Raise Your Standards

I had a client a few years ago who is a talented performer but felt that he had hit a ceiling, and couldn’t imagine going further in his career.  I asked him a lot of questions about how he was spending his time and whom he was spending it with.  This client was very hard working and put a lot of great writing and music out into the world. To the outside, he seemed to be successful, but inside he felt stuck.  When I asked him, “What’s going to help you to break through to the next level?” he mentioned sheepishly that he had surpassed a lot of his friends, who preferred to hang out and complain about what wasn’t working, as opposed to supporting each other in going for their dreams. I reminded him that if you leave feeling shamed or drained by your so-called friends, it’s time to raise your standards.

As business philosopher, Jim Rohn, once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”  Some of us have dreams we haven’t taken seriously because the people around us are too busy expecting us to be there for them, or to just sit around and be stuck, because that will make them feel better.  Making changes and going to the next level of success can be very tough, because it sometimes means making new choices about how you spend your time and with whom.  If people expect you to be the friend who is always there for them and you’re now working 24/7 to finally get that novel done or to launch the new business, they may be hurt.  This is where setting kind but firm boundaries and saying no more often is helpful.  If we don’t set those boundaries that allow for our dreams to flourish, we can easily get pulled back into what is comfortable and easy–which is not writing, not working, not achieving.  We want to be the good friend, the caring parent, the helpful person who never says no.  But is it worth it, just so that we can be the person who is always there no matter what for everyone?

At the end of your life, do you want to have gone for your dreams or pleased everyone around you?  You get to choose, but it’s not possible to do both. The family and friends who really care about you will respect your new boundaries and cheer you on as you say yes to yourself, one step at a time.  The others will fall away. In order to move to your world stage, you have to consciously choose who gets to come with you and whom you need to leave behind.  So this week, raise your standards for what you can and will achieve and notice who is still standing beside you.

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Tiny Steps

I was coaching a client recently who just landed a great job in her dream city. Instead of feeling happy, though, she was feeling anxious about all the other parts of her life that she didn’t have time for yet, since she was traveling a lot for work and still unpacking from her move. I reminded her of all that she was doing and that navigating a new job in a new city is hard enough, without adding more to do’s, like daily exercise, meditation and a set sleep schedule. Maybe this was the time for tiny steps, which are the smallest steps you can imagine taking toward a goal.  “What is the tiniest thing you can do right now?” I asked.  She talked about needing to go to bed much earlier since she wasn’t get enough sleep.  She wanted to start going to bed two hours earlier overnight, but then realized that getting to bed before midnight for starters was doable.  It didn’t seem like a very impressive step but it was something she thought she could do, so it was the perfect tiny step for her.

So often people trying to find their world stage are so overwhelmed by all the things they want to change in their lives, that they don’t do anything. So often we want to lose 10 pounds in a week, as the grocery store magazines promise, but what if we just do one tiny step like start walking around the block once before dinner?  Or eating desserts only on weekends?  Many of us think that doing something small will have no impact, but what if we played the guitar 5 min per day or practiced Spanish every time we were in the car?  We would start to see small shifts that over time really add up to a life we love.

The key to finding your world stage is first asking yourself what you wish you had in your life and then taking the first tiny step. If you want to find a partner, perhaps you try smiling at every person you encounter as you walk down the street instead of looking at your phone.  If you want to start finding paying work after having been at home with kids, perhaps you start by saying no to any new volunteering so you can carve out time for you.

If you think about how a garden grows, it always starts with tiny seeds, that if cultivated, grow into something beautiful.  The same is true for people. What is your next tiny step?



Saying No Is Good

I was thinking about how often we as people don’t like to say no, particularly women.  We want to be nice and helpful.  We want to be liked.  We want to be the person who can make it happen for others, who creates the magic and saves the day.  But what is the cost to ourselves and others?  I had a client once tell me that she just wanted to make her teenage son happy.  In the moment, it felt great to say yes.  Her son was passionate about the arts and had talent, but lacked resilience and resisted criticism from anyone, even teachers trying to help him. He was eager to be in a residential arts program that was very competitive and had never been away from home, but even the process of auditioning was too much for him.  She didn’t want to say no, because she always said yes, but she realized on some level that he wasn’t likely to make it through three weeks of a grueling competitive camp and that it could actually be harmful to him.  But she did it anyway because she couldn’t say no.

Most of us would not let our toddlers run into the street, but how many of us have the courage to say no to coed sleep-overs?   Or to letting our kids live at home after college for years on end because they can’t find “meaningful” work, when maybe the goal should just be getting a job now and finding meaning later?

When you think of the metaphor of the helicopter parents hovering over kids’ lives, even when their kids are adults, what happens if the helicopter gets too close?  The swirling blades can hurt or kill anyone nearby.  I’ve heard of parents buying property near their kids’ college so they can be there to help and intervene.  My husband, who is a professor, has heard about professors getting calls from parents asking for a grade change for their child.  And employers complain about parents calling them about a job offer or a promotion.  I hear these stories and wonder if parents know that they are crippling their kids.

But beyond parents wanting to please their kids, saying no is essential for your well-being,  regardless of whether you have kids or not.  If you want to claim your world stage, you’ll need to say no to everything that is not an absolute yes.  As you launch a business, for instance, you need let go of volunteering for a while and tv and time-consuming hobbies.  There are, after all, only so many hours in the day. If you don’t decide how you spend your time, others will happily decide for you.  The same goes for money.  If you don’t decide what your financial priorities are, many businesses will be happy to decide for you.

What if we were to think of saying no to others as saying yes to ourselves?  What if saying  no to our kids, meant saying yes to their future?  We’d have a very different world, one in which our children could say “What can I do for the world?” as opposed to “What does the world owe me?”

Try it today.  Say no to everything that is not an absolute yes for you.  And then wait for magic.  You may find that you start spontaneously dancing.







The World Is Waiting For You

One of the things I’ve noticed in this election year is how accustomed we have become to demeaning and bullying others.  It’s true that politicians have always been caustic to each other, but in this election cycle, the level of discourse has sunk to a Kardashian low.  And somehow we are okay with that.

Part of finding your world stage is deciding what matters to you and what you stand for.  So many of us feel silenced into conforming, in order to fit in and not make waves.  But who were the people throughout history who really claimed their world stage?  They were heroes because they spoke up and said, “Enough.”  What if they hadn’t?  What if Rosa Parks had just stayed in the back of the bus, because she didn’t want to offend anyone, and just complained to her family instead? What if Abraham Lincoln had decided that it was more important to be popular than to do the right thing?  His wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, was a southerner after all, and all of her brothers and brothers-in-law fought on the side of the Confederacy.  What if Lincoln had just decided that it was more important to make Thanksgiving dinner comfortable?

I remember telling an acquaintance recently that Abe Lincoln was one of my heroes, because he stood up against slavery in spite of death threats. He was, in my mind, a true success.  Her response was, “He was a failure because he ended up assassinated.”  I was a bit stunned by her comment, but took a deep breath and responded with “Really?”  I guess for some people, keeping your head down is success.

What about all the people who didn’t stand up when Hitler came to power?  One of my friends on Facebook recently posted, in reference to Donald Trump:  “This feels like Munich, 1933.”  I don’t care what party you vote for. What I do care about is whether you are willing to take a stand when it’s more comfortable not to.

Don’t hide yourself and play it safe.  Take a stand.  The world is waiting for you.