When the Inner Whisper Shouts

seth-schwiet-39421.jpg

The inner whisper. It's the voice inside of us that reflects our deepest desires and biggest dreams. It's the voice that starts oh-so-quietly, sometimes to the point that we can barely hear it. 

Over time, the inner whisper gets louder and louder, begging us to tune in and listen. Begging us to at least acknowledge that it exists, even if we aren't yet ready to take action.

I was talking to a wonderful new client earlier this week who described his inner whisper as evolving from a "low simmer to a raging boil." This is the power of the inner whisper; over time, it strengthens until we have no choice but to listen. 

It often feels scary - terrifying, even -  to tune into our inner whisper. Our inner whisper reflects what we really want, which is often different than what we're currently doing.

For my entire life, my inner whisper longed to teach and create. These are the things I would do every single day as a little girl. I began ignoring my inner whisper during my junior year of high school, on precisely the day that one of my high school teachers told me to "apply to business school because it's harder to get into" instead of applying to the programs I was considering. I continued to ignore my inner whisper throughout college, and on and off throughout many of my years in the corporate world, until finally, one day, I decided it was time to listen. 

While I don't regret and am incredibly grateful for my path which led me to today, I find it amusing to look back and realize that I had more clarity about the desires of my inner whisper when I was four years old than when I was 24. This is true for many of my clients as well; often, we can gain powerful insight about the desires of our inner whisper by looking at the things we were drawn to when we were little. 

If you think your inner whisper might be trying to speak to you, here are a few ways to tune in. 

  • Take 2 minutes per day to get quiet and be still. It's easy to squash the desires of the inner whisper underneath tasks and the whirlwind of everyday life. The inner whisper needs space to be heard. 
  • Ask yourself the question, "what do I deeply desire?" Write down your response, without filtering what comes up. Write down everything that you hear, even if it seems crazy or out of reach. 
  • Ask yourself the question, "if anything is possible, what would I most love to do?" Once again, write down the answers without filtering what comes up. 
  • Ask yourself, "if I could be guaranteed my same salary for the next year and could either a) do exactly what I'm doing now, or b) try something entirely different, what would I do?" Again, write down what comes up without filtering or judging your answer. 
  • After you reflect on the above questions, askyourself, "what is one what that I could honor my inner whisper now, in a small way?" This might mean signing up for a class, going on a micro adventure, learning a new skill, or volunteering. 

The Voice

There is a voice inside of you
That whispers all day long,
"I feel this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong."
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
Or wise man can decide
What's right for you--just listen to
The voice that speaks inside. 
― Shel Silverstein

Ways to Stay Grounded During Ungrounding Times

SarahYoung117.jpg

It's been another week of heartbreak and tragedy in our country.

2017 continues to test our resilience and our optimism. Each time we momentarily catch our breath from one tragedy, it seems, another occurs. 

This cycle leaves us in a seemingly constant state of fight or flight mode. It's hard to create positive change when we are elevated, stressed, and reactive. We create positive change through intentional action. Intentional action requires that we are present and calm.  

We often hear that we must first fill our own cup so that we may fill the cups of others. This is especially true right now. Below are a few strategies that help.

1. Make a list of things that make you feel calm and grounded. Do at least one thing from your list every day. 

My list includes cooking, delicious food, hot baths, time in nature, movement, writing and quiet reflection, flowers/plants/planting things, and time with soul sisters. When I'm feeling ungrounded or overwhelmed by the events of the world, I know that these activities help me feel more grounded and put me in a place where I can more consciously digest what I'm reading and learning.

I invite you to make a similar list - a list of things that are both accessible and powerful. Ideally, they don't require a lot of supplies, travel, or advanced planning. One of my clients keeps her list visible, and references it as a checklist whenever she's feeling overwhelmed.

2. Make a list of the people in your tribe. Connect with them regularly.

These are the people who get you, who fill you up, and who raise your average. These are the people who ask you how you are and then really listen to your response. They are the people who are thoughtful and kind, and who leave you feeling nourished rather than depleted after you spend time together. 

If you are feeling uncertain about whether your current tribe mates meet the above criteria, I lovingly encourage you to expand your tribe. Life is too short for friends who make you feel shitty. Consider attending events or Meet-Ups, volunteering, or perhaps even apps like Bumble BFF - I have a number of girlfriends who are having great success meeting new female friends via this app.

3. Be still. 

Whether it's quiet reflection, prayer, meditation, or just slowly drinking a cup of coffee in the morning, create time each day for stillness. I recommend doing this first thing in the morning  (more here and here on morning rituals and routines). This doesn't need to be two hours. It can be five minutes. And it's more essential now than ever. 

4. Bookend your day.

"Bookending" is a term I've been using for a strategy that I've been experimenting with for the last year or so. The idea is: start and end the day in a way that feels joyful. I've found this to almost always lead to a really good day. The bookends don't need to be fancy - but they should be things that feel fun and nourishing (you may want to consult your list from #1), and ideally they should be one of the first and last things you do each day. 

5. Avoid reading the news first thing in the morning or right before you go to bed. 

If you took my Efficiency and Flow course, or if you've ever been in one of my leadership courses, there's a good chance that you've been part of a passionate discussion about not checking email from bed first thing in the morning. This also applies to the news. Checking the news first thing in the morning or right before bed, especially right now, can wreak havoc on our mood, our sleep, and our productivity. In the morning, I recommend reading the news only after you've completed your morning routine (see #3 and here and here). In the evening, I recommend reading the news for the final time at least an hour before you plan to go to bed.

6. Take action. 

It can be easy to feel helpless and hopeless and think "there's nothing I can do." But there is always something we can do. Make donations to organizations that support the causes you care about. Join groups and organizations that are talking about the issues that matter. Get involved locally. Contact your representatives. Write letters or have a postcard writing party.  Make a commitment to yourself to take some sort of positive action each day, or each week. Enlist members of your tribe (see #2) to join you. We will not create positive change by ranting on Facebook or losing hope. We will create positive change through action. 

7. Connect through kindness.

Make eye contact with someone you don't know. Smile. Buy a stranger coffee. Let someone merge in front of you on the highway. Say "thank you" and "I love you" and "you did great work this week." Send a hand-written note, flowers, or a small gift to someone dear to you. Look up from your device and at another human. 

We cannot control the events of the world at large. But we do have the ability to impact how we engage in our own worlds. We need to be the change that we want to see in our world - and that is an opportunity we have every single day. 

Sending Love, Light, and Donations to Texas

diego-ph-254975.jpg

It's been a heartbreaking week and a half in Texas. 

I've talked to many people in recent days who have said something along the lines of, "it's so awful to watch.... I feel like there is nothing I can do." In some ways that is true. And, there is always something we can do. 

I've rounded up some websites, links, and information related to things we can do to help both the people and the animals of Texas, along with a few of of the most inspiring moments I've seen and read about this week. NPR has also created a great list of resources and ways to help, as part of this article

I lived in Cedar Rapids for two years between 2013 and 2015. Cedar Rapids was hit by a massive flood in 2008, and the city is, still today, trying to recover. We can expect the impact of the devastation in Texas to span many years, as well. For this reason, while thinking about donations and ways to help, it can be useful to not only donate now, but also to make a note to donate again in 6 months, a year, or two years. 

To Donate Money:

  • Red Cross - donate online, or by texting HARVEY to 90999 (note: the text-based donation is currently backed up due to high volume. 
  • Salvation Army  - donate online or via phone by calling 1-800-SAL-ARMY
  • Preemptive Love Coalition - all donations currently going to those impacted by Harvey
  • Together Rising - matched the first $100,000 and still raising funds 

To Donate Supplies or Housing:

  • Undies for Everyone - donate online via the website, shop via their Amazon wishlist (I sent undies and it took exactly 2 minutes to select, pay, and ship directly to the Undies for Everyone HQ in Houston), or send unopened, packaged underwear to: 

Undies for Everyone, 1700 Bissonnet St., Houston, TX 77005

  • AirBnB is waiving all fees anyone impacted by the flood and checking in between August 25th and September 25th, 2017. There is also an option to offer your space for free. 

To Help Animals:

Reminders of the Good:

With Love, You are Not a Corporate Hostage

"Hi, I'm Ron. Ah, you know how it is, I'm a corporate hostage, doing the corporate thing... I hope to get out someday...."

"Hi, I'm Rich. I'm a recovering project manager......now I'm a consultant." 

"Hi, I'm Heidi. I'm a corporate refugee......I escaped though, I found myself, and now I'm a coach." 

"Hi, I'm Erin. I'm a recovering corporate executive and now I travel the world delivering keynotes about all that I endured in the corporate world." 

I hear these intro lines all of the time.

And each time I do, I cringe. 

Beyond the plain absurdity of these statements (is your employer really holding you hostage?! Did you really have to escape, as a refugee, from your previous place of employment?) and beyond the fact that they flippantly diminish the act of actually being in recovery from addiction, the refugee crisis happening in this very moment, and real hostage situations happening around the world, these statements perpetuate the type of thinking that keeps us stuck and divided:

Corporate America as the perpetrator, and the corporate escapees, as the victims. 

Corporate America as "other."

"Us" versus "Them."

This "us" versus "them" thinking is the same thinking that has created the current political division of our country. It's the same thinking that has our nation sliding backwards as we face riots and murders related to race. It's the same thinking that overlooks the fact that "Corporate America" is actually made up of 127.34 million human beings, many (I would argue most) of whom are incredibly talented individuals who are creating positive change, committed to doing the right thing, and making the world a better place. It's the type of thinking that prevents us from solving the actual problems that need to be solved.

Using this language also diminishes parts of ourselves. Our corporate experience is part of who we are and is part of our human experience. Shutting down this experience is shutting down a part of who we are. 

I believe that all of these things can exist together. We have an opportunity to shift from either/or, to both/and. We can be both an independent, free-thinking consultant and a former timeline-driven project manager. We can be both a conscious, heart-centered coach and a former corporate executive. We can be both a savvy, creative, and innovative entrepreneur and a former analyst in the corporate world. And we can embrace all of these parts of ourselves and our experiences to return "over there," to Corporate America, to partner with the many organizations that are doing business in a thoughtful, innovative, socially conscious and mission-driven way to create massive positive impact in the world. Perhaps we can also even bring these parts of ourselves to partner with organizations that aren't quite there yet, but that want to be better. 

It can all exist together. And when we start to recognize this, through our perspectives and our language, we start the healing that needs to happen - within ourselves, within Corporate America, and within our world. Healing begins when we can embrace the both/and. Let's start within ourselves.

Reflections From a Week (Mostly) Unplugged

Last week, I (mostly) unplugged. For the first time since starting my business, I left on vacation without my laptop, with the intention of Zing Collaborative being closed for a full week. I was inspired to do this by Danielle LaPorte, Marie Forleo, and one of my clients - each of whom shuts down the businesses 1-2 times per year, where the office is fully "closed" and everyone has an opportunity to relax and unplug. 

I say "mostly," because I did use my phone for a few things. While we printed out paper maps prior to departure and used them about 90% of the time, there were a couple of questionable situations due to road construction that I checked on Google Maps. I also sent a couple texts to my house sitter to confirm logistics, to my mom, to a girlfriend who I'd be meeting up with later in the trip, and to reply to two girlfriends who had texted with life-changing news. 

Otherwise, my phone was typically off, on airplane mode, or left behind. Below are a few things that I noticed from this small experiment.

1. It was hard. 

I love my work and therefore love being plugged into it. Being plugged in doesn't really feel like work; it just feels like what I do as part of running a business and serving my clients. As a result, unplugging felt unnatural. I snuck a few peeks in my inbox while Jake was inside a gas station about halfway through the road trip toward our first destination, trying to get just "one more look" before arriving - where I felt that the unplugging rules really applied.

Not checking social media was hard, too. These days, Instagram is my social media platform of choice, and there are just so many pretty things to look at in those tiny boxes. The boxes are seductive and tempting. During my last few scrolls prior to leaving, I noticed my ego, which paid a lot of attention to other people who were going on trips and posting about every single detail of every awesome thing they were doing.

2. Until it wasn't. 

The first day was the most challenging - especially since it was a travel day and I therefore felt straddled between my "normal" world and my "unplugged" world. However, I noticed that after settling in and getting through those first 24 hours, unplugging became easy. We rode our fat bikes through incredible trails along crystal clear, roaring streams with absolutely stunning views. We ate delicious food by the campfire and at little restaurants in town. We did, we saw, and we engaged with our worlds with an occasional photo or two on the old-school "real camera" that we had packed, but that was it. And it was lovely. 

3. We talked to people. 

One of the things that strikes me most about this little experiment is how many people we met during our trip. We often meet people here and there while traveling - but on this trip we met so many people. We met Matt and Tonya within 30 seconds of walking up to Black Rocks Brewery, and talked to them for a good hour about biking and life. We met Brian, who has taken 17 extended road trips in his camper van, and is currently in the middle of a year-long stretch. During this year-long stretch, he's never once stayed at a campground and instead finds free places to sleep in his van: parking lots of libraries, police stations, Cracker Barrels, and churches, he shared. We met Craig, who loves Natty Light and once had to drive the Oscar Meyer Weiner Mobile through the hippest neighborhoods of Los Angeles, which increased his already-strong feelings of hatred toward the large, long, and awkward vehicle. We met John and Susan, when John came knocking on the camper to share some info on a bike route while Jake was in his underwear, causing quite a bit of hilarity. We met Michelle, who started a tiny business on Etsy which has now blossomed to the point of being featured in Target and Martha Stuart Living. We met Justin and Jason, who we hope will come visit us in Madison someday. We met Sarah, who started the coolest restaurant I've been to in a long time, and Randy who moved from Brooklyn to start a super hip little coffee shop in Ephram. The list goes on.

Being unplugged created more space and openness to engage with others. Of all the things I noticed while being unplugged, this was the most powerful and unexpected. 

4. I became more aware.

A few days into the trip, we walked into a bakery where every single person in the bakery was on their phone. Specifically, they were looking at Facebook. An older couple sat in silence, each scrolling independently through their Facebook feeds. They didn't say a word to each other for the entire time we were in the bakery eating our cookies. There was a father, engrossed in his Facebook feed while his kids talked to each other, and tried to talk to him. And there was the young woman behind the counter, scrolling away in her idle moments. There isn't, of course, anything bad about using Facebook or about spending some quiet time checking social media. However, the air of disconnection in the bakery with every single person's face looking down at their feed was palpable. I noticed myself feeling a bit of sadness as I looked around to connect or smile or look another person in the eyes (it was a very small bakery), without any eyes to meet.

5. Coming back was easy. 

After being away for a week, jumping back in felt easy and exciting. I was happy to get back to my rhythms, my clients, my kitchen, and my projects. What surprised me, though, was how easy it was to catch up. Being away for a week allowed me to come back to my inbox with excruciating clarity about what was most important and how to address it. I spent a few hours catching up the evening of our return, and a couple more the next day, and that was that. I've had more energy this week back than I've had in a long time. I feel refreshed and clear. 

6. Carrying it forward. 

Unplugging for a week is great, but what about in everyday life? I believe there are many things we can do to bring a bit more presence into our worlds that don't require a week in the woods. 

  • Leave your phone in your [bag, backpack, purse, glovebox] when you're engaging with others/engaging in activities. A number of studies have found that the mere presence of a cell phone on the table during dinner can negatively impact perceptions and the quality of conversation, even if the phone isn't being used.  
  • Practice experiencing something [gorgeous, cool, incredible, breathtaking] without taking a photo of it. I've been amused lately to pull up to popular, gorgeous places in nature to be met with a row of cell phones, lined up to capture the perfect shot. Once again, taking a photo of something isn't bad, but there's also power in just experiencing it, noticing it, and allowing it to sink in. 
  • Ask, "why am I posting this?" According to a number of articles I've read, people report that seeing vacation photos, of all photos on social media, make them feel the worst as they're scrolling. Now, of course, this doesn't mean we can't share a photo or two from our vacation to capture our memories and our moments for ourselves, but posting every detail of everything we do, see, and eat is just plain obnoxious. This article has some good tips (and is also hilarious because it's true). 
  • Consider a sabbath. One of the happiest and healthiest places on earth is Loma Linda, California due to its large Seventh Day Adventist population. Adventists take a 24-hour sabbath each week, taking time to focus on family, faith, and nature. We can do the same by taking a day each week to disconnect from our technology and connect to the things that matter most. 

7. Just for fun - resources and favorite things.

We spent our week unplugged camping, fat biking, and spending time in nature. After much experimentation, we've found a few favorite camping staples:

  • Kodiak Cakes: The perfectly fluffy, protein-packed pancake (just add water)
  • Aero Press: The rumors are true. This makes the best cup of coffee I have ever had. Plus it's light, small, easy to pack and store, and is loving toward the environment with its tiny paper filters. 
  • Action Wipes: Vegan, cruelty-free, wipes for times when showering isn't an option. The wipes can be recycled/re-used for other purposes. 
  • Dr. Bronners Soap: socially and environmentally responsible soap that I love to take camping. I like the travel-sized lavendar scent, which makes me feel like I'm at a spa in the campground shower.
  • Eno Hammock: perfect for sunny, breezy days 

Do you have any favorite ways to unplug, or to bring more presence into everyday life? If so, I'd love to hear!