Friday, December 30, 2016

Collateral Beauty

The best thing about the film, Collateral Beauty, is the concept that is also its title. In my own words, it’s the generous, kind, and beautiful things that happen on the periphery of what’s tragic or evil. We’ve seen it this past year, for instance when Trevor Noah suggested that if a Muslim registry is created, we will all register. We see it when we appreciate the sunset on a day that was full of hurt.

It reminds me of a quote from Mister (Fred) Rogers that I’ve used to help my kids understand bad things that happen in the world: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping."”

Collateral beauty is also tied, for me, to gratitude; to continuing to notice and appreciate what works, what’s lovely, what blessings surround us. If there is a coaching exercise for this post, it is to show gratitude in whatever format works for you – a journal, a pay-it-forward activity, or some sort of statement.  

There will be plenty of damage in the year(s) ahead of us; My hope comes from the idea that there will be an equal or greater amount of collateral beauty.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Hold Fast to Dreams

If you’ve ever felt like giving up on your dreams, you may already be familiar with these stories that are circulated on the Internet as encouragement to stick with them:
  • After Fred Astaire's first screen test in 1933, a memo from MGM’s testing director read, "Can't act. Can't sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little."
  • Charles Schultz had every cartoon he submitted rejected by his high school yearbook staff. Oh, and Walt Disney wouldn't hire him. 
  • Disney himself went bankrupt several times before he built Disneyland. In fact, the proposed park was rejected by the city of Anaheim on the grounds that it would only attract riffraff.
  • As an inventor, Thomas Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. When a reporter asked, "How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?" Edison is reported to have replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.” 
  • Edmond Newton auditioned for Project Runway every year since the show started – 20 times – before being selected and getting all the way to the finale, where he showed his line at New York Fashion Week (and, in my opinion, was robbed of the win).

And while I wouldn’t put myself in the league of any of these luminaries, I’m happy to report that, after four years of not even being invited for interviews for jobs that I was eminently qualified for, and of at least eight heart-breaking rejections, I am going to work in August for Blue Engine as a teaching assistant in a New York City public school. I’m “over-the-moon” excited to be returning to the classroom after a very long hiatus, and to be embarking on work that can make a positive difference in the world. So, I’m using this post in the same way those other Internet sites have – to encourage you not to give up on your goals and dreams either; to see your latest rejection as just another step in your successful light bulb experiment. In the words of Ella Fitzgerald, “Just don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.” 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Responses to Hardship

Recently, I had a serious let-down and called a friend in tears. Elise (whose name has been changed and who has “approved this message”) is a lovely person and, I know, was intending to help when she gave a response along the lines of, “Is that all? You can easily rebound from that. I thought this was something serious, like you were getting a divorce!” Despite having a healthy and happy marriage, I was still upset about my other set-back and was reminded of a terrific TED Talk* by Ash Beckham about how no one’s pain is greater than anyone else’s. Beckham’s experience of being discriminated against might be as significant to her as someone else’s experience of losing a loved one. My son’s experience of getting a bad grade in school may be just as devastating to him as not getting a job was to another of my friends, or as finding out that the boy she liked liked someone else was for a student I was working with. Beckham advises we not judge one another’s pain; that we show compassion and empathy. Let’s just treat each person’s hardships as hard and be there for them as fully as we know how.

* "We're All Hiding Something, Let's Find the Courage to Open Up," September 2013.

Friday, January 29, 2016

So tired... tired of waiting... tired of waiting for you

I just tried out a new exercise with a coaching client who was obsessing (as she described it) about the fact that one of her clients hadn’t yet responded to her email requesting more money for an upcoming job. I had her write down every possible reason that she might not have heard back. Her list looked something like this:
  • She is busy
  • She is away
  • She is considering this and doesn’t want to write back until she’s had a chance to get budget approval
  • She is so angry about my request that she no longer wants to do business with me
  • She has found someone else to do the job for less
  • She is sick / some personal issue has come up
  • She doesn’t care / this job really doesn’t matter much to her
I then asked my client to consider how likely each of these explanations was.
When she was able to, first, see how many perfectly reasonable explanations there were, and second, to see how unlikely the 4th reason listed was, she was able to relax a bit and be more patient.
What response are you still waiting for? Let me know if this exercise helps you.

Thursday, October 22, 2015


Recently, I served as a mock interviewer for middle school students preparing for a selective high school admissions process. All of the students were articulate, bright, and warm. One factor that set some of them apart was that when they would say the wrong thing, or go off topic, some got frazzled, stressed, or otherwise called attention to their slip-up. Others, when they noticed that something was going wrong, made a simple statement like, “Oh, before I tell you that, I should probably say…” or “That’s not what I meant. What I meant was…” In giving feedback to these students, I found myself repeating something I’ve been sharing with coaching clients for some time. It sounds something like, “Everyone is going to mess up some time – use the wrong word or forget to say what they’d planned to.  Perfection isn’t the goal. What’s more important is that you master the skill of recovery.” Of course this applies more broadly than to interviewing. We’ll make mistakes as we go through life: That’s not what matters. What matters is how we elegantly dust ourselves off and correct our course. How we learn from our mistakes, clean up any damage, or find another route to success. 

Monday, September 21, 2015


Between the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, there’s a 10-day period during which one can apologize for any wrongdoings of the past year in order to start the new year off with a clean slate. It’s that time right now.

Years ago, I learned a formula for giving a meaningful apology that we adapted in our family and that became known as an “Oberstein apology” (so, when one of our kids would give a half-hearted, I’m sorry,” and then say, “I apologized,” we’d ask, “but was it an Oberstein apology?”

The Oberstein apology included:
  • “I’m sorry that…” When you can give a specific description of what you did, you show that you’ve thought about your actions and their impact.
  • “In the future I’ll…” shows that you’ve learned from your mistake and will take action to improve.
  • A hug or chicken dance – Okay, we allowed the kids to invent the third part - and it added some levity to the situation.

Other three-part apology models - without the chicken dance - exist (Google “three-part apology” for some ideas). The important part is that apologies can be meaningful learning experiences that strengthen relationships; that’s something to strive for in this new year.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Get organized

I can’t believe I haven’t done a post on organizing yet because being organized is my hallmark. Everyone has her own system for staying organized. Here are a few tips that work for me:
  • Have two of the things you use often – e.g. mouthwash, cereal. When you open the second one, it’s time to buy another. You’ll never run out.
  • Keep lists on your computer. For instance, I have packing lists for week-long ski trips and weekend beach trips that make getting ready stress-free – and I don’t forget anything. I also keep a Costco shopping list: When I’m about to go, I use it to check whether any items I regularly buy there need replenishing.
  • When you need to bring something to a meeting or an event, put that in your calendar for the day before the meeting, e.g. “buy donuts for tomorrow morning’s staff meeting.” This helps avoid last minute running around.  Similarly, don’t put “report due” on the day it’s due, write “report due next week” the Monday before. Better yet, break report preparation into smaller steps and schedule them.
  • Put “ticklers” in your calendar. If I tell a client or acquaintance I’ll follow up with them in three months, I put a note in my calendar for three months later and I do it.
  • Organization happens on a granular level (organize your drawers! Shoebox – and other box – lids help separate things in drawers) and on a macro level (e.g. keeping prioritized lists and reminders of things you need to accomplish or scheduling planning time into your week). To be organized, you need to stay on top of things at multiple levels.
  • Declutter.  More on that topic is in a companion post on my Linked In profile,
What keeps you organized?