Not On My Watch

The alarm went off at 4:45. By 5:20 we were on the road.

Wind-blown, covered in dust and the distinctive smell of horse everywhere, it was nearly 3 in the afternoon before we were back home.

She was off to shriek into the phone to her friends and grandparents. It was her first blue ribbon, her first reserve grand champion.

I quickly got ready to meet with yet another contractor. He would be here any minute. I was crossing my fingers that maybe he would finally be the one to take on this project. It’s too small of a job for most people to be bothered with. It’s nothing to them. To me it’s everything.

At 5pm I slid into the tub. Ahhh, the power of warm water. Ready for a long soak.

Soon, there’s a heavy, hurried knock on the bathroom door. “Mom. I’m hungry and there’s nothing to eat. When are we having dinner? I’m really hungry.”

 “Ok. I’ll be out in a minute” I replied, begrudgingly.

Her brother and I are at the table. Waiting. Did she hear you call her for dinner? Yes he grunted in that way only 14 yr old boys can do, mustering a generation of disdain in one guttural sound.

We start without her.

Her dinner half-eaten she pushes her plate to the center of the table. “I’m done. Can we go now? Sarah’s waiting for me.”

“Are you kidding me? I thought you were starving? You barely ate anything. I got out of the tub to get dinner ready for you and…” I stammered.

Without pause she looked straight at me and said, “I didn’t ask you to get out of the tub. I said I was hungry. You chose to get out. Don’t put that on me.”

She was right. Infuriatingly right.

And here I was, facing that blurry line, again, the line between service and martyrdom.

I chose. To put mom before self—when it absolutely wasn’t necessary.

It was not “on her” as she said, but that’s right where I put it. The unspoken implied guilt: Look, I got out of the tub to cook dinner for you. You should be grateful.

Ouch.

Generational patterns, perpetuating the lie that “I should” always comes before “I need.”

No. Not today. Not on my watch. She will not learn this from me.

I look at her, exasperated, with wounded pride. “You’re right. You’re exactly right. I’ll take you to Sarah’s as soon as I’m done eating. Please put your plate in the sink.”

As she hurries out of the car she calls back, “Thanks for dinner mom. Bye. I love you.”

Austin: A few thoughts

Austin has been home for 23 years. I’ve had a front row seat to the transformation of this city. Like so many other longtime Austinites I’ve pondered the questions, What makes Austin Austin? and Is Austin still Austin? My answers are, It depends and Yes.

Austin has always been many things to many different groups. When I moved here the city was dominated by state government, UT, music and the semi-conductor industry. The software scene was in its infancy. These vastly different constituencies shared a common affection for Austin’s siren call of “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from. Come as you are.” Local was the norm; national chains were scarce.

Things are different now. Vastly different. And while you could make an argument that the feel of the city has changed and you could start a cultural war arguing whether that change is good or bad, the common affection for our city remains the same. I’m reminded of the Lyle Lovett lyrics: That’s right you’re not from Texas. But Texas wants you anyway.

My love for this place runs deep. Like all who are enchanted by her, I too desire to preserve Austin’s charm. It’s tempting to want to close the gates, but that would be very un-Austin of us. Instead, I believe the key to preserving Austin is to perpetuate the best of what makes Austin special. That responsibility falls to each of us, individually.

What makes Austin special to you? I challenge you to DO / BE / SUPPORT those things, regularly. Like it matters. Because it does. Be the megaphone for your special slice of Austin.

And tell the stories. Be that person who talks about the old days, not with sorrow or bitterness for times gone by. With joy and aspiration. To inspire, teach and raise up the next generation of Austinites who will take the best of this city and leave their own unique mark, as so many before us have done.

With love from Austin.

What To Do When You're Feeling Stuck

The ideas are flowing so fast it’s hard for your pen to keep up with your brain. You are on fire for this idea and you dive right into the who, what, where and how of it all. 

But now those brilliant ideas are mocking you. Needy little snippets sketched out, spilled all over your desk, begging to be pieced together. And you’ve got nothing.

You know you are meant to bring this to life. Yet, you’re stuck. To be clear, this isn’t about execution. You can execute! No, you’re struggling with the finishing touches of bringing it all together. 

Creative block is real, you rationalize. 

You tell yourself you’re not ready. You need more data, more input.

Yes, sometimes those things are true, but this is not one of those times and you know it. From that first flash of inspiration you’ve known exactly how to make this happen.

You’re not stuck.

You’re scared.

Scared of being you. Scared of being right. Scared of taking your spot at the table.

This is Sacred Fear – the teetering between deep knowing and self-doubt. She appears every time you’re on the verge of answering the call of your soul. And while it’s tempting to surrender to the safety of this limbo land of inaction, I’m reminded of Nelson Mandela’s words, “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”

Do you want to settle? I didn’t think so.

Here are some ideas for rising beyond the doubts.

Embrace the Fear. Stop trying to out-brave it. As trite as it sounds, you need to accept Sacred Fear. She’s an abiding companion to passion, to daring, to rising and when she shows up you know you’re on the right path. Trust her.

Reflect. Think back to your original spark of inspiration. Remember that flutter in your stomach? Or maybe it was a whispered “uh-huh” with an assured nod of your head? In that moment, before you started second guessing yourself, you knew. Your body knew. Trust that.

Get Honest. Stop playing dumb. You know exactly what needs to be done. Trust yourself.

This is not a one-and-done exercise. Expect to be back here often, as often as you dare to take bold new steps. But you’ve got this.

You know exactly what to do. You’ve known all along.

We’ve been waiting for you.

This first appeared on BeingBOLD by Cyndie Spiegel, September 2018

Warning: Detour Ahead

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line.

~ Archimedes

 

In business we shoot for that shortest distance – efficiency, peak performance, smarter not harder.

But, in life we know the best experiences are often off the beaten path, the long way around.

In business we aim for a well-oiled machine. Predictability.  

Yet, in life we often long for more spontaneity and less routine.

I get it. Structure and predictability are good for the bottom line and they help you sleep at night. But we must recognize that over time routine breeds complacency. We become so comfortable in the safety of the routine we stop actively paying attention and easily fall into the trap of, it’s always been done this way. With that kind of justification, your work/business will land in the rut of yesterday with no innovation, no creative problem solving and no eye to the future. Stuck. You need to ditch the routine and find a way out.

I’m not advocating for chaos. That’s no way to run a business (or your life), but there are some simple tricks for shaking things up a bit. What if you got off the main highway and took a few unscheduled stops along the way? What if you approached Monday – Friday more like Saturday and Sunday?

What if…

You relax the structure?  

You let go of the tried and true?

You brainstorm a new project with the newest, least experienced person in your company?  

You ignore the data and follow your intuition?

You travel the winding road without trying to straighten it out?

You start at the end and work backwards?

You try analogue instead of digital?

You extend the deadline?

You give yourself a crazy, unrealistic deadline? Like 6 weeks instead of 6 months?

You go for a walk or take the afternoon off instead of powering through?

You approach the problem like a fascinating riddle instead of aggressively attacking it like the enemy?

You only consider one solution instead of investigating three?

You say yes to every request for one day?

You say no to every request for one day?

You take the novice’s approach? The novice doesn’t know the rules or expectations or what’s impossible.

You play the long game instead of shooting for the short-term win?

You ask questions then listen to the answers without offering your own opinion?

You trust yourself enough to ________ ? (fill in the blank)

 

Pick one. Or three. Are you adventurous enough to give it a try? Just once?  

If you looked at that list and adamantly declared, No Way, you might want to ask yourself why. I’ll bet when you drill down to the root cause, it’s one of two things: 

1.       You’re scared. Fear comes in all shapes, sizes and intensities and it’s a sneaky little bastard. What exactly are you afraid of? Failing? Looking silly? Succeeding (which might force you to question your comfortable assumptions)?  

Or

2.       You don’t care enough to be bothered.

I hope you’re scared. It’s easier to fix. There’s a lifetime’s worth of tricks, methods and philosophies at your fingertips. Just search, “How to Overcome My Fears” and pick your favorite. I subscribe to the School of Worse Case Scenarios. I go straight to the worse thing I can imagine happening then I ask myself two questions: What’s the actual likelihood of this happening? What emergency plan do I have in place to mitigate the worse case?  

If you just don’t care enough. Welp. Are you bored? Afflicted with a case of Bad Attitude Syndrome? Please, allow me to get a little preachy. Are you listening? Because you need to hear this. You have a choice! Maybe you don’t have the luxury of changing your work, but you absolutely get to choose how you approach it. Make better choices. For yourself.

So, I’ll ask again: Are you adventurous enough to give it a try? Just once?

 

This article first appeared in The Unmistakable Effect, August 2018

Leave Room For Discovery

Always bring a pencil to class.
Take an umbrella.
Do your research
.

BE PREPARED (bee-pri-paird) verb a command, threat or warning. Disobey at your own peril.

But imagine for a moment…

You forget your pencil.
You get caught in a downpour without your umbrella.
You go to the movie without reading a single review.

Maybe

You get to write with a fat shiny marker.
You pretend you’re the star of Singin’ in the Rain.
You howl at a scene the critics found “utterly derivative.”

What if the best moments of the trip aren’t the ones you scheduled and mapped out and underlined in the 5 different guide books — but, instead, the afternoon you got completely lost and ended up in a roadside tavern with the local celebrity brewmaster?

What if the breakthrough idea comes not in the meeting where you brought your giant binder, but in the impromptu gathering in the hallway?

What if all the tried-and-true, never-fail strategies you’ve always relied on proved not to work in this case, and it’s time to ditch all the rules?

What if not knowing “how it’s done” is your best weapon for doing it better?

Easy Does It

Don’t go all “if it’s meant to be” on me. This isn’t about leaving everything to chance and it’s not about being unprepared.

It’s about being brave enough to not over prepare.

Gutsy enough to leave room for discovery, instead of walking in armed with certainty.

Courageous enough to say “I know this is the answer — and I have nothing but my gut to back it up.”

Make Room

Maybe that rock solid wall of preparation has been keeping the revolutionary ideas at bay, like a blinking No Vacancy sign.

Open the door.

Don’t over-script.

Go in with an outsider’s perspective, with the wide-eyed naivete of a novice.

The next time you think, “I should be more prepared,” stop there.

You’re plenty prepared.

And if you get caught in the rain, dance your way through it.

The Quiet Side of Brave

Fortune always favors the brave, and never helps a man who does not help himself.

P.T. Barnum

Bravery. It’s a mystery of many shades. We know it when we see capital B Bravery, like the heroic efforts that make the evening news, but more often, bravery shows up in every day moments that are imperceptible to the casual passerby.

Small b Bravery

This kind of small b bravery is all around you and inside you, if you know how to spot it. Here are a few of bravery’s many disguises.

Making eye contact with a stranger on the sidewalk.

Sending your child off with a kiss and a hug when you want to keep her cocooned at home, safe from the world.

Giving voice to the idea you’ve been holding tight in your throat.

A flirty hello after your heart’s been broken.

Speaking truth.

Saying yes.

Saying no.

Raising your hand when you’d prefer to remain invisible.

Stepping through the doors (metaphorical and physical) in front of you.

Believing your own voice over others.

Take Up With Bravery

Bravery left unattended shrinks.

Befriend it. Practice it often.

Keep it nimble and watch it blossom.

Why I'm Done With Being Nice

This is not a parenting story, but parenting is the avenue by which this particular lesson was delivered. Raising human beings has a way of shining light into dark corners.

I’d get that look in my eye, my brow furrowed. But before I could utter a sound, my children would shake their little heads and mumble, “We know. Be nice.” High fives all around for parenting success, or so I thought.

Have you ever gotten one of those beautiful shiny chocolate rabbits at Easter? You go in for a bite of dense bunny ear goodness only to have it crumble in your hands. Hollow. That’s what being nice had become — this shallow thing my kids did just to get me off their backs.

How had we gotten so far off track? I’d been snookered by the easiness of nice and my kids totally exploited it to appease me.

What is Nice?

Nice is sly. He’s banking on you being so dazzled by his shine you won’t bother to take a closer look. Oh, but I looked and you should too. Go ahead. Lean in and squint until it comes into focus. Uh-huh. You see it too? All hat and not cattle as we say here in Texas.

Nice is pleasant, but you wonder if he’s sincere. Nice may not lie, but you doubt his true currency is honesty. Nice cares for others, but it’s out of obligation. Nice is the easy way out. Which is exactly why we so easily fall prey to his allure. He makes us look good, as long as we don’t go poking around too much.

An Alternative to Nice

You might think that while not noble, Nice seems harmless enough. But “harmless enough” is Nice’s cunning lie to keep us on auto-pilot. To keep us at arm’s reach from each other.

So, what’s the alternative?

Kind. The dictionary says Nice and Kind are synonymous, interchangeable. I disagree. Kind is of a higher order — solid chocolate gold. Whereas, Nice is the cheap hollow knock-off.

Kind is pleasant and her sincerity is rarely in question. Kind is honest and demonstrates what she believes in with her actions. Kind cares for others out of compassion and empathy. Kind picks a side, even if it disrupts the status quo. Kind requires effort.

She looks outside herself and asks: What is needed? How can I make this situation better? Kind insists we get involved. Make eye contact. Speak up. Stand up. Notice.

Why This Matters to Your Work

Do you think you can go through life on Nice Mode, barely skimming the surface, then turn around and produce unmistakable work? At best you produce beige — doesn’t harm anything, but certainly doesn’t bring about change or provoke a response.

But something remarkable happens when you heed Kind’s beckon to become actively engaged with the people around you. A deeper, wider world opens up to you. As you discover new things the world becomes a more interesting place and it informs everything you do, think and produce.

Imagine being immersed, all in. You create work that fills the gaps, creates new paths, that has an opinion and is decidedly not beige. All because you cared enough to notice then act.

The question is, which will you choose? Quick, easy Nice or deeper, more demanding Kind?

As for me, with a furrowed brow and a glint in my eye, I now ask my children, “How can you be kind?”

A Love Letter: Saying Goodbye

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

“Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front” by Wendell Berry

farm pic.jpeg

I visited you today, the first time since the ground shifted.

You’ve been tugging at the corners of my soul since we first met almost 30 years ago. You knew exactly how to seduce me with your rolling hills, breeze-swept pond and fields of wheat glistening in the summer sun.

Ours has been a long distance relationship, deepening with time. Over the last decade you became woven into my biggest dreams. It started when I vowed you would be an integral part of my children’s lives, not just someplace they visited. With you underfoot they’ve had space to roam and adventures to explore. You’ve filled the gaps of their city life.

As you became part of them my own desire grew, the pull becoming stronger each time I walked your fields.

And it slowly came into focus…

Architected to look as though it was an extension of you. On the ridge under the Kentucky Coffee Bean tree? Or maybe down by the little creek?

Room to welcome my people. Whispering the sweet invitation, “Come. Be.” With the prayer that all who entered would leave renewed. With the hope of many return visits.

The place my Soul Sisters would gather because finally I would be close enough to host them around my own table, after so many years of being their guest.

The place my children would come home to. The place they would bring their children.

Today I say goodbye.

The house won’t be built. The people won’t gather.

Others re-wrote our story, without our consent.

As I walk your familiar paths I leave you my tears. May they soak deep into your soil and nourish you.

I will carry you with me. Always.

Love,
Denise

What To Do When Autopilot Leads You Astray

Is this all there is?
Yep. This is it.

And you chose it.
Yes, you did.

With every non-choice you made.
Passive
Autopiloting through your own life.
Like the shortest route was your only priority.

Take a long soak in the dissatisfaction.
Let the toxic rain of uneasy wash over you.
Feel it.
Burning.
Remember it. (You’ll need it.)

Turn off the default.
Open your eyes. Examine. Question.
Slow down when you’re going too fast. And press the pedal in the places you’re hedging.

Do.

Choose.

It’s exactly that easy.
And exactly that hard.

So hard you’ll retreat, often.

Remember
The Burning
Feel it.

Choose.

How To Go From Dreamer to Doer

You handled today’s To Do list like a boss. You’re good at what you do and people know it. You look at your life and think this is pretty damn good.

So, what’s with that thought? Yep, that one.

Umm, that thing you’re really good at? The one you’re known for and have built your career around? What if that’s not really who you are? What if that’s not really what you want to be doing? What if you could spend your days doing that other thing? The one that makes your cells tingle.

Uh-huh.

You ignore it.

Yet, it persists. And the guilt creeps in: Who are you to want more when you already have so much?

It persists. And you think, Could I?

And you wonder, What if?

Careful. You’re teetering on a dream. It’s dangerous territory for a Doer like yourself. You’ve bought into the dichotomy of Dreamers vs Doers and you’re clearly a Doer. Dreams can wait until you’re finished with the doing.

I call bullshit.

Learning to dream changed everything for me. My doing changed; it became more focused, more enjoyable, more sustainable.

I came to my dream the long way around. Maybe you’ll have a more direct route or maybe not. It’s a personal journey so I can’t prescribe a formula, but I hope by sharing my story you can find something to borrow and make your own.

Step One: Seeking Clarity

There was something rising in me. I could only describe it as “its time has come” and the pain of keeping it to myself was greater than my fear of sharing. I wanted to explore who this “new” me was and I was especially curious how she might translate to my business.

I had no idea where or how to start this exploration. After many failed attempts, it was clear I wasn’t going to figure this out on my own. I turned to Chela Davison. Together we delved into my new way of being and how it might show up in my life.

The clarity I found through this work spurred me into action with a lot of experimenting and learning along the way. I expected to encounter resistance as a natural reaction to the change, but one roadblock in particular kept cropping up. It was the nagging little voice asking where all this was going, what was the point.

That question scared me because part of my new way of being was letting go of my addiction to everything in my life needing a three bullet point justification and an accompanying strategic plan of how to execute, measure and review.

I’d had enough of that and didn’t want to get sucked in again. So, I went back to Chela.

This time we sat together in my tiny vacation rental in Vancouver. We identified my top three personal and work goals and mapped them out in just enough detail to appease that inner voice while leaving plenty of room for improvisation.

And…it felt empty.

Chela must have sensed my frustration. Pointing to the big sticky notes posted around the room she asked the magic question: In service to what?

Long silence.

If she had asked why all of this was important I would have answered without hesitation: my family. Everything I did was for them. No equivocation.

But that turn of phrase — in service to — kicked off a seismic shift. It was so much bigger than “doing for.” It was devotion.

What was I devoted to?

Step Two: The One Pager

The answer that spilled out of me eventually became the One Pager.

 One Pager by Denise Cornell

One Pager by Denise Cornell

It’s the first page in my trusty three-ring binder. I read it almost daily. It’s my North Star. At least once a year I check in with myself to see if anything needs to be revised. The Expertise quadrant tends to change a bit with shifts in my professional interests. The others have remained unchanged going on three years now. When you go deep, it lasts. (Did you notice the second bullet under Checkpoints? “Is this Do worthy?” I wrote that 17 months before I started writing for Do Lectures. Funny how that happens, right?)

Last year I added what Tanya Geisler calls your Brand of Joy. This is the thing you seek in everything you do. For me it’s Welcomed. In everything I do I want to feel welcomed, to feel like I belong and I want to offer that same feeling to those around me.

Step Three: The Dream Unfolds

The One Pager and embracing life in a more creative way were the beginning of a transformation, but at my core I’m a planner and I craved a concrete answer to where this was all going. I didn’t want to default to my old ways of over-planning, so I committed to an experiment. I gave myself three months of open ended exploration and curiosity. If at the end of that time I didn’t have a clear answer to where this was leading then something would have to change.

For three months I studied my One Pager. I shared it with trusted friends. I asked for feedback. I copied it longhand over and over again as a way of interacting with it, absorbing it. I read it aloud. Then I started dissecting every word, phrase and bullet point. I examined everything. What did family lifestyle mean? What would a welcoming home to gather family and friends look like? What kind of travel? How often? Who? Read what? Write what? Share how? With whom? And so on.

This exercise accomplished two things. It satisfied the part of me that loves the granular details and it gave space for a dream to be born. As I repeatedly asked, “What does this look like?,” the dream started to unfold. I could see exactly where all this was heading.

In the past, big goals had seemed somewhat obligatory. They were the things I was supposed to be doing: save this amount, buy the house, diversify my portfolio, achieve this revenue, accomplish these things. All so arbitrary. This time was different.

This wasn’t a goal. It was a dream. The Dream. And it had been born from me, not from out there, not from others.

It became my fuel. My aspiration. My top priority.

(No, you didn’t miss it. I’m not sharing the details of my actual dream. It’s not “for your eyes only” top secret, but it’s mine. Sacred. So, not here. Maybe over a caipirinha.)

Step Four: From Dream to Calendar

I had my big dream in hand, but my head was most definitely not in the clouds. I was more focused than ever. More motivated. More excited.

Devoted.

With The Dream as my top priority, life got a whole lot simpler. I evaluated everything against it. Does this idea/project/job/opportunity/expense support The Dream? Where can I focus my time and energy on a monthly, weekly and daily basis to move me closer to The Dream? The Dream showed up on my calendar and in my bank account — how I spent my time and how I managed my money.

Productivity Hint: I recommend The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan for a step by step system to translate your top priority to your daily To Do.

Step Five: Change As Needed

Dreams that come from deep within us stand strong in the face of life’s ups and downs. But sometimes big things happen and life gets turned upside down. Your dream can be your waymarker when the path seems impossible or your feel like you’ve lost your way. But a word of caution. Don’t blindly cling to the dream. Leave room for the possibility that your dream needs to shift too.

I always go back to Chela’s question: In service to what?

Imagine

Imagine knowing exactly why you’re doing what you’re doing every day. Imagine confidently saying Yes or No to opportunities because you quickly know if they align with your vision. How would it feel to concretely move toward your biggest aspiration?

It starts with dreaming. Give yourself permission to dream, to find yourdream.

Then unleash it.

Let it lead you.

And watch in wonder as you become the kind of Doer you never thought possible.