Who are you hanging out with? (it matters!)

Surround yourself with people who  inspire and empower you!

A few weeks ago, I flew to Utah to spend the weekend with 5 classmates from my Catholic girls high school. It’s been years (okay, decades) since we donned white dresses and received our diplomas, excited to head off to college and new adventures.

Though I’d kept in sporadic touch with some of my classmates over the years, the truth is that careers, kids and life took us in different directions. What would it be like to hang out together again?

It was a blast! We talked for hours, looked at old pictures and shared lots of laughs. There was a level of trust, respect and acceptance that made conversation and confidences flow easily as we shared our stories and hopes for the future. It reminded me that who you spend time with can definitely influence your behavior, happiness and success.

Most of us have experienced a friend, relative or co-worker who radiates negativity – constantly complaining, tearing other people down or focusing on what’s not working. A few minutes with one of these energy vampires can leave you feeling drained and out of sorts. There’s even a term for it – emotional contagion – because you absorb their energy and emotions.

But here’s the good news: when you spend time with people who are happy, motivated and genuinely supportive of others, you mirror these emotions, too. So what qualities do you look for in your most trusted friends and colleagues? Here’s my list, inspired by spending time with my smart, accomplished (and did I mention fun?) classmates.

  • shared values
  • respect, kindness and compassion
  • curiosity and openness to different points of view
  • a sense of humor
  • honesty and willingness to speak the truth

What’s on your list?

Remember, your time is precious. Spend it wisely with people who challenge, support and inspire you to be your best (and do the same for them).

How to be more productive (and less stressed!)

3 tips to get more done!

Beep, beep, beep! The alarm goes off, jarring me out of sleep. My first thought is:

Morning already? I need more sleep! And then the debate begins: should I hit the snooze button or get out of bed right away? The good girl in me wins and a minute later, I’m brushing my teeth. I glance in the bathroom mirror and – OMG, look at those circles under my eyes! I have to get more rest. But I’m always so busy….

Then it’s on to my closet, where I grab the suit I plan to wear. As I’m putting the pants on I realize the button is missing. Damn! I don’t have time to sew it back on. So I riffle through my closet looking for something else to wear (hoping it’s clean and fits!) All the while, my mind is racing through my to-do list which has more items on it than there are hours in the day. How can I possibly do it all?

That used to be a fairly typical start to my day – and it was only the first 5 minutes! My brain was already in stress mode with a million thoughts bouncing around and my day spiraled into a crazy busy whirlwind from there.

Here’s the truth: when you begin your day feeling stressed-out, over-extended and exhausted, you can’t show up and perform at your best.

Want to feel more energized, productive and happy instead? Here are 3 tips to help you set yourself up for success:

  • Breathe. According to stress expert Dr. Heidi Hana, if you spend 2-3 minutes focusing on your breath, you can dramatically change the physiology in your body. So before stress hijacks your day, close your eyes, take a deep breath and exhale (repeat 3 times). This triggers over 1400 chemical reactions in your body that recharge your energy, lower your blood pressure and focus your brain.
  • Trim your to do list. What are you doing out of sense of obligation or guilt, not because you really want to do it? (hint: look for places where you’re saying “should” or “have to”). Review your list and eliminate what isn’t critical. Yes – you have permission to stop doing things that aren’t essential, strategic or making you happy!
  • Ask for help. Have you bought into the myth of super woman, believing you have to do everything yourself? Or does the perfectionist in you think no one else can do something as well as you can? Relieve that pressure by asking for help (delegate, barter or pay someone). You’ll reduce your stress and free up time to accomplish your top priorities.

Got your priorities straight?

My “I do” versus “to do” wake-up call!

Last Monday, I was doing homework for a book writing class I’m taking, but I was really struggling to concentrate. My thoughts were on other things: My son’s upcoming wedding, to be exact!

  • where to find red, white and blue star glitter for the 4th of July themed party
  • which shoes to wear with my mother-of-the-groom dress, red or silver?
  • what heartfelt words I wanted to say about the bride and groom at the rehearsal dinner

A friend checked in to see how I was doing.

Me: I have a lot of work to do, but I’m distracted by last-minute planning for the rehearsal dinner and the wedding.

Her: Hmmm “distracted” by wedding stuff? Maybe this is where your focus wants to be because your son is about to get married and it’s a super special time. When’s the wedding?

Me: The rehearsal is Friday and the wedding is Saturday.

Her: This week?!? Sister! It’s ALL about the wedding.

I owe my friend a big thank you for this reminder. My priorities were definitely mixed-up! I was stressing myself out feeling I should be working, then fretting because I wasn’t getting much done – even though I’d deliberately lightened my schedule in anticipation of the big day.

What a relief (and joy!) to give myself permission to focus on what mattered most: being all-in as the mother-of-the-groom and enjoying the wedding planning and festivities!

Let’s face it, life is busy! Most of us consistently face the dilemma of having too much to do and not enough time to get it all done. In the midst of all this busy-ness, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s really important.

So if you’re feeling stressed out and time crunched, what is it that you need to give yourself permission to do – or stop doing? Giving your time and energy to what matters most makes you more productive – and a whole lot happier, too!

What’s the #1 way to build confidence?

Take action – even when the outcome isn’t guaranteed!

When you hear the words “risk” and “failure” what’s your fist reaction – to move towards or away from them?

If you’re like most people (including me), your instinct is to avoid, rather than embrace the possibility of risk or failure. But despite the very human desire to stay safe, taking action when you can’t be sure of exactly what will happen is the key to strengthening your confidence muscle. As Katty Kay and Claire Shipman wrote in their book, The Confidence Code:

“Nothing builds confidence like taking action, especially when the action involves risk or failure. When in doubt, act.”

Great advice, but how do you deal with the fear of failure that may be keeping you stuck in the first place? Here are three strategies to help you shift how you think about failure so you can amplify your confidence and start taking action now.

  • Acknowledge your attitude. Do you take failure personally and see it as evidence that you’ll never achieve your goals? How is that impacting your confidence and progress? Redefine your view of failure if your current thinking is undermining your belief in yourself and your willingness to take action.
  • Look for the lessons. Think about a few instances where you feel you failed. What did you learn from those experiences? Reflecting on what didn’t work can fuel your resilience and help you grow – personally and professionally.
  • Find the opportunities. What new insights, ideas and approaches were sparked by the lessons you learned when things didn’t go according to plan? With that knowledge, how can you do things differently to achieve your initial goal? Are there new areas to explore that you didn’t originally see?

“I have not failed 10,000 times I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”

So the next time fear is threatening to stop you from pursuing your goals, ambitions and dreams, remember: when you view failure as an opportunity to learn, grow and innovate, success is already yours.

Truth or lies?

5 questions to help you discover your secret sauce

“OMG! I can’t believe I did that. I’m such a screw-up!”

Ever made a mistake and said something like that to yourself? I have. And then I went on to beat myself up for not doing better. Talked to myself in a way that I’d never speak to a friend. And used this as evidence that I’d probably never achieve my goals.

I felt discouraged, demoralized and ready to retreat back to the security of my comfort zone (and never leave again).

Does this strike a chord? It’s easy to get caught up focusing on what went wrong and where we fell short, instead of viewing a setback from a kinder – and more honest – perspective.

The fact is, all that harsh self-criticism you’re heaping on yourself is a lie! It’s not the truth of who you are and what you’re capable of achieving. And it undermines your trust in yourself and keeps you playing safe and small.

But you can change this inner dialogue. And it begins with owning who you are and the value you bring. Here are five questions to help you define your secret sauce.

  1. What are your best personal traits?
  2. What are your top skills?
  3. What accomplishments are you most proud of?
  4. Where and how has your work made a difference?
  5. What do you see as the potential impact you can make in the future?

Pro tip: This is not the time for false modesty! We sometimes minimize our key talents and traits because they come naturally to us. In what situations do people immediately think of you as the best person for the job? If you want more input, ask a few trusted friends or colleagues what they see as your greatest strengths and add these to your list.

Now, the next time something goes wrong and those gremlins start messing with your mind (and they will!), call them on their lies. Replay your highlight reel of those moments when you solved a tough problem, came up with a brilliant idea or handled a difficult conversation with grace. Yeah, that was you. And you truly are a rock star!

Got attitude?

Go ahead and own it!

“Whoa, she’s really got an attitude! Who does she think she is?”

I’ve heard this comment more than once, and honestly, I’ve said it a few times myself. I didn’t mean it as a compliment.

Having an attitude is typically viewed as a negative thing. It brings to mind the unhelpful customer service rep who tells you – after you’ve spent 40 minutes on hold – there is nothing she can do to help. Or the boss from hell who doesn’t want any input because she’s got all the answers. Or maybe it’s that inconsiderate fellow volunteer who is almost always a no show when work needs to get done. People like these who show up as they are, with no apologies can be frustrating, annoying and a total buzzkill.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. You have the power to choose how you show up and the energy you bring. How would it feel to look at the world through the lens of joy, gratitude or optimism? You can own an attitude that inspires you to see possibilities, find opportunities and be happier, rather than one that shuts you down, makes you feel dissatisfied and keeps you playing small.

So, yeah – go ahead and bring some attitude – in the best of ways!

And if anyone asks who you think you are, you can tell them you’re a strong, powerful woman owning her potential and making a difference in the world.

Are you speaking up or hiding out?

Speak up – your voice matters!

Have you ever sat in a meeting, had a great idea and not spoken up? Or perhaps you’ve needed help with something, but didn’t ask because that might impose on someone else – or make you look weak. Or maybe you really wanted to negotiate a raise or a new position, but felt uncomfortable advocating for yourself.

I get it – I’ve hidden in these ways, too.

Many incredibly smart, talented women get in their own way, play small and hide their true brilliance at times. The fear of judgment is a powerful thing. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

This past weekend I spent three days with an amazing group of women speakers. Some were highly experienced, while others were just starting out on this path. But all shared one thing in common: a commitment to raising their voices to champion causes – from living a healthy lifestyle, to food insecurity, to parenting, to being authentic – that can change lives.

Here’s the truth: the world needs you showing up at 100%!

And that means it’s time to stop hiding and start speaking up. Even when it’s uncomfortable. Or you might be criticized. Or you risk making a mistake.

You have a voice. You are worthy. And when you show up as the most powerful version of yourself, you create a ripple effect that benefits everyone.

So what are you waiting for? It’s your life. Your turn. Your time.

Are you playing it safe?

How to take action when it feels scary

A woman I coached (I’ll call her Susan) wanted to increase her visibility within her company and industry. She decided that doing more speaking would be a good strategy to help her accomplish this goal. She’s bright, accomplished and articulate so this seemed like a great direction for her. When Susan shared that she’d been invited to speak at a conference, I was excited for her. But she didn’t sound so thrilled.

“I’m going to say no. I’m not really ready.”

When I asked her what it would take for her to feel ready, she said: “First I’d need to do a lot of research. Then I’d have to write my presentation. And I’d want to figure out what questions people might ask so I could prepare the answers. Of course, I’d need to practice – a lot. I need to build more confidence in my public speaking.”

As we talked this through, she acknowledged that she has deep knowledge on the topic and a lot of related experience so her research wouldn’t need to be extensive. Susan is a strong writer and could handle the writing piece. And she could carve out some time in her schedule for practice.

But Susan still resisted saying yes. What was really going on here?

“The truth is, this scares me. I haven’t spoken at a conference before. What if I forget what I want to say or can’t answer a question? What if the audience thinks I’m terrible? It would be a huge public fail!”

Have you ever passed up an opportunity because you felt this way? Welcome to the club! Confidence expert Dr. Russ Harris calls this getting caught in the confidence gap:

“The confidence gap is that place we get stuck when fear gets in the way of our dreams and ambitions.”

Our fearful thoughts aren’t the problem – they’re totally normal. Our brains are wired to protect us from perceived threats like criticism, hurt and rejection. It’s how we react to these thoughts and what we make them mean that matters.

Here are some tips to help you bridge the confidence gap so your dreams don’t get derailed.

  • Let go of unhelpful thoughts. They are words, not the truth of who you are and what you’re capable of achieving. Use helpful thoughts to fuel action.
  • Own your value. Inventory your skills, talents and achievements. Remember the times you solved a problem, created a new solution or met a challenge and tap into that experience.
  • Shift your perspective on failure. View setbacks as opportunities to learn, grow and improve – not as evidence to support an old “story” about why you can’t do something.
  • Take turtle steps. Leaping tall buildings in a single bound is fine for Super Man, but leads to overwhelm for most of us. Consistent, small actions groove a pattern of success that leads to big breakthroughs.

And as for Susan, after working through her fears of the worst that could happen during her presentation, she decided the upside of doing this talk was greater than the potential risk. Was she nervous? You bet. Did she over-prepare? Absolutely. Did it go perfectly? There were some lessons learned. The confidence boost she got from facing her fears and acting anyway? Priceless.

Perfectionism or high standards?

5 Ways to kick self-sabotaging perfectionist habits

“I’m not really a perfectionist, I just have high standards.”

I’ve heard this from many successful women and, to tell you the truth, I’ve said it myself. It’s easy to tell ourselves that our perfectionist tendencies help us get things done right and are the reason for our success. After all, what’s the downside of striving for excellence and being the best?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do a great job, improve your performance and show up as your best self. But when this leads to setting unreasonable standards and pushing yourself relentlessly to achieve them, it’s easy to spiral into a cycle of worry, self-doubt and judgment. You can’t constantly live up to these expectations. And because perfectionism is really about winning approval, your confidence can plummet when you “fail” to achieve it.

How can you tell when you’re crossing the line between healthy striving and perfectionism? Here are 5 tips to help you recognize the difference and take the better approach.

    • Check your motivation. Are you striving in order to learn, grow and contribute or are you trying to win the high opinion of others? Focusing on self-improvement (which you can control) will relieve the pressure of constantly worrying about what other people think of you (which you can’t control).
    • Be open to helpful criticism. Do you take criticism as a personal attack or as an opportunity to learn something useful? If you can listen without getting defensive this can spur personal growth instead of increasing anxiety and self-doubt.
    • Avoid all-or-nothing thinking. Do you judge your performance in absolute terms? Instead, celebrate what went well while acknowledging where you want to improve. This can reduce unhelpful self-criticism and increase feelings of satisfaction.
    • Learn from mistakes. Do you view mistakes as proof that you’ve fallen short and aren’t good enough in some way? Try adopting a learner’s mindset. Get curious and find insights and new possibilities that will help you do better in the future.
    • Build your resilience muscles. It’s natural to experience setbacks – it happens to all of us. But it’s a lot easier to turn a situation around and bounce back if you treat yourself with compassion, focus on what went right and embrace a growth mindset.

As Brene Brown said,

“You can’t do anything brave if you’re wearing the strait jacket of what will people think.”

Here’s to dropping the 20 ton shield of perfectionism so your dreams can take flight!

Is now the “right” time to pursue your dreams?

Make your dreams happen – start now!

Spring is here! And that makes me feel energized and excited….even though there’s still snow outside my window. Spring brings thoughts of growth, renewal and coming into bloom. I love the sense of possibility and promise!

There is even life bursting forth in the unlikeliest of places. Wildflowers are flourishing in the California desert again after years of drought. Some of these blossoms come from seeds that have been dormant for as many as 20 years!

How about you? What hopes, dreams or goals have you put on hold, waiting for the timing and circumstances to be exactly right?

It’s easy to get caught up in the day to day business of living. Focusing on what you really want and then taking action to get it often feels too overwhelming. So you tell yourself, I’ll get to that  later. And before you know it, 5, 10, maybe even 20 years have passed and your still waiting for that “someday” when all the stars align and the timing is perfect. I get it – I’ve been there, too.

Here’s the truth: there will always be a rationale (or let’s be real, an excuse) why now isn’t the right time. You’re too busy. You don’t have the right experience. You want to do more research. You need another certification. You’re not ready!

Guess what? You’ll never feel 100% ready!

But here’s what I know. Whatever goal, dream or desire you’ve been deferring, the seeds to make it blossom are inside you, waiting to sprout. The key is to start taking action now – before you think you’re ready.

Martin Luther King said:

  “You  don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”

What dream or desire would bring more joy and meaning to your life? Imagine how you’d feel and how  your life would be different if you achieved it. What’s one small step you could take this week to start making it happen?