truth over strategy

64 Shades of Spring Green (& 10 Other Random Observations)

shades of green.jpg

In no particular order, a few observations rattling around my brain.

  1. The world is a complicated, chaotic place. It’s also elegantly simple.

  2. Stripping away the noise, the pretense and the posturing is always a good idea.

  3. Givers expand. Takers contract. (Oh, the irony.)

  4. Empathy is a super power.

  5. We all need more impromptu kitchen dance parties.

  6. Trusting your instinct is one thing. Learning to act on it, in the moment, takes a whole new level of faith.

  7. There are at least 64 shades of spring green.

  8. True leadership is a thing of beauty.

  9. Kindness is contagious.

  10. Asking for what you want can be an act of courage.

  11. Emotional intelligence is sexy.

Just As You Are

#sundaynightthoughts

#sundaynightthoughts

I wrote a story for you about an interesting encounter I had recently. Great story, but I couldn’t properly capture the ending. After weeks of re-writing I gave up, thinking…

…maybe this isn’t my story to tell.
…maybe I don’t have the skill to bring this together.
…no one will ever know if I don’t publish it.

Then I remembered my golden rule: say what you mean in the simplest way possible.

So, here’s what I want to say, without pretense or story arc.


In a little coffee shop, sitting with a new friend, the world became slightly less complicated as I realized that wanting to be seen – really seen, for who we fully are – is a universal desire that crosses gender, race, age, culture and all the other classifications that try to separate us.

 But here’s the rub. Before we can be seen by others, we need to first see ourselves.  

 We all get a bit lost along the way. Life bullies us around. We give in to fear. We dim, and we shrink.

Our people pleasing, rule following and believing them (the others) instead of ourselves, leaves us as a character in our own lives. We become so accustomed to (addicted to?) playing the role we can’t see it’s replaced our true self.

Eventually, some of us will have the courage or be desperate enough to wake up and reclaim ourselves. And I do believe it is a reclaiming, not a “New You” to be created.  

Maybe there are people lucky enough to ease into this awareness. But not me. I prefer the long way around. Brene Brown best sums up my experience: “It was an ugly street fight, and even though I got my ass kicked, it was the best thing that ever happened to me.”

It’s going to be messy.  

But if you can no longer ignore that deep longing to discover the real you. That longing to be seen as You instead of the character you’ve fallen into.

And if you’re scared and wondering if it will be worth it.

Please, come have a seat with me. I want you to hear this:

Resist the allure of yet another layer of shiny armour disguised as “New You.”

Instead of a New You, how ‘bout you become a deeper, fuller version of who you already are? Not the person you think you should be. Not the person others say you should be.

The real you. The person you were meant to be, with a unique combination of gifts and talents and quirks. And flaws. Oh, honey, we all have them. We’re human. 

I have a hunch the real you – you fully embraced – is way more appealing than any shiny new version.

Show me your scars.

Your wisdom. Gained from the doing, the failing and then doing some more.

Your laugh. Ya know, the one that can only come after you’ve felt the pain.

How? you ask.

By deeply listening to your body, your heart and your soul. By employing a depth of self-honesty that will test your resolve.

In these practices you will start to re-discover You.  

And, you know that thing you’re afraid to say out loud? The one that seems just a little too much? That’s a clue. Your True Self is in there. Look a little deeper.  

Then

Let me see You.

Love,
Denise





Kindness In Action

Reading, Berkshire, England. December 2002.

Reading, Berkshire, England. December 2002.

Please note: This post covers the subjects of pregnancy and loss.

 

That’s me. December 2002. Wearing my bulkiest sweater and trying my best to create the illusion of more than a tiny 10 week baby bump.  

Oh, the things Baby D and I had already done. We braved the bitter cold at the Newark International Antiques Fair in Nottinghamshire, lugging our many finds on and off trains, The Tube and a bus. We marveled at the Pont du Gard and all things Provence including an unforgettable meal at La Fourchette in Avignon. Not long after this photo was taken we were off to Bonneval-sur-Arc, a magical little village tucked into the Alps near the Italian border where we rang in the new year, post card style -- snow gently falling as we watched the torchlight skiers make their glowing decent down the mountain.

2003 would be your year, dear baby.

4pm, January 14, wet, cold and pitch black – a typical winter day in England. My (then) husband and I waited quietly to see the doctor (ever aware to not be the loud Texans). Introductions made and details charted we were down to business. I couldn’t wait to get the first glimpse of my little world traveler.

I was a newbie, but this sonogram seemed to be taking a long time. The doctor asked, “When did you say your last cycle was?“ then he said something about a heartbeat, but I couldn’t hear him. The room had gone silent for me. I vaguely remember an internal sonogram to confirm what I didn’t need to be told. I don’t remember the blood draw or the instructions or the drive home. Had I even spoken? Oddly, I remember the nurse was an American and I found that comforting.  

Officially, I had a missed miscarriage. At some point the pregnancy was “no longer viable” but my body hadn’t gotten the message so it continued to act, look and feel pregnant. Barely into my 2nd trimester I had a choice to either let my body catch-up and miscarry naturally or have a routine procedure. I decided to give my body a chance to handle this.

Three grueling weeks of trusting that my body would cooperate.  

9pm, February 4. It started just like the pamphlets said it would.

1:30am, February 5. She looked at me and said, “You’re in labor.”

Labor? Somewhere in the middle of the pain and exhaustion I hadn’t recalled the list of warning signs of when to seek medical care. By the time I had woken my husband at 1am I had lost a dangerous amount of blood and as the nurse would later explain, I was in full labor.

I don’t know that nurse’s name and I don’t recall what she looked like but I distinctly remember meeting her eyes as I stood in the triage room, mid-contraction. She took my arm and stayed with me right through the delivery.

As nurses do, right? Except, her shift had ended just before I came in. She was simply passing through triage on her way out to meet her husband. A chance encounter.

Sixteen years later, her act of compassionate kindness stands out clearly in a sea of blurred details. That’s what this story is really about — acts of kindness.

Miscarriage is the most common form of pregnancy loss. Yet, it’s a strangely taboo subject.  I hope sharing a part of my story, talking about it publicly, will help lessen the uneasiness. Loss makes us uncomfortable and we often don’t know the right thing to say or do.

I was graced with tremendous love and support from friends and family. Two instances stand out. I’ve called on these examples time and again as my guide to how to approach difficult situations. I hope they can serve you too.

After excitedly announcing the pregnancy to everyone back home via email I had to follow up with news of the loss. Within hours of sending that second email my friend Pat called me from Austin. An email response would have been easier and more than sufficient, especially given the bother of making an international call. Instead, he chose to call. He led with, “Sunshine, I am so sorry” then he simply listened to me sob.

Kindness. In action.

A couple weeks after the miscarriage, I received a letter from my friend LB. She is genuine and loving and filled with grace. Her words that day were no different. She led with saying she didn’t know the right thing to say. That simple truth was immediately comforting. It felt like we were in this together: I don’t know what to say, but I’m here.

Kindness. In action.

I wasn’t sure why I felt compelled to tell this story until these particular details flooded back to me. They are a reminder that kindness is a deliberate act. Kindness gets involved.

Kindness is always worth the effort.

Things That Did Not Happen in 2018

It’s the obligatory end-of-year review. A random list of things that DID NOT happen in 2018.

The massive Texas Black Walnut tree that fell on my house in a storm DID NOT cause major damage.

I showed up to classes, workshops and masterminds that were way out of my league and I WAS NOT asked to leave.

The billowing white smoke from my car’s exhaust WAS NOT a major engine issue.

I leaned on people in outsized, disproportionate ways and NOT one sweet soul turned me away.

I followed my intuition without question, made bold decisions and jumped without looking more than once. I DID NOT regret a single instance.

I gave my writing a public home, posted my first selfie, did my first “live” anything, created my first videos, and wrote/said what I wanted to say when and how I wanted to say it, uncensored. I DID NOT shrink.

Here’s to more NOTs in 2019.

The Desert Called. I Answered.

It was a spontaneous decision. As I opened my laptop the only parameters were: 3 nights, easy flight, no car, leave the next day.

Beach? Desert? Snow? Passport? An old favorite? Some place new? In less than 15 minutes it was all booked. No research. No deliberating. I went with my intuition.

And it was sublime, in a way I haven’t felt in….ever?

Reflections from the desert.

Quiet. 
As I please.

Me.
Only me.

Books, journals
laptop. 
Untouched.

Quiet mind
Full heart.

Content. 
Yearning for more.

And not Or.

I greeted her each morn and bid her goodnight each evening.
I listened.
She whispered:

Rise. Keep going. Higher. 
Shine.
Nourish them.

And 

Bold.
Technicolor.
Never too much.
Blazing.

Leave them in awe.

Rest.
Return.
Repeat.

Like it’s the first time.

Me. 
Only me.

Quiet mind.
Full heart.

Content. 
Yearning for more.

And not Or

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.