When it comes to leading an authentic life, one of the big challenges comes in around clarity. Many of us, haven’t spent enough time figuring out what matters most to us. Or maybe, like me, you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this very topic, but the answers that you’ve surfaced don’t ring true. There is the strange sense of misalignment between what we think and what we do, but we don’t have clarity on the connection points between those two things. 

At this point, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a particularly vile and destructive word, commonly used in the English language. SHOULD.

Should is the enemy of your Identity. Should is a barrier to being your authentic self.

Should makes us feel guilt, shame, and a sense of obligation to do or be something that we don’t want. And should is very sneaky – we often don’t notice we’re using it. Should disguises what we enjoy and what’s worse, gives us a false sense of being noble when we do something we think we should

Imagine, if you will, a hypothetical example. It’s late on a Thursday night and my child tells me at bedtime that they need a snack for school tomorrow. I sigh and say, “I should make cupcakes.” I have no earthly desire to make cupcakes. I have no interest. I have a sense of obligation to provide a snack. Making the cupcakes will not result in anything other than misery for me, even if it provides some amount of enjoyment for others. I only thought I SHOULD take on this activity because it’s what a “good mom” would do. It’s the “right thing” to do. Stale pretzels (the only thing left in the pantry) will be judged by the other kids/teachers/parents. 

And this is how should gets us to do things. It makes me worry about things outside of my control and guilts me into doing stuff I don’t really care about. Watch out for should as you work to create actions in alignment with your Identity. Your goal is to find the person you are, not the person you feel like you should be.

There are other factors beyond should that can also create challenges in the Identity piece of the ACTION plan. Here’s another example. I have a tendency to be a people-pleaser. For me, enduring my own discomfort is far more palatable to me than seeing others unhappy. Besides, I got used to being worried and uncomfortable, so it didn’t seem like a big ask to continue to feel that way. And so began one of the ways that my authentic self began to disappear. I was allowing others to choose what made them happy and going along with it, rather than choosing what would make me happy. Eventually, it got to the point where I didn’t even know or recognize things I would enjoy anymore. 

This one small personality quirk (people-pleasing) was one of the factors that created a sense of misalignment in my work and life. I share that story to help you see that inauthenticity can occur as a result of circumstances, personality, challenges, choices, and many other factors. Regardless of how we get there, the author Sarah Ban Breathnach reminds us, “Remember, we did not lose ourselves all at once. But we recover our authentic selves one kind gesture at a time.” 

So how do we go about this act of recovering our authentic selves? Or how do we make sure that our ACTION plan is authentically aligned? There are two key pieces that we’ll explore. 

First, let’s talk about the best version of you. The version of you that you imagine you are. You know, the one that you want to be, before the craziness of modern living wreaks havoc on that plan! What characteristics does your best self embody? 

Second is to assess (or review, if you’ve done this already) your values. You are authentically you when your values are in alignment with your actions. Each person’s values are different and unique to them. They can change over time. For example, until I had some health challenges, I didn’t realize how much I truly valued good health. My actions dramatically changed when I prioritized health.  

Any positive action you’re taking needs to help bring you closer to your best self and to your values. On any given day, there are millions of actions you can take, so ensure your actions are creating the alignment that’s been missing.

#PositiveAction What SHOULD do you need to let go of to live and work more in alignment with your values and best self? It feels amazing to let those unrealistic expectations go! 

Image from Pixabay

Once upon a time, I had the worst year of my entire life professionally and personally. That story is too long for today, but suffice it to say that I came to the conclusion that almost nothing was working for me in the way I was approaching my life. 

Whoa! That’s kind of a big, complex problem, huh? 

It’s definitely not the sort of thing you can fix in a single day (or even a single year, but I made, and continue to make, progress!). What’s the solution? I had to get Targeted in my action. I couldn’t fix everything all at once. I needed to focus on the most important thing.

Here’s a simple example. One of my favorite things to do for the new year… *drumroll please!* …is to clean out my closets! I know, I know. It’s a wild and crazy life I lead. Here’s the thing: It gives me a chance to clean spaces that don’t get cleaned very frequently, but more importantly, I can assess the stuff I own and ask questions about it. Does this fit AND flatter? Or Does this align with the current life I lead? Or Have I used this enough to warrant expending my time and space to keep it here? I’m sure this process is starting to sound a lot more fun now!!!

My inner Clutter Conqueror would love to go through the entire house like that. Asking questions, cleaning out all the rooms from top to bottom and ending with a space that even Marie Kondo would be jealous of. But my real life doesn’t afford me the time or energy to do all that. Not to mention the fact that with a family of four, this zen-like space I’m imagining would be back to a mess in 5 minutes flat. 

One choice I could make is to say, “Well, it’s pointless. I might as well do nothing.” Another choice I can (and do!) make is to say, “What is a Targeted approach where I could achieve that aspiration on a smaller scale?” This was how my tradition for cleaning out my closets for the new year was born! 

I focus my attention on one area, knowing that there are lots of other things that could use my attention, energy, and effort too. But I prioritize this activity because of several reasons. 

First, it’s small, which means I can accomplish it in a short amount of time. I love to see progress quickly! Next, it helps me let go of all that other stuff I could/should/wish I had time to work on. Freedom from guilt! Finally, as a recovering perfectionist, it gives me great joy to have a few small spaces of order in the chaos that is my daily life. If you’ve never spent a minute or two gazing upon a well-organized space, you absolutely must try it! Talk about relaxation!! 

Hang on, I think I’m getting slightly off topic. I must be more Targeted!

As I’ve mentioned, resolutions aren’t for me. I love change! I just happen to take a different approach to getting there. One of those different approaches is to select a word of the year. 

I’ve been doing a word of the year for five years now. My previous words include: Grateful, Listen, Release, and Enough 

If you are looking to go deeper on a word of the year, I got the idea from Jon Gordon, but there are lots of others who advocate this approach as well.

What I love about a word of the year is it’s Targeted. It gives me an opportunity to keep my focus on one thing for the entire year. I thought it would be hard to spend a year with a single word, but I have been pleasantly surprised every year by how the word continues to take on new, different, bigger meaning in my life. The fact that it’s Targeted is what makes it so effective.

When you’re thinking about taking positive action, you want your action to be targeted. It’s easy to get overwhelmed when you think of all the things you’d like to change or do or be. By making a choice to focus your time, energy, and attention on one thing, it becomes possible to make incredible progress!

#PositiveAction Identify the one thing that is most important for you this year. The Targeted attention will be transformational!

Targeted is the third 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

Image from Pixabay

If only our dreams introduced themselves to us so neatly!

For a long time, I had a dream to “help the environment someday”. A very nebulous, though perhaps noble, goal. Unfortunately, there were always things that seemed to get in the way. I recognize them now as mostly excuses and fears, but at the time, they seemed like legitimate concerns.

I’m too busy. It’s very inconvenient. My kids are small and need all my attention right now. The list goes on (and on and on!). 

So I did what most of us do when confronted with all the reasons not to pursue my dream. I waited. I waited for the perfect timing (it never came!). I waited to be less busy (I never was!). I waited for the right conditions (you guessed it, never happened!). I waited for a sign (still waiting!). And a decade went by. 

You might be wondering to yourself how a person like me, known to many as a great accountability partner, could let this happen. Where was the accountability on my own dream? So glad you asked!

The first obstacle for me was that I didn’t acknowledge the fact that this was a dream. I had been treating it as a nice-to-have-someday sort of wish, rather than a dream I wanted to work to fulfill. We’ve talked before about the importance of dreaming big. I had failed to do that in this regard.

Another way I let myself off the hook was through inaction. I was paralyzed by trying to decide the best way to help the environment someday. Every time I would think about it, I’d feel stuck or overwhelmed, so I’d stop. I’ve shared before that hope isn’t a plan and sometimes the best plan is to stop planning and start taking action!

Interestingly, we all end up in this scenario at some point over the course of our careers. Sometimes, it’s the role we’re afraid to say out loud that we’d really love to have. It can be the new technology you’d like to take a class to learn more about, but are afraid of being the oldest (or youngest!) person there. Maybe you’d like to do a full career pivot, but don’t have the slightest idea what you’d pivot to. 

The writer Sarah Ban Breathnach reminds us, “It’s never too late to reclaim your individual gifts, resuscitate a dream, create an authentic life.” That’s some great encouragement! Especially for those of us with dreams that have been on the backburner for a decade or more!!

Where to start? How about with the same two principles that helped me finally move forward. Acknowledge your dream and put some clarity around it. Then, try doing one small thing to get some momentum. 

For me, it started with reading a few books and watching some documentaries. Then I decided to apply for a leadership training. After the panic wore off from getting accepted to the training, I found ways to make the training as meaningful as possible, including building connections with people. That led to forming a group in the Milwaukee area to support each other and continue to take action. 

I couldn’t plan out all these steps in advance because I didn’t know where each action would lead me. That’s the interesting thing about action. It often will surprise you with where you end up because you’re learning and adjusting as you go.

#PositiveAction Do you have something that you’ve been putting off for someday? It’s time to acknowledge that dream and turn it into action, one small step at a time!

 

Image from Pixabay

We talked already about owning your weirdness and being content with the strengths you have, but there’s an often overlooked question within there. How in the world do you do it?

As someone who needed more help than the average bear in this regard, here’s the best advice I have (so far!):

  1. Keep Learning
  2. Keep Experimenting

There is a joy to getting clarity… to finally feeling like you have the answer to a question you weren’t even sure you were asking. The thing is, we’re not taking a test where there’s a single right answer. It’s more like a life-long essay question that we keep adding to over the years. There’s always more to learn, if you’re open to learning. 

I am still getting new insights on my own strengths. I ask questions of my clients to help them do the same. Sometimes, things become so familiar that we think we know the answer without actually asking ourselves the question. But as humans, we’re always changing. In the same way that the seasons are always changing from one into the next. They don’t change in one day, but rather incrementally until all of a sudden we finally NOTICE the change. The key is to notice what you’re learning (and adjust as necessary)!

The other piece is around experimenting. There are lots of ways for each of us to be successful at work. Just because you have a specific skill set doesn’t mean you’re stuck in exactly the same job for the rest of your life. If you’re enjoying the work, that’s fine, but for many Americans, that simply isn’t the case. So start to think about ways that you can use your exact same strengths slightly differently. 

Here’s an example. One of my favorite things to do over the course of my technology career was to help people use technology to be more efficient and effective. Sometimes, that was simply sharing tips and tricks I’ve learned with someone over lunch; sometimes that was conducting department-wide education sessions. Both of those are examples of teaching. I’ve taken that strength and applied it in a new way to the work that I do now: I teach people how to identify and tell their best story so they can work authentically. 

You may already be experiencing success by leveraging your strengths. But you may also discover that when you experiment, you start working at a level of success you’ve never seen before!

#PositiveAction Pick a strength to experiment differently with this week and notice what changes!

 

Photo by me. In a Target parking lot. Proof that inspiration really is all around us if we’re willing to look!

 

There’s always the latest thing that you have to try, buy, wear, or be. Frankly, it can be exhausting to try to keep up. Here’s the good news: you don’t have to!

It turns out that the harder you try to imitate someone else’s style, work patterns, or speech, the less authentic it appears. You can probably think of someone you’ve met that seems like they’re trying too hard. At its worst, they go beyond seeming insincere and move into unbelievable. 

Most of us have been there at some point in life where we edit our personality and approach to try to fit in. Maybe it was to impress the cool kids in high school. Or maybe it’s at your current job because you don’t feel like you can be yourself there. 

It becomes a vicious cycle where you try hard to act the way you think you need to, but no one buys it because it’s not really you, so you dig deeper and try even harder. That’s a game no one can win.

So why do we put ourselves through the agony then? It often stems from the fact that we overvalue what others bring to the table, while selling our own strengths short. Because your strengths are inherently easy for you, you assume that they must be easy for everyone (which is not the case at all, btw!).

The first step toward authenticity, then, is to identify and understand your strengths. Some people have a clear idea of what these are, and some people, like myself, take years to discover and acknowledge them. Once you have that piece, you need to merge it with your personal brand (all the pieces of you that create the total experience of working with you). 

Think about someone you’ve worked with that seems to be doing exactly what they were designed to do. In addition to being great at it, they also are truly enjoying themselves, even (and especially!) when the work is challenging. That’s what you want to target for yourself: doing the work you were designed to do, in only the way you can, using all your unique strengths.

It turns out that when you Work Authentically, the next big thing will be YOU! 

Do you need help with identifying your strengths or building your personal brand? I’d love to chat with you!

 

Image by Ulrike Mai from Pixabay

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!

It took me quite a while to develop my first personal brand statement and tagline. Part of the reason was that early in my career, I didn’t give personal branding much (any!) thought. I mistakenly believed my work would just speak for itself. If you are in a similar situation, stop reading this post and immediately start working on your personal brand! Or better yet, finish this post and then take action!! 

Doing great work is an important element of being in control of your personal brand, but it doesn’t tell the full story of what it’s like to work with you. That’s where your personal brand comes in – it guides people toward the impression you’d like them to have of you. 

The critical question you need to answer, then, is what impression do you want them to have? And what impression are you making right now? Do they align? Your personal brand is the way to tell the story of what it’s like to work with you so that people’s perceptions match reality.

Getting clarity around the type of impression you want to make is the first step in telling your best story around the value that you bring. It’s also one of my favorite parts of coaching. I get to be part of the process as they recognize and celebrate their unique contributions. How cool is that?!? 

If you need help getting started, reach out to me today!