business, life lessons

A FRESH PERSPECTIVE


I walked into my first training with an extra bounce in my step. I was excited to start my new alternate career path of becoming a certified business coach for a company I had been born and raised with called Strategies. Because I have been a recipient of their wisdom, business strategies and philosophy since I opened my business over seventeen years ago, I considered myself already a member of the team. This is the luxury of knowing a company’s culture before your first day on the job, believing in it so much that the training in its culture is almost redundant.

some of the newbies I had the privilege of training with

This business company, the first of its kind in the beauty industry, strives to change the archaic model of pay and team found in its most often female centric businesses and was about to become part of my life. For the first time in over twenty years, I was about to become a sort of ‘employee,’ not in the sense of a real employee, but someone who would be working more as a per diem so that I could still run my own company.

The beauty industry, salons especially, are notorious for wacky compensation. I don’t know if it is because when we take a look at their history in the world, they were often wonderful entrepreneurial opportunities for women to have their own careers with less than one year of schooling and still manage to be there for their children. Business training wasn’t much more than how to ring out a client and order business cards. I am guessing that these single operating salons evolved for many over time into successful operations with no basic understanding of business and payroll. Like so many of us who have had the starry eyed notion of opening our own businesses on a scrap piece of paper, we are often technically savvy, but lack the business acumen to operate and grow it successfully. We wing it. A lot.

What fascinates me is how we succeed with barely a math course in our tool belts, but we chicks are resilient and as many men who have found their way into the beauty industry, we all need help in the way we run our companies. In fact, most small businesses could use more than a consultation with an SBA Score volunteer. Just like we had to learn our craft, whether, hairdressing, facials, nails or other industry like pizza making, donut making, gift shop running, law practicing, personal training, we learn quickly that this is only one component of running a successful operation. This is what I have learned in my business life and this is what I am excited to teach others because without the important skill of business I wouldn’t be where I am today.

What has given me the most thrill in this experience thus far in addition to the intense learning and presenting, has been the birds’ eye view of a fresh perspective on another person’s company. This has led me to consider how valuable new employees are to my own company if I can manage to get them to feel safe enough to share their first impressions. For me, this is easy because I believe in this company like it is my own and I know the owner and the president well. This translates into feeling safe enough to offer my insights into my first impressions and know I will be listened to and considered, genuinely. This is not something I take for granted and it speaks volumes of their leadership style.

When I consider sharing my voice, it is with the layer of interest and care for this company’s success. I know my intent and if I don’t share it, I am leaving valuable information in the closet that surely serves no one. It is risky opening your mouth and giving an opinion on someone else’s story, but as Strategies teaches, there are a lot of brains to be accessed in the employees who show up to work every day. We just have to access them.

As single operating business owners, it is common to leave new employee thoughts and ideas out because we get so wrapped up in our own day to day. We forget to simply ask, or even encourage their valuable opinions. My way or the highway serves no one and it surely does not make for a happy team and a strong growing culture that someone can believe in. Here are some of my thoughts and observations that I have brought back to my own company.
When someone walks into a company for the first time, they see everything with fresh eyes. How does the company clean their space, how do people participate, where do they eat, do they eat together or apart? Is the environment encouraging and supportive using simple and sincere language like, Thank you and Great Job on a regular basis? Do they ask for help and are they open to yours?

New employees watch for how hierarchy demonstrates itself. Does the leadership team show up and act as if they will roll up their sleeves to assist or do they stay away? Is the leadership team gender centric or is it diverse enough where a new employee feels like they not only could be a part of the tribe but want to be? How does leadership communicate with the new employees? Do they say hello with a cheery smile and do they make it a point to say good bye first when they are leaving the building? Or do they lack consciousness? Are systems in place for leadership development right out of the gate, does this seem possible or is it not mentioned anywhere and one can only rise up by happenstance? Is the top tier of the company a part of the bottom rung; do they have a true open door policy or is that just jargon?

Then there is the dynamic that is like a vapor. How does everyone communicate with each other, with customers, how do they discuss each other when that very each other is not in the room? All of these play an integral part in the binoculars of a new employee and it is all happening with barely a conscious thought. The vapor is both subtle, and tremendously powerful because this is the time when these belief systems are formed. Then there is the mirroring that goes on. Do the behaviors of the team and the essence of the company mirror what the new employee just learned in the employee manual on the company’s culture and philosophy?

some of the leadership team and coaches enjoying dinner together after a long day of presenting

The most revealing aspect of watching the dynamics of a company from this perspective is how much I learned about my own company and the way its very personality shows up not only to new employees, but the veterans as well. Is there a clear path that encourages movement and change for their own careers and do they feel like they have options within the company’s future? Is it career development or just a job? If a new employee is asked or made to feel welcomed in sharing their perceptions, magic can happen.

I came back to my business after my final training with a book load of actual information and also an entire new outlook on the way I welcome and honor my own team every day. I am proud to say that in this company I am about to embark on as one of these coaches, most of the observations matched their philosophy. This affirms my choice to be part of the party because as much as they said YES, Alayne, you passed the training and we welcome you to our family, I too was able to answer with a clear yes that I want to continue with them as much as they want me. This is an important lesson here. How often have we worked for companies that don’t match our own visions or that the companies don’’t even have their own vision for one to match?

Leadership in a company has a huge responsibility out of the gate. They need a deep consciousness on their welcome committee. What they say, how they say it, their tones, their assistance, the way they answer questions all speak. This is where the new person on the job forms feelings good and bad. I paid close attention to what came up for me in my training. Was the best brought out in me or did I feel dismissed and diminished by my questions? All of these feelings are so important to grow new people and as important as new clients are to our own businesses, new employees and employee retention is even more so. Employees are the messengers of our culture. They are the reason clients come to a business or don’t. Where do we compromise? Are we aware of these times and do we make corrections promptly?

Owning and operating a successful company is more than numbers. The numbers are the end result of the behaviors we encourage- the good ones and the bad ones. This new journey of mine is opening up the floodgates of possibilities. Like a great movie or a interesting eye opening book that I want to tell everyone about, this chance to teach business owners the business of their business is something I am super excited about. All because a man named Neil decided that he wanted to hire people like me. #Luckyindeed. #Becarefulwhatyouwishfor.

my new fearless leader, neil and me celebrating after completing phase 1 of the training.

self love

THE RIGHT PATH

I did it. Finally. The other day I decided in my zesty thrilling ride I call my life, I have not been taking care of nurturing the spiritual side of me enough.

Deliberately. Wholeheartedly.

The thought entered my mind like a sharp cold blast of air as you step outside on that first winter day. The one that takes your breath away and makes your boogers freeze in a nanosecond. Yes. That type of blast. More importantly, I realized that my life and how I run it is ultimately my choice. And run it is what I have been doing. Running. From workout class to business class to team meetings and writing workshops and dinners out, running and more running. From and to without a lot of conscious thought in my movement. As soon as the consciousness entered me,

I went into my sparkly overbooked Google calendar and decisively blocked out every single Thursday from five am-nine pm for the rest of time.

DO NOT SCHEDULE ANYTHING, it reads in a bright wakeup yellow.

This running I have been doing is not anything bad. I mean, honestly, as I reread where I have been running, it hardly seems like going to a workout and dinner with friends is anything to feel overwhelmed about. It is just that sometimes quickly jotting down an appointment in a schedule as a one line entry doesn’t always translate into a one line event.

“Dinner with Morgan,” for example is not just a 6:00 timeslot. It is getting ready for dinner, going to dinner, eating and driving home. On a Google or Ical entry it looks like a brief appointment, but four hours later of a 24 hour day and four other entries like that on that same day and there isn’t much time left. What my point is here is that I have an active fun life because I thoroughly enjoy the choices I make, but in this whirlwind, I sometimes forget to turn it off, to wind it down and consciously STOP.

My brain is a busy one. For anyone reading my almost daily writings and seeing the time of day I post them, I am guessing there would be agreement with this. Even when I meditate, and though thankfully I have introduced this into my morning routine, it takes most of the meditation to wind down. And this is at five am! But I wouldn’t change it, I enjoy the busy-ness and the mental challenge of a brain on fire.

Podcasts get my brain really cooking. When I am in the car I often listen to them instead of music. Podcasts are like listening to the old school books on tape for those of you who haven’t discovered them yet. And as one might imagine, Oprah has a podcast. Her Supersoul Sundays on her OWN network are also podcasts and she has some fantastic guests. I believe that when I am on the right path and paying attention with full awareness, everything that is supposed to show up in my world shows up exactly when it is supposed to. This notion applies to podcasts too. So without even looking for the “right” one to listen to, I turned on my radio and Devon Franklin started speaking to me like he was sitting in the car next to me. He just wrote a book called, Produced by Faith and he got me thinking about my personal spirituality.

oprah-fied again.

What and where has my deliberate spiritual connection gone? I asked myself. I have been doing this exercise lately of paying attention to where the holes are in my daily life, almost like looking at a counter of glasses each marked with elements of my life. Financial. Physical. Spiritual. Social. Emotional. Relationships. Filling each of the glasses and seeing which ones need more water. This changes based on where I am. Sometimes one is more full or less full then the other. But it tells a good story of where there is room and where the cup overflows. My cup for spiritual devotion was on the low side.

When I say spiritual, I don’t mean going to synagogue to pray, though this could be part of it. I mean connecting with the divine, the one that speaks to me and walks with me. Purposefully in nature, at a museum, with a book at a library away from the NOISE that is in my head and out of my mouth.

Alone.

Do I even enjoy my own company? This is the spiritual question I asked myself as I listened to this podcast and found my way to more and more (or rather they found their way to me). This spiritual day off is not a day free to make plans with another chick, it is a purposeful day with the intention of no plans and going within My Self. Being with me, myself and I.  

Now because I am a wacky rules and regs chick, I really have to train by brain to consider this new endeavor. Saying there can be no rules is in some ways a rule. I am referring to my day as a no plan day. Turn off the phones, the computer, and stop working, like my own personal Sabbath Day. A true day of rest and devotion to my soul. And most importantly if it doesn’t go exactly as not planned planned, to not start the washing machine head of scolding and berating that happens when I don’t live up to my high expectations self. This is more a day of freedom from that. Permission granted to not feel the need to write blogs of encouragement, to not help other women see and feel their power because I know I can only have that strength if I take care of myself too. Just as we are instructed on a plane that if the “unlikely event of a crash, be sure to put your oxygen mask on yourself first before trying to put in on your child.” We must learn that in order to run we must also rest under the stars. Easier said than done.

On my first round this past Thursday,  I went to the gym and made my way to my partner’s house to take a shower. Before I even opened the car door, the sounds of my cardinal friend chirping was almost deafening. I got out of the car and looked up and there he was. Fiery red, the brightest cardinal I have seen, the first one of my season, solo up in the tree above me saying, YAY ALAYNE! TO THE LIGHT! And then he flew away singing his familiar tune.

A sign. Yes. So if you are trying to reach me and it happens to be a Thursday, I likely won’t get back to you until Friday. Don’t worry, I’m not lost, I am found.

On the right path indeed.

business

WHAT IS YOUR WHY?

There is a distinct momentum to running your own company with no partners, solo. Ups, downs, left, right, circles, squares, triangles, zany emotional rides. Dealing with employees, clients, work life balance, (whatever that is supposed to mean) all make you hyper aware of your strengths and your flaws. After all we are humans, and as much as I try to demonstrate excellence in my business to my team, I have floundered over the years as much as I have excelled. This is human nature and the nature of the beast I get to call running my own show.

How to stay motivated, how to keep a team motivated, how to keep clients wanting to come back to your established brand over and over again. The large companies have the same struggles as the small ones and like a puzzle that is all one color, sometimes it feels like the work will never be completed. There is no such thing as Set it and Forget it in running my own company. It is challenging and exhilarating in the same breath and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I often wonder if Apple had not ever invented the Iphone and the Ipad, would the Apple stores be full of curious people every day you walk by one. Mondays, Thursdays, I have never seen an empty Apple store, but as long as they keep innovating and shifting the way they approach their technology, our quest for new and exciting will keep us swiping our credit cards.

What keeps me excited is attending classes, developing leadership and service. Service has always been my personal driving force. To serve. Being in a service business makes it easy to sprinkle magic fairy dust on our clients and team. I feel privileged to serve. Every day I get to put my feet on the floor on the right side of the grass, I choose service. This is my why.

What is service anyway? And more important why? My why is the glory of establishing rapport with humanity by random acts of kindness. Sending a typewritten thank you note or a note at a most unexpected time, a phone call to check in with someone who doesn’t expect one, a simple thank you to a team member. Little specks of kind language that inspires and delights to get someone to smile because I smiled first. This is my why. And I ask Why Not? Kindness and service is such a simple contribution to a day otherwise encumbered with too much screen time and distractions further and further away from human interaction.

As I embark on yet another business adventure, getting certified as a business coach to help other businesses be successful, I am struck by the challenge to see what it feels like to be on the employee side of the coin and I am struck by the emotional zing it is giving me. Even though I am not officially an employee in the traditional sense, goodness knows I don’t need a second “job.” I still have to show up to meetings, trainings, classes with the serious dedication to someone else’s why. What I do understand wholeheartedly is that to truly be part of someone else’s team, you must buy into their why, otherwise it feels fraudulent. I am too grown up to work in any environment that is not in line with my own purpose and intention. Actually, I am fortunate to say that I have never worked in any place that I don’t agree with their core belief.

For the last twenty years though, I have only answered to the beat of my own vision and brand. Sure, I have a team I have had to be accountable to, but ultimately it is me and only me. This can be a lonely endeavor and twenty years later, I have surprised myself with the excitement I feel in having to show up and be present to someone else’s dream. This past two weeks of training and learning has awakened a part of me I didn’t know was sleeping. The interaction with like-minded business owners who decided they too needed an alternative way to lead and inspire has been a welcome guest in my otherwise party for one I have lived in as an independent business owner. The immediate camaraderie I have felt from this group of seasoned business owners who too needed a little wake up and interaction has inspired me in a way I hadn’t realized I missed. The idea of having to be quiet and learn someone else’s mission and vision and gingerly and patiently observe where and when to speak up, but not be a bull in a china closet is in itself the most challenging. I am used to doing my own thing, leading my own party and now to be on the receiving end is unique and most startling to this sassy entrepreneur. Add to this mix a leadership team of mostly men and the party changes significantly.

I have worked with twenty women for over twenty years. All of a sudden, I am thrust into a leadership tribe of five strong men and I am not exaggerating when I say that my female essence has had a bit of a shakeup. But a good one because I get to sprinkle some much needed female fairy dust in their world too (and they need it, trust me).

As I wake up each day sandwiching my excitement between morning full throttle to passing out at about 8:30 pm every night after a well-deserved bowl of Newport Creamery Peppermint Stick ice cream, I know my why. I know my company’s why and I know this new endeavor’s why. There is nothing more satisfying then purpose and intention in work. What is your why and do you know it like the air you breathe? If not, today is as good of a day as any to take a closer look. You may surprise yourself.

WRITING

AN EVENING WITH PAM HOUSTON

I was meditating this morning as I have been doing almost every single morning for four months now. I sat cross legged on the hard surface of the floor, small pillow slightly under my behind for some added support, palms resting on my knees, open to the sky, open to the possibilities of what lies ahead and above. As usual, my mind drifted in and out of future and past thoughts, then back to center, to the glorious now, weaving in and out of the traffic of my busy brain.  Sometimes this is all meditation is for me, a busy freeway of past and future thoughts with bursts of the present. Through this practice, I have learned that this is the practice.

On many occasions though, ideas and thoughts start snap crackle and popping just as the ads for a bowl of Rice Crispies proclaimed back in the days when kids ate cereal as a nutritious breakfast. Do kids still eat cereal for breakfast? I don’t know since my son is mostly on his own these days away at college. I can wager a guess that the only cereal consumed is the type that gets gobbled down after a night out on a college weekend. But cereal or no cereal, meditation along with almost daily writing have become a nutritious healthy breakfast and I am more grounded and sane because of this practice. This is the pleasant and surprising outcome of this discipline I have added to my mornings.

This past week I had the pleasure of taking a writing class from a woman named Pam Houston sponsored by The Cardigan Connection, my new-found friends Robin and Emily Homonoff of the famed Reading With Robin in Providence, RI.  Twenty-five bright eyed women sat together in an odd venue choice, kind of a bar, music space, sitting with pens and paper or laptops eagerly waiting for Pam to shine her expertise on our aspiring writing lives. Most of us were in our forties and above, I am guessing that the price tag of the class deterred the twenty somethings, but there we sat all hoping to learn another nugget about the craft we love.

Once I made the commitment to writing, I have been inundated with the business side of writing, advice, workshops, blogs, events endlessly abound most with a hefty price tag. Like Alanon has taught me for over twenty years, I must be disciplined enough to take what I need and leave the rest. Between reading, doing my morning writing and taking writing classes I have come to realize that some of these activities, though valuable, are distracting me from actually writing the historical fiction book I have in my heart.

The only way a book is going to get written is to sit down and write it. No amount of classes, trips to the library to read more historical fiction and daily blog writing will make my book come alive. Surely it is helpful and  I am humble enough to know that this is all part of the process. Slow and steady, no rush. I don’t think this book will come from waking up in the morning, locking myself in my house and writing for forty-eight straight hours. On the other hand, it is surely not going to write itself.

What Pam Houston spoke of was her own writing style, how she has written for decades and the results of her writing actual books. She said something that surprised me, that she does not write every day, that in fact she can go weeks or months without writing. This gave me a sense of relief in some ways because two things happen to me when I am not writing. One is I feel absurd pressure to write, all self induced, but still there taking up brain space and time. Two is guilt, surely not a good attribute to become a better writer. I love to write, but sometimes the tank is empty and it needs refueling. A break is often the best solution. Pam saying this a loud was both reassuring and calming to this overactive overachiever brain in my head.

The other offering I received from Pam was what she called Glimmers. Of all of her presentation that I loved, this was my favorite as it gave credence to the pictures I see wherever I go. Some people who take photos for a living see scenes and snap pictures of them, for me I see the same scenes and stories unfold at the speed of light. Many writers would say this, I am sure. Pam used the word Glimmers to define this and it resonated with me immediately.

For example, I may be walking down the street and I see an old woman struggling with her groceries. I offer to help her and she smiles with a bright welcome relief eagerly accepting my gift of help. I notice her coat is bright red as are her pants, her blouse, the buttons on her blouse. So is her lipstick and her nail polish which immediately makes me curious about her life. It is here that a story unfolds, just not yet. I write the few sentences down. This is what Pam referred to as a glimmer. This short experience may not be the story or a story in itself, but may eventually become part of something later. Or it may become its own story or nothing at all. Regardless, the picture needs to be captured and developed so it is not forgotten.

I see glimmers constantly. Pam gave this experience of mine a voice and a house for them to reside in. Her presentation was a short one; we were only there for two hours and we wrote for about forty minutes of that time. Glimmers. I could have sat for two days listening and writing more with Pam as a guiding force. As it turns out, Pam does these hiking writing combo workshops in places like Colorado and France that make me want to charge up one of these on my beautiful balance free credit cards. Instead I call upon that deep meditative breath that has become my new best morning friend and acknowledge what I need to do is simply take all I have learned from the five or six writing classes I have taken in the past few years and seriously continue to schedule the time to write. To actually write and research my ideas. No writing class is going to do this for me at this point. Later yes, but right now, I must work on developing my own writing practice. What I learned from Pam Houston in the short time I had the privilege of her time this past week is we all have our stories. There is no perfect way to write except to actually write them.

In my meditation this morning, the idea that every day is Groundhog Day popped into my head. One of my favorite movies where Bill Murray gets a do over every day, over and over again until he learns the lesson. Right in front of all of us if we have the luxury of waking up today is a new day, our own Groundhog Day where we can start fresh like it is the first day. The hell with a new year, how about a new day? Isn’t this amazing to think that every waking day is a chance to get it right? Whatever your it is? Mine is completing my idea for a historical fiction novel. What Pam Houston taught me is every glimmer that has come into my viewfinder may end up being a part of this story so today I roll up my sleeves and get to work like it is the brand new day that it is. #luckyindeed.

Cheers to a new year and another chance to get it right.

oprah winfrey

I think I would say Cheers to a new day.

Health, life lessons

INSTEAD OF THE GYM

The days that come our way in little staccatos during our winters I refer to as tease days. Those luscious days after a freezing cold spell where the temperature magically climbs to 35 or 40 degrees causing elation and jubilance among fellow New England comrades. It is not unusual to see an immediate surge in the roar of motorcycles, convertibles out and about with their drivers wrapped up like they are headed on an expedition to Mt. Everest. Shorts and an extra pep in the step of people who had previously thought they were hunkered down for the long haul and bike riders trying to appreciate the glorious bonus day of some added warmth and brighter light.

We New Englanders so willingly get sucked into that tease. When the slightest increase in temperature makes it feel positively balmy outside almost making us want to pull out the gardening equipment to clean up the yard. But we seasoned souls know that this is only a lure of nature, playfully provoking us to think that this is a reliable temperature. We shut down our heat, open our windows, change the sheets on our bed and lean full force into what we know is temporary. After all, it is February and though we have not had even a drop of snow, we have been here before. That year not too long ago when we thought we were home free, barely a snow plow bill and just like that- snow in record amounts every day for almost an entire month. Mother Nature as usual made fools of us. It is we who choose to live in this environment rather than a larger space of a state offering sun and fun most of the year.

I have been on a mission this year to pepper my fitness routine with bouts of nature. Hikes, walks, climbs, outside no matter the temperature instead of the gym running like a hamster on a treadmill among the tribe of the fabulously fit. My love for the crazy gym workouts is still pure, but I have found my body desires less of that potency and more of outside walks so I honor this as often as I can. Walking to the library to return my latest read and hoping that another great book awaits fills my soul as much as fifty burpees, (well maybe 20 burpees).

Because I have the luxury of two spaces I get to call home in two glorious locations, both near large bodies of water, the beach is easy access especially on my way from one to the other in the early morning light. Recently I have been stopping at the beach, leaving my phone in the car so as not to be distracted by feeling the need to take it out of my pocket every five minutes to capture a picture that will never look as good as the real one in front of me. The sound of the waves, the tide, the shrieking of the seagulls, the wind in my hair and in my lungs and that deep smell that wakes a very tired olfactory system up from its dormancy that has been locked up in forced heat and closed windows makes my heart open wide.

I make my way from the parking lot, locking my car and feeling the change of scenery in my shoes as they move from pavement to sand and I am home. The beach is my happy place. I have figured out much about my life and who I am in these tender moments. I have released old stinky stale thoughts and welcomed new bright sun-filled ideas that seem to pop at rapid fire. Problems solved, anxious thought cast out to sea, heart rocks avail themselves at every turn and nature bathes me like a baptism. Outside never disappoints and whether it is freezing, blustery, humid, baking, misty and everything in between, the beach right in my backyard in a fifteen minute drive is a reward beyond pushups and ab crunches. Though my body may not be as rock hard as those pesky movements create in my muscles, the deep breaths, the contemplation, the change in scenery and aroma in my hair is enough to compensate.

As I walked yesterday in what seemed like a 60 degree rare day in February, I did a lot of soul searching, I sat on a piece of driftwood that had made its home from goodness knows what journey and meditated for a good fifteen minutes breathing in and out at the pace of the wave. When I opened my eyes I looked ahead, I looked to my right and to my left and I was the only one on the beach. My private moment deep within witnessed only by me and I smiled at my good fortune and appreciation that I was able to veer off my course and take a right into the parking lot instead of saying I will do a walk when I have more time. Because really what does this even mean, how do I know that I will have more time? How does anyone know this? The power is in the present moment. We just forget to look. Yesterday I didn’t forget and today I will try again to remember the gifts of every time I do.

self improvement

OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE

“Why don’t you think about being a Strategies Coach?” Neil Ducoff, one of my mentors and friends and also the founder of the consulting company, Strategies, asked me in a conversation we had a few weeks back. We were talking business, one of my favorite topics and certainly Neil’s too as he has been a strong voice in the consulting world of all things beauty business for well over twenty years. I had been speaking to him about needing some jolting. I was feeling a little redundant and complacent after sixteen years in the beauty business and his suggestion was something I had been toying with adding yet another layer to my already pretty full life. But this is how I roll. I like action, movement, challenges and though business ownership gives me that trifecta sometimes I need a little more of a wake up.

I haven’t worked for anyone but myself (and my team) for almost twenty years. I haven’t had to report to anyone, answer to anyone, request time off from anyone. This has mostly ups and on the surface most people who are employees rather than employers may look at this with a bit of envy I imagine. But what many don’t see are the sleepless nights, the weeks when I may have to forgo a paycheck, dealing with floods and employee theft and all of the other inside details that hide in the backround of the gloss that the outside often shines with. The notion of having to be accountable to another company intrigued me. To having to follow a set of someone else’s rules, dress code, time and process gave my heart a little extra flutter.

So after sleeping on this for the past two weeks and doing the due dilligence of speaking with the head honcho of the training for about an hour, I decided to march forth. I accepted the challenge of learning something brand new, out of my box of always having to create and enforce and instead rather follow some rules and regs of a company I have worked with for over sixteen years since I began my own business.

In this decision that I deeply considered before saying yes, I weighed the pros and cons. The pros are numerous especially as it relates to my own business development. I will see what it feels like to experience being spoken to, critiqued, encouraged. I will directly feel what my employees feel when I have to review yet again how to properly clean a room from floor to ceiling or what it feels like to get a not so positive comment about a treatment for the first time. These examples may seem like the cons versus the pros, but I don’t see it that way at all.  This major dose of humility about to enter my brain and heart will be great for my business.  I am confident it will strenghten my resolve for constant improvement and growth in the expectations I have in my own company.

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The cons are minimal, they mostly represent the travel and away from my home time, not being able to cook my own meals and sit down for dinner with my partner. The flutter in my stomach that came from the first read of the instructions of the training seemed at first glance like a con rather than a pro. But after the second and third read, I went from Holy Shit, what have I gotten myself into to Oh yeah, bring it on. Bring on the challenge of having to create a Power Point Presentation in front of my peers out of the gate. The last time I created a Power Point presentation that didn’t look like an eighth grade project was over fifteen years ago. I am open to learning and this is the best part of this new path I am about to skip down.

I have spent countless hours developing a team of women, developing systems so that my business could run efficiently without my physical presence. I have taken classes, but they always are to improve my coaching skills to bring out the best in my team and my business. This is different. This is an opportunity for me to be a student, a kind of employee who has to report to some else’s agenda. At fifty four, this is a great shift. I know I will come out the other side after talking down my nervous stomach because I am about to embark on a new challenge.

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I love new challenges and this one that comes in the form of two intense weeks of training is exactly what I need. Despite the workload ahead to prepare for this training, I am looking forward to the shake up. For those of you who know me, you probably are thinking “Can she ever just settle down?” Truth be told, I have been feeling like I have been too settled recently. There is a sense of urgency that is a force in my life after losing three women peers last year to breast cancer. Not to sound doom and gloom but Am I next crosses my mind on more ocassion that I care to admit. I am not worried. I am pragmatic and this in itself is the driver in the race I call my healthy and joyous life as it is right now.  Out of my comfort zone is an investment in me and it is exactly what I need.

 

life lessons

One Word Prompts

The exercise from WordPress asked me to choose a word. There were only six words, but my word stood out like a beam of light.

Choice.

That is my word.

Choice takes me back to the preverbial forks from my past.

When I could have gone left, or right or forged my own path, maybe backwards or straight or simply staying right in the center and looking ahead.

Choice.

I remember the only job I left almost before it started as a banquet waitress. It was like the employees gave me a test and said, here, clean this candelabra. It was covered with drips of countless candles from hundreds of events past. One of the senior banquet waitresses, you know the type, been doing it for her whole life, stout, bossy, matter of fact and in love with her role as senior banquet waitress had given the order.

I was about twenty one and had never had to clean a candleabra in my short life so I began chipping away not knowing that if I had simply put it in the freezer, the whole project would have taken less than thirty minutes. But there I stood in my little white button down with the black pants and black shoes chipping endlessly waht seemed like hours and impatiently away.

The whole reason I was even working at this job was because I had been fired from my previous one, the only time I had ever been fired in my life. Because I did something unworthy and embarrassing, because I made a stupid choice to add a ten dollar tip to a bill when a customer failed to acknowledge my brilliance as his waitress. This choice, of course and completely appropriately, prompted an abrubt firing and subsequently found me jobless. This banquet waitressing job was the only employment I could muster up after the foolish choice I had made. To even write this aloud for the world to read makes me cringe at my stupidity, but truth be told, it was a most painful lesson and to write it at least lets the ghost out that has been hiding in my closet for the last thirty years.

I stood there while the seasoned and older workers were likely snickering at my slowness and lack of knowledge about the freezer alternative. All of a sudden as if by magic, this thought occurred to me- I don’t have to do this. I had a choice. At twenty-one, I realized somehow that I had a choice in my happiness. I don’t know where this source of power came from, but  gratefully it did. For the rest of my life, though I wasn’t evolved enough to realize this at the time, I would never work at a job unless I totally loved it. This was a deep thought for a young woman who didn’t seem to have many choices in front of her as far as job prospects went. But I did. I looked around at my future colleagues and took my sassy over confident self, walked up to the head banquet waitress and said, “I can’t do this. I am leaving.” With that I flipped my hair and marched out, my choice carried with me for the rest of my employed life.

Now some of you may be thinking, this is so irresponsible. You should finish what you started at least finish the shift. Fuck that. I was beyond miserable, there was no team work, that group was hoping I would fail. I could feel it and what was the point? For some reason, maybe it was my higher power, I was transported to the realization that LIFE WAS SHORT and there was no time for misery. As a result I ended up with a super fun job as a cocktail waitress grateful someone would choose to give me a second chance.

Choice is around us. Maybe this notion of choice is simply whether you think you have one or not. Maybe it is based on where you come from and how you think about the life in front of you. What I do know about this example though is that choosing happiness as my guide whenever possible has never let me down. Even in the bad choices, good has come out of it becasue of the lessons learned. Lessons learned were also choices. Choices because I chose to learn from them rather than repeating the same mistake again.

I know as I write this today that I am speaking from my perch of living in a free country where choice seems like a right. I know that I am not choosing life over death situations simply because I am fortunate in my geography. But for those of us who do have the privilege to live in a free society, looking at your life on a daily basis as one that you get to choose where it heads, can make the difference in the life you lead.

How we choose to look at our lives is surely choice and this quote that I refer to often in my writing sums it up in a neat little package. How do you choose to live? Does it feed you and make you happy? If not, then when?

As you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

– wayne dyer.

life lessons

THE WAKEUP CALL

Don’t look at the clock, I thought to myself. How long had I been sleeping? It seemed like if I did look at the clock it would be early. Not early like four am, but early like bad early. But I was awake. So I did what I normally do when this happens, I review my previous day. Food intake, movement, etc and could only come up with that I gave myself a full day off and sat on the couch by the warmth of the fire doing what I love. Writing, reading and more writing. I didn’t even really get up to move and my food intake was perfectly fine, no sugar or drink so I couldn’t really blame this. But then I realized that the early morning wakeup was my call to action and it had nothing to do with yesterday.

I finally looked at the clock. Worse than I thought. 2:14. Holy early. This is even early for me, but there is a surge happening in my body that is commanding creativity in a way I haven’t experienced in a long time. The feeling that is leading me down the path of flow and connection with what I am supposed to be doing. When this happens, the three am wakeup call becomes my friend. I need to get up and get writing and realize that this is the power time for my creatvity, when thoughts and ideas come at the speed of light. If I don’t get up and get writing, I will lie there thinking about the ideas, thinking that I will remember them. This has happened to me in the past and when I do finally fall asleep, I wake up with barely a thread of memory from those luscious thoughts just a few hours earlier.

Creative purpose. When I am on point, there is no stopping the flow. All of the support comes at me like a meteor. I meet the right people at the right time, I find classes or hear podcasts that support whatever ideas I am working on. The list goes on and when I am in tune, all of the people places and things show up like I asked for it. Universal flow.  Say for example you decide you want to learn to play an instrument, like the piano, maybe this is something you have always wanted to do, but never had the time. So you think the thought, then like magic, you are at a party and start talking to someone. You ask him, “What do you do?” He responds, “I teach piano.”  Or you are perusing the newspaper and happen to land on an ad that says “PIANO LESSONS AVAILABLE, TAKING NEW AND BEGINNER STUDENTS.” You may ignore this thinking this is just a freak coincidence, so you take that seemingly small voice nagging at you and store it away in that old dusty suitcase in the attic where it sits- for awhile anyway. But then you hear a beautiful concerto on a Sunday morning or you see a sign at a coffee shop that says, “FREE PIANO, ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS PICK IT UP, GREAT CONDITION,” Reminding you to go pull that suitcase down from the attic and make the time to full- fill you. The laundry will wait, the bills can be paid tomorrow. When was the last time you allowed a creative force into your heart, that could take you away from the blither of your mindchatter and allow getting lost in something else for awhile?

This is what I am talking about. As always when I listen to my soul’s desires, the right books, articles and podcasts land in my radar. So last week on another three am wakeup call that I didn’t heed, I instead scrolled through some podcast episodes and landed on one that changed my mindset. It was about reisistance and how resistance is the unique messaging power that communicates the force to be reckoned with in something creative you are supposed to be doing. I am attaching it to this writing today because it really helped remind me to listen to that voice that seems to whisper but really is shouting your direction if you would only open yourself up to the YES instead of the BUT.

Podcasts by far are one of the easiest ways to educate your mind on almost any possible thought out there and this is just one of many that have inspired me. Whether right before I go to bed, or a drive in the car, when I am working out or just a random listen, there is so much out there to source if you want to change your thinking and attract more goodness into your life.

Listen to Steven Pressfield: Unlock Your Creative Genius from Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations in Podcasts. https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/oprahs-supersoul-conversations/id1264843400?mt=2&i=1000427290930

Wherever I am at in my life, what I know is that each step, the ones in the deepest darkest parts of the forest and the ones where the sun is so bright it hurts my eyes, I am always divinely taken care of and that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. I also know that I can’t rush things, but I can give them a little nudge. And if I am still not paying attention, the three am wakeup calls surely get my attention.

 

motherhood

LETTING HIM GO

In therapy there is a term used to describe the healthy separation between people, especially a parent and a child. Differentiation is the word that says you did a good job, you have a healthy separation from each other and basically the nest can be disassembled and rebuilt differently. Like that hilarious commercial when the son goes off to college and the parents tearfully bid goodbye then run into the house to turn the kid’s bedroom into a Jacuzzi bathroom. Differentiation allows the natural separation to be normal, tearful yes, but a healthy one.

There are lots of little steps leading up to the true and finite land of differentiation and all of them lay the groundwork, (hands in prayer position here) for the final move out to their own apartment or house at some later time. But differentiation is more than a physical change of scenery, it is psychological and human too. It is the proverbial disconnect of needing to parent, to mother and allow your child to parent himself. Leaving him for the first time at day care, putting him on the school bus to kindergarten, teaching him to swim and letting him go into the ocean for his first time while you watch from the shoreline, the first day of middle school and high school, hugging them after their first broken heart, being there at their first strike out at a playoff game. The list goes on and on and they all build off of each other each time gaining momentum and strength for later. Later. When the emotional bond between you shifts and though you love each other immensely, you don’t need each other for survival, physical or emotional. You can still have the most open and connected heart, but you are ok with yourself enough to separate and fly, free and healthy. Free from issues of abandonment or over parenting that may find you in therapy later on struggling with your own relationships. Differentiation says I love you, you love me but we are not so intertwined in each other’s lives that we either can’t separate or we can’t wait to separate. It is the more neutral in the middle of it, the sweet spot of the hard worked results of parenting well, or as well as you thought at the time.

I understood this concept only recently as both a daughter and a partner. It has taken me all of these years to truly comprehend the true definition of its power and once I recognized the true sense of differentiation, I welcomed it into the life of my son and me wholeheartedly. He has actually taught me differentiation by his own sense of self. Another unexpected gift of being a mother and a parent for the last twenty one years. Differentiation is also the ability to be able to disagree without that volcanic surge causing a behavior that in retrospect certainly serves no one. I would also call this choosing not to take the bait. The bait being when a family member says something to get a response out of you, usually one that causes that previous mentioned surge. My son and I haven’t had that experience and I don’t anticipate it; I would say we have a pretty healthy mother son relationship, but I won’t really know this until he navigates his own relationship in the future. Relationships are the unique viewfinders we get to look through to see what our parent child relationships were really made of.

In anticipation of my son’s trip to Israel last week, he had to get to NYC the day before as he was going to meet a friend. He is a mature twenty-one and this was as simple as getting on a train and heading south where his friend agreed to meet him and escort him back to his house in Queens. As I write this from the position of After, it is a no brainer. For some reason though, I was filled with anxiety, stress, worry and no matter how much meditation and self talk I did, my heart would not stop racing and the anxious thoughts would not settle. Where was this coming from? I finally realized that I had two very definitive travel experiences involving NYC and when I traced back to the exact moments of those, I was able to at least give some credence to my angst. This had nothing to do with his own experience, it was my stuff from my past that was informing this present moment. Wild.

When I was twenty three I went to Paris by myself for a month, flying over with someone I worked with where we would stay together for three days and then part ways. I had a blast and learned so much about myself in this experience. This was before credit cards for twenty year olds, before cell phones, before Google maps. Just me and Rick Steves’ book on Paris for 10.00 a day or something like that. When I came home I had a hundred dollars in my pocket and the flight was late. I took a bus from JFK to Penn station and realized there were no trains that late and I had no way to get back to Rhode Island. Penn Station in 1989 was frightening and there was no way I should have been near the place at 11:30 pm looking like a vulnerable young woman. Some man came up to me and offered to help me with my bags and in my stupor, I agreed as I made my way to the taxi stand to fortunately go to a friend’s house who when I called on the payphone answered and told me to come there immediately. When the taxi driver saw this man with my bag, he began yelling at him that he was ruining tourism and that he was trying to take advantage of me which promptly forced me back into a quick wake up. What an idiot I was. But at the same time, I felt like there was some higher force looking out for me. I safely got to my friend’s apartment and all was well.

The second experience was much later. I was headed to NYC on the train from Providence to attend a training seminar and I was to arrive for a 10:00 am class on a Tuesday on Park Avenue. Excited to be in New York I vowed to myself that I would visit more often as it was such a short train ride. I remember the day and date well. It was September 4, 2001 exactly one week before September 11th at exactly the same time I arrived at Penn Station. I was struck by the random dates and times we land someplace or don’t. I hadn’t been to New York for at least five years and there I was exactly one week by pure chance earlier then the worst terrorist event of my lifetime. All of this showed up to the table unannounced, long tucked away with cobwebs in the attic as I helped my son get ready for his trip. This is amazing to me as it proves to me that traumatic events never leave us and make their reappearances like a well planned surprise party.

My son and I made it to the train station with him not rolling his eyes even. I kept telling him that my nervousness had nothing to do with my trust in his ability to navigate and he reminded me that he has lots of outside US travel experience. The irony was that I was not even the least anxious about him going to Israel. An area the size of New Jersey surrounded by countries that hate them, it was that New York thing. This is why I knew my worry was not about Michael. It was my stuff and I had to go deep in the vault to be able to say a normal goodbye to him as I brought him to the train station last Sunday. I hugged him and kissed him more than he would have liked but he allowed it. No I didn’t go into the train station with him and wait, this was as much about him leaving as it was about me letting him leave, more differentiation steps for the likely final one of him really leaving at some point in time. All normal. All healthy. All the way it is supposed to be between a parent and a child when you get it right. I got in my car after saying my final goodbye and sobbed my eyes out like I had just put him on the kindergarten bus for the first time. I know now that the tears were the final release of the grief I must have felt in those unique experiences. He made it safely to his friend’s and is in Israel now having what I suspect is the time of his life. Just how it should be. AMEN.

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Breast cancer, Health, Women

MY ANXIOUS HEART

Simmering and hiding in the closet are where all anxieties sit and wait. And Wait. Wait while I drink my cocktails, eat my cheesecake, fry up endless grilled cheese sandwiches on a range of delicious breads and binge watch Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Last week, last month, the last three months, frankly, the free for all that I greatly enjoyed in going south with my health has come out of the closet and begun its bubbling over. This is the direct result of my cease and desist this past week of all fun food and drink. Yes please roll your eyes, (again), total permission. Truth be told, I had to do this. My joints were aching beyond belief, the tightness I felt in my mastectomied reconstructed upper body was causing me great discomfort and the only solution based on numerous prior experiences was to stop the inflammatory insults I was directing at my body.

There is so much confusion over health, what to eat, what not to eat. A glass of wine every day is good for the heart, wine is bad for cancer, sugar causes cancer cells to multiply, meat is bad, meat is good, dairy is necessary for calcium so our bones don’t break off like a delicate shell on a sandy beach, dairy is filled with estrogen so therefore shouldn’t be eaten if you have had estrogen positive breast cancer. Vegetarian, paleo, low fat, full fat, grains and bread, no grains and bread, intermittent fasting or eating every three hours. You go to the doctor for any ailment and are never asked what your diet is like. You speak to a nutritionist or a dietician and your answer will depend on the directive from who their boss might be.

Then there is the internet. And health podcasts and magazines. Everyone has their own take. But where is the science? Like the law, there seems to be broad interpretations of science as it relates to nutrition. After studying on my own for over twenty years, what I do know is that we are all unique and no one food is good for all. What I also know is that when I am not eating certain foods, I have no joint pain, I have reduced tightness in my chest and back and a mental clarity that is unstoppable. Here is what I also know, that the deep dive down the rabbit hole is an excuse to numb out from stress and anxiety-life coming at us in whatever form has vestiges of stress. Just trying to read one article on the internet and getting slammed with five ads in between every paragraph is a form of stress, minor yes, but distracting. This seems like a silly example but pile them up and they are significant. A glass of wine at the end of a day really softens the blows of life, but with my personality, as I have written about on numerous occasions, I am just not a one glass of wine kind of gal. For me it is all or nothing. So when I stop, the simmering pot gets turned up on high heat and boils fast. My heart starts to race, crazy thoughts begin darting and my energy feels unleashed. All part of the detox process that I am completely comfortable with because I have been down this path many times.

The stuff I have been trying to escape or numb out from jumps out of the closet, but the upside is that the joint pain goes away.This in itself is worth the flying monkeys in my head because I know that those flying monkeys only have their power for the first week of my detox, then they head back out to torment someone else. Having a mastectomy and reconstruction, almost two years later, has a set of issues that I hadn’t considered. I have spent the first full year healing and getting used to this new addendum, but now the reality of it is a daily reminder in my back, in my arm and my breasts. I don’t want to feel joint pain or numbness. I don’t want to feel my lower back tweaked every time I do a vigorous workout. I know that certain foods cause inflammation in my body and I know this because I am in tune with my body. Inflammation in my body shows up as heartburn, swelling, bloating, and joint pain. I know that sugar, dairy, wine and pretty much anything delicious causes inflammation in my body. I know this because when I stop eating these items, all of the problems go away in my body. I don’t think this is a coincidence because I am my own science experiment. I am also not willing to give my life over to Big Pharma. I refuse. Many people I know who struggle with inflammatory issues are not willing to give up the foods they love and I totally understand this. It is hard to say pass to the delight that dairy, sugar, bread and wine gives to us. But I also know I feel so fabulous when I am free from the role they play in my life.

January 1 every year is that glorious date that cleans the year before. I mean every day is a new year when I think about it, but there is something about NEW YEARS DAY. That chance to get it right again. It is neat and tidy and filled with hopes and dreams. When I did my reflection on what was missing this past year, I decided it was spirituality. I have definitely been slacking in that department. I am speaking of daily consciousness to a power greater than myself. The While the Coffee Perks meditation has been a glorious awakening for my spiritual self and once that pandora’s box opened, I am jumping in full steam ahead to see what other cobwebs I can clean out of this old soul. It’s only Jan 4, but I am confident that this New Year will be a pleasant one and one I very much deserve.