Decoding my personal truth: how to figure out what to do with my life (and still ideally pay my bills!)

These days, people are increasingly using executive coaching for the purpose of ‘figuring out what to do with my life’ (and ideally still be able to afford living in the Bay Area!)  From high-ranking executives at globally successful companies, to startup founders who’ve sold their company and are now free to roam, to Bay Area transplants who’ve grown disenchanted with the tech scene- all have entered my practice ready to decode their personal truth, find their greater purpose, and build a personally meaningful roadmap toward their version of success.

“A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.”  Albert Einstein

Our personal truth serves as our unique roadmap, helping us navigate toward a future created with purpose.  Every day we make choices that steer us on our personal path- our inner beliefs, preferences, sense of right and wrong all come together to drive the direction we take in life.  In his book Unapologetically You, behavioral science academic and author Steve Maraboli advises us of the importance of this position: “Live your truth. Express your love. Share your enthusiasm. Take action towards your dreams. Walk your talk. Dance and sing to your music. Embrace your blessings. Make today worth remembering.”  

But what if we aren’t sure of what we are meant to do, and our greater purpose seems unclear?  How do we ‘know’ what’s right for us?

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Disenchantment A new Netflix toon with a title that captures the sentiment of many.

How can we be sure of ‘what’s best’ when we make choices for our future?  Some people feel a deep sense of conviction about their life’s purpose- “I was born to make music. I was born to build.  I was born to heal.”  Other people don’t feel this depth of clarity, and take aim for their future by solving tangible problems first- they develop a range of practices, skills and resources to prevent commonly avoided hardships like sickness, injury, poverty, social isolation.  Others feel satisfied knowing they’ve contributed to offsetting the needs of their family, community, or are embodying their religious tenets faithfully.  Even with recognizable success, some people may still wonder if they they’ve adequately challenged themselves to fulfill their personal destiny or greater purpose in life.  How can we ‘know’ if we’ve made the right choices for ourselves? At some point, a person’s experience of happiness and purpose comes back to personal taste, or preference for achievement.

Cultural expectations, opinions of people we admire, and social influences related to the times further shape our notions of what an ideal, purpose-driven, meaningful life looks like.  How have outside influences shaped your assumptions about what you should do with your life?  Without awareness of what’s driving your thoughts, feelings and behaviors it’s easy to get stuck in the habit of chasing goals without fully understanding if it’s personally important to do so. We can distract ourselves by measuring outcomes in size, volume, impact, or accumulation as a marker to indicate the degree of our success.  We may even learn to rely on these outcomes to tell us how satisfied we should feel.   

Three Exercises for discovering personal truth-  how do you ‘know’ yourself?

Cognitive psychology is the scientific study of the mind as an information processor- cognitive psychologists seek to understand human perception- the process of how we experience our emotions, how we develop mental representations, and derive genuine fulfillment from our experiences.  

Bring to mind some of your favorite moments in your past.  When you think about places, recreations, or experiences that you enjoy for the sake of the pleasure they gives you- try to uncover the why behind the attraction, or the feeling they’ve given you.  Identify your preferences in the following areas, simply based on your experience of them: how do you ‘know’ you like them?

  • areas in nature (cliffs, beaches, snowy mountains, open fields, woods, etc)
  • Sounds of specific musical instruments, musical genres, or eras of music
  • Social activities at a party (group games, exploratory dinner conversations, group cooking, dancing, people watching, etc)
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Discovering truth in Silicon Valley

2. Can you identify how external influences or mental representations play a role in how you developed these preferences? 

  • Consider how your family, social circles, workplace or local communities have shaped your understanding of how to best spend your time.
  • How does the narrative you’ve adopted about your personality style (e.g. loner, leader, helper) shape your predictions of trying new experiences and how you’ll feel about them?
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3.  Imagine moving to a society where areas of achievement, compensation for work and the social status of various roles were completely different than what we know them to be now.

  • Can you imagine choosing a role/occupation (a collection of responsibilities and activities) without knowing how this society thought of it?
  • What would you be doing? (Starting an original project? Building a team after evaluating competencies in people? Leading growth?)
  • How much of your attraction to these elements are because you’re familiar and/or been successful in doing these things in the past?  
  • If you found out there was one additional responsibility within this role/occupation that you were apprehensive to take on, what would that be?

These exercises are meant to help you uncover and tap into your personal truth, creating a guiding force for making choices in the big picture of your life path.  Be patient with yourself, track the evolution of your thoughts, feelings and insights throughout the process.  You’re on your way to ‘knowing’ yourself better than ever before.

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Lost a Job or suffered a career setback? Don’t flip out, take these steps.

Today’s job market is faster paced than ever, with swift role changes around every corner.  Learning you’re out of a job, whether it has to do with your performance or not, can be a tremendously stressful life event.  Job loss often ranks among the highest in stress on a list of life-altering events such as a death in the family, divorce, and serious illness.  In other cases, losing a key manager that was positioned to train you and advocate for your career advancement can also feel like a huge setback.

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These experiences can lead to feelings of panic, grief, anger and turmoil about what to do next.  If you let it, getting caught in a tailspin of emotions after a professional setback can keep you from moving forward in a productive way.  Allow yourself a good rant with your friends and family (not your colleagues) about the misery and injustice of it all.  Then it’s time to roll up your sleeves and pull together an action plan so you can get on with your life.  No one wants to stay paralyzed like a deer in headlights after what feels like a dismantling career blow.  If you find yourself struggling to build momentum, consider enlisting an executive coach who can be a strategic thought partner in creating your next career come-back.

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1. Flip the script.  Major changes like the loss of a job or manager who was critical to your advancement can lead to emotionally derailing thoughts, rattling one’s sense of direction and purpose.  When clients in my coaching practice share professional setbacks with me, their emotionally charged reactions are often fueled by the perception that they’ve lost control of their future.  Particularly for the hard-driving, high-achieving ‘Type A’ people that make up Silicon Valley, this feeling is particularly intolerable.  Rant. Breathe. Shake it off. Hit the restart button. Relocate superpowers.

 Adam* had spent the last 2 years pouring all of his time and talent into an early stage startup after leaving a lucrative but uninspiring job at a large corporation.  He’d given up higher compensation for the chance to hone skills and autonomy typically not accessible at his level of professional development.  When the company shutdown unexpectedly as a result of cofounder conflict, he couldn’t stop ruminating about his decision to stay with the startup for as long as he had, and felt cheated thinking of all the financial sacrifices he’d made.

After losing a job, it’s completely normal to re-think every decision you made that contributed to the grim outcome of being out of a job.  People can get stuck obsessing about the past, especially if they feel jilted.  Moving on can feel like an unfair concession,  but dwelling on the past will only impede your ability to start over, not vindicate you.  Take inventory of what you’ve learned, where you are developmentally in your life, and let that inform how to prioritize your next work move.  Ask yourself “how have I changed?  What new insights am I taking with me? What opportunities am I free to pursue now?”  To develop an empowered point of view- flip the script.  Rebuild your narrative about what happened, and what’s going to happen next in such a way that you feel emboldened to turn the storyline into one of courage and success.  This is not to be mistaken for ignoring the role you played in how things transpired, or fail to learn from how you got there.  But those decisions are done and dusted, and now it’s time to move on. Develop a new narrative that captures the best possible scenario.  A few examples to illustrate the point:

Reactive thought: “I sacrificed for nothing, and losing this job is evidence that that my gamble with startups is a failure.  I’ve lost time and money and now I’m behind in life.”

Reframed thought: The calculated risk that I took gave me firsthand, invaluable experiences and insights that I could not have gained otherwise.  I now have clarity on what types of opportunities are best suited to my priorities in life.  With that knowledge I can start again with improved focus and direction to achieve my goals.”  

Notice the different approach to defining one’s progress and success in life- instead of measuring yourself by outcome alone, evaluate how capable you are of responding to life’s setbacks and challenges with aplomb.

2. Work backwards from the future.  Fast forward for a moment in your professional trajectory.  What specific learning and skill mastery will you need to successfully advance?  Staying focused on solutions, flexible problem-solving, and the ability to dig your way out of complex situations will aways be seen as evidence of competency under fire by future employers.

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Catherine* landed a coveted role at a prestigious financial firm after graduating with honors from an Ivy League university.  She was meticulous in architecting her career trajectory, parlaying her work experience to train in a new area of finance under the tutelage of a managing director at a different firm.  When this manager left for a rare work opportunity elsewhere, her chance to develop skills outside her wheelhouse was cut short.  Emotionally immobilized and without a game plan, Catherine was at a loss for what to do next.

When elements outside of our control topple our specific strategy for achievement, it can feel like our route to get from point A to point B has been destroyed.  Take a solution-focused approach and identify alternative routes to stay on target.  Imagine where you want to be two steps ahead in your career path, rather than focusing on what’s directly in front of you.  I asked Catherine to share with me what type of role she would be competitive for had her manager stayed and provided the specific guidance and training she’d wanted. 

“Let’s say you got everything you wanted from the current role you’re in, and now you’re interviewing for your next advancement.  What markers of success can you draw attention to in your interview?  What specific qualities and skills will you need to have demonstrated to be competitive for the next level of growth?” 

Catherine shared that she would need to demonstrate a high level of autonomy in her day-to-day work operations, process communication effectively between various parties involved in decision-making, and show success in developing and maintaining relationships that lead to new business.  From there we mapped out specifics around whom she might target for support and how, identifying internal and external resources for mentorship and learning, and personal routines to help her stay on track.          

None of these approaches are particularly swift or easy.  They take a high level of personal discipline and an ongoing willingness to course-correct when you notice yourself going astray.  Keeping people in your life who are closely aware of your intentions and support your efforts helps!  With practice and mastery, these steps will be to your overfall benefit by helping you cultivate new and effective resiliency skills when life throws you a curveball.

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*Names have been changed for privacy

 

How startups use psychometrics for leadership development can make or break them: 4 major principles to follow

A survey by the Society for Human Resource Management estimates that at present, 18% of companies use psychometric testing for a range of purposes, most commonly recruitment and hiring.  According to Harvard Business Review, skillful application of cognitive and personality tests (also known as psychometrics) help companies avoid hiring and managerial mishaps, which are estimated to cost a company at least one year’s pay.  Poor management can be especially fatal for startups, making skillful leadership critical to a startup’s early growth and success.  Ray Dalio founder of Bridgewater Associates, the largest hedge fund in the world managing $160 billion discusses the value of psychometric use for leadership development in his widely recognized bestseller Principles: Life and Work.  Dalio and his employees use psychometric observations and evaluations to identify and minimize derailing behaviors among high potential leaders.  In sum, leaders who lack self-awareness and fail to learn from their experiences contribute to their own derailment.  Honing self-awareness is the prevailing objective among clients in my executive coaching practice aiming to mitigate the derailing pitfalls that new challenges bring.   Applied research findings in this area reveal the most common derailments among faulty leaders:

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  • Problems with interpersonal relationships
  • Failure to build and lead a team
  • Lack of self-awareness
  • Inability to learn from feedback and experience
  • Trust/integrity issues
  • Inability to change or adapt
  • Poor composure under stress
  • Over-reliance on strengths

Unfortunately, many organizations choose the wrong psychometric assessments to use in their leadership development efforts, or use them in the wrong way.  Expert application of psychometrics can be a costly investment for small startups.  Typically the luxury of employing an esteemed management company like McKinsey for psychometric use in leadership development is far outside of the budget of early stage startups.

My professional experiences teaching and utilizing a range of psychometric assessments and later coaching tech leaders through challenging transitions provide a framework for offering these guiding principles on how startups can optimize psychometrics for their leadership-development.

Four major principles to follow:

Consider applicable laws.  Stay in legal compliance whenever employing psychometric tests. in your organization.  Anti-discrimination laws apply to psychometric assessment tools (particularly cognitive tests) stating they must be job-relevant and demonstrate internal and external validity.  The Americans with Disabilities Act provides specific guidelines for using psychometrics within organizations- they must respect people’s privacy and not aim to “diagnose” potential hires or employees in any way.  Historically organizations have used clinical psychometric assessments like the MMPI-2 for employment decision-making, though it was designed for the purpose of diagnosing mental illness and identifying traits common in those with personality disorders.  Because the MMPI-2 was developed for use with psychiatric and prison populations,  some employers have been taken to court for using it in their organizational decision-making and lost.  Using psychometric tools designed for use and application in industrial/organizational settings is a safer bet for company decision-making.

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Choose your tests wisely.  Aim to build an evidence-based approach for evaluating leadership growth and performance, with specific purpose in mind. If using psychometrics for hiring, aim to demonstrate that your hiring tools predict how you’re defining ‘success’ in a given role using rigorous statistical analyses.  Relying on interesting but random psychometric outcomes will at best waste time and resources, and at worst lead managers to make faulty decisions.  If using psychometrics to increase self-awareness in leaders, select assessment tools designed for this purpose, proven to be scientifically valid by experts in the field, and have demonstrated utility in identifying and redirecting problematic behavioral patterns.  Whenever possible, get support from experienced organizational consultants to help your company select appropriate tools for your company’s specific needs.

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Follow test administration protocol or risk invalidating outcomes.  “Proctoring” assessments ensures they are being taken according to the test’s protocol, either by having people take the assessments in front of an informed test proctor, or through video conference monitoring if they are remote.  Be sure that test takers are given clear directions according to the test developer or risk invalidating test results.  Be aware that some people may feel compelled to influence their results in order to appear more competent for a particular role, or may be more guarded in their responses as a way of presenting themselves in the most favorable light to potential employers.  Some psychometric tests have built-in measures that indicate whether a candidate’s pattern of responses reflect an effortful attempt influence their test outcomes, or if their responses are inconsistent with one another.  Using outcomes from multiple psychometric tests (referred to as a ‘test battery’) can help to gather a more accurate, comprehensive testing profile.

Leadership development initiatives with opportunities for privacy and self-directed learning enhance engagement.  When participants are allowed to maintain a sense of privacy over their psychometric assessment outcomes, they are more likely to engage in deeper, lasting growth.

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This practice provides a safer space for leaders to do a deep dive into understanding their own personal challenges.   Innovative venture capital firms like Alpha Bridge Ventures are investing in startup founder success with an on-boarding process that uses psychometric surveys to determine leadership style, then tailors support through an inter-disciplinarian team of coaches and wellness professionals.  Other venture capital firms like Andreessen Horowitz recognize the limitation of time and resources executives have to spare for developing their own employees.  Outsourcing leadership skill-building through founder retreats, externally facilitated consultation groups modeled after Stanford’s T-groups, or providing a broad and deep alumni support network à la Y-Combinator are all ways startup founders are achieving leadership success.   Larger organizations are investing in employee development through bespoke leadership programs like Potentialife, which provide participants access to strategic, self-directed leadership growth modules through the convenience of an interactive app.

Startups that invest in their leaders self-awareness will benefit from the long-term gains that self-knowledge delivers.  Appreciate that no matter how much progress we make, there’s always more to learn.

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

– Albert Einstein

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Olympic athletes and entrepreneurs share one critical trait to conquer pressure under fire.

In sports, mental toughness is defined as “the ability to consistently perform in the upper range of your talent and skill regardless of competitive circumstances.”  The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Korea have been rife with performances by athletes with well honed mental toughness, giving them the competitive edge over athletes with matched or even higher ranking talent.  Two-time U.S. champion figure skater Nathan Chen was the gold medal frontrunner heading into the 2018 Winter Olympics, only to crumble under pressure during his Olympic debut, underscoring how critical it is for young athletes to harness mental toughness under extreme pressure.  It was a devastating outcome for Chen, the most talented US men’s figure skater to compete in the sport in recent memory. 

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U.S. figure skater Adam Rippon’s incredible grace under pressure has been widely recognized during this winter’s Olympic Games, especially given the level of criticism he’s received for being the first openly gay American figure skater to ever compete at the Olympics.  His positive attitude, willingness to lead with charisma and humor, and champion performances have catapulted him beyond just physical mastery as an athlete.

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If anyone in the business world ever needed mental toughness at their disposal, it’s an entrepreneur.  Investors and other tech industry insiders all agree that startup success is all about mental preparedness, tenacity, and skillful pitch execution under high stakes circumstances.  Entrepreneurs regularly face cutthroat competitors and critics, and must be able to push their ideas and products past consumers resistance to change.  In his most recent book “Executive Toughness,” Dr. Jason Selk discusses mental toughness and other shared traits between sports and business high performers.  Given the self-driving nature of entrepreneurial work, startup founders must exemplify this critical trait to prevail.  In his Harvard Business Review article “How the Best of the Best Get Better,” sports psychologist and former consultant to Olympic and world champions Dr. Graham Jones says, “Obviously, star athletes must have some innate, natural ability — coordination, physical flexibility, anatomical capacities — just as successful senior executives need to be able to think strategically and relate to people. But the real key to excellence in both sports and business is not the ability to swim fast or do quantitative analyses quickly in your head. Rather, it is [mindset] mental toughness.”

After living and working in and around Silicon Valley for more than 20 years I’ve seen firsthand the underpinnings of mental toughness, the stamina it takes to succeed here, and the price those people pay to stay at the top.  Through executive coaching I’ve supported top organizational leaders through pivotal growth periods in life and business, leveraging best practices from peak performance psychology, cognitive neuroscience, behavioral design and critical communication skill acquisition.  

Top 5 best practices for augmenting mental toughness:

  1. Notice the subtle shifts in your physiology and thought patterns, and where they drive your emotions, behaviors and decision-making.  Cultivate control over this chain reaction through mindfulness training, and commit to embodying your most unflappable self in high stakes situations.  Use tools like visualization, auditory prompts and self-directing phrases to tap into deep learning through habit formation.
  2. Prepare confidence-boosting engagement and response scripts to the three most challenging interpersonal situations you face.  This is especially helpful for those who aren’t naturally charismatic, because they serve as a guideline for how to best interact with people. Well-developed and practiced interpersonal responses work to center you, bringing you back to a place of familiarity, reducing socially anxious reactions that can interfere with peak performance.
  3. Develop a relentless and optimistic ‘solution focused mindset’. It is so irresistible to ride the wave of emotion that surges when facing a hard problem. Our brains can get railroaded by our emotions, mimicking the addiction response and diminishing our ability to think critically and generate effective options.  Approach all potential solutions one step at a time, giving yourself time to process your emotions first.  Even mapping out a single step completion is progress and an improvement to the current situation. Remember you can’t solve all problems at once, so choose one and stay focused on it until measurable progress is made.
  4. When you set your mind to do something, find a way to get it done, no matter what. While a relentless solution focus is the mental step, behavioral discipline is the action step that makes effective solutions materialize. In this way, discipline delivers success. Make discipline a habit by looking out for triggering temptations and planning accordingly.
  5. Be willing to embrace change.  Mentally tough people are flexible, constantly adapting in order to solve for best possible outcomes.  Fear of change is paralyzing and a major threat to one’s progress towards broader goals for fulfillment and happiness. 

A backbone of mental toughness is essential for providing the courage and internal compass that top competitors rely on to steer through the challenges they face. It also emboldens them to take on new opportunities for learning and growth- healthy life habits for effectively navigating stress, conflict and crises.  If you can develop mastery in this, you win!

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Improve your health and performance with Learned Optimism and you will win at life

What is the difference between someone who consistently performs to the best of their ability and someone whose performance is unpredictable?  What allows someone to effortlessly tap into their peak performance and reach their goals and what compromises a person’s ability to access and sustain it?  One word- outlook.  Martin Seligman‘s groundbreaking research on learned optimism reveals how being optimistic is consistently related to improved health and longevity.  A US study of nearly 100 000 students found that people who are optimistic are less likely than those who are pessimistic to die from Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) or from any other cause over an eight year period.  On the other hand, pessimism has been linked to chronic stress and poor health functioning such as high levels of inflammation, a weakened immune system, increased pain perception, and other signs of physiological and mental dysfunction.  Optimistic people appear to manage stress more efficiently than others so that their stress disappears at a faster rate than those who don’t utilize optimism in their outlook.

Seligman developed a test to help people identify their outlook style (which you can take here.)  If your base level of optimism isn’t very high, don’t panic.  In fact, it means that you are at the level where learned optimism can be the most beneficial!

Executive coaching can be an effective way to learn and adopt optimism to improve your overall functioning and sustain peak performance in all areas of your life.  I typically work with high-achieving young adults in the tech community of the Bay Area/Silicon Valley.  Working with a coach is great for healthy people who are motivated to change what isn’t working, but need some guidance on how to execute strategically and efficiently.

The following tactics outline the basic tenets of Learned Optimism.  Keep in mind that our first reaction to something will always be automatic and happen instantaneously – that’s normal and to be expected!  We can acknowledge our initial reactions to an event without this becoming our permanent outlook on the matter.  That’s where Learned Optimism comes in.  We can cultivate this skill by identifying our first reaction, clarifying how this first outlook might impact our overall ability to problem-solve and perform, and challenge ourselves to adjust our outlook in order to optimize our performance and goal achievement.  With practice, we can improve our mental toughness, which is what helps a person cope with difficult situations, persevere and succeed at a high performance level.

Our outlook is shaped by our individual explanatory style, a psychological attribute that indicates how people explain to themselves why they experienced a particular event, either positive or negative.  There are three components to this:

  1. The permanence of an event – how long someone thinks it will last
  2. The pervasiveness or scope of an event – whether the person sees the event as specific and contained, or global and all-inclusive
  3.  Personalization of an event – whether the person views the event as something that was caused entirely by oneself, others or external factors

Learned Optimism tool # 1 – Adjust TIME outlook for an event.

Find ways to view a negative event as temporary:

  • “The next fiscal quarter will be better.”
  • This is a short-term setback.”
  • I’m having an off day today.”

Find ways to view a positive event as enduring and reflective of personal ability:

  • “I’m on a roll now, because I’ve worked hard, practiced, and now have a winning strategy.”
  • I know I can handle challenging things because I’ve already overcome so much.”
  • “I’ve created opportunities for myself in the past, and am capable of creating more.”

Learned Optimism tool # 2 – Adjust SCOPE of an event.

Find ways to view a negative event as specific and contained to one situation:

  • The next event will work out better because of what I’ve learned this time around.”
  • “I won’t let this personal rejection or difficult co-worker get in my way or stop me from reaching my goal.”
  • Things at my company are rough right now, but my personal life is going well.”

Find ways to view a positive event as global:

  • “Earning this promotion has gotten me on the right path to developing as a leader in the company.”
  • “My management style is more effective since I’ve made an effort to be more approachable and generous with my time.”
  • Taking social risks has been challenging but I’ve learned that overall, people respond well to me when I reach out first.”

Learned Optimism tool # 3 – Adjust PERSONALIZATION to contain one’s responsibility, recognize which personal strengths were utilized, and which external circumstances influenced the outcome of an event.

For negative events, identify your personal accountability, then factor in others’ contributions and the role of external circumstances:

  • “I can see how I contributed to the fight my spouse and I had.  I want to clarify my expectations and work on finding some middle ground so the next time this issue comes up we can avoid a blowup.”
  • “I reacted without communicating beforehand with my team members, which led to a break down in our overall progress.  I will suggest a few temporary solutions until we can figure out a more inclusive strategy.”
  • My company is going through major layoffs, and in spite of the contributions I made that demonstrated real utility, I’ve been informed it’s time to find my next position.”

For positive events, recognize which personal strengths you utilized to bring this event to fruition:

  • “I stayed focused on my goals and was willing to work harder when other people were frustrated and fed up, which helped me move forward and achieve in spite of facing real adversity.”
  • “I’m more comfortable and experienced speaking in front of others than my co-founder, so I took on the responsibility of pitching our idea to investors and now our startup has seed funding.” 
  • “I’ve worked on building up my tolerance for discomfort in social situations, which I believe gave me the confidence to ask out someone I’ve been interested in for months.  Even if it doesn’t work out, I feel good about stepping up and taking initiative.”

Bringing it all together- learned optimism is a winning strategy to get through challenging or unfair situations by shining a spotlight onto where there is opportunity for improved coping, positive progress and effective solutions.  Our initial response to a situation may not be the most effective way to navigate it successfully.  The key to adopting an optimistic mindset is to acknowledge the inherent choice we have in our response.  Learned optimism is not an exercise in avoiding responsibility or ignoring dire circumstances either.  Adopt an outlook that encourages personal accountability, and supports your performance growth in every area of life.  From your education to your work to your health, it is your outlook that predicts your level of success above all else.

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Trump style slurs: you don’t have to get your feelings hurt.

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With the Trump administration ahead of us, many Americans will witness or receive hate-filled comments meant to devalue, belittle and shame anyone who is demographically different.  The major uptick in hate crimes dates back toward the end of 2015, which corresponds with Donald Trump’s call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.  Since the presidential election results came in, national news and social media sites have already begun documenting a new surge of confrontational hate-mongering behaviors aimed at racial/ethnic/sexual/religious minorities.  Generally speaking, the most important response to hate mongering is to ensure one’s physical safety first and foremost.  This article is not meant to provide guidance on physical or legal protection tactics, but rather outlines the most accurate and effective way to emotionally immunize yourself to this type of ignorance.  You don’t have to get your feelings hurt.  You don’t have to feel the blow of belittlement when ignorant remarks are flung at you.  You don’t have to feel insulted or devalued.  In fact, when someone says or does something racist/misogynistic/etc, it’s an instant opportunity to recognize the disposition and circumstances surrounding the offender.  You will know immediately that this person is experiencing one or more of the following:

  1. People who feel compelled to point out their categorical superiority to others based on race/gender/religion/sexual orientation differences often do so because they feel a deep sense of resentment about not feeling good enough about themselves.  (They will vehemently argue that nothing could be further from the truth, but there is something called the subconscious (part of the mind of which one is not fully aware but which influences one’s actions and feelings) and it is working furiously in overtime to correct low self-worth.)  By actively engaging in a game of “I’m better than these people” (through various verbal or behavioral acts) they can give themselves a short-lived burst of much-needed self confidence.  It quickly dissipates, so they often choose to surround themselves with like-minded people so they can commiserate and boost each other up through mutually insulting group outsiders.
  2. People need to blame and find fault in whole categories of people out of fear: when older regions of the brain dominate a person’s cognitive style, more complex intellectual processing is superseded, limiting more complex comprehension of circumstances surrounding their perceived ‘problems’.  Attempting to solve one’s problems by persecuting a whole group of people in a scapegoat fashion is usually a tell-tale sign of shortsightedness that does not result in lasting solutions.  Failed solutions often leads to increased blaming and anger.  It’s a vicious cycle which some people remain stuck in, and then pass on to others as a narrow worldview.
  3. The bottom line is, people who are effective and successful in pursuing their life goals, feel a sense of personal resourcefulness, and are benefiting from genuinely loving relationships do not need to actively engage in hate-mongering and devaluing/disrespecting whole groups of people.  There is no need to assert oneself as superior at the expense of other’s basic rights, to the contrary, they enjoy embracing a spirit of generosity because they can afford to give and share without feeling threatened.  Being chronically unhappy does not give way to hate-mongering behaviors, but there’s a good chance they are prone to certain habits that perpetuate their own unhappiness.

That said, people who feel compelled to a seek momentary boost of self-importance through hate-mongering in the name of Trump support or otherwise, are likely doing so because they don’t feel adequately important enough in the world, prefer to indulge in overly simplified, fear-based solutions to their problems (or are less intellectually equipped or compelled to grasp more a complex understanding), and see anyone different than themselves as a threat to their well-being and/or way of life.  The last thing you should feel is slighted by someone else’s irrational fears and ignorant solutions to protecting and improving their station in life.  Recognize the pattern as something that has ensnared them, not you.  

Move forward by choosing to focus on the positive aspects of your own life rather than toil in the negativity that someone else is stewing in.  Stay true to your core beliefs and values.  You may feel discouraged and understandably frustrated with the influence of Trump’s hateful rhetoric that has emboldened some people to lash out against America’s longstanding value of inclusion.  The point is, you need not allow those people’s efforts to bring you down and keep you there.

 

Donald Trump: defining toxic masculinity and how healthy, happy men diversify

I want to begin this piece by sharing how challenging it can be for me to understand the underpinnings of American masculinity as an American woman of color.  I feel stumped sometimes in helping men navigate their career development and enhance their interpersonal relationships, particularly as it relates to their masculine identity.  I have a deep sense of curiosity and motivation to understand the perspectives of all my clientele. Public figures can also also stir my intellectual curiosity, especially when similar issues are cropping up among those I’m helping in my coaching practice.  I write as a way to synthesize the research and consultation I do with professional colleagues and members of various social groups to increase my understanding of people.  By improving my understanding of how men operate within their gender framework, I can more effectively support their goals for happiness and professional achievement while respecting their values and world view.

Donald Trump’s entire public life provides a rich opportunity to examine how male gender expression, at it’s extreme, can lead to a toxic crisis in masculine identity.  In this article I’d like to set aside drawing conclusions about his potential to effectively lead as President of The United States of America.  Why?  Just imagine for a moment, what it would be like to work alongside Donald Trump.  You see, as difficult as it may be, his colleagues must aim to reserve judgment in order to collaborate and meet professional goals along side him.  If we can we understand Donald Trump’s masculine identity, surely we can learn something about the gender confines that men face in getting their needs met as they strive for fulfillment and achievement.  Why is this important?  Trump reflects the toxic side of American masculinity, and if we don’t take a close look at how and why toxicity develops and festers within male culture, we can’t begin to stop it from infecting others in small or large ways in men everywhere.

Imagine for a moment, a four way street intersection, where gas fueling stations are housed on each of the four corners.  At each fueling station, you can ‘fill up your tank’ on:

  1. Physical Aggression/Strength/Athleticism
  2. Money/Influence of Financial Wealth
  3. Control/Influence Upon Others (at work or in personal relationships)
  4. Sexual Prowess and Virility/Sexual Satisfaction

These four fueling stations can be seen as representing the most traditional, socially acceptable, even socially celebrated opportunities for men to fuel their sense of masculinity.  Whether or not you personally agree with this, the vast majority of American men are measured by others against these four standards of traditional masculinity at various points in their life.  While men also aim for other forms of achievement (e.g. intellectual development, family life development, practice of religious faith) those strivings aren’t typically seen as embodying strength of masculinity in and of themselves.  Traditional masculine-affirming pursuits do not have to be at the expense of other’s rights, take on a quality of malicious manipulation and oppression, or require a man to rely on them as his sole means for fulfillment.  Masculine identity serves men best when it allows space for them to thrive in these traditional areas should they choose, but also allows them ample space to enrich their lives through other areas of fulfillment and connectivity.

Some men whom I’ve worked with appear to be ‘stuck‘ in the relentless pursuit of boosting one or more of these traditional areas of masculinity in the hopes of achieving lasting happiness in their professional and personal life.  The theory of masculine overcompensation dates back to Sigmund Freud’s notions of ‘reaction formation‘ and ‘defense mechanisms‘. Some men respond to having their masculinity questioned by emphasizing their expression of traditional masculine traits.  In 2013, a group of sociologists put this theory to the test.  In Overdoing Gender,” a study for the American Journal of Sociology, men were given feedback suggesting they were ‘feminine’, which led to an increased support for war, homophobic attitudes, interest in purchasing an SUV, support for, and desire to advance in dominance hierarchies, and belief in male superiority.  Research from The American Journal of Men’s Health and a host of other studies conclude that the expression of traditional masculine traits can be hazardous for men’s health functioning.  William Ming Liu, editor of the journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity  describes toxic masculinity as providing a very limited way for men to relate to each other- when boys are socialized to avoid feelings and weakness it increases their overall psychological stress.

Would it benefit men to consider seeking fulfillment from a wide range of areas in their life?  Particularly for those who’ve already experienced objectively high levels of achievement through these traditional areas, and are still unhappy/unsatisfied.  Why not pivot and diversify?  See if some other areas of personal development could help you feel better/more fulfilled for the long term?”  Toxicity can take root in a man’s masculine identity if he gets stuck searching for fulfillment from these 4 traditional areas of masculinity.  In Donald Trump’s case, he keeps going back for more and more – all of his accomplishments are no longer getting him that desired high, so he keeps upping the ante.  This particular phenomenon of toxic masculinity is socially destructive when public figures like Donald Trump effectively normalize misogyny, sexism, racism and xenophobia.

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While many American men aspire to experience some degree of his accomplishments in the areas of wealth, power, influence, access and opportunity with beautiful women, it’s important to underscore that these gains alone may very well NOT lead to the level of fulfillment and happiness one might imagine.  Encouraging a more well-rounded sense of masculine identity, one that allows room for pursuits that go beyond the traditional male gender constructs will increase men’s opportunity for lasting and balanced happiness.  Research by Levant reveals healthy aspects of masculinity might actually protect  and improve men’s health. These healthy aspects of masculinity include:

Aiming to grow and diversify oneself in these key areas can help men achieve lasting personal fulfillment beyond traditional masculine pursuits for success.  Each are common goals I work on with the high-achieving men in my executive coaching practice.  Many have shared with me how rewarding it feels to build upon what they’ve already mastered and thrive in these important life aspirations.

How to kill it at your new job- proven strategies for getting ahead in a cutthroat culture

So you recently landed a job that lines up well with your career goals.  You’re feeling confident.  Maybe you already have a great track record of achievement- top SAT scores, a stellar graduating GPA, glowing letters of recommendations from past employers.  Your time to shine has finally arrived!  But after settling into your new role, you realize this new work climate is no easy read.  Communication with your boss or co-workers leaves you feeling unsupported, and you start to worry that taking this job was a mistake.  What should you do?  You’d like to avoid moving on prematurely so your resume stays on track.  The following tips will help you kill it at your new job with some proven coaching strategies, even in a cutthroat culture.

Working with an executive coach is a great way to skillfully steer this situation back in your favor.  One of the first things I ask my clients to do is to describe their personal career vision to me.  Outlining one’s career goals helps to pinpoint the various skills and experiences that are necessary to achieve this vision.  Does this job afford you an opportunity to make these gains?  (In all likelihood yes,which is why you sought out and/or accepted the position in the first place.)  Some jobs require you to change more than others- a process which is often unpredictable and frustrating as you figure out how to succeed there.  An executive coach can help you prepare mentally and strategically for this.  Together you will generate lasting and effective solutions to keep you on your personalized track to success.

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Reframe how you’re thinking about the ‘problems’ you’re experiencing at work.  Learn to embrace this job as a purposeful choice you are making for the sake of experience and skill building rather than an oppressive situation that is happening to you.  Remember no one is holding you hostage there.  Ask yourself “Am I ready to adapt to a different way of thinking and operating?”  No one said changing perspectives would feel easy, or that you wouldn’t face major obstacles along the way.  Either stay in the game and take ownership of the experience, or prepare to move on.
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Rise to the occasion: successful leaders search for ways to improve and strengthen themselves in difficult situations, inspiring others to do the same. They are often unflappable and well respected, even in hostile work climates.  That’s what makes them so effective in senior positions and invaluable to a company or organization.
  • What personal strengths do you have that helped you overcome past obstacles?  What did you do to persevere?  Some of my younger, especially gifted and fortunate clients have moved through life with relative ease, so dealing with an uncontrollable work environment can feel especially demoralizing.  Others have come through relative adversity, but realize past coping strategies are no longer sufficient.  If the cultural climate of your new job seems unwelcoming, petty or even combative, you may find yourself avoiding interactions altogether.  I encourage my clients to see this as a chance to learn how to read, respond to and handle a variety of people.  The more versatile and challenging, the more prepared and effective you will be in handling future challenges.
  • Anticipate people’s behavior so you can prepare to respond with efficiency rather than let negative emotions take over.  For example, instead of allowing others’ tardiness to be a constant source of frustration, learn to use this extra time to your advantage by completing simple tasks while you wait, organize your schedule or review to-do lists.  Does your boss constantly place blame on others or set unrealistic goals?  Learn to respond with positivity and an eagerness to improve and support.
  • Aim to view other people’s behavior as a reflection of the setting and their ability to cope with it rather than taking it personally.  Criticism is often a relative opinion.  It doesn’t matter that you were your boss’s favorite employee at your past job.  Learn to view criticism as an opportunity to better understand what others expect instead of getting defensive.
Learn to predict and manage your emotional style so that you are not just reacting, but thoughtfully responding to difficult people and situations with strategy.  You’ve heard some people described as ‘running hot and cold, moody, or unpredictable.’  That’s rarely a good thing in work settings.  Anyone who’s served in a leadership role will tell you that managing difficult people or emotionally charged situations is a necessary part of the job.
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  • You’ll find that working with others is much easier if you are well liked – which means you will be more successful during your time there.  I encourage my clients to step outside their comfort zone and find ways to show interest and demonstrate kindness towards others they might avoid in their personal life.  Almost without exception there will be people we don’t like that we need to work alongside.  Whether or not they are truly reprehensible is irrelevant:  not ‘liking someone’ can quickly erode your working relationships and productivity, and get in the way of your professional goals.  People we don’t even like are not worth that sacrifice!
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  • Identify your emotional and social style, and zero in on what tends to trigger you during times of stress.  How can you build upon this style so that you remain better balanced under pressure?  It’s not uncommon for people to become rigid and/or less effective in their emotional style when distressed.  Rational-leaning people who are valued for their even-keel disposition and logical problem solving may become hyper-rational and avoid attending to emotional information even when necessary for resolving conflict.  Emotionally sensitive people who are skilled at reading others and interpreting social climates can become overtly emotional and lose track of logical solutions when overwhelmed.
  • Appreciate your natural interpersonal style and how it affects others, and challenge yourself to practice more versatility in your social interactions.  Soon others will experience you as highly perceptive and effective in your role.  As a general rule of thumb, be patient and observe social patterns before jumping to conclusions, avoid gossip, and express gratitude and appreciation for others whenever possible.
  • Respect other people’s seniority regardless of how effective you deem them to be in their role.  You can always ‘be right’ silently in your own head (but beware of resting bitch face!)  Take care to demonstrate flexibility and supportiveness and pay attention to how problems are resolved among others.
Maintain a safe distance between your work identity and YOU.   You are a multi-faceted person who exists with needs outside of your career.  Take a break, catch your breath.  The learning curve of new jobs can be draining, so self-care is crucial to your long term functioning.
  • Taking care of yourself is easier if you adopt a consistent pattern of paying attention to your needs, even if it’s with small gestures.  Doing so will have a cumulative effect which will allow you to get back in the game with endurance and motivation.  As time passes, you will develop increased resiliency, perseverance, emotional self control, and things will seem more manageable.

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  • Remember this job is a finite experience, it’s not forever.  These days it is very respectable to stay in any given position for a year or more before moving on to garner other experiences.
Track and summarize what you are learning and how you are growing as a person, not just for the sake of your career.  No one is going to do this for you.  Check in and swap stories with people outside your place of employment.  Commiserating with others is a good reminder you are not isolated nor the only one going through mine fields.  Only the strong survive!!!
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Black Swan- a cinematic portrayal of schizophrenia?


The highly acclaimed psychological thriller “Black Swan,” directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis and Winona Ryder, is a fascinating story of a young ballerina’s emotional plight in the competitive world of professional ballet. Portman plays Nina, a principal ballerina for the NYC Ballet Company who has newly acquired the lead in Swan Lake, a classic story depicting the virgin/whore dichotomy that men face when choosing a lover. Nina is overshadowed by her controlling and emotionally abusive mother (played by Barbara Hershey) who is convinced she “gave up” her career for parenthood. The film brilliantly captures the brutal physical and emotional demands that ballerinas face in their short-lived career span.

Aronofsky clearly enriches the film with a storyline that points to Nina’s first psychotic break, likely triggered by a combination of her genetic heritability, childhood experience of abuse, age, and the heightened environmental stress placed upon her as principal ballerina.  I am often fascinated by clinically accurate depictions of mental illness. While Black Swan appears to be a loose cinematic portrayal of the onset of schizophrenia, it likely leaves untrained viewers confused about the diagnostic details of schizophrenia. This article serves to explain schizophrenia and it’s diagnostic criteria and known causes.

Contrary to popular belief, schizophrenia is not a split personality, (professionally referred to as Dissociative Identity Disorder.) Schizophrenia is actually a psychosis, a type of mental illness in which a person cannot tell what is real from what is imagined. At times, people with psychotic disorders lose touch with reality. The world may seem like a maze of confusing thoughts, images, and sounds. The behavior of people with schizophrenia may be very strange and even shocking. A sudden change in personality and behavior, which occurs when people lose touch with reality, is called a psychotic episode.

Schizophrenia is a disease that typically begins in early adulthood; between the ages of 15 and 25. Men tend to get develop schizophrenia slightly earlier than women; whereas most males become ill between 16 and 25 years old, most females develop symptoms several years later, and the incidence in women is noticably higher in women after age 30. The average age of onset is 18 in men and 25 in women. Schizophrenia onset is quite rare for people under 10 years of age, or over 40 years of age.

Schizophrenia varies in severity from person to person. While some people experience a single psychotic episode, others have many throughout their life. Some lead relatively normal lives between episodes and others suffer tremendously and remain unstable. Schizophrenia symptoms seem to worsen and improve in cycles known as relapses and remissions.

What are the different types of schizophrenia?

* Paranoid schizophrenia: People with this type are preoccupied with false beliefs (delusions) about being persecuted or being punished by someone. Their thinking, speech and emotions, however, remain fairly normal.
* Disorganized schizophrenia: People with this type often are confused and incoherent, with nonsensical speech. Their outward behavior may be emotionless/flat, inappropriate, silly or childlike. Often they have disorganized behavior that may disrupt their ability to perform normal daily activities like showering or preparing meals.
* Catatonic schizophrenia: The most notable symptoms of this type are physical. People with catatonic schizophrenia are generally immobile and unresponsive to the world around them. Their bodies are often very rigid and stiff, and unwilling to move. Occasionally, these people have peculiar movements like facial grimacing or strange postures. Or, they might mimic a word or phrase just spoken by another person. People with catatonic schizophrenia are at increased risk of malnutrition, exhaustion, or self-inflicted injury.

What Causes Schizophrenia?

The exact cause of schizophrenia is not yet known. It is known, however, that schizophrenia — like cancer and diabetes — is a real illness with a biological basis. It is not the result of bad parenting (i.e. the ‘schizophrenogenic mother‘ or personal weakness. Researchers have uncovered a number of factors that appear to play a role in the development of schizophrenia, including:

1. Genetics (heredity): Schizophrenia tends to run in families, which means the likelihood to develop schizophrenia may be passed on from parents to their children.
2. Brain chemistry: People with schizophrenia may have an imbalance of certain chemicals in the brain. They may be either very sensitive to or produce too much of a brain chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, a substance that helps nerve cells in the brain send messages to each other. An imbalance of dopamine affects the way the brain reacts to certain stimuli, such as sounds, smells, and sights and can lead to hallucinations and delusions.
3. Brain abnormality: Newer research has found abnormal brain structure and function in people with schizophrenia. However, this type of abnormality doesn’t happen in all schizophrenics and can occur in people without the disease.
4. Environmental factors: Evidence suggests that certain environmental factors, such as a viral infection, poor social interactions, or highly stressful situations, may trigger schizophrenia in people who have inherited a tendency to develop the disorder. Schizophrenia more often surfaces when the body is undergoing hormonal and physical changes, such as those that occur during the teen and young adult years.

How Is Schizophrenia Diagnosed?

If symptoms of schizophrenia are present, a physician will perform a complete medical history and physical exam. While there are no laboratory tests to specifically diagnose schizophrenia, a physican may use various tests, such as X-rays and blood tests, to rule out a physical illness as the cause of the symptoms.

If a physican finds no physical reason for the schizophrenia symptoms, he or she may refer the person to a psychiatrist or psychologist- mental health professionals who are specially trained to diagnose and treat mental illnesses, and use specially designed interview and assessment tools for their evaluation. The therapist bases his or her diagnosis on the person’s report of symptoms and his or her observation of the person’s attitude and behavior, and may include interviews with family members. A person is considered to have schizophrenia if he or she has characteristic symptoms that last for at least six months.

Can Schizophrenia Be Prevented?

There is no known way to prevent schizophrenia. However, early diagnosis and treatment can help avoid or reduce frequent relapses and hospitalizations, and help decrease the disruption to the person’s life, family, and friendships.

Sources: Webmd.com, psychcentral.com, imdb.com