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What is Your Internal State?

As a wise colleague once said, “If you want to find something on the outside, you must first find it on the inside.” Or, in other words, “wherever you go, there you are,” a saying popularized by Buckaroo Bonzai. While coaching executives and with my ongoing work with myself, the truth is that our internal state is the most important aspect of our lives to attend to and manage. And we can manage it. By doing so, we can direct how we perceive our world, what we get done, and what (and who) we attract.

What is your internal state of being? How do you feel right now? How do you usually feel? What is the noise inside your head?  Are you covering up negative feelings with food, alcohol or some more sophisticated gamesmanship where others are the blame for your problems? With what are you surrounding yourself?  With whom? How are your family and friends with their internal state? What is your purpose? Check-in with yourself and others, you might be surprised how you’re feeling. You can change how you think about things. Your reaction to the world is in your control.

A lotus is the most powerful of flowers as it makes its way through the murkiness to the light. Much like our hidden feelings, they too must make their way to the light. Without this process, they remain ever present, controlling us, sometimes choking and stifling us in ways that we don’t understand and keeping us from seeing the light.

Living in a VUCA world: It’s all about energy

Madonna’s song “Living in a Material World” captured the mood and feeling of the 1980s. What phrase captures the moment now? According to some leaders of the largest businesses in the world, we are living in a VUCA world. What is VUCA? VUCA is a military acronym that stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.

In my day job, I do research with others in my firm along with a well know international university. We are trying to learn what great leaders do that makes them exceptional. Ideally, we want to identify common themes about their thoughts on various leadership topics and how their reflections might differ from the way you and I go about perceiving our world. Our purpose is to not only be able to identify what characteristics make up superior leaders, but to also understand if what makes them exceptional can be coached or taught to others. We ask ourselves if great leadership can be learned then what is needed to create more of them, so that the world will be better led.

It is apparent to the leaders we interview that the world is a much more VUCA place than it once was. Whether this is true, or whether there is only a perception that is true does not matter to these CEOs. To them, the environment of social media mixed with immediate access to global information creates a complex, ever changing landscape of stakeholders that inverts the classic organizational pyramid on its head.

Interestingly, most of the leaders we have interviewed believe that, positive energy is the element that matters most in their own lives and the lives of others. It’s the key critical resource needed. They claim to focus on requiring this energy to have clear, positive and inspiring points of view. They want energy to manage and attend to the needs of the stakeholders that routinely confront them. They want energy to confidently engage, energize and inspire the teams they build. They want energy to develop depth of expertise and the wisdom to apply it. To them, the mechanistic drone like approach to work that infiltrated the Industrial Age is no longer relevant and definitely slipping away. Are these desires and perceptions different from yours?

How do you help the world be better led? It starts with your next interaction. Be the person, be the change you aspire to see. Become conscious of your real purpose in life and access the positive energy of yourself and others around you. Some might do this on a grander scale affecting many more people, but each of our interactions count; especially if we are to create a new shared consciousness or collective unconsciousness that focuses on a more positive way of interacting in our current VUCA world.

Native Wisdom Part 1: If you do something long enough, you must like it

My Father used to say, “If you do something long enough, you must like it.” These were wise words from a part Cherokee truck driver, born in the hollers of Western North Carolina. His belief was that life is full of mysteries and paradoxes, and that people inevitably did what they wanted. He also believed that people’s behavior spoke louder than their words and that while free will was everyone’s right, few took advantage of it.

The paradox he was speaking to was the difference between people’s professed intentions and their actions, or more clearly stated the difference between what people said they wanted and how they acted. He was fascinated by this observation and so came up with his own explanations of human behavior, independent of psychology or any other academic schooling. For these nuggets of Native Wisdom, I’m eternally grateful and I’ll share them in this blog.

Let’s take an example. A friend of mine was upset about how her children and their families have come to dominate her life. She repeatedly complained about this dynamic and conveyed dismay at how they routinely took advantage of her. While her children, now in their 20’s, are able to manage their own lives, they instead relied on their mother to care for many of their wants and needs. She took care of their pets, fixed lunches, and loaned them money. They also repeatedly come and go from her house at all hours, with the expectation that she take care babysitting, washing their laundry and making them meals. She claimed that she disliked her children’s behavior, yet when observing her actions, the contrary seemed to be true. Her actions shouted that she loved being involved and relied upon. According to my Father, though she claimed that she was unhappy with the situation, it was obvious she didn’t want things to change because she liked things as they were.

Since she had known my Father and his many insights, I quoted him one day, during a visit. In the middle of one of her complaining sessions, I imitated his Southern accent and his wry sense of humor to provide some gentle teasing about her dilemma. She laughed, thankfully.

While, she loved her children and deeply wanted to be connected with and involved in their lives, being intimately connected on a daily basis was proving to be stressing for her. Both her and her children had learned behaviors – habits that had been developed years ago that met the needs of the times for everyone in the family. But now, though she had evolved, and her children had evolved, both still lived their lives through the behavioral system that each had outgrown.

My friend knew that change in the family dynamic was needed, but changing is hard. Why? The behaviors people learn, are learned for a reason. Behaviors develop because, even if only temporarily, they work to provide an answer to a problem. Then, new problems are encountered, and we try to force fit an old solution on a new circumstance. When we become conscious of this, it forces us to confront the fact that what was once the best that we could do, is no longer good enough. This causes pain, so we avoid it be letting the awareness of this go unconscious again. The paradox is that it’s the pain that provides the space for growth. If we are aware of what no longer serves us and could sit with the pain just long enough, we can change our behavior, so that we can create better alignment between what we say and what we do.

Working through her behavioral system was tough, but she was up for it. She spoke with her children and has re-contracted behaviors and boundaries and unexpectedly positive changes have enriched all their lives. All thanks to gentle Native Wisdom from my Father, “if you do something long enough, you must like it.”

How about you? What is no longer serving you well? What actions are not aligned with what you love? What can you change today to bring you closer to your real potential? It might be painful to examine, but you’re up for it, right?

Soul Annihilation

“Work is a soul sucking experience,” I mulled during my few moments of eating breakfast this morning. Despite devoting years to trying to understand exactly what this work thing is we do, why we do it, and how to make it less soul sucking, I found myself at ground zero once again.

What event had placed me here? The day before, I had been in yet another corporate meeting where a decision to move forward was in the process of being reversed. It was as a result of a theoretical argument made by non-operations people about how operations “should” be done. There was merit in their view, but it ignored the day to day reality that our operations people had vetted with clients. We were on the verge of postponing a decision that would enable us to put a stake in the ground and to do something different to engage our customers and beat the competition. It was a commitment to change. But people were waffling. Systems theory would have predicted that all systems try to retain homeostasis, so I understood intellectually what was going on in the organization; the organization was attempting to maintain its own center of gravity, that is, protecting itself from change.

But what was really going on with me, personally? Why had this de-energized me? Frustration? Yes. Chagrin? Maybe. But it went much deeper.

When had I been happiest recently? The answer was clear: when I was painting a potting bench my husband had hand-made for me. At the time, I had found my joy curious. With complete and utter wonder, I watched the paint that I had chosen glide like silk over the bench. Side by side we painted, silently caught up in the spell of accomplishment, awed by the results of our efforts and the simple peace of being with one another. There was evident progress and satisfaction from a job well done.

I thought about my draining corporate experience and how something as simple as painting could be so rewarding. Then it occurred to me that what I was experiencing during my breakfast mull was alienation. Karl Marx described alienation as the result of living and working in a world based on social classes. The idea goes that the average person in this complex web of social classes loses the ability to lead their life and chose their own destiny. By working “for” someone, something, (not ourselves) pursuing our own destiny – life, is at best secondary. Many times it is not thought about at all. Thus, we cannot determine the character of our own actions or those of others, define how we relate to others, or own the things and use the value of the goods and services we make with our labor.

I wonder if we are experiencing a spike in the collective experience of alienation. Perhaps the surge and pull for “organic,” moving back to small farms, getting “off the grid”, disconnecting, etc.  is reflective of our collective unconsciousness of alienation. Additionally, there is more marketing on how to simplify your life, some examples of which include a venue called the “Container Store” and a magazine called “Real Simple” that has as its mission how to help you simplify every aspect of your life. (I find it curious that month after month the magazine is quite thick, making me think it is really not so simple to be real simple.)

We all feel this alienation pull at us from time to time, but especially when we experience a disconnection between our destiny and how we make our money. The literature abounds with research and self-help books that proclaim that success comes from doing what we love. Perhaps doing what we love is what helps us also to avoid the abject despair of alienation, too.

I write about perception, hopefully with depth, that helps us more clearly capture our individual purpose. By making the unconscious conscious we ensure we can more closely align what we love with what we do and avoid the feeling that we are mere cogs in a machine someone else created for us.

What makes you happy? When were you last happy? These questions must be mulled over so that we are not lulled into giving up our time and energy for “the other.” Otherwise, where does that leave us at the end of our short precious life?

The Gravity of Shame

With the May snow swirling outside my window, I watched a newly emerged spring green leaf fall helplessly to the ground, as if to say, “too much! I can’t bear being exposed any longer and I want to die.” As I watched the drama, I imagined the full life this leaf might have lived. She would have enjoyed a warm summer with the pleasurable feeling of energy being pumped through her veins. She might have lived out her purpose of turning sunlight and water into a magnificent tree all the while dancing with her sisters and brothers in the calm breezes as well as storms. At the end of her life, she might have turned into a bright orange blaze in the hush of fall before winter brought her death.

This thought lingered with me, and as a staunch friend of both projection and anthropomorphizing, I began relating to this. What can make us shudder from exposure and make us wish we were dead? What makes us fall from our true purpose? “Shame is a soul eating emotion,” Carl Jung once observed. Shame makes us feel vulnerable and exposed to the harsh elements of other’s cool judgment real or perceived, or worse, our own cold judgment of ourselves. We hide from it and avoid situations where it might, like some ever present menace, be provoked.

There is a price to this hiding and avoiding. We miss out on some of life’s joys and avoid experiences that would make our lives richer and more complex. For many of us, it is not the abuse that others do to us that causes our shame; it is our own internal scripts that are reflective of our self-perception and our perception regarding how the world perceives us. From the smallest of self talk to something bigger, we gut check ourselves moment by moment each day to avoid risk, humiliation – shame. Often these scripts go unexamined as they are part of our belief system, and we are as sure about them as we are sure about gravity.

Whether coaching leaders, teams or individuals, part of the real work is helping them to uncover what holds them back from their highest purpose. There are many theories about this including limiting belief systems, fear of failure or even fear of success, but I believe that at the root of these resides shame. Shame that we might be unworthy, shame that we are inadequate, shame that others might see who we “really are” and that might not be good enough, smart enough, or tough enough.

What holds you back? What makes you hide yourself from others? When do you do a gut check before speaking your mind? Find a friend or sounding board and talk it out, or write, draw, or create the emotion so that it sees the light of day. Shame survives best by being hidden, unexamined, and by the belief that you are the only one feeling this way. Ignoring it will not make it go away and can make it grow. Becoming conscious of your own shame and sometimes, just sometimes, merely asking and answering “what makes me feel shamed?” can help shame defy gravity and float away like the May snow.

The Battle for Alignment

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” – Dwight Eisenhower

I think of this quote often. I live it daily and so do my partners and clients. Not only do I consult to leadership in a variety of different organizations, but I also lead within organizations in which I’m employed. I have made this choice, as opposed to being an independent consultant, because I think there is great value in the insight gained from being a leader in a complex organization when you consult to leaders within complex organizations.

Without fail, there is a time each week when this quote comes to mind. Although I’m someone who enjoys spontaneous and evolving conversations, I prepare in advance as much as I can. I do this through reading, talking to colleagues and in general, collecting and organizing a variety of points of view so that I feel I understand the landscape – as I think it is going to be – in an upcoming “battle.” In this instance, I liken gaining alignment between people to a battle as sometimes it can feel that way. I find this to be the essential requirement of leadership, to bring others together for the sake of getting something done in a certain timeframe. Underlying this is energy engagement, which I feel is what a leader “really” does, but that is a topic for another day.

Even after the alignment is created, which can be a battle in and of itself, the plans that are created don’t work. People change their minds, other priorities emerge, technology doesn’t work, one person is left off an email, or perhaps organizational priorities shift. Clausewitz once opined, “Everything in war is very simple. But the simplest thing is difficult.” The same is true in getting things done in organizations.

What do I recommend to clients and what have I learned to do myself?

  • Be clear about and “in love” with the effect you want to achieve.
  • Maintain emotional distance and do not be “in love” with a specific way to achieve it. It is OK to shift and do things differently even if the decision has been made to do it a certain way. Consciouly chose the right path, not the default path.
  • Take your own emotional pulse – if you fall “out of love” with what you’re trying to achieve, others will too and maybe your intuition is trying to tell you something. What is shifting your focus?
  • Be prepared for wildcards and the unpredictable, something unplanned will happen. Knowing this can take the emotional edge off when things go astray.
  • Be open to new information to build or shift your vision

The battle for alignment is an ongoing process that requires renewal and revisiting as the twists and turns of execution unfold. Eisenhower had it right, planning is necessary while plans go astray. And they always will. How we adjust to it is what organizational life is all about.

The Frog, the Dolphin, and the Giraffe

This past weekend, I found three stuffed animals in a storage box that I had kept since I was three years old. Now 50 some years later, I pondered why I had kept them so long. There was a Frog with a crown, a silvery yet furry Dolphin and a speckled Giraffe with a little red tongue dangling outside its mouth. Presently, they were sewn together piles of dust that “should” be tossed. In the middle of a cold, wet Lake Michigan day in April I could not bring myself to do so, despite my sense of urgency to get my spring cleaning done. As I stood pondering, struck by the fact that they were still with me and wondering why that might be. Remembering that Socrates was attributed with saying “the unexamined life is not worth living,” I continued to reflect. I realized I had not examined the difference between the lifeless artifacts in front of me and the life-filled archetypes they had represented to me as a child. They had somehow remained one in the same, my childhood imaginings captured somehow in these dull lifeless forms.

What is an archetype and why is it important? In Jungian psychology an archetype is a collectively inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, or image which is universally present in individual psyches. For instance there is an archetype of a Mother, Father, Hero, and Victim that are well known to most of us. Literature uses these archetypes through their fictional characters to speak to us about their greater truths that lie beyond fact. The media uses archetypes to create connection with their ideas and views beyond what might come about with an interaction with a simple product or consumer item. Individually, we have archetypes which are generalities or stories about ourselves and the world. These stories form scripts that we often follow unconsciously, whether they are correct or not. Many times they operate out of our awareness, guiding us without our knowing. The more closely we examine our stories and scripts, the more we will have examined our lives. My hope is that we all move away from “living a life of quiet desperation” (Thoreau).

To what archetypes did my dust balls speak? It was easy for me to understand the Frog – he was the smart one who could be relied upon for logical, practical and straightforward advice. He was wise and kind, a natural and benevolent leader. He saw things as they were, made things happen and had a realistic view of the world. The Dolphin was equally easy to understand as she was at the opposite end of the continuum, a free spirit looking for adventure, love and laughter with a sweet sense of humor. She had a good nature and was supportive and loyal to her friends. She strived to make her impact positive on those whom she met.

But the Giraffe, named “Baby Giraffe” was a mystery. What had he represented? He was awkward looking, could not stand on his own even when he was new and had big soulful eyes too large for his oversized head. His neck was too long, even for a giraffe, and his back too short, his tiny feet were incapable of holding his weight, his legs too weak. Through the years his long neck had buckled under the weight of his head and his tail had been chewed apart by a dog. Yet, he had been my favorite of the three despite his apparent imperfections. Baby Giraffe had been the joyful one, who ran about getting into mischief, going places he was not supposed to go and saying things he was not supposed to say.

My realizations when I looked at what each represented was that I was all those things, but had let the Frog dominate most of my life and only recently had I reacquainted myself with my dolphin self. She had reentered my life as I tried to free myself from issues that held my energy down. This had occurred through several significant life changes that still have me reverberating. Yet, they had set me off on adventures of travel and love I had only dreamed of. Now, perhaps it is time for me to acknowledge that the frog and the dolphin were really servants of the flawed, fragile, beautiful yet ugly giraffe I had always felt I was underneath it all, but was afraid to acknowledge. Baby Giraffe, the playful, wounded mischievous one, is fully formed as the archetype I adore most in my life, now that the Frog and the Dolphin have made it safe for him to come out and play.

The doors of perception.

“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.”
Aldous Huxley

When I first heard about The Doors in the 70’s as a grade schooler, I had no idea why a band would name themselves after something so simple as a door. I pondered what kind of door could inspire a band? Was it the pure simplicity of opening and shutting a piece of a wall that was so compelling? Was it a brown door, a white door or a glass door? And then I completely forgot my questions as I trudged through my teenage years reading gothic romances, historical fiction, and Mad magazine. Then, I discovered Carlos Castaneda. Reading his first three books felt deliciously adult and shifted the way I perceived my life and how I wanted to live. From that point on, I was mystified by perception and how different people saw things so completely differently. This is when I also realized I wanted to be a psychologist. Perception has been a lifelong muse ever since. One of my most treasured quotes from him is this: “The trick is in what one emphasizes. We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.” To me this is the essence of perception. We determine how we look at things, and we must do this consciously, and whether or not you do think consciously, the work of life is the same. Why be miserable? Change your perception of what is happening.


If only it were so easy, but perhaps it is just that easy. Having witnessed death in family and friends where long-term illnesses wreaked havoc on people I loved, it is easy to slide into despair and rant about how hard life can be, how cruel a fate, how physically painful, and how fickle it is in whom it blesses with health, and whom it does not. My family and friends chose to be happy even during horrendous and challenging struggles, perhaps because they knew their life was so short. Could I not do the same? It was a matter of perception, what is real and what is not.


As an executive coach, my own life experiences cannot help but inform how I work with clients. Perception, my muse, is often the blind spot that hurts many leaders. Their ability to “see things as they are” is difficult when they only see things from their perspective. A leader’s ability to integrate multiple viewpoints and perceptions into a mosaic whole that makes sense is an art that few master. Sometimes I feel my job is to eliminate “how did I not see that?” from my client’s expressions. I do this by helping them to open their own doors of perception about who they are, what matters most, and by expanding their understanding of their current realities through multiple perspectives.

Oh, and The Doors? I get it now.

Your vision wi…

“Your vision will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.” – Carl Jung