Not Thankful at Thanksgiving?

Attacks by ISIS in diverse places, hate-filled political agendas at home, thousands upon thousands of refugees fleeing from war torn countries, hunger, poverty — and yet right here at home, despite homelessness and way too many people in need, shopping and planning for the Big Meal continues, and gratitude somehow abounds. And in the midst of all the bad news in Sunday’s 11/22/15 New York Times, this article catches my eye: Choose to Be Grateful. It Will Make You Happier by Arthur C. Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute and contributing opinion writer.

Brooks looks back at his own wedding 24 years ago and remembers preparing a complete Thanksgiving meal for his new Spanish in-laws in Barcelona where Thanksgiving is not celebrated and turkeys are not commonly served on a holiday. Over dinner, his new family had many questions about the odd American tradition, but one philosophical question stood out: “Should you celebrate this holiday even if you don’t feel grateful?”

The question itself could be fodder for a family discussion on Thanksgiving Day, but then again it could end in some sort of meal-killing conflict among those who would celebrate or would not celebrate despite their level of gratitude. Interestingly, there is evidence to suggest that acting grateful can actually make you feel more grateful. Researchers in a 2003 study randomly assigned one group of study participants to keep a short weekly list of the things they were grateful for, while other groups made note of hassles or neutral events they experienced. Ten weeks later the first group demonstrated significantly greater life satisfaction than the others. Other studies led to the same conclusion. It turns out that we can actively choose to practice being grateful, and that in so doing our perceived level of happiness increases. Many of us can clearly remember a time when Oprah Winfrey spent a lot of her television show time recommending to her viewers that they keep a “gratitude journal” to increase their own perceived level of happiness. She was on to something.

I am deeply/hugely grateful to have been raised by an extremely positive, loving mother who must have figured into the interesting study Brooks cites in a 2014 article in the Journal of Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. A particular gene, identified only as “CD38”, was discovered to have a strong association with gratitude in “relentlessly positive people who seem to be grateful all the time.” They tend to have “a global relationship with satisfaction, perceived partner responsiveness, and positive emotions (particularly love).”

This was my mother. It wasn’t as if nothing bad ever happened to her, God knows, but she loved her way through circumstances and people and throughout her 85 years. She was a musician, teacher, hilarious storyteller, and the most compassionate person I’ve ever known. To an almost irritating degree she stood up for the other guy and made me put myself in his shoes much more than I ever wanted to, but still. . .

When I was about five years old, I developed a terrible fear of germs. I couldn’t stand the thought that there were these invisible “bugs” in the world that could infect me with polio or TB or something worse. My mom tried to talk me out of it, but was unsuccessful for a few years. When I started having nightmares about them, she would come into my room to comfort me in some way. One night when I couldn’t go back to sleep, she suggested that I start counting all the things I loved in my life starting with my favorite stuffed bear, followed by the merry-go-round at the nearby park. That was the very first time in my life I actually fell asleep counting my blessings and certainly was not the last. I found out that it worked!

So, not thankful at Thanksgiving? Not a problem for me, thanks to my mother in large part, and much later in life, my own spirituality.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Next: The Interview

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Back to School/Back to Work

I always forget how much I love the Fall until October, when everything starts moving toward winter, and something makes me feel like sautéing sliced apples with cinnamon and butter for breakfast and walking to the Cal stadium for a football game. The trees are definitely losing their leaves, and the days are getting shorter, despite the sunny weather hanging over past its prime. Nonetheless, here we are again, hurtling toward the holidays, cold weather or not.

The Phone Calls
My phone rings more insistently right about now: time to change jobs, time to change careers, time to go back to school, time to do something different.  Whatever the factors have brought you to this moment, and  no matter how ready you are for a change, it turns out not to be a simple snap of the fingers that makes it happen in the exact timeframe you wish you could.  Before you jump, you’ll have to stop, look, listen to yourself, and reorient and get clear about the next step that makes sense in your career evolution. Your next step should improve upon your previous step.

What’s Your Story?
To get clear about where you are headed, you have to do some thinking about where you have been. Allow your self-knowledge and wisdom guide you as you reflect on your work and life experiences to this point. You will recognize what is working by how you feel about each item on your list. They are the things that bring you satisfaction, pride, enjoyment. You want to keep doing those things and even make more room for them, if you want to raise your satisfaction quotient.

Next, think about what is not working for you.  Those things will tend to jump out at you and be very obvious because they are causing you pain! They usually “yell” at you and say things like, “I HATE this commute!”, “I can’t stand my boss!”, “I am bored out of my wits!”. The things you hate actually point to actions you can take to make your job more satisfactory and your life happier.

Clarity is not exactly something to force into existence; it is something that will emerge as you enter into sincere thinking, reflection, conversation, self-acceptance and desire to fulfill whatever is missing in your work or life. Allow the clarity that emerges to be your guide as you design a target that includes what you want, what you don’t want, and where you want to go in the future. If you don’t know what you are looking for, how will you go about finding it?

The Resume
It is important to get the resume right. It can’t just tell the story of what you have done in the past; it needs to also tell the story of where you are headed in the future. You should be aiming toward the next step, and for you to be satisfied, it will probably require that you stretch a bit, not just look for another example of what you have already done. That’s a good way to get bored, rather than growing toward the next step. The resume should tell the story of who you actually are and not be filled with empty “resume” language.

The Cover Letter
The cover letter is your opportunity to bring some personality into the imaginary conversation that goes on in your head when you discover an opportunity that wakes you up inside. What you put into the cover letter can and should be as authentic as you can make it. Do not simply say, “Enclosed you will find my resume. I am sure you will see that my background makes me a perfect candidate for the job.”  If that is all you have to say, forget saying anything at all. If, however, you have something interesting or notable to say about your experience that adds to your powerful narrative, then by all means say it.

The Search
I have heard good things about each of the following job sites from various clients over the last several years, but this year the one I keep hearing about is  Do explore this site and see all the ways that you can make use of it in your search.  Other familiar sites include: LinkedIn,, and

Next: The Interview


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How to Plan and Take a Vacation Even if You’re Unemployed

Who doesn’t love a vacation? The mere word, which means “planned time spent not working,” along with other descriptors such as “break, breathing space, intermission, recess, recreation, respite, and rest,” immediately releases some sort of dreamy enzymes or hormones into one’s veins. But as I have heard from more than one of my unemployed clients, “vacation” is almost a dirty word.  People who are unemployed don’t feel as if they deserve any vacation, and certainly not a glamorous or expensive one.  But at the same time, being unemployed and looking for work full time is extremely stressful and exhausting! Here are some suggestions for making good use of your unemployment period, including built-in vacation days.

1. Do not use your period of unemployment as if it were a “staycation,” meaning you stay home and do nothing until your unemployment  benefits run their course. Then, in a state of panic, you begin to look for a job, any job. I clearly remember a telephone conversation I had with a woman who called me about my coaching services after taking almost a year off “to rest” while she was receiving unemployment benefits. Now that her benefits were running out, she hoped that I would be able to do a resume for her and help her with a job search, even though she was unclear about what type of work she wanted. When I told her that our work together was designed to help her gain clarity about her future, future, and that it would no doubt take approximately ten sessions, she said there was no way that she could “wait that long” to figure out what was next for her. It didn’t appear that she had done any serious thinking about herself or her offer in the marketplace during the year she was unemployed with benefits, and it became clear to me that she and I were probably not a good match under the circumstances. She hung up on me. I was relieved. . .

2. Do take your period of unemployment seriously, and plan how you will use your time constructively, every day, with the intention of finding a better job than you just left and creating a better future. Most people are better at planning vacations than planning their careers and lives. I’m not being smug or judgmental, as if it were easy for me; in fact, the reason I do what I do is because it was all so much more painful than I expected it to be, that when I began to find my way, I also found my mission, which is to be the extended hand on a rocky path in the same way that certain people extended their helping hands to me. Use the four questions underlying momentum strategy to review and reflect on the job you just left: What worked? What didn’t work? What was missing? What’s next? Keep what worked and build in more of what works; get rid of what didn’t work: you don’t need to do more of it; think about what was missing or what is missing in your career and life and add it in; ask yourself, what’s next? The next job should be better than the last, because you are evolving as you go. Say no to the things you already have learned don’t work for you. Don’t just look for a new job doing the same thing as you did before. Learn from your mistakes. Your new resume should reflect your growth. If you need help, get help early in the process, not when your checks run out.

3.  Plan each week on Sunday night or Monday morning. Don’t let the days blend into one another or slip by unnoticed. Think of all the times you said you didn’t have time to do something because you were working so much. Now that you’re not working, take advantage of it. Do you have more time to exercise? Practice an instrument? Do Yoga? Read? Get together with good friends or family? Take some concentrated time to develop important criteria for the job you are looking for next, and search for it regularly — but not constantly. Searching constantly is exhausting; searching consistently is wise. You will get used to the lay of the land on the internet, notice new job announcements when they are posted, and get a sense of what’s happening in the marketplace. Keep your eyes and ears open for possibilities you may not have already thought about. Pay attention to the news and business sections of newspapers to inform your awareness of trends and companies you can research. Make an exhaustive list of the contacts you have in your personal gold mine of contacts. These are people who already know you and think well of you. Be sure to let them know what you are up to in a short email or phone call or lunch date. Give them a clear sense of what you are looking for, not just the news that you are looking for work, in order to avoid referrals that are completely inappropriate and/or time-consuming.

4.  Build in some vacation time; you need a break from the stress of unemployment! One of my clients who is handling her unemployment very wisely searches the internet twice a week for two to four hours, has several resumes out to target agencies and companies, and keeps in touch with her “gold mine” of contacts regularly. She has had a number of interviews as well, which to my way of thinking, means she is very close to finding her target job. She took a one week camping trip (“planned time spent not working,” remember) with her son and partner to a place she’d never been before, and thoroughly enjoyed her time off from the continuing job search. Now she has landed a good temporary contract in her chosen field and is taking time off again from any further searching just to “enjoy being a non-working mom for a couple of weeks” before her son returns to school and the contract begins. I predict a good ending to this story.

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Transitions: Big Ones, Small Ones, and Everything in Between

Bonnie Bell

First of all, let me just say that I have missed you! I was out of the office for almost a month for major but not life threatening surgery, and in a bit of a health transition ever since, but all is well now, and I’m back to work full speed, and ready to get back to normal with monthly posts about breakdowns and breakthroughs in career and life. Please stay tuned.

Transitions, big or small, refer in general to the “passage from one state, stage, subject or place to another.” That’s about the simplest definition you can find to describe the types of transitions that I want to focus on here. If you Google Wikipedia or any other online dictionary or encyclopedia, you will find mountains of examples of particular transitions, more than you need, from economic to musical, to the increasingly frequent use of the term “transitioning” to specifically refer to the process of gender change. The original use of the term “transition”, however, referred to the period during childbirth when the baby has left the womb and is in the birth canal but hasn’t been born yet. That’s when the screaming happens, if you get my drift…

My purpose is to bring into focus some of the ways in which we all can learn to recognize and more effectively manage the transitions in our lives, rather than being stymied or stumped by them. Virtually every client I have ever worked with is struggling with one transition or another, and by understanding certain features of transition, we can gain wisdom about them that will help us understand why they are always hard, always painful, and always hold great potential for positive growth; it just doesn’t seem that way while we’re in the midst of a big one, like the sudden loss of a loved one or a job.

The master of the subject of transitions in general was and still is psychologist, William Bridges, ever since he wrote his first book on the subject 25 years ago, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes. The revised 25th anniversary edition is readily available via Amazon, as is the body of his work on the subject. Subsequent experts in the field owe their expertise one way or another to Bridges.

When the third new client I met with in the past two weeks triggered a conversation about the difficulties of being in transition, I knew it was time to spend a little time with all of you on the subject. See how many transitions you can find in these three client stories:

  1. A woman turning 30 who has just moved back to her birthplace in the Bay Area after living in a southern state for 10 years, and who is considering a career change because she hasn’t been able to find a job in her field.
  2. A 58-year-old minister who wants to move from the ministry into business, teaching
    or counseling.
  3. A 40-year-old entrepreneur, successful but frustrated in owning her small business, who wants to return to the hospitality industry to participate on the management level with a large, high-end international chain of hotels.

Anyone can recognize, I think, that these are all examples of difficult career/life transitions, but from what I already know of them, they each are headed in a right direction that makes sense for them, and they all did the right thing when they reached out for professional help. Why???

Transitions are always hard.  That’s the main thing you need to know (and remember) about transitions right up front. I guarantee that you have experienced a slew of them already, because you started out as a baby, became a toddler, then a preschooler and/or kindergartener, and then went through countless other major and minor transitions to get through primary school, junior high (OUCH! That was probably a particularly hard one!), high school and then on and on until either high school or college or graduate school kicked you out onto the rocky road of life to survive, thrive or flop. No doubt a mixture of both occurred in various situations throughout the ages and stages of your life to this point.  The transition to retirement is a huge, often unexpected transition, even if you think you are ready for it.  With retirements increasingly lasting thirty years or more, the question we need to ask ourselves beyond “How much money will I need in retirement?” is “What am I going to be doing during retirement?”

Transitions are always hard because we humans don’t like them. We don’t like to be between a rock and a hard place, neither here nor there. After all, biologically, we are hardwired for self-preservation, and when our instinct for food, shelter and clothing is threatened by the loss of a loved one or the loss of a paycheck, we tend to freak out, to utilize a highly technical term.

Transitions are always painful.  Once we “grow-up,” whether we are conscious of earlier painful transitions or not, we tend to minimize them, and can’t figure out why the next one that hits us between the eyes or ears is so hard. What we should get better at as we evolve is remembering that all transitions are hard and painful, and that mostly we do eventually get through them to the other side. On a deep level, transitions can yield rich wisdom about who we have been and who we are and what we want to be in the future, as long as we pay attention and learn from them. That is a good idea for a little homework you could each do about your own lives. Directions: Take some time to reflect on some of the major transitions in your life. Write them down. Then choose a particularly successful one to focus on: Describe what it was like? What was hard? What was the most painful thing about it? What did you learn? Was there a lasting change that turned out for the best?  Did you grow in wisdom?

Transitions are painful because they indicate loss, loss requires grief in order to resolve itself, and grieving is both hard and painful. Every transition implies a loss of something, even if you wanted the change and made the choice yourself. Examples might be that you made the choice to get married, or to move from the East Coast to the West Coast, or to take a job that seemed like the perfect thing. In such chosen situations, don’t be thrown for a loop because your initial joy and excitement turns into discouragement and depression after the deed is done. You are in the midst of biological and environmental stress produced by the loss of the familiar old and the fearful,
anxious new.

Because transitions are hard and painful, you are weakened and vulnerable to depression. Learn how to take good care of yourself while you are
in transition.

  1. Actively, frequently, remember the times in your life when difficult transitions actually worked out well — maybe even better than expected. This will help you build self-confidence, faith (in things hoped for but not yet seen) and determination to make them work out again.
  2. Develop what I refer to as your “Inner Resume.” Take stock of your gifts, talents, education, experience and character traits that are simply the truth about you. Write them down and memorize them so that you can claim them whenever you are vulnerable to other negative voices. Strong declarative statements about who you actually are very powerful.
  3. Ask for support from friends, family, and professionals if you need it.
  4. Do things you love to do. If it’s listening to music, or playing the piano, or reading a great novel, or taking a bike ride, do it!  It’s no doubt the fastest way to get yourself out of the negative voices and into what I call “Yes Energy”, the type of energy that automatically lifts you up and expands your thinking to higher levels.
  5. Avoid “No Energy.” These are activities or people that bring you down.
  6. Eat right, exercise, sleep well, take good care of yourself, love and forgive yourself. Put yourself in the way of grace (places where good things may happen) rather than in harm’s way. Pull out all the stops.

Sometimes, things work out much better than you even dared to hope. Trust me on this.

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More on Passion in Career and Life

Last year at about this time (1/14/14), I posted a blog, How to Follow Your Passion When You Don’t Know What It Is. You can find it by title in the Index to the right of this page and read or re-read it as a companion piece to this. Beyond that, you will see frequent references to the themes of “passion, following your bliss, living with meaning and purpose, living from the heart,” and other such related themes in most of my work and words. In the 1/14/14 post, I simply make one point about passion – that many people struggle with the fact that they don’t seem to have any passion at all, and that makes them feel defective, and/or deeply disappointed in their lives. I have never met or worked with a person who didn’t have any passions, but I have met with many people who did not know how to recognize them because they had a certain image of what a passion was supposed to look and feel like.

But there is so much more to say about passion! It’s a vast historic and contemporary subject, ridiculous to even attempt to approach in a blog. But for me personally and professionally, the experience of and or subject of passion emerges on a daily basis, and then when I go home, there it is again somewhere in the nightly news. I guess you could say I am passionate about passion, and I have a lot to say about it.   This week the story of ISIS captive Kayla Mueller, the 26-year-old from Prescott, Arizona, was all over the news. She is an example of a person so overtaken by her passion (in this case for the people of Syria) that she was willing to risk her life for it.

In the letter to her parents from captivity, she indicated that she had found the good in people even in those circumstances, that she had surrendered to God, and that she had no regrets except for the fact that she had caused them so much suffering. Here is an example of someone who in former times would no doubt have been referred to as a saint. She is also controversial, as were most of the saints. Some might call her naïve or foolish or crazy. She was nothing, if not passionate.

Not all passions are created equal. Passion is a word we toss around with increasing frequency, whether we are talking about a passion for a certain food or film or pastime or subject. In the career sense, it seems that everyone, from millennials to boomers, are searching for passion in their lives and work. But if you consult the dictionary, chances are it will begin with “The Passion”, which refers to the life, suffering and death of Jesus Christ, and on to multiple other definitions, all of which connote a certain out-of-the ordinary-ness; something intense; something highly emotional and/or powerful. Mostly we understand that if we say we are passionate about something, we mean we feel more intensely about it than if we just said we liked it or even loved it. We can be passionate about something or someone good for us, and/or something or someone not so good
for us.

Some people don’t search for their passion, their passion seizes them. An inexplicable energy or force or transcendent power overtakes them with an irresistible vision, and they cannot rest until they bring that vision into reality. It is usually not a skip down the lane. German filmmaker, producer, director, writer, actor and visionary Werner Herzog is an example of someone seized by passions and visions that drive all of his creative work. In his documentary film, The Burden of Dreams, you begin to understand that the vision is not always an uplifting joy but actually a burden. And don’t expect other people to love you for bringing your vision into reality. Controversy tends to follow
great passion.

There is no reasonable explanation for why you are passionate about whatever you are passionate about. Why is not really the question when it comes to your passion. Whether it is science or music or outer space, your passion can lead you home. Passions demand your attention. If you completely ignore them, you will not be at peace, nor will you ever get a sense that you are “fully alive”. If you try to bury them, they will haunt you. Follow your passions in order to find your way, but don’t expect smooth sailing. There will be turbulence.


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Happiness First; Then Success?

I received an early Christmas gift in late November that will make all others this year pale by comparison. It’s one of those priceless “inner gifts of the heart” that only the person receiving it can recognize or fully appreciate. You know what I mean; the sign that you have received one of these special gifts is that as soon as it appears from out of nowhere, automatic tears, the tender sweet ones, brim the eyes in gratitude.

In this particular instance, the tears appeared when I saw a new email from my client, “Pat”, about whom I wrote in a blogpost dated October 11, 2013, called Cleaning House: You Never Know What Might Turn the Tide. You might want to look it up, so you will fully appreciate the progress that occurred after I wrote that blog about an interesting success story. [And by the way, you can always access previous blogposts by title in the index to the right of whatever my current blog is. If you are curious or if you need some encouragement on any aspect of your current career/life situation, pick a title you like, and you might find just the words you are looking for.]

The point I made in that particular post was how you never really know which aspect of your “career pain” might need to be taken care of first – when it seems like everything needs changing, but it’s all become too overwhelming to change anything. In Pat’s case, the seemingly locked door that couldn’t be opened was her deep desire to hire someone to help with the housework, a responsibility that was totally hers because of the demands of her husband’s job, and one which made her feel like a maid. The captions in her early emails, between Skype sessions from my office in Oakland to hers in Europe, read “Drowning”.

According to her, both the room designated as her home office and the rest of the house were a mess, she was behind in her billing, she desperately needed to make more money, and she was sure that her husband would never agree to hiring a housekeeper, because she wasn’t making enough money from her own at-home business (writing, editing, tutoring, and translating) to justify the expense. Here she was with a Ph.D. in international public health, years of professional experience in the field, and the ability to speak four languages, and she was miserable, despite the fact that she adored her husband and two young kids. There were many tears during those early conversations.

“So what was the conversation like when you talked to your husband about hiring a housekeeper?”,  I asked during one session that began once again with a focus on the impossible situation she was in because of her inability hire a housekeeper. “What conversation?” she asked into the void that had suddenly appeared. As is often the case, the clarity needed on a particular issue emerged like an iceberg, and the “homework” for the next session appeared seemingly out of nowhere. She knew what she had to do. She had to have that hugely important conversation with her husband about her pain – the very thing she had avoided like the plague. That is a great example of how once the process of finding one’s way is in full swing, the necessary “homework” begins to be obvious. It emerges all by itself. Together we prepared for the conversation, as best we could, and then it took place.

When they finally had the conversation she had been dreading for so long, it was a huge success! It actually brought them very close together. He had no idea how bad she felt, and he immediately saw how hiring a housekeeper made perfect sense. Overnight, she had been thrown a life raft, and things began to change.

I just pulled up the lengthy caption history of emails to me, from Drowning in 2012, to Hired a Housekeeper!, to the present, and they read like this: Updated CV, Photos Attached for My New Website and Business Cards, I Got an Interview!, Interview Preparation, Narratives for My Interviews, Good News!, and in the fall of 2013,Things are Booming!

News in the “Booming” email included her success in winning a high paying translation project that called not only on her writing, editing and translation skills, but on her education and professional  experience in international health. Her newly-minted website and marketing efforts led to many new opportunities, including tutoring adults in conversational English, tutoring many more kids by marketing her skills to primary schools outside of her own neighborhood, and really experiencing increased confidence, joy and satisfaction in her work, all the while happily paying that housekeeper she cannot do without. She and her husband have begun working as a team to deal with personal and professional issues, rather than in uneasy isolation. These are amazing instances of building positive momentum in every aspect of her life.

But at the end of November 2014, after almost a year without contact while she was happily living her new life, came an email with this caption: My Life is So Beautiful! and the opening words, “. . . and you were the one who set me back on my path.”

Therein lies “the inner gift of the heart” with accompanying sudden tears. Some other time I could tell you about all the progress happening in her professional life and in the professional life of her husband, who has started his own business with three other close friends and colleagues, and even exciting news about how her kids are beginning to find their way. This leads to a conclusion I get to see fairly often in doing the work I love: when one person finds their way, the people around them tend to find their way too.

Is there anything in particular that might be blocking you from your Joy? Think about this as you move into the new year, and rather than making a resolution you won’t keep, take action on one primary thing that has been bugging you for a long, long time. Then tell me about it!

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The Case for Quitting Your Job – Even if You Still Love It

I didn’t make up this title or topic, but it definitely caught my eye when I saw it at the breakfast table on Monday, October 13, 2014 in the Encore section of The Wall Street Journal (“A Special Journal report on the New Retirement”). The premise for the article by staff writer Anne Tergesen was this: “Millions of older Americans are holding fast to their jobs, even though they could afford to retire. But, walking away just might be the best thing for their health and happiness.”

Really??? I had to read on, since this certainly doesn’t apply to the majority of people who come to see me for help with their careers, not to mention most people in the marketplace at large. Most of them would kill to find work they actually love, and if they found it, I seriously doubt they would ever think of quitting their job. It’s really not in our DNA as humans to give up homeostasis for uncertainty, especially if tremendous amounts of love are involved. That would be tantamount to a happy, healthy, tail-wagging dog leaving one perfect home to maybe find a more perfect home; it’s just not going to happen.

Over the 25 years of doing the work I love as a business owner, a blogger, and a Career/Life Coach, maybe this article is targeted at people like me! What a terrible thought!! I don’t even want to continue reading or thinking about this, but I am compelled to read on. After all, I am a baby boomer myself, and in many ways, this is an article directed toward me. The way I feel about retirement is in lockstep with most of my peers, who are nearing or already in the “retirement years” (now, 50 to 68), who want to keep working; I am also in lockstep with the 10% of baby boomers who never want to retire! (Department of Labor Statistics)

We all know that there are many baby boomers who wish they could retire, but they can’t because they haven’t saved enough money; however, many of these people go on to develop new skills, write books, start new businesses, etc. If some of them have done work based in physical labor (think athletes, construction workers, other laborers), they generally run into big trouble as they age, because the years can and do take a toll on the physical body, which normally cannot continue to sustain work based on physical strength. Such was the case in the earlier decades of the last century. Skipping to the post World War II years, we see the Knowledge Age emerging, which continues to the present. In the “professions,” people’s value derives from their education, training, and experience over time in such fields as medicine, science, mathematics, psychology, literature, architecture, finance, and, of course, technology. As long as these people continue to provide value and expertise in the marketplace, they can continue being in demand and continue to work long past retirement age.

But since in reality, every job and every type of work will eventually come to an end for some reason, what happens if a person doing work they love is “asked to step down” because others have determined that it is time? The article poses a few examples. . .This thought just might be the “show stopper” for those of us who are swept away with the love of our work.

My own personal experience in life and professionally as a Career/Life Coach has taught me that having some personal power and control over beginnings and endings is always less painful than “forced” changes and forced beginnings. Consider your own life experiences here. Being laid off or fired or replaced suddenly can be excruciating, while choosing to quit a job you love or hate, can be courageous and thrilling!

As mentioned toward the end of the article, Tergesen says, “The good news is that those who take the leap frequently report that there is more to gain than they imagined. Some say passing the torch through mentoring, teaching or otherwise advising, can be just as gratifying as carrying the torch.”

So, it appears that quitting the job you have had for a very long time, or even the work you love, might just be the best thing for your health, happiness and life in the long run. Think about it, as I will, but don’t expect any sudden or surprising moves on my part.

(Reference for further reading on the subject:  Mastering the Art of Quitting: Why it Matters in Life, Love and Work, Peg Streep and Alan Bernstein, 12/24/13)

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Falling into the Harvest

It seems like the very day after Labor Day I am ambushed by Fall. While I am still holding onto summer, still wearing my white jeans, and planning just one more barbeque, I don’t want to even think about Fall. This year the weather even joined the conspiracy in Berkeley, so we could have our patio doors open all day and the windows open all night. I could have sworn it was just the beginning of a long, hot summer.

As if all of nature’s plan were to kick me unexpectedly into Autumn, like an aggressive shove from behind into an arctic lake, September 2 was dark and cold, making it harder than ever to get out of bed. The first thing I did after forcing myself from under the warmth of the blankets was to go downstairs to turn on the heat, after which I raised the kitchen blinds, and right there before my eyes was a flying Wallenda-type squirrel streaking through a pile of dried leaves with a walnut in his jaws. I swear those leaves weren’t anywhere to be seen when we were tidying up the patio for our party yesterday! Next, when I went out to the driveway to retrieve the newspapers, I noticed the same circus squirrel digging around in the dirt for the perfect storage unit for his prize. None of this was going on just yesterday, that last, lazy day of summer.

Suddenly, before I’d had a chance to put the water on to boil for tea, it all crashed in, like a descent of crows, all nagging at once: Back to school! Back to work! Back to business! Winter is coming – the holidays! The New Year! So much to do!” When I arrive at the office, the phone is ringing a little more urgently. It seems to have dawned on people that they need help with their careers and new jobs  pronto! That means a new resume if they are going to find a job before Christmas or before the New Year when everybody else will be looking for a job. The rush is on. No wonder the squirrels are flying out of trees!

But then, after a long, busy day driving home from the office after dark, I was reminded of the admonition I had heard on the morning news – to look for the Harvest Moon in the night sky. . . I had forgotten all about it, but there it was hanging huge, ridiculously orange, ridiculously bright, just to the right of a dark mountain, a supersized Halloween Trick and Treat: The Harvest Moon! I could say that it brought me to my knees, but I was driving, so I just pulled over and stopped. I felt I had been forced to stop, to drink in the beauty of the giant, orange glowing thing, so close you could see the face. Wasn’t it dangerously close to Earth? It sounds absurd, but I swear, it seemed to be relaxed and smiling, saying, “I’m ba-a-ck!  Remember me? Look how beautiful I am! You forgot, didn’t you? You haven’t been paying attention, have you?”

Well, I am now. I have been filled with harvest thinking ever since you stopped me in the midst of my frantic tracks. I can’t stop hearing the chorus of Eastern-European peasants bending over in the fields at days end, singing a weary chorus of Bringing in the Sheaves… I see pumpkins on the vine, pumpkin pie, a fall festival of color and smells, drying vineyards, a celebration, all shouting, “It’s Fall. It’s the glorious Fall!”

This morning I woke up thinking about the new client I met with for the first time just yesterday. She is thinking about what’s next for her and how to keep doing what she loves to do, but with a little less stress and a little more time to enjoy this next stage of life, while she is still healthy, has so much to offer, and a chance to “give back.” Do I do retirement coaching?

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I do,” I find myself saying. “I have coaching clients from age 25 to 75. Every age and stage presents another transition, and transitions are hard—painful, even. Every transition is a time to celebrate, a time to grieve, and a time to plan for what’s next.” Same things I always say, no matter what life stage we are talking about, but they apply to various people in various ways, depending on their particular situation.

What an incredible first session we had!—this woman who called about retirement coaching and I.  It became obvious that our work will lead to the greatest harvest of all: the harvest of a rich, deep, purposeful, meaningful life, well-lived, and deeply appreciated. “This is the time to come into your fullness,” I say, “to come into your wisdom, power and peace!  But that it usually doesn’t arrive all by itself. You have to clear everything up, take charge, ‘reflect and capture’ what you think, claim who you are. And then to actually be who you are, know what you care about, what you believe, what your most important gifts and talents are, and decide how you want to live and what you want to do with the many years ahead.”

When the time comes that you are on your deathbed, you want to be able to look back on your life and be able to say, “What a great life I’ve had. I can rest now,” with the smile of the big, wise Harvest Moon on your face.

After all, that’s what it’s really all about, isn’t it?

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The Art of Possibility, Part III

It’s difficult to track all the long-term results of learning to think differently or more powerfully or with more possibility! That kind of learning can last a lifetime and hopefully ultimately results in a good life, full of meaning, purpose and satisfaction. I was more than startled when a former client of mine (from about 20 years ago) introduced me at a social gathering as, “the woman who changed my life.” I had no idea she thought that, even though I knew she was a very satisfied client. What I think she probably meant was that I helped her to think differently – and it had a big impact on her life.

The Benjamin and Rosamund  Zander book, The Art of Possibility, to which I have been referring in Parts I and II of this blog series, is filled with stories of transformation, from those of young music students to those of leaders within large corporations such as Hewlitt-Packard. These are stories of people who were profoundly changed by “practicing the practices” set forth in the Zanders’ book, changes which led to countless positive results in their lives. While we are accustomed to and want to hear “success stories” that resulted in making it to the top or becoming rich and famous, what about some of the hidden “inner triumphs”, your “hidden triumphs” that maybe no one knows about but you?

What about the attorney who has finally found her own voice and conquered the legion of negative inner voices having to do with the sexual abuse she experienced as a child? Or the businessman who has found peace after accepting his alcoholism and committing to sobriety?  Or the corporate trainer who searched for and finally found and reconciled with the father who abandoned her as a child?  Or the science teacher who managed to pull herself out of an abusive marriage and make a good life with her young son? These are amazing “inner” success stories that also need mentioning, all of which I have had the privilege of witnessing with my own clients over the years. They are also examples of what can happen when people begin to think differently – with possibility – and because they do, they can take effective action that leads to a better life.          

On a much lighter note, just last week, one of my clients, a bright young recent college graduate who has been experiencing what I call the “post-partum blues” following her graduation and return to the Bay Area, struck gold! As part of her “homework” in our work together, she did what I call a “soft search”: she searched softly, not with pressure or anxiety, and not with the intent of immediately applying to any particular job, but with an attitude that says:

With my gifts, talents, education, experience and values, surely there is something out there for me. I wonder what it is. . . Then explore. Be curious. Be creative. Follow the yellow brick road. Look at job descriptions, look for one that appeals to you, one that attracts you. Look for that one thing that lights you up inside and has you thinking, “I could do this! I have done this! I know just what to say in the cover letter and interview!”

What she found that had her all lit up inside with possibilities was a website she had never heard about before, Because she is a “values-based” person, who has loved volunteering for several different non-profits throughout high school and college, has outstanding communication skills, and is inspired by organizations to which she can make a contribution (one of the practices in The Art of Possibility, by the way) she realized she had struck gold! There were so many possibilities all of a sudden, that we found ourselves hot on the trail of possibility. Suddenly there was no struggle involved in developing a clear, powerful resume that not only says what she has done in the past, but reveals the kind of person she is, what her values are, and how her gifts, talents, skills and experience will help the organization achieve its mission. Suddenly, what to say in a cover letter became much clearer.

If you are confused, have no idea what you want to do, and are having a hard time relating to the practices revealed in The Art of Possibility: take heart. Sometimes you don’t know what you want until you see it! And once you know what you want, and you see that it actually exists in the world, you will be filled with the energy it takes to get yourself where you want to go!

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The Art of Possibility, Part II

I hope I was successful in the The Art of Possibility, Part I in enticing some of you to begin reading The Art of Possibility (Rosamund Stone Zander and Bernard Zander, Harvard Business School Press, 2000; Penguin Books, 2002). I will be touching on many concepts and practices from the book, while you are hopefully delving deeper into your personal copy on your own.

As the Zanders warn (or promise) in the introduction, this is not a book like many other self-help books that promise remarkable success and transformation in one sitting. The thinking behind the life coaching advice in “the Art” is based in neuroscience research and the original experience of the Zanders with real students in business and the arts. The Art requires adopting a complex set of “practices” designed to help thinking with possibility instead of thinking with long-established and mostly unconscious biases and habitual thinking patterns that serve to block possibilities.

Here is a quote from Soren Kierkegaard (1813 – 1855, Danish philosopher and theologian), embedded on page 113 of the book, that speaks to possibility thinking:

If I were to wish for anything I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of what can be, for the eye, which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating as possibility? (from Either/Or)

The thing is, most people, in my own Career/Life Coaching experience over the years, and according to the Zanders, do not think with possibility. Most people tend to think toward the future with more fear and trembling than with minds wide open to incredibly dazzling possibilities. This appears to be the result, quite simply, of our biology, which is rooted in evolution and the scientific realities of self-preservation and survival of the fittest. Our minds, throughout evolution, have been “wired” to look out for threats and danger with extreme caution. While this is completely understandable, on the one hand, it does not exactly pave the way for thinking with the kind of possibility that can and does move mountains for some people. In other words, my own words, it is understandable, but not powerful. Fear and cynicism cause us to think small, with caution and limitation, rather than with possibility.

When it comes to matters of career choice, change and development, or of finding oneself in a major life transition, fear looms large. In the course of my own work, my clients and I work through a series of homework assignments together that are designed to help them begin to think with possibility rather than remain stuck in various fears about the future or with an overall attitude that is self-limiting and that actually prevents new possibilities for the future. Together, we work through at least two concepts that at first appear to be entrenched opposites—The Vision and the Voices.

This, too, tends to produce a sometimes transformation result in which the client is able to resolve their negative inner voices and reach a place where a new “wise, determined voice” appears that sounds a lot like this: This is who I am, this is what a want, and this is how I am going to get there. The “homework” that I do with my clients is, to borrow a phrase from Ben Zander when he introduces the “practices” described in the book, “simple, but not easy” (p.5). Simple and profound, I would say.

Anything described as a “practice,” rather than a rule, implies that as you practice, e.g., a musical instrument, ballet, cooking, meditation, centering, you get more adept. Practices are not intellectual concepts to memorize and eventually learn once and for all. As you practice them, you begin to learn and change in a fundamental way, and then you practice some more.

Here is a list of the practices presented by the Zanders in The Art of Possibility and a few words quoted from each chapter, which I hope will create curiosity and new thinking. Simply knowing about the practices will not create automatic change or transformation, although, I suppose you never know.  After all, anything is possible

The First Practice: It’s All Invented
A shoe factory sends two marketing scouts to a region of Africa to study the prospects for expanding business. One sends back a telegram saying, ‘Situation Hopeless STOP No one wears shoes’. The other writes back triumphantly, ‘Glorious business opportunity STOP They have no shoes’.” (p. 9)

The Second Practice: Stepping Into a Universe of Possibility
“Once you have begun to distinguish that it’s all invented, you can create a place to dwell where new inventions are the order of the day. Such a place we call the ‘universe of possibility’.” The authors call the world in which we are in the habit of living, the “world of measurement.” (p. 17)

The Third Practice: Giving an A
“Michelangelo is often quoted as having said that inside every block of stone or marble dwells a beautiful statue; one need only remove the excess material to reveal the work of art within. If we were to apply this visionary concept to education, it would be pointless to compare one child to another. Instead, all the energy would be focused on chipping away at the stone, getting rid of whatever is in the way of each child’s developing skills, mastery and self-expression.” (p. 26)

The Fourth Practice: I am a Contribution
“Unlike success and failure, contribution has no other side. It is not arrived at by comparison . . .” The questions “. . . Am I loved for who I am or for what I have accomplished? could both be replaced by the joyful question, How will I be a contribution today?” (p. 57)

The Fifth Practice: Leading from Any Chair
“I (Ben Zander) had been conducting for nearly twenty years when it suddenly dawned on me that the conductor of an orchestra does not make a sound. His picture may appear on the cover of the CD . . . but his true power derives from his ability to make other people powerful.” (pp. 68, 69)

The Sixth Practice: Rule No. 6
The only Rule:  “Don’t take yourself so g__ damn seriously.” (p. 79)

The Seventh Practice: The Way Things Are
“From the film Babe: The scene:  Christmas day on the farm. The pig, cow, hens and Ferdinand the duck crowd by the kitchen window, craning their necks to see which unfortunate one of their kind has been chosen to become the main course at dinner. On the platter is Roseanna the duck, dressed with sauce l’orange.
Duck (Ferdinand): Why Roseanna? She had such a beautiful nature. I can’t take it anymore! It’s too much for a duck. It eats away at the soul . . .
Cow: The only way to find happiness is to accept that the way things are is the way things are.
Duck: The way things are stinks!” (p. 99)

The Eighth Practice: Giving Way to Passion
“The practice of this chapter . . . has two steps:
1) The first step is to notice where you are holding back, and let go. Release those barriers of self that keep you separate and in control, and let the vital energy of passion surge through you, connecting you to all beyond.
2) The second step is to participate wholly. Allow yourself to be a channel to shape the stream of passion into a new expression for the world.” (p. 114)
(Editorial comment from Bonnie: Now that one is a lot to swallow at this point. Don’t let it stop you from learning from the other practices and tackling this when you’re more open to the practices, if you are.)

The Ninth Practice: Lighting a Spark
Enrollment is the practice of this chapter. Enrolling is not about forcing, cajoling tricking, bargaining, pressuring, or guilt-tripping someone into doing something your way. Enrollment is the art and practice of generating a spark of possibility for others to share.” (p. 125)

The Tenth Practice: Being the Board
“When the way things are seems to offer no possibility; when you are angry and blocked and, for all your efforts, others refuse to move or cooperate, or even to be halfway decent; when even enrollment does not work and you are at your wit’s end — you can take out this next practice: our graduate course in possibility. In this one, you rename yourself as the board on which the whole game is being played. You move the problematic aspect of any circumstance from the outside world inside the boundaries of yourself; with this act you can transform the world.” (p. 141)
(Editorial comment from Bonnie: Don’t worry too much about this one, although it is worrisome. It’s the graduate course and beyond most of us, it would seem.)

The Eleventh Practice: Creating Frameworks for Possibility
“The practice of this chapter is to invent and sustain frameworks that bring forth possibility. It is about restructuring meanings, creating visions, and establishing environments where possibility is spoken – where the buoyant force of possibility overcomes the pull of the downward spiral.” (p. 163)
Thank you for sticking with me, if you could or did. There’s a lot to swallow here, but it’s all practical Career/Life Coaching advice.   

Next time, in The Art of Possibility, Part III, the final part of this blog series, you will hear some heartening success stories from the Zanders and also stories from me about some of my own clients who benefitted from learning to think differently in the course of our work together and who discovered brand new and surprising possibilities in their careers and lives.

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