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.

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.

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.

Two rocking chairs on the roof at sunset

July Quote: “Sit With It”

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 July 2022 the quote was, “sit with it.”

I found this phrase in May as part of my listening for that month’s quote, “when you’re nervous about stepping outside your comfort zone, remind yourself:  It feels scary because it’s unfamiliar, not because I’m incapable.”  As I prepped my calendar for July, the phrase kept coming back top of mind. I wasn’t sure if it was to help me focus on less (to sit still) or to take time to get more intentional. But I did know I couldn’t shake the statement.

Here are quotes that caught my attention in July that connected to “sit with it”:

  • Happiness cannot be found from great effort and will power, but it is already there in relaxation and letting go
  • Choose your own personal legend
  • Dream stealer
  • The still waters of a lake reflect the beauty around it. When the mind is still – the beauty of the self is reflected.
  • Running on automatic
  • But what if you try?
  • Cultivate mental space
  • Reduce the noise and capture the signal
  • Are you projecting shadow or light?
  • Comparison is the enemy of joy
  • The courage to be open to what is here
  • It always seems impossible until it’s done
  • Be present, be your best, be at peace
  • All of us derive security and comfort from the imaginary world of memories and fantasies and plans. We don’t really want to stay in the nakedness of our present experience. It goes against the grain to stay present. These are the times when only gentleness and a sense of humor can give us strength to settle down.
  • Your fear is 100% dependent on you for its survival

As I started July, there wasn’t anything specific to sit with but having the phrase inspired me to change my pace at work, at home, volunteering. To try to stop the habitual rushing and just “be” a little more. I tried to multi-task less. I tried to be more present. I tried to pause from the routine. For example, I sat with a young professional with the first 10 minutes of the call being about the value of summer camp and how those experiences helped us in our work life. I sat with a co-worker long after our meeting time ended and laughed more than I have in months. I sat alone, offline, and ate lunch quietly. I sat with a former teammate who reached out in need of mentorship about a job offer.  

Later in the month, it was my turn to sit with a big, unexpected work opportunity. I sat with it alone. I sat with it on paper trying to sort it out. I sat with it with a trusted coworker. I sat with it awake in the middle of night (which I don’t recommend). I sat with it with my boss. I sat with it in meditation and sat with it some more. I sat with the excitement, the fear, the confusion, the worry, the challenge.

The “sit” was needed but not easy. Sitting in your body, your head, and your emotions is hard, scary, and exhausting – but also telling. The reflection helped me move past knee jerk reactions, push back on habit mental responses, and dig in on the opportunity.

And then, one day driving home with the sunroof open, a favorite Indigo Girls’ song came on, Watershed. Hadn’t heard it in years, so I cranked it up and sang with all my heart. “Standing at the fork in the road, you can stand there and agonize till your agony’s your heaviest load. You’ll never fly as the crow flies – get use to a country mile. When you’re learning to face the path as your pace, every choice if worth your while.”

This song spoke to my soul. Validate my reflection. And, in a way, cleansed my palate of rumination. I’m not sure if it was the words, the sun on my face, wind in my hair, or belting it out like their long-lost trio member that did it, but the release was physical. The reflection ended and a key realization emerged. Acceptance.

I accepted that regardless of how the opportunity worked out, things would be fine. I accepted what I needed and where I could be flexible. I accepted what concerned me. I accepted what was out of my control. I accepted I had the skills and support to succeed. I accepted I was done sitting, and ready to do.

April 2022 Quote – “In a World that Wants You to Whisper, Yell!”

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 April 2022 quote was “In a world that wants you to whisper, yell!”

An odd thing happened this month… no quotes appeared. I was well into the third week of April and nothing. A blank page below my anchor quote. I was concerned. Had I not been fully present in conversations? Had I not really tuned in to my audible books? Had I been so self-absorbed or on auto pilot that I missed out? But then, as if my quote for the month came to life … I heard the universe yell. I guess I had missed the whispers.

A friend posted the following piece by Irish poet and philospher John O’Donohue. It filled not only my page, but me.

“At any time you can ask yourself:

At which threshold am I now standing?

At this time in my life, what am I leaving?

Where am I about to enter?

What is preventing me from crossing my next threshold?

A threshold is not a simple boundary; it is a frontier that divides two different territories, rhythms, and atmospheres.

Indeed, it is a lonely testimony to the fullness and integrity of an experience or a state of life that it intensifies toward the end into a real frontier that cannot be crossed without the heart being passionately engaged and woken up.

At this threshold a great complexity of emotion comes alive:  confusion, fear, excitement, sadness, hope.

This is one of the reasons such vital crossings were always colored in ritual.

It is wise in your own life to be able to recognize and acknowledge the key thresholds:  to take your time; to feel all the varieties of presence that accrue there; to listen inward with complete attention until you hear the inner voice calling you forward.

The time has come to cross.”

Thinking about my blank page, quoteless, I now realize I was simply standing at a threshold. Still. Perhaps blocking things out. Perhaps recharging my courage. Perhaps hiding. All was muffled before I took my direction. I was isolated so it took a huge quote to reach me – a universal yell.

Then quickly thereafter, I began to see and hear quotes again, such as:

  • It’s time to get back to you.
  • How can I trust when I have so much doubt?
  • Cook by the spirit.
  • Good friction.
  • The after is the before for the next during
  • Walk into your freedom.
  • Go where the energy is.
  • Let God blow your mind.
  • Don’t be bound by the residue of your past.
  • Run on and see what the ends going to be.
  • Give light and people will find the way.
  • Thank God I don’t look like what I’ve been through.
  • If nothing changes, nothing changes.
  • My soul woke up and I realized I was enough.
  • You give power to what you focus on.
  • Take a soul wander in the sunshine.

As for my standing at a threshold, I’ll share stillness was essential. The quietness helped me process the old and prepare for the new. The silence let the distractions fall away, both well intentioned wishes and naysayers. It also put me in a holding pattern, stagnant. But as if the universe knew I’d been alone with myself long enough, she sent one more message.

On the last day of the month, I spoke with a friend and former coworker. It was a meeting that had been booked over a month earlier. She asked me one simple question. One that caused the fog to lift and the threshold to appear.  What do you love?

Open book on a stack of books

March 2022 Quote – “A Word After a Word after a Word is Power”

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. The quote for March was “A word after a word after a word is power.”

While I cannot recall how this month’s quote by Margaret Atwood found me, there was an immediate connection. I’ve always been connected to words. Mom’s bedtime stories. “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” Journals that date back to elementary school. “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret.” Dad’s sermons. “Angel’s and other Strangers.” High school newsletter editor. “Cold Sassy Tree.” Forensics team (with a fight song!). “Les Misérables.” Communications major. “Cat’s Eye.” TV news producer. “Thorn Birds.” Speechwriter. “Storyteller.” Facilitator. “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox, and the Horse.” Organization branding. “The Outpost.” Digital story telling. “How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going.” Corporate leadership. “My Own Devices.” Non-profit board work. “The Book of Awakening.” Executive coaching. For me, words – written, spoken, or sung – matter. Words contain phenomenal power to educate, inspire, and change. Equally so, words can cut quickly and sear in lasting pain.   

Throughout March I collected several phrases that held power for me:

  • We can be with this
  • Nurturing the soul of business
  • The limits of my language are the limits of my world
  • Practice is everything
  • I felt the ground and took my place
  • The Willy Wonka shit-tunnel ride
  • A teacher affects eternity
  • Being relational
  • No Miss America answers
  • Good news of the soul
  • Life begins at the end of your comfort zone
  • Be curious not judgmental
  • Unconscious gingham
  • Take space and make space
  • I am
  • You’re going to turn into a novice over and over and over again
  • Offer humanity
  • Kindness is a way we live out grace in the world
  • Choice point
  • Be the love you feel now
  • Happy accident
  • A lesson in impermanence
  • The culmination of being
  • Boredom is your imagination calling
  • We’re all made of strength and struggle
  • Stop chasing squirrels
  • They wanted to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds

March is often a hard month for me… finding the energy to move out of winter. To shake off my slothiness. To push out of the dirt like a daffodil. Then, there was the literal emerging back into life as COVID restrictions changed—balancing my physical and mental health of in-person vs. remote. And then came war where words of disbelief, protest, and prayer didn’t seem to hold power against air strikes.

What helped nurture me back were the words of my community. A very loud, “Hello Emily!” when I walked into the small church chapel at 8:30am on a Sunday morning. The candid “girl chat” I had with a favorite co-worker when no one else joined the scheduled call. The insightful, silly, empowering, slow conversation with a co-worker turned bestie over several hours while consuming cheese, veggies, and dark chocolate. The “go great!” company e-card from a co-worker during our Spirit Week conveying appreciation of my allyship. The safe space a company leader provided when he set up time to connect on my career and spent 75% of the meeting listening. The positive reinforcement I got from my class “learning buddy” as I build my aptitude for meditation. The “woo woo” conversation I had with a co-worker as we left work deliverables behind and focused on life beyond consulting. The funny texted memes that always popped in at the perfect moment from friend and family.

As I think about all these and other words, I recall two suggestions for meaningful leadership that I recently read. First, one author starts every day with a personalized thank you email to someone in his company. Second, another author suggested color coding your calendar to track how often and how much time you spend connecting, supporting, or advocating for people in your organization (or life).

The words people shared with me in March made a difference. They encouraged me. They reinforced good behavior. They got me teary eyed. They motivated me. They comforted me. They made me laugh. They helped me. Their words were power.

How are you using your words in the world?

Goldfish with shark fine with caption to be brave

February 2022 Quote – “You’ll Have To Do It Afraid”

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 February 2022, the quote was “Sometimes the fear won’t go away, so you’ll have to do it afraid.”

When folks ask what I do for a living, I often reply with a smile, “I get people to do things with words and pictures.” Technically, I help leaders, managers, and organizations communicate what is changing and why through storytelling, visuals, and data. My work centers on helping people in the change move from awareness and understanding to adoption and advocacy—bringing the change into being. The irony of my work is that I’m what most would call a last adopter. I joke that I give all my change energy to my clients and have none left for me. Truth is though, I love my comfort zone. I relish my habits. I like the safety of routine.

As I started February, my mind swirled with thoughts of change. Some I sought. Some thrust upon me. Throughout this reflective month I collected several phrases over the 28 days of February:

  • Embrace the messiness
  • Set your goal. Find your grit. Make your pearl.
  • You are a blessed piece of spirit dust
  • The only way out is through
  • Be authentic, bold, and vulnerable
  • Let down. Let go. The world will carry you.
  • Your wounded sight
  • Collide against illusion
  • If I can perceive things in a different way, I can experience things in a different way
  • At the core, we’re all whole
  • Turn to curiosity
  • The freshness of living
  • This is the God in you, bow to it
  • Be aware
  • It’s impossible to be unhappy when you’re grateful
  • Please take care of yourself at all times
  • You and now are a unique occurrence
  • Human changemaker
  • The energy of thanks
  • Get the hell out, no one is coming to save you
  • Be known for the excellence that you are
  • Move the damn rock
  • Wait for the freshness of the beginning to greet you
  • Look for reasons to say yes

Here I am on the other side of the month, as well as the other side of change. Were any of the changes monumental? No. As a change specialist, I know it’s the compilation of many small changes that make the difference and are sustainable over time. For me the change was more about how I showed up in order affect the change I want in the world. So, I stepped forward with my fear.

In an effort to help women in the work force tackle their fears and build their leadership skills and executive presence, I created a 6-week master class. Alone, I loved the class I designed and was eager to share it, but fear curbed my momentum. It delayed me from sharing the opportunity with my network. My own inner whisper of doubt gave me pause. Then I saw the phrases “human changemaker” and “turn to curiosity” and realized that if I was hesitant with 25+ years of professional and leadership experience – how might young 25-year-olds feel? How might they be held back? I could help. I quickly emailed an invitation before fear gripped me again and 10 women accepted!  We start in March.

In an effort to be more mindful and present in a slew of Teams calls each day, I began meditation the end of 2021 with the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class. It was hard. I didn’t like it. I thought I wasn’t good at it. I didn’t sustain the practice. My resistance to change was strong and prevented me from taking the time to learn something new. I was “should-ing” all over myself. “You should do this daily.” “You should stop complaining.” “You should be able to quiet your mind.” “You should forget about this goal.” Then I saw the phrases, “wait for the freshness of the beginning to greet you” and “embrace the messiness” and I headed back to class to begin again. This time leaving my fear of failure – that I’d never be able to “get it” and sit quietly inside my head – behind. Excited to share, three weeks in, I led my first 10 minute “awareness of breath” meditation to the class and got rave reviews. I took advantage of that boost of confidence before any fear could sneak in and invited several coworkers to a meditation session I’ll lead in March – half accepted! By April, I’ll be a certified mindfulness facilitator in the workplace.

In an effort to build a sense of belonging at work, I’ve focused on how to be a better ally and advocate for DEI&A (diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility) by reading, getting a mentor, and hosting “brave conversation coffee chats.” When I facilitated a work meeting recently, someone asked the group why use the word belonging rather than employee engagement. I waited and waited and waited for someone to explain. As a facilitator I held back for someone in the room to respond. Silence. Then I realized my heart was pounding in double time. I was going to have to speak up. I could feel my fear. Fear of overstepping. Fear of explaining it wrong. Fear how I’d be perceived. And then I noted the phrase, “If I can perceive things in a different way, I can experience things in a different way” and I spoke up. I shared several of the stories I’d been told that affected how I perceived belonging. “If I belong, I can wear my hair naturally without judgement. If I belong, I can talk about my partner without concern. If I belong, I can speak freely without having to code switch to fit in.” When I stopped, someone said, “oh that makes sense” and then an African American woman confirmed, “What Emily said is true.” If I’d listened to my fear and remained silent, education might not have occurred. Perceptions might not have changed. I would not have been the ally I seek to be.

What I realized this month is that whenever I stepped into the fear there were supporters there to help me. I never had to overcome fear alone. The power of fear is that it keeps us isolated. Moving into fear brings you closer to a community of encouragement.

What’s your next fear-slaying move? Your support team is waiting.

January 2022 Quote – “But She Was Brave”

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 January 2022, the quote was “She was never quite ready. But she was brave. And the universe listens to brave.”

Several years ago, I provided change communications and speech writing support to retired Brigadier General Alison Hickey when she was Under Secretary of the Veterans Benefits Administration. At the start of each year, she’d personally write a moving email to her full staff of thousands about her word for the year. She put much thought into her word. She went into detail about why that word spoke to her. The chosen word set her intention for the year. Then, at the end of each year she’d send another email about how the word showed up over the past 12 months and what she learned from it. I was impressed by her openness and in awe of her public accountability on such a personal thing – how her year went in terms of her intention. It’s with her tradition in mind that I chose this quote on bravery to start the new year.

Some of the phrases I collected over the 31 days of January include:

  • The wakefulness of the spirit
  • The friction of being visible
  • Spread your joy
  • In a moment of ego we refuse to put down what we carry in order to open the door
  • Never hide your green hair, people can see it anyway
  • Being in a constant erosion of what is not essential
  • Pause
  • The electricity of giving
  • The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet
  • There are no wrong turns, only unexpected paths
  • Trailblazer
  • Honor what you do not understand
  • Cultivate stillness
  • We often try on other skins rather than understand and care for our own
  • The awakening and freeing of what has been asleep
  • Enable and encourage
  • Extraordinary is waiting quietly beneath the skin of all that is ordinary
  • Dance, in all its forms, is theology lived
  • Kindness has power if we not only believe in it but also live it into being
  • So, what will you do today, knowing that you are one of the rarest forms of life to ever walk the Earth?

Having lived with this quote for a month, I saw brave in a new context. Historically, brave felt like a word for “the big stuff.” Like being brave when I learned about the tumor I had the size of a rugby ball. Like being brave when I stood over my mom watching her have a heart attack as I called 911. Like starting this blog—moving from ghost writing to putting my own words out into the world for acceptance or rejection.

What I’ve come to realize is that brave isn’t just the “big things” but it’s part of our everyday actions. Advocating for a minority voice in a meeting. Volunteering for a role you’ve never done. Asking a question in a large room filled with people. Starting a new job. Letting your hair go gray or wearing it natural. Learning a new language. Taking a new route to work. Trying a new hobby. Picking up an apple rather than chocolate to improve your health. Admitting you made a mistake. Seeking a second opinion. Leaving a relationship. Asking for help. Saying no. Saying yes.

Each time we step forward to honor ourselves and others that’s brave. Each brave step puts change in motion. And one change ripples into more and more and more change. Each small act of bravery builds your bravery muscle, and also helps grow it in others.

To me, bravery is a connector because you cannot be brave without exposing yourself to others. And it’s that exposure – that vulnerability – that truly makes meaningful change. When I emailed my client this week that I was the one who made the mistake in the content he reviewed, that act of bravery opened a connection around our love of grammar. When I accepted my trainer’s offer to use heavier weights, that act of bravery to move from 18 to 26 pounds gave me confidence in my body and a sense of power. When I told a group of coworkers that I’m white and can easily miss issues at work and need their help to be a better advocate, that act of bravery resulted in someone taking me aside to offer a great idea that I acted on.

Bravery is not in the big, but in the being. So, here’s to a year of more being:  being open, being adventurous, being honest, being silly, being empathetic, being present, being kind, being trustworthy, being friendly. Here’s to bravely being you.

December Quote 2021: “Sparkly Star-Shaped Self”

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 December 2021, the quote was “Tired of trying to cram her sparkly star-shaped self into society’s beige square holes, she chose to embrace her ridiculous awesomeness and shine like the freaking supernova she was meant to be.”

Heading into a holiday month centered on lights, from Hannukah’s festival of lights to the star of Bethlehem marking Jesus’ birth, the glitteriness of this quote literally caught my eye. As I read it, the words lit up my soul. The validation to shine bright as we are brought back memories of the Bible school song, “This little light of mine” which asked, “hide it under a bushel? No! I’m gonna let it shine.”

But as I centered on this quote during December, the quote shifted into more of a mantra as I headed into the new year. How did I want to be in 2022? Beige or sparkly? As the quote reverberated in me, here are some of the phrases I collected throughout the month:

  • If it’s not merry, change it
  • If you doubt something, doubt your limits
  • Ask what’s needed
  • Be the good
  • Grace led
  • Sadness is a beacon for love
  • Rather than an earworm that gets stuck in your head, a caterpillar that gets in your soul and morphs into a butterfly
  • Better is fragile, different is king
  • Engrossed in praise
  • Trust your knowing
  • A non-standard approach to winning
  • Trust and face the strange
  • Holy is what happens when there is nothing between your belief and what you do
  • Your brand lives inside conversations and aspirations
  • Turn to your body with kindness and acceptance
  • The new hotness
  • Swears and prayers
  • May your soul feel it’s worth

These quotes reinforced that for 2022, I want to be the most of me. Because, when I’m the most of me, I can give space, time, and resources to help others be their most. Their most creative. Their most comfortable. Their most confident. Their most compassionate.

To be the most of me, I need to be fit so I re-upped my trainer, got some new running gear, and have a plan for better eating (with a side of fries now and then!). To be the most of me, I need to be present in the moment so I signed up for Tara Brach’s 40-day habit building mindfulness challenge with two friends. To be the most of me, I need the support and resourcefulness of women executives so I set up monthly “girls chat” calls with five women in my network. To be the most me, I extended my monthly call with my career sponsor at work. To be the most of me, I need to help the community where I live so I joined the board of non-profit Living Vicky. To be the most of me, I need time away so I locked in my summer vacation beach cottage. To be the most of me, I need exposure to new ideas so I got recommendations for my reading list. To be the most of me, I need a lunch break each day for food and centering, so I blocked that time on my work calendar for the year. To be the most of me, I need an orderly home so I cleaned out drawers and closets and donated items to the Salvation Army. To be the most of me, I need to be in a community of faith so I re-upped on my church committee.

To be the most of me, I need to take care of me. Only then can I be the “freaking supernova” I was meant to be—and help others do the same.

What does your “sparkly star-shaped self” need to shine in 2022?

A pile of broken crayons

November 2021 Quote – “Broken Crayons Still Color”

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 November 2021, the quote was “Broken crayons still color.”

As a kid, the 64-count crayon box with the sharpener in the back was the ultimate. The precise points. The colors. The endless artistic possibilities. It was all about the variety.

Inevitably over time favorite crayons got worn down. The paper was ripped down for sharpening. And eventually, snap!, a break. Over time the pristine set would look rather worn out. A hodgepodge of points, partially wrapped nubs, and naked bits. As I thought about the crayons, I remembered the feeling of wanting to replace the colorful nubs with pristine new ones as if they colored better.

Quotes I wrote down throughout the month included:

  • “It comes from the inside out”
  • “Anti-fragile”
  • “Dedication to finding happiness every damn day”
  • “People inspire people and become part of their DNA”
  • “Make a clearing in the dense forest of your life and wait patiently”
  • “Micro-affirmation”
  • “In a world of Barbies, everyone needs a Joan Jett
  • “Spark energy”
  • “Frientor – friend + mentor”
  • “The celebration of personal expression”
  • “Love defies all science and reason”
  • “Systematize serendipity”
  • “Constantly seek adventure and magic”
  • “A truth was unlocked in me and I couldn’t wait to live it out”
  • “The punctuation of one’s truth”
  • “Courage to reveal your true voice”

As I reviewed the quotes I jotted down throughout November, what stood out was the focus on people and having the space to be ourselves in a joyful way.

As I think about the people in my life who mean the most – from family and friends to close teammates and mentors, it’s those who display the wear and tear of life that I gravitate to. Those who expose their torn wrappers and broken bits. Those who are authentic and own all of who they are – and what it took to get where they are and who they are.

Yet for so long at work, I tried to be the pristine crayon. My wrapper a black suit and sensible pumps. But over time, the energy to appear “put together” kept me detached. Detached as a leader setting a false expectation for my team of what was needed to succeed. Detached from my clients due to my internal pressure to show I had all the answers. Detached from deeper relationships as I hid my torn wrapper. Detached from who I was at the core.

I think these quotes also reinforced my personal and professional work centered on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Reading Ijeoma Oluo’s “So You Want to Talk About Race” and Arthur Wood’s “Hiring for Diversity: The Guide to Building an Inclusive and Equitable Organization” this month reminded me how I felt bound up focused on my wrapper and challenged my habitual thinking/actions that prevented others from making their mark. For me, it means pausing to ask:  Am I acting/thinking on auto pilot? How can I encourage individuality? Who else can I invite? Are my words welcoming? Do my actions align to my intent? What am I overlooking due to my color and background? The authors made it clear just how much better we are together when we have variety.

My journey to be more accepting of myself and others has been colorful. I quit a fast-track job. I defined and redefined boundaries. I put vulnerability ahead of image. I said “yes, and” more. I screwed up, owned it, and learned. I won awards and lost big deals. I danced at team parties. I said no. I sent thank you notes. I took medical leave twice. I shared my power with others. I asked questions – a lot of questions. I knitted. Basically, I surrounded myself with others who were also vibrantly tattered building a compassionate network… and together we helped change the world. Seriously.

But most importantly, before I could do all of that, I first accepted my path wasn’t the “standard” way and proceeded forward with more bounce in my step coloring outside of the lines.