BY MARYBETH GRONEK
I've always been mesmerized by documentaries of people who experienced a taste of the afterlife. You know the story: the person died very briefly, saw bright lights, experienced warm & loving sensations, and then was pulled back to earth to proudly tell their tale.
To be honest, I’m not sure if I believe all of those stories, but to say I’m captivated by them would be a massive piece of understatement. There’s something inspiring and transcendent about coming back from a point of no return and then instructing others as an imperative.
I had a similar point of no return in my own life. I don’t claim to have seen heaven, but I sure have seen hell. And it was a hell of my own making.
I was 26 — broke, lonely, and just not where I wanted to be. I had “friends” who didn’t actually care about me, a job that didn’t value me, a threadbare bank account, and no prospects in my love life. I didn’t know how to stick up for myself. I didn’t know how to communicate my value in a productive manner. I didn’t know how to create wealth. I didn’t know how to date. In essence, I was glum about where I was in life and felt stuck in that I didn’t know how to move forward.
It was at this low point that I realized it was my own thinking that was holding me back. Actually, that’s too generous of a statement. It was my own thinking that was ruining my life. And from that point forward I had a long journey of conquering myself to slowly extirpate that toxic and self-destructive way of thinking.
Along the journey, I had an epiphany. I realized there were four things that were ruining my life. This unholy tetrad wreaks havoc wherever it is found. I share it in hopes that you too can spot it, remove it, and step into the life of abundance you were called to live.
That eerie spectre that looms large, stealing your joy and contentment under a cloud of ‘what if?’ Fear of not having enough money. Fear of speaking your mind. Fear of taking a new job and it not working out. Fear of committing to one partner. Fear of sticking your neck out and failing. Fear pertains to your future. Its focus is forward, it’s hues are extreme, it’s light is always negative, and its landscape is context-less. Fear will ruin your life because it immobilizes you — keeping you from taking necessary action to advance in life.
#1 and #2 are related. Fear is often a manifestation of unresolved pain. It’s being scared to do do what is right & necessary as a result of being burned in the past. The man whose heart was broken and uses pain as a reason to never be vulnerable again. The abused child who grows up and builds walls around her heart. The walls that keep out pain but also keep out love.
Pain pertains to your past. Its gaze is backward, its palate is grim, its characters are grizzly and one-dimensional, and its decision-making is irrational. Pain will ruin your life because it allows you to make decisions contrary to your own interests. In trying to protect yourself, you end up limiting yourself. Pain still rules over you, the dominion-less master that continues to steal from you because you let him. Pain is your old landlord — except you’ve bought a home now and he has no business showing up and demanding things of you. But you still listen. And you keep giving.
Abundance is one step away from taking responsibility for your actions. An excuse: seemingly innocent, yet completely destructive. It’s the reason why you’ve been passed up for a promotion, again. It’s the reason why your kids won’t talk to you. It’s the reason why your ex broke up with you. Excuses pertain to your present. When confronted with your own shortcomings, your knee-jerk reaction is to defend: here is why I did that. Observe my beautiful reasons and you’ll understand. I don’t know why we do this. Excuses make us look weaker, not stronger. They kill our impact and gut any sort of respect people had of us hitherto. When confronted with your failings — whether big or small — there is only *one* response that is suitable: You know what. You’re right. I missed the mark, & I see how that negatively impacted you. I will do better going forward.
Some people use “guilt” as a soft synonym for “pain,” but that isn’t quite right. Pain relates to your past, and often, to things done to you. Guilt pertains to your choices and is a direct response of things done by you. Maybe you made a poor decision that had a terrible ripple effect. Maybe you had a drink when you told yourself you wouldn’t. Maybe you weren’t present and engaged while your kids were growing up, and they’ve made a mess of their life and you feel responsible. Guilt hovers between past, present, and future. It’s the ghost that knows no boxes and goes where it pleases. It’s also the ghost who is ravenous, and everlastingly until you lean into acceptance. This means extending grace for what you have done and accepting what has become. Making peace with all that was and is — it’s the only thing that starves guilt and makes a brighter future possible.
Notice the common denominator in all four — you. You are the biggest obstacle in your way. You are Public Enemy #1 in your own story, both the protagonist and the antagonist. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Don’t for a second buy into the lie that other people will ruin your life. That’s intellectually lazy and counterproductive. The more you make your own shortcomings about other people, the less you will succeed. That grievance you have against others? That blame-filled conga line of so-and-so is the reason I’m not happy, or successful, or don’t have the life I want? As Elsa would say, you’ve got to let it go. Others aren’t culpable for what you’ve done with your life. You need to have the funeral for that line of thinking. I say this not as someone from the outside looking in, but as someone on the receiving end of the very grievances you are citing. I’ve been through hell and back at the expense of other people. Yes, others’ actions may have impacted where I am today, but continuing to blame them doesn’t move the needle in my own life. Not one iota. Me owning my life and decisions moving forward does.
What “happened” to you is just the prologue. You write all the forthcoming chapters. The chapters are rich with your adventure, your actions, your stumblings, your triumphs, and most importantly, your agency. You are the protagonist. Never forget that.
And for goodness sake, stop living in the prologue. Can I let you in on a little secret? When I read a book, I usually skip the prologue. Most people don’t care (or care very little) about what got you here. They are more concerned with the person in front of them and what that person is going to do going forward. “Prologue you” matters very little. “Chapter you” matters much more. It’s where the story is lived. It’s where the character depth is woven and worked out. In short, it’s where the magic happens.
Guard those chapters like a prized jewel. Be vigilant in your thinking. It’s your own fear, pain, excuses, and guilt that detract from everything that journey could be. Join my tenacity in ripping out those dangerous weeds along the journey’s path. We were made for more than smallness and self-sabotage. Any success, anything worth having in life, is preceded first by conquering oneself.
I’m going to walk into today — and every day forthcoming — with the belief that I hold the keys to my own flourishing. I hope you’ll join me.
BY JENNY. B
It has been one of the great honors of my life to have graduated as a Psychology major in 2006.
While I was earning my degree, the field of Psychology itself was undergoing what felt like a Renaissance, expanding beyond a narrow definition or association with mental illness and conditioned behaviors toward a holistic view of wellness and our shared humanity. I was a student at Harvard when the traditional course offerings multiplied and began to include Positive Psychology and new depths in the Psychology of Leadership and Teams and topics surrounding happiness and creativity.
This was certainly the result of hard work and years of stewardship by leaders in Psychology and at the University. At the same time, it felt like an overnight sensation. There were packed auditoriums and an electric buzz around prestigious and up-and-coming visiting speakers and the venerated titans of Psychology on the Harvard faculty.
While it would be an impossible task and a disservice to attempt to distill all that was learned and discussed in those years with those great mentors, I can share 3 key concepts I return to, time and again. I find these to be true whether leading a business, volunteer group, or my household:
BY MARYBETH GRONEK
Do you have auto-reflex cringe moments? I do. One of them is when people are heavy-handed with self-proclamations:
Here’s why self-proclamations make me cringe: they are usually inauthentic. People who *are* a certain way don’t talk about it. They just are it. For example, people who take dating seriously don’t tell me about it, they live it. They communicate regularly and pursue me. They send meaningful and well-crafted text messages. They call. They show up. They put in the effort. Their actions — not their words — inform my opinion of them.
Adjectives are best used to describe others. When people use adjectives to describe themselves I get skeptical. Integrated, self-aware individuals manifest who they are without the need to tell people how to view them. They just show up that way and leave others to draw their own conclusions. They show, not tell.
As soon as someone tells me they are “direct” or “kind” or [insert your own adjective here] I know there is a gap there. It is a line spoken to convince themselves (more than me) that they are indeed that way.
Lies are loud. They have to be. They know they are wrong & their self-consciousness won’t let them stay quiet. They must perpetually assert themselves lest others discover their fallacious nature. The truth, on the other hand, sits quietly in the corner. It is not self-conscious. It knows what it is and does not need to convince self or others. The truth is secure.
I don’t think people do this maliciously. Self-proclamations aren’t as bad as bold-face lies. They are low-impact, subconscious ones. Either the actions of someone who doesn’t see themselves clearly, or someone who has been making strides in a certain area but not quite where they want to be. A work in progress. It’s not so terrible. It is insecure, though.
There’s another thing self-given adjectives reveal besides insecurity — a desire to shape the narrative. To control the way others see us. Whenever I catch myself using an adjective to describe myself to others I pause and ask, why did I just do that? 80% of the time it’s an insecurity and a red alert to hone in on that area and take actions to either grow in that space or lean into acceptance. 20% of the time, though, it’s me recognizing I want the other person to see me in a certain way, and our interactions thus far haven’t yet matured for them to see me in that light naturally. Hence, I’m trying to *speed up* a certain conclusion about me instead of letting it happen slowly and organically.
When I first realized I was doing this, I was embarrassed. It uncovered a fear of mine: I wanted people to get to know the *real* me as soon as possible, lest they think I’m too vanilla and leave. I’m so cool and unique, don’t go! A fear of being misunderstood, and consequently, a fear of abandonment. In a weird way, it’s its own sort of insecurity. And then I heard a quiet voice: Slow down, MaryBeth. Give people time to get to know you. To discover others is a bloody gift. It’s one of the things I enjoy most about relationships. People are meant to be unraveled — beautifully and reverently unraveled. Give other people that gift.
Embarrassment soon led to freedom. Because that’s the encouraging thing about fear — it can always be conquered.
So now I show up how I want to show up and let others draw their own conclusions. It’s an odd, yet contented feeling. Sitting with the potential of being misunderstood by sojourners who pass in and out of my life. Expectant for those who stay and uncover who I am. Not everyone has to be “right” about me. Few will. Others’ premature or false conclusions of me don’t have to align with the reality of who I am. And I’m learning to be okay with that.
BY DIANE KERTH
Last week I heard this phrase when my friend Sally and I were out to lunch. We were catching up on life and how things have been since the last time we got together. The conversation started going down a dark road of stress, frustration, depression and then she said, “What can I do, it’s just the way it is. I don’t have a choice.” My eyes opened wide, she knew me well, I said, “You do have choices, you may not like the choices that are available, but you do have a choice.” Sally looked mildly annoyed and without saying any words gave me the Diane obviously doesn’t understand my situation kind of look. I didn’t let a moment pass before I said, “I know what you’re thinking, and you DO have choices and to take it one step further, you have power in those choices!” When we miss the awareness piece of asking ourselves what options do I have? what choices do I have? we are giving away our power.
Here’s an example. Every Sunday afternoon I go to my parent’s home (they’re 88 years old) and I help them with a honey-do list. I walk in the door each week and they hand me the list right away of the things they want done. I have been going there every Sunday now for 15 years. In the first year of Sunday honey-do lists, resentment started to build because they were taking my time and always expected me to do more and more. I became annoyed, irritated, and stressed every Saturday night that year thinking that tomorrow I would be “wasting” another Sunday not getting anything done at my own house or in my own life. (I know I sound horrible but that’s what I was thinking!) It created friction and issues when I went over there on Sundays. I found myself being cranky and snappy. It was so bad that one Sunday night when I got home I just broke down and cried. In my head I was saying why is this happening to me and why can’t I have my Sundays to myself like everybody else in my office? They get to relax and have fun and do things. I don’t have that. I am stuck helping my parents. UGH!
Why am I having these horrible feelings? I’m a nice person, I respect my parents, how did it get to this point? Then something came over me and I snapped out of it, I woke up! Nothing was “happening to me” so to speak. I was the one with the problem, not my parents. The most frustrating thing for me about this realization is that I have been studying how choices are connected to personal power, and our sense of control, for years. How could I have not connected the dots for myself? This was what I spent years studying and working on. I was so blinded by feeling miserable and self-righteous that I didn’t take the time to look at what choices I had in this situation with my parents.
We often have choices that go unacknowledged or unrecognized because we are so busy “feeling.” Feeling happy, sad, angry, frustrated, lost, annoyed or stressed. We have to wake up, stop ourselves and really look at our options and so…. I did just that. There may have been more than three options, but these were the ones I considered. Option #1- I can continue on and do nothing different. Option #2- I can stop going to my parents all together on Sundays, the end. (Not a great option, my parents needed me, and it would be totally selfish but… it was a real option) Option #3- I can adjust the way I look at the situation. (Which IS the choice I made.)
What a wonderful choice! It was so empowering to take control of myself and realize I AM MAKING the choice to go to my parents every Sunday - no one is forcing me physically to go. I am CHOOSING to spend time with my parents and do their honey-do list. I am blessed that I have this time with them. When I took control of my choices and the direction I DECIDED to go. I felt strong and powerful. I have been filled with pride every Sunday I drive to my parent’s home because I know I am in charge of my decisions and this is my choice.
We all go through ups and downs in life but when we pause and examine the choices available to us, we can then make conscious decisions on how to proceed. It puts us in the driver’s seat. I can say no, yes, or here’s a different option. Over the years I have often been asked how I stay so positive and happy through the challenging things I’ve experienced in my life. I share that once I had the realization of how powerful I am through my choices, my life completely changed. I was instantly strong. I’m in charge of me. I’m in control of the things I can control.
Sally and I talked through each of her options for her particular situation. Once she laid them out and realized that she was in control of more than she realized, she immediately started to feel better. I told her that she was in charge of herself, no one else. She called me 2 weeks after our lunch and told me how strong, calm and in control she feels now. She says over and over throughout her week, “I’m in charge of me.” And wears a smile every time she says it.
Lead yourself. You’re so much stronger when you understand the ways you can influence your own life. Be in charge of you!
BY MARYBETH GRONEK
I insist on being the dumbest person in any room.
Not by choice, I’ll add. By practice. Grueling, ego-killing practice.
And I’ll be honest. It kind of sucks. That is, until the results.
I was recently at a dinner party where I felt woefully out of place. Everyone present was more advanced than me in nearly every topic of conversation: real estate investment, stock market, travel, finances, entrepreneurship. Throughout the party I faced a now-normal internal struggle to check out.
When I’m confronted with my own lack of knowledge and success in a single area, I admit, my natural reaction is to shut down. It’s self-preservation of sorts. Preservation of the ego. It can be exhausting to continually be around people who are in the *than you* camp: smarter than you, quicker than you, overall, just better than you. It makes me doubt my own accomplishments, how far I’ve come, and if I’m not careful, my value.
I have recently learned the importance of doing the exact opposite of checking out: of leaning in. Of asking questions, basic questions that help me understand fundamental concepts of how things work. I realize these questions expose me to the scrutiny of others, to their awareness that I don’t know shit about what they are talking about. But that’s okay. That I can live with. What I can’t live with? Nodding my head, fake-smiling, pretending I know what they are saying, then leaving the interaction not only no more improved, but also guilty of being a preposterous hack.
Everyone is going to have a little bit of ego in them, of wanting to be proud and feel good about self. Of wanting to look smart and accomplished among others. But to lead from our ego? That shit is dangerous. That’ll keep you stagnant. We need to decide what we want more in life: to feel good or to grow. If it’s the latter, we absolutely must surround ourselves with people who will challenge us to raise the bar in all aspects: intellectually, morally, ‘work’fully, fiscally. And for this to happen, for us to actually learn from these interactions, ego must take a back seat. Yes, these people are ‘better’ than me at certain things. But if I run from it now, I will not learn how they got there. Meaning, I will never get there myself. The stakes are higher than we realize.
Here’s where we need to reframe our thinking: Acknowledging someone is smarter than us does not minimize our value. Self-awareness is not a weakness. To look boldly at reality and face it full on — that is a strength. And that is the only place from which personal growth, and consequently success, can begin.
When the success gap between me and the person I’m speaking with is painfully obvious, and consequently, I’m feeling the impulse to check out, here’s what I ask myself: which game am I playing? If it’s the finite game, I’ll surround myself with people that make me feel good. If it’s the infinite game, I’ll put myself in circles that challenge me. Because here’s another law of nature: your network is your net worth. Proximity to power is power. To hold court with success is success. It’s better to hang out with goldmines than ash-heaps. Even if I stick out like a grubby piece of coal among the shine.
Because here’s the thing. Those paragons of success we admire? They were once the dumbest person in the room. All that glitters wasn’t always gold. They dared to question, to learn, to aspire. They dared to hang out in the goldmine. Discomfort, not glory, is the furnace of success.
BY JENNY B
I don’t like to be seen struggling; and, every day is a struggle.
The tension within this paradox of sorts has been driving me forward and holding me back, waking me up in the morning and telling me to go lie down, for years.
Predictably, this theme has played itself out on many stages in my life. In a dozen years of working in a secured building, I was the type of employee who never forgot her badge or keys. And, you could count on one hand the number of times I didn’t have it ready in my hand, walking from the car, to give the appearance of sailing effortlessly through the morning rush. (Having a Director stride by while seeing me struggle to find my ID badge, revealing that perhaps I was not totally organized, as I performed an archeological dig through a large and brimming bag - once was enough.)
I had become adept at anticipating the need and managing perceptions. I’ve found that has a floor and a ceiling to it, as you navigate life’s complexities.
At a cold and rainy bus stop at age 19, one of my college roommates was trying to pool and count coins so that each of the three of us could have exact fare. Impatiently, I tried to shut.it.down by snapping, “Just give $1. The fare is 90 cents.” The shortness in my tone was uncharacteristic of how we spoke to one another, and it was also one of the few times I was quickly rebuked by another of my roommates, “She’s just trying to help. We have to stand here and wait for the bus, anyway.” We were Sophomores, wise fools, at Harvard, years before the invention of smartphones and payment apps. In retrospect, I can still feel how the cold and early morning had worn on me, and how the quickness of the reactions in the situation cut to the bone: I wanted to give a dollar and not care about not getting any change in return. I didn’t want to, even so briefly, feel the weight of scholarships, part-time jobs, and student loans, while I took my winter glove off my cold and grasping fingers to search for coins to save us 10 cents a piece. That was my ‘floor’.
It’s not just about money. You won’t see me playing darts on a night out. No need to show that to the whole bar. And, it took some time for me to get comfortable playing cornhole/sidewalk-toss-bags at barbeques with family and friends, because, despite having years of experience playing sports, I worried that I wasn’t good enough at it and that my shortcomings would let my partner down. I used to anxiously only display what I felt like was good and polished enough.
This took a weird turn when I fell in love with my husband. On one of our fairly early on dates, in a crowded restaurant, I told him what amounted in my estimation to all the unlovable things he might find out about me some day. I am what some call a ‘reserved’ person. I hadn’t planned to do this. And, I can’t remember if he asked some question that prompted the first disclosure. But, once I started talking, the truth just set itself free and I looked up from the table with an expression of, “Well, now you know. And, if you are not going to love me because of it, then time to go.”
We’ve been married 10 years and our daughter is 2 years old.
I was given a wonderful gift, during a visit with my brother. At the height of the holidays, we had driven hours to be together and had almost as many children in the house as adults. I remarked on my intentions to organize and paste in photos in my daughter’s baby book, soon, and how I was going to have to paste a picture over any prompts that I couldn’t quite answer at this point, such as, “Date of first tooth.” (I don’t know. We were busy. She has a whole mouth of teeth, now, and that seems to be going fine.) This is a task I have both looked forward to, not had time for, and dreaded, in equal parts, how it was probably not going to turn out as good as I wanted it to, for her to have it for all time. Children rely on us, in their first years, more than anything. Parents and guardians have the double challenge of trying to construct and document the reality and narrative of how the journey into becoming who you are began, while trying to survive your child’s infancy.
My sister-in-law’s eyes lit up in response, “Let me show you the baby book I made for ours.” With genuine glee and openness she handed me a large, 16x16” album from a shelf where she knew exactly where it was, despite their recent move, and then almost as quickly got called away by a crying baby or a call from work. (There are many instances, and the urgency weaves together for the modern mom.)
The large volume rested on the back of the couch, I stood and took in all the ways she had outlined the memories from first sonogram through first birthday. It was a mix of glitter puffy paint, photos cropped with wiggly-edged scissors, and page titles and captions that could only have been homemade by mom – by this mom. She told me that she had done it during late and odd hours, after spending full days and sometimes nights caring for patients at the hospital. My talented sister-in-law could have made a sleek and elegant album with surgical precision. The one she made looks like it was made by a tired and loving mom. When she had pasted a few photos down and all of the next photo didn’t fit on that page, she just cut the photo and generally pasted the other part on the next page. She did while her household was sleeping, because she enjoyed doing it.
When was the last time I did something as a passion project? When was the last time you did something without judging in advance what the result would be? My nephew’s baby book was complete. And, my daughter’s was still a loosely pinned board in my mind.
Seeing how another working mom had done it, and that done was better than perfect cracked the ceiling for me. What raised the roof for me was when I saw that “Aunt Jenny’s visit” when my nephew was a new baby had its own 2-page spread. I had no idea that my harried, long-weekend visit where I dragged my brother, a-new-and-sleep-deprived-stay-at-home-dad, out to the touristy walking spots in Charleston mattered. It was the only visit we managed in the time they lived in Charleston, where my nephew was born and before I became a new mom in Chicago.
Looking at them now, the snapshots were great of my brother holding his 3-month old son in front of the 500-year old Angel Oak Tree, smiling at the Waterfront Park after we figured out how to unfold the stroller, and at all the eateries where Southern little old ladies and one gentleman cooed over him and awkwardly commented to me as if I had recently given birth to this child. (“He’s so good. Don’t have a second one! It’ll be a terror.”)
But, my nephew will know, because it’s pasted in his baby book across 2 pages.
In this season of resolutions and a new decade of hopes, that is my wish for you: to struggle, be seen, and know you are not alone. Everyone is struggling in some way. Being seen is one of the best ways to get the help or guidance that moves you forward.
I’m a writer, who prior to his hadn’t written anything in a long time. It all felt too deeply personal to share. But, what are we sharing and how are we meeting each other if not ourselves?
I’m going to keep going – when my kid is really snoring, not pretending to snore.
And, I hope you do, too. Happy New Year!
BY MARYBETH GRONEK
I used to think fights were a necessary evil. Something one just had to grit their teeth and endure, like taxes and holiday traffic. Do what you can to avoid them whenever possible. Unfortunately, for the majority of my life, abiding by this motto meant altering my behavior, my emotions, and sometimes even situational reality to make ‘okay’ things that were clearly not.
While I love my parents and am proud of the way I was raised, like every family, we had our issues. One of them was conflict. Oftentimes, we operated under a sweep-everything-under-the-rug mentality. Which worked until, of course, I tripped over the rug on account of the unspoken issues buried underneath. Arguments occurred sporadically, but when they did, *everything* came out. Fights were emotional, blame-based, circuitous, and consequently, rarely resolved anything. This cemented my belief that fighting was to be avoided. Not only unpleasant, but actually pointless.
As I got older, I found it challenging to maintain relationships with this mindset, both platonic and romantic. Either I had long-term relationships where I wasn’t speaking my mind, and therefore, harboring resentment and dissatisfaction. Or I had short-term ones where I was speaking up but in a way that was destructive. Hence, short-term.
I have since had three epiphanies about conflict that have set me free:
I love boxing.
I started a few years ago as a way to try something I might like but also might be terrible at (I have weird objectives, I know). I do the speed bag, pad work, punching bags. You know, the whole drenched in sweat thing. It’s good fun. And I feel like a badass.
I train with Sam Colonna, a legend in the boxing world. He’s down to earth, a straight shooter paisan-type with a gym on the Southwest side of Chicago. He collects more heading-in-the wrong-direction neighborhood kids than trophies. And that’s saying a lot because his gym is full of trophies. He turns their lives around (the kids, not the trophies). He’s like a second father to me.
There’s something he says fairly often: Don’t fight someone else’s fight. Fight your own fight.
He’s right. In the ring when someone is coming after you, it’s really tempting to be reactive and fight back in a way that is playing into their hands. Suddenly, it’s their ring and you’re just living in it. Instead a good boxer will stay engaged, sidestep, and block calmly until their opponent is tired and they are back in control. A seasoned boxer knows what they want and then waits for their opening. Then they fight their fight.
Disagreements in real life are much like fighting in a boxing ring. We have to know what we really want and fight our fight, not other peoples’. During a disagreement virtually *everyone* is going to come at you with their ego, their insecurities, and their words aimed to harm. Cool. That’s their fight, and I refuse to play it. You should too, because there’s something better out there. When it comes to disagreements, here’s what our “fight” should be — growing together, not apart, through the disagreement. Restorative conflict. That has to be our end goal and the undercurrent behind every sentiment we speak. If we want to get good at conflict, we need to get off the I’m Right-You’re-Wrong ride and get on the Let’s-Discover-Each-Other ride. And we have to decide right now that when others come at us with the former, we don’t engage on their terms. We block the punch, humbly, and then lead with the latter.
6 Terms of Engagement for Restorative Conflict.
Conflicts are the point where someone ends and I begin. And vise versa. It’s a beautiful reminder of a person’s otherness from us. They are not me. They are different, and it’s beautiful. While fights may start as disagreements they are really opportunities in disguise. An opportunity to know the person better. To know ourselves better. An opportunity to grow together. To dive into the depths of who a person is, to come up for air, only to discover that there is more to know. More enigmas to unravel. You are limitless, which means there are limitless things to discover. And I am committed to finding them. Your infinite otherness doesn’t scare me. It compels me. I want to know you, and I want to be known. Because, dammit, that’s what relationships are all about.
There’s another quote Sam says fairly often.
Don’t telegraph. Don’t tell me what you’re going to do before you do it.
He says this when I move my elbow back prematurely before throwing an uppercut. He’s right. My telegraphing kills the mystery — and my advantage.
I realize in writing this article, I’m doing a similar thing. I’m lifting back the curtain and revealing my conflict playbook. But if my lessons learned can help others, in a way, I’ve won the round. We both get an advantage. This is me fighting my fight, Sam. I’m sure you’ll understand. 🥊
BY Nick Henning
It was an average Thursday morning. I was working with my team on filling roles for a large Financial Services client. Out of nowhere, I get a meeting request from the company executive administrative assistant. Odd, I thought. The meeting was in ten minutes with the President of the company in his office.
As I walked into the office I noticed that in the corner was one of the partners of the company. They asked me to shut the door and sit down. My blood pressure began to rise. Then the President started speaking. I knew what was coming. The tone of his voice and lack of eye contact said it all.
I was one of the "golden employees." You know the ones that the organization show as an example of growth opportunities to new hires. Promoted 3 times in a matter of two and a half years. Also, I was a part of the executive leadership team with everyone else at least twelve years my senior. However, I had been unhappy with the organization for the past couple of months. It all started when there was a change in the compensation model and executive leadership. Promised that if I hit certain metrics (which I did) I would make a certain level of income (which I did not). Additionally, the executive leadership shifted to become more of a “good old boys club.” I learned that I was making the same income as my previous boss who happened to be a woman which didn’t sit right with me.
The meeting lasted all but ten minutes. They walked me out of the front entrance. Later I learned that they had a company-wide meeting to announce my departure. To address any questions and get ahead of any ripple effect. At the time I felt betrayed because my current boss at that time who was a partner as well wasn't in the meeting. I had built a tremendous relationship with him. I guess it was his way of communicating that he didn't agree with the decision.
As a result of this experience and a couple others, I know the shame and stress associated with getting “redirected.” 5 times through the course of my career to be exact. Yes, that's correct I was fired three times by organizations I worked for. The other two times I had to fire myself after unsuccessful entrepreneurial endeavors. Yep, I fired myself. Remind me to tell you that story one day ;)
But it only gets better. I have advised thousands on their careers as an executive search professional. And wait for it…I'm a career coach now. Proof that anyone can do anything. Literally.
You would think that being fired 5 times makes me unqualified to be a career coach. I would say the opposite. It is precisely these types of experiences that qualify me. I have deep empathy for those that have lost their jobs. I know the thoughts and feelings that can take over. But the silver lining is that I’m able to help navigate them to the next role faster. I learned it’s best to reflect and discover your strengths, talents, and ask the difficult questions to clearly define your values. This will help you create a purpose, find alignment, and have meaningful work. I know the best way to tell your story to put yourself in a good light from a bad situation. I mastered how to communicate the transferable skills learned from the previous role. Most importantly, I learned how to ask the right questions while going through the interview process to identify toxic environments and bosses. And so much more.
As you can imagine at first I had some reservations about writing this article. Would it be career suicide? What would potential clients think of me? Again, thoughts of fear, doubts, you know, the typical ego-shielding bullshit. However, a voice deep within started gently speaking to me not to hide these experiences from others. It grew louder and louder over time. Then one day it finally became clear that it was my soul yelling it’s time to step out of your comfort zone and share this article with the world. It knew that it was critically important to share the insights that I gained and provide advice based on what worked for me after these painful experiences.
Lesson 1 - Don’t ignore the warning signs.
Whether you're placed on a performance plan, feel disengaged, or dread Sunday evenings, these are all red flags that indicate you should start to look for another role. Every one of my firings was preceded by a period of misalignment. Every. Single. One. With the role itself, the leadership, or the culture of the organization.
Some of the warning signs were unrealistic expectations, unmet promises, and a micromanaging boss. A "high performer" throughout my career I received a promotion or two in almost every organization. As a result of my willingness to please and desire to achieve, my leaders would place more on my plate. Before I knew it they were expecting me to do the role of 3 people. In one organization.
Advice 1 – Take action
Once you see a warning sign immediately start taking action to find something better. Don't "suck it up" or "stick it out" when you know it's not right. Every time I knew deep down that I needed to move on. And not doing so ate at my health and soul. Meanwhile, I would convince myself that something would change or I would find a new role the following year.
Being in a toxic environment or constantly stressed is unhealthy. We all deserve better and the sooner we get away from constant stress the less damage long-term it will have on our bodies. If your boss is shitty that is not your fault. However, continuing to work for them is. So start taking action now! Put together a job search strategy and execute it. Update your professional branding like your cover letter, resume, LinkedIn profile. Start reaching out to your network to let them know you're seeking the next role. Get out and start building more relationships.
Lesson 2 - You did not fail and you're not a failure! You learned.
Education can be expensive. It sometimes costs money, other times pain. Life is full of lessons learned. I learned a great amount through these experiences. More about myself and what I needed to do in order to be successful in the future. What type of bosses and environments I needed in order to excel. Most importantly, I learned it was how I internalized the occurrence that mattered the most. I had two options failure or lessons learned. The most empowering thing is that I got to decide.
Hindsight is 20/20. Looking back, these lessons helped me learn, grow, and become a better version of myself. Every redirection led me to something much better because of the knowledge gained along the way. Also, they prepared me for future challenges. Overcoming them provided me with confidence to conquer challenges in several aspects of my life.
Advice 2 - Reflect and take ownership
Take time to reflect to prevent history from repeating itself. Write down the lessons that you learned from this experience and internalize them. Both the good and the bad. Be sure to include what you're grateful for in having this experience. The key is to view it as a positive experience in that you learned more about yourself and what you need.
Take ownership of your part in it not working out. Self-awareness will help you avoid getting yourself into similar situations in the future. We are all far from perfect. Yet, we're perfectly imperfect. Don’t wallow in self-pity, resentment, or let thoughts of fear creep in. This will only drain your energy levels and distract you. Again, you learned and grew. Now is the time to focus your energy on immediately taking action after reflecting. Whether you realize it or not you do have a new job. Your new job is finding a new one so start putting in your best effort by implementing a job search strategy.
Also, create a stress management plan and start implementing it. Finding a job can be very frustrating and stressful. Focus on taking care of yourself by eating healthy, exercise, and quality sleep. All of these things will help you ward off stress and help you perform better while interviewing. Benjamin Franklin said it best. "if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail."
Lesson 3 - Forgiveness is key.
Being fired is painful. Rejection by others is difficult in all aspects of your life. Especially in your career. However, don't carry around your resentment because it's very heavy and weighs you down. Forgiving your boss or former employer is one of the most empowering and freeing things you can do. It will free up your mental space and give you more energy. Ironically, one of the worst bosses I ever had said one statement that I carry with me today. "You're always learning what to do and what not to do by those you work with and for." In this case, it was the latter but I'm grateful for the education. The sooner you forgive them the more energy you will have to focus on the things you need to do.
The worst thing you can do while interviewing is to speak negatively about your former employer. Though they may have done you wrong it will only reflect poorly on you. Often, potential employers will think that you were most likely the cause of the problem. Trust me and resist the temptation to vent. As mentioned share what you learned and what you're grateful for from your past employer. Put a positive spin on a negative situation.
Advice 3 – Self-love is the answer!
The most important person to forgive is yourself. For allowing this to happen to yourself and putting up with an unsatisfactory job. Often we put up with negative bosses or toxic work environments because of fear. Fear of the unknown and the what if's etc. It has an impact on our productivity, engagement, and overall happiness.
Some self-love is critically important. Most often, we are our toughest critics. 80%+ of our self-talk is negative. Don’t continue to beat yourself up. It’s a waste of precious energy. Apologize to yourself, accept the apology, and then move on. This may seem like a silly exercise to do, but it is SO important. Every day is a brand new fresh opportunity to become a better version of yourself. So don’t hold yourself back by reliving your mistakes over and over again. Show yourself some love by focusing on creating the future version of yourself that you actually want.
Better times are coming!
Being fired is difficult, to say the least. If you take away anything from this article, let it be this: being fired is an opportunity for you to start anew and could be the best thing that happens to you. Take for example, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, and Walt Disney. All three tremendously successful, yet each one was fired in their careers. If they hadn't been fired and remained in those roles they might not have gone on to great feats. It comes down to your mindset and how you internalize the experience. Does it make you bitter or better? The choice is yours!
You can find out more about Nick here :)
*cue soft lighting, red wine, and Frank Sinatra music*
I was recently on a date where the gentleman across the table leaned in and said part charmingly, part with low-key exasperation, “I don’t know what you women want. You’re all so…different.” It was an odd moment for me. I presume this women-are-mysterious sentiment arises fairly often guy to guy. You know, water cooler talk. But it was the first time I had been the recipient of such a declaration. And it made me wonder. Is he right?
Yes and no.
When I first started dating as a twenty-something, what I wanted from a partner was pretty straightforward — chemistry, charisma, and overall hotness factor. I tended to gravitate toward dynamic individuals; men with the ability to achieve much, interact well, look great, and spark attraction. I was status-struck. The shy guy would never even hit my radar. I was looking to be swept off my feet by a larger-than-life character. Part of me still wants this.
As I became more seasoned in relationships, I realized this framework was one dimensional and didn’t get me what I truly wanted. I kept involving myself with men who were dynamic individuals but weren’t treating me well long term. See, my original framework had everything to do with the guy and who he was — and *nothing* to do with how he interacted with me. The man of my dreams quickly became the man of my nightmares. I have since learned that how a man interacts with me is more important than who he is in isolation.
I don’t presume to speak for all women. I only know my own evolution on attraction. Looking back though, I can say with confidence that what I want now was what I wanted back then — I simply lacked the awareness to recognize it or the words to articulate it.
But I do now. It’s two things. And let me tell you, I look for them early and often. This benchmark has enabled me to cut through the riffraff with rapidity and find amazing men much faster. Women, let’s not buy into the delusion that high-quality men aren’t out there. What we lack isn’t options, rather a framework to discover them. Here is mine.
In the early stages of dating, I look for emotional intelligence and emotional availability.
Let’s unpack what these look like in action.
Emotional Intelligence is the capacity and ability to care for self and others.
Emotional availability is the capacity to make space for others.
In sum, emotional intelligence is I know how to care for you. Emotional availability is I know how to make space for you. Both are needed. If you have the ability to care for me but don’t make space for me in your life, that’s a problem. If you make space for me, but you don’t know how to treat me once I’m there — also a problem. Both emotional intelligence and emotional availability are required to make things work. No amount of chemistry can make up for a lack on either side. Long term, that is ;)
And why do I seek these things in the early stages, you ask? The early moments with a person are the biggest predictor of future action. Not their words. Or intentions. Certainly not my fairy-tale perception of their untapped potential. If someone is emotionally intelligent and emotionally available early on with the little things, chances are they will be later on as well, when it really counts.
I realize I may have rubbed some of you the wrong way with the mention of ‘emotional’ anything. Men aren’t emotional, you’re thinking. Another woman trying to feminize men. That couldn’t be further from the truth. What I am saying is that I like men who can bear the weight of challenges. Who don’t cower from hard things. Who can stand in the space of discomfort and be present and available in that space. Men mature enough to separate me from them, to embrace self-reflection, to pursue growth with self and others, and to believe the best version of themselves is ahead. This is the spirit behind emotional intelligence and emotional availability. It’s not watching Hallmark movies on the couch — it’s showing up to the relationship when things get hard. I can think of no stronger and more valuable trait a man can possess.
Because sooner or later, things will get hard, harder than you and I could ever imagine. Job loss out of nowhere. Sudden reverse of finances. Terrible news from the doctor. The last thing I want is someone who, in that moment, avoids and distracts, tries to tell me why I should be happy, or disappears altogether. In essence, someone who can’t bear the hardship with me. Because the only thing worse than being “single” when shit hits the fan is being alone in a relationship.
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