Failing or Fizzling

This week a colleague mentioned to me that her resolution to make a certain change in her business had not so much failed as fizzled out.

What a terrific distinction.

In my coaching practice I had decided to write and publish 25 blog posts in 30 days.

The first week and a half went well.
Then a hiccup but back on track.
Then a weekend away with the change in daily schedule and no daily post for 4 days.

On 2 of those days I began writing the post but failed to finish it.
Yesterday, though, i could feel the fizzle.

Fizzles sound like:
-What’s the big deal if I take a couple more days?
-What difference does it make?
-Would it really be better to write a mediocre post?

Fails, on the other hand, are so valuable. There is so much to learn in a fail. We have a goal or a plan and we set out to make it happen, but we don’t always make failure part of our plan? In coaching we have an expression “worthy fails.”

A worthy fail is when you fail in the process of actively pursuing your goal.

-You write the blog post and publish it, but the formatting doesn’t work and the page is filled with random letters.
-You begin writing your post but deliberately choose to stop and use that time for something else.
-The blog post is published but 2000 people comment that you are a terrible writer and you don’t know what you are talking about.
-The post is written but you ask someone to proof it and they don’t get back to you in time to get the post up.
-The computer crashes or the internet goes out or there is an electrical blackout that keeps you from publishing the post.

All worthy fails.
They are system errors. I showed up and I performed and something didn’t work out, but it helps me understand and appreciate the process so that I am better prepared, more fully educated and can revise my methods.

Fizzles teach us nothing. A fizzle is failure in advance in the name of avoiding failure.

-Ugh I only have an hour before my next appointment so there is no way I can finish a post in less than an hour.
-The house is crazy, the minute I start writing I will just be interrupted.
-Nobody even reads these blogs and nobody knows I even made this 25 post goal.
-I didn’t post for 4 days and no one missed it.

All fizzles.

Any goal or project worth taking on will encompass failure.

If you have a goal or a project or a resolution, consider counting up your fails with as much satisfaction and pride as your wins. Fails are proof that you are doing something and growing. Be very aware of the fizzle, as you take on new and uncomfortable projects. Fails are often public so they can seem more uncomfortable. Fizzles are often very private and internal and we may think they aren’t as bad, but they are so destructive to our relationship with ourselves.

Failure does not mean anything has gone wrong, and as my coach Brooke Castillo says, “If you aren’t failing then your goals aren’t big enough.”

Where have you been avoiding failure by tolerating the fizzle of your goals?

Coaching is the best way I know to help support big goals and small ones. When we start to congratulate ourselves for our fails and just keep showing up, we are on the way to more than the result we are after. We are on the way to being our full selves.

This week notice the distinction between failing and fizzling.

Today’s post may have failed, but to all you G.O.T fans:

What do we say to the Lord of Fizzle?
Not today.

The Art of Friction

We have a new grandchild. I have recently shared with our daughter, a first time mom, the stories and thoughts I remember from that busy over-whelming and often nerve-wracking period when I often thought I wasn’t doing anything right.

One strong memory I had was that babies, toddlers and kids are often very irritable before they make a big cognitive or neurological leap: learning to roll over or crawl, walking and talking. I wanted to comfort my daughter that just because baby is miserable even after you’ve done all the feeding, cleaning and cuddling it may just be that uncomfortable space in the developing human brain between what he has and what he wants.

That friction between what is and what could be is the emotion that fuels all the growth.

It looks pretty awful. Tears, angry tantrums, inconsolable hours… and that’s just the baby.

Parents can look at that miserable infant and make it mean they are somehow incapable and not meeting baby’s needs or they can hold the little one and just trust that this is a part of the process of all those new neurological wires firing in magnificent new ways. Two ways of telling the same story.

It doesn’t end with learning to walk, or riding a bike, or Algebra II. The discomfort goes on for as long as we are growing, developing, and evolving, but the uncomfortable emotions become more subtly nuanced and at some point we start to judge them as being a problem or an indication that we are wrong, victimized, defective, or incapable.

The friction between uncomfortable emotions and how we think we should feel continues throughout life. We can welcome those emotions as indicators of new growth or we can judge them, resist them and make them mean something is wrong with the world, other people or ourselves.

The discomfort can send us to the fridge or the liquor cabinet to soothe ourselves. We may numb out a bit with social media, online shopping, binging on the news, or a Netflix session. We may choose to deflect that nagging discomfort onto others with blame, anger or resentment.

The Art of Friction is to notice the ugly emotions and the uncomfortable feelings and realize that they are indications of some potential growth that is available to us. Before trying to get rid of that feeling of hot shame, heavy discouragement, buzzy anxiety, or tight dissatisfaction, what if we took the opportunity to get curious. What’s up with me right now? Why now? What am I thinking ?

Where is the friction between what is and what I want?

Human suffering always comes down to that space.

It should be different.
I should be different.
They should be different.

The Art of Friction is to decide that whatever is, is the way it should be because it is the result of all the facts, thoughts, feeling and actions that came before.

It is what it is… and now what?
How do I show up? How do I take responsibility? How do I grow or get stronger?
What do I need to learn. How can I trust that what I am seeing as a problem is showing me exactly how I need to develop right now?

It feels bad, I grant you. But if we can meet that feeling head on we can grow in ways we never thought possible. Babies have only a couple of options. Happy and comfortable or miserable and crying. As adults we have access to the full range of human emotions, sub-emotions and self-judgment that the poets have worked for millennia to describe with all their nuances and the way they resonate in the human body.

Sadness, anxiety, dread, disappointment, grief and frustration are the privilege of the human and are what allow us to revel in joy, expectation, hope, anticipation and triumph. Don’t waste a single emotion by repressing or judging it. Feel those feelings and let them show you where you want to go and where you want to grow.

Let the gift of having feelings allow you to write the next chapter with you as the hero – the person you want to be. It’s all just a story. Pain doesn’t kill us, in fact as adults it can be the best way to point us in the right direction. Let’s write a story we are proud of.

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.
-James Baldwin

Who Are You Voting For?

In Life Coaching we sometimes talk about the “Future Self.”

The Future Self is the person that the Present You is continually creating either deliberately or unconsciously.

Parents are typically quite concerned with the Future Selves of their children.

We help them get medical attention and brush their teeth.
We help them to read and work with numbers.
We help them understand their communities or their religious traditions.
We help them learn to swim, and throw balls and ride bicycles.
We help them develop a taste for vegetables and fruits.

We deliberately spend time helping to develop their Future Selves.

As adults we can forget that every day in every thought and action we are still creating our Future Selves.

Author James Clear in Atomic Habits puts it so well:
Every action you take is a vote for [ or against ] the type of person you wish to become.

No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your identity.

This is why habits are crucial. They cast repeated votes for being a certain type of person.

Take a minute and scan some of your recent actions – small and large.
Make note also of a few things you didn’t do.

The food you ate.
The exercise you put off.
The book you read and the television show you didn’t.
The letter you wrote and the phone call you postponed.
The question you asked and the comment you let slide.
The job you applied for and the position you talked yourself out of pursuing.
The neighbor you reached out to and the one you ignored.
The things you bought and the things you built.

Voting is not only our privilege as citizens. What if we used James Clear’s analogy of our actions as votes to become more conscious of how we are creating our Future Selves every day.

The wonderful thing is that you do not have to rethink all your actions at once. Wherever you start bringing deliberateness will ripple out in all directions. Choose one aspect of your Future Self that strikes you as fun or important.

Has your Future Self saved a substantial nest egg with a little bit of money every week?
Is your Future Self slim and fit?
Maybe your Future Self has completed an educational goal or learned a language.
Your Future Self may be celebrating a 50th wedding anniversary.

This week give a little thought to one single aspect of your Future Self and get excited about voting for him or her every week.

Imagine how your Future Self will think about you,
the Past Self,
your Present Self.
The one who made it all possible.

It’s never too late, because you are voting for that Future Self moment by moment whether you are aware of it or not.

Coaching is the best way I know to get really deliberate and conscious about the future we are creating day in and day out.

There’s a lot going on. Get out there and vote!

Privileged Thoughts

The last gift my mother gave me was the chance to imagine my end of days -my family watching me die and moving on without me.  In the last 90 days of her life, my mother went from independent materfamilias to a wisp on a bed. She was annoyed sometimes.  Scared often.  In pain most of the time.  She worried about my brother and myself. She was kind to her caregivers even when they hurt her and grateful to her children and grandchildren who stayed by her.  We wanted to protect her and keep her company but we wanted her company.  We craved the time with her to learn everything and listen.

In the weeks and months that have passed, I have remarked often that my mother taught me more in those last 3 months about what I want and expect for my family and for myself than in the 60 years that came before.

As I reflect on the news this week, I know that what I experienced last summer with my mother was an example of deep sadness and grief, but a clean grief.  There were no villains.  There was little anger.  What I experienced was the natural devastation of watching the body of a loved one sicken, suffer and die.

My mother’s death was an example of our expectation that she would be treated with dignity and kindness surrounded by people who treated her and her family with respect.

Privilege does not fall only around racial lines, but I do understand the expectation of a certain kind of treatment, a certain level of respect and a certain level of kindness.  It is an expectation that my mother had even though she was born poor.  My mother’s family home did not have an indoor toilet until she paid to have one installed with money she earned as a young nurse.

White privilege is not an accusation.

White privilege is not to say that social and financial class are irrelevant. 

White privilege is an unspoken and usually invisible expectation in our society that you will receive a certain level of respect and fairness that you do not have to earn.  It is typically imperceptible to white people like myself until we watch similar privileges denied to others. 

We live and die in a complicated society.  The peace my family was able to experience during my mother’s last illness was enhanced by a lifetime of my parents’ careful choices and work that left my mother with good health insurance and access to medical care.  Those choices and the building of those resources were, in my view, an example of their expectation that if they followed through with a series of actions they were creating a future of some predictability and equity.

To me, that is white privilege.  A sense that you live in a world with some rational order.  An idea that your life is of some de facto importance, just because you arrived on the planet.  That is the world my mother embodied and raised us in.  I do not believe she took that privilege from someone else, but I do believe she and now I have enjoyed it usually unconsciously. 

All humans suffer. 
There is no Suffering Olympics.

I encourage my family and friends who may push back at the idea of White Privilege to lean into the concept if for no other reason than millions of our colleagues, friends, neighbors and fellow citizens tell us that it exists.  What have any of us to lose by listening and trying to understand.

Loss, illness, death, and grief come for all of us.  How can we show up for each other, protect each other, keep each other company and extend the privileges of respect and kindness.  My mother’s final days showed me something I wanted to cultivate in my life, in spite of all the pain. This week is one more reminder that standing in solidarity with our fellow citizens, friends and loved ones through suffering is the greatest of privileges.

Here to learn and here to listen.

Ready to Come out of Hiding?

Remember in the Wizard of Oz when Glinda the Good Witch calls the citizens of Munchkinland out of hiding? “Come out, come out wherever you are!” Dorothy Gale’s house has fallen on the Wicked Witch of the East, killing her and freeing Munchkinland. Bit by bit Munchkin society steps forward to reassert their positions. The Lullaby League and the Lollypop Guild celebrate and the Mayor sends the Coroner out to certify that the Witch is “not merely dead but most sincerely clearly dead.”

I had forgotten this scene but my little neighbor was singing the “Lollypop Guild” song this weekend. (Classic movies seem to have been a big part of the homeschooling curriculum.) Many of us are peering out of pandemic isolation wondering what this means. Covid 19 may not be “sincerely” nor “clearly dead,” but many voices are calling us out to begin the new normal.

It is up to each of us to decide how we want to show up now, before we are swept back up in the day to day of reacting to the voices that have plans for us. I encourage my clients who have experienced the Great Pause to bring some intentionality to this process. After all, if we don’t have a plan we quickly become part of someone else’s plan. Many of us have similar goals including:

Losing weight Recommitting to relationships. Retooling businesses to respond to new guidelines and consumer demands. Personal and spiritual growth . Finishing abandoned projects. Completing career and academic certifications.

One way or another we made the impossible happen during the past 8 weeks. How can we let that new perspective fuel the next 8 weeks with an impossible personal goal that would mean something very special when Summer 2020 is at an end.

Coaching is the best way I know to get the perspective and power to come out of hiding, accomplish a new goal or take on a new challenge. Whether it’s changing your diet, finishing a dissertation, building a relationship, breaking a habit you’ve outgrown or creating a new habit, working with a Coach can turbo charge your results. Like Glinda the Good Witch, your Coach will show you again and again until you learn it for yourself that

“you’ve always had the power, my dear.”

Let it Begin With Me

Reading Marcus Aurelius for the rest of your life would not be enough time to spend with the Philosopher Emperor.
His Meditations are his journals, written to remind himself how he wanted to think, behave and lead. It was a daily occupation because, “your mind will take the shape of what you frequently hold in thought.”

As we go into this final weekend of May, remember to purposely fill yourself with the thoughts you value and the ideals you esteem.  
There is much in the world to outrage us and even more to distract us from how we ourselves can contribute to a finer, freer, kinder and more just society.  

“It is folly to try and escape the faults of others, for it is impossible.  Just try to escape your own,” wrote Marcus.

Self coaching or journaling is one of the finest ways I know to focus on creating change in our lives through self-inquiry.  

Where have we ourselves failed our fellow citizens?

How have we acquiesced to injustice?

Why have we not always defended the defenseless?

When have we turned away from duty? What more can we ask of ourselves?

Can we rightly hold others to a higher standard and not ourselves?

Even if we do not have the power of a Roman Emperor, we have tremendous power to inform our actions with love, peace and justice by filling our thoughts with those same virtues.

What Are You Saying?

Some people are easy to talk to, right?

Some conversations are helpful, entertaining, informative and others, upon reflection, seem to have been about a subject that was never mentioned.  
Did you imagine it?    

What is a difficult conversation?  Is it the topic?  

No because we have also had the experience of discussing a topic we didn’t want to talk about but afterwards felt freer, lighter and at peace.
An awkward conversation is when we want to accomplish something other than what we are saying.

Telling my spouse, “You are not doing your share of the housework,” is not awkward.

Telling my spouse, “You are not doing your share of the work” and also wanting him not to get angry or point out my shortcomings, makes it awkward.

Reminding my employees that their food must be cleared out of the break room every week is not awkward.
Reminding my employees that their food must be cleared and also not wanting them to think I am secretly judging the candy and cookies they eat at work, is what makes it awkward.

An awkward conversation is when we want two things to happen.
We want the break room clean AND we don’t want anyone to feel judged.
We don’t want their reactions.

What do you mean by that?

What are you trying to say?

Why are you telling me that now?

Seth Godin uses the example of a fire.  You could scream at people, “Get out now!” and it wouldn’t be awkward, no matter what those people thought of your tone, or what you really meant, or whether you thought they were productive or not.  
You don’t care what they think, because you are trying to help them with no additional agenda.

My clients often tell me that they are dreading having a conversation with someone. They have something they think is important to say, but they avoid it.  Sometimes they avoid these awkward conversations for weeks.  Even years.  

Because they aren’t feeling clear on what they want to say. 
They want two things to happen.

I want you to change AND I don’t want you to be upset.

If awkward conversations are a perennial issue for you, consider how you might express yourself directly and respectfully at the earliest opportunity.  Conversations typically become awkward because we have made a habit of avoiding the issue and somehow blaming the other person for being difficult rather than taking full responsibility for the interchange.  
Simplify your message.  

Decide on the one thing you want to communicate.

This is about you, so make sure YOU know what you’re saying.

False Friends

In my family I am known as a joke a perpetual student of a number of languages. The concept of faux amis or false friends is that even though there are one thousand or more French and English words that are virtually identical, there are some which seem to be cognates but are emphatically not.

There is likewise a Greek word apatheia describing the Stoic ideal which is the root of our English word apathy, but the sense is not at all the same.  Neither world-weariness or indifference, the Stoic apatheia is better understood as equanimity.  The stated aim of the Stoic was a certain psychic invulnerability to the whims of Fate.  Life is a mixture of illness and health, peace and war, sun and dark, birth and death. The Stoics urged the state of apatheia to greet “Triumph and Disaster” as Rudyard Kipling wrote, and “treat those two imposters just the same.”*

In Coaching, we offer a thought to our clients that circumstances in life are essentially neutral until we have a thought about them. This is not always accepted by clients.  To be sure, no matter how long we study or accept that premise, most of us will be challenged frequently to accept the idea of neutral circumstances.  

Equanimity when contemplating death?

Equanimity when contemplating racism?

Equanimity when contemplating child abuse?

Equanimity when contemplating bankruptcy or unemployment?

The Stoics teach that we watch our thoughts about the circumstances in the world and the feelings they trigger.  Why?  Not to condone injustice or harm or challenge, but rather to have all the human power possible at our disposal to heal, teach, protect, invest and cultivate.  Human as they are, outrage, condemnation, reaction and hate are poor solutions to what we identify as problems.  

In fact, these emotions may become false friends we turn to time and again.  Intense feelings that can hijack our emotional bandwidth and may even seem noble while we do nothing but rage, condemn, react and hate.

I struggle sometimes with teaching my clients the idea of Circumstances in Life – Facts – being neutral.  I still think some Circumstances are more neutral than others and that some are really not very neutral at all. 
Yet, I do very much believe that the best way to deal with all circumstances, particularly the ones I think are provoking or triggering me is to DECIDE that they are neutral. From the feeling of equanimity I may be able to make further decisions and bring energy to the solutions and actions which may be in my power.

What emotional False Friends do I turn to repeatedly?  

Judgment? Yes.

Anger? Unquestionably.

Apathy?  All too often.

These friends feel familiar and real but they offer me and those who are suffering nothing. Through my Coaching practice I choose to befriend and cultivate apatheia even when it feels inauthentic or insufficient to concentrate on where I can do good, foster change, learn more and support others.  

What False Friends do you turn to?  Choose one this week and pay attention.  Notice when it shows up and see if it distracts you from making powerful choices or taking meaningful action.  

Maybe, like me, you need better friends.

*This line from Kipling’s classic poem If is apparently written over the doors of the Players’ Entrance to Centre Court at Wimbledon.

“Grate” Expectations

My thoughts are that my husband and I are doing Pandemic isolating “correctly.”  

When we leave the house (infrequently, in my view), I have a lot of thoughts about how others are doing things “incorrectly.” 

My thoughts tell me that my loved ones are less safe because of the way others are behaving.  The thing is, that has always been true.

My thoughts tell me that our society is vulnerable when others make poor decisions.

The thing is, that has always been true.

My thoughts tell me that health care workers and first-responders are unfairly burdened by others being irresponsible.

The thing is, that has always been true.

My thoughts tell me that this is different.  


I know that no one is actually behaving any differently while I am having angry thoughts about others ignoring state and local orders and that, 

for sure, 

has ALWAYS been true.

Expectations are for ourselves, said my father. Not other people.  

But if I’m not angry don’t I let them off the hook?

They are already off the hook.

If I don’t judge them, does that mean nothing matters?

If I judge them, DOES it matter? At all?

All my judgment, expectations, exasperation and condemnation only dilute my potential for leadership. Those angry thoughts only distract me from learning how to help.

I have a lot of work to do on this topic, but I know for sure that my elevated blood pressure has not kept anyone home.  

My angry muttered comments have not convinced anyone to put on a mask. 

And if you ask my husband, I also could do a lot better at 

keeping my distance, 

remembering to disinfect,

avoiding touching things,

avoiding touching my face,

cleaning things that come into the house,

washing the produce.

And I do a bit better because he shows me how it’s done with love and concern for all of us.

Expectations, said my father, are for ourselves. Not for other people.  

Otherwise it gets ugly.  

Otherwise we get ugly.

It grates at me, but I’m trying that thought on.

Memorial Day Thoughts

Happy Memorial Day to the Americans – the traditional first week of summer here in the United States.

We don’t need scientists to tell us when summer starts.

If you’re old school it is now acceptable to break out the white sweat pants and pajama bottoms on Zoom calls.
If you’re kind of a stickler for these things, Memorial Day is a time to remember the sacrifice of men and women who died while serving in the defense of the United States.

One date – May 25, 2020.
But it may have a very different meaning to different people. For most of the planet it is just Monday May 25, but even in the US the thoughts we attach to this date vary widely.  

-Is it a time to focus solely on our military dead in battle?  
-A time to remember all our service men and women?
-Is it a time to remember those we have lost in other ways, like the US Veterans who died from Covid 19 recently at the Holyoke Massachusetts Soldiers Home?
-Do we enlarge Memorial Day 2020 to include the approximately 100,000 who have died so far during this pandemic in the US?
-Is it a day to remember to stock up on the veggie burgers and charcoal for a cookout in the backyard or try and get to the beach?  

OR is it a day to judge one another for observing Memorial Day incorrectly?

Masks or no masks?

6 feet distance? 

Day off or workday?

US flags on the graves of our veterans?

Veggies on the grill or meat?

Beaches open or closed?

Can we visit our elderly family?

Solemn observance of our fallen fellow Americans?

White slacks and shoes now permitted?

There is one fact.  May 25, 2020.  The last Monday in May.  It is only a date, but think of how many thoughts we may potentially have about it.  Some may be very very casual and others may be enough to cause angry arguments.

Like it or not, we are all free to think whatever thoughts we want about this date.

 Happy Memorial Day to Americans at home and abroad.  
Happy May 25, 2020 to the rest of the world.
May this day be filled with peaceful thoughts of love and respect and appreciation.