There Will Always Be Tigers

“I’m going to stop working in five years,” Peter said. “After I’ve finished paying for my son’s law school tuition.” (This after Peter told me that the average lifespan of a trial lawyer is 57. Peter, a trial lawyer, is 55.)

“I’m going to start the fitness program as soon as my son starts kindergarten.”

“I’m going to go back for my degree when my youngest is out of college.”

“We’re going to take the trip to France right after I finish the next project.”

“I can’t take time off this year; we’re down a staff member.”

“If the house didn’t need painting this year, we’d get away to the Cape.”

“If I could just find a new job and a fresh place to live, I could get out of this crappy relationship.” (This more than six months after we first had this conversation.)

“Before I do the product launch, I need to take the copywriting course and learn SEO.”

“I’m going to finish the book (really I am), but right now I just don’t have the time.”

As a coach, I hear every story there is about why it is that now is not the right time, the auspicious time, the convenient time to do what we feel called to do, drawn to do, really want to do; to do what makes our hearts sing, our spirits soar.

Perhaps out of fear (of success or failure), or convention (what will people think?) or inertia or resistance, we create (artificial) barriers to the lives we really want to live; we imagine forces that must be fought and overcome before we do what really makes us happy. We imagine tigers that must be slain.

I love that old Buddhist story of the monk who is being chased through the jungle by tigers. He comes to the edge of a cliff as the tigers close in behind him. A hundred feet below, six more tigers claw at the base. The monk jumps from the cliff and on his way down grabs for a vine to stop himself. As he hangs by the vine, he sees a mouse gnawing at it. And just in that moment, he spies a fresh ripe strawberry growing out from the cliff face. The monk plucks the strawberry, tastes it and revels in its sweetness. ”My how good this is,” he says.

Here is the truth: Now is all we have. Now is the only moment in which we can create the lives we want to live.

As I write in Journeys, “dreams delayed are dreams denied.”

When we defer the call of our souls, we get angry and sad and bitter and resentful.

And the reality is, a step in the direction of our dreams usually doesn’t require a whole lot of time or a ton of resources or monumental change. We don’t need to throw the baby (or the husband) out with the bathwater. The step forward can be a tiny one.

And then another.

Do what you’ve always dreamed of doing.

Do it now.

There is no time to waste.

There will always be tigers.

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This is an encore of a post first published on October 4, 2012

Who The Hell Do You Think You Are?

This is a guest post by Ann Sheybani.

Do you think people are chosen for awards and recognition because they shine so brightly the world can’t possibly ignore them? That they get plucked, in all of their magnificence, from total obscurity and dropped center stage?

Do you think the golden few that get the grants, or the prizes, or the big gigs, or the publications are far more gifted, or privileged, or connected than you?

Do you think you need to have all your ducks in a row, or work for years to develop a reputation, or follow all the rules before someone out there will toss you a bone?

Awhile back I was attending an awards ceremony for regional authors when I spotted an odd, awkward girl I’d met the year before seated on the panel of judges. There she was, an unpublished 24-year-old with eye contact issues, evaluating the merits of some serious writers.

Of course me being me, I asked her how she’d landed on that panel. She happily explained that she’d been blogging for several years, and interning at a city magazine, and listening to people talk about various opportunities in the local publishing arena. She’d simply picked up the phone one day, called one of these folks, and volunteered her services.

I’m always amazed at the sort who wake up one morning and decide they’re going to do something they’ve never done before. No real experience, or proven expertise, or impressive qualifications, they just throw themselves into the mix.

I’m not sure if it’s confidence, or naivete. Perhaps it’s a combination of both.

My girlfriend Beth had never considered herself a looker, but one day she decided, for whatever reason, to compete in a beauty pageant. She filled out an application, read the rules, and several months later placed runner up in the Mrs. Connecticut competition.

One of my coaching clients, Kriste, talked with me about her desire to become a mommy blogger. With no writing background, or obvious audience, she began submitting pieces to a site she follows and, viola, she’s a regular guest contributor. (I took a peak at her post the other day and she had a hell of a lot more comments than I. So get cracking people, I have a reputation to protect.)

I can’t tell you the number of gutsy people I know who have taken a personal success, or a burning passion and turned it into a viable, moneymaking business. Average people who got sick of nine-to-five jobs that paid for shit, or got laid off in the down economy. They bought themselves a domain name, learned how to build out a site, and held themselves out as weight-loss experts, search engine optimizers, online magazine editors, virtual assistants, media consultants, and confidence coaches, just to name a few.

An online guru I follow named Laura Roeder, explained how she got named one of The Top 100 Entrepreneurs Under 30. Ready for this? She submitted an application. In other words, nobody picked her needle out of a freaking haystack.

It was my coach, Kristin Thompson, who pushed my ass onto a stage farrrrr before I thought I was ready. She said, “If you’re going to fill workshops, and build a coaching business, you will never do it sitting in your pajamas on your couch.” Thanks to her incessant nagging, I learned to pick up the phone, call coordinators, and get my talks booked in lots of venues.

I had to overcome, by the way, The Impostor Syndrome: that fear of being discovered as someone who does not know what she is doing or does not belong.

I have no doubt everyone I’ve mentioned thus far felt the same way.

But my favorite story of electing yourself for the position, of just throwing your raggedy hat into the ring and seeing what happens, is the one about the Australian ultra-runner Cliff Young. Honestly, you’ve got to see this clip to believe it!

 

Here are a few points I’d like to leave you with:

  • Elect yourself
  • “Winners” aren’t chosen at random, they apply for the job
  • If you don’t ask, the answer is always no
  • The pizza deliveryman will not show up at your door bearing an invitation
  • Opportunities will rarely fall in your lap, no matter how much you deserve them
  • You get what you negotiate; not what you deserve
  • Ask yourself, WHY NOT ME?
  • Getting your foot in the door is only the beginning. Then you’ve got to do the work
  • When you think you don’t have what it takes, that you simply don’t belong, think of Cliff
So go on. What are you waiting for? Get out there and nab that bone.
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To learn more about Ann Sheybani, visit her site at: www.annsheybani.com

Gnaw On One Tree

I was a pyromaniac once. I burned everything in sight. I think it was a teenage boy thing. Thankfully, I seem to have outgrown it.

My incendiary device of choice was a heavy, long-handled magnifying glass. Out in the bright sun with some newspaper or a pile of dry leaves, I could get quite a blaze going in no time.

The power of the sun – focused through the glass.

There is little that cannot be accomplished with the power of focus.

I thought about this as I was running by our river last week. There’s a beaver down there. And he’s gnawed on about two-dozen trees or so. beaver gnawed tree, sap running

Now, I’m no beaver expert. But I’m pretty sure that the whole object of the effort is to get a tree down and into the water to be used for a dam or a beaver house or some other beaver-type enterprise.  But so far, there are just a bunch of trees with big bites out of them. Seems like it would be a much better use of beaver time to choose one tree and gnaw it straight through.

All of us, from time to time, are guilty of this generalized gnawing.

We all have a tendency to scurry about in frenzied activity; juggling a bunch of balls; trying desperately to keep them all in the air. And, oftentimes, a bunch of things end up being half-gnawed.

Entrepreneurs are particularly prone to this; wanting to be generalists; trying to be all things to all people; thinking that to cast the net wide is the secret to success. When really, just the opposite is true: to niche down; to get focused. That’s how we build a firm foundation; that’s how we build our experience and claim our expertise.

Leadership expert Brendon Burchard, when talking about launching a new business or platform, uses the metaphor of digging a fence post. He says, dig one post. Focus on one thing, one service, one product, one offering, one area of expertise. Dig the post dig. Make it solid. And then, and only then, think about the next one. Over time, you’ll have a solid line of fence; instead of digging a bunch of shallow holes only to have the entire line fall over.

Digging the foundation deep. Seems like a pretty good principle for lots of things: writing, running, relationships, health and fitness, and creative endeavors.

Stephen Covey said that, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”

The power of focus. Sets stuff on fire.

Find one tree and gnaw on it.

 

 

Stuck. In a Ditch.

“I’d slow it down if I were you.”

(My friend Dave always prescient.)

I glanced in the rearview mirror, smiled or perhaps smirked… and pressed the gas just a little bit harder. Around the corner on the icy road I swerved to avoid a log.  And unceremoniously impaled the Subaru in a ditch. 138337-medium-01_stranded-how-to-survive-snow-winter

Deep in the New Hampshire backcountry; miles from the main road; not the faintest hint of cellphone coverage.

Stuck. Stuck in a hole with no clear way out.

I hate feeling stuck.

Feeling stuck sucks.

I was reminded of this last week as I was fielding questions from an audience after a keynote I had given.

He was well-dressed; professional; mid-forties.  A parent.

He looked – and sounded – beleaguered.

“Aren’t we just stuck with the commitments that we make?” he asked.  “It’s not like we can just walk away from our kids, our families, our jobs, even if we feel like it.”

Almost a sense of desperation in his voice.

The core of my message: To listen to the call of our hearts; to fulfill our dreams; to make our lives extraordinary.

I remember well that sense of desperation. Single parenting, three young boys, trying to run a business, managing a staff, keeping clients happy, struggling to pay bills, and, yes, desperately endeavoring to keep all the balls in the air. One day melting into the next wondering whether I could ever possibly reclaim a life of my own.

Here’s what I learned: Commitments matter. Relationships matter. Family matters. Careers matter.  Giving matters.

But none of it matters if we lose ourselves.

There’s a reason we’re told by the flight attendants in that tired old safety schpeel that, in the event the cabin loses pressure and oxygen mask drops down, put your own mask on first. Before helping others. Because you can’t do a damn thing for anyone else if you are dead on the cabin floor.

We simply can’t take care of our children, our partners, our clients, our colleagues, our staffs if we’re empty and depleted.

And for some reason, culturally, we’re told that that is what we “should” do.

What message do we send, what example do we set, what lesson do we teach if that the way we live?

And, really, what impact do we really have if we’re constantly running on empty?

The core of my message is not to tell your boss or your wife or your kids to go screw themselves.

But it is mission critical to carve out those moments, those hours, those opportunities, even in the midst of chaos, even in the midst of all of our obligations, to feed ourselves, to nurture ourselves, to claim what is oxygen for us. An hour at the bookstore. A commitment to the gym or to a yoga practice. A couple of hours on the bike. A walk along the river. A boundary, an oasis, some small sanctuaries for yourself.

I found that I needed to “steal” those moments at first: getting up an hour earlier;  setting limits; saying ‘no’ when it would be easier to say ‘yes.’

Gradually I discovered the road: ways to reclaim my dreams without abandoning the ship, ways of sharing my passions with my kids, and ultimately ways of crafting a life that was finally balanced and complete. And filled with joy.

An icy way at first. Lessons hard fought. And hurt along the way.

Imperfect to be sure. God knows it would take a few more lifetimes to get this stuff right. And I’m fairly certain that I, like many struggling parents, will have endowed more than a few therapist chairs.

A way that was not all or nothing. But a way that was – and is – whole.

So to the man in the back row:  Put on your mask. And breath. Breath in the air. Claim what is yours. Rediscover again what brings you joy. And as you do, notice the space around you.

And the possibilities. Not only for yourself, but for those you love.

Slow down. Even just a bit.

So that you don’t end up. Stuck. In that ditch. With nothing left to give.