Dreams as Career Development Guides

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant
Photo via Unsplash

Reprise: I’m dropping down to one new post per week between now and giving birth in March 2017, so enjoy this repost!

As a young Psychology student in college, I was taught that researchers still don’t really understand dreams, but the predominant theory was that they’re just how your brain processes information from the day – tossing out what’s useless and keeping the knowledge you’ll need in order to function tomorrow. No hidden meanings, no prophetic qualities – just an overnight update like the one your computer makes.

I felt sad and conflicted to learn this, and yet, I believed it for a very long time. I’d have dreams and hardly even pay attention to them because I figured that they were just nonsense.

That’s unfortunate, because I think I could have avoided a lot of pain and heartache had I paid attention to this vast resource that we have access to every night. 

I don’t believe that every dream I have holds some major “aha!” moment, but for me, it’s this amazingly easy, simple way to stay aware of what’s going on for me at a level below my consciousness.

Carl Jung, one of the most incredible thinkers (and feelers) of our time, believed that dreams were the process by which you become conscious of unconscious thoughts and feelings. He taught that dreams reveal much more than they conceal, and that their interpretation is highly personal – no one can tell you what your dream does or doesn’t mean for you.

I think this is why we’ve poo-pooed dreams in our modern culture. Since we couldn’t categorize, measure, and standardize their meanings, we tossed them aside as neurological waste.

That’s nonsense, and I believe it’s high time we included dreams in our personal and professional development work.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant
Photo via Unsplash

Since I’ve reconnected with my own dream life, I’ve been able to understand personal changes I’m going through, have gained insight into my business, and have been able to process old pain that was keeping me stuck, all of which is pretty amazing.

At this point, I should note that for some people, dreams just don’t really resonate with them, or they never remember their dreams when they wake up. That’s totally fine, and those people have other ways to access their subconscious, intuitive sides. Jung taught that even if we don’t remember our dreams, they’re still working their magic and helping us become aware of what’s going on beneath the surface.

If you’re curious about the dreams you have and are wondering how you can start tapping into their wisdom (your wisdom), I’ve got one trick that I’ve found incredibly helpful.  

The technique is attributed to Carl Jung’s dream analysis method, but I wasn’t able to find any hard evidence of that online (fear not: I’ve reserved almost all of his books at the library and will let you know what I find out later). Luckily, papa Jung encouraged people to just figure it out on their own and not overthink this, so here goes:

My version of a “cut to the heart of the symbolism in your dream” analysis technique:

Step one: When you wake up from a dream, it’s helpful to do something that solidifies it in your consciousness since so often we fall back asleep or go about our day and forget the details that were so vivid while we were sleeping. Some people write in a dream journal that they keep by their bed, put a note in their phone, or just try to remember it once they’re awake. Do whatever feels easy and light to you.

Step two: As you remember the dream, take any symbol or character from it (it can be a person, animal, stone – whatever interests you) and pretend you are that symbol.

As you take on that symbol’s persona, pretend that symbol has a message for you, the dreamer. What does this symbol want you to know? What does the symbol say? What is that symbol trying to make you aware of?

That’s it. That’s the trick. And it’s revolutionized the way I understand my dreams.

I’ll give you an example that helped me understand where I was getting stuck in my business:

A few months ago, I had a dream that I was in charge of a downtown revitalization project, and one of the larger art pieces for the downtown square was an iron sculpture of an Orca whale. I watched sadly as workers welded on its rusty fins and tried to make it appear alive and majestic even though it was a sorry representation of the whale’s true beauty in its natural state.

That was basically it – the rest didn’t really feel important to me, so when I woke up, I just focused on that image of the steel Orca and how sad it made me feel (we don’t have to conduct a 5-hour analysis on our dreams, we can just take the snippets that really speak to us).

As I sat remembering the dream, I pretended to be that iron Orca. I pretended it had a message for me, and the message came through clearly: the Orca represented my worklife, and while it wanted to be wild and alive, it was becoming a mechanical, stiff shadow of its real nature.

Message received: it was time to loosen the reins, step aside, and stop trying to force my career into a small, lifeless box. This totally resonated with me at the time, and it was exactly what I needed to be made aware of.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant
Photo via Unsplash

Now, on another day, maybe the Orca would have meant something different to me. Maybe Orcas represent something else entirely to you. And that’s all fine and well. You can scoff at this entire idea – part of me does sometimes, too – it goes against what we’ve been taught about external, “objective” truths, and it can feel silly to try and bring our dreamlives into the professional arena.

But give it a try – even if it’s just once. Play around with analyzing a part of a dream you had and see what you find.

Learning how to remember and interpret your dreams is a skill, but it’s not one you need to fret over or feel any sense of “not good enough” about.

Your dreamlife is yours, and it’s simply a resource that’s available to you if you want to tap into it. It will always be there, and if you can just be soft and playful with it, you’ll gain the insights your consciousness needs. Trust yourself with this process – whatever feels like the right interpretation is the right interpretation…with one big caveat:

The right interpretation, the one stemming from your intuition, will feel good – it will feel peaceful, clarifying, and calming, even if you get the sense that you need to make some changes, like I did with my Orca dream. Interpretations that make you feel afraid, bad about yourself, or fearful are coming from your ego – the part of you that hates any kind of change.

So trust the sense you’re getting, but try to make sure it’s from your growth-oriented deeper self, not the fearful part of you that wants to stay exactly who and where you are forever.

I hope you’ll give this a try if it fits for you, and I would love, love, LOVE to hear from you if you gain any insights about your career by using this technique!

Reclaiming What it Means to Be “Professional”

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant*Reprise: I’m winding down to one new post per week between now and Baby Integrated’s arrival in March 2017. Enjoy this repost!*

I recently held a webinar with a new software system that I wasn’t totally comfortable with. It was time to start the webinar, and I could see that people were signed in, so I went ahead and switched it to “live” and started talking. I knew the chat function wasn’t working, but I didn’t know how to fix it, and while normally I like to get confirmation that people can see and hear me, I decided to just move ahead since we were recording.

So, I’m talking, sharing my slides, doing my thing…for about twenty minutes. Twenty minutes, so like, almost half of the time I’ve set aside for this thing.

After this chunk of time, I check back into the editor window, and someone was able to submit a message to let me know that no one could see or hear me. I had been talking to myself and presenting my audience with a black screen for almost half an hour.

Panic.

I’m pretty sure I dropped some f-bombs…I was sweating…I couldn’t believe this was happening. Finally, I got it working again, and almost everyone who had signed in originally was still there with me, despite it being a total mess.

Once we were back on, I didn’t even pretend to stay “polished.” I don’t usually have such major technical issues, and this one just threw me flat on my ass. I apologized profusely and, interestingly, I felt this amazing wave of relief – I didn’t have to pretend to have it all together for these people, because clearly, they already knew I didn’t.

They were so gracious, and afterward, I was reflecting on how freeing that felt – despite the whole thing being kind of a disaster.

What does it mean to be “professional”?

In my case, I thought it meant making the technology work seamlessly, appearing put together but friendly, and maintaining an air of distanced expertise.

Instead, I probably came across a little bit frazzled, rushed, and 100% human. And that felt really good.

To me, being “professional” simply means having integrity. Integrity looks different for each person, but it’s essentially an alignment between your inner and outer selves. The formal definition of integrity is all about morals and virtue and whatnot, but that feels too cloudy to me.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI think my definition of integrity is simpler: does your outer persona reflect who you really are inside?

Even if that inner and outer matching means that you swear a lot, cry easily, express anger, need rest, take time to process, or make crass jokes, if that’s what it means to be in integrity for you, then I think that counts as being “professional.”

I’m on LinkedIn a lot (p.s., let’s connect)and lately I’ve been seeing comments from people who seem to have taken on the role of “LinkedIn Professionalism Monitor.” They’ll comment on more personal-ish posts that people share and say stuff like “Please leave this kind of post for Facebook” or “This is unprofessional clutter – doesn’t belong here” as if it’s up to them to determine what’s professional enough to post on there.

You know what happens when we enforce silly rules about what it means to be professional and shame others who don’t fit into that mold? We all end up looking/acting/talking/behaving in the same way, which is exceptionally boring and dangerously intolerant.

I would much rather encounter people who are genuine, honest, and authentic across their lives than work with people who are trying to fit into – and force others to fit into – some stuffy, bullshit way of being at work.

And what about you, dear one?

Are you essentially the same person at work, home, and in-between? Are you feeling pressure to act a certain way or fit into a suit that doesn’t work for you?

If so, what can you slough off that isn’t yours? What’s not you? Get rid of it.

Add in the messiness, the color, the complexity that’s missing. You’ll feel better, and you’ll give others the permission to reclaim “professional” for themselves, too.


Feel like debriefing this or discussing other creative ways to be more you at work? Join our Facebook group, A Wild New Work!

 

One Act That Will Transform Your Next Meeting

Today, instead of a traditional blog post, I’m sharing an audio recording about how to make meetings better, for ourselves and for those we’re sharing the space with.

One of my commitments to the blog this year is to play around with a few new mediums like audio and video. This helps keep my writing fresh and it also allows readers like you to engage with content in new ways!

It’s a quick 5-minutes that I’m hoping will feel really supportive and teach you a practice that you haven’t tried before.

Check it out below!

Let Yourself Be Seasonal

photo-1445998559126-132150395033Today is the Autumnal Equinox, which marks the official start of fall in the Northern Hemisphere.

There are two equinoxes every year, one in September, and one in March, and it’s called an equinox because today the day and night will be almost exactly the same length. From here on out, the darkness will subsume the daytime until things change again after the winter solstice in December.

Things are shifting, and I’m sure you’ve felt it already – the mornings are a little colder, the trees are changing colors or dropping leaves, and school is fully back in session.

This season is full of richness, and it’s even more enjoyable if we can let ourselves join in on the changes that are happening around us.

We need to let ourselves be seasonal.

Traditionally, this time of year was a time of harvesting and storing up for the winter ahead. Today, in our ever-abundant grocery stores, it can be hard to tell that anything is different, but try to let yourself notice: you’ll probably see more squash, apples, and all sorts of warm spicy treats.

You are, of course, being marketed to with Halloween shenanigans and Pumpkin Spice Lattes, but pretend for a minute that you’re back in the village with your ancestors.

Pretend you are a part of this harvest – that all of the beautiful oranges and reds and yellows in the food around you really are unique treasures that you only get to harvest once a year.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI know a lot of people dread Autumn or feel ambivalent about it because it means that the cold and wet winter is coming, but that’s like clinging to the dead leaves that are falling off of the trees. Why hold on to what’s already passed?

Can you let those leaves drop and see the bounty around you instead?

You are a part of this earth, which means that you go through seasons of your own and are affected by the seasons of the environment.

I remember how difficult it was to go to my 9-5 job every day in the dark, come home in the dark, and then try to muster up the energy to do “life” in the daylight I saw on the weekends. If that could be you this winter, then I encourage you to take a cue from your ancestors and try a few tricks:

Get outside while you can and submerge yourself in all of the colors and beauty of the Autumn season.

Dive into the harvest. Go to the pumpkin patch, or make apple cider, or hike in the fiery woods. Be grateful for the fact that the trees can be both dead and alive at the same time, and be grateful that you yourself can go through that same metamorphosis this time of year. This season is happening around you, but it can also happen within you if you’ll let it.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantStore up your reserves.

Winter is long and dark and can be rough for many of us in the Northern Hemisphere. And yet, it’s one of the most exhausting times of year because we try to pack so much in and pretend like our energy levels are the same as they were in the spring and summer.

In the United States, we’ve got a slew of popular holidays from late October until early January, and on top of all that, many working folks have major year-end projects to work on like open enrollment, budgeting, strategic planning, a huge retail rush, and on and on.

In my former working life, I was almost always tapped out by late December or January, which made me miss out on so much of the winter holidays – the celebrations that are supposed to lift our spirits and nourish us in the dark.

So do what you can now to store up your reserves. Commit to one less meeting, or event, or volunteer gig. Save some extra money if you can so that you can treat yourself on an extra grey day. Make a few extra meals and freeze them for that week in December when you can’t imagine cooking anything healthy ever again.

Remember that you’re going to need some extra spaciousness and energy in the next few months, so make like a squirrel and tuck away all of the sweet little acorns you can.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantFinally, let the darkness carry you.

A lot of us in the West are uncomfortable with the dark, literally and metaphorically. We hate it. We resist it, and our easy access to light and electronics makes that really easy to do.

Personally, I love this shift toward more darkness and rain because it gives me another excuse to be lazy and not do as much, but I know it’s not for everyone. Even if you’re someone who loves the sun and is dreading this turn toward night, see if you can roll with it a little more easily this year.

Let the darkness help you do less, introspect more, or release the leaves that are already falling off your branches. Let the darkness give you an excuse to stay in and read a book or throw a Dia de Los Muertos party that brings your favorite people together.

Try partnering with the darkness and see if this time of year can actually be restful and restorative.

Happy Autumn, sweet readers.


Something special is happening this Autumn for working women in Portland who aren’t afraid to go into the darkness and come out renewed. Click here to learn more.

5 Ways to Survive in Customer Service

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI presented a workshop recently on how to use time intentionally and effectively in your workday, and the audience I spoke to was a mix of people who had autonomy over the way they worked and people who were responsible for responding to customer issues right away. In my talk, I offered a few different tools for them to use in order to work more effectively and feel less overwhelmed: intentionality, rhythm, and flow.

After the workshop, I got some tough feedback.

Many of the people who worked in customer service left feeling frustrated and like a lot of what I suggested just wasn’t possible for them. They felt like it was out of the question to get into a state of “flow” when they’re getting called, emailed, chatted, or talked to at their desk. They felt like they were the last people who could leave the office to take a walk and clear their heads.

While I don’t totally agree with those sentiments, I will admit that I missed the mark for them. I could have talked more explicitly about the challenges facing people in customer service-type roles and creative ways to meet them.

Since I can’t go back in time and re-do the workshop, I’m going to offer some ideas in a blog post instead.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI’ve worked in a few different customer service jobs, but the most intense, by far, was as a Customer Care representative. My job was to solve some of the gnarliest, messiest, most miserable problems that came up for customers of the company I was working for.

Every day, I would have to reach out to and empathize with angry people. Some of these people were rightfully pissed off, some were just trying to get free work done, and some were just looking for someone to wail on. I got to talk to them all.

My days consisted of managing anywhere from 70 – 100 customer cases. This would entail making phone calls, answering phone calls, responding to emails, trying to come up with solutions with our internal team, and managing vendors who helped us fix problems. When my phone would ring, I would have no idea who was on the other line, but my performance was measured in part by how quickly I answered, so even if I was in the middle of something, I needed to pick up. I’d have a list of priorities for each day that was usually obliterated by the most recent crisis that came up. I had an amazingly supportive manager and team, which was the only reason I lasted as long as I did, but this was the toughest job I’ve ever had.

There were a few things I did that were helpful, but most of the things I’m going to suggest to you come from my peers, who seemed much more equipped than me to handle the onslaught every day.

Below are five things I wish I’d done differently and that I’ve seen work for people whose job is to care for customers in need:

  1. Be diligent about how you spend your energy outside of work.
  2. Take regular breaks.
  3. Notice your body.
  4. Let go of the need to fix the system.
  5. Make positive connections at work.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant

First, be diligent about how you spend your energy outside of work.

I’m not sure about you, but the customer service roles I’ve been in have been extremely draining to me. That’s not to say they were evil jobs, but they did not energize me. I wasn’t aware back then how important it is to manage our energy, and I wish I’d known then that because my job was so draining, I had to be extra, extra, 100% intentional about how I spent my energy away from the office.

If you go from a draining customer service job to a life that also feels draining, you’re going to burn out quickly, like I did. You owe it to yourself and everyone around you to make your life outside of work a sanctuary. Don’t go to events that feel lifeless to you. Don’t meet up with friends who make you feel like shit. Cultivate the things that fill you back up again. If at all possible (and it always is), incorporate a morning ritual that makes you feel grounded and strong before you start your day.

Second, take regular breaks.

Get out of your chair every 90 minutes. You’re not going to get in trouble. You will get more done if you leave every hour and a half for 5-15 minutes than you would if you stayed glued to your desk to answer one more call from an angry customer. Get up, stretch, get some water or food, use the bathroom, say ‘hi’ to Sarah in accounting, and return to your desk remembering that you’re a human being.

Third, notice how you feel in your body throughout the day.

You are a spiritual being in a body, and your body has something to say to you when you’re stressed out about serving customers. The negative emotions you feel and are exposed to are real, even if you feel like they shouldn’t be, and they will get stuck in your body if you don’t allow them to move out.

Notice when you’re breathing rapidly or shallowly. Notice if there’s tension in your back. Notice if you feel sick in your gut. See if you can lovingly bring attention to those areas and allow them to release. If you’re on a call with a customer who’s totally annoying or rude, hold your heart. Afterward, go to the bathroom and shake it off. Outside of work, get regular movement, even if it’s just a walk. Be aware of and protect your body. Let it digest and eliminate the “stuff” you’re taking on all day.

Fourth, let go of the need to fix the system you’re a part of.

One of the hardest things about my job in customer service was seeing the same issues come up over and over again and having close to zero control over fixing the root of the problem. It drove me nuts. I’d complain to my boss all the time, “But it shouldn’t be this way!”

And yet, it was.

Unless trying to fix the system energizes you, let it go. You can notice the issues and keep track of them, but your job is to care for the customer in front of you, and it’s not fair to yourself to take on the burden of trying to fix the whole damn process.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantFinally, make meaningful connections with positive people at work.

Customers come and go, but the team you’re with day in and day out is mostly there to stay. Value them and treat them with care. Your job will feel much easier and more manageable if you can spend some time building up a network of colleagues who are positive and still have empathy inside of them. Making meaningful connections at work acts like a sort of shield around you, protecting you from some of the emotions coming at you during your job.

Speaking of empathy, that’s basically your job: to have empathy for people and then use it to fix problems. 

If the empathy for the customers you serve has completely faded, then you need to find another job. Losing the ability to feel compassion for others, no matter how much of a nuisance they are, is a big, red warning sign that you need to find something that nourishes you instead.

Your job is really, really hard, and it’s often undervalued.

That doesn’t mean you have to suffer every day, though. If you can focus on these five areas and give yourself permission to take better care of yourself, I think you’ll find that you can survive and improve the lives of the people you’re there to respond to.

Thank you for everything you do. 

Welcoming and Working with Change

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantWhen I worked in a fast-paced start-up, change was the norm. Everyone knew it, and I think most of us expected it, but when it came, many of us acted shocked and incredibly annoyed (unless the change was our idea, of course).

Even if I could recognize the benefits of a change, I was usually bothered and joined in on the watercooler grumblings about it. The assumptions behind those grumblings were generally “we should just keep things the way they are,” and “I don’t know what to expect and am afraid of what this change will bring.”

My resistance to change wasn’t a professional issue, it was personal. At this time in my life, I felt completely ungrounded – like I was being thrown around without any kind of anchor. I didn’t have a strong sense of who I was, what worked for me, or what I wanted out of my career, so changes in my environment felt like an assault on any semblance of stability that I had.

Sometimes organizational change fails because the plan and execution are poorly done.

Most of the time, however, it fails because so many of the people who make up the organization lack the groundedness needed in order to integrate change in a healthy way.

We all know that change isn’t going anywhere, a point illustrated in this quote from shamanic practitioner Lena Stevens:

“We are not going back. Evolution only goes in one direction. The increase in energy and complexity is here to stay. So you can adapt or you can suffer. Your choice.”

Instead of being someone who resists, sabotages, or suffers through change, you can be someone who is grounded and healthy enough to work with and actually benefit from it.

A long, but related, side note:

Not all change is good. I hear about a lot of organizational changes that are made simply because people think they have to stay busy or create more complexity. In this post, I’m talking about changes that get your organization closer to its purpose, not changes that are being made simply for the sake of looking busy.

It’s also unfortunate that so much change is mandated from the top of organizations – from people and analysts that are separated from the day to day work itself. Sustainable, healthy change is purposeful and generated from the people who are actually affected by it.

Ok, now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about how to welcome and work with change.

I see this happening in three steps:

  1. Get grounded
  2. Intend hard
  3. Let go of outcomes

nature-forest-leaves-groundGetting grounded:

In order to flow with change in a healthy way, we have to get centered on a personal level. As far as I can tell, this means creating a daily practice of getting still, taking regular stock of what’s working or not working, and taking full responsibility for our reaction to change.

Intending hard:

Expecting and welcoming change doesn’t mean that we stop working on the tasks at hand. It does, however, force us to get clearer about the purpose of our work. I’ll give you an example:

One of the biggest projects I’ve worked on was helping an organization switch to a new phone system for its customers, field staff, and internal staff. This was a tough project for many reasons (namely that it was a top-down approach), but it got even tougher because I didn’t push the project team to get clear about why they wanted to make these changes. We all brought our own assumptions about why this major change should be made, but we should have worked through those together and set a stronger, intentional foundation for the project.

Without clear intentions guiding the change, we had a hard time selling it to the organization, our own processes got muddied, and we clung to a prescribed outcome instead of focusing on whatever it took to achieve what we wanted in the end. If I had to do that project over again, my guess is that the outcome would look wildly different.

If you want to be someone who can flow with organizational change, you need to do the work to a) get grounded, and b) get clear about what you intend to create through your work.

Letting go of outcomes:

Let’s say you intend to create a supportive environment for your team members. You’re very clear about that guiding intention, and it informs the work that you do. In order to realize this goal, you start working on a new initiative to build out quiet spaces for staff members to use for yoga, meditation, or to just get a break from the busyness.

As you’re working on this plan and moving it forward, you find out that Rick over in Research & Development is planning to use the same space for more laboratory storage. Old you might have gotten into quite a tizzy about this – talking to your office-mate about how Rick from R&D is such a spoiled brat who gets everything he wants – but grounded, intentional you is more skillful.

Staying centered and committed to your intention of creating a supportive environment for your team members, you can recognize that there are thousands of ways to achieve your intention. You’re aware that building out quiet space is one of those ways, but it’s not your only option, and you’re able to approach Rick and have a conversation that is collaborative and solutions-focused instead of one that’s desperate and accusatory.

Being a critic of change is easy – anyone can do that. Our organizations are full of naysayers and people who are clinging to “that’s the way we’ve always done it.”

The question is, can you be different? Can you be grounded, intentional, and creative amidst the change and show the rest of us how to work with it more gracefully?

I have no doubt that you can.


Shameless plug: I’m leading a class on this topic for Portland-area professionals. It’s on July 11th, and I’d love to see you there.

How to Say “No, thank you.”

 

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantYou know those lessons you have to learn again and again in life? One of my recurring lessons is about how to graciously but firmly say “No” to things that make me feel heavy, uncomfortable, or unsure of myself.

Since I’ve had to revisit this issue many times and am in yet another cycle of learning it, albeit at a deeper level, I thought I’d share a quick ‘n dirty cheat sheet on how to authentically and clearly say “No.” Or, if it pleases you, “No, thank you.”

Step 1: Take every opportunity you can to get clearer and clearer about what does and doesn’t work for you in life. Notice what feels easy and what feels like a total slog. Notice what feels good and what doesn’t feel good.

Step 2: When confronted with a choice, feel it out. When you think about saying “yes,” how does your body feel? Are you tense? Are you clenching your jaw? When you think about saying “no,” do you feel free and calm? Your body is a compass – use it.

Step 3: If steps one and two have made clear to you that you need to say “no,” then you would be well-advised to say it. Say “No.” or “No!!!” or “No, thank you.” or “Thanks, but no.” Say it in whatever way fits for you, but say it clearly and succinctly – even if it’s just in your head at first. Start getting comfortable with acknowledging and accepting your “no” response and, when it’s time, say it out loud.

Step 4: Stop yourself from going on and on about why you have to say “no.” Here’s an example of what not to do: “Hi Harry, thank you so much for your offer to give me this opportunity. Unfortunately, I have to water my plants this weekend, and we’re having visitors in town, and I have a medical appointment, and I don’t have the bandwidth, and…..”

Instead, you can just say “Hi Harry, thanks for considering me! This isn’t something I can take on right now, but I hope you’ll keep me in mind for the future. Best of luck.”

Now, I know people don’t like it when we just say “no,” and depending on your relationship with someone, you may want to give some reasoning behind your “no.” But do it from a place of self-respect and personal power, not a need to please and justify your every decision.

Step 5: Move on to “yes.” Don’t wallow in did-I-do-the-wrong-thing-by-saying-no-land. Dive into something you really want to say “yes” to instead of spending energy on analyzing what you just did. Try to trust that you drew the boundaries you needed to.

Those are the steps that have worked for me, and I hope you’ll call them to mind if you’re ever feeling stuck between choices or pushed into something that doesn’t fit for you.

In today’s world, with its massive amounts of information, activities, obligations, and demands, I think many of us need to say “no” more often than we’re comfortable with.

Fortunately, with some practice and a lot of courage, it can be a quick, easy, and graceful action instead of one mired in doubt, guilt, and fear.


If you’re in Portland and are feeling the need to say “no” to some toxic work dynamics, I hope you’ll consider joining me for a class on June 27th!

Violence, Grief, and Photosynthesis

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantA few years ago, I was living and working in Boston, not far from downtown. One usual Monday afternoon, the mood in the office began to shift – people were getting uneasy, looking at their phones, whispering concern…and then I found out about the tragic Boston Marathon bombing that had just occurred.

I rushed home, picked my husband Chris up on the way, and we sat glued to the news, and each other, for the rest of the evening. The bombers were still at large the next morning, but the East Coast being the East Coast, everyone was expected to go to work anyway.

Maybe it’s my West Coast demeanor, but I just couldn’t get myself up and out to the office that morning. I woke up and couldn’t stop crying. I felt confused, and so, so sad for the victims, for the people whose hearts were so dark they could do something like that, for all of us and our suffering. I didn’t understand how companies could open their doors the next day without even talking about what just happened less than a mile down the road.

I know the pain was felt in everyone’s hearts, but no one really knew what to do with it – it was too big and too heavy. 

I was fortunate to have an understanding boss who agreed to let me work from home that day, but there were many employees who I’m sure felt the same things I did but didn’t feel comfortable asking for what they needed. I’m sure there were leaders in the organization who woke up and couldn’t stop the sobs but felt like they had to put on a brave face and get back to work.

The tragedy this past weekend in Orlando, Florida affects all of us, even if we live on the other side of the country.

Tragedy anywhere affects us, whether it’s systemic violence against people of color, the raping of women, or the destruction of our planet. We are social, connected creatures sensitive to the harm of other living beings – that’s an irrefutable fact.

But these painful, heart-wrenching events get even more destructive to our collective well-being when we pretend that they are not, in fact, painful and heart-wrenching. When we resist the pain, rage, or hopelessness that is within us for fear that it could suffocate us, it stays in our bodies. We have to give these big, terrifying feelings space to be expressed if we’re going to be able to meet the challenges of our times with love and grace. This reminds me of a quote I love from Lao Tzu:

“Be like the forces of nature: when it blows, there is only wind; when it rains, there is only rain; when the clouds pass, the sun shines through.”

If you woke up this morning feeling weepy, afraid, or angry, take note. Honor your own humanity and let the force of your grief pass through you, even though it’s scary.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantThat brings me to photosynthesis.

Plants, the miracles that they are, absorb things from the environment that animals are unable to process (like sunlight and carbon dioxide) and convert them into oxygen, which is critical for our survival.

Without this specific process of inhalation and exhalation from the plant kingdom, animal life on this planet would cease to exist.

Today, and every day, really, there is a lot of pain to inhale. It is all around us, and some days it can feel completely overwhelming. But we can photosynthesize, too – we can transform this immense pain into something else that supports life.

In high concentrations, carbon dioxide is poisonous to humans, but our plant friends can take it in for us and breathe out the very thing we need to survive – oxygen.

In a very real way, the pain we experience from violent acts around us is also toxic – it lives in our bodies and can cause us to do horrific things to ourselves and others. Those of us who are brave enough to face the pain can transform it into oxygen for others who aren’t yet able to do it themselves.

Can you breathe deep into the pain that is within you and exhale peace and joy?

Can you take in what may be toxic and, in your own beautiful way, breathe out more of what this world needs?

Tragedies like the one this weekend affect each of us in different ways, and whatever you are feeling today – or on any day when you witness the pain of suffering – is real. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t know anyone personally or if you’re a million miles away – if you feel pain, then you feel pain, and I hope you’ll do whatever you need to do today to let it move through you so that it can be transformed.

If you’re in Human Resources or management, then you have an extra responsibility to model responsible grieving and take good care of yourself first. Be open with your team about the fact that we are all impacted by mass shootings, systematic oppression, or any form of violence in our lives. If someone expresses a need to be alone and cry for a while, honor that need. If someone’s lashing out in anger, calmly check in about what’s going on below the surface. If you’re in a leadership position of any kind and you’re reading this blog, I have no doubt that you have what it takes to model emotional intelligence and healthy grieving.

No matter who or where you are, you have to exhale today. The question is, can you exhale more joy, peace, and beauty than you did in the last breath?

labyrinthCan you photosynthesize the pain within and around you so that there is less of it now than there was a minute ago?

If you need some help, below I’ve shared a photosynthesizing-esque meditation practice called Tonglen, which is Tibetan for “giving and taking.” It’s a practice for breathing in suffering and breathing out compassion, and you can do it for yourself, for a loved one, for the plants and animals, or for any group of people that calls to you. Below is a written guide, adapted from Pema Chodron, and below that is a guided meditation from Tara Brach as well as a video of Pema walking you through this practice. I hope you’ll try some of these techniques out or photosynthesize in your own perfect way today.

I’m holding space in my heart for each of you today, near and far, and I am so grateful for this community of workplace photosynthesizers.


Tonglen practice, adapted from Pema Chodron:

First, rest your mind briefly, for a second or two, in a state of openness or stillness.

Second, work with texture. Breathe in a feeling of hot, dark, and heavy-a sense of claustrophobia-and breathe out a feeling of cool, bright, and light-a sense of freshness. Breathe in completely, through all the pores of your body, and breathe out, radiate out, completely, through all the pores of your body. Do this until it feels synchronized with your in and out-breaths.

Third, work with a personal situation-any painful situation that’s real to you. Traditionally you begin by doing tonglen for someone you care about and wish to help. However, as I described, if you are stuck, you can do the practice for the pain you are feeling and simultaneously for all those just like you who feel that kind of suffering. For instance, if you are feeling inadequate, you breathe that in for yourself and all the others in the same boat, and you send out confidence and adequacy or relief in any form you wish.

Finally, make the taking in and sending out bigger. If you are doing tonglen for someone you love, extend it out to those who are in the same situation as your friend. If you are doing tonglen for someone you see on television or on the street, do it for all the others in the same boat. Make it bigger than just that one person. If you are doing tonglen for all those who are feeling the anger or fear or whatever that you are trapped in, maybe that’s big enough. But you could go further in all these cases. You could do tonglen for people you consider to be your enemies-those who hurt you or hurt others. Do tonglen for them, thinking of them as having the same confusion and stuckness as your friend or yourself. Breathe in their pain and send them relief.

Guided meditation from Tara Brach:

This guided meditation is about 28 minutes long: https://www.tarabrach.com/guided-meditation-compassion-practice-tonglen/

Video on tonglen from Pema Chodron:

This video is only about five minutes long: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwqlurCvXuM

How to Be Open About Your Intuition at Work

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant
Photo via Mystic Mamma

This week I had the honor of getting a group of women together to talk about intuitive communication (which I’ll be doing again online soon if you’re into it).

Toward the end of the class, after lots of information sharing and discussion, one woman spoke up and said something to the effect of “Yea, okay, but how do I tell my old-school boss who wants hard data all the time that I’m making a decision based on my intuition?”

Mmm, yes.

In this class, we’d created a sort of cocoon where everyone was in agreement about how clarifying and helpful our intuition is in the workplace. We were sharing our experiences, affirming our intuitive knowing, it was all happening, and then…we remembered that this stuff still isn’t mainstream.

The old paradigm that worships hard data and efficiency above intuitive knowing and human connection is on its way out, but it’s not going down without a fight.

As more and more people demand “high touch” experiences with organizations, we will have to reconnect with our own humanity, which includes our intuition. Unfortunately, many leaders in organizations are unable to access this for themselves, and so they continue ravenously hunting for external data that shows them what they already know in their hearts, and they put the same diseased pressure on their employees.

It doesn’t have to stay like this, though. The tide is shifting, and intuition will become more and more acknowledged and accepted in our workplaces, but it’s still at the edges for now.

So how do we, as intuitive people, be more open about accessing that part of us in the workplace?

How do we explain that we don’t need to spend another hour looking at reports – that we already know what we need to do? How do we explain that we can’t explain – we just feel something deep in our core that’s leading us in another direction?

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantThe answer isn’t easy, but it is very simple: We just do it.

I don’t know any other way. We just have to be more open about it. We have to do it for ourselves and for the people in our organizations who are starving for their own inner wisdom.

Now, of course, you get to decide how you do it, and with whom. And you can be choosy – maybe you drop “feeling” into a conversation with a colleague you think might be open to it. Maybe you tell your boss that you “just sense” something and watch their reaction. Or hell, maybe you’re ready to open your next staff meeting with “This is what’s in my heart, and I want to be more open about where my intuition is leading me because that’s how I make the best decisions for our team.”

You can also choose not to use the word “intuition” if it’s still a dirty one in your organization. You can simply say things like “I feel…” or “I’m sensing…” or “Something that comes up for me is…”

If the tide is going to shift, we have to be more open about how our deeper, mystical, seemingly “less rational” selves inform our work. We have to do that and then hope that the person across from us is open to accessing their intuitive side and can meet us in that place.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been struck by how open-minded so many professional people are – people you may not expect to be on board with the more squishy, intuitive skills that I’m talking about here.

Last night at an HR Association event I was facilitating, I told about 20 HR professionals that next month we’d be talking about office auras, and no one yelled or threw food at me! Okay, sure, I live in Portland, and this was an innovative group of people, but it still gives me hope – I think people in the professional sphere are ready to talk about things we can’t always name, or see, or measure.

We have to show up as our intuitive, authentic selves in our worklives and trust that the right people – the ones we want around us – are going to be able to meet us there.

Start wherever you are today, even if it’s just imagining dropping “the I word” into a conversation with a colleague.

Honor yourself by making space for your intuition in your work – I can guarantee you’ll reap rewards, even if it’s just feeling completely aligned and genuine for one amazing moment.

Is There Beauty in Your Career?

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantLately I’ve been wondering how our worklives would change if we measured success by how much beauty we create in the world.

What if, instead of trying to improve employee productivity, you just sought to create a process that was elegant, simple, and easy to use?

What if, instead of seeing yourself as an office manager, you took on the role of “office beautifier”?

What if, instead of managing people, you focused almost solely on nurturing your team so much that their own beauty shone bright?

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantThe natural world around us is full of beauty – full of colors, scents, shapes, and sounds that call out to our senses and make us feel at home again.

In nature, beauty is often (but not always) a reflection of health, strength, and good design. A beautiful flower has only bloomed because it has accessed the nutrients that it needs in order to grow strong. Creating beauty in the world blesses us, and it blesses others.

When was the last time you did something work-related that was just for the sake of creating or experiencing beauty? Beauty, whatever that means to you, softens us – it helps us stay present, feel comforted, and gives us the space to do our best work.

Whether or not there is beauty in your career (and that can look like innovation, eloquence, joy – whatever delights your senses) can be a good indication of how close you are to walking your right path. The Sufi poet Rumi wrote:

The only way to measure a lover

is by the grandeur of the beloved.

Judge a moth by the beauty of its candle.

What kind of candle are you drawn to and consumed by in your career? Is it one full of beauty and vibrancy? Is it a candle blighted by worry, negative thinking, or fear?

How would your worklife change if you sought to create one beautiful thing, conversation, process, or experience each day?

Why Your Career Has to Fit for You Today, Not Tomorrow

Many of us have bought into this idea that we have to put our noses to the grindstone and hustle today in order for us to have the lives we want tomorrow.

I’m calling bullsh*t.

In the super quick presentations below, I explore why it’s so important to make sure your career is fitting for you today. When we start treating our days like microcosms of our lives, we can actually begin living the lives we’re working so hard for.

Click here to access the SlideShare presentation.

Click here to watch the YouTube video I recorded on this topic (it’s also embedded below).

Enjoy!

 

How to Have Attuned Conversations at Work

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI talk to a lot of people who don’t really feel seen or heard at work. I’ve been in meetings where I thought there was one conversation happening only to realize that people were talking about very different things in very different languages. If those meetings had been symphonies, they would sound horrible – none of the instruments would have been attuned to, or in harmony with, one another.

If you’ve ever had a conversation at work where you left feeling seen, heard, validated, and totally supported, then you know how powerful it is when someone is attuned to you. We’re sensitive beings, and we can tell the difference between when someone is really present with us and when someone’s there physically but not mentally, emotionally, or spiritually.

Having a conversation in which you are really attuned to the other person is powerful stuff.

It will transform the way you see that person and your relationship to them. Not only have I seen this work in my own life, but the field of Human Resources is catching on, too. In the latest issue of HR Magazine, there was an article written by Mark Feffer which focused on the importance of developing employees with strong “soft skills,” the most desired of which is the ability to effectively communicate.

It’s impossible to communicate effectively if you’re not able to be fully present with and attuned to the people around you.

If you feel ready to pump up your communication skills and bring others into harmony with one another, read on!

Dropping In

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantIn order to attune to someone during a conversation, you have to practice “dropping in.”

When I say “dropping in,” I mean unhooking yourself from your thinking mind. Sometimes I picture that there’s a thin string hanging on a hook at the base of my skull, and when I’m dropping in, I unhook that string and let my thoughts quiet so I can use all of my senses to pick up what’s going on around me. If this sounds kooky, it’s okay, but stick with me.

Many of us in the West think that the only way we can really know or understand something is by thinking about it. When we only access our intellect, we miss out on other ways of understanding – ways that may seem mysterious, but are natural and always available to you. When I “unhook” from my thinking mind, I make space for awareness from my heart, gut, and intuition.

Did you know that your heart and your stomach actually have their own sets of neurons and that they have systems for sending messages to the brain? This is real, folks. If you can access other ways of knowing, whether through your other intelligent organs, your intuition, or any other means that work for you, you’ll be able to have powerful, attuned conversations with others.

One easy exercise for dropping in, which is adapted from Eckhart Tolle’s book A New Earth, is to simply imagine feeling your hands from the inside out.

Take a few deep breaths and simply ask yourself, “How can I know my hands are there if I can’t see them?” Try to actually feel them from the inside out.

Once you have a sense of feeling your hands from within, bring this awareness up through your arms. Can you feel the inside of your arms? Continue to bring this awareness all the way to your heart, and see if you can feel your own heartbeat.

It may take some time to get this, and it takes practice. Most of us aren’t used to dropping into our bodies or unhooking from our thoughts, but this is a skill that’s absolutely available to you anytime, anywhere, and I’d encourage you to practice it whenever you get a chance.

So let’s say you’re in a meeting, having a conversation, and while someone else is talking or before people get there, you’ve taken a couple of deep breaths and silently “drop in.” Note: no one needs to know that you’re practicing this, and they won’t be able to tell just by looking at you.

Attuning to Your Surroundings

Now that you’ve dropped in, try to sense what’s going on around you.

How do you feel in your body? What emotions would you say are coming up in the conversation, inside of you and inside of others? Can you notice the emotions without placing judgment on it? For example, if your counterpart is visibly angry, can you just stay curious about that before launching into a “She is always angry and it’s so annoying” story in your mind?

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantOther things you can play around with in order to stay attuned to what’s going on around you are to consider:

  • The colors you imagine surrounding the other people there with you
  • Whether or not the environment feels stuffy, heavy, airy, or light
  • Whether you feel drained or energized as the conversation goes on

I know this might sound impossible to do on top of actually following the conversation, but remember that 93% of communication is non-verbal.

If that’s true, why waste almost 100% of your energy on following along with the words when the real communication that you need to understand is occurring through someone’s body language, tone, and overall energy? With practice, you’ll be able to stay mentally engaged while also attuning to the people you’re speaking to.

Resist Mining for the Answers.

One part of this that can be tough, especially if you’re in a supervisory or managerial role, is the pressure you may feel to come up with answers. When we get nervous, feel like the person across from us needs something, or are just prone to solution-oriented working, we can bypass opportunities for understanding just for the sake of making something happen.

When you feel that pressure, remember this: the person across from you just wants to be seen and understood.

In conflict resolution, we talk a lot about positions and interests. People present with positions all the time: “I want a pay raise,” “I need a new project,” or “I can’t stand Kathy and want to move teams.” There may be something to these positions, but largely, people just want to feel heard, validated, and like they have agency over their own lives.

If you can drop into your own body-based and intuitive wisdom, be fully present, and give yourself the space to not know, the answers will come to you, I promise. Sometimes I’ll be with a career coaching client and have no idea what to say or ask. There’s a brief moment of panic, and then I drop in. I pause, trust that I’ll say what I need to say, and usually that’s when I get a spark of insight, ask just the right question, or shut up long enough for my client to say what she needs to say.

See What Happens

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantThere’s a phenomenon known as “entrainment,” which Martha Beck explains in her book, Finding Your Way in a Wild New World. She writes that when two people are emotionally connected, “the brain that has the most coherent wave patterns – patterns associated with calm, relaxation, and peace – seems to “pull” less coherent brains into synchrony with it.”

This means that if you can drop in, remain grounded, and stay calm, you can literally attune others to you. You can help them relax, see more clearly, and feel seen and understood. If you’ve ever been around someone who is fully present and noticed that you also felt less frenzied and more relaxed, then you know what this is like.

I hope you’ll practice dropping in and attuning to others in your next conversation. Too often, we’re focused on trying to get a word in edgewise, appear smart, or have all the answers that we talk over one another and leave conversations feeling misunderstood.

If you put the principles in this post to practice, not only will you walk away from conversations with more insight, but you’ll make those around you feel understood, and that’s good for them, for your career, and for the organization that you’re part of.

I hope you’ll try it, and if you do, I’d love to know how it goes!


Know someone who’s ready to practice attuned conversations? Send this along!

Your Lizard Brain Could be Killing Your Organization

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantAs I prepare for the webinar I’m offering next week, Using Your Intuition to Work Smarter, I’ve been thinking a lot about our lizard brains.

Seth Godin and Steven Pressfield write a lot about lizard brains – what they define as the part of us that wants to be safe, go slow, pull back, or lash out. It’s resistance, fear, the instinct to survive, and it’s the sphere in which most of our organizations operate.

In order for this to make sense, I have to talk about the Ego. Most of the wise teachers I know would say that the ego and the lizard brain are two peas in a pod. Your ego partners with your lizard brain to keep you safe – it’s very good at picking up on potentially harmful situations and getting you out of them as soon as possible.

If you were caught in the middle of the ocean, your ego and your lizard brain are what would keep you swimming for dry land. If you’re giving a presentation and feel threatened by a critical colleague in the room, they’ll send “GET OUT!” signals like sweaty palms and a racing heart. Their sole interest is in keeping you alive and eliminating threats, which is really very sweet!

The problem is, they’re running rampant and, ironically, killing off many organizations as a result. Here are some ways you know that ego and lizard brains are calling the shots:

  • Decisions are made out of fear: “Don’t rock the boat…The shareholders will be upset if we don’t do it this way…We need to tolerate her or else she’ll sue us.”
  • There’s in-fighting: The loudest, most belligerent people succeed in these organizations, which means competition, under-cutting, and sabotage are rampant. Sensitive people who want to collaborate burn out quickly.
  • There’s never enough: Scarcity runs the show in this organization. There’s never enough money, resources, time, talent – everything is urgent. The top line in everyone’s job description should be “Putting out fires.”

Now, nothing is ever all bad – we do need our egos to help us stay alive and get things done in the world.

megan leatherman career coach and hr consultantBut the ego has to be balanced, and it’s balanced with Soul.

Your soul is what pushes you to make changes in your life even though they’re scary, like switching careers, going back to school, or falling in love. Your soul helps you transcend your survival instincts so that you can live out what you’re on this earth to learn and do.

When our souls inform our lives and organizations, there can be trust, openness, and a sense of abundance – like we know that our needs will be met. Some signs that an organization has a healthy balance of ego and soul are:

  • Decisions based on trust and love: People are given the benefit of the doubt. Policies are in place, but minimally, and they’re never a substitute for a human conversation. When making decisions, the leaders of the organization seek what is in the highest good of all stakeholders – employees, their communities, and even the earth itself.
  • Everyone has a place: Each member of the organization is valued for their unique set of gifts and diverse backgrounds. Community is intentionally formed through trust-building, collaboration, and mutual shows of respect.
  • There is enough: Leadership isn’t stingy about salaries, vacation time, or employee appreciation. They trust that there is enough and are generous with the money that flows through the organization.

One major way that we can tap into our souls and the wisdom they hold for us is through our intuition.

Intuitive knowing is becoming more accepted in mainstream business culture, but it’s still out there on the fringes – largely, I believe, because it’s been denigrated through our obsession with “rationality” and other more intellectual ways of knowing. The tide is shifting, though. I see other professionals waking up to their own inner sense of knowing and using it to guide their careers and their organizations.

When we bring our souls – through our intuition – into the conversations we’re having, the content we’re producing, or the art we’re creating, we integrate our lizard brains and have a chance to thrive instead of merely survive. We get grounded and make decisions that are based in trust and openness instead of an obsession to stay safe and never change.

using your intuition to work smarter webinarIf this topic resonates with you, I’d encourage you to sign up for my free webinar on April 28th called Using Your Intuition to Work Smarter. In this live 60-minute session, I’ll be talking a lot about how to actually tap into your inner sense of knowing so that you can be one of the brave few who are ready to work beyond the world of the lizard brain.

 

How to Gracefully Choose Between Work and Life

**This post is in response to a reader’s request. If you have ideas for things you’d like to know more about, let me know!

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI write a lot about work life integration – the idea that there’s no real separation between “work” and “life,” so we’re better off finding ways to integrate the two instead of trying to balance them.

The tenets of work life integration get a little murkier you have a seemingly black and white decision to make about where you will be and how you’ll spend your time. Will you stay at the office another hour, or get to your kid’s soccer game on time? Will you finish that blog post or get coffee with a friend you haven’t seen in a while?

Our attention, physical presence, and time are finite resources. We cannot be everything, everywhere, to everyone. Sometimes we have to choose.

Most people choose this way:

They’re faced with a conflict: let’s say it’s family dinner v. happy hour with colleagues. Panic ensues. They try to weigh all of the factors in their head in a split-second (Who will be more upset if I don’t show up, my spouse or my boss? What did I do last time? How can I get out of one or the other?). They make a haphazard decision to go out for drinks, aren’t sure it’s the right one, and then spend their time with colleagues feeling guilty about not being at home.

I’ve totally made my decisions this way in the past, and it doesn’t feel good. But there’s a better way – one that gracefully honors who you are and what’s important to you.

In four simple (but not always easy) steps, I’ll outline how I choose between competing priorities in my life in case it’s helpful to you, too:

First, I set intentions about the way I want to live.

Being caught in the “work v. life” crossfire is exponentially harder when you aren’t clear about your own priorities. This will go much more smoothly if you essentially make the decision ahead of time. If you know that out of the four major domains of your life (more about that here), self-care and your community project are at the top, then it’s easier to tell your boss “no” when she asks if you’re available to come into the office over the weekend.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantSo that’s step number one: get clear about what’s most important to you right now.

Second, I create structures that will support those intentions.

For example, I used to prioritize networking and email management above my own quiet working time, which resulted in me being burnt out and not able to produce very high-quality content. That way of living went against my intention to reflect deeply on the way we relate to work.

Now, every morning, there are walls of titanium around me as I read, write, and design classes about how we relate to work. It’s not always easy to keep that time sacrosanct, but it is so important. I realize I’m fortunate to be able to work alone, but even as a solo-preneur, I have demands and distractions coming at me all the time. I mean, it’s not like I’ve got a boss who would notice if I just watched Game of Thrones all day. If we’re going to live the lives we want, we have to set intentions and then reinforce them with structure.

For me, that structure usually looks like: a) blocking off my calendar, b) turning my phone on “Do Not Disturb,” and c) never, ever opening email until my top priorities for the day are met.

Third, I enforce my boundaries.

Intentions and structure are the foundational elements of choosing gracefully, but they’re not enough – at some point, we have to draw boundaries and say “no.” This is usually where the breakdown happens. We’ve got our intentions set, our calendars blocked off, our email closed, and then…someone comes into our office. Or we really want to stay up watching t.v. for another hour. Or we’re convinced that it’s okay if we just schedule one teensy meeting during our quiet working time.

We have to be disciplined with our boundaries. We have to lovingly say “no” to that person who came into the office, or to the part of us that just wants to watch t.v., or to that person who really wants to meet with us.

We have to enforce our boundaries for others in a loving but assertive way. 

There’s a big difference between cowering in your boss’s office asking if it might, umm, be okay if, uh, you took next Friday off and saying with confidence, “I need to help my mom move out of her house next Friday – what do you need from me in order to make that happen?”

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantWhen we stand in our truth and lovingly assert our needs, it makes our boundaries clear to others, which is actually very helpful to them and to us.

People may not like your boundaries at first, but they will get used to them. Let me say that again: they will get used to them. They will adjust. You will be living a life that feels authentic to you, and they might kick and scream at first, but then they’ll respect you and may even find the strength within themselves to enforce their own boundaries.

When you’re clear about your intentions, have built helpful structures around them, and know your non-negotiable boundaries, communicating them to others is way, way easier. If you need help knowing how to communicate your boundaries to others with grace, here’s a quick little formula based on the principles of Non-Violent Communication:

  1. Observation (example: I can sense you’re upset that I won’t be at that meeting, but…)
  2. Feeling (…I feel excited about where this project is heading, and…)
  3. Need (I need to stay focused on it for the rest of today if I’m going to meet my deadline.)
  4. Request (Would you be willing to share your notes with me afterward?)

No demands, pointed fingers, or screaming, just assertive and compassionate boundary-enforcement.

Finally, when I have to make a difficult choice between work and life, I heap on the self-compassion.

This stuff is hard, especially for those of us who naturally prioritize external demands over our own internal needs. Oftentimes, I’ll feel some guilt after making a tough choice, and that’s when I have to remember to communicate compassionately to myself as well. Instead of allowing the onslaught of guilt and shame to rush through my thoughts, I think back to my intentions, take a deep breath, and accept that I’m doing the best I can with the time and resources I’ve got.

In case it’s helpful, I’ll walk you through an example from start to finish so you can see these four steps play out:

Intention: You want to feel more connected to others around you, so you intend to strengthen your ties to your community.

Structure: In order to do this, you sign up for your local neighborhood council and block off your calendar after 4:00 one Thursday a month to make sure you get there on time for the 5:00 meeting.

Boundaries: When someone at work puts a meeting on your calendar for 4:30 on the Thursday before your council meeting, alarm bells go off. Now you have to make a choice. You remember your intentions and muster up the strength to enforce your boundaries. You take a few deep breaths and assume your colleague just didn’t check your calendar when she scheduled the meeting. You to go her office and calmly say “I appreciate you making sure we had time to chat about Project X (observation + feeling), but I have a neighborhood council meeting that day and have to leave at 4:00 (need). Would you mind rescheduling it? (request)”

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantSelf-compassion: Then, as you walk back to your office, you let yourself feel good, and authentic, and aligned. You let any feelings of guilt or shame move on through, out of your system.

So there they are: the four steps I take to gracefully choose between competing demands. It’s a lifelong work in progress, but I’ve found that this gets much, much easier with practice.

No matter what choices you make, they are graceful when they’re in alignment with who you are and what matters to you. We all benefit when you’re living out your truth and lovingly asserting your boundaries.


Know someone who needs some help choosing gracefully? Pass this post on!

How to Discover Your Strengths in a “Dead End” Job (video)

In this post, I’m sharing a few different versions of content on a topic that’s related to my most recent article, 5 Ways to Discover Your Strengths.

I meet a lot of people who feel like they’re just in dead end jobs with no hope for learning about and living out their strengths. It can be a really frustrating place to be in, but as uncomfortable as it is, I think it’s an amazing opportunity for growth.

In these two visual presentations (one a SlideShare, the other a YouTube video), I offer three things you can start doing today, even in a job you don’t love, to discover and live out your strengths. Enjoy!

Link to the SlideShare presentation

YouTube Video is embedded below, and the link to view it is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01AFInghnDQ