Aspiration is another word for dream (official definition: a hope or ambition to achieve something… sure sounds like a dream to me!) and we’ve talked before about dreaming. Actually, several times, like here, here, and here because I believe it’s one of life’s greatest joys to have a dream you’re working on bringing to life. Of course, a dream doesn’t get you where you want to go without positive action!

I have a chair (shown above) that is my dreaming chair. It’s a 15-year-old recliner that my two cats absolutely adore. It’s the place I go when I want to guarantee some snuggle time with them. It’s also the place I go to slow down and let my mind wander.

As humans, we need both time and space to dream. Creating the physical blocks of time in your daily schedule (yes, daily!) is critical. So is the white space that is created when you have no other distractions, obligations, or activities during that moment of time. In our over-scheduled, always-on world, one of the most productive things you can do is nothing, even if it’s only for 5 minutes. Use this post as the permission you’ve been waiting for to kick back and let your mind wander for a few minutes!!

My creativity has been significantly higher this year, partly because I’ve deliberately given myself the time and space for dreaming. Sometimes I hop in my dreaming chair and nothing much happens, other than sitting there. Sometimes I get an idea to solve a problem whether for my business, a client, or my family. Sometimes, I get the inspiration for my next big project! I never know what the outcome is going to be and I don’t have any expectation for it. What I can say with certainty is that I feel renewed and ready to tackle the next task on my list after I’m finished.

You might be wondering how to do this in your daily life. It’s 3 simple steps.

  1. Schedule the time, whether 5 minutes or a whole day off from work, it’s up to you. 
  2. Actually use the time you scheduled. Jerry Seinfeld said it best, “See, you know how to take the reservation, you just don’t know how to hold the reservation and that’s really the most important part of the reservation, the holding. Anybody can just take them.” So make sure you hold the time you scheduled!
  3. Turn off electronic devices and distractions. I promise, all the work and demands and notifications of the world will manage to wait for a few minutes while you do this. Be careful, you might find you actually enjoy uninterrupted time!

When you follow these steps, you’ll start to dream more. You’ll come up with amazing aspirations! Sometimes, it’ll be change-the-world aspirations, like impacting a million or more people in a specific way. Sometimes, it’ll be a simple, change-the-moment thing, like eating healthy food for the rest of the day. The dreams can be all shapes and sizes. The only rule to the dream is that it HAS to be authentically yours. 

In the context of positive action, your actions should be focused on leading you toward your aspirations. Keep asking yourself, what’s one small step I can take today toward my aspiration? You may feel like you have almost no time to devote to it, but there’s still something small you can do each day. If you do that consistently for a month, you’ll be surprised to see how those 30 actions got you further than you imagined possible!

#PositiveAction Spend 5 minutes doing nothing and see where your mind wanders. What aspiration is waiting for your action to bring it to life? 

Aspiration is the first element of ACTION, part of a series focused on positive action. If you’re new here, welcome! You may want to start at the very beginning with positive action

Photo by me, with cuteness added by my two fuzzy buddies!

One of my favorite holiday movies, Elf, stars Will Farrell as Buddy the Elf. Buddy is adopted as a baby and raised by an elf at the North Pole. Through a series of events focused on identifying people’s strengths (which as a career coach, I love!), he is shocked to discover that he’s actually a human, rather than an elf, and sets out to find his birth father in New York City.

There are lots of delightful scenes and quotable lines in this movie, but the one I want to talk about today happens when Buddy is at work for the first time with his birth father. The office phone rings and Buddy dives over his father to answer it by saying, “Buddy the Elf. What’s your favorite color?” The business person on the other end of the phone line immediately hangs up, maybe because it seems like such a ridiculous question.

Watching the movie this year, it occurred to me that “What’s your favorite color?” isn’t a silly, unimportant question. It’s actually a critical way to get to know someone on a deeper level and it’s a question that my children ask almost everyone they meet. 

“What’s your favorite color?” is way to understand something that is important to another person. My kids use it to inform the art that they make when they create a drawing or a card for someone else. They use it when they are selecting a gift for a friend or family member. The favorite color becomes a way for them to show they care about something that is important to someone else.

When’s the last time you asked a meaningful question to someone at work? Are you using that information to show them that you care about whatever it is that’s important to them? One of the 12 questions in the Gallup survey used to assess global employee engagement is “Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?” If you’re not confident that your co-workers would respond yes, maybe you need to find out what their favorite color is!

In case you’re not sure where to start, here’s 25 questions to get the ball rolling. Not enough? Here’s 70 more questions! And you are welcome to read what engaged employees do differently and how you can help (spoiler alert, it’s asking good questions!).

#PositiveAction Ask a co-worker a meaningful question to get to know them better, listen to the answer, and then find a way to demonstrate you heard them. This type of small, kind gesture can be transformational in the workplace!

 

Image by Bruce Emmerling from Pixabay

Contentment strengths work career coach
Content-mint!

*Ignoring my mint joke in the title… Contentment in American society today is even more difficult to find than a person who has actually achieved work-life balance! But when you’re content with what you have, whether food, clothes, or your unique strengths, you can not only be grateful for them and enjoy them but you can find creative ways to use them. 

So what’s that got to do with being weird

We talked last week about the importance of owning your weirdness, those things that make you unique. It’s hard sometimes, to appreciate the thing that’s made you weird your whole life. Quite likely, it’s been labeled as bad by someone else and it takes some mental and emotional work on our part to reclaim that same weird thing as awesome! 

That’s exactly the work we need to do, though. You can never fully appreciate your strengths as long as you’re comparing them to someone else’s. You’ll always be able to find someone using similar strengths in a way that you think is better. The internet is great in a lot of ways, but it also puts comparison in our face ALL. THE. TIME! Look at this person being awesome over here! *Feel a little worse about yourself* Look at that person being awesome over there! *Feel even worse*

We don’t have time for me to launch into my diatribe on limits on technology and a full tech detox (Cliffs Notes version: they’re both extremely necessary for each of us!), but I want to highlight the challenge that looking elsewhere creates for us truly appreciating our unique strengths. Theodore Roosevelt said it best, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” 

Basically, when we’re focused on the thing we don’t have, we can’t be content. And until we’re content and fully appreciate our own strengths, we won’t be able to fully use them. 

#PositiveAction Spend 5 minutes being grateful for the strengths you have. Write them down and think about how helpful they’ve been throughout your life.*

*Note, I love this exercise because you only have to spend a few minutes doing it, but you can refer back to it as often as you want!


Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay 

I love the end of the school year. Everything seems imbued with hope, just like the latest class of funny-hat-wearing graduates to cross the stage. They all have big plans and outsized dreams.

Eventually, we wake up when we’re 30… 40… 50… 60 (sidebar: isn’t it funny how we only seem to do major self reflection on round number birthdays? No one freaks out that they’re 43 and 5 months old and haven’t done anything with their life yet! I digress…) So we wake up and suddenly the path we’re on is nothing like the one we hatched as a hope-filled grad. 

We all face disappointments and setbacks in work and life, most of which we wouldn’t choose for ourselves, at least when they’re happening. Being laid off from your dream job. Watching your company go out of business overnight. Losing someone you care about. The details change for each of us, but the challenges are similar.

This quote from writer Sarah Ban Breathnach sums it up nicely. “…success in life is not how well we execute Plan A; it’s how smoothly we cope with Plan B.”

Coping smoothly when life smacks you in the face is tough, especially when you’ve been working on Plan A for a while. But coping is a whole lot more effective than complaining and wishing for the past. Acknowledging and accepting where you’re at is the only thing that allows you to develop a plan to move forward. It’s not the original path you charted, but it’s the path you’re on now.

As the wise and delightfully eccentric Doc Brown says in Back to the Future, “Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!” It’s time to figure out Plan B (or C or D or Z!), with or without roads! 

If you need help figuring out what direction to head, you are welcome to reach out to me.

 

At work, it’s usually pretty easy to know if you’re being successful, hitting those targets that have been set (whether by you or your leaders). There are definitive numbers that need to be met and when you meet or exceed them. Hooray! Confetti rains down along with a nice bonus! Or maybe it’s a “Thank you, keep up the great work” kind of conversation. Either way, you know where you stand.

It can get a lot more confusing in mythical Work-Life-Balance-Land. Speaking from experience, I assure you your 4-year-old will not be overly impressed if you exceeded your annual targets, but they definitely will be if you read a story in a silly voice. 

Why do we struggle to feel successful in our life, even when everything seems to be going well at work? It comes down (as so many things do) to clarity and intention. 

First, clarity. Have you stopped to think about what a successful life means to you (and to your partner if you’re in a relationship)? Do you know what truly matters to your family? What are you willing to give up and what is a non-negotiable item? For some people, it’s uninterrupted time as a family with no cell phones. For others, it’s turning off the radio to talk about everyone’s day as they drive to the evening activity. Whatever it is to you, it’s something you do consistently and that you prioritize above everything else (yes, even that important evening work meeting!). 

Next, intention. Now that you know what success means to you (which will be different from what it means to me, or your neighbor, or your boss, or your mother-in-law), how are you taking intentional action to make that success happen? What do you need to say no to in order to keep your priorities aligned? What things do you need to add? Determine the changes that you need to make and take action.

Neil Pasricha had a fantastic article on this topic that has some great practical examples of how he and his spouse approached this exercise as a “life contract” in the same way that job duties and expectations are detailed out in a work contract.

In my own life, I’ve seen what a difference having a specific set of priorities has made for me and my family. Sure I could try to squeeze more stuff into my days, but what I value is quality time with my family. It has to be a really amazing opportunity or activity for me to even consider giving up eating dinner together and talking about the highs and lows of our days.

When we lack clarity in any area of our lives, we’re left with a vague sense of not meeting expectations somehow. Then we struggle to quantify in what ways our life balance is off, which makes it particularly hard to correct it. Instead, once you’ve defined success that feeling disappears and you’re left with a sense of calm (even among the chaos of deadlines and school concerts!) that you’re doing those things that you value most. 

Now that sounds like success to me!

One of the most popular jokes in our family right now is a knock-knock joke.

 

Knock-Knock.

Who’s there?

Interrupting Cow.

Interrupting cow who?

Moo! Note that the timing is everything here. You need to yell out your Moo before the other person finishes the Interrupting cow who? portion of the joke, thereby interrupting them. Trust me, it’s hilarious! If you spend time with younger kids or with adults who need to lighten up (and who doesn’t?!?), try this out on them and see for yourself.

 

My kids have been off from school for a week and it’s been an adjustment for all of us as we unlearn the schedule and pattern of the school year and try to settle into a summer rhythm. When and how I got my work done over the school year isn’t effective anymore; there are too many interruptions.

 

Do you ever feel that way in your job? Are the interruptions taking over and preventing you from doing your best work? I’ve been in roles where that’s been the case and it’s frustrating for both the interrupter and the interruptee. 

 

But there’s another way to think about the interruptions: Have you considered the possibility that the interruptions ARE your job? 

 

When people stop by your desk to ask questions, it’s not because they’ve been plotting all day to sabotage your work when you finally get a moment alone. It’s because they lack clarity on something and believe you can provide it.

 

Those problems that get brought to you to fix are the things that someone else couldn’t resolve on their own (Send them back to try resolving it on their own first if they haven’t!). They need your unique insight and advice on another way to approach the issue.

 

I’ll bet if you spend some time thinking about your various interruptions throughout the day, they are mostly questions, requests for help, problem-solving, or advice. They are a chance to build productive relationships. A chance to share your knowledge. They are an opportunity.

 

We need to reframe how we look at interruptions. They aren’t annoyances to be ignored or brushed aside – they are often the exact thing that our companies or families need us to do in order for us all to be successful. 

And sometimes when an interruption is taking place, it helps me remember to reframe it, lighten up, and really listen when I whisper to myself, “Moo.”