Afraid of making your mark?

One of my intentions for 2021 is to get back into painting. I used to draw and paint all the time when I was younger, but somewhere along the line I became afraid. I believed that if I didn’t get it right the first time, it was evidence of a more global failure.  

Even in moments when I really wanted to get crafty and creative, I couldn’t overcome my mule-headed resistance. I’d rather stare at a wall for hours than pull out my paints. Fear and longing and self-rejection, all mixed up together, shut me down for decades. 

Over the Christmas break I picked up some cheap paints, paper and small canvasses. Signed up for a couple low-commitment online courses. Started small and reminded myself it was simply play time. Gave myself permission to create ugly paintings. 

I’ve had a blast throwing paint around, making a mess, and delighting my inner 8-year old. And I’ve created plenty of ugly paintings. 

But here’s the really fascinating part. 

My first few paintings turned out more like wallpaper… low contrast and no clear focal point. The other artists in my class have the same fear when it comes to making bold marks. We’re all timidly tiptoeing around the canvas. 

What’s showing up on the canvas is our own minds. Our inner fears. Our desire to hide out in safe territory. 

Like everything else in life, the outer world mirrors the inner. 

The fear of making a single bold mark on canvas is a direct reflection of our fear of making our mark in life. We’d rather hide than be seen making a mistake… or be seen at all. 

The visual clutter, and the lack of open white space, is a direct reflection of an inability to set boundaries and a willingness to say yes to everything. 

My compelling need to add (piles of) geometric lines and shapes reflects my exceptionally fluid mind’s craving for structure. 

My tendency to exuberantly throw paint on a canvas reflects my years of failing to be intentional or to listen to myself. I’m learning that creating art is a back-and-forth dialogue of what wants to show up, and what needs clarifying.

Just like life. 

I’m able to overcome my resistance to painting now because I’m utterly fascinated by the psychological nature of this process. 

I’m starting to be more intentional about slowing down, listening, creating open space, and making bold marks. As I pay more attention in my art, I’m paying more attention to my own mind. I’m attending to what wants to be seen and heard within myself. 

And as I get more comfortable making my bold marks in the privacy of my own home, I’m also more comfortable with making my bold mark in my life and work. 

Like the Zen enso circle*: bold, simple, clear. A tall order for a brain that’s dazzled by too many possibilities, but a worthy goal. 

What about you? 

You may have never played with paint or taken an art class. But if you’re curious, I hope you’ll try it. Like the Inner Compass work that I do with my coaching clients, art is a way of externalizing what’s going on in our minds. When we externalize it, we can see it. And if we can see it, we can work with it.

And no… I won’t show a photo of my artwork right now. Maybe after a couple months of practice 🙂  

PS. I just kicked off the first cohort of Intentional Rebels, a life/work redesign group coaching program. If you’d like to be notified about the next cohort, you can sign up on the wait list here

*Image courtesy of St. Lawrence University. I have had the pleasure of being on retreat with Sensei Kaz Tanahashi, although did not fully appreciate the Zen calligraphy practice at the time. 

Do you feel seen for who you are?

Earlier this afternoon, I was speaking with one of my group coaching clients about self-knowledge. She said something that stopped me in my tracks: 

“Enlightenment is scary.”

“What do you mean by that?” I asked. 

“What if we don’t like what we find? What if our real truth isn’t ‘acceptable’ or will stand in the way of making money? Sometimes it feels better to not know.” 

I then wrote out an article about self-knowledge, because of course I have all kinds of thoughts about it, but couldn’t bring myself to press publish. It felt wrong somehow. So I took a step back and allowed myself to feel what she was trying to say. 

I suspect that all this talk of head-based knowledge is a distraction from the real, vulnerable heart of the matter: being seen for who we really are. 

Recognition is one of our core needs. Not in a flashy “look at me” way, but in that magical intersection of individuality and belonging. It’s about being seen — truly seen — by another, and when seen, accepted. 

Perhaps this explains the interest in Marina Abramovic’s 2010 performance art, The Artist is Present, where MOMA-museum visitors could sit across from her, seeing and being seen, for as long as they wanted. She never moved or changed expression.

“The overwhelming feeling I had was that you think you can understand a person just by looking at them, but when you look at them over a long period of time, you understand how impossible that is. I felt connected, but I don’t know how far the connection goes.”

Dan Visel, Participant (from the New York Times: Confronting a Stranger, For Art

How far does the connection go? We’re seen by people, sure. We’re seen by our partners, family, co-workers, bosses and friends every day. But are we really seen? It’s a felt sense of pure recognition, through the defenses and the masks, down to the very essence of who we are as an individual human being.

I haven’t felt seen for most of my life. As I grew up, I felt different… and I assumed that the only way I could be seen is by conforming myself to what other people wanted to see. It was an early, intuitive, subconscious process starting with my own family.

When I failed to conform — when I lost friends, relationships and jobs because I was trying to be someone I’m not — I assumed that something within me was flawed. That I was flawed. 

I didn’t want to see myself. I both dreaded and craved being seen by another. 

I hid for a long time… until I reached the point where I knew something had to change. I remember this point well; I was staying on a farm outside L’viv, Ukraine last year. I took a lot of walks in the forest, journaled for hours every day, went inward, and embraced what I found there. I wrote this post called We Find Belonging in our Darkness; I’d never felt simultaneously so vulnerable and strong.  

And in that moment, everything shifted; I began to step into my power. I had to see it to claim it. 

The biggest compliment my clients share with me is that they feel seen. I feel such incredible gratitude that I can serve in this way. 

Thing is, we can’t be truly seen by another until we are willing to see ourselves completely, and embrace whatever we find there. And it’s only from this place of true seeing and deep self-compassion can we see the essence of another. 

Perhaps this practice of seeing self and others truly is the one thing that could change this world. 

PS. If you’d like to be part of a likeminded group where you’ll feel seen — and learn how to see yourself truly —  I hope you’ll join us in the Intentional Rebels program. We’re just a couple days away from shutting the doors; if you’re interested, email me at jen at jenrice.co I’ll add you to the intro call tomorrow, Thursday, at 11 am EST. Or we can set up something 1:1 for Friday. 

It’s my mission to help original minds be seen and valued for their unique gifts. I’m always happy to have a live conversation; you can book a call with me here.

For a better 2021, think inside the box

The transition to 2021 is well underway, and it couldn’t come a moment too soon! Have you started imagining how this new year could be better than the last? 

The forced solitude and downtime, plus a greater awareness of mortality, are sparking cravings for change in so many people.

Cravings for more meaning, authentic connection, and freedom in our lives and work.

These changes will be unique to each of us. It can be hard to know where to start, or what to focus on first. Tip #1:

wear your innovation hat

I suggest taking a page out of the innovation playbook. As innovation pros know, the best ideas don’t come from a blank page, infinite possibilities, and a generous bank account. 

Instead, the best ideas emerge within design constraints.* Thinking outside the box paradoxically requires thinking inside a box. 

Constraints are even more important for brains like ours that are dazzled by possibilities.  

If we’re smart and talented, perhaps we’ve believed that we could be anything we want. We tend to like novelty, so our overactive brains get busy with endless ideas about what we could or should be. 

We don’t like the idea of limitations… our culture says we’re supposed to correct or transcend them. But  limitations are precisely what we need most. They force us to look at the world more creatively, using fresh perspectives and improving focus and resourcefulness. 

Start with WHO

Tip #2 is my guiding mantra for any kind of strategy, personal or professional: Start with WHO.

Innovation pros know to start with a clear understanding of an archetypal customer: a persona that articulates the needs, mindsets, beliefs and the core challenge to be solved. They know that trying to please everyone results in not pleasing anyone. The persona guides many of the constraints.  

Why should intentional life design be any different? 

Starting with WHO starts with YOU: deeply understanding yourself and how you’re unique. Your core needs that drive your behavior. Your skills, passions, and hard-wired limitations. Those inconvenient facts that won’t change anytime soon: these define your box. 

We stop believing we could do or be anything and start playing with the hand we’re dealt. Not someday in the future if/when our circumstances might be different, but right now. 

Reframe limitations as design constraints

The moment I felt truly liberated was when I publicly claimed what is about myself instead of wishing I was different. I started focusing on what brought me joy instead of being obsessed with fixing or hiding what I assumed was flawed. I stopped waiting for someday or for more money in the bank. 

See, I have a laundry list of personal design constraints: I have a quirky brain that isn’t embraced by most companies. I’m a deeply intuitive dot-connector who doesn’t always understand social rules. I can be too direct, despite decades of practice. I get overwhelmed easily, so I need to carve out a lot of white space. My reality feels slippery: it’s hard to set goals and stick to the plan. I crave novelty and chase shiny ideas. I’m terrible at managing details.

I could have continued my decades-long struggle with trying to “fix” these limitations; instead I embraced them as design constraints in my personal life innovation project. They allowed me to take a pile of wishful options off the table (hurray!) to focus more clearly on my truth.

Is it then any surprise I’ve designed an incredible life in which I get to serve as an “intuitive acupuncturist of the psyche” (as one client called me) for similarly wired humans? In which I can roam the world with my camera instead of sitting under florescent lights getting 2 weeks of vacation a year? Where I outsource what I’m not good at, to focus on what lights me up?

I have designed my perfect life, not in spite of, but because of my limitations. I work with them, not against them. Are there a few things I’d like to improve? Sure. But a lot less than there used to be, when any option was fair game. 

We have very little choice about who we are, but 100% choice with what we do with it. 

Thriving happens when you fall in love with the hand you’re dealt, get creative with what the best version of you might look like, and challenge your assumptions about what’s possible… within the box. 

Questions:

What are your design limitations? What are your YESSES; what lights you up? When you combine your limits with what lights you up, what ideas are sparked about your work, relationships, location, calendar? What doesn’t fit those constraints you can now confidently take off the table? Share in the comments!

Want to jumpstart this process?

Check out the Intentional Rebels group coaching program starting in January! Not just for career transitions, this program will help you design your most authentic life or work. We start with WHO — your unique needs, values and archetypes — and design from there. 

If you prefer a more personalized 1:1 approach, book a call with me for a no-obligation chat. 

*PPPS. If you want to read more about design constraints in innovation, check out this article in HBR or this one in Inc. 

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Are you designing your life, or is it designing you?

This past Saturday I ventured to the Javakheti Plateau, the high-desert region near the Georgia/Armenia border where the rugged landscape and frigid winter temperatures have shaped the lives of the (predominantly) Russian-speaking immigrants who dwell there. 

I was well aware of my privilege as I photographed the ice fisherman who daily brave sub-zero temperatures to feed themselves and their communities, where they live in cement-block huts with dried dung on the roofs for insulation.

Yet privilege does not automatically bring freedom to design our lives, n’est pas? Privilege simply provides the opportunity; we must choose to take advantage of it. 

For decades, I was no more free than these ice fishermen. Sure, I lived in a beautiful Pacific Heights apartment in San Francisco, and traveled the world with my consulting job. But I wasn’t free. 

I was trapped by the perpetual running on the hamster wheel in order to (barely) afford my life. Trapped by my own mind, by should’s and expectations, by assumptions that the life I yearned for was for other people. Lucky people. Not for me. 

Freedom, first and foremost, is a state of mind. 

You were born with an incredible gift: the gift of choice. Perhaps you’re already choosing your YES, intentionally designing your life instead of allowing it to design you. Awesome; you can stop reading!

But if you’re feeling trapped in a life of quiet desperation, wanting more joy but not really knowing how to attain it — or worse, knowing but frozen by fear — I’m writing to you. 

Are those real restraints on your life? Maybe so. Or maybe they’re excuses… or failure of imagination… or refusal to challenge your own assumptions. 

The only thing that truly holds us back is not soul-crushing poverty or the lack of education or opportunity: it’s ourselves. 

Liberation of the mind, heart and soul starts with radical understanding and acceptance of who we truly are, without apology; this self-acceptance is the key that unlocks the power of choice. From here, it’s easier to know instinctively what we want; we’re no longer dazzled by too many possibilities. And it’s also easier to take that first step into the darkness of unknown, trusting deeply. 

It took me until I was 50 years old before I learned how to listen and trust the innate wisdom in my body instead of my brain…  through a lot of trial and error. They don’t teach this stuff in school. I don’t want it to take that long for you. 

Will 2021 be another groundhog year, endlessly repeating the same stuck behaviors and situations? Or will you choose to diverge from that pattern, making new choices that are more aligned with who you truly are? 

The power is in your hands. A simple choice — “to hell with it… let’s just do this already!” — can change the entire trajectory of your life. 

PS. Sometimes we need a little guidance and support as we leave the security of our comfort zones. My role is that of the sherpa who knows the terrain and can walk alongside you. One of my amazing clients wrote about our 4-month journey together: 

“Jen has been through her own dark night of the soul, so she knows the territory and is able to hold all that comes up along your journey of self-discovery and self-actualization. She’s creative and has a rich toolkit of frameworks she’s designed to help you explore your inner landscape to find out what’s alive for you and what wants to emerge. She uses her strategic mind to help you make sense of all that’s uncovered, seeing patterns and helping you see the forest when you’re stuck in the weeds. She’s also versed in somatic and mindfulness practices which enrich the self-discovery journey by bringing in the wisdom of the body. If you’re looking to birth a more authentic version of yourself or need help navigating transitions, you could not ask for a better partner and guide than Jen.”

– Kate, Creator of Contagious Vulnerability

You can work with me 1:1, or join a supportive tribe of fellow rebels (sign-ups end soon!). If you’re curious, feel free to book a no-obligation call with me. I’d love to hear about your aspirations for 2021. 

There’s no such thing as personal transformation.

We’re drowning in advice about personal transformation; books, articles, speeches, and blogs chock-full of how-to’s and sage advice. In my earlier years, I ate it all up. I thought I needed to transform myself into who I wanted to be.

Today, after a couple decades of what others might call a mid-life personal transformation — changing my appearance, my career, my country of residence — I now realize that I didn’t transform at all.

I’d simply (finally!) taken off the mask, and then my outer world easily evolved to match my insides.

THE TRUTH IS, WE NEVER REALLY CHANGE

This may be an unwelcome truth, but here goes: we never really change. Just as a dog can’t change into a lion, or a mountain goat into an eagle, we can’t escape our realities. Here I am, like it or not.

We are our truest selves when we’re kids. If you’re one of the lucky ones, you stayed true to that identity as you grew up. But a lot of us — bewildered, believing we weren’t OK as we were, or sensing that we’d get more love if we showed up differently — donned masks to fit in.

Reassuring masks that helped other people feel more comfortable with us.

Constraining masks that squeezed us into boxy jobs designed for specific outputs, not for complex humans.

I kept wondering why I wasn’t content… why things just didn’t work the way I wanted, or why I couldn’t force myself to do the things I thought I should do. Perhaps Mindset 101 was simply too hard for me. 

I was driven by the idea of personal transformation, which implies that there’s some magical process that could turn me into the person I wanted to be but wasn’t currently. I sought to eliminate the gap between me and my mask by changing myself to better fit into it… instead of simply taking it off.

I didn’t know that I was yearning to be mask-free — no wait, that’s not enough — to be seen and heard and appreciated for what was underneath the mask. Sound familiar?

Dazzled by too many options

As a coach for “rebels with a cause” —  gifted outliers who are dazzled by too many possibilities — I’ve seen how capable we are. We’re quick learners, and it’s alluring to believe we can transform to be someone we’re not. Or that we can fit into snazzy-sounding jobs that really don’t suit us. Or that we can maintain relationships by being what they want us to be.

I can make this work, dammit. This was my refrain for too many years… until finally I accepted that I couldn’t be anything or anyone I wanted. I could only be myself. And the moment I reached this acceptance, everything changed for the better.

Transition, not transformation

Today I think of it more of a transition than a transformation: the same human transitioning into ever-more authentic levels, stepping into their own brilliant truths, making new choices that are more deeply aligned with our passions, strengths and limitations.

The butterfly is already encoded in the caterpillar’s DNA. It transitions; it doesn’t become something entirely different. Its true nature is — and always has been — to fly.

The process starts by seeing and hearing and appreciating ourselves for who we are: no but’s, should’s, self-criticism or judgment. It is enormously liberating to say, I love how unique I am. I don’t need no stinkin’ mask. I don’t need to fit into a box that someone else defined for me.

And I damned sure don’t need personal transformation.

When we finally step into our truth that we’d forgotten, we see all the ways that change truly is needed: not within ourselves as we used to believe, but in our outer worlds and lived experiences that we’d chosen to fit someone else.

The people who have only known your mask will believe you’ve transformed, but you’ll know you haven’t; you’ve simply accepted your true nature… and your wings.

Inviting others, but going alone

We can invite loved ones and friends to get to know us all over again: to set aside what they think they know about us, and enter into truer, deeper relationships. Some of them will, gladly, deeply grateful for the opportunity to know the real you and be known in return.

Others — the ones who love your mask — may be quite upset by this process. They may accuse you of abandoning them, of changing in ways that they can’t track. Eventually you may need to leave them behind, knowing that they’d be happier with someone who is genuinely the person you only appeared to be.

Yes, it’s hard to imagine a thriving, authentic life that fits you like a custom-made suit when that’s never been your experience.

But a lack of imagination doesn’t mean it’s not possible. And you don’t have to make any hard decisions right now. This whole process can be much easier than you might think; when we stop fighting against the current and simply fall into the flow of what is, embracing what’s true, magic happens.

 — 

PS. Want to get these emails in your inbox once a week? Click here.

PPS: I coach rebels through transitions – within themselves, their personal lives, their careers, or even taking their businesses to the next level. I’d be happy to chat with you if you need a sounding board; you can book a no-obligation call here.

Seeing clearly: three life lessons from a lost pair of glasses

I lost my eyeglasses last weekend while hiking in the mountains: snazzy designer glasses that I’d worn for years, but were admittedly less than perfect. They were constantly sliding down my nose unless I kept tightening the arms; the lenses were scuffed from being dropped too many times; one of the lenses was cut for an astigmatism that had miraculously cured itself a few years back. 

Bottom line, I was long overdue for new glasses, but must have been in denial. It seemed like an unnecessary and pricey expenditure while I was in the midst of personal reinvention. They were fine… like worn and comfy jeans, quirky and imperfect and familiar. 

Fast forward to today: I’m wearing new glasses that actually fit my face. And they’re clear! Holy cow, I had no idea the world was this crisp and clean and beautiful.

These new glasses got me thinking about all the ways we don’t see things clearly, and how we can improve that state of affairs when it comes to transitions and transformations. 

What we refuse to see

For decades, I refused to see and embrace the truth of who I was: that as a gay, neurodiverse and gifted adult, I would never fit into mainstream society. It was unsurprising that my eye developed an astigmatism, getting warped out of shape and blurring my vision. It was also unsurprising when my astigmatism (and my gut issues) later vanished once I decided to love my quirks instead of hide them.

We can never effectively work within a reality we refuse to see. Seeing clearly starts with embracing our uniqueness, and then intentionally designing our lives and work to fit who we really are.  

Questions: What do you not want to admit to yourself? Without any judgment, complete this sentence: “I am ____, and I’m good with that.” Given this truth, what wants to change in your life or work? 

What’s hard to see (where’s Waldo?) 

We rebels can be dazzled by too many possibilities. Our brains take in more information than the average person, and we’re usually fast learners. And that means we have a hard time prioritizing options and taking off the table anything that’s not a Hell Yes

If the authentic path forward isn’t clear amidst the clutter, our old and familiar way of seeing — overanalyzing and wheel-spinning — doesn’t cut it.  

When federal agents are looking for a handful of counterfeit bills out of thousands, they don’t rely on their eyes; they simply pull out a blacklight and look for the florescent symbols that are printed on authentic bills. The human version of a blacklight is our gut-level wisdom, which can easily detect our true priorities.  

QuestionsWhat does your gut say? Which option feels expansive, uplifting… like a Hell Yes?  

What we can’t see

“I have no idea if I might like that line of work,” is a common refrain from the people I coach through transitions. In the absence of direct knowledge, it’s way too easy to simply sit with the question mark, waiting for an answer to appear out of thin air, or just playing around the edges of the known world. 

It would be super nice to see a clear path forward: to have the equivalent of a map or GPS system for life. But in the absence of psychic powers, our only choice is to take a small action and see what happens.  

Remember in Raiders of the Lost Ark (yes, I’m totally dating myself) when Indiana Jones steps off a ledge into thin air… and onto a walkway that only revealed itself after he took the step? 

Our eyes can deceive us. Stepping into the void requires not only courage, but also conviction and faith. We have to go through the previous two stages — accepting what is, and listening to our guts — to know the treasure we’re seeking. And then, in experimentation, fumbling forward in the darkness, the path appears… an inner vision is activated… the right people and opportunities show up.

Questions: Thinking about a possible life direction that feels like a YES, what is one baby step you can take to explore that option? Who’s knowledgeable in that space that you can speak with? 


Ok, that’s a lot of insight from a lost pair of glasses! Did you glean anything new from this deep dive into clarity and sight? Feel free to leave a comment; I love hearing from you.  

PS. I only have one coaching spot left in 2020. If you’re feeling the need for transition or transformation but can’t see the path clearly, let’s talk. You can access my calendar here. 

PPS. Want to get these posts in your inbox once a week?

Photo by David Travis on Unsplash

Have you embraced your true nature?

Sometimes I get depressed and anxious, regardless of pandemics or nail-biting elections. I start sinking into heaviness, retreating to my bedroom where I re-read old favorites or binge-watch shows on Amazon Prime. 

I know myself well enough by now that this pattern is a signal: a red flag waved by my fiercely freedom-loving self that I haven’t been living in accordance with my true nature. 

If I were an animal, I’d be a bird: a hawk or a falcon soaring high above the earth, wings outstretched. I have an innate restlessness, a compulsion to explore. When I don’t nurture this side of me, life loses its zest. I feel trapped. Earthbound. 

Of course, pandemics and nail-biting elections magnify these downer feelings, which is why I spontaneously rented a car on Sunday and escaped to the wild Kazbegi region on the border of Georgia and Russia for a couple days. 

Monday found me hiking along a stream briskly tumbling down from snow-capped mountains. The weather’s perched on the crisp edge of winter this time of year, sunny with a bit of a chill. Sure, the lush flora and fauna of summer are gone, but this is my happy place. Marinating in the silence of this valley among the peaks, camera in hand, my heart was full almost to the point of tears. 

Depression vanished, displaced by deep gratitude to myself for feeding my true nature… for not suppressing this very real need as “impractical”… for refusing to continue living someone else’s life. My inner bird whispers thank you… thank you. 

After my hike, I drove back to the lux Rooms Hotel for a swim, then a glass of wine on the terrace overlooking the mountains (with COVID safety precautions, of course!). These two days are my reward for rapidly approaching my max client capacity for the year.

I’m here to testify that when we do what we love — when we’re in the flow, powered by an alignment with our core truth — we’ll be taken care of. I have found my security within my freedom, not in spite of it. 

If you were an animal, what would you be? Are you truly living in accordance with your true nature? What is yearning to be acknowledged and nurtured within you? How can you intentionally design your life and career to celebrate (not suppress) the truth of who you are? 

Authentically yours, Jen

PS. I have only one coaching spot left in 2020. If you’d like some help in exploring these questions, I’d be happy to chat with you about it, no strings attached.  Book a call with me here.

Authenticity, transparency and vulnerability: What’s the difference?

I’m having a hard time writing about this topic. must admit, the last presidential debate was pretty horrifying. We all watched the leader of the US of A, ranting and interrupting and bullying in a tragic example of authenticity.

According to Vanity Fair, “Trump doesn’t accept the consensus that the debate was a disaster because, sources said, he was unabashedly himself.

In other words, he was authentic. The genuine Trump. The real deal.

He was also completely transparent: he wasn’t trying to hide behind convention or be someone he’s not, which is often why his supporters say they like him.

But vulnerable? No way. Vulnerability requires self-awareness in the context of other human beings. It’s the feeling we get when we’ve perhaps revealed too much of ourselves, or we’re afraid to reveal out of fear of being judged.

Authenticity is the truth of who we are, whereas transparency is the degree to which we reveal that truth. From opaque to translucent to transparent, we make judgement calls on how much we can reveal, to whom, and when.

Alone on a desert island, we’d all be authentic and fully transparent. We could run around naked, shout expletives at the sky, and be as weird as we wanted without any sense of vulnerability. I suppose that can describe narcissists as well.

But of course none of us live on desert islands.

It’s not all or nothing

We all yearn to bring our whole selves to work, because the energy required for mask upkeep is exhausting. All eyes are on the leaders to model the level of transparency that’s acceptable within the culture.

Historically there’s been too little transparency, where everyone’s walking on eggshells trying to guess at people’s real identities, emotions and intentions behind the armor and masks.

In an over-correction, the trend now is to let it all hang out. But too much self-transparency can scare the crap out of people and potentially cause you to lose credibility; there’s such a thing as authentically inappropriate. When a plane hits turbulence and everyone’s watching the crew, it’s wise to keep imposter syndrome under wraps.

I’m not so sure about this vulnerability trend; vulnerability is intimate; it can’t be forced. It’s a guide, not a goal. Instead of being caught in duality of all or nothing, perhaps there’s a third way.

The third way: Translucent

Being mindfully transparent is about revealing our humanity without pointing out the hair growing out of the wart. Transparency is potent stuff: we need to know the right dosage, the right degree of “see-through-ness” or translucency for the situation. What’s the right degree? That depends on an awareness and understanding of both ourselves and our listeners. 

It requires an exploration of the intersection between ME and THEY… which, of course, is WE. It’s about balancing relatability and truth with confidence.

  • ME: What is the most genuine version of me? What am I feeling right now? What do I need? This self-listening and self-validating step helps ground us in our truth. It’s about being vulnerable with ourselves first, so that it can be transmuted into strength.
  • THEY: Who are my (peers, team, partner, etc.) as human beings, not titles? How do they feel now? How do they want to feel? How comfortable are they with emotion? What do they need from me? These answers come from empathy and deep listening. 
  • WE: Within the context of our shared humanity, what’s my role as a leader in moving us towards our collective desired state? What’s one story I can tell that establishes a human connection? What do I say (or how do I say it) to earn both relatability and trust?

Start with who.

This is all part of the process I call Start With WHO. So much business discussion is focused on why (purpose), what we do and how we do it. But so few start with who: Who am I as a leader? Who are my peers and colleagues and customers, and what shared identity bonds us together?

A leader doesn’t build a product or a department or a company: he or she builds a sense of belonging by magnetizing a tribe of diverse individuals who come together because they’re wired similarly. The similarities may be purpose, or it may be identity, values, or needs. Rebels, travelers, change-makers, connectors, security-seekers, DIYers, catalysts… when we start with an authentic who, beginning with leadership, everything else falls into place.

Within this tribe, we can safely drop the masks. We can model a greater degree of transparency, showing our genuine selves, because we’ve created a safe space for people just like us. The uncomfortable feelings of vulnerability are diminished; we know we won’t be judged. This still doesn’t mean we can let it all hang out in a vulnerability-induced verbal vomit that shakes people’s confidence, but it sure simplifies where to draw the line.

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I wish I hadn’t said that.

I’m going to let you in on a secret: I didn’t feel entirely comfortable with last week’s article. 

I fully believe in what I wrote about flowing versus striving, BUT… when I pushed send, the contraction in my body told me that the way I said it wasn’t exactly right somehow. Too long, too business-y, too cerebral. Too blah blah blah.

The voice in my head punched me around a little bit. Told me that I should have waited to start my newsletter until I had planned it all out perfectly… waited until I’d fully practiced and perfected the new writing style that feels more authentic to me now. 

Do you get that perfectionist voice in your head too? The one that delights in pointing out you didn’t get something right? That you should have done it differently? 

That voice has good intentions, for sure. It wants to keep us safe, but instead it keeps us trapped in a corner feeling bad about ourselves. It prevents us from experimenting with what feels aligned and what doesn’t — those somatic signals of YES and NO in our bodies that tell us when we’re on or off our path.

A YES feels expansive and right; it’s our soul’s way of saying “do more of this.” A NO feels tight, constricting: do less of that. Simple breadcrumbs that unerringly lead us forward.  

I’m now writing a memoir about my path to authenticity. This kind of book demands of me a different writing style: a shift from head-based business insights to heart-based stories. And that requires a new way of seeing and moving through the world… one that’s based on feeling, not thinking

I’m still practicing. Sometimes I get it right; sometimes I don’t. And I’m ok with that. 

This is all part of finding our authentic voices, in writing or in life.

“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” 

Ernest Hemingway

What’s true for you right now? Underneath the smart thoughts, the fears, the rationalizations, the mask, the expectations — what’s your truth? Embrace it. Marinate in it.

What true sentence can you say to someone right now? I’m scared. I’m sorry. I love you. I feel like an outsider. I don’t feel safe. I screwed up. Whatever’s alive for you that you’re trying to hide… will you share it? 

Next week we’ll talk about the fine line we need to walk between authenticity and credibility as a leader. When does vulnerability become a liability? 

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Are you in flow, or on a hamster wheel?

This week’s topic is on creating both stability and flow to better roll with the changes. 

Change… gawd, it’s so commonplace now that it’s almost boring to talk about. Layoffs, working from home, COVID lockdowns… 

I’m sure that’s why this HBR article on being forever employable in this era of rapid change is striking a chord for a lot of people. Two of my coachees recently emailed it to me and asked for my perspective.

What Jeff Gothelf writes here triggered an “Absolutely!” mixed with “oooh, I’m not sure about that.” 

Yes, a thought leadership platform can create both stability and flow.

Jeff writes: “By becoming a recognized expert in your chosen domain or discipline you reverse the flow of jobs, leads and opportunities. Instead of you having to chase them down, they come to you.”

Totally agree: this flow of attraction is the sign that we are doing something right. And yes, the mindsets of entrepreneurialism and self-confidence keeps us open for spotting and pursuing new opportunities when they arise. 

So far, so good. 

But let’s try to stay off the hamster wheel, ok? 

Three of the five core concepts in this article are continuous learning, continuous improvement, and reinvention… gaaah! It’s not that it’s wrong, per se… but I feel overwhelmed just thinking about it. 

Do you feel this way too, or is it just me?

Maybe I’m extra-sensitive to this overly busy work environment we’ve managed to normalize. Sensitive after hitting burnout two years ago and escaping overseas without a plan. Since then, I’ve deliberately redesigned my life for balance. 

This idea of perpetual, ever-increasing, ever-faster hamster wheel of change is NOT NORMAL. Spinning, spinning, spinning… and we’re having a hard time holding on, let alone keeping up. 

It’s especially hard for “rebels with a cause” — we tend to be dazzled by a lot of different ideas and problems to solve; we see so many opportunities. How to focus? What to learn and improve? 

This doesn’t feel like flow.

Can we stop the endless doing and start being

There’s a balance between change and stability; we need to find that edge and surf it. The first question to ask ourselves is… what doesn’t change? Anything?

Yes… human nature doesn’t change. There’s a reason why Shakespeare is still relevant 500 years after his death: he knew how to play to people’s needs and emotions. For as long as humans have walked the earth, emotion is what drives us to do what we do. 

What lights you up? What brings you joy? As I wrote last week, these are the things that ground you in who you are. They’re what I call “motivational DNA,” unique to each person. How do you want to feel? 

Will you find new things that excite you? Sure. Will you evolve? Absolutely. But the Jen at 51 is pretty much the same as Jen was at 8, exploring, painting, writing, riding my bike with the wind in my hair. I’m a rebel with a cause; a free-bird problem solver. Always have been, always will be. 

This is NOT about endless reinvention. 

This is about excavating who you already are under the rubble of should’s, expectations and endless running on the hamster wheel. 

Your motivational DNA, combined with your skills and strengths, can help you identify your ground of power: the source of flow. This becomes your stable platform, and you’ll naturally enhance it with new skills and knowledge because you love it; it’s effortless, like breathing. 

It’s like the source of a river, high in the mountains: when we’re connected to our source, we tap a wellspring of boundless energy, creativity, security, and whatever else we need to thrive. 

Our source never moves. It never chases. It doesn’t care what other people think, what the latest technology is, or the latest job title, or the hottest unicorn in Silicon Valley. 

Instead, it magnetizes. This grounded source creates the flow. It’s both/and, not either/or. Flow and stability, simultaneously.

Questions:

Are you in flow, or on a hamster wheel? 

Are you attracting or chasing? 

Are you more focused on being who you really are, or endlessly doing more and more? 

Want to discuss? Shoot me an email, or leave a comment here on this blog post! 

Until next week!  Jen

PS. Most of my clients are navigating a transition right now, and we’re working on building their own thought-leadership platforms. If you’re interested, check out my coaching for flow page and/or book a call with me.