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.

Little girl walks on a paved path

May 2022 Quote: “…Scary Because It’s Unfamiliar, Not Because I’m Incapable”

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 May 2022 the quote was, “When you’re nervous about stepping outside your comfort zone, remind yourself:  It feels scary because it’s unfamiliar, not because I’m incapable.”

One of the great ironies of my career, is that it centers on storytelling to help people to understand something new and act on it. From advocacy to wear a seatbelt and not drink and drive to large organization transformations and technology implementations. Yet, I love habits. I even wrap my habits up like a gift and call them traditions. I pass on my habits through leadership, management, and mentoring – disguising my idiosyncrasies as “best practice.” It seems that if I’m not championing change for a client, I’m a last adopter.

With a quote about “stepping outside your comfort zone,” here are quotes that caught my attention in May:

  • If you have an opportunity to be quiet and present, take it
  • Wishing you unexpected wonders
  • Receive a person
  • A ton of feathers still weights a ton
  • Intentional
  • I don’t care what you think. I care about what you do and say.
  • Aunty-mom
  • What would you do if you were brave?
  • Radical acceptance of my being
  • Non-promotable task
  • Activation of my curiosity and the subsequent opening of my perspective that allows energy to flow in
  • Every adult can benefit from a thinking partner
  • Make hard decisions
  • The symbolic meaning of eye contact, of putting aside what we are doing to connect, lies in the respect, care, even love it indicates
  • Everybody is who they are
  • Sacred space
  • Memories are deathless and precise
  • What is in your control to do now?
  • Multi-taskers are suckers for irrelevancy
  • Become a witness to your body
  • Never be afraid to try something new – remember, amateurs build the Ark…professionals build the Titanic
  • Sit with it

To me, dropping into COVID lock down was easy because there wasn’t much of a choice. The change was truly life or death. Emerging out of it, is a whole other scenario. All the choices. All the gray space. All the longing. All the ingrained habits driven by two years of fear. All the opportunities. All the desire to bust free.

I feel like I have two change angels on my shoulder. One that whispers, “Stay where you are, be safe, be comfy.” The other, “Don’t miss out. Live large and make up for time and memories lost.” Both feel good. The challenge is when to listen to which one. When do I need to step into the boldness of new? When do I need to move out of a rut? When do I need to challenge my beliefs that limit my potential? When do I need hold tight and move slowly? When do I need to reserve my energy in a safe space?

While catching up with a friend last week, we talked about change and each shared at what age we felt our most empowered. She talked about her 18 year-old self. I mentioned 13. Since our talk, I’ve thought about my answer of 13. Really? All gangly, self-conscious, hormonal? But then I recalled my fierce, stubborn, “do it anyway” streak. I had a brazen energy like molten lava beneath it all. I think that over time some of that lava has cooled… some of the lava is buried farther down as layers of protection built up… sometimes I might even fear what that lava could do to disrupt my safe habits. But, when I “sit with it” (the change I seek or the change I fear), the lava stirs, and I like it.

To keep my lava flowing and position myself to change, I:

  • Have standing chats on my calendar with a handful of women who stir my lava, ask meaningful questions, and inspire me to grow
  • Spend time outside, from a new workspace on my back porch to morning walks
  • Avoid the “all or nothing” trap
  • Read others’ stories and learn new approaches
  • Write down the change to get it out of the “circle of stupid” in my head as a client once called it, and into a format I can more logically think through without the emotional noise
  • Try to avoid comparison … comparison and the emotion of “not enough” are joy killers
  • Pick a few small things to start with, like a warm-up for bigger change
  • Accept there will be setbacks and surprises, and both are OK
  • Get a coach to support the harder work, from a personal trainer to an executive coach
  • End my day with meditation
  • Start over, constantly

I leave you with a tweet from @OliveFSmith: “I always love it when people say, ‘baby steps!’ to imply they’re being tentative, when actually baby steps are a great unbalanced, wholehearted, enthusiastic lurch into the unknown.”

So, take that bold baby step. Because at the end of day, you always have the power to change direction.

Pondering and Planning Emergence 

In client, company, coaching, volunteer, and personal conversations, I hear a theme of emergence. How to emerge from full pandemic lock down. How to emerge into a new work model. How to emerge into a new career. How to emerge with a new business offering. How to emerge to affect meaningful change. How to emerge in more personal ways. How to emerge in a way that honors the pandemic experience.

As I think of emergence – becoming exposed after being concealed – it is both a physical and emotional act. In many ways, the physical is easy. How are you showing up and what actions make you feel safe? Where I hear and feel the struggle in conversations is on the emotional side. The exhaustion to emerge. The fear that lingers about emerging. The loss at a multitude of levels (death, long COVID, milestones, connections, health, goals, jobs, income, time). The sadness. The disconnect. The loneliness. The anxiety. The wariness.  

People (myself included) are not good at talking about emotions and sharing troublesome feelings. The vulnerability required is not often provided in the room. It takes effort to make a sacred space for emotions to emerge. Sacred space requires someone to set that intention with time, with mindfulness, with sincerity, with openness, with trust, with active listening, with creativity, with honesty, and with hope. But most off, it requires space for meaningful conversations.

While all this may sound way more touchy feely than you or your organization are comfortable with, don’t fear – there are lots of ways to provide this kind of space. I recently designed and led two kinds of strategy sessions that might offer you a few ways to help your team or organization emerge with an eye on both the physical operations and logistics and the emotional underpinnings.

  • Pondering – For a religious nonprofit, I led several two-hour “pondering the pandemic” sessions online with Mural with various groups. While several elements of the session will help with strategic planning down the road, there were no expectations of leaving the session with a “plan.” The sessions centered on reflection. I opened with a “Loving Kindness Meditation to help folks move into a people-centered pondering state. Next, I led discussions that centered on the physical, such “Who did we lose / gain?” “Where did the organization show up well during the pandemic?,” “What programs thrived, died, or sprouted?” To close the session I led the participants through some open questions such as “What has given you strength?,” “What was lost?,” “What are you mourning?,” “What would reset and renewal look like?” and “What do you need to leave behind to move forward?” Working through program-centered activities warmed folks up before the probing emotional-centered discussions. The final questions revealed the fragility of the people and that the organization needs to be vigilant on the nurturing the people and not just “flip a switch” with the return of old programing—and that new types of programs will be needed.
  • Planning – For another organization, I designed and led a five-hour in-person “regroup workshop.” I opened with a mindful moment with deep breathing, silence, and a mood check using images of animals. The following sessions moved from fun (personal, work, and team superpowers), operations (who does what when), analysis (good, bad, opportunities), and strategy (what is needed to succeed), and tactics (actions for improvement). We closed sitting around the table talking about being together in person as a team for the first time, the exhaustion, and how folks cope with the transition to hybrid from a lens of introverts and extroverts. Again, the final session uncovered the emotions that can hinder or help the pace at which the organization can emerge.

For teams and organizations to emerge, it’s essential for leaders to focus on people in a new way. Both directly with constant time spent building relationships, collectively sharing, modeling, and making space to ponder together, as well as systemically with benefits, resources, and culture.

Here are a few things I do to try to provide space for emotional emergence:

  • Set one-on-one “Connect Calls” – In the invite mention, “just setting aside time to connect as humans” with a focus on non-work topics
  • Set four-person “Coffee Chats” or “Cookies and Conversation” meetings on-line or in person where the conversation focuses on folks stories such as “How did you get to your current position?,” “What excites you outside of the office?,” “What are your superpowers?,” or “What are you read/watching/listening to?”
  • Open team meetings with either a mindful moment or open question.  
  • Watch how you answer the pervasive question, “How are you?” Fine isn’t a real emotion. To get off autopilot, pause, thank the person for asking, take a deep breath, see what your body tells you, and genuinely answer.
  • Be present in the moment, if someone reveals something emotionally centered or personally vulnerable in a meeting don’t gloss over it, pause, hear it, and thank person for sharing – then ask how others “feel about it.”
  • Offer a catch phrase folks can use to say they are overwhelmed and need space — but be sure to have a standard on when you can check-in or how they need to emerge; I’ve used “my basement is flooded” but then someone’s basement really flooded!
  • Set a private standing meeting with a peer who can support you, give you space to process.   

Emergence isn’t easy, so don’t forget to appreciate your hard work to help others while you sort through your own.

Move Toward Your Dreams with One Step

We all have something that we want to do. We carry these acorns in a safe space protecting them from the light of day, from getting scorched by the sun of other’s disbelief or even our own doubts. If we do nothing the dream is “safe.” While it might be protected, the dream deferred can also, in Langston Hughes’ words, “dry up like a raisin in the sun” or over time “just sags like a heavy load.” 

It can be scary and exhilarating to start something new. Any action puts you on a path of change, which will cause a ripple effect for more change. It’s overwhelming, exciting, and daunting to move forward. And that’s exactly the direction change propels you:  forward.

Many years ago, one of my hidden secrets was to run a marathon. Did I run? No. Had I ever run? No. Did I like to run (thinking back to high school’s presidential fitness tests)? No. Did I know how to run? No. Did I know how to train to run long distance, or short distance for that matter? No. Did I know how to “fuel” (eat/hydrate) to run? No. Did I have the attire to run? No. But yet, I wanted to run a marathon.

Regardless of the goal, each one requires a first step. One action. For me, it was run 1 block. Done. I made it. Then on to the next step. Each step, each action slowly generated another action such as:

  • Practice getting up at 6am to run (but not running)
  • Get up at 6am and run
  • Run a block, walk a block, run a block model
  • Commit to some duration of running such as 3 times a week
  • Tell one friend who’d finished a marathon who gave me her training program, signed me up for my first race – a 5K, and agreed to run with me
  • Buy properly fitted running shoes thanks to Pacer’s Running
  • Purchase Under Armour cold weather gear
  • Read a book on how to prepare to run a marathon
  • Get more sleep
  • Get a Reiki treatment for a nagging issue I’d carried in my body since 5th grade
  • Discover hill repeats
  • Find out gummy worms were my boost of choice on long distances

As I let more sun in on my dream, I could more easily see it come true. Each step also brought more help from my family and friends, plus coworkers who watched me online during a staff meeting as my tracking chip showed my mile marker progress on race day.

Each single action led me to another single action. Cumulatively each step led me from 2 mile to 5 miles to 10 miles to 18 miles, and yes, to finish 26.2 miles. Cumulatively each step gave me confidence. Cumulatively, each step confirmed I could overcome the inevitable setbacks. Cumulatively, I became a runner.

What’s your first step?