Mindfulness: How the Present is Always Perfect, Even When It’s Not

Guest Post by: Talane Meidener (F’87, MA’89)

On the topic of being present and mindfulness, I thought I’d explain a basic spiritual law that often confounds people: the present is perfect. I am sure you’ve probably heard of it before, but most people don’t really understand it. How can the present be perfect when you are sick or have a broken leg? How can the present be perfect when you have massive credit card debt? How can the present be perfect when your boyfriend just dumped you? It certainly doesn’t look or feel perfect in any of these situations. So if the spiritual principle doesn’t change, then how is this very imperfect stuff perfect?

A very wise coach once said that in order for a relationship to really work in the long term, you have to love your partner’s flaws and imperfections. Or at least, find them somewhat charming or amusing. Then it becomes true that you have a “perfect” husband or wife. They are perfect for you, flaws and all. The same works in life. You need to appreciate the perfection in the imperfections. When I was taking pottery classes in New York, I held up my rather wobbly, lopsided bowl and muttered something about it being highly flawed. My teacher, Michael, said, “If you want a perfect bowl, go to Pottery Barn and get one. The beauty lies in the flaws.” So, in that sense, my bowl was indeed perfect. Perhaps more perfect than the one at Pottery Barn, thanks to its flaws. Okay, now let’s take the more difficult leap of faith. How is a broken leg perfect? Or credit card debt? Or even worse, a deadly disease or war? This is much harder to see.

Years ago, my sister was becoming an avid runner when she went skiing for the first time and blew out her knee. After surgery, the doctors said she would never run again. She was in rehabilitation for months, started doing yoga and can now run again, though she has no cartilage left in that knee. If she runs, she is basically wearing down the bone. Not a good long-term strategy. While at first she was saying, “Why me?” and bemoaning her damaged knee, she later realized that she was going down a very athletic path in life and that her real destiny is more intellectual than physical. She later took up fiction writing and absolutely loves it! The universe stopped her in her tracks. So you could say the injured knee was perfect (not that I’d wish it on anyone) and helped her reorient her life around her true gifts and talents. She continued to do yoga and gentler activities like horse-back riding, which she enjoys even more than running.

What about credit card debt? When I was up to my ears in debt, I realized that I needed to learn how to manage my money better or, when the real riches rolled in, I would squander them. Getting more money is not the solution to most financial problems, even though most people think it is. I learned that my spending was driven by an unmet emotional need to be cherished. Until I learned how to fulfill my deeper needs, I would continue to overspend. Once I got my need to be cherished met, then the overspending stopped naturally. The debt was perfect because it forced me to face the facts about my spending habits and also my emotional needs. [Discover your own personal and emotional needs by taking the free Emotional Index Quiz. Now mind you, I still go shopping, but I don’t go into debt to do so—a world of difference.

What looks imperfect in your life? If you imagine yourself describing this event or situation in ten years, how would you describe it as perfect?

If you can realize that the present is perfect right now, you’ll be much calmer when dealing with the seemingly “bad” stuff of life. This is a mindful approach to the inevitable calamities of life.

And, sometimes the thing to do is change what you don’t like by perfecting the present. You can …

Be the Change You Want to See In the World

Some of my clients have asked what to do when they feel guilty for creating an ideal life when there is so much unhappiness in the world?

As Ghandi said, we must, “be the change we want to see in the world.” If you are worried about a current disease or world problem, donate some money to the cause. Being the change you want to see can be as simple as you make it. My hero is the philanthropic Taiwanese vegetable seller, Chen Shu-chu, who is doing exactly that: walking the walk and making huge changes by doing what she can, however small. Not only is she being the change, but by her actions, she is inspiring others to donate to charity as well. Listen to her story here and get inspired to be the change you wish to see in the world.

Advertisements

What’s at Stake, Up and Down

Guest Post by: Fred Jones, GUAA Coaching Partner

Most of the bosses you’ve had probably fall toward the middle of this contrast: between whether you felt they made it easier or harder to do your thing as a leader. If you’ve had enough bosses, as I’ve had, there’s also at least one on each extreme. Someone who wore you out and drove you crazy, and one who made you better and stronger than you thought possible.

Take a longer look and consider what each of those extreme bosses was doing. Add to that an assessment, from your perspective, how they were “being”–by which I mostly mean the degree to which they seemed at ease, at least in the roles they were playing, in their own skin. Do you sense a difference?

Without fail, we have a lot at stake in our boss. The same goes in reverse. The quality of the connection makes a difference in how information flows and how productively it is used in an organizational system. It also affects the climate–the mood, the weather–from day to day. Poor relationships up and down leave us carrying an extra weight as we move through what already may be complex and challenging. This quality also is visible to others, and it affects their confidence in what’s possible and what’s worth putting discretionary effort into.

From below, there are things you can do to work on the quality upward. You can get in tune on the kind of access you can provide each other, the range of authority you have, how you represent your own point of view even when it varies from your boss’s, and more. Even that sample of a much longer list may sound difficult. The key: making it discussible. This means making the functioning of the relationship itself the focus of attention, with candid sharing of what each of you need from the other. There’s a chance that if you are suffering in the relationship, so is your boss. They may want to make it better, but they never took the time to take your perspective on it.

You may be that boss with one or more of your direct reports. Not necessarily the extreme boss. But you may be in the middle, the one who hasn’t really paused to see what it really is like to report up to you. The boss who is responsible for some amount of lost productivity and personal suffering. You can open the way for them and make the relationship discussible–which means, of course, not making it all about you. If you engage to learn, you are likely to discover something important that may affect not just them but you and the quality of your life as a leader.

Frustrated? No One Cares

Guest Post by: Carrie Arnold, GUAA Coaching Partner

Frustration is the wallpaper of life. It is the ‘go-to’ emotional word we all tend to use when we feel less than positive or neutral about something. It encompasses everything. We are frustrated with the number on the scale, heavy traffic, too many emails, how our boss communicates, that one team member who does not contribute, the kids, the dog, the laundry, the neighbors, and then we are frustrated with our frustration.

According to Merriam-Webster, frustration is a deep chronic sense or state of insecurity and dissatisfaction arising from unresolved problems or unfulfilled needs. Words like deep and chronic are pretty intense! Here lies the problem though – no one cares that we are frustrated anymore.

Frustration as our emotional buzzword has lost its impact, and it does not get a listener’s attention. Behind every frustration lies a targeted emotion that can be richly described and better heard. Are we frustrated with our kids or are we chagrined (which means embarrassed or humiliated) because all our good parenting doesn’t seem to stick? Are we frustrated with the traffic or perhaps we merely feel rushed? Are we frustrated with our boss or are we feeling thwarted (which means the feeling of someone preventing us from accomplishing a purpose)?

Behind the word ‘frustration’ is often a disappointing sorrow that some are reluctant to admit. Frustration is an acceptable label that does not make us feel vulnerable, but it is through vulnerability that we learn and grow.

If we want our words to be convincing – we have to start saying things in new ways. By shifting our language, we can get different reactions, different conversations, and maybe different results.

Try an exercise. Instead of saying the four words on the left – replace them with a deeper emotion you are feeling. Need help? Do an internet search for emotional words. There are hundreds available in your native tongue. You can do better than always using the same four words. Replace them with something more profound and notice new awareness, reactions, and results.

I am frustrated. I am too busy and overwhelmed. It is causing me to feel stress. I am ____________. I am too ___________ and _______________. It is causing me to feel _______________.

Tip: Try going all week without using the word Frustration.

How To Handle Difficult Conversations

Guest Post by: Christine Brown-Quinn, The Female Capitalist

Do you shy away from having those conversations that are truly uncomfortable, whether that be about a pay rise, performance or a particular conflict situation? Have you ever over-practiced the conversation in your head, and in the end hesitated to actually deliver the message as the timing no longer seemed ideal?

While having difficult conversations may seem natural to others, it’s really a skill any of us can learn… and the sooner the better! Not taking action of course doesn’t resolve the issue. In fact it makes matters worse as we tend to internalise the stress, increasing our anxiety levels and decreasing our ability to successfully navigate the situation. And worse yet, that difficult issue just got bigger as we haven’t dealt with it on a timely basis.

Those conversations that we dread having are actually the ones that can change the trajectory of careers. That certainly was the case for me – my ability to embrace those tough talks defined me as a senior professional. The key is to adopt the right approach to get the outcome you’re looking for.

Here are my top tips for tough conversations:

1. Bring your best self – schedule those conversations at a time when you’re feeling the most rested, positive and calm. Also think about what might be the best timing for the person you’re going to have the conversation with. You want to have their full attention.

2. Capitalise on positivity – begin your conversation with a ‘power lead’ – think about something positive to say about the current situation. What’s working well? What are you feeling energised about?

3. Be curious about the other person –cultivate an attitude of discovery and curiosity. Have the intent to learn as much as possible from the conversation. While you do want to have the end goal in mind, remain open and flexible on how to get there.

4. Share the bigger picture – provide context and background to the issue you want to discuss. This shows respect for the other person and de-personalises the issue.

5. Build up your muscle – strengthen your abilities by doing. The more tough conversations you undertake, the easier it gets. While the issues or content of the conversation may be different, with practice your stress levels will decrease, and thus your ability to master the situation will increase.

As I built up the habit of having these tough conversations, I had much less anxiety about having the conversations, and was calmer when I did have them. Each conversation gets easier and you actually start to enjoy the possibility that these interactions can be game-changers, making our work place (as well as personal relationships) that much more fulfilling, enjoyable and fun!

 

Interview with the Co-Founder of Solemates Monica Ferguson (B’00)

What has been the most rewarding moment of your career?

There have been a lot of rewarding moments as an entrepreneur, but I think when Oprah Winfrey devoted a half page in her magazine and called my invention/product “genius”. It was great.

What do you wish you had done earlier in your career?

I wish I had learned basic HTML/CSS earlier in my career.

What trends do you see in your profession or industry?

As a retail brand, we are constantly navigating the changing face of brick and mortar retail (i.e., its decline), as well as how to strike the right balance in the digital space with the investment that goes into our branded website in a world dominated by Amazon.

What is the hardest thing you have ever done professionally? 

For sure it was the decision to leave Goldman (the second time) to start my company.

What is the best career advice you have ever received? 

Be comfortable being uncomfortable.

How has Georgetown shaped you?

Georgetown helped me understand what it was to have the courage of my convictions; and the importance of acting in accordance with my beliefs.

What was your favorite professor or class at Georgetown?

Advanced Financial Management (unlikely a common answer). It was the first class that showed me how numbers tell the story of a business. Accounting did not do that for me!

What is your favorite Georgetown memory?

Any memory that involves spending time with my friends; whether it was a class project, a dinner, or just sitting around our house. It was all so much fun.

Who is a source of inspiration and strength to you in your life and why?

My parents. They raised 4 children, have demanding careers, more friends than they can handle, and they have always made time for everyone and everything. I am inspired by their work ethics, sacrifice, and their energy.

What is on your desk right now?

An old fashion (paper) date book, an amazon Echo, a bottle of Smart Water, a to-do list, and a mess of sample products and packaging.

Who is your favorite author? 

Amor Towles, Jonathan Franzen, and Kristin Hannah

What is one part of your daily routine you couldn’t live without?

Coffee and exercise

What are your words to live by?

Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder (Gilbert K. Chesterton), but I erroneously attributed it to David Brooks for years.

 

Creating a High Performance Organization Culture

Guest Post by: Susan Levine (I’89)

There is a strong correlation between highly engaged employees and high performance organizations. Our people are our assets, our engine and our lifeblood. And no one would dispute the fact that our long term success will be driven by our ability to attract, retain, motivate and develop the best team in the industry. But not every organization has a base of highly engaged employees. So how can you take the pulse on your employees? Ask them!

There are a variety of ways that you can ask employees for their views – pulse surveys targeting a few topics the leadership team would like to understand are becoming even more popular. Whether you outsource or insource, the most important thing is to regularly engage your employees. If you do, it will be the beginning of an ongoing change in the way your company conducts its business.

First, decide what it is you want to measure and take the pulse on – firm strategy, firm culture, professional development, career path and incentives, lifestyle. Organize a team to design the questions. Senior leadership on the team in critical. Skeptics on the team are invaluable to the process and will ultimately enhance credibility and buy-in to the process.

Write questions that are simple and direct. For example, “I am engaged and motivated by [my firm’s strategy]”; or “[My firm’s] culture fosters collaboration and teamwork.” Don’t hide or ignore questions about topics you know will be potentially controversial. Your employees will appreciate your asking the tough questions. Finally, make the survey totally anonymous. If you really want to get honest feedback, you will want people to feel there will be no repercussions for the feedback they may provide.

And the most important question, by far, is the “Net Promoter Score”: “I would recommend [my firm] as a place to work to a friend or relative.” The question is asked on a 10-point scale. Promoters are those who answer a ‘9’ or a ‘10’; those with a neutral response are those who answer a ‘7’ or ‘8’; and detractors answer a ‘1’ to a ‘6’. The net promoter score is the percentage of promoters minus the percentage of detractors.

Ultimately, asking employees about organizational topics and being ready to share the results is the first step in the journey to creating a more engaged workplace. But you have to be willing to commit the appropriate amount of time to tackle important issues highlighted in the results and communicate progress to the organization.

In the next topic, I can discuss what to do with survey results and how you can develop a prioritized set of actions coming out of your high performance organization efforts.

Follow Your Instincts to Find Passion

Guest Post by: Christy Steele (C’06)

What was your favorite activity as a child? What was easy for you? These might sound like frivolous questions, but consider for a moment what truly brought you joy. Was it finding frogs in the pond? Drawing with colored pencils? Banging on the drums in music class? Solving math problems? The answers to these questions can reveal valuable information that will help you build a meaningful and fulfilling career.

As an artist and producer in the media industry, I have taken many left turns and woven multiple interests and skills into my work. I pursued my love of photography after college and found a job working as a photographic coordinator at National Geographic Magazine. I worked with world-renowned photographers, learned from experienced photo editors, and discovered that I have a passion for visual storytelling. Since leaving National Geographic, I have directed photo shoots for Science Magazine, worked on documentaries and television series for Smithsonian Channel, Animal Planet and Travel Channel, created videos and websites for individuals and small businesses, completed a post-baccalaureate pre-medical program, and acted on stage and in films.

Each time I make a decision about leaving a job or working with a new company, I try to determine whether I will feel fulfilled and engaged if I take the opportunity. Here are four guiding principles that I use when making decisions.

Ask what brings you alive.

If you can’t remember what excited you as a child, simply list activities that you love doing. This can include caring for a pet, organizing dinner parties, traveling, baking, or watching movies. As you consider all of the activities that bring you joy and satisfaction, you will begin to see common threads. Steven Spielberg once said “the hardest thing to listen to, your instincts, your human personal intuition, always whispers, it never shouts. Every day of your life you have to be ready to hear what whispers in your ear.” When you start incorporating the activities into your life that bring you joy, your soul will begin “whisper” to you.

Have a mission!

When you choose to follow your instincts and pursue the things you love, it may not lead you down a straight path. When you encounter uncharted territory, your personal mission statement will become your guiding compass. As Tony Robbins suggests, “If you have a big enough why, you can figure out how to do anything.” If you have a strong enough reason for wanting to get a new job, move to a new country, or start your own company, it will be harder for obstacles and setbacks to stop you.

Ask lots of questions.

Talk to as many people as possible who share your passions. Also talk to people who are passionate about their work even if their work does not align with your interests. Passion is contagious, and these conversations will inspire you and give you ideas. People love to talk about what brings them alive, so let them! These conversations will help you put your own interests, skills, experiences and passions into a greater context. They will also help you make meaningful connections. Through my documentary film series, Uncovering Passion, I put this practice into action by talking to dozens of people who love their work. I created short documentary films with some of these people and published them at uncoveringpassion.com.

Create space for great insights!

In order to identify what brings you alive and hear the “whispers,” you must cultivate a sense of peace and quiet in your body and mind. The best way to start doing this is to simply focus on your breath for a few moments every day. There are simple and powerful energy and breathing techniques like Emotional Freedom Techniques (also called “tapping”) and Presence Process that can help you reduce stress in your body and deal with negative emotions. But any activity like taking a walk, doing yoga, or putting your bare feet on the earth is a great start.

Follow your instincts and trust yourself. While your passions may not instantly translate into a successful job or career, following these principles will open doors and make life more fulfilling.

Speaking Tips: Last Things First

Guest Post by: Dean Brenner (C’91), The Latimer Group

Have you ever led a meeting, handed out the slide deck, began discussing the topic and while still on slide 1 or 2, most of your audience has already flipped to the last slide? I’m sure you’ve seen this before… Perhaps you’ve been the one flipping to the last slide, or perhaps you were the frustrated presenter. It happens all the time.

One of the questions I get asked most frequently is, “How do I prevent people from automatically skipping to the last slide?”

I usually respond by asking, “Why do you think they go there first?”

Everyone usually says some version of, “They want to see the summary information right away.”

And then I usually say, “Then if they want to see the last slide first, why do you put all that info on the last slide? Why make them wait?”

Business storytelling is counter-intuitive. This is not like a movie or a good book. The point is not to keep your audience in suspense until the very end. The point with business communication, especially in the 21st century, is to get to the point quickly, explain to people where you are taking them, and then backtrack just enough to explain to them how you got there.

Don’t make your audience wait. It will be better for them, and they’ll pay closer attention to what you have to say.

Good luck.

Dean Brenner (C’91) is a recognized expert in persuasive communication, and is the founder and president of The Latimer Group, an executive coaching and training firm that that specializes in creating powerful communication skills. Dean and his colleagues offer coaching and training to a global client list of Fortune 500 companies. In addition, Dean has written two books on effective communication, and is currently working on his third. Dean lives in Connecticut with his family. To learn more about Dean and The Latimer Group, please visit TheLatimerGroup.com.