“Introduction” was my attempt to explain Living in the Gray along with the motivation for why I’m doing this now. I consider this to be my first official blog entry.
And I thought it would be fitting to start with first thing I ever wrote for public consumption. I was playing in the then new field of Life Coaching in 1998 – long before most people had ever heard of it, although now life coaches seem to be everywhere. Ironically, I am much more equipped on many levels to be successful in that field today than I was then, but I have zero interest in pursuing it professionally.
Some context is needed on the reference to quitting Corporate America in the opening paragraph:
I left USAA in May of 1997 after 15 years to “pursue other opportunities” as they say. I had known for at least two years that I wanted to be doing something different, just couldn’t find the time or energy to figure out what or how. I had an epiphany one weekend sitting on a cliff in Santa Barbara while on retreat: I was never going to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life as long as I kept doing this 60+ hours a week. Some other changes had just occurred in my life that made it feasible to quit, so I did. It was a time of exploration.
I could make this a really, Really, REALLY long story but I won’t. I will say this: leaving the corporate world wasn’t the objective at the time. I was somehow doing fine on the operations management side of USAA but that wasn’t the goal at all. My passion was training. I’d only gone back to operations as a manager because I knew that was necessary to do what I really wanted to do, which was management development training. I finally realized I would likely have to go back to San Antonio to do that, and that wasn’t happening. I did a wide variety of things during the two years between USAA and InnoVentry, my next corporate job. In the fall of 1997 I stumbled into the life coaching community on the internet. I became smitten. The work that was being done was right up my alley and exactly what I needed for my own growth in that moment – personal, contemplative, difficult, all pushing towards living a more authentic life. I started taking courses to get certified, got a coach of my own, and started playing with pro-bono clients, people who knew me and trusted me that I could practice on. By early 1998 I had a handful of paying clients who had found me in an online directory of coaches. One of them was leading a spiritual organization, a community based in Native American traditions; we did some really interesting work together over the next couple of years.
The article below was a request of hers. She asked me to write on “growth” for her group’s newsletter Evolving Choices was the result. This blog is an evolution of my own choices, and also technology or at least social norms. If blogs existed when I first wrote this, very few people knew about them. And this is a far cry from a book, and certainly feels better. So definitely a fitting way to kick this off.
While I loved the work being done in the life coaching arena, I learned I didn’t have what it takes to be self-employed in that way. Translation: boy likes to eat. So in the summer of 1999 I started looking for a real job, and came across a startup, InnoVentry, that needed someone to build a call center training department from scratch. Talk about right up my alley. Being startup, there were lots of problems to solve, and I got my hands into all kind of things, including staffing, compensation and employee relations, and expanded my training reach into leadership development and an enterprise audience. Eventually, I was made the HR Director for the Sacramento operation and that’s how I ended up in HR. From the first day in the new role I was like “oh, THIS is where I’m supposed to be.” That was early 2001. It’s been a great fit for me ever since.
And yes, that’s the short version. Very short. There are many other potential blog entries buried in there. But, even the short version is an example of Evolving Choices. So on with the show.
Originally completed in January of 1999, with only minor edits since (primarily for flow), I think it still works. What do you think?
When a client of mine asked me to write an article on “growth” for a newsletter she publishes, my first thought was: What do I know about growth and can I write about it? Then I laughed. As a divorced, gay, recovering alcoholic who quit Corporate America to start my own coaching practice, then left a marriage to come out, I decided I might have a thing or two to share. The question became: Where do I start?
The answer came pretty quickly. “Start where you usually do when you have no clue where to begin.” So I went to the dictionary. The second definition of “growth” listed in Microsoft Bookshelf ’98 resonated with me: Development from a lower or simpler form to a higher or more complex form; evolution.
“Evolution” is one of my most favorite words, second only to “choice”. And I realized that’s what I believe growth is: Evolving Choices.
Everything around us is in constant motion, constant change, constant growth. Constant Evolution. Plants, animals, technology, business, art – you name it. Nothing is the same today as it was yesterday. Anyone at least semi-conscious would have to objectively agree. That said, I find it fascinating that we fight change relentlessly. Everything around us is changing, yet we plant our feet firmly, sometimes stubbornly. Why do we do that? It makes no sense.
We have very little control over our lives. OK, how ‘bout no control? Not over the weather, not the stock market; certainly not over people. We hardly have control over ourselves. In my experience, the only thing we can control with any regularity is our choices, and frequently only with a great deal of effort. While the world we operate in continues to evolve, our ability to respond to the changes around us rests completely with how we choose to respond to them.
I probably started out not liking change as much as the next guy. But my first supervisor in Corporate America set me straight about that a long time ago. “Is this change permanent?”, I naively asked about something happening in the work environment. She laughed. “Honey, the only thing around here that’s permanent is change.” That put my head in the right place and for the most part it’s been there ever since.
That gave me what I needed to survive in the corporate world, but I had a much harder time dealing with personal change. The secret I discovered years back is that if I keep myself evolving also, I won’t be tripped up by the changes coming at me – I’ll simply dance with them. What’s more, if I am leading the changes, I’ll feel like I have more control. I look to see what my part is in any situation – where I can take some responsibility, however remote – so I know where to focus my energy. If I make it about someone or something else, I loose control. Choosing to respond, rather than reacting or being done unto, is a path of growth in and of itself. And a difficult one at that. But one which is extremely worthwhile. For control freaks like me, choosing to respond is the greatest gift I give myself. It keeps me from being a victim.
Since everything around us is on its own evolutionary path, and what allows us to dance with Change is the choices we make, it would make sense that our choices evolve, also. Right? This is how we will mitigate friction, feel more in control, and eliminate struggle. Life becomes easier because you become freer to try new things, walk new paths, and do things differently than you did them yesterday. You no longer paddle upstream, but go with the flow. Evolving your choices creates a struggle-free life.
So what do I mean by evolving choices, and how does one do that? By choosing to respond to things differently today then you did yesterday. Over and over and over again. Some of you may recognize this as “quit doing the same thing and expecting different results.” It starts there, definitely. But it continues. Forever. You create a consciousness where you continually monitor the effectiveness of your choices, and change them in order to get the results you want based on what’s happening around you right now.
You might be thinking: That sounds really hard. Why would I want to do this? Because it’s much, much easier in the long run. You create less damage along the way, so there’s less you have to undo or repair. You develop a discipline to take the time to look around, see what is going on outside and inside, and make a conscious decision about what your part is and who you want to be relative to the situation. Then act accordingly. As opposed to blindly going off and reacting the way you would have done in the past, and then being sincerely surprised when things don’t turn out the way you want them to, and/or exactly the same as they always do. (Sound familiar?)
The key point here is “who you want to be.” You get to create this, over and over and over again, simply by responding differently to situations. You get to decide this. This is where you get unstuck, get out of a rut, and break patterns. This is where you grow.
You start by taking extremely good care of yourself. Contrary to what you may have been taught, you MUST take care of yourself first before you will be of any use to others. You will not be in the physical, emotional, or spiritual condition necessary to be of service to others if you do not start with yourself first. Raise your standards. Strengthen your boundaries. Get all of your needs met. Let go of relationships that drain you. Take some classes. Get a massage twice a month. Sleep more. Read more. Eat better. Exercise. Appreciate nature. Be Quiet. Pray. Meditate.
Dealing with fear is probably the surest way to jump-start your own evolution, and keep it going – one fear at a time. Look carefully at your fears and get comfortable with them. Learn to embrace them. You can heal what you hold close to you. Decide which fears are healthy and which ones are unhealthy. Healthy fears are rational ones that keep you safe. Unhealthy fears are irrational ones that stifle and restrain you, and are a sure path to growth once overcome. The experience of taking better care of yourself will generate the courage and self-esteem you need to help you walk through the fears you have which keep you from evolving. You will discover a new you, and create a new life for yourself along the way. Your own evolution will lessen the impact of the evolution going on in your environment, simply because you will be moving with and growing – not standing against, becoming stagnant.
Once you’ve experienced success in handling some of your smaller fears, you’ll discover a yearning to do more, be more. Try this: Ask yourself what your greatest fear is. What’s the thing your spirit, inner voice, higher power, God, could ask you do to that would scare you the most? Quit an addiction? Leave a relationship that’s stifling or damaging to you? Quit the job that doesn’t allow you to be you and find something that will feed your soul? Get honest about your sexuality? Whatever it is, write it down. But be ready. In a relatively short period of time, you will be compelled to walk through that fear. But don’t despair! I’ve walked through all of these myself. I know from experience that joy replaces fear as your actions reflect your heart and soul. I have also experienced my needs getting met in ways I could never have imagined possible. Because as soon as we take that first step, the universe realigns itself to bring us exactly what we need. And our evolution continues…
“A living thing is distinguished from a dead thing by the multiplicity of the changes at any moment taking place in it.” Herbert Spencer (1820-1903).
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”
The above on Providence is probably my most favorite quote, because I’ve found it to be so true in my life, and is a good reminder when I forget. It is usually attributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832); it’s actually William Hutchinson Murray (1913-1996).