Remembering TEDxPasadenaWomen

Last Saturday I was able to attend a monumental and historic event,the first TEDxPasadenaWomen. Leading up to this event, I and my co-coach, Michele Lando, dubbed ‘The Twins’, had the pleasure of working with each of the thirteen speakers. Each speaker told their own story in such a way that the audience was moved to tears as well as uproarious laughter several times throughout the day.So that I don’t forget the powerful messages from our speakers, I thought I’d I recap.

Alyesha White – taught us about our responsibility towards our family members, especially if we have younger siblings, and how we must participate in raising responsible young adults. Her spoken word poetry was passionate and heartfelt. Standing ovation #1!! Allison Gryphon and Lolita Lopez – demonstrated the importance of teamwork, and how two women came together to fight breast cancer, and still remain committed to fighting the battle together forever. Standing ovation #2!! See a trend? Kristin Mascka – vividly illustrated how unconscious bias affects all of us, and how we should all strive to support one another, regardless of gender, race, or other classification, because we all are on the same team, and we must seek to support our fellow humans. Frank Chechel – our first male speaker asked the audience if he was even “allowed” to address the primarily female audience. Absolutely! Frank encouraged both the men and women to ‘rock-the-boat’ on gender-equality issues; for men to hire, support, and promote women, and for women to acknowledge the men who do the things that Frank asked the men to do. Dr.Tess Warschaw – if anyone was qualified to talk about resiliency, it was the indomitable Dr.Tess. Now in her eight decade, she shared how in her darkest moment, she lost her resiliency, but with the help of friends, she bounced back. She was quite clear with us that, if you don’t have real friends, we need to go in search of them. All of us at some point in our lives, will need friends to be resilient for us.

Loretta Whitesides – the astronaut from Stanford University  who realized with the help of a mentor, that developing your leadership skills and self-development was more important than accomplishments and accolades. How sad would it be walking on the surface of the moon and still have the feeling that she didn’t belong? She encouraged the audience to find your mission in life, and that is when you have the feeling of belonging. Alex Cohen – KPCC news correspondent and retired Roller Derby player illustrated the similarities between the rough and tumble sport of and motherhood. She pointed out some of the ways that mothers failed to be supportive to other mothers, and asked whether if its time to rewrite the manual on motherhood? She began her own support group with other mothers, who have played Roller Derby. Ron Florence – an investment executive challenged the audience not to confuse net-worth with self-worth. A very bold and powerful concept you don’t hear very often. He then helped the audience think about financial decision making with the following three questions. What is the money for? What are you worried about? What is going to make you happy? Joelle Casteix – a victim of sexual abuse, however, she made it very clear to the audience that she is not defined by the abuse. She taught us that becoming a victim is the opposite of taking responsibility. Joelle has taken her experiences and is a published author, speaker, and national expert on child sexual abuse prevention, detection, and education. Nancy Bennett – has always been the first to try new things. Growing up in a family of accomplished scientists and artists, and extremely supportive parents, she developed a curiosity for how things work. And that curiosity led to the development of empathy for others.Her work is always about collaboration, whether it has been producing and directing television shows, music videos, and now creating virtual reality films.

 Tembi Locke – an accomplished actress gave a moving account of how one day her life completely changed from what appeared to be an extremely promising one, to one she couldn’t have imagined. Overnight she became a caregiver to her husband who was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer. She told the audience that what matters most in life is unconditional love and connection. Cristi Hegranes – founder of Global Press Institute told the audience that her lifelong dream to be a foreign correspondent journalist, her dream job, was shattered when she realized she wasn’t qualified to tell the stories of the native lands she visited. But instead of giving up, she started an organization that now trains local people to become journalists who can accurately tell these stories all around the globe. Consuelo Martinez – our closing speaker challenged the audience to find their voice and speak up, because she has experienced the power of words and ideas. She closed her talk with the very first talk she gave, just a few months prior that rocked her world and her school audience. In her words, being Latino, female, public school educated, and seventeen years old, may not look like she has the best chance in this world. However, Connie’s powerful talk showed everyone in the room what a difference we can make when we find our voice and use it!

The Balanced and Authentic Life

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“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”  Oscar Wilde

I was recently asked to present a talk on the subjects of authentic living, and living a balanced life. As I typically do, I’ll look through articles and books I have read previously and also search for current articles on the same topics. I was quite surprised to find how seldom the word authenticity appeared in business and psychological literature. It appears that most of what we are reading is pushing us to do more, rather than be more. I have a sneaking suspicion that many of us are struggling to find balance. Or even more unfortunate, many of us are completely out of balance, having become almost entirely focused on doing, rather than being. So how do we regain our focus, and start on the journey to getting back to being authentic people who live balanced lives?

Becoming an authentic person really requires us to adopt a holistic view of ourselves. Authors Bob Rosen and Kathie RossIn have developed The Healthy Leader Model, which is an excellent framework for pursuing authentic living. As you can see from their model, there is so much more to us than we often acknowledge. We are so much kinder to ourselves and others when we look to develop ourselves holistically. As the business investor extraordinaire Warren Buffet says, “Investing in yourself is the best thing you can do”.

The Healthy Leader Model

The Healthy Leader Model

I remember the first time I heard someone say, ‘I need to be more productive.‘ The phrase may sound like a call to live responsibly, but subtly I think our performance based culture has robbed us of what it means to be authentically human. I know I’m not the first to make this observation; we are human beings, which means we cannot be defined only by what we do. It is far more important for our own well-being to find out who we are, not just what we do, and live our lives informed by that perspective. Easier said than done you say! The late Warren Bennis, University Professor and Distinguished Professor of Business Administration, University of Southern California says in his book, On Becoming A Leader, “If knowing yourself and being yourself were as easy to do as to talk about, there wouldn’t be nearly so many people walking around in borrowed postures, spouting secondhand ideas, trying desperately to fit in rather than to stand out.” My work with my clients is helping them identify what is most important to them, and to become more of who they are, so that they can make the maximum contribution in every area of their life.

According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the author of Flow – The Psychology of Optimal Experience, genuinely happy individuals are few and far between. He asks us to think about how many people we know who really enjoy what they do and are reasonably satisfied with their lot, who do not regret the past, and look to the future with confidence. Probably, not very many! In Simon Sinek’s  TED-talk, Why Leaders Eat Last, I believe the following statement captures the heart of the problem for many of us business people; “In business we give bonuses to people who are willing to sacrifice others so they can survive.” This truly begs the question, how can we humans be happy if at the end of the day we are hurting others and ourselves? Put another way, why are we not doing more to help ourselves and others? Sound too touchy-feely? It should, and that’s because our bodies and brains have been designed to do things that make us feel good.

Our bodies contain certain chemicals which are there for the sole purpose of our survival and making us feel good. Again I fear, that many of the activities of our lives; work and relationships, are actually depleting and do not enhance our human experience. You probably have heard of  some of these biological chemicals:

  • Endorphins – the chemical released in the body which reduces pain.
  • Dopamine – regulates movement and emotional responses, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them.
  • Serotonin – the chemical that is responsible for maintaining mood balance, and that a deficit of serotonin leads to depression.
  • Oxytocin – the chemical released in our body when we feel trust, love, safety and empathy in the presence of a person whom your body senses is safe, as well as enabling feelings of  bonding.

The reason for discussing these chemicals is to remind us that we are so much more than what we do, and so much more about who we are and how we are wired biologically and neurologically. I think we have to ask ourselves on a regular basis the important question, are the activities of work, family, and friends allowing us to experience those “happy-chemicals”?

Have you ever thought about the connection between working in a healthy environment and the impact it has on your psychological and physical health? According to a recent study by Stanford Graduate School of Business, workplace stress — such as long hours, job insecurity and lack of work-life balance, contributes to at least 120,000 deaths each year and accounts for up to $190 billion in health care costs! According to Jeffrey Pfeffer, Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business and one of the authors of the study, “When people like their lives, and that includes work life, they will do a better job of taking care of themselves. When they don’t like their lives, they don’t.” To paraphrase, when we don’t like our jobs, our lives and our health fall apart!

Recently I had the opportunity to have lunch with a former associate I’ll call Jim, and inquired as to how he felt he was doing in his career. Sadly, I heard what many of my colleagues and friends seem to be experiencing; their bosses are either unable to talk about development and growth opportunities, or worse, their bosses show no interest in their associates careers. Author and consultant Patrick Lencioni calls this “abdication management.” The most troubling part of Jim’s situation is that he is a millennial and has only been in the workplace for a few years, and has already grown cynical towards management. I encouraged Jim to talk with others about his interests and even do a little soul-searching, and begin defining his values, purpose, and goals in life. As I said earlier, if we find ourselves going through the motions (only doing), including “punching-the-clock” at work, we are not  going to be effective in our jobs, and we will never feel those life-giving happy chemicals which are so fundamental to our human experience. We need to be in environments which support and allow us to be fully human.

My own journey to authenticity has not been easy. I can think of many occasions where people have misjudged my motives, questioned my actions, but this will always be the result of living a life where you are not thinking so much about what others think of you, but asking yourself, am I being honest and true with myself? It is in this place where our relationships with others move to a different level, and ultimately we begin to experience the kind of life that is centered on life-giving activities, rather than life-depleting activities.  Just this week over lunch with a friend, we talked at about a tragic event in this person’s life — the anniversary falling on this Mothering Sunday. Our friendship could be seen as quite unlikely, because on paper we couldn’t be more different; different ethnicity, thirty-plus age difference, different nationalities. We have become close friends because of the intentional authenticity on both our parts. As we talked about this event, my friend was moved to tears and neither one of us felt any embarrassment, but rather experienced those feelings of empathy, love and connection. As Brendon Bouchard author of The Motivation Manifesto says so eloquently, “We learn that the more we are true to ourselves, the more we can connect and contribute to the world. We find that the more free and spontaneous and authentic we become, the more our motivation and aliveness returns and the more others are attracted to us and want to be around us. I’m reminded and encouraged to embrace the words of the musical artist Sting, “Be yourself no matter what they say.”