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LIFE BY DESIGN: Whose Life Is It Anyway?

On a scale of 0-100 what percentage of your life is yours?
Is this really YOUR life or is this the life your parents, your grandparents, your teachers, your minister encouraged you to live? Ask yourself what percentage of your life is determined by the media?

Whose life is it anyway?

In 2008, I was living maybe 25% of my own life. Honestly, I didn’t even know that 75% of my life wasn’t even mine nor that I had the ability to redefine it if I even wanted to. You know what I realized? No one had ever actually asked me what I wanted in life…not really and not even myself. I certainly don’t recall being asked before I started creating it and definitely not once I was in the midst of it! Who would dare second guess my intentions? This was the American Dream I was living!

I will never forget crying through my phone to my father, sobbing actually, in a state of life panic (as is often the case when one is stressed out trying to live a life of unnecessary self-imposed expectations) looking for answers for my own happiness. Through my tears I was asking him, maybe even begging him, to “please, just tell me, just tell me I’ve done it…that I don’t have to do any more,” I cried. “What are you talking about Nicoa? That you’ve done what??” he truly, curiously inquired. “That I’ve, um, done enough. That I’ve succeeded. That I don’t have to keep striving and trying…that this life, this lifestyle is enough, i just don’t think i can keep going…” I trailed off, exhausted, depleted, scared. I heard him sigh, and his voice changed as he assertively yet encouragingly said, “Listen carefully to me, Nicoa. I think you are the only one who needs to tell yourself that,” he gently offered.

I pretty much spent the first forty years of my life doing everything I could to master the good ‘ole American Dream checklist…even if it almost killed me! And it almost did. That was success, doing it all! That is what I was raised to believe was the entire point.

What is the American Dream really?

I Googled it but it didn’t really capture the truth, for me. It didn’t really capture how you knew if you’d succeeded. Maybe it never was supposed to…

James Truslow Adams coined the phrase “American Dream” in his 1931 book The Epic of America.

“The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”

And the concept is also commonly defined as “The ideal that every US citizen should have an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative.”

In my house growing up, the underlying addition to this “ideal” was that not only should you achieve success, you should achieve a higher level of success than those that came before you. THAT was a true statement of the American Dream as I understood it. “More, More, Better, Better” thinking as my friend Julio Ollalo, founder of the Newfield Network, often shared during my Coach training experience seemed to be the bane of my existence over time.

You see, my father was raised in the Green Swamp of Brunswick County, North Carolina. His upbringing included a family tobacco farm and meager beginnings for his parents. He didn’t have electricity until he was six and didn’t have indoor plumbing until, well, much later. He also likes to share how excited they were to get a TV when he was 12! His father was a blue collar worker who, as my Daddy would say, took us to “the next level” economically and socially by always working hard, saving enough money and finally moving them out of “the country” into the big city of Wilmington. They built a bigger home and their lives changed. The story continues with efforts to get my father to go to college at NC State, which he did, and on to his ability to always “work hard” and ultimately create an even better lifestyle for himself and HIS family along the coastline with a waterfront view. It was a good life, and a good American Dream “from rags to riches” type story. It made me proud to hear it and I know my father was proud to share it.

These stories stood out to me and were frequent reminders often referenced daily in our lives. “You can’t tell me there aren’t any jobs out there. My daddy always had a job and so have I. Anyone can get work and make a living and be successful in this country!” he’d exclaim enthusiastically and somewhat self-righteously at the breakfast table while reading some article about unemployment in the local Star News. Yes Siree Bob, I thought, there will always be a job and I will always be able to do it!

As a result of this can-do attitude and family legacy, I sincerely believed, whether anyone ever told me to do this or not, that it was my responsibility to create an even better lifestyle for myself and for my own family exceeding the economic status of my upbringing. That’s what my grandfather did for my father and his family and that’s what my father did for us! And, if anyone was capable of doing that, I was! Decision made. THIS must be the American Dream and I was all over it.

I had embodied this belief of taking the family to the next level wholeheartedly and set off on my quest… and woke up at the ripe old age of 40 very successful, yet, something was wrong!  Actually my intuition had been waking me up and yelling at me off and on at the ages of 30, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39….my intuition had been screaming at me to change my way of Being and yet I hadn’t sat still long enough to listen or to really hear it to know what it meant. I had been in denial. I was committed to this life story. It had been working. I was getting everything I said I wanted, right?  I had been very busy, and in many ways, blindly, checking off every damn item on that American Dream checklist you could ever imagine for past 17 years. Along the way, I must have figured if I was going to take us to “the next level” I better add on top as much as was humanly possible, just to make sure I got it right!

THE AMERICAN DREAM CHECKLIST
___Go to College (and get a master’s degree and an international business certificate)
___Get Married (by the time you are 25 I believe was the advice received…)
___Find a Good Job (and climb the corporate ladder to the top!)
___Save for Retirement (oh and save enough so you could retire at 55)
___Buy a House (oh and then build a house and have a beach house and go on vacations)
___Have Kids(not just one, but 2.4 – just to be sure I went ahead and had 3)
___Get a Dog (dogs are too messy for me, I had a cat, or two… or three…)
___Buy Your Kids Their First Car (check! oh and lots of other stuff along the way…)
___Send Your Kids to College (and don’t do it on college loans, right?!)
___Be in shape and look perfect (I threw this one on the list cause you know it’s there!)
___Be Happy! (I must have been happy, I did everything listed above, right?!)

Sound familiar? What does your list look like?

The article If You Follow The American Dream, You Will Be Happy by Shawndra Russell sums it up perfectly,

“While the concept of America as the land of opportunity is positive and encouraging, the stark reality is that James Truslow Adams’ words have morphed into the idea that if you do the prescribed right things—get good grades, go to college, get married, buy a house, have babies, buy lots of stuff—then you will have money and stability and ultimately achieve happiness. You’ll find a good job with a company that cares about you as an individual. You will get raises each year not only for increases in the cost of living but also to reflect your hard work and productivity. You will retire young enough to enjoy your free time with plenty of money saved up for a comfortable lifestyle, and the company that you have been with for 20, 30, maybe even 40 years will continue your benefits, maybe chip in with a pension. You will be able to pay for your children’s first cars, college, weddings, and maybe even contribute to helping them buy their first house. You will have it all because you were a good citizen and worker that pursued the American Dream.”

Yep. I did it. I had it all! The American Dream Checklist… CHECK!

But wait, what was my intuition saying?

That my decision to strive for more in all areas of my life, that my perfectionism and the constant pressures I was placing on myself to live this life I had chosen, along with everything that came with that decision, no longer served me. Well, what the heck did that mean?  My life was everything I had wanted it to be but I was so tired, so reactionary, often distracted and becoming more and more burdened with the commitments I had made. I craved sleep, alone time and connection that I didn’t have the time or energy to create or welcome it from myself or those I loved. I honestly believed that to live a life this full, making this type of money, with this type of resulting abundance and lifestyle must require significant compromise. And ultimately I was the one being compromised the most.

But the deed had been done, this was my American Dream life and I just kept going.

So what the hell was my problem? How dare I complain or be unfulfilled…I chose this!

I was a master at creating this American Dream life and I am sure you are, too. I had the quintessential house with the giant front porch and a Volvo station wagon to match! Many of you watched in amazement as each year, along with the perfect holiday card, it just seemed to be getting better and better, right? My family WAS at the next level of success as defined by so many others and as defined by us… and we weren’t miserable by any means. It actually felt like a party most of the time. And still, I knew deep down inside that I wasn’t really as happy as I could have been. Something was missing. Something wasn’t aligning.

Turns out…

wait for it

We were focused on many of the wrong things!

Yep, life and all of its trappings even the relationships within our lives weren’t enough when we were looking externally! Wait, whaaat? Yep, you heard me. This whole experience is supposed to be about the journey, the process, uh huh, you’ve heard this before. Why do I see you rolling your eyes and sighing with annoyance in my un-climactic “aha moment” here?!? LOL. Why? Because no one really taught us that this was the point therefore when hear it all the time WE DON’T ACTUALLY BELIEVE IT! So we go to Target and drop $100 because we think that a new outfit and that cooler with wheels on it will make our lives perfect …and happier. We have been brainwashed to believe more is better and we are not enough. This is Capitalism at it’s best. Understand it. Get to know it and how it feeds off of your insecurities and insufficiencies and makes you work harder and spend more money. I mean for goodness sake, you aren’t enough unless your cooler has wheels and the Yeti logo on it, right?! Focus people!!

I am here to tell you the American Dream checklist is FLAWED!

I beg you to question everything and step back and sit still and recognize that your fulfillment is not based on getting it right or getting more stuff or accomplishments according to a collective checklist. I promise you that whatever choices you make , you can’t get this thing called life wrong. There is no right way. Figure out what matters most to you, feels good to you, is easy for you and aligns with your values …then simply live accordingly even if it goes against the norm! Life doesn’t have to be a compromise.

REPEAT: Life Doesn’t Have To Be A Compromise!

You know what, in reflection, I truly thought I wasn’t a victim to the world of the masses who blindly followed. I simply wasn’t aware enough that I hadn’t chosen a life on my own terms based on what felt good to me. I didn’t look outside the list or my box or whatever world I was in, at least not very often…I naturally continued to grow the typical life I thought I wanted and I did this with my husband and three kids intentionally. Don’t get me wrong, I have zero regrets. If I had known better I would have done better as the beautiful poet and activist Maija Angelou liked to say.  I am pretty sure she would remind me to give myself a little more credit for creating a #lifebydesign as I intended. This ability of mine is actually a key point of this discussion and what I am here to celebrate and share it with you to remind you that you, too, can create your very own #LifeByDesign! I did what I knew, what I was told to do, what my society and, as a result, my family innocently told me was required and I did it well, by choice.

But it took a toll. 

After a near miss heart attack (turned out to be a panic attack I was convinced was a misdiagnosis). Afterward I cried to my mother and said, “Why am I so disappointed it isn’t a heart attack?” I knew why. Because if it had been a real heart attack it would have given me the excuse to get off the hamster wheel of this thing we call life and breath.  Then there was a close call with Malignant Melanoma (no I didn’t have chemo, so ironically I didn’t think I deserved any sympathy at the time and didn’t take any time off to reflect). It took these life threatening “near misses”, as we like to say in the Corporate world, to continue to shake me awake! I finally asked myself, in a moment of frustration and annoyance with my career, what was going on and “Why?” “Why am I doing what I am doing?” “Am I happy?” “Who am I in all of this?” and most importantly,“Whose life is this anyway?” 

At what point was I going to realize I was the only one responsible for my own happiness?

Not my job, my husband, my kids or my external identity. I had to answer to what mattered most to ME in this lifetime, not what I was supposed to be doing according to the rules and, yep, that damn checklist!  I was seeking external success as it was defined by others. I was doing this big job because that was what you were supposed to do at this point in your career. I was stretching myself thin and spending tons of money on my life and on my kids so they would have…enough.

But now I knew more. The discomfort my body forced upon me and my intuitive self questioning forced me to widen my view. With time, I could see outside my box! I could see there had to be a better way. I didn’t have to life this type of life, did I?  What if we changed everything? This was clearly no longer serving me, and it was time to define my own success!

REPEAT: This Was No Longer Serving Me!

I know I wouldn’t be here without the beliefs and efforts of my father and grandfather. I am truly proud of both of them for what they accomplished in their lifetimes in their attempts at taking our family to “the next level“. They are both proud of me. But they aren’t proud of me because my family can afford to buy more things, make more money, travel the world, have a big title or live in a bigger house above and beyond what they were able to provide for their families. They are proud of me for finally choosing a life on my own terms and recognizing I am the only one I have to answer to, not to them. They never even asked me to do that. My interpretations and assumptions led me to my way of Being, not theirs. I own that. Recognizing this and taking accountability for where I was in life, well, that was always the point!

And you know what’s cool? By watching me grow through all of this, my Father began asking himself “why” more often, too. No one ever asked him either when he started out in life, so naturally he, too, fell into the belief that more was always better and that striving was the answer. I remember once him saying to me, “Just keep working as hard as you can, no matter what!” He reminds me now that he wished he didn’t have to wait until he was in his 70’s to truly understand he was in more control of his outcomes in life than he realized and he sees now that hard work alone or getting a promotion or making more sales isn’t always the answer, nor worth the cost. He sees now that aligning to what truly matters most in what you do day in and day out enables all of those things with ease and, maybe, just maybe enough is always enough. But, mostly he reminds me that he is glad I won’t have to wait as long as he did to figure all of that out. I won’t have to wait because I am living it now. I am living my life now on my own terms. My life.

LIFE BY DESIGN: Who’s life is this anyway?

Only you can answer this question. Go ahead, ask! The ability to observe yourself and your life increases your self-awareness which gives you the freedom of choice. It is by creating conscious choice, my friends, that defines taking your family to “the next level“. This should be the foundation of our American Dream!

Eight and a half year’s later, stress and cancer free, I sure am glad I asked myself those “why” questions. My guru coach and intuitive friend Dr. Tatiana Irvin gently reminded me once during a moment of uncertainty about continuing down a non-traditional path “Remember my Dear, you probably wouldn’t be here today if you hadn’t asked yourself those questions.

Today I live a life that is, finally, about ~75% mine. My life, my design. This life includes all of what matters most to me, my values of people, purpose, play, & peace. Sure I’m still working on the other 25+% where I observe myself attached sometimes to what others think and our societal expectations of “getting it right” and overcoming old stories of fear and doubt, but hey, I created an American Dream for myself and my family these past 48 years so I’m pretty confident I can continue to choose to live Nicoa’s American Dream over the next 48, too!

#LifeByDesign #ILoveMine …you can, too.

your friend,
nicoa

www.nicoadunne.com

nicoa is a lifestyle coach helping you help yourself live a life by design.

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Are You Still A Slave?

 

Thank you Harriet.

Thank you for being awake.
Thank you for thinking for yourself.
Thank you for having a big dream.
Thank you for being brave to lead the way.

Thank you for knowing in your heart that freedom, in all of its forms, is our natural born right.

But, I am afraid, although you made progress, we are still unconsciously enslaved…

“I am tired of just going through the motions,” said my executive female client the other day during a coaching call. “What do I have to do to feel again? Not sure I can afford to do something different…is it too late?”

“I guess I can’t do what I want. I could never make enough money. I guess I have to just wait for retirement…” sighed a mid-manager with three kids and a stay at home husband when we were coaching about her dream of designing and living a life doing what she really loved.

“So, my college loans finally got paid off.” solemnly said my 30-year old client who recently realized she had been working to pay off her college loan for the past decade and not intentionally working to live a life she loved.

This is not a surprise that these conversations, these questions, these sighs, these fears, these uncertainties and these doubts arise regularly during coaching dialogues.
My clients feel trapped, or may I say enslaved, in many ways, but
money is usually at the top of the list.

Harriet Tubman was an African-American abolitionist, humanitarian, and a Union spy during the American Civil War. Honored and memorialized soon by replacing Andrew Jackson, the 7th president of the United States, on the front of the US twenty dollar bill. A woman. A pioneer. A slave. A former female slave soon to be on the same bill as a man who was a slave trader and owner.

A teachable moment in US history for sure.

The irony of it, for me at least, in my ongoing exploration of who are we and what are we doing here, is that the very bill Harriet’s beautiful face is being placed upon is a large piece of what is actually still enslaving us all. The other irony I found was that Andrew Jackson actually opposed the national banking system and paper money and is on an actual paper bill! How funny.

“I have always been afraid of banks!” ~Andrew Jackson

I wonder what he would think about being on the $20?!?
A slave against slavery and a slave trader and owner who was against the very tool that now creates slavery shackles on humans across the globe. It has emerged as a very heavy and cumbersome ball and chain in my client’s lives causing suffering, anxiety, competitiveness and separateness based on a fear of survival.

“The essence of all slavery consists in taking the product of another’s labor by force. It is immaterial whether this force be founded upon ownership of the slave or ownership of the money that he must get to live.” ~Tolstoy

I have been thinking a lot about this concept of slavery. An unaware enslavement we find ourselves in. Enslavement to the powerful dollar. Enslavement to capitalism. Enslavement to more, more, better, better thinking driven by marketing. Enslavement to keeping up with the Joneses. Enslavement to our bank accounts. Enslavement that we fuel every day with our choices. But are we at choice?

“How is it possible that we should need money to live on a planet that we were born on? Like many others before me I realized that we are born into pure slavery.”
― Michael Tellinger, UBUNTU Contributionism

But why don’t we see this, recognize this? Is it a lack of education? And where does that education begin? Are we victims to so many centuries of dumbing down of human knowing that it is too late to “wake up” and think for ourselves and realize the inequities and control that is out of our hands? Are we really free in the democracies around the world? Does democracy mean freedom?

“I think the person who takes a job in order to live – that is to say, for the money – has turned himself into a slave.” ~Joseph Campbell

How do we realize we are enslaved and at the same time find ways to escape this enslavement while still playing this game of monetary economics to thrive vs. survive in the interim. I see that it is not a black or white issue. I understand that, but it doesn’t mean we should not try to wake up! This discussion isn’t about going off the grid! Although I have seriously considered it… It is about looking for the root cause of my own way of Being. It is about helping people help themselves Be the change they wish to see in the world. But HOW?

FIRST, recognize the root of these shackles and chains that are enslaving us. I believe we must first know ourselves and where those chains begin to lock us up, lock us in to our current realities….it begins with

Enslavement to our thoughts. Enslavement to our emotions.

“Your emotions are the slaves to your thoughts, and you are the slave to your emotions.”
~Elizabeth Gilbert

I believe self-awareness, self-exploration, self-knowing is what is missing in our education system and in our homes to prevent this confusion – let’s start with recognition of our ability, or dare I say RESPONSIBILITY, to think for ourselves and truly own our own choices. Start by knowing when we are at choice or not. Knowing our natural, spiritual selves to FEEL and EMOTE and THINK based on what we know is truthful for us in our lives. Without starting from emotions of despair driven by our slave drivers’ (???) messages of fear-based thinking and feelings.

SECOND, be curious enough to begin this exploration of self and identify the specific chains that may be binding you. Limiting beliefs, assumptions, interpretations, ….
But HOW? Through

Emotional Intelligence. Energy Awareness. Consciousness. Observing Oneself.
Knowing oneself is the key to unlocking the doors of the prison. Remember what Harriet Tubman says above – “I would have freed a thousand more if they knew they were slaves.”
Begin to get to know if you are a slave to this society! Let me help you. I invite you to start with any or all of the following
self-exploration questions for you, for your family:

“If this were all there was, could I be happy? satisfied? content?”
“Am I always at choice, or do I feel I have to, need to do things in my life for survival?”
“Do I care about what others think of me? my car? my yard? my clothing? my children? my spouse?”
“Do I know how I am being perceived by others as a leader, co-worker, mother, neighbor? Have I ever asked? Can I see myself?”
“Why do I buy what I buy? Why do I live where I live?”
“Do I allow myself to be emotional? Do I allow others to be? my spouse? my children?”
“What matters most to me? Does my behavior align with that?”
“Do I love myself? my body? my life? my environment?”
“What do I really want in life? How is what I am doing getting me what I want?”
“If I am not getting what I want, am I willing to try a different way?”
“Am I handcuffed by my lifestyle? Could I live with less money?”
“Am I a slave to my world and my life choices?”

Are You A Slave?
If you have NEVER asked yourself or explored the answers of any of these questions,
you are destined to continue to be enslaved to living a life designed by others and by your own unconscious thinking and feeling. Is this what you want? It can be, and that’s okay. It is easier in many ways not to do this work.
I simply invite you to know if in fact you are or are not a slave.

As always, thanks for joining me on my journey of questioning everything – I didn’t really begin to learn this skill until I was in my late thirties and it has taken me a decade of practice in asking why? why? why? to realize I have only started scratching the surface of my cell floor to plan my escape. Can I dig out and escape my enslavement like Harriet Tubman did? Can I have the confidence to push back against others beliefs and lead like Andrew Jackson did? Can you? Let me know what you think…

We can. We will. We are.

Always with questions,
your friend Nicoa

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EMOTIONS ARE UNACCEPTABLE AT WORK!?!

E-MOTION … what MOVES us… From the inside out, this is what drives our behavior! Everyone’s behavior!

Listen, if it sucks, it sucks. If you are upset, you are upset. If something is exciting to you, let it be exciting to you. Stop avoiding your emotions for fear of what others think of you! Your EMOTIONS help you understand WHY you do what you do!

“Nicoa, I really don’t care what others think of me!” my client said rather adamantly the other day during a discussion about his inability to move forward on a long running issue with his employee. This was the third time in 4 weeks this had been raised as a concern.“You don’t care what others think of you?” I asked. “Then why haven’t you taken care of this issue?” I added. “Because I am worried he will think I…” and he stopped. “Go on…” I encouraged. “Okay, so I guess I am afraid of what he will think. I am worried he will think I am trying to screw him over if I ask him to do something different than originally planned. He really wanted to do this project, but it just isn’t a good fit and I am worried he’ll think I don’t support him. Okay, there, I said it, I am worried and afraid of what he will think.”

The EMOTIONS? WORRY. FEAR. CONCERN. What else?

So we kept going…
“ARE you trying to ‘screw him over’?” I asked. “No!” he exclaimed. “Then why are you worried he would think that if it is not your intention to screw him over?” I asked. “Well, what if he does think that?” he responded. “What if he does?” I asked. Long pause. “What would happen if he thinks that?” I continued. “Nothing. He would just think that. And not like me…I guess.” Long pause. “I guess I would just explain to him my thought process and concerns. I would hopefully help him see it from my point of view, and the point of view of the client.” “And if he doesn’t understand?” I asked. “Well, I guess not telling him isn’t an option any longer, so whether he does or he doesn’t it really doesn’t matter. I need him off this project sooner than later. I clearly can’t keep putting it off. I am actually more worried I guess of the project failing with him on it!” He reflected. “But, I don’t want to hurt him or cause him to be disappointed.”

We went on to discuss how honorable and kind he was to consider the EMOTIONS of his employee We also tapped into his values, which he hoped to align with as a leader, and as a human being, to craft an appropriate dialogue with his employee. It was his own values he was worried about not aligning with, and concern for how others perceived him and his intentions that created the block of moving forward. He cared what others thought, naturally. And that’s okay, as long as it doesn’t paralyze you and your efforts and ultimately impact your goals.

What do we want? How is what we are doing getting us what we want? If we aren’t getting what we want? Are we willing to try a different way? WHY? Why is an important question here. Why are we avoiding a decision, procrastinating on a project, ignoring our emotions around a circumstance? Why do we do what we do? What EMOTIONS are present?

Recently when participating as a coach with the NCSU McLauchlan Leadership Series , we spent time discussing a video by Simon Sinek about the WHY behind what we do. It was clear that PASSION and PURPOSE were key to anyone’s WHY. Why was my client avoiding the discussion with his employee when he already new what he wanted to do? Everything is about the EMOTION we give something. From the way we market a Company, as Simon says, to the way we influence our employees. Everything.

Not shortly after that dialogue we also reviewed everyone’s Strengthsfinder 2.0 results. Well, a LOT of EMOTIONS were described and captured with each person’s results. Phrases like “Tends to take things personally.” or “Can show emotions and wear their heart on their sleeve.” to “Becomes uncomfortable when things are out of order. Needs to control the situation.”

Someone, after reading her results, said, “I don’t like this description very much. I don’t like to be emotional. I hate it when someone says, what are you being so emotional about!?!” Another person chimed in and he said something like,“Right? Isn’t it bad to show your emotions at work?” And there was what appeared to a collective “mmm hmmm” group sound of agreement and some head nods and then we moved on.

“BUT WAIT JUST A MINUTE Y’ALL!”

Yep, I pretty much said that but louder, “Whoa, wait a minute y’all!” (now remember, I’m Southern with a drawl I’m pretty proud of, so I showed it off) What do y’all mean it’s not okay to be emotional at work??!? Let’s talk about that a little more! EVERYTHING is emotional at work. Here’s your chance to reflect on what drives behavior AND role model the power of emotions at work starting with yourselves! Remember, you’re the leaders – if you can’t acknowledge emotions you will be missing a key strategic element of moving your organization and it’s people forward to success!”

There was more. I feel, notice the word “FEEL“, pretty strongly that something was missing in that moment when everyone just “mmmm hmmmm” agreed. Sorta like a group think feeling in my gut. The ease in which we all initially seemed to agree without debate or dialogue really bothered me. Can you tell?

Well, they definitely noticed how I felt! LOL! I bet, no, I hope they noticed and won’t ever forget that discussion. It definitely was a passionate interaction and not just from me. And I definitely believe, and feel, it is critically important for solid, values-based leadership or I wouldn’t also be writing about it now.

Every behavior, every action, every interaction in some form or fashion is driven and instigated by an EMOTION.

Again, e-MOTION – what MOVES us!

I REALLY LOVE the work by Dan Newby and Lucy Nuñez from Unlearn Relearn, whom I recently participated with in a workshop they led in the mountains of New Mexico, where we explored EMOTIONS. A LOT of EMOTIONS! I think their summary of the complex human element of EMOTIONS is perfectly captured on their website for their module:

  • Emotions are not discretionary, we are emotional beings
  • Every emotion moves us in a unique way
  • Every emotion is offering us information and takes care of a human concern

“We are emotional beings. It is not a choice. Our tendency has often been to ignore or deny this but the reality persists. Since they are part of us what keeps us from befriending them and allowing them to help us live a good life? Our learning opens the door to what is a new world for most of us.” ~Dan Newby & Lucy Nunez

A new world indeed! We have been conditioned to ignore our hearts, push emotions deep down inside, and move only from logical, or at least we believe it to be logical, thought.

An executive client recently said to me, “I can’t deal with drama and have people crying in my office.” Really? Seriously? Well, forgive me, but if you can’t handle that, then perhaps you really aren’t meant to lead? or maybe you just don’t really want to lead? True leadership begins and ends with this “information that takes care of our “human concerns” as Dan and Lucy put it. The bad news is suppressing our natural emotions has become a part of our collective consciousness! The good news is it can be reintroduced and re-learned as a powerful tool, a natural tool!! But first we have to unlearn our conditioned behavior of avoiding being emotional as a leadership tactic…

We are all experiencing this disconnect and without acknowledgement of EMOTIONS, we will fail…big time.

Sadly, we are already failing in many organizations, and most recently evident within our political system (don’t worry y’all, I don’t know enough to write that blog, but I sure would like to! #dontforgettovote)! I truly believe it will require opening and validating EMOTIONS and EMOTIONAL LEADERSHIP as a powerful and strategic driver and leadership skill to rebalance this imbalance of working from only our heads and not engaging our hearts in the workplace. The dynamics of this disconnect of head and heart, I believe, is the key root cause of the increase in low morale, high turnover, increased medical costs and the overall lack of true engagement between leadership and their employees and employees and their work bar none.

There is not one coaching dialogue I have ever had with my executive clients that didn’t begin and end with emotions. It says a lot when the coaching industry has increased to accomodate the need for a safe third party dialogue where you are allowed to “be yourself” without fear of repercussion or misunderstanding. Look, another EMOTION.

So let’s STOP with the “Emotions in the workplace are unacceptable” dialogues and consider role modeling the power of EMOTIONS from where you are in the workplace today, now. Let’s work together to make it okay to be emotional when we feel emotional! Have faith and trust that the results will far outweigh your worst fears about “what people will think of you” but instead will validate our highest hopes of perceived ideal, strong and powerful leadership! You will find that EMOTIONAL leadership may be the most powerful and strategic place you can find yourself as a leader and as a human being. Just BE you.

So, now you know what I think, but what do YOU think about being EMOTIONAL in the workplace?

Emotionally Yours,
Nicoa

“Life By Design. I Love Mine.” … and you can, too!
www.hollandarcher.com
plain talk, values based partnering

Posted on

#ExecutiveLivesMatter

#ExecutiveLivesMatter

Did I get your attention? I hope so.

DISCLAIMER: This isn’t a political rant or a debate about #BlackLivesMatter.

I am a global executive coach. I was also a global executive human resources leader for many years.
It is a lonely, often unappreciated, negatively perceived role. Let’s talk about that.

A decade, or so, ago I was sitting in a board room in an executive strategy meeting. We had been there a number of hours meticulously walking through each area of the business, each budget category, each sales strategy and reviewing all of our resources – people, dollars, clients, opportunities, risks, challenges. It was both exciting and uncertain at the same time. An opportunity to grow the business, make a difference in the world and the responsibility to balance all of that with the needs of our employee base, our communities, our impact on the world. The fate of this company was in our hands.

There were seven of us.

There were seven of us making these final decisions. Seven of us representing thousands of employees. Seven of us taking our years of experience, our proven results, our professional and personal opinions and values and applying them as best we knew how to the facts at hand. There were seven of us in the present moment doing what we were being paid to do. The seven of us were doing the best we could.

Once after one of these long meetings we all emerged from the closed door executive board room and filed out into the hallways of our six story building, one of dozens of buildings around the world.
An employee stopped me and jokingly said, “So, what were you all talking about in there for so long? Trying to figure out another way to screw us little guys?” followed by nervous laughter.

Wow.

I remember that often overwhelming feeling of responsibility as a leader of others – it was a bundle of emotions: pride, confidence, empathy, optimism, uncertainty as well as significant amounts of collective, and personal, fear which all together drove my decision making and my behaviors as an executive. But let’s be clear, these are emotions and feelings that drive EVERYONE’s decision making and behaviors no matter what job they are in! Everyone is doing the best they can within the game they choose to play.

This game? This was the publicly traded corporate game.

I remember often working 12-14 hour days, traveling for weeks, sometimes only seeing my three children in their pajamas for days on end. Being so sleep deprived that once I awoke in Germany after arriving from India the night before and it literally took me over 60 seconds to remember where I was and why. (Pause for a moment and imagine not know where you are for the next 60-seconds…terrifying). I am not kidding you. Stress and fatigue in the corporate world is an issue…for EVERYONE!

Everyone is doing the best they can.

This isn’t a pity party. This isn’t justification for a broken system, unbalanced priorities in our world’s economy or validation of current corporate practices. This is simply a reality ALL humans are facing in one form or another. Let’s be clear, I wasn’t forced to work that way and YES, I was very well compensated. I CHOSE those jobs and believed wholeheartedly I was making a difference in the world. I know I did! It was all I could do to ensure everyone I represented understood this intention as well. It was important to me that employees knew that their best interest was at the heart of our conversations…even when the outcome didn’t look like it.

I feel compelled, obviously with this post, to remind the world that I, even when I was an executive, am also human just like every human being in every role in every corporation. As everyone else, I did the best I could with what I had at the time. Good decisions and bad ones were made. But to be clear, I was not scheming in those meetings, not conspiring with my peers trying to take more than the rest, not coordinating new and innovative ways to screw employees out of deserved income or recognition and not figuring out the absolute best way to make as much money as possible at the expense of all of those involved!

If anything, my role as a human resources leader was to champion and do the exact opposite of what is commonly stereotyped of executives in the corner office. My job was to represent the best interest of ALL employees, executives included. And that is what I thought I was doing day, after day, after day, hour after hour, flight after flight … often at the expense of my own well being and life balance.
Don’t get me started about those 6am Sunday morning phone calls…

You see, that is what EVERY Executive is doing day after day, hour after endless hour, flight after delayed flight. The common stereotyping is only hurting the cause!

I can hear you now, “Yes, Nicoa, but you’re different. You’re not like those greedy SOBs running most corporations!” Um, yes I am. I am just like them. And all of them are just like me! We are all connected. We are all humans driven by the same emotions. We are ALL doing the best we can.

Of course, this point, for many of you, may get lost in the judgment tied to a broken system. And, yes, there are many reasons that this system of publicly traded companies is so insanely out of balance. But doesn’t that system start and end with a human being? The point is WE must work TOGETHER to be the change we wish to experience in the corporate world …and perhaps it begins with recognizing that #ExecutiveLivesMatter, too.

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” ― Maya Angelou

The point is if we could see ourselves in another, we wouldn’t assume we are being taken advantage of in this life. I woke up the other day thinking about all the executives I coach who are working day in and day out trying to do the very best they can in corporate roles around the world. The hashtag #ExecutiveLivesMatter popped into my mind and has been stuck in my thinking ever since. I know that the work I do is based on this belief that every one matters and yet, just like #BlackLivesMatter, we often need to highlight where the discrepancies are becoming prejudice and therefore a barrier and deterrent to what really matters. I also know that we can not see in another what is not also in ourselves! Once we increase our awareness and gain that ability to see another, truly…then change for the better can happen.

Look at every person you encounter, every person with whom you work with this filter, that they matter, that they are human beings just like yourself and stop judging first without compassion and conscious inquiry…then, and only then, will you be a part of improving relationships, increasing collaboration and truly working together to fix the imbalanced corporate system.

It starts with you. My role as an executive coach is to help executives, help people help themselves, see themselves. To create a safe space to recognize where stress is clouding their sound judgment and to co-create and implement practices and self-awareness techniques with them that guarantees their behavior will align with their values and what matters most to them going forward…AND the values of those they represent. Once this awareness is learned – yes it is learned – it can not be unlearned.

I repeat the quote,
“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” ― Maya Angelou

Do you feel like you are doing the best you can for those YOU serve? You are. Do you align your decision making with what matters most to you and your personal & organizational values? Of course. Does this apply not only to your peers and to your direct reports but also to your leadership? Think about that. How willing are you to let go of the old story of “executives are out to get the little guy” to do better?
It was, and will always be, a privilege to serve with gratitude.

#ExecutiveLivesMatter

Your friend,
Nicoa

 

nicoa dunne
coach, consultant, confidante

www.hollandarcher.com
nicoa.dunne@hollandarcher.com

(919) 835-3522

Posted on

To Blend Or Not To Blend…is this YOUR question?

While recently working with a client we had a very interesting discussion about how, in his personal opinion, his workplace required him to “blend In” in order to truly be successful! I asked him what made him believe this to be true? He shared with me that everyone, men and women, pretty much wore the same “uniform” of khaki pants and button down shirts …except on Friday’s of course where people MIGHT feel comfortable wearing jeans and a collared shirt that typically had a golf club insignia on it.
I asked him if he played golf. He didn’t.

“Golf is just…so… BORING! And I AM NOT Boring!” he said.
I smiled.

“Do you want to be promoted?” I asked. “Yes, very much so!” he quickly responded with lots of energy and what I construed as an underlying sense of urgency. “Why?” I asked. He paused. “Because I deserve it! …and that’s the next step!” he said adamantly.

Let me pause here for a moment. There are a few things happening here that I have pondered often in my career as an HR Professional and as a career girl myself.
Do I conform in order to better position myself for recognition and promotion? Or do I adamantly hold onto my individualism, even if it is extremely unique, and trust my success will be enough for the next step in my career? I have actually struggled with this. And I can share many an example where I did both at different times in my career!

Even when I quit the corporate world 6 1/2 years ago, it took me over a year before I stopped what I considered generically “dressing professionally” just in case I ran into someone who might want to hire me! Think about that for a minute.
So why did I believe this was necessary? Let’s dissect my thinking. If my thought was, “If I don’t look professional no one would want to hire me” then it makes sense that I would be compelled to “dress professionally” to avoid that fear? Notice the emotion involved hear…FEAR.

My client’s thought was, “If I don’t blend in and conform I won’t get promoted.” So, was his “FEAR” not being promoted? Maybe. Let’s go even deeper. What if below that thought was, “If I don’t get promoted, I won’t be seen as successful.” Okay, good. Go a little further. “If I am not seen as successful, people will be judge me.” Now we’re really getting somewhere. More dialogue and then one more step. What are you afraid of?
“I guess I am afraid of what people will think of me.”

AHA!! Root Cause! Alert The Media!

My client began to practice observing his concerns and efforts at his job very differently. He started asking himself more questions! He went back to what truly mattered to him and what lifestyle he wanted. “What do you really want?” I asked. “I really don’t want to play golf, that’s for sure!” He laughed as he replied.

Having said ALL OF THAT…
(Good stuff, right? by the way, how often do you dissect your behavior and thinking this way? Try it. You might like it!)
What if your goal really DOES require that you conform, blend and adapt to the crowd around you? What if you WANT to conform? Then what?

This IS the real question! To Blend or Not To Blend…

Am I Blending intentionally? For what purpose? To avoid being disliked? Or to play the game in order to obtain something important to me? Am I able to blend WITHOUT violating my values and my identity? Can I choose from a place of knowing or am I choosing from a place of FEAR?

How about this as an approach to try: What if you CONSCIOUSLY CHOSE to play the corporate game in order to move toward something you wanted…like a promotion? Can you recognize that you are making this CHOICE intentionally? Does the CHOICE feel right? Or does it feel forced? If you are at CHOICE then it should be easy and fulfilling, if you are not at choice it will be difficult and frustrating.

This doesn’t just apply at work. Think about how you conform or teach conformity at home.

My youngest two daughter’s start school this coming week. I hesitated to purchase too many back to school clothes and encouraged my youngest the other day to wait and see what the trends are when she gets to school next week. She looked at me shocked! “Mom! What are you saying, do you want me to only buy what everyone else is wearing?!” I was taken back…“Wait, NO! I was just saying sometimes we buy things and then they aren’t what you want after seeing your friends …well…” I trailed off as this began to sound counter to the way I raised these beautiful individual beings!
What exactly was my thought here? Where had that come from? My root reason was most likely around the dollars invested and past experiences with “tweens” changing their minds frequently after expensive “gotta have them” shoes were purchased. Trying to save money here, y’all! (ooooh, scarcity mentality! oops…)

I recognize now that my daughter’s reaction was around her confusion with my message – she has only known “be yourself” and “be individual”…don’t be an unconcious conformist.
Mainly because we had brainwashed her to think this way and now,
“What the heck is Mom talking about?!? I am sooo confused!”
LOL

But, now that I stand back again, and ponder the question “To Blend or Not To Blend?” Well, what is wrong with wanting the latest trend or
liking something everyone else likes, too?
Nothing.
Absolutely Nothing.
~~~
Remember, at the end of the day,
we are the only ones who can make anything mean anything.

REPEAT AFTER ME: “I am the only one who can make anything mean anything!”

This means blending or not blending just do it consciously! Be at choice! Be Awesome
Whatever you do, blending or not blending, just do it like you mean it!
And PLEASE PLEASE Don’t Be Boring! Be You! Which is automatically AWESOME!

Oh, and here’s a fun video to keep you motivated from Kid President:

With gratitude from your non-boring awesome friend,

Nicoa

nicoa dunne
coach, consultant, confidante

www.hollandarcher.com
nicoa.dunne@hollandarcher.com

(919) 835-3522