Category Archives: Coaching

Creative people get stuck. Coaches get them unstuck.

I’ll Ride With You

While the hostages were still being held in Sydney and all that was known was that the hostage-taker was Muslim, Central Sydney was in lockdown. And then, as must happen, innocent and good Muslims began to be afraid. Women who wear the hijab wondered what would happen if they rode on public transportation.

I’ve seen this before, right after 9/11, in Washington, D.C. I also know the fear of seeing some crime committed and cringing, holding by breath and thinking, “please don’t let it be [my ethnic group].”

Fear is an ugly thing. Its only reaction is anger. But what I began to see in Sydney gave me real hope for the goodness in people. Tweets began to appear, people volunteering to sit with Muslim women (and men) on public transportation.

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 10.44.03 PMPeople who would provide friendly company and companionship, and yes, protection. Because a White person sitting next to a person of color (or wearing a headscarf) and speaking with them reduces the fear level.

The Tweets grew. The hashtag was #Illridewithyou. Hundreds of people began to post their public transportation routes, to identify themselves with photos, scarves, signs on bags and briefcases.

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 10.44.26 PMThis was not a sanctioned, public, government movement. It was started by one woman and picked up by others who wanted to help. Because help is something everyone can do. Not a big heroic move, just sitting with someone who is scared. Making them feel normal. Because they are. Reducing fear and anger in others.

We can all do small things to reduce fear and anger. Not passing fear on is one way. Margaret Mead, the anthropologist said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

I might be 7,800 miles from that coffee shop that held hostages, but I love those people I don’t even know. They have heart. Big heart. #I’llridewithyou.

—Quinn McDonald knows that it takes small acts of love to make big moves of courage.

Dissolving the Bad Day

The business trip had been bone-wrackingly tough. Flight delays. Cranky people. The airlines insisted on gate-checking my bag (no space in steerage for more bags), then broke a wheel on my suitcase, which means I had to carry it instead of roll it. My lock was cut off. I was the random “let’s dig through the bag” person at the TSA. Long day at the client. Delayed lunch. Last-minute extra paperwork. At the end of the day, I am carrying a heavy suitcase down the street, wearing a backpack, puffing hard on the three-block walk and feeling sorry for myself.

I am not thinking of the successful class, the people who thanked me, the person who asked me to autograph the workbook. No, I am focusing on all the mistakes, flaws, and the damn heavy suitcase that no longer rolls. I am, admittedly, in Full Pity Party Mode.

Moon2The sun is setting; I have never loved the late afternoon. I’m a morning person who loves the dawn, and by sundown I’m tired, particularly after a long, intense day teaching business writing.

In this frame of mind, I begin to think of Sundowner’s Syndrome, the depressed state of dementia patients who become agitated in the late afternoon. My mom had Alzheimer’s, so my thought goes right to the idea that I may be next. Maybe I’m already in decline.

The Christmas lights come on in office buildings on the traffic-packed, noisy street. White, twinkly lights wink in tall buildings. Beautiful and cheering, but I refuse to move out of my full-on grump. As I look around, I see a woman sitting against a sturdy stanchion so often seen around big buildings. She is crying. Dressed in just a ragged T-shirt and sweatpants in the winter chill, she looks desperate. I approach and ask if she needs help.

She shakes her head. I put down the suitcase and ask her what’s wrong. She hasMoon1 just come from a state assistance office where she was turned down for help. She is being evicted–before Christmas–and the story is one of bureaucratic mess. She is angry and frustrated. Doesn’t know what to do next. Needs to protect her young son. She’s cold and angry and hungry and I recognize that desperate mix.

Suddenly my own troubles are less threatening. The relentlessly twinkling lights remind me that it’s my job to bring warmth into the world along with light. I ask her when she last ate. More than 24 hours ago. I can do one small thing for her. I bring her into the very fancy hotel with me, the one with the airport shuttle stop. I ask her to carry my backpack (yes, with my wallet and phone) so we can enter looking like we belong together. I’m in business dress, so the hotel concierge raises an eyebrow but says nothing. We stop at the hotel food shop and pick up a healthy dinner for her boy. Then we sit down for dinner in the plush lobby restaurant. I wasn’t planning on eating there, but sharing the decorated and lighted space feels right. And sharing a meal so she will not feel beholden makes the evening seem cozy and not so depressing. We chat about being mothers and chili, and if it should have beans or not.

She wants to thank me and I tell her that she helped me more than she could know. I thank her for keeping me company and helping me see the world in a different way. We walk out and I give her bus fare to get home. We trade my backpack for her son’s dinner and walk in different directions, into different worlds. And mine begins to look a lot brighter.

—Quinn McDonald travels for business and learns more than she teaches.

Avoiding Shame

Embarrassment is knowing you screwed up and wishing it had worked out better.

Shame is hating yourself for being who you are.

One way a community–work, friends, even relatives–reacts to you if you show your-lifecourage, initiate change, stick to your writing or art, start over, is to shame you.

What? Right when you thought you were getting a crown? Yes, that’s the best time to apply shame. Just when you are ready to step up on the podium and reach for the crown. Slap! No crown. Instead, shame. Shame’s purpose is to get you to sit down, lie down, and shut up.

How can you avoid shame?  The easy way is to lie down and be quiet. Being quiet will not get you praise, but others will walk over you and not kick you. Probably. But being quiet is very hard when you have tasted the joy of working on your creative project for your own satisfaction.

The other way to avoid shame is to refuse to accept it. No one can shame you if you don’t accept the baggy sweatshirt with the big S on it and pull it over your head. Yes, this is a very hard idea. Yes, it is a tough reality. You can take the blame for making a mistake, for not hitting the deadline, for not winning the competition, but that’s blame. Shame is another matter.

Courage is continuing your creative work when you aren’t sure what the outcome will be, but the work is invigorating and meaningful, and you are doing it.

Some tips about shame:

1. If your tribe (audience, friends) try to shame you, they are the wrong group for you. Others cannot choose what is important to you. It works the other way around: you choose what is important to you and attract those for whom it is also important.

2. Be careful about thinking you need a mentor. A mentor is not going to discover you, change your life, or make other people respect you. That’s your job. A mentor may act like a tutor–help you figure out what you need, discover where you can get what you need.

3. There is no secret to success. You show up, work hard. You will fail, you will make mistakes, you will have luck, you will be brilliant, you will make progress and then backslide,  all on your way to success. But there is no secret, no one private word that you have to know.

4. It’s hard to be brave. It’s hard to be brave when you are heavily rewarded for shutting your eyes and doing what you are told. Brave is the opposite of shame. Be brave. That’s who you are.

-–Quinn McDonald is refusing the baggy sweatshirt of shame.

December: Running Toward 2015

Rabbit, rabbit. OK, that’s taken care of. (It’s a wish for good luck for the whole month. You can read more about this English custom at Yankee magazine.)

sower2014 is heading toward the end of its run and into a new year. Now is a good time to start thinking of a new word for 2015. Don’t share yet–there will be a blog later in the month with a random giveaway, in which we talk about words and choices.

You can, however, post your old word (someone might want it for next year), and mention how the word worked for you. Good, bad, or indifferent, keeping that word in front of you is an excellent way to steer your life.

Maybe you changed your word, like I did. The first one (scatter) wore me outDistill and the next, a metaphorical opposite (distill) served me in many ways. It still is serving me, and I’m glad I changed.

Whether you are a writer, an artist, own your business, are independently wealthy, it’s good to ask yourself a few questions before you start next year. A few questions will help you decide where to spend your energy well, and unless you are too young to read, or you are a kitten, your energy is limited.

What’s the most surprising thing you found out about yourself this year?  When did it happen? What surprised you?

What do you want to change about yourself in 2015? Even if your plans are to change the world, the best place to start is with yourself. You’ll probably need some tools and protective gear for big changes.

What steps will make that change happen? No good engineer works without a plan. No good artist does, either.

How do you plan on putting those steps into action? A plan without a deadline is a daydream. What are some milestones and what are realistic time periods?

Who will be your support in making change? We don’t live in a world alone. Your change will ripple out and find support and criticism.

If you plan on taking on more of something (more work, another child, helping a parent), what will you give up to make room for this change in your life? This is an important part of taking on something new. Your time won’t magically expand, so it’s good to think about what you will let go.

—Quinn McDonald is a creativity coach who gets very busy at this time of year.

 

 

Retirement? Maybe Not Ever

imagesWe were all waiting for our dinners to arrive, when the young couple sharing the restaurant table asked us about the blue wristbands. We’d been at the Desert Botanical Garden’s Las Noches de las Luminarias, which is a beautiful holiday experience. They were both civil engineers planning on driving across the desert tonight to be in Los Angeles tomorrow.

“Are you guys still working?” they asked anxiously. When I confirmed that we were, and that we both owned businesses and weren’t planning on retiring, we got “the look.” After all, a lot of people move to Phoenix to retire. So why aren’t we retired? Retirement is the reward you get after hating your job for 30 years. How horribly sad that thought is.

Many of my friends are taking early retirement. Tired of the work world and

Mural of birds on a wall in downtown Phoenix.

Mural of birds on a wall in downtown Phoenix.

filled with a desire to travel, garden, or enjoy their houses, they are bailing out of the rat race, because, they tell me, the rats are winning.

For the first month, retirement is bliss. Often, though, the dreams about retirement begin to thin out. It’s hard to live without a regular income. Most of my friends aren’t wealthy, and the lack of a regular paycheck can’t easily be replaced by penny pinching.

For the retirees who are wealthy, there is often a vacuum created by a lack of identity. We are our jobs after a while. It’s how we think of ourselves. It’s what we do most of our waking hours. And often, it’s what we ignore our families for.

When your hobby, which was fit into stolen moments, suddenly has to bear the burden of making you feel worthwhile, it can’t hold up its side of the bargain to amuse, entertain, and keep you busy.

At that point, retirement doesn’t look like the promise you’ve pursued all your working life.

I love what I do, and because I do several things–develop training courses, teach those courses, coach creative souls (and those who think they aren’t), and write—I don’t get bored. Work is fascinating because I’m endlessly curious and problem solving is a major part of my work.

Retire? Not me. Working, learning, exploring all fascinate me. I don’t have to work crossword puzzles as long as I’m figuring out how to solve a training problem for one client, researching an article I’m writing, and figuring out what to ask a client who wants to transition into retirement. And I like the boss.

-–Quinn McDonald helps people figure out how to change their lives, in retirement, or in the middle of their careers. She did, and will live longer for it.

 

Thanksgiving With a Crowd

You will be having a houseful of people for Thanksgiving. You think you will all get along, be nice, and have a happy time that you will preserve forever in a scrapbook filled with pumpkin-colored paper. What a nice thought. And for some people, that may happen. But for people I know–not so much.

Many people’s family’s run more along the lines of the characters in  Rachel 92819182_XSGetting Married. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a good glimpse at a just-like-real-life wedding. Everyone acts out, wants attention, brings up old hurts, needs, and faults. Sound familiar?

Here are some tips to make it through:

1. People say the first thing that comes to mind. You know better. So think before you speak, and let go of the thoughtless comments you are asked. Your Uncle Harvey with the hearing aid has perfect hearing, he just uses it as an excuse to ignore people. You can do this, too.

2. Be literal. Do not assume that being asked “Are you seeing anyone?” is a mean nudge from your step-mother to make her a grandmother, or the question, “How is your job?” is the reminder that you haven’t held a job for more than nine months in the last six years. See them as ways to fill dead air space, which is probably what it is. Answer the question simply and directly, just as it was asked. Even if you doubt the intention.

3. Avoid fixing old hurts. With all the cooking, kids, pets, travel stress, there is little time to be introspective and contemplative. Old hurts require both for healing. To get to the hurt, you will have to bring up some background for context, and you will look like you are digging up past history to “win.” Even with good intentions, repairing old wounds is a complex task, best handled one-on-one and alone between February and May–not at Thanksgiving.

n-BABY-FOOD-MESS-large5704. Act ‘as if.’ Act as if everyone is nice. Act as if you are everyone’s friend. Act as if you are having a good time. Act as if you care about other people’s feelings. When you act “as if” you are a nice person who cares about others, you will choose behavior that demonstrates that. And you will become that. What a nice transformation!

5. Stay in the present. Kiss your difficult aunt and tell her that you are glad she is here. Tell your step sister that you are happy to spend some time with her. By staying in the present, you will not be tempted to dig up old hurts and display them for everyone to see and help you fix. The present is a nice place for Thanksgiving. Enjoy it.

6. Listen and nod. People tell stories at Thanksgiving, and they tell them the way they remember them. In your stories, you are the hero. In theirs, they are. Let them. Suppress the urge to “correct” people so their memories match yours. It’s not important. It’s just a story. Listen and nod. Smile. Let it go. Even if you are made to be the villain. “Oh, I’m so sorry you have that unpleasant memory,” is a nice bland answer. If someone asks you if that really happened, you can say, “Well, for June, this is how it happened. Everyone has her own memory of an event.” Resist the urge to tell your side.

7. Beware bad news dumps. Not everyone at your table may be at a happy time in their life. They may spill it in your lap. Or out loud at the table. You do not have to fix everyone’s misery. Acknowledge that it sounds like a tough spot to be in, but you don’t have to offer a solution. Bring it back to the present moment. “I know you are having a tough time, but I’m so glad we could be together today,” takes the responsibility off your shoulders.

8. Bring a book, music, or other activity that will help keep you in a safe space. You may have to take a walk, sit in the bathroom, or run a fake errand to get out of the press of too many people. Having something that keeps you grounded during someone’s argument, or general tumult is important.  Just make sure you do it without drama. No storming from the table, yelling, “I have to get out of here,” or other attention-grabbers.

9. Be prepared. Thanksgiving has some traditional chores–photographs, toasts, prayers and going around the table giving thanks for special events. Prepare a simple prayer appropriate for the group. If the guests are of different religions, offer a prayer of thanks that doesn’t mention a specific deity. Dress up for pictures. Bring a change of clothes if you want, but be prepared for pictures. Have a simple toast prepared, so you don’t find yourself caught off guard. Same thing for having something to be thankful for. Keep it short, under 30 seconds.

10. Take the big view. It’s easy to get wrapped around your own axle and not be able to see Thanksgiving as a holiday that has an end. Keep your eye on the big picture. It’s OK if some things go wrong. The big picture is that you have family and friends to fill your house, and no one expects you to do everything all by yourself. Ask for help, and know that everyone goes home soon.

–Quinn McDonald is a life- and creativity coach who helps people discover their creativity and wrestle it into their lives.

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving for One

Today’s post is for people who are going to be alone on Thanksgiving. Dealing with a huge family fest will be posted tomorrow.

Going to be alone this Thanksgiving? No problem, unless you are dreading it. There is a cultural press to partake in some sort of perfect Norman-Rockwell-fantasy dinner, with food magically prepared and shared by a big, friendly, supportive, charming, happy family. The fact that this fantasy is exactly that–a figment of someone’s imagination–does not ease your pain. In your head, it is what you deserve, and you are feeling bad because you don’t have it.

first_thanksgivingSome years ago, I was alone at Thanksgiving. I’d moved to the Southwest ahead of my husband and was house-sitting for a friend. I didn’t want to mess up someone else’s stove, and part of me didn’t want to admit I hated being alone. But I also didn’t want to be at someone else’s table, feeling like the fifth wheel. I created a fun day for myself, and still remember it fondly. It makes me smile to think that there are many people around me who do not remember last Thanksgiving fondly, or can’t remember exactly what happened at all. And I can remember Thanksgiving 2007 with great joy.

Here are some suggestions to help make Thanksgiving a good day for you:

1. Plan ahead. Decide the kind of day you want to have and work on creating it. No Thanksgiving comes together without planning, and you don’t want to wind up standing in the grocery store aisle half an hour before the store closes.

2. You don’t have to cook an elaborate meal for 10 and eat it all by yourself. Kent McDonald, a personal chef in the Phoenix area, has some suggestions for an easy, special Thanksgiving meal you can make without a lot of fuss. Yes, Kent is my husband and he’s cooking this year.

3. Ignore it in style. Stay out of the kitchen–or the entire house–during the dinner hour. Go to the movies, take a bubble bath and give yourself a pedicure, plan that big art or craft project, take a walk with your camera, go to the library now and check out a book or DVD, and spend the time doing something appealing to you. Time to spend on yourself or your favorite pastime is precious and rare, use it with delight.

4. Plan a project. Paint the kitchen, or your bedroom. Organize your closet, your desk, your attic, your garage. Tackling a big project will make you feel organized and satisfied. Not a bad plan.

5. Make the turkey dinner happen. Let friends know you’ll be alone. Make it sound like you are available rather than desperate. Offer to help cook, clean up, bring a dish, or take the dog for a walk. Make yourself useful and you’ll be eating with a big, noisy, arguing dysfunctional family before you can say ‘turkey.’

The secret to having the Thanksgiving is to decide what you want and create it. Don’t let others define your joy.  Decide what you want, and make it happen, traditional or not. Celebrate yourself and allow yourself to enjoy.

—Quinn McDonald is a writer and creativity coach who has celebrated a lot of different Thanksgivings.

–Image: The First Thanksgiving, reproduction of an oil painting by J.L.G. Ferris, early 20th century. Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (neg. no. LC-USZC4-4961)

 

Check That Progress

To-do lists are my saving grace. I love them. I keep them, work them, check them off and grin. Occasionally, I am guilty of putting things on my to-do list that I have already done, just so I can check it off and feel like I’ve started doing something.

strugglequoteThe trouble with that, of course, is you are never satisfied, always living in the next step, and striving ahead without a break. It’s exhausting. And I still love them.

Which is why I started a to-don’t list, often before I travel, so give myself permission to put some work on hold so I can actually live in the present and do the work at hand–traveling.

Now I’ve come up with something almost as fun as a to-do list: a “it’s done” list. Research shows that a real boost to meaningful work is keeping track of progress. What went right. What you did that was smart. What worked well. Most of us don’t do that. If things work out, we just keep going. There’s no learning in that.

True, I learn a lot by making mistakes. The reason? When things go right, I just workInProgress-150x150breeze ahead. When I stumble and fall, I have to figure out what went wrong, how it went wrong and how to notice it early enough next time not to do it again.

Imagine if you did that for getting it right. Progress is an important step in meaning-making. Knowing you have made progress and admitting it, even taking satisfaction in it, is another thing entirely. Give yourself a break. Allow yourself to keep track of what went right. Your good decisions. Your progress. See if more of them don’t start showing up.

—Quinn McDonald is moving forward on several projects.

 

 

It’s Time to Say “No”

Next week is Thanksgiving, and the season of weird requests begins.

“I’m bringing my friend along to Thanksgiving dinner. She doesn’t eat meat, milk, eggs, wheat, vegetables that begin with a “b,” or anything red or brown. You won’t mind, will you–cooking her a special meal?”

“You are going to his parents this year? We have a tradition that you always come here for Thanksgiving, but go ahead. We can eat alone.”

This is the time of year when you brush off your spine and develop the ability to say, “No.” Even better is saying “No” and meaning it.

Of course you want to be compassionate, friendly and helpful. But right at the 9168751-black-orange-white-private-property-hanging-signedge of those characteristics is a boundary. And the boundary marker is “No.”

If you have trouble saying it, you can add, “I’d love to help, but . . .No.” You do not owe explanations past that one word. It takes strength and courage to say it, and I’ve failed many times. And each time I didn’t honor my boundary, I paid a price. Sometimes I overextend what I can do and regret it. Sometimes I cave and say Yes and then do a bad job, which is worse than saying No.

You do not have to say, “I need to spend a whole morning in bed, so I can’t bake six pies for you,” because the other person will not accept that as a good reason. So don’t give a reason. Simply stick to “I’m so sorry, but No.” The holidays will run a lot smoother. And you will feel a lot healthier.

-Quinn McDonald knows the power of paying attention to your limits.

 

Define Yourself By What You Are

Language reflects the culture. We make up words, we abandon them. And there are fads in the language–awesome used to be an important word, indicating deep emotion. Now it’s a filler word, like “ummm” or “OK.”

We’ve also begun to use negatives to frame our possibilities. We say, “I don’t 7747no sign - jobhouseunderstand,” instead of “Could you explain it again?” Or, “We close at 5 p.m.” instead of “We are open till 5 p.m.” The other day someone agreed with me by saying “You aren’t wrong.”

The other day, I found myself reciting a list of what I cannot eat to a befuddled waiter. Had I listed what I can eat, which is a much shorter list, he would have been able to know what was in the kitchen and find a match. Instead, hearing only what I could not eat, he stared at me blankly.

YES_sign1It’s easy to let the negative creep into how we think of ourselves. And then we begin to define ourselves by what we don’t like, won’t accept, reject outright, or want to distance ourselves from. “I don’t like country music,” doesn’t define your musical taste–it tells someone what you won’t put up with.

It’s far more exciting and clarifying to define yourself through positives–what you like, what you want to do, what your plans are. Defend what you like and what you want to protect and project. It clears your head and your heart. Being clear on what you want, who you are is such a more positive way to face the world.

—Quinn McDonald is fascinated by language and how it defines us.