Monthly Blogs 2020
In this blog I will share some of the exercises I use to coach clients over age 60. The most commonly expressed goal of these clients is to one day create a portfolio life, described in the graphic above and in my 2019 blog series. The exercises in this blog will help you create your own version of a portfolio life.
Here are three quotations that make the case for looking back before creating a plan for your future:
“Life is lived forward, but understood backwards.” Soren Kierkegaard, Danish Philosopher
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward.” Steve Jobs, Founder of Apple Computer
“If a glimpse of the future is possible, it must come from an intimacy with the present clarified by the great works of the past.” Robert Kaplan, Journalist
What have been the main themes of your life? Can you pinpoint your most instructive life lessons?
What is Your Life Story?
In the popular play Hamilton, one question is asked repeatedly, “Who writes your story?” While others will contribute and offer their interpretation of your story, ultimately you are the main author. How will you write your next chapter? That is the task in front of you. Start by looking back and connecting the dots from your life’s stories.
Exercise 1) Recreate the above worksheet to record your thoughts. For each of the three life stages within this worksheet, list the highlights and low points of that stage depending on how you feel about that experience. If unsure, put the experience below the line as a “neutral” experience. At the end of this inventory, you will have material to help you complete exercise two.
Exercise 2) If your life were a play, in three acts, what would be the storylines within each act?
Start this exercise by reading my blog about three key elements of your life and work: pleasure, engagement and purpose. If you prefer to get started right away, here are some brief definitions:
Pleasure: This is about being comfortable and having fun. Typically the satisfaction of these activities lasts for a short period of time. You may need to repeat the activities over and over to get more happiness from them.
Engagement: The word “flow” is a helpful way to understand this experience. The state of flow is best described as the moments when your abilities are well matched to a challenging task. You know you are in a state of flow when you lose track of time and are deeply involved with a project or activity in a positive way.
Purpose: The use of your abilities in the service of something outside yourself, or something larger than yourself. Purpose is driven by your core values and by what you really care about in life.
Act 1 is the story of your youth: Birth to age 18
Act 2 is the story of your young adulthood: Age 19 to 35
Act 3 is the story of your adult years: age 36 to now
For each of your three acts, answer these six questions:
1) What you did for pleasure?
2) What you did for engagement?
3) What you did for purpose?
4) Highlights from this chapter of your life.
5) Low points from this chapter of your life.
6) What you are learning about yourself, and how these insights might help you plan your future?
Exercise 3) This exercise is about your thoughts and plans for each of the five portfolio life elements. Include responses to the seven items below when describing your future plan for each element. As you contemplate each question, think back to what you have learned from exercises one and two.
Five Portfolio Life Elements (linked to blogs)
4) Healthy Living (Mind, Body, Spirit, Financial and Relationship Health)
5) Enjoying Personal Pursuits and Leisure (Pleasure + Engagement + Purpose)
Seven Questions For Each Portfolio Life Element
1) What is working, or has worked in the past, that I want to continue?
2) Why is this important to me going forward?
3) What I would like to change?
4) Who are my connections inside, and outside, of my network, that can help guide me to achieve this?
5) What small experiments can I try to determine if this will fit and be sustainable?
6) Based on reflections, connections, experiments and happenstance, what have I learned?
7) My three to six month plan includes …..
As you are completing these exercises, discuss your findings with others you trust to be a good sounding board for you. Looking back and making future plans can generate strong feelings. Don’t go it alone.
When you begin to take action, you will likely feel awkward in new situations, especially when new insights and progress take on an unfamiliar shape. Without the support and encouragement of others, you may retreat from growth opportunities, or misinterpret the responses of others. Who do you know that might serve this role for you? Consider a trustworthy advisor or friends who have successfully transitioned into their own version of a portfolio life.
Remain open to surprises and unusual opportunities along the way. Stanford psychologist, John Krumbholz, coined the term “planned happenstance.” Krumbholz believes that, “A satisfying career, and a satisfying life, is found through actively creating your own luck and making the most of new and unforeseen experiences.”
Begin your transition to a portfolio life by doing the first two reflection exercises described in this blog. After that, plan your next steps (exercise three), take action, and remain open to happenstance. As your transition unfolds, let your insights about your past interests, strengths and values be your filter and your guide. Create your future, guided by your past.
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Many reading this blog will recall the 2001 book Good To Great, by business guru Jim Collins. This was one of the most widely read and discussed business books in the early 2000s. The book’s goal was to answer this question, “Why do some companies make the leap from good to great, and others don’t?”
As we navigate this Covid-19 pandemic, in these racially charged times, we are searching for success and survival strategies wherever we can find them. Watch this three minute video, featuring Jim Collins, or read his script below, and you will learn about the Stockdale Paradox.
The lessons shared by Admiral Jim Stockdale, born from seven torturous years in a Viet Nam prison camp, simply and brilliantly teach us about success and survival during the most difficult times of our lives.
Jim Collins, May 11, 2014, The Drucker Centennial Conference
Below is my transcription from the Stockdale Paradox segment of his speech. Click here to view this three minute Jim Collins presentation.
“I would like to give you a way of thinking that has been enormously helpful to me. It came from the Good to Great research for dealing with great difficulty, and it was what came to be called the Stockdale Paradox. The Stockdale Paradox was taught to us when we were trying to make sense of the great CEOs. While we were trying to do that I just, by chance, got to know Admiral Jim Stockdale, the highest ranked military officer in the Hanoi Hilton, shot down in 1967, and was there till 1974.
They could pull him out at any time and torture him, and they did. He was tortured over twenty times. I had the privilege to get to know Admiral Stockdale. We were going to the faculty club one day and I had read his book on love and war that was written in alternating chapters by himself and his wife about their years when he was in the camp. I got depressed reading the book, because it seemed so bleak, it seemed so difficult.
It seems like we can all endure something if we know it is going to come to an end, and we know when, but what if you don’t know if it is ever going to end? And you certainly don’t know when. So I asked Admiral Stockdale how he dealt with that, and he said, “You have to realize that I never got depressed because I never, ever wavered in my faith that not only I would get out, but I would turn being in the camp into the defining event of my life. That, in retrospect, I would not trade.”
Later, when we were up the hill, I asked him, “Mr. Stockdale, who didn’t make it out that were as strong as you?” and he said, “Easy, it was the optimists.” I said, “The optimists? You said that you were optimistic.” And he said, “No, I was not optimistic. I never wavered in my faith that I would prevail in the end, but I was not optimistic.” And I said “What is the difference?” And he said, “Well the optimists always thought we would be out by Christmas, and of course Christmas would come and go, and then we were going to be out by Easter or Thanksgiving and then Christmas would come again and they died of a broken heart.”
And that is when Admiral Stockdale grabbed me by the shoulders and said, “This is what I learned. When you are facing great calamity, great difficulty, great uncertainty, you have to, on the one hand, never confuse the need for unwavering faith that you will find a way to prevail in the end with, on the other hand, the discipline to confront the most brutal facts we actually face, and we are not getting out of here by Christmas.”
The Covid-19 pandemic and the protests and riots about systemic racism have converged. Where do you turn for the right words to help you cope? In this blog I will offer two poems and four quotations that I have turned to and shared in times like these.
About the Soul’s Compass
The Winds of Fate
One ship drives east and another drives west
With the selfsame winds that blow.
Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales
Which tell us the way to go.
Like the winds of the seas are the ways of fate,
As we voyage along through the life.
Tis the set of a soul
That decides its goal,
And not the calm or the strife.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox, American author
Out of the night that covers me
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
William Ernest Henley, English poet
Nelson Mandela, while incarcerated at Robben Island prison, recited the poem to other prisoners and was empowered by its message of self-mastery.
The photo below was taken from the shores of Robben Island, looking toward Cape Town, South Africa.
About Peace and Freedom
“You can’t separate freedom from peace
because no one can be at peace unless he has freedom.”
Malcolm X, civil rights activist
About Living a Long and Full Life
“In spite of illness, in spite even of the archenemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways.”
Edith Wharton, American author
About Your Choices at the Crossroads
“Stay and accept it, stay and change it, or leave it.
These are your healthiest choices when facing extreme frustration. If the first two choices are impossible, then the third choice is imperative.”
About Justice, and Faith in the Future
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
“Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights leader
I hope these words have provided you with some helpful guidance for navigating these challenging times.
A Path with a Heart
This is my thirtieth year as a career coach, and my ninth writing blogs. This has been a year like no other. Each of us is navigating personal, professional and community pursuits that have been radically disrupted by the Covid-19 crisis.
Fortunately, most of the suggestions from my nine years of blogging remain valid today. As you prepare for your next step, however, consider one additional tool for your discernment process. This tool consists of just one question, “Does this path have a heart?”
In a time of massive disruption, displacement and political polarization, this question becomes even more important. At risk is our fragile humanity and inherent goodness.
In this blog I will be sharing a book passage by writer Carlos Castaneda. I first read this passage in college, and have returned to it often when facing personal, professional or community decisions.
To help get you in the right mood and mindset, watch this emotionally engaging and inspirational three minute video from Thailand, sent to me by Hilary Beste.
You will hear Thai narration and see English subtitles.
Early in the video, a man puts a donation into the outstretched cup of a small child sitting by her mother. Her sign reads “For Education.”
This is one of many kind acts the man performs in his day.
The Narrator says:
“What does he get in return for doing this every day?
He gets nothing.
He won’t get richer.
Won’t appear on TV.
And not a bit more famous.
What he does receive are emotions.
He witnesses happiness.
Reaches a deeper understanding.
Feels the love.
Receives what money can’t buy.
A world made more beautiful.
And in your life,
what is it that you desire most?”
The following passage from The Teachings of Don Juan, by Carlos Castaneda, is about following a path with a heart.
“Anything is one of a million paths. Therefore you must always keep in mind that a path is only a path; if you feel you should not follow it, you must not stay with it under any conditions. To have such clarity you must lead a disciplined life. Only then will you know that any path is only a path and there is no affront, to oneself or to others, in dropping it if that is what your heart tells you to do. But your decision to keep on the path or to leave it must be free of fear or ambition. Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary.
Does this path have a heart? All paths are the same: they lead nowhere. They are paths going through the bush, or into the bush. In my own life I could say I have traversed long long paths, but I am not anywhere. Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn’t, it is of no use. Both paths lead nowhere; but one has a heart, the other doesn’t. One makes for a joyful journey; as long as you follow it, you are one with it. The other will make you curse your life. One makes you strong; the other weakens you.
Before you embark on any path ask the question: Does this path have a heart? If the answer is no, you will know it, and then you must choose another path. A path without a heart is never enjoyable. You have to work hard even to take it. On the other hand, a path with heart is easy; it does not make you work at liking it.”
I encourage you to ask yourself, “Does this path have a heart?” at your next personal, professional or community crossroad. I also suggest you reread and edit the path with a heart passage. Replace the words “a heart” each time they appear in the text with integrity, purpose, love or your own preferred word(s). This exercise will help you find your path of least resistance and greatest fulfillment.
Take care, stay well, and remember to follow your heart.
With all the personal losses and unending disruptions that began just a few months ago, this month I write about hope. I have chosen to feature an uplifting new video to help us imagine our world beyond Covid-19, while still grounded in the realities of the present. I have included the video’s background and full script in this blog. Thanks to Hillary Beste for bringing this amazing video to my attention.
Irish actress Eva-Jane Gaffney speaks Sarah Coffey’s words in The Phoenix, a three minute Covid-19 inspired video about love and loss, hope and strength. The production is from Dublin-based creative agency The Tenth Man.
Over a collection of Irish and international film footage, the narrator looks back, grounds us in the present, and asks us to imagine the future.
Sarah Coffey wrote the script after a conversation with her creative director Richard Seabrooke, “We wanted to create something raw and honest that came from the heart, so what you see in the video is my first response, which I wasn’t expecting!”
When will all this end?
When this will all end…
She sleeps. Our world, she slumbers. Beneath the moon, the stars, the midnight sky, she sleeps, perchance to dream. To her, Mr. Sandman goes.
To us he brings dreams, fever dreams. In dreams we remember what was. We think about what is.We imagine what might be, what can be, what will be. In dreams we see those we love, those we have loved, those we will love. Do you think when this will all end will we love more? Because when this will all end, we will see things we could not have imagined.
We’ll see heroes jaded, and bloody, and exhausted, and sick and tired and glittering and loved. We’ll see entire nations come togetherto honor the bravery of those who showed up day after day, night after night, to serve them.
We’ll see a world coming out of hibernation from behind screens, a world that will stop staring and start again on a life less ordinary. When this will all end we’ll see waterfalls, beaches, crocodiles, speeches. We’ll see birds flying high, sun in the sky, and “Hi Nina, we’ll know how you feel,with a new dawn, new day, new life.” And damn it will feel good.
And when this will all end, our hearts will have broken, with millions of tiny shattered tears.
But hearts are strong, and they’ll mend. And as they do they’ll soldier and soldier and grow and flourish, and sew and flow with our souls together, and these souls will too be stronger because of this, and when this will all end we will all be reunited.
So now just for a minute, Let’s imagine it. The moment you’ll hear that voice again, see that face again, feel that embrace again.
And we will embrace. The old, the young, the family, the friends, the friendly rivals, the rival rivals, those you would not have thought twice about touching before. And we will cry. Oh we will cry. Fat, hot, wet tears will flow down our faces and we will hold each other tight, and for far too long, because when this will all end, it won’t feel right to ever let go again.
And when this will all end, you’ll ask me to dance and I will say yah, let’s dance. For the dawn of a new world, for those we love, for those we have lost, for another chance. And you’ll put on your red shoes and dance my blues away.
And as we sway you’ll look at my eyes with my soul reviving, burning, arising, and those fat hot wet tears will fall and we will never ever forget it and we will never ever let go again.
And this, this will all end.
Borrowing from the lyrics of Bob Dylan, this month I’ll give you “shelter from the storm.” In difficult times I turn to music for comfort, connection and inspiration.
The songs I will highlight in this blog offer these three elements in ways that only music can. If you click the links, you’ll learn how the songs of Simon and Garfunkel, Marvin Gaye, Carole King, James Taylor and Bill Withers bring me comfort and a whole lot more. You can make your own list of comforting music if you like.
Simon and Garfunkel sing Bridge Over Troubled Water,1970
This song came out when we were still in the throes of the Vietnam war, deeply divided as a nation. Music was a unifying force for my generation, and provided the soundtrack for our anti-war protests. Songs like this one offered a reminder that we are not alone in our struggles. It helped us remember our need to comfort and support one another as we bridge to what lies beyond the current struggle.
Why I love this song
Art Garfunkel told Paul Simon that the song needed one more verse. Simon thought he was done after the second verse. He said it was to be “just a simple little hymn.” That final verse helps prepare us for life beyond the struggle, beginning with the words “sail on silver girl.”
In this video, created in January of this year, you will hear the stories behind the song. Included is studio footage from 1970 and present day commentary from Paul Simon, with references to the song’s gospel inspiration and how and why that additional verse was added.
Comfort + Connection
Carole King and James Taylor sing You’ve Got a Friend at the Troubadore in 2010
This is another song from the early 1970s. This video clip is from a wonderful 2010 reunion of the originator, Carole King, and the person who first sang the song commercially, James Taylor.
The late Bill Withers’ Lean On Me was originally written and performed by him in 1972. This version was performed by artists from around the world in 2015.
Why I love these songs and videos
I love how Carole King and James Taylor came together in 2010 to sing You’ve Got a Friend. This is a tribute to their friendship and collaborations over many decades. Their 60+ year old voices are strong and beautifully matched in this video.
I also love how the performing of Lean on Me became an international tapestry in this expertly produced video, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Minnesota Public Radio recently asked us to sing each of these songs from our open front doors on April 16th (You’ve Got a Friend) and April 24th (Lean on Me.) Public Radio offered us the musical accompaniment, words and the cue to start singing. We followed along with our shared voices to help lift the spirits of our neighborhoods.
Comfort + Innovation + inspiration
Marvin Gaye’s Star Spangled Banner, at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game
You have heard this song hundreds of times, but I bet you have never heard it sung like this. Marvin Gaye takes it to a very special soulful place.
Why I love this version of the song
When Marvin Gaye sang the national anthem his way, he turned a routine, predictable experience upside down. In so doing, he invited us to experience the thrill of transformation along with the comfort of national pride.
Take care and stay well. May your music comfort, connect and inspire you in the challenging and transformational days ahead.
On Monday morning I noticed this headline in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Trooper’s gesture moves doctor to tears. For a good example of a person whose head and heart are in balance, and in the right place, read what state trooper Brian Schwartz did to move Dr. Sarosh Ashraf Janjua to tears and hope. Have some Kleenex handy.
In this blog I will share two excellent writings, one from an academic and one from a minister. In the first, titled It Might Be, the author helps us rethink what is happening now, and what future implications might be. The second piece is titled Pandemic. It speaks of our hearts and the emotional and spiritual adjustments we can make in light of what we are all experiencing.
It Might Be
by Tanja Draxler, Austrian Academic
Sent to me by art teacher and friend, Amy Hart
It might be that ships in Italian ports will lie idle for the next few days, … but it might also be that dolphins and other marine creatures will finally be allowed to take back their natural habitat. Dolphins have been sighted in Italian ports, the fish are swimming in Venice’s canals again!
It might be that people feel locked up in their houses and apartments, … but it might also be that they are finally singing together again, helping each other and experiencing a sense of community again for a long time. People sing together! This touches me deeply!
It might be that the restriction of air traffic means a deprivation of freedom for many people and brings with it professional restrictions, … but it might also be that the earth breathes a sigh of relief, the sky gains in color and children in China see the blue sky for the first time in their lives. Look at the sky today, how calm and blue it has become!
It might be that the closure of kindergartens and schools is an immense challenge for many parents,…but it might also be that many children have been given the chance to finally become creative themselves, to act more self-determined and to slow down. And also parents may get to know their children on a new level.
It might be that our economy suffers tremendous damage, … but it might also be that we finally realize what is really important in our lives and that constant growth is an absurd idea of the consumer society. We have become the puppets of the economy. It was time to realize how little we actually need.
It might be that you are somehow overwhelmed by this, … but it might also be that you feel that in this crisis lies the chance for a long overdue change, that
– makes the earth breathe again,
– puts children in touch with long forgotten values,
– is slowing our society down enormously,
– can be the birth of a new form of togetherness,
– reduces the mountains of rubbish at least once for the next few weeks,
– and shows us how quickly mother Earth is ready to begin her regeneration if we make people consider her and let her breathe again.
We are shaken up because we were not ready to do it ourselves. Because our future is at stake. It’s about the future of our children!
by Lynn Ungar, Unitarian Minister
Sent to me by U of M professor and friend, Lou Quast
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath-
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love-
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
In the next two months I was scheduled to conduct four workshops with this same title. All but one were postponed, like just about everything involving groups over ten people. In this blog I will share a version of my workshop. It feels like the right time for this message.
The inspiration for this workshop comes from Wharton Economist, Adam Grant. In his book Give & Take Grant discusses three broad styles of interpersonal dealing: taking, matching, and giving. Takers are those who try to take more than they give. Matchers are those who try to give and take proportionally and conditionally. Givers are those who give more than they take. Takers are primarily self-oriented, matchers are other-oriented as a means to being self-oriented (I’ll help you, when I think you will help me.) Givers are primarily other-oriented.
Here’s the counter-intuitive part. If we look at the most successful people – the happiest, the most likely to be promoted, etc. – they are generally givers, and if we look at the least successful, they, too, tend to be givers. The failed giver is a person who gives to others, but fails to care for him/ herself.
The most successful givers, according to Grant, are what he calls “otherish” givers. They lead with sincere generosity, but have a healthy selfishness that protects them from burnout, illness, or being taken advantage of.
The first half of this workshop focuses on updating your personal, professional and community giving strategies. The second half focuses on what you want to continue, and what you want to change for your mental, physical, spiritual, financial and relationship well-being.
Leading with Generosity…
Building a legacy of personal, professional and community giving
Over the past thirteen years I have been one of the presenters at Leadership Philadelphia. This is a civic engagement/ leadership development program led by my sister, Liz Dow. In my session I ask the participants to answer this question: “If today was your 75th birthday, and life has gone really well for you, what would people be thanking you for?”
The Leadership Philadelphia program includes a full day of immersion into a different civic theme each month over a ten month period. I tell each participant that one of the most important outcomes of these deep dives is to ultimately discover and pursue their next community calling. Each year I have these 120 for-profit and non-profit leaders do this exercise because their 75th birthday vision can help shape more immediate priorities and actions.
Round one involves asking three imagined 75th birthday guests of your choice what they would like to thank you for. These guests include one each from your personal, professional and community life. Each table guest can be one person, or a composite of multiple people. If you were in this class, what would each representative be thanking you for?
Round two asks these same three people about today. What would each representative suggest you continue to do, and what would each suggest you change in order to achieve your 75th birthday vision? Please note when you do this exercise that each representative may be alive or not. Go ahead, try it.
After you are done, ask yourself, “What do I want to continue, and what do I want to change?”
The Counterbalance to Giving…
What is your well-being/self-care strategy? What have you done for yourself lately?
Key elements of a self-care strategy include our mental, physical, spiritual, financial and relationship wellbeing. Even though we are now more isolated and limited in the things we can do, it is time to find some safe forms of interpersonal, mental, financial, spiritual and physical activities.
What are you reading and watching these days? How are you taking good physical care of yourself? Do you have a spiritual practice? Are you keeping up with your relationships that matter most? Have you found a financial coping strategy, and the right people to discuss this strategy with? There are many good resources and people to tap for ideas.
For some excellent practical and creative advice, take a look at this recent article that includes links to self care resources in most of the areas I have highlighted in this blog: Morning Brew’s Guide to Living Your Best Quarantined Life.
In my workshop, I ask participants to pair up and identify the well-being strengths and strategies they can give to others, and what advice they would like to receive in areas of well- being that they wish to develop and improve.
I am happy to offer this blog as an alternative to the workshops that were scheduled for the next two months, and have now been postponed due to the coronavirus. I encourage you to try the exercises yourself, and team up (virtually) with others as well. In the workshop I did complete, participants had the opportunity to rethink and adjust their personal, professional and community giving strategies while focusing on the legacy they wish to shape in each of these three areas of life.
Another outcome of the live workshop was participants’ appreciation of at least one strength each had to give and the advice and support they wanted to take to improve their well- being. Each participant also left with an accountability partner to check on their progress the following week.
In addition to rethinking your giving and well-being strategy, please remember to read the article I referenced about living your best quarantined life. It is rich with ideas and links to help you now, and touches on most of the well-being elements highlighted in this blog.
Here is a humorous and helpful coronavirus coping video that came my way this week. Recorded in China, it is a five minute video from a Chinese speaking American comedian, Jesse Appell.
“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.” Victor Borge
Let me know what you have done for yourself lately. How are you strengthening your well-being while at the same time giving to others? Let’s help one another get through this crisis, by sharing our best ideas and offering support along the way.
Take care, stay well,