Back Into The Woods

Monday, July 21st, 2014

When you live in an RV for a year, you learn how to make a really good s’mores.

You also learn how to pick a good campsite, how to waterproof everything you own, and how to cook a complete meal over an open flame.

You learn what it feels like and sounds like to walk on real ground.

You learn you can be comfortable even if your feet are dirty or your clothes don’t match, but also that you can get perfectly clean and presentable with surprisingly few supplies.

You learn that it’s easy to forget what you look like in beautiful surroundings.

You learn to be entertained by games with names like “famous last words” and “guess who said this.”

You learn to pass time sitting quietly listening to nothing but the sounds trees make in the wind or in the fire.

You learn to set your day by the light instead of the clock.

And then you move into a city and you forget much of what you’ve learned. The pull of community and the pulse of society teaches you new things so quickly that you don’t even notice what you’re unlearning.

Two years fly by and you can’t imagine an entire night spent sitting in the dark or that you could fall asleep without the hum of traffic outside your window.

Until you go back to the woods.

Then, you remember what you learned that one time when you were having a grand adventure.

And you think – you hope – that some things can never be forgotten. Some things, maybe, just stay in the woods, waiting for you to come back and remember.

Lessons from the woods

Why It’s Good to Have a Comfort Zone

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

comfort zoneWe hear a lot about comfort zones. Mostly how they’re bad. But is comfort really such a bad thing? Not always.

I was chatting with my friend Shannon the other day about a talk she’s preparing and she shared a really cool metaphor with me:

“When I went to Jamaica on my honeymoon, we walked along the beach right up to where the resort property ended. At the boundary there was a man with a huge machine gun, and he told us we could leave the resort if we wanted – if we wanted to stroll past the guy standing there with the big gun. The choice was clear: safe, comfortable, beautiful resort or some zip lining, discotheques, and God knows what adventures behind the man with the gun. Obviously we chose the safety and comfort of the resort.”

That, Shannon told me, is how she pictures her comfort zone: a safe place to relax and recharge.

“You can’t live in the comfort zone,” she said, “none of the really exciting stuff happens there. But it sure is nice to hang out there once in a while.”

I’ve noticed an interesting pattern with my coaching clients recently. They jump into coaching all gung-ho to make changes and explore what makes them happy. They do some digging and get all excited about new self discoveries and the effects of tiny behavioral tweaks.

And then they show up to a session completely rattled, freaked out, insecure, and wondering what in the hell happened to all their progress.

I reign them in. I tell them it’s normal to feel insecure when you’re shaking up your foundation. And I tell them to take a break from all that changing for a little bit.

Basically, I pull them back to their comfort zone for some R&R.

After a brief hiatus from the pushing and growing, they always recover their confidence and are ready to get back at it again.

I’ve seen this pattern play out with lots of different people from different parts of the world who have completely different goals and challenges.

They push. They grow. They freak out. They pull back and rest. They get ready to push and grow again.

You can’t discover new oceans without the courage to leave the shore, but you also can’t expect to circumvent the globe without making a few stops in safe harbors.

Summer and winter for me always feel like natural times to pull back, to rest and recharge before the massive changes that tend to take place in the spring and fall. Maybe that’s why I am avoiding a lot of my own big pushes lately. (Or maybe the heat and my lack of central air is making me sweaty and lazy. Whichever.)

I want you to know that it’s normal to get fed up with adventure and growth and big changes after a while. I bet even Oprah and Brené Brown and the most enlightened person you know has to sit back once in a while and say “screw it, I’m not reframing squat today.”

I want you to know that the harder you push, the more gentle you’ll have to be with yourself.

And mostly, I want you to know that if you find yourself cowering and shivering and hallucinating in the desert of “Uncomfortable Land” it is perfectly OK – smart, even – to haul your butt back to Comfort Zone Resort for a little while.

Stop Saying You Should Be Happy

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014

This week’s video is about giving up on the idea that you SHOULD be happy.

I met a man recently who told me that he had the perfect job: good pay, lots of freedom, great boss – he said he knew that any sensible person would look at his life and say he was lucky and he should be happy. But, he confessed to me, he has an overwhelming sense that something is missing, that he’s not really as happy as he could be.

When I heard that, I immediately flashed back to my own past when I also tried to tell myself I SHOULD be happy.

On the outside, everything looked good: loving husband, healthy kids, family support, close friends, and relative financial security. But despite all that, I didn’t FEEL happy or content at a soul level.

And, instead of trying to figure out what WOULD make me happy, I wasted a lot of time and energy beating myself up because I thought I SHOULD be happy.

Don’t do that!

If you’re not happy despite having a good life, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. You aren’t broken because your “good life” isn’t making you happy.

You just haven’t found YOUR life yet – and you can’t as long as you keep beating yourself up for not being grateful or happy enough.

Instead of trying to guilt yourself into happy submission, make some changes. Figure out what DOES make you happy and do more of that.

Happiness Interview: Pet Photographer Jenny Karlsson

Friday, June 27th, 2014

I met Jenny through a woman’s entrepreneur group here in Pittsburgh, and this year I got to know her a lot better when we were in a mastermind together. Two things amaze me about Jenny: her hustle and her job description.

First of all, no one hustles as hard as Jenny. She started her business while working a full-time job and she never seems to slow down or complain, constantly showing up and doing her very best work every time. I admire the hell out of that.

And then there’s her business: pet photography.

I have met a ton of photographers over the years, and while the styles vary the subjects are pretty much the same: weddings, families, babies. Jenny is the first pet photographer I’d ever heard of, and it just blows my mind that this is a thing. I confess that I used this interview in part to figure out how in the heck she ended up at that particular career destination.

She didn’t disappoint.

Jenny Karlsson Pet Photography

How do you define happiness?

Happiness to me is a byproduct of treating yourself well physically and mentally, doing good for others, and using your unique talents to make a difference.

How did you figure out that taking pet photos made you happy?

I knew I was on to something when I always felt a surge of energy when working with pets and their people. I would literally drive home from a session and feel like my batteries had been recharged.

During a session I often laugh out loud because I just love what I do. I make the weirdest noises possible. I talk in funny voices, and never feel self-conscious or inhibited. It is hard not to feel happy when your job is to capture personality and love, and get lots of puppy kisses. I am a very visual person, and I think that this photo (above) that my friend Tori took of me with her pups Lola and Lucy is worth more than a thousand words.

What “shoulds” have you let go of in order to pursue happiness?

With a science background, and having pursued the MBA program, I thought that I should find a job that combined science and business. In my gut, all I wanted to be was a pet photographer. Not until I finally let go of this should did I realize that I use these skills in my business every single day.

I also thought that I should shoot events if I ever wanted to go full-time as a photographer, but events were leaving me drained. It took a year to regroup and align my business with what I wanted to photograph in the first place, and I am happy to report that at the end of July I will finally be a full-time pet photographer. Excuse me while I pinch my arm.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received about happiness?

That’s dang good advice – thanks, Jenny!

Want to be inspired by even more versions of happiness? Read all the interviews here.

How Feminism (And Other Isms) Should On Us

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014

A few weeks ago I got an email from a 23-year-old woman, Liberty, who had watched my TEDx talk. After reading her email, I asked if I could share it with you because I was struck by the nature and source of her shoulds.

From her email (emphasis mine):

Listening to what you had to say made me realize that I have, up until now, been living my life based on “shoulds”.

I refused to go into any career that is dominated by females (like the fashion industry) because intelligent women “should” use their brains for more noble purposes like advancing women’s equality and breaking the glass ceiling in male-dominated industries like finance, etc….(All this, despite the fact that fashion has been a passion of mine from a young age and I have a knack for anything related to the subject).

I have always wanted to start a business & become rich so that I can travel freely, contribute to philanthropic causes, and support my family for generations to come. However, I have downplayed this desire for wealth because society says that people “shouldn’t” make wealth a priority for fear of appearing selfish.

And the list goes on.

I’d like to believe that feminism is about freedom of choice, about opportunities to be who you are without having to fight against ridiculous prejudices based on gender.

And yet…

It’s so easy for a Thing Worth Fighting For to become a Thing That Everyone Should Want.

Like having a career and a family.

Like women working in technology.

Like accepting your current body weight.

Like traveling full-time, or working for yourself, or owning less than 100 things, or any number of things that are perfectly good ideas.

But maybe not everyone wants to get rid of their stuff or travel the world or work on robots. That’s OK, too.


We humans are so prone to evangelism. We find The Way and The Truth and The Light and we cannot help ourselves from running out and telling everyone about it.

And there is nothing wrong with the telling. It’s the pushing and the converting and the judgment that becomes a problem.

Of course, one person’s pushing and converting and judging doesn’t have to become another person’s problem.

Remember that the world needs revolutionaries and keepers of tradition. We need homemakers and code breakers.

And perhaps your passion doesn’t come with the hope of a Nobel Prize or a spot on Oprah or even a TEDx talk – but if it is yours it will come with every single thing you need in this life.

Don’t let yourself be bullied by isms. Believe in the purpose of your happiness, even if no one else gets it.

You do you.