Wisdom Wednesday, Vol XXXVIII

My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus. Stephen Hawking

I took the long weekend to unplug in nature, rising early Saturday morning to camp in the South Bay, near Pinnacles National Park. As the newest National Park, it is less developed and has minimal services. That, coupled with our slow to lan nature, pushed us towards using Hipcamp to secure a campsite on private land within minutes of the park.

We pulled into the designated camping field and disappointment struck me immediately. My definition of camping is not an open field filled with tents, but that was the reality of the designated camping area. The ranch was overrun with 60 people gathering for their annual college reunion. They were blasting music too loud to hear the birds and animals of the ranch. I immediately went in two directions.

1) I beat myself up for not having done more research in advance of signing on to the weekend

2) Anger at the ranch for their poor hospitality and camping accommodations.

Upon checking in with the hosts, we began to inquire about the property. We learned about how long it had been under their care and how they run their business. We came to understand that 100% of their bottom line comes from renting their land. Once we gained an understanding of their world, they offered us access to camp anywhere on their 61 acres. We ventured out to scout the property to find the perfect location to pitch our tent. We drove 5 minutes down a dirt road, crossed a narrow river and spotted a breathtaking flat-topped hill. At the top of the hill was a single, massive tree adorned with two rope swings. From the top of the hill, the people and music that had consumed our experience moments before were far in the distance. The site evolved into a weekend home beyond my wildest imagination.

I enjoyed my coffee beneath the tree our first morning and began to think about the relative value of our site. It increased 10 fold when compared to the original fear of camping in a packed field. Our exposure to a less than ideal option opened the gates to revel in the beauty of where we camped. When we expected very little, we received a lot.

This experience repeats itself in any camping adventure. When I pull away from the conveniences of my home in Oakland, the value of inside my house, the value of simple things exponentially increases. A warm cup of coffee cooked outside on a camp stove becomes a miracle. The warmth from the campfire blows you away because the experience would be much colder without the fire's flames. A scrambled egg and sweet potato breakfast resembles a five-star meal because one cannot easily expect a well spiced, warm meal cooked outside.

By adjusting our expectations to be primitive and basic, anything that we experience above that line is a gift. We have the power to see everything through this lens. Our inflated expectations are the single greatest killer of seeing the joy in our lives. When we can adjust our expectations, we open the door to abundance. The joy we extract is real. It is not something we had to trick ourselves into seeing.

Where might you extract joy from adjusting your expectations?


Wisdom Wednesday, Vol XXXVII

Everyone is acting reasonably

People impact us everyday. It is a natural byproduct of living in an interdependent world. Even on days when we hunker down at home and minimize our interactions, we are still impacted by others. What we read, what we watch, what we see on social media, the products created by people that we use all impact us. It is endless.

Our brains cannot register the impact of every interaction. Our brain plays a trick on us to make information processing easier. It tells us a story that the impact someone has had on us is exactly the same as what they intended.

If I am angry because of what you said, you intended to make me angry.

If I am inconvenienced by a decision you made, you intended to inconvenience me.

If I felt rejected by your response to my suggestion, you intended to reject me.

If something is harder than it seems it should be, you are purposefully making it hard.

When we are negatively impacted by others, we convince ourselves that the other person had bad intentions. And it doesn’t stop there. A person with bad intentions quickly becomes a bad person. We jump right over the line that separates who a person is from their behavior. Those are not the same. Every human’s behavior floats below the line of integrity at some point and that does not make us bad. It is a part of our human condition.

Telling ourselves to stop making assumptions is hard. Instead, I challenge clients to shift their assumptions. When you notice yourself assuming negative intent, consider instead assuming positive intent. We shift our focus slightly and begin to look at situations with curiosity rather than blame.

If we want to resolve conflicts and navigate difficult conversations with more ease, we must understand the other’s point of view. We can take the assumption of positive intent further. Consider the possibility that people behave reasonably from their point of view. They review everything that makes up their experience and they make a reasonable choice in behavior. What do they see? Make it your mission to understand their point of view.

Initiate a conversation and name your intention at the start of the conversation. Playback what you hear the other person saying about their point of view to clear confusion and confirm your understanding.

Wisdom Wednesday, Vol XXXVI

The real question clients want to know

“If a man carries his own lantern, he need not fear darkness.” — Hasidic saying

I am taking an interpersonal dynamics course at the Stanford Business School. “Touchy Feely” for those familiar with the curriculum. My participation in the class is one step in a larger journey to facilitate the same course for future graduate students.

In preparation for each week’s session, I receive assigned readings that instill the concepts taught in the course. This week, On Becoming a Person published by Carl R. Rogers made the list of reading materials. Rogers was a prominent psychotherapist and his paper, published in the mid 90s, summarizes some of his experience with clients.

When I sit down with the readings each week, I hold two purposes in mind. The first is to discover them from the lens of a graduate student. The second is to extract nuggets I can bring into my work with coaching clients today.

When I hold the first purpose, I imagine Stanford students trying to place themselves in the evolution of clients that Carl outlines. Asking the question, where am I on the continuum of becoming that Carl outlines. That is what I did. I looked back at my own years of personal work, through therapy and coaching, trying to place myself in each of Carl’s outlined phases. We want to know where we stand in others’ mental models.

For context, I want to provide you with the journey that Carl outlines in his paper.

Psychotherapy clients move:

  1. Away from facades — from who they are NOT
  2. Away from oughts — from the plethora of shoulds sitting in our minds
  3. Away from meeting expectations — space from the expectations our cultures implant in us
  4. Away from pleasing others — from making decisions to manage others experiences
  5. Toward self-direction — stepping into autonomy and active choice
  6. Toward being process — releases our rigidity of wanting tidy conclusions
  7. Toward being complexity — a state of awe and wonder about our own paradoxes
  8. Toward openness to experience — witnessing our experience with less judgment
  9. Toward acceptance of others — acceptance of ourselves makes it is easier to accept others
  10. Toward trust of self — entering into a state where we trust ourselves

When I hold the second purpose, I find myself in fear. I evaluate myself for how easily (or impossibly) I am able to answer the most common question I field from prospective clients.

“How does coaching usually work for people?”

I resist telling clients what the coaching process looks like for most people. As soon as I define “what is typical,” I give the relationship between a coach and client an upper limit. In doing so, I create an invitation to hold back, stay safe, follow the course of the past. And yet, when I dance around that question, I sense a disappointment coming from prospective clients.

I can choose to reframe the question.

Instead of “what is typical,” I can answer a different question.

“What is possible?”
“What can I expect?”

More important and what clients are really asking is “will I walk away from this experience trusting myself?” This is where I meet Carl’s model. Who wouldn’t want to be at #10 more often? This is carrying our own lantern, removing the fear of darkness.

The short answer is yes.

In my experience, clients develop a deeper capacity to trust themselves. It not about creating trust, but rather a strengthening that trust they innately have. Trust with oneself is not something you gain, it already exists. Watch any kid who has just learned to walk for the first time and they are full of trust for themselves, certain that they can go anywhere. That trust doesn’t disappear. It is buried by experience.

Coaching unlocks that view of your own potential. A coaching container acknowledges the truth of Roger’s entire list. And a good coach will keep a client pointed towards the 10th item. We remind clients that they are capable of carrying their own lantern. Power comes when we step into the accountability gained from holding our own lantern.

This week, consider asking yourself, “where do I want to trust myself more.” This is the path towards knowing where to grow.

Wisdom Wednesday, Vol XXXV

We are driven to prove ourselves right

I woke just after sunrise last week, excited to hike to the top of Observation Point in Zion National Park. It was the first hike of a multi-leg tour of National Parks that I had planned to close out the year. Ending the year on a high note. Outside where I am at my best.

Driving along Hwy 9, an hour from the park, fresh cup of coffee in hand, a sign on the side of the road shocked my boyfriend and me. Construction. Expect 3 hour delays.

Immediately, one sign created two different perspectives.

I suggested that the sign might be outdated. He debunked the possibility that an electronic sign could be outdated.

Our paths diverged further.

I looked to Google maps for my evidence, noting that it listed the total drive time we had expected, without delays. He noted that Google maps aren’t always accurate.

I pointed to the signs along the side of the road requesting that people turn off their cars while waiting. We were buzzing past them. I was sure that sometimes there were delays, but not today. He saw the large gap between the road and the curb, convinced that road work was happening today.

I claimed, without any facts to back me, that fewer people visited Zion in the winter and there would undeniably be less traffic. He was sure that rule went out the window over a holiday week.

We both wanted to be right. And so we collected evidence to defend our perspective. The facts were the same, but we chose what to focus on to solidify our defense. We clung to some things and let other things go. Selectively.

This is the power of our perspectives. Once we create a perspective, we want to be right. Our minds select everything that creates our experience to be right. We convince ourselves that we are seeing things clearly.

Our perspectives shape our experience.

My perspective — the sign is outdated — created an easeful and hopeful experience. I was giddy with anticipation.

His perspective — the sign meant our day was ruined — created an experience full of anger, anxiety, and frustration.

In the end, we were both right (kind of). There was construction and there were delays. Google had taken those facts into account. The additional drive time was nominal.

This is not a story about being right or wrong. This is a call to be conscious of your perspective. It is coloring your experience.

What is your current perspective? 

Is it giving you the experience you desire? If not, chose a different perspective. 


Wisdom Wednesday, Vol XXXIV

In a neurological sense, laughing is the shortest distance between two people because it instantly interlocks limbic systems. - Primal Leadership

I recently traveled to Colombia with a group girlfriends as part of our annual Thanksgiving trip abroad. One afternoon, swimming off a private dock jutting into the Caribbean Sea, one of my girlfriends asked each of us:

“Assuming we have friends for a reason, in what capacity do you leverage each of us in your lives?”

One by one, each of them identified me as their friend who brings depth to a conversation.

Depth is my strength and my weakness. Depth is my default. It is not a place I am scared to go and so I frequently find myself there. It is easy because it is familiar.

And yet, depth can carry a tremendous amount of weight. Even where it doesn’t feel heavy for me, it can feel like a bag full of bricks for the people in my life. It is not their default.

Even for the friends swimming beside me in the Caribbean Sea, depth carries a weight. It is the weight of the unknown. When we go to depth with my guidance, you might not be ready. And you may not realize you are not ready until we are already there.

Thankfully, I’ve also been able to find a balance to the weight of my depth. Laughter. My coach likes to remind me that you can’t move something that is heavy. I have my own permission to explore the depth, but I must be equally willing to emerge into lightness. Laughter is the conduit for lightness.

Laughter instantly releases people from clinging to their prefrontal cortex (thinking brain). Laughter infused into a moment that craves light creates movement. In a moment as quick as a snap of a finger, laughter plunges people into their limbic (feeling brain). When two people land in their feeling brain together, it creates a connection. Laughter is the easiest way to build connection between people, when used appropriately. Laughter created in service of another person or in service of a relationship is a breath of fresh air.

This week, identify an area of your life that needs movement. Ask yourself if there is an opportunity to infuse laughter.


Wisdom Wednesday, Vol XXXIII

Any opportunity I have to begin my day of work at 9am or later, I go for a hike. Hiking is a meditative practice that I stumbled upon during college in Boulder, a small town nestled at the foot of the Rocky Mountains. Originally I reserved hiking as a social activity to do with friends. In my years of self-employment, I hit the trails solo. The time to pull away from my home office and unplug from technology is the space where new ideas emerge.

As often does, a lightbulb went off on the trail this morning. I had to bundle up this morning, putting on my winter coat, hat, and gloves, an infrequent necessity given the gift of the weather in Oakland. Last night’s wind had paved the way for a brisk, yet clear morning.

Halfway through an otherwise empty trail, I heard an engine creep up behind me. I pulled to the side to investigate and held steady for a ranger riding on a go-cart to pass by me. I had never encountered a ranger during all my mornings on the trail. As the ranger approached, he slowed down.

“What route did you take this morning?” he asked, catching me off guard.

I answered him with authority, listing the loop of trail names I’d taken.

“I haven’t been up to the East Ridge trail yet this morning. Did you see any down trees?”

With that added context, I realized what the ranger was doing. His job, the night after a storm, was to scope out each of the park’s 40 miles of trails. He wanted to evaluate the impact of the storm on the park’s accessibility. His morning’s discoveries would indicate the necessary action required to notify the public and clear the trails.

40 miles is a lot of trails to scope out independently. The ranger was using what was available to him (morning hikers) to make his job more efficient. His inquiry into my route and my awareness of storm damage made his job easier. It reduced the likelihood of him doing duplicative work. It expedited the timeline for gathering critical information and course correcting as needed.

He could have done it alone, but leveraging the people close to him, who are equally as invested in the health of the park is a no-brainer.

What are you doing alone? Who is close and invested in what you are doing? How can you leverage them?