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All the Little Pieces – 3 Things I Learned About Completing My First Puzzle

My sister was the puzzle master when we were growing up. I recall her going through a time, a phase perhaps, of doing lots of puzzles. And she was good at them. She had patience and perseverance. And she seemed to have an eye or perhaps an intuitive sense of where the pieces were meant to go.

I did not seem to care much for puzzles when I was younger. Perhaps I found them too painstaking for my very limited patience. When I was a teenager, if something was too hard, I just didn’t do it or whined and whimpered “this is too hard” the entire time. I was always impressed, though, that my sister could find enjoyment in completing a puzzle (and not throwing a frustration tantrum in the process).

Over this past Christmas, I saw a few posts from families that were completing puzzles together and talking about how great that time was of the family gathering, working on something together, chatting about life stuff and of course, congratulating each other when placing that elusive piece. It piqued my interest and I thought, why not give it a try?

Hence, I went out and got me a puzzle. Now I had no idea if my first puzzle should be 250, 500 or 1000 (or heaven forbid, 2000) pieces. I knew I wanted to be somewhat challenged, but I did not want to revert back to my teenage “this is too hard, I give up” behavior, so I thought 750 pieces would be a good start. I brought it home, I scattered the 750 pieces onto the table, I looked at the picture and thought to myself “crap, this is going to be hard”. And it was. But I persevered and after two weeks, I finished my first puzzle.

All the while I reflected on how much a puzzle is like life and thought, this would make a fun blog post. So here we go, here are 3 things I learned (about life) from doing a puzzle:

Patience: I’m sure a few of you are saying “no-shit Sherlock!” This cannot be surprising to anyone. It was big pile of pieces. This was going to be a new level of patience. I had no idea where to start – of course you all know, you start with the border. But even the border felt like every other piece was the same. So, I just started, one piece at a time. I took my time and when I got it right, I hooted (see picture to understand the pun). And dontcha know – life sometimes really takes a lot of patience. I’ve experienced the negative impact of impatience in the workplace and it was a big lesson for me. I became uber impatient when an employee was not working as quickly as I’d like so, I took over the work. It was a tough lesson as the working relationship quickly soured and I had played a big part in that. Patience has been life-long learning for me and working on the puzzle was a good teacher!

Persistence: As I’ve said, this puzzle started out as a big bad pile of pieces, quite frankly, at first glance, it seemed like total chaos. I could have been overwhelmed and quit here, almost did, until I started to get myself as organized as I could with the border. And the overwhelm was ongoing, there were moments when I could feel myself getting frustrated. I kept telling myself “every piece fits someplace and you will eventually find its rightful home. Stick with it.” When it got too frustrating, I would walk away and come back at a later time. This is life. Sometimes it takes a great deal of persistence to achieve something, to complete something. We get knocked down or sidetracked, we get back up, dust off and get back to it. We persist.

Perspective: Okay, this is voodoo stuff. I’m serious. I’d be searching for that one elusive piece for what seemed like forever. I was like a dog with a bone – completely focused. But could not find the damn piece and could feel my impatience growing. So, I’d walk away and come back hours or even a day later. I’d come back to the table, sit down and look around for a few seconds, pick up a piece and place it in the EXACT place I’d been unsuccessful at before. Has this ever had that happen to you? Spooky, hey? Or sometimes I would get fixated on a certain color and then when I let go of the color and focused on the shape, I’d quickly see the piece I needed. My guess is that there was no witchcraft at play, rather this was about perspective, about seeing the pieces from a different angle, a different vantage point. One of my favorite tools in coaching is inviting clients to see a problem or situation from several different and opposing perspectives. Often when we get stuck in one perspective, well, we get stuck. Looking at things from different perspectives can open up more for us to access in terms of moving forward.

Wu Wei – Three Things I’ve Learned about Letting Go

What the Wu Wei?? Years ago, a friend of mine introduced me to Wu Wei while she was training for an Ironman. She referred me to a book called Thinking Body, Dancing Mind – TaoSports for Extraordinary Performance in Athletics, Business and Life by Chungliang Al Huang and Jerry Lynch.

Wu Wei is a Taoism and roughly translates into effortless action. In Thinking Body, Dancing Mind the authors describe it as “…nonforced, nonviolent flow. It implies action with a sense of yielding.”

The idea is not complete inaction or stopping, rather a letting go of forcing something and allowing the movement to be as it needs to be; more effortless, natural and energetic. The concept of Wu Wei resonated with me immediately.

For me it was like when I’m riding my mountain bike and I’m struggling to ride something technical or more challenging or just generally having a tougher day on the bike. I’d tighten my grip on the handlebars, get frustrated and try to force my riding. The result would be tense shoulders, white knuckles, unflattering grimace, inevitably getting bucked off the bike, followed by a slew of curse words. Hmm, fun.

So, I started using Wu Wei as a mantra in my life. I’ve used it in sports and activities, in serious injuries, in work and in relationships. I have to say, in many ways, it has been transformational for me. Why you ask? Well, here are 3 Things I’ve Learned about Wu Wei

  • Loosen the Grip. What I push against, pushes back. When I’m riding and find myself trying to force something or I’m getting frustrated, it just gets worse. My body seizes, I stop having fun, and the more I push, the harder it is. It is like when I push, my bike pushes back. Now, when this starts to happen, I will silently repeat Wu Wei and release my grip on the handlebars, allow my shoulders to relax and ease into the bike ride. I’m not stopping. There is still movement, however, the action is more easeful. I allow for whatever flow needs to happen. Some days that means I’m killing it like a rock star on the bike and others it’s just a slower, mindful, quieter ride.
  • Let that shit go. This was my biggest lesson with Wu Wei. I translated it to Let it Go. Stuff is going to happen, but I’m not going to force it or create a bunch of drama with it. When I find myself getting really worked up about something – especially if it is out of the scope of my control – I encourage myself to let it go. This has been an amazingly powerful strategy for me in life. I’m a fixer and a pleaser. Learning to let stuff go has helped me focus on the more important stuff, not get all wound up and to allow that shit to roll off my back.
  • I have found using Wu Wei as a mantra in all aspects of my life has helped me surrender. Not surrender as “arms-in-the-air-giving-up”, rather an acceptance as to what is. Life will happen. I will have control over a few things and absolutely no damn control over most other things. Surrendering to what is and doing my best to work through whatever life throws at me. I got this.

Effortless action. Letting go. Surrendering.

 

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. ~ Lao Tzu

It’s a Dog’s Life – Three Things I’ve Learned from My Dog

Full disclosure: I am one of those fur-baby mamas. I will put a pretty bandana on my dog for no reason. I talk to her like she is human. She sleeps on our bed and I will make room for her (not the other way around). At Christmas, she is spoiled with several delicious treats and cute toys under the tree. I worry about her at doggy daycare and will ask how her day was there when I pick her up. Did she get along with the other dogs? Did she have fun? I’ve been known to remark “She takes after me” when someone says she’s really cute.

She is a big part of our family and certain a big love of my life. It’s also been an amazing journey raising her. While I know I was “training” her to be an appropriate dog and not a total maniac of the neighbourhood, she has actually taught me so much. I could go on and on, but I am going to pick a few lessons that I learned from my sweet pooch.

3 things I’ve learned from my dog:

  • Reinforcement, it’s not just for the dogs. I grew up learning that punishment would get results. For real. I remember getting punished in school as early grade 2 by a whack with a ruler to the top of my hand for chewing gum. I learned at a young age, with which much shame I share now, that punishing your new pet would teach them not to do something. In the early days of my work life, no news was good news and you really only heard from management when you messed up. As soon as we got our new puppy, I signed up for puppy classes and 1:1 training. I knew in my heart punishment did not work and I did not want to approach raising our dog like that. And boy oh boy did I ever see how quickly and effectively positive reinforcement worked. She responded so well to kind and caring reinforcement of her good behavior. It made me think about the workplace differently and how important it is for people to feel appreciated, to be thanked for doing a good job and build on their strengths.
  • The here and now. This was a good lesson for me. I am a worrier by nature. I worry about all the things that might Hanging out with my pup taught me it’s all about the here and now. It helped me to just stop and be in the moment with her. It’s so simple for dogs. She is excited every single time we come in the door. Every. Single. Time. There is no one in my life that gets THAT excited to see me when I’ve just returned from the corner store. I don’t get that excited to see anyone! And even my walks outside changed from reaching a “destination” to enjoying the journey, to stopping to smell the roses. She’s taught me to try to be more in the moment.
  • Unconditional, profound love. I’ve never had kids, so I’ve never felt that heart-wrenching love that parents have with their kids. But when I got this puppy, I fell in deep love instantly. And felt an overwhelming deep responsibility for her care, wellness and happiness. I’ve never loved a creature like this before. She has made our lives so much better and we cannot imagine our family without her. And the gift we get back, is her unconditional love. She is not judging us. She is not asking for anything from us (well maybe a cookie, a walk and a belly rub). She is 100% pure love. What a gift!

Before you get a dog, you can’t quite imagine what living with one might be like; afterward, you can’t imagine living any other way. ~ Caroline Knapp

The Sky is the Limit – Three things I’ve learned about Success

What does it mean to be “successful”? I have long thought that success is an unobtainable nebulous thing that I was destined to never experience. Why never, you ask?

I could not pinpoint the exact source of the messages, likely it came from hundreds, if not thousands, of societal hints and nudges around what success is. As a child of the 70’s I heard pretty clear messages about what success looked like:

  • Hitting the books – getting an education is important and you are only truly successful if have a formal post-secondary education. And God-willing at 18, you had the exact knowledge of what you wanted to be/do in life and were able to pursue an education in said career choice. Sounds pretty good to me.
  • Climbing the corporate ladder – in the workplace I think the most prevalent message I heard was that success has a direct correlation to how high you move up the proverbial corporate ladder. Makes sense.
  • Raising little humans – if you are raising a family, you are successful. It is one of life’s most amazing accomplishments and from what I can see one of the hardest jobs out there – which by the way, there is no formal education to prepare you or no corporate title that you can delegate diaper changing to. Raising an actual human – Wow!

I will never doubt that these are indeed yardsticks for success.

But if this is the only truth, I am a dismal failure. I’ve completely failed at life. Yet I do not feel like a total failure, so there must be more. Let’s explore three things I’ve learned around what success has looked like in my own life:

  • The bumpy, definitely not a straight line, career path – moved to a ski town when I was 18, partied and ski-bummed for a good portion of my 20’s, worked a bunch of different jobs, a few false start career moves, and finally at 30 went to a local college and got a diploma. I love that I tried out several different jobs in my 20’s and spent a lot of time exploring what I liked and did not like. All of it served to bring me where I am today. I love the work I am currently doing complete with all the bumps and bruises along the way. I feel happy. This must be success.
  • It takes a village – I don’t have kids. It just never happened. But I have an amazing community-family. I have nieces and nephews that light up my life. I have a husband whose kids are wonderful humans. I have friends that lift me up with their love, grace, and uniqueness. I have a network of people that inspire me. I have a broad family tree – deep roots of life sustaining energy. I have an amazing husband that ticks every box. Oh, and I am a fur-baby mama! My cup is full. This must be success.
  • It’s a great day to be alive – thank you, Travis Tritt. I know how lucky I am to live where I do. I have a mountain literally in my backyard. I hear birds chirping every morning. I feel safe. My husband and I have a modest house that, well, feels like home. In five minutes, I can be in the forest breathing in the deep mossy air. And life is happening – there are ups and downs; white-water-hang-on-for-your-dear-life one day and clear smooth sailing the next. I get knocked down, I stand up, sometimes with shaky legs, dust myself off and keep going. I wouldn’t change it for the world. This is life in its perfect messiness. I love it. This must be success.

What about you? How would you define success in your own life?

 

“Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.” ~ Arthur Ashe

Smooth Sailing Ahead – Three Things I’ve Learned About Gremlins

Picture this: I’m excited about a new adventure I’m about to embark on. I am feeling the glow of what’s to come. Off I go – ready to take on the world – I know I can do this! Like Rocky Balboa – I’m a tiger, baby!

And then wham!

Out of the blue a little imp, sitting crossed legged on my shoulder whispers in my ear “Who do you think you are?”

What the hell? Where did you come from?

And then the little imp says a bit louder “This is really hard, are you sure you can do this?”

The self-doubt starts to creep in. I start to worry if I’m cut out for this new adventure.

And then the little imp, now standing up, shouts in my ear “You will fail. You should stop this madness!”  And I do. I stop. The imp, AKA, my gremlin, has got me on the ropes. I’m KO’d.

Does an inner dialogue like this sound familiar? If it does, you are not alone. I suspect most if not all of us have some type of gremlin trying to work it’s fearful, play-small voodoo on us. But the good news is that we have a choice. Albeit challenging, we get to choose what to do with this gremlin. I’ve tried the full-out battlefield, take the gremlin out-at-the-knees out approach and it does not work. For me, my gremlin is always there, so I’ve learned over time a few strategies that seem to work to help me navigate this inner saboteur.

Here are three things I’ve learned on how to manage my gremlin:

  • Get to know this character – for the longest time my gremlin was a big unknown to me – oh I knew it was always there – but I was a bit afraid of the damn thing. So, I started to get to know my gremlin. I asked myself what it looked like, what was its purpose, what does it say to me. My gremlin is a troll like creature, constantly telling me I’m not good enough. The more I got to know my gremlin, the less scary it was and the more I felt able to work with my gremlin. I realized my gremlin is not my enemy and is actually working hard to keep me safe. And to do this it uses fear to keep me small. In Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear, she has a wonderful strategy about inviting fear into her life and working with the fear, creating space for it, respecting it but stating very clearly that it is not going to call the shots.
  • My #1 Fan – once I started to get to know and work with my gremlin, one strategy I engaged that really worked for me was My #1 Fan. My gremlin is a loud-mouth and likes to hog the spotlight and I figured there had to be another, more positive voice that was not being heard. So, I asked myself: “If I had a #1 Fan, what would it be saying right now?” And voila, another voice piped up, albeit quiet at first, with positive encouraging words.
  • Don’t give in, don’t give up – My gremlin tends to just show up at any given time, always uninvited and slightly obnoxious so I have to intentionally and regularly reach out to my #1 Fan who tends to hang out in the background, like the shy girl at the high school dance. And yes, there are times when I’m a punching bag while my gremlin and #1 Fan duke it out. Sometimes it is exhausting. Sometimes my gremlin prevails and I am bruised and sore. And more often now, my #1 Fan KO’s the gremlin and I’m off on my grand adventure!

 

 

“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” ~ Louisa May Alcott

Making it Stick – 3 Things I’ve Learned about Goals

When it comes to setting goals (or intentions or resolutions), I am gung-ho to start. I am an eager beaver. I am full steam ahead. I throw myself head first into it. Then something happens and I lose steam. I start procrastinating. I make excuses. I stop reaching for the goal. I let fear and doubt creep in and I’m derailed. Ugh, total failure.

Okay, I know I’m not a total failure. I’m being a bit dramatic here to make a point about setting goals.  You might be familiar with SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound) goals or BHAG’s (big hairy audacious goals, to which I must say that there is no goal I want to be hairy – just reminds me of gigantic creepy crawlies).

SMART goals and BHAG’s (and many others) are a good framework and provide a solid guideline to setting goals. And I’ve learned that hard way, through amazing failure and a few fantastic successes, that there are some critical elements when setting (and ultimately achieving) a goal.

Three things I’ve learned about setting goals:

Heart, baby – Goals need to have some spark and fire for me. It needs to meaningful and ultimately tied to how I want to feel when I achieve the goal. It’s the big WHY. The big-kahuna of purpose. Without this, it’s dead in the water. How do I know it has heart? I ask myself: Am I excited about the goal or even about the steps it will take to achieve? Does it fill up my cup? Is the goal aligned to me, my values, what’s most important to me?

Simply achievable – It has to be manageable given everything else going on in life cuz life is busy. I have the best success when I can break it down into the minutia. The simplest steps with the most realistic of timelines. And then I take one simple step at a time. Pace will be different for everyone. In order for me to achieve, I need to be realistic about what I can actually do. It has occurred to me that when I break the steps into micro-steps, I do not get overwhelmed and I build my confidence in achieving the goal.

Little wins – I’m human. I need some instant gratification and to know I’m doing a good job along the way so there needs to be some milestones or little celebrations along the way. After all, it’s about the journey as much as it is the destination. When I was building my coaching business, I still remember when I got my business number. It was a great day, I was able to stop and say Wow…I’m legit! And take a moment to sit in this little success.

“If you want to accomplish the goals of your life, you have to begin with the spirit.”

~ Oprah Winfrey

The Ripple Effect

The Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary defines the ripple effect as a spreading, pervasive, and usually unintentional effect or influence.

We know the analogy of dropping a stone in a lake and watch the ripples spread out. One small act or action has an effect on something, someone else and onwards. Or if you are old enough, you might remember the Faberge commercial (and so on and so on…)?

This struck me recently as a former colleague came up to me and stated “Cindy, you said something a few years ago that really stuck with me and changed my approach to my career.”  She went on to tell me what I had said to her – and I had no recollection of the conversation or the so-called advice I had given her. But my words had an impact on her and luckily, in this case it was a positive impact.

How many times might I have said something flippant or dismissive that had a negative impact on someone and that impact created an unintended negative ripple effect? And I had no idea.

Whether you are a leader in an organization, a team member, a member of your community, an auntie, a father, a friend…it does not matter…each one of us have an impact, a ripple effect of our words or actions.

My struggle is that I may have a positive intention in my actions or words, but the impact may be quite different. So how do I not walk on egg shells, worrying about every little thing I do or say? I do have some control over this aspect – I’ve seen this quote show up in my news feeds a few times in the last few months (hmm – universe might be trying to tell me something?):

Before you speak, let your words pass through these gates:

“Is it true?”

“Is it necessary?”

“Is it kind?”

Simple, right?

Consider the dictionary definition again a spreading, pervasive, and usually unintentional effect or influence. Usually unintentional – whoa!

So how can I be more intentional in the potential effect? I have a choice. I have a choice to pause before I speak, to set a positive intention in whatever small, brief interaction I am having, to ask myself “Is this true, necessary and most important of all, kind?”

And I’m human, I will mess up. But if I can pause for a second most of the time, my deep hope is that the ripple effect of my words and actions will spread kindness and love.

“Just as ripples spread out when a single pebble is dropped into water, the actions of individuals can have far-reaching effects.” ~ Dalai Lama