Young Journey – From Passion to Non-Profit

 

Young Journey Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to “inspire young people worldwide to be lifelong learners eager to contribute to society through project based workshops and community events.” I had the pleasure of meeting the founder, Jaha Wilder at a recent Texas Business Women’s meeting. When I heard she had been running Young Journey since 2000 I knew I had to talk to her because that is quite an accomplishment.( I learned it was nothing compared to the adversity she faced as a teenager.)

Jaha is Swahili for dignity – how great is that? My parents were lazy in the picking-out-a-name department. A cursory search said Lynn means “ruddy-complected”. That’s inspiring (not!)…but I digress.

Jaha grew up in east Austin, in a large, musically-oriented family(she’s the youngest of 10). Her experience as a young girl, taking free classes at Rosewood Park eventually came full circle. “I lived with what Young Journey is.”

Young Journey is a real world model for the children that participate. It gives them ownership of what they are doing while instilling a work ethic and providing character lessons while letting them know how valuable they are. Here is an example of their work. They are currently working on a short film and the kids are involved in every aspect from writing, production, marketing, etc.

However, she didn’t start out with grand dreams of starting a non-profit. Instead, she took to the road as an entertainer. After deciding the entertainment business wasn’t for her, she saw how the lower income kids lacked support, their needs were not being addressed. Using her passion for music and lyrics, she wrote a CD called “Young Journey Children’s Music”. Her sister told her to take it to the schools and eventually it grew into the performing arts, media and sports program it is today. Young Journey is in three states – New York, Texas and Tennessee.

We talked a lot but there are several key points Jaha brought up that I believe are pertinent to starting any kind of business, whether for- or non-profit.

Follow your passion.

First, follow your passion. While Jaha describes her position as a “quadruple full-time job”, she said it “unfolded” naturally. She just pursued her passion for music and kids. While it wasn’t always an easy road, she admits that her biggest obstacle was getting past herself (preaching to the choir!)

Young Journey had been in operation for four years before she pursued 501(c)3 status. She’d been stubbornly resisting that step. But through the summer it took her to do the paperwork to set up her non-profit and all of the other challenges, what kept her going was the children she was serving. “It’s challenging, that’s why people want to give up.” When you follow your passion you have a powerful “why” to get you through the rough times.

Jaha said, “Whatever you love will help somebody, don’t do if for the money.” We don’t need to have Mother Theresa aspirations. Jaha proves that everything can provide value, like her music, in unsuspecting ways.

Be clear,  specific and commit!

It’s important to form your vision and articulate it. “We need time for it to unfold in ourselves first. We need to be clear about what we are doing” and why we’re doing it. We need to be committed to it – if we aren’t committed, why should anyone else be? “But as you move forward, you begin to attract the people you need” and who need you.

Collaboration not competition

This brings up a good point. When people come into your life that can help you, it’s important to ask how you can help them. Collaborating with people is a win-win and can go far in helping your realize your vision. As Zig Ziglar said, “You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”

Ask, don’t tell.

The program grew because Jaha asked the kids what they were interested in. How many of you ask your clients what they want or need and then develop products/services to meet them? Or do you fall in love with your idea without asking if there’s a market for it, investing a lot of time and energy on something that’s a bust?

There is a difference between buying and selling. Buying is willingly purchasing something you want or need. Selling is attempting to convince someone that they want or need your product. No one wants to be sold.

Talk to your clients or prospective clients, get to know their goals as well as their problems. Put more time into researching their pain points instead of selling your products. When you do they will buy from you. When you show an interest in them, they become invested in you.

Good Advice

I asked Jaha what advice she has for women that want to start their own non-profit:

“Do it! My father said ‘Just do it’ long before Nike. Just start doing something everyday, even if it’s small. Learn something about the industry as often as possible and surround yourself with positive people. ‘Get rid of the dead weight’, my aunt would tell me.

Don’t worry if you don’t have the resources at hand. It will come. Just go and HAVE FUN! Enjoy what your doing and learning. Reflect on what you’ve achieved. Remember to be a model, not just to the youth but to each other. Work together and support each other.”

Learn more about Young Journey at www.youngjourney.org.

 

 

 

 

3 Tools to take action on your goals

3 tools to take action on your goals

What percentage of people do you think achieve their New Year’s resolutions? 50%? 33%? 12%?

It’s actually 8%. I’m not surprised. We sincerely want to quit our bad habits, pursue our dreams and be our best selves, but when it’s time to work on our goals, why are we suddenly compelled to clean out the vegetable drawer – or is that just me? Our intentions are good but our follow through, well, sucks.

To make matters worse, when I set goals I think I have superhuman powers and put unrealistic demands on myself and my time – who needs sleep? I never questioned this approach and each time I felt like a failure because not only did I NOT reach my goal, I barely got started.

I thought I lacked discipline but the problem wasn’t me, the problem was my approach. I didn’t need iron-clad willpower, what I needed was a system that took me from planning to DOING. Action is the only way to build momentum and create new habits and I’ve discovered a few tools that helped me move through my fears and resistance to reach my goals.

But first, I’d like to talk about how our brain works. Our brains have 3 parts:

  • the primitive brain handles our survival instincts,
  • The limbic is our emotional brain and is used for building social bonds.
  • The neocortex is the thinking brain, used for logic and reasoning.

For goal-setting purposes, it’s important to know that when you experience fear or stress, the primitive brain is going to override the thinking brain. Every. Single. Time. It’s going to do everything in its power to alleviate that stress. My unrealistic plans triggered some fear and my primitive brain reacted, thus the overwhelming desire to clean the fridge. I needed a subtler approach so my brain worked for, not against me. The tools that work for me are: break it down, the 5 minute plan and low expectations.

1. Break it Down

In my previous process, to use a writing analogy, I tried to jump from never writing to a finished novel overnight. It’s like expecting a baby that just learned how to roll over to start running. I was depriving myself of the learning opportunities in all those little steps and the habits and confidence they built. I finally realized that achieving a goal means growing into it, one step at a time.

2. Commit to 5 Minutes

The 5 minute plan is a another great tool to overcome resistance. I actually thought I could work 3 hours a night, 5 nights a week and another 16 hours on the weekend to work on my goals, in addition to my full-time job and everything else life threw at me. And I wondered why I couldn’t get started! Then a coach suggested I turn it down a notch and start with 5 minutes. It seems counter-intuitive, What could I accomplish in 5 minutes? Never mind that I wasn’t accomplishing anything before

Here’s the thing, getting started is often the hardest part and 5 minutes is ridiculously easy and non-threatening (remember that primitive brain?), that it was easy to commit to. And if you know Newton’s First Law of Motion, an object in motion tends to stay in motion. Five minutes is usually all I need to overcome inertia and get the ball rolling.

3. Lower Expectations

The final tool is lower your expectations. Now, I’m not saying lower your standards, always do your best. Just accept in the beginning your best might not be all that good. But in order to improve you have to practice. I read about a pottery teacher that did an experiment. He told one class that they would be graded on the quantity of pots they made. He told another their grades would be based on one pot. The class that was graded on quantity actually produced the best pots. Why? Practice! They were focused on the process while the one pot class was focused on the product. In the beginning quantity is more important than but will eventually lead to quality. It’s the process, all that practice that matters, not the product, which is just the end result. So quit worrying about how good it is.

Pursuing our goals is gratifying but the path is seldom easy. It’s good to have some tools that we can use that work with our brain to get us started as well as get us back on track if we slip into old habits when the novelty and excitement of our goal wears off. When you are having trouble getting started I challenge you to apply breaking things down, the 5 minute plan and lowering your expectations.

The Missing Factor in Career Advice

the missing piece of career advice

After a huge transition, an awakening if you will, when I realized I had been letting fear run my life, I decided moving forward that I would live in love.

Love doesn’t seem like a topic for a career blog, but I don’t see my work as separate from my life – my work brings me life and I bring life into my work. Living in love is my personal motto on how I want to live all aspects of my life.

There are some core beliefs to my philosophy of living in love. I chose them because they resonated with me. I keep returning to these when faced with a challenge to help ground me and put things into perspective so I can move forward on a positive note.

Acceptance

I think the first, Acceptance, is the hardest to put into practice. We have strong beliefs and opinions about how life is suppose to be and how people should behave. When things don’t fall in line with what we want, we tend to react negatively – judging, criticizing, or getting angry. But none of that changes the reality of what has happened or who people are, including ourselves. I’ve put myself through so much grief because I was trying to get reality to line up with my expectations. Reality couldn’t care less what I wanted. I was fighting a losing battle, making myself miserable and hurting my relationships.

Acceptance begins with ourselves. It has a trickle down effect because once we accept ourselves, warts and all, we become accepting of others. When we quit judging ourselves, we don’t feel the need to judge others and become open to new perspectives. Acceptance has shown me that I can learn from others when I really listen and try to understand someone instead of trying to impose my beliefs, point of view or prove I’m right. Many of our struggles disappear when we quit fighting reality and accept what is and who people are. Peace comes when we trade expectations for acceptance.

Generosity

Author Jay Woodman said “Just be yourself. You don’t ever have to pretend you are someone else. If you try to do that then you don’t have anything to give the world. Accept and give your gifts with love.”

I love that he used the word “gifts”. I use that word to remind myself to give freely with no expectations. I like to think of generosity as sharing our gifts.

I spent a good portion of my life worried about what others thought of me and twisting myself up like a pretzel to win their approval. I realized that this hyper focus on me (“will they like me?”) was rooted in fear and got in the way of what I wanted to create – meaningful relationships. When I shifted my focus to others, trying to figure out how I could be of service to them, I was able to make the connections I desired with relative ease.

We all have something to give. The media wants us to believe it should be big, splashy, extravagant and EXPENSIVE but the truth is, the most precious gifts we can offer cost nothing – a smile, words of encouragement, a warm embrace, our undivided attention or acceptance because when genuinely offered, they come from our hearts.

I found that sharing my gifts is it’s own reward but it also opened my eyes to the many gifts that present themselves daily – a beautiful sunset, an “I love you” from my son, or a tasty meal. Which brings me to…

Gratitude

Years ago I read a parenting book and the only thing that stuck with me was we get what we focus on. If all we think about is the lack in our life, nothing will ever be enough. If all we ever see is problems, we’ll miss the opportunities. Gratitude opens our eyes to the limitless potential of the universe while dissatisfaction closes our eyes to it.

Gratitude is the ability to experience life as a gift. If we’re thankful for what we have, show our appreciation and return kindnesses then our hearts will open.

Advertisers want us to believe that happiness can be bought, but true happiness comes from cultivating a grateful heart – to be thankful for what we have instead of focusing on what we don’t. We are surrounded by riches if we just open our eyes to the beauty around us. Gratitude helps us grow and expand and brings joy and laughter into our lives and into the lives of all of those around us.

My life has changed in ways I could never have imagined since I decided to live in love. I found fulfilling work, richer and deeper connections and a sense of calm and peace. It’s not advice you’ll find in traditional business books but then again, traditional career advice got me nowhere, maybe because it only focused on the brain and didn’t include the heart.

 

Scorecard for Success

success is consistently doing the right things

I’m working with a client who wants to start her own business. Her idea is solid; she spent a lot of time researching it and putting together a business plan and website. But when it came time to implement it, she suddenly found herself distracted and losing interest. Her enthusiasm waned and she ignored it for a year. She hired me after she was laid off from her job and the thought of looking for another “soul-sucking” position (her words) made her sick and depressed. She realized it was time to go for it.

With coaching, she saw how her lack of confidence, self-doubts and fear of rejection were holding her back from marketing and promoting her business.

Marketing and self-promotion are vital to the success of any business. It doesn’t matter how good your idea is if no one knows about it. This was the problem my client was running into. She was focusing on her fears and doubts it triggered and stopped her from doing anything.

I’ve been in her shoes. When I created my business I wasn’t getting much attention. I knew the next step was to promote it and I procrastinated. I suffered from the same self-doubts and fear of rejection many of my clients have. (It’s a common issue with many woman). Suddenly it dawned on me. Building a client base is nothing more than consistently taking the right action. It’s a numbers game and a scorecard is the perfect tool. Not only can you track your progress, it also diverts your attention away from all those imaginary goblins in your mind (that trigger your worst fears) by giving you concrete steps to focus on.

Scorecard for Success

Here’s how it works. Write down all the steps needed to achieve your goal. In my client’s case, it’s increasing traffic to her website. How do you get traffic to your website? There are a number of things you can do:

  • start a blog and post regularly
  • offer a freebie for subscribers
  • build a presence in your industry’s community (think Linkedin or professional associations)
  • guest blog
  • be a podcast guest
  • give a speech
  • submit articles

Pick a few things you think will give you the best results and be consistent in your efforts. If you don’t know where to start, look at what other successful people did and start there.

Marketing is about building a presence and trust. It’s not a one shot deal, you need to do it consistently and this is where most people fail. They are impatient, want results too soon and give up. But if you are patient and consistently take the right action, eventually things will tip in your favor.

Create your Scorecard

Create a spreadsheet (or just write it on a piece of paper, it doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated) and write down in one column all your steps. Every time you do something on your scorecard, mark it. I find a weekly scorecard works best. At the end of the week tally up how many times you did each step (i.e. wrote a blog post, articles submitted, etc). Don’t overwhelm yourself with too many things. Start with three things and re-evaluate after a couple of months.

Keeping score accomplishes a couple of things:

  1. Weekly “to-do” list of action items. We tend to complicate things. Having a scorecard creates a system. All you have to do is work it.
  2. Stay focused. In the beginning, you will expend more effort and energy on your goal because you haven’t gained any momentum. Ideally, after consistently taking the right action and things are moving, it will take less effort to maintain your momentum. Focus on your action steps and give them time to work instead of jumping all over the place and wondering why nothing’s working.
  3. Feedback. How do you know if you’re taking the right action? Numbers don’t lie. Try something and give it sufficient time (three months) and if you aren’t getting the results you want, try something different! When you have quantifiable data you can properly asses your progress and switch gears where needed.
  4. Build good habits. When you do something consistently, you end up creating a habit. Good habits simplify life.

The scorecard was a game changer for me and my clients. It’s simple and effective. Give it a try for one of your goals.

Self Confidence Tips

Tips for Self-Confidence

My clients often ask me “How can I become more confident?” Lack of confidence appears to be a major stumbling block for many women. The problem is we think confidence is the source of our success when it is the result of our success.

Self-confidence is a trust in our abilities. We have faith we are capable of doing what we need to do. Where does this trust and faith come from? Experience. Think about something you’re really good at, for example, cooking. Chances are you weren’t so good in the beginning. But it held your interest and you kept at it, practicing it until it became second nature. Over time you became confident enough to experiment and create your own recipes. You didn’t begin confident, but you grew confident with practice.

So what do you do in situations when you’re entering new territory, moving outside of your comfort zone and learning new skills? Situations where your confidence is low?

Confidence is nice to have but it isn’t required to proceed. When we were toddlers, learning how to walk and talk, we weren’t concerned about confidence but we were motivated. We just kept practicing until we became proficient.

As toddlers, our efforts were praised, no matter what the outcome was. Later on, especially in school, we learned mistakes were “bad” and to be avoided so many of us developed an aversion to going outside of our comfort zone lest we look stupid. Right around this time we start developing the Voice of Judgement.That’s the voice in our head that tells us we aren’t good enough, we’ll be laughing stocks, etc. Unfortunately you’re not going to get rid of that voice but you can choose to refocus your thoughts and drown it out. Here are some tips for cultivating confidence:

Self Confidence Tips

Acknowledge your Successes

Often we take for granted the things we are good at and what we accomplished. Recognize all you have already succeeded at – and by succeed, I mean know how to do proficiently – both personal and professional. Mastering language (reading, writing and speaking) is one of the most complex things we had to learn and we did it at a very young age. No matter how good you are at something, you started out as a beginner. Remember that the next time you take on a new challenge. You may not have confidence specifically in this new area but you do have the confidence of knowing you were able to learn and become proficient at other tasks.

Focus on your Desired Outcome

Fear of speaking in public is suppose to rank higher than death. What causes people to get up in front of an audience, sputter, go blank and generally mess up? They are focused on…drum roll please…sputtering and going blank! Focus on what you want to happen. Visualize yourself confidently giving your speech, remembering all your points with ease and the audience listening attentively and clapping enthusiastically when you’re done.

Prepare & Practice

Confidence comes with practice. If you have to give a speech, write out what you are going to say and practice it. Practice it in front of family members, practice while you’re stuck in traffic, practice it while you’re showering. Even if you’ve never given a speech in your entire life, preparing what you are going to say and practicing it will breed confidence.

Think Positively

You’ve heard the saying “garbage in garbage out” as it relates to computers. Well, the same thing can be said for your brain. What we say and think will be literally translated by our brains. If you constantly tell yourself “I can’t…” your brain will follow your instructions. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Beware of the negative self-talk and the Voice of Judgement. If you catch yourself saying “I can’t…”, challenge yourself – “Who says I can’t?” Take the confidence you have in other areas of your life and use it to assure yourself that if you can master knitting (car repair, baking, etc) you can master this too.

Ask for Help

If nothing else works, ask for help. This can take on many different forms – finding a mentor, taking a class, reading a book, joining a group, asking someone who’s done it before. Ask in a respectful manner, being cognizant of their time. Some people will say no, thank them and move on until you find someone who can help you.

Template for Success

Formula for Success

Success isn’t complicated. I could sum up success in four words:

Success = Vision + Action + Feedback + Perseverance.

Actually, it’s not so much an equation as it is a loop.

You have a vision of what you want to accomplish (your goal).

In order for you to achieve it you have to DO something. Action is required. And you need to focus on the RIGHT action – actions that will move you toward your goal and give you the results you want.

This is where feedback comes into play. How do you know if you’re getting results? One way is to measure them. If you can’t measure them, then you need to find another means to evaluate your progress (or lack thereof). Are there patterns? Do you need more time and and consistent effort before you see results? Do you need to start from scratch or just tweak your plan?

The key with feedback is to not take it personally or be married to any one path – remain flexible and explore other options.

Finally, you need to shore yourself up for the long haul. Our enthusiasm is high at the beginning of any goal but we will encounter set backs and obstacles. We need to be mentally and physically prepared to see ourselves through these times, perhaps even plan for them. This is a good time to revisit out vision, why we are doing this in the first place. We need to cut ourselves slack and not expect perfection.

That’s it – it’s really that simple but it is by no means easy. I’ll be exploring the four components of success – vision, action, feedback and perseverance – in more detail in upcoming posts.

Stuck? Try Something Different!

Stuck? Try Something Different

If you’re not getting the results you want, stop spinning your wheels and try something different.

They (whoever “they” are…) say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Guilty.

I spent a lot of time trying to create a business with no success. I learned a lot along the way and one lesson was just because something worked for one person, doesn’t mean it will work for everyone (i.e. me). I had blinders on, all my eggs-in-one-basket mentality, as if there was only one way to accomplish something. If it didn’t work, I blamed myself, dug in deeper and tried harder. It was as effective as hitting the gas when your car is stuck in mud. I was spinning my wheels, wasting time, energy and beating myself up for my lack of progress.

It’s important to understand when you are working on a achieving a goal, whatever it is, if you are not seeing the results you want, try something different, especially if this is a goal you’ve repeatedly tried.

For instance, if you are trying to lose weight, again, and decided to try the latest fad diet and/or join another health club, I beg you to reconsider. If the last diet didn’t work, maybe the problem isn’t you, maybe the problem is dieting doesn’t work (I’ll spare you my rant on diets…). If you’ve had a gym membership before and never went, what makes you think this time will be different? I’m not saying you lack willpower or should give up on losing weight and getting in shape, what I am proposing is there is more than one way to do it, find one that won’t make you feel deprived and tortured. It may take a couple tries until you hit on something that works for you. The key is to keep trying.

 

Lies we tell ourselves

girl-worried-1215261_1280

Everyday we tell ourselves lies that limit our potential. Here are some of them:

1.”It’s not my fault”

If you are talking about the weather or another person’s actions, then you’re right. But we often say these words when we have been called out on our behavior. In his book, The 8th Habit, Stephen R. Covey talks about our birthrights and one of them is freedom of choice. We all have the power to choose and as a result, we need to take responsibility for our actions.

When you apologize for your words or actions, try to right a wrong, suffer the consequences, make amends, fix your mistakes, etc, not only do you have a chance to learn and grow, you release yourself from the pain and memory and can move on. You are able to take that failure and make it a win. When you play the blame game, you end up holding on to all that negative energy and carrying it with you, letting it eat at your confidence and self-esteem.

2. “I can’t…”

At 53 my chances of becoming a prima ballerina are slim but nothing is stopping me from taking ballet lessons, watching ballet, photographing dancers, creating a movie about ballet, hosting a fundraiser for the ballet or writing a book about it or in any other way expressing my love for ballet.

There are some things that aren’t realistic anymore but there is a difference between accepting reality and fighting for our limitations. Don’t let your age, circumstances or physical abilities define what you can and can’t do. Ask yourself “Why can’t I?” “What if I did?” Maybe you don’t want to…but that’s OK, you’re making a choice which is different than accepting defeat before you even tried.

3. Letting your past determine your future.

The beauty of being human is that we are capable of learning and growing. What happened 1, 5, 20 years ago is inconsequential to what we are capable of doing today. Ten years ago I said I hated running and totally sucked at it. But today I am a runner and I can run an 8 minute mile. I’m not going to win any awards but my vitals (i.e. pulse, blood pressure, etc) not to mention my physique, have changed over time due to my commitment to running. The choices we make determine our future. If we want our future to be different, we do so by making different choices. Personally, if I’m still the same person in ten years as I am today, I’ll be disappointed. Living in the past is not living.

4. Life’s a bitch.

This isn’t a lie because life can be a bitch at times. As I write this post, it is my brother’s birthday. He passed away almost 20 years ago, leaving behind a wife and two-year-old son. That sucks, because if you ever met my brother you’d be instantly struck by how fun-loving and optimistic he was. He got sick when he was visiting me and I remember saying how it sucked and his comment when his wife brought him a bowl of soup was “Yeah, but I’m being taken care of.’ He wasn’t focused on how sick he was, he was just so grateful for the love and care his wife gave him.

People are probably tired of me saying it but it’s true – you get what you focus on. If you’re going to focus on the misery in life, that’s all you’ll see. And how does that make you feel? Not so good, I bet.

Being hopeful about the future is important. It doesn’t mean ignoring the harsh realities of life, it means you choose to remain confident things will work out. As Winston Churchill said “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Studies show optimists live longer, are healthier and more committed to and likely to achieve their goals. Dreaming about a better future motivates you to work towards it.

Personal control is one of the traits of happy people. When we feel we are in control of our life, we are happier, more productive and have more confidence. We can pursue our dreams and have a sense of purpose in our life, which gives us meaning and more fulfillment. Stop the lies, quit putting limitations on your life and take control of your life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 Questions to keep you on target

4 Questions to keep you on targetSo you have a goal – lose weight, start a business, get over your fear of public speaking, learn new software – whatever it is. That’s wonderful! Life is really just a series of goals – growing into our full potential. Before you dive in, it’s time to do a quick assessment of where you are at. This is not a one shot deal, you should check in with yourself often. Asking these questions will help keep your impulses/emotions from side-tracking your progress.

Am I hungry?

“Wait,” you say, “that’s great if I was on a diet but that’s not my goal…” Have you ever heard of the word “hangry”? It’s actually in the Urban Dictionary and is a composite of the word hungry and angry and defined as:

“When you are so hungry that your lack of food causes you to become angry, frustrated or both.”

Since I mention diet, I will bring up two cases to illustrate the importance of this question.

First, I had a client who’s goal was to lose weight. She tried every fad diet, which are usually full of restrictions and create a deprivation mentality. Her enthusiasm would be high in the beginning but sooner or later (usually sooner) her hunger would become unbearable and she’d end up gorging on junk food. This would put her in a cycle of shame and blame that got her nowhere.

My second client wanted to finish her degree and start a new career. She was working full time and enrolled in night classes. Three nights a week she was driving from work to class and would be there for 3 hours. Her first semester grades weren’t good. She questioned her commitment and her intelligence and came to me as her one last hope before giving up. One of the things I discovered is that on the day of class, she didn’t eat dinner until she got home, usually around 9 pm. She would snack on soda and a bag of chips or a candy bar.

The problem was that both of my clients were hungry! Food is both a need and a basic pleasure in life so eating a well-balanced, nutritionally dense meal is important for mental and physical performance. I worked with both clients to develop healthy options so they were getting the nutrition they needed to function at an optimal level while also feeling satisfied. I knew why my first client couldn’t lose weight – she thought she had to eat salad all the time and hated every minute of it! After some research, she was able to come up with some healthier versions of her favorite meals as well as some snacks that satisfied her but were still nutritious.

My second client started planning some time into her schedule to have a light, nutritious dinner or pack a healthy snack that would still keep her focused during class.

Are there any emotional issues that need to be resolved?

I’m not talking about childhood or other big emotional traumas here. For those you should seek the appropriate help, such as a licensed therapist. I’m referring to those little emotional blips that we get caught up in a daily basis such as being stuck in traffic, oversleeping or dealing with a grouchy child. Little things that just seem to yank our chain and get us angry or frustrated. It’s best to clear the air before you try to do anything else.

Especially if you need to deal with someone else, one of the best tools is to write it out. Journal your feelings and frustrations. Have a little hissy fit on paper, rather than doing it in person and escalating the situation. Most of us get tired of our pity party and when that happens you can sit back and look at the situation objectively and do what you need to do to get back on track whether that means laughing it off as just one of those days or apologizing.

Is your social calendar bare or overloaded?

We are social creatures but we all need downtime. Is there a balance in your life? Is every spare minute filled up with work and social activities that you have no time to yourself? Or, are you starved for a little social interaction? Extroverts are rejuvenated by spending time with others. Introverts recharge by withdrawing into themselves. Know which works best for you and make sure that you schedule enough time so you don’t feel deprived and drained.

Consider your preferences when you are setting your goals. I had a client who was taking online courses but as convenient as they were, she often made excuses instead of doing them. Turns out she preferred the interaction of being in a classroom. Once she switched over, her motivation and enthusiasm returned.

Are you tired?

According to the CDC, insufficient sleep is a public health problem. Not enough sleep can result in difficulty concentrating and remembering things as well as lower reflexes resulting in vehicle crashes, industrial accidents and medical and other work related errors. People who are regularly sleep deprived also have more medical problems such as depression, obesity and hypertension. The amount of sleep we need depends on our age but the average adult should be getting 7-8 hours a night.

Trying to make changes in our life requires energy and it’s hard to stay on track if you aren’t getting enough sleep. It helps to establish a regular bedtime, turn off the electronic devices, avoid caffeine and alcohol and avoid large meals before bed.

Working towards our goals is part of what makes us happy but in order to give them our full, focused attention, we need to make sure some of our basic needs are taken care of.

In Praise of Toastmasters

In Praise of ToastmastersI don’t care who you are or what you do, being a good communicator is an essential skill in life and for that, Toastmasters is probably one of the best learning experiences that your money can buy. I recommend it for everyone.

It is the eve of my final Toastmasters speech, after tomorrow I will officially be a Competent Communicator (you can go to the Toastmasters header to see all my speeches. I tried videotaping all of them but the first few had some operator errors…as in I forget to press the shutter button so it would actually record…)

For those of you unfamiliar with Toastmasters, everyone starts out with the Competent Communication (CC) manual and there are 10 speeches to complete. Each speech focuses on a particular part of public speaking – tone, body language, organization, persuasion, etc. The tenth speech is a culmination of everything you learned – it is the inspirational speech. After you finish the CC manual you are free to choose from a variety of other manuals based on your individual goals (titles include: The Entertaining Speaker, Technical Presentations, Special Occasion Speeches, Communicating on Video, Facilitation Discussion and Storytelling)

My goal was to finish the manual in 10 months – one speech for every month. I will have achieved this goal but I wasn’t paying attention in the early months so I didn’t sign up fast enough. In order to finish in 10 months I’ve had to do four speeches in a row. I’ll be very happy when I complete this last one and will take a break from the speech writing/giving for the summer. There are other roles in the club that I’d like more experience in anyway, such as being Toastmaster or an evaluator.

As I said, everyone can benefit from being in Toastmasters. It doesn’t matter what your job is, whether you’re a stay at home mom, blue collar worker, student or CEO, we are always communicating. Even when we aren’t talking, we communicate through our body language, how we dress, our eye contact, mannerisms…everything we do says something about us.

Let me walk you through a typical meeting at my local club. Other clubs might have slight differences but there is a basic structure to most clubs.

Our club has several different roles that are filled each week by members. There is a Toastmaster, who determines the theme of the meeting and is kind of like the Ringmaster in a circus. There is a timer, speeches and evaluations are timed. A general evaluator who evaluates the overall meeting – and speech evaluators. Feedback is critical to our growth as speakers. I was resistance to “areas of improvement” because I saw that as a criticism but I soon realized that it was more important for me to grow than get praise (see this post). The Table Topics master picks out topics and then chooses someone from the audience to speak about it for 1-2 minutes. Table topics can be intimidating but it helps you think on your feet. We also have what we call a WAG, who comes up with the word of the day, counts “ah’s” and other superfluous words (some people might use “like” a lot or “and”) and checks grammar. Sometimes we have a meeting listener who will ask questions about the meeting to see if we have been paying attention. Participating in these roles, along with doing the speeches, helps build a well-rounded communication education.

Some of the specific benefits of Toastmasters are:

  • Confidence – it’s said that public speaking is more feared than death. Preparation and practice are the only way to overcome it.
  • Leadership skills  
  • Clarify your writing. Writing the speech is one of my favorite parts. Not only do you have to structure your writing in a way that makes sense, but you have to stay within a certain time frame so being succinct, knowing what to keep in and take out as well as narrowing your focus are important skills to hone.
  • Think on your feet. Sometimes we’re called upon to make a few impromptu words at a special occasion or your boss asks you for your opinion. Learning to think on your feet and be articulate is an important skill.
  • Listening skills. Communication is not just about talking, but also about listening and unfortunately our listening skills aren’t as developed as our speaking skills. Being an evaluator helps refine those skills
  • Critical thinking skills. Coming up with speech topics, research and organizing your thoughts into a coherent whole requires thought. As an evaluator you have to discern what the speaker is doing well and what they could improve upon.
  • Memory. I have yet to use notes in any of my speeches (though highly paid public speakers say they still use notes and there is nothing wrong with it.) I don’t say this to brag, I memorize my speeches because it’s good for my brain. My first speech I took 2 weeks to memorize. My ninth speech I learned in a day. I’ve given myself 3 days to learn the 10th speech because it is the longest speech and I didn’t want to be rushed. I’m hoping to finish strong!
  • Learn to take criticism. Criticism might be too harsh a word. We like to call them “grow” points but the fact is, if you want to learn and grow, you have to be able to objectively take constructive criticism.
  • Look for the positives. Everything about Toastmasters is geared toward being positive. Let people know their strengths, find something good in everything and when you do have a “grow” point, we phrase it in a positive light.
  • It’s fun! Turns out I’m a bit of a ham so getting up in front of an audience is fun. I love being animated and I always try to be either entertaining, informative or inspiring. Not sure if I achieve any of them but that’s always my goal.
  • Support. Finding a good club to call home is crucial. My club, while small, is filled with some of the kindest, funniest, supportive people that I’ve ever met.

I look back on my body of work with Toastmasters so far and I’m proud of everything I’ve done and have learned a lot. Maybe there’s a TED talk in my future…