Listen to my podcast on Self-Confidence with Sheena Yap Chan

Sheena Yap Chan is creating a valuable resource for women everywhere, with her podcast The Tao of Self-Confidence.She recently interviewed me, and I hadn't thought about the topic of confidence for quite some time. It had never occurred to me that I lacked self-confidence, because I had always been a high achiever. But in the interview, I realize that my source of confidence has shifted from outer accomplishments to an invisible inner source.

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What I just won't buy anymore

[singlepic id=444 w=320 h=240 float=center] I was reading the website of a prominent life coach the other day, and was feeling myself getting seduced by the promise of change. For me, this feeling is a little tug in my chest, accompanied by a little voice that says, "You could be like her! Why don't you just try harder? You could be successful like that! You can have everything you want in your life! Just try harder!"

I was getting pulled in by her clarity, and her certainty, and her artfully written course descriptions and "How I Work With You" page. I was dreaming of what my life would like if only I were “as on top of things as she was”. I was reading through her punchy blog posts, which boiled everything down into three simple categories, a numerical scale, and a "toolkit" for achieving the state of bliss that she has apparently created for herself.

In her "About" page, where she introduces herself and tells her story of why she became a coach, she talks about "having been there". Having been broke, miserable, in a rocky marriage, and not living her best life.

Later, she talks about how she finally hit "rock bottom" in her life and made a slow, messy climb out to attain her current dream life that includes financial freedom, working in her pajamas, and answering to no one except her fabulous, perfectly-happy-to-pay clients who just blow her away on a daily basis.

She says that the reason she's put together her current offerings is to "save us the trip" to our own rock bottom, a place she's sure we'd rather skip over and prevent from happening to us. So, sign up before the early bird registration deadline of TONIGHT at midnight, or stay stuck on your path toward rock bottom!

OK, so that last sentence wasn't actually on her website. But this is at least the second time that I've read the words "rock bottom" in a coach's story, and heard a similar sales pitch saying, "The reason I'm offering this program to clients like you is so you don't have to go through the hell I went through! You can just shift right into your own fabulousness without all the hassle!"

I fell for that pitch once.

Twice, actually. I was wholeheartedly seduced into paying thousands of dollars for a program that promised I would "triple my income" and "quadruple my happiness" if I enrolled. It was an “upsell”, meaning I had purchased a lower-priced program from this coach and then was offered a free informational call about the next level program. There was such power, such clarity, and such a personal success story wrapped into the pitch that I fell for it. Hook, line, and sinker.

I actually dropped out of the program five weeks into the ten week curriculum.

The allure of having a weekly set of assignments, worksheets to fill out, boxes to check (literally), and papers to print out and put in a binder (I was obsessed with binders! I was a Staples and OfficeMax junkie!) lasted about three weeks. Then I started to realize that all this work and structure was speaking to the A-plus student in me, the one who for 21 straight years of my life (from kindergarten through medical school) sat in some sort of classroom environment, where there were grades, tests, papers, projects, reports, and things to finish on time and turn in. Her approach (at that particular time in my life, and given my particular history) fed into the part of me that wanted someone to tell me what to do, when in fact what I needed to practice was my self-trust and intuition.

Having her move from one to-do list to another each week gave me the illusion of control, but what I really needed for me to grow was to trust more in letting go and allowing.

And that program - with all of its promises and success stories (as defined by multiples of income achieved within months of completing the program) - was exactly what I did NOT need at this point in my life. I did not need an authority figure (this coach who, I believed, had everything I did not have, including the answers) to tell me "how to" achieve an assumed outcome of "more money” as the route to greater worthiness, peace, and happiness.

I realized that what I needed was real-life experience in the process of seeing that worthiness, peace, and happiness come from inner work, expression, and practice, which may or may not result in "more money", but will lead to the feeling of having a life of everything I've always wanted. No matter what it is I actually have.

So I learned a HUGELY valuable lesson from the experience, it just wasn't what I thought I had been investing in.

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My journey right now is all about recovery. Recovery of a sense of peace. Recovery of creativity. Recovery of my self-trust. Recovery of my self-love. Recovery of a sense of acceptance. Recovery of my voice. Recovery of worthiness. Recovery of my sense of possibilities. Recovery of my ability to play.

What I’ve learned is that recovery happens gradually. At its own pace.

No one can “save you the trip” of walking on the path of your own recovery.

So what would I like to tell people about the kind of coach I am, the kind of coach I would like to be?

I'm not trying to save anyone from hitting their rock bottom.

I'm not even sure if I've hit my own rock bottom! That's not for me to say. I don't get to decide how long I'm here on earth, or what I get the chance to do, or whom I get to influence. I only get to decide how I show up for myself in this moment. And then the next. And then the next. And if I'm lucky, there's a next. And another, and so on.

After everything I have been through so far - in my 35 short years of living on this planet - I would not trade any of it for anything. It is mine. It is perhaps the only thing I truly have - my own experiences of this miracle and mystery called life. I'm sitting here on a warm, sunny day in March, typing on my own computer, using my own wireless connection, and that is no small miracle. I'm not attached to it, I just notice and acknowledge it for the brief time that these circumstances will be true. In another moment, the sun will change position, the light will change, and I may not be able to continue typing here.

So I keep typing, from a place of gratitude.

I have learned, in my zealous love affair with the idea of "changing my life", that the only effective way to truly change anything is to become more fully present, more fully aware, and more deeply accepting of exactly how things are right now. In this particular moment. Which is gone in an instant, replaced by another.

Once you fully accept, everything begins to change automatically.

This may sound trivial if you haven't tried it. But it's no small task at all to practice being with all aspects of your own life, exactly as they are in this moment. It also doesn’t mean “resigning yourself to the way things are”.

Acceptance is about full acknowledgment. Without the editing and rehearsing that typically goes on in our minds, as we disconnect from our bodies in the present moment.

We all have these escape modes, when we’re not fully accepting our experience.

I myself have found that I spend inordinate amounts of time looking around and noticing what's missing, what I've done wrong, what I should do differently in the future, or what I could be doing instead of what I'm actually doing right now.

Knowing this about myself is no longer a harsh criticism or indictment of my character, but is beginning to take on the lightness of simply being "good to know". That has taken practice.

Which brings me back to that seductive website I was reading the other day. When I caught myself seizing up in the chest, being drawn in, almost clicking on the "Buy Now" button on one of those products, I was able to breathe and watch myself.

I didn't say, "There you go again, Lisa! Falling for the old lines. Won't you ever get over your approval issues??"

I also didn't say, "A lot of nerve that person has for selling those promises! How dare she collect money for the illusion of a temporary fix!"

(Both of these would have been playing the blame game – one of my old favorites.)

Instead, I realized this was a chance to give a voice to what I am about, what is true for me (and perhaps ONLY for me...I'm prepared for that too, though I suspect this will resonate with some).

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I realized that the truth is, I would never deprive anyone of their own journey in life, whether it takes them to "rock bottom" or the moon.

What I've found so helpful - and what I hope to put back into the world - is just witnessing, and creating safe space for myself and others to just be.

I don't need to tell anyone what to do, or how to do it. It's enough for me to pay attention to my own openness, my own self-compassion (so that I can truly say that I feel compassion for others), my own softness, and my own inner freedom.

It’s enough for me to offer myself in this way to whomever I encounter, whether they are a client or not, and whatever I do, whether it is work or not.

It’s enough for me to watch my experience of life completely change when I pay attention to these things.

These, in and of themselves, are precious gifts. They have worked magic in my own life and process, and I remember each and every one of the people who showed these qualities to me when I had forgotten how to recognize them in myself.

Change can be hard. But acceptance may be even harder.

Change can be easy to sell, because we all think we want it. But acceptance - the necessary ingredient for all change - is what we really need.

And that's what I'm here to sell, all day long.

Photo credits: "Buy More Stuff" by Michael Holden

"This Is What Recovery Looks Like" by Portland Prevention

"You Are Free" by Chris Metcalf

All photos used under a Creative Commons license.

Advice Versus Coaching

Have you ever sought someone's advice, and then realized halfway into the conversation that you really didn't want them to tell you what to do? Or have you ever followed someone's advice, which never quite felt right to you, but they were in a position of authority or had done it themselves before, and you didn't know how to get out of it?

Have you ever wished you had more trust in yourself, and didn't need to rely so much on advice from other people?

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It's been ten years now since I've set foot in a traditional academic institution. Yesterday I stood inside the walls of a venerable one right here in my own backyard.

And it struck me that there is A LOT of "advising" going on at the formative stages of a lot of smart people's lives. A lot of people who are very curious, very bright, very capable, and very imaginative. But who just don't know. So they ask. They seek advice.

And what do they get? Well, what typically surrounds them in these places of academic prestige are a lot of people who got there by playing a certain game. They navigated a particular system, they overcame their own particular obstacles, and they achieved a certain status. Usually if they are in a position of enough authority to merit students' seeking their opinions, they've hung on to this status over a period of years. They've done the work of making all the right people happy in all the right places. They consulted the rule books, they found out what was expected of them, and they met those expectations.

They have seen the world through one particular lens.

This is perfect advising for someone who wants to experience life through that particular lens, and to find out what hoop is to be jumped through next. If you're asking, "How high must I jump?" and "Where is the next hurdle?", these advisors are perfectly prepared to tell you the answer.

But there's a different kind of questioning that occurs for all of us at some point in our lives. Perhaps even at several points in our lives.

Questions That Have No Right To Go Away

We come up against questions in our hearts, questions that ultimately ask us to test how much we trust ourselves, and invite us to grow into the next version of ourselves.

"tiny but frightening requests, conceived out of nowhere but in this place beginning to lead everywhere. Requests to stop what you are doing right now, and to stop what you are becoming while you do it."

- from "Sometimes", by David Whyte

In these moments, some part of us actually knows the answer and knows what we must do.

The questions appear at the most inopportune times. We're "busy" doing something else. There's "not enough time". We're "supposed to" be focused on something we believe to be more important.

But the questions don't go away. They pull at us, beckoning us to pay attention to the part of us we'd rather be able to ignore.

It poses a dilemma. Should we go this way or that? Should we keep going as if everything is "normal" or actually stay with the question and listen to what it brings?

This is when we might seek advice from others.

And this is where knowing the difference between "advice" and "coaching" can save your life.

I've received a lot of advice in my lifetime. I can remember these pieces of advice quite vividly.

Some Advice I Once Received

For example, when I had made the decision in my heart that I would not be doing a residency after medical school, I started to do what all the career guides told me to do: informational interviews.

As I told people what I intended to do, I encountered a lot of advice. "Why don't you at least do an internship? Then you'll have more options, because at least you'll have a license."

These conversations never seemed that helpful to me, because I felt like my desires were being dismissed as naive, and that the risks I felt called to undertake were insurmountable (which I found insulting). As I continued to talk to more people, I heard more advice.

From one person: "Why don't you at least finish a residency in SOMEthing? You know, general internal medicine, something like that. Then at least you'll have the credibility of being able to practice something."

From another: "If you liked cardiology in medical school, why don't you at least get trained as a cardiologist? Then you'll have so many more contacts and you'll be able to get so much more done."

And another: "Well, why don't you at least practice for a few years, get some money and respect under your belt before you go off and do your little dream? Then at least you'll have experience."

And yet another: "Why don't you wait until you retire to do 'fun' things like following your heart and doing what you love? Then at least you'll have lived a full life before you go and throw it all away."

What I realized is that each of the people who gave me advice was only speaking from their own experiences and beliefs. None of them had actually done what I was going to do, for the reasons I was doing it. And none were actually helping me to listen to the voice of my heart, which was the one posing these questions.

I ended up listening to a lot of different advice and following no one's, instead creating my own opportunities through willingness and determination. I am forever thankful for my own intuition that guided me to follow something inside me, despite advice to the contrary.

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Fast forward ten years.

I've created many more opportunities by following my own intuition, and tapping that same willingness and determination, to move in the direction most aligned with my heart's greatest desire. Now that I have opened space in my life, space in my mind, space in my body, and space in my heart, to receive guidance, it just keeps flooding in. I don't ask people what to do. I don't tell people what to do.

I have since also lived the life of trying to gain fulfillment from seeing other people follow my advice. I thought I was doing the right thing, but I would always encounter an aspect of someone else that my experience could not comprehend, that my best knowledge could not penetrate. This was before I trained as a coach. I had no tools at the time to help other people access a deeper part of their own wisdom, to help them find the keys to their own locked doors. I was giving advice, where people were in great need of coaching. I just didn't know how to at the time.

Coaching Helps You Follow Your Own Advice...The Kind You've Ignored For Too Long In Favor Of Others'

The kind of reward I received from advice-giving pales in comparison to the nourishment that is provided by coaching. As a coach, I get to be free, gently observing the process of a person finally doing exactly what their hearts have always been telling them to do. I get to share in their moments of joy in discovering that the answers they sought outside for so long, in so many ways, were already inside them, waiting to be decoded.

In short, as a coach I get to watch people finally follow their own advice!

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There is nothing more beautiful in this world than to witness a person free themselves, and become enlivened by the light inside them, dancing to the music within them.

I recognize the feeling of a person's truest longing spoken out loud. I recognize the pain of staying silent and hidden for too many years. I recognize the joy of meeting yourself again, of looking yourself in the mirror with love and kindness.

This is not what comes from taking someone else's advice. This is true learning and growth. This is the drink of water I'd always been thirsty for, but never knew existed.

So the next time you ask someone for advice, listen to them very closely. And then ask yourself, "Does this feel more freeing? Or more constraining?" Any advice that does not bring you more alive in your heart is not advice for you to follow.

Follow your freedom. It is the voice of your divinity speaking to you.

Come, take a drink with me. Be free.

Photo credits: University campus by Jules Silver, Butterfly by Harald Hoyer, both used under a Creative Commons license