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Welcome to Golden Acorns

I believe growth happens between words and actions. That there is a golden space that connects meaning between the lines of our individual story – both our external story and the one that plays in our head – and how we show up in the world. As a preacher’s kid I associate this golden space with faith. A spiritual link that makes us whole. Not just whole individually but whole as a community. 

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sun rise at the beach

November 2022 Quote: “It’s Time to Test Your Limits”

As I set up my calendar for the month, I select a quote I’ve found that speaks to me. I write it in my planner and leave space below it to capture phrases I hear or read that speak to me and relate to the quote. I found this practice centers me throughout the month, and helps me be more present in my conversations, meetings, and readings. For November 2022 the quote was, “it’s time to test your limits.”

The majority of this month’s quotes came late in November. Interestingly, they really began to sprinkle in when I began setting a daily intention and give gratitude each morning before I got out of bed. Here are quotes that caught my attention in November:

  • What a blessing to outgrow your ceilings
  • Every experience creates an imprint
  • Healed people hear differently
  • Whatever makes you feel the sun from the inside out, chase that
  • Recognize people’s humanity
  • Everything that is good is wild and free
  • Enthusiasm is the force that bends reality
  • What’s your legacy?
  • Work with ease
  • Are you hunting antelope or field mice?
  • Don’t let your ice cream melt while counting somebody else’s sprinkles
  • What you appreciate… appreciates
  • May all that has been reduced to noise in you, become music again
  • If you don’t step forward, you’re always in the same place
  • When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and other build windmills
  • Choose the door that leads back to you
  • A bold kindness muscle
  • How can I be of service today?
  • Amplify greatness
  • The mouth speaks what the heart if full of
  • You don’t find your ground by looking for stability; You find your ground by relaxing in instability
  • So, pluck up your courage and take that risk
  • Verified magical being

As I read this list having just typed them all, I feel positive. I feel opportunity. I feel the energy of growth.

What immediately popped in my head now was how as kids we constantly grew – both in size and experiences. I was eager to get tall enough ride the big ride at the amusement park. I was eager to be old enough to stay up and watch “The Love Boat” rather than have to go to bed early (ugh, I now have the show’s theme song stuck in my head). I was eager to try out for a new role in the community theater. I was eager to head off to summer camp to cook on a campfire and make new friends. Newness was a sought-after adventure laced with the thrill of joy.

Then somewhere, somehow, safety came into play. Being practical became a thing. Responsibility took hold and my Phoebe-like run toward the next new opportunity stalled and became a cautious stroll.

What I’ve begun to realize… or rather remember, is that growth is where the magic is. The magic of wonder, of anticipation, of play, of adrenaline, of silliness, of healing, of the unknown, of clarity, and of possibility. Growth (aka change), with all it scrapes, scars and successes, is where the indelible memories are. To continue to grow as a person, a coworker, a partner, a family member, a friend, requires that we test our limits.

We all have limits. Some rest on the surface others so buried and baked in we don’t know they are there. Limits on how we see our abilities… our bodies…  our career… our friends… our health… our money… our faith… our partners…our love… our potential.  

Testing our limits is where we are forged. It’s where we continue to take shape.

As I think of my limits – and testing them – I already feel parts of me tightening in anticipation of the failure, the fall. Bracing. My head takes hold of my heart keeping me “safe” from harm, away from adventure, and stagnant.

What I am starting to understand is that testing our limits as adults might not be as dramatic or carefree as when we were kids on a bike cruising the neighborhood, but it’s no less daring, exciting, informing, or fun. Our growth might be more refined – more nuanced – as we age, but it’s no less impactful.

Testing a limit can be as simple as inviting a new coworker to lunch, taking a meal to a neighbor, volunteering for a new cause, inviting someone to join you at church, taking an art class, taking time to really learn how to pronounce someone’s name, doing your first 3 minute meditation, getting fitted for running shoes to walk your first 5K, making a medical appointment for what scares you, reading a book on racism, taking ownership of your financial health, starting meatless Mondays, or saying no.

The jolt of joy that is sparked in that moment of action (which for me is usually proceeded by a slight wave of nausea or quickening of my heartbeat), gives just enough of a sense of accomplishment that we take another step forward. Each action we take to test limits and move forward gives us more understanding, confidence, and line of sight as to where to go next.

To move beyond who we are today.

finger points to a Snickers candy bar

Workplace Kindness with a Snickers

Well, there I was in my weekly “workplace kindness” online session shoveling in lunch during an on camera global zoom call. It was all well and good… folks sharing unkind work examples, realizations, and tips and then moderator Magnus Wood lobbed out the question about experiences with unkind managers. I took myself off mute … and shared it was me.

I shared that a teammate taught me a valuable lesson. He’d come by my office cube, papers in hand, and sheepishly ask, “Have you eaten?” Another time he asked, “Do you need a Snickers?”  After a few of these, I finally realized he was checking my state. Hungry and bitey or good to go. But this wasn’t just a lunch time question but more of a quick litmus test any time of day.

He helped me realize the impact of my mood — state of mind, energy level, presence — had on others. I was all good… until I wasn’t. I used his clue to change. Change my calendar. Change my awareness. Change how I handle “drive by” interruptions. Change my commitment to lunch.

I now offer up the code word “Snickers” to my teams, especially my deputies, to use to not so subtly get my attention about my bad manager or leader behavior. It gives them a simple tool to hold me accountable when there’s a power imbalance … and it usually ends in a laugh. As soon as they say the word, I know and can reset.

While I strive to be a thoughtful, kind manager, I’ve had my less than stellar moments. I know my knee jerk reactions get the best of me. I know my crowded schedule pushes me to plow ahead when I should pause. I know I need to talk less and listen more. I know my confident tone can diminish others from speaking up.

Because of this, I use a few tools to create a more kind work environment that include:

  • I come into virtual meetings on camera to chat pre-meeting and demonstrate my active presence
  • A project launch slide on “what you can expect from me” commitment (part warning of what sets me off because it’s a high-value item to me and part promise of what I do for them)… and I ask what each person needs to succeed
  • Standing 1:1 monthly meeting with each person on my team to talk about their agenda topics, work or personal items
  • Encourage the use of cat memes to share good or problematic news
  • Stress the use their Outlook calendar to block time for every key activity, from meetings and research to training and lunch as this helps them understand how much effort it takes to complete work and everyone understands their availability
  • I don’t schedule meetings from Noon-1 and support Friday afternoon quite hours so teams have common times with which to recharge
  • Use “???” when editing so folks can separate necessary changes from food for thought … and demonstrate I don’t have all the answers
  • Apologize when wrong… not to long ago I shared with a 25 person team how I was wrong and shared the email I wrote to the client accepting responsibility
  • I ask for feedback, and also offer that if anyone feels uncomfortable giving it to me, they should share it with my deputy who’ll aggregate it and bring it to me

With experience I’m able to fend off some of my flair ups. I constantly integrate new techniques to see what helps the team enjoy work more and connect as a team. I try to pause more and provide support that helps levels things out – such as coaching a new graduate on corporate introductions or talking budget and corporate finance who someone who doesn’t fit the majority demographic.

But I know I am, and always will be, a work in progress who on occasion needs a Snickers to settle down.

Tree that has half red leaves and half green leaves

October 2022 Quote: “Change Your Leaves, Keep Intact Your Roots”

As I set up my calendar for the month, I select a quote I’ve found that speaks to me. I write it in my planner and leave space below it to capture phrases I hear or read that speak to me and relate to the quote. I found this practice centers me for the month, and helps me be more present in my conversations, meetings, and readings. For October 2022 the quote was, “Change your leaves, keep intact your roots” by Victor Hugo.

After doing this mindful quote practice for more nearly two years, it still surprises me how much the quote I pick for the following month rings so true and offers the space for the reflection I didn’t know I needed. Here are quotes that caught my attention in October:

  • Permission to adjust
  • Pay attention to the invitation
  • Faith over fear
  • A feast of joy
  • What is really true?
  • Everything is ordinary and extraordinary
  • You were born for a time such as this
  • Amplify belief
  • The ability to manifest choice
  • You will make this change a blessing
  • Seeds of awareness
  • Allow what blooms to bloom
  • What is the expression of what comes through you?
  • Cultural humility
  • Ready, relevant, and reliable
  • You can’t give it if you don’t have it
  • Unlikely collaborators
  • Whatever is, is welcome
  • Walking in an answered prayer

I love that October is my birthday month. The fall aways speaks to me. When I stand outside, breathe in the crisp air, and see the trees’ colorful transformation I feel my most grounded. Like all is right with the world, with me, and I get charged – or rather recharged – for another year of living.

This recharge comes from reflection. The month is a big annual check-in for me based on the simple question: How am I?  This reflective question, conversations with loved ones, meditation, and experiences throughout the month (both professional and personal) brought forward gratitude, restlessness, joy, exhaustion, and possibility.  

In October…

I stepped away from a lot at work… and it was OK. In fact, it was freeing. Stopping the habitual grind and the self-imposed expectations is giving me space to determine what I want to do with my expertise, passion, and gifts. I did (and do) feel a bit untethered but I am getting more comfortable with the open space as I see what it is making room for.

I focused on mindfulness at a two-day conference with a best friend… and found emotional release. As I stepped on to the elevator with my friend following a morning meditation practice, she calmly stated, “I think I had a meditation orgasm” just as a random guy walked on. Awkward silence (with us stifling our laughter) for the ride down 12 floors. As the doors opened, the man calmly turned to us as he walked out and stated with a smile, “I might need to look into meditation” and walked away. I hurt from the delightful laughter that followed. Then later, tears poured down my face as I participated in a meditation with the guide playing his cello as he led us in a body scan. My body shedding its pain, fear, anger, loss, and worry like a tree dropping its fall leaves – making it possible to grow a new.

I shared more candidly and authentically in old and forming relationships… and savored the deeper connectivity real conversations generate. I shared how I was struggling. I shared hard choices. I shared concerns. I shared personal nuggets normally protected till more trust was in place. I asked more personal questions. I listened without multitasking. I re-discovered the core truth that we are all more alike than we ever want to admit. I also savored how comforting it is to connect more personally.

I began each day with a prayer – a whisper to God about those in my world who could use a boost… and loved the feeling of starting a ripple of love in the universe for those I cherish.

The month left me feeling more grounded. My roots intact in solid ground and nourished. It also left me with unanswered questions for discovery in the coming year. And I welcome the journey to come.

monster blows out candles on birthday cake and icing covers other person

Birthday Wish

I love birthdays. A day where each person is celebrated simply for arriving in life. Aging has not diminished this joy. In fact, it’s illuminated the blessing of a birthday and another year. Another year with those I love. Another year growing. Another year laughing. Another year witness to heartbreak. Another year contributing. Another year of wonders. Another year part of community. Another year of gratitude.

I view my birthday as my own January 1st. New Year’s Day… Emily style. I fill both the day – and actually the month – with people and things that feed my soul and put me in the best state to start my new year. This year included time with my parents eating birthday cake (my grandmother’s fruit cocktail cake recipe to be exact), a two-day mindful leader summit with a best friend, a spa pedicure, a mindful walk soaking up the colors of my season on tree leaves, Orange Theory Fitness‘ “Hell Week,” a few more long calls with far away friends, a little more reflective quiet time, a stack of Halloween cards sent to loved ones, a haircut, new yarn for the next knitted baby blanket gift, time reading, and a favorite dinner with ice cream to follow. Nothing fancy but fulfilling.  

As I get still and listen, here is what my heart speaks…

  • Find the people in this world who care for, accept, inspire, and support you – hold them tight and connect them with others in your circle to build a meaningful community
  • Make space for you in your life – be purposeful in how you spend time on things that recharge you, you’re worth it
  • Build a relationship with the universe – for me this is Sunday morning in the church chapel, walks in nature, meditation, and written prayers; the connection to something bigger gives much needed perspective
  • Stretch yourself – through books, classes, conversations, music, and differing ideas, as we should not remain contained within the same limited beliefs year over year and decade over decade of our life
  • Bring joy into your life and those of others – dance in your kitchen as you make dinner, be silly with a young child, share your gratitude, hold a hug 10 seconds longer, sing at the top of your lungs with the windows down on a sunny day, send flowers to a loved one, text “you’re on my mind and I love you,” or drop off a pie
  • Give what you can to those in need – we all need help

My birthday wish is to embrace more of all of these things in my new year… and am grateful for the time to do so.

A Mindful Leadership Reset

I take leadership seriously. I think leadership is tied to the person not the title. I see leadership as both a joy-filled opportunity and lonely responsibility. I believe in servant leadership, and as such don’t have much tolerance for inauthentic leaders. I think some elements of leadership are innate in a person and others require cultivation. I think leaders seek to grow and help others find their path to leadership.

Following the chaos of the COVID lockdown, I began a leadership reset. The all-consuming work model of sleep where you work, all-day iPhone access, wall of online meetings, and increased corporate metrics took a toll. What I once referred to as the feeling like I was working in “sludge” shifted over time into burnout and right on to “crispiness.”

I worked hard to keep my leadership façade in place…. show up for my team perky on camera, check-ins with my deputies, ask for feedback, add on hours to hit the metrics, mentor my network, and talk with my work sponsor. I hoped that if I just stuck with it, I’d emerge on the other side. But, as I’ve stated in a few client planning sessions, “hope is not a solid strategy.”

I got intentional about my needs as a leader. I got intentional on my boundaries. I got intentional about learning. My journey led me to mindfulness: to be fully present; aware of your senses, state of mind, body, emotions – rather than reactive to what is going on around us; or as Janice Marturano wrote, “you are present to life and your experience just as it is – not as you hoped it would be, not as you expected it to be, not seeing more or less than what is here, not with judgements that can lead you to a conditioned reaction… meeting each moment with equanimity.”

I learned about and applied mindfulness through an exploration of my left big toe in MBSR (which warrants its own blog), a communal experience exploring a raisin with 60 classmates from around the world, the jarring experience of just how long a 3 minute meditation can be, a kind mentor, a happier app, a day-long silent retreat, nightly meditation that improved my sleep, “mico-practices” in work meetings, conversations that led me to a new community, and practice, practice, practice.

This past week, my leadership reset culminated in attendance of the Mindful Leadership Summit. The presenters at the Summit shared:

  • 98% of what we do in conditioned … and mindfulness helps us move beyond that status quo comfort into a state of growth by helping us be more present by asking:  How is my response (thought, feeling, action) serving me? Not serving me? Limiting my growth?
  • The importance of breath to break the auto-response cycle through a simple 3 breath exercise … (1) breathe in to collect your attention, (2) breathe in to relax, and (3) breathe in and ask, “what is important now?” – then step back into the habitual moment with a fresh lens.
  • The value of “gifting another person on your team with your full attention.”
  • The belief that “I am not my idea” and to share yours with others to make it better.
  • That it’s a dis-service to bring diverse groups together and then focus solely on what they have in common … but rather embrace the diversity and be empathetic.
  • The importance of a “check in” with your team members as a group.
  • Examples of mindful leadership, mindful meetings, mindful performance reviews, mindful governance, and mindful boards.
  • That the “command and control work model is dead” and a new community centered model is replacing it… put another way: “a shareholder model vs. a stakeholder model.”
  • It’s all about the invitation to co-create and feel included.
  • You’re always practicing something with every action, feeling, and thought – what is it?
  • Space to be creative through the combination of meditation, music, and art.
  • How you feel in contagious … so what’s your strategy to deal with your feelings?
  • “Be the first to _____________” as a role model of mindful leader.

I also discovered the joy of integrating music and art into my mindfulness practice through an emotionally captivating session with Najeeb Sabour.

With 2 days of information and inspiration, my mind is full as I set out to be a more mindful leader.

dark storm cloud over white clouds with small piece of a rainbow

September 2022 Quote: “Don’t Be Afraid to Start Over”

As I set up my calendar for the month, I select a quote I’ve found that speaks to me. I write it in my planner and leave space below it to capture phrases I hear or read that speak to me and relate to the quote. I found this practice centers me for the month, and helps me be more present in my conversations, meetings, and readings. For September 2022 the quote was, “Don’t be afraid to start over, you might like your new story.”

After doing this mindful quote practice for more than a year, it still surprises me how much the quote I pick for the following month rings so true and offers the space for the reflection I didn’t know I needed. This was especially true this month with this quote. Here are quotes that caught my attention in September that connected to “…start over”:

  • One day or day one – you decide.
  • You can end up navigating with a compass that doesn’t actually belong to you.
  • By being here, you have given.
  • Trajectory.
  • You are the reason.
  • May it help you to manifest positive things today and every day.
  • The time is now.
  • If you see a turtle on a fence post, you know it didn’t get there alone. Someone had to pick it up and put it there.
  • Settled.
  • Our jobs as humans is to honor ourselves.
  • Be free. Choose you. Amplify your voice and dream louder.

September was full of transitions. The 80-person change management/strategic communications practice I built from scratch and led went to someone else in a re-org. The place where I worked for 8 years dissolved through an acquisition. I automatically started a new job at the company that purchased us with 60-days’ notice. I got aligned to their defense account after 20 years in health care. My Outlook calendar was not transferred as part of the deal. I did not have a leadership role in the new organization – no practice to lead, and no clarity that they even had a similar practice of specialists.

I was truly starting over is every way.

But yet, I wasn’t.

This start began on a foundation of community of coworkers – 1,200 of us started together. This start began on a foundation of experience – I had my commercial, non-profit, and public sector client work to draw upon, as well as work at 3 other consulting firms. This start began on a foundation of mindfulness – I didn’t panic, I didn’t rush in, I didn’t look for the exit hatch. Instead, I simply sat with the phrase, “I’m open to opportunities” and took a lot of deep breaths.

In this transition I found the opportunity to start over with my Outlook calendar. I’m setting it up with a more mindful lens. Mindful of when I am most productive in the day. Mindful of how long certain tasks actually take and to block it accordingly. Mindful of my team and having standing 1:1 time with each person to connect more personally. Mindful to eat away from the computer. Mindful of having a “cherished chat” each week with a co-worker or community member who brings me joy and inspires me.  

In this transition, I found the opportunity to start over with my career goals. I realized that for quite some time I’d focused on the progression of the company’s “career continuum” – what actions and metrics are needed to “level up.” I realized in the silence of not having a practice to run that I’d let the outside voices still my inner voice… that while my career was moving, it was moving in a rapid circular hamster wheel kind of way rather than one driven by my personal goals and core purpose. And, that I needed to really re-access how I most wanted to apply my expertise and passion next.

In this transition, I found the opportunity to start over with my community. As things wound down at Grant Thornton, I took time to connect personally with those who had impacted me – from my deputies and leadership team to mentors and teammates – to thank them. I sent a weekly Monday email to my broader team during the final month together that included self-reflections, links to songs, funny memes, and hope. I reached out to my personal community to share the news and ask for time to reacclimate. I set up “play dates” with my closest friends and had long calls with those farther away to be as refilled with as much joy as possible before I started the new job.

In this transition, I found the opportunity to start over with my identity. For so long, I was “Emily, the lead of Business Change Enablement.” But, that is not who I am… that is what I did. The freedom from roles and expectations gave me space to think about the alignment between my who, my what, and my why. I learned I am not my title. I am so much more.

In this transition, I found the opportunity to start over with vulnerability. As an introvert, so many thoughts and emotions remain in my head. Yes, I am comfortable talking and can banter with the best, but what is at my inner core is held close. I took this opportunity to work on a lesson the universe puts in front of me time and time again – let go. Let go of the need for control. Let go of the fear of failure. Let go of the need to succeed. Let go of the protection. Just be. So, I tried it. I shared more authentically. And, well, it was amazing! My conversations were deeper. The emotions comforting. The tense shoulder looser. The smiles more frequent. The connections more personal.

This transition also reconfirmed the follow:  Making time for your co-workers is essential and a top priority, always. Routine exercise keeps my emotional boogie men at bay. Sometimes a giant bowl of coping ice cream is really what you need and it’s OK. Starting over is tiring. Setting up new technology inspires my use of curse words at a whole new level. Quiet time in my work day is a blessing and requirement. Laughter or a good cry make all things possible.

Finally, this transition reminded me that we’re all in this together… starting over each day with a fresh 24-hour slate with which to learn, try, grow, fail, progress, stumble, soar, help, and heal. How will you start over today?

dice spell change and chance on black background

A Change of Perception with a Change Coach

It might be blasphemy, but after 20 years in change, with most of it spent supporting multi-billion-dollar federal transformations, I challenge the notion of the traditional organization change framework of “people, process, and technology.” While the simplicity is appealing, it’s missing a key element: perception.

Perception is the lens through which everyone experiences change. Each person’s lens generates habit-based thinking, behaviors, and limitations. A person’s perception is typically so baked into a person that they cannot tell you what it is or how it differs from others – it just is. They can’t help but see through their lens. The impact of their perception can show up as optimism, control, trust, funding constraints, political maneuvers, collaboration, fear, transparency, enthusiasm, or bias. And because a person’s perception is so ingrained, it’s a challenge for them to see its influence (good or bad) on how they approach, respond to, or lead change.

Individual perceptions influence decision making, emotional responses, and actions, which impact an organization transformation at all levels from the sponsor and change champions to the governance members and system users. Perceptions of anyone touching the design, development, and deployment of the change can help or hinder the initiative’s success. That includes the change leadership team comprised of the Change Sponsor, Change Champions, Change Governance Board, and Program Management Team.

With unchecked perspectives, change leaders operate with a blind spot – much like a vulnerable quarterback who doesn’t see the pending sack barreling their way. To help members of the change leadership team account for their perceptions, I recommend the inclusion of a Change Coach on the change management team. Someone with both change management and executive coaching certifications.

A Change Coach can help change leaders understand, address, or reframe perceptions that negatively impact both the person’s and the initiative’s success. A Change Coach offers an objective lens as they are not delivering the change. A Change Coach is not aligned to the change, but rather to the people leading it; their success is the change’s success. A Change Coach understands a change ecosystem, key functions, and core deliverables – and can help change leaders navigate them more effectively.

Recently, the International Coaching Federation and the Association of Change Management Professionals created a partnership to “explore the numerous synergies between change management and coach,” starting with a coach for the change sponsor, or executive in charge.

To me, leaders who work with a Change Coach should expect confidential one-on-one sessions in which they identify an issue (e.g., concern, challenge, opportunity, relationship), explore key factors, set goals with associated actions, and reflect on progress and outcomes. Plus, personal work between sessions. Work with a Change Coach centers on outcomes and accountability – the same as a well-managed organization transformation. According to the International Coaching Federation, “leaders who participated in coaching saw a 50-70% increase in work performance, time management, and team effectiveness.” All of which improve the likely success of change, whether it’s a targeted optimization or large-scale transformation.

I recommend the Change Coach be embedded in the change program management office (C-PMO) – at the heart of the transformation – with the charge to help leadership process the change and how they show up in it. A Change Coach can support the PMO director, a contracted project manager, the change sponsor, or department lead.

A few components of this new model to think about:

  • Access:  It’s important that staff perceive access to a Change Coach as a benefit, so provide education about coaching to help folks fully utilize the resource. You’ll also need a structure or tool for how to “book” time with the coach and how much time is available so that the coach is available regularly for the broad leadership team.
  • Confidentiality:  Whether you have an in-house Change Coach or they are part of the contract team, the work this person done is private. You can work with the individual to determine how to obtain themes and/or recommendations based on their work to inform future initiatives. Just be sure those who use the coach are clear if/how the coach shares content.
  • Assessments:  It needs to be clear that the organization sees using the Change Coach as a positive on a person’s annual review as it indicates a commitment to the transformation, personal growth, and team development.

Having a Change Coach work with change leaders keeps an essential element of change – the people leading it – on a reflective, productive, and supported path which serves them, their team, and the organization now and for changes to come.

Mailbox with Kindred Spirit on it by the ocean

August Quote: “Coming Home to Yourself”

As I set up my calendar for the month, I select a quote I’ve found that speaks to me. I write it in my planner and leave space below it to capture phrases I hear or read that speak to me and relate to the quote. I found this practice centers me for the month, and helps me be more present in my conversations, meetings, and readings. For August 2022 the quote was, “Be easy. Take your time. You are coming home to yourself.”

I headed into the month fully depleted in every way, both personally and professionally. I knew I was in a frantic spiral. I saw it and couldn’t stop. Instead, I clung to the upcoming sanctuary of our annual family beach vacation with my parents, brother, and his family. I would let it remove me from the chaos for a full reset. Life had other plans:  everyone in the cottage got COVID and the company I work for was sold. So much for low stress, time away from work. But, finishing 6 books, daily long walks on the beach, and deep calls with close friends are always rejuvenating regardless of the circumstances.

Here are quotes that caught my attention in August that connected to “…coming home to yourself”:

  • Don’t let the world happen to you, you happen to the world
  • I had to believe I was better than any of the doubts I was feeling. I had to take control of my own narrative and remind myself I’d chosen this path
  • Don’t give into your fears, otherwise you won’t be able to talk to your heart
  • Sometimes there’s no way to hold back the river
  • Failure is the result of a method chosen, and not the person
  • If we could all keep our feelings off the table, we’d all be more open to rethinking
  • It takes one thought to change the whole outcome
  • As long as you are “trying” to do something, you are not “doing” something
  • He who has a why can endure any how
  • I had earned my place; I was ready
  • Whatever you can do or dream you can begin it; Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it
  • The most effective way to navigate fear is by facing it; If you use the resistance if will help you rise
  • Blinding shocks of the obvious
  • Qualified enough
  • It’s not part of my job, it’s part of me
  • Assumptions are made by fools
  • Simply let your yes be yes, and your no, no
  • Remember always that you not only have a right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one
  • Stop looking at where you have been and start looking at where you can be
  • It’s powerful and effective for a woman to be herself
  • Every second of the search is an encounter with God

My time away, reading, conversations, and reflection reminded me that I am always home when I am clear on me. Clear on boundaries. Clear on healthy habits. Clear on space as an introvert to rejuvenate. Clear on time with friends to connect. Clear on what I need to be satisfied at work. Clear on what I want out of my life and how I want to show up in it.

When I lose this clarity, a I had on several fronts, I wander into weak spots. I lose my resolve and my good (healthy) habits. I forgot that I am more than my title and feed into other’s career neurosis. I shift from a sense of ownership to survival. I struggle against the undertow rather than float with the natural current.

This month’s quote was influential in giving me a mindset that supported my reintegration post vacation as I seek to reset and fortify the home of me. “Be easy” and “take your time.” Both of which are hard for me as a doer who works in a competitive industry and lives in a fast-paced city. But I cling to elements of this quote as I set up more play dates with friends, block off “purposeful pauses” in my calendar to sit in silence, get back into a steady gym routine, try out grocery delivery, and ignore my personal  to-do list in order to watch the Taylor Hawkins Tribute Concert for 5.5 hours while texting with a bestie throughout and feeling all the emotions from joy to gut wrenching sorrow. Coming home is a journey after all.

On my last day of vacation, I walked 3 miles to the far end of the undeveloped island, sat on a wooden bench that overlooked the sand dunes and ocean, pulled out a notebook from the “Kindred Spirit” mailbox, set my intention for “home,” and wrote this poem:

Change is coming. The waves drive it in. The sand shifts where I stand.

Change is coming. The seagulls cry about it. The nats are pesky reminders.

Change is coming. Beauty abounds. The clouds lay down cover.

Change is coming. The wind breathes in hope. The sun nourishes.

Change is coming. I am here. I am ready.

Book called Atomic Habits is on a person's lap

Books – August 2022

The Primes:  How Any Group Can Solve Any Problem by Chris McGoff

I got this book about 5 years ago while partnering with Chris’ company, The Clearing, on a U.S. Department of Agriculture transformation. It was a gift that unfortunately went straight to my bookshelf rather than my reading pile. This book will now be in the small set of recommendations I have when new hires ask what books I recommend for new consultants. I like the “playbook” format that illustrates and explains 46 patterns of high performance – each one in about 3 pages. Does this book give you the answers? No. It gives you the recognition of strategic issues that hinder teams’ and organization success and some approaches to bring it to light.  But, at the end of the day, you’ll need to determine how to apply “the play” in a way that works for that culture and those in it.

I Take My Coffee Black: Reflections on Tupac, Musical Theater, Faith, and Being Black in America by Tyler Merritt

This is definitely an audible listen as Tyler’s voice brings his stories to life in such a personal way. Not sure how I’ve missed Tyler, but I’m glad I found him. As I’ve mentioned in past reviews, I like to read autobiographies because it helps me build my understanding of other’s journeys – and better understand my biases and open up my perspective. Tyler talks about “proximity” and how having it with others (especially those unlike you), and being honest in those moments is a gift, and I agree. His faith journey and application of his beliefs were inspiring to read about.  

Atomic Habits by James Clear

During the COVID lockdown, I converted to audiobooks as I found myself exercising more outside and away from Orange Theory Fitness. However, it’s always a treat to hold a book in my hand, crack the spin, and mark it up as a read. Thanks to the recommendation by Sami Tewolde, I got this book in hardcopy which was a great “reset” book to read on vacation. The book offers four ways to build stronger more meaningful and sustainable habits. Key points that jumped out at me were:

  • Motion vs. action: “Motion makes you feel like you’re getting things done. But really, you’re just preparing to get something done.”
  • Show up: “The point is to master the habit of showing up. The truth is, a habit must be established before it can be improved.”
  • Time: “The costs of your good habits are in the present. The costs of your bad habits are in the future.”
  • Reinforce: “It like creating a loyalty program for yourself.”
  • Non-scale victories: “Measurement if only useful when it guides you and adds context to a larger picture, not when it consumes you. Each number is a piece of feedback in an overall system”

Interestingly enough, my two favorite nuggets from this book are not centered on habits but rather the context in which you think about them. The first is about is around being different. “When you can’t win by being better, win by being different. You can shortcut the need for a genetic advantage (or for years of practice) by rewriting the rules.” Second, is to revise your identity. “When you cling to tightly to one identity, you become brittle.” You can revise your identify from “I’m a great soldier” to “I’m the type of person who is disciplined, reliable, and great on a team.”

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

I don’t want to say much about this book so that you can fully experience it without bias. It’s about a shepherd’s journey as he searches for his “personal legend.” I think, much like a parable in the Bible, each reader will take something personal from it, and find new elements with each re-read.

The Grit Factor by Shannon Huffman Polson

Church friend Louise Tucker Anderson gave me this book on “courage, resilience, and leadership in the most male-dominated organization in the world.” I found it refreshing to read a book exclusively on female leaders that was more than just “look what she did.” Each chapter spotlighted a  challenge, the grit (approach), and leader’s story,  as well an associated personal reflection activity for the reader. The book, broken down into three parts (commit, learn, and launch) covers eight leadership grit components:  your story, your purpose, your network, listening, resilience, resistance, being yourself, and adaptability. The book was also a clear reminder that everyone needs support – from clear feedback by a supervisor to an advocate in a formal position of power – and everyone is in a position to provide it.

Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know by Adam Grant

For all the hype of this best-selling book, it didn’t grab a hold of me like I expected. The premise and content is valuable – don’t think what you know is true, even if it use to be. I think this is a good read for organization leaders who are looking to reset their teams or organizations, and feel the reminiscent pull of “the way it use to be” pre-COVID (assuming it was truly great for employees) rather than do the work to redefine the why, what, and how a group works now. A few nuggets that gave me pause:

  • Understand our personal identities within a system… As a person in a story he shared stated, “It’s not part of my job, but it’s part of me”
  • Practice unlearning… teach folks how to examine the evidence (facts and sources) and reject false claims
  • Approach quality from a lens of celebration… make rethinking, reworking, and polishing something that is rewarded not punished
  • Form a critique group… a small group of experts and diverse people who provide critical thinking and recommendations on your key projects to help you create the most meaningful product
  • Create a learning culture where growth is the core value and rethinking cycles are routine… because staff in learning-centered organizations constantly rethink, innovate, stay curious, and make fewer mistakes due to a culture of psychological safety and accountability

Happy reading.

Wooden walkway over green marsh grass

Those Pesky Expectations

So, there I was hanging out at the beach on vacation when I learned that Guidehouse purchased the company I work for. Ooof!

A year ago, my mind would have swirled incessantly … a hodge podge of questions … on replay. What I now know is rumination. It’s like burrowing down a dark hole of nonproductive “what if’s” that accentuate your fears, anxieties, and vulnerabilities. Over and over and over and over and over again. Hellish.

Now, not so much. The difference? Mindfulness, or rather meditation. I completed Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (or as my brother calls it “the raisin class” due to a class activity to meditate on a raisin with your 5 senses). I used an app for a daily meditation before bed. I found my favorite practice (Loving Kindness). I discovered my favorite anchor (holding my hands). I got certified as a mindfulness facilitator. I read about mindfulness and got a mindfulness mentor. I joined a weekly meditation community that starts this fall. I signed up for a mindful leader summit to learn how global organizations embed mindfulness within their company.

I still feel like an awkward newbie. My mind still wanders throughout every single meditation. While I feel better after, it stills feels a bit like a chore, a have to verse a want to. It’s work.

But I continue because in moments like your company being sold, I can feel the benefit. I’m not tangled up in concerns. I’m calmer – almost detached – and able to separate some from the uncertainty. I’m able to be in the present with my team — address things in the now rather than be consumed by the unknown. I don’t feel the tension in my body like I use to. Do I have concerns? Of course! Starting with a new firm always brings doubts and concerns. But now they are more balanced rather than a big stomach knot.

Yet, I continue to feel my meditation nemesis sneaking around, waiting for the opportunity to pounce and mess with my vibe. Oh, the damn expectations!  

I thought it would be like…

I thought the company would…

I thought it would have…

I thought leadership would…

I thought my team would…

I thought s/he/they would…

I thought I would be like…

I thought it would feel like…

You see, I continue to struggle to keep my expectations out of it. I expect actions. I expect responses. I expect interactions. I expect a vision built in my head. And with each expectation, needless disappointment follows close by.

The expectations whisper and stir up emotions. Emotions that derail me from being in the moment. Emotions that cause a less than ideal response. Emotions that cloud thinking. Emotions that drain.

But I continue my mindfulness habit because as Jonathan Lockwood Huie said, “a wonderful gift may not be wrapped as you expect.”