quote "I am the human version of tangled Christmas lights"

Curiosity Rather Than Comparison

It’s a curious time of year. Christmas, a religious season of anticipation, joy, and gratitude, is more competition than contemplation. The approaching new year brings with it the pressure to do more, do better, do it! As if the expiration date for what matters in our lives is racing forward and the possibilities will end by next December 31. Add to this end of year performance evaluations at work. Was your year enough? Did you measure up? All around us are various measurements. Number of gifts. Number of accomplishments. Number of year-end bonuses. All generating a feeling of how do I compare, and what more needs to be done? Enough is not in the picture.

In a conversation this week, I asked “what if you approached it from a lens of curiosity rather than comparison?” And, as is often the case, I realized the question was as much for me as it was for them.

Curiosity… a strong desire to know or learn something. Rather than get sucked in the holiday frenzy of do more in a prove-it culture where action is rewarded with more doing—what if we got curious and explored it all instead?

We could investigate how we feel buying all the gifts. After all, baby Jesus got three.

We could determine what traditions serve us now, and which to retire.

We could reflect on the joys, growth, and gaps in this year. Soak in the fullness of our life now before we jump into next.

We could search within ourselves and determine what emotions we wanted more of in 2024, rather than the stuff. Delight? Serinity? Awe? Wonder? Enthusiastic? Focused? Grateful? Bold? Jovial? Strong? Tolerant?  

We could check on our energy at the end of each workday. Was the depletion worth it? What charged us up? Is it sustainable? What do we want more of, regardless of if it’s on the corporate score card?

We could connect with our relationships. Who do you miss? Who makes you glow? Who can you help? Who can you let go?

We could get curious about ourselves… about what we feel… about why we do what we do… about our beliefs… about out potential… about our fears… about our pain… about our secrets… about our joys… about the baggage we carry… about what we’re ready to release… about what makes our soul sing… about what matters, not compared against the seasonal scorecard, but against the core of who we are and how we want to be.


Black and white photo of a family

The Legacy of Your Origin Story

This week I spoke with a potential Board member for Living Vicky, of which I’m the Board of Director’s Chairperson. In our discussion, she asked, “What drew you to this mission (free career mentoring for women in the U.S.)?” It was the first time someone asked me that question in the two years I’ve been actively involved with the non-profit… and my answer rushed out of me like carbonated water after a bounce and the cap removed.

“I grew up hearing about the legacy of women in my family.”

I went on to explain how my parents and extended family shared wonderful stories of the impact the women in my family. From their careers and cooking to community service and church. They used their voice, their gifts, their pies, their stubbornness, their hearts, their business savvy, their network, and their faith to make the lives of those around them better.

Of my paternal grandmother, I love the story of how she strong-armed the local dentists to provide free services to children in her class at school who needed help but could not afford it. No, was not an answer she accepted. My maternal grandmother chose to be a youth advisor in the church as she aged to stay connected to the next generation. She also took homemade pies to anyone for any reason, good or bad. Then there were the memories of the 14 Reynolds sisters and their brother who vacationed at Myrtle Beach in a block of beach front houses that inspired my family’s annual beach vacation, or stories of their trips together around the world.

Core to every story was connection and community. Someone was always helping someone. They also didn’t wait for permission to act. Boldness, within a Southern exterior, ran through my female ancestor’s veins.

But these stories were not the singular cause of my call to mentor and advocate for women. They were compounded by the relentless support of my parents to claim and take my space in this world, however I was called to do so. I never felt the sentiment that I was a girl and had restrictions because of it. Rather it was the opposite… that I had female superpowers like my mom, grandmothers, aunts, and others in my family. I was destined to build on their legacy and tap into their essence that ran through my veins.

Compounding this were the tangential women in my life. Spunky female teachers (Ms. Moye, Mrs. Elder, Mrs. Foster Gearing, Mrs. Edwards), Sunday School teachers (Ms. Gentry, Ms. Smith, Ms. Welborn). Bosses (Ms. Stolov, COL Scotka). Volunteers (Ms. Adler, Ms. Berry, Ms. Leecy, Ms. Hashim). So many friends too. All of whom reinforced my legacy. From the standards they set, the conversation they shared, the wisdom they offered, the feedback they gave, the contacts they provided, and the encouragement they showered on me. The connection and community of boldness reinforced throughout my journey by so many women had to be paid back, or rather paid forward.

I lived into my legacy in a variety of ways. Some public and some personal. From the roles I took and the relationships I cultivated to the causes I supported and conversations I had – each time laying a brick for others to step on and upward from. Living into my legacy with intention includes:

The older I get the more grateful I am for what I now see as my origin story and the legacy I strive to live into and build upon. I also know how lucky I am to have a positive origin story as it’s easier for me to walk my path due to a foundation of empowerment.

I also appreciate that I know that it’s a story that I have the power to change at any time. The women in my legacy made it clear that there are many paths, and I am the only person who can set mine. It’s with this knowledge that I strive to help other women reclaim their origin story or redefine their legacy.

I encourage folks to understand your origin…. claim what you want…. discard what doesn’t serve you…. and define the legacy you want to leave on your own terms. What formed your core internal story? What plays in your head from your childhood or past that is no longer true? What is the origin story of the you that is now? What is your legacy? How will you live into it?

After all, it is your own story to tell.

4 women hold banner with 1993 on it

Reunion Reflections

I graduated from Mary Baldwin College, a small, liberal arts women’s college in the hilly Shenandoah Valley in Staunton, VA. That school, and the experiences, education, and friends that accompanied it, shaped me in every way – for which I’ll be eternally grateful. This past weekend, I once again stood on top of the hill. Looking out and within. Any time I’m on that hill, I feel grounded to the best version of me… my feet planted, connected to the roots of the legacy of women before and after me. There is a power current there that I immediately tap into.

The visit this weekend brought additional energy, that of my 30th class reunion. Here is what I took away from the weekend…

  • EMBRACE YOUR EXPERIENCES:  At first, my 30th reunion made me feel old, but I since realized that each decade, year, and moment of growth deserved a celebration … 30 years of a life well lived deserved gratitude for a place that transformed me
  • CLING TO FOLKS WHO “GET” YOU:  Friends who fully embrace you – your talents, your short comings, your fears, your goals, your quicks – are life altering magical unicorns you should spend as much time with as possible; the laugher alone is worth it
  • OUR IMAGINATIONS ARE NOT BIG ENOUGH FOR OUR POTENTIAL: My 21-year-old self could not envision all that lay ahead, it was too big for the container I put myself in … it’s important to get friendly with being uncomfortable in order to grow, and to surround yourself with folks who think big(ger) for you and with you
  • FUNCTIONAL FITNESS EQUALS FUN:  The Mary Baldwin University campus is on a massive hill that is literally covered with steps, and being able to easily go up/down multiple times a day made sure I didn’t miss any of the fun events or show up sweaty and panting
  • SILLINESS IS GOOD FOR THE SOUL: Just do the thing. Be present and give it all a try. You’ll laugh about it either way
  • EVERYONE IS AN ARTIST: This could be my liberal arts bias coming out, but 1.5 hours in a class painting resulted in 20 unique and equally fantastic paintings, and calmer people (pick up those crayons, your inner 5-year-old will thank you)
  • GIVE BACK: From mentoring, time, or money – everyone can give to help make their community better
  • VACATION MEANS TO NOT WORK: Take the time off to play, fully offline – it’s good for your soul

Finally, I reconfirmed my belief that WOMEN’S COLLEGE ALUMNEA ARE THE BEST. We are connected by a golden thread comprised of a passion for learning, thoughtful encouragement, passionate leadership, a collaborative spirit, and the ability to inject fun into anything. 

Go Fighting Squirrels!

trees with yellow leaves by a creek


Brene Brown shared the concept to “paint done” as a manager or leader. This means not just saying make X by Y date, but rather paint a clear picture of what success looks like for the work and at a minimum what is required to be in the finished product. Another way of looking at this concept is her phrase, “clear is kind; unclear in unkind.”

Recently, I began to apply that concept to my life, and especially my career thanks to my work with Coach Maddie. She helped me understand and use the tool of manifestation. While I knew the term, I didn’t connect to it. It’s creating a clear picture of how you want things to be in your life. You can “paint done” for your life with a thoughtful written statement, through a vision board of pictures, or with a vivid mental picture. Being clear on what you want, how you’ll feel, what you leave behind shifts your brain – “painting done” for your life enables your brain to start to work on solving for it and helps you take action to get it. And yes, action is required.

Working with Maddie I created a future state – what I would see, have, experience next in my life. It was a simple paragraph comprised of short sentences a kindergartner would write. It mentioned work, relationships, and emotions – a 360 of me. I read it before and after bed, to end and start my day. Easy peasy. Then eerie, cool, and specific things took shape that clearly connected to my vision. So many in 10 days that I began to write them all down to help process it all. It was quickly clear to me that reality starts with intentions from your heart and ideas in your head. Thinking put energy into motion. Wild! 

To help me continue to paint done with my life, I pulled together questions from books, trainings, and conversations to help me build a robust image: 

  • What is your tennis ball? What do you repeatedly chase after with joy?
  • What would fully doing this look like?
  • What impact do you want to have in/on the world?
  • What do most people come to you for?
  • What would you like to stop doing?
  • When do you feel powerful?
  • How would you like to be seen or acknowledged?
  • Where do you feel passionate, free, or energized?
  • What do you want?
  • What are you ready / not ready to change?
  • Imagine your issue is resolved, how did you get there?
  • What’s the easy way forward from here?
  • What emotion do you want more of in your life?
  • When you look around who is with you?
  • What haven’t you admitted out loud yet?
  • Who do you have to be?
  • Imagine it’s already done, tell me about it?
  • What do you notice about your body?
  • I’m allowing myself _______________.
  • Describe a day of success.
  • What’s in my way?
  • How will others feel after they engage with you and your brand?
  • Who are your partners?
  • List 6 things that would be on your calendar in the future that would excite you?
  • If you don’t, what would be missing in the world?

What I find most exciting as I envision my future defined through carefully selected words, images, and desired emotions, is that I own it. And, because I created it, I can change it. I can try my vision on, see how it fits, identify what’s missing, and modify something. It can evolve as I do.

I look forward to seeing what you think of next.

Emily Oehler at 6


At the time, I wasn’t sure why I did it. The idea just popped in my head. A few clicks and it was done. I posted a new Facebook profile picture of me at about 6 years old. A classic school photo that somehow captured possibility.

Each time I opened the app, that possibility – my possibility – greeted me with a pure smile. It was like looking in a mirror seeing something I’d forgotten and wanted to know again. A mix of “bright-eyed and bushy tailed,” giddiness, and fierceness. A grounded purity fueled by boundless energy, love, and curiosity. There was a welcoming openness on my face that gave me peace and cause a smile.

It wasn’t until I chatted with friend and mindfulness mentor Cole Baker-Bagwell that I made the connection. I mentioned what I did – laughing at the silliness of it. Her response, “That’s it, that’s mindfulness!” felt like a gong going off in my soul. A long, “hmmmmmmm.”

She helped me understand the connection between a thought that emerged, my attention to it, and its impact on me. That by being in the moment I could embrace what I called out for at an emotional, intuitive level. That that space between quirky idea and action is the space of mindfulness, and as I think about it, magic. Though she’s quick to explain how it’s more biology than magic. That this is the result of neural pathways in action – the connection of science and soul.

When I put the photo up I set it for 2 weeks… I’m now back to my adult identity. I happy to share though that I feel like a lost piece of me is back. Being face to face with Emily version 1.0 was refreshing. Both grounding and empowering. While I reconnected to possibility, I also basked in my accomplishments, most of which would have been too big for that little girl to imagine. From where I started to where I am – I can now more clearly see my path of serendipity. A path lined with golden acorns… love, education, intuition, work, lessons learned, joy, missteps, friendship, trepidation, and faith.

Now, reconnected with my travel buddy, I’m eager for what lies ahead on my path and excited to live up to her boldness. Now, I have to rethink what’s possible.


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.

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.

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.”

Emily Oehler in front of green plant background

Leaders as Guardians, Five Benefits

I’ve worked for a variety of companies in my career and all of them put me in the center of entrepreneurial organizations—TV news, two locally businesses, a non-profit, and three privately owned consulting firms. Entrepreneurial in that the organizations sought creative ways to bring in new sources of revenue, provided growth opportunities to employees who raised their hands, and were ever evolving.

I can remember when John Cabot Ishon had his accounting team teach me the difference between accounts payable and accounts receivable. I remember my sense of pride when I took on the DC tax office — and won the refund back for Sue Stolov’s company. The nonprofit reinforced the importance of a detailed budget. While three consulting firms connected the cause and effect of high-quality work with life-long customers and the constant use of “we” rather than “I.” Each opportunity showed me business elements to run and grow an organization from a financial perspective. My volunteer work, especially with the Junior League of Northern Virginia, taught me the people-side of a business: recruiting, diversity, onboarding, inclusion, training, mentoring, and advocating. Plus, a focus on building connection to support retention.

Most recently, I established and grew a change management and communications practice into a 60+-person team with $10.5M in annual sales. While I built it in tandem with my leadership team and my name was on the top of the org chart … it wasn’t “mine.” It wasn’t mine simply because it was Grant Thornton on all the contracts but because somewhere in my career journey, I learned that leaders are simply guardians. I think this leadership tenant took hold in the Junior League of Northern Virginia when a wise board member told me that as soon as I ever took a leadership position the first thing I should do is find my replacement. I do this this at the start of every work project or volunteer role 20 years later.

As a guardian it’s easier for leaders to:

– Understand they are not a permanent fixture and succession planning is essential

– Focus on building strong managers and convert them into servant leaders through targeted opportunities

– Seek collaboration rather than validation

– Make sure they leave their endeavor better than how they found it (financially, programmatically, culturally) through a long-term plan with flexibility and empowered people

– Remember it’s not about self but service to others – their firm, their team, their client

As a guardian of the firm’s federal Business Change Enablement practice (change, comms, training and culture), the news of Grant Thornton’s acquisition was way less stressful. As a guardian, it’s not about me losing anything in the deal but rather how to transition the people in the practice so it’s even better in its new home. Being a guardian gives me purpose in the change rather than a worrisome myopic lens. A guardian state of mind also gives me space to see opportunities that lay ahead that need my skills, passion, and support.

Being a guardian leader enables me to work from a sense of betterment: protect what is good and address what can be better for both the work and the people doing it. Ultimately, leading to better, lasting outcomes for all.