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!

Transcending Fear: Rabbit Medicine

 

photo-1433769747000-441481877cafIn honor of being authentic and bringing some spiritual wisdom into our worklives, I want to share a story that’s adapted from a book I love: Medicine Cards by David Carson and Jamie Sams.

In their book, they define “medicine” in the traditional Native American way, which “is anything that improves one’s connection to the Great Mystery and to all of life.” It’s a much broader definition and goes beyond just fixing what’s broken in our bodies.

I’m not Native American and don’t lay any claim to the story below, but I want to share it because I think it’s such a helpful reframe for those of us in the working world. This is about Rabbit and how Rabbit became the Fear Caller:

A very long time ago when the Earth was young, Rabbit was a fearless and brave warrior. Eye Walker, who happened to be a witch, was a friend to Rabbit. They spent a lot of time together sharing and talking about all sorts of things. They were very close friends.

One day Eye Walker and Rabbit had walked a long way and decided to sit down for a rest. Rabbit said, “I’m thirsty.” Eye Walker picked up a leaf, blew on it, and handed Rabbit a gourd of water to drink. Rabbit drank but said not a word of thanks. Then Rabbit said “I’m hungry.” Eye Walker picked up a stone, blew on it, and turned it into a turnip for Rabbit to eat. Rabbit ate the turnip with relish and still remained quiet.

The pair started back on their walk and ended up in the mountains. Near the top, Rabbit fell and rolled almost all the way to the bottom. Rabbit was in very sad condition when Eye Walker got to him. She tenderly applied some of her magic salve on his little body to relieve his pain and to mend his broken bones. Rabbit said not a word of thanks to Eye Walker.

After a few days, Eye Walker was looking for her friend but could not find him anywhere. She finally gave up her search and went on with her daily activities. One day, quite by accident, she ran into her little friend. “Rabbit, why are you hiding and avoiding me?”

“Because I am afraid of you! I am afraid of magic,” answered Rabbit, cowering. “Leave me alone!”

“Oh I see,” said Eye Walker. “I have shared my magical powers to help you and now you turn on me and refuse my friendship.”

“I want nothing more to do with you or your powers! They frighten me terribly. I hope we never meet again!”

With tears in her eyes Eye Walker said, “We were once companions and great friends, but no more, Rabbit. I have the power to destroy you but I will not. Instead, I lay a curse on you and all of your tribe. From this day forward you will call your fears and they will come to you! The sweet bonds between us have now been severed.”

photo-1455869434262-b664819692f5Now Rabbit is known as the Fear Caller. He goes out and shouts, “Eagle, I am so afraid of you!” If Eagle doesn’t hear him, Rabbit calls louder, “Eagle, stay away from me!” Eagle, now hearing Rabbit, comes and eats him. Rabbit calls bobcats, wolves, coyotes, and even snakes until they come.

When I first read this, I laughed out loud, because the image of me running around like Rabbit was crystal clear. I pictured myself hysterical in an open field yelling out all of the things I’m afraid of. I could see myself as a magnet for eagles, bobcats, and wolves.

What kinds of predators do we call in with our fear? I can think of a few examples from our worklives: “Rejection, stay away from me!,” “Layoffs, we are so afraid of you!,” “Change, keep out!”

Our days are often guided by fear and urgency, not by what’s actually important. The organizations and professionals who will thrive in our complex, changing world are those who transcend their fear and put their Rabbit tendencies aside while they do the work that is meaningful.

photo-1444465585361-21136b9b6430Rabbit helps us remember to take responsibility for what we call into our lives.

If you feel like you’re constantly surrounded by predators, or fear, you have some things to consider:

First: what are you currently calling in? Are you running around like crazy complaining about how there are no qualified candidates for your open positions? Are you frenetically responding to angry emails from customers who don’t understand you or your product?

Stop. Instead, find a way to focus on building the things that matter: recruiting practices that are human-friendly and sustainable…products that speak to the people you’re actually trying to reach. Choose to transcend your fear and call in something different. Choose to call in the future you want instead of the one you’re afraid of.

Second: Is what you’re afraid of really a predator? Eye Walker scared Rabbit, but she never intended him harm. What things in your life feel scary, and is it right to reject them and their power? Maybe you have a gift you’re ashamed of or not sure how to use. Is stuffing down your ability to draw/design/sell/caregive/etc. helping you, or are you turning your back on a powerful ally? Is your competitor really a competitor, or is there an opportunity for collaboration and mutual benefit? Is going out of business really a failure, or will it allow you to travel and start your life anew?

Consider the power behind what you fear.


Know someone who might enjoy this story? Pass this post along and share the love!

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!

 

4 Easy Ways to Discharge Workplace Stress

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

Have you ever watched two dogs fighting with one another who separate, shake it off, and then go about their day as if nothing happened? Or how about one of those National Geographic videos of a herd of wildebeests escaping an attack, slowing down, and resuming their search for grass to eat?

megan leatherman career coach human resources consultant workplace stress
Take a cue from the animal kingdom and shake it off.

Doesn’t it seem like they get over that cheetah attack a little too quickly? That’s because animals – humans included – have instinctual methods of discharging stress and trauma almost immediately after it happens. They literally shake it off.

Before the human species developed its robust thinking mind, we would experience stress or trauma, shake it off, and move on. Now that we have these hyperactive minds at our disposal, when we experience stress, we create a story about it. When our coworker disagrees with us in a meeting, our bodies are sent into a stress response, which instead of just dealing with and shaking off, we turn into a story about our worthiness, our coworker’s intentions, et cetera.

The energy that’s created by a stressful response has to go somewhere. It will either stay in your body and make you sick, get displaced and hit those around you, or, ideally, be intentionally released in a healthy way.

Our workplaces generate a lot of this energy. Many organizations foster feelings of competition, unworthiness, and insecurity, and most of us simply absorb that energy into our own bodies or use it to attack those around us (either accidentally or intentionally).

We’re often completely unaware of how we’re feeling, what those feelings are doing to our bodies, and how we deal with the energy behind those emotions. We’re all walking around with the stories that we use to explain the presence of this tense energy, which don’t actually help us release it.

Our workplaces would change dramatically if we simply learned how to be better stewards of this energy.

We have a choice in how we react to our environments, and taking notes from the animal kingdom seems like a great place to start. Our natural response to stress is to discharge it quickly and without attachment.

While many of us are used to creating a story around the stress (e.g., “Jane disrespected me and is a bad person,” or “Larry isn’t talking to me anymore because I’m incompetent”), we can change that behavior and choose a different method instead. We can hit “pause” on the story and discharge the stress so that it doesn’t become toxic in our bodies or to those around us.

megan leatherman career coach human resources consultant workplace stressI should note that hitting “pause” doesn’t mean that you don’t deal with the external situation or simply walk away after someone causes you harm. It does mean, however, that the impact from that event is contained and released so that you can think clearly about the right action(s) to take in response. This way, your response can come from a place of ease and detachment instead of insecurity and threat.

Below are some quick, easy ways to discharge stress that comes up in your workday (or any day, really). Animals shake off stress multiple times a day, and you should feel free to do the same if you need to!

No matter what you do next, start by getting present with the stressful feelings. You can’t discharge stress if you don’t know that it’s happening. Notice it and just accept that it’s happening inside your body. Notice how it feels and where in your body it’s showing up. Your jaw, neck, or shoulders might be tight. You might feel like you have a knot in your gut or chest.

Once you’ve noticed it, you can try the tricks below or any that you come up with on your own. The most important thing is to process the energy through movement of some kind, and to do it as soon after the experience as you can.

  1. Literally shake it off. Close your office door or the bathroom stall and imagine all of that ickiness coming off of you as you shake your arms, torso, legs, hands, feet, head, etc. You could also do this by dancing in the privacy of your own home (or in public!) to a song that you love.
  2. Flick it off. If you can’t writhe your entire body, flick the negative energy off with your hands. If you’re in a meeting that’s totally stressing you out, you could get present with the stress, imagine it flowing like water down your arms, and then flick it off onto the floor.
  3. Wash your hands. Water is a great reminder to release and let go of stressors. If you just had a stressful experience with a supervisor or co-worker, you can head to the bathroom to wash your hands and just imagine all of that sticky energy spiraling down into the drain. Maybe you even dry your hands by shaking the water off.
  4. Breathing exercise. On an in breath, get present with the stress that you’re feeling. Envision the frustration, fear, or anger in your body expanding in your lungs. On the out breath, release all of it out into the ether. Feel it leaving your body and stretch and expand as it does. Try this 1 – 3 times. Imagine peace, presence, and calm taking the place of the stress that was originally there.

If these techniques seem totally weird to you, that’s okay. We’ve been disconnected from our instinctual natures for a long time, and reconnecting with our bodies can feel really foreign and silly.

That said, most new habits feel inauthentic at first, so I hope you’ll at least give this a try and see if it starts to feel normal again. It might even help to tell your partner or a friend about it and see if they’re open to trying it with you. Chris (my sweetie) and I have used the shaking technique from time to time, and it completely shifts the energy of the situation. We feel stupid when doing it, but it always works, and we feel better afterward.

I hope that if nothing else, you feel encouraged to release some stress in a healthy way today. Maybe you flick some negativity off before pouring that glass of wine after work. Or maybe you release some energy through washing your hands before you reach for that cigarette.

Whatever you can do, wherever you’re starting, is just perfect.


Know someone who needs to shake it off? Consider passing this post along to them.

 

You’re Making This Harder Than it Needs to Be

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI’ve always made decisions relatively quickly. Part of it is pure laziness – I get bored doing research or hearing myself talk for too long about the pros and cons of something.

The other part of it is just a relatively high level of comfort with not knowing if something is “the” perfect decision, because I don’t believe there are perfect ways to do anything in life.

The way I figure, the road will lead somewhere, and I’ll learn from it, and most things aren’t as dramatic as we make them out to be, anyway.

Sometimes, though, a decision will throw me off my game and I’ll toil over it for weeks, which is total misery to me.

Usually when this happens, I realize that I’m making the decision a lot harder than it needs to be. When I feel like I have to really wrestle with something and lack clarity, it’s for one reason:

I’m not telling myself the truth.

I’m not letting myself really feel what I want, or say what I think. I’m pandering to others, or to the part of me that doesn’t want to change.

Steven Pressfield calls that part of us “the Resistance.” It’s the energy that rises up against us whenever we want to improve our lives, or change course, or do anything that’s unpopular. He tells us that the Resistance is conniving, persistent, and it’s out for blood.

Its best friend is Rationalization.

When a decision is ahead of us, most of us know what we want to do relatively quickly. But then Resistance and Rationalization show up, and they muddy the waters.

They tell us, “You can’t do that – you’ll hurt his feelings” or “That’s a great idea, but you should start tomorrow.” We make ourselves busy with distractions and bullshit and then we wonder why we’re paralyzed with indecision.

It’s because we’re letting our Resistance run the show.

My Resistance is very smart and subtle, and it shows up often in my work. Lately, it’s distracted me from a goal I set a long time ago, which was to write more guest posts on other blogs and websites that I respect.

For many reasons, I don’t want to do this, and the primary one is Fear: fear of rejection.

Resistance loves Fear, because it feeds off of it.

So since I’m afraid of pitching guest posts, Resistance shows up with all these seemingly true reasons for why I shouldn’t put myself out there:

  • I don’t have time – I’m already writing two posts a week for my own blog
  • I’m not sure there are even websites out there that would be a good fit for me
  • It probably wouldn’t even grow my audience anyway, and I’d just waste a lot of time

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantDo you see how crippling this bullshit can be?

Even though I (big I, my Self) know that guest posting is a valuable way to spread your voice and serve more people, the Resistance makes it so much more complicated and difficult than it really is.

All it would take for me to submit a guest post is to find a blog I like, write a post like I would any other day, and email it to them. It’s really very simple, like most things in our lives are.

We can generally make things easier for ourselves by recognizing the Resistance and telling the truth.

We can ask ourselves questions like:

Why am I really avoiding making that decision?

Why am I really distracting myself with all this busywork?

Why do I really want to stay? Or leave? Or scream? Or jump for joy?

What’s really going on here?

Even though it can stop us dead in our tracks, Resistance is also a gift, because it’s a sign that you’re on a path toward making positive changes in your life.

As Pressfield wrote in his book The War of Art, “The more important a call or action to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”

So if something is difficult, try not to worry – it means you’re working through some really important, soul-level stuff. Simply do your best to notice the Resistance and its lies so that you can break free and move forward.

Even If You’re An Evergreen, You’re Changing, Too

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI realized something the other day as my husband and I were driving out to the Mt. Hood National Forest: deciduous trees get all the glory this time of year. 

Their bright, flashy leaves draw us in and announce to us that Autumn has arrived. Feeling their crunch under our feet or throwing them up in the air over us is a joyful experience, and the leaves are kind of the signature of the season.

But what about the quieter changes taking place?

What about all the other trees, the ones that don’t seem to change much throughout the year?

I always thought that evergreen trees like pine or cedar grew up, dropped some cones and maybe a few needles along the way, and were mostly unchanging throughout time. During our weekend trip in this spectacular forest, I wondered if that was actually true. Nothing is unchanging, right? So what happens inside of these seemingly ever-stable trees during the Fall?

It turns out that evergreen trees go through changes of their own each year, but it’s much more subtle and less “out there” than their fiery deciduous cousins.

Evergreen trees shed old needles every few years, and before those needles drop, they turn yellowish brown. This process is totally natural, but a lot of people mistakenly believe that this change means the tree is sick or dying. Some trees only shed needles on the inside of the branches, making their transformation almost invisible unless you look closely.

In my work with people who want to make a shift in their career, there’s a lot of pressure to make big, sweeping changes – changes that are apparent and obvious to others looking in on their lives. And some people do make those changes, very quickly – one day their leaves are all fiery oranges and reds, and I know they’re ready to make the leap.

Others, however, are like the evergreens. They’re much slower to make changes, and sometimes the change taking place is so deep inside of them that it’s difficult to see. For months and months, it can seem like nothing is really shifting, and then one day, they have a branch full of old brown needles that are ready to drop.

We are each our own kind of tree in this transformational season, and we may even be different kinds of trees throughout our lives.

The past few years of my life have been like that of a sugar maple tree, ablaze in the Autumn and undergoing major changes every year. Other times, however, I’ve felt much more evergreen – as if nothing on the surface was changing until one day, it did.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantTrust the natural changes that want to take place in your life, even if you feel like the leaves aren’t dropping quickly enough.

The leaves on any tree change color and drop from the branches without thinking or being made to – they simply respond to the changing environment around them and go when it’s time.

Your leaves are your thought and behavior patterns, the parts of your past that need to be integrated, and aspects of life like your career, relationships, etc. You’ll know when they’re ready to change color and drop off your branches because your intuition will tell you they are.

You’ll have a sense that something needs to change, that you want more from a part of your life, or you’ll hit rock bottom and be forced to look at a tree full of empty branches and ready for new growth.

This process is much simpler and more graceful when we’ve developed a relationship to our intuition and can sense the shift before we’re faced with a crisis and forced to change.

Have you heard about the concept in Chinese medicine and other ancient belief systems that says that sickness begins in the spirit, or the aura, or whatever word fits for you? The idea is that disease is a manifestation of an illness that began long before we could see it in the physical body. If we can develop a strong relationship with what’s happening in our energy systems, we can sense a disturbance and address it before it makes us really sick.

The same is true for our intuition and the changes our souls want us to make. Sometimes life pushes us to the edge with a crisis that forces us to look at some things we wouldn’t see before. Other times, we’re given the opportunity to sense something that’s not yet “real” and make the change without needing to go through crisis.

Try not to hang on to the leaves that want to turn brown and drop to the ground.

Try to trust that your intuition, or your heart, is at work and able to show you what needs to change and when – even if you feel like a Bosnian pine tree that hasn’t dropped needles in five years.

Intuition is one of the most amazing and accessible tools that I focus on in my work with people, and I’ve seen its ability to transform lives and careers.

megan leatherman a wild new workEveryone has intuition, and some of us need help tapping back into its wisdom from time to time. Intuition will be the focus of an entire day in my upcoming group coaching series for women, A Wild New Work. We’ll spend time exploring how intuition manifests for each of us and look at what it might have to say about our worklives and what we’re here on this earth to do.

If you’re a working woman in Portland who has a sense that some needles or leaves need to drop in order for new growth to come in, I hope you’ll consider joining us starting October 29th. You can learn more at this link.

No matter where you are in the world, I hope you’ll make some extra space for your intuition today, whether it’s by journaling, sitting quietly outside, or just holding your heart and taking a deep breath.

Let the seasonal changes of your soul carry you – they will if you let them.

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.

Our Addiction to Productivity

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantMost of us get the same lessons handed to us again and again throughout our lives so that we can change and evolve and become better versions of ourselves. One of my recurring lessons is this:

My worth is not tied to how productive I am.

This is a tough one for me, and one I thought I’d pretty much dealt with over the past couple of years. I can see rationally why my value doesn’t lie in what I do or produce, but gnarly messages still rear their heads sometimes when I take a break or want to do less.

I think this is a common issue for those of us raised in the United States. We were fed a narrative that says that we’re the hardest-working country on earth – a country full of scrappy individualists who carved out their place in the world with sweat, blood, and tears. Of course, this isn’t true – African slaves built this country, and besides, there was no country needed, as this place was already inhabited and cared for by Native tribes.

Still, we were told again and again that if you just work hard enough, you can succeed here, no matter what.

If it were an equation it would be Hard Work = Success. So simple!

But it isn’t that simple, is it? These beliefs – that we are what and how much we produce, or that the good life lies just on the other side of decades of drudgery – get stuck in our systems. We repeat them over and over to ourselves, and it’s no wonder that we feel like lazy pieces of shit when we’re out of work or unsure of what it is that we want to create for the world.

These messages become part of us, and even when we think we’ve gotten past them, something else comes up to remind us that we have more work to do.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantFor me, that reminder has been getting pregnant and growing a little being inside my belly for the past four months or so (Integrated Baby coming March 2017!).

My pregnancy so far has been a mixed bag of feelings. Sometimes it’s lovely, full of joy and excitement, and other times I’ve just wanted to be done with it, forever. The nausea, exhaustion, and an entirely new set of rules about what’s good and not good for me has, at times, felt like a burden I don’t want to bear.

More than anything, this pregnancy has challenged my beliefs about myself, once again showing me how addicted I am to this need to feel productive.

Now that there’s a ticking clock until baby arrives and my life changes forever, I feel extra pressure to put my head down and do work.

Except my body’s like, “No.”

Most mornings in the first trimester, I wanted to lay down and watch nature videos instead of doing my usual uber-productive meditation and writing routine. By about 2pm most days, I’m completely drained and wonder how anyone works until 5 or 6 every day. I simply can’t do as much as I used to, and that’s been tough to accept.

These changes have forced me to shed, more than ever, the harmful beliefs I have about what it means to be a hard-working, professional woman. Which is very frustrating at times (why can’t I just do more?!), but is also a huge gift.

Our addiction to productivity robs us of the sweetness of slowing down. When we’re compelled to go slower, whether it’s because of a pregnancy, an illness, or just being too damn tired to keep going, we have an opportunity to look more closely at ourselves and the lives we’re living. However, we miss out on the gifts of that time when we spend it chastising ourselves for not going faster.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantWho would you be if you weren’t able to produce or “add value” in your organization anymore?

What’s underneath what you’ve achieved, and what would still be there if you were never able to work again?

I bet there are things in your life that are being overshadowed by our cultural addiction to productivity. Maybe you’re falling in love and just want more time with your sweetie, or maybe your body is undergoing major changes like mine, or maybe you just want to spend an hour staring out your window.

What can you reclaim by doing a little less today?

Can you slough off any shame or guilt you feel for going at a pace that works better for you and your body?

Like any addiction, productivity or workaholism numbs us from feeling what we feel, and that’s usually things like fear and shame. Part of recovery is looking at those parts of us that want to hide and lovingly holding them instead of bulldozing over them with more and more of our drug of choice.

If any of this rings true for you today – if you think you might have work to do in this arena – then I invite you to slow down and look at why you feel the need to do more.

If it’s helpful for you to process this with other people, I encourage you to check out our Facebook group, where we discuss issues like this.

 

How Will You Get Down the Mountain?

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantAbout five years ago, some friends and I went on a trip to ski at Mt. Bachelor, one of the “premier ski destinations in Oregon.” With something like 70 trails, many of them black or double black diamond, this place is for people who are serious about enjoying themselves on the snow.

I am not a skier.

I have skied, but most of my experience was left behind after fourth grade, and apart from a short stint of trying to snowboard in high school, it had been nearly a decade since I’d tried to glide down a mountain. I figured it could still be fun, though – who doesn’t want to be one of those cute snow bunnies who lounges in the lodge sipping on hot chocolate after a hardcore day of shredding?

So, I went and paid whatever ungodly sum of money it takes to buy a lift ticket and rent skis, and my friends and I were on our way. Up, up the lift that takes you to the summit, where the views are spectacular and you feel small and inconsequential and it’s lovely. Until you realize you have to get yourself down the mountain.

Once I’d taken in the views, I fervently looked for the big green trail sign that says, “Come this way – it will be easy and fun and you probably won’t fall!” I found it, thank goodness, and skied wobbly but pleasantly down that run – I think it was called “Marshmallow” for good measure – a few times that morning.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantBy the afternoon, I was ready for something different but equally easy, so I went with some friends to a new part of the mountain. Feeling a little more sure of myself, I let them talk me into trying the next level of difficulty – a blue trail – which, they promised, was “just like a green!”

It was not like a green.

It was nothing like my fluffy Marshmallow trails from before. It was horrendous – steep, fast, with these deep holes where I guess people do jumps or some shit. Within about five seconds, I was in a panic about how I was going to get down this trail, back into the safety of the lodge. Here are some things that ran through my head:

Can I fake an injury and call ski patrol to drive me down?

Can I crawl back up to the ski lift and beg them to let me take it down?

Will I die?

How the f*ck am I getting down this g*ddamn f*cking mountain?

The only viable option was to try to ski down it, as miserable and scary as it was going to be. Other experienced skiers were flying past me, annoyed at my beginner-ness, I’m sure, and my friends were long gone. I had to do this on my own.

I’d cautiously ski side to side for about thirty seconds, gain some speed, freak out or lose my balance, and fall. I’d clamor for a footing, pull myself back up, look around just in case ski patrol was nearby, and, when no help was available to me, slide forward again until I’d fall. Up, down, up, down, up, down.

For about half that time, I was swearing up a storm and spitting vitriol all over the “good” skiers around me. I was so angry that I was probably melting the snow beneath me every time I landed hard on my ass.

By the time I was halfway down this devil of a mountain, though, I just couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness of it. I was so humiliated and exhausted that there was no sense being angry anymore – it was just hilarious! I figured that I probably wouldn’t die – I’d break a bone at worst – and someday, this might be a funny story to tell.

I’d take a little longer to rest when I’d fallen so that I could soak up some of the beauty of the snow and the dark green pine trees. A few times, I was alone on the trail, and the silence was so deep and kind that it assured me I could keep going.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantSo with a smile on my face – and another quick scan for ski patrol – I hoisted myself back up dozens of times and inched down that mountain. My friend Chris (who is now my hubby) was looking for me at the base of the trail and told me later that day that when he saw me from afar, he thought I was waving to say “hi” every couple of minutes. What he actually saw was me thrusting my ski poles up to support my limp body as I tried to stand after another hard fall. I had no idea he was even down there witnessing my pathetic misery.

Finally, finally, I got down that mountain. The treachery was over, and despite my every attempt to avoid having to get down it myself, I did. That day, I earned my adult hot chocolate next to the fire in the lodge.

What is your mountain today?

Maybe it’s a project you have to get done, or a tough decision you’re facing. Maybe it’s a relationship that’s ending or a really difficult loss you’ve experienced. We all end up on trails that aren’t the right fit for us sometimes, even when we’ve planned or intended for something better.

No matter what trail we end up on, or what mountain we have to get down, we always have a choice in how we interface with the challenge ahead of us. Will we scream and fight and look for a way out, or can we stop resisting and work our way down – laughing, reflecting, and soaking up the beauty around us?


Know someone who’s at the top of a difficult mountain? Consider passing this along to them!

Performance Metrics for the Enlightened Professional

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantMoney.

It’s everywhere. It’s involved in almost every part of our lives, and there is so much energy around it that it can define what we do, who we are, and how we spend our days.

If you are over the age of 17 or so, I’m sure you’ve been asked these kinds of questions numerous times by well-meaning adults:

How will you make a living?

How will you support yourself?

What will you do with that degree/trade/job/idea?

The word goddess Cheryl Strayed has a beautiful response to the pressure so many of us feel to have the “right” answer to these questions:

You don’t have to get a job that makes others feel comfortable about what they perceive as your success. You don’t have to explain what you plan to do with your life. You don’t have to justify your education by demonstrating its financial rewards. You don’t have to maintain an impeccable credit score. Anyone who expects you to do any of those things has no sense of history or economics or science or the arts. You have to pay your own electric bill. You have to be kind. You have to give it all you’ve got. You have to find people who love you truly and love them back with the same truth.

But that’s all. 

How would your life change if you simply focused on paying your bills, being kind, giving it all you’ve got, and loving truly?

I don’t know about you, but that kind of life sounds pretty appealing to me, even though the socialized part of me clamors and clings to old ideas of “success.”

A few weeks ago, I was talking with a mentor who helps me get real about money and my business, and when he asked me (like he usually does) about setting strategic monetary goals, I hit a wall. I told him how sick I was of focusing on the money. I told him that it felt yucky and gnarly, and like a poor use of energy. These were hard things to say to a financial mentor, but he was kind and gracious, and he met me where I was.

Instead of focusing on money, we agreed I’d set new goals – ones that felt good to me and that kept me going in the direction of where I want to go. This has changed the way I measure what I do each day, and it feels awesome. Instead of limiting myself to regular performance metrics like revenue and website traffic, I’m focused on two more enlightened ones:

How much fun am I having?

– and –

How much connection am I creating?

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultant
Can you channel some of the fun and connectedness these girls are having?

Now, the importance of money is not lost on me. I know how much it matters, and frankly, I want more of it in my life. But I don’t want money guiding my worklife – I want it to be an outcome of the fun I’m having and the connection I’m creating with and for others.

How would your career shift if you focused more on fun and connection?

When we’re having fun and connecting with others in an authentic way, our work can actually heal and enliven us.

When I look at the things I’m having fun with and creating connection through, like the Facebook group and A Wild New Work course, I involuntary smile and feel so grateful to be doing this work. To me, that’s a definite sign that I’m succeeding and performing at a level I’m proud of.

Forget about “how will you make a living?” for a minute and imagine what would make you feel more fun and connected. Do you see the value of those things?

Do you see how they support and nurture your success?

 

 

Art Can Save Our Workplaces

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantLately, I’ve encountered a lot of working people who see the world in very rigid terms.

Things are/aren’t this way. We have/don’t have. It just is/isn’t right.

Seeing the world around us in dualistic, opposites-only terms may feel safe at first, but it can eventually lead to an extremely limited – and dull – life. If you believe that everything is all or nothing, or that if you’re not exactly right, you’re wrong, or that there are just simply good people and bad people, no one in-between, you starve yourself of possibility and wonder.

In the workplace, decades of industrialization and rigid, bureaucratic systems (many of which we first encounter in school) have stifled our holistic, colorful, and fluid understanding of the world around us. Many of us were taught that there is one right way to do things, and that wondering “what could be” was, for everyone except brilliant scientists or inventors, a total waste of time.

Creativity was often the realm of a few “gifted” kids, and the rest of us were there to put our heads down and just do the damn work.

And that is so unfortunate, because we are all creative beings, no matter what kind of work we do or hobbies we enjoy. We are all capable of creating something new, whether it’s a different perspective, a more elegant process, or a beautiful handmade thing. We are all capable of creating art.

Art, in my opinion, is really just anything intentionally configured or arranged in a new way that makes us pause and take notice.

A fluffier definition, from Merriam-Webster, is “something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings.”

Art can be anything beautiful that you see, hear, touch, taste, smell, or sense in your being.

Art expands our understanding of the world and of ourselves, and it will save our workplaces and our worklives if we let it. I see its potential to save us in two ways:

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantFirst, art sparks “wordlessness,” a term I’ll borrow from Martha Beck. Wordlessness is the state in which you can transcend all of that either/or nonsense in your brain and actually know what it feels like to simply sit with possibility and paradox. It’s when you can watch a massive predator hunt its prey in nature and see the experience as both beautiful and terrifying. It’s when you witness death and let yourself be with the horror and peace of it.

Our workplaces are, for the most part, built on words. Almost everything you do every day probably involves words, whether it’s speaking with peers, writing reports, or explaining something to an audience. Words are very concrete – they can be known, pointed to, shared, or taken away. They’re beautiful things, and I’m grateful every day for the ability to use them, but a landscape full of concrete doesn’t leave much room for growth or beauty, which is why so many of our workplaces feel totally stale and lifeless.

We need more wordlessness in our worklives. We need more exposure to things that make us fall silent and experience a deeper connection to ourselves – which, paradoxically, allows us to think more clearly. As Thomas Merton so beautifully wrote, “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” This is the beauty of wordlessness.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantSecond, art can save our workplaces because it cultivates meaning. It cultivates embodiment, that sense of being a spirit alive within a body, which is what reminds us that our lives have meaning. I think art does this simply when we expose ourselves to it, but it creates meaning most impactfully when we ourselves are motivated to create art and share it with others.

Seth Godin‘s definition of art, from his book The Icarus Deception, is lovely: “Art is the act of a human being doing generous work, creating something for the first time, touching another person.” 

What can you do more generously today that would touch the heart of someone else? What can you create in your own life that feels meaningful?

We are all artists. We are all capable of creating beauty and embracing paradox, even when we’re part of a culture built on sound bytes and the either/or vitriol of rigid thinking.

The only way we’re going to save our workplaces, and ourselves, is if we embrace art – that nascent possibility within us, a fresh way of seeing the world, and the generosity of our spirits. The concrete, Soviet landscapes we’ve built up around us (literally and figuratively) are crumbling, and the rigid thinking that served you as a young person growing up in the workforce is no longer your friend.

In today’s world of work, we need your creativity. We need your depth. We need the complexity that is inherent in every person’s lived experience, and we need you to share it with us.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantIf you’re not sure how to access your creativity, depth, or complexity, then I encourage you to start by surrounding yourself with as much art as you possibly can. Look at it. Listen to it. Feel it.

It will help you remember who you are.

I’ll close with a quote I love from Maria Popova of Brain Pickings:

This is the power of art: The power to transcend our own self-interest, our solipsistic zoom-lens on life, and relate to the world and each other with more integrity, more curiosity, more wholeheartedness.

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. 

Tidying Up Your Life

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantFirst, have you seen the new “Dear Megan” page? It’s my new work-related advice column that you’ll start seeing from time to time on this blog! If you have questions about a sticky situation at work, your career, or what the heck is going on in our organizations, I encourage you to submit them!

I know I’m late to the Marie Kondo party, but I’m finishing her book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and am seeing so many parallels to our work, home, and social lives that I can hardly stand it!

Tidying up our stuff isn’t always easy, but it is relatively simple. We can see the clutter. We can move it. We can discard it.

But what about the clutter of our lives? What about all of those obligations we take on – the volunteer roles, the meetings with friends we don’t really vibe with anymore, or the tasks we tell ourselves we have to do?

If you could see each of those things as tangible objects, how much clutter would there be in your life?

Would your life look like a spacious, well-appointed room, a completely stuffed storage unit, or something in between?

I’ve talked to a number of people recently who have felt so incredibly busy this summer – busy with events, visitors, or weekend trips, and the way they describe what are supposed to be happy occasions sounds more like undergoing dental surgery against their will.

Why do we clutter up our lives so much?

I get that for some people, being constantly busy is energizing, but for many of us, we want to feel like we’re totally present in each thing we’re participating in. We want to feel like there’s time to stop and take notice, or time between things to avoid rushing. We want to feel like we’re spending our time wisely, on the things and people that help us become more of ourselves.

In her book, Kondo writes, “…we should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.”

Discarding what doesn’t bring you joy is the first part of Kondo’s process, but that’s only after you’ve taken stock of the things that “spark joy” within you.

flowers-desk-office-vintageLook at your calendar for next week. Is there anything on there that sparks joy for you? If so, hold on to it. Is there anything on the calendar that feels like a dirty old scarf you never wear, or mascara that’s three years old? If so, why are you insisting on holding on to those things?

I help people create worklives that they love, and that’s much harder to do when there’s significant “life clutter” clogging my clients’ view of where they want to go next.

Without giving yourself some spaciousness to sense and attend to what feels like the right next step, it’s hard to create a career that’s a deep reflection of who you really are.

So take stock today. See if you can separate out which activities spark joy and which feel tired and like they need to go in the “discard” pile. See if you can imagine tidying up your life.

If you want to learn more about this topic, I’m hosting a free 45-minute webinar called “Simplify to Clarify” on Tuesday, August 16th, at 10:00am PST. You can click here to learn more and reserve your spot!

A New 9-Part Series: Questions & Answers

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI’m pretty interested in you, dear reader.

I’m interested in the unresolved questions in your heart – questions about your path, your gifts, and what to do next.

So for the next 9 posts, from now until August 2nd (which, no coincidence, is a new moon), I’ll be asking questions. My hope is that you’ll make space for the answers inside of you – small spaces, twice a week, that feel juicy and clarifying and refreshingly honest.

I also hope you’ll share your answers with me and others in a private LinkedIn group I’ve created called A Wild New Work*. I’ll be sharing my own answers to each question there, and I’d love to read yours and discuss together the highs and lows of forging ahead in our worklives.

My first question is a light one:

What’s working in your career today?

Head this way to share your answer and read mine.


*From what I can tell, LinkedIn groups have to be private, so you’ll need to request to join your first time there. I’ll do my best to approve your request right away so you can join the discussion!

What to Do If You Don’t Want to Check Email on Weekends

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI was in a staff meeting once and some women were chatting about the pressures they felt to be available even on their days off. One woman, bless her heart, said that her big victory was waiting until 2:00 on Sunday afternoons before she’d check her work email.

It seemed like I was the only person in the room who thought that was absurd – “checking work email in the middle of your precious Sunday?!?” Flash forward six months: I’m checking email as soon as I wake up in the morning and regularly throughout most weekends.

No one explicitly told me to stay connected to my inbox on Saturdays and Sundays, but there I was, drinking the Kool-Aid and waving the “I work so hard and am dedicated” flag. At first it felt like I’d finally made it – I was “important enough” to be “needed” over the weekend. Then, after a while, it felt yucky, and heavy, and I never felt very rested on Monday mornings.

I wish someone had told me two things back then:

First, that I didn’t have to check email all of the time – no one was going to get hurt if I didn’t and I wasn’t going to be fired.

Second, how to draw a line that I’d already crossed weekend after weekend. How could I change course once people expected instantaneous responses from me?

So, message #1 in this post is this: If you don’t want to check email on your weekends, don’t.

If being “on” all the time works for you, then okay, but if you’re finding yourself anxious every Sunday night, constantly exhausted, or refreshing your inbox without even being aware that you’re doing it, I’d encourage you to read on.

Assuming you’ve been sucked into the common practice of 24/7 availability (and most of us have been there – so no shame), it’s not too late to change course.

You can create different rules by which you work – rules that work for you.

Here are some ideas for how to shift the nasty habit of weekend emailing:

First, if no one has explicitly asked you to be on email over the weekend, then it’s really a matter of the pressure you put on yourself. That’s great, because it’s an easy fix: just stop doing it.

I’m not being facetious. You’re responsible for your own well-being, and you have what it takes to decide not to participate in the crazy email culture from Friday night to Monday morning.

If the expectation is explicit or if you get push-back once you try this, I have a couple of thoughts:

  • You can stand your ground and say something like “I choose to shut off email over the weekends because it’s really important to me to rejuvenate and come in fresh on Monday morning,” or something like “I know I do better work when I’ve had a couple of days away from email, so I’ve made it a priority to shut it off over weekends.”
  • You could tell people you’re doing an experiment – you’re going to see how your workweek changes after not checking email for four weekends in a row.
  • You could write an autoresponder over weekends that says something to the effect of, “Thanks for your email. I’m committed to resting on weekends so that I can give 100% Monday – Friday and will respond to your note as soon as I can next week.”
  • You could leave the organization and find people who respect your time and life outside of the office.

megan leatherman career coach and human resources consultantI hope those ideas are helpful, but the biggest hurdle to quitting this habit will still be your own beliefs about needing to check email all the time.

Drawing boundaries with other people is difficult, but really, it’s the boundaries we draw with ourselves that need the most tending.

Weekends are so important for people working a regular 40+hour workweek. A lot of the people I meet underestimate how much rest and rejuvenation they really need, and they compromise their own health and vitality by giving away that precious time and energy to tasks that don’t need to be addressed right away, like checking email.

Try it for one weekend (or even one weeknight) and just see what you notice. See if anything feels differently. You can always go back to checking it!