Sunday, April 16, 2017

Being Confident Enough To Be Joyful

photo: ryan wong

It is not our abilities that show what we truly are.
It is our choices.

On a recent episode of “Live With Kelly!” (yes, I feel embarrassed writing those words} Jake Gyllenhal shared that being part of the Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday In the Park With George,” has been a pure joy for him.

That’s a strong word.
It’s a word I don’t use often – or lightly.
Jake, though, got me thinking – what gives me joy?

Actually, I’ve been thinking about “joy” ever since I had my friends Eric and Betsy over for dinner. I hadn’t seen them in way too long and our conversation roamed all over the place. At one point, Eric shared how much joy he experiences with his work helping to preserve Yapese navigational traditions (hey, we met on an island in the South Pacific!). He then asked Betsy what gives her joy. I thought it was an odd question given how long they’ve been married. Then I realized how touching it was – he didn’t want to presume he knew her answer. She said hanging out with the grandkids gave her joy. Then he asked, “What gives you joy, JP?”  Not – “What makes you happy, JP?” He wanted to know what gives me joy.

I’m not sure why I felt uncomfortable. Perhaps, because joy is something deeper and more intimate than mere happiness and I didn’t want to give him a cheap answer.  Or maybe it’s because I don’t give joy much thought and I didn’t have a ready answer.

I considered for a bit and then told him that witnessing a coaching client have a break through gives me joy. It is why I do what I do – BUT I seldom think of what I do in terms of “joy.” I’m constantly pushing myself, seldom slowing down to experience anything near joy.

But now along come Jake and Eric each energetically and gratefully talking about  joy.

They challenge me – is there a connection between joy and confidence?

My godson Finn is a sophomore in high school and is beginning to focus on college. Applying for college has become a process of presenting yourself through essays and interviews. While the GPA and the test scores are critical, a college is equally interested in knowing what makes a student light up – what gives them joy.

Over the years Finn’s father has guided him with iron-clad focus. He’s never taken time to learn what Finn would like to do – he’s only told him what he wants him to do.  Finn has not been permitted to explore what gives him joy and I can already see how this is going to hamper his applications.

But I don’t think Finn is unique in this challenge. When is the last time you had a conversation with a friend or partner about joy? When is the last time you talked with a colleague or boss about what gives you joy in your work?!

Joy is a rare topic for conversation.

I’ve periodically taught at various colleges and as I reflect on those experiences I realize that teaching gives me joy. College, in its essence, is a time to discover where your deep joy intersects with the world’s deep needs. I’ve found joy in helping students make that discovery.

And yet, there’s a part of me that doesn’t trust “joy.” And I know I’m not alone in feeling this way.

I think about my clients who are in the process of changing jobs or careers. Fear and anxiety nip at their heels. They crave deeper satisfaction but no one tells me that they’re looking for JOY. Few look at the intersection of joy and need.

THE question I wrestle with is this – can you be confident if you have no joy in your life? 

My hunch is that wherever there is joy, there is confidence.  A joyful person is a confident person (though a confident person will not be joyful in situations where the stakes are such that joy is not summoned).

Last Fall I participated in a five-day coaching leadership program led by NY Times bestselling author Peter Bregman. Peter introduced us to his protocol for executive coaching. At one point during a session, Peter shared the story of a client’s smashing break through. He was animated and then, mid-sentence, he exclaimed, “Man I fxxking love what coaching can do!” We all laughed, recognizing that we were in the presence of a man who radiated joy.

One of the program’s fellow participants, Deb, an executive coach, led us in a dance exercise. At first some of us felt self-consciously awkward, but this was part of a program she’s developed to help people align body and mind. Deb, too, felt self-conscious as she introduced the exercise – something not commonly associated with a Harvard trained professional! However, as she led us no one could resist her exuberance. Again, we were in the presence of joy.

Earlier this year my friend Anthony appeared in an off-Broadway play. A professionally trained actor, he makes his living now in the corporate world, finding various ways to nourish his passion outside “work.” I’ve seen him in many productions and as with each one, here again he emanated joy.

Each of these people was ALIVE in the doing. You could say that they each “did” joy.

There are over 87,000 titles on Amazon devoted to “joy,” which means we all want it. So why don’t we see more people embody joy? Maybe it’s because it seems safer to be a “killjoy” – to be that person who is complaining, inflexible, myopic, narcissistic, stingy or nitpicking.

I’ve struggled writing this post I’ve wanted to start over with a safer, more authoritative topic.

And maybe therein is the insight to why we don’t talk about joy – it takes confidence to be joyful. It takes a willingness to be vulnerable.

So what about you? What gives you joy?

Avoiding The Trap Of "Catastrophic Thinking"

photo: jeremy bishop

“I pursue nowness. That’s what I do.”

Wang Deshun,
80 year old fashion runway model

I had set my phone alarm for 7:30 AM. I woke up at 8:00 AM confused – how could I have slept through the alarm? Hmm – my phone was dead. Dead as in it wouldn’t turn on even when I plugged it to a charger. I had an immediate sense of dread – yeah, not everything is backed-up. How could I be so stupid? Easy question to answer, but. . .

I had meetings to get to and no time until later in the afternoon to pop into a Sprint or Apple store. I was both annoyed and creeped out by the arbitrariness of my phone being dead. It was so random – the phone had been fine when I went to bed.

Much of daily life is a routine. And that routine is made up of so many small things we don’t think about, but count on – like a cell phone working. Remove any one of those small things in our routine and we can be thrown off balance.

Part of what it means to be confident is not being sidetracked when something breaks our routine. Being confident means regaining balance quickly and not losing sight of the big stuff.

Now, you need to know that I’m jotting these notes down at a Starbucks. I’m early for a meeting and since I’m without my phone I have nothing to do except jot ideas down on napkins!

I’m not a happy camper.
I find myself forced to look, observe and entertain myself with my thoughts – MY thoughts. My thoughts, though, are driving me crazy:
“What if they can’t fix my phone?”
“They won’t be able to fix my phone.”
“I’ll have to get a new phone – and that will cost money.”
“I’ll lose all my photos because I never back up regularly.”
“Wait! What about my contacts?”
“Ugh! I’m such a loser!”

Ah, the Curse of Catastrophic Thinking!
What I have to remind myself is that confident people refuse to succumb to wasting time on the disastrous, “what if’s.”

No one likes disruption from routine. A confident person, though, navigates it with equanimity because they know they will find a way to handle “it” – whatever “it” may be.

The night before I was watching a movie set in the late 1980’s.  There were no cell phones. The only way to communicate when out in public was by finding a phone booth. I remember phone booths quite well but looking at the movie’s characters frantically searching for a phone booth reminded me just how isolated we were back then.

And so am I in this moment at Starbucks.

I can’t check email. I can’t call anyone. In fact, I am the only customer in Starbucks not looking at a cell phone!
All I can do is mindfully prepare for my meeting with my client Niall.

I’m reminded that a confident person is grounded in self and connected to people and the world beyond any technology.

In a recent interview, Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the smash hit musical “Hamilton,” observed:
“I think a lot about trying to meet the moment as honestly as possible, because I don’t pretend to have any answers. In fact, I have infinitely more questions than answers. That’s all I control: I can control how I meet the world.”

A few days after jotting down the above thoughts, I ran into Danielle, the daughter of a friend of mine. Danielle’s youngest child, Declan, is nine months old. About three months ago Danielle noticed he wasn’t using his left hand and was overcompensating with his right hand. She took him to the pediatrician and so began the most hellish 24 hours of her life.

Making a long story way shorter, within the span of 24 hours, Danielle and her husband Ryan were told that Declan might have a brain tumor, then were told he might have cerebral palsy until finally they were informed Declan had had a stroke while in the womb. His left-side motor skills were impacted.

While the prognosis is good for the long haul, for Danielle and Ryan it has been an indescribable rollercoaster of emotions. And yet Danielle told me that she and Ryan are stronger now than at any point in their relationship. They know they and Declan will survive – and thrive.

They refuse to obsess over the “what if’s” and instead imagine the “what can be’s.”

Like all confident people, their attention is focused on how they can meet the world – in the “now” - with determination, stick-to-it-ness and inventiveness.

What about you? Are you living in the NOW?


Sunday, March 26, 2017

2016 Constant Contact "All Star Award" Winner!

I’m honored – and proud – to announce that The Business Of Confidence newsletter has been named a 2016 All Star Award winner by Constant Contact, part of the Endurance International Group, Inc.

The annual award recognizes the most successful 10 percent of Constant Contact’s customer base, based on their significant achievements using email marketing to engage with their clients.

If you enjoy reading what I post here on my blog then you’ll enjoy my monthly newsletter and I invite you to sign up ~

Thank You to those who already subscribe to my newsletter – I look forward to connecting with you each month. . .and any day in between!


Friday, March 17, 2017

The #1 Way To Become Confident

photo: freddy castro

Last month I was in in San Francisco to catch the performance of my friend Anthony in the riotously funny play “Speakeasy.” I was early and so popped into one of Little Italy’s many cafes. I was jotting down ideas – for this newsletter actually – when a man walked in and went over to the owner. Because I was sitting close by I could overhear their remarkable exchange. The man said, “I’ve not been back here in seven years but seven years ago I needed a cup of coffee. I was eleven cents short. You told me not to worry and you gave me the coffee. I never properly thanked you but I’ve never forgotten you.” WHOA! This guy stunned (and I think confused) the owner. He certainly blew me away.

A week later I received a surprise via LinkedIn. I had a message from Emanuela, a UCLA Extension student from nine years ago. She thanked me for helping her learn how to set boundaries and be more confident in expressing her needs and viewpoints. The class helped her change the way she does business and she wanted me to know that she hasn’t forgotten me. Once again I was blown away!

Emanuela and café guy reminded me that a confident person knows, remembers and acknowledges those who help them.  There can be no confidence without gratitude.

Consider this:
Denise is hurt because Marie hasn’t thanked her for all the strategic help she’s given her at work. Denise feels taken advantage of. Marie happens to be a client of mine and she is struggling with what she wants to do with her career. At the core of that struggle are her flimsy and wavering feelings of self-confidence.  

Marie wants to move into an executive position because she wants to feel valued and relevant. However, she’s unable to recognize and so is unable to give thanks for the gifts and talents she’s developed over an impressive career. Her personal lack of gratitude is crippling her confidence – and preventing her from being a gracious colleague.

Here’s the great truth – confident people know how to value others. They know how to show appreciation

In addition, they are willing to do the challenging work of shining a private light of recognition on their own particular talents and gifts. Confident people are willing to answer the question, “What are my strengths?” Not just skills but the strengths that undergird those skills. Gratitude lets them own their powers and from the gratitude comes the confidence to put those powers to good use.

One final illustration (for why I am fixated this month on gratitude):

Last Saturday I officiated a wedding where Nick, the groom, had big tears streaming down his face as he offered his personal vows to Teresa, his bride. I seldom see a man cry in public this way and, of course, the cliché is that a crying man is a weak man. But that wasn’t so with Nick. There was strength to his tears because they flowed with gratitude for the love of this woman. I have no doubt that Nick’s gratitude let him offer his vows from a place of confidence, loving what he knows of Teresa and trusting what he does not yet know.

A mindful “thank you” is the glue of all relationships – with self and others. Gratitude is one of the hallmarks of a confident person.

You know you are in the presence of confidence when you hear an emphatic, clear-eyed, strong-voiced “thank you!”

So the question I leave you with is – who can you thank you this day? This week? This month?

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Real Secret To Being Confident

If you are not willing to risk the usual
you will have to settle for the ordinary.
Jim Rohn

If you’ve attended one of my workshops then you’ve probably heard one of my whack-a-do stories regarding my family! My father was a good man who was a confirmed pessimist. He believed that the glass was not only half-empty, but the water remaining in the glass was toxic. He led his life in the sure belief that “we’re not meant for happiness in this world.” Yes, he had an explanation for his belief, but that’s another story!

I resisted buying into his philosophy, but, truth be told, it did seep into my unconscious and so there is a part of me that doesn’t consistently pay happiness much heed. Since the last newsletter, though, I’ve been bumping into so many happy people that I’ve been compelled to reflect on this whole happiness “thing.”

Last month I treated myself to a four-day leadership coaching conference offered by Peter Bregman and his associate Emily Cohen. I’ve enjoyed Peter’s books and articles for years and his retreat was illuminating. I learned dynamic coaching protocols from him and I’m excited to integrate those techniques in future coaching and workshops.

Even more than the technical stuff I was gobsmacked (love that word) with his infectious joy. Peter is that rare creature – a smart, insightful guy who loves what he does and is remarkably generous in sharing that joy.  

Each afternoon participants practiced on each other the coaching techniques we were learning. For Peter coaching is all about how the person coaching can help the person coached gain maximum traction on their most important goal.

One of the participants I coached was Deb, an international executive coach who recently rediscovered the joy of dance. When she turned fifty she decided that she wanted more happiness in her already successful life. When she was younger she trained in dance. During the twists and turns of her life, she “walked” away from dance and found satisfaction in the world of organizational coaching. Now, at the marker of fifty, she wanted more and so she became certified to lead dance classes. She admitted she was afraid to embrace dance again. She has no desire to leave her work, but is she being frivolous in wanting to do something with dance?

Through our session Deb realized that she was sabotaging herself with an either/or mentality. She can find ways to embrace the dancer within, and so honor a legitimate part of who she is, without abandoning the career she’s carved for herself. The idea of this “expanded life” is energizing her.

My client Nick, who works in a nuanced technical world, is focused on becoming an engaging presenter. He’s challenging himself to step back from the typical PowerPoint deck and experiment with how he can present material. To his surprise, he’s finding that he’s actually having fun with all of this. In our last session he asked, “I’m not supposed to be having fun, am I?” Duh! How many books are in Amazon precisely on the topic of business innovation / creativity / fun?

Patty recently gave an in-house seminar at her company, helping orient new hires to the culture. She was surprised by how much she enjoyed both the prep work and the delivering of the information. She saw it as an opportunity to give a bunch of Millennials a group coaching session. Now she’s wondering if she can find a place in the company that would let her tap into this skill set. She enjoyed herself so much that she senses she needs to put these skills into more consistent use.

There have been others who’ve talked to me about happiness and satisfaction – trying to find it, trying to figure out what, if anything, to do with it. I’ve felt challenged by these encounters because here’s the thing. . .

I’m in the business of confidence and what I’ve seen with all these people is that their confidence has soared because they’ve been surprised by – satisfaction, happiness, desire. All strong emotions that are not easy to dismiss.

Or is it that they’ve experienced happiness because they’ve grown in confidence?

Each of the people I’ve bumped into these past weeks is marked with the courage and commitment to do something they’ve not done before or to resume doing something they once enjoyed and then carelessly neglected. Each is surprised that in the doing has come a confidence laced with a satisfaction that seeps over into happiness.

And the real surprise is that they show up to all the other aspects of their life with more assuredness. They feel powerful. Embracing happiness is the genuine secret to being confident.

My father was wrong – we are meant for happiness in our relationships and in our work. Life without confidence is nerve-wracking. Happiness without confidence is inconceivable.

Friday, October 14, 2016

10 Questions To Help You Look At A Fear You'd Rather Ignore

I collect and frame menus that hang on my dining room walls.  Last Christmas friends gave me a framed menu from a long-gone New York establishment.  I loved the menu but not the frame, so I decided to get it reframed.  Well, here it is October and I’ve yet to get the menu reframed.  I haven’t forgotten about it – it’s on a table near my bedroom closet.  Every day for ten months I’ve walked by it! 

Why haven’t I gotten it reframed?  Am I lazy?  Kind of.  Am I cheap?  Sort of.  I want to get it reframed but I don’t necessarily see the value of spending money when there’s other “stuff” I value more.  Besides, there’s no dire consequence if I don’t get it reframed.  Though I’ll admit, I’ve not had my friends over for dinner!

I marvel that several times a day I’ve gone past this frame and have never made a decision as to what to do with it. I mean, it can’t stay on that table forever. Or can it? Most days, I don’t even see it.

I shouldn’t be surprised because the reality is that if we don’t see value in something or someone we most likely will ignore it – or them.  How often do you say, “we have to do lunch” and then never do.  Why?  You know as well as I that if we saw value in having lunch with a person, we would!  We keep at bay people and obligations for which we see little or no value.  BUT, what determines if I “see” value?

The answer to that question varies widely among us.  However, business guru Peter Bregman challenges his clients with the flip side to that question – “what do you not want to see?”  Hmm. Ignoring a menu is easy but what are the areas of my life I don’t want to rummage around in and “see” what’s there?

It can be scary to see aspects of life that we prefer to walk by because once you see something, you can’t un-see it.  And if you can’t un-see it then you have to change and change can be uncomfortable. 

I work with clients who stay in dysfunctional “romances” or emotionally abusive jobs, who stay in a mindset of doom and gloom, because they have trained themselves to no longer see the price their fear-laden complacency exacts from them.

Why do we stay in a relationship or job that has so little value?  Fear.  Fear that the place of higher value will demand we become braver than we now are.

After writing the above, I took a break and met my goddaughter, Maddie, for lunch. As soon as we sat down she announced that she had some news she wasn’t sure I’d be happy about. Yes, that got my attention and my mind began racing in all sorts of weird directions!

Turns out, her boyfriend received an offer at his job to relocate to Austin, Texas – more responsibility and more money. It’s an offer he can’t refuse. He told her that he understands if she doesn’t want to relocate and that they’d make a long-distance relationship work.

Since graduating college two years ago Maddie has struggled to find satisfying work in the entertainment industry. She’s always wanted to live outside southern California and she senses that she’s ready for that big adventure. She wants to make the move, BUT. . .

She doesn’t know if she should and the “what if’s” are swarming around her. She has a nagging sense that she’s not supposed to move away from family and friends. Why? Because no one else has ever made such a move.

She’s afraid and yet she recognizes that her desire to TRY is not going to easily fade away. She’s even more afraid of giving in to her fears. BUT “How do I know with certainty that I’m doing the right thing?” she asked me.

Ah, you don’t ever have certainty – that’s the catch! The real issue, though is how do you focus your attention on what could expand your well-being?

10 questions to help you focus on what you’d rather not see!

1.     Where in your life are you feeling uneasy or anxious?
2.     What are the “should’s” and “supposed to’s” that are making you feel uneasy?
3.     Who told you that you’re supposed to be or do a certain way?
4.     What would happen to your relationship with that person(s) if you did not do as they thought you should?
5.     If you act on your instinct and desire, what are the potentially life-giving aspects of that decision?
6.     How would that decision be detrimental to your well-being?
7.     By whose assessment are you labeling the potential decision life giving or detrimental?
8.     What would you have to do in order to be satisfied in your current state of life?
9.     Is the price for that satisfaction reasonable?
10.  What is it that you’re really seeking?

Maddie worries that because no one else in her extended family has moved to another state that she’s wrong in her desire to experience another region of the country. Because LA is the entertainment capital, she worries that she committing career suicide.

As we talked, she came to terms with the fact that she is not obligated to stay in southern California simply because no one in her family had ever left California. Austin doesn’t have to be a permanent move.

She also acknowledged that in order to commit career suicide, you have to have a career to kill. Since she’s in the early stages of figuring out how best to use her abilities, she doesn’t have a career to kill off!

By the time we finished dessert, Maddie recognized that the only thing her fears did was to distract her from seeing the value of embracing this opportunity.

At the risk of sounding cheesy, Maddie “reframed” the challenge and so with a clear eye is ready to create a relocation strategy with her boyfriend.

The bravest act is an act of one’s own.
What menu do you need to get reframed?!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

How To Confront Fear That Clouds Your Judgment

True freedom can only come from doing things differently.
Susan Forward

Elizabeth just gave notice at her dysfunctional job. The company is tanking – checks are bouncing. She’s been invited to join an international start-up. It’s an exciting proposition and she’s so right for it. Yet, in her words, she’s “scared shitless!”

I know Elizabeth and so I’m not surprised with her reaction, BUT, still, I asked her, “Why the fear? The handwriting has been spray painted on the walls of your current job. What do you have to lose? Even if the venture bombs, what’s the worst that can happen? You get another job.”

She said, “I know” in the tone of voice used by a child who doesn’t want to admit that the other person is making sense. It’s almost as though she feels that she “should” feel afraid and that it would be wrong to feel excited.

Her fear is simply running on automatic pilot.

She knows this new venture is a great opportunity. She knows she has a steep learning curve and she knows she’s up to the challenge. Knowing all that, why not be excited?
She admitted, “It doesn’t feel right to get excited.”  Huh? Where does this belief come from? Yes, family mantra comes into play AND it also comes from years of believing that professional satisfaction is too risky because it can’t last. Therefore, so goes the reasoning, why enjoy the satisfaction of meaningful work?

Her satisfaction may not last. And that’s okay. Just because satisfaction may not last, that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the moment, can’t enjoy the adventure.

A new opportunity has presented itself. Is it not ingrateful to refuse to give thanks and embrace the opportunity? 

Come to the edge, he said.
They said, we are afraid.
Come to the edge, he said.
They came;
He pushed them – and they flew.
Guillaume Apollinaire

Gerry is a VP who has worked at her current position for five years. During that time she was a major player in helping to secure $40 million in new business from just one client. Her bonus this year was less than $5000 – essentially a Starbucks gift card! Sam, her boss, is mercurial – one day praising her at a company-wide meeting and the next chastising her in front of external customers. Throwing people emotionally off-balance is a sport for Sam.

Gerry’s being wooed by a start-up whose founders recognize what she can bring to their team. They treat her with respect and professionalism. They have now point blank asked her, “What will it take to get you to join us?” Gerry’s afraid to name what she needs and wants.

She has paralyzed herself by focusing on how this is a big risk and by indulging feeling guilty because the company gave her a decent job for the past five years. Yet, last week Sam rejected a suggestion she offered to improve internal communications on a particular aspect of a critical project. He snapped that he was in charge and didn’t need her input.

Phantom guilt can have a powerful hold on a person. As distasteful as it sounds, Gerry has been in an abusive relationship with her boss – and so she spends her energy concocting reasons why she shouldn’t leave them.

A sampling of Gerry’s self-inflicted paralyzing questions (with my answers!):

“Am I worthy of this new opportunity?” Gerry is accomplished, talented and is bolstered with the gracious strength of her emotional intelligence. I’d say that makes her “worthy.”

“I don’t think I’m as good as they think I am.” Classic fraud syndrome. Most of us are “frauds”!

“What if I tell them what I want and they say ‘NO’?” Hmm – it’s called “negotiation” for a reason.
“But maybe Sam will change?” Perhaps, BUT I doubt it as he has given no indication that he desires to become a more effective, emotionally intelligent leader.

“I guess I have the right to reach for my dream job, yes?” YES!

I asked Gerry a question of my own, “What would you tell your daughter if she was dating a man who treated her the way your boss treats you?” She quickly said that she’d urge her to break up with him.

So then the question remaining is, “Why wouldn’t you give your self the same advice you’d give your own daughter?”

It is a psychological and spiritual principle that when we draw to the “light,” the forces of “dark” do what they can to sabotage us. It is inevitable. What is not inevitable is our succumbing to our dark thoughts.

Fear is fine, normal and to be expected. Feel it and then once our eyes and minds and hearts have been opened choose against it. Embrace the desire, the goal, the plan.

10 Things To Grapple With As You Demolish Paralyzing Fear

1.     Do you feel on edge at work? If so then Remember – that’s not the feeling you deserve to have, even though so many of us have it that it’s now considered “normal.”
2.     What does your dream job look like?
3.     How do you look in that job?
4.     How close to reality can you get to your dream job?
5.     What are the risks of the new job? If the worst happened, could you recoup?
6.     If you don’t pursue new work, what would you have to do to stay in your current job?
7.     Can you do what’s needed to stay in your current job?
8.     Are your doubts helping you gain clarity or simply making you feel confused? Then why pay attention to them?
9.     Rephrase a question such as, “Am I worthy?” to “What do I bring to this new venture?” Rephrase a question such as, “Am I a fraud?” to “How long will it take me to acquire the skills I’m lacking?”
10.  Recognize that most situations are not black/white. There are options within options. Play with options!