How to Track Your Perfect Career

compass on mapAt first I trusted my car’s global positioning system—why not?—but soon its smooth voice began sounding like the homicidal computer HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey. “Turn left now,” the GPS would command as I drove along a freeway, with concrete barriers to my left. “You have reached your destination,” it would assure me after leading me to a warehouse full of prostitutes and crack dealers. Once my kids programmed it to speak French, the GPS abandoned all pretense of helpfulness and began directing me southward in any and all circumstances. Presumably it was heading for Mexico to escape fraud charges.

These days, listening to my clients talk about their careers reminds me how bewildered I was by my demon guidance machine. People wander aimlessly because the well-worn paths of yesteryear—and by that I mean 2013—are disappearing, while strange new career options pop up before our frazzled brains can map them. The more new technologies and job descriptions have entered everyday life, the more my clients tend to become confused and overwhelmed, finding themselves facing a dead end. Like most of us who have no clue about how to get to where we want, they long for a voice of authority, a career GPS, that will spell out the exact route to a thrilling and fulfilling position. Although they keep beavering away at a solution, researching their options and seeking the advice of people with hot new ideas for them (“Use this career-finder app!” “What you need is a website!” “Blog, blog, blog!”), people end up in my office more muddled than ever. They tell me things like:

  • “There’s so much going on, and it sounds exciting to me, but I feel paralyzed about which new thing to follow up on.”
  • “I keep reading about all these new opportunities, but I don’t really understand them, and I’m afraid I’m being left behind.”
  • “I’d be happy to follow my passion…if only I knew what it was.”
  • “I worry that if I commit to one career, I’ll lose out on something better.”

If any of these sound like you, don’t bother with classic career guides; like my GPS, they’ll have you meandering in circles, stumped at dead ends, or just profoundly lost. The fact is, as we’ve become accustomed to our overmanaged, overstimulated 21st-century lives, we haven’t realized that there might be another—decidedly low-tech—way to get onto the right path.

I suspect you’ve been advised to think rationally about your career decisions. That would be a big mistake. You might expect people with damage to the emotional parts of the brain, presumably free from the distractions of emotions, to be brilliant decision makers. Quite the opposite. Though they retain full use of their rational faculties, such patients are tragically indecisive, endlessly debating logical pros and cons, unable to choose any path. Their brains send out random, contradictory, and confusing directions, like my rogue GPS. It turns out that, as Jonathan Haidt writes inThe Happiness Hypothesis, “it is only because our emotional brains work so well that our reasoning can work at all.”

Although humans are the only beings on Earth with advanced linguistic skills, any animal with a brain has the automatic capacity to form preferences. It’s an irrational sense of “Yes, this!” that takes a migrating goose a thousand miles to its perfect nesting ground, or a whale to its calving waters an ocean away. To find—or rather, design—your perfect career, you have to let your animal self lead you through a wilderness of choices. The way to do that is to make your rational mind not the master but the tracker of your own irrational instincts.

Tracking Your Inner Animal

I was trudging down the traditional career path of academia when my students, weirdly, began offering to pay me for advice. I didn’t think of it as a career path; I’d never heard the phrase “life coach,” and if I had, I’d have gagged like a sommelier drinking Kool-Aid. But I loved my students, and I loved helping them build happy lives. My emotional self trotted cheerfully forward, enjoying the scenery, while my rational, verbal GPS argued, puzzled, and worried:

Animal brain: Me like this!

Rational brain: But what are you doing?

Animal brain: Me like this!

Rational brain: Is it secure? Is it respectable?

Animal brain: Me like this!

Rational brain: Get a job, dammit!

This process continues even now, with my animal self migrating through unknown territory as my logical mind struggles to make sense of where in God’s name I’m going. How grateful I am to be familiar with what one expert describes to me as deductive/predictive animal tracking. It’s helped me calm my nerves and follow my animal into a thousand joyful and productive career events I never dreamed possible.

Deductive/predictive tracking goes like this: Locate a clear footprint left by an animal you’re trailing—a so-called hot track. Make an educated guess, based on the animal’s previous behavior, about where the animal would probably have gone next. Proceed to that spot. Look for more tracks. If you find no tracks—if the trail runs cold—return to the last hot track, make another educated guess, and repeat. Using these steps, you can follow your wild self as it instinctively migrates toward your perfect career:

Step 1. Discover your hot tracks.

Grab a pen and make a list of every time you remember being utterly, happily absorbed in an activity, no matter how odd. This focused attention is the hot track you’re looking for, evidence that your animal self was here. For example, my client Adeline loved helping her mother bake, playing doubles tennis, assisting her husband as he built his business, and raising money for AIDS research. Dora was happiest while shopping, throwing ceramic pots, and gardening. Lily loved singing in her church choir, going to parties, volunteering for political candidates, and working at a large marketing firm. Write your own list of hot tracks from the past.

Step 2. Predict the next track.

If you were tracking bison in the wild, you might notice they migrate along predictable grassy routes. Geese, by contrast, follow a route from one marshy area to another. To predict the next likely step for your inner animal, scan your environment for conditions that seem likely to foster that happy state of absorption, but are just outside your regular routine. Try an activity within that sphere to see if it’s a hot track.

Warning: Many people assume that a hot track is leading them toward a job directly related to that track. Unwittingly, they start heading to the nearest “logical career.” For example, Adeline’s love of baking initially led her to train as a pastry chef. Dora’s shopping passion convinced her she should work as a retail buyer. Lily decided to run for office. Perfectly reasonable predictions—but all these trails froze. Adeline found culinary school boring, Dora loathed working with retailers, and Lily became exhausted and disillusioned running for city council. The lesson: Even if you’re pursuing a course that’s perfectly rational—a job that makes total sense on paper—emotions like boredom, hopelessness, anger, or anxiety mean the trail’s gone cold.

Step 3. Return to the last hot track and repeat step 2.

Many of my clients continue endlessly on cold trails. Some cling to established career paths, imagining that the next promotion will bring happiness, despite the obvious lack of clear hot tracks such as enjoyment, fascination, or any heartfelt desire (apart from the wish to bang one’s head against a wall). Others gallop along any path, without pausing to check whether it’s one their animal prefers. Still other clients give up hope and plod along in so-so jobs. I can’t say it enough: If your trail runs cold, return to your last hot track and test a new prediction.

When Adeline went back to her hot tracks and focused on the elements that connected them, she noticed her animal had left a trail of relationships. She loved working with strong, decisive partners. Dora’s hot tracks always related to arranging colorful objects. Lily’s hot tracks led to large, active groups; teamwork, not politics, was her bliss.

Step 4. Follow your tracks wherever they lead.

You have to commit to following your animal—even if it seems to have the directional ability of my poltergeisted GPS. Trust me, your animal will eventually bring you to the job you were meant to do. Once Adeline realized her strong-partner theme, she teamed up with a friend running online boutiques for custom-designed clothing. Dora discovered that computer graphics let her assemble gorgeous color combinations with a few clicks. She’s now a website designer. Lily agreed to organize a conference for an ex-coworker’s business and enjoyed it so much, she began freelancing as an event planner.

Note that all these careers use new technologies, but technology was not the track. Adeline went looking for a business partner and just happened to find one with a “virtual” shop. Dora was surfing websites when she noticed that the colors of the sites themselves attracted her. Lily hated computers but loved using social networking to connect with people. All began with “What do I enjoy?” and proceeded to beat the bushes for their best-loved activities. New technologies simply facilitated their passions, which, as I used to tell my GPS, is what technology is meant to do.

As you track your career, remember that your inner animal is following primal instincts, not established paths that will necessarily impress your parents, spouse, and friends. Their expectations—and yours—are an outdated guidance system that will only send you sideways and, in my experience, due south. We live in an increasingly civilized, rational-minded, tech-obsessed world. It’s time to break out: Let your wild self explore wild career ideas. Of course, if this makes you nervous, you can always go grovel for a low-paying version of that civilized job you loathed. But as the poet Mary Oliver puts it, “meanwhile…the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—over and over announcing your place in the family of things.” Answer that call, following your instinct through the wilderness of career options, and your inner tracking system will take you to exactly the terrain that’s right for you. Me like that!

Find Your Purpose and Power: Rediscovering Your Superhero Self

1041406_30891902Several years ago, pretty much everyone I know became a huge fan of the television series Heroes. The show’s premise is that people all over the world begin discovering that they have superpowers—they can hear thoughts, manipulate the time-space continuum, become strong enough to break through steel bonds, etc. The kinds of things that couldn’t possibly happen on this planet. Except they do. I watch regular people make these kinds of discoveries just about every other Thursday. Here’s a metaphorical but only slightly exaggerated version of my typical coaching process. Some nice, ordinary-looking person comes to me and says, “I’m Clark Kent, I’m Diana Prince—and somehow my life got off course.” Sometimes they say that perhaps in childhood or perhaps at work they zigged when they should have zagged, sailed south when they should have sailed north. “One morning,” they say, “I woke up thinking, ‘Is this really what I’m supposed to be doing with my life?'” “The problem isn’t your situation,” I always tell them (because it’s always true). “The problem is your lenses.”

“My lenses?” the person says, looking at me as though the bloom is definitely leaving the rose.

“I mean the way you see,” I explain. “Your psychological perspective.” I don’t mention (yet) that I’m also alluding to Clark Kent’s eyeglasses, which disguised his real identity. I know that whenever I can help an “ordinary person” remove a set of distorting perceptual lenses—zap, pow, shazam!—I’ll see them levitate right off the floor, flexing steely muscles under neon-colored outfits. When this finally happens, it doesn’t surprise me. But it usually shocks the hell out of the client.

“Oh, my God!” says Superman or Wonder Woman. “Who am I? What am I doing? Holy transfiguration, Batman, what should I do next?”

“I have no idea,” I say.

And at that point, we’re finished.

Because I’m not Batman, or the Forecast Phenom, or the Psychedelic Psychic, or whatever. I was born with just one superpower: the ability to see other people’s superpowers. So I can tell you that pretty much everyone (including you) is a superhero, and that every superhero (including you) has an incredibly important life mission. Figuring out what that mission is? That’s up to every individual hero (including you).

I’m telling you all this because recently I coached three women who were unsure of where they were supposed to be in life. Their path forward looked fuzzy. They thought this was because they were in confusing situations. But I saw each woman looking through her own particular sort of distorting lenses; the fuzziness wasn’t in the surroundings but in the way they saw. At moments when your life appears bleak and the way forward indistinct, the same thing is almost certainly happening to you.

Most people try to think their way out of these kinds of problems. From my perspective, however, adding more ideas to these three women’s heads would be like forcing Clark Kent to add assorted sweaters, parkas, and goggles to his nerdy suit and specs. Finding your purpose and power requires stripping certain thoughts away like street clothes until you hit Lycra. My job with the three women I’d be coaching was to help them peel away illusions until their superhero identities emerged. While we’re following their stories, I’ll throw in some hints that may help you, too, take off your “normal” disguise and liberate your true, superhero self.

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Who’s the Boss: Lessons in Leadership

Few things incite a frothing, wild-eyed rage like asking people to talk about bad bosses. People aren’t just annoyed by poor leadership—they sputter and snarl as they describe their superiors, lusting for the chance to hit that bad boss with a perfect, withering insult. Or perhaps a truck.

It’s a little scary, then, to realize that we’re all likely to occupy a leadership role, from motherhood to mogulhood, at some point in our lives. When we blow it, our imperfections will be magnified by our authority. Leadership is simply too complex to do perfectly. I believe that the key to being a better boss lies in accepting that fact. Ineffective leaders expect their role to be easy and think—no matter what—that they’re doing the job just right. Although good leaders often begin with similar expectations, convinced they’re natural-born chieftains, they soon run smack-dab into a little thing called Monday morning. The best leaders let go of the fantasy and become fully present and responsive to the complexities of each new situation. They’re the ones—the few, the proud, the downright worshipped—who earn their followers’ respect. To become one of them, you need to turn bad-boss behaviors on their head to find your way toward good-boss techniques.

The View from Below

Bad-boss self-concept: As a leader, I’ll be a higher-up.
Good-boss self-concept: As a leader, I’ll have to go lower down.

The bad-boss tales I’ve heard include many stories of managers demanding the undoable, responding to objections by simply reiterating that it had to be done. This creates nothing but hostility. “If you want to govern the people, you must place yourself below them,” said the philosopher Lao-tzu (who is my favorite management consultant, despite having been dead for centuries). That doesn’t mean you become a slave to your followers’ whims. Great bosses acknowledge their own ignorance and ask questions of everyone to gain a better grasp of two important things: What’s going on? What needs to be done?

Eliminating Moving Targets

Bad-boss target setting: Now that I’m the boss, I give orders to others.
Good-boss target setting: Now that I’m the boss, I bring order to what others do.

Many people thrill to giving orders or critiques, but have unclear, uninformed or ambivalent ideas about what they’re actually trying to accomplish—that is, they know what they want this second, but the big picture is as fuzzy as a winter mink. Leading well means forming a crystal clear image of what must happen and communicating that precisely. After giving an assignment, ask that person to describe the task in their own words. If they can’t, or if the account they give doesn’t match what you were trying to convey, you need to try a new tack. The first step could be as easy as clarifying your directives—or you might have to rethink your org chart and who reports to whom.

Where We Go Wrong

Bad-boss position on feedback: Now everyone must tell me when I’m right.
Good-boss position on feedback: Now everyone must tell me when I’m wrong.

Most humans go through the world trying to elicit validation. Al Preble, a leadership consultant for Cambridge Leadership Group in Cambridge, Massachusetts, says this isn’t the way to go. The most powerful way for leaders to communicate, he believes, is to use just three simple steps. When a problem arises:

  1. Clearly tell your subordinate what you really think
  2. Describe the facts that led you to this opinion
  3. Ask to be disconfirmed; in other words, honestly request that people tell you where you’re wrong.

Taking the Hit

Bad-boss protection strategy: As a boss, I’ll be protected from taking blame.
Good-boss protection strategy: As a boss, I’ll protect others by taking blame.

The successful bosses I interviewed emphasized that a good leader helps her followers feel safe from the dangers that come from both inside and outside the organization. An incompetent supervisor, on the other hand, feels that the best way to secure her position is to appear faultless, and works mightily to make clear who fouled up or even to lay blame on a scapegoat. But that behavior turns people into twitchy, record-keeping, blame-tallying masses of ectoplasm.

Once More into the Breach

Bad-boss problem solving: Being the boss means I can avoid problems.
Good-boss problem solving: Being the boss means I must seek out problems.

You can tell if you’re making mistakes as a leader, because things go wrong—not just one catastrophic computer snafu but repeated errors. Bad bosses turn away from these realities. They don’t discuss problems; they just hunker down and hope the issue will go away. It won’t. Untreated, a minor concern becomes a major issue becomes a catastrophe.

This is the core of good leadership, whether you’re managing a corporation, your immediate family, or just your own life. Lao-tzu puts it this way: “When [the Master] runs into a difficulty, she stops and gives herself to it. She doesn’t cling to her own comfort; thus problems are no problem for her.” Embracing the fact that you’ll encounter many obstacles—and that this is all right—allows you to understand, listen, give clear instructions, invite negative feedback and protect those you lead. You’ll be comfortable with leadership, even when it’s uncomfortable. And that will make you an easy act to follow.

Balancing Act: The Dance of an Unbalanced Life

Here is typical scenario from when my children were younger: It’s five o’clock in the morning. I’ve been awake for about 23 hours, having struggled vainly to fit in writing between yesterday’s tasks: getting the car fixed, taking the dog to the vet, answering email, grocery shopping, driving my kids to music lessons, seeing clients, picking up deli sandwiches for dinner, and cuddling one of my children through some of the horrors of growing up. I finally sat down at my computer around midnight—and looked up just now to see the sun rising. 

Since I’m up, I decide to set a historic precedent by preparing breakfast. All goes well as I awaken my children and head to the kitchen, at which point I remember how much I hate to cook. I even hate to toast. The kids arrive, yawning, and ask what I’m planning to serve them. I think for a minute, then say, “We have Oreos.” 

My children roll their eyes. 

“We have cocaine,” I venture. I’m pretty sure they know this is a joke. I’ve never seen cocaine, much less tried it—although frankly it’s beginning to sound like a good idea. Isn’t that how Sigmund Freud got so much done? 

Understand three things: (1) I don’t have a job. I am a writer, which means I procrastinate and get away with it; (2) my children are not young. They walk, talk, bathe, diagnose their own viruses; and (3) I’m kind of supposed to be an expert at combining career and family. I conducted years of sociological research on the topic, wrote several big fat books about it. Plus, I’m a life coach. You’d think I could live a balanced life as a 21st century American woman. 

Ha. In fact, having done all that research, I can tell you with absolute assurance that it is impossible for women to achieve the kind of balance recommended by many well-meaning self-help counselors. I didn’t say such balance is difficult to attain. I didn’t say it’s rare. It’s impossible. Our culture’s definition of what women should be is fundamentally, irreconcilably unbalanced. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the very imbalance of our culture is forcing women to find equilibrium in an entirely new way. 

Henry David Thoreau’s classic book Walden recounts two years the author spent living in solitary harmony with the wilderness. The book’s premise is that all humans could live simply and naturally, as Thoreau did. As a teenager, I loved Walden. Years later, as an exhausted working mother, I learned something Thoreau failed to mention in his journal: The entire time he was roughing it, his mother and sisters helped care for his needs, hauling in food and hauling out laundry. The reason Thoreau didn’t write about this is that he took it for granted. Like most thinker’s of his generation, he saw “women’s work” as a product of natural female instinct: Birds fly south for the winter, and women show up to wash men’s underwear. Okay, so I’m a little bitter—but only because this attitude pervaded American culture well into my own lifetime. 

Early American feminists fought for the right to participate in the workforce by assuring everyone that it was easy to do women’s work—perhaps with one’s toes, while simultaneously performing jobs traditionally reserved for men. I once believed this, and I have the colorful medical history to prove it. Women of my generation thought we could have everything; experience taught us we could have everything but sleep (one sociologist who studied an early cohort of working mothers wrote, “These women talked about sleep the way a starving person talks about food”). Bringing home the bacon and frying it up in a pan while never letting hubby forget he’s a man turned out to be a logistical challenge to rival the moon landing, but without support from Houston.

Three Ways to Lose Your Balance 

I spent the last decade of the 20th century interviewing American women and found that no matter how they sought balance, virtually none of them attained it in their culturally prescribed role. Some of these women were like Meg, a stay-at-home mother who sacrificed her career to care for her children, only to feel devalued by a society that equates professional achievement with fundamental worth. Others resembled Laura, a 43-year-old lawyer who never got the marriage or children she’d always expected. Laura’s heart ached every time she attended yet another baby shower. At work, married people dumped extra work on her, figuring she had no life. But most of the women I spoke to were like Stephanie, who had a good job, two children, and chronic fatigue. For years Stephanie’s boss complained that her work was inadequate because of the time she devoted to her family, while Stephanie (and her relatives) worried that her children were suffering because of the energy required by her work. 

Many of these women were haunted by the fear that others were judging them negatively. They were right. Our culture does belittle women who cannot be both professional high-achievers and traditional moms. It questions the devotion of women who attempt to combine the two roles. My conclusion? Balance, schmalance. Trying to establish a harmonious equilibrium between our society’s definition of What a Woman Should Be is like trying to resolve the tension between two hostile enemies by locking them in a room together. But there is hope. 

The Joy of Being Unbalanced

If someone condemned you because, say, you failed to prevent Hurricane Katrina, you wouldn’t dissolve in shame or work to overcome your inadequacy. You’d probably conclude that your critic was nuts, then simply dismiss the whole issue. That’s the wonderful thing about seeing that our society makes impossible demands on all women. You free yourself to ignore social pressures and begin creating a life that comes from your own deepest desires, hopes, and dreams. You’ll stop living life from the outside in and begin living it from the inside out. 

That’s what happened to Meg, Laura, and Stephanie when each lost her balance in a dramatic way. Meg, the stay-at-home mom, hit the end of her rope when her husband left her for a “more accomplished” coworker. Laura’s turning point was an emergency hysterectomy that meant she would never have the baby shower of her dreams. Stephanie finally realized she was trying to do the impossible the day her mother-in-law scolded her for working too much and she was fired for being too concerned with her personal life. 

There will moments when you really “get” that the expectations you’ve been trying to fulfill are unfulfillable. This epiphany was terrible, because it meant relinquishing the goal of total social acceptance. But it was also the beginning of freedom, of learning to seek guidance by turning inward to the heart, rather than outward to social prescriptions. After her crisis, Laura discovered a passion for gardening that led her to quit her corporate job and start a floral nursery business. Meg spends her time contributing to the local schools and developing relationships that help her see her own value. Stephanie got a new job by developing a proposal that showed how she could add value to a company while working from home. 

On the surface, these aren’t revolutionary acts. But they filled each woman’s life with authenticity and satisfaction. If you feel trapped by contradictory demands, you may want to join this gentle rebellion. You can help create a new cultural paradigm, one that replaces conformity with honesty, convention with creativity, and judgment with kindness. That, in the end, is the gift of the disequilibrium that society has bequeathed to all of us. Being forced to seek balance within ourselves, we can make our unsteady, stumbling days feel less and less like disaster and more and more like a joyful dance—the dance of a wildly, wonderfully, perfectly unbalanced life. 

The New 95/5 Principle

You’ve probably heard of something called the 80/20 rule. It was authored by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who found that in his country 20% of the people owned 80% of the wealth. Later on, business managers began using the 80/20 rule (or the Pareto principle) to increase their productivity. At a rough estimate, 20% of the company’s employees created 80% of the company’s useful work. If you apply the 80/20 rule to your life, you’ll find that a similar dynamic exists in almost everything you do:  Twenty percent of your interpersonal activities create 80% of your sense of connection; you wear 20% of your clothing 80% of the time; and 20% of the energy you expend creates 80% of your positive experiences.
Pareto wrote up his observations in 1906. Since then, change in our culture has gained enormous amounts of speed and power. The other day, a fellow coach remarked to me that by her estimation, the 80/20 rule has become more like the 95/5 principle. If you choose your activities carefully, just 5% of your time can be used to create 95% of your good experiences.

For example, watching this YouTube video catalyzed 95% of my laughter yesterday. About 5% of what I’ve written in my life generated about 95% of the positive feedback. They say the first five minutes of an interpersonal interaction establishes the emotional tone of a meeting that could last 95 more minutes. 
The fact that so little effort can create such great effects these days doesn’t mean that we should just expend less effort. It means that almost all our effort should go to discerning which 5% of all possible activities will have the greatest positive impact. I’ve heard many people claim that in this time of job insecurity, we must all work much harder at anything we do. At a recent conference, an organizer told me I should advise audience members to work frantically at any job they could get, just hoping that something would turn out to be a viable way of supporting themselves. This is the only time I’ve ever thrown away my cue cards in front of the person who wrote them. The “work hard, work very, very hard” philosophy has never been more useless. What I actually recommended at that conference was that audience members spend most of their time learning to relax and to sense a way forward that would create positive outcomes without exhausting them. 

I’m telling you the same thing now. Especially if you are worried about some area of your life. Take some time to get still. Consider the situation without alarm and try something author Penney Pierce calls “feeling into the situation.” Try to sense where the situation “wants” you to act. Zero in on those areas, remaining very relaxed, and see if you can find more clarity about precisely the action that will be most positive and powerful. Remember that a five minute conversation with your spouse, child, or friend can create 95% of your impact on them each day. Remember that one viral video can spread wildly with little effort—if its energy really speaks to viewers. Forget the boring statistics you learned in economics class; the way to reach people at this point in history is to abandon boring models and tune into whatever is visceral, hilarious, authentic, and imbued with the energy of joy.
At the moment, I am gathering my energy to promote a book that’s coming out on December 27th. I know from experience that I will feel morally obligated to take advantage of any marketing opportunity, including being interviewed by a home radio enthusiast who works out of his garage, speaks only Latvian, and thinks that I am actually Martha Stewart. Moreover, my publishers will enthusiastically encourage me to do even more. My challenge to you this month is also my challenge to myself. I’m hoping we can quietly “feel into” any opportunity or responsibility we feel pulled to accomplish. If we can feel that a certain effort will have great impact, we should throw ourselves into the task, but we must also remember that 95% of a random effort is generally wasted and that letting go of our anxiety-based overwork is the only way to be sure of identifying those key opportunities.
I like to imagine a world where 95% of the people spend 95% of their energy choosing the top 5% of activities available to them. But if the 95/5 principle works, we don’t need such a huge psychological revolution. If just 5% of the people begin maximizing their positive influence this way, we can create 95% of the change we wish to see in the world. Start with your own life, as always, and see whether focusing 95% of your energy on 5% of your options doesn’t make your whole existence happier, easier, and more abundant. Watch your enhanced energy lifting and calming everyone and everything you do. Then spend 5% of your Internet time letting us know how it went.

Video Sneak Peek of the New Book!


Here’s a sneak peek of the stuff I’ll be discussing in my new book:  what’s YOUR “call of the wild”?

Finding Your Way in a Wild New World: Reclaim Your True Nature to Create the Life You Want will be released December 27, 2011. Reserve your copy on now. 

I Approve: The Value of Equality

Woman gazes in mirror.There are those rare individuals who cannot be distracted by the external markers of success—things like social rank, wealth, education level, and professional status. These individuals behave in ways that quietly but effectively elevate the lowly and humble the arrogant. How do they do it? They ignore two common misconceptions and act instead on bedrock truths about equality and individual value.

Misconception #1

Each person’s value is determined by rank on the pyramid of social success. Your worth as a person increases or decreases as you accumulate (or fail to accumulate) prizes like wealth, power or fame.

Almost all of us believe Misconception #1 at some point in our lives, and it’s no wonder: We are approval-seeking machines. From our infancy, everything we do — crying, playing, using the potty – brings either praise or reprimand from the grown-ups around us. There’s nothing wrong with this; it’s the only way to socialize children. But is also conveys the pervasive idea that our value depends on behaving in ways that others see as praiseworthy. Success-driven behaviors can undermine the very thing we think they will provide: the certainty that we are important, lovable, good enough. If you’re waiting for the one achievement that will give you this certainty, prepare to wait forever. The only way to create such inner peace is to replace Misconception #1 with the following truth.

Truth #1

Each person, including you, is infinitely precious. No success or failure can ever alter that fact.

We may give lip service to the idea that every human consciousness is equal and invaluable. But in practice we go on ranking everyone according to external measures of success, surreptitiously comparing their achievements to ours. And deep down, most of us conclude that we’re a bit (or a lot) less equal than everybody else.

It is this lurking sense of inferiority that makes us lust for success, consider ourselves pond scum, or both. Ironically, this mind-set is precisely what keeps us from acting in ways that would elicit natural validation of our true value from the world around us.

The next time you find yourself in a situation where you feel worthless, think about the most powerful hero you can imagine, and how they would react in your place. Now consider this: your hero isn’t the one coming up with this new, self-confident behavior—you are.  Whatever you see your hero do in the fantasy you’ve created is precisely what you can do in reality, once you choose to believe in your own value.

Misconception #2

People will value me to the extent that I affirm the superiority of people who rank above me in the social pyramid, and my own superiority over people who rank below me.

Success is a currency that is not accepted by the heart: You can’t buy love. Only people who are caught in the same misconception will bond with your accomplishments. Success-based relationships are parasitic, and they vanish when the fame, money and power do. To forge caring connections, you don’t need a stronger résumé; you need Truth #2.

Truth #2

People will value me to the extent that they believe I value them.

Virtually all arrogant, domineering people spent their childhoods being cruelly devalued. As adults, they are starving for validation, and they try to force people to acknowledge their significance by sucking up to the powerful and dominating the weak. This tends to create the very hostility they fear. There are much better ways to get the acceptance we crave. One of the easiest is what I call “tossing the fish”.

If you’ve ever been to Sea World, you’ve probably seen trainers reward the dolphins and seals by feeding them fish. Sea mammals will do anything for anyone who’s carrying a bucket of what they love most. They’re a lot like people that way – and you just happen to have a bottomless bucket of what humans love most: approval.

Often people treat approval as though it were a severely limited resource. They give it stingily, if at all, as though every bit of approval aimed at someone else leaves less for them. But the more we express genuine approval, the more we motivate positive behavior in those around us, the more approval we’ll receive from them. (By the way, it’s crucial to fully internalize Truth #1 before  you set out to toss fish. Otherwise your compliments and new-found interest will come across as a Machiavellian ploy.)

In order to keep Truth No. 1 at the forefront of your thoughts, there are two techniques you may find helpful. First, rather than picturing intimidating people in their underwear, try to imagine them as their “bare selves” – as all those things that worry or motivate them. That way you can offer encouragement or support, just as you would with your peers, colleagues, or subordinates.

You may also try a technique I learned from Barbara Browning, a brilliant media trainer who teaches people how to come across on television. Barbara tells her clients, “treat the interviewers as though they were guests in your home.” This is exactly opposite  of most people’s first reaction. When the cameras roll, all their mental functions cease and they just sit there drooling (I speak from experience). But when you enter the mind-set of the “gracious host or hostess,” you equalize your own perception of the intimidating person’s power versus your own. The more lowly and inferior you feel at these particular moments,  the more important it is to get out of that frame of mind and into reality. The “host/hostess” trick can help you make the transition.

It may take you several months of practicing these techniques before they come to feel natural. However we are all inexperienced travelers on this uncertain voyage through life, and we cling to the twin myths of inferiority and superiority out of fear and fear alone. To transcend that fear and connect honestly with others, priceless soul to priceless soul, is to succeed in the truest sense of the word.

Coach 4 2day – Doing Important Things

In this Coach 4 2day video, I provide some support and recommendations on how to prioritize the important things in life using the “Big Rocks/Sand” analogy.

Flipping the Switch to a Happier Life

Electric Switch ONbigstock_Light_Bulb_459906
Lately I’ve been happily devouring Chip and Dan Heath’s book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. The Heaths’ advice is enlightening on many levels, and has added some gangbuster techniques to my coaching tools. See how you like this one.

The Heaths suggest that it’s crucial to look for “bright spots” where we’re already succeeding, then replicate those results in other areas. Most of us look for “dark spots,” in our own lives, in our loved ones’ lives, in the world generally. As you may know, the reptile portion of our brains is tuned to danger, and the storytelling brain area takes ANY evidence of danger and perpetuates it through our personal Top Ten Tunes o’ Terror.

I’m a danger-story champion, but today I’m following the Heaths’ advice, so every time a dark spot turns up in my own mind, I’ll find a corresponding “bright spot” to replace it (or at least balance it). I’ll call this “Flipping the Switch.”

Step 1: Flip the Switch By Finding Brights to Balance Darks
Dark Thought: This morning, I didn’t get through to the woman I was coaching.
Bright Spot: But I got through to her husband.

Dark Thought: I barely talked to my son while I drove him to his workout.
Bright Spot: Adam thrives on silence, and he’s psychic, so he knows I love him.

Dark Thought: There are so many new technologies, and I can barely send email.
Bright Spot: I did eventually learn how to email.

Dark Thought: I haven’t finished my book.
Bright Spot: But yesterday I wrote 11 pages.

Step 2: Replicate the Bright Spots
Now my job is to replicate the conditions that caused the bright spots to occur. I’ll see what led to my successes, then extrapolate to other situations, which I basically manage by saying “Hmm…” Like this:

• I got through to my male client because I put very little pressure on him. Hmm: Put less pressure on clients.

• Adam’s psychic, so he knows I love him. Hmm: I sort of believe almost everyone can sense love at a distance. Hmm: Try just beaming love to my many adored ones, and see if they feel it.

• I learned how to email because I made a friend who preferred communicating that way. Hmm: When I want to learn a computer skill, I’ll get a friend who wants to learn it with me.

• I wrote 11 pages yesterday because I set an “action trigger”: while at the gym I pictured walking home, drinking a smoothie, and then writing. Hmm: Action triggers (visualized sequences of behavior) work. I’ll set another one to get me working on my book today. Let’s see…I’ll eat some Key Lime pie, sing along with three feisty Sheryl Crow songs, then write.

Having done this exercise, I’ve stopped brooding about my failures and begun seeing spots-bright spots. I feel way more motivated already. See if “flipping the switch” like this can work for you!

Starting from Rock Bottom


Hello again!  I hope you’ve been practicing your Love Zone and Spider Sense skills, for three reasons: first, because it’s wonderful to learn that you can do real magic; second, because “leading up” requires such magic, and third, because if you’re in any relatively sane systems, using your magic will create rapid, exciting changes in your life.  When this happens, please write to me about it ( so that I can ooh, aah, and write you up in future “Team Profiles.”

Assuming that you’re getting in touch with your magic, let’s talk about exactly how you can begin leading from the rock-bottom of a sane system.  Remember, we defined a sane system this way:  “Situation X, and its leaders aren’t perfect, but on the whole they’re just, fair, responsive, and well-intentioned.”

Caveat Dux (Leader Beware)

Ironically, a healthy, sane system, with kind and intelligent people above you in the power structure, is the place where you’re at the greatest risk of failing to develop your essential Team leadership skills.  Your most probable “failure mode” is falling into the role of the faithful, childlike follower, waiting for your superior to give you assignments, fulfilling those assignments, and getting rewarded with money, privileges, approval, or whatever.  

dux following their dux (leader)

Ducks following their dux.


If the powerful people in Situation X are just and kind, you may go on and on playing Follow the Leader, expecting others to come up with all the right instructions for your life.  And nobody has those instructions except you.  No parent, mentor, or guru, no matter how inspired or motivational, knows what your superpowers are, or how you’re supposed to save the world.  Because you have a natural urge to fulfill your destiny, this means that your leader will eventually disappoint you.

I can’t count the number of clients who’ve told me, “I expect you to give me a clear map of my future and make it easy for me to follow the map.”  I’ve also had dozens of people say, “I want to do what you do, so clearly, I’m meant to work with you.”

There are all kinds of problems with this logic.  Aside from the fact that I have no idea what your destiny holds, I have high anxiety, generalized bewilderment, and the attention span of a gnat.  if you really want to “do what I do,” that doesn’t mean tucking in behind me or anyone else; it means making up your life as you go along, relying completely on your intuition and internal compasses, always terrified of the unknown but constantly sailing into it, having no other captain to chart the course or steer the ship. 

So remember this:  Your destiny is not to be with the “powerful” people you admire.  Your destiny is to be like them.  


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