Saying YES when you want to say NO

So you said YES the other day, and deep down, your gut was screaming out NOOOOO! Not again!

It’s the same old story. In an effort to help out or to save the day, that YES comes flying out, time after time.

In many cases, we say YES just because we can. Because helping out has become second nature, and quite frankly, we’re pretty awesome at swooping in and saving a project, at rejiggering an entire process and creating something even more efficient, or at putting into action something that’s been in idea mode for waaay too long.

So how’s it working for you?

Yeah, I thought so.

One way to break out of the cycle of YES is to get really honest with yourself about what’s on the other side of YES. Very likely, it’s not what you have rationalized on the surface – more likely, it’s what your gut has been trying desperately to tell you.

The next time you are tempted to say YES, ask yourself these questions, and be sure include your gut in the discussion:

  1. What exactly am I saying YES to?
  2. In what ways will this support and energize me?
  3. In what ways will it drain me?
  4. What would I rather be saying YES to?

Wishing you a future of guilt-free and liberating NO’s, as well as clear space for the exhilarating YES’s you very much deserve.

Getting in tune in work and life

My daughter recently started singing in tune, this after several years of belting out the songs of Katy Perry, Pink, Taylor Swift and other artists in her beautifully and happily dissonant way.

I don’t know about the child developmental factors that paved the way for this. What I do know, however, is that if I had spent the past couple of years trying to rigorously teach her to sing in tune, it’s possible she would have gone silent. Instead, I gave her the time and space to sing happily, screechily (and sometimes annoyingly) out of tune. I gave her the opportunity to do it incorrectly, so to speak. And little by little, she is starting to find her notes. Little by little, she is learning to carry a tune.

We can be so patient with our children, allowing them the time and space to explore, grow and develop their skills and strengths. What would happen if we were to allow ourselves the same opportunity? What if, instead of beating ourselves up every single time we fail at something, we allow ourselves to try it again, and to fail at it again? At some point, a truly big learning would occur and, I imagine, we’d find ourselves singing.

This year, I have decided to allow myself the freedom to try and fail in several areas of my life and work. I invite you to do the same — here are some guidelines to help you make it happen:

  1. Identify an area of life in which you are stagnant, stuck, in the muckiest of muck
  2. Make a list of the many ideas you’ve been concocting in your head, the many ideas that you know will get you out of this stuck place. Make a list, on paper, not in your head. (You know I hate it when you keep all that brilliance hidden!)
  3. Cut up each idea, put ‘em in a jar
  4. Pick one. Commit to trying it.
  5. If you succeed, pick another.
  6. If you fail at it, 1) you don’t get to beat up on yourself, and 2) you get to try it again, perhaps in a modified form, but you get to try it again, and again, and again until you get it right.

Here’s to a year of getting in tune by starting out of tune!

From the Sandbox,


Step AWAY from the whirlwind!

People have been complaining of whirlwinds and vortexes this season, me included. It seems that Fall has been a time of intense and overwhelming activity that we have single-handedly generated and created for ourselves.

See that Tasmanian Devil over there? He has been whirling and swirling for the past 6 months, because he told himself to get off his lazy arse and start becoming a productive and valuable human being. Now he’s miserable, sick and burnt out. But busy, yes, busy!

Or see that turbulence over there? That gal is over-analyzing every little word, phrase and event that has been happening around her and coming up with enough personal doomsday scenarios to complete Nostradamus’ sequel. Not a happy camper.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  Here are a couple common whirlwinds and suggestions on how you might step away from it all:

This whirlwind derives its power from fear –fear of the future and all the misery you believe it holds for you. It can start simply, with a few phrases dropped by a boss, or a few unusual actions and decisions made by a partner. Then your over-analytical mind takes over, simulating an infinite number of possible negative scenarios that ALL MUST BE PREVENTED. I liken it to an episode of Scandal, where every single message, decision, or even facial expression is assumed to be part of a darker deadlier and convoluted plan. Attempting to control it all creates the whirlwind, the trap, the misery, the fear.

HOW TO STEP AWAY: Instead of trying to prevent an infinite number of scenarios, create one simple, positive vision that you can focus on. It could be a word, an image, a musical sound. I think you’ll find that all the other swirling, whirling detritus clears quickly once you have a clear vision for what you want to create.

As a society we’ve bought into the mindset that stillness and inaction are not productive uses of our time. As a result, when individuals engage in downtime, there’s a tremendous amount of guilt and self-flagellation that go along with it. The truth is, we need that downtime to process, to simmer and to let your creative essence play and be playful. What happens more often than not, however, is that we start creating ways to be “busy” or at least to appear “busy.” Because busy = productive, right??!?!  NO!!!!! Busy really just means busy.

HOW TO STEP AWAY: Find the source of most of your over-activity-generation. For many of you, it’s probably your phone, your social media addiction, or your email inbox. Turn it all off for 10 minutes a day and chill. Let me know how it goes.

So go ahead. Step away. Dance away. Breathe away from the whirlwind. It’ll be okay. Image

Throw your name into the hat!

Martyrs, Chicago IL

Martyrs, Chicago IL

The other night, I attended my first Moth Story Slam ever.  You might have heard about it – it’s an opportunity for a person to have their name randomly drawn for the opportunity to go up to the mike and tell a story for 5 minutes. The story must relate to the theme for the night, and you have to tell it without notes…oh, and three groups of judges will rate your performance….and then there’s the audience!

At first, I was going to do my typical thing, just observe for the night, learn how it works, study the event as if it were my prey so that next time, I would be fully prepared. However that night, I brought my “what the hell” attitude with me, so I threw my name into the hat.

“If they call on me, I can do this,” I thought.”And if they don’t call on me, they will next time.” However, it was my birthday present, so I told my husband, “They’re going to call on me. After all, it’s my birthday!”

And of course they called my name. Not to tell the full 5-minute story, but to speak the first line of my story, which I hurriedly rewrote in my head as I went up to the mike. (My original first line needed the rest of the story for context! It was not so interesting without! Hmmm, maybe I need to learn about storytelling before I do this! Darn those voices in my head!)

The moments before I went up to the mike were the most heart-pounding, exhilarating, deliciously scary moments I’ve had in a while. I was totally out of my element, and it felt great!

What I got out of this experience is that I have stories that I want to tell, loudly, boldly, with humor, with pathos. So I’m going to go back again and again, and throw my name in the hat over and over, until I have my 5 minutes. My 10 minutes. My many minutes.

I’d like you to consider the possibility of throwing your own name into a hat yourself. It could be a small hat or an enormous one. A hat you’ve been eyeing for some time, or one that just happened to present itself to you, much like the Moth Story Slam did to me.

If you were to just throw your name in, what would be possible for you?

Here in the big hat with ya,


Stop, don’t think!

The other day, a friend texted me and told me she had just made a good decision and was so proud of herself!  Even in that brief communiqué, I could sense calmness, clarity and the confidence with which she had made the decision.

It got me to thinking about good decisions. Have you made any recently? They are often ones that don’t necessarily come after months of research and inquiry, or after running 1000 simulations in your head. They are the ones sometimes triggered by a casual conversation with a stranger, or after taking a break from your thought process. They make sense at a place that’s very deep down in your soul. And they love to pay surprise visits! 

So let’s do an experiment in honor of the unearthing some good decisions for ourselves. Without thinking, write down the answer to this question:


Stop, don’t think! Just write it down, now!! Really!

Wow, I am floored by what I’ve just written down. How about you?

On the long and winding road to success, and being scooped

I hate being scooped.

The first time it happened was in 1989. I was 21 and Amy Tan had published the book that I always wanted to write. You might know it – it was The Joy Luck Club – and her portrayals of the Asian mother- Asian-American daughter relationships truly resonated with me.

“Damn! I thought. That was supposed to be MY magnum opus!”

At that time, a little voice in me said, “See? You’re too late! Try something else!”  At some level, I think that’s what I did. I let go of any literary ambitions I had to pursue a more practical, safer, less failure-guaranteeing path.

Now, more than 20 years later, it’s happened again! Just last week, in planning my next piece, I drew this diagram on a napkin:


My goal in creating this piece was to ease your pain and reassure you that it isn’t always necessary or beneficial to barrel towards an often ill-defined notion of success — that sometimes taking the blinders off can result in greater opportunities to create the right path for yourself.

And then I saw it, a very similar diagram in an article that carries some very similar messages to the one I was drafting:


At first, I wanted to feel scooped again, just like the Amy Tan incident. A voice in me wanted to say, “See, look! What you’re doing is nothing new. Give it up! Climb back into your hole!”

But before that voice could even take over, a different one sounded out. This one said, “See? The ideas and insights you have are shared by many. Don’t stop sharing them. Don’t go silent.”

And I won’t go silent! I will persist in spreading the idea that you don’t need to buy into the old mindsets about what success looks like and how you are supposed to get there. I will persist in sharing my belief that there are simple, creative and alternative ways for you to design a life that works for you.

But being a wise and extremely efficient woman, I also know when it’s enough to share someone else’s wise words, which I share with you today in this valuable post from LinkedIN: Don’t Let a Good Plan Get In the Way.

Cool. That didn’t hurt one bit! And what a great feeling to know I’m not alone.

Smirking from the Sandbox,


Craziest Boss You’ll Ever Have!

Carolyn’s Update: I first wrote this piece last October, but ever since have had the nagging feeling that there was a role missing among the three listed — the Entrepreneur, the Manager and the Technician. Having worked with a number of Entrepreneurs who are in the trenches on a daily basis, and hearing them speak of their daily struggle to keep it all going and to stay sane, I realized that this model needs another entity mixed in, one that I’ll call “GURU.” 

Guru is the one that’s going to ask the tough questions or point out the simple answers that are right in front of you. Sometimes Guru is going to tell you to get really quiet and listen to what your gut is telling you. Very often, Guru is going to tell you to get some rest, because the Guru knows how to see beyond all the chaos. So as you read this piece, add in the role of GURU to the mix, and I think you’ll find it a much more complete team!

“Craziest Boss You’ll Ever Have”

You know the type – one moment envisioning a grand, bright and beautiful future, the next moment, having a panic attack because you’re not meeting your deadlines, and then the next, vanishing for the weekend, only to be found hiding in a café finishing that research … or simply reading a really good book!

That’s right. It’s that crazy boss of yours, and every day you wonder how on earth she ever got the job.

Well, I have a secret to share with you.

It’s your fault she has the job.

Because your crazy boss is YOU!

Think about it. Who is the dreamer who gets excited about each new vision for your life? Who is the manager who creates and lives by the plan to make it happen?  And who is the doer who just wants to focus on the business of living? What happens every time the dreamer in you comes up with something new? Does the manager flip out because now you’re off track? And the doer – does she just want to finish what she’s working on?

It’s your very own 3-headed monster, and it’s not so different from the three-way battle that Michael Gerber describes in his classic book, The E-Myth Revisited. In it, Gerber writes of a business owner’s classic conflict between The Entrepreneur, The Manager and The Technician. These three roles are critical to running a business, yet they are roles that are in perpetual conflict, and in many cases, roles that exist within the single entity of the business owner!

Here are some brief definitions from the text – as you read them, consider the parallels to your own work and life. Think about which role is your dominant one, as well as the situations that allow the other two to show up:

“The Entrepreneur is our creative personality – always at its best dealing with the unknown, prodding the future, creating probabilities out of possibilities, engineering chaos into harmony.”

“The Manager personality is pragmatic. Without the manager there would be no planning, no order, no predictability.”

“The Technician is the doer. The Technician loves to tinker. Things are supposed to be taken apart and put back together again. Things aren’t supposed to be dreamed about, they’re supposed to be done. ..As long as the Technician is working, he is happy.”

“Put another way, while the Entrepreneur dreams, The Manager frets, and The Technician ruminates.”

Source: The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It, by Michael Gerber (New York: HarperCollins, 1995).

So what can you do to start managing this multiplexity?? (Yes, I made that up…)

  1. Get your crazy boss out of the closet. Even admitting that it exists is a big step!
  2. Give your boss a voice. Consider journaling from the point of view of your entrepreneur, then manager, then technician. The point is to get to know your crazy boss in all its glory.
  3. Give your crazy boss a performance review.  If you feel like your boss has been making some questionable decisions on your behalf, make a list of those decisions, as well as which persona made each one. Rate each decision according to how well it has supported your greater work/life vision. See which persona has served you best and give it a raise!
  4. Give your boss a vacation. At the same time, if one persona has been running the show for too long, give it some time off so that you can explore how life works with the other two.

Give your boss time to grow on you. Remember that none of the personae are absolutely wrong. Identifying how they operate is the first step towards intentionally and effectively flexing between the different roles as you continue to steer the course of your crazy life!

Crazy with you,