THE MESSY MIDDLE

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I’ve been trying something new this year. An integrative medical technique known as Rolfing. I won’t go into all the details, but the short explanation is that it is deep tissue body work. I signed on for a series of 10 sessions which was recommended by the practitioner. I absolutely loved sessions one through three. I left feeling an ease of motion and lack of pain. I was pretty sure this was the answer I had been seeking to irritating low back and hip pain. And trust me when I tell you I’d been seeking an answer for quite some time! Then along came sessions four, five, and six. I experienced aches, dis-ease and some emotional discomfort that I didn’t expect. I wasn’t pleased. What had happened? Where was the lightness and freedom of movement I had felt in the beginning?

I was sharing all of this during the session six work when a thought suddenly struck me….”This is how I respond to the middle.” I recalled that during my coach training, which happened over three day weekend intensives, that I followed a similar pattern each time. Fridays were exciting, full of anticipation about the new learning. I felt a bit of an energetic buzz around what was about to unfold. Saturdays were the worst. I started feeling some doubt about my abilities to master the new tools, and confusion was the reigning emotion. Saturday nights I typically felt some combination of overwhelmed and exhausted. And then, hallelujah for Sundays! That was the day that it all seemed to click. To come together. I loved everything I had learned and everyone I was learning with. I recognized this as a pattern after the third or fourth weekend of training, and although I recognized it, it still played out the same each time. This was my experience regardless of how I prepared going in. The middle was always tough going.

Laying on the table for my Rolfing session, I began to connect the dots. My body was responding the same way my emotions did during those coach trainings. My brain was sending the same messages about this process. Beginning = new, exciting. Middle = hard, uncomfortable. End = joy, success.

I started thinking about all of the “middle” things that can be hard to deal with.

The middle seat on the airplane.

The middle of a book where the protagonist is winning.

Waistlines.

Mile 13.1 of a marathon.

Leadership.

As a leader I experienced great anticipation when a new project or initiative was underway. I was motivated by the excitement of the team that was coming alongside for the journey. A well thought out, well communicated strategy that employees can grab ahold of can create a positive buzz and be re-energizing for an organization. Likewise, there are the feelings of satisfaction and success a leader or team feels when something has been completed. A program executed well, a finish line crossed. Deep breathing. Celebration. But what about the middle? What happens when you’re too far from the beginning to sustain the excitement but not close enough to the end to feel the joy of success? What happens there?

Here’s what I’m learning can happen for me and maybe this is true for you, too. That this “middle” is the part I most need to lean into. That there is the most to be gained right in the middle of the mess. This is where I learn and grow. This is where the discomfort (which is totally irritating to me) is pointing directly at the thing I need to focus on to get stronger. In the case of my body, it turns out my back pain is actually linked to an old ankle sprain. Once that ankle started aching we discovered the place where the work really needed to be done.

I’ll be honest. This is a hard lesson for me to learn. It seems I have to be taught repeatedly how unavoidable and how necessary this part of the process is. I’ve actually had a reminder, in the form of an infographic by John Saddington, posted in front of my desk for the past year telling me that creating requires me to go through the middle. Right in front of me! And still, it took my body to find another way to send me this message.

In case a visual might be helpful to you, you can check out The Emotional Journey of Creating Anything Great by clicking below.

Should you find yourself in what John calls “the dark swamp of despair”, try diving deeper to see what you might find there. What connections can you see? What will you discover. For me, this old song keeps looping in my mind reminding me that, “The ankle bone’s connected to the shin bone. and the shin bone’s connected to the knee bone.”

The middle path is the way to wisdom.
— Rumi

COMPARISON...THE JOY THIEF

This is hard to write.  Not because I can't think of anything to say but rather because my own experience on this topic became too "real" for me this past weekend and frankly, I'm a bit reluctant to talk about it.  But here I go.  Because I think it matters.  Because it might be useful to you. Because it's helpful for me to say it out loud. Because in naming it I believe I can start changing it.

Last week I sent out the SHINE monthly newsletter.  The topic...The Chaos of Comparison.  I've been really tuned into where comparison is showing up around me and how it seems to be at the root of why so many of us are so busy...comparing, competing, hustling.  And when I'm tuned in, the volume on my self-awareness is turned up.  I thought I was doing a really great job of managing my inner critic and comparison saboteur.  I was ON IT!  Aware that I have a loud comparison voice but not letting it drive the direction of my life.  Or so I thought.

There I was, the morning after the newsletter went out, sharing with a friend that I had some anxiety about one of my weekend activities.  A girlfriend invited several of us to be part of a portrait party.  She was treating us to time in front of the camera with the amazing SpiderMeeka. I told my friend on the phone that I was feeling anxious about being photographed in front of other women...especially those that I considered more photogenic than me....which was basically all of them. He gently reminded me that I had not only written about comparison the day before but also that I've been on a crusade about comparison stealing our joy for several months now.  (Side bar: Note of gratitude for friends that hold up the mirror and speak truth to us.) Whoa. This hit hard.  I was on the verge of letting my anxiety about the situation, diminish the joy that I could be feeling about spending a Saturday morning with donuts, mimosas and friends.  

Fast forward to Saturday morning.  After listening to approximately five rounds of "This Is Me" from The Greatest Showman while drying my hair and putting on makeup, I walked over to my closet, picked a top I loved (without following any of the rules about color or pattern) and went joyfully out into the world to have my picture taken.  Morning mantra: THIS IS ME.

Great story.  Happy ending, right?  Oh, if only it ended there.  You see, I'm not telling you all of this because it's a story about having my picture taken.  It turns about it's much bigger than that.  The truth that's really hard to write about is that I might actually be letting more than my joy be stolen, I might just be letting my life be taken.  The full, big story, pump up the volume life that I believe we all are meant to live...where we're meant to shine...mine has been hanging out quietly over in the corner with comparison.  The gift of that Saturday morning portrait party was that it revealed something I hadn't been paying attention to.  It showed me that I've been walking around with a performance scorecard in my head and compared to others I had been giving myself pretty low marks. No longer above average in my former corporate role, not yet a high achiever in the world of leadership coaching..clearly below average was what I deserved.  And do you know what happens when you're living with the idea you're below average?  Not much.  There's not much creativity there, not much energy for invention and cultivating growth...and not a lot of joy for the work that you are offering to the world.  This, my friends, is not an easy thing to realize about yourself. Especially when you're committed to helping others shine.  

It was time to get serious about a plan.

So here it is.  I'm tearing up the scorecard that comparison has been using.  The one that ranks how my accomplishments, my leadership, the way I spend my time measure up against the way everyone else is doing it. I'm done with that one.  I've built a new scorecard.  One that looks my life and how what I'm doing measures up against what I want to create. A progress report rather than a scorecard.  Do you want to see what that looks like?  Great!  Because I want to share it with you. 

Here's what I considered when developing this tool to track my progress:

  • What do I value or want to spend time on right now?  
  • How often to I want to look at this and check my progress?
  • What language do I want to use that feels kind vs. critical?
  • What inspires me that I want to include?
  • What's the question I need to ask myself if I'm not living in alignment with what is important to me?

If what I'm talking about sounds like something you can relate to, I invite you to contemplate the scorecard you've been using.  How are you measuring yourself? Who are you measuring yourself against?   What would it be like to create your own progress report?  One that allows you to stay on track with what matters most to you.  Give it a try.  Do it for you.  Shine on.

 

We won’t be distracted by comparison if we are captivated with purpose.
— Bob Goff

Helping or Hurting?

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I'm a helper.  Show me a problem and I'll jump in to try and fix it.  Shine the light on a need and I'll rally the troops to bring assistance.  I am motivated by challenges and feel a sense of accomplishment in overcoming them.  As part of a team, I want the team to run smoothly and successfully and I'll take on all kinds of responsibilities to ensure that happens.  That's what leaders do.  Take on more.  Solve problems. Help.

Or at least that's what I thought until a recent situation caused me to reconsider.  Here's the story:

I was having dinner with friend who shared that she would be spending part of the next day at her ex-husband's house cleaning their boys' room. She knew it had gotten a bit out of control and while the kids and their dad were on spring break, she wanted to help out by taking on this project.  She and her former husband are really intentional about co-parenting and from her perspective, cleaning the room was her way of helping him to be a good dad.  

Fast forward through the weekend and follow up conversations about how hard this project turned out to be, and how conflicted she felt about whether this was effectively helping or not.  Here are the questions we landed on.  What if this version of helping was actually making the situation worse?  What if helping was accidentally diminishing?  In trying to help create a "good dad" image what she was possibly doing was sending the opposite message.  One that sounded like this: This room (and the way your dad keeps it) doesn't meet the expectation of what good looks like so I'll clean it up.  Clean=Good.  Messy=Bad.  It turned out that helping was getting in the way of the ultimate goal of highlighting what was good.

Fortunately we had been discussing Liz Wiseman's book, Multipliers, at our Friday night dinner gathering.  (Yep, sometimes that's what we talk about at dinner...leadership.)  I shared that when I was diving into the book a couple of years ago, I was absolutely sure I was a leader who multiplied.  I was committed to others, to seeing what was best in them and to helping them grow.  I wanted to help them to be good...even great.  What I was surprised to learn from the research and examples in the book, is that there were times when I thought I was multiplying talents but I was accidentally diminishing them.  (Side note:  If you haven't had a chance to read Multipliers yet, I recommend picking it up today.)

Consider this leadership scenario alongside my friend's situation with the messy room:

  • There's a project that your team is working on. (Living with kids)
  • You have an idea of the desired outcome and the way it should look when completed. (Clean room)
  • Someone in the group is producing or creating results in a way that doesn't align with your vision. (Messy room)
  • You, in the spirit of helping, jump in to assist with that part of the project to get it on track. (Clean it yourself)

Rather than getting curious about that person's work style and ideas, you instead offer to help to ensure the outcome you want.  What message are you sending?  If you're like me, the story you've been telling yourself is that you're a helper and helping is good. Helping is what leaders do. True?  Definitely.  But consider what might also be true.  That helping can be diminishing.  That jumping in as a helper can make others feel like they're not enough or that their way of working is somehow wrong.  It can actually have an effect that decreases motivation and engagement and ultimately impacts the health of your team.

This is a tough one.  I know.  It's nuanced.  A paradox.  If both things are true then how do you know when to help and when help is getting in the way?  I've put together a tool with questions that are useful to consider when discerning where to step in and when to step back.  Print it.  Use it. Share it.  Let's continue exploring this one together.

Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.
— Maya Angelou

Stay the Course

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Here we are.  In the second week of a new year.  For many of you this means that last week was a time of reflection, focused on evaluating 2017 and setting new goals for the new year.  I found my social media feeds flooded with encouragement to start something new and to dream big dreams for the year ahead.  I love that sort of thing.  I thrive on encouraging words and big ideas.  Yet for some reason last week I felt somewhat uneasy and at times a bit discouraged.  I wasn't feeling inspired or ready for the next big thing.  I wondered what was wrong with me.  Had I lost my spark?  Gone flat?  I took a personal inventory and realized that 2018 actually needed something different from me.  I needed to stay the course.  You see, the year before had been full of change...new learning, developing new skills and launching a business. I'm still working on all of that every day and it is good, fulfilling work. It is aligned with my passions and goals.  It needs my focus and energy.  In order for the seeds I've planted to bloom, I've got to keep nurturing and cultivating right where I'm at.  I've got to keep sailing towards that point on the horizon that I've identified as my destination.

My experience in business was somewhat counter to this idea of staying the course, and perhaps that's what caused this struggle for me.  For most, business is driven by the fiscal year.  Annual financial goals, strategic plans, and performance reviews are all part of the rhythm of the way we work.  We hold annual sales meetings, lead our organizations through "a year in review" and evaluate success based on yearly metrics. All of these things are valuable and necessary touch points and sometimes they get in the way of actually reaching our long term goals.  This annual evaluation can open the door to criticism and questioning.  Sometimes from others but definitely from ourselves.  That little voice that whispers to us in the middle of the night, asking if we're doing the right thing, leading well, and making good decisions suddenly gets really loud.  We review the data and the things that aren't yet "perfect" are suddenly glaring issues.  We start believing that we've got to change course...fast!  So maybe we move the target, restructure the team, devise new strategies and roll out new plans.  As one of my colleagues phrased it, we start to "chase the shiny".  

Some backyard landscaping we did a few years ago has taught me a few things about needing time and space to grow.  Like any garden in the midwest, our plants go through yearly cycles. They bloom in the spring, grow larger in the summer, die in the fall and stay dormant for the winter. To be honest, at the end of the first cycle I wasn't so sure if some of the plants were going to make it, and I also wasn't sure about why the landscaper had positioned them where she had.  I had doubts about her skills, my abilities to nurture what had been planted and was considering pulling some things out, moving them around and adding some other plants.  For whatever reason, I never quite got to that and in each of the years that have followed, the garden has looked a bit better than the last.  Plants have filled in, shade trees are finally large enough to provide shade and I see the results of the plan that I was questioning at the time it was implemented.

Maybe that's where you're at the start of this new year.  Questioning the plan, thinking that something new needs to be implemented or inserted. Maybe it does....or perhaps it just needs time.  Time to grow, time to take hold, time to flourish.  This can be hard.  When the questions get asked and the critics get loud, it can be tempting to change course...to find a new person to do the job, a new process to implement, a new consultant to hire or training to roll out...to chase the shiny.  What is often more difficult, is to declare, "I trust my decisions...the team..our strategy...this individual."  It requires a great deal of conviction to weather the storm, to stay the course, to sit in the discomfort and to trust in our plans.

My hope is that you will carve out the time to consider what is right for you.  That you check your coordinates to see if you are on course.  That you make the adjustments you need, or stay steady if that is what's necessary.  You do you.  Shine on.

Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

When The Hard Stuff is the Good Stuff

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I've been hearing from friends and clients about things in life that are really hard. Jobs, leadership, families, health, entrepreneurship...just to name a few things that have come up in conversations of late. These things are real. They matter. And not one of the stories I've heard is anything short of hard.  

For some time now, I've had a favorite mantra to use when hard things come up. It's borrowed from Glennon Doyle, an author and speaker I admire. Her simple reminder that, "We can do hard things.", has been an anchor for me to hold onto when my own "stuff" gets tough. A simple and true reminder that each one of us has the capacity to handle whatever life throws at us.  

But I'm wondering lately if the hard things are actually maybe more than something to handle or to get through. Maybe the hard stuff is actually the good stuff. Think about it. If you've ever tried any kind of exercise that requires you to hold a position for a period of time, most likely you've started to shake at some point. If you've tried to lift heavier weight, the repetitions get harder towards the end. The further you run, the harder the miles become. Any trainer would tell you, that's when the good stuff happens. When the exercise becomes the hardest, the muscle you're working to build is actually getting stronger.  

Consider the perspective that this also is true in life.

  • Managers lean into hard conversations with employees and  grow leadership capacity
  • Leaving a comfortable job and moving into a challenging new one develops new skills
  • Feedback from a disappointed client results in learnings that improve process or service
  • A health crisis strengthens family communication and relationships
  • Taking on more than we can handle teaches us valuable lessons about the importance of boundaries

Grow, develop, improve, strengthen, learn. The good stuff. Just like a muscle, we are built and changed as a result of dealing with what is hard. 

In my own experience, searching for what's good makes the work feel a bit less heavy. When we only see what is difficult, our thoughts stay in the negative and whatever we're dealing with feels harder. When our perspective shifts to finding a way to grow or learn, we suddenly relish the challenge. We might even say, "Bring it on!" if we're feeling especially courageous.

If you need a reminder prompt or a way to reflect on your situation through the lens of growth and learning, I've created a helpful worksheet for just that purpose. Print it out, post it and ask yourself these questions when you're feeling the weight of a challenge.

You've got this. Hold the pose a second or two longer. Lean in a little bit further. Practice saying no sometimes. Take the road less traveled rather than the easy path. Ask for help when the going gets too tough alone. And by all means, rest along the way.

Everyone wants to live on top of the mountain, but all the happiness and all the growth occur while you’re climbing it.
— Andy Rooney

One Size Doesn't Fit All

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Last week I was out for a walk in my neighborhood.  As I was leaving the house there was a dad and son passing by.  This was just a little guy, a toddler just learning to walk and begging to get down and try out his wobbly little legs and new found freedom.  I heard his dad say, "Okay, you can get down but you have to hold my hand the WHOLE way."  A few blocks into the walk I passed a mom and her two kids; one of them on a scooter, the other running alongside.  The kids had put some distance between themselves and their mom and she was calling out to them, "Be sure to stop at the corner and wait for me before you cross."  And as I rounded the final corner towards home, I caught site of a couple of "tweens" on our block cruising the neighborhood on their bikes.  Relishing the freedom of both unscheduled summer days and finally reaching an age where they could be out exploring on their own.  

Watching all of this neighborhood activity got me thinking about my own nieces and nephews and their relationships with their parents.  I've witnessed these parents adapting and adjusting their parenting styles to each new phase of their kids growth; matching communication styles and levels of guidance to the needs of the kids at each particular step. Letting go of hands, letting them run ahead, eventually letting them go off to explore on their own.

And that prompted this question: 

As a leader, have you considered that the people you manage may need you to adjust your style as they "grow up" in your organization?  

You might be thinking right now that there is significant proof related to the importance of consistency as a leader.  I agree with all of it. Consistency in mood, consistency in behavior and consistency in decision making are keys to successful leadership.  Your organization and your team need to know what to expect from you; volatile leaders often create unstable organizations and it's hard for people to follow you if they don't know where you're going on any given day.

This is different.  The number of times that someone has complained to me about not getting the kind of guidance, freedom or feedback that they want from their boss is too numerous to count.  Do any of these sound familiar to you?

  • "They're always in my business."  
  • "I never hear from them. A little direction would be nice."
  • "I don't know if we're on the same page."
  • "I can't do anything without getting approval first."

Consider that each of these statements may be a result of an individual being managed as either a brand new employee or a tenured employee, rather than being met right where they are.

Just as we grow in life, we grow in our careers.  We start off with a lot of learning in front of us.  Our need for regular guidance, positive feedback and assurance that we are on the right track is high.  We want our managers to be available to answer questions and help us with problem solving when inevitable mishaps arise.  Somewhere along the way we become a bit more independent.  We gain confidence in our knowledge and can handle an increasing number of issues on our own. Our need for touching base declines, and feedback can be a bit more direct.  We can handle the truth.  Eventually we move to a stage where we grasp broader business challenges, influence client relationships, and make critical decisions to resolve issues proactively.  We're ready to give our bosses feedback and contribute to the growth of our organizations.

In order for these changes to take place and for healthy individual growth to happen, managers need to be tuned in to each person's needs and adapt accordingly.  Sure, micro-manage in year one but then give them some room to run in year two.  Recognize that each person on your team needs something a bit different from you.  Adapt and adjust your style to cultivate their growth.  Just like my garden needs more water to stay healthy today than it did a few weeks ago, growing employees need different things in different seasons.  One size does not fit all.

You might be thinking, "I've got my style.  People get used to it."  And that's true.  Individuals are resourceful and adapt to their environment. But the question is, will they flourish?  If they're busy expending energy to fit your style, will their strengths shine?  

I've created a tool that might be useful for you if you're excited to reflect on this a bit more.  If you're willing to consider each person you're "growing" and what they need in order to thrive, check it out.  And then...celebrate YOU.  Your willingness to dive in and grow your own leadership says a lot about you.  Cheers!

 

Enjoying success requires the ability to adapt. Only by being open to change will you have a true opportunity to get the most from your talent.
— Nolan Ryan

Discovering New Solutions

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It all started when a friend was on a cross country road trip.  While the Midwestern miles dragged on, he was using the time to connect with friends over the phone.  Driving a car without a Bluetooth phone connection, he opted to achieve "hands free" driving by keeping the speaker phone on and setting the phone in his lap.  We had been talking for fifteen minutes or so and I was really struggling to hear him well.  The speaker was picking up lots of background sound and it made it hard to tune in to what he was sharing.  I asked, "Don't you travel with a set of headphones?"  The answer was yes.  So I continued, "Why don't you plug those into your phone instead of talking through the speaker?"  My friend responded, "Aaaahhh, great idea, why didn't I think of that?!"  He grabbed the headphones, plugged them in and suddenly we had clarity.  We laughed for a few minutes about how he had been traveling for nearly two full days, talking via the speaker (or not talking because of the challenges people had hearing him) and never noticing the solution that was readily available in his bag on the passenger seat.

And it got me thinking...how often are there simple solutions right in front of us that we simply don't notice?  How often do we get stuck in a way of thinking or in a pattern of actions that no longer serve us?

In our lives and in our businesses we are confronted with challenges daily and many times we pull together the same group of leaders, the same group friends or family members to find solutions.  Often times we end up circling the problem in the same way, seeing the obstacles that have always been there and struggling to find a new approach.  Wouldn't it be great if we had a navigation system that automatically reviewed the information, presented various alternatives and also indicated how long it would take to move forward depending on the option we chose? Maybe someday.

In the meantime, here are some options to consider that might help you find a new way out of an old problem:

  • Invite someone new into the conversation.  Just one new voice might shine a light on an area or solution you hadn't previously considered.
  • Read something.  When I'm feeling particularly stuck I often find that the right book or article on the topic can help me broaden my perspective.
  • Get quiet.  There is a voice inside each of us that is pretty darn smart. Create some space in your day or week to hear what that wise voice has to say.
  • Refuse to talk about the obstacles.  Try a "yes, and" brainstorming session where everyone is building on solutions rather than immediately listing reasons why something won't work. YES, you'll come up with some wildly outrageous ideas using this approach AND some of them might actually work!
  • Look for the headphones.  Sometimes we just need to stop overcomplicating things and be open to the easy (almost too obvious) answers that are right in front of us.  

The more coaching I do, the more I see clients that have been sitting with the same set of problems for a long time.  I love when our work together opens up new perspectives or a reframing of a situation, creating possibility from what felt previously unmovable.  I love that the path that seems unclear when we begin can reveal itself in unexpected ways.  Try something new today and see what unfolds for you.

 

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.
— Albert Einstein

Hamilton, Healthcare and Having Enough

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For awhile now I've been reflecting on the idea of abundance and how it connects to the way that we lead ourselves, our teams, and our businesses.  I've been listening.  Listening to my friends and clients, to the news and to my own inner voice and what I hear is a fairly consistent message.  That message...for someone to "win" someone has to lose.  

Now it's not surprising that we see things this way.  Think about it.  From the time we're learning how to play games, participate in sports, or achieve academically we learn that there's a winner and a loser.  Granted we might also learn about winning gracefully or not being a sore loser but seldom is there a focus on an outcome where everyone wins.

There's joy in winning.  We celebrate winning teams, big wins at work, earning more, or getting promoted.  I love nothing more than having the opportunity to share in the happiness of a friend, client or family member who has just experienced success and would guess you feel the same.  That's all good stuff.  But what I'm noticing is that we value winning over the value of working together.

Here's how this might sound in your workplace:

"Our department owns this project and I don't understand why finance/technology/sales/marketing/(insert department here) keeps getting in our way."

And here's how it definitely sounds in our newsfeed:

"The republicans/democrats were able to successfully pass/block this piece of legislation."

These talk tracks are all about one team, one department, or one side coming out on top. It's about winning for the sake of achievement rather than focusing on the broader goals. When we make it about which side wins, we forget who we're doing the work for...the client, the constituent, or the individual that we're serving.  When winning is our focus we are operating from a scarcity mindset.  A belief that there is only so much to go around, and so in order to bring value and be valued we must achieve...be productive...win.  

But what if we shifted our thinking to a mindset of abundance? Having enough for every one.  What if we worked collaboratively, shared our best ideas, challenged one another candidly and kindly, remembering throughout the process who it is that we're serving?  What if it didn't matter who got the credit or whose way it got done, but rather that we collectively moved forward in service to the goal?

I think we'd have a healthcare discussion that was focused on how to serve the greatest number of people in the most effective way.  I know we'd have workplaces that hummed with creativity and collaboration on behalf of clients.  I believe we'd have less worry about failing and more reasons to celebrate our collective success. 

I'm challenging all of us to look through the lens of abundance. To recognize that there is more than enough. I've created a tool with some prompts to help guide you in this process.  Check out the latest SHINE resource that can get you moving in a new direction.  And remember...

The world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me.
— Aaron Burr