Greeting Fear with Love

Fear has been up for me lately. I'm stepping into new unknowns and therefore a new level of courage is required. And in order to function, I've woken up to a new way of greeting fear. Instead of trying to beat it down, or conquer it, which both contain the quality of resistance, I practiced this: "It's OK, fear. Come on in. You are welcome here. Sit down at my table."

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Can you really take a day off?

[singlepic id=410 w=320 h=240 float=center] There was a time when I believed - when I was totally convinced - that I could not take a day off.

Maybe it was the example of my parents, whom I saw work tirelessly every single day, never letting go of the responsibilities of their jobs, and never taking a day off unless they were absolutely required to (and by that I mean, being so sick they had to be admitted to the hospital).

Or maybe it was medical school, where I learned by working alongside residents and fellows who would regularly show up to work sick, because they "couldn't take a day off". On one rotation, I recall the vascular surgery fellow being so rundown from flu-like symptoms that he had to dash out of the operating room to throw up in the scrub sink during a procedure he was performing. I watched wide-eyed and took everything in, my mind drawing the conclusion that "people with important jobs can never take a day off".

I became determined to find work that would enable me to take a day off, and still be considered important.

The problem was, I really had no idea what was truly important to me. I had many concepts that had been implanted by messages from my family, from images in movies and advertisements, and from the culture in which I was living. "What's important" was a moving target, a reaction to whatever "everyone else" appeared to be doing.

Meanwhile, in my heart I knew that I wanted to make a difference in this world, to care about something genuinely, and to share my story somehow in this life.

But the only way I knew - based on what I had seen, learned, and been taught - was to put my head down and work.

I worked hard at everything I did. I didn't take many days off. When I did, I remember feeling an odd combination of freedom and loss.

"Who am I without my email inbox full of requests and my voicemail full of messages?"

"Who am I when I am not answering to anyone else?"

"What would I choose to do if I had an entire day with no obligations, no one telling me where to be or what I had to do?"

Questions like these would pop up in the few instances I let myself off the hook and took a break. The questions themselves brought up feelings of fear and confusion, because no one had ever asked them of me before. I had never dared take the time to find out what the questions might reveal, if I invited them into my life.

So I pushed them away, filling my time with work instead.

It was easier than grappling with the questions.

And yet I know now, looking back, that the times when I felt the courage - the imperative - to take time away from my routine and give myself a change of place, a change of pace, and a piece of open space to allow these questions to surface, have been food for transformation in my life. Had I not followed the instinct to "Just do it", I would not have been given the chance to watch my true story unfold, and so many of my genuine desires come into reality.

These days I am often approached by people for advice on career transition, achieving happiness or fulfillment, healing from chronic medical diagnoses, and how to get "unstuck" in life.

I listen, and I am always deeply humbled by the courage required to put our struggles into words and share them with another person.

I know that, being another human being, I never have the answers for another human being. To say that I do would only feed that part of our minds with an insatiable appetite for certainty and control - the same part that tells us we can never take a day off.

The coaching or healing or help or support I provide - whichever word you choose to describe the energy of being in the presence of divine acceptance of what is - is a practice of opening space, of giving permission to ask the questions that come up (no matter how much fear accompanies them), and celebrating the miracle of the unique journey we each take in this life.

So, can you really take a day off?

I don't know the answer for you.

But if the question interests you, why not try it and see where the answer takes you?

Here's an opportunity to join me and my friend Mary Bartnikowski - photographer, author, kundalini yoga instructor, and world traveler - for a May Day ReTREAT at the beach in Half Moon Bay: Spring Cleaning For Your Soul

Be Careful What You Wish For...

Last year I made a vision board for who I am and how I feel when I express my creativity. I had devoted 2010 to my Core of Peace, and I was setting a new intention for 2011. I didn't know exactly HOW my creativity would be expressed. But by making the vision board I connected with images and words that captured how I knew it would FEEL to be in that place of expression.

I let go of the HOW, because I didn't - and couldn't - know at the time what the exact steps would be.

I breathed deeply into the feelings of my own creativity, and allowed images to attract me without needing an explanation or a meaning or a concept. They were just images that I loved, for no "reason" at all.

Here is the vision board I made:

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I have it as the wallpaper image on my laptop, so every time I open my computer, the images enter my consciousness. Most days, I don't sit and deliberately stare at every image on my screen, but I know they are there.

I haven't thought about that vision board in many months. I have gone about the business of living, of staying in my Core of Peace, of letting some things go, and picking up other things, of planting seeds and watching them grow, all the while noticing that I cannot force growth to happen any faster than it already is.

Last night I looked at it again.

It was with a sense of amazement that I noticed how many of the images had actually come into my reality during 2011. In other words, my visions had come true!

While I was holding the intention to express more of my creativity in 2011, I lived by the mantra, "First Feel Free." The actions that resulted from that feeling included walking away from a commercial lease, and six months after that, downsizing my belongings by about eighty percent and moving out of my two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment, and into my boyfriend's two-bedroom, one-bathroom house, with a kitty and a big backyard.

We started a vegetable garden.

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We climbed to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite, after months of training with progressively longer hikes every weekend.

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I fell in love with the outdoors, and discovered a new interest (er, obsession) in backpacking.

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I also fell in love with spoken word, and began accompanying poets with live violin improvisation during their readings.

I accompanied a dear friend on violin while she sang her heart out in a burlesque show, observing the self-empowerment potential for women to love (and even flaunt) their own bodies exactly as they are.

Our band, Chinese Melodrama, stumbled into a new niche combining our love of supporting local businesses and the taste of wine, by providing music at local winery and wine bar events.

I got so busy living that my writing and videoblogging could no longer keep pace with the rate at which I was accumulating experiences. I let go of my need to report on every single learning and observation I had about the world, and began to just fully soak in the experience.

Meanwhile, another dream came true, with the opening of a brand new yoga and healing arts studio just a few blocks away from my new home. It was also another example of letting go of my grief over "not having a yoga studio anymore" and allowing the magic of life to arrive at my doorstep. I now find myself on the roster of musicians for the Sunday evening yoga and healing sound classes (starting in September, I'll be playing the second Sunday of every month), and working with the studio to coordinate events with my community of healing artists, musicians, and poets.

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Looking back at my vision board, I can count the images that have arrived in my reality since that day last year. I have found myself in the woods, on the top of mountains, at the rocky shores of the ocean, standing in awe of a sunset, opening my arms to the expansiveness of the sky, praising the stillness of the forest, celebrating my own beauty, and playfulness, and togetherness with a companion.

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All of this, once just a vision, is now my reality. All of this is who I am and how I feel when I express my creativity, letting go of the HOW and opening to the expansive mysteries of the earth and life.

The old saying goes, "Be careful what you wish for."

I say, "Be bold about what you wish for."

And brace yourself. Because you just may get it.

 

 

 

 

The many ways to say, "You CAN do it!" - reprint from Truth Love Beauty

Today I'm reprinting a blog post I wrote over a year ago, on my Truth Love Beauty blog. It resonates with me right now, which is comforting. The truth has a way of standing the test of time. It also reminds me of a topic I have not talked about on this blog - the observations and lessons I learned from teaching violin to more than 30 toddlers in the Silicon Valley for five and a half years. These descriptions bring me back to a time that was filled with joys and challenges, and ultimately catalyzed a whole new way of being and learning for me. Here it is:

Does all the woo-woo, positive psychology, self-help talk make you feel a little queasy or, at best, skeptical? Does an email with the subject line, “You can do it!”, make you want to “Report spam” faster than you can hit “Delete”?

When I worked with parents and their children in a coaching/teaching environment, I learned that there are many ways we adults try to encourage our kids. We all have a default style of communication that is a product of the various influences in our lives – our own parents, our many teachers, our older siblings, our bosses, our mentors, or even a conglomeration of all the ways we DON’T want to be like any of those people. What I’ve learned about effective coaching I first saw by watching children who were actually allowed to learn. It’s simple: all a kid wants is to know what it feels like to try, and to know that they’ll be OK if they fail. If you give them those two things, they’ll try over and over again with great enthusiasm, and pretty soon (or maybe a lot later) they will succeed.

The second half of this – letting them know they are OK even if they fail while trying – is tricky. I saw so many adults sit beside their child and just watch, hands folded across their chest, while their child tried, making no attempt to help, and remaining motionless in response to anything the child did. Sure, they were “there”, but I would sometimes wonder if they were actually in the same room as we were. I’ve also seen the other end of the spectrum, where a parent would literally lunge forward and want to take over, rather than allow their child to try something that they might not “get” on the first attempt. They preferred not to witness a failure than to allow the child to try.

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I never figured out a way to coach parents to see their own tendencies in these situations. First of all, I was too busy trying to do my job coaching, witnessing, and encouraging the child. Second of all, I was frozen in astonishment at some of the parents’ behavior, not knowing how to address these things in the time allotted, or in front of the child.

These are, of course, excuses. The truth is I did not know how to hold the space for adults to really open up to what was going on. In some ways, it takes more skill and more patience to get an adult to open up than it does for a child. Despite a great deal of one-on-one time and attention for each student-parent dyad, I did not create a structure that allowed me to address holistically all the influences that are at play in a child’s learning. I had annual “review” meetings with parents, but these were perceived as “performance” reviews for the parents, where they would wait expectantly to receive some sign of approval or validation from me. Only rarely did anyone feel safe enough during these meetings to actually share their fears, their inadequacies, or their deepest questions about the purpose of their enrollment. It was mostly a veiled love fest, a hopeful yet sometimes tentative confirmation of everyone’s desire to continue with the relationship as it was. There were always a few cases where I wanted to discuss some of my real concerns about the appropriateness of continuing as the teacher for a particular child. Somehow, it never felt safe for me to voice my truth in these meetings. I would agonize over these for many days and sleepless nights leading up to the meetings, and would search for the right words, which rarely came to me at the right time. Why was it that I had never created that kind of relationship in which the truth could be told without blame or judgment? Why did I not have those skills?

By the time I started waking up to these truths, and learning how to hold this kind of space, I also saw that it was beyond the scope of my work to heal entire families, especially under the auspices of producing a children’s violin performing group. Some might say that I gave up. Maybe. But what I know now is that nothing changes until you accept things as they are. And, healing happens one person at a time, starting with myself.

My discovery of the healing capacity of the mind and the body came not from my medical school education ten years ago, but from a more recent search for my own inner peace and joy, which was catalyzed by my physical body sending me signals of debilitating pain. Something was not working in my lifestyle, and I could have chosen to ignore it and power through, or remain curious enough to explore it. I chose the latter. It opened me to a path of mental clarity and inquiry that I know will continue as long as there are thoughts running through my head. I did not take pills. I did not see a doctor or therapist. I slowed down. I rested. I created space in my life to ask the questions I was genuinely curious about. I tried new things. Simultaneously I recommitted to my yoga practice that had been abandoned during the same period of time that my body developed its pain. The combination of mind and body training, which focuses on gentle, consistent work on flexibility, balance, and strength, is what awakens me every day to the calm energy of joy I have within me. I love this kind of training because it is training for life. Not just “modern” life, or American life, or life as a woman, but being fully alive as a human being on this earth.

Now just because I’ve gone through this amazing shift doesn’t mean I’m going to wave a flag at my clients and say, “You can do it!” and expect everyone to leap into their own states of bliss. I saw the many ways that parents say this to their kids.

The same words – “You can do it!” – might come out of one parent’s mouth, with a crisp, angular tone of voice suggesting something like, “You BETTER be able to do it, or I’ll look like an idiot for spending all this money on lessons and believing you could do this!”

Or another parent’s “You can do it!” might be said without much conviction and with more pleading, meaning something like, “I know you don’t want to do this, but would you PLEASE do it for me?? Just this once?? I’ll buy you anything you want after this if you just do it for me….please???”

Yet another parent’s “You can do it!”, voiced with some disbelief and shock, might be taken to mean, “Don’t make me look bad, because I know I spent all week sitting there practicing with you every day, and you could do it at home! Now DO it!”

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The meaning behind the words changes when it is said from a place of genuine love and compassion, without attachment to outcomes. “You can do it” can also mean something like, “I am not you. But I’ve been exactly where you are, not knowing whether or not I can, not being able to see how I will ever get there, feeling the fear of pain, of humiliation, of not being enough. And having faced all of that and moved through it, I know you can do it. I’m saying it not as a command, not as a way to alleviate my own stress, not to make this all about you, so that I can transfer the blame if it doesn’t work out. I’m saying it so that you hear my belief in your spirit, in your ability to find it in yourself to do whatever it is you need to do, to take whatever time you need to, and to be wherever you are right now. I’ll be right here to witness you – to celebrate with you, and to catch you when you fall – as you learn to trust yourself.”

Said from a calm core of peace, love, and patience, there is no greater elixir when we are feeling afraid.

[Originally published on my Truth Love Beauty blog here.]

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.

Tiger Mother Amy Chua Speaks...To Me!

[singlepic id=431 w=320 h=240 float=center] One of my blog readers took the liberty of sending my video on Amy Chua's book, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother", to Amy Chua herself! I never would have done this on my own, but that's why I put my stuff out there for others to read!

Here's Amy's email which was sent to that reader, Denise.

Date: Wed, 2 Mar 2011 08:36:51 -0500 From: Amy Chua Subject: Re: FW: The Music Within Us

Dear Denise:  Thank you SO MUCH for sending this to me -- and yep, Lisa totally got my book and yep, she is totally right that no one else has!!  (Only correction is that I never choose or even saw and never would have approved the awful WSJ headline..)

I think Lisa is BRILLIANT, and I love what she says and the passages and moments she singles out.  She even gets it about my dogs!!!

I am setting up a website for my book, partly because to try to correct misunderstandings, and I will post this video.  Please feel free to share all this with Lisa!

Best, Amy

I am not posting this so that you can read something written by a published author calling me "BRILLIANT". Although that's nice and all, the reason I am posting this is to encourage you to GET INFORMED before you form judgments and opinions and join in the fun of media-generated controversies. Form your own thoughts and opinions, reflect on your own life, and learn your own lessons. Do not stop at what the journalists and media or others are telling you. Do not believe what others say until you have questioned it with your own body, mind, and heart. Know that you are always free to create your own story.

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News or Entertainment?

The "awful" Wall Street Journal headline Amy's referring to, which drew so much attention to the book, was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it generated huge amounts of controversy, and therefore discussion. On the other hand, it was a misleading excerpt that did not reflect what the book was actually about. After I read it, I laughed at the overwhelming number of "news" reports that interviewed Amy solely to ask the question, "So, are Chinese mothers really superior?" Anyone who has read the book would know that this is not what it's about. A more informed journalist might have said, "Amy, your book actually had nothing to do with arguing for or against the superiority of Chinese parenting. So why the misleading headline in the Wall Street Journal?"

But that would require a journalist whose incentives were actually aligned with informing people of the truth.

It reminds me of something I learned a few days ago on a call with a news producer for one of the morning shows on a national television network (hint: not "yesterday", and not "tomorrow"). She was teaching a group of life coaches how to pitch a news story and try to get more exposure for ourselves and our businesses. The summary of the call was, "Keep in mind that on television news, we are not trying to inform people, we are trying to entertain. Our objective is to produce television that will keep audiences from changing the channel so that we earn dollars from our advertisers. We want something controversial, and we want something that everyone is talking about. If you can't package your story to meet those criteria, we're not going to be interested."

I appreciated this very candid look into the mind of a "news" producer. It's not often that someone from within the corporate ranks of the entertainment industry will share information like this so openly. Maybe I expect "dirty little secrets" like this to be kept behind closed doors, so that we'll keep tuning in and watching television and generating advertising dollars to pay the bills for the national networks.

But think about what she said for a minute. Isn't she saying that everything created for television news is motivated by entertainment value, controversy, and popular opinion? And weren't we taught at some point (in those halcyon days of our youth) that news was supposed to be objective, fact-based, and devoid of personal opinion?

Our world has changed. We have collectively created an environment in which there is no respite from sources of entertainment. It takes even more self-discipline in this kind of world to think clearly, independently, and creatively. At the very least it requires a heightened awareness to realize what we are consuming, when we're told something under the guise of "news", when we're being entertained versus being informed.

Is it news, or is it entertainment? Can you tell the difference? It's up to you.

Tiger and cub photo by Keven Law, used under a Creative Commons license

Amy Chua book photo by the author

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