirmations.)

So here’s a simple three-step exercise:

  1. Identify a situation where your core values were tested or challenged.
  2. How did you feel before you acted?
  3. How did you feel after you acted?

Remember, you are in control…of your actions…of your choices…of your life.  Create the change needed for you to be in harmony.

You’ll appreciate yourself even more.

What Do You Stand For?

“Integrity is telling myself the truth. And honesty is telling the truth to other people.” ~ Spencer Johnson, M.D.

Not long ago, I was traveling cross-country (U.S.). As I took a seat in the boarding area, I felt something protruding into my backside. Shifting forward, I realized there was a wallet wedged between the seat and back. I pried it out, looked around to see if anyone noticed and might, perhaps, acknowledge it as theirs. I opened the billfold to see if there was photo identification. And there was. I proceeded to the gate agent to report the find and the agent called for the individual by name. He didn’t come forward.

I soon boarded my flight, wallet in tow. When I arrived at my hotel, I phoned the owner. No answer, so I left a voice message explaining the situation and asked him to call me back. There was close to $700 in cash along with credit cards. Longer story shorter, the guy called the next morning, thrilled that I had found it. He asked if I would overnight express it to him, paying for the service from cash in the wallet. He also asked that I keep $100 as his thanks. I didn’t.

Not once did I consider anything but returning the wallet to its rightful owner. Which brings me to the matter of integrity: having a conscience; willing to do the right thing just because it’s the right thing to do.

In this case, integrity went beyond speaking the truth and taking responsibility for how you think and feel, to the action you take. Moreover, it includes the authentic presentation of yourself to others (being sincere) as well as the internal sense that one is morally coherent. It also means acting congruently with your values – regardless of what those values are. So a person who has integrity does not necessarily mean a person who does “good.”

The opposites of integrity are clearly negative: deceitfulness and insincerity.

Another way of thinking about being “whole” is that a person doesn’t have integrity so much as they are integrity. In other words, it doesn’t require some great feat to live in integrity. We just need to be ourselves, consistently. And in my view, there are (proportionately) few people in this world who are not genuinely well-intentioned at their core.

So how do you encourage and stay in integrity? Consider these exercises:

  • Quit telling small, white lies to friends (including insincere compliments). If you do tell one, admit it and apologize promptly. Monitor yourself and make a list of every time you tell a lie, even if it’s a small one. Try to make your list shorter every day.
  • Pursue humility. Not the “look how I put myself so low,” kind of humility. Instead, make a full, honest effort to acknowledge that you don’t know it all. With real humility we can embrace our own brilliance and applaud that of others.
  • Stop acting for the sake of others. We’ve all done it. We don’t go full-out or allow our true self to shine because of what others might say. This has killed more dreams and paved the way to destructive behaviors more than many addictions. Your opinion of you is far more important than anyone else. Strive to be the person you’ve always known you could be.

Socially, authentic people are well-liked. Are you? For what character traits?

Strengthening Self-Belief

“It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not.”  Anonymous

How well do you know yourself? I mean really knowing your authentic self?

How about believing in yourself? Confidently? In total assuredness?

These are substantive questions. Honestly answering them can be quite revealing. And rewarding.

For much of my adult life, I have seriously believed in myself. That’s not been so much the challenge. Where I have had to dig deep and work hard is at getting to know who I am – at my core.

What I’ve learned (thus far) is that there is a subtle difference between confidence and self-belief. Self-belief has to do with a strong view or conviction you hold regarding yourself, and your abilities or characteristics. Confidence has to do with the trust you have in yourself as a person, and your abilities and characteristics.

For the most part self-belief and confidence go hand in hand. While it is difficult to have confidence without self-belief, it is possible to have self-belief, and little confidence. The reason why is because confidence has more to do with current capacity than with ability. So, for example, if you are not feeling well or are fatigued, that would affect your ability to perform to your best.

There are many schools of thought on the interplay between self-belief and confidence. What is generally acknowledged is that your level of self-belief is a good predictor of success and achievement in many different areas of your life. On a flip side, what prevents you from gaining confidence is the belief that “this is how you are” and that’s all there is to it. Both, however, are directly related to your life experiences.

Be not discouraged though (and I’m not suggesting you are). The good news is that it is possible to build confidence and self-belief. Here are five exercises to help strengthen the views you hold about yourself:

  • Imagine yourself successful. Always picture yourself successful. Visualize your desires and goals. See yourself in new settings, capable, and self-confident.
  • Reflect on your past successes. Each are proof that you are capable of achieving more success. Recall this when you begin to lose faith in yourself.
  • Set definite goals. Have a clear direction of where you want to go. Be aware of when you begin to deviate from your goals and take immediate corrective action.
  • Respond positively to life. Develop a positive self-image. Your image, your reactions to life and your decisions are completely within your sphere of influence.
  • Stay in touch with those things that have meaning and purpose in your life, because this will naturally build confidence and self-belief.

The Act of Embracing

What happens when people open their hearts? They get better.”

~ Haruki Murakami

A friend read yesterday’s Visiting Vulnerabilities post. She emailed saying thanks for addressing a, to her, sensitive topic. She also asked, “What can I do to stretch myself” and “What about techniques to become more comfortable with vulnerability?”

Being true to who you are and leaving the mask off is a pretty general explanation for vulnerability. Seeking a more substantive reference, I dug deeper and found a February 1, 2011 post, Gentlemen, be Vulnerable, in which orijinalblend (the author) concluded with this quote:

“This is me, and I am interested in you enough to show you my flaws with the hope that you may embrace me for all that I am but, more importantly, all that I am not.”

So how do you get to a state where you can be this honest and vulnerable? For starters, you can consider these five actions:

  1. Connect with others. There is something endearing about vulnerability. When you’re vulnerable it’s easier to connect because you’re coming from a place of truth. It also makes asking for help easier.
  2. Embrace negative emotions. When we numb sadness and pain, we numb joy and happiness. Feeling the depths of our lows enables us to fully feel the soaring of our highs.
  3. Let go of perfection. Wouldn’t it be nice not to have to be perfect all the time? This one is a challenge for me, When you’re vulnerable, it’s okay to be imperfect.
  4. Increase your emotional intelligence. If you are constantly burying your feelings, then you aren’t going to grow emotionally. By facing your vulnerability head on, you will naturally increase your emotional intelligence.
  5. Just be yourself. How difficult do you need to make this? Your time is limited. Don’t waste it living someone’s else’s life. Be authentic! It’s so much easier and the baggage you shed will lighten you and your spirit.

So here’s a challenge, if we’re willing to engage in an uncomfortable space. I am committing to being openly vulnerable. It may not be easy. It may go terribly wrong. I might get damaged like so many others. Yet, I believe if I am to be truly stronger, I think if any of us are, we have to be willing to expose our true selves.

What are you going to do?

If you’ve successfully navigated your way with vulnerability, perhaps you’d be willing to comment and share how it has strengthened you.

The Third Age

“Experience is not what happens to a man, it’s what a man does with what happens to him.” ~Aldous Huxley

There exists an oft-overlooked developmental life stage. Yet, few acknowledge and plan for it. When people are putting children through college, still pursuing their career, and paying bills – retirement isn’t usually on their radar screen.

The Third Age, lest you be unfamiliar with the (European) term, represents a huge chunk of active adulthood. According to a Harris poll, 80% of U.S. Boomers desire and expect to work for pay well into traditional retirement age. They also expect to contribute their time and energy to address economic, social and political needs at home and abroad.

The Third Age brings exciting developmental changes and a greater understanding of ‘what really matters.’ It is frequently characterized by:

  • A search for purpose;
  • An increase in individuality and authenticity;
  • A new imperative to pass on values and wisdom.

In an (at least I think) interesting study, researchers have coined five stages that people experience before and during the Third Age:

  1. Imagination (15 to six years before retirement day): Retirement isn’t necessarily top of mind. People are focused on previously mentioned activities. As “the day” gets closer, they pay more attention to and define goals for their next life chapter. When a clearer vision emerges of what is next wanted, a sense of enthusiasm and excitement develops.
  2. Anticipation (up to five years pre-retirement): This is a time of hopefulness. Emotions intensify and requisite financial resources are aligned. People spend more time planning for their “new” careers and lifestyle.
  3. Liberation (“The” day and the first year thereafter): The honeymoon phase. People feel a sense of relief from worries and responsibilities. They miss their work connections but reconnect with significant others, families, traveling and (yes!) beginning new businesses. 89% of study respondents indicated they were “very busy” during this time.
  4. Reorientation (two to 15 years post-retirement): This is a significant stage, one I’ll elaborate on in a later post. This is a transition period, a time during which there can be a “let-down.” People will gradually reorient their priorities, activities and relationships.
  5. Reconciliation (16 or more years into Third Age): Many retirees shift into greater contentment, and acceptance. They begin to set their sights on moving into a new home, confront end-of-life issues with family and friends and find resting and relaxing more appealing.

Why do I choose to highlight this? In my collaborations, I encounter Third Agers who have given this major stage little more than passing consideration. And they wonder why they’re at a loss for an answer to the question “what’s next?”

In our First Age, life is pretty much determined for us by others. We’re along for a wild ride. In our Second Age, we plan, choose and are directly responsible for many of our desired outcomes. We develop goals and focus our experience and energy on their achievement.

By sharing the potential in and importance of planning for our Third Age, perhaps people will muster greater clarity about “what’s next,” they’ll seek out and accumulate more information, and they’ll better position themselves for living a fulfilling next chapter. Their Third Age.

And you?