Do you see the water you are swimming in?

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There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”

This is Water by David Foster Wallace

It rained in the Bay Area most of the weekend. The inner organizer in me shined at the vastness of opportunity to focus on our home. The time was ripe to puppy proof our house for the arrival of our puppy tonight. When we moved into our house in July, everything had a place. Or an original place. Over time, I saw how the system I created did not support the actual living taking place in our house. As with anything, we started with what we knew. The original system looked a lot like that in our previous place. We hadn't adjusted to our new place - one with more space and far more storage. In 6 months, I had planned to adjust things dozens of times. Yet I wasn't very compelled. It was working good enough. The forcing function of welcoming a puppy into our house helped to initiate the change. I will thank Frito when he arrives tonight.

The clouds broke long enough Sunday morning to head to the farmer’s market. Again, still living in an old routine, I ventured across town to my old neighborhood to snag my produce. Unlike the house organization I had been putting off, I choose this part of my old routine. And it will stick. Until the almond croissant that motivates me to get to the market expands to more places.

Anytime I go to the market, I do a quick cruise by all the stands to see what is available. The first thing that stuck out to me yesterday was the abundance of leeks. In no time, I was planning and shopping for a potato leek soup to make during my afternoon at home. My day began to feel like it had a rhythm and purpose - everything falling into place. The rain held so I could do my shopping. I snagged the last almond croissant. Being surrounded by community energized me. Nothing could disturb my stride.

Until, I popped into Whole Foods on my way home to grab stock. It was Super Bowl Sunday before the game kicked off and there was a madhouse of long lines. One item and a painfully slow line. After my initial dis-ease of having left my phone (and thus reading material) in the car, I settled into being in line. I noticed the people around me. People attuned to my availability, as is almost always the case when I am not distracted by a tiny device. Small conversations unfolded. I made jokes with the person next to me in line. I saw often the checker was barely acknowledged by the customers in line. An oddly lonely job considering the sheer volume of people they serve each day.

As I approached the register, the checker began chatting with me. Telling me about the day and what people were buying for their game day food. In honesty, I was initially annoyed. Things were moving slower than I had anticipated and in no time I was blaming her. I started to think about what she could do to make her job more efficient. Her chattiness becomes the reason for the slow down (again, in my mind). But I caught myself. I saw the way my anger was washing away the easeful day I was experiencing less than 30 minutes earlier. As a leader responsible for my own world, I chose differently, and decided  to engage with her further. She seemed curious about what people were making for the game. “The rainy day felt perfect to stay at home and make a soup,” I suggested.  “I realize that is literally the exact opposite of what you are doing, working harder on a Sunday.” I pleased myself in acknowledging her circumstances. Her eyes lit up. “Girl, I have been unemployed for 5 years. Sure I volunteered to stay engaged. And I could pick up occasional work, but none of that helped me pay the bills. I am so thrilled to be here today. I have a lot to be grateful about.”

In an instant, I was a young fish swimming in water. The exact thesis of David Foster Wallace’s beautiful essay, This is Water. It is so easy to forget the self-centered nature of our experience. The allure of assuming our experience is everyone else's experience. In that moment, I could not imagine who would not want a home bound soup cooking rainy weekend day. I assumed the checker was servicing people and holding onto dread at having to do so. I even began to feel bad for her - all before I had even thought to check in on her experience.

Had she not had the courage (yes, courage) to share her actual experience, I would have missed the gift she offered. In an instant, I realized I was swimming in water without recognizing it.

This, of course, is a small example AND this happens all the time. How often do we assume we are all in the same water? How might that assumption stifle the people around us for sharing their actual experience? Where are we implanting our self-centered view of the world onto others? When are we being a young fish?


Working with a coach grants the opportunity to see when we are swimming in water and when may not see it. It provides a gift to uncover the self-centered nature of our lives and to see where it gets in our way.

Interested in coaching? Get in touch.

To read or hear David Foster Wallace’s entire commencement speech, click here.

Unlock The One Key To Change You May Be Missing

Hand Holding

In 2018 I unearthed a part of myself that made me want to hide. A part of me that is dormant unless I try to engage in an intimate relationship (the romantic kind). 2018 was a year of a beautiful partnership (and later engagement), and thus it emerged. Over and over. The year was full of breeding ground to see that part of myself (and to squeal in discomfort).

In certain conversations, I become overwhelmed with feelings. My mind makes me believe that I am a nuisance and that the person I love wants me to go away. If I say the wrong thing or ask for something, I will cause the relationship to end because I will be “too much.” The feeling suffocates me.

My default reaction is (and has been) to go away. And do it before they suggest that is their desire. I don’t physically leave – my body is still there – but I tune out the world around me. My mouth may be open, wanting to say something, but nothing comes out. Blankness. It is my way of protecting myself.

So I spent the year taking action to shift this pattern. I got right to it. I hired help. I made it the focus of two training programs I attended this year. I read books. I spoke about it with my inner circle. And I made small strides. Yet I yearned for more.

When I found myself there again, in that place of absence, I hit myself with what I call the one-two punch. I see my clients hit themselves the same way.

One - I was sad to see myself there.

Two - I judged myself for not being further along in my path to change.

I believed that I could change (a fundamental belief of any coach). I looked for a different "in" to creating the change. I realized I had created a flawed plan for change.

I had been sharing my goal with my partner though out the year, but in a casual way. It was more of a FYI – I see this and I want it to be different. I did not ask my partner to help me. I secretly expected his patience, but I didn’t stop to consider how he might help me. I believed I could do it alone and that it was "too much" to ask a person who I pained with my behavior for help. Who was I to ask more of them?

And then with two days left in the year, something big shifted.

We were driving back to our home in Oakland from a couple of days away and BAM. I was right in that place of absence. I was unsure how I had even gotten there. Silence hung in the air and we both knew I had exited the conversation and was off in the land of my protecting myself. My partner reached over, grabbed my hand, and said “stay with me.” And just like that, I snapped out of it. Magic.

In my own pain and pattern, I had forgotten that the way in is the way out. To shift a pattern that happens in relationship with another person, the path to change must involve that person.

I see so many of my clients strive and effort to do things themselves. They look for any way to not involve others. They believe “it is their problem to deal with.” Or that "they can't ask more of someone." Or because they fear "what would happen if people knew they were imperfect beings.” Or that they "don't want to involve people in case they can't change." Then they'd really be a failure.

The truth is that when we must enroll others in the changes we are trying to make. It invites them onto our team. It increases the likelihood that we can disrupt a well worn pattern. It increases our accountability to ourselves and to others.

Who can you enroll in supporting your big changes this year?

Stopping questioning if you can do something. You can.

Wisdom Wednesday, Vol XLVIII

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I see myself as a spontaneous person, but do hold myself to planning a few key things each year. I recognize that some of the things I want in my life do require planning. One of those commitments is an annual backpacking trip with a group of girlfriends. The increasingly impossible permitting systems for wilderness areas mandates having a plan. For these few things, I agree to pull out a piece of my identity I shelved years ago - the planner.

And, even with advance planning, I fail.

Last year we backpacked the Ohlone trail. A 28 mile point-to-point trail that runs through four regional parks within an hour of my house. While the permit can be a hurdle, it was not for that trip. One call. No issues. I later realized, with sweat beating down my face on a 110 degree June day, why the permit process came with such ease. June is not a popular time to hike a trail with few trees. We bailed a few miles short of our end destination. Someone was graceful enough to pick up 4 hitchhikers and to help us escape the heat.

Even without the heat, I had planned to exit, leaving my trail mates to continue on without me. It was time to pull the eject button. My knees had beat me into submission. I hadn’t set out for a point-to-point hike in years. My body had been less reliable in the years since shattering my ankle. I had collected a history of bailed adventures since my injury. Each one came with more ease and less shame than the ones prior. I was adapting. The Ohlone trail felt like a low stakes way to re-engage with a point-to-point hike. I trusted I could call a Lyft given its proximity to civilization.

It felt good to bail as a group, albeit for different reasons.

Despite failing, I dove back into planning for this year’s adventure.

In mid-September, we headed for the Lost Coast. It is a 25 mile point-to-point trail in Northern California. Far more remote. No Lyfts. And I upped the ante in other ways as well.  The required planning was more than I had ever taken on. The trail hugs the ocean and the tide schedule dictates everything. With no previous knowledge of how to read tide tables, I had a lot to learn. Several sections of the trail are passable only at low tide.

I mocked up an initial itinerary and sent it to my trail mates. I received a revised schedule in reply. "We can't hike that many miles on the sand in such a tight window." I met my humility, trusted her knowledge and invited help in the planning. In fact, I resigned from planning and halted my research until the night before our trip. I did a last minute search for a few trail tales and immediately wished I had not. All came with warnings.

The following morning, the depth of remoteness hit me. The opportunity to hail a taxi disappeared. The risk of backtracking and adding miles in wrestling with the tide schedules was palpable. And the terrain was unfamiliar. I  had never hiked on the sand in my life, let alone for 25 miles. I knew it would be a challenge. It turns out that not all sand is alike. The trail varied from hard sand to soft sand. From baseball sized rocks to football sized rocks and on to teeny tiny pebbles.

When I strapped on my backpack at the trailhead, preparing to hit the trail, I surprised myself. I was not asking myself “IF” I could make it to the other side, but rather “HOW.” I had every reason to question “IF” I could make it. This year I simply refused to plan for the “IF” scenario.

When we give ourselves the option to question “IF” something is possible, we will find a way out. An exit plan. There will always be evidence that the stretch is too much.

When we remove the exit plan, we dig within ourselves to find a reserve of resources. It is there waiting for us if we commit to the challenge ahead.

Where are you holding a question of "IF?" I challenge you to drop it.

*Thank our second evening’s sunset for the included photo

Wisdom Wednesday, Vol XLVII

Start appreciating those that provided fruit. 

There was a young boy walking on the road. He looks off and sees a super old man planting a seed in the ground. The boy thought of the man’s foolishness in planting the tree. He understood  that the man would die before the tree grows to bear fruit. He calls out to the man, noting his foolishness. The old man turns towards him. He says “my whole life I have been eating the fruit off trees that people had planted before me.”

At the end of each Good Life Podcast the host Jonathan Fields asks each guest, “what does it mean to live a good life?” Trevor Hall told the above story,  as passed along from one of his teachers in India. At the close of telling the story, he continued to further shape his sense of a good life. He defined it as the point in life where you are able to step out of your own story. Freedom.

This story made the concept of service bigger than what I have shared in past posts. I do service because of the benefit that it gives me. The chance to step outside of my own life and get a different perspective. I rarely reflect on how much my life today is the result of others’ contributions to my life. Trevor Hall gave me that perspective.

So what does this look like in real life?

Late last month, my partner and I moved into a new home in the Oakland Hills. Every evening, interrupting the rhythm of making the home ours, we stop one another and say “what did we do?” This is our shorthand reminder, either of us says out loud, to remind us how grateful we are for our life.

Part of that gratitude is for my own hard work and grit. Another part is for the audacity to dream of a bold life.

In the packing process, I stumbled upon a vision exercise I did two years ago. Dozens of tiny post-it notes shoved into my office closet. The goal at the time was to be free with my dreams. I rapidly recorded ideas to ignore my conscious and limiting mind.

“House. Countless Windows. Nature. Patio. Private Office.”

It is all there, written on tiny bits of paper.

And now it is here.

And yet, that leaves out a large part of reality.

I thrive on connectedness. The belief that we are all fundamentally connected. In the words of the StrengthsFinder Assessment Tool, "Things happen for a reason. You are sure of it. You are sure of it because in your soul you know that we are all connected. Yes, we are individuals, responsible for our own judgments and in possession of our own free will, but nonetheless we are part of something larger."

As I stare out on my tree surrounded patio, I find joy in recognizing others' contributions to my life. It confirms how I am connected to others. That I am not alone. All the people who stepped outside of their own story in service of me. The people who planted the trees that gave me the fruit I eat.

Conversations with girlfriends who pushed me to rethink my relationship with money. To see abundance over scarcity.

The excellence of my last coach in holding me accountable to the type of relationship that I wanted. Who championed me to saying no to everyone else.

The amount of sacrifice my dad took by immigrating from Iran.

Melinda Gates famously said, “If you are successful, it is because somewhere, sometime, someone gave you a life or an idea that started you in the right direction. Remember also that you are indebted to life until you help some less fortunate person, just as you were helped.”

Spend 5 minutes today appreciating the people who planted the trees that sustain you.

Plant trees for others.

Wisdom Wednesday, Vol XLVI

If you want to thrive, invite in variety.

I am 5000 miles away from home, nestled on a small island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. San Miguel is full of hidden gems. The twists and turns of its roads offer limitless hikes, waterfalls, and viewpoints.  behind every twist and turn of the islands few roads. It is the perfect place to unplug from day to day life in Oakland and plug into nature. For me, nature is the space that I need to recharge.

Yesterday’s destination was a hike. The hike dipped below the cliffed edge of the land to two different ancient boat docks. Between the docks was a short climb back to the cliffs. Nestled halfway through terrain that my partner and I coined “the W,” was a gorgeous waterfall. Sitting on a rock no more than 500 feet from the ocean, the waterfall captured me. It’s flow was relentless. The spectrum of greenery drinking from it’s water caught my eye.

I turned to my partner, posing the kind of questions that seem to have space for debate when traveling. “How many different plants do you think are thriving from the water? Nestled below it?”

“1000 maybe. Give or take,” he joked at his ease in replying with such confidence.

“But those are only the ones that we can actually see from where we are sitting. What about all the smaller ones that we can’t see from here. The ones that live under the leaves of the bigger ones.” I got joy in imagining how much was out of our sight from down below.

We sat in silence longer.

I was holding my dismay from the previous day’s Supreme Court ruling in Trump v Hawaii. Alongside it was tremendous gratitude.  If the 70s were like today, my dad would not have immigrated here from Iran in search of an education. A “better life.” Today's America is different. It grants a legal gold stamp to “other” individuals beneath a veil of national security.

“What if our country could be like that waterfall?” I asked my partner. I was admiring the variety of plant species. Without the variety, there would be less to admire about the view that sat in front of us. The variety made the view worth our hour long pause across “the W.”

I imagined that the small ecosystem, nestled in the cove, had come to depend on the variety. Some of its beauty was likely introduced by birds or animals, coming from places further away. They had grown from non-native seeds. Some of those same plants were now likely thriving on other parts of the island. They had become part of the island’s existence. It may not have started that way. And yet it was here now, taking my breath away.

Variety is a window that allows us to see the same thing from different perspectives. It is fuel for change. It is the source of original ideas. It is the catalyst for movement into the future. Without it, we all fall down from suffocating stagnation.

Where can you invite variety into your life this week?

Wisdom Wednesday, Vol XLV

Every fire's flame needs space to be visible. Even you.

Fire – Judy Brown

What makes a fire burn
is the space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water would.
So building fires
requires attention
to the spaces in between,
as much as to the wood….

Each Sunday, I spend 15 minutes planning the upcoming week. I assess "active" time spent coaching or facilitating workshops. Then I turn to the open space that exists outside of active time. I decide what to place in the space. The commitments I make to myself. I take on no more than 1 to 2 things per day, beyond the active time. I am intentional to make my goal possible. I want to feel accomplished. I walk away from my Sunday session with a solid understanding of the week ahead.
 
Until things change.

My schedule this week had two big fluctuations. I pushed a half day workshop out by several weeks due to unexpected absences at a client. I freed myself from my weekly drive to coach in Mountain View because of a change in client's schedules. Immediately I found myself struggling with what to “do” with the open space.

I felt guilty about having two half days suddenly available. So many of my clients and community struggle with “finding time,” and here I had time.

I told myself that I should finally “get ahead of my schedule.” I could review the workshops booked at the start of July and plan them now to create more space then – out in the future.

I feared that slowing down would mean the end to my business. That I would pay the price later for my laziness now.

I spent the first two hours of my morning finding ways to be busy and tie up loose ends. I replied to the not urgent and not very important emails in my inbox. I hung pictures on the wall that I had been meaning to do for months. I re-seasoned a new cast iron skillet. Anything to fill the space that existed before deciding what to actually do with the time.

I paced back and forth between every room in my apartment. I didn't notice my partner watching my discomfort. I was too distracted. As he left the house for work, he grabbed my arm to force me into a pause and poked at my dis-ease with unplanned space. “Maybe you could actually take the day off and enjoy the warm day in the sun,” he joked. I laughed knowing he was right.
 
I had an evening hike date with a friend who happened to be self-employed. I called her to make the case to move our date up by a few hours. She agreed with little hesitation, having just submitted a big deliverable. We broke our usual routine, venturing to a park we rarely explore. At each junction on the trail, we revisited if we wanted to go forward or turn around, each time pushing a bit further. We meandered for 9 miles. Arriving back at the car, I gave myself permission to resist checking email. I didn’t plug back in until I was home from our post-hike Taco Tuesday dinner at a nearby restaurant.
 
The 2 or 3 hours away from work felt like an entire day. I needed the space. Upon reflection, I realized it had been more than a month since I had even unplugged for an entire weekend. I love my work which makes it harder to allow the space.
 
My flame feels bigger today. I gave it oxygen to breathe. I decided not to put another log on the fire. I tended to the open space between the logs – just for a few hours.
 
We trick ourselves into believing that adding more logs to our fire will produce a larger fire. This is a lie. It does not. Logs without space will suffocate us. They will dim our fire.

This week’s invitation is to allow for space between the logs.
 

Trust that your flame needs the space.