Saturday, December 8, 2012

Gremlin, Gremlin, Go Away...

A few weeks ago, I was approached by the chairs of the Deaconate and Trustee boards, who asked me to make an announcement at church the following Sunday. We have a relatively large congregation – and on any given Sunday, the sanctuary will fill up to its roughly 1500-seat capacity. The announcement would only take a minute or two – and I was asked to put my own “personal touch” on the last appeal for fund for a new church library. I said yes, without hesitation.  Before the brief conversation was over, my heart was pounding, I had so-called “butterflies” (not so pretty) in my belly, and my palms began to sweat.
Fears? Sure, I have them. The worst for me is the relationship I have with performance anxiety, or “stage fright” that has plagued me for the better part of my adult life. It translates into challenges taking tests, and borderline terror before public speaking engagements. I'm told that I cover up the anxiety well. I love to hear that because it takes some of the pressure off – but only some. Not enough to stave off the stomach knots or to keep from feeling like my heart will pound right out of my chest.

I used to decline requests or invitations to speak in any kind of public setting. It just wasn't worth the horrible feeling in the moments before. I confess – I used to “borrow” beta blockers – you know the kind that you find in prescriptions for hypertension. There were speaking opportunities I could not graciously decline – like work obligations, hearings and depositions, and so forth. The pills, too, took the pressure off the anxiety, but not enough for me to really get comfortable beforehand.

Sometimes I think of it as some kind of equivalent of body dysmorphic disorder – like what they say Michael Jackson had – when a person has irrational and distorted images of themselves. For me, it’s not at all about my body. It’s that internal dialogue – the gremlins in my mind that tell me no matter what I do, what I’ve accomplished, no matter how hard I try, I will never be good enough. What is that about?? We all have it – and those gremlins attack us in our most vulnerable moments.

Now I say yes, almost every time I’m asked, so I can preempt my gremlin before it presses me to say no. It’s my way of facing the fear. It has to be a conscious decision – I don’t want to be a slave to it any longer. I listen instead to the voices of those supporters - friends and family, who tell me – “you were nervous? It doesn’t even show!” or “you are so graceful!”, I use those voices to supercede the nasty little gremlin in my head, telling me I’m not good enough.

The fear response is a very real, very powerful experience intended to protect us from danger. If there was a woolly mammoth charging at my babies, that response would be critical. But when the fear is not a threat to physical safely, understanding it is not always so simple. Do we need to understand the underlying cause? I’m not convinced that it matters. It may be more important how we choose to respond. The best that we can do is to face the fear – shine a bright light on it and view it with new eyes. It is amazing what happens.

So, what am I really afraid of when I stand in front of the congregation to make an announcement in church?! That I will make a mistake and be embarrassed? Okay -- so what? That I will be rejected...abandoned...that I would die? Hardly. But when I remember that the fear itself is so much worse than the reality of it, the possibilities become endless.
When we stretch ourselves, and move out of our “comfort zone”, we discover strength we didn’t even know we had.

When you face your fear head-on, what are the possibilities?

“Life only demands from you the strength that you possess. Only one feat is possible – not to have run away.” – Dag Hammerskjold

Eyes Turned Skyward Personal and Executive Coaching

Friday, November 23, 2012

An Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

by Portia Nelson

I. I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost...I am helpless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

II. I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in the same place.
But it isn't my fault.
It will take a long time to get out.

III. I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall is a habit...but,
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

IV. I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

V. I walk down another street.


There are many aspects of life that are not within our control. But what about those that are? We always have a choice: we can choose the status quo or we can change it - if our present way of doing things does not bring us joy, or satisfaction, or serve our life purpose.

What if you change your way of thinking? What if you change your mind?

"Man's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions." - Oliver Wendell Holmes

Eyes Turned Skyward Personal and Executive Coaching

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Put on Your Own Mask First

When you fly, do you listen to the flight attendant’s instructions before you take off? Sometimes, if I’m in the exit row, I read the card about how to open the door on that particular aircraft before our departure –but that’s about it. If you fly often enough, you probably don’t pay much attention to how to fasten and unfasten your lap belt, where the exits are, or that there are little lights along the aisle floor that will lead you to the nearest exit.  How many times have you heard the flight attendant, when giving emergency preparedness instructions, direct you to put your own oxygen mask on first, if you are with a child or beside someone who needs assistance, in the event of the loss of cabin pressure? It is a simple notion, really – if you pass out from lack of oxygen, are you of any use to anyone else?

The same goes for those of us who care for others every day. In the business, we call it “Self-care for Helping Professionals” – it is a specialized practice geared toward those of us who spend our days, particularly in our places of business, pouring our energy into others. At Eyes Turned Skyward Coaching, the list includes therapists, lawyers, teachers, ministers, medical professionals, and stay at home moms and dads. Do you fit into one of these categories? The list is by no means exhaustive. But it is a reality in caring for others that we tend to neglect ourselves. Why do we do it? The reasons are different for each of us.

One client (who gave me permission to share her story), who is a labor doula, shared a recent experience attending a birth, where she spent the day laboring with the mother, but did not take any breaks for herself – she did not eat or stay hydrated – ensuring that the new mother had all that she needed, but neglected herself in the process. Together we were able to develop a plan that would make certain that she will be prepared in every way possible to keep up her own strength while she attends future births.

Some solutions may seem obvious, but it’s not always that simple. For example, how does a pastor or a rabbi keep the Sabbath when ministry happens everyday?  How does a stay at home mom or dad carve out time to take care of oneself, when charged with every aspect of sustaining children – well beyond the hours of a typical “fulltime” job?

Are you at risk of burning out?

As a coach, I partner with my clients to identify ways to better care of oneself - to establish a wellness routine, make a plan for stress reduction – even find ways to put fun back into life. Our lives, at work and at home, are so much more satisfying when we establish a self-care plan that works for us.

Are you willing to put on your own mask first?

"If I'd known I was going to live this long, I'd have taken better care of myself." Jimmy Durante

Eyes Turned Skyward Personal and Executive Coaching

Thursday, November 8, 2012

What Weighs You Down?

Last week, the New York tri-state area was battered by Hurricane Sandy – a “super storm” that developed when the hurricane collided with a Nor’easter. The fortunate ones among us only lost power. Some families lost their entire homes to flooding or fire. Big, old oak trees were ripped from the ground, down to their roots. Some looked like they snapped like matchsticks. It was a true disaster and the recovery has been slow.

With each thunderous gust of Sandy’s winds, I peeked out into the dark night to check on the little dogwood we affectionately refer to as “Grumsie’s Tree”. It was planted a little more than one year ago in memory of my mother and father.  I was concerned that it might snap, as so many of the larger trees did.  After the worst of the winds had subsided, I was heartened to see that the little tree - that is for me a symbol of strength and love – was still standing strong.
Yesterday, another Nor’easter hit – this time bringing with it rain, sleet and high winds, followed by snow. Our house and yard are blanketed by several inches of very wet snow.
This morning I was the one  to fire up the snow blower to clear the driveway so that Ted could get himself, and the kids, to school on time. I fired up the machine for the long meander down the drive.  On one of the last passes up the driveway, I caught a glimpse of the Dogwood. This time, the tree was heavily weighted by the pressure of very wet snow. Its little branches, that still have a few leaves left, were hanging down, almost to the ground.
I parked the snow blower and trudged through the surprisingly deep snow to the tree in the middle of the yard, and began to shake the snow from each of the limbs. I was worried, of course, that the limbs may snap. As I shook each little limb, and the snow fell to the ground, the limb rose up, as if it was being pulled, upward. With each limb, I was amazed–it seemed like there was a force that was pulling each limb skyward, and with the release of each clump of snow, the tree sprung naturally toward the sky – stretching up tall and strong, to the place it was intended to be.
It made me think about how we respond when we shake off the heavy burdens, or remove the obstacles – from our hearts, our minds, our spirits.
What storms in life weigh us down?
How would life be different if you woke up tomorrow morning and the heavy burdens that weigh your spirit down, were lifted? What would your life look like?
What would you have the freedom to do?
 "Don’t wait for something big to occur. Start where you are, with what you have, and that will always lead you into something greater." - Mary Manin Morrissey

Eyes Turned Skyward Personal and Executive Coaching