How I failed in my first year of business

moneyArticle contributed by guest author Aimee Teesdale

My company (aka.: ‘my baby’, my ‘pride and joy’) turned one year old at the start of September (2016). Nothing all that special, until you consider that a few years ago, I would never have even dreamt that having my own business was possible. A small town girl from a dodgy council estate, who was I to think about starting a company?! “No, not me. couldn’t do that”.

But as I entered the mainstream of Monday-to-Friday 9 to 5, I decided I didn’t want to simply accept the Rat Race way of life. There had to be more to life than just sitting at a desk making someone else’s dreams come true. I just didn’t know what it was, or if I was even capable of having it. But instead of succumbing to my self-doubt, I set about creating the lifestyle I wanted to live, by creating the person I needed to be to have it. I embarked on my own journey of self-discovery, combined my education in psychology and passion for self-development, and became a transformation coach who empowers other people to achieve the same level of transformation for themselves. But starting my business, and transitioning from ‘PAYE’ to ‘Ltd’, hasn’t been an easy journey.

In the time since starting my business, I’ve obviously been to a fair few networking events, and one thing that always struck me whenever I met fellow founders was how well everyone always seemed to be doing, when I always felt like I was struggling. ‘How’s business going?’ – ‘Yeah really good thanks! How’s yours?’ – ‘Yeah good’ (I’d reply with a sunken heart and fake smile). Why was everyone else nailing it and I wasn’t? What was I doing wrong? I felt like I was trying to crack the enigma of how to get clients and be paid for what I do. Well over the course of time I came to realize that actually, starting a business is hard, and everyone went through tough times, it was just that no-one was talking about it. Everyone was quick to boast about their successes, but rarely did people admit their mistakes. The failures – what failures?

As a coach, I understand the power of being authentic, vulnerable, and brave enough to expose even the less appealing side of ourselves that we prefer to keep hidden. I understand the power of it because I see from my clients: the ones who achieve the most transformation are the ones that are brave enough to admit their deepest, darkest thoughts, fears and mess-ups. So here’s me being authentic, vulnerable and brave, as I explain how in the first year of me running my company, I often failed:

I became obsessed with the outcome:

I was obsessed with ‘success’, measured by how much money I was (or rather, wasn’t) making. I’d grown up in a poor family and was desperate to escape the burden of always having to scrimp and save. But with this obsession for money, I lost my happiness, because the more I dreamt of wealth and financial abundance, the unhappier I was in the present moment, and the more I focused on what I didn’t have rather than what I did. I lost sight of the most important outcome of all: personal fulfillment. Personal fulfillment through transforming people’s lives. Once I focused on that, the money flowed.

I got impatient:

I wanted “success” and I wanted it now. I read somewhere that impatience is simply the lack of trust or certainty that things will happen as you want them to. Think about it: you get impatient in a traffic jam because you lack the certainty that you will make it to your destination on time. You get impatient teaching a concept to someone because you don’t think they will ever get it. You get impatient at your husband because you lack the certainty he will do the dishes when you want them to be done. In the early days, I still doubted whether I’d really be able to make my business successful, which lead to impatience, which lead to me working all hours to get things done, because – well EVERYTHING just because it HAD to be done NOW (when really, it didn’t matter if it was done today or next week – the outcome would be the same). Once I started to trust myself and my ability, I was able to enjoy life, enjoy building the business, and sure enough, attract more clients.

I focused too much on my price rather than my value:

I tried to charge my first potential client the price I wanted to be charging in the future after year’s of experience. It didn’t matter to me that I’d only just qualified as a coach. I thought I knew it all. I tried to charge what other well-established coaches were charging simply because, if they were getting that much money, why shouldn’t I? But I was missing the point. It’s never about the price, it’s not even about the years of experience. It’s always about the value. Do the perceived benefits of what you offer outweigh the perceived costs, to that individual? When I shifted my attention to serving my clients powerfully, by making my intention to simply make a big difference to their life, instead of just thinking about how much I was going to charge them, client after client said yes.

I compared myself to other people:

And worse still, to the wrong types of people – people in totally different industries with totally different businesses and expertise! I looked at them and saw what they were achieving and then started to feel inferior or worthless because I hadn’t achieved the same. As humans, it’s natural to want to gauge our own success based on the success of others, but it should be used as an opportunity to learn and propel us forward, not to let it play down one’s own level of self-worth. Throw away your ‘Ruler of Success’ – there’s no such thing. Define your own measure of success and work towards that – not someone else’s.

I procrastinated:

Ah, the most common archenemy of freelancers and entrepreneurs. There are lots of books out there giving tips on how to overcome procrastination, but they’re mostly behavioural: ‘break the task down into small pieces’, ‘tackle the hardest one first’, ‘set a clear objective’, etc etc. However what I teach is that all behaviour stems from conscious and subconscious thoughts, beliefs and emotions. We act because we feel, we feel because we think. The act of doing nothing, or everything other than what you’re supposed to do, is a result of some kind of thought process which is making you not want to do that thing. For example, one day I realized that the reason why I was procrastinating was because I was being inauthentic. I had written the marketing for my coaching services on a concept that I thought would sound better and sell better. It didn’t come from my own true journey or purpose. It felt fake. When I realised this, I went home and re-wrote my website from my heart. I stopped thinking about strategy and instead focused on sharing. And now when I talk about what I do, I don’t have to think of ‘my elevator pitch’ or sales speech – I just talk. And finally my prospects call me and say ‘I really resonated with what you said…” So if you’re procrastinating, take a deep look inside at those subconscious thoughts and beliefs: Is your task really aligned with your true self? Do you believe in the project, in yourself and in your capability? Are you fearing the outcome? Are you fearing potential failure?

I refused to plateau:

I was GO GO GO day in/day out, not content with no-progress. I blamed myself for not working hard enough if I took a few hours off to relax. I didn’t appreciate the value in just simply letting things be for a little while. This doesn’t mean not working, it just means being content with having reached one milestone before striving for another. Once I finally embraced a period of plateau between milestones in my business, by easing off the gas pedal and focusing on experience and exploration rather than ‘make as much revenue as possible and as quickly as possible’, I let in a world of self-discovery. I was like an elastic band, being pulled back and held under tension, gathering momentum, taking aim, before being fired. Once released, whooooosh…off it goes.

Even with these mistakes, Aimee C. Teesdale Ltd is thriving, not despite my failings, but thanks to them. Thanks to slowing down I gathered the experience, insight, and confidence to quit my part-time job and go full time in my business, a whole year ahead of the goal I had originally set myself. Thanks to procrastination I discovered my authentic self. Thanks to greediness I discovered the meaning of value, enrolled my first client and got the ball rolling, scaling up my prices with every new client I attracted. I am grateful for all my mistakes because I chose to learn from each one of them. Mistakes and failures are not to be feared – they’re there to help us improve.

Failure isn’t the opposite of success – it’s how you get there. What are the mistakes that you’ve made, and what have they taught you? What have you discovered or achieved as a result?

Improve your decisions. Use your emotions.

decisionArticle contributed by guest author John Thalheimer.

It was late on Tuesday; Julie had to make a decision before she left work. It had been a long day of meetings, project reviews, and conversations with her team. As she walked into her office, she sat down in the armchair she usually reserved for guests to her office. The decision she had to make weighed heavily on her. Instinctively she knew however she decided it would impact the performance of her team for the next year at least.

On her desk sat the resumes of the two candidates that would replace her operations manager. Over the last two weeks, she had narrowed down the candidate pool to these two resumes, and now she had to make a decision.

One of the primary responsibilities of executives is to make decisions for the betterment of the organization. In fact, executives make hundreds of decisions each week that impact the direction of their organizations. In my work with leaders, most of them believe that making rational decisions are an important aspect of their leadership. For the important decisions, the leader usually has a very systematic way to make the decision. Ben Franklin introduced us to the pro vs. con list that many executives use today.

My way is to divide half a sheet of paper by a line into two columns; writing over the one Pro and the other Con. Then during three or four days’ consideration, I put down under the different heads short hints of the different motives, which at different time occur to me, for or against the measure. When I have thus got them altogether in one view, I endeavor to estimate their respective weights…” Ben Franklin

If you google decision making, you will get over 133 million different responses. Obviously, we are obsessed with making good decisions. And no wonder with the importance of each decision we make as leaders. And in a way Ben Franklin had it right, the importance of understanding the pros and cons of the variety of choices is still paramount in our decision-making process. Unfortunately, it is not a straightforward as reviewing the facts and making the best rational decision.

As humans, our emotions play a large way in how we make decisions. Our emotions evolved to coordinate our various human operating systems. For instance, the functions of sleep and fear of a predator require different reactions from the brain and body. If the brain was receiving cues from the outside world it was time to sleep while at the same time a lion was stalking us, our species would have been extinct a long time ago.

In today’s society, how we perceive the world impacts our emotions and in turn, influences how we behave including how we make decisions. For instance, when we are deciding between various software providers, we may eliminate one because of a gut reaction that they are not forthright. Maybe the vendor reminds us of time where a vendor let us down. Maybe the vendor triggers an anxious response by shoving the contract in front of you. Maybe the vendor pushes your respect button by calling you, Miss or Son. In any case, this “gut reaction” is an emotional response to an internal trigger that may or may not be accurate.

Our emotional responses are not necessarily rational and may be based on an environmental trigger of which we are unaware. When I was purchasing a new stove for my house, one of the factors I used to make my decision was that it had to be a gas stove. I rationalized this by reminding myself that all of my chef friends said that it is best to cook on gas. It wasn’t until I walked into my grandmother’s house and saw her gas stove that I realized the motive for me to buy a gas stove was a nostalgia for the time spent in my grandmother’s kitchen.

How can we stop having emotions impact our decisions? We don’t. They are a critical part of our decision-making process. In most cases, they provide us a deeper understanding of the decision and how it relates to our internal value system. This connection between our values and the ultimate choice is key to making the best decision possible.

Using the following rules will help us make the best decisions and allow our emotions to properly impact our decision-making process.

  1. Know exactly what you want to achieve. This may seem self-explanatory but in the work environment with its competing and at times conflicting goals, this can be a challenge for even the most experienced leader.
  2. Gather information about the various choices so that you can have a full perspective. You don’t have to get every piece of information possible. Just enough so that you feel comfortable. This is where the pro’s vs. con list can help clarify the different choices.
  3. Get other people involved in the decision-making process. (Not too many, after a certain point too many viewpoints will cause paralysis.) With complex decisions, finding good partners to help you and challenge you help you make the best decisions. It can also offset any biases you may have.
  4. Check your choices against organizational values and standards. Some choices may seem best until they are reviewed with the organizational values in mind.
  5. Finally, make a decision. Yes, your emotions will be involved in the decision-making process, that is not only acceptable and is preferred as it will allow you to react to things that which you are not aware.
  6. Review your decision and its outcomes. Did it meet your expectations? Were there unattended consequences? How did it impact the team? Does anything need to be adjusted? We are never perfect in our decision making, it is how we correct ourselves that truly matter in the long run.

Let’s get back to our heroine, she needs to get home.

Julie stood up and walked towards her desk. She picked up the two resumes. She quickly looked over them, visualizing the two people in her mind. She smiled to herself and picked up the phone and called the Director of HR with her choice. In the end, she realized that it was her decision, and she knew that her intuition would not steer her wrong.

She headed home to her family, wondering what her husband had chosen for dinner.



What’s keeping you from getting there?

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

The alarm goes off and you jump out of bed with the best of intentions. You have a long to-do list and today is the day you’re going to check those boxes. Check, check, check, check, then – oh. There it is — that one task — the one you’ve been avoiding. That one that has been looming over your head like a dark and thunderous storm cloud, carrying in its dark and grey shadows a sense of dread and trepidation. And with each day that passes without working on it, the bigger and stormier that cloud gets, to the point where it begins to wake you at night and give you that sick, pit-in-your-stomach feeling when you think about it. You know that you have to start on it. But instead of diving in and tackling it, you jump on social media, and before you know it, you are watching videos of cats jumping in the air when they spy a cucumber lying nearby. And at the end of the day — that sick sense of dread is still there. Can you relate?

Procrastination is a choice we make that can really eat at our drive for achievement. I like how Christopher Parker put it: “Procrastination is like a credit card: it’s a lot of fun until you get the bill.” So true!

To procrastinate means to avoid doing something that we ought to be doing, and most likely, spending time doing ‘more enjoyable’ things in place of the task at hand. This avoidance can take the shape of spending time on less-urgent matters or simply running from the task completely. Achievement drive is a valuable competency of emotional intelligence and without it, we find it hard to accomplish our goals. People who are overflowing with achievement drive set high professional (and personal) standards and continually strive — yes strive — to not only meet those standards, but to go above and beyond. Those without it tend to do only what’s required of them and don’t like to stretch themselves to accomplish challenging tasks.

“Procrastination makes easy things hard, hard things harder.” — Mason Cooley

In grad school we were given the task of developing a research project around our topic of study and to go out and gather responses to a specific set of questions, recording the answers with a scientifically-based and statistically-reliable methodology. The project contributed to a good portion of our semester grade and was going to take more than a couple of hours to complete. “It’s a good idea that you get started on this one early”, our instructor stated. I immediately started worrying about what topic I would choose and whom I would include in my focus group. But instead of going home and at least brainstorming some ideas, I tucked the assignment away and tried not to think about it for the next few weeks. With each passing day the project grew bigger and increasingly fearsome than it actually was, until it seemed larger than life itself. This is an impossible assignment! I’ll never finish it on time! Before I knew it I was waking at night sick with worry, but when the daylight came, instead of working on it, I did everything else BUT the project so that when night came again, the dread settled in my bones like a life-sucking parasite.

At the last moment, literally, with about four days to go before due date, out of desperation, I dove into that assignment, and to my surprise, discovered it was very interesting and even — dare I say — fun? I wished I had more time to spend on it but due to my procrastination I only had a couple of days to work on what turned out to be my favorite assignment of the year.

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” — H.P. Lovecraft

Remember when Indiana Jones had to step out into nothingness to discover the only way across the ravine? Sometimes taking the first steps into a daunting task can feel that way.

A good way to avoid letting it become seemingly impossible is break it down into smaller, manageable steps…and sometimes forcing yourself to put one foot in front of the other, stepping out into that hazy unknown. Letting a project sit too long untouched can slow down your traction. The sooner you can begin to chip away at a task’s monumental stature the sooner you’ll realize it’s not as prodigious as it seemed. And you might find you enjoy the views along the journey.


How to do this?

A simple place to start is to create an action plan:

  • Define the project and make note of the deadline.
  • Take a moment to anticipate how you will feel when you accomplish this project and jot it down.
  • Make a to-do list of the steps needed to take to accomplish the project. Set timelines for each step. These can be daily or weekly, depending on the length of the project.
  • Pick your team. Who will help you, whether it be for research, or task-sharing, or simply to lean into as a source of encouragement? Many hands make light work.
  • Push to the front of the line. Each day, if possible, work on this project first. Allowing yourself to do other tasks may take you off course and prevent you from taking necessary steps toward the goal.
  • Celebrate your accomplishments along the way. Each step achieved puts you one step closer to the grand finale. If it helps, create a visual display to show how much of the project you have conquered each step of the way.

Learning to break down large projects into smaller, more manageable tasks can help you avoid procrastination and become more results-oriented, pushing through the uncertainty that often goes hand-in-hand with something that feels overwhelming. Learning to become more action-oriented and thus develop achievement drive can help you begin to take more risks and work toward a higher standard of excellence. The downside is that you may not get to watch as many cat videos on YouTube. But the sweet taste of accomplishment that comes from reaching your goals and finishing projects will most likely be a bit more satisfying.

“Nothing builds self-esteem and self-confidence like accomplishment.” — Thomas Carlyle

Hired or Not? Emotional Intelligence can make the difference

Article contributed by guest author Patricia Edwards

Emotional intelligence is often the “final” factor

If you are like most job seekers, when you read “strong people skills” and “strong technical skills” in a job posting, you may tend to gloss over the first to focus on selling your technical talent and experience to the prospective employer.  In fact, we often refer to people skills as the “soft” skills and that sounds secondary to anything else we might possess. WRONG!

More and more companies hire for attitude because they have been burned when hiring purely for technical skills and knowledge.  What seemed like a dream candidate turned out, occasionally, to be a problem employee who was not successful.

Hired or Not?

Organizations often use behavioral interview questions which are founded on Emotional Intelligence, referred to as the “Other Kind of Smart” like Harvey Deutschendorf and Daniel Goleman. The latter wrote a book, Emotional Intelligence:  Why It Can Matter More than IQ, which soared to the top of the New York Times bestseller list for a year.  Additionally, some companies use

pre-employment assessments, based on soft skills to predict job related behavior or organizational fit. These tests determine the level of self-awareness a candidate possesses as well as how insightful s/he is of other people.  The higher the Emotional Intelligence, the more able the individual is to influence others, crucial to many professions including customer service, marketing and sales.

Emotional intelligence separates star performers from everyone else

Research consistently shows that people with high EQ out perform their peers and studies have shown positive correlation with high EQ and careers involving customer service, sales and, especially, management positions. They are aware of their own emotions and keep them in control, enabling them to focus on their work, when others around them are adding to the drama and non productivity.

Yes!  You can showcase your emotional intelligence in your resume, cover letter and LinkedIn profile

By sharing your success stories and achievements, you can really stand out against your competition by showing how you:

  • Develop rapport with your work contacts
  • Build trust with team members and customers
  • Manage stressful situations
  • Negotiate favorable outcomes during times of conflict
  • Nimbly navigate change

What about the interview?

Knowing how to incorporate Emotional Intelligence into an interview can also give you the competitive edge you need to ace the selection process.  Employers hire for positive attitude, resilience and cultural fit; therefore, your responses to interview questions should include examples of how you have overcome obstacles, adapted to changes and worked effectively with others. Simply saying that you possess these traits is not enough.  Go into your interview prepared to share several examples.  That way, if you have multiple levels of interviews, you can share a different example with each interviewer.

IQ may get you hired but EQ gets you up the career ladder

Emotional Intelligence also accurately forecasts leadership capability and is used often when companies identify and groom emerging leaders since that process consumes considerable investment of resources. But it is used extensively in identifying and training top sales teams and has been used by a wide variety of organizations from L’Oreal cosmetics to the United States Air Force with results of more effective hiring decisions, lower employee turnover and higher performance.
If you are interested in career advancement, understanding Emotional Intelligence is a wise investment in your development. An assessment will provide you with a baseline and the great news is that EQ can be improved over time with an individual development plan.

Why You Don’t Actually Need Work/Life Balance

yinyangArticle contributed by guest author Aimee Teesdale

Years ago, I was struggling to do what I thought I was supposed to do: study, graduate, find a job, work… I believed that all I needed to do was figure out the right work role and then everything else would fall into place for me.

Like many people, I also assumed I would have my work on one side, and my life on the other, and I would simply switch between the two every day. A successful person, we are told, carefully manages both of these, i.e. they find that elusive “work life balance”.

In coaching others, I’ve met countless people who struggle with this same “imbalance”. Our jobs feel disconnected from the rest of life. At work we’re supposed to dress differently, speak differently, behave differently. It’s as though we put on a mask when we enter the workplace; the mask of a “teacher” or “manager” or “accountant”. The idea is that true professionals never allow their messy emotions to get in the way of their jobs. We’re not meant to let the “life” part creep into the “work” part. Our hopes and dreams are not relevant. Our disruptive opinions are not workplace appropriate.

And what about our authentic selves? What about our deeper yearning for purpose? About our fears? Well, there’s a place for that, but it’s only later in the day when you get home, and finally get to take off the mask. Only then are you allowed to “be yourself”.

I’m a big fan of the concept of balance in life, but something about this just didn’t sit right with me. The more I worked with people who experienced this, the more I learnt that the problem wasn’t that people failed to find balance between their professional and personal lives, but that they saw them as two separate things to begin with.

Balance vs. Alignment

I originally believed the right role for me was “psychologist” or maybe “HR consultant”. At the time, I had just ended a long-term relationship that left me feeling completely lost; struggling with making friends in a big new city, launching a career, and finding my place in the world.

During those challenging years, I worked hard on my own personal development. I travelled. I pushed out of my comfort zone and found my passions. I worked on my professional development too, by training hard as a personal performance life coach and starting my own business. Which was all great.

But the real magic happened when I realized that my private life and professional life were really two different expressions of the same thing. I had an epiphany: development in one inevitably led to development in the other.

I quickly found out that my career was the most fulfilling when I approached it as a whole, authentic person and not simply as someone who was playing a part, or wearing a mask. I realized that so many of my clients weren’t struggling with work/life balance but rather with a lack of alignment between the two.

Emotional Intelligence is the Key

When I learnt to bring my genuine self to my work, my world changed.

When I learnt to let go of fear of change, fear of rejection, fear of failure and fear of the unknown, my work became something truly exciting.

Your success at your chosen profession is so much more than your achievements and your qualifications. While they’re important, your skills and experience are only a small part of what makes you the complex human being you are. You are also blessed with emotions, thoughts, beliefs and dreams, and by cutting this part of yourself out of the workplace, you limit what you’re capable of, and stunt your development in both areas.

Personal and professional success are not zero-sum; rather, they both stem from the same source: emotional intelligence. Cultivating self awareness, knowing how to take control of thoughts and emotions …these are the skills that transform you from a cog in someone else’s machine to something much more powerful. A thinker. An entrepreneur. A creator or healer.

Today, I would not be able to help my clients in my professional life were it not for the insights I gained in my personal life. And my personal life would not be as rich as it is now without the skills I am learning in my professional life. I was only able to really grasp this when I stopped seeing work and life as two things that ought to be separated.

Your hopes and dreams are not just something to bring out of hiding when your work is done for the day. How can you develop the courage to bring your complete, full, wonderful, flawed self into your work, right now?

• Instead of finding ways to squash yourself into a pre-defined role, ask how you can create a role of your own
• Remember that you are not solely defined by the work that you do, or the title that goes along with it
• Instead of finding ways to separate out the personal and professional, deliberately blend them. Become curious about the ways your personal development can fuel your professional development – and vice versa

A Little Running Story

Sometimes the ability to powerfully influence others, a vital competency of emotional intelligence, shows up without saying a word.ramrun2

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

Many of you know of my dark and sordid love affair with running. I go through romantic, passionate periods where I am a faithful lover then for no reason at all kick off my shoes and quit, just long enough to where when I put them back on it’s like an awkward first date. It’s a rather painful process but one familiar to many adults I’ve learned who at one point ran in high school or college. Like the lyrics in the Civil Wars’ haunting song, “I don’t love you, I always will…”

So last fall I ran a marathon, and this weekend I labored (to put it gently) through a short 5K, the Ram Run, a hilly race our functional dysfunctional family jumps into every year to support our local high school. It seems each August when it occurs I am definitely on the outs with my love. I blame it on back pain, or that we traveled too much, or “I have been riding my bicycle!”, all feeble excuses to explain away my wandering heart. This summer was no different as I had only run a handful of times giving cause for great trepidation around the race’s hills, and in particular, the final one.

In the months between each Ram Run I actually daydream about being in such great shape that I completely tackle the beast. The last mile of the race for the most part is slightly uphill and then takes a sharp turn to a dirt path for the last 100 meters or so that could almost be done better on hands and feet, scrambling up the steep rocky incline to the finish line. Needless to say it is a torturous way to end a three mile run.

There is a lady named Jen who always wins with the fastest time overall for women. She is a coach from another school and often (undoubtedly to her dismay if she knew) visits my off- season Ram Run daydreams. Countless times over the past year I have imagined myself turning that corner at the base of the horrible hill and there she is. This is one of the many delusional aspects of my troubled running relationship. In reality, meeting up with her toward the end of this run could never happen because I consistently come in a good 12 minutes behind her each year. That means she is finishing the race well before I even reach the two mile mark….nothing short of depressing. But in my I’m In Great Shape Fantasy World, I have imagined turning that corner and there she is, and to her surprise in a final ditch effort I push past her up that wretched steep incline for the win. Again, completely and entirely delusional…and impossible.

So imagine my surprise yesterday, as I slowly climbed the long grueling ascent before that hill from hell, sweat dripping off my nose, gasping for air in short high-pitched (I’d guess a high A flat?) tones, feet barely shuffling forward, mentally beating myself up for being 10 lbs heavier than last year and so ready to quit and just walk to the finish, when I turned that corner and there she was. It was a surreal deja vu from all of my silly daydreams of the past year, like that hazy place between dreams and awake after an afternoon nap. In an instant (and to my chagrin) I suddenly realized she had speedwalked the entire race! I had to laugh! She walked the whole darn thing and was still ahead of me!

Despite this discouraging realization, here we were at that fateful finale, two players in a dark comedy. I dug in deep from the very little I had left in my already-spent reserves and pushed past her and up that hill with a desperate burst of effort. I had no thought other than, “She will not walk past me!” The crowd was yelling her name and cheering her on as I passed so I knew she was just a few steps back. I thought my lungs were going to explode and my face, boasting the brightest shade of red comparable to a ripe autumn tomato, would frighten the medics and cause them to come running to my aid. I wanted to quit and walk. I seriously can’t remember a time when I’ve pushed harder, but with lungs screaming and legs collapsing I made it up that hill and ran across that finish line just seconds ahead of her.

Thank you, Jen, for being such an awesome, amazing athlete, and without even knowing it, inspiring me to push myself beyond what I thought I could. I hope someday I can do the same for someone else. Though it was my slowest 5K time ever, and kin to the feeling of winning a card game when a little cheating is involved, it still felt fantastic to accomplish the impossible.

And Running, my beloved, my darling, let’s start courting again, shall we?

Tackling fear with personal power

karaokeArticle contributed by Amy Sargent

I have this terrific fear of karaoke.

It is unfounded, ungrounded, and unreasonable. “No one cares what you sound like”, they tell me. “Have a few drinks and you’ll be fine”, they reason. “No one is listening anyway”, they say in a most convincing tone.  I get it and I hear it and I agree with it – but I’m still scared, to the point of getting sick to my stomach and weak in the knees when I see the red neon “Karaoke” sign on the side of a building my friends are leading me toward.

It’s one thing if I got up on stage, belted out a few notes, and it went really poorly. Picking a song I thought I knew (but didn’t), the entire audience pointing at me and laughing because I looked funny, or choking on the remnants of the hot sauce from that last bite of wings…these would be solid grounds for fear. But I’ve never gotten up there and tried it–in fact, I usually flee the scene before the strains of the first tune begin. My fear is completely and wholeheartedly a fear of the great unknown.

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my.

Karaoke is a silly topic, I know. But I’m finding that fears in one area of life are all too quick to spill over into other areas of life, more important ones like work and personal relationships. Fear is a shape shifter. It can take on many forms which can deceive us into not recognizing it for what it is. And because it doesn’t always show itself blatantly in the telltale sweaty palms and a rapid heartbeat, it can lurk unknowingly in the shadows, causing us to behave in ways we don’t exactly want to.  Procrastination, worry, nagging, complaining, arrogance, using humor at the wrong time, poor treatment of coworkers and/or employees — all can be the damaging results of unchecked fear.

Fear has a direct impact on our personal power, that inner knowing that we can meet life’s challenges head-on, and a vital component of emotional intelligence. And who doesn’t have a few challenges that they could use a little personal power toward these days?!  I can’t name one friend or colleague who isn’t battling something rather difficult at the moment. You? Personal power is so vital because without it, we begin to think that we have no control over our situation. When it’s not present, we lose confidence in our own judgment begin to avoid change, allowing ourselves to feel powerless. We become risk-adverse and do what we can to stay safe instead of stretching into what could be new, positive opportunities.

Part of tackling a fear of the unknown is learning to be present in the moment, which is what’s referred to as mindfulness. Human nature in and of itself has a tendency to either ruminate on the past or worry about the future, but the ability to be in the moment can be arduous. Our fears often revolve around things that could happen, not what actually is happening. I’m afraid I’ll have an all-out coughing fit when I get up to sing in front of everyone. Sure, that could happen, but what are the chances? Think about the times when you had a solid career but worried about getting fired…when you were in a relationship but worried about them leaving…when you had financial security yet worried about losing it. Instead of relishing the present, we tend to fear what is not known.

If you’re one of those people who is unabashedly brave, going boldly where no man has gone before, kudos to you. I admire you. And I ask that you use your gift, not only to promote your own successes, but to reach out to someone beside you who could use a hand. And if you lean more toward being a scaredy-cat, regularly giving your fears permission to dictate your day-to-day affairs…how’s that working for you? Are you ready to make a shift?

Here are some ways you can begin to develop your personal power and push past the fears that may be holding you down:

  • Let the past be past. So you’ve failed at a few things. Sure, the thought of failing again can be terrifying. But you’ve got to let them go and move on. I love the words of Thomas Edison when he said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
  • Stop being the controller. There are some situations that you cannot fix, and worrying about them isn’t helping either. Learn which things you can change (your behavior) and which you cannot (others’ behavior).
  • Learn your enemy. Often our fears arise from a lack of knowledge. Take a class, seek out a mentor, study up on that thing you’re avoiding.
  • Revel in your successes. Jot down a list of accomplishments, the things you’ve done well, and remember how good they felt. Isn’t that feeling worth working toward again?
  • Try it, you’ll like it. Pick one unknown thing you’re intimidated by this week and give it the ole’ college try. Start small – little successes lead to bigger successes. For example, if you dread giving that upcoming presentation to a tough client,  practice first with a group of forgiving friends.

A lack of personal power can be crippling and a huge waste of time. When we succumb to our fears, they devour our confidence, bind our wings and blur our vision. Fear is a powerful, controlling force that imprisons us, keeping us behind the bars of doubt and worry, locking us away from living our lives to our fullest potential.

Maybe it’s time to grab the microphone and start to sing.

“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure…than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt

The value of relating to others

PrintArticle contributed by Amy Sargent

I sat down after finding my name inscribed in calligraphy on the place card.  It was a delightful night to be out on the town — the warm, summer breezes and city lights danced well together to create a jovial spirit for this fundraising event. Though I knew no one in attendance–yet–my plan was to turn on my extroverted switch and add some new acquaintances to my social network on this festive evening.

Within moments a good-looking couple sat to my right, holding hands, and a few others filtered in across the way, but the seat to my left remained empty. The table was so large that conversation with guests across the expanse of linens and silk flower arrangements would be in vain, so I decided to hone in on the lovebirds. But despite my open-ended inquiries, it was quickly obvious that they’d rather spend the evening whispering in each other’s ear rather than engage with me, which was fine, but left me sitting alone.

As our salad plates were cleared, she swept in and sat to my left.  Attractive, mid-forties, with short, well-coiffed hair, a smart navy business suit, and power pumps.  She was one of those very-well-put-together business professionals that somehow always left me feeling inadequate. But that was my issue, not hers. Masking my intimidation, I smiled confidently and put out my hand for the firm-enough-but-not-too-firm handshake and welcomed her to our table.  She looked me over with a nonchalant glance, pursed her lips, and began texting someone (obviously more important than me) as she sat down.

Not one to be quickly daunted, as she finished her text I introduced myself and asked her about her work.  As she answered, with a clipped, succinct sentences, I hurriedly formulated my own response in my head. I honestly didn’t hear a word she said, as I was contemplating what I could possibly say when she asked about me that would make her raise her perfectly plucked eyebrows with interest. I never got my chance. She didn’t reciprocate nor showed any interest in conversing.  After several failed attempts to draw her out, I caved and turned to my chicken dijon with rice until the presentation began. So much for connecting that evening. It just wasn’t going to happen.

There is a quality of social and emotional intelligence called interpersonal effectiveness, and it’s the ability to tune into others with compassion and sensitivity. You know the type. They have a contagious, positive enthusiasm that puts you at ease the moment you meet them. They demonstrate a genuine interest in you and you can tell they actually want to know you. These people possess exceptional listening skills, interact smoothly with others, and are able to make even the most uncomfortable situations comfortable.

Not only were my table partners lacking this quality that night, but so was I. Instead of knowing how to navigate the icy situation with my well-dressed companion, I eventually mirrored her coldness and gave up. The once-cheerful evening quickly became a disappointment and I longed for dessert to be served, not so the decadent sweetness could delight my mouth, but because it signaled the welcome end of an uncomfortable evening.

Does it matter if we really connect well with others?  Theodore Roosevelt stated,

“The most important single ingredient in the formula of success is knowing how to get along with people.”

I admire people who can build rapport with all types, no matter the situation.  But specifically in the workplace, interpersonal skills are an important value add because it is our relationships, with bosses, managers, coworkers and customers, that — get this — have the greatest impact on our happiness and contentment in our roles, more so than our workload or tasks or responsibilities or opportunities. (

“Financial capital is the funding you need to get off the ground, sustain growth, and develop operations. Human capital is the team that brings value to your organization. And while both are essential resources for your business, social capital — the connections and shared values that exist between people and enable cooperation — is the key to entrepreneurial success.” — Chris Cancialosi

If you’ve ever experienced conflict with those you work with, you understand the depth of stress these strained relationships can cause, and we all know the ill-effects of stress, let alone it being downright miserable. Interpersonal relationships also directly affect our productivity. If you’re a leader with disengaged employees, prepare yourself to watch your resources wash right down the drain. Studies show that companies with engaged employees earn twice the net income of those with disengaged employees.  How does the saying go?  “75% of people quit their bosses, not their jobs.”  When you have a chance, check out this surprising infographic of stats:

Max Messmer, who wrote Managing Your Career for Dummies, says this:

“Your career success in the workplace of today – independent of technical expertise – depends on the quality of your people skills.”

How do you know if your interpersonal skills could use some work?  Self-awareness is a key, and if that is lacking, we may miss how we come across, and may need the help of an outside opinion.  If you have a close friend and/or colleague that will be up front with you, and you’re feeling brave, ask them these questions:

  • Is the first impression I give cold or warm/inviting?
  • Do I ever come across arrogant or unapproachable?
  • Am I a good listener or do you feel I’m too quick to share my own stories, opinions, and insights?
  • Do you feel safe to come talk to me about anything?
  • Do you feel like I know you well?  Do I allow you to truly know me?
  • Do I ever come across like I’m judging you or devaluing your viewpoint?

If you don’t have someone who’ll give you honest responses, you may consider working with a social + emotional intelligence coach to do a 360 assessment, where others have an opportunity to evaluate you.  These can be very eye-opening and give you revealing insight as to how you come across as you interact with others. The beauty of a 360 as well is that the raters can remain anonymous which encourages participant authenticity.

In the meantime, in the words of Stephen Covey, “Seek first to understand.” Try focusing on just one of these suggestions this week to see if you can begin to make a shift in your interpersonal effectiveness:

  • Ask open-ended questions. Most people like to talk about themselves, and rarely get asked how they are feeling. Learn to draw people out.
  • Make yourself maintain eye contact if you are one who tends to look “out there” when communicating.  Don’t they say the eyes are the window to the soul?
  • Force yourself to listen and not be thinking about what you’ll say next. I’m terrible at this. This can be tricky, especially if you’re concerned about having the perfect response.  Really tune into what they are trying to communicate by staying present in the moment.
  • Watch for cues that demonstrate not only what they’re saying, but not saying. Is your presence making them uncomfortable? Are they bored because you are talking too much about yourself? Did your last comment make them wince?  Again, watch for reactions in the eyes.
  • Develop an understanding of cultural, religious, socioeconomic, and gender differences.  It’s too easy to offend someone by our ignorance.  Read, read, read to educate yourself about diversity.
  • Withhold judgment.  It’s one thing to have your own opinion.  It’s another to think it’s your way or the highway.  Remain open to new ideas and ways of doing things.
  • Share details about yourself when appropriate. The whys are much more interesting than the whats.  Learn to be a storyteller.
  • Check your own non-verbals.  Are you frowning?  Are your arms crossed?  Are you fidgeting? And by all means don’t check your phone while others are trying to talk with you!
  • Ban complaining. No one wants to hear it, really, and it puts colleagues in an uncomfortable position. (“If I nod, then they think I agree, if I don’t, they think I’m not being supportive…!”).  Find a close friend to share your struggles with — or a counselor or coach — but make an effort to keep complaints and negativity out of relationships, especially at the office.

There will of course be people that we just can’t connect with. It’s normal. But with some brushing up on our interpersonal skills, we can at least make those situations a little more tolerable, if not pleasant.

What’s the Big Deal With Mindfulness?

Article contributed by guest author Renelle Darr.
I have been doing yoga on a fairly regular basis for about 15 years and began getting into meditation almost 5 years ago. Yoga is amazing but a good mediation session takes it to the next level (and good doesn’t always mean “feels good” but rather “good for you”). For a long time, I really thought meditation and mindfulness was about sitting and training your mind to have no thoughts and perhaps no feelings. I couldn’t do it! Impossible! No way! Well, the more I’ve learned about meditation and mindfulness, I now realize that goal really was impossible! I’ve spent more time studying and practicing mindfulness over the last year and want to share some of the key insights I’ve gleaned along the journey so far. I’ve studied the fascinating book How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist, took a local class on “Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction” (MBSR) based on the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. and various other lectures and sessions along with deepening my own mindfulness meditation practice. A few brief insights:
 1. Mindfulness Defined. Jon Kabat-Zinn says “fundamentally, mindfulness is a simple concept. Its power lies in its practice and applications. Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” I believe the part of the definition about “non-judgmentally” is the hardest part for most people in being truly mindful . So it’s not about emptying the mind after all, but about being aware without judgement.
2.  The Concept of Touch and Go. Mindfulness is about paying attention to what is coming up for you, truly feeling it and moving into the comfort or discomfort but not attaching to that one thought. When a thought or feeling comes up touch it and then let it go, even if it is a tough one, a trigger or something that is weighing heavily on your mind. The real trick is also doing this with positive feelings.
 3. Positive Feelings Are the Tough Ones. Our positive feelings are sometimes the hardest ones to detach from. We don’t want them to go away and because of that our positive feelings can cause us the most pain if we are unable to “touch and go”. 
4. Stress Can Be Transformational. What? Don’t we always hear that stress is bad? Typically, we are problem-focused (what can I do to fix this and make it go away?) when managing stress. We are much less emotion-focused (becoming aware, accepting and able to make sense of emotions) or meaning-focused (turning tragedy into triumph as written by Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning). Putting focus in these other two areas changes how our brain responds to stress and mindfulness is a path to get there. Kelly McGonigal has a great TED Talk on this subject.
5. Mindfulness Leads to Emotional Intelligence. Just 8 weeks of daily mindfulness practice (say a sitting meditation for 15 minutes a day) will shrink our amygdala. The amygdala is that tricky little part of our brain that signals “DANGER – fight or flee now!” and has been the culprit for many misunderstandings and interpersonal issues between humans.
6. Sample Mindfulness Practices.  Sitting meditation is one of the more common forms of mindfulness practice. While not the only way to practice, I’ve come to realize that a brief sitting meditation practice is an important part of the mindfulness journey. Other practices are body scans, mindful yoga and intentional yawning (that’s right, yawning is a form of meditation and has positive impacts on the brain). Here is a short article I wrote that expands on how to practice sitting meditation.
My mindfulness practice is a journey.  I don’t always meditate every day as I desire.  I still have thoughts and feelings I touch and then can’t seem to let go.  I do know I’m paying more attention, I see things more clearly, my kids are more adorable and yes, sometimes the pain is much deeper but I’m moving through it all lighter and with less judgement.  The shift is subtle yet profound.

Do you want to be an emotionally intelligent leader? Do you want to manage your stress better? Do you want to improve your health? If so, I highly recommend embracing mindfulness and starting your own journey.

Coaching Toward Freedom


Article contributed by Amy Sargent


Hurdles. Obstacles. Hang-ups. Shadows.

Many of us are aware of the things that slow us down in life, that keep us caged up. Some we can put a name to and others remain obscure. But whether they take the form of an event from the past, or a discouraging thought, a looming dread, or a fear of the unknown, or — fill in the blank — we all have issues, like bars on a prison cell, that prevent us from living the life we dream of. Oh, the joy if we could be set free from these chains that seem to continually prevent us from moving ahead!

What is freedom anyway?  Merriman Webster defines it like this:

  1. The absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action
  2. The quality or state of being exempt or released from an oppressive burden
  3. Boldness of conception or execution


Is there anything in life you do out of necessity, or because you feel like you have no choice?  Are you currently experiencing any heavy burdens you’d like to be released from? Do you wish you had a little more boldness in creating a new idea or carrying one out?  Dr. Gary Wood, psychologist, life coach and author, says this:

“Coaching should be all about helping people to live a life of freedom.”

Working with a social and emotional intelligence coach can help you begin to take steps toward a freedom you’ve not yet experienced. Or better yet, becoming a social and emotional intelligence coach can enable you to help others do just that! Imagine learning how to help others become more self-aware, then showing them how to manage their behavior based upon that newfound self-awareness, empowering them to be free to make the behavior changes they’ve been longing for. Imagine setting others free from relationship woes by teaching them to learn how to tune into the emotions of those around them, and understand how navigate and manage those relationships toward health.

Consider becoming a social and emotional intelligence coach to lead others toward the freedom of living out who they truly are to the best of their abilities.

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